I was supposed to drink cocktails (virtually) with Tommy last night.
I’d been looking forward to it. We hadn’t seen each other for months before this all began so we were already overdue. Now with shelter-in-place orders extended to the end of May, the only way we can see each other for at least the next several weeks is through our webcams.
And yet, I rescheduled.
I couldn’t do it. It’s not that I didn’t want to “see” him. I did. I do. He’s a bright spot in my life and I miss him. But my psyche’s a little woozy and I simply couldn’t do it.
Up until last week, I’ve been on an inconsistently consistent ride of manageable ups and downs. Silver linings and seeing the good, then nightmares about people getting too close. Dinner before ten is rare, but my cooking is the best it’s ever been and getting better. Writing – what I do – is harder. It took me a month to write a chapter in my book; it normally takes me a day, maybe two. But the writing itself is good. Very good.
“Normally.” There’s no normal now. People talk about the “new normal.” Normal implies routine. Expected.
Nope. None of this is routine nor expected. But it is our reality.
Or is it? Even that is questionable. Reality to most is fake news to a few. What is fact – verifiable fact – is disputed as hoax. It’s distressing to see the level of animosity and the suspension of disbelief displayed by a vocal minority. At least, I hope it’s a minority. It’s like everyday life is now a manufactured reality show and we’re unwilling non-equity actors.
If it seems like I’m spiraling downward, that’s where I was last week. Down. Down. Deeper. Until I hit the bottom of the pit.
I thought I’d already reached it. On April 2, I wrote a diary entry entitled Today Sucked. Well, April 23 looked at April 2 and said “HOLD MY BEER.”
That day was the first and only time I thought of giving up The Local Tourist. In eighteen years, I had never considered quitting, no matter how hard things were, how tired I was, how frustrated I felt. This was it. This was my life. What I wanted to do and be and who I was.
Last Thursday I broke. I slid into the pit and I just wanted to stay there and wallow and cry and punch and scream I AM A FAILURE. I said it out loud. I said to Jim, I am a failure. He said no, you’re not.
I still felt it. Without expressing the big F, I posted my fears publicly, that everything I’d built had disappeared and I didn’t know if it would recover. It was, essentially, a cry for compassion.
And that compassion came. Oh, how it came.
By sharing my plummet into the pit, by being vulnerable, by practically screaming “I AM SCARED,” I was enveloped in kindness and warmth. Friends reached out. Colleagues reached out. They asked how they could help. They took time out of their roller coaster reality-TV worlds to make sure I was OK. Some were close friends. Some colleagues. Some I’d never met. All were a reminder that every step and everything we do affects someone else, and that our connections extend far beyond our expectations.
I went for a long, long walk. I looked at everything I’ve done and said to myself
I AM NOT A FAILURE.
I needed to be the one to say that. To know that. It couldn’t be anyone who loved me telling me I was not a failure. This had to come from the deep part where I define who I am. I had to fall into the pit. I had to sit there. And I had to decide to climb.
But I could only do that by being vulnerable, by asking for help and support. I even asked people to “buy me a coffee.” And they did.
So what does this have to do with skipping out on cocktails with a good friend?
Friday, the day after my jump into the abyss, my husband got up early to make a grocery run. I had forgotten cat litter on my escapade a week and a half before, so he was going to pick that up along with a few other essentials. He masked up. Gloved up. Grabbed the list, which I’d helpfully labeled “Aisle 1, Aisle 2,” and was off.
Or not. The car battery was dead because we hadn’t gone anywhere in twelve days.
Jim came back in. Unmasked. Ungloved. That day I had two brainstorming video chats with people who had reached out and offered to help. Jim didn’t say anything, but I knew he couldn’t get a darn thing done because our place isn’t soundproof. That night I was supposed to have “wine and cheese” with another dear, dear friend and I explained that 1) I was emotionally exhausted and 2) I’d taken advantage of my partner’s aural space enough that day.
I spent Saturday writing. Writing. Writing. And I finished the chapter that had been escaping me for the past month! It was done! Finally! I could keep writing and finish my book!
Sunday, my son came over to jump our car battery. We stood, ten feet apart. My son. He looked at me and said, “I know.”
We couldn’t hug. We always hug.
His birthday’s next week. The day before mine. I asked him what kind of cake he wanted. I know what he likes, but I wanted to make sure he gets exactly what he wants. “I’ll do a porch drop,” I said. He smiled. He knew I would.
He left and I worked on a few things for the site, and then I had a video chat with the friend I’d rescheduled from Friday. Oh, it was wonderful to see her! And to talk and commiserate and to see how she’s really truly doing and to share how I’m really truly doing, but every now and then we’d tear up and it would be a time when we’d normally – normally – reach out and grasp a hand.
When we finally said goodnight after our virtual chat, after mimicking hugs around our laptop screens, it was with a full, keen need for physical connection. To feel the warmth of my hands grasping her thin fingers, to share the vital energy that’s only transferred through a touch of palm on shoulder.
So that was Sunday night. Monday morning, I made another trip to the store. Jim still had my list and he was going to go, but I had a book shipment to make, and when anyone chooses to buy my books, I want to be the one to take them to the post office. While I was out, I did the shopping Jim couldn’t do because our car battery was dead three days prior.
It sucked. I had to ask another person to keep her distance. If she came close to me again, I was going to tell her that I had no desire to die and I didn’t want to kill anyone I loved because of her impatience. Personal shoppers walked up and down the aisles, some with masks, some without. A couple browsed as if it was January. No masks. No gloves. No one-way. No cares.
Are you kidding me? I came home and unloaded and hugged Jim and hugged him and hugged him again and was so damn thankful that I have someone, that I have HIM, to hug. He said from now on he’s doing any shopping because it affects me too much and I hold onto it longer. We joked later that maybe I should do the shopping because I am always so damn appreciative of him when I get back.
I came home and we unloaded groceries and I realized that no matter how much I love my dear, dear friend, my friend with whom I was supposed to sip cocktails and have a virtual approximation of our bar-time chats, if I had met him last night it wouldn’t have been real. I would have tried to portray optimism. I would have told him about my new project. I would have tried so very hard to be uplifting and kind and hopeful and the only part that would have been authentic was my desire to put on a happy face for him.
I couldn’t do it, because to do so, would have taken more than I had.
I had to acknowledge what was best for me. I had to give myself grace, which funnily enough, is what my friend wrote about Sunday night.
Last night I knew what I could and could not handle. I felt guilty for rescheduling with another friend, but this is not a time to ignore my anima to placate my animus. I am going to feel irrational things. We all are. To disregard them is to, paradoxically, give them more space.
I knew what would happen if I did that again. I’d fall back into the pit. That’s not an option. My optimism and happiness define me. Without them, I don’t know who I’d be, but I don’t think I’d like her very much.
This morning I woke up smiling. I thought about the kindness I’d received. I thought about the messages people had sent thanking me for the happy place I’ve created on Facebook. I thought about the man who read every excerpt from Volume 1 and decided he needed both books for his shelf. I thought about everything that’s good and wonderful and gracious in my life, and I smiled.
Tommy and I will have cocktails tomorrow.