Today the sky is a cloudless cool blue oasis that soothes her parched eyes. But she is always alone and has no one to enjoy it with, no one to point and tell her to look at the sky today and say my god how clear and blue it is.
There is the fact that I survived. What lies beyond that fact are the many losses this survival incurred. Of these losses, one is easier to talk about because it is tangible, it has a shape, a latitude and longitude, unlike the other losses—some for which I don’t have a name, only a space within me that knows things have disappeared, possibly irrevocably. As I adjust to a new life with parts of myself having been damaged and replaced, I realize that some losses are too full of sorrow, shaped like black mourning crows ascending to faraway treetops, to talk about. I can only ask questions: Will my body get stronger and allow me to create the future I desired for myself before all this? What can I release to feel free again? How can I reconstruct my life? Where do I belong now?
Since my sudden and unexpected departure from New York City, I’ve seen pictures of the apartment I used to inhabit. A friend lives there now with her boyfriend and they’ve made it look fabulous with their modern furniture: the navy blue tufted loveseat, matching reclining chair and ottoman, light wood industrial storage coffee table, whimsical lamp, new artwork, airy light blue curtains, no piles of books. All the things that are not mine. Not my dark wood leaning shelves filled with books, not my storm blue couches that pulled out for visitors, not my yoga ball chair, not my structured lamp, not my dark blue blackout curtains secured for the south-facing windows, not my candles and yoga mat, not my stacks of books on nightstands, on end tables, on the floor. All the things that I had chosen for the first space I’d occupy independently, without roommates or relatives. I imagine myself visiting now, walking across the threshold and breaking down in tears. The space that I chose and filled all on my own but never got to empty.
Instead, a few of my girlfriends emptied my apartment while I was in San Francisco, in the hospital for a month, recovering from the emergency open-heart surgery that replaced two bacteria-eaten heart valves and saved my life. While I was in the hospital, still bewildered and drugged up post-surgery, it was decided for me that I wouldn’t be going back to NYC any time soon, so why pay the exorbitant rent for being absent? Being former New York inhabitants themselves, two of my girlfriends flew from SF to NYC to generously take on the task–with the help of a few friends who also lived there–of selling and donating all the big items and packing and shipping all the rest back to SF. A month after my surgery, my apartment was empty and a friend took over my lease the next month. I never got to say goodbye. At the time, it didn’t feel like such a loss because I was too busy being grateful to be alive.
* * *
After viewing over twenty apartments all over lower Manhattan—tromping up five floors sometimes, entering other people’s spaces or spaces that had been empty for several days or weeks, imagining myself and my furniture there, making a life—I finally found a space that felt right. This one with its easy rectangular shape, only three floors up, its high ceilings giving the illusion of more space. I remember receiving all my boxes and furniture shipped from San Francisco that first day of March, after all the papers were signed and the space cleaned out, repainted. The moving men grunted up the three flights of stairs with the heavier furniture and boxes as I stood overwhelmed with nothing to sit on and a forest of boxes surrounding me. I remember the next three exhilarating weekends I spent at Crate & Barrel, Bed Bath & Beyond, and the Container Store deciding what I needed in order to settle into my new life in NYC, making the place mine.
Within the walls of the 400-sq-ft one-bedroom space, I became familiar with the sounds of my apartment. The nightly crash from the tenants above me, a neighbor during his usual 11:00pm departure, pounding down the stairs as if being evacuated, car horns blaring at every hour of the day, the fire trucks screaming down my street at what seemed like once every two hours (could there be such a need for help?), lovers arguing outside at 4:00am sounding like they were in the next room. And above all this, the normal frenetic din of the city that caused my apartment to vibrate on its foundations, buzz…buzz…buzz.
For a person living in New York City, I spent an inordinate amount of time in my apartment on the days I wasn’t working. My space became a refuge from the long hours at work, from the disappointments of relationships, from the anonymity of NYC that causes loneliness even while being smothered between people on the streets and in subway cars. I think this happened because of my south-facing windows. A few months after moving in, during one homebound weekend, I experienced the phases of sunlight moving through my apartment over the span of a day. These phases I didn’t get to see while working 10-12 hour days at the job that brought me to NYC—leaving in the morning when the sun’s early rays cast the apartment in drab grays and returning home most nights to dim luminescence from the streetlamps, allowing me enough vision to fumble the switch on the nearest lamp.
But I discovered this: for about four hours during the day, the sun shines hot and bright through the windows and the whole apartment is a sun-drenched happy place where bold colors—blues, yellows, browns, a shock of purple—and warm feelings are all you see and experience. That’s when I felt the freest to do anything. Usually I played my music loud and read, or wrote. Or danced and practiced yoga, or napped. I did whatever I wanted because it was just me in that space, with room enough for my stress to dissolve and my hopes to expand. I reveled in the strength of my body and the whims of my mind, believing life could be nothing other than this. As the sun slowly finished its day’s work, arcing below the tall buildings, I was like a cat, curling myself into the shrinking panels of warmth cast on the hardwood floor, trying to reap the vitamin D benefits of some UV, chasing strips of comforting light before they disappeared. Then, without the sun to placate me, I would get ready to go out for another New York City night.
* * *
On a 70-degree February day in San Francisco, ten months after my surgery, the ocean called to me as it used to when my thoughts became tangled and needed unwinding. I walked down Balboa Street to the ocean and passed under the wide windows of a second-story apartment, one of many in a tall, light gray block of a building. The windows were thrown open for the occasion of the warmest day in the city so far. The bright notes of recorded acoustic guitar music drifted down to me. It was an older genre, I think. Maybe 1960’s or 70’s. The upbeat tune and melodic notes were the perfect music for a warm, sunny afternoon. The music immediately lifted my mood and filled me with all the hope that a carefree Sunday can bring to someone on her way to see the ocean, wanting to feel the expanse of it ease her loss. I wished I knew the song and I felt like I could be friends with the person playing that music. I even felt attracted to the person without knowing him, just because of that music. I was in love with everything for those few minutes, after the music entered my body, made me groove and snap my fingers to the beat in its wake while I walked along. Toward the ocean in anticipation. So pleased to be there.
On my walk back from the ocean, feeling consoled, I passed by the apartment again. Its windows were still wide open but music no longer drifted out of them. I didn’t realize that I’d been hoping to hear the music again until I felt the disappointment in its absence. I took a good look at the apartment, trying to get a glimpse of the tenant through the open windows, maybe get his attention, yell up to him and ask him what song he’d been playing earlier. That’s when I noted it was a south-facing apartment. When the sun is out and as it arcs from east to west, its rays stream through those and all the other windows facing south the entire day. I remembered an exercise from a writing book that I had just read: “Write ‘Things I didn’t know I loved.’” One response those south-facing windows elicited from me was this:
The freedom of walking around naked in a sun flooded apartment that was all mine.
I wished to live in that apartment building then, in longing for my apartment in NYC. And I remembered myself in that sun flooded apartment, full of hope and expectancy, ready, and awaiting my next NYC experience. But as the sun begins to arc low, the panels of warmth cast on the hardwood floors shrink and fade away, along with that version of myself. I am here now. But over there, my New York City apartment: the only space that has ever truly been all mine in a time when I was free, whole, strong, and certain of what I could accomplish.
Written on July 18, 2016
Even after all this, I still believe–at least, I feel like–I have all the time in the world.
This feeling comes from the freedom of being untethered, floating around like a balloon and going in whatever direction the wind takes me. No ties, no binds, no man, no children, the freedom in that is expansive. Yet feeling lost and lonely within that expanse becomes easy…
Inflates to a sort of nothingness where feeling alone, like being single will never end, no end in sight, reverberates and repeats, creating a hall of mirrors where you’re looking at yourself standing alone, all around you, you’re standing alone to infinity. And beyond.
The silence fills your ears, stuffs them with cotton and you’re under water in your aloneness. Your aloneness echoes all around you, the sound of nothing deafens you and you continue your stance, alone. In solitude, the silence thunders.
The twitters of birds outside your window become snatches of the only conversation you overhear, the gossip between people who have hung out too long or often with each other so that all they can talk about is other people’s lives. The cars passing by, their tires’ friction against the asphalt are whispers to you, muttered under one’s breath, that you just couldn’t catch.
Then suddenly–finally?–you are not alone any longer. You are part of a twosome. Bliss fills every moment for you, for a while, but the bliss eventually recedes and you are left with real life. Mundane, real life as part of a twosome. Problems to solve as part of a twosome, boredom to overcome, fights to resolve, conflicts, compromises, sometimes even sacrifice. And don’t say it: resentment. Deep despair as part of a twosome.
With whom are you willing to struggle? With whom are you willing to fight and make up? With whom are you willing to cry, to be ugly, to be fat, to deteriorate, to be at your worst, to be scared, to fail? To love and support and carry to safety.
To be with someone else means all this and worse–if it is at all worth it.
We have a dream of our soulmate and everything is perfect. But we wake up before real life appears because it’s the easier thing to do. Leave when it is perfect. That’s fear, cowardice. Stay even when it gets hard because you want it to get better. That’s love. Wanting to work through a challenge. That’s love. When you stop wanting to work, that’s no longer love. That’s giving up.
Wanting to stay is the most important thing. Feeling that it’s worth it to stay despite the cruelness of life. But both people must feel this way, not just one. One won’t work.
Sometimes staying isn’t glamorous or perfect, but it has to be right for both people. And love must still be present. Don’t leave because you feel too vulnerable. Leave if it’s not the right fit, though.
But to want to be in a relationship you have to embrace the ugliness of relationships. The mundane aspects along with the beautiful, blissful pieces. You have to be ready to fight and still want to be on the same team with each other.
When we think about love and relationships, we usually don’t think about the mundane aspects of them. We think about the excitement and electricity of those first pulsating feelings throbbing through the heat of our bodies when we are near the object of our desire.
We don’t think about the eventual laundry we’ll do together, the dishes, the cleaning, cooking, changing the sheets every three weeks. And maybe we shouldn’t think about all that right away, and rightfully so. But as mature adults, we must consider all of this, keep it in mind, maybe even imagine ourselves doing those things with the object of our current desire or infatuation.
This is mostly a reminder for myself and for anyone who has been told that maybe they’re “too picky.”
Written on May 19, 2016
Writing prompt: Where is home for you?
From Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg
My home is in the arms of someone who loves me, my co-creator in life, holding me in a backwards hug, with my back pressed against his chest, his arms tight around me, his mouth by my ear, speaking softly to me as his breath moves the little wisps of my hair so that they tickle my temple.
I feel so secure there. I feel safe. The one place where you must absolutely feel safe is Home. He is my home, so wherever he is, I am home.
He is my home, so wherever he is, I am home.
He makes a home with me, or maybe I make a home with him. There’s a difference between the two and the difference is in how we work with each other to do this, who settles into whom more, flowing into every little crevice available to fill, sealing the fissures of each other’s hearts where they have been ruptured by previous heartbreaks, cracks in the soul (if a soul can have cracks?) where dreams have failed or were lost, where poor decisions have been made, where you have been lost yourself and now you are found, your feet on solid ground beneath you because of him who grounds you, places you, at home. In your home of him.
It’s ironic that he with whom you find home has broken down your walls. He wrecked something destitute, dark, drafty, cracked, and falling over in order to give you something stronger, solid, whole, warm, bright, and full.
My home is tucked inside the chambers of his heart.
This is where home is for me. My home is tucked inside the chambers of his heart.
First published on The Green Slate
I’ve realized more and more that when it comes to healing physical and emotional pain, there are no shortcuts…at first.
When you’re right at the beginning and you’ve fallen in pretty deep, into the pain, you’re looking for the shortcut. You want the pain to be gone yesterday. And you do certain things to bandage the pain, to stave it off, and it might be better for a little while. But then the pain is back, and you realize you’ve fallen even further into it.
Now you need even more of a bandage here, but you’re in so much pain that you know the bandage method won’t work anymore. So you allow yourself to stay here feeling stuck in your pain and maybe end up turning to self-pity. “Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this?”
“Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this?”
You are seeing through eyes veiled by pain. This line of thinking shifts you from the powerful human being you are and the life that you want to live, to a place of suffering, and instead generates anger, frustration, fear, sadness, and more pain. You get to a point where you begin to live in this space, feeling like you will never leave this place of pity, pain, sorrow, and even deep loss.
Sugar (of Dear Sugar) is right when she says, “Let yourself be gutted. Let it open you. Start here.” Because by the time you are in a place to choose to truly heal, you will have been gutted, likely by your own actions.
You’ve asked why? a thousand times, you’ve spent days in bed because you just couldn’t do anything else, you’ve spent time forgetting to eat because the pangs of hunger are easier to deal with than your real pain, you’ve spent too much time crying, you’ve allowed yourself to disconnect from your true self, to get lost, you’ve considered doing things to help yourself heal, but you didn’t have the courage at the time to really go for it. You were allowing yourself to suffer. You weren’t ready yet. No shortcut exists for this part of the process. All your actions–or lack of, all your thoughts, and all your pain up to this point were a necessary part of it. You just go through it and it takes as long as it needs to take.
Then you arrive. You arrive at the minute, hour, day, thought, when you say, “I’m done. I’m f*cking done with this.” And you mean it. Because you will be so tired of everything unhealthy that you’ve been doing, thinking, feeling. Something inside you has chosen to surrender and accept, instead of resist. Maybe before, when you were looking for the shortcuts and you proclaimed halfheartedly that you were done, you resisted truly choosing to be done. So the pain wore on. But not this time. Not when you truly mean it in your soul, your mind, and your body. That’s when you’re ready to heal.
Everything happens as and when it needs to happen.
Everything happens as and when it needs to happen. This is where you can find the shortcuts, at this point. This is where you find the people who have the tools to help you heal and potentially shorten your path. You might finally decide to call that therapist. You might have a serendipitous lead to a different type of healing modality that works 10 times better than the treatment you were using before. You might see a friend who you haven’t seen for years and she will see your physical/emotional pain and suggest that you see her “guy/girl” and that will shift your healing path.
Because you shifted your frequency by really choosing to be done and really being ready to heal, your healers will be revealed to you, and your body and mind will be fully receptive. These are the people who can guide you out of that darkness that you thought you’d never leave.
It does take time, the right help, working with love and gratitude, but you will be healed. You will leave that deep, dark place. And when you do, you’ll look back at yourself in that place and remember that version of you that had been there. You might wonder at the fact that that was you, that you were even there at all. “How did I ever get there? I remember that darkness, that pain that felt like it would never leave… I allowed myself to be led there, to be lost. But I have a knowing now. I know I will never have to go back there and suffer like that.”
And you won’t. Now your body is stronger, your mind and heart calmer and freer. You’ve reconnected with your powerful self and gained back the vision of the life you want to live. Because you took a long road to a shortcut, but it was the right path to true healing.
The path to healing emotional and physical pain can sometimes be long. Much longer than you’d hope or expect. But in these things, we must be patient and know that the healing is happening. The body, in its divineness, has its own healing mechanisms and knows exactly what to do. However, since ancient times, people in the world have used methods to aid the body’s healing process.
I’ve had my share of healing journeys and understand the pain that can be involved. If it’s something of a physical nature, I like being told that there are natural ways to heal, instead of just being told to cover the pain using any assortment of pain killers. Yes, that is a bandage approach, but it doesn’t address the true cause of the pain in order to remedy it more effectively. Of course, alternative healing modalities will not help you to replace a valve in your heart, but they can help in your healing afterwards. I appreciate practitioners who spend time understanding me, my lifestyle, and my approach to life in order to recommend a healthy healing path and plan. Your full participation and dedication is necessary to achieve your goal.
If the pain is of an emotional nature, this is sometimes even harder to heal than physical pain. It takes a lot of personal work and perseverance. It takes looking inside yourself and seeing some things you might not like seeing in order to clear out those things in a healthy way. It takes re-evaluating how you feel about yourself and if you are giving yourself the respect and care that you’d like others to give to you. Sometimes because of things that may have happened to us when we were very young, we don’t know how to do this. Or sometimes because we are so focused on the way something is “supposed to be,” we lose sight of what IS and may miss chances to heal along the way.
When healing, resistance can play a major role in the process and it is hard to even be aware that resistance is there within you sometimes. But acceptance and surrender also play roles in healing, and they are what we must work towards. Acceptance and surrender are usually hard to come by and take a lot of personal work, but once they are there within you, the resistance melts away and you are in a place to truly be ready to heal.
Here, I’d like to share with you some alternative healing modalities and stories. Eventually I will make recommendations to specific practitioners, but that will come later.