Angerholics: On Best Friend Break Ups and Sober Sorries.

Anger is intoxicating, and we are all mean drunks.

I knew what it was I was supposed to do.  I could picture myself standing up from the coffee shop, walking one foot after another down the hot Mankato sidewalk, through the parking lot, opening the door to find two panting dogs and a sleeping Someone.  I would go to him– he who has been sick and who I have been fighting with and who is as cranky and distraught by the hot July heat as I am– and I would brush back his hair from his forehead and I would say,

“I’m sorry.  I love you.”

And then I started to second guess it.  It never worked out like that.  Something would happen– it wouldn’t be perfect.  The heat would get to me three steps onto the blacktop.  Or he would already be awake.  Or I would get inside and my chest would constrict and my jaw would clench and when I went to walk to him, I would be paralyzed, the circuit board of my brain lighting up with the same anger that had me wishing I wasn’t angry anymore.  If it worked out, I had to let it all go.  The strain of getting the apology through my teeth is just. too. hard.

And that’s the thing about anger.  When you’re in it, you know that sobering up from it will feel better than the slurring, drunken state you’re in.  But it is irresistible to not pour another glass when the bottomless bottle is sitting. right. there.

It’s been over three weeks since our Best Friend Fight started, and we have spiraled in and out of hazy barroom punches.  My Someone and I have taken to cleaning up our act.  We’ve been sobering for days, the withdrawal from the anger shaking our bodies as occasional memories drift through our minds unexpectedly from our blackouts.  The hangover feels endless, and the high pitched buzz at the top of our brains has us still reeling.

What happened?

We still aren’t sure.  What we do know is that we have an email in our inbox from our friend telling us that he no longer wants to be friends.  That we are breaking up.  That he wants to be angry for a while longer.

We are joining support groups.  It’s difficult to become sober around your drinking friends, and so we hope with some time and space that he will show up, too, in the middle of the bundle of hurt, but finally not venturing to take another sip.  But we are still taking unfortunate protective measures.  Getting ourselves and our things out of the way of a raging angerholic.  If he wakes up from this, we want him to find, not a trail of destruction, but a tidy note that says, “Meet us here.  10AM.”

But even if he never shows, we will continue to detox, door unlocked, passively waiting.

I have lately pictured the I’m Sorry part of living as the part that makes us human again.  It’s mostly like the scene at the end of Peter Pan, when Tinkerbell is in a heap and the audience has to clap their hands to bring her back to life again.  But in this I’m Sorry scenario, it is me in the heap on stage, and the ones I’ve hurt and the ones who could continue to be hurt are waiting, and while they wait, they are whispering–

Just say you’re sorry.  Just say you’re sorry.

And as the whispers turn into waves and wash over me, my head lifts– me, half human and half monster– and I look out and say it–

I’m sorry.

And like that, my horns retract and my teeth unsharpen and I am human– fully human– again.

I am often on that stage.  But I am finding it is also no treat to be in the audience, because as you are whispering it to the one caught as half monster there is a fear that takes over.  What if they want to be a monster?  What if they don’t wake up?

What if they never become human again?

I braved the hot sidewalk.  I stepped into the camper.  The dogs were panting.  My Someone was sleeping.  I walked to the side of the bed and sat down.  He rolled over.  I pushed his hair off of his forehead.

“I’m sorry,” I said.  “I love you.”

And in the reflection of his eyes, I saw my horns retract and my big paws un-fur and shrink back to my hands.  I was human again.  And that tall bottle of anger was shattered.

What a goddamn beautiful mess.

I-Told-You-So: On Committing Love into Memory.

“I just learned on a TED Talk that you can conserve paper towels by folding them in half first before drying your hands on them.  It actually works. Here, try it,” she said, handing me a folded paper towel.

I guess I had a choice in the matter.  But from what I’ve found in the past, these restroom interactions generally go quicker with smiling and agreement.  Any sure-is-cold-out or this-soap-dispenser-is-so-strange sink encounters are just a quick byway to the door to omit acknowledgment of where we meet.  In front of our own waste.  But literal hand-to-hand interaction was new.

So, even though I had already mostly dried my hands on a paper towel, I dried my hands on the paper towel she folded for me.  I guess it worked okay.  But what I said instead was, “Wow!  That really does work!”  I thought this might be suitable enough to get me out and onward, but instead, she blocked the door, looked me right in the eye and said–

“Yeah.  It does work.  And from now on, you will always remember me, every single time you go to dry your hands.”

And then she left.

She wasn’t wrong.  It’s been almost two years, and every time I use more than one paper towel, and I think– Dammit.  I should’ve folded it first.  And I picture her standing there, shaking her head in an I-told-you-so sort of way.  But for the life of me, I can’t ever remember to do it in time to not remember her.

And then there was this–

“This is going to be an amazing night,” David said, showing us where to set up.  He was throwing a party, and generously invited us to be part of it.  We would play six songs he chose from our catalog, and had enough food and drinks and invitations to rest that we were having a pretty cushy evening.  We’ve played plenty of house shows.  We love them, and couldn’t quite see how this one would be any more amazing than the rest.  Except that David kept telling us that it was going to be amazing– the most amazing.  An incredible night.  Unforgettable.

We agreed to play because we like David.  We agreed because he asked us, and is kind.  But unforgettable seemed like a tall order.  Until everyone gathered.  David told his friends and family this was going to be an amazing night.  And then, David told the group about his last year– how he had been through hell and back through medical troubles, severe depression, and even some thoughts that made him believe he didn’t want to stick around long enough to find out if he could love life again.  There, in front of some of his own darkness, he was insisting that we were connected.

“This is an amazing night,” he said.  “It’s not perfect, but it’s incredible.  Unforgettable.”  And it was contagious, this belief.  Suddenly each person seemed to glow with the realization.  It landed.  David spoke it into existence, and it really was amazing.  That each of these people gathered here, that each of them had somehow helped this man, that each of them could see him standing there in front of them because he didn’t give up.  That he knew that he was loved and in turn loved.

Amazing.  Incredible.  Unforgettable.

If David hadn’t told us all so, we may have missed it.  We may not have realized it at all.

My Someone and I are in the middle of a best friend fight with our best friend.  We are trying hard to keep from saying the sorts of things that would echo years later, while also blocking the door, trying to get him to see us again.

“You won’t forget us,” we seem to be pleading, all the while wondering if he already has.  There is only so much you can fit in before it becomes a hostage situation, and such limited time makes it difficult to recall almost ten years of who we have been while he is simply trying to get out the door.  So we have abrupt phone call endings and erratic texts.

We are very low functioning best friend fighters.  The grit-your-teeth-and-make-yourself-the-fool-for-love type.

And as much as we all may want to be angry forever, we seem ingrained in the sort of things in each other’s lives that may make it difficult to dry our hands or cook our dinners or drive through certain places without feeling the other person standing there, lurking in an I-told-you-so sort of way.

So I am considering switching my tactic.  Instead of I-told-you-so, I think I will try I-love-you-so.  And maybe also “This is going to be amazing!  Watch this– watch it– see how big our friendship is?  See how much it endures?  See how small we are but how big is love?  Incredible!”

And maybe with a little repetition and reassurance, it will make it so, turning the I-told-you-so into the I-love-you-so.

Knots in Hair: On Small Brushes with Heaven.

When we were kids, my best friend Jessica and I would sleep in the lantern light of her mom, Cindy’s, camper, parked in the middle of the Church Camp grounds.  Both of our mothers for that week of Camp would come before bed to brush the knots from our hair and wish us goodnight.  We loved the goodnights but hated the brushing.  We would squeam and squirm and complain at the tug of the brush.  Our mothers would spray in detanglers that smelled like fake apples and too-sweet pears and shush us for any melodrama.

“We don’t want you to do this anymore!” we would say.

“Someday,” Cindy said one night, “you won’t have to.  When we all get to Heaven, there will be no more knots in hair.”

Jessica and I found this to be amazing.  We took turns asking about bee stings and chicken pox and skinned knees, moving further into dead grandparents and pets.  Each of our mothers took turns denying the possibility of any bad thing being allowed in Heaven.  But even above No More Volcanoes Exploding and Melting Villages, there were No More Knots in Hair.

When Cindy passed away this last year after a hard battle with cancer, I imagined her wandering around with the stingerless bees and the volcanoes that spouted vanilla frosting instead of molten lava.  But most of all, I pictured her signature long, glossy blonde hair bouncing as she walked, completely knotless.

I am wondering if Heaven is a place I have to wait for, anymore.  I am wondering if maybe here, in the dim lantern light in my own camper parked in the middle of a parking lot, is just as good a place to start.  I am wondering about all this hardship, and this belief of God never giving you more than what you can bear.  I am out of the business of blaming God for much, anymore.  Not even at the loss of kind blonde mothers too soon taken.  Which I think may have me out of the business of believing that I have to endure what I am handed at all.

Last week, I cut off all of my hair.  Heaven seemed too far away to wait for knotless hair.  And lately, my nights have been full of goodnight wishes and no brushing at all.

Dog God: On the Love of.

I read a poem about a dog, where the poet imagines that in the dog’s dream, it went like this–

“…not quite barking. More like

Learning to speak. As if he’s in the middle of a scene

Where he must stand before the great dog god

Trying to account for his life.”

–Tracy K. Smith

This brought my Someone and I to a very important list.  It went like this:

DOG GOD:

  1. Forgiving.
  2. Happy to have you.
  3. Doesn’t care if you found the perfect family.
  4. “Did you try? You did? Good dog!… wait, you didn’t?  How about now?  Try now!  Look at this stick!  Come play!”
  5. Gives no shits who Jesus is.  Only who you are.  And you are someone who belongs.

This list makes me believe in this:

God will not be outdone– out forgiving-ed, out loving-ed– by a Dog God.  Imaginary or not.

“Dog God is so fun to be around,” I told my Someone.

“Yes!  Dog God is just so happy we are all together!” my Someone said.

“Dog God is saying, ‘Hi, My Name is– uh, doesn’t matter!  I’m so happy to see you!  Do I know you?  Of course I know you!  I know everyone and everyone is a good dog!”

That is when my Someone said this:

“For a second, I forgot we were talking about Dog God and thought we were talking about Jake Larson.”

Jake Larson is our friend.

I said:

“Jake Larson is a good Dog (God).”

Which made me believe this:

God will not be outdone by our friend Jake Larson.

My friend Kelsey sometimes says this:

“All that matters to me is, what about Jesus?  Because if we can agree on that, we’re good.”

And I say, sometimes:

“I’m not sure.”

But then, Kelsey is still my friend.  She invites me into her home.  We share recipes and sometimes secrets and I make her muffins and she lets me cuddle with her baby boy.  Kelsey loves me.  It turns out, this name for God she uses doesn’t change the love part at all.  And I think that, maybe, a God who is

  1. Forgiving.
  2. Loving.
  3. Forever.

will not be outdone by Kelsey.  Or, at least, it’s hard to believe that S/He wouldn’t at least learn from Kelsey, Her little love creature, and as a

  1. Humble
  2. Gracious

God say–

“Kelsey, you’re really on to something.”

And then, God would say this–

“Did you try?  Yes?  No?  Look at this stick!  Look at these neat things we can explore together!  Let’s go!”

And, because Her anger is short and Her love is long– even longer than Kelsey’s– we would all go on, restored, together.  Forever.

So, maybe I believe it to be like this:

If we are loving and forgiving, where would we have learned it from?  How could forever love come from One who isn’t also willing to be Forever Love?  I think God will not be outdone.  She will top even Dog God and Jake Larson and Kelsey.

It’s hard to imagine that much love.

Woof.

Shiny Shoes and Nazi Flags: On Stopping Categories.

“When we got coffee this morning, we told them we were coming here, and they all said it was as near to nowhere as you can get,” I told Ed.

Ed lives in Isabel, South Dakota.  It’s as near to nowhere as you can get, and it was our second time visiting.  This is a place of long roads with few gas stations, small towns with a minimum of two cowboy hats per male, and prairies that look like they could swallow the world’s oceans without eroding a single rock for how thirsty they are.  Ed is a person who rolls his eyes at what I just said.

“Did they also say, ‘It’s not the end of the world, but it’s damn near it!’ or ‘Even God hardly knows where that is’ or just ‘Why the hell you going there?'”

They had said that.  Almost in that order.

“Yeah,” said Ed. “Everyone likes to have that place– the place you call the sticks.  People on the east side, they think they’ve got it all because they’re still close to the big cities.  But they’re still in South Dakota.  But they need that.  Everyone needs that.  They need a place that’s further out than them.  They need the place that’s too scary.  We spend all our time marking off places not to go, marking off people who are too backwards or dangerous or too snobby.  I can’t explain it, but we keep making those things up.”

I stood staring for a second.

“Well, anyway,” Ed said. “Good to see you again.”

An Abbreviated List of What I Was Afraid of Before by Nature or Nurture That I Am No Longer Afraid of on Account of Having Experienced Them or Learned More About Them:

  1.  California.
  2. Yoga.
  3. People with different colored skin.
  4. Spicy Food.
  5. People with Really Shiny Shoes.
  6. Being Alone.
  7. Zip Lining.
  8. Swimming in the Ocean.
  9. Gaggles of Teenagers.
  10. Pastors.

Things I Am Still a Little or a Lot Afraid of Even After Experiencing Them:

  1. Wasps.
  2. Snakes.
  3. Heights.
  4. Christians.

I still have some work to do.

The thing about choosing a people to be afraid of, is that being afraid of them doesn’t make them less safe.  And putting other people in our safe category doesn’t keep them from being scary.  This I know to be true on account of my Someone.

List of Requirements for My Future Husband as I Recall Them as a 14-Year-Old:

  1. no blue eyes– blue eyes are not only not like mine, but also untrustworthy.
  2. not from California.  People from there are too flippant about marriage and he will surely leave me scared and alone in a state that is falling off the rest of the continent.
  3. must be a devout Christian.  Christian men take marriage seriously and will not leave me for some young thing when we are fifteen years in.

Truthfully, these categorizations did not stop a brown-eyed Christian worship leader from New York from molesting me for years.  And my blue-eyed Californian Agnostic-on-his-best day Someone has exceeded all expectations of his doomed evaluation.  Even on his extra shiny shoes days.

This I also know to be true on account of those people who look just like me and are carrying torches and speaking hate to people who look not like me at all.  People who do and don’t look just like me are dying because of these flag waving people who also look just like me because of all this dangerous other they’ve made up.  And they’re wrong.  They are completely wrong.

I don’t think I need these safe and scary categories, anymore.  I am working to break them down, to make my world a little more chaotic.   Because these categories are just superstitions to keep me safe, and these same superstitions are allowing other people to carry Nazi and Confederate flags in the streets of Charlottesville, VA.  I don’t want to be part of that– things I can justify avoiding, things I can deem as unfortunate.  And all the while missing out on a wide world of spicy curries and good people.  There’s no lucky rabbit foot in all of South Dakota that can keep me safe from feeling so full of all this other.

Open Vessels: On Being Not Chosen.

Back when I was trying to believe in a God who chooses some for love and some for destruction, it was difficult to get on board.  At the time, I thought it was because I had too much sadness for all those others who would spend their lives separate from me.  All those drug dealers and prostitutes and grandparents who didn’t go to church.  Meanwhile, I would spend Sunday mornings working myself Chosen to death, next to the greedy, the guileless, the molesting.

I think what I knew then is what I know now: that if this is true, that some are Chosen, then it is something I can believe whole heartedly, but only if I believe that I am not, in fact, one of the Chosen.

I know there are more out there like me.

All these heavenly strings attached, maybe it’s better to be the vessel for destruction, anyway.  A vessel implies an opening, after all.  And anyone who leaves themselves open for destruction can also be open to the ripping heart Destroyer of love.  No zippers keeping us inward and upward and compact for God.  Just fluid beings bumping into the just and unjust, trying to find a way to make it work right here, right now.

Puppy Love: On Calls and Responses.

Before my newest pup loved me, I could yell at her and she would not respond at all.  She would keep chew-chewing or sleeping or noting her paws.  I could make high pitched sounds of leaking cute, and she did not care that they were for her.  Her tail barely gave a waggle.

Before we knew each other so well– before she could hear the first jingle of the leash and know that it was time for a walk, before I could tease her until she would bark once at excitement, before she knew what too far was– she did nothing.  She bumped around on her own.  All I could do, and she couldn’t care.

Now, after she found out that I loved her, it is all she can do but to respond to my movements.  And when I yell at her, she is in the worst life.  When I make high pitched sounds of leaking cute, she bops her front paws up and down like she will explode.  She knows, now, that every movement is a movement for her.  This is how I know that she knows that I love her.

It is for this reason that I wonder whether I love God, or s/he loves me, at all.

For all this noise, I cannot tell that any of it is for me.

Seconds and Thirds: On Putting Back the Middle

It was my last night watching Eva Grace before we hit the road again.  The time before this, she was hardly talking.  Now, she was all ringlets and ideas.  We read one last story three times, and I sang her that song I had written when she was just ten tiny toes and diapers.  Finally, I was closing her door.

“Goodnight, Eva Grace,” I said.

“Goodnight, Miss Mallory,” Eva said to me.  “I’ll see you when I’m bigger.”

“I’ll see you when I’m bigger, too,” I said.

I don’t know why I said it, though.  All I have ever been doing is trying to make myself smaller.

I forgot until my Someone and I visited for two weeks.  Two weeks at my parents’ house is enough time to stir up all sorts of nostalgia.  And also enough time to conjure old fear.

I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, a three panel cabinet above the sink.  And right where one panel meets the other, a section in my middle disappears.  My arms are still there, and if I stand just right, I look perfectly proportional.  Except skinny.  Skinnier.

After my childhood baths and showers, I remember creating time vacuums standing there, willing myself small.  I counted it as motivation.  I counted it as something to work toward.  But all I was doing was cutting out my middle.  And no matter how perfectly aligned I stood and how good it looked, it was still disproportionate.

Ten, fifteen, twenty years later, standing in front of that same mirror, finding myself again in the same crevice, I furrowed my brow.  This middle of me that was missing was missed.  I moved to the full center panel.

That’s me.  Complete.  I smiled.

“Goodnight, Mallory,” I said, “See you when I’m bigger.”

I have a friend who is amidst carrying her fifth child.  She posts occasionally beautiful pictures of her pregnant self, openly reassuring that she is still someone who is lovable for who she is and not for what she is doing.  I mark “like” on each one.  Not because of how she looks, but because of who she is.  And this friend, she reminds me and the rest of the internet that her body isn’t something to be dissected, not to be laid hands on, not to be commented on, but that she is a person in there.  A full person.

Lately, I have been taking up exactly the amount of space that I am.  I have stopped apologizing for taking seconds.  I’ve stopped explaining my love of late night snacks.  Instead, I eat when I am hungry and laugh at the funny jokes that are being told over dinner instead of eyeing the last potato and wondering if I am deserving of it.  I don’t have to eye the last piece.  It’s already on my plate.

I am building up my middle– I am making sure that it is full.  And I am finding that the less I apologize, the bigger my insides are getting.  Soon, I will be able to say what I think right when I think it, instead of wondering if anyone wants to hear it.  Potentially with a mouthful of peanut butter tofu.

Virgins and Whores: On Selling Big Russian Novels.

My Someone isn’t going to finish his big Russian novel.  Each year when we trace back to my sister’s attic and exchange the books we read this year for the books we intend to read in the coming year, he picks up his big Russian novel.  He turns it over and makes a declaration.

“I’m going to read this big Russian novel this year,” he says.

“Do you want to read it?” I ask him.

“I should read it,” he says.

“Do you want to read it?” I ask him again.

“It seems like something I should read,” he says.

“Are you going to read it?” I ask.

“Maybe next year,” he says.

Each year he puts it back in the box for the next year.

“Next year, I am going to read this big Russian novel,” he says.

My Someone and I are recently learning how to get rid of the things we believe to be true about ourselves that are maybe not true, and are working, after we get rid of those things, to believe we are still good and whole.  This includes, but is not limited to, my following ambitions to become:

  1. a yoga instructor.
  2. a car mechanic.
  3. a park ranger.
  4. a person who loves sunsets without feeling sad or stressed out.
  5. a person who can sit with a hot cup of tea and sip it while watching the snow fall and not believe that I should, instead, be cleaning or cooking or writing a novel.
  6. someone who writes a novel.

The things we are getting rid of are not all bad things.  Having enough know-how to tell the difference between an oil leak and a transmission leak is fun, but does not destine me to become the only mechanic for miles around in a small town in Wyoming.  This also doesn’t mean that I can’t change my mind.  But like my Someone and his big Russian novels, sometimes keeping that intention around only makes me angry with myself that I am not yet the thing that I’m not sure I am or want to be.

Giving up my dream of chewing my gum really hard and polishing my ratchet while giving a bad estimate actually makes me enjoy the work of changing our tire on the side of the road instead of kicking myself for not seeing it needed changing earlier.

“If you take this Big Russian Novel, you have to put back these other three books you actually want to read,” I told him.  It was true.  We have limited space in the camper, and a Big Russian Novel is more room than we could afford.  “It’s your choice.”

“I am selling my Big Russian Novel,” my Someone said.

“What?”

“That’s it.  I’m not going to read it!” he said, a little louder than he intended.

“If you want to be someone who reads a Big Russian Novel, we can always buy you another Big Russian Novel,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said, “but now, we need gas money.”

And that is how my Someone shed his guilt and sold his Big Russian Novel and put our first tank of gas into our truck for our third year living wild and free.

But then there are these things:

“I want to know,” he said to me, “if you were actually innocent in all of this, or if you were some sort of teenage vixen making part of this happen.  Because I don’t want to be with someone who was anything but innocent in this.”

This was the man who felt he had rescued me from the man who had been abusing me.  This was one of our last conversations, and the moment I realized I was not only alone, but also needed to keep quiet so that no one else could tell me to be ashamed of the years I spent with a Bad Guy who did bad things to… and with… me.

It’s the “with me” part that’s so hard.  In the years after the Guy Who Thought He Rescued Me asked me this question, I’ve been spinning it around.  I ran myself into other bad situations when I leaned toward the part of me who believed I was the Teenage Vixen.  I circled back to create a wholesome looking life that wasn’t really mine to make myself the more Pure Version of the dichotomy.  The Virgin or the Whore.  Innocent or Guilty.  The options are so limiting.

And I have been so scared to pick a side.  Or to admit that I was anything but a doe-eyed victim.  But this Thing I Believe About Myself finds me in sweltering attics and dark basements.  This Thing I Believe About Myself carries with it an expectation of Who I Will Be or What I Deserve.

I am learning that no matter who I was then, it wasn’t my fault.  No matter which way you spin it.  And I guess my gut knew I wasn’t so interested in someone who demanded I be the kind of person who reads Big Russian Novels or says that being sexually abused as a 15-year-old makes me a vixen.  Even if it is a Guy Who Thinks He Rescued Me.

I am learning to not put this thing I was told to Believe About Myself back on the shelf for later.  Virgin or Whore.  I don’t want to pull it out of dusty boxes in the attic and wonder if this is who I was or who I am always going to be.  I am taking a lesson from my Someone and burning this one down to fuel for later.  And all the guilt that goes with it.  Let that get me a few miles down the road, and I will gauge whether I’ve made the right decision.