There are moments when the monster wins

Walking up the stairs with my arms full of laundry and my coffee cup balanced on the top, I tripped.

I didn’t fall, but my knee hit the stairs and I dropped everything. The hot coffee burned the front of me and also managed to get on most of the newly cleaned white clothes I’d been carrying.

On another day, I’d probably laugh or curse. Or maybe I’d do both.

Not today.

Today the tears I’d been holding back came rushing forward violently. Before I knew it, I had to sit as my body convulsed with sobs, the deep kind that take over every inch of your body. I felt like my insides were ripping apart and that nothing could ever be right again.

After a few minutes, I stopped.

Grabbing a white sock to dab my eyes, I started to clean up the mess. I’d have to wash all the clothes again, spray clean the carpet, wipe down the walls and put burn cream on my chest.

I moved through the motions trying to squash down the pain inside and just go forward, but I could feel it clawing at me. Its talons scratching my gut, begging me to just succumb to it.

So, I made my way to my bed. Pulling the covers over my head, I let it come. The pain didn’t disappoint. It was faithful in its ability to crush me and tear at me. I buried my head in my pillow and screamed.

This happens sometimes.

The weight of life just crushes me and everything just becomes too much.

My mind becomes a prison in which I am stuck reliving decisions and fighting against my own reality. Over and over the same records play until I want to smash them against the wall.

Then the fantasy takes over and my mind becomes a blur of alternative realities where I’m not here in this bed screaming in pain, but I’m happy and living a completely different life constructed from dreams of what might have been.

Sadness, disappointment, grief, regrets, guilt and fear all swirl around until it almost becomes a game to see how deeply I can feel.

Then it just stops.

The tears cease, my gut unclenches and I roll onto my back and look at the ceiling. I will myself to slow my breath and to be calm.

I roll onto my side and look at the green walls of my bedroom.

Flashes of the day my husband and I painted it run through my head, along with images of cool forests and tall trees.

I stare at the walls and concentrate on being here.

I’m right here.

Scanning the room, I take in all the little mementos of the life I have.

Moon lanterns made at camp, my collection of old perfume bottles that were my grandmothers, a painting of a creek running through a forest that hung in my childhood home and two large pictures of my children as babies.

My boy. In this picture he has this little drop of drool right on his chin and he is staring straight at the camera. I love looking at those sweet wispy curls and I still get lost in those amazingly bright blue eyes.

My girl. She is wearing this adorable pink knitted bonnet and dress that her grandma made her and is lying on her tummy. Those soft and chubby cheeks fill the picture and I remember how I couldn’t stop kissing them.

Nothing is so bad that I can’t endure.

Sacrifice.

It’s what being grownup is all about.

Sarah: That’s not fair!

Jareth (Goblin king): You say that so often, I wonder what your basis for comparison is?

–Labyrinth

Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.

–The Princess Bride

I’m up and writing, but that monster is still calling me back to bed. I can feel its pull, almost hear its talons clicking together in anticipation of ripping at my gut some more. It doesn’t always give me a choice, but today I have some fight in me.

I’m going to fight.

Time to shower and leave my home.

Reinforcements, a good book and coffee, are greatly needed.

Sadly, I am acutely aware that I am not even close to alone in this battle and that so many will relate to this piece. Know that although I am often lost in my war, I am here to support yours. If you need an ally, you’ve found one.

I’m still here.

bridgette

Don’t you dare take that mask off

maskEven from ten people behind in the line, I could see her pain. It was all over her. I could see the struggle in her body. She had that tired, forced smile. Her shoulders were slumped and her voice was meek.

When it was our turn to get onto the ride, she measured my girl for height, as she had the previous hundreds of kids that day. “Go ahead.”

I looked her in the eyes and put my hand on her shoulder. “It will be OK,” I said.

“Will it?” she said and looked at me with such intensity I almost cried. The pain was all over her face. Her mask was off.

“It will,” I said.

“Thanks,” she said. “It has to.”

She straightened up a bit and the mask returned. We boarded the swings and my sweet darling and I laughed and laughed as we went around. We kicked our feet in the air and allowed ourselves to be swept up into the joy and feeling of flying.

When we got off the ride, I locked eyes with her again and she smiled. I don’t know her or her story, but I can recognize pain.

Lately I have been acutely aware of the immense sorrow and pain in the world. It doesn’t even have to be something big, but sometimes it can feel like your world is closing in.

We all walk around carrying these things. We have to put forth our fake faces and walk about our day like nothing is wrong. We order coffee. Pump our gas. Buy our groceries. Make small talk. Play with our kids at the park. Fake a smile. Tuck our kids into bed and tell them everything is OK.

We might be dying to scream “I’m in freakin pain here!” But we don’t. It’s not the right time. Never.

I know this isn’t an original thought our idea, but I’ve just been struck hard lately by this reality of life. So much is going on all around us, yet we can’t just walk around with our stories hanging out. We can’t let our sadness or anger effect our daily lives. Shit has to get done.

So, we put on our masks. We bottle it up and push it down for the greater good. If we are lucky we have a friend or spouse we can share our real selves with, but often the time isn’t right. We can’t fall apart now. Not now. The time isn’t now. It’s NEVER now.

That same day at the amusement park, Lola kept riding a small boat ride over and over. We were the only ones in the line and I said to the teenage girl working the ride, “saying that safety speech over and over must get old.”

“I don’t mind,” she said, “it’s a good job for someone my age.”

We talked for about five minutes more as Lola rode the ride a few more times. I was floored by this girl’s story and the candor and poise with which she shared it. She had a baby at 15. She was 16 now. The job had no medical, but she had a plan. She smiled the entire time. Beaming as she told me about her beautiful girl and her plans to be a nurse someday and be a role model for her daughter. I have no doubts that will happen. It has to.

As I was about to walk away she said, “No one has ever asked about my life before. Thanks for talking to me. It felt good to talk to someone.”

Stories. Stories. Stories.

I wish I could take a day and just walk around and ask people their stories. Tell me something. No. Tell me something real. Take off the mask for a minute. I want to see you. The real you.

I realize that we are designed to push emotions aside and function. We cannot and should not walk around with all our stuff hanging out. Gross. But I love stories and I love people.

So I will step out into the world like I do everyday, with my mask on. I will smile at people and make small talk. I will chase my kids around and fill our day with errands and, if lucky, see a friend or two.

If I know you, please know that I’m happy to see you anyway you need to be – mask on or off. I promise to never try to pry off your mask. I know you need it. Just know that I like what’s underneath too and it’s OK to share it with me.