epic post alert.
This post is so long that it requires a table of contents.
Love is Ugly
We’re taught a one-sided charity. We’re taught that the rewards reside in giving, in being privileged enough to give; and that magnamity and magnificence flow in one direction: from the offeror, with the offer.
For a long time I believed that to love was to give and I bathed my beloveds in acts of kindness and charity.
But I rarely, if ever, asked for help, even when I desperately needed it. Unless I had no choice.
Late one afternoon I was stranded on a bridge that, just moments earlier, was the scene of a horrific, multi-car, fatal accident. The bridge was shut down. I wouldn’t be going anywhere for hours. And the daycare closed in thirty minutes.
And I was sick about having to call my friend for help. She’d have to drop everything, pack up her two kids, and dash to the daycare right now and then she’d have to feed all of them dinner. Such an imposition.
I had no choice. I had to ask. And I worried about it all the way home.
And almost every day was a day like that. I was a newly separated single working mama of two kids under the age of four. I worked, I took care of the girls, and when I wasn’t at the office I was essentially housebound. I had no after-work-hours childcare. I had no money for babysitters. I did, however, have family and friends living within a four block radius of my home.
But I couldn’t ask for help.
Because my defense – my shield against the failure of being a single mama in the midst of married coupledom – was to be seamless. Perfect. Superwoman. Need-free.
And at the same time, I was generous. I’d take my friend’s son for the weekend when she was working night shifts at the hospital. I’d offer advice. (I love to offer advice.) I’d write projects for free. I’d work extra hours and not bill for the overtime. And I loved doing that. I loved – and love – it when people let me in to their lives.
But if anyone offered me what I offered them, I was wildly uncomfortable.
I couldn’t let anyone in unless everything was perfect – which meant I had to keep everyone at arm’s length. Which meant, in times of trouble, I retreated. Disappeared. Cut contact.
Then, last October – after a year of a lot of growing up – I got sick. I collapsed. I was hemorraghing on the bathroom floor at 4am.
And at that moment, flat on the tile, bleeding, in overwhelming pain and on the verge of passing out, I still worried about asking for help. Even calling an ambulance seemed a touch histrionic.
But I couldn’t faint on the floor for my four year old to find me in a pool of blood.
So I called my sister and my friend Heather. Heather drove me to the hospital and my sister scooped up the girls and carted them home. Heather stayed beside the emergency room bed until 7am when I convinced her to go.
After she left I bawled hysterically and unceasingly until noon.
I sobbed through exams and needles and tests and a nurse stroking my arm saying I know honey, I know.
I cried because I didn’t want this to be happening. I cried because I didn’t want to be there. I cried because I was alone and in pain and I needed help and I sent help away.
And the woman in the bed next to me bawled all day, too. She’d just left the hospital four days earlier after a four week stay. She’d had part of her intestine removed. She had two little kids at home. She had a business she was tending to on the phone. I’d hear her make very composed calls organizing her employees to cover her absence and then I’d hear her sob with her entire body. I heard the doctor tell her she had an infection at the surgical site and pneumonia and still I heard her beg him to send her home. He left to consult with another doctor, and I heard her cry, hard, and say oh god I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to be here.
We sobbed and spoke in concert. That was what I saying and praying too. I didn’t want to be there, and part of my grief and hysteria came from the not wanting to be where I was.
Naturally. I was in the ER. No one wants to be in the ER.
And somewhere between the pain and the percocet I realized: most of my emotional anguish comes from fighting what is.
I was in the ER. I was sick. I needed surgery. Nothing would change those immediate circumstances. I was fighting the wrong dragon. I was fighting reality.
Instead, what I ought to do was fight to be okay, right now, right where I was.
I told myself to accept the pain, to breathe, to feel every twinge of my battling body. I tuned in instead of trying to block it out. I marvelled at my own resilience. I suffered; I hurt; but I wasn’t fighting myself. I was fighting for myself.
After hours and hours, the hospital sent me home. No space in the Operating Room. No beds. No room in the inn.Surgery would have to wait until tomorrow.
And when I got to my house – I still felt ashamed and guilty for needing my sister to ferry me home – I was alone. My girls were safely ensconced at their father’s house.
And this time, even though it wasn’t an emergency, even though I knew could get through the night alone, I asked for help. I told my loverloverman – who, at that point, was my former loverloverman and to whom I wasn’t speaking – this:
I’m sad and scared and I’m having surgery tomorrow.
He said, I’ll be right there.
And he was.
And, after I hadn’t let him see or speak to me for a month, he climbed in bed with me, kissed me and stroked my face. He gazed into my eyes adoringly and told me, as I lay wan, sweaty and shaking with pain, that I was beautiful. He held me and caressed me and hugged me and kissed me all night and every time I turned to him, he was awake. He didn’t want me to be alone for a moment.
He made what should have been the worst night of my life the sweetest. I was awash in his love and protection and stunned that he desired me even in my most bedraggled, unsexy, pain-wracked, suffering state.
And later, while I was in the Operating Room, he took my car and cleaned it inside and out. I know he was just trying to do something – anything – sweet for me.
I had surgery. I recovered. And while I was recovering, my man-who-wasn’t-my-man, friends, family and even my children’s father had my back unreservedly. Enthusiastically.
When I thanked Heather for her 4am service, she said: “I’m your person.”
When I thanked my children’s father, he said, “You’re the mother of my children. We’re a team.”
When I thanked my sister, she said, “Of course.”
When I thanked F, he said “You didn’t have to go through this alone.”
And, much like the realization that sliced through the pain and the percocet, a new understanding – a harrowing, of-the-marrow knowledge – cut through my fog of mortification at being dependant and unable to stride through emergencies unassisted.
Love isn’t only an offer. Love is reception and invitation. It means being able to receive. Truly loving and inviting people in to your life means letting them see you in all your glorious misery, in the midst of dirty dishes and unfolded laundry and sometimes pain and pools of blood.
and all of this is to say thank you to
- Meggy Wang, The Novelist’s Hubris
- Matthew Stillman, Stillman Says
- Linda Eaves, Don’t Go Home with Him
- Sara Blackthorne, Forest of Stories
- Tessa Zeng, Experiencing Revolution
- Amy Friend, Cypress Sun Jewelry
- Marianne Elliott, Zen Peacekeeper
- Jenny Alexander, The Painted Lily
- Lindsey Mead, A Design So Vast
- Jasmine Lamb, All is Listening
for lovingly inviting me into their virtual houses. Yes, darlings, you won a Red Shoe Blogger Digital Strategy Session.
(Expect an e-mail from me today to line up our schedules.)
PS Did you see the image at the beginning of the post? That’s the badge for the Love Sparks Blogging Festival by Jasmine Lamb (All is Listening). Check it out.
Oh, One More Thing…
to EVERYONE who commented on my “this I know” piece,
If you want a Red Shoe Blogger digital strategy session, let’s do it like this:
The usual price is $100 per session, but since you loved me up, I want to love you back. Tell me what works for you and IT’S ON, BABY.
lovelovelove to you on Valentine’s Day.