"Mother and Father" - Broods

I don’t want to wake up lonely,

I don’t want to just be fine.

I don’t want to keep on hoping,

Forget what I had in mind.

On the Need to Be Needed

I’ve been listening to Kate Nash again lately—a sure sign of emotional turmoil and the building need to make a radical change.

Recently I have identified a quality in myself that I have been struggling to find a name for: the need to be needed. My mom says that this is a normal thing, but it makes me feel clammy and gross, like when you’ve been riding water rides and now you have to walk back to your car in your wet clothes.

I think it would be fine if this need only applied to and could only be satisfied by, say, kittens. That’s where it starts—with little sweet things who need rescuing and feeding and love, and you know that they purely love you back because they curl up in the crook of your arm and purr.

But eventually, inevitably, you happen upon a needy person. And when I say “needy,” I’m not referring to those who are obnoxious and text you every five seconds about trivial shit expecting you to respond with genuine interest. When I say “needy,” I mean damaged. I mean deep-seated, mommy/daddy-issued, I-talk-this-loudly-to-distract-people-from-my-insecurities, crisscrossed emotional wiring, BROKEN. For someone who needs to be needed, this is the Holy Grail.

For a while.

For a finite period of time, a relationship with this kind of person is like heroin for someone who needs to be needed. You feel special because you’ve gotten closer to them than anyone else ever has. They offer you their crumpled up pieces of hurt and you collect them like pebbles, wading deeper and deeper into their mess. They tell you how wonderful you are and how much you mean to them and how no one understands them like you do.

And all of this is true, but that comes with consequences. You become their emotional garbage collector. But it’s not even that you’re collecting their emotional garbage—collecting implies doing it of your own volition—it’s that they hurl their garbage at you. In mass quantities. And then they want to know why there’s a foul smell hanging in the air. So you get your feelings hurt and you get angry and you tell them to fuck off because you’re fed up, but they suck you back in because they need you. And you resist a little, but ultimately you relent, because they didn’t mean it and probably you were overreacting and why would they make such a fuss about making up with you if they didn’t care, right?

So you go around and around like this, each “argument” becoming more and more heated, more and more like a “fight.” You each make a point of saying hurtful things to the other, because by this point you’ve accumulated enough pebbles of intimate information that you can inflict some pretty serious pain if you throw them in just the right way. And it all happens back over again. They pull you in so tight that they would smother you, only to jab a dagger in your gut.

You know you have finally reached your breaking point because a certain kind of silence falls over your mind. Maybe this is apathy. Maybe this is a need for air, because you are in way over your head and you are about to drown. Whatever it is, it is quiet and it is exhausted. It rubs at an invisible ache between its eyes with its thumb and index finger. It sighs and flops face down on the couch. It cannot stand any more.

But they demand more of you. Even if they sucked you completely dry, they would stand over you and cry for more because it’s never enough it’s never enough it’s never enough. And at this point, you have to admit that it won’t ever be. You don’t have the tools to fix them; you must save yourself. And that’s going to be like removing your own tumor with a kitchen knife and no anesthesia.

A Request

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could ask someone to leave our thoughts as easily as asking them to leave a room?

"That’ll be all for now," we might say. "Take the dog with you. Leave the wine. Close the door behind you.

And I’ll let you know when you can come back in.”

Currently on repeat: “I Don’t Want to Know” - Fleetwood Mac

Now you tell me that I’m crazy

It’s nothing that I didn’t know

(The Waiting Is) the Hardest Part

I think I said once before that my life could accurately be summarized by any given Tom Petty song. This still holds true.

It can also accurately be summarized by the torturous ebb and flow of my pay cycle, which is dreadfully long between pay days and nauseatingly brief once the money actually arrives. And even when the money does come, I am still so broke that it is almost crippling. But I find that I am less stressed during the ebbing times, when my bank account is dry. There is certainty in these times. I’m broke as shit. I have zero dollars. There’s no disputing this, so there’s a kind of unfortunate concreteness about it. Once the check is deposited, it’s a quick but maddening battle of what absolutely has to get paid, what can wait a bit longer, and what I can do without.

It’s the same with the job search. Lately I cycle through times of total silence, when my emptied arsenal of resumes and applications seems to have been swallowed by cyberspace, followed by a week with three interviews and one more scheduled. The silent times threaten stagnancy. You don’t like your job, but you can’t just quit because what else are you going to do? You have to sustain your life. And when you’re struggling just to get by, anything extra—even creative inspiration—is hard to eke out. So you’re pretty much stuck.

Then comes the harder part: the tantalization of what else is out there. You get some call backs. You go to interviews in swanky offices with views where people work doing the kinds of things you actually want to be doing. You see a vacant desk and imagine yourself sitting behind it, filling its drawers with your own pens and sticky notes. And this, of course, is where you get into trouble, because when you start to imagine yourself in this better situation that’s being dangled in front of you, you want it. You have to refrain from reaching across the table, grabbing your interviewer by their shirt collar, and demanding that you be hired this instant. Maybe the interview goes well—or at least you think it does—and you even let yourself hope for it. And then you’re sunk, because then all you have to do is wait. Wait and over-analyze and imagine. It would almost be better if you could just suck it up and learn to sit tight in your current place and forget about other things that are not certain but could be better.

But I can’t do it. Every time there’s a hooked worm dangled in front of me, I’m going to bite it and hold on as long as I can. And should I get shaken off, I know that I’ll just lie in the sand for a while and wait for the tide to roll back in.

A Chapter Summary

Those of you who have been keeping track have surely to God realized that I am an over-analyzer. It is the mark of an English major, the mark of a writer, and probably the mark of any twentysomething female with a few extra brain cells to kick around. It’s a quality that definitely has its purposes, and one that you can totally make into something legit-sounding on a resume by calling it “critical thinking” or “ability to produce creative solutions.” (Obviously you leave out how “critical” translates to you scrutinizing pretty much everyone—most of all yourself—and how you produce so many “creative solutions” that you make it nearly impossible to just choose ONE, goddammit, but it’s implied.) It’s also a quality that can slow you down and make you hesitant and hinder your progress in general.

This weekend was one of those blatant full-circle times when Life grabs you by the shirt collar and is like, “OK, DO YOU GET IT?! NEW PHASE COMING RIGHT ATCHA!” My friends and I went to the same 4th of July pool party that we went to last year. It’s basically like Chapel Hill’s Air Force One—a huge house party with kegs and loud music and pretty much all alumni in attendance, and the only reminders that we aren’t actually at Carolina are the palm trees just beyond the fence. The only difference that I detected this year is that my friends and I weren’t the youngest ones there. There were “interns” in attendance, and they weren’t us. Now there are people who refer to us as “the class above us.” Ummm…wait, what?

We hung out with some of them again the next day and Life was like, “I mean, I really can’t make this any clearer to you…” They asked us questions and sometimes we knew the answers. They asked us for advice and we had a little bit of input, a little bit of experience to relate. Mostly I found it difficult not to stress how hard things are once the first summer ends. I caught myself several times prepared to say, “Yeah, once this brief period is up, brace yourselves to have the cosmic shit beaten out of you. Hope you guys like eggs, because you’re gonna be eating a lot of ‘em!” Why would I say those kinds of things to them? Not only does that make it seem like I’m having anything other than the best time of my life (why else would I continue to struggle out here in this ridiculous place?), but it just doesn’t apply to them yet. And maybe it won’t apply to them. Either way, they’re not there yet. And that’s what I’m getting at—we’re in different phases.

So now, at the beginning of yet another new phase, seems like a pretty good time to put into effect one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned (or tried to learn) thus far: acceptance. Some things are, in my opinion, worth chewing on for a while. But eventually you reach a point where you’ve worked all the flavor out and the texture is waxy and hard like old Bubblicious, and that’s when you really should just say, “It is what it is.”

If you were not born into money and you uproot your entire life (which doesn’t come with a savings account) and replant it across the country, you are going to struggle financially for a while. It is what it is. Eat eggs. Learn how to pregame. Learn how to do without somethings. Keep clawing your way out of the money hole.

A job is not necessarily a career. Sometimes you hate your job with every fiber of your being. Sometimes the work is boring and the management is shit, but you know what? You would’ve had to pack your bags without it and your coworkers are phenomenal, so deal with it. It is what it is. Keep flinging out resumes like your life depends on it. Keep going to Happy Hour with your coworkers. But you’ve established the fact that the job fucking sucks, so you can stop saying it.

Sometimes you love people who, by all standards of logic, you really shouldn’t even be hanging out with. Sometimes people are total messes and they need you, and you take them on because you’re a sick freak who needs to be needed. Sometimes you scream at each other and you hurt each other’s feelings and probably you cry, but within the business week, you’re back to illogically loving the shit out of each other. And you recognize that often they are childish and selfish and their emotional wiring is just faulty, but you also recognize that something connects you to them in a dysfunctional—yet stable—Wuthering Heights-type dynamic. This, too, is what it is. Hoist them over your shoulder or shove them in your backpack and continue to carry them along with you. Just do it. You know you’re going to anyway.

And now class, with that, we will turn to Chapter 3.

If anyone asks, I’m in a cocooning period.

I’ve reached another point of reevaluation. This is not a bad thing. It is a necessary period that I will cycle back to again and again. But when I reach these points, I need room to just kind of nestle inside myself. I need to be alone with myself and check in and say, “So, Self, tell me what you’re thinking.”

Sometimes this means I stay in on the weekends. Sometimes this means I don’t play any music. Sometimes this means I’m quiet while I’m poaching my eggs. This does not mean that I’m angry or that I want people to ask me “What’s wrong? What’s wrong? What’s wrong?”

I think often people mistake volume for quality. Just because something is said loudly doesn’t make it interesting. Cutting people off and talking over them doesn’t make your idea better. Bossing people around and demanding things from them doesn’t mean you’ve convinced them that you’re right. Refusing to listen to any thoughts other than your own—or what you’ve gathered from other people who only ever tell you what you want to hear—and bombarding people with your flighty thoughts before they have a chance to respond is NOT you winning a debate. This is how surface people operate.

I wonder sometimes if someone like me can thrive in a place like this. I am an introspective person. I think things through. I explore multiple options and alternatives. I keep things to myself until I understand them enough to share them, because otherwise I’m blathering. Otherwise what I’m really doing is asking someone else to tell me what I should do, to point me in the right direction, to impose their ideas onto my feathery beginnings of thoughts because I don’t know how to press forward.

This introspection has been interpreted as me being weak. It has been misconstrued as me needing someone to tell me what to do because I haven’t been relentlessly bludgeoning people with what I think. To the surface people who never stop talking, my need to reflect and iron out nuances comes across as being indecisive. I am decisive. But once I make a decision, I commit to it wholeheartedly, and this is not something to be done lightly or on a whim. I do not have the luxury of a rescue squad standing by in the case that I make a very wrong choice for the sake of instant gratification. And I do not back-track. I hate nothing more than to be knocked back to square one because a poor snap decision was made.

The decisions that I make are mine alone. I have a small circle of people whose opinions I value, and I will discuss with them before making my final choice. That being said, I trust my instincts. I do not do things just because “everyone else” says that I should. I do not need validation from people who are totally removed from my situation and my life. I need quiet. I need space and time to listen and confer with myself. And once I’ve done that, maybe then I’ll invite other people in.

So anyway, if anyone asks, I’m cocooning for a while. If you require instant gratification before I’m done, take it up with the other caterpillars.

you’re a young bird and have yellow claws
and big eyes and you pierce my heart.
(My hand must seem gigantic).
And my fingertip lifts one drop from the well
and as I listen, listen, for some sound from your thirst
I feel your heart and mine beating
and both from fear.

Rainer Maria Rilke

I can’t.

Lemons

I think maybe I should go blonde. I think I should lower my voice so that it’s airy and non-threatening and tinkly-sounding. I think I should let other people do most of the talking, but when I do speak, it should be about cosmetics and how good my hair looks and the cuteness of various breeds of puppies.

I think I should agree more. I think if I don’t understand something, I should just let my eyes glaze over and smile and say “Wow…”

I think I should giggle hysterically when I see an animal. Any kind of animal (except bugs, in which case I should let out a high-pitched but somehow still charming shriek). I think I should continue giggling even after the animal has gone. Giggle for giggle’s sake.

I think I should always be pleasant, because when you have no thoughts and when the most stressful issue in your life is trying to remember which purse you left your lipstick in, there’s really no reason to ever be in a bad mood. I think I should be benign. Generic. I think I’ll start a Pinterest account and link it to my Facebook so that when I find “Live. Laugh. Love.” in a pretty font plastered over a picture of a sunset or a recycled Marilyn Monroe quote, a million people will “like” it because it’s just like so relevant.

I think I’ll text boys and use a lot of emojis. I think I’ll snapchat them pictures of me duck-facing in cute frilly panties. I think I’ll go home with them upon our first meeting because they told me they liked me and I think I will believe them. I think after we have drunk, shallow, less-than-satisfying sex, we’ll lie in bed and deeply connect in a conversation about how good-looking we are. I will be briefly confused when they never text me again, but then I will forget.

I think my ultimate career goals will…well, I haven’t thought about that. Probably something nice, like maybe a bartender. Or a model/actress. Something where people tell me what to do and I do it.

I think I’m doing this wrong.

"Woman of Heart and Mind" Joni Mitchell

Ok but I’m pretty sure that she ACTUALLY wrote this for me.

Look at the sky now. What color is it? Or the way a hawk flies. Or you wake up and your ribs are bruised thinking so hard on somebody. What do you call that?
Cold Mountain
It was not that that kept her awake. It was something out of the darkness, the earth, the dying summer itself: something threatful and terrible to her because instinct assured her that it would not harm her; that it would overtake and betray her completely, but she would not be harmed: that on the contrary, she would be saved, that life would go on the same and even better, even less terrible.
"Light in August" William Faulkner

Take On Me

One of the few things I remember from my high school Chemistry class is learning about free radicals. What my English major mind got out of it is that there are little unbalanced molecules zooming around wreaking havoc because a part of them is missing. There’s a “1” beneath the O or the N or whatever where there’s supposed to be a “2.” I imagine them whirling around like renegade boomerangs with their one empty hand held out, starving for the balance of a matching molecule while simultaneously being perfectly content spiraling out of control and causing premature aging.

There’s something poetic to me about this image. Just the phrase “free radical” has something that is both empowering and terrifying about it—like you can’t quite decide if you’d enjoy that kind of detached existence or if it would make you so dizzy that you’d puke. I’m willing to bet that the molecules who have all of their paired electrons look on with intrigue, but only from a safe distance. Like, “Wow, that looks like it could maybe be fun sometimes, but at least we’re stable.”

Surprise: there are human beings like this.

Maybe everyone encounters a free radical in human form at some point in their life. Most people, like the stable molecules, probably have the sense to observe with a fair amount of space between them. Maybe they mingle with the free radicals in social settings, but once the party’s over or the bar closes, they shed the memory of the experience and move on with their stable lives.

And then there are the antioxidants. (This is where my memory of Chemistry fades and then totally dissipates, so I’m going to take some liberties with my metaphor here.) For some reason, these guys have odd numbers of electrons too, only they’re not bat-shit crazy. Maybe the antioxidants had good relationships with their mothers. Whatever the reason is, when antioxidants and free radicals meet in college or at a party or a bar or wherever they both happen to be, something different happens. Whether or not they are immediately conscious of it, antioxidants and free radicals recognize each other instantaneously and are drawn to each other. The empty hand of the free radical is outstretched, and the antioxidant reaches into its pocket and realizes, “Hey, I’ve got a little something I could spare…” And there you go. The rest is history—at least in the molecular world.

I am learning that the free radical/antioxidant relationship is not so simple when it applies to people. The antioxidants don’t get off as easy as a single electron donation. Free radical humans are needier than that and, more than likely, by the time the antioxidant realizes this, it’s too late. A bond has formed.

The thing about the free radicals is that they are not even aware of how needy they are. They tap into the antioxidant’s tree and find that they like the taste of the sap. They like it because, whether or not they are conscious of it, they are nourished by it. Their deficiencies are brought to light by the discovery of these nutrients. And for a while, the antioxidant/tree is happy to give. They are flattered that they have something that another being would need, would crave. But how do they keep from being sucked dry?

Because here’s the main thing about free radicals: they wreak havoc because they are unstable. Remember that, antioxidant? Because they are unstable. They’re a great time. They are, at times, sincere. They have admirable qualities and unstoppable energy. But they are in constant motion because they are train wrecks. They need the neutralization that the antioxidant is theoretically able to provide, but that doesn’t mean they’ll accept it.

So, what I’m getting at is, can you take these people on without losing an important piece of yourself in the process? Can you be involved enough to make a difference and maybe get through to them without parenting them? And if you could, would it ultimately be worth it?

These kinds of people show their potential and good qualities only in flashes. To get to their core would be like unraveling one of those rubber band balls. You would hope all the while that you would find a crystal buried in the center, and then you would say, “See! This is where the flashes were coming from! Isn’t it beautiful? Didn’t I tell you?”

But then, maybe you would just be left with a bunch of rubber bands.

Salve

When you have been blistered by someone’s hurtful words—and when you have inflicted burns of equal pain on them—the salve is in the silence.

The wounds cool in the shared, quiet moments that you steal, away from the crowd. Away from verbal apologies. In a small space you create together and you remember how it is to feel safe around this person. Where you sit and you breathe and you acknowledge your burns, and you hold up your scars and see that they match. You remove gestures for gestures’ sake.

And this doesn’t negate or excuse the pain that was inflicted, nor does it ignore the fact that things won’t ever be quite the same. But it helps to soothe the healing.

The Art of Amputation

Accept the infection that you’ve been denying.

Identify the gangrenous flesh. Take a marker and draw borders around it. Analyze the area. Notice that there are still some bits of seemingly unaffected skin. Take this as a good sign.

Grab the nearest pointed object. It is not necessary that it be straight or sharp or clean. You have let this go on. You lose some dignity in letting things fester.

Bite down. Clench your teeth. You get no anesthesia.

Let the shock sink in. Feel the betrayal sizzle on your nerve endings.

Cut off a portion. Decide that this is enough. Tell yourself you can live like this, you can make this work. The pain of this half-limb is better than its absence. Make yourself think you are recovering.

Feel worse. Notice your health plummeting.

Revisit the mutilation. Attack it. Beat it with your good fist. Deaden the remaining nerves. Lament what you know is coming, what you knew was inevitable from the first sign of decay. Envision the bad stitch job. Think of how hideous the scar will be. Wish that things could have turned out differently.

And then choose yourself. Finish the job. Cut. It. Off.