It’s warm outside, the seedlings are thriving inside, my husband has been sweet and thoughtful lately. We’ve been married six months as of Friday – the first day of spring.
But life inside me has been ugly, a dark and tangled mess I haven’t yet been able to sort out. It’s been punctuated by insomnia and snappishness, a serious lack of graciousness and a angry fistful of grudge holding. It’s heaving, rising mess of stuff I haven’t dealt with and it’s starting to take over.
I know I’m growing, I’ve got a fresh crop of “stuff” to deal with and resolve. As I climb in age, I find myself more and more resistant to change. I’m not happy about this but I’m trying to deal. Inner change I find just as challenging as external change. And there is so much of both to navigate now. This isn’t the first time I’ve found myself in this horrible place but it’s the first time I’ve been here with so much going on and so precious little retreat time to pull away and sort through it all.
I’m still learning how to incorporate P into my permanent life. I’m trying to learn how to be there emotionally for him while maintaining the emotional space I need to stay sane. I find myself pulling away and P feeling cold and left out. I do not know how to figure this out.
I’m still coping hard with the loss of mi papa. In the weeks surrounding his death I mostly felt a strong sense of relief. He didn’t have to worry anymore and neither did I. But as time distances me from the angst of constant worry, I find more and more open space to miss him. I find more doubt about the decisions we made for him while he was intubated and sedated. I wonder if he knew he’d never wake again. I wonder if he suffered in his final days, hours, minutes but was unable to tell us. I wonder if I should regret not having a funeral, even though it wasn’t exactly my choice to make. I know the wounds are still sore and I still have time to heal, but it’s hard to be patient with myself when from all outward appearances I’ve moved on.
Waiting on the house is so much harder than I thought, too. It’s been nearly a month and still we wait. I do not know if we have hordes of savings or if we’re freshly house poor. I do not know if we should keep an eye out for lawn mowers, shovels, dressers, couches and dining room tables at spring garage sales or if we have no place to put them. I do not know if I should keep looking for houses as interest rates are tauntingly low or if I should nurture my love for the one we found. I’m in limbo and I do not handle limbo well.
I feel creative lately. I have a huge pile of my dad’s old flannels sitting in the middle of the office floor. I want to make a quilt from them, but I have no time. I’ve purchased fabric for wall hangings and yarn for socks and blankets and there is not time to cut and piece and stitch them all together. I have a fiddle I want desperately to learn to play. I have a pile of clothes to mend but my needles are dusty. I feel squashed and squelched and this makes me bitter with my job for eating up so much of my time and so much more energy.
Work requires so much of me right now as we launch an unprecedented project. I am in the middle ground – not so high as to have any say but high enough where I suffer for any poor planning or upsets around me. I try to keep my focus, but I soak up ambient stress like a dry sponge. It’s not my favorite personality trait. It is difficult for me to distinguish betweenmy stress and the stress of those around me. I feel responsible for much more than I am responsible for. And I’m a fixer and I have a very difficult time leaving alone the things I cannot change.
But this is all circumstantial. Time will change, heal, and stabilize these things around me. What most consumes me lately is a dirty secret, a heavy load, a festering wound that ages old and has recently been reopened. Jealousy. There, I said it. The ugly, green word that haunts my dreams and steals my breath. It’s a small word, really, and doesn’t even really fit my circumstances, but it’s the closest I’ve got and so I’ve been holding on to it, turning it over in my hands, dusting and burnishing it. Jealousy.
I suspect this all rises from the dust of my dad passing on. It brings up so much of my childhood which looks so different from way up here. We had so very little growing up. But our poverty wasn’t anything like the poverty of those around me. They had money in fits and starts. They either had nothing or they were spending it madly. We just never had any. I realize now this sprouted all kinds of good things. Unlike the vast majority of my peers, I learned to live within my means. If we didn’t save for it, we didn’t buy it. I didn’t feel entitled to new TVs, cable, Air Jordans, Nike apparel, meals out (save for McDs), or name brand cereal. As I’ve grown older I also haven’t felt entitled to new cars, new bikes, unlimited cell phone plans, new clothes for every occasion, or lunch out everyday. It’s kept me out of the credit card red that swallows so many of my peers. I also didn’t feel entitled to unconditional love or support, but that’s a whole new whale.
That’s how we rolled – the cheapest of thrift store clothes, very used cars that may or may not start when you needed them most, and boxed spaghetti over and over and over again. WonderBread baked goods purchased, en masse, on half-off day. We did not buy fresh produce, I did not know how to buy a ripe tomato until I was in my twenties. We didn’t go to movies, to the zoo, swimming pools, vacation, camp, or the even doctor unless it was really, really bad (like my eyes swollen shut from poison ivy). We didn’t go to beaches because there were too many people and if my brother and I couldn’t walk alone, we didn’t go to the park. We had an old shopping cart in our grassless back yard that we figured out a hundred-and-one uses for. We had a tree and cinder blocks and occasional access to the garage. We dumpster dove in the alley for additional “toys.” Once I found a small, ugly concrete rabbit. I cherished it for years. I still remember its’ blank, one dimensional pink eyes and the cold contours of it’s cracked, white body. I found some free seeds once and planted a small garden. Marigolds are all I remember. I put cinder blocks around it, knowing nothing was safe from the negligent people around me. Just as the seeds sprouted, someone moved the blocks and mowed my garden. It was the last thing I grew for a long, long time. I cried for months.
But this was my reality and I didn’t know any different. I played and laughed and cried like any other kid. I assumed that the “reality” I saw on TV was a fictional reality that no one came close to living. I assumed nobody bought what was advertised and that nobody actually shopped at the mall because the prices were so outrageous. I thought we were all poor, some just hid it better than others and that we were all in this together.
Then I went to college. And my suite mates had those $20 bottles of mall shampoo. My roommate had a whole closet stuffed full of expensive, new, brand name clothes. We’d go to Mei*jer and kids would buy name brand food and pay for it with credit cards that their parents paid off every month, no questions asked. They would do this even if they had a full meal plan. Some had shiny new cars. Box after box would arrive in the mail for girls on my floor – once a box of homemade cheesecake that had been expedited across the country and cost nearly $70 JUST TO SHIP. I went to houses that were huge, stuffed to the gills with beautiful furniture and dusty bags of new things tucked, unopened, into corners. I couldn’t believe it. And they were Christians who believed, without action, in feeding the hungry and helping the poor and talked in sad voices about the “poor inner city kids who had no opertunities.”
It took me two years for it all to finally settle in. For me to actually see and comprehend what I was seeing. Despite being on the Dean’s list all four semesters and loving my professors, I quit. I was tired of feeling dingy, cheap and poor. I was out of my league. And I couldn’t believe in a god that would let me living in an old brothel with a mean, abusive man while these kids frolicked in the good life. Why couldn’t He just even it out a little bit?
But it opened my eyes and made me realize I’d been living somewhere near the bottom of the heap. Yes, we had food, although it wasn’t nourishing or satisfying. Yes, we had a roof (a great many, actually), but the rooms under it weren’t always heated. We had each other, but that doesn’t mean there was much love going around.
There is something harsh about realizing you’ve been hovering just above bottom and you didn’t even know it. Especially when all the people you rub elbows with are no where near the bottom. Kind of like when I realized that the reason no kid ever wanted to sit next to me was because I must have smelled awful, and I had no idea. We didn’t really bathe and all my caregivers smoke heavily in a poorly ventilated house. And there is something else hard about no longer being anywhere near bottom. I feel so lucky and so awfully guilty. And also so angry that I’ll never be like the kids who lived in my dorm. I’ll never be so carefree, so sure I’ll be taken care of, so entitled to the best life has to offer. Each good thing I work for and earn comes with a price tag of guilt.
And then there’s the flipside. P also grew up without very much. But he knows his parents adore him and they’ve never intentionally hurt him. They always had each other and, somehow, that made up for all the things they couldn’t have. And it makes me so deeply sad and, yes, jealous that I didn’t get either. I didn’t get the unconditional love and a tight familyor the surburban life with all the material trimmings. And so many people got both.
I’ve got a lot now – a reasonably comfortable life and a lot of love – but my baggage is still heavy and I’m still learning to let it go. That’s why I write this. Not to be ungrateful or angsty or ugly, but to take another step towards letting it go. Jealousy is not a haze that I want to look through for the rest of my life.