the mechanics of letting go

monday afternoon i put a pot of chickpeas & red beans on the stove to simmer, & then i fell asleep.  when i woke five hours later, my legumes were crispy & charcoal-black, popping & hissing in the quiet heat.

let’s not talk about the smoke alarm unhooked & idle on the little bookshelf next to the couch where i slept, its dying battery hanging, half unhooked, outside its body like an entrail.  let’s not talk about the haziness clouding my apartment, the way the smell seeped into my hair & clothes, how it lingered overnight & was here, still, to greet me in the two, three mornings that followed.

in my head, my mother scolds, junebug.  i say, i know, mom, my guts all knotted up, red-hot angst that makes me want to yell & shove.  i think of a cheap ring i owned when i was twelve years old, an amethyst-colored stone with sharp edges set on a gold band, & the way i dug it into the bathroom mirror, dragging, because something i’d seen on TV had led me to believe that expensive gemstones could cut through glass & i needed to know–was it real?  the way the stone scratched, nail on a chalkboard, & how the next day, when momma asked about the incision i’d made, i denied, denied, denied.

*

monday morning, before i left the town where my boyfriend lives, four & a half hours away from my apartment near the lake, i spent $4.50 in postage to mail my resignation.  inside the padded manilla envelope, a sixty-page manuscript written in august to this soundtrack, a beat up red cellphone my father pays for, & a letter that said, i love you, but i can’t go on this way, wishing you into a man you won’t become, any longer.

for days, a knot winds tighter, tighter still, in the center of my chest, until my shoulders draw in toward one another & my breaths are shallow & thin.  i stop singing in the car.  i drink less & less water.  my throat becomes a dry, squeaky reed, my voice a melody untuned.

*

over the past six months, i have done a pretty stellar job of isolating myself from the already-tiny social world i once inhabited.  my job exhausts me; my heart & thoughts exhaust me; my body’s autonomic functioning, this blinking & that breath, exhausts me.  i don’t have time for friends, for people who want to unload the details of their troubled lives into my lap but get squirrelly when i expect them to reciprocate.  it makes people uncomfortable: sadness, raw vulnerability, incest.  after expending most of my energy at work, where i care for eight grown men with various physical and mental disabilities, caring for myself when i go home is hard enough, & caring for two sometimes-whiny cats is harder still; so it follows that caring for others, right now, is implausible.

the trouble is, as i have sunken into this territory of isolation, i have become increasingly uncomfortable with being alone.  i don’t want my thoughts.  i don’t want this pain.  i don’t want to hear the sounds this tattered heart might make.

so i turn on the TV, & i allow myself to disappear.

months ago, i buried myself in dr. drew’s celebrity rehab, & i was struck again & again by the number of people with substance abuse problems who also experienced sexual trauma as children.  in general, the show made me uneasy–the clients showed such little regard for one another & were allowed to be purposely hurtful & disrespectful, i questioned the ethics of combining therapy with reality TV, & in general i didn’t feel like i was seeing many of the folks on the show get any healthier.  but i looked forward to the group therapy segments, where the patients all gathered together & hashed things out with dr. drew, bob forrest, & one another, & their conversations felt real & authentic in ways that the rest of the show does not:

jason davis: through my life, i’ve always tried to, like, in a way, change my father.  & every time i tried to do it, it always ended in a painful, horrible roller coaster.
bob forrest: it’s painful.  but now you need to be loved & you need to be nurtured & you need to be mentored, & your dad can’t do it & your grandfather’s dead.   let me ask you this, what do you want?
jason davis: i just want to have, like, a dad who, like, you know, i can turn to–
bob forrest: you don’t.  you don’t.
dr. drew: you don’t have that.  you don’t get that.

a coping mechanism i have carried with me since childhood is my ability to disappear from my “real” life & into kids’ movies.  on my days off from work, i watch & rewatch–sometimes as much as five times in a day–movies like the rescuers down under & labyrinth.  the hope is that, if i watch enough, until i have memorized all the characters’ lines & can recount, in minute detail, the plot, settings, & background music, that i will finally be part of the stories–stories where the “bad guys” get what they deserve, the “good guys” no longer suffer, & hope & predictability are the bottom line.

the problem with disappearing into these stories is that i carry a lot of childish ideas about the way life works.  if i disappear long enough, hard enough, i will wake up in another life where my problems don’t exist, or another world where a lot of people & creatures are willing to be kind to & help me.  if i am a good person, i will eventually be met with goodness.  & if i wish long enough, i can make my life into what i want it to be.

for a very long time, i’ve tried wishing my father into an amalgamation of the great ones i’ve seen on TV or read about in books–atticus finch, charles ingalls, danny tanner.  the part of me that is still a child–& it seems that a large part still is–doesn’t want to let go of that made-up father or the illusion of hope buried somewhere in his pocket.  because of that reluctance, that willingness to live in denial, mailing the package to my real-life father took a lot of steps & a very long time–in april, i bought the envelope; in august, i finished the first draft of the manuscript; in october, my brother & i purchased a cellphone plan & new phones, mine with a different number, together; in november, i wrote the letter; in december, i put it all in the envelope; in january, i mailed it–because at each step across those nine months, i was forced to accept part of the reality i am actually living.  i had to let go of wishing, which meant that the father i have dreamed of had to die.

*

so now i am panicking.  i am cranky & finding it difficult to care for myself or communicate with others.  the knot in my chest gets tighter, & i wake each morning with a headache & unquenchable thirst.  when i leave work, the muscles in my back are raw, tense, & i feel like i can’t breathe.  all day every day, i just want to eat chocolate & drink shots of cheap tequila, burrow into a nest of blankets & sleep away my desire to apologize.

instead, i comfort myself with pictures of cats wearing hats (& hoodies) & videos of zac hanson singing “don’t stop believing.” (there has to be goodness in the world, right?  when a boy that beautiful will strut across a stage in too-tight jeans with big biceps & a wiggly little belly & belt out a tune that renews hope with pipes that split my heart again & again?)  i apply to graduate school & try to ride my stationary bike every other day while watching an episode of my little ponies: friendship is magic on netflix.  i tell myself, it won’t always be like this, but i remember: the progress, the steps taken forward, & how terrible it has been to fall back.

i wait for him to show up in my driveway & knock at my door in outrage.  i wait for him to violate the conditions i laid out in my letter–don’t look for me, don’t try to call me, don’t show up at the places where i live.  i wait to get in trouble.  i wait for a reply from the school i’ve applied to that says, nope, sorry–we don’t want you.

& while i wait, i burn beans on the stove.  like an adult child who has believed she is dirty & bad her whole life, i punish myself first, before anyone else can, with impulsive, self-destructive behaviors.  i sleep, & each time i wake, my first thought is something like, fuck, i’m still alive, it’s still winter, & i’m still in this alone.  so i allow myself to fade back into sleep & hope for another life next time i open my eyes.

the reality is, atticus finch, charles ingalls, danny tanner–i don’t have that.  i don’t get that.

poppa, it’s hard to let go.

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