Do you see that? Yes, that right there? I’m a part of that. Just an ever-so-small but necessary part of this microcosm. I say necessary because today I’m sitting at a table looking out on this daunting yet somehow comforting urban landscape and feeling that I belong.
Lately as I’ve been sharing with Erma before I can share with anyone else, I have felt like I’ve been playing Jenga; but today, this afternoon to be exact, as I furiously click away at the keyboard just rambling (I like to think of it as collecting thoughts) and trying to make chicken soup from chicken shit, I realized that I am not playing Jenga at all.I am a piece, THE piece, in the game. I’m that corner block, the one on the 39th floor, the one that has windows from top to bottom that always gets light. I’m the block that gets so much light that it can make the room uncomfortably warm on occasion. That same block also provides the only heat source at times. I’m also that single puzzle piece that when missing prohibits you from completing the game but only because you have no choice. That misplaced piece almost always requires the game to come to an end, an anti-climax of sort forever making the feelings of completion, fulfillment, and what some might consider victory elusive until that piece can be substituted, replicated, or replaced.
Erma: Sylvia, I have absolutely no idea where you are going with this. Are you saying that life would be incomplete without you? Are you saying that you are an integral part of life as we know it? What the hell are you saying?
Sylvia: Let me see if I can explain it better. I’ll pour us each a cup because this might take a bit.
I don’t pretend that I am so relevant that life could not or would not go on without me; that’s not at all what I’m suggesting. The corner piece of the building does not hold up the rest; and obviously, it’s not a part of the foundation. It rests upon and garners its strength from all of its surround. Here’s what that block/piece represents though – it’s how I’m beginning to see myself. I’ve learned that while everyone does not particularly enjoy its presence (especially when it is unbearably warm in the summer sun, even with the air conditioning running steadily), there are many who count on it. Just being there to fill in. Well, guess what? I’m not replaceable or even an interim filler. I’m not an extraneous puzzle piece! I’m the biggest piece– in my game. So, if you make it to the 39th floor, and you can stand the bright light and the warmth, even when it is a scorcher of a day, participate in the game because here’s what I, Sylvia, and every Erma has learned over time: the 39th floor has the most magnificent and bold views. And once you have reached the 39th, there really is no need to go any farther. That corner room is the most welcoming, the brightest, the warmest, and the only piece in that game of Jenga capable, strong, and perfect enough for the place it occupies.
Be the irreplaceable piece in your game. Sylvia’s scraping skies, and she’s going to come out on top. If you want the view and can stand the fluctuating temperatures, join her. If not, the elevator going down is right there waiting for you.
If you think you’ll have something or someone forever, or you don’t think about that at all but just move through life without intention, purpose, and gratitude, life will still happen. You won’t have perspective though. You won’t know happiness. You won’t learn the power of presence and living in the moment. And yes, though some believe ignorance is bliss, Sylvia and Erma disagree. Only when one is mindful of the impermanence of life and its blessings can one know joy.
May you be mindful of the little joys in each day. Coffee in the morning with a friend. An evening text or phone call from your child. A peck on the cheek from your love as you bid so long to another day. The small, fleeting, seemingly ordinary moments are the ones that in the end are most poignant!
“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 the children 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. But 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 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.
Surely they would have. When they would have met and under what circumstances are the two bigger questions and maybe even more intriguing speculations. There is honestly no better, easier, or more comfortable environment on social media for women – in my opinion- than Facebook.
Don’t get me wrong. You have to get past all of the bullshit that people throw out there. We are all capable of slinging it every now and again, but there’s a vast difference between allowing yourself to wade incessantly in others’ crap and occasionally throwing a little handful of it yourself –or merely stepping in it and getting it on the bottom of your shoe. The latter two are rid of easily and can be overlooked, even forgiven in the worst cases. The former,well, it can be so cumbersome that it’ll weigh you down. It depends on how thick your skin is, how insecure you are, and if you’ve mastered the expression, “Are you fucking kidding me?”
Here’s the difference for women though, I think, as it relates to the FB dynamic. Again, just a few random thoughts, so please hear me out. Women put themselves on Facebook for myriad reasons. Women in their teens and twenties usually do it to self-promote and even garner attention about their looks, their loves, their lives, good or bad. Many of them “collect” friends. I’ve actually seen some with over a thousand in their collections. Really. Seriously? Come on, really? So, that’s FB on Starbucks and with a membership at 24-hour Fitness. In other words, FB on steroids.
Women in their thirties and forties, however, seem to use it more for personal shared experiences and professional purposes. Their posts are evenly distributed between the two for the most part. Perhaps they are not the LinkedIn types. Maybe they just want to take a few minutes in their day to escape- to connect with old high school friends or college friends with whom they’ve yet to lose touch fully (they are hanging on). Maybe they are even hoping that they’ll prove to everyone that life is great when we form those even deeper and more public connections with the friends and family they saw over the weekend or even last night. They may employ FB as a calendar of sorts for journaling or scheduling purposes; collaboration on childrearing, weight loss and body image issues as a result of childbearing and childrearing; marriage, work, and social engagements (namely vacations, date nights, PTA meetings, etc.); showing one another that they too can have it all and do so without giving a fuck. Here’s the thing though. They do give a fuck. After all, they are on FB. That’s Facebook on Ritalin.
Women in their fifties- actually from probably late 40s on- utilize FB differently. I’m convinced it depends on where they/we are emotionally and physically. If they still have children at home or who are nearly ready to go off to college (or embark on their first adult living adventure), FB is a great tool to share helpful hints and soul-sustaining suggestions. What you’ll often hear from this generation of women is how quickly those years with their children have passed. Women begin to get more sentimental but also a bit more matter-of-fact. You’ll see either a lot more about their partners/ spouses/ SOs – or a whole lot less. (Admittedly, that’s where I fall to the extent that people wonder if I’m actually married. My husband isn’t on FB, and I’m glad. I like that it’s my realm in our marriage.) Nothing against you guys, but as many of my FB friends well know, women in this age group don’t need to make everything about men or partners. Actually, we may use FB as an escape. You can read into that or not because frankly this age group is beginning to master the art of not giving a shit. These women haven’t fine tuned it yet, but they are on their way. With the help of their FB friends, luncheons, dinners, movie nights, and girls’getaways; and coffee, wine, and/or chocolate, these women are becoming comfortable in their own skin. It’s funny how that happens just as the skin is losing elasticity and lacks collagen from the hormonal imbalances inflicted by the onset and throes of menopause. One of life’s ironies, for sure. We share tips on healthy, easily prepared meals. We commiserate and eventually find communal comic relief in topics like hot flashes, insomnia, and abnormal hair growth. We are trying to become a bit more egocentric without apology. FB on hormone replacement for some. FB on anti-depressants for others.
Now, I’ve yet to reach my sixties, but I can pretty well say that women on FB at this age are beginning to achieve a balance. Most seem to have accepted their lots in life. These women post heavily about grandchildren and health issues, but they also demonstrate a certain level of acceptance in terms of self-image. They don’t seem to outwardly obsess about their looks or the physical appearance of others. In fact, they are beginning to see only the good. “I have really unsightly spider veins, FB friends.” Comments on such an admission will range anywhere from “Dot, at least you are still walking on your own steam” to “Be thankful they are only spider veins and not varicose veins making green-blue tributaries on your legs like mine.” They always see a bright side. Perhaps it’s because they also believe in the power of the FB share. They tend to be more superstitious and will almost always share the posts and prayers that strongly urge “copy and paste” or else the wrath of Zeus will be thrust upon them and their loved ones. These are the women we can count on to save our collective soul. FB on 1,000 units of Vitamin D, increased calcium, and perhaps a glass or two of newly discovered Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, or Merlot. (Malbecs are too exotic; champagne is only for special occasions.)
Women in their 70s,80s, and 90s? Not much to complain about. They are the role models for the rest of us. They are who they are, and they are just extremely happy to be alive. They post prayers. They share funny animal and baby videos. They don’t complain. They are looking back at the rest of us and saying, “Are you fucking kidding us, girls? Life is short and getting shorter. Get over whatever or whoever is eating away at you and move on. Eat the cake. Drink the wine. Spoil the children. Buy the shoes. Take the trip.” FB on pure oxygen.
I won’t begin to fathom when Sylvia and Erma would have met on FB, but this I know. They found each other. They read each other’s posts. They laughed and cried. They discovered that they were not going through anything alone.
Facebook. Solidarity for sisters of all ages. Hit the like button. Get through life with a thumbs-up.
“You know, right? You know she has a mass, right?”
Of course, I know. How could I not know? After all, she is my mother. My first friend. My best friend. My confidante. My spring board. My cheerleader. My moral compass.
But I didn’t know. I mean deep down I knew that she would one day succumb in some way, shape, or form to her addiction, her vice, that which she so often claimed was her saving grace, her anti-depressant, her stability. I don’t know what or whom I hated more at that instant. The cigarettes. The doctor. God. Or my mother. Even myself. Yes, me. How could I not see the ravages that her body and spirit had been enduring all of my life? And why, oh why, had none of us helped her, comforted her, been important enough to her to save her from herself?
And then, there facing her in the ER, she looked at me lovingly with her beautiful, soulful, caring, blue eyes, and I could see. She was not my anything. She belonged all this time to herself. For the first time in forever, I realized that this was about her- her alone-and she was saying, “This is my life on my terms.”
So, I envisioned posting this last week and then the week got away from me as most weeks and days usually do. For better or worse. And there it is: for better or worse. That’s been the rumination of late, especially as I’ve attempted to get a look at myself through a toothpaste-covered mirror.
When we marry, there’s this “little” part of the traditional ceremony that says, “for better or worse, richer or poorer, etc.” The toothpaste-covered mirror is definitely not indicative of the better part. Don’t get me wrong; it’s far from the worst part either. Let’s just say that these days the spit-covered mirror and the toothpaste-crusted sink represent ambivalence that is slowly becoming indifference. Indifference in this case isn’t a bad thing either.
I used to curse and scowl as I walked past that first sink of the double vanity, the one unknowingly claimed by him upon moving in to this house. And in all honesty, I still mutter and complain each morning and evening as I make my way to my side of the vanity. How can someone not see the remnants of what is left behind? My gosh, it’s so clear to me. And that’s when it hit me: as I ambled past that mirror last week for the millionth time and saw what has been there for quite a while- my war-torn reflection- a vision of a woman who has gone from caring and complaining about the mess to one who has thrown in the towel, literally and figuratively, and decided not to care. Not to care about the small stuff. Because as my mother said repeatedly, and reiterated almost ad nauseum, especially as she lay dying the last four months of her life (the only time in her life when she put her needs, wants, and thoughts first), no one ever gets a medal for keeping a clean house. It’s a thankless job. Necessary but without reward. And above all – both Sylvia and Erma would concur- it’s the least for which you’ll be remembered when all is said and done.
Yes, I get the “pride in appearance” part of it, but really? I’ll take the word of a great lady who cleaned many toothpaste-covered mirrors in her lifetime, that in the end, it just doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you paid attention to that woman staring back at you in the mirror; you paid attention to and cared for yourself. After decades of wiping up around the sink, scrubbing the hardened toothpaste from the porcelain, and windexing the mirror last to find that the woman who took pride in and did the jobs that no else would without prodding, coaxing, or begging, lost herself. When she allowed herself to be relegated to the person in the house who would deal with everyone else’s mess (physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual), she conceded defeat in a way. Mom didn’t realize that the war would take its toll, not until the battle scars of being a wife, mother, grandmother, and fixer-of-all-things were deep and permanent. It was then that she would admonish, “Show them you matter by putting yourself first, Kay. Trust me, if you don’t treat yourself well, you’ll let others think that you are okay with being last, disrespected and dismissed.”
So, that’s what this Sylvia has been thinking about lately. She’s been reflecting on her mother’s words — on Erma’s words. Sometimes it’s okay to say no. I just don’t feel like dealing with your shit or anyone else’s right now. At this moment, here and now, however fleeting, it’s all about me. The spit-covered mirror and the toothpaste-crusted sink will still be there tomorrow. I’m going to grab a cup of coffee and sit for a moment and do nothing. For better or worse.
Grab a mug, pull up a chair, and we’ll watch the sunrise.
When your mother asks, ‘Do you want a piece of advice?’ it is a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.
Wishes for a great day -a day full of life’s blessings and summer’s abundance. My wish is for time to pass a bit more slowly; however, if that wish does not come true and it appears that it may not based upon past performances by Father Time, spend it doing what makes you happy. And while you’re at it, make a good wish and help spin a tale for someone else.