Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Again, With Feeling

"She tried to escape the pain, but sometimes it's all that's real. There's no excuse for living pain-free. That's the deal." -  Trampled by Turtles, New Orleans

Yesterday marked one of the lamest attempts Cory and I have ever made at going on a date.
It was a catastrophic blend of miscommunication, false assumptions, unrealistic expectations, and Taco Bell.

Cory had texted me while I was in the kitchen sometime late in the morning, my hair hanging wet as I rolled out pie crust, chopped peppers for soup, and shredded zucchini for muffins. Our friends Jasmine and Jose just had their first baby and I had fretted over what to feed them. The longer I'm in this chapter of life, the more my palate changes. Things are just simpler here, or at least they should be.

"Do you want to grab lunch?" the text read.

We had spent a good part of the previous day scrutinizing our squeaky budget, making tweaks, and wondering all over again why there is always, always too much month at the end of our money. I assumed he knew something I didn't know. Maybe he'd found a mistake and corrected it. Maybe he'd been reimbursed for something at work. Maybe he just decided we needed an hour together and knew it wouldn't break us.

I was happy with any of the above, but mostly, I just really wanted a burrito.

I said yes.

Eating out was a luxury in my childhood, usually saved for Sundays. My Dad was a sucker for a good buffet. (I hold the word "good" loosely here.) I learned to navigate the Ponderosa hot bar like a medalist. I served up school cafeteria-grade "nachos" from the Rax buffet and called myself blessed.

Aside from a tiny pizza joint, our one-light town was dry in terms of booze and partially hydrogenated grease. But our church was twenty miles away in a larger city. We tasted the fruits of its industry when we were able. I doused crispy fish fillets in malt vinegar at Long John Silver's. We visited the food court at the mall. Once, we ventured into an actual "sit down and order from a menu" Mexican restaurant, I believe it was to celebrate a milestone as my mom struggled her way through nursing school with three young children, but before we had even ordered, spots drifted into her line of vision and we left in a rush. A migraine. I remember feeling guilty for being mad.

It's an irony now, to have a pantry with plenty and the skills and desire to make it into something beautiful, yet to feel so relieved at the thought of food "grown" in economy-sized tin cans.

Taco Bell, in my humble opinion, is better than a whole lot of things. It's certainly better than nothing. But when we arrived the lobby was full of folks waiting. They sat alone and in pairs, shaking paper cups of ice and caffeine, taking sips, tapping their nails on the tables, looking around in confusion. In a roomful of hungry people, there seemed to be no food.

We left.
We argued in the parking lot.
We went our separate ways.


Earlier this morning I filled out an online community survey asking me how I define "good health," and how I know when I'm not living it. I probably should've answered, "When a mismanaged taco joint breaks me."

I don't want to list out all the stresses presently hurtling our way right now. Too stressful. But I knew the situation was dire when I woke up yesterday still halfway inside a dream where two people I love were dying, the Simon and Garfunkel line, "Hello darkness, my old friend..." playing on a loop in the background.

Times are tough and my little corner of the world feels pretty wild these days.
People keep breaking my heart and I pass the hurt along, an empty platter.

I drove away from Taco Bell fuming. I was mad about money. Mad about marriage. Mad about a friend of ours, who despite having every possible resource for success at his disposal, despite being such a bright spot in our life for the past year, succumbed to his demons in a matter of weeks after his release from jail. "That sure didn't take long," I'd told Cory. "That's exactly what I said," he replied, our words mirror images of a safety net knit from cynicism.

Sometimes our bodies can't muster the empathy required. We can't drum up the appropriate expression of grief and lament. It's easier to be sarcastic and pretend to move on.

Addiction is the scariest thing I know, hands down. It's scarier than Calvin's illness or the medical bills. It's scarier than being wrong. It's scarier than vulnerability. It's scarier than the prophets and the terrifying truth they sling. It's far scarier than writing a book or baking a pie.

I don't understand addiction.

Or do I?

I crossed the street and pulled into the Wendy's drive-thru. "One Jr. Cheeseburger Deluxe, one Value french fry..." I wavered. What I really wanted was a Dr. Pepper. It had been so long. It might be poison, but I deserved it and a little wouldn't hurt. I could already feel it bubbling down my throat, an effervescent sugar rush seeping into my sore spots. A reward for enduring the discomfort of being human.

I drove aimlessly for a while, then parked. I stared out the window, my fingers salty and slick. I enjoyed that burger, saving the best bit for last. I took a few sips.

The air around me was restless, 94 degrees with leaves on the sidewalk.
Come September, we start praying for decay.

I listened to the sounds of the life that is mine. I noticed the contrast.
I drove home, finished a couple of projects, and welcomed Ruby and Silas at 3.

I baked peach dumplings.
I plunged my bare feet into a plastic sled filled with ice cold water, a makeshift spa created by Silas because he loves me. We sat there for an hour reading in the shade, glasses of ice water sweating on the patio table. It was bliss. Serenity. Comfort. (Why, then, did the urge to grab my phone keep pulling at me?)

What I have is exactly enough.
This is enough.
This is enough.

In this moment, whichever one it happens to be, there is feeling. There is truth. There is pain sometimes, yes, but hope is always waiting for us to reach out and grab it. Darkness won't swallow me if I don't lay down and die. It has never been my friend.

By 9pm, the house cleared and the kids were in bed.
I found a paper cup half-full of watery Dr. Pepper, walked it outside, and dumped it into one of the mums. Maybe it would take the edge off this Indian summer.

This is life. We fall. We hide behind humor. We give way to skepticism, fearing belief will find us a fraud. We want. We fill ourselves wrongly. We numb. We dodge. We deflect.

We get back up. We reach for help. We feel. We see. We know.

We believe.

Even when we thought we were done.


September is National Recovery Month. I wholeheartedly recommend Coming Clean by Seth Haines. It's a gripping, lyrical account of heartbreak, doubt, discovery, and healing. It's written for each of us caught in the cycle of facing disappointment and trying to trade our pain rather than just learning to hold it for as long as it takes.

This book is a hopeful brother in the trenches for many of our friends in jail and it lives on the stack by my nightstand. Seth has also created some audio readings to give you a glimpse. (You need to catch his drawl so you can read his book rightly.) Find them here

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