Happy Lincoln's Birthday, Mr. Badger.
Nov 25, 2011
So, it's Thanksgiving. And I feel like I should have something to say about that, but I don't. Because Thanksgiving doesn't exist anymore.
Instead, Thanksgiving is now the anniversary of The Day I Got The Call From Mr. Badger's Sister, Warning Me He Might Not Make It Until Our Scheduled Visit On Friday Night And Asking Me If I'm Sure I Want To Remember Him The Way He Looks In The Hospital. That doesn't make for much of a holiday.
The Monday before Thanksgiving is the anniversary of Mr. Badger's goodbye speech to me, of him making me give him my blessing to stop the chemotherapy and go into hospice. It's the anniversary of me cursing him out and saying that if he was going to give me his goodbye speech, he was goddamn well going to give it to my face. It's the anniversary of him asking me to come visit him one last time.
The Tuesday before Thanksgiving is the anniversary of Mr. Badger's text that his organs were failing and that we needed to make the visit sooner rather than later. It's the anniversary of me sitting in my department chair's office, trying to find a way to be professional and not cry while asking for emergency time off, of trying to find a way to describe my relationship with Mr. Badger in a way that would make it sound "legitimate", since we were not "officially" dating. We had dated on and off for six years, and we were exclusive lovers for the last two, but he wasn't my "boyfriend", so I sat at the table in my chair's office, my whole body shaking with fear that our relationship would not be deemed important enough for me to cancel my classes.
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I took off towards The North for the first of the two-day drive Upstate. Too upset to pack, I shoved all my dirty clothes into my largest suitcase, grabbed my coat, and ran out to my car, still in the jean shorts and Frye motorcycle boots I had been wearing around the house. And on the drive towards Alejandro's house, The Cowboy called me. And I had been trying to keep all this business from him. I mean, we had been getting pretty close, and it was really nice, so while of course I wanted nothing more than to call him and tell him what was going on, I didn't want to make him feel like he was the person I'd call and dump all my emergencies on.
But he called me when I was driving, and the timer on my massive Crazy Bomb ticked down to zero, and I exploded into a mass of uncontrolled panic. And at one point, I was half-crying, half-yelling at him because he obviously didn't understand what a horrible person I was. Because I should have married Mr. Badger. I knew how much he loved me and how he wanted an official relationship, and then he got sick, and I should have married him. And The Cowboy finally raised his voice to me, saying, "Okay, so what would be different if you had married him?! He would still be dying."
And of course, I sobbed, "He would have died having someone. No one deserves to die without having someone." And of course, part of my brain recognized that official or not--Mr. Badger did have someone...he had me. And when The Cowboy actually yelled at me to bring me back to reality I didn't feel like I was being yelled at. Men yelling at me, or even in my direction, makes me feel jumpy and implicitly threatened...but The Cowboy was just doing what needed to be done, and he had been far more patient than anyone else would have been. And somewhere among all of the nerves and fear and panic and regret and tears, he brought this little kernel of safety. It felt like a blanket. Maybe the blanket the EMTs wrap around you as they haul you off to the emergency room, but a blanket nonetheless.
Thanksgiving is the anniversary of doing my dirty laundry at Alejandro's house, only to discover that in that giant suitcase of dirty clothes, there were about 30 pairs of underwear, 30 pairs of socks, five pairs of jeans, and two shirts. Then Alejandro dragged me out to the curling club so I wouldn't be at the house alone. Shiawassee, who had always considered Mr. Badger as a brother, as coming down to Upstate to see him as well, and we were meeting on Friday to see him. But then I got the call from his sister, that his lucidity was slipping, and maybe I didn't want to come anymore. And I asked, "If I came, would he still know that it's me?" To which she replied, "Yes." So I said, "He wanted me to come, so I'm coming. I'm leaving now." So I left the curling club at 10pm to drive through the night to Upstate, cursing myself the whole way for not leaving sooner, for holding to the original plan between me, Shiawassee, and Mr. Badger.
And The Cowboy talked to me nearly the whole way to Upstate, with me crazed and cursing myself the whole way, afraid that because I had stuck to the original schedule, I wasn't going to make it to Mr. Badger in time. I was going to fail him. And The Cowboy was supportive and patient and somewhere underneath the quivering mess that was my brain and my body, there it was...that little undercurrent of safety.
The day after Thanksgiving is the anniversary of my visit to the last rest stop before Upstate, the one I always stopped at when I visited Mr. Badger to wash up, change clothes, put on makeup, and fix my hair to make myself look "accidentally fabulous", so he'd think I just showed up looking like that after an eight hour drive from The North. Whenever the stop made me late--and it usually did--I chalked it up to "traffic". That rest stop was also where learned how to insert a contraceptive sponge, the place where I first touched my own cervix, so that the sponge would be in place and ready to go just in case Mr. Badger and I jumped on each other the second we saw each other. And early in the morning the Friday after Thanksgiving, I stopped there again, because I legitimately had to pee, but instinctively, I reached for my makeup bag to make myself look pretty for him...until I remembered that in this context, he wouldn't care if I looked pretty or not.
7:36am on the Friday after Thanksgiving is the anniversary of me finally pulling into the parking lot of Upstate Hospital, where I ran in, confused about how I would find his room, and when I did find it, of me meeting his mother, father, and sister for the first time by them exiting the room, closing the door, and checking to make sure that I really wanted to see him like this, that I didn't just want to remember him the way he was before he was sick.
That Friday is the anniversary of us seeing each other one last time, of about two hours of him holding my hand and squeezing it, of me saying the things that needed to be said, of me stroking his body and his hair the way I used to when we were in bed together, before he peacefully died holding my hand.
If you go by days of the week, it's the Friday after Thanksgiving. If you go by dates on the calendar, it's November 26. Either way, it's the anniversary of the day I watched my exclusive lover of two years--the man who, although we both knew we were not perfect for each other, I knew would always, always love me--die right in front of me.
On the journey from Upstate back to Rust City, I made it as far as Alejandro's house, where I completely collapsed and didn't move for two days. I had eaten only one meal since Mr. Badger's call on Monday, and my body had just given out. I laid in the big, fluffy bed in the Fairytale Tower, sometimes with my laptop open to complete the funeral-related correspondence, and otherwise just staring out the window into the city beyond. Because there was nothing else I could do. I could barely move. At one point, I tried to take a shower, and I couldn't lift my arms all the way to my head to wash my hair, so I just got out and laid back in the bed, dripping wet and freezing.
And while I was laying in The Tower, feeling bereft and lost and unworthy of the role I had fulfilled for Mr. Badger, unworthy of holding his father while he cried, unworthy of his mother's tour through Mr. Badger's baby pictures, unworthy of knowing his history before me; feeling like a bratty child who wanted to kick and shriek and stamp her foot at the unfairness of it all; feeling like I was trying to survive as nothing but a skeleton with a heart and lungs; feeling like nothing; feeling like the embodiment of Delirium itself...while I was laying in The Tower feeling all of this simultaneously, I got an email from The Cowboy, and part of it said, "Your ability to empathize is greater than anyone I have ever known...it's incredible and beautiful and tragic."
And in that moment, those words cut through the relentless, merciless grief and said, "Look...somewhere in all this panic and snot and delirium, he's found something good in you. He's looking, and he sees you. He knows you." And over the months when the grief was at it's peak, I'd go back and read that line in that message, and it would remind me that in the embarrassingly uncontrolled mess the grief had reduced me to, there was someone who could look at me like that and still see me inside there, and see me as good. That there was someone who could look at me like that and still know me. There was such a sense of Always about that, too. Just as it's critical to have someone who will always love you, it's monumental to have someone who will always know you...know you and see you as good. There's such safety in that.
Funny how much things can change in a year.
So here I am, in this never-ending one-year anniversary week that is supposed to be a holiday, and I am reminded that I am without one who will always love me as well as one who will always know me. I am entirely without safety. And I don't know what to do about it except feel it.
The thing is, I find myself wondering if I'm allowed to feel it. If it's appropriate for these to be anniversaries of mine, rather than being the exclusive property of his family and friends. Because we were never friends...the first night we met, he asked me on a date. We were always lovers.
And It hink about that, and this whole year, I've been trying to find a way to articulate the significance of my relationship with Mr. Badger. since we weren't friends (under my definition of friends), and we weren't official boy/girlfriends, I think the common conception is that relationships like ours were "just" sex. And while our relationship was a lot of sex, and I'd go so far as to say mainly sex, I would never say it was "just" sex. Because I don't think "just" sex exists. For me, anyway.
I mean, if you think about what is actually shared in an ongoing sexual relationship, that partner gets to see you at your most vulnerable, your most exposed, your most ecstatic. That person is the one pushing you into that vulnerable, exposed, ecstatic state. That person sees the you that your friends will never see...the you that is at once the most animal as well as the most fragile.
And something happens then. Not the cliche women-fall-in-love-after-sex phenomenon, but a bond is created unlike any other relationship you have. If someone has been inside your body, if someone has truly explored your body to discover ways to bring you joy, if you trust each other enough to have a new experience together...something happens that is so intimate and strong and important that it changes you as a person. And this is regardless of whether you're going to get married or you're experiencing True Love or not...if you have really loved that person's body, if you truly tried to learn that body and mind for the purpose of giving and sharing pleasure, if you trusted that person enough to honestly expose yourself in order to surrender and to take, there is a bond that is created that is sacred and ancient and 100% legitimate. Common culture doesn't allow for that, but that doesn't mean it isn't true.
Because it is true.
If you really open yourself up, and you're not just a mouth and genitals and get-off-and-get-outm that's what happens with lovers. There is no "just" sex.
All that being said, I wish the anniversaries weren't at Thanksgiving time, where every year the holiday will force a space in which I remember them, in sequence. Not that I can do something about that, but I still wish. It's a complicated experience, having such a devastating experience simultaneously remind me of a love an a knowing and a safety that are now absent. It makes the anniversary doubly tough.
An of course, I continually think of Mr. Badger's goodbye speech, in which he talked about how special I was, and how I deserved all of the happiness in the world. And then I look at myself on the anniversary of the speech, and I see that I could not be farther from it. And I hesitate to admit it, but it makes me feel...lonely. The absence of someone who would always love me. The absence of someone who would always know me. It's a loneliness I know I must have felt at some point in my life, but I can't remember the last time. That's how long it's been. And while I don't typically mind being alone, loneliness, on the other hand...it's enough to make me feel like I don't actually exist at all.
Grief counselors and such say that the first anniversary is the hardest. And I hope that's true.
I really, really hope that's true.
Oct 31, 2011
I couldn't make my Day of the Dead shrine this year. I thought about it a lot, but I just couldn't do it.
It's something that's really important to me--remembering the dead at this time every year--and making the shrine is usually something I enjoy. Creating the shrine purposefully sets time aside where it's okay to reflect on what the people were like, the moments you shared, the good times, the challenging ones. It's really important. But I couldn't do it this year.
I mean, somewhere in the back of my head, I admitted that Mr. Badger would be up there on my little altar, and I think I might have been prepared for that. But with Tom gone too, now...I just couldn't. I couldn't add two new people to the shrine. I couldn't face decorating their pictures with ribbon and ric-rac and glitter. I couldn't face looking at both of them in photograph form, knowing that's the only form I'll ever see them in again.
So I couldn't. I didn't. And now tonight, I feel as though I've neglected my duty. That I haven't paid the proper respect. And I feel guilty about that.
See, I've been pretending that I wasn't able to do it because I've been so sick. And I don't mean the PTSD. The past week I've been in and out of the emergency room, and the time not in the emergency room, I've been completely loaded on SuperVicodin, and not in the fun way.
A week ago I woke up and feeling like someone was stabbing me in the ear with a knife. (P.S. That's not hyperbole--that's what it actually felt like.) Thinking my eardrum had ruptured in the night, I threw on some clothes and made my way to the emergency. I tried to relax and breathe and hold it together in public, and for the most part I did. And the doctor said I had an inner and outer ear infection, put me on some antibiotics and regular Vicodin and sent me home.
But the Vicodin didn't really do anything, which I should have seen as a sign of trouble. It took the edge off a little, but only enough to keep me from, say, constantly screaming in pain. But I'm tough, right? With a high pain tolerance. I can man up until the antibiotics kick in.
I made it about 36 hours. The pain got worse and worse, and it basically took over my whole head, which I could have handled if not for the feeling of sharp blades sliding in and out of my ears constantly--both sides now. I tried as hard as I could to endure it, but by early Wednesday morning I was curled in bed, sobbing as hard as I could because the pain was so bad. And it took all that I had to drag myself to the car and drive myself back to the emergency room, crying to beat the band the whole way there.
And good god, there ain' nothin' so lonely as driving yourself to the emergency room. Christ on a bike, nothing feels as lonely as that--being in that kind of distress and having no one to help. And everything kind of crystalized for me in that moment in my car. I thought about Mr. Badger and Tom and The Leaving of 2011 and the PTSD that is still 1,000 kinds of Not Under Control, and I thought about being in Rust City by myself and saw how, while sure, I have some friends here, when you don't have anyone in town to take you to the emergency room, you really don't have anyone. And I thought, of course it has all led to this. Of course. There's no bigger sense of isolation than the one you get when you're in unbearable pain and you're all alone.
In the waiting room, I couldn't stop sobbing--even though there were other patients there who were handing their respective emergencies far, far better than me, even though the receptionist and the nurse looked at me with these shocked expressions--like they couldn't believe that someone was actually crying from pain. And when the doctor examined me--telling me that both of my inner ears were infected now, and that they were really bad, and telling me "you have got to get this under control fast", as if I had somehow been neglectful and had caused it myself--I still couldn't stop crying, even though I was absolutely humiliated beyond belief.
He put me on some SuperVicodin and forbade me from going to work, even though I couldn't exactly just take the rest of the week off. There aren't substitutes at the university level. So I spent the last week pretty much just curled up in a ball, totally high on SuperVicodin, still in pain and crying and absolutely miserable.
And with my brain as fuzzy as it was, all I could think was that this would somehow be bearable if someone just came over and curled up in my bed next to me. That I just needed someone physically present. And really, I wouldn't much care who it was. But just to have someone here while I was in so much pain--that would make me able to tough it out, to know that there was someone here.
But that didn't happen. Sensing something was wrong, Rudy and Baby Girl took turns nestling down next to me, or sometimes on me, or sometimes both at once. And in my drug haze, I thought about how if this happened at this time last year, I would have called Mr. Badger. And he would have either given me so much sympathy it would have made me feel a bit better, or he would have said something that pissed me off so much I would have been too angry to remember how much pain I was in. Either way it would have helped, feeling connected in one way or another. It would have helped for a little while.
So instead I made lists in my head of the offerings I'd have to make to Mr. Badger and Tom on my Day of the Dead altar. Chocolate chip pancakes, Irish tea, and Scotch whisky for Mr. Badger; raspberry torte, smoothies, and, well, pot for Tom. I'd have to make a playlist with Bruce Springsteen and The Pogues mixed with Patti Lupone and Betty Buckley to play in the background. There was so much to get done before the actual Day of the Dead, if I could only stand up long enough to do it...
And I couldn't. I didn't. As it ends up, I did have to miss work, although I was really stupid and drove across town on the SuperVicodin to teach a couple of classes--which I don't remember at all because hey, I was totally loaded. And my balance was so bad, I'd have to hang onto the walls just to walk down the hall, and I'd hope so hard that I wouldn't run into anyone, because I knew they'd think I was drunk. And I kept thinking that if I could just toughen up a little bit, I could do the proper thing, the respectful thing, and get it together enough to put up my altar, with Mr. Badger and Tom at the center of it this year.
But no. Not this year.
So this will have to suffice as a substitute. I've decorated the pictures and put out the offerings. The candles are lit, and the paper flowers are strewn about.
Now all that is left is the remembering.
Oct 16, 2011
Something really big happened yesterday.
So, running late for work, I was clomping around the house in my cute high-heel clog sandals, trying to remember to grab everything I needed on my way out the door. It was starting out as a high anxiety morning. And as I bent over to add a stack of student papers on top of the mounting pile of stuff already in my arms, I saw my sweet kitty Baby Girl nestled down in the shoebox out of which these very same clogs were born. And Baby Girl was staring me right in the face. Then I looked up, and I saw her sweet brother Rudy perched on the pillow on the couch, also staring at me.
“Oh god, I’m sorry, little babies, I forgot,” I said. “It’s time to turn on the Cat TV!”
And then I hurried over to the bay window in the living room, and I opened the blinds.
And that’s it. I opened the blinds. That was really big.
Ya see, if I had been back in South Central, that would not have been a big deal. It basically would have been every morning. Wake up, shower, dress, gather my things, turn on the Cat TV by pulling open the blinds. Then Rudy and Baby Girl could entertain themselves by watching the squirrels frolic in the yard, the woodchuck that hung out by the shed out back, the cars pulling in and out of the parking lot. Every morning—“It’s time to turn on the Cat TV!”, and the kitties would come running, and I’d open the blinds.
But I’m not back in South Central. I’m in Rust City and in firmly in the grip of a full-scale, four-and-a-half-month PTSD episode. Which means the blinds have not been opened since the end of May.
Let’s get into it, shall we?
Sep 18, 2011
That day, I was feeling what I like to call American Pissed, a term I developed when I was living Over There, where people defined “pissed” as “drunk”. So whenever I told my friends I was pissed, I always had to add in the clarifying sentence, “No, I mean I'm American Pissed.”
I was that kind of irritated-angry that covers every last inch of your body. Like the kind of irritated you might be if you were wearing a rough wool unitard without any undies—constant annoyance that begins to increase exponentially the longer you wear it. I was bristling like a crabby little hedgehog. I was American Pissed.
Just for clarification—I really don’t walk around angry much. I mean, it’s exhausting, plus I’m almost incapable of getting angry. Well, getting angry when I have been wronged in some way. Like I’ve said before, I can get righteously indignant at social injustice, and damn straight I can get hoppin’ mad when a friend has been wronged, but when it comes to me…I don’t know what it is. I can feel devastated or heartbroken or hurt, but the anger part, even perfectly justified anger—it’s tough. Hence, the birth of my SuperHero alter-ego Great Big Girl. I think all of the anger I should have felt in self-defense at various points in my life now all gets channeled into defending others. It’s a system.
But the point is, I guess, that I’m not so used to feeling this all-over maddening exasperation that’s like an itch I can’t scratch. But enter Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. So it’s been over three months now with this stretch, but I’m still in full-on PTSD mode. And one of the most common symptoms of PTSD is “irritation”, which can really mean anything from actual plain, old irritation to angry outbursts and fits of rage.
Now this anger has never been a big symptom for me, and honestly, whenever I would find myself feeling it, I would just turn the anger against myself, rather than let anyone else fall victim to it. Because I absolutely hate the idea of taking my anger out on someone else. Now when I went on the road trip down south with Trudie and The Cowboy, I totally had PTSD irritation, combined with the pressure of doing our show at a really big-deal venue. And while I think it made me absolutely unbearable, which in turn, made me hugely embarrassed because I couldn’t just turn the irritation off, Trudie says it just made me kinda uptight and huffy at times. But so even with this disorder where anger is a major symptom, my natural default is not anger.
Except this day. The proverbial pot was coming to an even more proverbial boil, and I was getting fed up to my proverbial teeth with my situation—not being able to sleep, not being able to talk to people, not being able to get anything done, the impending school year, the state of the Gingerbread Cottage, the precarious future of my job, feeling scared, feeling sad, feeling so unsafe—OH MY GOD, O’BRIEN JUST PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER! But then the fact that this isn’t a matter of just pulling myself together would make me even more pissed, and it was like I was stuck on the a giant hamster wheel of fury. And it was only like 1 or 2 in the afternoon.
And of course, this is exactly the time I get asked out on a date. Of course.
And I don’t know this dude—which now that I think about it, that’s probably most often the case with a first date, right?—and I’m busy up in my own head, treading the hamster wheel of fury, and I kind of don’t really realize what’s going on. So of course, I’m all, “What?!” This guy says he likes a woman with a little sass and wants to have a drink with me tonight.
Sep 17, 2011
This is for you, Tom. Because tomorrow is your birthday.
Good friends, let's to the fields—I have a fever.
After a little walk, and by your pardon,
I think I'll sleep. There is no sweeter thing,
Nor fate more blessed, than to sleep. Here, world,
I pass you like an orange to a child:
I can no more with you. Do what you will.
~Edgar Lee Masters,
from "To-morrow Is My Birthday"
Sep 13, 2011
The thing is, he was really sexy.
I mean, he was the kind of sexy that made me thank my lucky stars that I had an IUD because otherwise I would have spontaneously ovulated. And while I do not have a specific “type”, every second I spent near this man convinced me that if I had to choose one, he would be it.
He had this deep, rumbling kind of voice with the slightest hint of a Canadian accent, heavily tattooed forearms, and about four days worth of a dark beard. His grin provoked two perfectly symmetrical dimples and crinkled up the corners of his blue eyes which, as Vera the South Central Oracle would be happy to see, had a very mischievous twinkle. He was taller than me wearing my highest heels, so he must have been about six feet tall. He was built like a lumberjack; and he had the hands of a man who worked for a living. He was also the lead singer of the band, wrote music reviews for the city paper, and had a particular interest in vintage pin-ups.
So. Intensely. Sexy.
He was also completely, unabashedly interested in me. So when he suggested that we go back to his place, of course I said yes.
Back it up for a second:
I was in The North visiting Alejandro. Well, except I don’t think I was much of a visitor. I mainly spent a lot of time up in The Tower, the guest room located on the fourth floor of Alejandro’s city townhouse, or as Alejandro calls it, "My Room", since I’m the only one who stays there.
And it was really nice being back at Alejandro's place, and seeing him and his partner Andrew, and Kathleen, their fabulous Irish neighbor, and our friend Philip, all smiles and laughs and high energy. Of course, as nice as it was, I still couldn't sleep at night to save my life, and I still spent a bunch of time alone up in The Tower, sitting of the big, fluffy bed and enjoying
the peaceful silence. And it was a bit like being locked in a fairy tale tower—solitary to be sure, but also safe. And I could gaze out my little window down the sunny patio four stories below me, with potted herbs and flower boxes with bright gerbera daisies, or look out onto the skyline of the huge city surrounding me.
It was…tranquil. The difference between solitude and loneliness. Because I when I couldn’t handle, you know, having people look at me, I could sit in The Tower by myself, but I still knew Alejandro and Andrew were nearby. I could hear them milling about the house, living their lives, and when Alejandro decided it was time, he’d climb up the 100 stairs to The Tower, stick a glass of water or a cocktail in my hand and decree, “It’s time to come downstairs, gurl.” Or he’d hand me my purse and say, “We have to take Cuchulain to puppy class, and he says that Aunt Lulu can’t miss it,” knowing that I can never say no to a puppy.
And Alejandro, who is just about as different from me as you can get, personality-wise, has this method of normalizing my crazies in such a low-pressure way that I actually started to relax. He’d let me hide when I needed to, but then he’d tell me what to do when he decided it was time for me to stop. We drank sangria on his lovely, safe patio on the breezy summer nights, and he brought me out into the bustle of the city just enough to challenge me. Alejandro was beautifully nurturing in the most understated way that I felt some of the tension slowly releasing inside of me. Just a little bit of the tension, but I had so much that even just a little bit made a difference.
So on my last night there, I don’t know. When I got to chatting with this awesome, charming, sexy stranger...for the first time in months, I almost forgot that I was broken. Almost. So when he asked me back to his place, I thought sure, you know? We’ll go back to his place, and we’ll have a drink, and he’ll tell me I’m pretty, and we’ll make out on his couch. That would be really great. And then I’ll figure out if it will go any farther during the Waffle Window.