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Friday, April 26, 2013

Friendship...for Crazy People.

Prepare for intense mixed metaphors.

I've determined that human interaction brings out the worst in me.

I feel as if I've been regressing and mutating into a grasping, internal-fit-pitching little brat. Imagining slights. Aching over my not having a special role, a new role. Tiny sparks of perplexing anger. Passive aggressive ticks that I keep fighting. And all those qualities that feel most like disease, like guilt: pettiness, jealousy, and craving.

And I think, What is happening to me? What am I letting happen? Well, I know what's changed, what I've been trying to do.

Since I constantly try to shove an understanding of logical fallacies into my students' brains, I automatically examine myself: causal oversimplification. It's not just this human interaction, this trying to make and keep a friend--no, not keep...let the friend keep me. Other factors: layers of events no one should experience, some of them my own fault; family illness; work stress; re-balancing hormones after I quit taking the birth control pill that made me forever mono-ish; medication changes; an evil flare of the back pain I've had since Oliver was born. Also, post hoc: the fact that I started turning into a gremlin after I tried to make a friend does not mean that the friend event caused the germlinity.

And all that shattering: confirmation of impermanence, of triviality, of gauzy connections, of the dissolvability (it's a word) of anything, everything. So all the chemicals were there for a twice- or thrice-daily existential meltdown. They just needed a catalyst.

Sizzle. Bang.

After the most recent of these confirmation-of-dissolvability (really, it's a word) events, I wrote a first draft of a poem...sitting alone in a Veteran's Day program at work. The last stanza had lines about pulling the string of a stent that had held my heart open. That appeared because my family has a horrible tendency to make kidney stones. One of said family members had such a ripping time passing a stone that the urologist inserted a stent (not just in the urethra but, I think, in the ureter) to keep the injured tract from swelling shut. And apparently, patients tend to get so irritated that they can't bear that string, and like a kid scratching chicken pox, against all reason, they just have to pull.

Anyway, right now, this makes me think of an equally gross and also urine-related situation. After Oliver was born, I had a catheter. It worked for everyone. I didn't have to untangle from cords and crawl to the bathroom, and the nurses were pleased that I drank gallons of water. When I was ready to leave ICU, the doctor told my nurse to remove the catheter. She, being a brave critical thinker, went to him and said, "I don't think you are aware of the extent of the injury and swelling. If I take the catheter out now, she'll have to have another. And putting in another would be horrible if not impossible" (Okay, I'm imagining an excessively eloquent version of this exchange). So the cath stayed.

So stent, cath, whatever--I didn't realize it completely, but I think I really did pull that stent out of my heart. The swelling had already been substantial. Everything was in various levels of shredded-ness. And something so small, inconspicuous as a plastic tube, came loose with the slightest tug, and all that injury grew over the last open space. Nothing comes in. Nothing goes out. Well, certainly nothing new.

Or almost.

Now, masks. I've had a work persona that I've refined over time and customized for various jobs. Cute, sweet, quick, competent, enthusiastic, a little sassy. I'm not saying those are aspects of me anyway, but these elements worked for me. People liked me and trusted me but didn't pay close attention...and didn't invite me out after I said no a few times. I could work without friction, get recognition without too much attention.If I know what I'm doing, if I've set up or stepped into a well-defined role and persona, I handle social situations pretty well. Some of my students and coworkers refuse to believe I'm shy or have ever been shy.

Now, eggs. I love egg salad sandwiches. This does not seem like something I'd like. Mayonnaise is disgusting, and Miracle Whip is vile. But any way, one of the first poems of mine that appeared in a real journal was about making egg salad. Well, it was really about a wife resenting a husband's sudden burst of chivalric social interest... but the literal part was making egg salad. Egg peeling requires a knock on the counter edge or a squeeze in the fist: those first cracks have to appear. And when the shell fragments let go, they tend to bring the clear but tough skin with them. And sometimes, the skin brings a little of the white flesh away too.

Let's see if I can untwist myself from this.

So there's the work persona. I was comfortable in that, and comfortable with this person as wry mentor, as colleague, as chatter and  None of it was fake, but it was limited. Taking off a mask, even a partial mask, would leave me not knowing what to do with my face.

A couple of weeks ago, a barrier, a secret that blurred my view of this person, that made me uneasy, disintegrated. And my pleasant, whitewashed and polished concrete wall--my semi-natural social barrier--holy cabooses--wasn't there. And I, having already had that uncomfortable (for me) but also glimmering sense of soul siblinghood, looked at the person leaning against the filing cabinet and thought, "I am so screwed." Even so, I ventured. I acknowledged that secret hurt. And no social barrier appeared to send me tumbling back. And I said to Josh, "I think I'm going to try to make friends with him," as if it were an involuntary muscle movement and half hoping he would talk me out of it; but of course, he just laughed and said, "I won't say I told you so, but I did." And, knowing I was being a complete idiot, I ventured further. Goodreads message. It was my suggestion anyway. E-mail address. Phone number. What was I doing?

And then, I was staring at my saddest stories. I lay them out and tried to organize them. Which could I bear to bring out? Which would be least frightening for someone else? So I organized them, not expecting to get past the first one, two, or three.

Momentum. I realize now that I knew I was going to hit the panic point soon and start backpedaling hard. So I typed for hours. A mini memoir in installments. All of my saddest stories, all the spots that suddenly moan like Collin, shadow-wrapped in Misselthwaite Manor, when it rains. Yes, Secret Garden is coming too. For several reasons, it has to.

Every time, I thought, "This one. This is the one that will cause the shutdown, the nice-knowing-ya." But it didn't happen. And when the backpedaling frenzy came--
when the morning when even existing was equivalent to dragging myself through a tight tangle of poisoned thorns
and I said to Josh, "I think I'm going to have to do the break up. It can't be right; I can't be. And I'm not stable enough to deal with that,"
and I could hear Josh through his teeth-brushing, "Searching for the Perfect Solution?"
and I didn't lie but didn't talk either
and I saw, "I can handle this. So can you."
and I saw that perfect green through my hair
and that little seating arrangement upset was like an arm around me, a silent steadiness
and Josh said, "Yes, you can't [expletive] around, and you have to tell. You have to explain it."
and Josh said, "Yes, I think a friend is the right thing. Yes, I think this friend is the right friend."
and I said a jumble of worriedguiltyprotectivedoubtfulbewilderedexasperated freakfest
and I was almost trembling with the need to run--
I did hit a barrier, a wall. It was behind me, and its pressure was suddenly at my back, holding me up and holding me still. And a rough translation of the words on it is Not gonna happen.
I didn't count on a refusal that wasn't mine and wasn't the kind mine usually is. And I was...quiet. No hamster wheels, no red alert, no Vulcan-ness. And I believed that it was real and that I could do it.

Now, don't get too excited; it didn't last. And even today, I thought, "What is wrong with you?" My mom used to say that I had a hole in my love bucket, that I never felt assured. The bucket seems to have corroded further, or maybe I'm just finding holes that I didn't notice when I was so full of rocks. And I thought, "I haven't been this insecure since my early teens. Friendship is just a simple thing, right? It seems to be on that side. So why am I a complete lunatic? This is why I never make connections. It's not just because I don't want to. It's because I can't. I shouldn't."

But then I thought a bit more, and I remembered a twenty-year-old girl who had, in this case, really smashed up her life, like trying to escape through a glass shop, plenty of cuts for everyone around. And she was in love. And she was crazy. She said crazy stuff. She thought crazier stuff. She was never sure, could never ask, could only moanmumble incoherently. Her letters are strange and apologetic and pleading. She was a bat cave of hurt, terror, and mortification. And more than once, she thought, "Step back. Get back. Run like hell." 

But somehow, she stayed. And now, she is a girl (all right, a woman) who, on that poisoned-thorn-tangle morning, could look at her husband--that same poor boy who struggled through all that crazy with her while she fought all those instincts to bolt and while she clung to what said, "This is right. This is okay. Nothing's safe, but this is pretty close. This is your chance,"--and push out the words, "Can you just pay attention to me?"

And that boy, who knows all the crazy, who knows how to calm the crazy and how to simply sit next to the crazy, put down The Fur Queen book and his banana yogurt and pulled her over to him, not minding the slight involuntary resistance, and tickled her back, murmuring small, bolstering sentences like "You've made me happy for over seven years."

And she isn't used to this insecurity not because she hasn't experienced it but because she beat it by pushing it back daily, with her Love's help, saying, "No. We're doing this. It's happening." And now, that need to fight it is rare. She can say and do and be anything, and they can both get through each other's glass shop without breaking more than a champagne flute or two.Usually.

So it occurs to me that "the worst in me" is just that--that little seething snake pit in the core. And all this cracking (Dickon cuts the wood, sees the green, calls the rose wick) lets them crawl around. And maybe I can still tear away all this yellow wallpaper (so much of it my own making, to cover up so much else that I didn't make) before I start crawling around too.

And I have been trying, trying, trying to verbalize, but it's usually...well, another freakfest. I told Josh last night, "I was trying to be all chill and get what I needed with these laid-back questions, and then, I just started barfing crazy everywhere."
Josh, bless him, said, "You're adorable. I'm sure he just thinks you're adorable."

Usually, hydrogen peroxide doesn't hurt--it's just those tiny bubbles. But once, I let a bag of trash I was carrying hit the back of my leg. Glass inside the bag cut me. I stood in the bathtub while Josh poured the hydrogen peroxide, and feeling completely shocked and betrayed, I stifled a scream. That hydrogen peroxide hurt like hell. Because I needed it.

So it makes sense that trying to jam a stent back into a swollen, raw vital muscle would hurt and would lay bare a person's worst. And a lot of those refusal walls, a lot of pulling me back, will be necessary and more difficult than popping open a jammed pink stapler with pink-handled scissors. And yes, in a gritty reboot, Collin will probably have to search for the fit-pitching Mary and drag her out into the garden.

And here's the deal: even if he doesn't show up, it's worth trying. No falling back on Searching for the Perfect Solution or on the Impossible Certainty. I've done this before and with much higher stakes. And I do need a friend. And I do care so much. And I do just like the guy. And we're similar, and one topic always opens another. And the social barrier wasn't there (as I said, holy cabooses). And he doesn't seem to have any plans to let me bolt. We'll see. When I look at it that way (and at least for these few moments, I actually can), it does seem pretty simple.

And I may freak out tomorrow. And I may even run away a little. But then, I'll try to come back. Oh, and here's something else that makes me think this may not just unearth the worst in me. I haven't been writing in my journal for a few weeks. This is a pretty sure sign of soul death. Four days ago, I picked up my journal before I went to sleep. I've written in it every night since.

Also, he told me today that he's great at peeling eggs.