Sundays at Valli

I love free slices of deli meat,
when they ask you if it’s cut
the way you like.

Today I ask for honey
roasted turkey.
It’s cold and salty.

When I was a kid my dad
always asked for a slice
of American cheese for me.
I never chewed,
let it melt on my tongue.
If we were lucky
there’d be freshly baked
chocolate chip cookies
by the bakery.
Mostly bird bits
in the latter parts of the day.

It’s one of those Sundays
where you pick up items
you don’t recognize
and ogle at their contents.

A jar of honeyed nuts.
Walnuts, pistachios
almonds, corn flakes
precisely aligned.

Smoked baby clams
in a can are $2.99.

Who uses the olive bar
and feels the need to
try seven different
types of olives?

And who among us
has braved cow tongue?

How do you cut a pomelo
and what citrus dream
does it taste like?

I put raw fruit
on the belt to avoid
using more bags
to bring home
to my cupboard of bags.

While we were away
at the grocery store,
our dog tipped over
the garbage can, sifted
through coffee grounds
and vegetable ends,
slurped up leftover
tomato sauce,
gnawed rib eye bones.

Containers licked
clean, now littered
across the house.

When our eyes lock,
her ears droop.

I want to be mad,
but she just wants
to try everything.

Early morning read

I set my clock early this morning so I could read. I slunk into my slippers, uncovered the bird and told her good morning. She squawked her annoyance, but then puffed up and settled into the warmth of her feathers.

I sat in Sean’s spot on the couch because it’s cozy and worn from his habitual video game play. My eyes still wore a foggy film of sleep residue, but I propped myself up and willed myself to be awake.

As my eyes began to hunt the text, I realized I didn’t have to look for mistakes and inconsistencies. I could just read. I burrowed into my book. It was lovely.

I edit things all day, so I spend a lot less time reading for sheer enjoyment than I ever have. It’s funny that when you have a job and want to do it well, you almost take on the persona. I am an editor, but I’m so much more. This sounds like a common sense statement, but it’s important for me to say it, for me to come back and read it over.

Lately, I’m hyper aware of betraying myself, of squashing my artist, of forgetting where I come from, of becoming all ego — personally and professionally. I think most people, especially young people, have an issue with this balance — how to believe in yourself but not fly too high. Some people think there are no limits, and I have never been one to believe this. We are filled with limitations. And that’s okay. That’s the beautiful part, right?

I received a mug as a birthday gift that said: “I’m silently correcting your grammar right now.” It’s actually my favorite mug because it has the perfect weight, coffee distribution, and lip to drink from, but that’s  besides the point. The point is, I don’t necessarily identify with the words on the cup.

I have a secret for you: I don’t cringe at the sight of bad grammar or misspellings. But yes, I absolutely notice them, especially if I’m the one making them. I have high standards, but I try my best not to glower, not to make others feel small.

Anyway, there are worse things to have than bad grammar. Like a rotten heart or a closed mind.

The book I started reading this morning is called “Awakening the Buddha Within” by Lama Surya Das. A friend recommended it to me. I’m about 40 pages in, and I’m already digging the simple-Jewish-man-travels-across-the-world-to-study-Buddhism vibe to it.

This book is a challenge for me. Though I would call myself a spiritual person, I don’t tend to take pragmatic advice on the soul or choose to read the equivalent of a car manual on spirituality (contradiction, anyone?). This text is far from that. I find it inviting, so much that I set my alarm to read it this morning. I will have more thoughts to share and quotes to pull from it eventually (or not, maybe I will read for the sake of reading), but this is what I have so far.

I’m glad I woke up today.

Fear of Exhaustion

This is an old one of mine. I forgot about it, and it’s oddly comforting right now… Like I’m talking to, warning/encouraging, my future self and others who feel the same. I thought like this at 21, and surprise, surprise I’m now 24, and I’m even more tired. But the nice part is I’m not as afraid anymore. So that’s new. This has no bells and whistles, but it once said what it needed to say, and it what it will say again.

Fear of Exhaustion

I’m tired. That’s about a quarter of the way to exhaustion.

I imagine exhaustion feels like those dreams — the ones in which you don’t know you are dreaming. You just know that each step you take is weighted. Each move requires more concentration, more energy, like moving through water. You can always feel that resistance working against your body, slowing it down.

Sometimes in these dreams I am running from something — a dark figure, a malicious bully, a sort of monster baring its teeth and reaching out its limbs to get me. I never understand why it is so difficult for me to run. What is stopping me? Why can’t I get away? Fucking run! I can feel a hot breath grazing my neck hairs, and fingertips prying closer at my sweaty skin.

But I can’t run anymore. My legs and arms seem to be draining, running out of power, shutting down. I can’t yell. My throat is raw and working overtime to emit a faint whisper that should have been a solid scream.

So I give up because I am so tired. Then the dream is over, and I realize I was only dreaming. I look back on my dream self’s exhaustion and dread that I will ever feel like that again… that I will ever be that tired.

In conscious life, I am only a quarter of the way there. Others are much closer. I can see it in their faces — not necessarily through crinkled foreheads and crows’ feet. It creeps in silently behind the whites of the eyes. And we try to shake it off or clench it in. Some are more successful at it than others.

What I imagine wears people the most is a lot like those dreams. They aren’t getting anywhere. Something is using force against them. It’s keeping them where they are.

It’s keeping them locked in kitchens serving chicken and green beans to kids who only open their pale little palms when it is time to get money they haven’t slaved so hard to earn — who only open their mouths to retort when they have been shorted.

It’s keeping them scraping away through Philosophy and Bio just to realize that at the end of the academic tunnel, there is no light because there are no jobs. Or at least because “be whatever you want to be” does not always apply in this godforsaken world.

It’s keeping them In greasy old grinds that manhandle their brains and muscle, and leave them preferring beer and television to family time, making them seem so far away from the people in their lives.

It’s keeping them in robotic routines or in the same monotonous relationships because they are too tired to look elsewhere. To leave abuse. To leave indifference. And then you hear things like “I’m too old for love, anyway.”

I imagine that is why some people decide to end things early. Pull the plug prematurely. They aren’t sad. They are just sick of the wear and tear bullshit. They are exhausted. Exhaustion that only eternal sleep could cure. Because in the end if there is nothing I’m sure sleep would do just dandy for many.

Death does not scare me. It is exhaustion. It is the resistance in life that intimidates me. The endless pits and circles. It is all the swimming. The seven days of treading water. The keeping your head above the surface.

At least I am aware of it. I know I am only a quarter of the way to exhaustion. It is hard to fight exhaustion, I assume. I haven’t really had to fight hard yet. But I am crouched and ready. If you are aware, I hope you are too.

I feel like a Linkin Park song

Sometimes the noise in my head is so loud I just have to say fuck it and surrender to the tears that are pushing and shoving their way through my tear ducts. They all want a turn to star in the show. Me, me, pick me, Sarah. Cry me! I’m next in line.

Today I cried in my car parked in front of a Subway. I’ll take the 6’’ inch turkey with chips, and a cup full of snot, please. There was this guy in a dark Mustang parked next to me who looked startled, then squeamish—like he just saw a squirrel get run over, and he was trying not to stare directly into the pool of glistening guts. So warm and gooey.

Subway is long gone. I’m home alone. I reactivated, then deactivated my Facebook at least five times. I tried to change my profile picture to something less morbid, less “feel-sorry-for me.” But then again, I don’t know what face I could possibly make to convey all of what I’m trying to say. It’s known in my circle of friends, co-workers, and family that I’ve shied away from social media and why. After fumbling around on Facebook again and again and failing to speak up for myself, I went to the gym.

The gym is one of the few routines—that and my beautiful drop of delicious sunshine a.k.a writing group—I have to my name. Zumba always makes me feel GOOD. Like I’m one sexy, strong mama with a slammin’ pair of hips. Like the flaming-bird-spirit-child I’m supposed to be. If I could stare at my ovaries in the mirror during Zumba, I would. I would ask them out on a date and get to know them.

And then the adrenaline dripped like a hose that’s just been turned off. And here I am. Alone with myself. It doesn’t help that my pits smell.

It’s 10 p.m. right now, and I’m forcing myself to write. Even though I detest writing when I start to dip this low.

The truth is I don’t want to sound like a Linkin Park song.

I’m sorry if you like Linkin Park. I like Linkin Park, too, actually. Back in the day, Meteora was my jam. But for some reason I thought I was light years away from Meteora in terms of my life. I thought I only had room for Bob Dylan, for Iron and Wine right now.

It’s not only the lyrics (Somewhere I Belong, Breaking the Habit, and Easier to Run, if you want to get all technical about it). I also feel like I’m made of Chester Bennington’s voice. I’m the hairball covered in shards of glass scraping on your tongue. I’m like swallowing a blister that explodes in the back of your throat. I guess I just want kind of want to break things. Or run.

I told everyone that I need some alone time because I truly do. I told them because I’m not one of those people who just disappears. My brother tells me, “Dude, Sarah, you sound sooooo emo right now.” One of my cousins thinks I’m pulling some bomb ass Edgar Allan Poe shit. My friends and boyfriend support me, but linger in the shadows just in case I need anything. My parents have no idea what planet we’re on, and that I live in it.

I’m not blaming my parents for this. Even though they have a lot to do with things. In fact, I have this ancient biblical-like scroll I could pull out and read to them. But I have never blamed anyone for my problems, and I’m not about to start.

My wanting quiet time is supposed to be a good thing. I set out to work on my writing, settle the racing thoughts, figure out where I want to go next. YOU ARE HERE on the map. But I’m having a rough time with it because in the silence, I’m finding yesterday’s news. It turns out I’ve been hoarding newspapers for years.

I’m reverting back to the gurgling, black pit of insecurity and helplessness that we so cherish in our adolescence. And the worst part is I’m not okay with that. The steaming bitch inside me is not onboard with letting me feel this all out. Even though “feeling this all out” is a part of the plan.

Because the same hustler, the same back patter who has been working with me, inside me, for years is also the one handing me my ass, my severed head.

Here’s what you don’t learn sitting at a desk or find staring at you in the middle of the notes you wrote in your college rule notebook: sometimes you sweat blood to get out of the dark cloud of your home life, you push yourself, you come ploughing through the other side—and you realize that it kind of feels the same. Except there’s nothing there. There is no broken home, no screaming match, no violence on the other side. The nothingness itself is what eats away at you.

You move into an apartment. You feel the wind in your hair of being on your own. You find a full-time gig, a window to your career, something to do with your time. You have someone to share it with, who understands what it’s like to be a 20 something on your own in 2014, someone who will hug you through it all. You think, I’m ready to begin my life, but wait…

And suddenly, IT is there. IT never left you. IT rings like a bell reminding you what you left behind. (Speaking of Poe) BELLS BELLS BELLS; to the rhyming and the chiming of the bells. There’s nothing touching you. You can’t feel it on your skin, taste it on your tongue. You try like it’s your religion to phrase and re-phrase it the best way you can. You try to outrun your past, and you find it here waiting for you—sleeping in your bed, sharing a cup of coffee in the morning with you. It says, “hey man, remember me?” with a nod of its head. It tells you fuck off in between red lights.

My parents are cropping up in casual conversations. It’s almost how I introduce myself, how I recap my weekend. How was your weekend, Sarah? Oh you know, my mom wants to live in my living room. The usual. How do I tell people that that she calls me weekly, pleading in pain, while I’m at work? I don’t. Because that shit doesn’t fly, dat shit don’t pay rent. Sarah, please help me. Please help me, Sarah. And I feel ready to cave, to just give it all up. To move back into the cigarette-stained apartment, to suffocate again with her. All in the name of HELP.

If you read my pulse, you’d find my family there. If you listened close enough, you’d hear something bleating like a half-wounded sheep. I used to have this on lockdown. For a long time FAMILY was the one genre of honest writing that was off limits for me.

I desperately want to ebb and flow in front of my siblings. They after all lived through the same thing. But I’m too stubborn to show them, too scared to get black ink all over their clothes. My brother is a young dad now. He’s found a way to outsource his rage, through scream-o music, and my jaw drops in awe whenever I hear him scream. It’s thrilling to me—like the feeling I get on the Giant Drop. My sister has a new boyfriend she’s really pumped about. And apparently she’s what the kids call “a boss” at her job. The other one is going to school after silently digging holes into herself and straggling from house to house for years. I worry about them as often as I click on a link, as I type a sentence, as I turn a tight corner. I also well an ocean of pride for them because I know what it takes. It takes everything just to move an inch in the muddy waters of poverty, of pain you wouldn’t believe even if you lived it. Because trust me, I don’t believe my eyes.

Being the first to graduate in your family sounds like a big fucking accomplishment. It is, don’t get me wrong. But there’s something so pathetic about coming out the other side alone. There’s no one at the finish line to share this with me. I left people behind. When I come back to visit, there’s this artificiality, this distance, this need for them to understand me. I miss my people. I need my people. But I’m afraid to get close.

Let’s get back to Linkin Park, and why the bitch inside my head is not okay with me feeling the music. When I was 13, this was expected. I just let myself feel whatever I had to feel, and then moved on. Mostly, I felt angry. I felt suffocated. But as soon as I opened the sliding door, when I left the dingy, cigarette stained apartment, shit was funny again. I turned to my friends and teachers; I didn’t push them away or push the button on self-sabotage when my open life was staring me in the face.

Sometimes I wish I could just inject funny into me. I used to see directly past pain, and a lot of that had to do with my ability to open my mouth, hear the sound come crashing behind my tonsils, and laugh with my entire body. My defenses are down. I’m so good at making myself laugh, at laughing at myself. But right now my humor sounds like a radio playing muffled music, short-circuiting under water.

I try to move on, but really what I’m doing is distracting myself, over stimulating myself—with the Internet mostly. With the opinions and thoughts of everyone else, so I don’t have to be alone, truly alone. At home and at my desk, I’m living in this hyper sensory bubble. When something happens—not just to my family, to people I hardly know or don’t know at all—the bubble I’m living in zaps me. My hair stands up straight from the electricity. When a journalist is beheaded. When a comedian kills himself. When an entire population is led to an edge at gunpoint. I suddenly can feel that, too.

I feel like a dandelion that’s being plucked over and over. When did I become such a delicate, little flower?

And then there’s the whole what am I going to do with my life thing that plagues us all. I figured out a long time ago that I’m not okay with doing something that isn’t meaningful to me. What I really want to do depends on if other people think I have anything legit to say. It has to smell new, feel new. It can’t be covered in chocolatey clichés. For the love of god, I want to be a writer. A WRITER. I usually follow this with a punchline, chortle, a snort. Why of all things, does it have to be that? Why couldn’t I have picked something else to fall in love with?

I don’t even know what kind of writer I want to be. My boyfriend tells me I need a niche. Hey babe, you’re good at movie and book reviews. Hey babe, you love poetry. I know I need to narrow things down, too. The trouble is I have this professorial snob in the back of my mind who is wagging HIS (because let’s face it, most known writers are men) finger at me, telling me I’m not smart enough to be a writer. He speaks in a British accent of course. He asks me what I know. I tell him I’m not sure. And he laughs a merry laugh that only a well-esteemed, well-accomplished old, white man can.

I know a million people around me who are feeling the flimsiness of being a 20 something in 2014. As my best friend said to me last night in between my large gulps of air, our parents, people before us, don’t know what it’s like now—to graduate from college, to write a resume, to encourage yourself, to find a job, to learn the ropes of a new one, or to be stuck in one. It’s a miracle that I still have my best friend, that I have friends to share these raw sentiments with.

In a sense, this is why I’m sharing all of this. I know I say I want alone time, but this does not mean I’m truly alone. I know you are on the other side feeling some of these things, too.

Here’s the advice that I’m telling my wide-eyed, sleep-deprived self this morning. (It’s no longer 10 p.m. I woke up. It’s 7:30. I have to be at work at 9.)

The advice I tell myself is nothing fancy. It doesn’t wear designer clothes. It’s what I tell everyone else. Here it goes: just roll with it. If you feel pain, fucking let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. Girl, don’t push it down. Where do you think that shit goes? You can’t simply have a bowel movement, and out it goes. Wrapping up insecurity and pain and stamping a frilly bow on top of it all is not the way to go about things. It has never helped anyone. Hiding breeds bad adults. Plain and simple. Say something. For fuck’s sake, wake up, speak up. Turn around and look. We’re all bleeding around you.

The worst kind of pimple

Image

The worst kind of pimple

I drove myself to the eyeball clinic one morning before work. The night before, I ate Italian sausage for dinner, watched part of Blue Planet on Netflix, and went to bed. All was well. Not a mouse stirring. When I woke up my left eye was on fire.

What the hell was happening to me? I scuttled into the bathroom like a blind crab and lunged toward the mirror. No signs of mutation or dysfunction. That’s weird, I thought, so why is my entire eye socket throbbing in pain so sharp I’m grinding my back molars together? After pacing around my kitchen, cupping my face in agony, I determined my painful eye an emergency.

I was the only person under 70 years old sitting in the waiting room, probably because people my age don’t have time to sit around in a waiting room, determining the fate of their mystery eye ailments. “You’re catching up to me,” this old gentlemen said and winked at me, and I laughed because I thought he was talking about age when really he meant that I was next in line after him to get my eyeballs fondled. So, I shut my left eye, and the older gentleman and I squinted at an episode of Dr. Phil about a girl who cried “rape.” And poke, poke, poke through the whole thing until the doctor called me into a room.

It’s been years since I’ve seen a doctor, let alone an eye specialist. I still have yet to turn over my new insurance card and locate a primary care doctor. I know, how irresponsible, right? But if you can believe it, until recently, I was one of the millions of young adults without health insurance. Thanks, Obama (?)

But in all seriousness, I truly feel for those who aren’t insured. I remember shaking over an entire flight of stairs, clinging to a railing tight after catching myself, and thanking the heavens for not letting me collide with the earth. Being uninsured at any age is terrifying. Things can happen to anyone, and medical debt can devastate lives for people who are already struggling or just finally getting ahead.

This eye examination wasn’t just a “stare at the text and recite your ABC’s” kind of thing, it was a “press your face into this Hannibal Lecter contraption and don’t move while I slip your eyelids inside out, fold them into a paper crane, and proceed to scrape scum off your retina with a pointed tip” kind of thing.

The young doctor who looks like Hayden Christensen was impatient with me when my aching eye involuntarily protested against three rounds of liquid drops. “Haven’t you ever had your eyes checked before?” Um, for glasses doc, when I was 8.

Oh, and dilated eyes basically means that you won’t be able to see much for the next 3 hours. I felt like the Men in Black just flashed me with their memory-removing laser, except unfortunately mine was still intact. I quickly remembered that I was being tortured.

“The dilation will make it hard for you to read.” I tried to be funny. “I’m an editor, but that’s okay I don’t read much.” Dr. Christensen wasn’t amused and told me to sit still. A toddler getting a haircut. I would rather have my vagina examined while getting a tooth pulled then have to go through this examination ever again.

And it turned out that the lengthy process was all for nothing. There was no life-inhibiting infection brewing under my eyelid; it was the early onset of a stye, or fatty, blob of an oil and pus buildup, the equivalent to a pimple (yum!).

When I read about the causes of styes, my face grew red with shame. I guess it happens a lot when people rub their noses and then touch their eyes. Eww. Or when they don’t remove their makeup before going to bed (guilty). Or a lot of things that amount to not washing your hands enough. I felt like a slob.

Why am I writing about my stye of all things? Well because this microscopic pus mound is making my life miserable right now, and I’m trying to have a sense of humor about it. It’s insane how one small little thing can have such a huge effect on your day-to-day life.

I know this is pathetic, and I sound like a wimp, but humor me and take a look at all the things that this stupid, little stye is doing:

  • Decreased productivity

-Google: “Can you go blind from an stye?”

-WebMd: Self-diagnosis.

“It’s been 15 minutes since I last steamed my eye pimple, I should probably do it again.”

-Google: “Images of styes”

-Google: “What it’s like to go blind.”

-Text Sean: “Babe will you still love me if I have a glass eye?”

-Text Dad: “Hey Dad, do you still have that eye patch from your Halloween costume?”

-Google: “Can you take more than 10 Advil pills in one day?”

-“If someone offered me heroine right now, I might pause a few extra seconds before I say ‘no.’”

-“I should probably finish editing this press release, but I’m going to write a post about how this stye has been hindering my life.”

  • Lower amounts of self-esteem

-I somehow feel fatter, bloated

-I feel like the left side of my face is drooping

-Every now and then, goop creeps to the corner of my lid (sexy).

– I feel like Chris from Family Guy, the episode where he has a talking pimple telling him to think and do bad things. Mine hates my guts and keeps telling me to act as miserable as possible and lash out at people because they don’t understand how much pain I’m in.

  • Phantom objects- That “there is something in my eye” feeling. All day. Oh yeah, it’s a pimple poking into my eyeball.
  • Increased road rage

-Snails with wheels inching in traffic. And poke poke poke poke. Dude cuts me off. Oops, and there goes my middle finger.

-“What red light?”

-“Excuse me, but I have to ride the median, this is an emergency.”

-“No, I’m not actually crying, stop trying to scoot your ass next to me to see if I am.”

-“I can’t wait to get home and shove my face under a scalding hot shower.”

  • Loss of appetite- I’m so digusted with this thing, it’s tarnished my want for food.
  • Swelling, headaches, muscle fatigue of the neck… because of a pimple
  • Loss of dignity

There it is, folks. Over 1,000 words about a stye. It can be done if you have enough petty bullshit to complain about. I hope it was mildly humorous.

I understand that there are a lot of worse things to deal with when it comes to pain that aren’t so funny, but my response to that is along the same lines. When you feel trapped inside your body because of pain, your best bet is to mentally fight back. This stye does not own me. Say: Fuck this pain.