another person

When I was little, and my mother would tell us (my brother and I) stories, she would sometimes preface them by saying “I lived a whole life before the two of you came along!”

And she did.  To this day, her stories are some of my favorite childhood memories.  Listening to tales of picnics with Granfer Fred and ginger beer, sheep tracks and impending fog, icing sugar wells (that actually worked!) on birthday cakes in Malaya (it was Malaya then ~ when it was colonized and Englishmen took their families over for a different … better? … life).

As I’ve grown, I’ve come to understand her statement in other ways.  She was a full person before David and I.  A young girl, a teenager, a widow at twenty-two.  An emigrant; an English woman in foreign countries.  She has memories, visions in her head, so many things that we don’t know anything about.

To be fair, so does my father.  He lived lives before marrying my mother and having children.  College, being drafted during Vietnam, living in California.  I love listening to both of them remember their lives at the beginning.

I was thinking about this on Sunday night, as John and I sat on our deck with friends, watching the flames of our fire pit lick the sky.

I was a thousand people before John.  He was a thousand people before me.

I am so happy in my life with him.  So content to be us together.

I don’t think about my life before him very much.  But when I do, I drown in it a little bit.  I’ve been profiled at airports, labeled and addressed by the color of my skin.  I’ve been more afraid than I think fear exists in the United States.  I can’t erase those experiences.  I can’t forget they happened.  In the climate of our country right now, they are in my subconscious, restless and unhappy.  Bubbling under the surface.  Informing my thoughts and my concerns.

I was in South Africa in 2008.  I arrived in Johannesburg in January, a single white woman disembarking from a fifteen hour flight.  The air was thick and hot, unlike the bitter cold I’d left behind in New York.  I was disoriented, apprehensive.  I was afraid.

A man the color of tar approached me, his eyes large and dark.  He offered to walk me to my connecting flight to Durban.  I said yes, and then the fear began spreading from the knot in my stomach to the tips of my fingers.  Could I trust this person?  I didn’t know, and I felt very targeted.  Very exposed.  At the end of our interminably long walk from the international terminal to the domestic, he turned expectantly for a tip.  I had no South African rand. I fumbled in my wallet, my hands clammy.  I pulled out a ten dollar bill.  He snatched it gratefully.  American money, he told me, was very valuable.  And before I could say another word, he was gone.

I had so many moments like that during my six weeks there.  So many moments when I felt afraid for no reason.  When I felt very white.  I even had many moments when I was called white.  It became my name.

When we were robbed, I remember the police watching us with boredom in their eyes.  Just more white people who had been duped.

I grew up in suburban America.  I didn’t really feel racism until I started working in the restaurant business.  When kitchen staff said crude things, pushed buttons to try to make you crack.  When I learned to develop a thick skin, or I wouldn’t make it.

I still don’t understand racism.  I don’t understand why people think something like skin color makes us different.  We’re all people.  Some of us are good, some of us are bad, some of us are charming and some of us are grumpy.  Some of us work hard, some of us rely on others.  But racism runs as deep as a knife wound across our country, bleeding the blood of everyone, bleeding hate.

Maybe Colin Kaepernick didn’t fully understand what he started.  But he began a conversation.  And while it’s a tough one, and it’s one that no one seems to want to have (it’s more about who can speak louder sometimes) ~ we need to at least try.  We need to attempt to staunch the flow of racism running through America.

We need to at least try.

 

adulting

Sometimes, I have a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that I’m 36, I own a home, I go to work on time like a responsible adult, pay my bills, somehow manage to feed myself and keep Lucy alive and well in the process.  Mind-blowing.

When I was younger, the transition from child to adult terrified me.  Seriously.  I didn’t understand how people did it.  And I knew they did it ~ obviously.  But it seemed like an impossible task.  I didn’t ever want to not be able to go home, and curl up on my parent’s couch, and eat dinner and be okay.

I stumbled a lot in my twenties.  Probably because a part of me really didn’t understand how to transition into being an adult (case in point: I had jobs, I earned money, but I think my dad always paid my bills. So my understanding of earning in order to support myself –very lacking).  I didn’t really understand money and responsibility until it was a little bit too late.

And now, with my mistakes burned into my subconscious, I don’t remember how to not be an adult.  How to not worry about bills, and mortgages and laundry and my job.  I think I’ve forgotten -a little bit – how to dream.  How to take risks.

And this, I believe, is why the sadness comes.

I feel trapped by obligations.  Trapped by fear.  Unable to jump off a cliff and believe I will fly.

Adulting is hard work.  And sometimes, not very rewarding work.  There’s a lot of guilt in adulthood ~ things you wouldn’t have thought twice about at age thirteen.  There are consequences that mummy & daddy can’t shield you from.  There are challenges — like MS — that come raging out of nowhere to drag you down and drown you.

I actually think about this stuff a lot.

Maybe because John and I finally own a home.  And being an adult feels really real.  For six years, we lived in a one bedroom apartment, perpetually being treated like children.  And then suddenly, we were equal to all our neighbors.  We had furniture in every room. We bought area rugs (I mean … it doesn’t get much more adult than area rugs).

When I sit in my office, tapping away on my computer, and I can hear the ambient neighborhood sounds of car engines, and children playing, and lawn mowers ~ it feels so immediate.  And I also think about how much longer it took John and I to get here than most people.

I guess we just needed time to figure out what we wanted.  Maybe other people knew much more quickly than we did.  But we both enjoyed late nights in restaurants, college friends and irresponsibility more than most.  I suppose.

I can say that it feels good to be where we are.  Even if work sucks the life out of me sometimes, and MS makes everything feel like moving under water.  I like that we have our own space, and our pantry is filled with food we like.  That we get to make the choices.  We are in charge.  We worked hard to get here, saving and paying debt.  We worked hard and we were able to make choices we were happy with.  And that makes me happy.

Maybe it took us longer to get to grips with adulting.  But we’ve done it.  And it isn’t all bad.

having MS

Sometimes, the sadness is overwhelming.

I feel surrounded by indifference, by dullness.  By fatigue.

It isn’t all the time, but when it happens it is palpable.  A living, breathing thing pulsating in my consciousness.  The unhappiness, the frustration, the anger.  The fatigue.

The weather broke a little bit last week and I felt like I could breath again, after months of feeling suffocated.  And then the heat came back with a vengeance, raging and thick and unbearable.  I felt broken, defeated.  Ready to give up.

Last year, one of my cousin’s dearest friends – a person she considered a brother – committed suicide.  Their friends launched a successful Go Fund Me (or it’s equivalent) in order to fly Alison & Xennon home to the UK from Japan to be there for his funeral.  I’d seen them both mere weeks earlier, when we’d all been in the UK for our Granny’s memorial service.  Our Granny, who lived 93 full years.  At the time, Alison told us stories of Ewan visiting she and Xennon in Japan, getting lost on New Year’s Eve and locked in a rail station.  Funny, endearing stories.  About a person who filled her life.

And six weeks later, he jumped in front of a train.  And she and Xennon went back to England for the second time in less than two months.  For another memorial service.

I’m not that sad.

Even when I’m painfully sad, I’m not that sad. But I can understand it.  I can understand how it consumes you, how it eats away at your insides until you don’t see any alternative other than ending everything.  Ending the pain, but even more unbearable, the indifference, the disinterest.

As a society, we don’t talk about depression.  We don’t talk about it because of the stigma. If people see that weakness, it will forever inform their opinion of you. And we can’t allow that to happen.

So instead, people drown in the darkness, without a lifeline.  Without hope.

I’m pretty sure that my maternal grandfather had horrible depression.  I’m pretty sure depression runs just under the surface of my mother’s entire family.  Maybe it’s because we all think too much, our brains function too well.  They say ignorance is bliss, yes?  We aren’t ignorant.

But we don’t talk about it.  And if anything is even mentioned, it’s in hushed voices, in quiet conversations that not everyone is privy to.  There are too many consequences of depression.

I don’t feel sad all the time.  It comes in waves, and it consumes me, and then I find my way out again.  The weather breaks, the pressure is released.  When I’m in it’s grasp, when I’m at the bottom of the well — those are the hardest moments.  Hard to remember that it will get better, hard to remember that time heals everything.

This morning, I’m sitting in my office, surrounded by my beautiful things; objects imbued with such love and significance.  I know — intellectually — that my life is good. I know that depression comes interwoven with my disease and that the weather is wreaking havoc with  my body.  But so many external things make everything feel bad.  Unbearably hard.  And then, all I want to do is sleep.