And in this particular bar on this particular day, this man that I felt a little spark of trust in revealed the edges of a puzzle in me that I am still working on solving some days. We were talking frankly, as we always did, about what our relationship might look like, what our challenges would be. Then, he said something like: “You are usually high, you know, up. But you have these lows. How often do these lows happen? How long do they last?”
I wanted to smack him for being so blunt and kiss him for being so right. I wanted to thank him – and maybe I did – for not pathologizing me. There was up. And there was low. And this man was asking a perfectly rational question to which I did not have an answer. But I kept this particular question held close to me through these last fourteen years and I’ve managed to work toward understanding its implications.
Of course, getting sloshed together in a dark New Mexican bar in the middle of a gloriously bright day is not the foundation of a fairy tale or lasting love so that man and I, eventually, parted ways. And by the time we did, I had made that famous mistake of trading what could have been a lovely, lifelong friendship for a brief and wild fling. It turns out, the Harrys and Sallys of the world are rare but I didn’t want to believe that then.
Unraveling the answer to the up/low ratio became a conscious and serious quest for me. Several months later, as I slept-but-didn’t-sleep, very much alone in my extra-small twin bed in a room I painted the color of the inside of a womb in Brookline, Massachusetts, I pondered it heavily, staring into the dark, into the nothing that had become of my life.
I had recently finished my master’s degree, which included, as its backdrop, my divorce. I had recently run away from whatever that degree might have afforded me, believing that I wasn’t meant to be a teacher, becoming, instead, – and again -- the administrative assistant I was all through my undergraduate days. I knew as soon as I made it, it was the wrong move. Boston. Taking a job as a secretary at a large hospital, working with Harvard medical students. Subletting (once I got off my friend’s couch) a room in a 5-bedrooom apartment with four women who were all friends and at least five years younger than me. It was ALL the wrong move. But in those days, it was just me. I was a turtle that could pack its entire life into the shell of my little Hyundai Elantra and go wherever I wanted. So, I sat with the realization that I had utterly screwed up, on this particular run. I had as much fun in Boston as I could. I started looking for MFA programs that were still accepting applications. I started looking for teaching jobs again.
Dear Reader: My childhood home was a home my parents rented for seven years from the time I was seven until I was fourteen. Before that, we had already moved twice. During that time, there were at least two times my mother left my father and we didn’t exactly “live” in that rented house. After that, I never lived anywhere – this is the part you really need to pay attention to – I never lived anywhere (since the age of 14) for more than 2 years. Never. Anywhere. There were a few places – Boston was one – where I lived for just around or less than six months. I became genius at packing (which mostly meant giving or throwing away) everything I owned, navigating my way all over the country (pre-gps and stupid smart-phones – I used MAPS!!!), finding and setting up an apartment (again, without smart phones, I used the yellow pages and local papers and real live telephones with cords!) , making new, good friends quickly and settling in to new places with gusto. My sister even made mention of this last ability on her one trip to see me in New Mexico. “You always find all the good local places” she said, “ like you’ve lived here a lot longer than you really have.” I remember this vividly because it felt like a huge compliment to me and made me feel proud. I was so good at moving and adapting. And it took me a few years – and buying a home and settling into my (finally!) tenure-track job -- to realize it wasn’t “moving and adapting,” it was running. I came by this kind of running honestly and it served me well for many years.
So back in my little womb-room in Brookline, Mass, I prepared myself to run, again.
Only, before I was able to run (this time to Reno, Nevada), I met a guy from New Hampshire (in Plainfield, Vermont) and it was pretty (subconsciously) clear that me and this guy had to have a baby together. I was 28. And, from a feminist perspective, I, of course, do not support the idea that women have some sort of ticking clock. But, at the moment, mine was a consistent gong. If I was going to have a baby, I needed to have a baby. And this guy wanted a baby. And he was the first “good boy” I’d ever wanted in my life – and all of this seemed like a (subconsciously) good idea. Of course, consciously, I was just continuing to “have fun.”
The details of the next few years are for a different story. I want to get back to the big question of the up/low ratio. So, I’m going to fast forward: I move to Reno, he follows me to Reno, we are pregnant within the first month he’s there, I have a baby and finish my first year of my MFA program (all while teaching full time one place and part time at another), and somewhere along the way there is “postpartum depression” and that’s an official diagnosis. This low was long and big and deep and wide and awful. Even I noticed it. And I wondered when up would come again. I waited and worked toward it for a long time. It was a deep hole.
This “good boy” man and I did the very best anyone could expect two people who are pregnant within a few months of knowing each other to do for several years. He eventually (when our child was a year old) proposed marriage. I accepted but was happy with a long engagement. I continued to do what I did best. In the first four years of our life together – and the first three years of my son’s life – we moved four times. Nevada to the first apartment in New Hampshire to the second apartment in New Hampshire to Michigan.
In Michigan, the lows became rages. There was a good reason I ran from Michigan. And coming back to it suddenly reminded me of all of those reasons. And those reasons filled me with a terrible anger.
At a certain point, not unlike the moment the sweet friend I ruined by loving in New Mexico asked me about my up/low ratio, my husband sat calmly beside me and said, “I can’t live with your anger for the rest of my life” and he left. He left. And in an INSTANT my family was broken and in that same instant I knew how fiercely I wanted it back together, all in one place. I wanted it fiercely enough to let my anger go. So I began climbing out of that hole too.
My family did come back together within several months. And my husband and I struggled together, over the next couple of years, to patch every last little crack in our foundation (which proves a, probably, impossible task). And the ups continued to happen. And the lows continued to come.
At some point – either before or after he left – I shared the story of the little dive bar in New Mexico and my sweet friend’s rational question with my husband. He agreed, it was a good question. We began to ponder it together. It helps to have a highly pragmatic person in your life when you are a typical flakey artist-type. I don’t measure things. Not even when I’m cooking – not really. But my husband measures, counts, totals-up everything.
By his account, as he’s known me over the last thirteen years (which have been BIG years), the ups have gotten progressively longer. The lows have gotten progressively shorter. He also notes that the ups seem less edgy and wired – more tempered, softer. The lows, he says and I agree, are not left unchecked. I seem to be able to see them, to realize what is happening, to take steps in moving me through, clawing my way up.
The clawing requires running (the real kind of running, on my feet – not the running away) and lifting weights and swimming and dancing and biking and yoga and WRITING THE TRUTH and creating a clear and reasonable meal plan then sticking to it and allowing myself to be in the world, with people, especially those people I love. And, okay, I’ll say it, trusting the Universe.
One horrible (I mean, truly, horrific) lesson I have had to learn way too late in life is that I have to take care of myself. We ALL have to take care of our OWN selves. How unfair is that? But, listen, I’m the baby of the family: everyone should be taking care of me, right? But, I also DID have to start taking care of myself in many ways at the age of 4! And, I started working at the age of 13!!! And I left my parents house when I was 17! I have ALWAYS taken care of myself and yet ALWAYS thought it was unfair that I had to take care of myself. Well, as my mother was fond of saying, “life’s unfair.” Put your big girl pants on, JodiAnn. So, I am.
I still have no idea what the exact ratio is. 7:1? I know for sure it’s a better ratio than it was when I was the kind of girl who would be in a dingy dive bar on a glorious New Mexican day. A much better ratio. Another bonus is that when the lows come, I take the time to find more meaning in them than I could’ve then – when I was so disconnected from my body and so in need of obliterating my own thoughts.
Instead of obliterating my thoughts, these days, I am blogging them. It’s self indulgent and weird and certainly leaves me wide open to the judgment of people who think its inappropriate to bother the world with their own truths. Oh well. Just like exercise, it’s part of what works to get me back to up.
And, I’m looking forward to up.