Saturday, August 09, 2014

after a while you switch to low fat

1. friend(s) vibe

There’s an episode of Friends where Chandler breaks up with someone—maybe Janice, maybe not for the first time?—and drowns his sorrows with Monica and Rachel. They teach him feminine heartbreak rituals, handing him a tub of chocolate ice cream and a spoon.

“This doesn’t taste very good,” he says.

Monica shrugs, resigned: “After a while you switch to low fat.”

The low fat nineties.
I remember the first date—or date-type thing—I went on after B and I broke up, with an androgynous Ivy League hipster screenwriter I’d met on MySpace. She was witty and sarcastic but nice, and had a great asymmetrical haircut. Her mom had died young. Her dad’s family was among the rich white people who fled Cuba after the revolution, which gave her an intriguing air of both privilege and oppression. When, after two ambiguous date-type things, I confessed that I liked her, she called me up and told me she’d gotten more of a “friend vibe” from me.

It would have been a nobler gesture if she hadn’t already told me a story about a friend of hers rebuffing a girl using the exact same phrase.

Still raw and sad about B, I took the day off work to lick my wounds.

I was thinking about this today, because I encountered some heartbreak this week—big heartbreak—and I was feeling really mad at myself for only working forty hours, only working out once and not working on my novel at all.

Arguably, I should cut myself some slack. But when heartbreak becomes a lifestyle, you have to switch to low fat.

2. harmony

Here’s what happened—I’m going to keep it general, partly because I’m not 100 percent sure it’s over, and that’s part of my confusion. We had a really promising contact from a birthmom. Not our first, as regular Bread and Bread readers know, but our most promising and consistent. We felt like we really clicked with Harmony, as I’ll call her. We talked or texted or video chatted with her almost every day starting Fourth of July weekend. There were some ups and downs in her family life and with her physical and emotional health, and each time, my stomach clenched with anxiety, which gave way to sadness as I delved into self-protective, preemptive mourning.

Which might be what I’m doing now. Or not. I’m kind of surprised by my utter confusion. Usually I’m so quick to fill in the gaps in what I know with my own hopes and fears; I want to call this progress, but then again, maybe I’m just out of my element.

Each time the situation seemed shaky, I tried to do what I learned during the time AK and I were having problems: I went through the motions of patience, even when I didn’t feel patient inside. I reiterated to Harmony that we were there for her, because it was true. (Is true?) I tried to remember that she had an interior life that was completely different from my own. Like AK, she always resurfaced.

She was honest and a good communicator, and if she had those qualities, I felt like we could handle whatever came our way.

She said she wanted to match with us (the adoption equivalent of getting engaged). So we were the adoption equivalent of engaged to be engaged.

She liked it. She talked about putting a ring on it.
But then last week, just when things seemed more encouraging than ever, she became less communicative. And there were some questions about her honesty, and whether it was the legitimate, mild dishonesty of a woman whose plate was piled high with ambivalence and drama and choices and hormones, or the more serious dishonesty of someone taking advantage of an opportunity for attention.

3. debbie downer and angry annie

Wednesday night, AK and I walked to the York and drank old fashioneds and discussed the maddening nature of the adoption process.

“I’m mourning how, for a little while, I didn’t worry about growing apart from all our friends with kids,” I said. “I mean, I love them anyway, but it was nice to not have that feeling of working myself up to enjoying their family-ness. It was nice to, like, see it as a point of connection instead of distance.”

“I know, me too,” said AK, who sees all things through the friendship lens.

There were ways we didn’t see eye-to-eye too, and we know this is our task as a couple: to respect those differences and love each other anyway. No small task for a sensitive, two-lady couple—enmeshment is practically written in our stars.

Last night we went to a Spoon concert at Hollywood Forever, which was the perfect medicine. I loved lying on the grass next to a mausoleum looking up at the black palm trees against the gray sky, as Spoon played its upbeat but urgent and achy songs. I was melancholy, half removed from the world, thinking of the dead.

There is no spoon. Wait, yes there is!
AK, on the other hand, was irritable—annoyed at honking drivers and the woman who scanned our tickets and herself for not immediately handing her the proper things to scan.

“I’m kind of angry tonight, aren’t I?” she observed. “And you’re probably kind of sad.”

There was a time when I would have seen her irritations as shallow and mean, and she would have seen my sadness as Debbie Downer-ish and standing in the way of enjoying life. Now we know better, even if it doesn’t always help in the moment. Now, unfortunately or fortunately, we have practice.

4. the emotional gay olympics

Okay, flashback to Thursday, the day I set aside for myself to wallow. That day I didn’t put in much work after my doctor’s appointment (more about nipple reconstruction soon—because this blog covers all of life’s joys), and I ate a bowl and a half of cereal for dinner and a chocolate bar and a half later, but not more than that because HARM REDUCTION/after a while you switch to low fat.

I wanted to go home and listen to the one podcast I am always in the mood for, Paul Gilmartin’s Mental Illness Happy Hour, while making fashion collages on Polyvore. That’s my go-to thing when I’m tired or mildly depressed. When I’m super depressed, I can only watch absurd reality shows and dark documentaries on Netflix. Recently my friend Annette said that her go-to thing was astrology, and she’d placed a book by Theodor Adorno—a brainy theorist, not an astrologer, although maybe there’s not as much difference as brainy theorists would like to think—on her desk as a reminder to challenge herself.

Pour yourself some Prozac and pull up a stool.
If you’re still reading, I want to know: What is your go-to thing? I want to know that you have a thing that consumes more time than it should. I hope you feel mild shame, like I do, but we should both remember that as humans we just reach our capacity, earlier some days than others.

Anyway, that was my impulse Thursday night, but I knew it would be better for me to let off some steam with a real person, and the ever-generous Wendy invited me to her apartment for poolside drinks.

We studied our toenail polish in the aqua glow—because there is nothing lovelier than a still swimming pool at night—and discussed philosophy and psychology and babymama drama.

The obligatory summer photo.
“Open adoption is like constantly breaking up with someone you might not have dated in real life,” I said. “And when I land in this place, where I’m over-sharing all the time and crying at work and having all this drama in my life, I feel like people—I’m not sure who, so I really mean my superego—are saying, ‘Well, she must seek it out.’”

“I took this class on psychology and literature, and I mentioned the idea of the id, ego and superego,” Wendy recalled, “and the professor completely shushed me, like those ideas were so out of vogue.”

She thought of her dad, who volunteered with the dogs on death row at his local shelter and whispered in their ears that they were loved, but who wasn’t so great at expressing love with the humans in his life. It was just about the most heartbreaking story I’d ever heard—for all parties involved.

“So over-sharing is probably good,” Wendy concluded.

“I wish they—” (again the anonymous, judgmental “they”) “—could know that I’m not a mess because I’m a mess but because this is varsity-level emotional shit. To put yourself out there over and over, to enter a stranger’s life when both you and she are in this really vulnerable place, and to try to plan a child’s life and make this kind of arranged marriage. And then when it goes bad, to do it all over again, and put your best foot forward again. That’s like the emotional Olympics!”

Wendy, who is a hearty agree-er, heartily agreed.

I thought about Homeboy’s Restorative Justice program, in which people who’ve committed violent crimes meet with the family members of violent crime victims. The perpetrators take responsibility for their actions while also linking those actions to the terrible things that were done to them. The family members forgive them as surrogates for the people who actually hurt or killed their loved ones.

“Okay,” I conceded, “maybe open adoption isn’t quite the emotional Olympics. But it’s at least the emotional Gay Olympics.”

5. spiritual direction from an angel who once considered slugging a pregnant woman

I declared yesterday Fresh Start Friday—because I always want to leave my sadness behind before I’m ready, and also, on a healthier level, because I realized I needed to put some plans in place to take care of myself over the next week or so. First, I decided to also make it Facebook-Free Friday (and if you saw this link on Facebook, it’s because it’s networked with Twitter, which for whatever reason doesn’t fill me with the same self-hatred) and stay away for a week.

I also decided to do a week-long Daniel Fast (but without the spiritual parts, because whatev), which AK and I tried for a few days earlier in the week. I like food rules and control, and this isn’t a very restrictive fast as fasts go—I mean, it’s not really a fast at all—and it actually makes me feel really healthy. The gist of it is: fruits, veggies, beans, eggs.

And, more important than either of those predictable measures, I walked into the office of Mary Ellen, Homeboy’s program director, and started crying.

I love Mary Ellen. Not coincidentally, she leads the Restorative Justice program. She’s in her late fifties and reminds me a little bit of my mom, in that she’s incredibly nurturing and wise while also being genuinely uncertain and self-deprecating. Twenty-one years ago, she adopted her daughter through open adoption, after almost adopting a little boy whose birthmom decided to keep him at the last minute.

“The whole time we were matched, I told her, ‘You can change your mind; you have to do what’s right for you,’” Mary Ellen told me once. “Then when she changed her mind, I kind of kicked myself. Why did I say that?” She laughed.

Yesterday, she talked about feeling mad at God when she was trying to get pregnant and wanting to slug a pregnant woman in an elevator.

M.E. on discovering gratitude: "Once I was hanging clothes and I thought, 'Dead people don't get to do this.'"
She also talked about brokenhearted-ness—which is such a physical thing that the term really makes sense—as a pathway to spiritual depth, to understanding paradox. The blankness I feel right now could be the space for something new to enter. The one consolation. Sometimes it’s not enough. Sometimes it’s everything; after all, isn’t the main reason I want to have children so that I can have some deeper understanding of human experience?* In that moment, in Mary Ellen’s office overlooking the Chinatown trestle, I physically felt my chest open. Things were not okay, but things were okay. This was love and letting go and God.

She talked about meditation in a way that made me not feel grouchy about trendy, platitude-y Eastern practices. She didn’t tell me we would get a baby, let alone Harmony’s, but she said, “This doesn’t feel over.” She said she would pray for us, and for Harmony, because whatever was up, it sounded like she could use some prayers.

6. turning off netflix as a heroic act

Today it feels a little more over. Today it was hard to get out of bed. I watched part of this super dark, super fascinating documentary called Cropsey, about a Staten Island urban legend that may have actually been true. It featured an abandoned children’s hospital, kidnapped disabled children, folklore and a borough that used to be viewed as a place to discard waste, from dead bodies to unwanted living ones. It was pretty much the creepiest story you could imagine, and completely riveting.

The filmmakers and the creepiest building ever.
I wondered if I was chronically depressed. At 10:30 I made myself turn it off, leave my messy house and walk to Highland CafĂ©, where I ended up sitting next to a sweet British family that resembled what ours what ours would have looked like if we’d matched with Harmony.

A different person might have seen it as a sign. Of what? I don’t believe in signs from God, but I believe that the human impulse toward meaning is God. Seeing this family almost hurt more than seeing yet another pregnant woman in her thirties, who are a dime a dozen. This story—or the story I imagined, because who really knows—could actually be our story, except it wasn’t. At the same time, I couldn’t do anything but adore them, as their laugh-lined mother hugged her little girls and responded to one of their English-accented questions, about how to spell “contemporary.”


*But also because I have a predictable, base desire for immortality and I want to buy tiny shoes.

4 comments:

Claire said...

Aha, found it, the phrase I love from this post, "varsity-level emotional shit."

I'm so sorry you're dealing with this recurring baby mama drama.

I'm not sure I have a go-to thing. TV, I suppose. I did just finish season one of Orange is the New Black. Wasn't sure about the tone in ep. 1 but ep. 2 had me sold. Love Kate Mulgrew. Love the diversity of women in that show.

Best to you and AK!

Cheryl said...

Yeah, I love OITNB so much I can't even call it a guilty pleasure--I am so proud to be a fan, and happy that it exists in the world. Season 2 just gets better. I'm excited for you to get to see it!

Thanks for the good wishes. :-)

Sizzle said...

We haven't even begun the adoption process. A lot of what you say is what is at the root of my hesitation. After going through so much, are we strong enough to endure the ride? Do you ever think that too? How strong must we be! Jesus, I feel like we've been through a lot. And there is this nagging worry that this will always feel like Plan B. Does that make sense?

What's my go to? Watching a bad movie and pinning stuff on Pinterest. Or shopping but that gets expensive.

Cheryl said...

We are super fucking strong! Siz, I know you can do it, even if this post makes it sound awful. Because you are super fucking strong!

Also, a lot of people get lucky a lot earlier than we did. You might be one of them. Agencies like to make adoption sound like the "sure thing," and it will be IF we don't get sick or burn out, but there are some roll-of-the-dice elements, just like with pregnancy. But you can't win if you don't play, right?

When we started, I told myself (partly as a protective measure, partly out of entitlement) that since pregnancy had fucked us over, surely we would adopt quickly. Apparently, that's not how karma, or whatever, works.

As for the Plan B part, I can imagine that that might be harder for a straight couple mourning the chance to see a melding of your and Mr. Darcy's DNA. (For us, it was the thing we tried second, but never a second choice. We just thought it might be easier to get pregnant, so we did that first. HAHAHAHAHA.) I think you have to let yourself mourn as much and as long as you need to.

That said, every adoptive parent I've ever talked to has NO sense their adopted children are anything less than their children. Your best bet is probably to see them as two separate journeys--adoption won't completely fill the hole left by the loss of your bio baby, but it will bring you a child who will be so fortunate to have you guys as parents.

P.S. Thanks for your comment; it kinda prompted me to give this pep talk to myself too.