In many ways it hasn’t been bad, though. I didn’t cry on the plane, found my way to the hotel by light rail without incident, haven’t been desperate to leave once I got here, and haven’t needed Brad to lean on. I recognize myself in the whole adventure, and yet it is as if my shadow were the operating mechanism. I am doing it all, but the Life in me is in need of CPR. I feel flat. Devoid. Removed. There is much more time spent staring out at the water than exploring the town. What looks like engagement in touristic attractions is in truth a distanced observation. Watching the men yell and throw fish at the market, the glory of the flowers, the seafood, the street musicians. Recognition that there is a certain glory to be had in the experience, but I am empty of that capability right now. If there is good to be had of coming, it is simply to know I can - I did. One more block to place back on the template of “the life I made and may-or-may-not regain”.
I also hooked up with an old friend of mine from the University of Iowa, a guy who holds a rather treasured place, for the great memories and part he played in a really great era. I haven’t seen Scott in 12 years or more, certainly haven’t spent any significant time with him since our college days in the early 1990s. He and his wife Karen had me in their home for a little while, showed me around town a bit, took me to the only Mexican restaurant I ever care to eat at again, and tolerated my tears several times during the course of the evening. We unfortunately have more in common than either of us would like, but these things served as a basis for more intimate conversation that one normally has on such a rare social visit.
The impetus for the title of this post came from being with them. The first few times I got out of the house after Anna died, I was stunned by how profoundly messed up I was. Unable to organize simple activities like going to a meeting, getting coffee down the street. Tonight was the first time I’ve been with people who aren’t family or a part of my regular, everyday life. The first time I’ve been a ‘guest’, with all that subtle social stuff that goes along with it. A certain decorum that requires restraint, respect, awareness of body language and situational tone, interest and vitality. An ability to carry on conversation that is a healthy mixture of your life and theirs. I’d like to think I was able to succeed in some of that. But as with those first excursions out, I was struck by my utter disability to speak with coherency. Sentences would be incomplete, thoughts convoluted, vocabulary poor - or flat out wrong. In addition, my memory and concentration were the pits. Several times I realized I had missed key pieces of information or an entire section of conversation, and I was literally unable to keep more than one item in my head when talking about different places to frequent in town. (The latter I’ve noticed before - my short term memory bank is almost always in the red.) It is the first time I’ve had to be so “on” in a social situation, and wow, am I ever still ‘off’. By the end of the night I was rambling and weeping freely - pretty much that place where you have to just find a bathroom stall or a room to yourself and just sob it out. And I think I could talk about nothing but myself by then. My reserves for social repartee were dry, 6 hours in, which left despair and loss and doubt for the future exposed.
I woke up this morning embarrassed and struck by the dichotomy between the relative success of my solo venture to Seattle and how blatantly broken I still am. It feels as though I showed up on Scott and Karen’s doorstep a package that clearly stated “Some Assembly Required” and upon first glance several large pieces were intact. But upon digging deeper, there were just a chaotic sea of tiny, mismatched pieces you could sift your hand through and there’s no way in hell you could ever put that project together. What was particularly alarming was that I was again doing the best I could. Like work at the hospital that first day, if my husband’s life depended on doing it better, I would have failed.
What started the tears all over again this morning is that I really liked Karen, and I love Scott in the way that you love and care for old friends that tie you to happier times...what did I just do to those relationships? Who am I to them now? I wish that I could show them who I was a year ago and have that be the lasting impression. Or better yet, 4 years ago. They don’t know me. They know the broken me. The ruined me. This me is sad beyond description and speaks from a dark place that casts goo on every subject. What did I do? And who will I be, a year from now? 4 years from now? Will I be more this me, or the old me?
A new normal....what is that?