Ever Red

Once, I found a tube of Chanel lip color at one of my favorite bars. I already get cold sores on occasion, so I have no fear of catching the virus now. I loved the color, this deep berry shade called Ever Red, and it was obviously nearly brand new, so I kept it.

Months later, I saw a good friend of mine using the same type of lipstick, but in a slightly different shade. I told her about the tube of Ever Red I’d found. She told me that a few months back, she’d lost a tube of Chanel lipstick in that exact shade, at that same bar. At the time, she was really upset, because she’d only used it once, and it was expensive. But then she went back to the store and found a shade that she liked even more, and thought that she was actually happier with the new choice than she would have been with the old one.

Maybe you took from that, “Gross, she reused mystery lipstick that she found at a bar!” Or maybe you thought, “Wow, great score,” or perhaps, “Talk about a crazy coincidence!” Someone (or many someones) probably thought, “You’re lucky you didn’t catch something.” I just thought that my friend was glamorous for splurging on Chanel lipstick (among all of the other stylish beauty choices she makes). I offered to give the lipstick back, but instead, she gave me the other tube, too. She’d moved on to a new brand that she liked more.

In the end, the first tube leaked into my bag one day. I’m just too much of a mess for Chanel, I guess.

Things I Have Not Said

I’m still pretty angry, and for awhile now, that anger has been paired up with a heaping helping of shame. At first, I didn’t get it. Why shame? And for that matter, why anger, exactly? A calm, well-planned breakup with friendship intact shouldn’t elicit this level of “BURN IT DOWN!” that I’m constantly feeling. It’s been over a month. Shouldn’t I be getting on with my life?

But it’s started to hit me. I’ve known the entire time that I wasn’t angry AT anyone, exactly. I’m certainly not that angry at him, this last him. I love him deeply, and unconditionally. He’s irritated the shit out of me, yes. The thought of having to spend time in his presence in a non-girlfriend role makes me want to puke, yes. I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’m being forced to give up on him because he’s asking me to, yes. That last one is crazy, and I’m just rolling it around, rolling it around, rolling it around. Eventually it will wear down to a size where it fits in my head and starts to make some sort of sense, but right now it’s just going to sit here and be weird and pointless, the same as this breakup.

But back to the anger and shame. It’s hitting me that I’m angry for everything. My life. Everything that everyone has done to piss me off and I haven’t said a goddamn thing to any of them. Because I was raised to believe that any negative emotion felt as a result of the actions of other people is my burden to bear. You feel like it’s unfair? So what, life is unfair. Take a number. Turn the other cheek. Practice forgiveness. Don’t even bother complaining in the first place. Ignore the pain. Fight through the discomfort. Never, ever talk about the ways in which you’re failing at being a proper young lady with class and good breeding. Ladies don’t use curse words. Ladies don’t wear that kind of outfit (or that kind, or that kind, or that kind, either). Ladies don’t go out after dark or go anywhere alone or spend time with strange men (or familiar men – in fact, why is that man familiar, good heavens!).

You had a bad experience? It’s probably all your fault. You were wearing the wrong thing. You said the wrong thing. You didn’t put enough distance between the two of you. You should have been scoping your surroundings more efficiently. You shouldn’t have been there at all. Did you laugh, smile, speak, make eye contact, walk past him with a little too much sway? Are you showing any skin at all? Your makeup must have been too dark. Besides, he didn’t really mean to scare you with his scary/sleezy/downright rape-y behavior – that’s just how men are. And you’re just how women are. So shut up and move on. Stop trying to get attention.

And the non-rape-y stuff, the times they shut you down, make you explain yourself with smiley emojis, talk to you like you’re a toddler, shout at you because they want a discount on their invoice, repeatedly ignore you when it’s time for a promotion, deny your request for a raise and then give it to the guy who works half-days and spends his time building his fantasy football league… Well, they’ll listen to you one day when you’re older/smarter/prettier/have a different job title. If you start paying more attention to their sports discussions/TV shows/baby pictures they’ll think you’re a team player and you’ll get a promotion. If you’d just stop being so pushy. You probably whine too much. Or maybe you come across as bitchy when you ask for things. You could stand to wear more attractive things to the office. Dress for the job you want. But not too attractive, you know – don’t want to look like the office slut. Ugh……………….

All this goes to say that I’ve figured out that I’m not suddenly angry. I’m just suddenly experiencing all of the anger that I’ve tamped down over my lifetime. And I’m experiencing this shame for feeling angry, but I’m also angry about having been conditioned to feel the shame, so that’s a really interesting place to be.

So I think it might be helpful to say all of the things that I never got to. All of the things that I thought would be “nagging,” but really would have released some of my stress and probably helped to shape the lives of those men who have gone on to date other women (who are hopefully nagging them right now, as we speak).

  1. You wore too much cologne. Three direct sprays is TOO MUCH. I actually told you that it was too much one time, but then you sprayed another blast. To be funny? Really, you just looked like an asshole, and you STANK of cologne, and it wafted after you. People choked on that all day long in your office, I’m sure. I choked on it just getting near you. You sucked for not listening to me. You were so unbelievably rude, but you acted like you thought it was endearing or attractive. It wasn’t.
  2. Your hair products ruined my sheets. Sheets are really expensive, and that stuff isn’t coming out.
  3. You always left your trash behind. You told me that it was just because you’re absent minded, and I grew to believe that and find it endearing. But let’s be honest. You’re a grownup, and you knowingly made more work for me every time you brought some disposable item into my house. If you know that you’re prone to leave trash around, WORK ON IT. Same goes for washing your own damn dishes.
  4. You woke me up on Saturday morning – the day that I got to sleep in – and demanded that I get up and wash the dishes. You acted like my dad, except that my dad would NEVER make me get up early on a Saturday morning, because he loves me. Screw you. Seriously. I hope you marry a tyrant who pulls that kind of passive aggressive bullshit right back at ya.
  5. You vacuumed while I was sleeping, just because you had to stick to your schedule of self-perpetuating bullshit.
  6. You promised me that you’d always clean the bathtub, did it twice, then made me do it for the next 8 years.
  7. You had the body of a Roman god, had to do absolutely nothing to maintain it, and when you saw me working constantly to try to stay slim, you did nothing to help. That’s OK – it wasn’t your job to help. But it was your job to STOP BAKING SEVERAL CAKES PER WEEK that you wouldn’t eat. What kind of monster fills up a house with junk food when they know damn well that their girlfriend is a compulsive eater? The same kind who bathes in cologne, excels at all of their shared hobbies until she no longer finds joy in any of the things that used to amuse her, and lords his finances over her.
  8. Oh, yeah, that amazing little tidbit. When I was making 35k and loving my job, you told me that I didn’t make enough money and needed to quit. You tried to make it sound like you were concerned with me, but in actuality you were chiding me for my weakness, my inability to fit your definition of success. You harped on how little money I was making, and how there were plenty of jobs out there that paid more – I just needed to look harder. Yeah, I was struggling, but I was paying my half. You, meanwhile managed to put up 15k extra that you later tearfully told me was supposed to “go towards our wedding” as a surprise. Right.
  9. You bailed out of going to my best friend’s wedding. She’s a sister to me. I should have moved out that day, instead of wasting my time. I knew right then that you could never be the man for me, but instead I kept trying. Isn’t that the saddest shit ever? What kind of person loves herself so little that she’d choke on the disrespect rather than cutting ties and moving on? Ugh.
  10. I paid for your half of many joint activities our first years together, because I loved being with you and wanted to share experiences. It was a burden to me, and I resented it, but was mostly irritated with myself for not being gracious enough to just incur the debt. I loved you and wanted you to be with me, and if that meant paying for things when you couldn’t afford them, I told myself that I didn’t mind. But I did. And because I had taken the brunt of someone’s displeasure with me for not making enough money, I decided to never make it a big deal. I did my best to never even bring up the fact that my budget wasn’t meant for two. But then you found steady employment, and everything was looking up. And then you dumped me. It seems like more than a coincidence, but I’m sure I’m wrong. I’m sure the two had nothing to do with each other, other than the fact that our schedules no longer aligned in the least bit, so we grew apart. But it still stings. I’m still angry. I felt used at the beginning, and now at the end, I feel manipulated, which is worse. I wish you could have waited a little while. Taken care of me a little bit. Showed me that you treasured me in the way I treasured you. But you retreated once you had the chance to show yourself. It wasn’t even about money in the end, but it’s easiest to see this portion of the pattern. You knew you needed to pick up the slack, but you didn’t do it. You let everyone around you pay for you, take care of you, ensure that you aren’t too sad or uncomfortable. And at the time I thought that your hangdog air was all shame. And I’m sure that’s a part of it. But I know now that you enjoy feeling that shame. You get off on it. It’s a power play with yourself. It’s erotic, in its own weird way. So yeah, I’m angry at you for turning something as simple as going out to dinner into a lingering guilt trip, just to fulfill some strange need to constantly be wrong.
  11. You should have been honest with me from the beginning. You eventually told me that you’d “thought” you could be “normal.” You thought you could do this, be in an adult relationship, living by adult rules. But you knew what you were doing. You got me out of a bad place, and I will always be grateful to you for that, but you also lied to me. I gave you opportunities to come clean from the very start. I was honest with you, and expected honesty from you, but instead you wore a mask and then gradually fell apart on me. I had already loved you. I continued loving you. I will probably always love you. But you held out on me, and that hurt me. It hurt my life. You’re hurting my life right now.

That’s all I’ve got for the moment.

Cinnamon Girl

I really like cinnamon toothpaste. Cinnamon and clove, cinnamon and fennel, double cinnamon, whatever – I just feel like my mouth is cleaner after I use cinnamon toothpaste. I’m also very particular about my toothpaste, but you’d never know it. For some reason, when I’m in a relationship, toothpaste is the first line of defense to fall.

Well, that’s not exactly true. It’s not like there’s ever even a skirmish over it. Basically, as soon as someone writes their name in my dance card, and I just naturally assume that they will hate cinnamon toothpaste, and go out and buy a decent, respectable mint toothpaste that very day. Mind you, I keep some things sacred – I prefer a paste to a gel, wintergreen to peppermint, no weird colors, lots of scrubby texture and/or special whitening power promised on the box. Yes, I am a toothpaste snob. But, as I’ve realized this week, I naturally assume that my tastes in pastes will neither be appreciated, nor tolerated, by someone who wants to brush their teeth at my sink now and then.

Isn’t that sad? Not only do I willingly give up a thing that I typically find considerable joy in – I give it up without asking, and with no idea of whether I’m right or not. I automatically assume that my choices are invalid, and that I should make way IN MY OWN HOME for the obviously superior (and completely imagined) tastes of my visitors. My head is reeling at this. It’s one thing to be amenable to others, another to be a good hostess, another to take the desires of those we love into account. It’s something completely different to assume right out of the gate that you are absolutely in the wrong and must change a fundamental portion of your hygiene routine (something that wasn’t broken) to suit someone else’s tastes.

Ugh. So. I didn’t realize all of this last weekend – not yet. I just woke up with a mad desire to go and get new toothpaste, even though I still have half a tube left of some pretty decent mainstream mint. The urge to get new toothpaste grew over the course of the day, until I couldn’t really concentrate on whatever else I was supposed to be doing. So I dropped everything, went to the co-op, and bought the exact thing that I’d been dreaming of – cinnamon and clove toothpaste, with activated charcoal and bentonite clay. It’s black! It’s so fun to use, and it really does work. My teeth feel very clean, and my gums feel less irritated than they typically do. If you’re interested, check out My Magic Mud (no, that’s not paid placement). Along with the toothpaste, I bought a new mouthwash, cinnamon and neem. A tiny swig goes a long way, and caps off the whole tooth brushing experience quiet well.

There’s no real end to this story. My breath is warm and spicy, like my heart, like me. It has inspired me to look at other belongings I own, and products I use, and consider why I use them, and who that serves. How else have I been capitulating? Who else have I been bowing down to, needlessly?

Being Macha

I’ve had this image in my head all day, and just have to get it down. Like many of the most important things in my life, it’s ephemeral, at best. I keep snatching at it, trying to tug it down from the clouds and into firmer being, to make itself fully known. Maybe if I write about it, something will make more sense.

First off, it’s not just one thing, but a strange, moving mixture of things. There’s the warrior, the crow, the crone. There’s night, and anger. But a righteous anger. A feminine anger, held in check but also fostered by ancient knowledge. There’s a wall in my throat and another in my right abdomen. Also, in a dream: an open door, a bloody arm, a plan (but what?).

I realized today that though Elen might be the goddess I seek to embody, Morrigan is the goddess who seeks to wield me now. And there’s no harm in having multiple guides, of being multifaceted. Even peace seekers require warrior hearts. As long as I see their truths, and mine, and make clear my intentions before treading the path, all will be well. But I am caught inside my own walled city. To survive this, I must lay siege to whatever seeks to hold me, to take myself back. Part of me will have to die for the rest to flourish.

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“Macha” by Thalia Took, available as a prints on her Deviant Art site. Click here to read more about Macha, an aspect of the Morrigan, on her gallery page. While you’re there, definitely check out Thalia’s amazing art of other world goddesses.

Sunday Meditation

I am single again, after 11 years. What does one do?

Well, to begin with, you toss all of the ex’s belongings in a box (carefully, as they are mostly books, and we adore books here). After that, you decide there’s no more reason to have any free hours, so accept any and all offers for extra shifts. You now have no time to consider heartbreak, as you will be way too tired. Despite the extra work hours, though, it is important to not neglect daily conversations with the online therapist. Therapy is doubly important when attempting to recover from the sadness and confusion of being dumped, and also hoping to not make any of the mistakes of the last two relationships ever again.

Next up, we consider the rest of life. What are we doing with ourselves? Is one happy and/or fulfilled now? How long has it been since one was happy and/or fulfilled? What can one do to be happy and/or fulfilled? Figure out the best extra-curriculars, where they can be found, and how to incorporate them into your life. Spanish lessons? Yoga? Kirtan? Flamenco? Long walks? Textile art? Starting a new writing project?

Don’t forget to call up any and all close friends. Everyone needs to know what’s going on with you, even if you’re a solitary witch and don’t much like talking about your problems with anyone other than the online therapist. Be honest. Tell them you can’t talk now, but want them to know you love them and you want them to feel included. Some of your friends will offer advice and love and make you feel like a superstar. Others are like you, and will be relieved to not have to talk to you too much about gooey life bullshit, while still being able to offer you moral support from afar. Members from both teams will offer you chances to get out, try new things, and buddy up in new ways that will boost your ego and keep you from eating your weight in Talenti.

Make a plan! Make two! Make a ton of plans to do all of the things that strike your fancy. Life is not over. It’s actually about to get a lot more fun, because you know what you can do when you’re not dating a prospective life partner? I’m just going to leave you hanging on this one. I’m sure you can guess some alternatives.

Travel. Travel is sexy. (Plus, travel is the only thing you really adore, so why not do more of it?)

Reassess your underwear collection. If you’ve let it slide over the past few years, drop some serious cash into an underwear drawer renovation. You deserve every inch of it, and how amazing it makes you feel. I mean the drawer renovation, you perv.

Don’t throw yourself out there immediately. There is time. But don’t remain on the shelf, either. There’s no use punishing yourself any longer than you’ve already been punished. Remember what you’ve seen thus far – your breakups have historically been a reflection on the people who didn’t love themselves enough to have anything left over for you. Don’t follow in their footsteps. You are full of love – be greedy with it for awhile, and spend it on yourself.

Have an amazing life, beloved.

PS. This is dedicated to my squad of badass bitches. I’m a lucky, lucky girl to have a world full of amazing friends. ❤

Abracadabra

It’s fitting that today’s Daily Post prompt is “Illusion,” because I’ve been mulling over the inaccuracy of my physical projection for a while now, and was thinking that I’d like to try to write about it today if my brain allowed. For the last ten years or so, I have been struggling with not looking like myself. It’s difficult to explain – maybe impossible, I don’t know. It’s not tied into what I wish I looked like, or even when I think I could look like with some hard work or plastic surgery. Those are both normal feelings that I also experience. This third thing is something separate. It’s more a feeling of knowing what I look like, then looking in the mirror and being surprised (and sometimes horrified, though mostly just irritated) to see that the person staring back at me is not me, at all. For awhile now, I’ve wondered if it’s a mild form of body dysmorphia, and since I do have a couple of other anxiety-related OCD symptoms that all started roughly around the same time, it fits my overall pattern. Eventually, I’ll need to talk to a therapist, but first I’ll write this blog post.

The best way I can explain what happens to me is this: imagine that you’re Joseph Gordon Levitt, and you’re used to seeing your boyishly handsome JGL face every day when you look in the mirror:

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Damn! Joseph Gordon Levitt, via The Daily Mail.

Then one day, you wake up, look in the mirror, and see this:

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Joseph Gordon Levitt as a young Bruce Willis in Looper, via IndieWire.

You’re obviously still you, but not you, too. It’s disconcerting (also, one of the reasons that I just couldn’t get comfortable enough with Looper to love it the way that everyone else seemed to). Imagine that this happens all the time. Some days you’re you, other days you’re a version of you. Sometimes this shifts over the course of the day, or an hour, or between glances in the mirror while you’re brushing your teeth in the morning. In an effort not to lose your mind, you learn over time to not get too attached to your face, and move on with life.

Then one day, you realize that this phenomenon has begun to extend into the rest of your life. Suddenly, it isn’t just an simple illusion over which you have no control, but some other, more insidious kind of spell, gradually wiping out the you that is and replacing it with a cut-rate, bargain basement you costume. But this doesn’t shift or change. Your body isn’t the shape it used to be. It’s apparent in the mirror, and to the touch, and in the way you move. Your chosen plumage changes to accommodate, and is chosen out of necessity, rather than whimsy. Necklines get higher, hems get longer, shoes get shorter, pants get stretchier. Suddenly, people start calling you “ma’am” and even though you’re not a matron, you begin to feel like one. Now when you look in the mirror, that ever-shifting face has one aspect that has stopped changing – the light behind your eyes has dimmed.

If you’re still reading and over 35, this might sound familiar, because I’ve moved on from talking about body dysmorphia to a more common shared experience – the intersection of age and complacency. From where I’m sitting, it looks like there are three general paths to image as we age. There are those lucky few who stay in touch with themselves and continue to find fashion that fits their lives and personality. There are those who grasp at straws, wearing things that no longer work for the time or their personality – these people give off the impression of always wearing a costume, even if the costume is quite bland. And then there’s the rest of us poor schlubs, confused and tired, often wearing something that fits our bodies, but not our spirits.

At some point in the last three years, I decided that the outer appearance I had been attempting to cultivate no longer matched who I was, and I stopped wearing pin-up dresses and high heels. (Just the thought of those things makes me uncomfortable, honestly – who was that girl?) But I forgot to keep working to make my outer me match my inner me, and ended up with a closet full of the equivalent of sweat pants. Now it’s not just the mirror that tells me I look terrible. It’s my life. I’m not projecting my authentic self, and no one can see me anymore.

I feel like this is deeper than an age thing, or even a cultural thing. It’s spiritual. It’s magical. Our clothing and jewelry have power. They tell stories, they offer protection, they open up portals for us. There’s a reason it’s called a “power tie,” a “business suit,” a “church crown.” We are not that far removed from our ancestors, buried with sacred amulets and specially-sewn grave clothes. It’s time that I remember this, and follow that thread back to myself.

Anna’s Camino: Day 16 (Part 4) – Reaching Cardeñuela Riopico

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

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By the time Cardeñuela Riopico came into view, I was ready to drop from exhaustion. As I shuffled down the main street, I began to feel the melancholy seeping in through my aching spots. I’d managed to push it away all day, but now it was obvious I’d gone as far as I could, both mentally and physically. Whether or not I found the only friend I had left in this new Camino world, this would be my stopping point for the day.

The town was pretty small, and there were only three options for albergues, but I had no clue which one Natalie had chosen. By now it was bordering on late afternoon, and I wasn’t even sure if she had stopped in this town. I had no idea how far ahead of me she’d been. What if her plans had changed, and she’d called it quits in Atapuerca? What if she’d felt energized, and kept walking to Burgos? I knew that no matter what, I was done walking until tomorrow. My legs were in rough shape. I told myself that I would be OK if I couldn’t find my friend, but I didn’t believe it. I wasn’t ready to give her up just yet.

 

I walked all the way through town, and saw a few faces, but not one pilgrim. It occurred to me that perhaps Natalie had tried to send me a Facebook message with her location, so I stopped in at a local bar to use the wifi. Being my normal awkward self, I didn’t feel comfortable asking the bartender for the wifi password, so I ordered a beer and tried not to look conspicuous while glancing around for a sign with wifi password. Finally the bartender took pity on me and asked if I needed help. I took my chance, and in broken Spanish explained that I was looking for my friend, a girl wearing orange pants. Never had I been so happy that my high school Spanish teacher had taught us how to go clothes shopping en español. The bartender said she hadn’t seen anyone in orange pants, but picked up the phone and started to call around town for me to see if anyone else had. After a couple of calls, she let out a hoot – the girl in the orange pants had been spotted, and was staying at the first albergue in town! Now that I’m retelling this story, I realize that since I’ve returned from the Camino and started my new career in hospitality, I’ve held this woman in mind as a paragon of kindness and hospitality. She really saved me that night, just by making a few phone calls, even though she didn’t have to. Wherever she is now, I wish her many blessings, across the miles.

Shoelaces tightened, pack back on, poles in hands, feet one in front of the other, back through town, every step its own form of torture. Natalie was waiting at the front door for me, clearly relieved that I’d showed up in one piece, long overdue. She helped me get checked in with the hospitalera, who showed me my bunk and instructed me on the rules for where to take off shoes and what doors to keep locked, etc. The water wasn’t that hot in the bathrooms, but the shower pressure was good, the rooms were well-appointed, and even better, the albergue was nearly deserted. Ruth (the Anglican priest that had been in our room the night before) was here, and turned out to be a sweet, friendly person. We chatted for awhile, did laundry and hung it out on the line in the waning sunlight, then Nat and I went to see if the town church was open. It wasn’t, but we wandered around anyway, and I took some of my favorite photos of the entire trip. The sunlight was just so beautiful that afternoon. It put a cap on things. I knew it was our last day together, but instead of feeling sad or angry or lonely, I started to get excited for what was to come.

 

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Natalie

There were only four of us in attendance at dinner that evening: Natalie, myself, Ruth, and a fourth person whom I can’t seem to place. I had so much fun asking Ruth questions. I’d never met a female Christian religious leader. I’d met women with strong religious beliefs, and I’d met preacher’s wives, and I’m sure I must have seen a nun or two in passing, but I’ve never met a female preacher, and until then, definitely never a female priest. I had so many questions. Of course, since she was British, I also had all sorts of TV questions about the obvious things – like, had she watched Vicar of Dibley or Father Brown, for instance (the answer was yes to both, of course). I regret not having more time to get to know Ruth. It must be difficult to go on vacation as a spiritual servant, especially on something as personal as a pilgrimage. How can you ever really escape your job when the world is your work? I wish I could have asked her how she felt about that, and whether it was a burden or a joy, or a little of both.

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Self portrait with fluffy eyebrows.

After dinner, I enjoyed luxuriating in the albergue bar in my most fetching ensemble of elephant pajamas, neon green compression socks, and hiking sandals, drinking pacharan with Natalie and Ruth while we chatted and caught up on our online posts via cell phone. We discussed our plans for the next day, and somewhere in there, I made my announcement.

I’d spent the entire day feeling anxious and frightened that my only walking companion would leave me, when in actuality, it was the opposite. That afternoon, it came to me that I would be the one doing the leaving – at least metaphorically speaking. I’d decided to take time off in Burgos. We’d been walking for over two weeks now, and I knew it was time for a real break, an actual bed in a private room, time for my legs to recover, and some time to explore a city I’d heard was quite beautiful.

As I was describing my intention, the tiny, scared part of me hoped that Natalie would want to stay, but the braver part of me knew that it was time to part ways. She had somewhere to be, even if I didn’t yet know the full story. Our time was up for now. Though this meant that the Claire/Natalie/Anna sisterhood was officially dissolved, the timing felt right. So I skimmed through the various Burgos hotels on the Wise Pilgrim app – truly indispensable as it is – and stumbled across Meson Del Cid, where I could get a private room for around 50 euros a night. That was far more expensive than any albergue, but also much more luxurious than anything I’d get for that price in the U.S.

Visions of bubble baths danced through my dreams that night. Burgos or bust!

Click here to read about Day 17.

A Terrible Loss

I am a mess. I need someone to hold me, a friend to hear me out, but really I’m in search of comfort that I cannot name. I am alone, and I don’t have a way to adequately explain how deep this moment of nothingness goes. There is no one to hear my story. I have run through the mental list time and again, and come up short. I am so tired of living so far away from all of the women I count as my sisters, and so tired of trying to explain to myself how this will all be OK.

The doctor told me that I was anxious (with a touch of depression) a few years ago, and it’s true. I am nearly always anxious, and only sad every now and then. But when I am sad, I usually also know there’s no real reason. It’s easy to see that there must be sunshine on the other side, since the shadow is so flimsy, really. The feeling remains, but the hope is not diminished in its path.

Today, though, I experienced something. I’ve been turning it over and over in my head, and I believe that it might be best called trauma. I was at the doctor’s office. I was seeing my gynecologist for a regular procedure, an IUD insertion. We’d discussed the fact that there would be pain and cramping, and before going in, I read many, many stories from women who experienced everything from no pain at all to severe cramps and faintness and nausea. Not one story mentioned flashbacks or panic attacks in conjunction with the procedure.

I did not receive an IUD today; I’ve been scheduled for an insertion under general anesthesia next week, instead. Apparently my uterus is tiny and my cervix will need a lot of help dilating, and the pain I was feeling as my panic attack started was only about 10% of what I was going to feel. So if I go ahead with it, I’ll do it while I’m knocked out, and wake up with a prescription for pain pills and a weekend to recover on the couch. I’m not so sure, though. If I’m going to have anesthesia, why not just schedule a sterilization and be through with this whole thing? I don’t want biological children; why think about any of this anymore?

The problem here isn’t that I felt pain, or that I was once again feeling ashamed to have my feet in stirrups at the doctor’s office (though it is a source of deep, deep shame, thanks to my good ol’ Southern Victorian upbringing). The problem certainly isn’t the doctor, who held me as I sobbed, and offered me tissues, and assured me that this happens all the time. The problem is that the thing that set me off wasn’t physical or even related to my body. It was related to love. A lack of it. A loss of it. The feeling of having it physically stripped from your body. Of feeling like you aren’t worthy of love, and will never deserve it, no matter how much you try, how much you give.

Just as I screamed, just before I started sobbing and the doctor removed the tools she’d placed inside my body to prepare for even more invasion, I felt the intense desire for someone to hold my hand. No one was there. I was desperately alone, a tiny speck in a giant universe, floating lonely in a sea of forever, all the people I love being pulled backwards from me, out, out, out into their own space. This happened in my head, you see. It’s not something that I’m writing about to describe how I felt – it’s a thing that I saw, eyes squeezed shut on the doctor’s table. I recalled feeling/seeing this exact thing years before, a moment when I felt my soul cry out to the man I then loved, and heard nothing in reply. It was the emptiest I’d ever felt. I’ve never felt it again, because I haven’t given myself so fully ever again.

Also for a millisecond, as I experienced this all over again, I saw something deep in there, inside myself. I’ve built a little mental house around my tenderness, two stories, pink clapboard siding (strange, since I dislike pink), shutters on the windows, green asphalt shingles on the roof. I understood that the house was protecting my ability to love, that I’ve been trying to open it up lately, to air it out and shake the dust covers off all of the furniture. That I’m terrified of the rejection I feel coming. The house is miserable.

Tonight I’m finding myself back there in that terrible loss, experiencing this cosmic echo. And in realizing all of these things, I see now that it was just an echo of an even earlier moment. Only then, it was I who was needed, I who took my hand away when it was most required. “No,” my grandfather said, when I struggled to remove my fingers from his grip. I needed to go finish my homework; I’d come back tomorrow, I promised. It was the last thing he ever said to me: “No.” I have a strong suspicion that this emptiness I’ve seen, this great pulling away, this is how he felt, wasting away in his hospital bed, hooked up to a morphine drip, cancer gnawing away at him. His eyes were squeezed shut, too. Was he struggling to hold on to just one person who loved him, as everyone else drifted away? Will there be someone to hold my hand?

If I believed in an angry god, I would wonder if I’m being punished. Maybe I’m being haunted. Maybe I’m just suffering from anxiety and a touch of depression. I wish I knew where that guy was, the one I loved, the one who wasn’t there to hold my hand when I most needed him. I would egg his house tonight.

The Proust Questionnaire

I ran across the Proust Questionnaire a few years back, and have been meaning to fill it out ever since. Every time I sit down to fill out the answers, I get caught up in explaining myself perfectly, and always end up putting it off until later. Named after Marcel Proust, the French author who famously said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes,” the questionnaire is said to reveal a person’s true nature. So what am I afraid of – discovering my true nature, or showing it to others? Either way, might as well get it over with, right?

  1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
    • Short answer: I don’t believe that perfect happiness is possible. The beauty of happiness is that it’s fleeting, at best, and therefore it can’t be perfect.
    • Long answer: Hiking down a trail, pack on back, a friend or two hiking along quietly nearby. The only sounds are natural and healing: the breeze in the tree branches above, the buzz of insects, flowing water from a nearby stream, lowing of the cows in a field somewhere out of eyeshot. I can feel the crunch of the dirt and rocks under my feet, smell the trees and dirt and morning dew, and I have the luxury of slowing down to appreciate every detail around me, knowing there’s nowhere to be besides here, now.
  2. Which living person do you most admire? 
    • I have a hard time with this question, because I don’t really believe in admiration, as much as respect. I respect many people for their choices and hard work in attaining their goals; these are mostly artist types, writers, and particularly talented actors. I will say that Stephen King is one of the people I’ve spent the most time respecting, and wishing to emulate in some small way. He has a marvelous imagination, and it means a great deal to me that he has found a way to make those dark places open and accessible to the entire world. I also love that on both personal and professional levels, he doesn’t take anyone’s shit. He has true grit, and a great sense of humor. Also, despite how some snooty lit critics would disparage him for making “airport reads,” I appreciate the fact that his books end up being deep, powerful, introspective, and fearless, while remaining appealing and available to a wide variety of people from all walks of life. That takes true skill.
  3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
    • Femininity, or lack thereof. I just don’t have it in me to truly care about things like hair, and makeup, and dressing up, and cleaning – all of the gender role bullshit. I try so hard to care, and still end up looking sloppy. But it’s been that way forever, even before I was able to look at it from behind feminist lenses and realize it was OK if I wasn’t the perfect 1950’s woman. Anyway, I still get really discouraged over not just not being able to do some of these defining things – like applying makeup skillfully, or doing my own hair, or vacuuming the couch, or dusting the house every day, whatever – but also I get discouraged over my complete disgust when I think of doing these things. I both want to be more ladylike, but at the same time I absolutely want to firebomb anyone who suggests that happen, including myself. It’s exhausting. It’s also discouraging to know that I will never amount to anything in comparison to a selection of women who do these things as second nature. Those girls who love to wear lingerie and lacy, pretty things (puke), and the ones who shave their legs daily (ha), or keep lotion in their desk drawer to make sure their hands stay moisturized and young. I’ll never be a trophy wife, that’s for damn sure, lol. Sometimes I feel like an outlier. I would have done a great job of being a frontier wife in the mid-19th century, when bathing was optional, there were only one or two dresses to choose from, and the floor was actually MADE of dirt. Maybe I was just born 150 years too late.
  4. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
    • Gregariousness/mass likability. It’s one thing to be friendly and kind, but I’ve met too many people who are selling an image of themselves and trying to be popular and lovable with everyone. What’s the point? Are you scared of the unlikeable parts of yourself? (That’s completely acceptable – you’ll have to work through it at some point, though – might as well start now.) Are you so concerned with having people not approve of you that you’re willing to hide behind a lie for your entire life? On one episode of Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, it is said: “Nobody truly interesting is universally liked.” AMEN.
  5. What do you dislike most about your appearance?
    • My face gets really round sometimes; it fluctuates, but sometimes when I’m bloated, I look like my dad, and it freaks me out.
  6. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
    • Straight toss up between the Atlantic Ocean and the BBC.
  7. When and where were you happiest?
    • So far, walking the Camino de Santiago in 2015. Before that, when I was maybe 11 or 12, in the summers I used to set up a tent on the back porch and read books all day. I loved that, for mostly the same reasons – quiet, introspection, no other pressing duties.
  8. Which talent would you most like to have?
    • I’d love to be able to draw the things I imagine. I can barely manage a respectable stick person, but I would love to be able to do pen and ink drawings of animals and architecture, or even just to sketch out my ideas so that a more talented artist could take over from there.
  9. What is your current state of mind?
    • Pensive, obviously. I’m filling out the Proust Questionnaire.
  10. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
    • I would be debt-free.
  11. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
    • (Regarding my entire family, including the extended part.) They’d be well-traveled.
  12. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
    • Traveling the world (or at least a tiny portion of it). I plan to see a lot more before I’m through.
  13. If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be?
    • Am I required to come back? Because I really don’t want to. OK, maybe a giant squid, or something that lives very, very deep in the ocean, too far for humans to reach. Like one of those blind, glow-in-the-dark cave fish.
  14. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
    • Codependency/relationship addiction where you feel like you can’t survive without the other person, but you aren’t happy with them.
  15. What is the quality you most like in a man?
    • Emotional intelligence
  16. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
    • Same
  17. What do you most value in your friends?
    • Acceptance, and the ability to read between the lines and understand what I’m trying to say (even when I don’t quite know yet, myself).
  18. Who are your favorite writers?
    • This is constantly shifting. Right now, I’d say Jane Austen, Joan Didion, Lloyd Alexander, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Diana Norman, Deborah Harkness, Margery Kempe, Agnes Humbert, and Douglas Adams.
  19. Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
    • Elizabeth Bennet
  20. Who are your heroes in real life?
    • St. Francis of Assisi, Margery Kempe, Major Richard Winters, Various WWII Resistance Fighters, Edward Abbey
  21. What is it that you most dislike?
    • Insincerity
  22. How would you like to die?
    • Suddenly, and with a clean house, so my loved ones don’t have to be shocked and/or horrified by the piles of dirty dishes/underwear.
  23. What is your motto?
    • Lately I’ve been saying the NC state motto to myself a lot: “Esse quam videri,” which means “To be, rather than to seem.”

Queen of Denial

When I was a kid, one of my favorite songs was “Queen of Denial,” by Pam Tillis. When I saw that today’s Daily Post prompt was denial, it was the first thing that popped into my mind. As I listened to it again for the first time in years, I reflected on lessons learned in youth. I think that this song was responsible for me growing up to not take any shit from men – at least not of this particular variety.

I have a Grade A bullshit detector. I don’t trust easily, and being noticeably insincere makes me keep you on that “don’t trust” list forever. Seriously, be smarmy with me once and see if I ever respect you. It will take an act of God to get you onto my loyalty short list. Life’s too short to take chances with people who like to jerk your chain, so either be transparent or GTFO. That being said, I’ve usually winnowed out the shady guys in short order, and have overall been great at avoiding serious entanglements with guys I can’t trust. Can’t say that I’ve avoided all entanglements, but hey, life wouldn’t be fun without a little drama now and then, right?