Crossing The River
My eyes were just so tired.
They were that kind of tired where it burned to even close them. I think the tears welled up more to stop the stinging than because I was frustrated and sad.
There’s no dignified way to wallow in self-pity when you have seven people piled into your Ford Fusion at 1am, so the short ride from downtown Albany to downtown Troy was filled with a very pregnant silence from the driver’s seat. That’s where my indignation and I were seething, boiling, and burning a hole into the steering wheel that I was white-knuckling.
How did I get myself into this mess, anyway? I shouldn't have said I'd go out. I shouldn't have gone out to this bar a month ago, come to think of it. And there I was, making a hot mess out of a perfectly manageable room temperature mess. What in the hell am I doing anyway?
I mean, I'm a smart, tall-ish, successful, funny, creative, dainty little flower with good oral hygiene...I don't deserve mediocrity in any area of my life.
I looked down at my phone in the cup holder next to me, as if I could will it to light up with a return text.
It's sometimes hard to balance self-righteousness with being neurotic.
God damn it, am I adding fuel to my fire? Have I misread the proverbial tea leaves? Oh no. Am I the worse thing of all...wrong?
Those tired eyes came back. With a long blink and a sigh, I rubbed my whole face with my right hand, my elbow already resting on my center console - the weight of my hand on my eyelids feeling like a relief, but in that way when we instinctively put pressure on a cut and feel better just by the act of doing something.
Things are always a disaster when you come at it with agendas and motives and trying to be the one in control. I know better. I know better now that I've done the work I've done than to show up with expectations and assumptions. I know better than to let my anxieties plan events for me. And yet, there I was, in the wee'est hours of the morning, freezing, in my clown car, pouting, driving like an idiot, mad at everyone and everything.
I was mad at the cold. I was mad at Spanish music. I was mad at cheap two-am pizza. I was mad that I ruined someone's birthday. I was mad that I shouldn't feel bad about how the night turned out. I was mad at thinking things would be easier. I was mad that I couldn't see clearly. I was mad that I wasn't sure if I was being strung along in someone's game. I was mad at every Mazda in Albany, and I was mad at everyone in my Ford.
I was furious at myself.
I begged that phone to just light up. Scream at me. Tell me you care. Tell me off. Tell me I'm not insane. Tell me you never want to see me again. Something. Anything.
My best friend was sitting on her poor fiance's (!) lap in the front seat, hunched comically to keep as low of a profile as possible. She took up the reins of keeping the car entertained with my music while she pulled my hand into her lap nonchalantly. She knows what I need before I do most days, and right then I needed all the literal and figurative hand holding I could get as we crossed the river to home.
Back over the river to where I know I belong. Back from where I should have never left. There’s a reason Washington is memorialized in a painting of his crossing the Delaware. I bet he was leaving a shit hangout at a bar too.
By the grace of Our Most Holy Angel of Salvation (the ghost of Michael Jackson), we saw exactly one cop and I stared them down, daring them to pull me over. My friends wisely said nothing.
These poor friends of mine. The ever suffering souls that put up with my nonsense should be knighted, or canonized, or at the least I should have bought them mozzarella sticks. Instead, I shoved them all out while I sat stewing in my car alone. I turned on Nessun Dorma on repeat loud enough to make the drunk fools on 4th Street uncomfortable. Good. Puccini gets me.
I watched my crew for a bit eating their slices, while they took turns coming out to make sure I hadn't lit myself on fire.
Poor Molly had Seal Team 6 on speed dial to murder anyone in their sleep that had ever looked at me with the wrong attitude. That woman's friendship is worth my weight in gold. I know she's the one who squeezed my shoulder from somewhere among the mass of limbs in the back seat.
I'm pretty sure our new friend Meg did a scuba dive out of the side of the car halfway over the Menands bridge into an Uber. Smart girl, that Meg.
Alison's been here. Ally's been there.
Kate sat in the car with me against all protests and warnings while her fiance (!) ordered her pizza.
“I just feel so stupid.” I muttered with all the energy I had left, “So stupid.”
Kate slipped her fingers between mine with one hand, and wrapped her other hand around both as if she was trying to keep my fingers from running away. She's better at the intimate things than I am. She put her head on my shoulder, and said, "I know."
They're the best, this gaggle of mine.
I did feel bad for being in such a funk. It doesn't happen nearly as often as it used to, but when it does, hold on to your hair net.
The funk has a name, actually. It's an inherited trait just like my award winning blue eyes, big hair, and a sword made of sarcasm. It's called The Fireplace.
I'm not kidding. It's a whole thing, but suffice it to say, it's an unshakable mood that has caused much better Leathems than I to (very literally) stare straight into a fire and brood until, well, until they're just not in it any more. I know better in my life now that should a Fireplace come upon me, it's best to just let it happen. It passes almost as quickly as it comes.
It's my fault for not practicing the things I know help stave off this state. Or maybe I was hungry. Something. Who knows?
Some combination of things occurred in the most magical sequence to align every insecurity I've ever dreamed I could have into a perfect storm of crazy. Solar eclipses are less organized than my emotions when I'm in this mood.
I wish I had the words that night. Or maybe I should just print little calling cards to help explain. They'd say:
"Good day to you [Insert name of innocent bystander here]! My face may look like Liam Neeson's right after he discovers his daughter was #taken, but I promise, it's just my natural affect. I'm sort of the worst. I'm currently in what's called a 'Fireplace' mood at the moment, but in somewhere between 10 and 35 minutes, the clouds will part. I just need a hot minute to get over myself, and to see that there's always another side to every story, and then things will be right as rain. I hope you and yours are doing swimmingly, and I am just so sorry if I have said/done anything untoward whilst in such a reactionary mood. You're much safer at a distance. I swear that I have great traits too. This is my only flaw."
The main ticket to this card would be the part where there are always two sides to every story. Always.
No matter what the perception, no matter what the bullet points of events are, there is always another story.
There's something worse than not seeing the other story, though. This is the thing that made my eyes sting, and what kept my hand locked in Kate's until I got my land legs again across the river: it's the thought that you truly don't know a person.
There's a thought that creeps up our spines, and settles somewhere in the base of your neck which tells you that you've been played a fool. It tells you that you've made up someone else's good qualities, and you've been blinded to the hurtful things this person is capable of because of all the newness of getting to know a person. It tells you that this person, whom you are finding you could actually love - if you had a soul - they simply have never once shown you that they know you exist. This thing tells you that you might be a sociopath for believing anything else, and that you're looking pretty bloated recently.
It's like a virus. It spreads and proliferates and colonizes and elects a mayor and kicks out the indigenous people.
And it's not real.
What I know now that I didn't know a few years ago is that the worse the thought, the less real it is. Whether it's fear or sadness or anger or whatever the flavor of the day is...the more urgent it feels, the less likely it is to be accurate. (Thank you, Kelli Walker)
Now, when I see that the coals in The Fireplace are hot enough to melt off my face, I try to get just enough space to roast a marshmallow and wait for it to die down.
We can't always prevent the sparks from igniting the fire, but we can practice doing a better job in keeping it from spreading.
Back to the car.
My friends are the ride-or-die sort of fools that we all hope for. It's just that sometimes I have to remind them of the ride part...don't we all want to kill the person who hurts someone in our crew? My betches are my speed-dial team when the apocalypse happens and we need to slice some people. There's no question in my mind of that.
And it's pretty literally killing them to watch me have a hard moment, and then to wake up the next day ready for the next thing. They want to be mad for me. They want me to be mad for me.
But, I am me, and I will always search for the other story, even if a wiser heart would walk away.
(Small aside: that last bit is a lyric from a song my dad wrote.)
So. I spent the night roasting metaphoric marshmallows while I formed words in my mind about what hurt and where. Then I took the time the next day to say it out loud and to search for the other story. When you care, you talk about hard things. I insist on very few things in my life, but showing you care through taking the time to talk things out is number one on the list.
And you know what? I was heard.
Turns out I'm not a sociopath (well, at least here. Jury's still out elsewhere in my life), and I didn't make anything up. There was another story. There is always another story.
I am cared for and valued by every person I have chosen to put in my life. And it's easy to forget that we get to choose who we have in our lives. We get to choose, and we deserve to be loved in the way we need, not just the way someone else is able to give us.
There is a difference, you know. We have all loved someone that just simply wasn't able to give us what we needed. It may have been everything they had to give, but sometimes it just isn't enough. That's where the choice comes in.
We get to curate a collection of people that offer us different things to make us whole. I have one hell of a set, I'll tell ya.
(that's what she said)
There's always a choice.
And I'm happy with mine.
And I'm almost glad I crossed the river.