Spring Cleaning My Cluttered Mind: Making Changes, Moving On and Moving Away

What is it about broken people? Why is it that when we are our worst possible selves, the wolves of our own minds come licking at our ankles, trying their damnedest to pierce these thick skins we’ve harnessed to ourselves for preservation?

Winter is over. And things have gotten really, really weird. I guess you could say I lost my shit. I did. I let everything overwhelm me until my head was under water and then I finally came up for air and the shock of it was as alarming to me as the possibility of drowning. I made some changes. I ended a four year relationship that has had more twists and turns and fights and heartaches and beauty than an entire season of Dawson’s Creek and it catapulted me into a nearly crippling depression. Ultimately, it had stalled and could not grow anymore. Growth needs to come from a place that allows each person to challenge the other within their bend. Something had come apart, here. This relationship is unique and its attributes are too personal, even for my emotionally bulimic self, to divulge in fuckin’ Blog-form, but any time a ‘break up’ occurs, the end result is a transition into a different sort of life. My transitions are always clumsy.

I stayed awake for two days and didn’t leave my bed. I called out of work. I didn’t eat. I sent a few regretful texts that turned into pedantic arguments. I cried. I stopped answering my phone and let it die. I barely moved. I wasted into my sheets and thought all the bad thoughts.

On the third day, still unable to make it through a work day (sometimes, when the world around you has collapsed, you can’t bring yourself to spend eight hours with a handful of schizophrenics who are likely going to pummel you with the span of human emotion within one conversation. I just couldn’t handle it.), completely drained of all energy and nourishment, I used the sunshine outside as an excuse to get my ass out of bed and away from my cave. I walked into town and tried to grapple with what the hell to do with myself. I made uneasy eye contact with people on the street and wondered if they could see that I was coming apart inside. I thought about the person I was losing and argued tooth and nail with my incessant inner monologue whether or not I had just made a terrible mistake.

I wandered aimlessly around town and found myself in a dippy little crystal shop getting my Tarot read by a whimsical faerie of a woman named ‘Juniper’. She told me I had made the right decision. She suggested that I sew my oats and gather up my losses. “It’s moving on time,” she said. She also recommended that I pick out a crystal to take home with me, one that spoke to me. To keep it in my pocket and hold it when I felt unsure of myself. I am a skeptic and a realist when it matters, but sometimes I just want to be told what to do by a bird-shaped woman covered in silk scarves and silver bangles, bursting with every color you could possibly imagine. I picked a little green stone called ‘Jasper’, because it was the name of my cat who had died, and I thought it would be a good emblem to remember him by.

Following my interlude with the supernatural, I did the next reasonable thing: I put a down payment on a tattoo. I had been wanting to get one for a while and had been obsessing over images for many months. I finally decided on a textbook likeness of a humpback whale, as I am completely awestruck by them as creatures and love the pen and ink-like contours of their bodies. Plus, you know, getting over humps and whatnot.

Then, I came home and called my insurance company and signed my sad ass up with a therapist. Because I am a grown up now and it’s no longer acceptable for me to spend more than four days straight at home listening to Leonard Cohen in mourning. The next day, I went to work. I cried twice after receiving an especially jagged text message and then carried on. Week one is always the worst, and it was almost over.

Week one turned into week two and I started living a semblance of a life again. You don’t stop missing the person who you have asked to leave. But you start to imagine yourself without them. The result is both liberating and incredibly sad. But I am someone who has a hard time being on my own, and the thought of autonomy is very difficult. Without a partner in crime, you are just a lone criminal, trudging through bleakly and taking up space. I wish it weren’t true, but I value my self-worth based on how others see me. Now I was just me. And my former counterpart? Well, from the outside, they seemed to be having a much easier time. I felt like I was going insane; they were moving on gracefully and had found someone new, with less baggage to tote around. I was curling up on bathroom floors and carrying around a face that caused everyone to react with the same question, “What happened to you?” Grief shows you no time-line. It is as subjective as it is vague. There is no indication when you will stop feeling as though something within you has suffocated.

But with week two down, and week three upon me I started being social again. I went back to my poetry readings, I went to New York to visit some friends, I bought way too many cute, Spring dresses and I sort of started feeling like the person I used to be. Oh yeah, and I started drinking again. Because the real Lauren is sometimes a fucking drunk. And there’s no better temporary lubricant to your sadness than a belly full of whiskey and no inhibition.

When you’re wasted it’s really easy to convince yourself that everything is cool so I started going out a lot and invested myself in some new friends and made a point to not talk about myself or my problems. I ached for new experiences and I let myself talk to people I might usually ignore. I did a lot of dancing. I kept the whiskey flowing. I broke the promise I made to myself about not being a sex-starved lush and went home with a stranger who had way too nice of an apartment for my comfort and a bathroom cabinet lined in cologne. I quickly escaped to his shower and drunkenly removed all of my heavily-accrued body hair of the last several weeks with one of his razors and probably left it all hovering over the drain. (Because I’m a fuckin’ gross creep!) We had incredibly meaningless sex which was, yeah irresponsible and potentially dangerous, but just what the fuck I needed to get out of my rut. Sweaty stranger sex in an unfamiliar place sometimes lunges you back into the idea that you are desirable at face-value and there’s a power to that fact that cannot be over-explained with justification. It was great. I have no desire to ever see him again. Perfect.

Then the ball really started rolling for me. A few days after my Tuesday-night tryst I got my acceptance letter to the University of Chicago which was the good fucking news I needed to hear. A ticket out of this town with funding to boot. How could a girl be sad? I mean, moving comes with its own track-list of stresses and anxieties, but, I am ready, Chi-town. Bring it on.

Following this elation the world around me started picking up a little. I started feeling less miserable around the same time the weather started warming up a bit. I started taking my long walks again and writing. I started spending nights with someone else and feeling that nervous excitement that comes with the beginning of something–it’s like getting into a freezing pool. You wade out inch by inch, but the rush eventually does come.

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EVERYTHING IS FUCKING SUPER YOU GUYS!

It’s been almost two months give or take, since things have shifted in my universe. I didn’t think it could be true, but I am nearly happy again. I am still a bundle of phobias and I often wake up wincing at something I did the night before, but, truth be told, I feel like I maybe a grew a little bit because of this. That liberation thing? It’s real. It is agonizing to wait for, but…it does come.

And it’s not liberation from the person that creates the free-ing feeling. In fact, the liberation creates the ability to reintroduce the person back into your life, in a new way. It is less intimate. It isn’t easy, and sometimes it is strained by long pauses and maybe a couple heart-wrenching moments of eye contact that are punctuated by heavy beats but when you look away? The world doesn’t end. You share a beer. They go home at the end of the night. You invite someone else in. It’s different, but, you can see yourself living through it now.

Things are still patchy in a couple places. Mostly, I’ve found that I really suck at sleeping alone. My need to spoon coupled with any amount of whiskey is going to ensure that I embarrass myself in some way–whether it be climbing into the bed of some inappropriate person (just to sleep!) or to beg some poor, unsuspecting house guest to please cuddle the shit out of me–I have got to get over this thing of mine. There’s always been something safe about sharing my bed and having a body against me in the night that comforts me and keeps me feeling contained. But I guess I need to deal with this now, before I’m in Chicago without a phone full of random numbers to drunkenly plea with, “Wanna just hold me? No homo?”

But things? Well I guess they’re alright these days. I know that I have lost something that was once intrinsic to me, every day, for a very long time. I know that it will heal in various ways but that it won’t ever be the same again. I have grieved for that loss, mainly. It’s a shock to the system. But I guess it’s a good thing too. That you can feel that much. That it wrecks you. That it is so specific that no one else could possibly understand how fucking distraught you are and how dare them for trying to coddle you.

Jeanette Winterson, on describing the things our friends tell us to make us feel better said,“’You’ll get over it’…” It’s the clichés that cause the trouble. To lose someone you love is to alter your life forever. You don’t get over it because ‘it” is the person you loved. The pain stops, there are new people, but the gap never closes. How could it? The particularness of someone who mattered enough to grieve over is not made anodyne by [loss]. This hole in my heart is in the shape of you and no-one else can fit it. Why would I want them to?”

Thing is, you gotta let it eat you for awhile. You gotta let all that hurt gnaw at all your most sensitive bits and when you’re raw and aching and ready to cave in on yourself…something crazy happens: the sun comes out. You part the shades. You go outside.

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Look Out Your Window And I’ll Be Gone: How I Know it’s Time to Go

Thornes-First-Churches-AerialI’ve been taking long walks. I’ve been taking long walks because I need to move. I need to move because I can’t sit still. I can’t sit still because I need to move.

I am an impulsive person. I try, when I can, to plan things out, but the major life decisions I have made were done quickly, without pause, with a knee-jerk reaction. When I lost my virginity, I merely accepted it as something that needed to be completed. It did not come with calendar hearts or a long conversation. It happened because I saw the opening (ew) and got it over with. When I left for college, it was because I was so done with everything about Long Island that I didn’t even graduate high school. I left a bunch of angry friends without telling them I was going and just didn’t show up for my senior year. After I graduated college, I spent a year bumbling around Great Barrington, MA trying to figure out what I wanted to do with myself. When a relationship turned sour and my fight or flight response kicked in, I packed all my bags, filled up my car, and got a job in the Berkshire woods as the creative arts director of an overnight camp. I lived in a tent for three months and had no idea what my plan was once the job ran out.

Because my student debt was so overwhelmingly burdensome, I knew that my resources couldn’t take me too far. I just knew I had to leave that tiny town, that cookie-cutter resort for summery Manhattan debutantes and rich middle-aged couples drinking wine in open restaurant windows. Don’t get me wrong, some of the best years of my life were spent there, but I was not wealthy nor beautiful enough to continue my residence in GB.

When my job at Camp Nawaka stalled out, I packed my car again and, after staying with a few friends for a week or so, I started looking for jobs and apartments in Northampton.  Northampton, or Noho, as the cool kids call it, is about an hour and a half Northeast of Great Barrington, three hours and change from NYC, an hour and a half to Boston, and quaintly nestled in the beautiful Pioneer Valley of Hampshire County. It is home to Smith College and within fifteen minutes of Amherst, UMass, Hampshire, and Mt. Holyoke Colleges. It’s bustling downtown street life, amazing music scene, its young, Liberally-minded, culturally-aware townies, and semi-affordable housing made Northampton my new oasis. And I embraced it. For a long time.

Fast forward from August of 2008 to present day 2013, and I’m ready to break up with you, Noho. And let me just start by saying, it’s not you. It’s me. You’ve been really good to me, baby, and I never wanted to hurt you or anything, but you just can’t give me what I need anymore, you know what I’m saying?

When I arrived, Northampton seemed like a city compared to Great Barrington. I could walk downtown from my apartment and everything I could ever want was in a one mile radius. Places to dance, read my words, drink amazing coffee and beer, tons of live music venues, an awesome radio station, a food co-op and fresh air market, a bike trail, place to swim,  and tons of babely residents to keep me company.

It did take me a few months to come into my own when I first moved here, but after catapulting myself headfirst into the spoken word scene, frequenting a hip little dance club on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and knowing the right places to get a brew on the cheap, Northampton soon became the home I never had with the family I’d always wanted.

But something started happening about a year back. I’d start recognizing the same twelve people in the coffee shop sitting at the same tables every time I’d go in. I’d walk into a bar and know the sexual histories of every intoxicated person lining the pool table. And the one-night stand with that someone you hoped to never run into again? Fat chance, sweetheart, because there he is at Trader Joe’s. Oh, and there he is at Reggae Night grinding on some other girl with that same shit-eating grin. And fuck! There he is driving slow down your street while you’re stumbling back home, and no, I don’t need a ride back to my place, thank you very much. All of a sudden, Northampton got small. Too small.

So here I am. Squirming in my seat, that itch for impulsion propelling me into a forward motion, but I’m stuck. I can’t go anywhere and I’m crawling out of my skin, practically salivating to go somewhere new, to get gone, to good riddance this place and everything about it…at least for a while.

The reasons why I can’t just up and go are not as crippling as they once were. In fact, they’re pretty awesome. For one, a few amazing members of my family scrambled together and shocked the hell out of me by pooling their finances and paying off my unbelievably monumental private loan that has pretty much been ruining my life for the last seven years. And while I still have a bunch of federal debt chewing at my ass, the government will let me defer that and at least get my ducks in a row–career-wise–before they decide to own me. What’s more is that I applied to grad school for social work, which is super exciting  (and nerve-wracking and terrifying and anxiety-provoking, etc.) but now I am playing the waiting game with academia and have no clue where I’ll be this time next year. I only applied to three schools, knowing that I’m really only likely to go to a program that’s going to fund me, and because just applying costs an arm and a leg, I wasn’t gonna fuck around. Now I’m waiting on the universities of Washington (state), Chicago, and Michigan to ultimately be the deciding factors of my future and I will continue undergoing acute panic attacks until I find out if I got accepted. More likely than not, there’s no way out of here until at least July. Unless I don’t get in anywhere, then I’m hitting the road the second I receive my last rejection letter.

Because, I’m impulsive remember? I make stupid purchases without thinking, I adopt pets at a moment’s notice, I chop off all my hair and shave portions of my head out of boredom, I ink and pierce myself out of rainy day lethargy, and if I’ve ever loved you and you’ve made me angry, you can be sure that some projectile (a fist, a bottle, a pepper–whatever!) has come flying in your direction before I gathered the wherewithal to calm my ass down.  And I know my own game these days. I start becoming the person, that I recognize by now, as the girl who has had enough.

I have had enough conversations about white privilege with people who have never lived a day off their father’s credit card. I have had enough Okcupid messages from people I already know who just wanted to say hi. I have had enough of feeling alienated by bars, or stores, or houses because my romantic misadventures have made me too awkward for accidental run-ins in public. I have had enough of everyone knowing my goddamn business and talking to me as though they have a right to it. I have had enough of clumsy undergraduate children taking up my dance floor to stick their tongues down the DJ’s throat, or to undergo their first Lesbian experience. I have had enough of Freegans. I have had enough of dread-locked liberal arts graduates asking me for change outside the coffee shop in between text messages on their i-phones. I. Have. Had. Enough.

Then I’ll enact a neurotic check-list of behavioral changes that work to alienate myself from a place, because I can feel it. I’m ready. First, I’ll start getting rid of tons of shit. I’ll clear out my closets, give furniture away, itemize my needs and get a boner envisioning my empty bedroom.

Then, I will become distant. The more you mean to me, the more likely it is you’re going to be ignored. You’ll keep doing things you’ve always done, but for one reason or another, it gives me the rage and I will isolate myself from you. I want to say I don’t mean it, but I do. I know that I’m going to mourn you when I leave and my only means of self-preservation is to act as though you don’t exist, or make excuses about why I don’t want to see you. Then, I’ll get drunk and probably send you a text message akin to “Whatever, I’m leaving anyway so none of this matters” and the next morning I will feel mildly suicidal because of it.

I will start taking long walks. Aimlessly biped-ing my way into whatever direction I throw myself just because I can’t sit in my apartment anymore. Because I can’t be present when I’m not here. Because inside my head, I’m already gone and I am roiling in an anonymity so thick I can’t wait to touch my first stranger. Because if I’m moving than I’m not thinking because I’ve been thinking so much that everyday brings a new migraine, a new hurt, a new realization that I’m not going to become who I am supposed to be while I am here.

And then, I think about you, Northampton. I think about you and every person who has changed me since I’ve gotten here. I think about how nothing’s been the same since I read at my first open mic. Since I pressed my lips against a mouth I never thought I’d want. Since I tried quinoa and cinnamon. Since I discovered the Mental Health field was where I wanted to devote my professional life. Since I threw my drink in that person’s face and they still loved me. Since I started taking my Black Velvet with ginger ale. Since I learned these things about myself I never would have known if I hadn’t stayed here so long. Since I felt like I belonged. Since I felt like I didn’t.

And then I know for sure, when it’s time to leave, because I start to miss you. I start to ache. And I want to get it back. That feeling of knowing when you’re home. And I guess that what it all comes down to, what all this misbehaving levels up to mean at the end of the day, is that this isn’t my home anymore.  And it breaks my heart.

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Sick Sad World: I’m a Bummer, But That’s Okay

I don’t know what it is about the Winter (uh, scratch that, yeah I do. It’s cold and miserable and barren like a spinster’s woooomb) but every year, generally in the weeks following ‘the holidays’, I come to this almost cathartic juncture in my life where I just shut down. At this point, I have pretty much come to terms with my Winter blues and regard them in the way that other mammals might regard their hibernation practices.

Early January hits. I become disenchanted with the goings on of those around me. I stop making manic lists of things that I need to keep track of. I don’t wash my face everyday. I start drinking juice out of sippy cups and dressing like Daria.Image And more often than not, I want to be curled up in my bed, covered in piles of blankets and small, fuzzy dogs. These are the days I want to come home from work, eat a box of Annies mac ‘n’ cheese to my face, and invest myself only in Grey’s Anatomy marathons where I become way too attached to the plot and blind to the episodic devices and then end up sobbing uncontrollably for the loss of some character that was introduced only to be killed off and I fall for it every time cause I’m a sentimental sucker. Go ahead, judge me. I know it’s bad.

Now, in my defense, I will say that despite this tendency towards mid-Winter lethargy, I have, in spite of myself, continued a moderately active lifestyle. I work forty hours a week, I perform at an open mic nearly every Tuesday, I participate in a writer’s workshop every other week, try to go dancing twice a week, plus I am a good dog-mom who manages some sort of outdoor activity with my pooch every day. I manage a hefty social life. I’m good at my job. I try to participate in creative activities as often as I can. The thing is though, that right now I’m just pretending to get off on these otherwise enjoyable activities. I might as well be faking orgasms all day long. I really just want to be under my covers.

Honestly, it takes a while for my brain to identify that this is starting to happen to me. Sometimes it translates as a sort of Eeyore-like slowness that I mistakenly interpret as flu symptoms. It’s kind of like the last week or so of Mono when you sort of feel like you can go back to school but you’re so used to drinking all of your meals out of a straw and watching reruns of “Family Matters” that part of you feels ill every time you try to remove yourself from bed. That how I feel right now. Almost sick.

It all came to a head yesterday when I was trying to motivate myself to go to the redemption center to recycle about six months worth of conglomerated alcoholism (a community’s work–not just mine).  I was on the toilet, having the day’s first pee (at 11:30, mind you) and I realize that I’ve been sitting there for so long that my foot has fallen asleep. I’ve been sitting on the freakin’ toilet for something like twenty-five minutes, reasoning with myself why I can put off getting rid of my recyclables for one more day. These were the thoughts running through my head:

1) It’s not like my recyclables smell.

2) If I wait a little while longer, there’ll be more to recycle and I’ll make mad loot.

3) I really don’t wanna have to drag all that shit out to my car and then into the liquor store.

4) Redemption centers do smell. Like stale beer and loneliness.

And the list goes on. I basically went through every strategic method of avoidance possible and didn’t even realize how pathetic it was until I looked down and sort of had this out of body experience where I’m on the john, holding a wad of toilet paper, paralyzed by the idea of leaving my house and practically going through the four steps of death in my head just to get out of it.

So, I collected myself, put on my pants, and lugged a ton of empties to my car and drove over to Liquors 44 to get something back for all the business I’ve given them. I did feel mildly victorious having returned with my $5.45 and thusly rewarded myself by creeping back into bed and shutting out the world for the next six hours. If I’m going to get through this seasonal shit, I have to supplement the business of life with the ability to fall out of it.

I wish I could say that I was one of those people who performs beautifully under stress and mild depression. That I have some sort of super-healthy reverb reaction to melancholy that causes me to to pick myself up and  take a morning jog everyday before work so that I might feel replenished and light-hearted about each new day. But it doesn’t work that way. Bummer.

I like to think of myself as a “cup half full” realist constantly tricking myself into a hopeful demeanor. I am motivated only by a “this too shall pass” mentality, because if I’ve learned anything at all, it’s that time is the only thing that makes a shitty situation less shitty. So eventually I do come out of the funk. I start answering my phone. I stop listening to every rainy day playlist I’ve ever made, and I start enjoying things again.

For now? I guess I gotta cut myself some slack. Maybe it’s just the universe telling me that in order to be a functioning person again come February, I have to use January to let the fleecy warmth of indifference be my boyfriend. I’m okay with that. (There’s that hopeful demeanor I was talking about.)

If anyone wants to spoon, I got two arms and no plans.

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You Don’t Have to Go Home But You Can’t Stay Here: Why the Term ‘Making Love’ Still Makes Me Heave (And Why I Wish It Didn’t)

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I’m new at this, okay?

It’s New Year’s Eve. Like everyone else tonight, I am planning on drinking for dinner, donning a funny hat, galavanting around my small city with a pot and a pan, and watching the ball dr— er, rise, as it were, as Northampton does everything a little different. To keep in anti-tradition, everyone crowds around Hotel Northampton for First Night and romps around with noisemakers and open containers and hopes not to be puked on as the glittering ball on the roof rises to the top of a small tower and everyone jumps around drunkenly and holds up their cheering children and of course, they kiss. And kiss. And kiss. Tongues lashing crudely, hands groping towards the New Year, while us lonely-hearted forced voyeurs take a step back towards the curb and swig from our flasks, swallowing those hard lumps, in effect, to deny our hazy melancholy.  

In all my life I have only ever had two New Years Eves that ended in a kiss. One was with a legitimate boyfriend at a party on a couch after he returned five minutes after midnight (for which I was quietly pissed) following a graceful champagne toast on my part that ended in my sparkly dress being covered in bubbly. “I think you messed yourself,” he said, as we ascended the stairs towards his bedroom and had sloppy, New Years sex in his cluttered bedroom.

The second time I met up with two virtual strangers at my High School chum’s Manhattan apartment and took the subway with them to meet him at the bar he worked at near Time’s Square. Because the crowds were so drenched with drunken hooligans, it took nearly ten minutes just to walk one block. Midnight happened before we could even reach the bar and in a moment of brazen desperation, one of these virtual strangers pulled me in and landed me a surprise wet smacker. Had I not been inebriated and so taken off guard, he probably would have seen his own balls drop that night, but alas, it was festive. That is until I met up with my intended ‘date’ for the evening who continued to buy me enormous drinks at a sleazy uptown bar, and then finish them himself until he was so wasted I realized he had sat down next to the wrong girl, resting his head against her shoulder. He managed to hail down a cab while I gathered our  things and then, dashing out of the taxi once we’d arrived at his apartment, puked in an alley while I paid our fare. 

And these are the good stories.

Last year I went to a Rubblebucket show with some friends, and after happening upon a former lover with a current conquest, I reacted somewhat violently, pushing them into the crowd yelling “GET AWAY FROM ME” after they approached me politely to say hello. Then I was followed home by the person I had regrettably been sleeping with, and in turn, avoiding, while he tried to hold my hand and say, “It’s okay. We can just hold each other.” 

And now? Another year has already passed and my “well, I just got out of a relationship” excuse is too aged to be relevant; yet my ability to hone any genuine intimacy continues to be thwarted by my fatalistic commitment to solitude.  

And it’s not a George Costanza modus operandi that keeps me from finding fuzzy feelings, but sometimes I feel like the only people who feel they connect with me are the kinds that I hear my mother subconsciously telling me to avoid. “Have you seen his fingernails? Cuticles like that symbolize an addictive behavior.” “He’s not a Capricorn is he?”

All of this over-analysis has given me nothing but a lot of heartburn and uninspired sexual scenarios. I have toyed with celibacy as a means to justify my readiness for a real relationship, but if I go long-term without getting any, I become so self-depreciating and frustrated that I start undressing my pillows in the night. Sometimes a girl just needs to let off steam.

But what is sex if its purpose is to fill the vacancy of human contact and nothing more? I’ll meet someone at a bar or a club, run off a safety check-list on my fingers that allows them entrance to my bedroom, and, following a generally unsatisfying bed-sheet cavort, I’m wont to be the first to say, “Hey that was great, but I got work early in the morning. Here are your pants.” 

The truth is, I have not had meaningful sex in over a year. And while I am thankful to be getting any at all, (save for a few short-term dry spells during which I managed to watch all of Grey’s Anatomy and smoke a ton of weed) I miss eye contact. I miss cuddling. I miss waking up in the embrace of someone’s legs and reaching for them across the mattress as the shadows of the early morning turn to dawn.

The last time I had sex was so clinical and straight-forward it felt like an appointment. We undressed ourselves, kissed for like a minute before getting to the act, and immediately after, we put our clothes back on and ate pretzels while watching funny dog videos on YouTube. Upon describing this to a friend, she goes, “Fuck you, that’s amazing!” and I understand why a scenario like that might be envied. Sure, it’s great to have a friend that you can bang every now and again while continuing to give him sound romantic advice once your pants are back on, but, that shit doesn’t last. Inevitably, one of us will get weird or jealous or clingy or defiant. It will probably be me. I will convince myself that I am in love and then punch him in public and wrestle with my shame. Because these are the relationships I keep falling into: meant to be temporary, packaged with an expiration date.

Part of me flinches upon writing this. I have always been averse to the phrase ‘making love’: imagining a bubble bath and a room full of lit candles makes me actually want to gag, but I realize now, that’s not the implication. The real meaning of love-making should be simple: it should just warrant longevity. In its simplest terms it should mean waking up with the person you fell asleep with. Not sneaking out in the middle of the night with your shoes in your hand. Not letting stupid arguments in the middle of grocery stores become deal-breakers and not testing ourselves in monumentally stupid ways to see how much we can take or wait without being the first to say, “I want you in my life. I want to be a part of yours.” Because I’m not cool with the first night being the last night anymore. Of finding defects in human flaws. Of feeling like my body could be anyone’s body and suffocating that mutual short-term desire into a fatuous void with the lights out. It gets tired. It gets old.

So I’m making a resolution, and you can make fun of me if you want. The next time I get laid, I want it to mean something. I want to be a goddamn love-maker. 

 

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Heart at Half-Mast: Discombobulated Reflections on Sandy Hook Tragedy

I’ll be going about my day, buying groceries or talking to a friend, and then that unmistakable pull from my chest sinks down into my guts. That guilt. That wave of nauseous disgust. It’s the way you feel when someone close to you passes away and you keep on living despite their gone-ness. How you can just…put on your chapstick, drink a beer…carry on.It’s how I’ve always felt when I’ve lost someone close to me.

But I didn’t know the kids of Sandy Hook Elementary. I didn’t know their teachers. I didn’t know the would-be heroes or the devastated parents.They existed in a world outside of mine and I would have gone on living, as would they, unbeknownst to me, had this unimaginable horror failed to take place on Friday morning. Of course, I wish this were the case. I wish that I’d never heard of any of them; that I remained ignorant to their existence, because they would have gone to school that day and left in the afternoon, perfectly normal kids coming and going as usual. But their lives were ripped were them in a violent, unimaginable way, and because of this, it seems that as a society, we are collectively mourning a tragedy that has become more than the lost lives of 26 strangers. It has become personal.

Friday afternoon, I’m walking around a Target buying dog food. There is a woman in the middle of the pet aisle hunched over her shopping cart. She is sobbing. In the next aisle over, an elderly woman gets a phone call. I can’t help but eavesdrop from her point of view. “Hello? No, what happened? No I didn’t hear. Oh my God. Oh my God. I can’t believe it. All of them? Oh my God.” I look over to her, we share a nod of recognition. The color is gone from her face. I suddenly want to talk to everyone. Ask them what they’re feeling. How they will process this. Ask them what I should do? Part of me, instinctively, wants to go to Newtown. It’s only an hour and a half away. I realize this is a silly idea, put it out of my head. As though I could possibly do anything but take up space. To gawk helplessly. Knowing these poor people will not get a break from onlookers for weeks and weeks to come. That they are a fixture of anguish now. And they would be best left to mourn together, without the constant presence of an outsider’s perspective looming at a distance.

On the drive home, the oft-unbearable traffic over the bridge doesn’t bother me. I am looking in the car windows, assuming everyone is listening to the same radio broadcast as I am. Running it over in their minds. Thinking about how terrifying it must have been for them. Letting the same image play in my head, trying to blink it away. The one question that lingers, that will not stop flashing angry and red: How do you look a child square in the face and pull the trigger? 

The question has variations. What kind of monster would do this? What world do we live in where we are exposed to this horror? How does this kind of thing happen? Why? Why? Why?

When I get home, I watch Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast just to calm myself down. The only other option is booze and I know that drinking when I’m this upset is never a good idea. I let all that Disney in my veins and I feel a little better. I spend my Friday night drinking cocoa in my pajamas, regressing and numbing myself with animated ballads. It does help. Turning off the news was a good idea. Tonight, all I want to do is call my mom. Have my friends over. Hug everyone I see. Release some form of agnostic prayer into the universe.

The next day, I am angry. I want answers, like everyone else. But I am struggling. Facebook is a great place to go and get everyone else’s opinions and feel completely discouraged by your own. I scan my newsfeed and become simultaneously passionate about gun control and mental health education. This is overlapped with resentment for those jumping to conclusions and posting paragraphs of editorial melodrama like common law. George Takei is updating as fast as a heartbeat. Don’t I have to agree with him? Don’t I have to write something important now too? How do I want to say this? What words could possibly make a difference?

I feel overwhelmed with hatred for the person who committed this unthinkable act and yet when I think of his family that same sorrow creeps through me. What causes a person to break in such a way? What puts that moment into fruition? This is not something that happens instantaneously. It festers. It itches. It bubbles on the skin. And then it is real. It is a weapon in your hand met with the terror in the eye of your victim. And you don’t stop. And you know that you end with it. What is going through the head of the person who can complete that act?

Someone posts an article claiming Adam Lanza suffered from Asberger Syndrome and I instantly feel defensive, knowing that there is no correlation between violence and the Autism spectrum. Knowing as well, through my work with adults suffering from mental illness, that the stigmas for their disorders will be heightened now, as they are each time a violent crime is committed without just cause. The overarching majority of my clients are Schizophrenic. They have delusions, they have had command hallucinations, they have acted in a way our society has viewed as incorrect; unsuitable; inappropriate. But they will watch the news today and grieve just as I do. They will bow their heads with human empathy and know that something went terribly wrong. But they will look a certain way or say a certain phrase and someone will not understand them. It will instill a fear and a lack of emotive capacity for that individual. And that will create a distance that is more destructive with its avoidance.

There are a million opinions zooming through my brain and each one conflicts with the next. Yes, I think that we need to increase our gun control, especially of semi-automatic weaponry. Yes, I think that we should have a deeper understanding of mental health issues and educate ourselves on early childhood symptoms and triggers. My impulse is towards a Liberal conjecture that is bewildered with the ease at which we are granted access to guns and ammunition. But there is a part of me, a perhaps deep-seeded, minutely moderate part of me, that thinks this is only a quick-fix. This is the band-aid over the wound that needs to breathe. This is the way we point our fingers and draw our straws until the most blaring point made is that yes, guns do kill people, but the people holding the guns need an outlet that isn’t necessarily there.

Someone posts a poem, a revision of The Night Before Christmas retold in the perspective of this tragedy and it makes me sick. It refers to the children spending Christmas with Jesus instead of their families and I know that no God would ever let this happen. Not this way. Other people are posting rants about more funds being cut from mental health programs; how Alabama is completely disbanding their mental health system altogether by closing all psychiatric hospitals save for a geriatric and criminally insane unit. It all makes my blood boil. I can’t wrap my head around it. There’s too much talking. This has happened too many times to keep dancing around. 

I don’t want to turn this into a political rant because I don’t have a truly affective argument for everything I’m feeling. I am mostly devastated that the parents of these children have to look at the Christmas presents they already wrapped under the tree that their babies will never get to rip open. That today, we have to worry about sending our children to school because they might not come back home again. That someone felt so desperate and alone and empty that he chose to snuff out so many lives. That he got away with it. That people like this walk among us, and we will pass him or her on the street and never think about them again. That they are carrying around something dark, and heavy, and it has nothing to do with the gun they will later arm themselves with.  And it’s that central darkness that is being overlooked.

How do we fix this? Gun control might be the first step. Education the second. But what is really going to stop this seemingly inherent impulse towards violence? Do we ban video games or Marilyn Manson albums or South Park? Do we necessitate mental health exams for every individual wanting to purchase a weapon? Do we pray? Do we praise peace and pacifism for all and denounce our right to bear arms? Is there a common ground that can exist to promote a safer world? The thing is, I don’t know the answer. I’m not going to pretend it’s there. There might not be one and I sure as hell am not the voice of reason in chaos. But I’m going to make sure the people in my life know they are loved. I am going to continue advocating for my clients. I am going to reach out in whatever way I can to promote safe spaces to talk, emote, and confide. Because how will be ever begin to understand something so heinous if we move in a frenzy to fix it or to cover it up. First, it has to sink in. We have to be given an opportunity to heal. We have to let the wound breathe.

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Christmas at the Cancer Ward and Why A Little Perspective Goes a Long Way

It has been a tough week. I banged up my car, missed two days of work, screwed up my back, and had to drop five hundred smackaroos (that I don’t have to spare) for damages during the worst time of year for over-expenditures.

One of the dogs peed on my favorite flannel shirt and I spilled nail polish on my carpet. I can’t go to New York for the long weekend at the end of December that I’d hoped for, and my personal statement on my grad school apps is missing one pertinent paragraph I can’t quite figure out yet.

But there is joy in my life, and it outweighs the shit. And I’m lucky for that. I have to stop complaining about my doldrums as often as I do. Because, duh, in contrast to the world I live in, I don’t got it so bad.

For the last three years I’ve worked at a Mental Health Clinic as a Caseworker. I am used to active psychosis and delusional thinking, drug withdrawal, sexual impulsivity, and a whole spectrum of behavior that some people might find off-putting. But I am comfortable here, and I am at a point where nothing shocks me.

Cancer on the other hand, is not part of my professional repertoire. Its effects have made a severe impact on my personal life and in the last few weeks, it has shimmied itself into my professional life.

My job is not one that you leave in the office to begin with, so when I found out that my client, who I will call May (for anonymity’s sake) was diagnosed with an advanced form of breast cancer, it was hard to digest. May is a recovering alcoholic and drug user, nine months sober, mother of three boys, Schizoaffective sufferer of PTSD who lives by herself in a small apartment and has little to no contact with her family. She has two friends, who live next door, and other than these interactions, she keeps to herself. I generally see her twice a week to take her to therapy, package her weekly meds, and to catch up. Sometimes we take a walk, other times we get a coffee, occasionally we go thrifting. She has made mistakes, she has been through Hell, and through her pursuits towards self-improvement, one conversation with her would leave you under the impression that May has paid her dues.

But in November, her surgeon told her that the cancer had spread to three of her lymph nodes. That they’d have to remove her breast in March, and until then, she’d be undergoing a vigorous treatment of chemotherapy. The news was broken over a fake mahogany table littered with paper flowers. The oncologist came in to talk to us. He looked at me the whole time. Gave me the pamphlets. No one held May’s hand. Her son didn’t answer his phone. I took her for a slice of pizza after she found out her diagnosis. “Are you okay?” I asked her. “Just numb,” she replied. When I dropped her off that night, I shed the tears for May that no one else bothered to.  Not even May.

Yesterday was May’s first treatment of Chemo. We’ve been preparing for this for about two weeks now, but when I call her an hour before I pick her up, her voice is slight and trembly. “I’m feeling a little panicky,” she says. When I get to her apartment, her two neighbors are flanking May on each side. She assures them she’ll be fine, back in a few hours. When she gets in the car (the hoop-dee that I’m borrowing from a co-worker), May is talking a mile a minute, as she does when she is anxious. I grasp the majority of it: “Italkedtomyson,heissoworried,Iwantaredwig,Ican’teveneatrightnow,doyouthinkI’llthrowup?” I just let her talk. It’s only a ten minute drive.

We get to the Oncology Unit of the hospital and the halls suddenly become a brighter color yellow and the art on the walls full of pictures of smiling children on bicycles. The cheer splattered everywhere is an uncomfortable sort of ironic when blended with the unmistakable smell of sick in the air. May walks three or four paces behind me. When we get into the Infusion Room where they administer the Chemo, we are greeted by Lisa, our personally-appointed nurse, complete with glittering snowman scrubs. She sets us up in a curtain drawn hub of space where May is lead towards an over-sized, hospital-issued massage chair and a small TV on an extendable arm that she could adjust further or closer to her face. She puts on an episode of  a day-time panel show called “The Talk” (starring Darlene from Roseanne, omg) and Lisa comes to check May’s vitals and prepare her for what’s to come.

“You’re going to lose your hair. You’re going to be nauseous on and off during your treatments. We’re doing to inject you with three different anti-nausea meds. One will make you sleepy. One will make you jittery. The other will make you short of breath and thirsty. This Chemo med will give you mouth sores, this one makes you pee red, they both kill all of your good cells and for that we’ll give you a separate shot.”

I have seen this song and dance before as a little kid, when my Mom was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. But when you’re eight, and you have to go along with your Mom to her Chemo treatments, they set you up in a little room with crayons and legos and you don’t know what’s going on. You don’t see the emaciated man next to you throw his saline drip across the room and say “Why are you giving me these fucking meds if I’m just gonna die anyway?”

They bring over a tray of cookies and juice (“At least chew on the ice chips if you don’t have an appetite, hon. They’ll help with the mouth sores.”) and come back every forty minutes or so to check on the infusion. There’s a little timer counting down the milliliters being processed through a port-tube, surgically implanted into May’s chest just for this procedure. After the first couple of hours, May falls asleep while I restlessly shift in my chair, pace the room, go to the bathroom, knit my scarf and read the same few pages of my book. I realize that it is almost a blessing for May to be on such a high dosage of psychotropic meds for this. She really does mean it when she says that she’s numb. Every time I walk the length of the room I try desperately not to stare at the dozen or so other people here for the same treatment. Most of them have someone with them; a spouse or a relative. The nurses think I’m May’s sister, but I have to tell them the truth for bureaucratic reasons: “No, I am her mental health caseworker. Here is my badge.”  

Finally, after six hours, May’s first Chemo treatment is over. She gets up  groggily and says, “Well I guess that wasn’t so bad.” The nurse hands us a few prescriptions and her treatment schedule. I give it a glimpse and my heart sinks to see that May and I will be back here on Christmas Eve. “Sucks don’t it?” Lisa says, “It’s one of our busiest days. But don’t worry, they play Christmas tunes on the Satellite radio and Dr. Barnes brings in sparkling apple cider and everyone gets their own champagne glass. We do a real nice toast.” I can’t help but wonder how many people want to throw their glasses to the floor that day and tell Dr. Barnes to go fuck himself. I would.

I drop May off and promise to drop in tomorrow to see how she’s doing. She’s exhausted and just wants to go to bed, she tells me. She is beyond grateful that I stayed with her the whole time. I tell her not to mention it. I wouldn’t have wanted to be alone. From her apartment I drive fifteen minutes up the road to the small country club that is hosting our office holiday party today. Funnily enough I don’t feel like celebrating, but I swore to my clients I would be there, even though I’m already two hours late and have missed dinner.

Everyone is wearing their Christmas greens and reds, ugly reindeer sweaters maxing out the dance floor. There are pieces of gingerbread house all over the ground as I make my way to the emptiest table, grabbing a can of diet cola on my way. I chug it down and try not to interact with anyone, but when one of my especially boisterous clients spots me, I eventually let her drag me out to the middle of the room to “dougie”. She is wearing bright purple eye shadow and five layers of red glitter on her eyelids. I can’t help but laugh.

I let the day melt away from me, internally repeat the reminder that I myself am not sick. That this is my job; only an extension of my life. Not life itself.

This Christmas, I will be reminded of how much I have. I will sit in the Infusion Room of the Oncology Unit wishing I was somewhere else. I will hold May’s hand and keep her company, wondering what it feels like to be her. Wondering if she’s angry at the God she keeps praying to. I will toast to her good health. I will be thankful for mine.

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Are you there, Ouiser? It’s me, Lauren: Birthdays Are The Worst-Days

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Yesterday was my mother’s 60th birthday. A milestone year. I have these vague recollections of being twelve or thirteen or so and doing the math in my head of how old I’d be and what my life would look like … Continue reading

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