Woman Vs. Nature .... Nature Wins
2021.08.09. 12:58, andors
Oh, I forgot to tell ya'll I got attacked by nature this past weekend. This happens more than you may think, hence my total avoidance of nature. I mean, I love to appreciate the outdoors, mostly while watching the Travel Channel or looking at it from the safety of a climate-controlled vehicle. But to just turn me loose in nature is a bad, BAD idea. I may not return.
My family knows this. They have known me long enough to understand that nature is trying to kill me. I'm not sure when nature started hating me. Perhaps it was in the thriving metropolis of Comfort, Texas when I SWEAR to God I got bit by a snake on my pinkie toe. My bare feet were hanging over the side of a drainage ditch that my brother Guy and his friends were fishing in when suddenly OWWWWW and bloooood on my tooooeeee....
[Author's note: Yes, there are many things wrong with this scenario. File "fishing in drainage ditch" under "Stupid shit kids did in the '70s that should have killed us but didn't." The '70s were a different world, weren't they? We used to do things like ride bikes with other kids on the handlebars and we all thought it was just good, clean fun. ("Hey, ride me on the handlebars! Me! me!") And our parents were just slap happy to have us out of the house so they could discuss who shot J.R. or something.]
Anyway, my brother said I got bit on the pinkie toe by a snapping turtle, although I could have sworn it was a snake. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Waaaah I. got. bit amgonna DIEEEEE from a snake. (CRY CRY TEARS CRY)
Guy: It wasn't a snake, it was a snapping turtle! And if you tell mom I'm gonna throw you in there with him! So don't you dare tell!
To his credit, he and his friends did haul me back to the house (on the HANDLEBARS) and wash off my toe in the bathtub and put some Bactine a Band-Aid on it.
And while there is some debate in the family, I completely blame nature for the worst hair cut I ever had. We were in the car and I was chewing gum, and I meant to blow a bubble but the window was down and the wind -- which is the powerful and evil hand of Nature -- pulled the gum out of my mouth and deliberately, totally, into my hair.
At least I have an excuse for the bad hair.
From Left: Brian, Guy, me with bad haircut after gum incident
Or maybe nature was just testing me then but truly started hating me the summer my parents sent me off to summer camp. I LOVED summer camp. Except that on the third day of camp we had a nature walk to gather materials for a nature collage and all the materials I gathered happened to be poisonous, mainly poison oak, ivy and sumac. And I had poison ivy so bad it covered the inside of my ears, folks. No lie. And I missed the rest of summer camp because I was stuck in a bathtub full of Calamine lotion.
Or maybe it was the time nature froze my street and I broke my ankle on an ice puddle. Or the time nature gave me hives. I don't know what I did to nature, but it was apparently really, really bad. Because now nature wants me dead.
So, anyway, on Sunday I was sitting on my patio and I was smoking (Dad: I was reading great literature NOT smoking) and minding my own business and out of nowhere, completely unprovoked, a wasp attacked me. Nature stung the base of my neck and then went down the back of my shirt, where it bit me again and as I was pulling him out, he stung me on my hand. No lie.
Then I called Jennifer because she is my friiiieeennndd and will feel sorry for me.
Me: I just got stung by a wasp on my neck, twice, and on my hand and nature hates me and is trying to kill me.
Jen: Oh man, that sucks. Shouldn't you put something on it?
Me: Yeah! Like what?
Jen: Ummmm.... baking soda? Or powder? Or whatever it is you put in the fridge?
Me: Well, which one is it?
Jen: Well, which one do you have?
Me: Neither. Hey, I'm probably not allergic since I'm not dead yet? Right? Shouldn't my lungs be filling with fluid?
Jen: Definitely, the poison would have gone right to your brain.
Jen: I just realized what I said. I'm probably not helping.
Me: You are the worst. friend. ever.
Jen: Maybe take some Tylenol? Or Ibuprofin?
Me: Isn't that what Tylenol is?
Jen: I don't know. So what are you going to do?
Me: I'm having a beer.
Jen: Ok, and take some Tylenol.
Me: I hate nature! Nature sucks! Nature can bite me!
Jen: And, in fact.... nature DID bite you. Ahahahahahahaha!
I really am a bad friend, I'm sorry. (Author's note: she did not sound sorry.)
Me: I hate you.
But apparently I am not allergic to wasps, since my lungs did not fill with fluid, even though the poison went STRAIGHT TO MY BRAIN. About ten o'clock last night I finally remembered what you are supposed to put on bee/wasp/hornet stings ... apply meat tenderizer! (I don't know if this is actually true, but please don't email me to tell me otherwise since I was really astonishingly proud of myself for having thought of this.) So I made up a paste of meat tenderizer and put it on the back of my neck, and it smelled like steak marinating. My cats started sniffing around, which freaked me out, since if the poison did go straight to my brain, and I died, my cats would not even wait for the Meow Mix to run out before they started feasting on my well-seasoned cadaver. And then I felt sorry for myself because I had to sit still with MEAT TENDERIZER on my neck because nature hates me and my cats are going to eat my dead body before I even get to go out on a date and maybe contract clapotis if I am lucky.
I managed, at some point, to blame this entire situation on Mr. X. It's amazing isn't it, the restorative and healing power of BLAME? And my magical medicinal meat tenderizer worked, I guess, since my neck feels fine, even though the poison has gone STRAIGHT TO MY BRAIN.
Because nature is trying to kill me. I swear.
2021.07.30. 13:50, andors
Goodness, you ask such hard questions, Amie. :-) I will admit, I, too, do have a problem with men being overweight. Oh, a little overweight is fine - but extreme overweight is a problem.
Young guys are also a problem for me. I’m 43 and, for whatever reason, I seem to be attracting young men. Maybe it’s all the ‘older woman’ stereotypes. Who knows? At any rate, while it’s flattering, and does do definite wonders for my ego (shallow, I know), I just can’t do it.
One of the guys I met was this 28 year old, Italian guy. He was GORGEOUS. I mean, I felt all those fluttery things we write about and could stare at him for hours (but I didn’t - I do have pride, you know). Fantastic accent, had that European intensity thing (i.e., where you feel like you have 200% of the man’s attention - how rare is that? LOL - where he wants to know all about you because you are oh-so-interesting, etc.) that makes you feel special (and hard to distinguish the B.S. from the truth - LOL). But he was just so YOUNG - that youthful idealism, had just started his career, etc. And when I met some of his 20-something friends … OMG, I felt like a mom.
We only had one date, which was fun, like a trip down memory lane when I was in college, but I just can’t handle the age difference.
2021.07.21. 12:39, andors
I cannot deny that these past two years have been hard. Soul-crushing, fetal-position hard at times. Let me begin by saying this, by owning this: I know that if I threw my problems into a pile with all the other problems of the world, I’d grab mine back as quickly as I could. I know that in the big scheme of things, I am blessed beyond belief with abundance and joy and gifts that cannot be measured by miles or with a checkbook.
But I also refuse to minimize the challenges that we’ve faced over the past couple of years. To brush them under the rug is to deny that life hits us — all of us — hard sometimes. Harder than we’d like to admit. I’m here to fess up — for you, for me, for all of us.
There is a great deal of shame in owning our faults, our weaknesses, our failures. When we expose our Achilles heel, it is made even more vulnerable to those who might want to strike it… even if — especially if — that someone is us. But there is no honor in pretending all is well and perfect when it is not. It doesn’t serve you, it doesn’t serve me.
In the past two years, our lives have been turned upside down. At the beginning of our journey, I thought I was going to lose my husband. He was working a job that was slowly bringing him to his knees, that pecked away at his soul one little piece at a time. He was carrying the weight of 1,600 kids and 3,200 parents on his shoulders. Some of those fabulous parents supported and encouraged and lifted him. Others, well… didn’t. On his best days, he might please 50% of those he worked with. On his worst, he stood alone. He is a good man with a good heart who was trying to do the right thing in a world where right and wrong aren’t always so easily defined. By the end of his tenure, he was a man I didn’t recognize — beaten down, angry, defeated. His stress level was through the roof, his physical health in decline. With doctorate in hand, he admitted that he could no longer do it, that he had to find another career path.
And so our journey began.
In Mississippi, I got my husband back — the one who laughs loudly and easily. For that I am eternally grateful. But there were prices to pay, are always prices to pay. I lost my dream home — literally, financially, emotionally. (In all honesty, it was never Chris’s dream home to begin with. He went along for the ride because I loved that house and he loved me.) The beautiful home we built and painted and decorated and planned to raise our children in, gone. I get nostalgic for my double-sided fireplace and my cloffice, but the bills were too high, the income too low. We sacrificed our hometown, the only place our four young children had grown and prospered in for a decade. He needed a change of scenery, could no longer live in the fishbowl. I supported that. We supported that.
We uprooted our family, moved four states away, and began a new life in the South. There was adventure, there was excitement, there was promise and possibility, and there was a hole in my heart as big as the Grand Canyon. I cried as I watched our family and friends grow smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror. Cried for days, months. It’s a challenge to traverse relationships across a span of 500 miles. Yes, there’s the phone and the internet, and Facebook. But the gift of proximity is lost. There are no soul-refreshing walk/talks through Eagle Creek Park, no last-minute lunches in Broad Ripple, no impromptu Friday night neighborhood gatherings, no dinners at Amore when spouses are attending board meetings, no one walking in — unannounced and always welcome — through the garage entrance after having punched in our “private” code for entry.
Adjusting to our new income — the one that’s 50% less than the previous one — was also far more challenging that we’d imagined. We cut our expenses, paid off debts, tightened our belts. But ultimately, we still had four kids who needed food and clothing and school supplies and doctor visits and extracurricular activity fees and heat and water and electricity.
Begrudgingly, I went back to work full-time. It was not my dream. It was not my desire. It was my necessity. Writing — the kind that fills my soul, not the kind that pays the bills — had to take a back seat. Instead of being my primary focus, it got to fill in the cracks of what was left after work, after the kids, after my familial responsibilities. Was I bitter? Oh, you betcha. And then came the anger, the resentment, the Why-Do-You-Get-To-Be-Happy-At-My-Expense conversations.
It wasn’t pretty.
I’ve been a reluctant Mississippian, slow to warm, hesitant to make friends, willing only to dip my toes in the South. This was to be my “two-year vacation.” We were going to re-evaluate after that. No reason to make connections when they would most likely be severed again shortly. And so, I set myself up for more loneliness, opened the door and invited it in. I am so very grateful for the few true friendships I’ve made here, those who didn’t allow me to completely go into hiding. (Hiding, after all, is what I do best on my cloudiest days.) These women have sustained me in my Southern town, have given me something to hold on to even while I insisted on looking back.
I’m not easy to love sometimes. As Joni Mitchell so eloquently sings in “The River”…
“I’m so hard to handle, I’m selfish and I’m sad…”
That’s me. All me. I need, I need, and then I need some more. I need more love, more reassurance, more hand-holding than the average bear. I am eternally in fear of being left behind, abandoned, despite all those who have chosen to stay. I’m frantic and unreasonable and over-dramatic. And I get too sad, stay there for too long. The friends who know this and embrace this and honor this are so brave and strong and cherished and special.
And on the flip side, I love hard. I’m a balls-to-the-wall friend. After the leaning, I stand in support. When I’m strong, I’m rock steady. My arms are always open. And I’m great fun at a party. Somehow, in some way, I hope that balance serves those who are forever locked in my heart and in my soul. Extra-salty tears and extra-hard hugs… that’s what I have to offer.
Over the past two years, I’ve been living in limbo — somewhere in between Mississippi and Indiana… but not necessarily in Tennessee. I’ve been trying to maintain two residences, to live two different lives. I’ve yet to figure out how to simply be… and to trust that I’m where I am for a reason. Oh, I know it and believe it in my heart, but living it? That’s an entirely different issue, one that I face every minute of every day.
And what of my writing? That’s been a disappointment, too. It looked promising here and there — a Midwest Writers Fellowship, a Notes & Words contest finalist nod, a few full-manuscript agent reads of “Three of Eva,” a gig with “Indy’s Child” magazine, some blogging accolades. But my vision of supporting my family through my writing? Not yet realized. Yes, I’m supporting them with words about marketing software and ROI, but that’s not exactly the vision I had in mind. (I know. I know. God is up there laughing at me. “YOUR vision?? Ha! Ha! Ha!” I know.)
So, in the glass-half-empty view, it’s been a more-than-challenging couple of years filled with heartbreak and loss and loneliness. There have been far more tears than I would have liked. Too much food, too much wine, too much weight gained, too little balance.
And on the glass-half-full side, there is an overwhelming abundance of things to be grateful for. My beloved kids. Damn. I am so very, very proud of them and their tenacity and their resilience. They have all made their way, found a place, carved a path. It wasn’t easy for them, either. I’m sure on certain days, it’s still not. But academically, socially, athletically, they’re knocking it out of the park. Chris is so much happier, too. He’s doing work that he loves, despite the dismal pay. (What is it about this country that rewards those involved with athletics substantially more than those involved with academics? How is it that my husband, with his doctorate, tasked with educating our future leaders, can make so very little when the coaching staffs make so damn much?)
In my glass-half-full world, I have beautiful, supportive, cherished friends in both Indiana and Mississippi (and in many other states as well, right California and Tennessee?). I have a job that came knocking at just the right time, that pays well and helps me support my loves during this ongoing transition. I have a healthy family. (And trust that I will never, ever, ever take that for granted.) I’m married to my best friend, the one who gets to ride the roller-coaster every single damn day. The one who, despite the nausea, chooses to get back in that line again and again.
I’m stretching. I’m growing. That’s always a bittersweet endeavor. Change is hard, friends. It’s fucking hard at times. It’s lonely here. Overwhelmingly lonely at times. On certain days, I feel isolated, remote, forgotten. For a girl who’d grown accustomed to activities every night, neighbors at the bus stop in the mornings, impromptu drop-by coffee klatches, parties on the weekends, black tie events, couples’ dates, football parties, poolside gatherings, book club meetings, and firepit soirees, the silence can be daunting. I try to embrace it, but oftentimes, it swallows me whole instead.
Then there are those days that the silence and the slower pace comfort me, and I feel blessed, loved, grateful beyond measure. It’s the biggest sustained challenge I’ve ever faced, this life of change. Staying put would have been easier in so many ways. And staying put would have been harder in many ways, as well. Choosing something safe would probably have been less stressful. But ultimately, the reward is in the journey. I’m learning that. Bit by bit by bit. Step by painful step — blisters and black toenails and all.
There is no growth in standing still. Even the tree, confined to one, solitary space reaches through the dirt with its roots, stretches its branches upward, upward as its leaves bloom, change, fall, and bloom again.
But sometimes I miss the luxury of the known. The home, the yard, the money, the neighborhood, the (perceived) security — the things that don’t really matter in the long run can make life seem a little easier.
The choice is always, always ours. Because we are not our homes, our cars, our friends, our family, our successes. We are individuals, finding our solitary paths, contributing to a greater good.
I’m choosing happiness and growth whenever and wherever I can. But I can guarantee it will not be sunshine and roses every day. There are some days, weeks, months, I will still wallow in woe-is-me. It will be ugly and messy and uninspiring. It’s not fun to watch or to participate in. It’s not who I want to be. And yet, it is. I’m okay with that. It would be inauthentic of me to live it any other way. I’m a girl of extremes, and life is made of ups and downs and choices. Sometimes the choices we make are easier than others. Sometimes the choices we’re offered are not the ones we were hoping for. It takes time for me to wrestle with that, to reconcile with it. Good days, bad days, neutral days… all ultimately part of the equation.
The next moment can always be better.
In this particular moment, I choose gratitude. Today, I choose to teach my kids — and anyone else who might be listening — that it’s okay to feel lost and out of sorts with this world, to feel that you don’t really have a space to call your own, to feel like you’re trying to build a house on shifting sand. That they can fall down and still get back up, that skinned knees and skinned hearts eventually heal, even if they do leave a scar. Scars are the tough, pink, jagged-edged, external reminders of our internal strength. Everyone has those battle wounds. No one walks through this world without damaging the perfect physical package he or she was granted at birth. Everyone breaks in different places, at different times, in different ways. The gift is in the healing, the recovery. Standing back up, taking the next step — that’s what’s important. That’s what matters. Giving of yourself, your heart, your time, your beautiful vulnerability — those are gifts that money will never be able to buy. That currency is what’s important. Those are the things that matter most.
I’m learning. We’re learning. About scars and skinned knees and the lovely, human mess of it all. Onward. Always onward. To the next flawed, imperfect, and glorious adventure.