The plane jostles me awake as it begins its descent in to Raleigh Durham airport. I reach up to twist the little round knob on the ceiling that is spewing out ice cold air into my eyes before glancing out the window to see the familiar view below of the little houses that look like the ones on a monopoly board, spreading out like a cancer. Subdivisions. Trees. Ugh. I feel tired. I quickly grab the last sip of my flat diet coke before tossing the empty plastic cup into the flight attendants trash bag. I’m back to the ‘burbs.
At the house, I walk into the vast foyer. It looms large over me, with its bright yellow walls and its hollow echo. My art graces every wall and seems to yell out to me in all of its black and white glory. The place smells clean. Not like a house where we raised 2 cats, a dog, 2 rats, and way too many replaced and look-alike hermit crabs and beta fish to count. The largeness of it feels empty, like a tomb. My shoulders feel so heavy as I walk up the steps to my old bedroom. I have to resist the urge to crawl. The brightness of the sun meets me the moment I walk into the room. The bathroom is larger than I remember, and the bathtub alone is the size of my bathroom in my east village apartment . I brace my shoulders as I look in the mirror. The face staring back at me appears older here than it did when I left the city. Maybe its all of the glorious light and the gigantic mirror. Its a lot different than the little mirror that graces the wall
of my dingy little New York City apartment bathroom . I like the way I look there better, I think, as I dim the lights and walk out, swearing to never own a full-length mirror again.
After my diagnosis of Fibromyalgia 5 years ago, my life came crashing to a halt. My entire identity had been shaken. Since giving birth to my daughter, and surviving an abusive marriage, I had rebuilt my life as a sober woman, built a photography studio with my very own name on it, new wife, homeowner, and kept my demons at bay with daily trips to Spin class at my fancy local gym. Like a good southerner, my shell looked fine on the outside, but on the inside, maybe not so much. I was still trying to fit my highly irregular peg self into the smooth, round hole of Southern Culture in which I had been raised. I don’t remember exactly when the debilitating fatigue hit, or if it was the excruciating pain that came first. But I was in Hell. I cried a lot. Fibromyalgia is a Mofo. And what did I do to deserve such a strange and obscure illness? My husband barely recognized me, as I spent entire weekends in bed with my friends Ben and Jerry. You are what you eat, they say, so my body was starting to look like Phish Food. My business was gone. My large home was a hurricane of dirty laundry and items purchased that seemed like a good idea at the time. The life I had built for myself now just kind of came down around me.
I refused to live like this. What was going on, what was my body trying to tell me? I had to address this problem from a spiritual, emotional, and physical angle. But Damn! I have already overcome, or rather survived, a childhood riddled with abuse and abandonment, Bulimia, alcoholism, and drug addiction. That’s enough! So far, both a medical doctor, a holistic doctor, and a chiropractor have offered me relief of various kinds. Perhaps the best lessons have come from working with my psychiatrist. Through our many conversations, I have learned what it means to go through middle age, to adjust to a different body with different needs, and how to be kind and gentle with myself in the process. Our weekly talks led me, for whatever reason, to New York City. Or maybe I just needed an excuse. My trips began with renting Airbnb apartments in various neighborhoods throughout the city. What started as a vacation turned into
an extraordinary love affair that left me begging for more. I could no longer tolerate my southern hometown. It became my prison, with my big home, my two big cars, and conversations with others that never really left the realm of what was being cooked for dinner, or what our kids were up to. Every day as I walked out of my house, I would see the vast emptiness of the landscape devoid of people, or if they were around, they all looked the same, all adorned in their Jack Rogers sandals and pastel tunics. Conformity seems Key in the suburbs. I think I prefer to call what I was going through Divine Discontentment, since when one door opens for me, usually a much better one opens.
I begin in my closet. Its more like an extra room, except that it slopes with the roof , so you bang your head as you walk in. That’s where I got the huge scratch on my glasses, so I think of the ceiling every time I look through that scratch. Before I left at Christmas, I threw everything in it that is of any value to me into it. My dad’s t-shirt says “Jesus loves you, but the rest of us thinks you are an asshole”. It has a little picture of Calvin and Hobbs on it. I pick it up and am immediately embraced by the musky sweet smell of the cologne he wore. If the smell is still there after 6 years, it must have really been strong before. My dad, the stud. I kept all of his books. Everything from the Bible, to Fidel Castro, Oscar Wilde, and even Kim Litrell’s book on better Sex. My shoulders tighten a little more. Behind the books, I see every single figure drawing I did in my 4 years of Art school. One of the little old lady hunched over her chair, toes curling up like a vine around an old post. She had fallen asleep that day on the pedestal. I see the one of the 20 something hippy chic with the tampon string in full view. I am glad I decided to
capture that little detail now. I spent way too many days in the art studios from California to St. Louis. I go to move them, and the black charcoal comes off onto the dry skin of my fingers. It smells like old newspaper and youth. As I wash it off, I glance over to see the green box of my daughter’s baby clothing. The onsie with the sweet-tart on the front that really says Sweetheart. She was wearing that the day I loaded her and Charlie, the Cocker Spaniel, into the car to flee her biological dad. We flew down I-40, the temperature above me on the little clock saying 110 degrees. She was silent , Charlie was panting, and I could hear my heart coming out of my chest as I adjusted my legs from the leather seats that they were sticking to. I felt like I would die as I called my mother to tell her to make a bed for us.
As I walk out of the closet to turn off the light, I take one more glance at my wedding dress and my extensive running shoe collection from my days of being a personal trainer in college. I have to relive 28 years of life in three days. Part of me wants to light a match to everything, but I decide to instead just get rid of it all. Coming to my senses, I settle for going to the post office to ship the truly important things up to the apartment, knowing they will never fit in my little corner of Manhattan. I feel traumatized as I succumb to my bed. I must have drifted off to sleep, because when I wake up, it is dark out, and my bed in situated in a sea of stuff that accumulates in a lifetime. I pry myself out of the darkness, remembering why I chose this to take this amazing journey, ( and what an adventure it was!) and get to work. Soon I will embark on the second half of the life I decided to design this time. I’ll sleep when I get home, I tell myself. My shoulders are now all the way up to my ears, and the pain radiates. The pilot announces our descent into JFK, I am in complete and total awe of the shimmering little island that exists in the middle of the sea. Every light that dances in the distance represents fresh opportunities, vast arrays of stories from lands that I could only dream about, and experiences I have never fathomed. Here, my Southern Twang is just another one of the many accents that add to the music of this incredible city. I was Charlie-In-The-Box, and I had finally arrived at The Island Of Lost Toys. (If you need that explained, google Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.)
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi” his disciples asked him, “why was the man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “Neither”, Jesus answered. “This happened so that the power of God could be seen in him.”