Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Here lies madness

I'm currently reading a book that has me thinking about our choices in life. Regrets. Good choices. Bad ones. Ones that maybe are good and turn bad and vice versa.

I think about all the steps that I've taken to get me where I am now. All the turns that I almost made, but didn't. Turns that either evolved from gut instinct (rarely) or logic (frequently) and twists that didn't seem to matter at the time, but proved long lasting.

If I'd never gone to that Halloween party (and I very nearly didn't), I would never have met Liv's father. If I'd gone to a different college (and I very nearly did), I would never have met Bing.

And all those times of pure grace. Saved when I had set myself up neatly for pandemonium and pain. All that drinking. All those drugs. All those mornings of waking up swearing that I was done with it. All of it. The cleaning of the apartment, the pouring Grey Goose down the drain, flushing hash down the toilet. And then coming home from a long day of heartbreaking work, stopping at the liquor store and then sitting in front of the phone unsuccessfully trying not to call my dealer.

All those freaking men and women who I slept with but didn't really care about. The ones who I let in as far as I could until they began to be needy and wanted more from me than I was prepared to give. And then quickly slapping them away from me before they found their way too deeply into my heart.

Some things were deliberate choices. The way that I innately knew that education was my way to protect myself so that I would never have to depend on someone else to care for me. All of my sisters married with an eye for finding a man who could take care of them. I knew what a sorry choice that would be for me. I knew enough of myself to know that I would come to resent the chains that would be around my ankles if I made that choice.

The way that I was scrupulous (usually, but okay...not when I was totally fucked up on drugs or drink) about using birth control when I was in my twenties and thirties, knowing that I was not in any shape to be anyone's parent. But luck came into play there too. I was sometimes lazy with it when I was high and could have ended up with a child whom I was unequipped to deal with.

But, then? What? What if I had gotten pregnant? I would have found a way to deal just as almost everyone does.

And therein lies the madness.

What in my life was delegated by choice and what by happenstance?

And could I have been happy some way if I had become pregnant at twenty two and dropped out of school, became that woman who stacks books in the library? Could I have been happy?

I hope so.

I'll never know, though. Not really.

I'm famous for being the pot who refused a lid. But, in truth? Bing has saved me on so many levels that I have to acknowledge the fact that her sheer love of my flawed self has been, in many ways, my salvation. She would argue because that is how she is. She would say that I saved her from a life of being with someone who doesn't um...challenge her. That we are each other's safety nets. I think it is sort of sad testament to my lack of confidence in my nurturing capabilities that I have a very hard time seeing myself as anyone's safety net.

Except, possibly, my own.

I have so much and on my best days, I acknowledge that.

I've been feeling poorly lately. I have a cold that has now settled in my chest. This always alarms me because I have had a premonition since my teens that this is how I will die eventually, struggling to breathe. I had asthma as a child, grew out of it in adolescence but I remember vividly long days on the sofa, sitting upright because it was so hard to breathe when I laid down. To this day, I become panicky when I feel closed in by either circumstance or anxiety and become an air gulper.

So, the last few days have been unsettling. When I lay in bed at night, it takes about two hours before I wake up struggling to breathe, feeling that heaviness in my chest, hearing my lungs wheezing out air. Each time, I woke up choking, there was Bing's steadying hand on my back, rubbing in circles. Her murmurings of "It's okay, babe. Right here. I'm here," even as she felt sleep pulling her back in.

My secretary at work is recovering from pneumonia. And yes, because it is Nanette, she has milked this for everything she can. She has coughed with vigor, making a show of putting on latex gloves when she had to carry a birthday cake in (we take turns buying cake on each other's birthdays) and walking with an exaggerated limp when she feels anyone looking. (This has nothing to do with pneumonia, but the limp comes out whenever she feels she is not getting sufficient attention.) I have rolled my eyes privately at co-workers over this and shook my head in a desultory manner at her attempts to steal the oscar from Meryl Streep.

But, last night as I sat up in bed, feeling Bing's hand rubbing circles on my back, it occurred to me that Nanette has no one to rub hers. Maybe this is just her way of seeking what she feels is lacking her life. She has a cat. A cat so cherished that it is the one photo that she has as wallpaper on her computer.

Now, I don't know her background really. I know that she never married. I know that she speaks in an odious manner to her co-workers way too often. But, she is a product of her life and choices and...welll.....happenstance.

And I don't imagine the cat gives back rubs when she awakens alone and scared in the night.

I have this life and it would be folly to wonder if I took all the right paths to get here. I did what I thought best at the time and other times, like a Mary Chapin Carpenter song about the moon and St. Christopher, I have just not known which way to go, so simply...ran.

Instead, I think that on dark nights, it is best to look at some of the better paths we took, and yes, some of the sorrier ones too and just accept that they made up a workable life. Regret will eat you alive but so will pride.

So many different people have bettered my life, even those who hurt me. My Da. My first teacher and greatest influence even though I wasn't even a decade old when he died. My mother, who kept me fed, dry and warm even though she also was the one who probably hurt me the most by not being able to love me unconditionally. My sisters, who disappointed me many times but who are also my first phone call after Bing and my best friend, Harriet. The high school teacher who handed back my English papers with big A's sprawled across them and who told my mother (when I was in ear shot) that she believed that I was the most gifted student she had ever taught.

The deep black eyes of a man I met at a stray Halloween party who refused to laugh when I told him that okay, maybe I wasn't old enough to be his mother, but certainly old enough to be his babysitter and why didn't he go flirt with that vacuous eyed blonde at the end of the sofa who kept flinging her hair around like a deranged kewpie doll? The man who said, "You are the most interesting woman in this room. I don't care how old you are and I don't care if we sleep together, I just want to talk about anything with you all night long." The man who fathered Liv.

My first teaching resident who told me that I worked way too hard to be clever and not nearly enough on being smart about patients. The one who sternly took me into the men's room on the ninth floor and stood me in front of the mirror and said, "You will NEVER be of use in a hospital when you come in every morning with bloodshot eyes and looking like you are jonesin' for Jack Daniels at nine a.m. God, get a CLUE!"

The face of my daughter the first time I looked at her. The way I felt like I had come home when she took my index finger in her fist and held on for life. The way she made me understand for the first time what it felt like to know that I would give up my life in a split second if it meant saving hers. And the astonishment that I actually had it in me to feel that way. The way I felt my Da's blood sliding around in her and shining out of her ancient Lakota eyes.

And always Bing, waiting in the wings ready to take me home when I'm done showing off on stage, an extra pair of mittens for my always cold hands and assurances that I am not always a likeable person, but a very lovable one still. I'm old enough now to finally know that love like this is a luxury, that not everyone gets a Bing. Not everyone gets a soft place to land at the day's end. And for all those times when I've railed against the bonds of commitment, I'm so sorry.

Places and things and saved me too.

The way that an area can reach out and hold you tenderly. When my family went on a trip to Louisiana to visit Bing's kin,I loved that place from day one. Just the feel of it, the way it rolled over me and let that old bourbon air feather on my skin. Lake Pontchartrain. Lake Borgne. The soft accents of everyone around me and the knowledge that lagniappe is available always. A fais do do always awaits for someone who can find it.

Books have always been a bridge that crossed me over. I've been closer to characters than to real people many, many times. Ellen Foster has never left my side. Francie Nolan. Holden Caulfield. Huckleberry Finn. Severus Snape. Katniss Everdeen. Jo March. Samwise. Lisbeth Salander. I don't get people who don't fall in love with characters in books.

Music. Ventura Highway. Don't Fear The Reaper. Layla. Jumpin'Jack Flash. Caledonia.'Til There Was You. The Man With The Child In His Eyes. I Drove All Night. That's The Way I've Always Heard It Should Be. And for just maybe twenty minutes in junior high: Crazy Horses by The Osmond Brothers. Yes. The Osmonds.

I'm a complicated person who has made incredibly sane choices and totally whacked out ones. But, they all led to here. And so I can't regret any of them. Or take too much pride in them either. So much was due to happenstance, just as much as the decisions that were carefully thought through and executed smartly.

If I take away one, I might as well take away all.

And therein lies the madness. And the bridges that carried me over. What bridges carried you?


JohnD said...

"... Life is full of surprises and and serendipity. Being open to unexpected turns in the road is an important part of success. If you try to plan every step, you may miss those wonderful twists and turns. Just find your next adventure-do it well, enjoy it-and then, not now, think about what comes next. ..."
Condoleeza Rice

Ickaboo said...

Maria, it's Bah. Remember me?

Three things...

One: You will be ok.
Two: I'm still struck by the weird connections between our lives. My ex-husband slept with a wonderful woman-loving woman at a Halloween party 17 years ago (before we married) and fathered her daughter.
Three: I missed reading. And, you will be ok. Dammit.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

At some point I realized that I couldn't fairly pick and choose the things I was happy about in my life because they all made me who I am and well, I don't know how to be anyone else. The painful experiences probably helped me to learn compassion instead of bitterness, and the joyful ones taught me that sheer joy is always worth its cost.

I don't know whether we are guided to fulfill a master plan for our lives as some believe, or if everything is random. But the fact that I am still here despite an uncommonly large number of near-death experiences makes me feel very lucky and blessed, and that somehow, I managed to take enough of the right forks in the road. The most important experiences of my life have been about love: My children, Flip, and good friends. And that has made me able to forgive the painful experiences and to realize that people really do the best they can, even if it doesn't always measure up to our job descriptions.

Anonymous said...

Amazing post. Thank you for reflecting and for recording your reflections.

JohnD said...

Never really 'planned' anything in my life. Each step led me to several doors and I would think to myself ... Now wouldn't that (course/direction/whatever) be interesting? and I'd select one (only, sometimes, to scurry quickly back whence I came) and one thing just led to another. I refer to them as 'my mountains' - always one to climb and when you got to the summit, guess what you saw? Yep! Another bloody mountain to climb. Even today, my closest friends introduce me as "Oh, this is my friend, John, the mountain climber!" LOL! I get some funny reactions. I found too many people were 'planning' where they wanted to go and they missed out on a lot of the fun that comes with the journey. Me .... I'd stop and smell the flowers, dilly her, dally there and enjoy life as it happened.

Christine G. said...

are you familiar with ben folds' song "the luckiest"

sounds like you need to be if you're not.

Kimberly said...

Beautifully written. I sometimes wonder what would've happened if I had not become a young mother- would it have made finishing college and attending graduate school easier? Probably. And yet my kids are my greatest blessings and I would never for a second want anything other than this crazy life.

Zebsmom said...

Thank you!

Mitch Block said...

What a beautifully thoughtful tale. "If I take away one, I might as well take away all." For me, that always sums things up. I also don't believe in regrets, but sometimes they rear their ugly heads into my thoughts. Yes, all our decisions, sane and totally whacked out, "led to here."

kristi said...

I am such a planner...need to remember to be spontaneous more often! Great post. :)

Anonymous said...

"And then quickly slapping them away from me before they found their way too deeply into my heart."

I do that...all the time. In my warped mind I do believe I have very good reasons for doing so. It's that whole "how many times do you have to get burned before you learn NOT to put your hands on the stove?" thing. ;)

Whatever the reasons, I'm glad that your path brought you here.

the only daughter said...

Stunning. Silenced. For now.

MakingSpace said...

Just read your most recent three posts in quick succession and on this one I've got nuthin' except tears. I don't even know how I feel. Such a beautiful post. Jeebus woman, you write your heart out.