My first blog post of 2016 comes at the end of a trying and fraught year. I am more than ready to say goodbye to 2016, but am already worried about a time when I might be nostalgic for it. … Continue reading
I drove home from Manhattan today, after a whirlwind day of visiting friends and familiar haunts in the city I once called home but in which I never truly felt at home. I sped west in my stepfather’s old Highlander along Route 78 in the bright sunshine, singing along to Ellie Goulding and Maroon 5 (as their songs are apparently the only ones currently in rotation on the radio). As I put more distance between myself and the city, the trees became denser and I breathed more deeply. Right around exit 41, everything in me paused, and I turned down the music. It was a moment when I needed to identify what I was feeling, because the sensation was so odd that it interrupted all other thoughts.
I felt happy.
And happiness was the singular emotion that existed in that moment.
Throughout most of this trip to New Jersey, I have been overwhelmed: by grief, by loss, by anger, by sadness, by dread, by unease, by shame. There were so many firsts without my sister and my dad in the course of a week that completely depleted—and often defeated—me.
The first Easter
The first birthday (Kelly’s)
The first National Siblings Day (also my first knowledge that this day existed)
The other first birthday (my dad’s)
The dread before each occasion was almost as painful as the arrival of the actual date. My grandmother’s birthday, nestled in the middle of this crazy week, somehow felt like a relief, if only because it was not so terribly awful anymore after thirteen years.
I planned last week to drive my mom to the city yesterday, and to spend time with friends and stay overnight there. When yesterday arrived, I felt completely unprepared for anything past get out of bed, brush teeth. All of the steps beyond that were foreign, and I worried were beyond my capabilities.
How do you go back out into the world when it feels like your skin is on inside out?
I didn’t really figure that out, but I did get myself dressed and where I had committed to being. And it was hard, but nice. I was able to see places I once loved, but was also grateful to have left behind. I was able to see friends I feel safe with, and talk about my dad and Kelly without breaking down or shutting down. I was able to feel like an actual person again for the day. I never could have anticipated that simply interacting with the world would feel like an accomplishment, but such is life in this new “normal”.
I also never anticipated that feeling happy, with the absence of guilt or regret or any other accompaniment would be so alien a sensation.
There have been some wonderful moments on the inside of the sorrow of the past five months. Watching rays of sun bisect a room on a farm in Virginia; glimpsing the magical light bouncing off the water in Positano; sipping tea with koalas in Australia; the simple grace shared by friends every day; hearing and reading words of loss and comfort and love and grief from gifted writers; writing something true. And yet, also present in those special moments: guilt, and fear.
What if I’m not sad enough?
What if I deserve the sadness?
What if someone else dies?
What if this is how it will always be?
Just last week, I drove that stretch of highway in sobs, because it is the same route that my dad always drove to bring me home from the airport, and how could I be driving on that road without him? The loss of him on that drive was as acute as it was the night he died.
There was nothing extraordinarily remarkable about the drive today. Except that within it existed a moment of such ease, such peace and such happiness that it became remarkable.
Because it allowed for hope; the hope that more of these moments might someday occur, when I least expect them and when I need them most.
*Thank you to Mom, Julie and Aidan (and the Rowlets!) for leading me to this moment today. Thank you to every person who has reached out to me at any time in the last five months. I will never forget the gestures of love and kindness that have been extended to me.
On a beach in Hamilton Island, I try to write my way out of it.
But I don’t know any suitable words,
Only woefully inadequate ones that mean nothing: sunscreen, seagull, oyster.
Grief’s vocabulary fails me.
I try to write my way out of it.
But the thoughts come out fragmented, disjointed,
Blowing around and reshuffling themselves in the ocean breeze.
The sentences refuse to assemble.
I try to write my way out of it.
But the unrelenting sunlight blinds me,
Leaving behind only opaque black dots in my vision.
They refuse to be blinked away.
I try to write my way out of it.
But the silky, burning sand caves in around me,
Lodging in my hair while slipping quickly through my fingers.
The scorching powder eludes a foothold.
I try to write my way out of it.
But sudden raindrops plop down on my paper,
Bleeding blue ink into circles, and trickling tiny pearls of water southward.
They slow dance down the page with my tears.
I try to write my way out of it.
But a crashing wave from a passing Jet Ski knocks me over,
Stealing my breath and acquainting me with the jagged rocks below.
Their edges scrape my palms and slash my notebook.
I try to write my way out of it.
But the undertow is too strong,
Dragging me out to sea by the ankles; the now brackish water has a firm grip.
My pen is replaced by seaweed, slimy strands that wrap around my fingers.
I try to write my way out of it.
But they tell me there is no out;
There’s only through.
And through is unthinkable.
I never noticed them before;
I see them everywhere now.
Four times already in Sydney,
Halfway across the world, and they are here.
You are here.
How can that be?
How can you be both everywhere,
One of your songs plays on the radio,
On a taxi ride to Drummoyne.
I barely hear it at first,
But then it becomes the only sound.
You are here, too.
What does it mean?
(Does it mean anything?)
Is it really you that I am hearing?
Now it is my voice instead,
Speaking your name,
Over and over.
Kelly loved lavender roses.
Kelly loved Josh Groban.
Your name pours from my lips,
Like an upended glass of water;
You are everywhere.
You are nowhere.
You are here.
the tears that
had pressed so fervently
against her eyelids,
The colors unite
in a dance in front of her;
reds and yellows painted atop
oranges and greens,
a perfectly hued amalgamation.
She lifts her damp face
up to the blushing trees,
and offers her tears,
a silent prayer
Every night, at an interval of approximately ten minutes, the bed shakes violently. The first time it happens, I think it’s an earthquake. I lie in bed, roused from near sleep by the jarring movement, and have trouble remembering where I am. I don’t think Cape Cod has earthquakes, but I allow for the possibility. Or the other possibility that someone has run up the stairs to the patio outside the bedroom, powerfully enough to move the furniture. I never feel safe sleeping in rooms with doors that lead to the outside, and I hate that through the sheer-curtain-covered windowpane I can see shadows moving slowly. I don’t know if they are from leaves, or from the heavy-footed man who tromped up the steps to look in at me. The house next-door, with its menacing cracked window and abandoned sheets on the clothesline only fuels this fantasy. I turn my back to the door; what I can’t see can’t hurt me. And then the rocking begins again.
In Iceland last month, I felt similarly uneasy. I woke from a dreamless sleep at three o’clock one morning to find light streaming through the blackout shades that I had neglected to close all the way. A local had asked me earlier that evening to go on a sunset stroll at midnight, but there was no actual sunset. There was never a sunset. In the week I spent there, it was as bright at midnight as it was at five in the evening or five in the morning. Instead of it feeling like I was there for a week, it felt like I was there for one endlessly long day, or perhaps year. Time lost all relevance. I was always exhausted, always restless. I could not find the ground while standing on jagged lava rocks in unending daylight.
These nights in Provincetown, like those nights in Reykjavik, are un-grounding me…
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I was supposed to be in Israel right now.
In Jerusalem, to be precise, in a beautiful hotel that costs way too much money, right outside the walls of the Old City. I might have been sipping tea on my terrace in the morning, planning my day, were things to have been different. I may have been different.
It was my fear of hot weather, not Hamas drones or teenage executions that caused my change in plans. Just the fear of being uncomfortably hot while walking around in a desert in July. It seems utterly ridiculous now, with what has transpired there in the last few weeks; a ridiculous reason to postpone a trip. But ridiculous is all I have, and it means that I’m not there.
I am here, instead, in Santorini, in another beautiful hotel that costs way too much money, having tea on my terrace, planning my day. Praying, as I might have also done in Israel; silent prayers for everyone who is where I was supposed to be, prayers of gratitude and relief for where I am.
I am surrounded by the colors of Greece: white and blue, contrasted only by the brown landscape of the unpopulated sections of the islands. White. Blue. Brown. To my left is a volcano that I see people climbing, perched high above as I am on my terrace. I don’t know when it last erupted, since I never read the travel guides. Before I left Italy last week, an Italian healer told me she does not like Santorini, because of the energy of the volcano. “Is bad,” she told me firmly, as fact. I can’t feel it though; rather, the island feels devoid of any energy at all, something to do with the absence of colors I think.
My eyes play tricks on me, adjusting to the beauty so that I am no longer sure if it’s real, or just something I imagined or something I once saw in a movie. The edges of my view soften, become hazy. I close my eyes periodically, longer than is necessary. When I reopen them, when I gaze back out on the white and blue and brown again, they re-focus like a camera lens, and separate the colors to once again form real things: church, ocean, volcano.
The stillness here is palpable. The ocean stretches in every direction with merely a few sun-reflecting ripples to indicate that it is moving at all. I know there is noise. There are people talking–German, French, Greek. There is a repeating loop of Lionel Richie and Hall & Oates songs playing at the pool bar. There are distant car horns beeping, and once or twice a day, a helicopter flies noisily overhead. But I stop hearing it as anything other than a white noise soundtrack to a tableau of stillness. The week stretches as endlessly as the ocean does. There is no Monday, or Tuesday here. There is just right now.
Can you be both wholly present, and completely lost in daydreams? Can you sit, with your chin in your hands, on a dock, waiting for a boat to arrive, and be both there and also very far away?
Maybe I am in Israel, too, after all.
I am writing stories in my head, stories that swirl around like the morning wind does here. Stories about beauty and color, and about life. I speak less, less than any other week in memory, so when I do speak, I don’t recognize the sound of my voice. It mimics the fragmented, accented English that I hear; it uses simple words designed to be understood when you only understand simple words; all verbs in the present tense. The benefit to using only simple words is that you say simply what you mean.
I am in Greece, and I want to speak Greek, and if I try hard enough, I can almost convince myself that I can.
I am somewhat disillusioned on my first visit to the small town of Oia, the northernmost tip of the island, to hear loud, American-accented English all around me. I crave the melodic sounds of Greek and Italian and Spanish melting together, not teenagers saying like and you know. I want to be an anonymous traveler of no origin, not someone who understands American teen. I want to be from wherever I have landed.
Sometimes it works. On our shared taxi ride to Oia, as we wind around the treacherous curves of the island road, the couple in the backseat speak haltingly to me, unsure if I can understand English. They don’t realize I know their accents. They don’t realize that I’ve been to their hometown in Long Island, that I lived less than an hour away from them for nearly a decade.
Sometimes it doesn’t work. I take a boat ride to some of the beaches only accessible by water. I am the only American, and the only one by myself. When we stop at one of the beaches, an older Greek man calls out to me as I walk alone along the shoreline. I think maybe he is afraid I cannot swim, and I can’t hear him, and I can’t understand him, but he gesticulates wildly enough to cause me to walk to where he is standing. He continues his sermon, his gestures getting bigger as I get closer. When I shake my head and say I don’t understand, he is puzzled. He asks, in Greek, don’t I speak or understand Greek? (I cannot say which he asks, since the only thing I did understand was the word Greek). I continue to shake my head and apologize until he stops me by gripping my shoulders firmly, looking directly into my eyes, and says about me, “Is nice. Is very nice.” I say thank you in Greek, one of my other known words, and continue my beach walk. Later he says, “Bye lady” as he helps me back into the boat, and waves at me as we drift away.
So I guess even when it doesn’t work, it still sort of works.
I want to write about all of my days here, because I want you to understand them.
I want to tell you a proper travel story about Santorini, so that you will know all about it. But I find that I don’t want to write about restaurants, or hotels, or hiking trails, or the list of all of the things you absolutely must do on your visit here. I don’t want to tell you all of my stories, the ones that have run through me for the past week.
Instead, I want to write, simply: White. Blue. Brown.
And I want you to just know what that means. What it feels like, what it looks like, what it is to be in Santorini.
I want you to write your own stories.
I was supposed to be in Israel.
I am meant to be here.
(One Year Later)
It’s the same here, in that way that can make a place feel oddly frozen in time, despite a year having passed. The people I am with are different, but they’re somehow the same, with the same hearts.The roosters still crow us awake before dawn every morning, and the cacophony of the donkeys braying and the birds singing is as simultaneously melodious and discordant as I remember it. The dogs, the big sweet one and one who is aloof except during mealtime, where he might coax a small morsel of food from someone, still smell—of farm, of dirt, of manure and of some other intangible dog odor. The sweetness from my first donut peach this summer immediately sends me into a fit of bliss and nostalgia. The geraniums in their window boxes continue to bloom their same vibrant shades of red, and the sun still sinks behind a nearby mountain ridge every evening, beyond a lone cypress tree, enveloped in a hazy, orange veil.
The passage of time is marked only by the horses, grown from awkward foals to sleeker, more adult versions of themselves, and the children, who have done the same. At Ebbio for the second time, in what has become my Tuscan home, I’m reminded of the magic I found here last summer, its energy humming all around me as loudly as the buzzing insects. I had worried it might not be the same.
But you can return to wonder, I learn, and I have.
(One Month Later)
It took half a year of planning, but it was over within seconds. Resigning from a career was surprisingly anti-climactic.
One minute you have a job, a career, an identity, and the very next minute you do not. Poof! The person you have been announcing yourself as for the last fifteen years is gone. You’re no longer the character you were so proud of playing, parading around in it like a coat you never removed. You don’t get to use the slightly smug smile that you couldn’t help using when people seemed impressed with you. You leave yourself behind in an instant.
For six years, you answered the phone, “Katie from Allure.” As if you didn’t have a last name. As if you didn’t have anything else. As if nothing else mattered.
Not as much anyway.
This was your life. You thought it was what you wanted, until one day it wasn’t.
You stay. Play the part, dance the dance. Keep up appearances to hide the twisted insides. Focus on all of the things you’ve acquired, and steadfastly ignore the whispers that say, “there must be something more than this car, this bag, this life.” Build up that house of cards and climb so high you can’t see the bottom any longer. So high you can’t remember how you even got up there, or why you thought you might like the view; so high you don’t know how you are ever going to get down, or what the fall might feel like.
Because it will fall down. That’s what card houses do. They’re not built for forevers. And as soon as you start this interrogation of your heart from its apex, it quivers and buckles and threatens to collapse completely, and you’re left with the choice to jump off the top, from where you can no longer see the ground, or come crashing down with it, a jumble of cards and regrets.
So you jump.
And you immediately wonder, will I freeze now, without that well-worn coat? You wonder, should I have stayed? You wonder, am I crazy to have left? You wonder, what comes next?
You wonder, who will I be now?
(One Day Later)
The words echo around in my head, bouncing from one side to the other. I’m hearing them in the voice of the one who first uttered them to me; a prayer:
“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves….”
The opening to Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese, and I can hear it now. I hear it here in yoga, at Ebbio, where the voice that first told me I could have more asks me to write another letter of closure, one year later. I watch this girl, this Katie from Allure, as if from a distance, and I think about what she needs to hear. So I write.
Dear Katie From Allure, Everything is going to be ok. You do not have to always have all of the answers. You do not need to make money to make a difference. You do not need to have valuable stuff to feel valued. You do not need call yourself by a fancy title to feel proud. You do not need to worry so much about what you won’t be anymore. You do not need to know what you are meant to do before you start doing something. You do not need to know where you will end up in order to take the first step. You only have to take the first step. Take the step. Then take another. And remember this: you are the only person who can pursue your happiness. You are the only person who can listen to your own heart. You are the only person who can nurture your soul. You are the only person who can save your life. Do it. Save yourself. Everything is going to be ok. Love, Katie
(One Minute Later)
A bug committed suicide in my bed.
I woke to find him dead, my body covered in bites, his engorged with my blood. I wonder if he knew where he was headed but was simply unable to stop. I wonder if, at some point, he had an inkling of his fate, but thought he could somehow outrun it. I wonder if he would make the same choice again. I wonder if I actually killed him, smothering him as I rolled over and tucked my right arm under my pillow so that only my hand stuck out, floating in the air.
I’m here with my dead bug, thinking about the last minute, the last hour, the last month, the last year, all from a Tuscan farmhouse that feels suspended between a dream and reality, with people who are both strangers and family. I think about how happy I am to be doing it. I am saving my own life. I think about how easy it would have been to not do so, to have stayed, and I’m so relieved that the pain of the jump begins to subside. This is my life now.
I’m not that dead bug, I’m not buried under a collapsed house of cards, I’m not Katie from Allure.
I’m just me, removing coats, taking steps, saving myself.
“When I am older, I would like to be successful. I hope to be an author some day. I love writing and have written many stories. Writing is like truth. It exposes the things you don’t want to show. I love reading too. When I read, it’s as if I’ve entered a world of my own. It’s like being in the book. To me, books seem alive. Every time I read, I travel into the story.
I want to write stories in my own books some day.”
When I first began blogging in late 2012, people asked me if I wanted to be a writer, and if I had always wanted to be a writer. No way, I told them. In college, I had majored in music and in business. Afterwards, the only writing in my career was in the form of emails to clients and coworkers. I hadn’t written anything more as far back as I could remember.
I was home in New Jersey recently, going through those bins of junk and memories you find in every parent’s basement, when I came across a folder from fifth grade. As I opened one of the “Katie” containers, I found a blue folder with “5th Grade” written across the front. And I remembered: Mrs. Gospin, the teacher who encouraged me to read, and to feel, and to dream, and to write. In fifth grade, I WAS a writer, and I embraced this, the evidence of which I was now looking at. I wrote thirty page short stories about teenage friendship angst, popularity contests, and falling in love—everything I imagined was part of being an actual teenager. I also apparently wrote a school report entitled, “My Life: An Autobiography”, which is excerpted above. It seems that I did, indeed, always want to be a writer. It just took me twenty-five years to remember.
My writer friend, Cindy Lamothe, invited me to join a “blog hop” a few weeks ago, and I was initially skeptical. I had never heard of the concept, and the other hops I could think about—sock hops, bunny hops, actual hopping—weren’t very appealing. (Except for hip hop, which I didn’t think this involved in any way). When she explained the concept that writers would all answer the same four questions, and would link other bloggers, who would link to even more bloggers, I understood that it was a sort of electronic chain letter. Much easier than hopping. And since I was interested in reading everyone else’s answers, I figured I needed to participate.
For better or worse, the answers from this twenty-five-years-late-to-the-writing-party writer:
1)What am I working on/writing?
I have random emails I’ve sent myself with thoughts that pop up at 2am, and Word documents with four sentences on them at any given time on my computer. It’s (barely) organized chaos. However, right now I’m actively working on an essay about body shaming based on re-reading my sixth grade yearbook, and on a follow-up essay to a Huffington Post Live segment I did about the stigmas of being 35 and single. It’s about being 36 and single. (spoiler alert: it’s not much different)
At some point in the near future (likely about three days before it is due), I will begin working on my first twenty pages of fiction since fifth grade for a workshop I’m attending with Dani Shapiro at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown in August. My hope is that it will turn into a book; my fear is that I will discover my talent for fiction peaked in fifth grade.
2) How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?
I’m not sure it does, really. From a stylistic perspective, it’s probably not as poetic, possibly it’s not as bloggy, and it’s definitely not as literary as some others in the personal essay genre. So I think what is most different lies in the content: my story, and my willingness to expose my imperfections in the search for what is true, what is universal and what is beautiful.
Or it could just be that I’m weirder than most people. I like to call it “unique”.
3) Why do I write what I do?
I was asked why I write by a published author a few months into being a blogger. She told me she didn’t know what to make of me, because in her experience most people wrote because they enjoyed it (eh, not until it’s done), they had a burning story to tell (I couldn’t think of one), or they just couldn’t NOT write (I could do that very well; I did it for twenty-five years). And once I was stumped trying to answer her, I questioned if I really was, or should be, a writer.
Except there was this: since I have been writing for the past year and a half, I have experienced a clarity about myself that I can’t recall having before I started sharing my stories with other people via my writing. By sharing my thoughts and feelings with others, I was able to recognize myself again.
And this: my relationships with the people in my life deepened because I was showing people who I really am for the first time in decades. No more facades, no more pretending to be someone I’m not. Turns out, there are people who actually feel similarly and share those sentiments with me. It makes every moment of insecurity and vulnerability when I hit “Publish” completely worth it.
I write what I write because it connects me to something larger, something truer, and makes me feel less alone.
4) How does my writing process work?*
The words “process” and “work” might be misleading here. Let me paint the picture for you.
First, I think of everything else that I could possibly do instead of writing. Doing laundry and taking a nap are my go-to alternatives, but sometimes I consider waxing my car, re-wiring the under-cabinet lighting in my kitchen, or steam cleaning the bedroom carpet. Then I remember that I don’t know how to do any of those things, so I sit down on my grey suede couch with my legs stretched out in front of me, flip on the tv for background noise (reality shows are great, because you don’t really want to pay attention), and pick up my laptop. I open a blank Word document (or pull up any one of the documents I have already started and not saved with four typed sentences; I’m up to Document 9 at the moment). I like to flip over to the Internet next, so as not to finish whatever I am working on too quickly. Facebook, Twitter, Gmail all prove to be excellent distractors, as do Buzzfeed quizzes and Grumpy Cat memes. Once I have chastised myself, out loud, for my excessive procrastination, I return to that Word document and write a paragraph. Since it almost seems like I might be on a roll, I stop and edit that paragraph within an inch of its life. Then I’m usually tired, so I call it a day.
Via this “process”, completing one essay can take between one day and one year. I’m working on tightening up that timeline.
*I do not recommend this “process” to any other writers. It’s quite lengthy and massively inefficient.
Let me introduce my fabulously eloquent and inspiring friends:
CINDY R. LAMOTHE is an expat living in Antigua, Guatemala with her loving husband, David and two small turtles. She has earned her B.A. in Communications with an emphasis in Journalism. She is a writer, social media strategist, inspirationalist, and lover of life. Her work has appeared in online magazines and websites including: The Manifest-Station and Sweatpants and Coffee as well as other publications. Cindy’s quirky personality and passion for travel has led her down many strange paths, harnessing her appreciation for beauty and innate wildness. Get to know her on Facebook, Twitter and her personal website crlamothe.com, where she encourages others to let go of fear and live authentically.
SARA LIEBERMAN is a freelance journalist based in New York City. After years of brainstorming catchy headlines and editing entertainment and pop culture features for publications like the New York Post, Page Six Magazine and Seventeen, she decided to pursue her dream of being a writer who travels. (Or, if her passport and check-in statuses are any indication, a traveler who sometimes writes.) Her work appears in in-flight publications like Hemispheres and Rhapsody, The Daily Beast, Cosmo UK and Fodor’s. More personal musings can be found at News Girls About Towns, the blog she originally launched with a fellow journalist to document their job-swap in London and New York. It now features posts about self-discovery while discovering the world. She likes long walks on Fire Island, goat cheese, Vinyasa yoga, Mumford & Sons and macchiatos. Follow her on Twitter and like her photos on Instagram.
MEG RUGGIERI currently lives in Denver, Colorado. She writes LeftoversFromFriday, which is a lifestyle blog for people who are trying to figure out life while on their way to a happy hour at a place they’ve never been before while stuck in rush hour traffic with their mother in a perma-passenger seat. Some may call this a run-on sentence; she calls it life at 25. You can find her musing about life and dating perils on Facebook or sharing her unfiltered quirkiness via photos on Instagram.
LAURIE LUH is a career counselor, HR consultant and the co-founder of Mimosa Lotus, a lifestyle website that inspires personal growth by providing tools to live a happier, more fulfilled life. Laurie was the head of Human Resources at Participant Media since the company’s inception in 2004, and left in 2013 when she realized that it was time for her to jump into the next phase of her career life. Now Laurie writes about the practicalities of “jumping” and dispenses overall career advice for Mimosa Lotus and greenlightjobs. She will also be a featured blogger on a new online career center that’s still in development. Laurie has been a guest lecturer at USC and has spoken on several panels. Outside of writing and career counseling, Laurie lives by the beach in Los Angeles and is an active runner and hiker hoping to add surfing to her list of activities very soon. She’s easy to find over at Mimosa Lotus, or you can follow her on Twitter, where she’s often tweeting photos of favorite SoCal hotspots.
DENA YOUNG is a writer and blogger living in the town of big dreams, New York City. Working in the publishing industry for the past 10 years, her former life in television production solidified her appreciation for the creative spirit. A hedonist by nature, you’ll sometimes find her catching the sunset or wandering through a museum, but – as a food lover to the core – she’s always in search of the next great thing to eat. Her blog, Goodness, Grace and Grub, is her celebration of all the pleasures in life. And as an optimist at heart, she believes that magic and grace are just a thought away. You can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.
Keep hopping! xx
Last weekend I wondered if I might be slowly losing my mind.
I had flown home to New Jersey to attend my godson’s third birthday party. I had carefully planned my outfit so that I would be able to join in a tree pose (his favorite) at his yoga party. I was so excited to give him the mini-monster trucks that I knew would cause his big blue eyes to light up and his smile to widen. I even scheduled a blowout so that my hair would look nice (because I was sure the three-year-olds would notice).
As I sat in the salon chair with dripping wet hair on Saturday afternoon, my best friend texted to ask if I was ok, and was I still coming to her son’s party? Because his party, the one I had so eagerly anticipated, was actually nearly over, and was not on Sunday as I had written down in my calendar.
I missed the whole thing, from an hour away, under a hairdryer in what now felt like the most ridiculous blowout ever.
I started crying while the blow dryer hummed and whirred around my head. Even with the facts right in front of me, I couldn’t believe I had screwed this up. I re-checked the invite, hoping it would tell me something different. I even asked my mom to help make sense of it for me. I texted a friend to explain what happened, and she wrote back, “that’s not like you.”
I wanted to insist, “you’re right! It’s not like me!” And I wanted to just let it go, to chalk it up as one scheduling mishap, maybe laugh about it in the story I would later tell (can you believe I did that? Haha!), and go on with my day. But instead I flashed to all of the ways in which this was exactly like me, the me who now does things like this frequently.
Going to the wrong location for yoga
Forgetting a friend’s birthday
Receiving a call from the dentist confirming my appointment the next day, an appointment I had not written down and could not remember making
Booking a vacation rental for the wrong dates
Buying two plane tickets to the same destination—both for myself, both for the same dates
Getting off at the wrong freeway exit—twice—on my way to the office I have worked at for four years
Tallied up, it was staggering to me. I could not recognize this person masquerading around as me. Where was the Type A Katie who lived by her perfectly organized calendar? I felt like putting a picture of myself, the me who didn’t didn’t do things like book the same plane ticket twice or get off at the wrong exit, on a milk carton with the slogan, “Have you seen this woman lately?”
This wasn’t one instance of calendar mishandling.
How do you know when it’s just a side effect of stress, or overscheduling, and not something more?
I wanted to write something perfect.
I hadn’t published anything new in four months, because I hadn’t really written anything in four months. Frankly, I hadn’t wanted to. The writing is hard; sitting in your feelings so that you can write about them is even harder. And things felt hard enough without examining them, so I just stopped.
I went to brunch with a friend who told me that running is her savior lately, the endorphins essential to her wellbeing during a chaotic time. I understood the chaos: a brain whose whirling thoughts I was unable to control, circumstances constantly changing around me that I could not control, people around me whose actions and reactions I could not control.
I wondered if she was really running for the endorphins, or if she was running in an attempt to outsmart her own brain. Breathe, breathe, left, right, left, right, stay on pace, control. All focus on the body, the thunder of feet pounding to drown out the internal chatter. I got that. I didn’t want to hear the noise echoing around in my head either.
I gave up on writing, and reading, and yoga, exchanged them for episodes of Teen Mom and Snickerdoodle cookies the size of my open hand. I have very big hands. I sat on my couch, eating cookies and observing my jeans growing tighter, while teenagers on the television argued and screamed at each other and cried. Chew, chew, chew, fast forward through commercials.
The last thing I wanted to do was think. So I didn’t. A murkiness settled over me like a haze, and even the tv grew foggy, like I suddenly needed glasses to make everything appear clear again.
There were moments of reprieve, from both the numbness of not thinking and the constantly scampering thoughts, just enough for me to think that maybe I was still normal. A rarely attended yoga class where I felt connected to my body. A book I could concentrate on, whose words penetrated through the haze surrounding me. A party where I could actually hear what people were saying, instead of their voices being muffled by the frequently whispered loop of don’t eat that cheese, you are too fat. A morning where I woke up feeling rested.
But I wonder: why are these only choices I see? Sitting on the couch, not writing, stuffing my face and watching teenagers fight, or being tortured by my own mind. Why aren’t there more moments of calm, of grace, of beauty? What caused me to arrive to this place where I don’t do the things I love and I know I’m not doing them, but it’s not enough to compel me into doing them again? Why did I feel like a stranger in my own life, as if watching from above and thinking, who is that girl in the tight jeans on the grey couch, sitting in front of the tv again, and why doesn’t she just do something different?
My home. My living room. My grey wraparound couch; at once familiar and foreign.
How could I know exactly where I was, and still feel lost?
It’s stress, I think. I don’t want to allow for the possibility that it’s something more, some genetic mistake that was passed down and is waiting to take hold of me. I tell my mother, when she voices the same concerns, that it’s just a symptom of doing too many things at once. I tell myself this now.
I’m not a runner. It always feels like torture to me. I’m not going to outrun anything. I can’t stare blindly at a screen anymore either. I turn the tv off, and I listen. I wait for what will come.
I still don’t really want to write. I know it’s not going to be perfect. It’s never going to be perfect. I don’t know if I can live with that.
The racing in my head continues on, unencumbered by fog for the moment. I have a headache, but maybe it’s just that the muscles are sore from all of the running they are doing. My brain is on a treadmill, logging mile after mile, loop after loop, slowing down when trudging up inclines, losing control and flailing on the downward slopes, but never really going anywhere. Just like a body running on a treadmill. But my body is still. Mind racing. Body still.
It will never be perfect. I will never be perfect.
And this is where the writing begins.