Portland. Is. Huge.
Understand that I grew up in a town of 400 people, and though I've traveled here and there, most of my adventures (even down the 101) have kept me smartly on the outskirts of anyplace bigger than Boise.
I was the picture of every small town girl in those movies where she first stands alongside a tall building in astonishment. Mouth open. Hands slack. Clearly feeling more uneducated on life than ever before. My husband, who is very like me in being more accustomed to single lane highways and using the four-wheel drive to cut through the field so as not to disturb the cattle drive*, winced and said he felt like the car was barreling beneath spiral staircases. Our necks strained from watching in every direction, including up.
We'd come here, both of us out of our element, because the walls were closing in again. I'd attempted a fundraiser for a disabled kitten and the feral cat community around my mother's property. A great many other things were going awry as well, but at this point it's all such a jumble that the only thing that matters is this: The fundraiser failed. The kitten died. And my heart was broken.
As an avoidant, you struggle with the question of whether or not you can muster up the voice to whisper. Then with whether or not you're really capable of being heard.
No one heard me.
I imagined the times when others had called on me, and the times that my agoraphobia kept me from ever reaching back. And I gave in, as I often do, to the most powerful emotion of shame. Shame that I had again gotten to the point of severing my phone service so I was that much harder for anyone to contact. Shame that I'm forever burdened by an invisible backpack full of extreme emotions and runaway empathy that is often too heavy for me to carry alone. Shame that I hadn't seen my own dear, sweet, marvelous and beloved mother and stepfather - who live less than three miles away - in nearly two months.
I hadn't heard.
My withdrawal, I realized for the first time in perhaps ever, was HURTING people. Really and truly putting wounds of neglect in their hearts that I can never take back. I'd never thought I was substantial enough in the world to wound anything. Like the clay and steel pot tumbling down the river, I always imagine that I'm the one who breaks in every encounter. Because they are steel and I am clay. They are strong and real and fully functioning beings. And I'm the accidental, brittle version.
But what if sometimes the Steel Pot hurts, too?
It was then that my husband saw in my eyes the first realization - not so much that I might be important or even strong enough to have any kind of impact on my surroundings without breaking like the clay pot - but that i was denying these dear people an answer to their call. And that act, in itself, might be capable of wounding.
Something had to be done.
Something serious and real and big enough (for me) to shock me from my prison of silence.
Jenny Lawson, I'd read, was doing a signing in beautiful Portland.
|The internet's best human.|
(image via RainyDayBooks)
This post is about the man who drove me kicking and screaming (...or, sobbing and trembling) hundreds of miles. The man who walked me into the store and rubbed my feet next to the outdated programming books (fewest people) while I stared at my hands through the Xanax. The man who kept saying, "I'm right here. You can do this." The man who, for sixteen years has been holding me up with strong arms and sweet messages telling me I handled that last deep plummet into despair "like a boss."
I showed myself.
My trembling, broken, true self.
The tears. The story I'm sure she's heard a million times of how her everyday bravery makes her a warrior. How she'd almost certainly saved my life just by being her.
I'm pretty sure I also nervously chattered over the top of her every word. And I KNOW I left a puddle of sweat somewhere near the signing table. But that's not the point.
The point is that I had a breaking moment in recognizing how Every. Single. Person. who reaches out deserves to know that they've been heard.
Yes, little Braveheart the disabled kitten had died. But she had a warm, safe place to end her days. She had food and massages. She had a family that cared enough to reach out on her behalf. She went quietly. And she was buried with roses.
Maybe it was the universe's way of saying it was the reaching that mattered.
We made the decision to go to Portland, then and there.
A marvelous woman had made a huge impact in my life. She deserved to hear me say, "Thank you."
Somehow, with my partner by my side, I think I may have managed to say it. Honestly, the whole thing was such a blur that I only really remember one thing. I hope you'll indulge me long enough for me to tell you that story. The important one.
You may or may not know of SL-1. It was a nuclear facility in Idaho where things went horribly wrong in 1961. To put it as quickly and (hopefully) as respectfully as I can, the reactor went critical. People died. It took them ages to get near enough to even begin sweeping up the ashes. And all the while, the reactor burned deeper and deeper into the ground.
My husband and I have often lamented the huge gap in the English language where mental health is concerned. It's sometimes difficult to describe the more nebulous feelings without lapsing into metaphor. So I hope you'll understand me when i say that, as an agoraphobic, standing in a crowded store in a crowded city, it felt like my brain was spinning in the stratosphere, a hawk on caffeine with night-vision goggles. It's a well meaning and tiring-ly vigilant sort of primal high that I've felt many times before. Fight, flight, or freeze. Eyes down, I'm memorizing exit paths and watching the patterns on people's faces. Every sense is turned to eleven. I'm staying small, but I could duck and run so fast you'll never know I was here.
But my heart?
My heart feels like the SL-1 reactor.
It shouldn't be approached.
It sears with things that are hard to see.
And OH MY GOD IT'S OPEN.
Hit the alarm and bury it beneath a mile of concrete as it burns deeper and deeper into the earth. Don't touch it. Keep away.
For sixteen years, one man has been fighting through the disaster zone, plucking my mind from the sky and my heart from the earth and stitching them back together in the gentlest way possible.
His is the story that matters.
The story of the caretaker. The story of the beloved people on the sidelines who willingly put themselves on the sharp edge of your spin and reach out. The ones who say, "Take my hand."
Maybe this doesn't make sense or mean anything to anyone but me. Maybe I'll look back on this tomorrow and realize that legal weed is really not my thing and admitting having tried it on a blog that only my mother reads was a really, really stupid idea. But i had a moment after standing in front of The Bloggess and speaking - it wasn't just the words, but the physical act of moving my face and making noise and being earnest with a stranger. Showing gratitude in a way that a shut-in like me doesn't often get the chance to show. I realized the power of "Thank you"out loud.
"Thank you" matters.
Reaching back matters.
So this is me saying thank you and reaching back to the people who keep me going. My beloved husband, most of all. And to everyone who might be holding someone together right now:
You are all amazing. We are clay pots trusting steel, and your pain matters to us as much as your strength.
I'll be reading all of this to my beloved in the morning. Out loud.
And I'll do the same for whoever else might need to hear it, should ever we meet. Because the connection matters more than I ever imagined before today.
See? Travel is good for you.
And there may be hope for me yet.
*I feel like that was a lot of hyphens. Were those correct? I don't have an editor. And remember I grew up in a town of 400 people. Where they taught it really wasn't important for us to count past potato, as we lived in Idaho (aka: "Where?").
**Good heavens, WHY is this illegal elsewhere?