Sunday, May 25, 2014

Losing What We Call Lovely

Photo attribution here.

The day before I started packing up to leave my Long Beach home I went for a walk on the beach. The Mr. had already taken a job in the next city over and was staying there, so I was alone. Of all the things I loved about that city, the lifeguard towers were one. There's something so iconic about them. They symbolize the best things in life--summer, sunshine, ocean, bare feet, vacation, spontaneity, freedom. But the summer was ending, and so was my marriage. I was a year in, but there was a part of me, just below consciousness, that feared it even then. It was a long and slow beach walk, and towards the end I climbed up on a tower and sat and stared.

Rusty metal. Chipped paint. The smell of salt. Cityscape to the right. Slow, lapping ocean. Gritty sand. Sunset. Losing light. 

I took a picture of myself in the lowlight, trying desperately to hold on to what was already, in a way, gone. I remember sitting there, trying very hard to be brave and positive, to have faith in God, in my husband, in my ability to pull it together, but in a place so deep I couldn't let even myself be aware of it I was terrified. Terrified of loss and terrified of the future. Terrified that I would never have anything so lovely as the early days of my married life in Long Beach, ever again. 

Last night I went to Waikiki with some friends for--are you ready for this?-- Spam Jam. Apparently Hawaiian residents consume some ridiculous number like 3 million cans of Spam a year, and just to prove we're proud, we have a whole food festival to honor this strange canned "meat". It was a group of girlfriends and I driving down together, busily chattering on about internships, secret crushes, embarrassing moments and frustrating school policies. When we got to "town", as we countryfolk refer to Honolulu, we disembarked and weaved our way through drum circles, fire dancers, a mime, a Michael Jackson impersonator and every Spamtastic abomination you can fathom. Spam tacos, Spam ramen, Spam burgers, Spam T-shirts, sports bras, hats, an entire wave constructed in cans of Spam, a Spam impersonator and the world's most unlucky puppy sitting with a can of Spam strapped to its head, victim to endless photos and an adoring public. 

It was fantastic. 

When we'd had enough of that we headed over to a frozen yogurt place. Here I purchased my first treat in one full month. On my list of thirty was the task of giving up sugar for one month's time, and it just so happened that the four weeks came to a close last night. Coconut and caramel flavored frozen goodness with fresh strawberries, toasted coconut flakes and a slice of waffle cone on top--heaven

I took my treasure across the street and the five of us lady friends climbed up the steps of a lifeguard tower to bask in echoes of Waikiki nightlife, the smell of salt and the familiar feel of grits of sand beneath our feet. A quick glance at the cityscape to my right and I was instantaneously transported to my Long Beach lifeguard tower. I was nose to nose with my old self. She was hesitating on the precipice of her headlong dive into the brutal years ahead. I looked back into the eyes of my pre-divorce self for that brief moment, and saw how desperately she was trying to peer into her fate. I saw so much fear in her eyes--fear that all the beautiful parts of our life had already come and gone. I realized that the Waikiki me was an absolutely unimaginable figment of a possibility to that scared little Imogen in Long Beach. That Frowfrow wanted her Long Beach life. She wanted her cranky, ill suited husband, half working cars, dead end jobs and a lifetime of bending herself in half to force a square peg into a star shaped hole. She clung to the life she was losing so desperately that she could see nothing else. She couldn't believe in anything better than the dismal path that lay before her, so she lied to herself and told herself it was all ok. It was what she'd always dreamed of. 

I've been addicted to sugar pretty much my entire life. (Stay with me, this is all coming together, promise.) I know it's not healthy. Sugar causes cancer, diabetes, heart disease, jacks up my blood sugar, is clinically proven to be addictive, messes with my depression, and is in no way an adequate substitute for human affection, no matter how much I lie to my subconscious. Did any of this matter? Not at all. Why? Because throughout my life I was scared. I didn't want to let it go. I needed it to numb and distract myself from all the turmoil incessantly churning in my stomach. If I have a stomach ache over Swedish Fish or Ben and Jerry's then I don't have a pit in my stomach about my parent's divorce, the homework there is no one to help me with, my relationship with my mama, my unanswered questions for God, the way I can't seem to choose a life path, a major or a career, my failing marriage or the lurking possibility that now that I am single again I will die a lonely cat lady weaving dream catchers out of my own hair to take to market. (That one was for you, Sassy McLadyBoots.) If I abuse sugar I can blame it and my addiction for my problems. I needed that distraction, at some points of my life more than others--the years before and after my divorce most especially. I didn't want to let it go, just like I didn't want to let go of the fantasy that my Long Beach life was all I could ever dream of. But then... I did. 

The one month of living sugar free came as easy as a wave crashing on the sand. It just was. I didn't even really have to try. I just let myself acknowledge, I don't even like this stuff. It makes me feel like crap. I let myself eat an occasional PB&J, some yogurt or a granola bar, but the cookies, cakes, chocolate, ice cream and late night trips to the vending machines disappeared all on their own, and so did my obsessive desire to eat at every convenience. I just let it go, and when I did, everything was fine. 

I want to pull all this together now to say this: beautiful things will come. Sticking with something because we think we need it to survive, unhealthy as it may be; keeping a death grip on something out of fear that it's the best we will ever get; believing nothing else will come along for us and we will be left miserable; all of that is a lie. All that grasping, in the end, doesn't help. It doesn't make the good things stay, it just invites fear, and fear taints the lovely we do have in our lives. It paints it, so we don't recognize it for the glorious little moment of kite flying, balloon holding, baby smiling, first kissing, new learning, big laughing that it is. We miss it. So when we find ourselves panicked, desperately grasping, strong faced, but terrified in the soul, let's just remember this my brave friends: nothing we need ever dies.


And there is lovely in store beyond what you now see as possible. There will be more lifeguard towers. There will be new friends laughing, fresh flowers waiting, brand new favorite foods, hands to hold, freckles to kiss and lessons to learn, but we've got to learn to look for and see the good, not hunker down and brace ourselves for the next tragedy. 

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