Friday, December 30, 2011

A Thousand Healing Hands

A few months back, I wrote about my divorce and where I was emotionally.  I was drained.  And honestly, the divorce was the least of my problems.  Mentally and emotionally, I had left the marriage months before we had separated.  The damage had been done and I was already gone, even when I was physically in the same house with my ex.  

The problem was, I was left with a lot of the damage.  Words that are seared into one's memory and happen to echo similar words from the past.  It is so easy to believe things that people tell you about yourself, when you have spent most of your life seeing yourself from other people's perspective. I may have hated almost every perspective, but it was all I thought of myself.  There was years and years of damage, from multiple sources that needed addressing and no amount of plugging ahead was correcting it.  I stumbled a few times, and ultimately I crashed over the summer.  

The first stumble came early in the year, when I finally accepted that I had to face a medical problem that had haunted me for years.  I don't think I have felt as alone as I did post-op, alone in a room and unable to even sit up.  Friends had visited me the first day, the second day no one could come and nervousness turned into a pain that far outweighed anything physical that I was experiencing.  And despite the many, many medications I had at my disposal, the physical pain was excruciating.  That afternoon, I wondered if there would ever be a time when I wouldn't be alone.  I had spent my childhood alone and with no one to protect me when I needed it the most, somewhat due to circumstances that were out of anyone's control but not made better by anyone involved.  For one reason or another, things didn't change much throughout my adolescence or young adulthood, my marriage made that gnawing feeling even worse. But I survived the hospital and the surgery.  As a matter of fact, it gave me resolve to start over.  I would be pain-free for the first time in years.  My condition was not as catastrophic as was originally feared and frankly, dragging would not be an option.  

The Fall came in the summer, right before a trip I had been looking forward to for months.  I knew what lie ahead of me as the first doubts started creeping into my mind a week before my scheduled take off.  On the way to the airport, I just prayed that things would go well enough for me to still be able to enjoy the time I had with my friends.  Of course it didn't.  I took a black cloud with me.  I got physically sick due to heat I wasn't expecting; the last push came from people reminding me just how unwelcome I was.  Every single fear and doubt that I had had my whole life was smacking me in the face and I couldn't escape it.  By the time I came back home, I was shattered and I didn't care to hide it anymore.  

But then, things started to happen.  People started to embrace me and tried to put this Humpty Dumpty back together again.  Some of them were close, real life friends and others were people  I have never met who sent me love and and well wishes with no obligation or expectation.  I was blown away and humbled by it.  And frankly, it confused the hell out of me.  My own family literally couldn't get rid of me fast enough after I traveled to see them and strangers were reaching out to me with words and love that hit me almost every day as I checked my mailbox, finding something new from another unexpected source.  It was like suddenly, there were a thousand invisible, healing hands reaching out to support me when I was weakest.

At the same time, I started listening to well meaning advice and realizing that frankly some of it had nothing to do with me.  I suddenly started seeing me, not from anyone else's perspective but from my own.  I realized for the first time that I don't need to BE strong, I AM strong.  I am not thin-skinned for being offended by ass hole behavior.  Nor am I unreasonable for wanting things that make me happy.  For the first time in my life as shaken as I was, I started seeing myself for what I was and not what people told me I was. I kind of liked what I was seeing.  It was right around that time that I realized of all the hands that were holding me together, my own were the strongest.

I started planning in earnest and making changes.  I have taken to politely declining events that I know will cause me stress.  I minimize my interactions with people who make me feel less about myself.  I actually tell people when they're crossing boundaries.  I make a point of treating myself the way I try to treat my friends.  I am learning to value myself, even if no one else around me knows how to.  It is still hard and there are still cracks.  There is heartbreak.  There are things that catch me off guard, hurt and challenge me.  Underneath all of that is the knowledge that I can overcome things.  I have taken care of myself my whole life and frankly, I'm much better at it than anyone else I know.  It's good to know that for those times when exhaustion takes over, when I get overwhelmed or when I just need a reminder there are those thousand healing hands waiting for me.  For that, I am grateful.  

Friday, September 23, 2011

He Lived Beautifully

A dear friend of mine passed away today and I just got the news.  I keep telling myself I shouldn't cry because he is no longer suffering.  I saw him early this month, and I knew he was suffering.  

He kept up with his witty wife, quietly injecting responses with the sly look of a mischievous boy that  always made him look years younger than he actually was.  He had traveled the world and observed cultures, respectfully.  He influenced and inspired people with a calmness that was a gift in itself. His spirit was generous in so many ways, I can't even think of specific examples.  It was who he was.  In Farsi, we have an expression that guests bring light to the house with them.  It was never truer than when he entered my home.  

I admit that I always did my best to make him laugh, and cherished the time I made him blush. I learned that a couple could be deeply and truly in love from the beginning to the very end.  He loved my cooking with an enthusiasm that would inspire anyone to cook up a storm, just to see that smile on his face.

Every time we said good bye, he would say the same thing:  "I love you so much and am SO proud of you."  I never for a moment thought he said it lightly.  The day he told me he would be proud if I were his daughter, I hung up and cried for longer than an expression of love would warrant.  For all the negativity in the world, he was always a quiet force of what is possible.  Because of him, I try to make sure that everyone knows exactly how I feel about them, just in case it's the last time we speak.  

And now he's gone, his suffering is over and he will be missed.  I'll miss all the things that I took for granted as a part of the person he was.  Of course I mourn his loss but am so, very grateful that I had the chance to know him.  I know I'm a better person for it.     

Monday, September 19, 2011

That One Time When I Said 'Yes'

Saying 'no' is very easy for me.  It comes automatically most of the times because I typically need time to absorb things and let a concept settle in a little before I can accept it.  Unfortunately, this means I'm not the world's most spontaneous person.  I also know I'm missing out on a lot of fun.  So much fun passing me by as I contemplate the possibilities.  However, every once in a while I surprise myself.  Last summer, was one of those rare occasions--thank God.

Last summer, everything started changing at once.  My (ex)husband and I separated,  we filed for divorce and everything that I had worked on for the last eight years was suddenly over for good.  Some time in early August, a friend asked if I would consider a roommate as he was thinking of moving to my city and resettling here.  My immediate response, literally without thinking, was, "I'm sorry.  I can't."  I didn't even have a reason for it, I just said 'no'.  Despite being the person who tells my friends, 'My home is your home.  Always.'.  Then, I started thinking about it and justifying why I said 'no':  I was scared, too many things were changing, living with a friend would doom the friendship...and really many other perfectly logical reasons that I won't list here.  It was the right decision.  Except that it wasn't.  I called him back the next day and apologized, told him he was welcome to move in after I returned from my trip that my home was his home for as long as he wanted it.  And I meant every word I said, despite my fear.  The day he showed up on my doorstep may have been one of the better days of my life, even though I didn't know it at the time.  I felt like throwing up for the first week and wondered what the hell I was thinking.

I don't know how I appeared, but I slowly started to breathe a little more freely.  I occasionally forgot the chaos around me and felt a sense of calm.  I started leaving the house socially, with mixed results.  I even started trusting again, just a little bit and that felt good.  That trust is what had me driving around looking for a bunch of paddle boarders on a Saturday morning.  One of his friends had recommended a paddle boarding demo on the Bay that we could try for free.  It made sense for them, they were both surfers.  I was a professional couch potato, who typical of my kind would sink to the bottom of large bodies of water.  But there was that one time I said 'yes', and it had worked out okay and I had started trusting with no significant calamity, which was why I was driving around nervously looking for something I had never seen before.  Eventually we found the paddle boarders.  People took off and I was left on the shore watching them.  I looked down at my feet and realized my toes were curled into the sand, hanging on for dear life.  One of the owners noticed me and said, 'You're next.'  I protested.  I resisted.  I eventually said 'yes'.  Ten minutes later, I was on a board, paddling out and praying that I wouldn't fall into the bay and drown.  Not only did I not drown, but I realized I was breathing again and standing up on a board paddling to the opposite shore with the most overwhelming feeling of joy I had ever felt.  I felt radiant.  I looked over my left shoulder and saw my friend on a board of his own, grinning at me.  When we were on solid ground again, I asked him as casually as I could, 'What if I was this happy all the time?  Wouldn't that be insane?!'  

As hard as I tried, I couldn't remember the last time I was that happy.

Not long after that, my friend moved away.  I continued going to the demos and found myself looking over my shoulder to tell someone who wasn't there how happy I felt.  This Spring, I got Lasik, so I wouldn't have to worry about my contacts if I did fall into the Bay.  I practiced swimming, just in case I did fall.  Once I had the go ahead from my doctor, I bought my own paddle board and started going out on the weekends, enjoying the quiet that came with my new hobby.  After a while I was comfortable with my outings and wanted a little more so I tried to take my board into the ocean.  The ocean threw the board back at my head.  Repeatedly.  This inspired me to take surf lessons, which led to my hanging out with a bunch of surfers and going to surfing events, which got me out of the house on a regular basis and brought me joy.  An insane amount of joy.  

Almost exactly a year ago, I wouldn't have been able to imagine being here and feeling this.  I wouldn't have known this feeling at all.  

I do now, because of that one time when I said 'yes'.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Handy Guide To Surviving a Blackout

As some of you may or may not know, I once lived in a land far, far away during a war.  As a result, there was a shortage of EVERYTHING.  Sugar, butter, meat, water and electricity.  Things were rationed, and one learned (even as a child) that you be without any given thing for an undetermined amount of time at any given moment.  Since I was a child and didn't have to worry about food things that my parents obtained, my biggest concerns were electricity and water outages, which happened every summer--all summer long (and other times as well, but summers were especially horrible).  The upside of this is that I thought I was an expert at blackouts.  Turns out, not so much in modern times.  Which is why I thought I'd put together a nifty little guide of things to do and avoid during a blackout*.

  1. Avoid sarcastic conversations with your nice, older neighbors.  For some bizarre reason, sarcasm seems to be generational and people may get the impression that you're a nudist, trying to organize a block party.  It is always a safe bet to nod and smile as you walk by.
  2. Don't plan on entertaining yourself by watching movies online.  Or listening to your favorite Pandora station on your ipod.  Apparently, wireless routers also require electrical power to function.
  3. Reading is an excellent option.  Feel free to work on that giant pile of books and old magazines that are gathering dust.
  4. Scratch the old magazine reading.  For some ungodly reason, they catch on fire if you hold them too close to your light source.
  5. Candlelight is very flattering.  Enjoying looking at yourself in the mirror in candlelight.  You'd be surprised at how soft and beautiful you will look with fifteen tea candles flickering.  Please note, it's VERY IMPORTANT that you keep you hair away from the candles.  An up-do is your friend.
  6. Don't feel pressured into improving on the perfection that is your candlelit reflection.  Your eyebrows?  They can wait to be plucked/trimmed during the daytime.  Maybe on your patio even, but evening time is for relaxation.   NOTHING GOOD COMES FROM SHAPING YOUR EYEBROWS IN CANDLELIGHT.
  7. Life has handed you a bag of hot lemons under the guise of a power outage when it's 95 degrees outside.  Make yourself a tall pitcher of lemonade by planning out your day off.  While the city fumes what to do with itself, you can plan to spend a delightful day at the beach, complete with water activity of your choice.  Maybe even a picnic lunch.  How exciting are you?!
  8. You've made it to 8:27!  Only three more hours till your bed time!  Don't open the fridge door, because all the cold air will escape and all the groceries you bought yesterday in a fit of hunger will be doomed.
  9. It's 8:42.  Trust me, trying to eat all of the food in your fridge in a desperate attempt to save them from going bad will not end well.  You live alone and you've shopped for an entire week.  Accept the sad fate awaiting your food.
  10. Massages are a great idea!  They will help you relax.  The room is already lit with candles.  Your neighbor is accompanying his opera singing wife on piano.  All you need is someone to actually give you a massage.  Avoid mentioning this to previously mentioned neighbor, who still looks confused about your lifestyle.
  11. Board/card games are also a great way to pass the time.  As long as you have enough people to participate.  Of course, you could announce yourself Scrabble champion if you play on your own but people may not believe you as there are no witnesses.
  12. It's 9:31.  Don't call anyone on your cell phone.  Well, you couldn't if you wanted to--it's dead and it will take forever to recharge it in the car.
  13. You've made it to 10:05.  Just accept that going to sleep is the best thing you can do until you have power back.  Make sure to blow out all the candles and leave one light on, so you  will know if/when power returns.
  14. Don't wake up cursing at 4:30 in the morning because power is back and your carefully laid plans are all for naught.  Yes, you were smart and made yummy, yummy lemonade with the stupid lemons life gave you.  But sometimes life punches you in the gut and steals your lemonade.  Lying on the coach with a groggy puppy and cursing will not change this.

I hope this guide helps you in some way. I realize technically you won't be considered 'prepared', but with any luck you won't do too much damage once you're thrown into the darkness.  For the record, I did extensive personal research on some of the points above.  For you, the two people who may benefit from my suffering.

*None of the things listed will help you with actual survival in the traditional sense.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

"It's Just a Piece of Paper."

"It's just a piece of paper.", I said.

"I'm the one who said that. When we were getting married. I said it because that piece of paper wouldn't change how I felt about you. Do you remember?"

We were standing outside our lawyer's office, and I remembered exactly what he was talking about. I remembered hearing those words almost ten years ago and the pain they had caused. After all, that's not how you want your fiance to refer to your pending marriage. Nor do you want to hear that he actually doesn't believe in marriage, but prefers 'concubinage', despite the fact that he met you through an elaborate scheme between your parents, family members and assorted strangers. I wanted to ask him why he had been sending me wedding dress pictures and encouraging me to plan a wedding if he was going to tell me he didn't want a wedding, nor did he want to be married to me. I had a lot of questions in that moment, but I remember staring at him blankly and just asking, "What do you mean, 'It's just a piece of paper?'"

At the end of the day we got married, in front of a justice of the peace, with none of our family members present, and just two of my friends who had made it to the courthouse before the judge gave up and went home. Looking back, I remember the fear and loneliness as I repeated what I was told to repeat, said what I was instructed to say and worried that I would not be able to make this man realize that marrying me was not a bad idea.

Now, I was telling him--without malice--what he had told me. The papers we had signed were just papers. Nothing would change from the way they were right now. We had officially separated months ago, unofficially, we had drifted apart years and years back. Nothing would change because of those papers...

I stopped writing almost a year ago. Writing on this blog had become an exercise in self-censorship that was just another exhausting effort in my life. As it was, I was hiding the unhappiness and stress of my life from everyone in my real life. I had been for so long that I still don't know what it feels like to be open about anything. Of the nine years of my marriage, the last seven were officially in trouble. There were moments of happiness, I would be lying if I denied that. But those were all too short moments in the ocean I was drowning in. I stopped thinking of all of the things I wanted, hoping to bring happiness to my husband's life. I failed at every turn, and that failure began to define how I saw myself. It was not what I wanted for my life, it is not what I wanted to leave my husband with if I got hit by a car and died. Every time I asked him, "Are you happy in this relationship?", he would respond, "There is no other option."
Knowing my husband, I knew I had to be the one to act. And finally, I did.

I try not to look back on the last 10 years of my life--almost a quarter of my time on earth. When I do, I try to quickly focus on what was good. My now ex-husband was and is a kind man, who always cared for me in his own way--even if he couldn't express it. I learned things about myself and had to face things that I would have preferred to look past. It taught me my limits and reminded me of my strengths. It taught me that I have to take responsibility and action for my happiness--something that I have failed to do for most of my life. These days, I do my best to look ahead and plan my future. In moments like this, as I write again, I have to admit that the future looks rocky and lonely. I worry about all the things that I won't be able to fix. Then,
I go back to making lists and goals again--something I hadn't done for years. I try to only look back to reclaim things I liked about myself. Why else would I go back to the wreckage of the past decade?

And so, that is where I have been for the past year. I'm not sure what I will do with this space, and how honest I can be about the peaks and valleys. I want to come back and try to be funny and interesting, not quite sure if I will succeed. But this is where I am right now, on the side of a mountain trying to regain my footing.

How YOU doin'?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

I Want to See My Name In Lights

Back in April, my dad surprised me and came to the States to visit me--on the exact same week as my grandmother's planned trip. Since he didn't want to fly from Phoenix to San Diego (for a number of reasons), my brother accompanied him. You would think that with 5 people, there wouldn't be time for the usual inquiries and inquisitions. You'd think wrong. There is ALWAYS time and opportunity for an inquisition. Historically, my father has some basic concerns: 1) my weight 2) my marital/parenthood status 3) direction of my career (=income). The best way to make me provide details is to bring examples from people we know and let him know where I am in relation to those people. I have hated these 'examples' (comparisons) my entire life.

This is a close paraphrasing (and occasional exact quote of the conversation):

'Your brother and I were talking on the drive over. He was telling me about his job and how stressful it is. I'm really proud of how focused he is on his job.'

'He really is doing well. I think he works too hard, though. He needs to pace himself, otherwise he'll burn out and hate everything.'

'He showed me this blackboard they have in his office. They have it on his computer*, too. It's a list of everyone at the company and who's the best**. He's been tied for either first or second for at least 5 months now...'

'I know! My baby brother*** is so cool! And he makes it look so effortless. I love that he doesn't just go for the money, he educates people and cares. You have no idea how unethical people are willing to be, just for a little extra money or to brag.'

'So, how about you?'

Blank look of confusion.

'Are you at the top of your blackboard?'

So I spent a good half hour explaining my job, how project management is evaluated differently and how my group is isolated so there isn't anyone else to rank me against.

'Are you saying there's no one else in the company that has a similar position?'

'There are, but different.'

'So where is your name on the blackboard compared to them?'

'Dad, we don't have a blackboard. Our work isn't measured like that.'

'Are you telling me that your name isn't even on the blackboard?! BUT WHY?! Can't you try just a little harder?'

And this is why I say I'm a perpetual disappointment to my parents. This was also before we even got to the topic of my burgeoning obesity which will kill me before my time. My poor parents cry just about every time we talk about anything outside of the weather.

*My father is not very computer savvy.
** My brother is in sales, not project management which is why it's easier to compare his work against his co-workers.
***He hates it when I call him my baby brother, but it's true. He will always be my baby brother.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Understandable, Really

It seems my blog doesn't recognize me anymore. I don't blame it. If I had been neglected for almost three months, I would shun wayward bloggers as well. I need to be on my best behavior and tell stories. Maybe even bring flowers and candy. That's what blogs like, right? Right.