Dear Anthony.

“Don’t let anyone tell you ever that you are supposed to stop mourning and missing people you’ve lost. What a crock. Our beloved people are forever…Leonard Cohen wrote that there are cracks in everything, and that’s how the light gets in. Stay cracked; don’t let people shame you into using caulking.”

-Anne Lamott, from a Facebook post

I wrote this post over 5 years ago, and I saved it in my drafts folder because I didn’t want to post anything too depressing, too down. I went through the effort of writing it… and frankly, Anthony deserves all of the writing I can give him.

It’s been just over three months since you died. I honestly thought I might get used to the fact that you were gone. Instead, you pop into my head almost every day. There is always something that makes me wish I could talk to you. Maybe it’s a crazy story I wish I could tell you, just to see that look on your face that says, “no way.” Or some personal victory that I know you would be proud of me for…like hitting my -100 pounds goal.

Some days when I just want to take a walk with you and laugh until I feel like I might fall over.

I feel like I am finally out of the rut I was in when we started walking back in June. What I can’t tell you now is that the sheer force of your friendship levered me up to a place where I could get out. The walks in the rain, the jumping back from dead snake skins, the time you told me to call you when I wanted to eat Zingers, the constant stream of text messages back and forth, the sitting on your enormous couch and hearing you tell a story about me for the first time that you remembered for 14 years.

What I thought when we reconnected and started our walks last year was that I was going to be a good friend to you. I was going to be there for you, no matter what you needed. But you didn’t need anything from me. Instead, you gave and gave, and sometimes I actually feel a little bit guilty because of all of the problems you listened to of mine, all of the advice you gave me, all of the support and encouragement you gave me.

I can’t remember giving you anything.

Actually. I gave you something that was hard for me to give. I tried to act like you weren’t dying. When you first told me that you were sick, you said, “don’t cry for me. I have had one hell of a good life.” When you called to tell me what they found in your brain, I held the phone upside down and sobbed, open-mouthed and silent, while you gave me the details. I talked about it cooly, in terms of facts. I joked that you just had to be an overachiever by filling yourself up with tumors, you couldn’t just settle for one.

The last time we talked on the phone, when I was supposed to come visit you in the hospital the next day, at the end of the call you just said, “Draker. Thank you.”

I knew then that we wouldn’t talk again.

I knew I wouldn’t see you the next day, or ever, after that.

I have a couple of pictures of you on my fridge, and sometimes when I walk by I feel weird for having them there. I printed them off your Facebook profile when we first started walking, and I actually used to have them hanging on my cubicle wall at work as reminders. Reminders to pray for you, reminders of what your smile looked like, reminders that there existed on earth a staggering depth of strength inside of one human, reminders that whatever I was facing, I could do it.

Sometimes, I feel weird for having them there. But most of the time, when I walk by, I just say, “Hey, buddy. Miss you.”

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why

One of the main reasons that I stopped blogging for so long last time (almost two years) was because of an awkward conversation that I had with someone who didn’t know me very well. She asked me, not kindly, what the point was of writing about myself. Why would I feel the need to share all of this personal information with strangers.

At the time, I thought to myself, well. I have boundaries. I very rarely write about everything, especially not the Big Nasty Truths that lurk in the darker corners of my life. I don’t cut myself open and bleed all over the internet, although maybe to some it seems that way. I just tend to let myself think out loud.

And also, at that time, I was extremely careful about what I shared, who I mentioned, and I had a lot of rules for myself with blogging. I’m about 96% certain this person had never read my blog. I wondered why she was judging me, and judging me to my face at that. I just said, “well, I only write about specific things, and nothing too personal. I only share what I feel comfortable sharing.”

But that conversation kept haunting me, even as I tried half-heartedly to keep up my blog. Why DID I want to shave off pieces of my life and leave them on the internet? Because I’ve been doing it for well over a decade? Because I did it one day, and I realized that I actually loved it. I even made some friends I never would have known otherwise because of this sharing. I have always been compelled to write things down as a way of making sense of life, and I think harder about the words I use when I write for an audience, even if it’s an audience of one.

But this person’s question, and her snide tone when she asked the question, became a stone in my shoe. And the stone became a boulder.

Why, though?

Why did it matter to me that this person, who I don’t really even respect that much, didn’t understand or approve of my outlet?

Looking back at myself that day, I wish I had the guts to say, “I just do it. It’s what I do. I like it.”

Grin.

The terror of a fresh start.

The blank page has never been an enemy to me. My whole life I have had so much to write that I wrote in notebooks until my hand cramped, and later I poured out dated journals in Word files, wrote long “treatise on life” e-mails to my best friend, blog posts baring myself to strangers.

I had everything to get out about everything.

Yesterday and today I sat down with the intent of doing my work – writing.

Staring into that blank page felt like looking down the barrel of a cannon. Nothing here, seems like, but man if something comes it might just tear me apart.

Someone, at the height of my blog, when I felt like things were really getting rolling for me, asked me a question. She asked, “but what’s the point of a blog? Why are you writing all of this about yourself, and putting it out on the internet for strangers to read?”

For two years I had no answer for her. My answer at the time was, “I don’t put my whole life out there. I am not an open book. I choose what to share, and I don’t share anything that I’d be ashamed to talk to about to your face.” Because that makes it seem like I am sensible, like I know what I am doing, like I am not some little weirdo putting all of my guts out into the world.

I let her little question become a cloud, and eventually it became solid cloud cover. But today I realized, even cloud cover goes away if a good stiff wind blows through.

That wind is going to have to be me, this time. I do this because I can. Because when I don’t know what to do, and I feel weird and bad, the clacking of keys soothes me. Because I feel like I am sitting down with a good friend and hashing out my life questions. Because, when I sit down with this blank post window, I never, ever know what’s going to come out until it’s there in front of me.

And because it’s mine. It’s my thing, and if there is one lesson I hope I learn soon, it’s that if you have a thing, you HAVE to do it. Life doesn’t work right if you don’t.

For a lot of my life, I have let self-doubt and general weirdness and depression keep me silent. I felt like life was in the way, I felt like my dreams were too big and too nutty, I felt like the person I was becoming didn’t actually have a place in the world, so I needed to knock it off and pick a different path. I’m letting that all go now, in case you were wondering. I’m starting over.

 

About the MRI

Let’s ignore my massive absence from the blog and dive right in to a story.

I’ve always suffered from headaches that I considered above and beyond the normal amount of headaches. I took so much Extra Strength Tylenol as a teenager that it pretty much does nothing for me now. Aleve? ha, ha, ha. It does nothing for me. Ibuprofen, 600 mg is the minimum dose. Or one Advil Cold and Sinus. Or two Extra Strength Excedrin or two Excedrin Migraine. And, honestly – sometimes those things work and sometimes they don’t.

I always thought these were sinus headaches, mostly because I sneeze and blow my nose way more often than other people. I thought my sinuses were just broken.

I have had a handful of headaches I would call migraines. OK, a large handful. Usually when these happen, it’s like this: first thing in the morning I wake up with a throbbing face, an urge to puke, and a feeling like my eyelids are permanently closed and it’s better that way. Whenever that happened to me, I would take 4 ibuprofen, drink a ton of water, call in to work, and get back under the covers. After a few hours in a dark room, I would wake up feeling OK but weak and shaky – with what I call a headache hangover.

The usual headache is just something that starts sometime during the day, throbs in my forehead until my face feels like it might pop off, and then moves to my neck as well. Sometimes it goes away with drugs and sometimes I have it all day.

Lately, the headaches are intensifying. I am getting them almost daily at this point. Also, the pain is more sharp that the previous headache – like these headaches have teeth, where the previous headaches were just… there.

So, my husband begged me to bring it up with the doc at my next appointment. So I did, and my doctor informed me that I was describing migraines to him, and since I was actually getting one on the spot he gave me a dose of Imitrex, and I was disoriented enough after resting in the exam room for 30 minutes that I didn’t notice he had ordered an MRI for me.

I showed up for the MRI today not sure what to expect. I wasn’t expecting to walk out the back door of the doctor’s office to a mobile MRI trailer. I read a little about the process, so I was expecting it to be loud. I didn’t expect to panic. I am not really claustrophobic. I don’t enjoy tight spaces, but who does? Getting stuck in an elevator isn’t my worst nightmare but it’s on the top 20 list. Not that I have a top 20 list of worst nightmare things. Well, I am definitely terrified of being eaten by a shark or burning alive. But the stuck in an elevator thing ranks significantly below those fears.

So, imagine my surprise! I was absolutely shocked when I had my head locked in and my headphones on and the bench slid me in to the tube and it was rightthere. So close. And I just panicked. I freaked the eff out, as the kids say. I started breathing heavily and I cursed my self from 30 seconds ago who had asked the woman how long this was going to take, and so I knew, it was going to be 15 minutes of me in the tube with my eyes closed on that hard little bench trying in vain to get my breathing under control and STAY STILL. The things I said in my head. “It’s just like being in a tanning bed,” I told myself. Except I never actually went in a tanning bed in my tanning days! I always went in a booth because it was much less like a coffin!

“Can I swallow? What if I don’t swallow because I don’t want to move but then saliva builds up at the back of my throat and I start choking? Will I cough? Will I have the presence of mind to squeeze the squeeze ball? Stop panicking, you’re breathing heavily and that’s going to make you move and you have to STAY STILL. What if I really do have something metal in my body somewhere but I just didn’t know about it? My face is pulling away from my skull, why is my face pulling away from my skull? Stop it, Amy. Stop it. If you were going to die in here you would have died immediately. I have to calm down. Breathe. Breathe. I know, I will think about a song I love. Rosalie McFall. Out on a lonely hillside, dum dum, dum dum dum dum… oh wow this is really loud. I have a headache now. Isn’t it weird that I have to get a freakishly loud test to figure out my headaches? Oh, that part is weird, it sounds kind of like someone is wailing on an electric guitar. Out on…. the lonely hillside, in a cabin…oh, ok, ok, ok. I’m panicking. Breathe. Not too hard, you’ll move. I need to swallow again but I can’t remember what I decided about swallowing. Maybe I will just open my eyes really quick because it can’t be as bad as I remember. No, that’s a dumb idea. It’s probably WORSE that I remember because I shut them immediately and I will just squeeze this ball thing and start flailing and screaming LET ME OUT OF THIS DEATH TUBE. I need to calm down. Out on… the lonely… OK. OK. OK. IS that a fire alarm? Because it’s really loud and wail-y. No, no, ok, that’s just the machine. OK. Out on the lonely hillside, in a cabin-is this messing with my brain because this is one of my favorite songs and I just can’t even make it to the second line. The lady just told me that I moved. I did not move! Oh God, maybe I swallowed. I must have swallowed. They’re going to have to do this whole thing over again. I can’t make it. I can’t do it.”

It turns out that I didn’t actually move, but my BRA STRAPS were interfering. So they had to pull me out, and shove my bra straps down my arms, and then they told me seven more minutes and I wondered if they ever had to put people under for MRIs because I was seriously questioning my ability to last another seven minutes.

When they finally pulled me out, my back was stiff and it took me a few minutes to be able to stand and I was way out of it. And I had a massive, no-good headache.

So obviously I don’t know anything yet – well except that now the next time I need to get an MRI I won’t just bumble casually in there not knowing to expect. I will be able to get myself nice and freaked out about it beforehand. Maybe I will even practice Rosalie McFall, so it’s right there on the tip of my tongue.

The power of imagination, for better or worse

I feel like I have been absent. Not just from the blog, but yeah. I have definitely been absent from the blog. And I MISS it. I miss sitting down with a mug of tea and music playing in the background and hammering out a post. I miss talking about the post on Facebook with you all, and occasionally in the comments.

I feel like I have been a more insidious kind of absent. The checked-out, moving in a dream, half-engaged most of the time kind of absent.

It’s the kind of thing that starts as a slow leak… say, with a job you hate, that sucks your life force one day at a time. Then maybe it’s followed by a friend dying. And perhaps, somewhere in the middle, you might have started taking one or more medications that started muting you toward gray. Before you know it, it’s almost 2 years later and you’re flat.

Completely, rims on the asphalt, not going any-damn-where tonight, flat.

It finally hit me last night, the full weight of it. The lack of growth in my life. The trapped feeling that makes me twitchy for change or crave emotional explosions. I cried last night for the first time in quite some time, and I was crying for myself. For my fear, and my exhaustion, and my hopelessness.

I am not this person. I am not afraid. I am not trapped.

But I imagined that I was. Somehow over the past couple of years I stopped monitoring The Dark Voice. You know. We all have this, at least I think we do. It is that voice that says you are not enough. It is the voice that says you don’t want to, nor should you. It’s the voice that says you’re not loved, not wanted, not welcome.

It is the voice that says you can’t.

So for the last year or so, that’s where I have been. Trapped under the weight of can’t. Wait – let me amend that. Trapped under the IMAGINARY weight of can’t. Stranded behind roadblocks, watching traffic move to here, from here, past here, around here. But I’m waiting, because The Dark Voice tricked me into thinking I can’t.

But it’s not real. It’s all imagined. It’s made up. It’s based on thoughts.

I think I can’t do what I want to do, I think I can’t get where I want to be, achieve what I want to be, because I got tired. And I stopped telling The Dark Voice to Go Fuck Itself, which is something I had to learn how to do at a very young age. And so The Dark Voice managed to sneak in and set up its filthy hobo camp in my brain and start running the show.

What drove this home for me was my dog. This morning, he was flopping around on the bed and pouting. Eric said, “Wow, Ace. You have such a tough life. You just wait around for us to play with you and let you outside.” And I said, “Isn’t that funny. He just waits around for humans all day because we have what he needs to be happy in life. But oh my God. We! We already have what we need to do what we need to do! But we’re waiting around like we need someone else to open the door! We don’t need anything! What is wrong with us?”

Yes, my husband is used to me going off on some philosophical rant triggered by a mundane observation. That’s just me.

Anyway. Imagination. It can really mess with you if you’re not actively using it for good.

Working people’s problems

I title this post that way because I know darn well that Eric and I are lucky, blessed, fortunate beyond measure with the status of our collective employment. We both have jobs, and thankfully, they are relatively well-paying jobs for this area.

But I want to complain. I want to complain because I have been married for three years, and right after I got married, Eric got moved from day shifts to evening shifts with this statement: It’s just short-term, just a few months while we get through this push.

He has been on evenings for over 2 years.

He recently got a new group leader at work and she seemed like she was really going to move some things and get him moved to another shift. He has been working 11 a.m.-7 p.m. this week, but he told me today that it’s not going to stick.

That although he has some seniority, he probably doesn’t have enough seniority to work a day shift.

So, I go back to seeing my husband for 30-60 minutes a day, max, if we both come home for lunch. And saying goodnight on the phone, and going to bed alone in the stupid dark house.

I knew it was too good to be true. We have spent our evenings lately cooking together, cuddled on the couch drinking tea and talking, listening to music… you know, normal married people things that we usually try to cram into one day of the weekend. And don’t get me started on weekends. When he works evenings, we only get half-day weekend days together because of his sleep needs from staying up so late.

I’m just a little upset and frustrated. I hate when things seem like they are finally lining up and then life hands you an “Oh wait, never mind. You don’t get to have this after all.”

One year.

I’ve been doing just about anything you can imagine to put off writing this post, about this topic. Even as I type, I am still in my workout clothes, there is a strand of lights that has gone dark on the Christmas tree, and my in-laws are coming for Christmas Eve dinner at 4.

Don’t worry, dinner tonight is pizza.

Basically, last year on Christmas Eve, I was in a casino hotel, getting ready to spend the day playing slot machines and maybe sitting by the pool. And just relaxing and trying to enjoy the last bit of 2012, which was just as hard as 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007. Every year for the past few years, I have sent the year off with animosity and a hearty “good riddance.” 2012 was shaping up to be the same.

On Christmas day, I woke up ready to drive to my parents’ house for Christmas dinner. When I got there, I had a Facebook message from my friend Anthony’s cousin. I knew why she messaged me. Anthony had been in the hospital for several weeks, and when he told me he was back in, he made it clear that he was never returning home. She asked me what I was doing, if I was with family, and I lied across the board because I knew she would only tell me what I knew I was going to hear if she thought she wasn’t ruining a Christmas gathering.

She called me and neither of us spoke a word. Finally, I managed to force a whisper, “I know.”

I did know, because someone had already posted about it on Facebook. I had checked my phone before I left the casino. The thing about losing someone is that even when you’re expecting it, even when you knew it was coming for a long time, when it happens it sucks your stomach to your eyeballs and takes your breath away and every other cliche that you can imagine. Punch in the gut, hits you like a brick, hits you like a train.

Except, it all happens at one time, and all in one half-second you get broken apart.

I spent the drive home listening to Paul Simon’s Graceland album, holding my husband’s hand, and weeping steadily.

What Anthony’s cousin told me was that he died on Christmas Eve, probably while I was playing slots a few hours from him. She told me that he was ready and that he was at peace.

That was a year ago. I think about the kind of guy that Anthony was, the kind of friend that he was, the strength of his moral code, his sense of adventure, his humor, his love of fishing, his love of music, his love of St. Louis sports teams, his loyalty, his memory. Not just the memory of him, but the way he remembered the events in our shared history with meticulous detail.

We walked, Anthony and I. When we reconnected, I knew he had cancer and I knew it was bad. I asked him if I could do anything for him, but literally all he wanted to do was take walks. He liked to get out of the house, get moving. We walked last summer, sometimes 3 or 4 times per week, for a total of 21 times.

We walked in a local park that has a weird little pond, and sometimes people would be fishing in that pond. Anthony said he would never fish there. “What am I gonna catch in there? A dirty diaper?”

One day, we saw a couple of older guys and they had buckets, coolers, multiple poles each. Anthony nodded in their direction from across the park when they came into view and said, “Those guys are really fishin’ it hard.” I don’t know why, but I laughed and laughed at the thought of fishin’ it hard. After a couple of minutes of walking in silence after that, he said, “Someday, a few years from now when I’m not around, you’re going to see a couple of guys sitting around fishing and remember that, fishin’ it hard, and you’re going to remember me again.”

Like I will ever forget.

You know what they say about doing it.

Tonight, I was tempted to stay at work for an extra hour in an effort to put a dent in some of the tasks that have started to pile up. Usually, I feel just fine leaving work until the next day. Tonight, I felt almost frantic as the clock passed 4:30.

I was all keyed up – not because of anything bad, but because my job is busy and awesome and I actually get a little high from getting so much accomplished in the workday. There is lots of change, lots of learning and new projects, and I always feel the desire to get a jump on things, to get started right away.

I took a breath, closed my eyes for a few seconds, said, “No – go. Just do it!” and reached for my sneakers. Starting to skip workouts for work is a bad idea, and it’s the way that the almighty boundary starts to disintegrate. I already have a work cell phone that is attached to my work e-mail. I can and do read e-mails at all hours of the day and night when I’m not at work. I do this, not out of a sense of obligation, but so that I know where things stand, what might have been resolved after I left for the day, maybe what I have to anticipate the next day.

But that delineation must remain intact. I must keep work time apart from me time.

Working out makes a nice bold line between those two times.

And I JUST realized something, right now as I am typing. My workouts, these classes? They are the only time of day that I don’t have my cell phone on or near me. It is locked away, useless to me in a class where I need to hear every word from the person teaching it.

And the upside of going tonight, other than an hour away from my cell phone?

I was 100% convinced that I couldn’t complete tonight’s workout, all the way up to the very last rep of the very last exercise. Legs trembling, arms trembling, sweat rolling. Impossible repetition numbers like 50 and 30 seemed light years from my reach.

And suddenly, I was done.

I never would have felt that sweet satisfaction if I had stayed late at work – just guilt over missing my class, over not working out tonight.

I did it.

Roll with it.

Walking home from the gym tonight, I benefited from someone else’s front porch serenade… Leaving On a Jet Plane, so quietly played and sang that it was hard to make out. I love that song.

Sometimes I just take those little things with a grateful heart and sing along under my breath. Today was one of those days.

Tonight’s workout was an active recovery workout, so that by the time we get to tomorrow’s killer workout, we won’t be too sore from last night’s killer workout.

I finally got to know a foam roller tonight. It hurts. It hurts so good. We did lots of stretching and mobility work, some with light kettlebells. We did a squat clinic, which is EXACTLY as much fun as it sounds.

I spent a lot of time on the floor. I felt stronger in some places than I expected to. I hurt more in other places than I expected to. During a series of stretches, my left, and then my right calf cramped up.

They still hurt. Right now, I feel warm and relaxed. I feel like I am radiating heat. I don’t feel like a badass, but I feel like someone who is doing what she should be doing.

I feel like, for once, the perfectionist is on a vacation and I am just enjoying the ride.

The little lies.

If you’re anything like me, you probably tell yourself loads of little lies throughout your life, maybe without even realizing you’re doing it. Certainly without realizing that they’re lies.

My trainer had pity on my busted quadriceps, and rather than assign me a 5K endurance workout like everyone else in the class, he told me to come and do 20 minutes on the elliptical. So I packed my workout clothes in my backpack before I walked to work this morning, and after work I hauled it to the gym. I walked in shortly after 5 pm.

As I walked in, something dawned on me. I used to avoid the gym after work for one reason, and one reason only: Everyone would be going straight after work, and the locker room would be crowded. The machines would all be taken. I would feel frazzled and frenzied and I wouldn’t enjoy my workout. So it became my policy to wait. Until 7:00, 7:30, 8:00. The only problem with that plan was the whole going home first and getting into relaxation mode. I love my couch. So, when I get on my couch, I don’t like to get off it again unless I am shuffling up to bed.

Much like old people do.

But back to the gym, tonight, at 5:10. It was not remotely crowded. I waltzed in, changed, took my pick from about 6 open elliptical machines, did my workout, changed in the completely empty locker room, and went home.

I never even tried to go to the gym right after work, even though that would be the best possible time for me to go – keyed up from a busy day. Not in the middle of something at home. I just had a thought, and I let that thought become a barrier.

Let that sink in.

I often tell people that the only limitations they have are imaginary. That the obstacles are all in their minds. I know that’s not always true, that some barriers are real… but I bet that there are some things that all of us just take for truth like that.

The gym will be too busy.

Have you checked?

I don’t know how to X, Y, Z.

Can you learn?

They say that’s not the way you do things.

Who is they? Do they really matter?

I just don’t have time.

Do you, though? I bet you do.

These are the little lies, the insidious lies that become reality and create the limitations I have on myself.

I always thought that my nights were too busy to get much done. Tonight, after working out, I ate dinner, packed lunch for tomorrow, got some gardening done, roasted brussels sprouts, and, because my favorite workout clothes smell roughly like a 10th-day trucker, did a load of laundry. And I still had plenty of time to waste. And blog.

Seems to me like the best way to live is to actually live, rather than thinking about how hard it will be to live the way I want to live.

 

Gotta get out of bed get a hammer and a nail
Learn how to use my hands, not just my head
I think myself into jail
Now I know a refuge never grows
From a chin in a hand in a thoughtful pose
Gotta tend the earth if you want a rose.

-Indigo Girls, Hammer and a Nail

 

Steps today: 10653