Tag Archives: relationships

Whispered Help And The Jelly Of The Internet

I have learned fairly quickly, in just two years, that we become our visible selves. Not our lonely selves or our internal selves or even our midnight by candlelight selves. We become the kind of selves that are stacked side-by-side with the other selves we see sitting in our Twitter feed and our email chains. We become the kind of selves who are measured in what we have told the world.

what-we-tell-the-world

If that is true, I have failed. I have failed to tell the world that I am the kind of self who knows only how to be quiet and care too much and try. I have not pretended to be an illusory human being who whisks in and cleans up other people’s messes. I have not pretended to have it all figured out so that you might trust me more with your own pain and trials.

My regret is not in painting myself accurately, but in believing that everyone else does the same. In believing that we are not the people we are when the laptop is shut, that we are only the people we can become when we create something for the world to see.

But I know it differently.

The people I have lost too soon, the ones who have died suddenly and over just a short expanse of time, have shared in themselves this character trait. And perhaps it is a product of the older generation, one that I worry we’ve lost, but this trait tells us to be not just extraordinarily and outwardly and loudly passionate, but to whisper our help, our talents, our trials and tribulations.

Do not stand in front of 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 followers and tell them that you have done something wonderful, it says. Stand next to the ones you love most and lift them up and expect that no one, not a single soul, ever breathes a word of it.

I worry that we have learned it backwards. I worry that we, or maybe just me, have ingested the hard-to-swallow notion that we are our projects, our creations, our big bad world-shaking efforts. That we cannot quietly sit in the library and write letters to petition government rulings or bend over pots on the stove and stir some magic into meals for the homeless—or just our ailing neighbor.

I worry that we do good because it looks good, because it gets talked about, but not because we are compelled to alter the status quo. Not because we desperately seek to feel our knees give out when the child we’ve fed comes running toward us and we sweep her in our arms, twirl her around and feel love deeper than all those retweets and likes and mentions.

Before I ever wanted to be someone big and bold and fierce, I was just a little girl who made friends with a man who taught me to do what I did not because I was particularly good—in fact, I was downright awful—but because I could not envision an alternative.

I worry we do things because we feel obligated. We create because otherwise we’ll be forgotten. We spread ourselves like jelly on the Internet, leaving our mark like sticky residue on keyboard keys, sweet but not full of what we really need.

My hope, today and tomorrow and years from now, is that every project and creation and calling is not saturated online because we must not drown and dissolve, but because it itself is remarkable. That we do not feel compelled to bring to life every midnight dream because we cannot do it all. We cannot all be Mother Teresa.

Some of us have to sit quietly and work tirelessly and understand that visibility bears no correlation to our goodness, that hard work will always be hard work, especially when it goes unspoken.

I hope we haven’t yet lost that, but I worry.

Imagining Car Accidents

I spent an irrational amount of time on Wikipedia, trying to pinpoint exactly what to call it. This half-fear, half-nerves sort of feeling that only crops up when somebody else starts putting his pedal a little too close to the pedal.

But there isn’t a word yet.

I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of car accidents, because to do so would have you picturing me cowering at the sight I passed on Sunday afternoon as a steaming pile of grass was sprayed and batted down until it stopped smoking hundreds of feet into the air.

And really, I was craning my neck to get a better angle. Sitting in stop-and-go traffic, hoping to catch a glimpse of the reason for chugging along.

So I would say this: I’m terribly good at imagining nonexistent car accidents.

It’s a sickness, really. You sit in your small little fifteen-year-old baby, begging God to just be nice for a couple hundred thousand miles more, because you’re new to this whole post-grad thing.

Before that, it was, “But I’m in college still. But I don’t have a steady income.”

Before that, “I’m just a teenager.”

I don’t remember when the imagining started. Just that it was never real bad.

Months ago, though, I caught myself covering my dropped jaw while speeding down a four-lane highway spritzed with vehicles. And you know what?

Nothing. Had. Happened.

No weaving without turn signals. No racing by in the right lane. Nothing.

I’ve had a lot of car accidents crop up in my life, but rarely were they mine. Only once did I sit in the driver’s seat shaking for a good five minutes because Taylor Swift was singing me a lullaby about making it out of this trip alive.

And I’m thinking sometimes we fear the things we cannot see or the things we imagine are just around the corner, even if they aren’t. Even if just around the corner turns into six or seven or forty-five years from now.

It’s scary, losing control. Of the steering wheel. Of your life. Of the road in front of you as you set out on a journey that you think you know by heart if you follow the signs.

But it happens to all of us. In the flash of someone else’s headlights blinding us. In the screech of someone else’s brakes stopping us. In the churning of our stomach acid when all we know, when we really sit down to think about it, is that these next five seconds are ours.

The problem, then, is not in imagining car accidents that never happen or shaking beneath our seat belt when they do. It’s in forgetting, for any length of time, that we are somehow alone in those paralyzing fears and uncontrollable tragedies.

Whether we stand, alone, off to the side and let the firefighters douse our charred car or we wrap our arms around someone much younger who needs to shield their eyes a bit longer from the reality of life, we have to remember that.

And I had not yet said, “Here’s mine.”

This blog began with a letter.

Exactly four years ago. That’s a story you’ve never been told.

It was the forty-fifth birthday of a man who stopped growing older. It was the morning after the first kiss with a boy who was shipping out to a third world country in six hours. It was the first time I learned what it felt like to lose something you only just learned to have.

It was a letter that didn’t see the light of day for two years. But in it, you could map my beginnings and endings. My nerves and regrets. The pain I felt thinking back ten days earlier to a boy in a leather recliner, away from us all because he had given me his heart and I had not yet said, “Here’s mine.” I had not yet said, “Here’s mind to trample for the next 457 days.”

It was a letter about all the things we do to ourselves.

The growing up and away. The people we reject and the places we forget to miss. It was emotional. It was nostalgic. It was written with the intention of never being read but needing desperately to be mailed.

A present never gifted because it still sits in the receiver’s future. It still deserves a place among the texts and tweets she’d rather read.

It ended up on this blog just a few weeks before I got serious about turning my life into a lasting love letter to the people who brighten me. Before I began writing truths that felt like poetry. Before I began growing people like plants with my words.

That is all this is: a place where I can magnify the good souls in this world who might otherwise never get a love letter.

And if there is one secret we must never keep, it is this: you deserve a novel of thank yous, a list of reasons why your smile will be missed tomorrow if it doesn’t grace us with its presence. You deserve the kind of love letter that gives people arthritis and sends us to Expedia for one-way tickets home.

The letters keep going. The letter to my parents, read by thousands, that never feels like enough of a thank you to them. The letters to strangers & friends who hold my heart in IP addresses and Gmail folders for when I need a reminder.

They have become my words, the calibration scale upon which I measure my actions. They are the actions behind those words and the only reason I have had enough strength to be honest when it hurts.

It is them. The broken man and the crying girl and the magic kiss against a long-ago sold car. The burn of the headlights on an intimate moment. The pounding in my chest when I remember that there will be no cake today. No candles.

Just letters. And words. And the images we rush to write down.

When her hands keep shaking. When her fingers start texting The Ones Who Broke Her.

Her hand is on the other side of the doorknob when I open it and trudge inside for the last time.

And already I know she has been waiting two and a half years. Already I know she has words for me.

And me for her. Man, I could stack words on words on words and punch through that front door with an army of Here’s How It Feels and This Is What You Do Now.

Because I know those phrases well. And I’ve been carrying them in my backpack for those two and a half years, waiting for her to ask The Broken One how she glued her hipbones and heartstrings back together. Why she didn’t need a glass of wine to make Friday come sooner or wake before Saturday turned itself into afternoon without her eyelids ever fluttering open.

Why my mirror is papier-mâchéd with sticky note reminders and hers is filled with fragments of the person she doesn’t think she’ll ever find again, buried beneath the rubble of someone else’s sad sad story.

And so I begin.

I set my baggage by her feet and tell her she is strong & independent & motivated.

But I’ll be living in this house alone.

You don’t have to tell me. I am just thinking maybe starting over means something will happen. I was just thinking I have my whole life to fall in love.

But I need a distraction.

Strong. Independent. Motivated. & Beautiful.

Not anymore, she says.

I want her to know that Alone doesn’t have to feel like a prison sentence. That, in a week, I will snuggle up to Alone like a cold blanket and try not to shiver in my new apartment.

But it’s not Alone that she’s afraid of. It’s being The Broken One in a house without an Unbroken One to hold her close when the tears won’t stop. When the hands keep shaking. When her fingers start texting The Ones Who Broke Her.

That’s what Alone does to us. It pushes us away from Strong & Independent & Motivated and forces us to play hide-and-seek for the person we want to find again.

The Unbroken One.

I tell her she’s got to hug Alone close, take it by the hand, and find herself again. Got to learn stability and happiness and hope for a better tomorrow that doesn’t include Him & His Broken Promises & Him & His Ambiguous Responses.

It’s the hardest lesson.

Two and a half years of hard lessons stuck to our linoleum floor.

And I am leaving her Alone in this house with the lessons by her feet. Hoping she holds them. Hoping she navigates back to herself. Hoping she remembers why she is Beautiful & Strong, Independent & Motivated.

I know she wants my ears to listen. Eyes to see. A heart to feel her pain in this living room that’s witnessed too many heartbreaks. Too many regretted text messages.

So for now, we’ll be Alone Together. Alone and Once Broken, but now healed.

Now working toward heartbeats that aren’t afraid to fall out of sync and lists that don’t include Listen to Sad Songs & Eat Ben & Jerry’s & Wait For Alone To Feel A Little Less Alone. Wait for this couch to hold more than salty tears and red cheeks.

You got this, girl. You got this so good. You had my back & now I’ve got yours.