There’s a guy I used to know — so many used-tos in the ol’ mental Rolodex these days, which is, I suppose, a side effect of getting older — who was fond of the saying “May you live in interesting times.” (He was in and out of my life over the span of a few years; I have a few of those, it seems.) Equal parts blessing and curse, interesting times don’t promise to be anything but the opposite of dull. I can’t say that I enjoyed all of the past year, but one thing I will say is that 31 was full of interesting times. My birthday last year feels like it was a lifetime ago; so many things have changed since then. But it wasn’t a lifetime ago, just a year. One tiny year, really, but in the middle of it, it felt eternal.
Last year at this time, I was in love with a tall, handsome Englishman who charmed the hell out of me more often than not. I’d known him, off and on, for a long time: he was another one of those in-and-out-of-my-life-over-the-span-of-years people, and somehow, that last time, we let ourselves hang with the curiosity we may have had about each other over the course of all those years to see what would happen. What happened was that we got all tangled up in all that gushy love stuff. I’d not intended to fall, as he was so far away (for the most part, we were separated by nearly 4,000 miles, as he was in England and I was right here in Michigan), but modern times being what they are, it’s still possible to talk to someone every day even across such a distance, and after awhile, I stopped fighting it and let it happen. I’m glad I did. Even though it ended, I’m not going to be negative about it — I mostly had a really good time. The thing people say about long-distance relationships (and for my part, this redefined my concept of them — anywhere within the continental United States seems right next door now) is that they don’t work, but I still believe they can. They’re not easy, even in the best of times, since sometimes the only thing you want is the most obvious, simple thing of them all: being in the same room, breathing the same air, but if you’re willing to put up with a relationship with both the presence and absence of another person, there’s a payoff, I think. But it’s over now, which happens. The reason why is still all just speculation on my part, because he really did just disappear, which, depending on perspective, is either a bonus or a limitation of the long-distance thing, but I think it’s really just as unspectacular as this: when things got difficult, my instinct was to draw closer and his was to withdraw, and our relationship fell apart somewhere in the gulf between those two things.
(In the past couple of weeks, he’s apparently created a Facebook account, because he’s constantly showing up in my People You May Know bit in the sidebar. As I remarked to Missy, “At least he’s not dead.”)
The loss hurt, and if I wasn’t careful, I think it could’ve wound up defining me. People use words like “eviscerated” to describe how it hurts, but if that word is in any way appropriate, then I think I have to turn it on its ear a bit. I didn’t ever feel hollow, like one who has been gutted. No, I felt more like the useless pile of bloody guts. It’s a miserable way to feel, but I’m better now. Looking back now, I am aware of how much better I really am. Grief is a funny thing, and it strikes in weird ways, at weird moments, and I think for a long time, I wasn’t even really capable of admitting that’s what I was going through, and therefore didn’t allow myself the room to be really fucking sad about it and then let it go. You’d think I’d know by now that denying that I need to deal with something doesn’t make it go away, but apparently I still didn’t have a grip on that lesson. Maybe now I do. I hope.
And in the middle of it, I found this book. (Oh god, seriously? I know.) I was in a bookstore, which is a place where one often finds books, it’s true, and I was browsing stuff on a table where everything was for sale, as I am unable to resist the siren call of a sale. I usually tend to go out of my way to avoid anything that even bears the slightest resemblance to a self-help book, because I’m like that, but there was a book by Pema Chödrön on the table, and I picked it up and then I couldn’t stop reading it, so I eventually decided to buy it. Here’s the line that got me:
This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.
I certainly didn’t want to learn anything from the moment I was in, or any of the moments I’d been in for the months leading up to it, for that matter, but that’s one of those lines that can burrow into your brain if you let it, and it’s come to be something that’s been a big help. I meditate on that line when I’m in the midst of chaos (and there’s been a fair amount of chaos that I’m just going to skip right over in this post, because the details aren’t exactly essential), and I’m grateful for it, because it’s made me stop trying to get anywhere else, and instead it’s helped me be mindful of where I am right now. It’s given me the latitude to feel what I feel and to feel it deeply instead of looking for a way out when what I feel is less than pleasant. I can’t actually skip ahead, so I might as well be present where I am.
Nearly a year ago, Missy told me that her doctor found a lump in her breast. I filed this bit of information away with things not to worry about, because the possibility that it was cancer wasn’t one I was capable of entertaining. But it turned out that it was cancer. And this year, two days after her 30th birthday, Missy had a double mastectomy, as she decided it was best to be aggressive now. To say that my friend has been through some stuff this year would be an incredible understatement. Surgery then chemo and more surgery coming up soon — these are not enviable things to have to go through. I know she hasn’t always felt amazing this year, but she has been all the same. Also, she’s kicked cancer to the curb, because she’s totally badass like that, so my recommendation is not to mess with her. We’ve been friends for as long as I can remember, and as it is with many friendships, we’ve been close and not as close, but we’ve always gotten along. This year changed things for our friendship, to the point now where “friend” doesn’t even seem like a big enough word. The thing I learned this year from Missy is that love is an action, not just something to say. When it’s inconvenient or hard or when you’re sick and tired and you’d rather just be having a nap, when you have an excuse because you have enough on your plate already, you step over the expectation of what the normal behavior is and reach out in love anyway. Which is what she’s done for me, time and again, even when she had more than enough to deal with on her own and I was just being self-indulgently miserable, which meant that I was probably more than a little irritating. To say that I’m grateful for her isn’t enough — I’m not sure I would’ve made it this year without her.
So this year I’ve tried to take this lesson and return it the best I could, which is, I think, the thing that has kept me from being a completely self-absorbed ass (and instead maybe I’ve only been a moderately self-absorbed ass). The thing is, you never know how the things you do affect others until they tell you, so it surprised the hell out of me last week when I got a text from Missy that said “Thank you for being my rock.” She was at the hospital with her daughter, frustrated that the answer as to why she was so sick seemed out of reach, and I’d told her that things work out, with weirdly perfect timing (the next day, the doctor found the source of the problem and now everybody’s in good shape, which I think goes to show you that I’m psychic or something, yeah), and that was her response. I don’t feel particularly rock-like even at the best of times, but maybe I’m steadier than I think I am. At the very least, I do offer solid advice on what accessories to wear to a wedding.
It’s been a hell of a year. I say that to Missy sometimes when there’s nothing else to say. It really has, in so many ways, been exactly that: a hell of a year. But there’s been some cool stuff in the middle of everything else. I was published in a book, and in both of the pieces that were selected, I sound fairly intelligent because it turns out that I can write things without saying “like” or “um.” I got to go to Seattle, just for the hell of it, and in so doing, I got to see my teenage rock ‘n’ roll fantasy play a live show. (Swoon.) I’ve modeled for a group of artists, raised money for cancer research, shot some photos I liked, got some writing done, made new friends, had dinners and drinks, and in most ways, was more social and interesting than I’ve been in years past. It’s often easy for me to dwell on the things that are sad, the things that are hard, but the truth is, it’s been a hell of a year, and I wouldn’t trade it.
Tonight, even though the weather is making a turn toward fall, there are still fireflies twinkling in the trees, and fireflies, such wonderfully delightful little insect fairies, always make me smile. I’m not giddy like I was last year at this time, but I am peaceful. It’s a hard-won peace, one that I don’t think I even had last week at this time, but I’ve settled, I’ve calmed, I’ve breathed, and I’m okay. I really can live through anything, as it happens. I never would’ve guessed that the year that’s just ended was the year I was going to have, so lord knows I’m not even going to attempt to guess what the future holds (despite the aforementioned possibility that I’m psychic). Whatever it is, I will take it in stride, and I will keep going, and I will be fine. I didn’t remember this when I started this post, but I remember it now, and it seems like the perfect way to bring it all full circle (and I like circles, yes I do). That guy I used to know? He also said, at least once, “Sometimes you just gotta bury the bodies and keep on livin.'” It’s true, you know. The things that are gone aren’t coming back, but I’m still here. For me, for now, that’s enough.