And she began to see: how we cling to fragile walls…
this first home/body pounded and grown out of necessity,
love. Biting love. Survival love.
~ Ishle Yi Park
Spring 2004 was the worst season of my entire life. I’d moved down from Oneonta, away from my then-husband. Only I hadn’t left him. The plan was that he’d come down after graduating in a month, visiting a lot in the meantime, and I would get us set up for life together on Long Island.
Long story short, it never happened. March was spent by me in a daze of angst, confusion, and Tylenol PM, as I tried desperately to make excuses for why he wasn’t calling. Why he wasn’t visiting when he said he would. Why I was living my married life in a solitary existence.
I was staying at my family’s house in what used to be the den, with my two kittens on the third floor. The room was small, and every moment I looked at Willow and Doc broke my heart. They didn’t understand what was happening and neither did I. Every night, I would read before commencing with sleep futility. It was a book called The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters. It was about an L.A. bigshot woman who was trying to produce a movie version of Don Quixote. While dealing with the nightmare that is Hollywood, her beloved younger sister was struck with fatal leukemia. While dealing with this, her boyfriend was unsupportive, so that relationship ended. She had to get through this, somehow managing to not fall apart. Managing to at least try to dream the impossible dream even as her world fell down around her. Some days, some nights, I would read the book and be comforted. But I could never really focus on more than a page or two at a time, I mean, my brain moves like a locomotive on a good day; when I’m upset it spins like the Gravitron. So without my go-to comfort of distraction, all I could do was to keep going and try to make the best of it.
I got a temp job in the city, working as an administrative assistant in a small yet important office. I was filled with confusion and fear over what was happening, but kept going. After all, we needed the money. And as I walked to work every day from Penn Station, I listened to “Stripped” on my Discman. I remembered walking to work just two years earlier, when all I had was a Walkman and the only tape I could still locate was “Get a Grip.” I missed blissing out in my city walk, happy to be there, surrounded by such amazing energy. But in 2004, “Stripped” helped get my spirit up in order to just get through the day, encouraging me to be sassy yet stalwart as I became increasingly alone.
Marlboro Light after Marlboro Light, interrupted by the occasional American Spirit from a city bodega until I remembered that I didn’t like American Spirits so much anymore, but at least it broke up the monotony. My nerves were completely shot. Smoking was just about the only thing keeping me from losing my mind, and I certainly couldn’t get through one of my pleading, pathetic voice mails without chain smoking. Out of the question. When I think of that time, I can smell almost nothing but that desperate smell of so many cigarettes at once, just to cope.
Finally then-husband came home and acted like everything was totally normal, and I tried to play along, terrified that if he could see the hell I’d been in, he’d run straight for the door. But he did that anyway, disappearing that very night. All day Saturday I tried to reach him…nothing. Any fears that were temporarily washed away by his presence were now numbed by the sheer confusion of it all. My body shut down and all I could feel was a dull buzzing in my brain, as he finally told me that he didn’t think he could be with me anymore, but he wasn’t sure, and “not to give up hope.”
That night, I went home and just lay there on my couch and stared at the ceiling, feeling nothing. Then I went up to my parents’ room and just lay on the bed while my mom did her best to try to find words to help me. I appreciated her efforts, but could only say with a terrifying yet undeliberate lack of affect, “Mom I’m sorry. I know you want me to agree with you that everything will be okay, but I can’t. For the first time in my entire life, I am completely devoid of hope.”
Mom knew that was a huge deal for me. Hope is my all-time favorite word and for as emotional and dramatically sensitive as I can be, I had never once lost my hope. But then my mother did the best thing ever.
She didn’t try to change my mind. She got very serious, looked me straight in the eye and said:
“All right then, Judith. I understand. I can’t even imagine how much pain you must be in to feel that way. But I want you to know that even if you don’t have hope, I do. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are going to be okay, and that eventually this will all work out, no matter how that happens. I have enough hope for the both of us. Don’t feel like you have to feel your own hope right now. You can borrow my hope as long as you need.”
I remained blessedly numb for the rest of the night, aided by my mother’s comfort and also the Clonidin she gave me, which helps you relax for sleep as opposed to just knocking you out.
The next month or so? Not so numb. Not so very numb at all. The next month was a haze of misery, desperation, alcohol, and cigarettes, Healthy? No. Necessary? Well let’s just say I could never judge myself for that, because I literally cannot imagine having to go through that again. So I’ll leave those past reactions in the past. But I wanted to feel nothing, and like in my paralysis dreams, I think I was just doing a life version of throwing myself off the bed just in order to wake up.
I didn’t wake up, but I did stabilize a bit. Developed an acceptable routine. I’d get dropped off at the train station, and spend my trip to the city doing the crossword and drinking a coffee. For the first time ever, I figured out Cryptoquotes just to keep my brain occupied. I’d go to work, spend way too much money at H&M, and go home. On the way home, I’d alternate between reading my book and staring out the window, comforted by watching things whiz by, grateful that time was passing.
One Friday before I went home, I bought a Miller Lite from the cart in Penn Station. I didn’t open it for a long time though, because for some reason, I was able to focus on the book that day. I read like I hadn’t in years, my brain absorbing the story ferociously, experiencing catharsis that is a reader’s equivalent to a runner’s high.
For the first time since I’d gone numbish, I was able to cry. But not one of those awkward crying jags where all the pain comes to the surface at once. My pain was always pretty at the surface, for better or for worse. But this day, I cried over a story besides my own. My grief was put into perspective by reading of others’ grief. Something inside of me was ready for something, and I wasn’t sure what. At that moment I was just happy to be sad about something other than myself.
When I stepped out onto the platform and into my hometown, something happened. I was supremely aware of everything beautiful around me. It was my First Spring Day, in May. To paraphrase a line from the album of happier days, that moment came where I knew I’d be all right. The sun was shining for what seemed to be the first time in months. The air was warm and smelled amazing. My Miller Lite that I’d unprecedentedly forgotten about until just now, tasted like that first sip of beer when beer still felt magical. It was a moment that I remember because I made sure to write it down, just so I’d know I hadn’t imagined it. It was the moment I got my hope back. And I’ve never been more grateful for anything in my life.