Tonight I got to catch up with a good friend that I used to get to see and work with every day. It’s totally strange to only chat once a week or so now… But we remain strangely “in sync” with one other in kind of cool ways… Like, picking up the phone to call each other at the same time, out of the blue…. Or being able to tell that something has happened, good or bad, just by hearing the person’s voice speak a sentence or two.
From the beginning of our convo tonight, I could tell some “good” had happened with my friend- he just sounded happy, lighter, enthused about life…. He quickly validated that, saying, “You know, I’m kind of confused… Like, I’m just happier… I don’t get it… nothing major has changed… I just FEEL different. I make less money, I can’t buy as many things, and I don’t like that, but I’m happier… and when I’m happier, I’m nicer… and I like that, too.” He was right, and it IS true, and it is good.
I think it’s funny how sometimes “nothing” can happen, but yet something huge happens anyway, without you even expecting it- and it’s pretty awesome when you realize it and have that, “Oh wow… this is WAY better!” moment.
I’ve had a few moments/ realizations like that of my own lately, too. My friend and I dropped some of the same stresses (and some of the same income) when I moved away. As I’ve written about, being unemployed makes me crazy (temp work has been a MAJOR blessing these past 2 weeks). But money and job worries aside, I gotta say, like my friend, I’m pretty happy right now, too. 🙂
However, my biggest happy moment of the month happened just this evening, out of the blue, and totally surprised me. Nothing was different, nothing had changed, but I was different this year… and that made all the difference.
The big deal?
I completely forgot about Oct. 15th.
I didn’t even THINK about it until tonight.
I only thought about it then because I realized it was October… and I wasn’t upset or mad or resentful.
My thoughts about it didn’t curl up next to me for a long extended stay.
There were no tears.
It was a fleeting thought that just wafted by and continued along its way.
I even had to “google” to remember the date. (that cracked me up)
As those who know me personally know (because you LIVED through it with me!), On Oct. 15, 2004 I lost “the bad eye” for good. It was unexpected. It was out of the blue. It put a major kink in my plans for a weekend, a semester, and the better part of my entire senior year of college… and it knocked the wind and spirit out of me like nothing else had (and hopefully never will). It challenged me to make “new sense” out of so much that had happened in my life up until that point, and to find strength and compassion within myself. It also forced me to learn to accept help and compassion from others. I learned my limits while I tested my pride and resolve. It was an ugly, ugly battle. I wasn’t sure who was gonna stick with me all the way through it, but in the end, I came out of it, with one hell of an army of amazing friends, family, and supporters.
I learned a lot about who I was and who “my people” really were.
But I came out rattled, to say the least.
While not proud to admit it, in what I now suppose was a rather inappropriate and over-dramatic term, I referred to Oct. 15, 2004 as “Day of Death” for YEARS after. I referred to the hospital the surgery happened at as “Hospital of Death” and I refused to drive by it for years.
While I deeply regret saying it now, in the terrible aftermath of Katrina less than a year later, I said, “Well, at least the storm destroyed that God-forsaken place.”…I probably only said that to a handful of people… But I feel really guilty about that. Classic displacement, I suppose, but gosh, I didn’t mean that. It wasn’t that hospital’s fault that I had a problem… the facility and their staff did their job and did it well. I drove past that hospital (now basically in ruins) almost every day on the way to internship for the past year… and each time, I’d kind of secretly think in my head, “Sorry, I didn’t mean it; really!”
I went around being angry and upset at all sorts of people and things immediately after Oct. 14, 2004… even when they didn’t make sense and even when they contradicted one another and often when people were doing the best they could to help:
… I was furious with my Assistant Dean, who empathically asked if I wanted to take a leave of absence for the rest of the fall semester. (The nerve of him to suggest I can’t handle this!)
… I was mad at the acting professor that gave me an A even though I totally did not have that final monologue memorized…. Like, at all. (I don’t want your help or sympathy!)
… I was mad at people who told me to stay and rest when I wanted to act like everything is normal. (I’m fine I can do everything I need to! …and by myself, too!)
… I was mad at people who acted like everything was normal but had hushed conversations when they thought I was out of earshot. (Don’t these people realize I just freaking lost a body part?)
… I was mad at the coffee pot at the Cathedral, because I wanted to do something “normal” like make coffee before rehearsal, even if I couldn’t stay, but I couldn’t hold it and it dropped to the ground and broke instead. (I can’t even handle a stupid task like making coffee! What can I do?)
…I was mad at a slew of doctors, and resentful about every surgery I had prior to that day, as I felt that result made so much of the past pointless. (Why bother with all of that! God, what I could have back!)
… I was pissed at the people who said, “It’s all for the best, you’ll see one day.” (You have no freaking clue what this experience is like! Please just say it sucks!)
… I was pissed at the people who said, “It’s not that big of a deal, it’s just an eye and you didn’t see out of it anyway.” (Would you feel that way if it was “just an arm”? Or if it was you? You have no idea.)
But most of all, I was pissed at myself. I was angry with my body. I felt like it literally had failed me and worked against me. I felt a sense of loss more intense than anything I had experienced before. Waves of grief washed over me and I didn’t even know how to express it. All the other complaints were just part of the cover story. It was so much easier to be a crabby bitch than to try to deal with myself.
At that point in my life, I didn’t want anyone to think I was “weak” or that “I couldn’t do it” or that “I wasn’t handling it well”… I was much happier (and proud) to be called strong and resilient and determined and persistent and stubborn and tough. Those were my highest compliments.
I would only cry in the middle of the night, when I was sure no one would hear me, or when I was alone.
….Until I got busted. (Yeah, that was awkward)
Through the whole ordeal, some pretty fantastic people hung in there…. Through bad hair, bad breath, day old pajama days…. To walking to bring me lunch between classes because walking home was too draining… To finding (or at least going with) my absurd and sometimes macabre humor about the whole thing… to my apartment mates who “celebrated” the “orange pee” side effects of some medication, making it seasonal décor instead of sickness. …to my awesome, awesome doctor, who is like family, who knew I was soooo not myself and was the person who one day said, “You know, it’s really ok and normal to not be ok and to be really upset and even really mad right now… even if it’s at me.”
That Spring, when I had finally kind of “come through” to the other side, I was ready to close that chapter. It was an ugly place I wanted to take some power back from, and put behind me. I wanted to celebrate not only the fact that I had “made it” and was “back”, but also the people who helped me to do it.
My (sort of f-ed up) solution?
….My first “smash bash”.
….In a basement apartment on Calhoun Street.
While clearly many thought it was a bit odd, no one said it to my face. My friends and family came, ate, drank, listened to a toast, watched me smash a fake eyeball with a hammer, and appropriately cheered and celebrated after.
It’s a tradition I’ve continued with every ocular prosthesis since.
Thankfully, these “Smash Bashes” now have a more celebratory sense and are much less about me re-staking my claim on sanity!
….But Octobers remained hard. For years, I’d even take the day off of work. I just had to “deal” with it. I NEVER, EVER thought it’d just be a day- a normal day- like any other, much less a GOOD day.
…But this year it was. I looked at the calendar tonight, and realized it was last Monday. I had a totally relaxed day. I went to the gym. I did a little shopping. I parked really illegally by accident. I hung out with my best friend in Chicago. It was a great day, in fact.
I had no clue that it was “day of death”.
And it makes me so happy and so, so thankful of how I’ve changed and grown and evolved in 8 years… and for all the people who contributed/ helped/ loved/ supported me along that way.
I’m sure I’ll miss people, but here’s my attempt at my Oct. 2004 Gratitude List:
My parents, my brothers, my extended family, Rick, Gram, Stephen, Claire, Kristen, Meredith, Rachel, Julie and Angie, Kathryn, Dreux, Seth, Eric, VP Vega, Tony Decuir, Savadove, Dr. D, LUCAP, SGA, Laura, Kris, Kim, Chris, Jeff, Sheri, Scott, Sam, Ryan, Cathedral Choir, Loyola, and like the 700 people I’m sure I’m forgetting…. I am so, so, so thankful to ALL of those people for really being there when it had to be really hard.
Today, I’m thankful for “normal” October days.