Friday, June 13, 2008

being there

this one's for you, master.

this one's just for you.

it's been such a hard week. more than a week. perhaps coming after the delight of having you here made it harder still. the heat. the power outage. the work stress. exhaustion. the stress of the housemate hunt. two sprained ankles. more exhaustion. more heat. more work stress.

and i had a melt-down. more than one. and despite your own exhaustion after struggling with the heat without the benefit of air conditioning, you were right there for me. even from 250 miles away i felt you were there for me. you were still in bed as i cried to you over the phone at 9:30 this morning, and you knew just what to say. you were there for me as surely as if you had your arms around me.

i obeyed, of course. when i went home for lunch i did just what you said. and a little bit more. i went to the bedroom. i took off my pants and purple panties. i opened the bottom drawer of my bedside table. i took out the toy box to remove a rubber band. but first i removed the collar. the pink dog collar with hearts on it. i fastened it around my neck and already felt safer. then i pulled out a rubber band, lay down on the bed, and pulled the rubber band over my foot and up to my thigh.

i stopped to breathe. then i pulled it out from my inner thigh as far as i could, silently counted down from three, and let it go.


it didn't hurt as much as i expected. or hoped. perhaps it is feeling worn out. like me. but i took in the pain, gave it time to echo through skin and muscle, and then repeated the exercise two more times.

i know you didn't mean this as a punishment. you did it to help cleanse me, to center me. i felt it as the gift it was.

after the third snap, i rolled over onto my side and let the tears flow, then got up and ate my lunch. i remembered to remove the collar before i went back to work. but i'm wearing it again as i sit naked on the bed writing these words.

i feel so guilty about all these times you take care of me. you are so good at it, when i need you it's like a little fire alarm goes off in your head and you are right there. i know what that feels like. i feel so grateful and so guilty and so afraid that you will tire of it.

yes of course, i know i've been there for you, too. and there are things i accept about you that belie the portrait of perfection that i love to paint. but still. i'm a fearful kitten, and insecure, certain that any day i'll be bundled up and deposited at the animal shelter.

and yet...

i came across a book yesterday. i stole but a few minutes to glance at it, but clever serendipity guided my fingers to just the right page and my eyes to just the right lines.

the book is An Uncertain Inheritance: Writers on Caring for Family edited by Nell Casey. the last story, by Julia Glass, is called "The Animal Game", which the author used to play with her young son Oliver. She came down with breast cancer and was in the two-sided situation of caring for her children while being very much in need of care herself.

the first section i came across, and which brought tears to my eyes, was this. which is for you.

[...] Dennis would rise, too, and we'd sit in bed, next to each other, awake for different reasons. "This really, really, really hurts," I'd gasp.

"I wish there was something I could do," Dennis would answer quietly. He didn't touch me; the mere idea of being touched was horrendous to me.

What I didn't tell him, but should have, was that he was doing something just by being awake with me. I began to understand that taking care of someone doesn't always mean doing something for that person; there isn't always a hot toddy or water bottle or an ointment to soothe. Being is just as important as doing. Being awake. Being present in the next chair. Being funny. Being smart in a surprising, useful way. Being sympathetically perplexed. Being a mirror for the expression of pain.

i wanted to read more, but couldn't. i was at work, already stressed from having too much to do, and the book hadn't come for me. but i looked ahead to the end of the story. the end of the book. and this is what i found. and this is for you.

I am reminded of the Animal Game, Oliver's wishing first to be the baby, then the protector; then next morning, the baby all over again. If we're fortunate, we trade these roles back and forth - dependence and dependability, helplessness and helpfulness; odd mixtures of both - in ever more complicated relays, all our lives, to the very end. Grown children care for parents, wives for husbands, brothers for sisters, friends for friends. Pretend I am just being born; we say when we are struck down by illness. Pretend I am resting because it was hard. Clean me. Hold me close. Take care of me - and then, let me take care of you.

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