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Whoops (Part One)
This is a story about detours.
Somewhere between buying a house, starting a company, and settling into a new life in North Carolina, I lost touch with something pretty important. There were reminders - my body sent me signals and the trees dropped their leaves, but I just kept going about my business, believing that what was happening now would be happening forever. You’d think that the rather jarring events of the last few years would remind me that everything is temporary and life is a game of riding the cycles, but no.
I tried to ignore the feeling that the world was spinning a little bit faster every day - Oh, that's just the theory of relativity in action! - when I felt like I was being dragged behind a speedboat.
On a Mission to Be on a Mission
It was with great confidence that I ended my memoir with a bow-tied soliloquy about how, after so many years of anxiously searching, I finally found myself at peace, in love, and at home. I had landed in Asheville with Marco and that was that. I was done. Cue the collective sigh of relief. And I clung to that belief as gospel, to the point that any insinuation to the contrary was met with the same kind of fearful rage that sends angry villagers out to hunt the monster at the edge of town.
Out, out, foul thing! You’re not wanted here! We are homeowners now, can’t you see?!
But as I play-acted stability and tried to convince myself that life could now become a straight line, the sky got lower and the Appalachian rainforest encroached. I drove down the same roads looking for different places — pacing around town like the tiger that stalked my brother at the Milwaukee Zoo when we were kids, licking its chops and cursing the inventor of double pane glass.
It has always been my impulse to go, but I’ve been aimless and ashamed of my wandering. I used to invent reasons to wander to soothe my shame.
When, after my first full year of work after college, I spent what little money I had saved on nine plane tickets to explore the Pacific Northwest and California, I told my friends it was because I was looking for “the best French Fry in the country.” I wasn’t, but it gave me a good excuse to bounce around and hang out in diners. Years later, official work travel was an even better cover. Bolstered by business meetings and an expense account, I indulged my investigative spirit on the company dime. They didn’t seem to mind enabling a novelty addict on a bender, so long as the clients were happy.
I still thought that, after so many years of running around on a mission for home, finding it would quench something within me and that I could be domesticated. Like suddenly I could ignore that feeling to teleport to some breezy midwest lakeshore when the first September breeze hits my face. Like I could resist the urge to just go.
I thought this feral nature was a flaw that could be fixed by the right situation.
It may be time to admit that I was wrong.
Should I Stay or Should I Grow
Last September, I made the transition from full-time employment to freelancing and it went better than I expected. I didn’t stop to rest between projects, because exciting opportunities came knocking quickly and I learned I could resist anything but a project in an industry I wanted to explore. I said yes to contract work, local gigs, and writing projects. My career careened forward and I held on for dear life, savoring the stress of it.
I tried not to think about my mom, who worked so hard for so long that she often came home a withered husk of a woman after leaving her energy at the office. I tried not to think about how chronic stress wore her down until she could barely speak. And when I lay in bed, I kept my eyes glued to emails or Twitter until sleep gave me no choice and slammed them shut for me. Because if I gave myself space and time to breathe unstimulated, my body might start to shake and sob and feeling those feelings would leave me too depleted to work. My perspective shrunk to the size of a pinhole, through which I watched the world and focused solely on delivering meaningful services to the people who were paying me. Then I gained weight that didn’t budge even when I skipped meals or hit the gym, even the ancient art of mirror scolding failed to make an impact on the situation. In moments of compassionate clarity, I forgave myself for the stress response by acknowledging that I had very recently been rocked by immense tragedy which was still very much alive within me. Mirror scolding sessions evolved into frustrated pillow-throwing and I proceeded with everything else as if my enormous losses were simply a bump on an otherwise straight and narrow road carrying me endlessly in one direction.
But the evidence of malcontent clung to my body. I had to stop the world from turning because any more changes would have flipped the car. I was too overwhelmed to remember that everything was always moving. Seasons, jobs, loved ones, and feelings all come and go. It was too scary to acknowledge that I could - and would - continue to lose touch with things I loved.
My perfectly straight and now-predictable road was crumbling and I was trying to grip the shaking steering wheel, which only destroyed my suspension. If losing my mom punctured a tire, the layoff tore it wide open, and saying yes to too many things had me driving on rims and throwing sparks that set little fires all over.
Marco and I were both hiding in North Carolina. He was on the admirable mission of individuation to learn who he was outside of where he had always been. He arrived in Asheville in 2020 as a suntanned SoCal native with an acting career, a Euro backpack, and a strong dose of disillusionment. When his home state chose senseless bureaucracy and closed beaches while keeping Walmarts open, the betrayal he felt was strong enough to propel him across the country.
I was hiding from failure. After three years on the road, I was exhausted from trying to live an incredible life. I went there looking for a quiet, peaceful home, and I found it in him. We were eight months into our relationship when I bought a house and we moved in together. It was an important place for us to learn to be together. There was space to breathe and spaces to fill.
As I grieved the loss of my mom, I needed the stability of those four walls and the cavern of trees to hold me. I used the house as a crutch and a distraction in my despair - fixating on decorating and fixing things to avoid feeling the deep pain of sorrow.
Obviously, Marco didn’t share my urgency about removing the wallpaper or upgrading the appliances. He saw my little projects for what they were: escape routes from the roiling pit of sadness I was trying to ignore. When he tried to dissuade me from doing too much, it made me furious. I lashed out at him in hot lava spurts of frustration. I hurled burning projections across the kitchen counter like a tear-stained suburban Balrog.
At the same time, he felt the weight of the mortgage and never-ending to-do list on both of us and wondered if it was heavier than we should be carrying. But when he suggested making a change, I couldn’t hear him from where I was swaddle
d in the long-held beliefs of my mother wound. Home was safety. Home was family. Home was a hair trigger. Believing he was trying to steal those things from me, I wailed at him, "This is our house. This is our LIFE.”
From my wounded place, his concern felt like rejection, even abdication. On the plane of reality, he was simply wondering if we might be happier outside of the responsibilities of homeownership and the monotony of this routine.
We had dozens of fights on the matter. They were all the same. He suggested renting out the house so we could relax for a little while. I shut down and screamed at him that he was naive to think something could be that easy, that anything was ever easy. I cried that it would ALWAYS be work and we just needed to accept it and settle into suffering, forever.
Part two next weekend….(promise)
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