06 March 2018

The Year of My Life

In my second-to-last therapy session with the woman who saw me through all my stages of grief, I found myself brimming with a fierce optimism and hope as I recapped where I had been that week. My dad's one year teeters two weeks away, but I couldn't stop telling her, "I get it now. I get what everyone who had grieved before me kept trying to say. There is another side. I can see it, I am closer to it now than ever before." I had spent an entire year clearing the branches to find a trail, clear as the eye could see and I was ready to start hiking it.

My therapist folded her hands and told me that I had put in the hard work and that I deserved to feel centered. From the moment my dad died, I knew I needed to take on the pain head-on and I got myself into therapy within weeks. It was so hard for so many, many months. Everything hurt. Talking about it hurt. Realizing things hurt. I was in more pain than I could handle, but I did handle it.

We use lots of ocean metaphors, but it always works. I'm tired of them, but they are the best ones.

As we wrapped up our session, I remembered a dark moment that I had way back in the beginning. 

I was telling her that when I first found her facility, I spoke to her colleague who was running a grief group at the time. I remember talking to her on the phone from the living room of my apartment encapsulated with rain and crying so hard I almost hyperventilated. 

It must have been only a week or two after. I told my therapist’s coworker that my family was destroyed; I begged for an answer, clean and clear: tell me what to do to feel better. There was a very long pause and I almost thought I heard her choking back. 

“I can tell you I lost my dad when I was your age,” she said over the telephone wires. “And I promise there is another side to this.” I sobbed and sobbed. “You aren’t ready to do a group yet,” she told me gently. “Do individual and we can talk in six months.” 

I cry and cry, so hard like a kid. “But what HAPPENS” I moan into the phone. The pause is a valley. 

“You’ll be more resilient,” is all she said. 

My chest heaves, she confirmed my appointment with my therapist and we hung up. I hold my hand up to the window and feel like there is no end to the valley of sadness I am trudging through and the resilience she speaks of is the biblical flood many believe but I know is geologically impossible. But yet she said it. So maybe. Maybe. 

I cling to the maybe for what seems like years but is actually months. I am now 28, but more like 98 and I know it all. I am the flood. 

I practice lent because it feels like the right thing to do. 

It feels like something that will keep me accountable, something I can believe in. A higher power becomes more and more into focus and my daily prayers, my daily religious/astrological/philosophical conversations with anyone and everyone increases. I don't feel so anxious anymore, I don't feel the need to explain things. All my emotions are rooted, planted. What was once spinning wildly through space is now in the dirt, spreading calmly through the ground. 

I am okay, I am okay. 

I start talking about God with Ben. He tells me he loves my ideas, but urges me to use another word. 

"God just has so much to it," he says finally. "You're talking about such great stuff. Don't associate it with that word." 

"I think that is the word I want to use," I tell him back. "It's not anyone else's God, it's my own God."

My strength. All my powers. It remains hard to describe, but like the glowing ball of white-hot rage I used to feel, there is peace. I didn't need to defend anything.

A month after my dad died, Ben and I took a train to New Orleans and it was terrible. 

I thought our marriage was over, I thought my mom was gone for good, I thought I would never feel safe in the world again. I did not want to go, but I worked it into my head that survival meant never saying no and that I would be stronger for going. That saying no would hold my head underwater for that final, fatal second. I could not. 

Many things happened on that trip and though the changes that ultimaltley occured happened after, all moments reached their breaking point. I remember that trip as a dark acid-trip of screaming multi-colored streets, drunks with their arms clownishly outstretched and a moment where I almost ran right into the arms of an Evangelical Christian group promising to save my soul on Bourbon St. 

On our way back home, quiet and dull, our flight experience turbulence like I have never felt before. Drinks were not served, lights were turned off and a chilling silence overtook the passengers as the plane rocked and dropped angrily through stormy clouds. I began to actually panic and think, maybe this is it. Maybe I could die. 

I thought of everything my life wasn't and all the ways I wasn't good enough, all the ways I had let people down. All the ways I had failed my marriage, my father, myself. How so, so much of my life was genuinely over, that this really had ripped through me, had broken me. I could reverse time and stop my dad's crash, I couldn't tell him everything I had always wanted to say. The good things and the bad. I couldn't have a second chance to see him or have him see me. I couldn't do a thing but sit in a seat and breathe. 

Salvation was nowhere and nothing, the answer to my suffering was in myself. The only person who could give me what I needed, who could open the door to peace, was me. I would be BETTER. I would be STRONGER, KINDER, SMARTER. I would live through this turbulence, I would live through the difficulty in my marriage, I would live my life. I would fear nothing but the concept of fear itself. I was the only person I needed. 

The plane landed and everyone cheered. I walked off calmly and threw up in the closest bathroom, too sick to even close the door behind me. But the next morning when I woke up, shaken inside and out, I finally felt awake. I was still a fraction of myself, paranoid of car crashes and memories of things I never said, but I went through all the motions with my eyes open. I wept many times between that morning and this one, but it was no longer an endless road of grief. I had named it, I had seen there was an ended. 

I switched paths and I started to walk like I was thunder. 

09 January 2018

Serial Recap: 4 Years Later

Almost four years ago I read about a This American Life spin-off called Serial that was boldly going where no podcast had ever gone before: talking about a murder in-depth. I was deep in my last winter in Moscow and had been relying on audio books to keep me going as I travelled back and forth through the icy, painted towers of my Russian city with my ripped English books, my eyes watching the Ruble teetering on the edge of an economic crash. I devoured books. I read while zipping on the metro a mile under the city and in the backs of tiny buses and plugged in my headphones as I jumped over ice patches. Everything blended together. All I wanted were stories.

And this consumed me. I got everyone I knew to listen to it, America and Russia. On Friday nights when my expat friends and I met at the 2-for-1 bars we frequented, the conversation always began with Serial and ended on Sunday morning with Serial. Everyone had opinions. There were clues everywhere and we hung on Sarah Koening's every word. Each episode that came out was like ripping into a new present. I don't know if I've ever had such a proper storytelling experience before.

I even wrote about it to you guys! I think to date this post had the most discussion in the comments.

Whatever, you all remember. It was awesome. A great time to be alive.

Which brings me to now. Every year when the air in Chicago gets this tight and the moisture in my hands evaporates and when I walk so fast I feel like I can't breathe because the cold has taken my lungs away I am transported to Moscow and I listen to old playlists, read old books and listen to this podcast.

And the smell of cigarettes in cold. But I don't smoke those anymore.

So I re-listen. Again and again. But my conclusion about it all came to a place last year and I think I'm done thinking about it. This is all very controversial, but I'll put it out there and please feel free to disagree because this is my favorite thing to talk about.

But I think he did it. I think he totally did it.

And I have thought lots of things. Adnan has big, cow-like brown eyes. He is articulate and polite. He doesn't like to interrupt. He's so sensitive to how he comes across. He wasn't even upset that they broke up. He was so, so well liked. How could I not wish it wasn't him? It's impossible. 

So I, like you, like Sarah, like Rabia, thought no way. Jay is the weird one. Or that guy who found her in the woods. Or someone else. A serial killer. That serial killer who was around. Or Don. 

But then I re-listened. Then I had my million conversations which started in Moscow and ended 5 minutes ago in the break room of my office with a coworker who saw my instagram post. And I listened to Rabia's Undisclosed. Well, half of it because it's kind of un-listenable. But then I listened to Serial again. And then I came to the conclusion that despite all these earnest tellers of his story, he just did it. 

*Full disclosure: I sympathize with this case and the people involved. I also believe in a high burden of proof and do not think he should necessarily be in jail. But I would also not want to be in a room with him. But he technically shouldn't be in jail.*

I think he did it because, simply, that is the story that adds up the most. It's hard to believe it because the story is told by Sarah who wants to believe it's not him, who has been fed this story by someone who did not believe it was him, because virtually everyone involved said how great he was. Because Hae was unable to capture in her diary the clues that her boyfriend was a killer. Because his teacher's didn't see it. Because his lawyer was really sick. But there aren't arrows, things don't happen in a straight line.

But he was there, shotty cell phone tower technology or not. He was driving around Baltimore, he was with Jay (the phone call from Adnan's Philly girlfriend), he did have a reason. Not a great reason, but who does have a great reason for murder?

And Jay knew where her car was. 

Sarah really wanted Adnan to be innocent and you can hear it if you listen back. She is so excited for every piece of evidence and she even admits to sounding like she needs a Xanax (compare her voice to old This American Life episodes or Serial Season 2). She is chasing a story, but she can't find anything. Nothing adds up except what Jay says. Jay knows things and while they aren't perfect, they are facts. He tells the best story: his friend killed his girlfriend because he thought he was a gangster and called his weird friend and they buried her body and never talked about it again. It was surreal and cold. Something that happened.

And the timeline is very short, the time between her leaving school and her not showing up to pick up her cousin. That is another fact. If she had been killed by a serial killer, wouldn't they have come for her in the night? Or when she was leaving work? If this had any bit of randomness to it, it would have creaked the story into another direction. But there is no break, she goes missing right after school. Something, someone got her quick. So something, someone, would have had to move quick. Like someone she knew. Like someone who was in the car with her. Like her ex-boyfriend. Like her close friend.

I don't really see how anything else adds up. I know a lot of people fall back on the information presented in Undisclosed, but Undisclosed is almost unfair to listen to. It feels even silly to write about because it is so profoundly biased and lacks any sort of self awareness. I will say there are some interesting details that make Jay look bad, make the cops look bad (but aren't all cops terrible at this sort of thing? Who has ever heard of the police handling a murder investigation well?), make the lawyers look bad. It's messy, but these things are messy.

So I guess that's all I've got. I think he did it because I think Jay knew enough things. And I think Jay sounded scared, I think he was scared. And all any of us are doing are just listening to the facts, listening to the way people tell them. Listening to their voices.

I think Adnan should have had some memories: school was cancelled the next day. Then his ex-girlfriend went missing. Those are memorable things. He said he didn't do it because he didn't want to go to jail. He says he can't remember anything because there are no good memories and some people are bad liars. I do believe some things are as simple as that.

I think a part of me gets it because I was an impulsive teenager. I think when you are that age you just don't think of the future; like everyone is sort of floating around. I read about teenagers doing terrible things all the time and I remember that. I remember feeling nothing was real. Living in a movie in my head. I believe it was a combination of that. Just that dark, dreamy teenage brain coming to fruition. Just something he did.

But hey, you can tell me what you think too. It's still a great story. 

18 December 2017

Morning Light

My favorite old books- Wuthering Heights, The White Album, Z for Zachariah, The Metamorphosis, Redwall

I have never lived a year without winter. It is my time of rebalance and stabilization, where I grow closer to the center. I read an astrological belief somewhere that the season you are born into is your root, your happiness, so maybe that is true for all. I might just be winter. 
Ben and I finished watching Stranger Things season two and it was fine. We watced Dark and that shook me. I had rolling chills for most of the episodes and the consistent feeling that the world is so far out of reach, that we are small and insignificant, but that doesn't take away from the enormity of our presences here. I want people to watch it so I can talk about it with them, but it feels like recommending the Bible. It's so, so much. 
I think about God a lot, what that means to me and how I can apply it to my life. I think that I am spiritual and that maybe I understand it all, just deeper than I would have before. I watch Jim & Andy and Jim Carey's words almost scare me. He mixes Catholicism and psychic experiences and his empathetic abilities and the universe's intended happenstance and I found myself staring at the screen like yes yes yes all of that, me too. 
I get a surgery that is minor, but necessary. Something physical happened to my body in my grief and my mind could not ignore it for long. I have to spend hundreds of dollars to fix it, but I want it to be fixed. I don't want to part with the money, but I don't need it either. Ben and I start cheersing to our health which is what most cheers translate to, but we say it in English. 
I write to Lena Dunham on instagram and as she writes back, I am invited to my ten year high school reunion. The two notifications appear in the same moment and it takes me days to wring the anxiety off me. I think at first I won't go to the reunion, but then I think that maybe it wouldn't be so bad. I don't think I'd recognize so many people, but the worry is probably that they wouldn't recognize me. 
Things don't hurt so much these days. But I wish I could sink the entirety of Christmas into a black hole and never look at it again. Just this Christmas. Just one black hole. Just one memory erased. 
I buy everyone I know gifts. I spend more money than I ever have. I wrap them in paper and they sit in my living room, for now. 

06 December 2017

27 Things Learned in my 27th Year

  1. It's all genetics. Don't read too much into makeup blogs or seek other people's advice. Nothing realistically helps that much. Everything on your face chills out in your late 20's so just enjoy it. Stop sitting on your sink every Sunday night and picking at your pores. 
  2. If you don't know what to order at a bar, order gin. You can drink gin forever. 
  3. If you have an impulse, fight it. Wait to do everything. Going with your gut is not your strength. 
  4. Don't sit so much while you work. 
  5. The way you treat people makes a much more lasting impression than what you say to them. Warm up. 
  6. Any fight you are involved in is in some way-big or small- partially your fault. Realize this and root yourself in that. 
  7. You have quirks, but you also have obsessive compulsive disorder. It is okay, but also realize that your non-stop cleaning and arranging are beyond your control and not funny or annoying. They are apart of your overall person and you can learn to live with them. 
  8. Highlights will make you feel better. 
  9. When in doubt, repeat: "You have nothing to fear, but fear itself" over and over until you believe it. 
  10. You can live through any amount of pain. There is another side to the mountain, wall, tidal wave you are staring up at. You have every tool you need and you will develop the rest on your way. There is only way to go and that is forward, up, and through. 
  11. There is a God and it is bigger and trippier than you can comprehend, but the journey to understanding your spiritual self is a good and necessary road you will need to walk down. And walk that road by yourself. 
  12. Don't think that you could have stopped something that happened. It happened because it was always going to happen. You have no power over anything.
  13. If you feel love for someone, text them that instant. Do not wait to tell anyone anything. 
  14. People will vulture around your grief. Do not give them that satisfaction. 
  15. If you don't like a TV show after three episodes, stop watching it. 
  16. Your mother is the coolest woman alive and if you are ever bored ask her what you should watch or read because she has the best taste. 
  17. Understand that just because your dad died doesn't mean that only your dad died. A lot of people lost someone that night and acknowledging their grief will help your own in some weird way.
  18. Your cousins will help you in every way that you need help. 
  19. The story of all your friends dropping out of college to join a cult and not even inviting you is a fail safe in any social situtation. Your memorized facts about D-Day don't land as well no matter how hard you try. 
  20. Nobody cares what anyone else did when they were on acid. Those are dumb stories to both tell and hear. 
  21. You don't like crowds so stop going to places where there are crowds. It doesn't make any sense. 
  22. Astrology makes sense. 
  23. Don't get excited if your favorite director/writer/band is coming out with something new. By the time they are your favorite, they are mostly out of good ideas. 
  24. Don't tell your friends what you think they want to hear. Give them real advice if you really care about them. Don't be friends with people you don't care about. 
  25. Hold yourself to a high standard and don't let yourself dip below that for more than a couple hours. Even when it hurts. Even when you think you can't. If you call off work too much, you will never go back. If you keep cancelling dinner, you will never end up going. If you say no's, they won't turn into yes's. Take care of yourself, but don't let yourself get lost. Be a real person.
  26. If you think someone does not deserve your compassion, be even more compassionate towards them. They most likely need it the most. 
  27. On March 18th when you wake up at 1 pm and call your mom to talk shit about your old boss, don't tell her about the concert you went to the night before with your brother and husband. Ask if you can talk to your dad and tell him about the pizza and the Irish song and how cool the Aragon is and ask him what shows he's seen there. Tell him you love him and that you thought about him during the show and you're glad that he helped you love music so much even if you liked such different stuff. Tell him you're happy for every characteristic you share with him. Tell him you're grateful he's your dad. 

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