I circle the same three blocks, looking for a parking spot my minivan can fit into, feeling a sense of apprehension and anticipation. I pass the stark white walls of the 1800s fort-turned-museum and the ornate catholic church with its tiny monk statues.
These buildings are markers and judges, watching as I cry, sometimes before, and always after. I find their presence either comforting and protective, or mocking and dangerous. I’m the sinner or the saint. The settler or the native.
I’ve been making this weekly trek for several years. It has become a sort of personal pilgrimage, one I either appreciate or resent, depending on where I am in my cycle of emotions.
Up and down.
Round and round.
The fucking never-ending ferris wheel of my feelings.
Some days, walking up the steep steps of the Victorian house feel impossible, my broken heart not able to pump enough energy into my body. Other times, like this week, I fly up the stairs eager for my time with my very own listener.
“I’m not in chaos.”
I proclaim it to my therapist boldly, as I take my seat on the couch and face him. He smiles back at me in the quiet, thoughtful way he always does.
I try and expand on my declaration, but as I do, I feel the truth of the words slipping away from me.
No, I don’t want to run away from my family or hurt myself anymore. I don’t spend hours curled up crying until my stomach burns like acid. I am not drinking myself to sleep every night.
In those ways, I am not in chaos.
Yet, I see the patterns in my life I still can’t break. I feel the familiar panic, simmering under my skin, ready to first whisper, and then scream, the lies which tear me down. It’s a demon, and it will devour me if I don’t keep fighting.
I fear I’m only at the top of the ferris wheel again and I’ll come crashing back down any second. I want off. I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m so tired.
The walk back to the van is silent, as it always is. I hold my keys in my hand, the longest key sticking out between my index and middle finger, prepared to defend myself.
I didn’t cry on the couch tonight. I held it in, standing fast to my assertion I’m not in chaos, even as the doubts swirled inside. I faked feeling good.
I climb into the empty van and lock the door behind me. I sit until the interior lights turn off and I’m alone in the dark. The paper bird, Leonard, in his soft blue paper cage, hangs from the rearview mirror watching me.
I reach into the little compartment below the radio, past the mints, the earbuds and two kazoos, to the seashell and the dried leaf I know are there. I don’t take them out, I just feel them. I let my finger trace over them both, gently, as I release all I’ve held in, even from my paid listener.
I’m not in chaos.
I start home, the monks winking at me tonight and the white walls looking small and easily penetrable.
I walk into my dark house full of my sleeping family. There is a line of plastic geckos on the living room table, a stack of books, an opened bottle of glue, colored pencils and the “love drawing” my daughter did earlier in the week.
I sit on the couch and stare at the drawing, thinking of our conversation before I left.
“Do you want to move into the Love Apartments?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said.
“We don’t have an elevator, so you might want a lower one, that’s a lot of stairs to walk up. But not the first floor, because the views are better higher up and you’ll want a good view when you write.”
“Whatever you think.”
“You have to decide mom, and I’d act quick. There gonna sell fast.”
I barley glance at her.
I can’t remember hugging her goodbye or saying I love you.
There’s a second picture on the table, a new interior view of the apartments. She must have created this while I was gone, using the big table because of the size of the paper.
I see “sold” and “BKW” on my new 3rd floor apartment.
I smile and picture myself sitting in a big comfy chair, licking an ice cream from the shop next door and looking out the window at the perfect view for writing. A grocery store, the “Bank of a Heart” and music lessons all within walking distance.
No tall white walls.
No judgmental monks.
No plunging ferris wheels.
I kiss my sleeping children gently, slip into my pajamas and cuddle up next to my husband.
“You OK?” he asks and sleepily puts his arm over me.
“Yes,” I whisper.