The Wind

She felt the January wind slink into her apartment, curling in like a cat, all sly and sophisticated. It thought it could slide in, lurk in the corners long enough that she’d get used to it, let it stay, like an afterthought. This interloper wind, this vagabond gust thought to hide in the corner, unnoticed but still unwelcome, a silent squatter.

But she was through with hangers on, of all sorts. She’d lived alone these last 20 years, ever since her husband moved away to find work in another state. Or had he simply moved without her, a divorce in all but name? They’d grown apart ever since she became sober. Only when she wasn’t seeing life through the fog did she realize she‘d not married well. But, a vow was a vow, so they muddled on, more roommates than spouses.

It had worked, for a while, but then it all became clear, slowly, like a Polaroid photograph developing. Only then could she see who she’d married – or perhaps worse, the person she’d become since that day.

How had she forgotten who she was? And why had it taken so long to remember?

She had her back injury to thank for this, she mused. Nothing makes you reevaluate your life like pain. She’d had to stop everything and re-learn who she was, learn how to put down all the heavy things she was carrying. It didn’t take her long to realize that meant more than just physical.

So she made less time for him. She started spending time with friends. She started spending time on herself. She started learning what it was like to not spend so much time around someone who was addicted to being broken, to being a victim. It was liberating.

It was sad,in a way, to realize how much he had leaned on her, how much he had expected of her. But she was through listening to his litany of complaints, his lists of people who had done him wrong. It was sad, too, to see how special he thought he was – and not in a good way. He thought he was unique in his pain, that the world paid special attention to him, singled him out for abuse, when in reality the world was as indifferent and impersonal to everyone.

This need to play the victim, to play the indirect object, the one who was acted upon rather than the active agent, was what had put him in his funk. She could see this plain as day, this self fulfilling prophecy of disappointment and delusion. He had not gotten better in the decade they’d been together. Perhaps he had gotten worse. And so she agreed to the separation, to see if perhaps he would learn on his own. It was how she’d learned, after all.

It wasn’t intentional, this separation. She hadn’t asked for it, but welcomed it all the same as the gift she’d never thought to ask for.

He had fallen on hard times since the layoff. A cozy job with the government, safe and secure, was his ace in the pocket for years. He could coast along, unmotivated, lackadaisical, feckless. Perhaps that had been his undoing, that job where mediocrity was the name of the game. Perhaps he’d learned too well that it didn’t pay to try harder. There were no promotions for those who tried to improve upon the time-tested procedures. In fact, mostly there was censure from the fellow dozens of that lackluster lair. They invariably pulled down anyone who dared to make their own mediocre workload look as lackluster as it really was. Only if they all conspired to put forth the least amount of effort could they continue in their façade. 

But then there was the layoff. Or was it a forced retirement? Being civil service, they couldn’t be fired, but they could be subtly forced to leave. Privileges could be revoked. Expectations could be raised. Work could be documented, quantified, tracked. This weeded out some of the lazy ones, but not all. Some clung on harder, determined to outlast the push to eliminate them. Some were determined to stay until the end, until they retired or things got bad enough that going through the ordeal of finding another job seemed better in comparison.

Somehow he lasted through the waves of attrition, kept his head down in that strange game of musical chairs where people weren’t fired but still found they didn’t have a job. Every week certain jobs were deemed unnecessary or redundant. It was clever, if not exactly honest. The people weren’t eliminated. The jobs were . It was a simple as that.

And that is why he left, before the ax came down on him. But that too is how he was patterned – to think that he deserved better but didn’t have to work for it – in fact, shouldn’t work for it.

It was nearly a year before he worked up the momentum to get another job, in the meantime relying on the kindness of his wife to keep him in the lifestyle to which he had become accustomed. And then she’d had it. It was only her anxiety attack that put her in the hospital that motivated him to start looking in earnest. Even then what he found was just part time, with no health insurance.

She’d promised, she said her vows, but she hadn’t counted on it being worse more often than better. She thought it would swing both ways, where they’d take turns relying upon each other. She’d not expected this protracted siege upon her compassionate nature.

And so finally he moved out, but not before she pushed him out of the bedroom, pushed his clutter out of the kitchen. She told him years ago it was her or the hoarding, and he’d not chosen her. So she got to do the choosing, slowly but surely maneuvering the situation to pushing him out without overtly doing so.

He was used to being a bit player in his own life anyway, so it was easy enough once she set her mind to it. No more would she be his emotional garbage dump. No longer would she pick up after him when he “forgot” to clean up his own messes – physical, financial, spiritual. She’d never agreed to having a child and certainly didn’t want one who was nearly 50.

So they lived apart, and it worked in a fashion. It wasn’t a normal marriage as far as they knew, but maybe it was. Maybe most people lived like this but never talked about it. Maybe behind closed doors all marriages were all the same. Meanwhile, it was time to do something about that draft. It wouldn’t do to let the wind get the better of her. She was done with being taken advantage of.

(written 1-3-19)

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Hoarding, overeating, and the pearl.

Hoarding and overeating are the same things. They are both ways of trying to protect yourself from “out there”. More significantly, they are ways of trying to protect yourself from “in here”. Both build up defenses against the outside world by literally creating a wall between you and it. Meanwhile what you are really running away from is something that is irritating you inside.

In hoarding, you believe that you need more stuff to feel safe. You keep four of something, even if you only need two. You’ll pack five pairs of shoes on a three day trip, because you aren’t sure what you might need. You’ll keep twelve outfits that don’t fit that you haven’t worn in years “just in case”. You’ll keep things that are broken or were given to you and you’ve never used because you think you might have a need for them.

This is all a sign that you don’t believe that your needs will be taken care of. You feel that you are all on your own, alone, and it is all up to you to make sure that you are happy. Meanwhile you can’t even find what you need under the pile of stuff you don’t need. You’ve built up a wall, a fortress, between you and the world.

Overeating works the same way. You feel that your needs aren’t being met, so you try to fix them with food. If a little cake is a good thing, a lot must be great, right? That boss didn’t respect you – eat a cookie or twelve. Your wife is always angry at you – have another plate at the buffet. They can’t tell you not to. It is the one thing you can control – what goes into your mouth. And yet it is out of control. You don’t have control at all. You can’t make them stop being angry or randomly changing the rules, but you can eat something. You’ll show them. Instead of speaking up, you shut yourself down by shoving food into your mouth.

This is how children behave. Sadly, sometimes adults are just children in older bodies.

Consider the oyster. A little irritant gets into it. A piece of sand, a bit of shell – something inedible and foreign gets inside. It doesn’t know how to get it out. The oyster’s inner parts are soft and this foreign thing hurts. It puts a protective layer around that irritant to make it smooth. The only problem is that now that irritant is bigger, and presses up against more of the oyster. So it puts another layer around it. And it gets bigger. So it puts another layer around it. And on, and on, and on. Eventually the pearl that has been created is so big there is no way that the oyster could get it out without being cracked open.

We are like that. We build up these walls inside us against perceived injustices and slights, and it gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Instead of getting it out or absorbing it and letting it pass through us, it gets stuck inside us, making the situation worse. Eventually the only way to get it out is to be cracked open.

Sometimes being cracked open is literal – we develop a tumor from our worries, and it has to be removed by surgery. Or sometimes we have a heart attack that slows us down and makes us reassess our priorities. Sometimes everything is stripped away from us in a natural disaster. Or a divorce. Or a house fire. Sometimes our need to control is taken out of our control, and all we have left is ourselves. Then we are faced with the question – what now?

Sometimes what we are most running away from is what we need to sit with. Often the best way to heal is to not run away from our pain but to look at it and process it. Let it pass through. We run away when we drink or smoke or do drugs. But we also run away when we fill all of our time with things and events and noise. A busy life isn’t always a happy life. Silence and emptiness can be frightening at first, but they are very healing.

Picture-story part three – gold

I’ve finally met some people. They tell me they call this planet Graille. I didn’t see them at first because nobody sees them at first. They’ve become invisible. Well, not really invisible, but nobody notices them.

They came here because they could actually see each other. The closer you get to being awake, the more visible you become to each other, and the more invisible you become to everybody else.

Everyone else is so busy watching reality TV that they have stopped noticing what reality even looks like anymore. They are so used to artificial colors and flavors that they don’t know what real food looks like or tastes like anymore either. No wonder the real people have become invisible.

That field of stars I saw? That’s gold. It isn’t a field of stars at all. It’s a compost pile of sorts.

There was a hoarding of it around the turn of the century, a century ago. Every street corner and every abandoned building became a place to buy up gold. “Cash for gold”, they said. “Best prices!”

Some of these invisible people set up these shops, alongside the end-of-the-world doom mongers. They did it to collect more gold. They knew that money wouldn’t do them any good where they were going, but gold would.

It wasn’t for a profit. It was for the planet. This planet.

The gold feeds the soil. They use it with their compost, their kitchen scraps. The gold cancels out the acidic soil here, makes it come alive again.

They discovered that digging up all the gold was why the Earth’s soils stopped producing food, why they had to start 3D printing it out of plastics and polymers. That food fills you up, same as eating Styrofoam. It just leaves you hungry for more because you never got filled up with food in the first place.

The soil needed the gold under it all along. That’s why the Creator put it down there in the first place. Funny people, digging up the wrong thing. They thought if they dug up more gold, they could buy more food. Turns out if you leave it where it is, you get more of what you were looking for.

(After a long amount of wrestling with this, I’ve decided that if the words come without the picture, to let them. And if they are not 1000 words a section, that is OK. Rules cannot get in the way of the goal.)