About a day and a half ago I came out with what happened to me in academia with this tweet:
I am overwhelmed and humbled by the outpouring of support.My heart hurts for everyone who has said “me too, my advisor and department did the same thing to me.”
I have been applauded for my bravery, but I need everyone to know that I am not Wonderwoman. I am not a lone superhero. I am the opposite: a gratefully recovering alcoholic battling an anxiety disorder every day, with the help of a tightly knit community.
Some days this year, I have been too anxious to get out of bed. Too terrified to write a word on a piece that is under contract, and almost finished. There are days I have had to work to brush my teeth and put on yoga pants and breathe.
It is only the unflagging support and unconditional love of my family and friends that gets me through. My tribe is my strength. The genetic luck of the draw landed me with parents who love and support me unconditionally; I am incredibly grateful, but I know that I am the beneficiary of random, unearned privilege.
My friends are great listeners, good people, and they have been by my side for years. In just one little example, when my father had a heart attack earlier this year, my babyhood best friend was there. This man, with whom I once flopped on blankets in his mother’s garden in the eighties, who took me to my prom when a high school boyfriend flaked out, who married the girl of his dreams (and I knew she was perfect because she was the first human to talk him into eating both asparagus and sushi), drove to the regional trauma center in the middle of the night to be there when the chopper arrived with Daddy, so he wouldn’t be alone. Mom and I and friends arrived an hour later, by car.
This network, these people, are my strength. My god is my strength. I am just an extremely lucky woman who gets to be “brave” because I am surrounded by so much love and help.
To all of the women who said “me too,” I hear you. I see you. I am grateful for you. And you are not alone. The system needs fixing and we will all fight for you. For me. For us. For love that crosses boundaries, and makes all things new.
So, I was texting, late at night. I got condolences from my third-favorite ex boyfriend,who had seen my tweet about a family elder’s passing on. By mutual agreement, third-favorite ex-boyfriend and I have friendzoned each other. He is a part of my tribe; some people just are. They become a part of our story, our heart, and whatever wacky things happen just don’t matter as much as the good stuff. Like a condolence text that turned into a conversation about some idiot that I am literally never talking to again, and perked me up greatly.
“And you still hang out with ME,” third-favorite ex-boyfriend observed, cannily, of the idiot in question. “What in the HELL did he do?!”
Third-favorite ex-boyfriend has a way with words. He is dreadfully, brilliantly funny in the very worst and best ways. I adore him for it. He has a way of snapping me out of my funks and making me laugh and live in the present moment. And he was the first man to cheer me after I pretty much got dumped right before the actual altar.
This week, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the past, about the ghosts in my head.
“You love that dead man more than me,” my altar-dumping ex-fiancé informed me at the beginning of the end of our relationship, when I fell into a deep depression upon the death of another of my tribe, whom I loved dearly, with all my heart. How could anyone not love a man who was one with nature, who knew every rock and tree and spider and violet in the woods, who trekked through raging snowstorms to save egomaniac tourist hikers from themselves whenever he got a call from the forest service. He was a man who always showed up, loved, and cared. He died too young when cancer ate him up. I did love that dead man more than my ex-fiancé, and another dead man, too—one he didn’t know about, my very first crush, whom I knew all my life, and dated, and who died in college.
Only the good die young. I suppose this means my ex-fiancé and Keith Richards will inherit the earth some day, along with the cockroaches, long after the zombie apocalypse. I’m sure they’ll have a great time singing together and blathering on about all the fun times they had when the world was still lit by electric lights and humanity. But I’m being a bitch now, and I digress.
This is the third anniversary of the week I would have been married. But the ex-fiancé called off the wedding and said that he couldn’t say for certain he would ever marry me. So I took my toys and left, so to speak, and expressed upon facebook my wish that he would get hit by a bus. (That was not appropriate. I see that now; it was the wounded pride and the copious French wine talking…)
But I never acknowledged the pain he said he felt upon what (for him, anyway) appeared to be my surprise exit. I see that now. And I acknowledge and release it, the last link to that relationship, that relationship in which I did enjoy many moments, in which I did grow.
So I’m sober now. And it’s also, more importantly, the first anniversary of my godbrother’s death. The timing contorted my feelings. Enmeshed in the strangeness, the emotional discomfort of both anniversaries, I was confusing the grief over my godbrother’s dying too young with the memory of the loss of the marriage and the life I once thought I wanted.
I haven’t wanted that life with the ex-fiancé since I got sober. Many merlot-soaked moons ago, all I wanted was to be rescued from the academic gulag, and the ex-fiancé seemed like the perfect fairy-tale pumpkin coach out, across the ocean, into my old home, the music business. But he wasn’t a fairy-tale hero; he was just a guy with strengths and flaws, like anyone else.
It turned out, I had to save myself—or really, let God do it, which is sort of the same thing, but better.
So, now I can’t remember the exact date of the cancelled wedding. I do remember that my fabulous former girlfriend purposefully helped me turn that dark anniversary into a new experience: a river-tubing trip through the North Carolina mountains. So that date was reborn, and she helped me heal.
But I am going to put flowers on my godbrother’s grave this week. And I will carry my godbrother with me, the memory in my heart, always. He wouldn’t want me to weep for him, but to celebrate his life, the glorious moments, the lakeside laughs. His effervescent smile.
And so I remember: all love that is true endures—whether it is for family, or friends, or a favorite tree, or even my third-favorite ex-boyfriend. We carry the real love of our tribe in our hearts forever, no matter how long or short the duration, never mind whether it was familial, platonic, or amorous.
“I carry your heart with me. I carry it in my heart.” – E. E. Cummings
Depression lies. Anxiety lies. PTSD lies. I experience academic-writing ptsd-like anxiety attacks because of that man, but I am strong and I will beat them.
The fear, doubt like that of a valkyrie’s projection, the hyper-neurotic-fast breathing, blinding terror narrowing perception to a small space around my head—I have to get out of it, into my body, do things I know will cheer me. I look at my manicure: green sparkles. I get out of my robe and into my clothes. They match. I am vivid color—green—growth. Life.
A shift in perception. The blinders now off, but pulse still racing. I must get control of my breath . . . take my power back. Throw the panther of panic off my shoulders, un-dig its treacherous claws. Name the fear: my old advisor. Face the fear: I can write. He tried to destroy my confidence, but he was never my mentor.
My mentor was a Holocaust historian from Brooklyn, who marched with Dr. King and led student protests at Columbia. My mentor was a high school English teacher who didn’t let me get away with any shit, ever. My mentor was a college professor who was a poet who taught me that words are weapons, beauties, gifts. My mentor was my father, the writer.
I lift my hair of the back of my neck. It is hot, my neck, and my hand is cool. I focus on the sensation of touch; I come back into awareness of my body. More of the fear-fog dissipates, like a dementor being beaten back by the sheer power of the will to love.
Inhale. Deep, slow. Feel the air expand in my lungs, catch myself clinging to the top of the inhale. I am holding my breath. Let it out, I command myself, in my head. I dwell in the bottom exhale for a moment. A glimpse of nothingness—death, even—as the yogi sages say.
Spirit. Serenity prayer. I close my eyes and choke on the first word. Again. Listen to my voice. Corporeal reality into sound.
Vibration. The hum of the universe. Om.
I can manage an Om.
Om gum ganapatayei namaha.
A knock at the door.
My puppy runs in, hiding from his bath. He touches his forehead to mine when I bend down to get him. He hides under the bed. I giggle.
“You cannot hide from your fears, my love. They will always find you later.”