Monday, December 31, 2012

Exposure, Part 2.

Of course, while losing my grandmother unexpectedly was certainly the most tragic event of the year, and may well serve as a hinge on which I place some before-and-after significance in my life, it's not just an ending. I don't know if there really are such things as endings. Because the event itself was not the thing that changed me. It was the spark. It was the button that pushed me. It caught my heart on fire.  It clicked something and allowed me to finally pay attention to my life. It woke me up to the unreasonable, irritable, lonely, depressed person I had become in the last several years and which I actively pretended didn't exist. The person that I presented to everyone was slightly attention-seeking, introverted, virtuous, and doing just fine, thank you very much. But that's just a carefully, artfully constructed mask, to use the old, appropriate cliche. I haven't been fine, because I've been ignoring myself for years. My own physical, emotional, spiritual health was just a foreign concept that I pretended to think about sometimes. But mostly I worried about everyone else, and everything else, and  all of these things I can't possibly change.

It's like possession. Depression or perfectionism or paranoia or whatever, it takes possession of your faculties and you become lost in its fog. You don't even know you're possessed. You just roll with the punches, terrified, grappling on to whatever thin string of control you think you have in order to survive. But it takes a real risk--from yourself, not the rescue you imagine will come--to stop holding tight, to let the string go, to admit you don't know where you are and you need help. The reason, other than denial, that doing that is so hard, is because you think of yourself as a total failure and you don't want anyone to know. I certainly did, anyway. I do a lot. No matter how many compliments I got from caring friends, family, loved ones, (and boy, do I feed on them!), I didn't believe them.

The events of July slowly shook off that mask I spent so much time on. I realized I wasn't okay when I started getting panic attacks, when I actually paid attention to how often I cried, to how upset I felt inside about the tiniest things. I did what I should have done a few years ago, but this time was actually ready for--I got some help.

Even though I thought I was getting help for the grief of the family death, I found out my problems ran way deeper and I started to be able to see that thing that had taken possession of me. Now, just a couple months since finding help, I feel so much freer. I'm not as terrified of life and how other people perceive me. I struggle all the time with the concept that I'm not a failure, and I'm trying to learn how to take care of myself without feeling guilty about it. Already I know I'm on a healthier track, I'm changing the way I see myself and what I can and cannot change. I'm able to open up to others a little more. And I'm so grateful. This year has been one of extreme ups and downs, but I believe that the stain of my grandmother's death will be overcome by the joy of being woken back up, made alive. And if it weren't for those around me who care about me so, so much, I wouldn't be in this place. So thanks, loves. Thank you for making my year turn on its heels and stick its head up high.

Sunday, December 30, 2012


Here's a reflection. Some overly-gratuitous, very soul-beating, unapologetic navel-gazing, if you will. This past year is one I will never forget. I can say with confidence that 2010 and 2011 have been incredibly forgettable in many ways (with wonderful/bad experiences along the way that were, in fact, memorable). There was this post back in December of 2010 where I was recounting the notable things of that year (fishing in barren waters) and I included this:
2. No one close to me died.
An acquaintance pointed out that that was a significant thing to say. I shrugged it off, because seriously, that's how uneventful the year was to me. Then in 2011 weird things happened. Couldn't put that quote on the list again. The weather, all that rain and heat, cemented in my mind, when I came back from a weekend away in July to find out that musical mentor Blair had unexpectedly died. At the same time, my bandmates were incubating a child. They told us they were pregnant two days after Blair passed, while we were reconfiguring the show we had scheduled with him for the coming weekend. Then during the winter we recorded our full-length album and got distant and despairing for some months. I got a new job and stopped waiting tables. Leah and Jim had their beautiful baby James David Warren Dunstan (David for David Blair) on March 15, 2012. The spring was bizarre, with that record-warm March and subsequent freeze and crop loss. No rain during most of summer. The one notable rain of the summer months was on Independence Day.

On July 4th, 2012, a storm rolled in. Finally. But instead of delivering nourishing water to the plants here, it shot bullets of ice big enough to ruin any crop that was braving the drought. Because of the intense heat and dry weather that dominated the weeks before, this storm was spiteful. My boyfriend and I took pictures, frantically covered my tomato plants, and stalked facebook in all the excitement of the evening. The hail subsided and torrents of rain, thunder and lightning took the stage until I fell asleep, slightly concerned about the silence and lightning, which both increased exponentially with time. At 5am, I woke up to a particularly loud explosion of light and sound. I didn't have my glasses on, so the flashes of light I knew were coming from the transformer across the street were fuzzy and ominous and frightening as fuck. When you can't see exactly what's going on, you feel like an idiot calling 911 even though you think you may be the only person who saw it.

I called 911 twice. The first time, I don't think I expressed the urgency that was really needed for the situation, especially considering I didn't know the names of the streets surrounding me and therefore didn't know how to properly describe exactly which power line was glowing orange and exploding white. I was tired as shit and scared sleepless. Fire trucks finally found the electrical fire in the pouring rain after the second call and I at least felt like it was out of my hands.

I watched the early morning news for company, and then went to work from 9 to 5. My boyfriend and I had decided that since it was such a tough night, we would go out to dinner right when I got home. I took a shower, put on a fabulous white cotton dress, and we walked about a mile to a new joint. While I waited for my meal, my mom called my boyfriend. That's unusual. She told him to tell her when we were home without any other information. I started to feel sick. I didn't know what was going on, and the speculations started rolling like ticker-tape behind my eyes. In any case, I had the waitress package our food and left immediately, walking home in the hot sun with my incredible red shoes tearing up my heels. The sickening feeling increased, because of how out-of-character it was for my mom.

By the time my parents got to my door, I was a nervous wreck. When I walked out the front door, my dad was pointing at my tomato plants, which were doing well but had narrowly escaped annihilation from the hail. They looked calm, but exhausted, in a fog. My mom told me how pretty I looked. My dad's eyebrows and downcast gaze braced me. "Honey, we have some bad news." My mom was on the ground, and I was one level above her on the front step. "Grandma Shields has passed away." That was the last thing I expected from her mouth. It was really shocking, because she was healthy and her own mother had only died the year before at age 104. But then my mom said, choking back tears, "That's not the worst part." I knew immediately. My schizophrenic uncle, my mom's baby brother, had been living with Grandma for the past few years, and his condition had obviously gotten worse but despite my mom's efforts to get him out of the house, Grandma insisted she felt safe. She wasn't safe. My grandma was murdered by her youngest child on the anniversary of Grandma and Grandpa's first date, July fourth. The incident occurred in the afternoon, as the storm rolled in from the west, and while the hail fell, my uncle stayed inside. When the rain stopped and I fell asleep, the police were finally called. The lightning, silent as my grandmother's heart and violent as my uncle's sickness, continued through the night. When I went to work, exhausted and still slightly terrified, my mom went to her mother's house, expecting to have conversation and lunch with her and finding a crime scene instead.

The strangest part of this is that I feel incapable of anger toward my uncle. I keep thinking it's my duty to feel that way, and I certainly don't blame my sisters and the rest of the family for wishing him to rot in hell. But I can't. For some reason, it was the storm that changed me. In the six months since, I've jumped and trembled at the most innocuous sounds. My heart races at particularly loud planes. Panic comes at the slightest change in environment. I think it's because I can only imagine my grandmother's death, but I witnessed God's wrathful fire. I've delighted in the mystery of nature all my life, and now I've been taught its terrific power. From the electrical pulses between my uncle's broken synapses, to the exploding transformer threatening the neighborhood, I can see the chaos of the world a little more.