“Can being happy be this easy? Must I live outside of the life I’ve chosen in order to find myself again?”
It had been weeks since Sylvia returned from her life-changing adventure. And although there had been intervening holidays and requisite social engagements that such holidays demand, on a daily basis Sylvia replayed many of the luscious moments of the time she had enjoyed with Cam. Everything had been firsts with him- again and again- and yet there existed a natural and very familiar rhythm to their connection, a rhythm that seldom if ever one experiences after a chance meeting. She recalled that each time they touched and kissed in those seventy-two hours of unbridled passion and spontaneity, she was born again, not merely refreshed but seriously reinvented. With each kiss, caress, embrace, and thrust, Sylvia became the woman she had been longing to be. She evolved from weary wife and caregiver- a woman stunted by her own inability to choose her happiness above everyone else’s-to confident and carefree enchantress, the woman she had always imagined and deep down knew was lying just beneath the surface.
That first week at home after Charlotte, and despite the many unanswered phone calls from Erma that needed to be returned, Sylvia kept everything to herself. She had mentally packaged up her time with Cam, carefully and covetously. Erma’s messages never begged for details and Sylvia never offered any. In fact, like many close friends, the two did not require a play-by-play of events or an exchange of minutia. They just knew when the other was in trouble; out of sorts; in need of love, time or space; or at peace. After a week at home which demanded the simultaneous departure from cloud nine and re-entry into the tedium of everyday living, Sylvia called her friend and invited her over for conversation which at that given point in time was code for coffee and confession. Erma accepted the invitation without hesitation because she knew better than anyone that, although Sylvia needed that steamy daydream to become a reality in order to survive, she would also be ruminating on it to the point of destroying it and the happiness it had provided her.
When Sylvia called, Erma was prepared. She was not going to let Sylvia lie in a pool of self-loathing, and she wasn’t going to let Sylvia forget that she was both deserving of happiness and worthy of love.
Erma: Why is it so hard for you to let yourself be happy?
Sylvia: Is that what this is, Erma? So, this is what happy feels like?
Erma’s friendly yet pointed interrogation gnawed at Sylvia every day since that afternoon when the two finally carved out time to catch up on life. Sylvia knew that she needed to respond to Erma’s question, if not at the moment it was posed then certainly at some point, even if only in her mind and for herself. Sylvia attempted to answer it. Many times. Quickly. As a matter of pure fact. Such a silly question and certainly one that warranted an immediate response. Is it hard to allow myself to be happy? Yet each time that Sylvia revisited the question- at the kitchen sink while washing the breakfast dishes, at the dining table while sitting with drafts of stories that needed desperately to be assembled like jigsaw puzzles, or in the bath after everyone had gone to bed, where she could hear her own thoughts and visit her hopes and dreams for the first time all day-she could not find the one word that both she and Erma knew should satisfy the question. No. Not at all. It’s not hard to be happy.
However, after repeated stops and starts in producing that one little word, Sylvia startled herself. It was a Thursday evening and as she began to add more hot water to the bath that she had let become lukewarm, actually cool to the touch, she heard herself say out loud, “Yes. Quite. It’s difficult to be happy.”
Since her unplanned rendezvous with Cam, her admission that happiness while supposedly within reach still seemed ever elusive, and a number of subsequent chats with Erma, Sylvia had been writing. A great deal. About nothing. About everything. The sheer pleasure she felt after being left physically and emotionally satiated had oddly created a bit of mental chaos for her. She hadn’t been able to concentrate on anything completely since Cam; for each time she set out to perform even the most mundane task, her mind wandered. She was transported to the wine bar where the fingertip dance began, to the bedroom where every part of her body was explored, and to the airport where their departing kiss did not mean goodbye but rather “this is just the beginning.” So much time had passed since she had allowed herself to succumb to both yearning and contentment, letting them engulf her completely and unconsciously, that now that Sylvia had accepted her delightful transgression and even disclosed it to her closest friend, she didn’t want to return to normal. Ever. She had been happily paralyzed by her newfound sense of self and sensuality. And in these last weeks while digesting every morsel of deliciousness and attempting to comprehend the meaning of every word, thought, and action she shared with the man who had come to life from a daydream and who had awakened her like only a rich, intensely caffeinated roast could, she kept reaching the same conclusions about their meeting. Satisfying, positive, lingering and naughty, surprisingly atypical of the woman she and certainly others thought she was and was expected to be. Each assessment led her to ask the same questions, those which were absolutely rhetorical but necessary nonetheless: “Can being happy be this easy? Must I live outside of the life I’ve chosen in order to find myself again?” This time and every single time thereafter, the reply came more quickly, more confidently, and more unapologetically. Yes. Yes, it can. Happiness can be this easy. If I allow it.
Sylvia: Erma, come on over. I’ve unwrapped the best gift ever for the new year.
Erma: On my way. Put the coffee on.
So, the gift that Sylvia received? It wasn’t that her dreams were coming true. It wasn’t that her passions and appetites had come to life with Cam. It wasn’t that she had learned that seizing an opportunity can be life-affirming. While those gifts were all recently validated and had been restorative to her body and soul, Sylvia’s greatest gift was so much easier to access than any of those realizations. She just had to allow it. She had to allow herself to accept happiness in order to give herself the very thing that she thought she had lost. Herself. Simply the best she could ever hope for.
Anyone who has ever snagged a favorite sweater knows the literal and figurative unraveling that occurs if the displaced thread or piece of yarn is pulled and not cut. Sylvia pulled the thread though, and the unraveling began. And guess what? As she pulled, she felt amazingly relieved and almost giddy with excitement. She never once had the desire to reach for scissors and stop the energetic dismantling of what she had long known as comfort.
Sylvia pulls the thread and feels free. On those rare occasions when I pull the thread, it feels like I’m losing control and shedding pieces of myself, the self that I’ve grown accustomed to that is. So too often now, I get the urge to pull the thread, and then a wave of fear sets in. It’s the fear that I’ll completely unravel and be unable to put myself back together or make a new and better version of myself- one who doesn’t require validation, one who doesn’t fear she’ll become unlovable as the unraveling occurs.
Hell, the reality is that I should be yanking every thread in sight. After all, like Sylvia, I’m bright and beautiful, and unlike Sylvia, I have Erma – actually, Ermas everywhere- who will kick my ass and help keep the pieces in one place until I decide what to do with them. And then, foolishly or out of fear, I pull out the sweater again; and like the good girl I’ve become, I follow all the written and unwritten rules and endure the looks, judgmental stares, reactions of disbelief and shame. And when I stop to see to whom those critical eyes belong, who owns those tsk-tsks, the shame-on-you looks, and the stern you’re-better-than-this gazes, I see clearly. Aha, there. Right there. She’s looking back at me in the mirror every morning and night and in every window I pass throughout the day.
It’s painfully exhausting to be the keeper and mender of the sweater while wearing it! The girl who has always done the sensible thing, the right thing. However, there’s an obvious and growing problem now: the sweater is torn, tattered, and wearing thin in places. I can’t get rid of it; after all, who just throws things away, especially things which have been comfort, protection, and safe haven when needed? I’m not a girl without heart. One might say and many have, I have too much heart. I’m attached. I love weaving and connecting – memories to people and places, places to people and events, and memorabilia to just about everything. In the midst of that everything though, I also can’t bear to watch someone else’s sweater fall apart- anyone’s I love and care about. So, I tend to others in various ways. Erma in her infinite wisdom would say, “Dear, you concentrate on others because it’s easier than having to face and clean up your own shit.” (Sylvia and I can always count on Erma for a dose of no-nonsense when it’s needed most. Thank God.) And Erma is right, damn it.
I do so many things- the creating, the assembling, the mending, the darning-all of those things for everyone else. I do all of those things because if I pull the string, I’m risking a mess – one I’ve created no less-and I just don’t need one more mess. Mess is,well, just so unattractive! So, to my chagrin and Erma’s dismay on many occasions, I reach for scissors to cut the thread or pull it back through the other side so no one can see the imperfection. You see, I’ve got myself trained to hide the flaws- don’t show fear. Swallow what anyone dishes out. You’ll be happy if others are happy. But guess what? That’s not the case. I still know that the “sweater” has flaws, many of them now in fact. It’s still sufficient in that it covers me and keeps me somewhat protected, but admittedly, I do feel, see, and know exactly where it’s wearing. The pulls and imperfections – the worry, the fear, and the sadness- perhaps are even becoming too great to hide.
The voice in my head, the women and people in my life, the Ermas (and by the way, a few of the most important Ermas in my life are great men) – they all seem so much more put together than I am- they all know I’m unraveling. They say pull the string fully. They assure me that they won’t leave me in a heap on the floor. They’ll get down on the floor with me until I can figure out what to do, what to make, and who I want to be!
Here’s what Sylvia has taught me about pulling the thread though. Her lesson is rich, spontaneous, and unedited. Sometimes, you’ve just got to yank the l’il fucker. If it leaves a hole, there remain several options: live with it; patch it; get rid of it. Those that love you, those who truly care and want you to be happy will live with your remnants and your tangled threads while you figure it out.
Oh, how I want to be Sylvia on some days, and I assure myself I can be. I’ll pull the thread, Erma, don’t worry. Honestly, don’t worry. I’ll unravel… it may be quick, it may be slow. One things for certain though-and despite my fears I know this to be true-it’s going to be damn colorful!
Oh my! Sweaters, yarn, thread, unraveling…but first, please just indulge me and allow me to enjoy another steaming cup of coffee.
Photo credits: (above) wildharedaily.wordpress.com(bottom) kayymorgan
Welcome to my world! Well, actually it’s a world that I hope to share with other women (of a certain age– or any age where real life has you wondering if being a woman is so great) and even those men who want insight into the female psyche. It’s true, you guys don’t know everything, and you are more than welcome to read some of my “stuff” and entertain the notion that women only get better, brighter, and sexier when they just don’t give a fuck about impressing you or anyone anymore.
Pour yourself a cup of something- java, tea, or perhaps something a bit stronger. Pull up a chair. I’m opening up my trove of writings, musings, and snippets from my one-day-to-be-published book, baring more than a bit of my soul in the hopes that no one ever feels like they are in a bell jar, on the inside looking out.
So, there it is. A glimpse into the title of my blog. Wondering why Sylvia is looking for Erma? Well, it’s not meant to be a riddle. It’s not overly intellectual or pretentious. It’s quite simple. I feel that if Sylvia Plath, one of my favorite poets and authors of all time (who also happened to be incredibly tormented), had had a circle of female friends that she could have shared her angst and sorrow with, women with whom she could have heard the words, “Really? Me, too!” how her life might have changed, especially if that circle included the likes of Erma Bombeck, housewife turned satirist extraordinaire. Perhaps Sylvia would have endured. Perhaps, she still might have seen fit to stick her head in the depths of that oven. I don’t know. I’d like to think that one of our own, one of her contemporaries, would have been there to show her that the bell jar can be lifted in a variety of ways…and sometimes it takes a village, or at the very least one or two very determined women who want nothing more than to see every other woman in their shoes walk a little bit more comfortably. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Erma could have cured Sylvia’s mental illness; I’m merely pointing out that she might have helped Sylvia look outside of herself and find that bit of hope we so often need- that perspective that each one of us lacks- and Erma might have made Sylvia smile or laugh about the most inane things at just the perfect time. Those times when she felt there was no escaping the bell jar.
Sometimes I’m Sylvia, and sometimes I’m Erma–in my mind anyway. So, here’s the deal. This blog is about cutting through the bullcrap and showing you, all of the other potential, would-be, could-be, unrelenting, extremely fine women out there, that you are not alone. Ever. You AND I are in this together.