I know. I’m behind. I’ve avoided writing the last few weeks… because I want to write only good things. Because I get tired of the saga.
I have realized something. For eighteen months I have been waiting for my life to return to what it used to be… for myself to return to who it used to be. I understand now that is never going to happen. There is a low grade anxiety, a sadness, that has become the undercurrent of my life. It tinges everything, makes life subtly more difficult and adds a level of exhaustion that I can never quite catch up to. This is the new norm. I’m not sure this is ever going to go away. Not because of my brother’s death. Because of everything that came before it. Because of genetics. Because of history. Because there is no such thing as a life without struggle. Because happiness is an emotion and not a state of being. Because sometimes, the cumulative effect of life is a curbed joy, a weight that simply becomes a part of our being.
Depression? Undoubtedly, though I rise to meet it each day, do my best to banish it each night. I’m still not sleeping.
I feel that, in feeling this way, perhaps I am not trying hard enough. Perhaps I have grown comfortable with the sadness so that I continue to draw it into my life, continue to manifest challenges. I cannot help but feel that I am making my life harder than it needs to be. I just don’t quite know how or where or what to do to stop it.
In June, I set myself to work on our new place. It’s a sweet but old townhome in a great neighborhood. It needed so much work. The more time I spent on it, the more apparent it became of how much it had been neglected over the years. It is silly, I know, to put so much effort into a rental. But above anything else this past year, I have craved to make a home for us.
I am only too aware of how little time I have left with my daughter before she graduates and heads out into the world on her own. I don’t want these final years of her childhood to feel as though they were spent in temporary space, subpar living. I want them to be beautiful. We spend the duration of our adult lives carrying around the memories of our adolescence. I want to furnish her mind with recollections of a home that held her.
Still, it consumed so much of my time and energy. Every inch of the place needed attention, from floor to ceiling. Things kept breaking. The place, without air conditioning, was hot, adding to a sense of weariness that showed no end. And then there was the actual move, which felt fragmented in a space that wasn’t entirely done. Toward the end, I hit my head and gave myself a pretty nasty concussion. I realized then how little rest I was giving myself. Even with the concussion, I struggled to slow down. It had been weeks since I’d taken a day off.
Let me say, though, my people showed up. I am so grateful for the incredible armload of friends who helped patch and paint, mow and powerwash, clean and repair. This has been the thing I come back to again and again. The friends around who have buoyed and bolstered. Who continued to believe.
In the midst of it, I tried to allot time to the new business and to writing. There was so much to learn about the new business. It changed shape, morphed, got better. I applied, interviewed, and was admitted to a local small business program that was meant to begin next week. I continued to look for part-time work. I knew that, above all else, I needed to keep forward momentum. Even if there was uncertainty, I had to try at something.
Two weeks ago, I ended the long day to begin dinner. Some friends had just left after helping me finish another project. It was the last of the projects, and I walked into the kitchen feeling that… finally… I was nearing the end. I felt excited at the progress we had made, so glad to have the last of the big things done. And then, standing at the kitchen sink, I felt water dripping on me. I looked up to see a steady stream coming from the ceiling above.
I texted the property manager. He told me to turn off the water and asked my address- and then he went radio silent. I didn’t hear from him the next day either. By 3pm, I texted again to ask if anyone was coming. A large crack had appeared in the ceiling and it looked as if it might come down any minute. I sent a picture. Silence. And then, while sitting in the living room, I heard a loud crash and knew the whole thing had come down.
I walked into the kitchen to find a wet mess of moldy plaster. Finally, the property manager called. The conversation did not go well. When I insisted that someone come by before another day passed, he responded that he doesn’t take dictates from anyone…. And that he had 14 days to fix the problem. When I pushed back, he threatened to evict me.
I cannot describe the feeling I had in that moment, standing with the phone in my hand and staring at the pulpy mess of mold and plaster. I felt as though I was existing under a dark cloud, that perhaps my life and being was cursed, that perhaps I invited this strife into my life. I battled my childhood narrative- that if something bad happened, I was somehow at fault. I had, in essence, manifested this into my own life.
As I write this- two weeks later- the kitchen still has not been repaired. It’s been fourteen days of back and forth with the property manager- of untruths and misrepresentations and no-shows. I moved our kitchen items to the living room and set up a make-shift camp there.
And as if to drive the point home, I stepped outside last Wednesday evening to let the dog out before bed. As I walked out the door, a large and excitable bat flew straight in. It swirled around the living room for a minute and then flew upstairs. It was near 11. I texted my new neighbor, a single woman my age with an unflappable sense of humor. Five minute later she showed up in a winter coat and a broom in hand. We went upstairs together to find the villain. She bravely opened the bedroom window to let the bat out… and…. I kid you not… a second bat flew in.
We watched them swirl around my bedroom for a good long while, waving our brooms and willing them to exit, but our efforts were in vain. We called every 24-hour pest service we could find on the internet but not a single one answered. At some point, we decided to close the door to the bedroom and call it a night. I retreated to the trundle bed in my daughter’s room where I proceeded to stare at the ceiling and wonder with bewilderment how this had happened.
It was funny. But also, it was awful. I simply felt that I could not catch my breath. Again and again, I felt that I was somehow writing my life into a tragedy. That I had invited the ceiling to fall, the landlord to scream, the bats to fly in.
I didn’t sleep. At 4:30, I got up to confront the bats. I am absolutely terrified of the creatures. But I couldn’t lay there any longer feeling that I was powerless to this thing. I felt the need not just to banish the bats but also to stand up to the chaos. To prove to myself that I wouldn’t be the victim. It took an hour and a half. I was shaking the whole time. But I finally evicted both of my new tenants.
Ok, so here’s the good news. At least, I think it’s good news. In between the ceiling falling and the bats, I received an email. The subject read: urgent, time-sensitive, open immediately.
I did. It was an email from VCU. The school suddenly had an assistantship available. They wanted to know if I could begin school in four weeks.
I was dumbfounded. I had spent three months shaping a new vision for my future and laying the groundwork for that foundation. I had built not one but three websites. I had scheduled events. I had spun through countless sleepless nights staring down the uncertainty of starting a new venture. I had also missed the window to complete my prerequisites.
But… the PhD has been my dream. For at least ten years I had wanted to pursue it. So, I chose to go forward with it.
I write this from an airport where I wait to board a plane. After making the decision, I didn’t feel the elation I thought I would. Instead, I merely felt depleted. Exhausted.
I had accrued a good deal of flight and hotel points over the past year of living off credit cards. So I booked a short getaway at the beach. I need sleep. I need rest. Because I know that in a few short weeks, I will begin to climb the next steep mountain.
This is good news. It is a clear path forward. It is a good decision. I will feel all of these things soon. What I need now is to get unstuck, to crawl out of this tarpit that has been the last 18 months of my life.
To be clear, I have been provided for. I have been loved. I have been tended to. I have been cared about. I am grateful for all of these things. I am joyful at the options I have had available to me. I know there is growth in the midst of these challenges. I know it all leads somewhere.
I just need it to be a little less hard for awhile. I am hopeful that in the airport on the way back, I will have a very different perspective to share.