Friday, January 1, 2010

The Guardian Angel Job Interviews

The year that has just, mercifully, ended, was not a good one for me by any measure. In my record of 51 years, it hovers at the bottom, hanging out with the other delinquent years that included miserable family situations, unemployment, health issues and general crappiness. With a cigarette dangling from its sneering mouth and the collar of its tattered jacket turned up, 2009 kept daring me to knock the chip off its shoulder and I, perennial weakling, could not. As the time crept by, it kept opening up new little boxes of annoyances and miseries, and all I could do was wait for last night, the 31st, when I knew we could say goodbye.

In a firm attempt not to wallow, I first tried to isolate the worst parts of the year and find some good in them.

Okay, not much there.

On to “lessons learned,” a perennial end-of-bad-year favorite. On that front, I am able to dig up something, so I share it here.

The lesson starts in the spa-not-a-spa, as a friend of mine calls the creepily calming atmosphere of a big-time breast center. I’ve been called back, then back again, for “follow ups,” and I’m discovering new layers to this place, all of them increasingly depressing. The cheery checkup room with the free coffee and the 70s hits piped in overhead has been replaced with another “lounge,” further back, where no one is lounging and everyone is grim-faced. These chicks all seem to be in one piece, at least so far, so I imagine Lounge Three and Lounge Four and Lounge Ninth Circle of Hell stretched down the reassuringly mauve-colored halls, the inhabitants increasingly mutilated and frightened.

I leave, I am imaged, I am called back, I am spoken to in quiet tones. Next Steps are recommended. I return to the lounge, and to my dressing cubicle, and I am overcome with loneliness and despair. What lies ahead in the weeks to come is not going to be good, and I cast about in my spirit for some help. Unfailingly, my mother, dead 11 years and eternally helpful, arrives. I sense her presence, her comfort, her compassion. A sob escapes my lips, as I sit there on the bench, and I sense immediately the stiffening of spines in the next room, the pause in the flicker of magazine pages. I can’t do this to these women. I can’t be the She Who Cries in Dressing Room. I pull myself together and exit quickly, sensing pairs of eyes on my back as I leave, knowing they are hoping it was my unlucky day today, and not theirs.

One week later, I am back, moved to the area just behind spa-not-a-spa, which can best be called – oh that’s right, it’s called Surgery. I am alone. This morning, I dressed in the required loose-fitting button-down shirt, got my kids off to school and drove myself here. I am alone when the nurse barks out directions, I am alone as they position me as uncomfortably as possible on the table, I am alone when the needles start. And then I’m not alone. Mom is back. She offers comfort and love and sympathy, and I begin to cry, which annoys everyone present, I’m assuming because it makes me jiggle and makes their jobs harder and holds up the next appointment. My Irish roots don’t need a big push into the self-pity vat. I start snuffling, and I realize from the reactions of the workers that I Need to Stop This.

So, somehow, I ask Mom to leave. And I ask, consciously ask, for some help to get me through this.

What happens next is surprising to me by any standards, since I am the sort of person whose imagery in guided meditations tends to lead toward “I’m lying on a mat in a cold room” and never seems to make the leap to that warm sandy beach with the toe-tickling tide. I’m not good at summoning up anything other than what is happening right now or, possibly, what even worse thing could be happening in the future.

But, in spite of my usual lack of imagery-calling-up-titude, Jeffrey arrives.

I have to state here that Jeffrey is a real person. He runs a real yoga studio that I used to frequent back when I wasn’t TPFSY (Too Poor for Studio Yoga). I have always admired him, respected him and felt totally inferior to him. His ability to sense when I am about to topple over in pain, and to arrive at my side to bend me into a posture of – deargodhowcanhedothis – even more pain, is astonishing. The little mmmmms he delivers with his excellent-but-feared adjustments simply add to his mystique.

And now he’s in the needle biopsy room. He’s shooed Mom to the corner, where she’s dabbing at her eyes with a hankie, and he takes over. “You need to be still or this will take forever,” I hear him command, and I love the way he lisps over the ssstill. He keeps talking, happy he got a smile out of me. He reminds me of what I can do, what I have done, to find order in the face of chaos. “This is just like the 107th Sun Salutation of a Mala,” he says, firmly, “and you will pull it together now.” I sense that he’s folding his arms, waiting for me to snap out of it.

I do. I stop crying and I start leaning – into the pain, the loneliness, the fear. The situation is not going away or getting any better, but I’m moving with it, not against it, and as awful as these feelings are, at least I’ve stopped snuffling about them.

The doctors finish and the nurse helps me up, stuffing ice bags into my bra and barking at me about rest and aspirin. Jeffrey vanishes, padding away on his bare feet to go Tough-Love some other yogi who’s in divorce court, or having a root canal, or considering suicide on this ugly November afternoon, I suppose.

Not much has changed. I still don’t have anyone to meet me in the waiting room, or to ask me how it went, or to drive me home. I still have to go to the grocery store on the way home, and I will have to carry all the bags in by myself. No one will ask me what I want for lunch, and then prepare it for me. No one will ask, because no one wants to know, how my day was. That’s the part that stays the same, every hard day of this year that is harder than frozen tears.

But I made it through something scary today, all alone. And now all I have to do is get through the rest of this year, and make it safely into the next one. No one wants to fix me a sandwich, but someone, strangely, doesn’t seem to mind coming to my rescue when the situation calls for some Big Girl Behavior.

Thanks, Jeffrey. Sorry, Mom.

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