I love books. I love getting lost in a book and I hate when good ones end. This book though — this book is on a level that I cannot articulate. I have never had a favorite book but by the mid point, I knew that had changed forever. It only took me 20hrs or so over three days of vacation to devour this 600+ page monster. And I saved the last 50 for today because I couldn’t bear for it to end.
It’s a genre-bending, millennia-spanning, nature appreciating, book loving, fantastical epic about time, the power of a story, and the connectedness of languages across ages past and future. By the final chapters, I was crying so hard, I thought I might not recover.
It makes no sense to try to describe it. I sound like a deranged person.
The characters both human and animal will stay with me. There is an owl called Trustyfriend (Peisetairos) by a central character, a boy turned man who needs noise cancelling headphones to block out the world. Like me.
I renamed my Bose headphones from Peaches to Peisetairos today because I originally got them a few months after I had started seeing John and “Peaches” seemed appropriate then. For the past four months, when I turn on my headphones to walk to work and I see “connected to Peaches” pop up on my phone, it makes me ill. I’m not ashamed to say that my headphones – for peace, for podcasts, for music – are the closest thing to Trustyfriend that I have now so it seems like an appropriate new moniker. They block out bits of the world that are unpleasant, the loudest bits anyway. In the whole book, that’s the character that resonated the most.
If you can stick with it through the initial time jumps, you’ll understand what I mean with my praise here. Mostly, I want you to read it so I can have someone to talk to about it. Okay? Great. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.
“That’s what gods do, they spin threads of ruin through the fabric of our lives, all to make a song for generations to come.”
I went on a solo vacation for a few days, the sixth of these trips I’ve taken alone – always at a time of transition or a time when I need to recharge my batteries. I went to Cabo San Lucas because I’ve always wanted to see the humpbacks in winter off the Baja Peninsula.
I did. And it was an incredible and indescribable experience. They are massive, majestic and deceptively elegant, playful and unbothered. It felt freeing to watch them. I was lucky to witness so many of them waving their dorsal fins, splashing their tails, and blowing air in enormous geysers from below the surface where, for 15 or 20 minutes at a time, there is no indication on the surface of the ocean that a behemoth lies beneath. Some are 60′ long – nearly double the length of the sailboat I was on. To watch one of these creatures rise up from the depths and breach up and over onto their backs is something I will never be able to put into words. To see it happen so many times in just a few hours in this lifetime seems like cosmic hyperbole.
Here is one short video but I’m saving the rest for myself because I want you to go and experience it on your own one day. Up close. Where you can feel the spray and hear the sound and revel in the magnificence.
I thought I would come back renewed and refreshed, hopeful and maybe a bit inspired. I am so sad to say that I am not. I have a bit of a tan and a new magnet for my fridge full of travels but, otherwise, if I’m being honest, I’m a bit disappointed. Not that the trip is over – though I do miss having a countdown, something to look forward to. Not that the resort I chose was just okay and pretty boring for a single gal – it was and it was. I am disappointed that I did this big thing for myself, to take care of myself, to pour into myself – and I feel like I was derailed.
Two days before I left, I received a worksheet from my therapist. I’ve met with this person only twice so far but felt really hopeful after those sessions. This assignment that I was to review before our next session is on “Forgiveness” – I reviewed it that day because I hate having unread notifications of any kind. I spent that entire night lying awake, feeling panicked and anxious and angry. Forgiveness? Really? Already? I still don’t even believe that it’s real from one night to the next day — and I still have zero answers. How can I think about forgiveness at this stage? And although I was excited for my trip, that assignment has just stayed niggling at the edge of my periphery.
The tears started the minute I got on the plane in DC. I was looking across the river at Arlington and thinking that maybe the next time I saw it, I wouldn’t care which building was his or if I could see it from the runway. Or maybe the plane would crash and I wouldn’t have to care anymore, period. And the tears weren’t because I was sad about either possibility, but because I was hopeful one or both would be true. More tears came when I closed the door to my gorgeous suite at the resort. It was so lovely and I was just sharing it with myself. It had been a long day of travel, I knew I would miss my connection in Dallas before we even left the ground in DC, and it kind of kept snowballing from there. I was hassled by aggressive time-share-pushing gatekeepers immediately after check-in at the resort. At one point, the woman tried to hock a free couples massage for me and my companion — and she was the first of many (presumably) well meaning people that would be confused about why I was traveling alone over the four days. I arrived too late to get a reservation for dinner that night so I sat out on the beach … where a couple was getting married. I turned my chair so my back was to them, listened to the waves, and watched the sunset until it sizzled behind a mountain to the west. But sitting there, surrounded by unquestionable beauty, I felt defeated. It was like I knew that the desperate and expensive quest for a reprieve that I had booked last minute was a futile endeavor before it really started.
I had peaceful moments. I smiled lots of times. Had delicious food. Made memories with myself walking around the harbor, meeting sea lions and pelicans at every turn. Lots of excellent people watching. Three hours spent sailing around the beautiful Baja Peninsula were three of the best hours I’ve ever spent in my life. I have photos and videos and memories that will keep my wanderlust burning. I also read the most amazing book — Cloud Cuckoo Land — the last 50 pages of which I cannot bring myself to finish yet because I do not want it to end. I loathe endings. I cannot bear the weight of another one right now.
And so this morning, I carved out some time in my busy morning of catching up on work and I tried to complete the forgiveness assignment. It asked me to describe the injustice I endured and why it seemed unfair. This journal already holds all of that in painful detail from October onward. I summarized it in two paragraphs on the assignment. Almost four months later, it really does not hurt any less. My anger is no less intense. My disbelief has only grown. I learned earlier this month that he proposed to her nine months after meeting me, a week before my 40th birthday and two weeks before he met my brother – this revelation set me back in ways I couldn’t have anticipated but should have.
Maybe I feel the waves and cycles less frequently but not by as large a degree I wanted, expected, or hoped by now. The intensity of it makes me feel anxious to the point of nausea, and focusing on the present, honing in on what it feels like physically in an attempt at “mindfulness,” almost always makes me start to cry. It’s just too much to contain. This is really inconvenient, say — when you’re lying in a lounger in paradise or cramped between people in coach, in a tin cylinder flying through the sky.
The assignment asked me to describe the pros and cons of “deciding” to forgive my offender. To describe in detail how things would be different if I made that choice. But I can’t – I cannot describe it because I cannot imagine it. I said that *if* I could, I would go to bed and not think about John next to me, laughing, snuggling, and feeling warm. That I would feel hopeful about the future and be able to block out the fact that I have to start all over, a longing for love and belonging that has eluded me for decades already. That I would forget all the questions I have that plague my sleepless nights.
Forgiveness is supposed to unburden you by choosing to let go of what was done to you. How can I CHOOSE to let go of it though when the blindside and deception still hurts so fucking much? Forgiveness allegedly doesn’t mean that you condone the action or that the person doesn’t deserve consequences —- but that’s what it feels like I am being asked to do. To give him a pass.
It asked me to describe what life was like for my offender during childhood and if that could have impacted their behavior. And what was life like at the time of the offense for the offender? That is a lot to unpack — obviously it’s leading me to empathize with him. But of course I empathize with him — the him I knew. I loved that man for g/God’s sake! And no, neither his past or recent present indicates to me anything that may have impacted his willful, conscious, and continual choices to deceive me for more than three years. And to also do it to another woman he was apparently with, not just living with but engaged to and allegedly loved/s? I can’t see what in his past or present impacted that repeated and daily choice, to deceive us both.
And then it asked what feelings I currently have toward my offender and then what positive feelings I have toward him; again with trying to pull even more empathy out of my too-big and dripping heart. I said:
I guess I just don’t know where to go from here. Despite sunshine, books, whales, a couple well-deserved days away from work, another check mark on the bucket list, and a few grand less in my bank account, I still feel simultaneously stuck and untethered. I want to be hopeful. I want to believe that this too shall pass and all that bull shit. But I also want to not look with contempt on a married man or a man with a woman at his side who dares to check me out. It repulses me to think that John was one of those men – to me and likely to others – and probably always will be. I unknowingly fell into his safe and warm little web of deception. Why doesn’t he have to redeem himself or accept responsibility or be held accountable? Why do I have to do all of this hard, heavy, relentless work to get back to a place where I can move forward?
In the words of my therapist: “John has moved on with his life.” That line reverberates through my skull like it’s a pinball in a game with flippers going crazy but without a button on the outside for me to even try to control their movement or their pace.
But, yes, he has moved on. He didn’t have to pause to mull it over because although he was my person, I was just a toy for him to use and discard after a few years of being his favorite one. It seems like forgiveness, for a transgression that has never received an apology, is the only way for me to move on. But how do I get there?
For a couple weeks now, this powerful punch from Rage Against the Machine’s song of the same name has been reverberating through my brain. That it is now officially the short month during which this country seeks to recognize the historic struggles and contributions of African Americans is not lost on me. I’m not intentionally seeking to personally appropriate a song meant as a battle cry against the forced ideals of white America and an unbelievably prescient commentary on teaching (or not teaching) critical race theory in our schools.
Now thirty years old, it is just as frustrating and loathsome now not to have witnessed enough quantifiable progress for Black humans in this country as it was when this song was bumping and thumping through car stereos at deafening levels in the 90s, when the multitude of humanity’s hues were chanting and raging the lyrics with indignant anger, though often misplaced and misdirected toward parents, religion, teachers, and other entities representing authority. Teenage ignorance masquerading as defiance, really.
“In the right light, study becomes insight
But the system that dissed us, teaches us to read and write
So-called facts are fraud
The rage is relentless
We need a movement with a quickness
You are the witness of change and to counteract
We gotta take the power back”
“Take the Power Back” – Rage Against the Machine (1992)
Because I wasn’t even in high school when Zack de la Rocha was yelling these words, I cannot pretend that I understood the lyrics then. Lord knows you couldn’t Google lyrics back then. I used to record songs from the radio onto a cassette tape and then pause, rewind, and play the lyrics over and over and over until I memorized them. I can still recall every word of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” by the way. It suffices to say that I wasn’t memorizing Rage Against the Machine’s lyrics back then.
In fact, those metal bands of the 90s like Metallica, Pantera, Megadeath, and Rage kind of terrified me. Those bands are what the “bad” kids listened to, the kids I had no interest in being around and, because I rarely talked to anyone beyond my family and very few friends in that time of my life, I sure as shit wasn’t listening to the music of “those” kids to try to assimilate. Motown and the Golden Oldies were what my family listened to and that’s what I liked! I’ve come to legitimately love some of those hard rock bands though and I couldn’t tell you when or how that happened. I’ll be seeing Metallica in concert for the second time in my life in a few months, and Rage somehow became the go-to soundtrack to my workouts. There is nothing as motivating as those opening, angry bars from “Killing in the Name” — you have to grit your teeth, you have to grimace, you have to growl the words through your chest — it just happens. Those songs have also been the soundtrack to more than one season of heartbreak … you know, after the sadness and self-loathing phase, when the anger pulses with such force that you just need to get it out? Yeah. I’ve been crashing on that couch, off and on, for a few weeks now. It isn’t comfortable and I still don’t sleep, but it serves a purpose on this journey back to myself. Again.
I have always marveled at the ignorance of those “bad” kids back in my hometown. Honest to g/God, they probably still bang their bloody heads off to these bass lines while screaming along. But those tough, redneck, steel town boys, now men, are also the ones who used to litter my social media timelines with bigoted, biased, conservative bullshit. Those unfiltered and appalling voices are the reason I haven’t had Facebook in years now. I do not miss it. And if I tried to point out the irony of their views and the music that molded them, they’d brush it off the same way they do any challenge to their glaring and profound ignorance.
Anyway, the lyrics of this song make me angry. And they help me rage enough to get up and get through another day. If I allow myself to not think too much about what de la Rocha is really saying, if I allow myself to just feel Morello’s guitar and thrash into the emotion, those words “…take the power back,” are a battle cry for me too. Personally. I am personally trying to take back the power —- the power to move, the power to heal, the power to take care of myself. I won’t stop fighting for justice and equity for humanity, in February or beyond, but right now, I’m fighting for me. I’m fighting to remember who I am, fighting to trust again, fighting for what I can give to the world if I’m healthy and my heart is glued back together, fighting for someone who wants to be present in the lives of people who are waiting for me to resurface (hopefully they can wait some more), and I’mfighting to be proud of that person again … once I find her.
First step: I bought myself a subscription for fresh flowers from UrbanStems. Is there anything more delicately and intricately perfect than a ranunculus? I think not.
Step Two: Found a new therapist. One who understands trauma in all its forms.
Next step: A solo vacation this week. I need Vitamin Sea (and D) and my soul needs to recharge.
I’ll be fine. I’m making progress. Sunshine will help. So does Rage.