It’s been almost two months since I posted, and in such a short time, my life has, again, turned itself inside out:
Shakespeare warned us to beware the ides of March, and this year, that warning was painfully appropriate. The night before, my dog, Mrs Weasley, was breathing kind of funny. Then, Tuesday morning, I woke to find that she had thrown up three times, and her breathing was worse. I cleaned up the mess, gave her a pet, and had to go to work. A few hours later, when my mother went to take her out, she was not herself: very labored breathing, not moving off the floor, a worrying look on her face. My mom called me, I called the vet, and she took her right over. In half an hour, my biggest fear came true. She had developed tumors too big to treat. The vet said that even if they tried, the treatment would kill her before the tumors were cured. I sobbed the rest of the afternoon, left work early, and stayed with her as the vet put her down. It was a monstrous grief that followed. My mother was with me, and Mike came straight to me after he got off work. My sweet girl was gone, and being in the apartment without her was almost unbearable at times.
Shortly before this happened, Mike and I had started talking about living together. Since he moved to Chicago in January, it had been a constant effort to make arrangements to be together. A few nights at my place, a few nights at his. So much time and money spent driving back and forth, and it was becoming silly. That night, Mike asked me to move in with him.
The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance. ~Alan Watts
It was a no-brainer. Not only did the logistics make sense, but I have fallen so shamelessly in love with him. Like, the kind of love where I think he’s the best thing since peanut butter, and where I don’t care what people think when he kisses me in the produce section at Jewel, and where I fall in love with him over and over and over again, at the weirdest moments (this week, it happened when he was singing Rainbow Connection in his Kermit the Frog voice).
Just when I think I’ve learned the way to live, life changes. ~Hugh Prather
And so, I let my apartment manager know and started packing. Once again, my picture frames were wrapped in paper, my I Love Lucy snow globe put into its Styrofoam, and, after the moving weekend from hell, it was done. Since Mrs Weasley died, I had been slowly taking things to Chicago, but now, it is home once again.
I have wanted to live in Chicago ever since I left it. No place else feels like Chicago does. I live on the north side, where most of my neighbors are Hispanic, Indian, or Asian. When I walk to Walgreen’s, I pass a Mexican bakery, a few Indian/Pakistani grocery stores, some Halal restaurants, and a lot of other places I haven’t explored yet. I hate the lack of parking, and I could do without people honking in the alley so much, but it’s wonderful.
If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. ~Lao Tzu
There is a part of me that is anxious about all this change. Part of me that wants to be more cautious about life, but that part is swiftly drowned out by the awareness that life is too short to wait for everything to be risk free. The greatest decisions in my life have always been the risky ones, and this is following suit. I am ridiculously happy, even when I am tired or anxious, to wake up with Mike every morning. I love living in the city again. There is a sort of settled feeling in me that says ah, yes, this is how life is supposed to feel.
Someone asked me a while ago where I see myself in five years, and I honestly can say I have no clue. Five years ago, I did not think that this would be my life at all. But the truth is, this is so much better than what I would have guessed. I know where I would like to be, but if I don’t get there? That’s OK. Life is meant to be lived, not just survived.
There are parts of the world that I am not dying to see, and art exhibits that bore me pretty quickly. One thing inhabits both of these lists: Egypt. Whenever I’m at the Art Institute with my sister, she could spend all day in the ancient Egypt collection while I quickly get to the point where my brain is screaming “oh look: another chipped clay pot, just like the last 700 you’ve seen.” My desire to visit Egypt is lessened quite a bit by its recent political climate, but I have to say, the biggest draw for me are the pyramids that showed up in the background of story books when I was a child.
They aren’t amazing because of what they look like, but because they are a testimony of greatness and power. Over decades and decades, thousands of nameless people slaved -literally- to turn crappy limestone into something great enough to house the holiest, most esteemed people of their society. One brick at a time, they carried and stacked. Each brick unimpressive on its own, like millions of tons of other limestone rocks all over the planet that go unnoticed every day.
A year ago, my life felt as barren, hot, and miserable as that desert must have been. I wanted out, but to imagine successful life on the outside was as insane as the ancient Egyptians dreaming up the first pyramid. I wasn’t the first, though. Thank God, I wasn’t the first. I had two in particular who were my own pyramids, Cory and Christin. Both had left and built their own pyramids, so I wasn’t as afraid to build mine.
How long would it take you to build your life if woke up tomorrow with no job, home, car, phone, insurance, credit, and only $374 to finance your move to another state? It’s a hell of a thing to envision, and even imagining it beforehand is nothing compared to living it.
No one, and no previous experience prepares you for building your pyramid. I wasn’t on my own – I had family and friends who have been an unquantifiable amount of help, but it’s both a solitary and community effort. Every tangible bit of building a pyramid is the result of the mental work that goes into it. Sometimes, the mental work involved was coming to the weary, humbling conclusion that I needed someone else to carry and place a brick for me.
And the only way to see any results is to just keep going.
Ten months and fourteen days ago, I packed everything I owned in a uHaul, unloaded it into my parents’ garage, and started over, covered in scars that still feel raw from time to time. I did a lot of pride-swallowing and took the exact job I swore I would never take after college and worked enough to buy a car. Stock up on some interview clothes. Pay for my coffee at Starbucks where I used their free WiFi to look for a job that I didn’t hate.
Slowly, bricks were laid, even when I wasn’t looking. Wounds healed, friendships unfolded, nightmares lessened and dreams took their place.
Today, I signed the lease on an apartment. A one bedroom apartment at the end of a street lined with old trees in a small town just outside of a university bubble. It feels like a very significant brick. It’s just a couple miles from where I live now, in a town that has managed to feel more like home in three months than anywhere has in a long, long time.
I’m going to move in over the next week, with the help of more friends and family. For the first time in three years, I’ll get to put my Christmas decorations up. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I’ll have a space to invite friends into – until now, it seemed like I either had space or friends nearby, but rarely the two together.
My pyramid has a really long way to go, but today feels good. It feels like I get to finally believe that I wasn’t crazy to think about the possibility of life of the outside. Individually, the bricks laid in the last year aren’t much to brag about, but let me assure you: they were heavy, they were necessary, and they took a hell of a lot of effort. So when I look at these little silver keys in my hand, they are a lot more than just keys. They are big, gigantic bricks in my pyramid.
I remember deciding, about a year ago, that the year I was 33 was going to be a big one. I was going to do brave things, and be honest about who I am, and make more of an effort to be myself. My friend Steve, the Godzilla of Love, often says that it shouldn’t have to be so hard to be who you are. He’s right.
Tonight, it feels very hard to be me. I am stuck between the incessant need to write and the paralyzing fear of writing it. The problem with being brave is that it makes you that much readier to be brave again. So with the warning that my thoughts tonight are not cheerful, it is, if nothing else, an honest piece, and one that doesn’t come easily:
I am writing this from a closet. Literally. The reason I am in a closet tonight is because I moved again. My goal was to be in my own apartment again by June, and instead, it is 11:23 p.m. on May 31, and I have moved with my parents instead of away from them. The old apartment wasn’t very good, and it wasn’t safe for my dad, and so with his retirement official tomorrow, they needed to move.
The new apartment puts me an hour and a half from work, meaning my gas expense will multiply seven-fold. I’m back in a small town, within sight of cornfields, and of all things, small towns like this are anything but good for me. And as for the closet: I don’t really have a room. I have a space at the end of a hall, but there is no door for any semblance of privacy. If I want privacy, my only option is to sit in the closet, tucked in the dark behind the folding doors. This is the place I sleep, but it is not my home. Not my space. I am the recipient of a favor, and I need to remember that… Or so I’m told.
I hate it, but I’m not allowed to say so. Saying so means that I’m selfish, uncaring, and ungrateful. I’m told I should just be happy that I’m not living in my car. As if I don’t know that already. As if I am unaware of my own poverty. I know that this move is what they needed. I wish I could say that it’s NOT what I needed without being made the villain for having said so.
Today, I was told I am unstable. Sigh. I didn’t really answer, because there isn’t any use. I am stable. Remarkably stable. My ability to remain stable in times of crisis is, according to my former therapist, “outstanding.” But this is my fourth address in a year, in the fourth town in a year. I went from being solidly middle class to having to apply for public health insurance and trying to live on sublevel wages. I went from living alone in a four bedroom house to having to sit in a closet for privacy. I am stable. My circumstances have not been. Reacting to those circumstances has been a sometimes bumpy road, but I have handled it pretty well. Who on earth would NOT have been rattled by the year I’ve had? I’m told that my problems are less than the problems of others, so I need to keep my mouth shut.
I didn’t speak up because I am tired of rehashing everything and trying to convince others that I’m not broken and not a loser. I spend enough energy trying to believe those things myself, and I have none left to try to convince you, too.
I received fourteen rejection emails those week. I think I probably sent 75 resumes out and I don’t know how many online applications I have filled out just this week. My followup phone calls were ignored 100% of the time. “Thank you for your interest, but at this time, we are pursuing applicants who better fit our criteria.” I barely read them anymore. I can usually tell by the email address, or by the subject heading. I am a little more immune to them than I used to be, but how can it not hurt at least a little?
I don’t tell people when I apply somewhere anymore. I am worn out by explaining to them how many companies are not interested in me. I don’t talk about how much I would like this job or that job. It’s almost all I think about, though… About how nice it would be to work in a place where I am not told to expect a “mild” level of sexual harassment at work, where I am not openly mocked for doing the menial tasks my job requires, or -of all things- how much of a relief it would be to earn a liveable wage. When I talk about those things, I’m told that I need to stop whining and “get over it.” So I try to not talk about it anymore.
I can’t really blame them. They don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to say to me.
People talk about poor people all the time. Politicians, teachers, journalists, and everyone else wants to talk about poor people, about how we can fix our own situations, or how a program will or won’t help us, or how much we drain society. Very few want to listen to poor people. They may be pushed to listen to people speak about poor people, or to read a small, poignant message on a HONY post, but listening to poor people is something else. Listening to poor people becomes uncomfortable very quickly because if you are listening correctly, you’ll soon see that there is no quick and easy answer, and you become aware of how easily you can join their ranks. Even those who try become weary of hearing about the same struggles for long periods of time (so try living with them). So middle class people don’t listen to poor people, generally.
I try to not talk about it too much. I try… But sometimes, it’s like I can’t take it any more. The silence becomes so oppressive that I just start talking, and out comes all the word vomit, all the emotions, all the things I haven’t said. It never ends well. I get reminded that things could be worse, and that I should be more thankful, and that it’s my attitude that is the problem.
So I go back to the silence again. I go back to the place where I don’t talk about the reality that I live every day or about the reality I don’t live every day.
My dog just came and laid next to the closet, next to me. For four years, she has been the most steady thing I’ve had. For now, that will have to do.