Just When You Thought You Knew It All

Last night, I heard something beautiful. I was listening to a meditation on addiction, and the man on the recording was asking listeners to picture a person or creature in our lives that we love, that we count on, to whom we could open ourselves. It could be a family member, a lover, or even a beloved pet that is there for us in times of need. But in opening up this idea, the speaker said something like, “You might not be able to picture this person just yet, but they are there, still. Their love, though you haven’t met it yet, reaches across the divide of time and space – they are reaching for you even now, just as you reach for them.” The point being, not that there is a soulmate or love interest for everyone, but that we have counterparts in the world who need us as much as we need them. Friends. Family. Strangers who will count on us in moments we have yet to imagine. And yes, maybe lovers. Maybe just pets in the future. For me, at the moment, I’m picturing the next crop of pilgrims I’ll meet on the way to Santiago de Compostela.

I met a handful of truly magical human beings on my trek across Spain – and they’re still influencing my life in various ways. Natalie’s music, her superpower of listening with an open heart and mind, her easy-going nature. Claire’s resilience, her way of making a statement with such effortless grace, her dogged determination to see exactly whatever it was she sets out to see, in her own way, in her own time. Terry’s eye for adventure, and never-ending curiosity, her grit, and her way of walking the walk – I am truly inspired by the effort she puts into living humbly. Nestor’s joy and kindness, always giving to others, even when he was making his way through his own darkness, with a smile that lights up a room, and this effortless charm that’s utterly irresistible. Jakob’s fairness and strength, a protective presence with a streak of impishness, the improbable feeling of finding a long-lost sibling on the other side of the world. David’s inquisitiveness, the analytical mind of an engineer, the bemusement of world traveler who knows he has so much more to see, and too many odd things to explain already. And now that I’m back, I get to know others that I didn’t get know on the road – so many beautiful people, each on their own quest. We all walk the same Camino; it’s a matter of relaying the signs and symbols to each other, to get to know where the others are at at any given time.

In my darkest moments, I reach across the divide of time and space to my pilgrim friends. In particular, I spend time in one particular moment, no longer than 5 seconds maybe, but big enough to live a whole life in. I return, time and again, to the albergue where Jakob, David, and I slept the night before my birthday. It was a terrible town, like one big, awful strip mall. The name escapes me right now, but it was within the last 100 km before Santiago, and I disliked it intensely. We were just a few days away from the end of our pilgrimage. The albergue was cheap, but it had internet and hot showers, and a place to do laundry. The pillows were threadbare, the mattresses barely more than bags of springs. It was a huge place, enough room for at least 80 or so pilgrims, but there were only six of us there that night.

Even though we had all the room in the world to spread out, and had been living on top of each other for days, there was this unspoken agreement to stick together. At first, I wanted space, but to be honest, as soon as I’d put my things down by the bunk, I started worrying about how far away the boys would choose to be. As it turned out, I didn’t have to. We actually moved rooms and beds a couple of times, looking for the best mattresses and WiFi signal. Finally I settled on a particular bunk, and Jakob immediately posted up on the bottom bunk next to mine, with David on the top bunk of the bed on the other side. A couple of weeks before, it had felt a bit odd sleeping on a bed just a few feet away from a strange guy, like an intrusion of my privacy, but any oddness had ceased, leaving familiarity and an odd necessity. Jakob called himself my German Shepherd; maybe that had begun to wear off on me. I grew accustomed to having him near.

Before we went out to dinner, we washed clothes (Jakob had forgotten his headphones in the laundry for the second time, so I made sure to pick on him about it, enjoying the hell out of my favorite of all moments, schadenfreude). The guys took me out for a birthday feast of pulpo and Estrella Galicia at a local pulperia. We were the only folks in the bar, and the owner told us that any local knows you aren’t supposed to eat octopus at night, since it’s a heavy food. I didn’t care – it was exactly what I wanted for my birthday – friends and local food in a foreign country – how could you go wrong with that?

After dinner, we wandered around town, then went back to the albergue to get some shut eye. Sometime before bed, we played this terrible game where I laid on the floor and Jakob tried to drop Oreos into my mouth from a great height (NOT a success, since I was laughing hysterically and trying to avoid an Oreo to the eye). That was followed by a push-up contest that ended poorly, too. All three of us were playing and joking around a lot more than usual, I think because we could all feel the end approaching. But finally it was time for lights out…and this is the moment that I return to.

The albergue lights had been turned off, but you could still see by the dim orange light from the hallway. We’d all gone to bed, then one-by-one we’d gotten up to get one last sip of water, go to the bathroom, find forgotten sleep masks or earplugs, steal a second pillow off of an empty bunk, etc. – the last minute things that we get annoyed at little kids for doing at bedtime, but adults all do without thinking. Finally, everyone was settled. The albergue was quiet, and we’d whispered our goodnights to each other. Overhead and to the left, I heard David’s breathing shift as he fell asleep. Jakob, to my right, was still awake. I shifted, and found just the right position in my sleeping bag, clutching my stolen second pillow to my chest like a teddy bear, and began to drift off. As I did, in that delicious weighty time between waking and sleeping, I had one last thought. More of a feeling, really. I felt a deep, abiding gratitude. I felt safe, and completely at peace. I felt love, and knew it was reciprocated. I don’t think I’d ever felt exactly that level of (home? I don’t know what to call it) before. And whenever I’m scared that I won’t feel it again, I simply reach across the divide, back through time, and tap into that goodness where it still lives, WILL live, forever. My own little dose of life-giving elixir. Love.

 

Predator & Prey

Today’s Daily Post Prompt is “Symbiosis,” about which it turns out I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately. Well, that’s backwards, really. I’ve been thinking about relationships that are supposed to be symbiotic – both organisms surviving together, with mutual, reciprocal benefit – but are not. I guess we’re talking more about codependency, or probably any number of other relationship types of which I’m not yet aware.

First, let’s consider my cats. They’re the most innocent of all of the relationships I’ve been considering. They can survive without me. If I opened up the door right now and shooed them all outside, sure, they’d have a rough week or two, but barring getting hit by a car, they’d be OK. Isabel would find a spot in the sun and sit there, looking frail and vulnerable, until some old lady came along and took her in. Munky would probably run into the first open door and demand kibble and a back rub. Charlie would go feral in no time, and his size and natural ownership of all situations would make him king of the block. There might be some tussles with Kuzia, but they’d work out a way to hold the title jointly without either getting too ticked off.

All that being said, they stay here with me. I feed them very expensive food, take them to the doctor whenever anyone exhibits signs of pain or illness, am constantly refilling food/water and cleaning out litter boxes, and everything I own is covered in cat hair/litter/cat footprints. One of the top reasons I’m stuck in this tiny apartment is because having cats makes me wary of trying to find a roommate, and landlords either don’t want pets or just don’t want three of them, so when I do find a place that would work with three cats, it’s WAY out of my price range. But I love them, and when I’m lonely, there’s always a furball to curl up next to, and when I cry, Charlie loves to lick tears, and when I take showers, Isabel loves to get petted through the plastic shower curtain liner, and when I brush my teeth, Munky loves to have me pet him with the non-toothbrush-holding-hand. So we count on each other, and here we are.

I know too many people who are in negative relationships. Relationships where one of the participants has taken on the role of caregiver, and gives the other participant way too much leeway to not be present, active, giving. I also know more people than ever before who are in desperate need of therapy, or at least some sort of help, whether it’s coming to terms with an addiction, or dealing with childhood trauma, or mental imbalance based in health concerns like PCOS. And I know too many women who can’t come to terms with the fact that you can’t keep from being alone by forcing someone else to depend on you. You’ll still be alone, just alone with someone else in the house. And believe me, that’s much worse, loneliness without being allowed to find a way out of it. And YOU doing it to YOURSELF! What a pity. What a waste. I wish I had the guts to tell every one of my girlfriends that I see in this situation to get out. It’s better to be on your own than alone and stuck under the influence of a man who somehow believes that giving 1/4 of the effort amounts to participation. Relationships are very hard work, and we shouldn’t have to put in 3/4 of the effort for no reward, especially in this day and age, when there’s just no more reason to suffer. It used to be that you needed to be under the protection of a man, and that there was financial security in it, but not anymore. Come to think of it, I don’t have any girlfriends who aren’t the more successful partner, financially speaking.

On that note, I was thinking about romance earlier, and why it is that we have this trope of the handsome, romantic, experienced foreign man (you can set this story in Spain, Italy, Greece, anywhere in South or Central America – just make sure that the men there are dark and handsome, and are rumored to be skilled at seduction). Wouldn’t it be satisfying to have a story where the down-on-her-luck American woman visits a foreign island, in search of romance (a la Eat, Pray, Love), and finds herself unfortunately paired up with a bumbling, analytical, completely inexperienced foreign guy? Like, the only available man on the island is available for a reason, and the resulting pairing is hilarious. I’d enjoy that story.

Well, it’s Sunday afternoon out there, and in a few hours I’m going to go buy some eggs at Dollar General, then hit up my weekly Refuge Recovery meeting. I went to Zumba this morning, so I’m feeling good about being back on track at the gym. Just hoping it’s possible to avoid catching a cold or flu or whatever other bugs are there every time I go for more than a few days in a row. Today I washed my hands before and after Zumba, didn’t touch anything in the classroom, and the equipment that I did use after class, I sprayed it off before and after. I’m trying to be very conscious of when I touch anything, and not touching my face, but we’ll see.

One Sock Missing

There I was, emptying the laundry basket and pairing up all of the socks, when I stumbled across just what this whole thing reminds me of. By “whole thing,” of course, I mean life.

Can you remember back in grade school, when a teacher would call in sick and you’d get a substitute teacher for a day or two? There were some substitutes who were really gung-ho about their job, and when they took the helm, it was basically like nothing had changed. You’d still have a coherent lesson plan and homework, the whole nine. But every now and then you’d end up with a substitute teacher who was basically just a placeholder. She’d sit at the desk, looking vaguely bored (and maybe a little frightened), and the class would spend the entire period pretending to do some busy work, but really writing notes and doodling in the margins, whatever.

I’m not saying I wasn’t like other kids; there were times when I celebrated in this kind of time wastage. It was always fun when the substitute would show a movie, or give us art exercises. But most of the time I hated the empty space. It always reeked of “waiting around.” Everyone was waiting for the next thing. Now was pointless. The busy work wasn’t going to get counted towards your grade, other than maybe towards participation. No one wanted to be there, and everyone knew it. You were all stuck together, sharing the same time suck against your wills, waiting for lunch, or recess, or the bus ride home, whatever came next. Even math class was preferable to the emptiness of substitute hell.

Anyway, that’s what this feels like. Empty. Endless. Monotonous. I’m tired of being here. It is pointless to exist, and at the heart of it, I believe that there is nothing else but this pointlessness. How disappointing.

But ultimately, this realization is what I’ve been trying to get to, I believe. An understanding of what was at my core, what I’ve been overlooking, blanketed as it was by the symptoms of my anxiety and comforted by my food addiction. Now that I can feel it properly, I know that it’s something I’ve felt before, and tried to ignore (many times, in fact). But I’m a different person this time, so I’ll try a new approach. I’ll try being mindful of this big empty closet that is life, and see if I can put a few things into it, to make the void seem a little less like an echo chamber. To find a way to be comforted, and to comfort, until I can finally be done with being.

What’s On The Tube?

One of my earliest memories is of a TV show. Not Sesame Street or Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood (though I certainly remember both of those shows fondly), but The Jeffersons. I watched that show religiously every afternoon, around the time my Mum was fixing dinner. One day, just before the show was about to start, our TV gave up the ghost. There was a big POP! and a fizzle, and the television was no more. This was the early 1980s, so the working parts inside of a television were a lot different back then. Either way, it was time to get a new TV. In later years, I was to experience a similar situation where the television died, and my then boyfriend calmly walked out of the house, went down the street to the Best Buy a few blocks away, bought a new TV, and was back in less than an hour. But when four-year-old Anna pitched a fit about the television breaking, demanding that her mother drop everything she was doing and go find a new TV in time to watch The Jeffersons, she got nothing for her efforts.

In my memory, my Mum was actually pretty cool about the whole thing. In her customary “this child is nuts, there’s no fixing this situation, OK, let’s keep a cool head” way, she frowned (even her forehead got involved in the effort – my Mum has a very expressive countenance), explained that televisions were expensive and I should get used to not having one, then immediately went back to doing whatever she had been doing in the kitchen. I got the point – mostly that one more word out of me would mean punishment. Obviously, I was upset (no “Weezy!” for how long???) but I got over it. Who knows, maybe losing George Jefferson was the impetus behind me becoming a champion reader. Or maybe not. I don’t remember how long it took for my father to buy a new TV, but it couldn’t have been that long. I can’t imagine him going without the old boob tube for longer than a few days, max.

Tonight I was thinking about television shows that I’ve absorbed over the years, and how in some ways, I’m composed of them. The favorites have stuck with me for an awfully long time. It might mean nothing, or it might mean just the smallest bit of something. I’m sure it means less than a lot, but more than zero. So it felt right to start collecting those shows here. I’ll stop waxing ridiculous and just start the list, in more-or-less the order I remember watching them in:

  1. Sesame Street
  2. Mr. Rogers
  3. 3-2-1 Contact
  4. Lassie
  5. The Jeffersons
  6. Fraggle Rock
  7. Pound Puppies
  8. Sanford & Son
  9. Garfield & Friends
  10. Star Trek: The Original Series
  11. Captain Power
  12. Family Ties
  13. Benson
  14. Silver Spoons
  15. Miami Vice (NB: I didn’t watch this show, but vividly remember it in regards to my relationship with my mom, who watched it religiously.)
  16. The Cosby Show
  17. 227
  18. The Storyteller
  19. Perfect Strangers
  20. Alf
  21. Growing Pains
  22. The Pirates of Darkwater
  23. Different World
  24. Full House
  25. M*A*S*H*
  26. Quantum Leap
  27. Star Trek: The Next Generation
  28. The Simpsons
  29. Head of the Class
  30. Fresh Prince of Bel Air
  31. Blossom
  32. Days of Our Lives
  33. Passions
  34. Saturday Night Live
  35. Saved By the Bell
  36. California Dreams
  37. MST3K
  38. Pop Up Video

(I’m stopping at high school for the night…I’ll come back to finish this later.)

 

Label That Feeling For Later

It’s Day 20 of my social media detox. I have my second terrible cold of the year, and it feels like my head is swaddled in at least one large duvet. My hearing is shot, I can’t breathe out of my nose, and my eyes aren’t watering, exactly, just feeling old and tired. I am also incredibly bored. Like, monumentally bored. BORED. The kind of bored that made you angsty as a little kid. The kind of bored I haven’t been in I can’t remember how long, because I’ve been filling all that empty space in with Facebook, TV, or just generally being incredibly anxious about gods-know-what.

I finished reading my third book in four days today at lunch, and I’m not really feeling like starting a new one yet. The apartment could use a good deep cleaning, but when my nose and throat are this irritated, the solvents from the different cleaning solutions make everything swell up and make every breath torture, as I learned the hard way last night, when I tried to spray down my kitchen counters and had to leave the house. So nothing more than vacuuming and dish washing is getting done tonight. I could watch TV, but I just don’t feel like it. I spent a little time dream-shopping for new apartments in new hometowns on Craigslist – that was fun. My favorites were the mid century mod apartment buildings in Phoenix, and a cute apartment in an old Victorian house in Maine.

But the real reason I’m taking a moment to write is that I think I might have stumbled across something, due to this pesky cold, and I want to label it now while I can see it most clearly. So here it goes:

Today I can’t breathe through my nose, so I can’t smell properly. And because I can’t smell properly, everything I’ve eaten today has been unappetizing. I could barely force myself to finish my tiny little container of curried chickpeas at lunch. That is something with which I’m entirely unfamiliar, as I generally have no stopping mechanism, so I have to control my portion sizes to get myself to end a meal. Stopping before the food is gone is almost alien to me. This being said, while I have no drive to eat today, I AM incredibly bored. Do you get where this is going? I think I’m feeling a boredom I don’t normally feel because typically, when my mind starts pushing me closer to this state, I eat. I eat when I’m bored, to cover up the feeling (which apparently I’ve been doing rather well), and then, once I’m done eating, I move on to other things, like feeling terrible about myself. Voila! Solution to boredom is feeding the anxiety. Literally.

Space, Time, Money

There is seldom any controversy in my household, since I live alone, with three cats for companions. But this is why, when there are disagreements with others in my life – even disagreements that live entirely in my head, never seeing the light of day – my tiny apartment becomes integral to my need for refuge and respite. In the same way, though, living in such a small space provides its own challenges. For someone who likes to share so much of herself in writing, in person I guard my space jealously. I don’t think clearly without a great deal of alone time. It’s hard to work out your problems when other people are on top of you, all day, every day. At this point in my life, I find it hard to believe that I’d ever be able to share my personal living space with another human being again (at least, any living space possible on my current meagre budget…maybe if I had a mansion, or at least two big apartments, side by side).

These were the thoughts taken into account last week, when I asked the boyfriend to give me some space. Not “we’re breaking up” space, or “stay out of my business” space, just literal SPACE. The ability to come home to my apartment in the evening, tired from work, without finding another human already here, watching TV, when I need silence and a hot shower to recover from my day. The knowledge that when I fall asleep at night, I can angle my body across the bed, and the only thing that might wake me up is a cat walking across my face (This is Isabel, every time. The cat has no shame.). An understanding that I can wake up at 7am and turn on every light in the house, even bang the pots and pans if I feel the need, no keeping my noises in check to avoid upsetting anyone. The ability to make every single choice in my space for myself, with no internal checks to make sure I wouldn’t be hurting/disappointing/irritating/in any way affecting another human being. Not feeling judged or inadequate about anything I choose to do, from cooking to reading romance novels to letting the floor go without vacuuming for way too long. Just living life on my terms, and getting to forego the exhaustion of constantly weighing my actions against the needs of others, even in a space that should be 100% my own, and free of judgment (but is not, of course, because I’m still in it).

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with my finances. My freelancing job has dried up. I was having a hard time working 8 to 10 hours a day at my hotel job, a trip to the gym, a walk home, then fitting in freelance work on top of all that, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t need the extra income. Munky’s illness over Mardi Gras ensured that I started out March $500 in the hole, and I had an unexpected bill come in yesterday, as well. To be honest, adopting Charlie last summer was the first step in creating my current budget woes – all those checkups and shots and getting fixed, plus the little sprained leg when he first came my way. I love all of these cats, but they’ve really pushed me. Let’s not even consider what will happen as Isabel gets older. But it’s not all their fault. My biggest spending area has always been eating. Let’s not sugarcoat it. I have an addiction, and I keep it fed and fat and sassy. It has to stop. I’ve spent the last couple of days working and reworking my budget, trying to figure out how to make things work right now. I had a nightmare last night that the landlord raised my rent by $50, which in reality is the only padding I have at the end of each month. I woke up in a cold sweat.

On Monday I’ll talk to my manager about picking up some front desk shifts, even though I don’t know if I have the stamina for a full week of my regular job (which also regularly includes some overtime hours) plus 16 to 24 more hours standing at the front desk, smiling at all of those people overwrought from countless hours of travel, needy in ways I’ve yet to intuit, demanding a level of coddling that goes above and beyond everything I’ve previously known about hospitality. And this is assuming he can fit me in there; I don’t know if there are even any shift possibilities.

I don’t have the option of quitting my job to find something that pays better. For the first time in years, I really enjoy what I do. And I love working for Marriott; it’s a great company. All I need to do is hang in there, and eventually raises and promotions will come, and I’ll be fine. Just have to find a way to survive in the meantime.

In a weird way, this is going to be very good for me. It will help with the compulsive eating, as it’s hard to binge eat when you don’t have the money for food. I can make my budget stretch – eggs for the morning (free bacon at work), a crockpot of curry for my lunches, salads for dinner. I’m not sure how I’ll pay the donation at my Refuge Recovery meeting tomorrow night, but I might scrounge up change in the couch cushions and just explain I’m in a tight spot. My biggest worry in this particular moment is that I started getting a cold a few days ago, and at first it felt like nothing, but today I woke up with chest congestion and a deep, rattling cough and what seems to be a sinus headache. I’ve resolved to walk to the Dollar General at the end of the Bywater to see if they have any discounted medicine in the sale aisle. I also need to pick up some eggs, diced tomatoes, and coconut milk for the curry. I seem to remember that their canned good prices are pretty cheap. Much more of a savings than the food co-op, that’s a guarantee. Nothing organic, and probably everything low quality, but such is life.

In other news, it’s Day 18 of the social media detox, and I’m not going back to Facebook. It’s weirdly both an anxiety-machine and an anesthetic. I’ve gotten more reading done in the last three months than in all of last year, and my anxiety levels are significantly diminished. I’m talking to less people on a daily basis, without Facebook to encourage some conversations, but when I do talk to people, there is purpose and fullness. It is real.

I’ve also had some great one-on-one interactions with friends in the last week; it gives me hope for perhaps having a life in the future. I re-joined Meetup.com, and found two groups of outdoor enthusiasts who hike and camp, go birdwatching, etc. in Louisiana. I don’t have the money to participate much at the moment (still missing some basic equipment for backpacking trips), but it makes me excited to think that I could start shaping my life to include more of my interests, and finding friends who enjoy the same things I do. Maybe I wouldn’t have to try so hard or worry so much about fitting in. Which is really a funny statement to write, because my solution to worrying about fitting in has always been to just forgo it, entirely. Anyway, that’s a thought for another blog post.

One of my girlfriends told me the other day that she’s planning to sell her condo and buy a house, preferably a double shotgun so she can rent out the other side. She told me that I was the first person who popped into her head, and she wanted me to be her tenant if she finds a place that she can afford to buy and I can afford to rent. I told her where I am right now, budget-wise, and that I’m happy to pay with additional elbow grease as she gets the house fixed up. We’ve known each other for over 10 years now, and I think we’d work really well together in a landlord/renter situation, sharing two sides of the same house. So I’m excited about that, even though it’s probably months away. Now to just cross my fingers that my rent here doesn’t go up $50 in the meantime…

Fur Faces

Just like humans, cats’ faces change by the second, reflecting their various moods and whatever point they’re trying to get across at the moment. Of course, no one likes to get a camera stuck in their face by surprise, and knowing that I was bound to tick off a whole house full of cats tonight, I chased everyone around to get in their business and see what kinds of shots could be taken. I feel pretty good about catching everyone in a natural pose.

Isabel2017B&W.jpg

Isabel, who turns 10 this year, is typically solemn and a little suspicious (she takes after the human in the household). Here, she stands on my lap and asks what I’m doing waving my iPhone in her face. I’m sitting on the bed, and everyone knows that the bed is for cuddling with Izzy, not for taking crummy snapshots.

Munky2017B&W.jpg

Munky is 7 years old, and spends the majority of his energy seeking out kibble and affection. This is him trying to look nonchalant while also making googly eyes at me in hopes that he’ll get a butt rub. He did.

Charlie2017B&W

Charlie’s still a baby, not even a year old yet, but already Isabel’s size. He’s all muscle, and spends most of his time running amuck. He plays fetch, and he makes little turkey gobble noises as he throws his body around the house at top speed. At night the house sounds like “GOBBLE! THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, CRASH! THUD. GOBBLE! THUMP, THUMP, THUMP…”He’s also just learning how to be a proper cat, and is experimenting with cuddling for hours, purring for a second or two, and finally understanding the thrill of catnip. Don’t let this look fool you; he’s a maniac.

Druza2017B&W

Kuzia is an outside cat who technically belongs to my neighbor, but spends a lot of time on my front porch. He rules the neighborhood, and has his own barstool at a bar down the street. I feed him wet food when he visits, so it’s not uncommon to be walking back from the grocery store and find I’m being escorted home by a fierce little cat king. He seems to be composed entirely of bad attitude, and will consent to exactly one light body rub or two head kisses before he gets bored with you and walks away. This is him asking what the hell I’m doing interrupting his beauty sleep.

This post was a response to the Daily Post Photo Challenge prompt, Atop.