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)

Image

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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My Five Year Plan Can Go Fuck Itself and Why Sometimes You Just Need To Buy A Christmas Tree

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Yes, there really are dinos on my bedclothes.

I come home from a concert tonight, proud of myself for having made it through its entirety without needing to be the teensiest bit drunk or carrying around the belief that the night is unsuccessful because I did not make out with anyone in the bathroom. I feel pretty okay.

As is the norm, I walk through the door, drop my backpack and whatever layers I’m adorning on the first available chair, and open the fridge. I swig some O.J. out of the carton and grab a bag of grapes. I pluck off a corner hunk of cheddar and throw it at the dog, who’s been waiting patiently for my greeting.

I plop down on the couch, eyeing the living room with the vague acknowledgement that I plan to spend at least a quarter of my day off tomorrow de-cluttering my digs. I have a friend coming into town for the weekend. As is my before-bed custom, I zone out for a few–debate whether or not I should text this video of a driving dog (no, seriously) to this guy who’s been tickling my funny bone lately, or if I should just watch an episode of Law and Order: SVU and pass out.

My roommate then emerges from her quarters–an extension of our living room that we’ve improvised into a makeshift bedroom behind a curtain. (In actuality, she lives in the cupboard under the stairs, but we let her come out for bread and water every so often.) Blue-haired, be-spectacled, and wearing every pattern known to man all at once, it is rare that Sham and I ever pass each other likes ships in the night. There’s always something to talk about.

Somehow we get on the topic of Christmas. I want to buy a tree tomorrow, as it is a rite of my adult passage and Sham seems somewhat nonplussed. “Well, I’m going home for Christmas. There’s gonna be like forty people there.” I think back to last year’s Christmas: Mom came to my apartment with a pair of hemp leggings wrapped up in last year’s paper. We watched fifteen minutes of “It’s Complicated” starring Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep on my laptop before she decided it was too quiet for her to follow, and then went home. I cried, ate some sweet potato pie with my hands, and went to bed with a bottle of red wine.

Holidays have never been very traditional with my micro-family. I’ve always envied the chaotic depiction of unwrapping gifts, enormous dinners, and general hubbub that seem so customary in other people’s celebrations. It’s just been Mom and I for the past decade or so. And gift-giving is a thing of the past. We are both poor.

I relay bits and pieces of this without sounding like too much of a Scrooge and start audibly envisioning my fantasy Christmas: “I want it all,” I say, “I want kids in their footie pajamas running down the stairs at 7am. I want a fuckin’ fireplace lined with stockings and hot cocoa on the stove.” It starts spiraling out of control and before I know it I’m decorating my guest bathroom and framing our family portrait.

Sham nods sympathetically. She is just shy of 28 and I’ll be 27 in two weeks. We are both single. She has a cat. I have a dog. We have full-time jobs and are currently pursuing grad school. “You know, when ‘Friends’ started, they were younger than us.” My throat gets dry. My hands begin to tremble. My life is slipping away, and WHERE ARE THE GODDAMN REINS?!

Sham, well into her third White Russian starts counting off on her fingers, “Let’s say we meet the man we’re supposed to marry tomorrow, right? We’ve gotta have at least six months of dating before we move in with him, another year or so before we get engaged, a year to plan the wedding, and then that brings us right into 30. Married, and boom! We gotta start pro-creating right away or it’s gonna get ugly real fast.”

I slowly chew a rather plump grape. Bring myself back down to reality. Try not to panic. Que sera, right? Things will fall into place, right? We part ways and I go to my own room. My bed, complete with dinosaur-themed comforter and fire-engine pillow cases, awaits me. My dog lays belly-up, inviting me in for a snuggle. The sheets are layered with a mysterious coating of crumbs I can’t place and I remind myself to hit ’em up with the dirt-devil tomorrow. Yeah. That’s right. I’m gonna vacuum my sheets.

The thing is, I pride myself on how much I’ve accomplished on my own. I am, for all intents and purposes, a STRONG, INDEPENDENT WOMAN, but, at the end of the day, I want to share my life with someone. I want a stupid wedding and a stupid husband and a stupid family. I want kitchen appliances and a backyard. I want a height chart in my goddamn kitchen. I want Christmas mornings.

I sigh and queue up my SVU. The dog hiccups and I scratch his tum-tum, smiling to myself as his stumpy little leg starts its vibrato kick. Tonight I’m going to bed alone. Tomorrow too. But that’s okay. The episode starts and I pick up my phone. “Saw this, thought of you.” I send the video of the driving dog to my new crush.  I stop myself from asking him where he sees himself in five years, but what the hell, right? You never know.

At least I know one thing for sure: tomorrow I am buying myself a Christmas tree. And it’s going to be rad.

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Broke and Unfabulous: Why My Empty Wallet is Making Me Regret My Education

      I am broke. No, not Hannah Horvath from HBO’s hit series “Girls” broke–with well-off parents attempting to teach their spoiled dauImageghter the ins and outs of fiscal responsibility—but broke broke. Like maybe you’ll have to forgo dinner this week broke. And with my heaping helping of utter destitution comes a lethargy and sadness so thick that I have stopped leaving the house. Because I can’t fuckin’ afford it.

            How did this happen you ask? It all started with a tiny liberal arts college called Simon’s Rock. Sister school of Bard, this artsy haven of privileged youth was a glimmering oasis amidst my suburban Long Island upbringing. During a visit, I discovered that other kids my age were passionate about things outside the sphere of sunless tanning and discreet eating disorders. I met a handful of the students, fell in love with a dread-locked white kid who could quote Plato, took a scenic hike to a llama farm and decided this was the place for me. As an ever-instant gratification kind of girl seeking refuge from my home-town and a challenging environment, I decided I would not be returning for my Senior year of High School (Simon’s Rock is an early college–no High School diploma? No problem!). I did not, however, do the research that generally comes with college applications. In fact I applied on a Tuesday, got accepted the following Thursday, and packed up my life and moved to Western Massachusetts that Saturday in time for my first day of class that Monday.

            Simon’s Rock is a private institution that costs upwards of $50K a year. The combined income of my parents afforded me a modicum of financial assistance. I got a couple of scholarships.  The rest of that first year was paid for in rolled quarters. Literally. My mother had somehow managed to stock away thirty thousand bones in the bank that she’d accumulated in quarters for more than twenty years and it paid off.  But only that first year. The next three years I took out loans, I signed my life away to FAFSA and Sallie Mae, and ultimately, I brushed it off. ‘So I’ll have to pay like fifty bucks a month or something when I graduate. Doesn’t matter, I’ll be rich by then anyway,’ was how I framed it in my mind.

            Come the week before graduation, I get called into the fiscal office. Anne, the mild-mannered director of financial aid pulls out a chair. “You might want to sit down, honey,” she says. She’s holding a huge stack of papers. She squeezes my hand. Then, item by item, she shows me what the next twenty years of my life are probably going to look like: I might get away with a year or two of putting off my loans, but after that, Sallie Mae owns my ass, and she’s in the market for over $100,000 of my wages.

           

            After graduation, I work a series of minimum wage jobs and defer my payments for as long as possible. My financially struggling parents have long-since cut me off and I am barely getting by, my food stamp card my only means of luxury. My friends, about 99% of whom got free rides to college are back-packing through Europe, road-tripping across country, living off the cuff somewhere remote maxing out their parents’ gold cards. The best thing that happens to me that year is a car accident caused by someone else that results in a $25,000 settlement. I don’t go to Sephora and buy out the store like I want to. I put a grand in the bank and the rest towards my loans. I decide after a depressingly stagnant fifteen months, to move to Northampton, MA, home to Smith College and a local art and music scene. I’m writing a lot lately. I make other writer friends. I get a job in Human Service. I adopt an orphaned dog. I get a few writing gigs. I still live paycheck to paycheck. But I’m making it.

            2010 rolls around and I am ignoring five phone calls from Sallie Mae a day. My food stamps get cut off because I make over $10/hr, barely. I am only just managing myself independently and I’m not even paying my loans. I am starting to panic. Then they start calling my family members. They start calling my old neighbors back on Long Island. I get a disgruntled Facebook message from an acquaintance from High School that I haven’t spoken to in almost eight years: “Pay your goddamn bills. Some woman named Sallie is looking for you.” I know that I can’t put it off any longer. One night, after racking my brain for a solution and deciding that no, I can’t in good conscious offer hand-job services on Craigslist, I answer the phone. After being referred out, transferred and suffering through the most inappropriately cheerful music imaginable, my lip is already trembling when my “case-worker” Michael takes my call. I plead with him, “Listen, Mike,” I say, “Is there anything I can do to extend my deferment just a little longer? Can I get by paying twenty bucks a month? I’m desperate here.”

            Mike, a soccer-coach kind of nice guy, tells me that with my already sky-high interest rates, the best I’m gonna do at my already dismal level of debt is pay upwards of $300 a month which they can break up bi-weekly. It’s my only option. He apologizes profusely, as I have started sobbing on the other end now, and says, “If it makes you feel better, student debt is at the highest rate it has ever been.” It doesn’t.  I hang up the phone and my new life begins as someone who no longer has fun.

            And so here I am. Broke, depressed, and continually down and out, trying to justify buying new pants and knowing that the only way that’s gonna happen is if they split down the seam. My friends all have jobs and busy lives, but they do not have debts. Their college degrees were paid for and for the most part, they are living normal lives of late twenty-somethings in an upper-middle class area. They buy new clothes whenever they feel like it, they go out to bars and restaurants on the weekends, they shop at Whole Foods and the local co-op because they can afford it. And I am eating out of a can tonight. And tomorrow night. And the night after that. Approaching my 27th year, many of my peers are encroaching on age-appropriate milestones like buying their first house, planning marriages and starting families. I am wondering if I will make it through the month. I cannot afford a therapist, but I know that I’m depressed.

            In an effort to be pro-active, I decide to map out my budget. It looks like this:

 

Monthly Income: $1,320

Rent Including Utilities: Approx $450

Monthly Car Insurance Payment: $93

Dental Bill: $100

Phone Bill: $88

Student Loan: $298

 

            This makes me feel worse. I realize that I have less than $72 a week to survive on. As I commute to work and driving is a major part of my job, this is enough for me to buy gas, feed my dog, and buy a couple of staple items at the expired foods store downtown. My clients who survive on SSI and disability have more spending money at their disposal than I do. Every week I over-draft my account so I can make up for the week ahead. Every time my mother asks me if I’m doing okay, I cry. In the last year my father has given me $200 but it was not worth his guilt trip. For the third time since getting hired at my current job, I try to apply for food stamps once more. For the third time, they turn me away. Student loans are not taken into account, no matter how much they’re costing you.

The clerk at the Transitional Assistance office gives me a sideways up and down, “You should be able to provide for yourself,” she says, chewing her gum like cud. I refrain from putting my fist through the glass panel that separates us. I work a fixed-wage government job. There are no raises. A promotion means getting a Master’s. I can’t even afford to apply to grad school, let alone get the degree. Another weekend goes by, and I’m still staring loathsomely at my ceiling. Things are pretty dismal. But my dog still loves me.

            I want there to be some positive conclusion. I learned how to market myself in some fantastic new way that is starting to pay off! I chose a $20,000 scratch ticket! That hand-job idea was a goldmine! But, there is no happy ending. My friends continuously ask me to go out and I’ve started lying because I’m tired of using the same old broke excuse. “I’m sick.” “I’ve got too much work to do.” “I hate that place.” So I stay home, night after night envisioning my friends fanning themselves with wads of cash and ordering a third cocktail. I watch kids’ movies on my VHS player. I snuggle with my dog. I try to think good thoughts, Peter Pan style. I’ll eventually go to a fully-funded grad school program and I’ll get a break from my loans for long enough to find a decent paying job. One day I’ll get a lucky break and I can just pay it off in one chunk. I’ll stumble upon some fantastic opportunity that solves all my problems. And because I am catastrophically crippled by a hopeful demeanor, I honestly believe that one day, things will miraculously work out.

            But what about today? What about tomorrow. I just wanna buy new pants and show them off in public. I just wanna eat a fancy-ass salad and buy a mother-fucking margarita. Is that too much to ask, Sallie? You covetous whore.

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And so it was decided, the Blog was the logical next step…

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to most successfully channel much of the conglomerate bullshit that inhabits my mind and then, succinctly, upon waking, this word-vomit turns into half-forgotten mush–turkey leftovers with freezer burn and half-eaten green bean casserole with a lardy film on the top.

In order to exacerbate many of these nighttime observational goblins, I have been using my facebook account (https://www.facebook.com/Laurenoscopy) as a means to most effectively rid myself of these thoughts. And while I feel this has been a useful forum for my emotional bulimia, a good lot of my ‘followers’ continuously repeat the one irksome phrase I have known for many years now I would eventually fall privy to: “Get a damn blog!”

And so here I am, utterly fallen and depraved, writing my thoughts away into the absurdist stratosphere that is the internet intent on the hope that someone will read my words and find solace. Will it be you, dear wordpress follower? WILL IT BE YOU?

Travel safely. Use protection. Here’s your parachute. It’s gonna be a looooooooong fall friend.

Love,

Lauren

(more biographical information to come when I’m not feeling quite so aware of myself.)

Darlene gets it.

Darlene gets it.

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