Introvert’s Lament

In the crossword, the clue “cup in a diner.”

I miss sitting across from my niece who refuses to try matzo ball soup.

I miss waiting for my coffee and wondering if they forgot it, or if I should go up to the counter to ask, because I’m really in no hurry, and I adore anyone who serves me coffee.

I miss walking down to the subway feeling awful, awful, the way your movement follows your guts, falling. I miss staring out the subway window at nothing.

I miss hearing strangers talk to their social workers about getting outside enough. I miss walking into a classroom and knowing I’m making people uncomfortable just being there and trying to figure out how to put them at ease.

I miss other people’s dishes. The mugs of Aimee’s, and the cups and saucers of Wheatfields, the cup and saucer of the Pig, the silly dishes at Alchemy, twee animals. I miss the handle-less cup at 1100 Barker, although it pissed me off. The thing was hot. This is why we invented….

I miss leaving dishes for some dishwasher, bless the dishwashers, who washed all the dishes I left behind, in plastic bins if provided, and went on my way. So many dishes.

I miss feeling uncomfortable in my clothes. I miss thinking something defines my waist nicely. I miss being a person who shows up wearing something that shows people where I’m coming from that day. I miss realizing that the underwear I put on is too small, or rides up, and the sadness of having to wear it all day. I miss realizing my socks are falling down, and that all day, my socks will be falling into my boots.

I miss my feet hurting from standing up all day.

I miss my obsession with the emotional danger others pose.

I miss not wanting to go to parties, but thinking I should go.

I miss worrying how I’ll focus the next day because I can’t sleep.

I miss thinking the reason I’m lonely is because no one truly understands me, or whatever garbage that was.

I miss eggs someone else made. I miss tipping in cash. I miss thinking that my car breaking down would be the worst thing that could happen to me.

I miss not knowing anything about my houseplants, and just saluting them and saying, “Good luck, sir.”

I miss being too often out of house to notice that the floors need sweeping, and the bathroom sink has splotches of hand soap stuck to it.

I miss worrying about a friend I haven’t heard from.

I miss not having the bandwith to feed my cats twice (or, oy, three times) a day.

I miss enjoying the overstimulation of grocery stores without a deep down radar telling me a human is approaching, and my eyes darting at the safety of their mouths and noses.

I miss thinking the reason I’m not inspired is because I never go to the theater.

I miss thinking that the reason I’m bored or sad is because I can’t afford to go to the theater, or out to dinner, or dress shopping, or out for drinks with friends, or to Target to purchase something marvelous.

I miss thinking of people as “People who are different from me” rather than “people who think high school sports are more important than my mother’s life,” “people who will believe absolutely anything Trump says,” and “people who think Nazis aren’t really that bad,” and “people who believe Democrats eat babies”.

I miss thinking, “I would see [so and so] if I got it together.”

I miss meeting people at restaurants, or waiting for them there, having gotten a glass of wine while I wait.

I miss feeling self-sufficient when I have a packed bag, my laptop, and some books to read on the way.

I miss the weather not really mattering.

I miss knowing what was dangerous: a hair dryer in the bathtub, running with scissors, a third drink.

I miss the closeness of my relationships waxing and waning.

I miss thinking that the reason I am not doing what I want to do is that I am a coward.

I miss being asked for directions, being uncomfortable as someone approaches because I’m worried what they might say.

I miss being late and walking fast, and getting sweaty inside my coat.

I miss not knowing how full the moon is.

I miss the scratchy comforters at hotels, and at the monastery.

I miss evaluating ceramic mugs everywhere I go. Shape, weight, handle, heat retention.

I miss thinking, I’d see all those movies if I could see them all at home.

I miss thinking the problem with the world was me.

I miss being surprised.

Image: “Dervish Leading a Bear,” Folio from the Shah Jahan Albumrecto: early 19th century; verso: later copy of 16th century original, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

With You All the Way

Plenty of days lately I have not wanted to do anything.

Last night I got brave enough to take my new sewing machine out, and try every possible wrong way of threading the bobbin and threading the needle and threading the machine. It seems outrageous that this 2020 machine requires as much setup as the machine someone worked on in a tenement in 1890, but to me this seems true.

What am I even doing.

I sewed some orange cloth into a pillowcase. It didn’t fit any of my pillows, so I stuffed it with a dress I had stopped wearing, and a sweater I’d stopped wearing.

Well, that was done. Why was I even bothering.

Mornings, I am both desperate and frightened to hear what is going on, and what has gone on, in the continuing hellish saga of white supremacists and leaders with no interest in morality.

On MLK Day, I have often felt extra tired, extra bitter, like I have been trying to participate in my community and make things better, but what difference does it make? One day a year people are like, aw, yeah, racism is bad. I know this isn’t the point of the holiday, but I’m just as petty and cranky as anyone else.

As I get older, I finally realize that no one will ever praise me in a way that makes me feel loved and safe.

That’s something we have to do for ourselves, and I’m just starting to do it, in the smallest ways. Literally hug myself and say out loud, “I love the essence of you, the way you are,” and resist the temptation to tell myself I am proud of something I did. That’s not how love works.

This looks and feels crazy, but it seems like a new way out of my brain, which is constantly thinking about how to do something good, how to make other people feel good, how to not make a big thing of it, how to be fine with no one noticing, how to argue myself as a good person in front of some judge who doesn’t exist, and if he did, he wouldn’t waste his time on my petty shit.

I avoid watching any of the great movies and TV shows from the recent past if they have to do with racism. I feel like my anger is so huge that I can’t risk adding to it.

But I did find my copy of Strength to Love, and read the chapter on fear again. I’ve probably read it the most of any of the chapters. I have a bit of an anxiety disorder. Smile.

Different parts of it speak to me at different times. This time, this part made me cry:

“One of the most dedicated participants in the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, was an elderly Negro whom we affectionately called Mother Pollard. Although poverty-stricken and uneducated, she was amazingly intelligent and possessed a deep understanding of the meaning of the movement….

“On a particular Monday evening, following a tension-packed week which included being arrested and receiving numerous threatening telephone calls, I spoke at a mass meeting. I attempted to convey an overt impression of strength and courage, although inwardly I was depressed and fear-stricken. At the end of the meeting, Mother Pollard came to the front of the church and said, ‘Come here, son.’ I immediately went to her and hugged her affectionately. ‘Something is wrong with you,’ she said. ‘You didn’t talk strong tonight.’ Seeking further to disguise my fears, I retorted, ‘Oh, no, Mother Pollard, nothing is wrong. I am feeling as fine as ever.’ But her insight was discerning. ‘Now you can’t fool me,’ she said. ‘I knows something is wrong. Is it that we ain’t doing things to please you? Or is it that white folks is bothering you?’ Before I could respond, she looked directly into my eyes and said, ‘I don told you we is with you all the way.’ Then her face became radiant.”

Then Mother Pollard speaks about God, which I’m into, but if you’re not, this is a fine place to stop, I think. We must be with each other all the way. We have been, we are, we will be. Even someone who is as powerful a leader and an intellect as Dr. King needed support, and a community.

Let us celebrate the ways our communities have sustained us through the horrors of the last year, and vow to be with each other through whatever comes next.

I’m not totally satisfied that this is a photo of Mother Pollard. Her image is, sadly, not easy to find online. But there’s a reasonable chance this is her, and if it isn’t, it’s probably another amazing civil rights activist.

Birds Inside and Outside

As I sit down to write this, I have to stop: why was I so upset the other day?

There are many reasons now.

I was supposed to go to my sister’s birthday (masked, masked), but I had woken up afraid, and two meditations had not touched my fear. I cuddled up in my blankets.

I didn’t want to hear about people of legend, or hear the words of the liturgy, though they are sacred to me. That morning I felt when I heard them, they crumbled to dust.

Why was I in pain? Domestic terrorists attack the capitol. What will happen next.

I thought, if anyone mentions the attack to me at birthday gathering, I will lose it, scream and drive away.

Parts of my family are politically aligned with me, but not everyone. That’s what families are for, right?

I grabbed my sister’s present and started the drive to Kansas City.

I realized I had forgotten my granola bar. I was hungry. I turned the car around to go to the bagel place. The bagel place was closed. Okay, I would go to the bakery. The bakery had nothing but plain croissants left.

I drove to Kansas City. My body was a blank, my mind was a blank, both overloaded with fear and anger.

The road to Kansas City is K-10. As I recently mentioned to my niece, the K is for Kansas. The yellow flower it’s on is a sunflower, the Kansas flower.

As I was almost at the place to get on K-10, a bright red bird suddenly swooped into and out of my vision.

It startled me like cold water. I felt in my body, and the numbness lifted. On a January day, when everything as far as the eye can see is a shade of brown, a red bird. I see a lot of hawks on that drive. They sit up at the tops of trees, or on road signs, like the Tom Cruises of K-10. That smile.

I got to my sister’s birthday, and everyone was hugely warm and happy, like people who know they need something happy, and by God, they are going to have it. They are going to mine it out of the mountains. The party was pirate themed, everyone wore an eye patch. In my depressed haze, I had forgotten to bring my pirate hat or parrot. It was the first time in my life I had arrived at a costume party uncostumed. I’m the person who shows up at uncostumed parties in costume.

There was a chest full of treasure, and someone had made this pirate trivia game for us to play, earning dubloons for correct answers.

This, bodily, how was it? This was stepping into the space with the indoor pool, being immediately engulfed in warmth, softness, joy.

I went with it.

I thought, this is why we need each other.

I kept thinking about the red bird and how weird it was. I like to use animals to think about how I’m feeling, or where I am in my life, but I was not expecting that bird at all.

I remembered a friend had said that she sees a cardinal and knows her grandpa is with her. I remember another friend who sees owls and knows people who have died are there.

I’m not really a bird person.

Monday night I heard that the little dog I’ve been hanging out with, while I care for my nieces, was going to be put to sleep. He was one of the good guys. We need him.

I drove out to the house, dreading the sadness of opening the door and not having the pup wag his tail and bound down the stairs, thrilled to see me.

Instead my niece opened the door. She is doing school at home today. She had a new, more grown-up haircut, and she was wrapped up in a blanket.

“Can I give you a hug?” I said.

“I never refuse a hug!” she said. Hugs are still dangerous. But.

I went downstairs to the room where I close the door, de-mask, and work. A record player was on the floor, with Carole King’s “Tapestry” sitting on the turntable. I lifted the needle. I was already crouching on the carpet, and after starting the record, I lay down in a ball, my legs folded under me, my head resting on the floor. The pressure on my head was nice. Yesterday and today, I woke up with a tension headache behind my eye, before I even had time to do anything stressful.

The record played “It’s Too Late.” And “Home Again.”

This album was my aunt’s. She has had dementia for the past few years. It’s been a long time since she said my name, or her daughter’s. Anything but certain song lyrics.

And things were shit, but you know the feeling of being where you are, and the outside feeling just like the inside, even if the inside and outside are painful?

That was it. And the carpet was soft.

Images are cut and pasted from “Red Bird, from the Series Birds of America” for Allen & Ginter cigarettes brands, 1888.