Sunday, January 10, 2010

Calm

There's a storm brewing this week. It's a metaphoric one, but nonetheless. This week is going to be particularly psychologically challenging for me. Well, it could be.

Not to be cryptic or anything. Mostly what I'm saying here is, I'm a little stressed. I don't do anticipation particularly well, but I'm always well-prepared. Details will follow when I feel it's okay to tell them.

(I'm fine, btw. So are my parents. So don't waste time worrying.)

But here's what it makes me think of.

There was this guy, a few years ago, with whom I was involved. It was probably the single most vulnerable point in my adult life, and in as many ways as he was toxic, he was also one of the most helpful and supportive people in my life for a time. Peter (I'm sure I've mentioned him on here before) had a lot (LOT) of his own issues, and I still occasionally hope to hear from him some day down the road when he's had a lot of therapy or is on his Eighth Step or something. But nonetheless, Peter and I had this really interesting way of interacting, wherein, when he was most revealing of himself, he always spoke in these big metaphors. I really don't think he actually knew he was doing it, but it was still somehow always my job to listen to the story about remodeling his home or rounds at the hospital and at the end, say, "So what you're really trying to say is..." He spoke of his home as a metaphor for himself, frequently, often talked about our ways of relating in stories about how he related to his patients. He'd tell me a story about a woman in his office enduring a procedure without anesthetic, how he felt really worried about how much pain his ministrations were causing, but she told him to keep going. I said, "So, what I think you're really saying is, you're afraid that you're hurting me by trying to help, and worried I won't tell you when the pain is too much."

His answer was always the same: "What? No. I mean, I'm saying, I mean, no, I mean....yeah, okay."

At his core he was a good man (possibly several); I still believe this. But there was just so much that got in the way. Not to mention, I was not at my most stable right at that juncture, and my shrink at the time was encouraging me to be a lot more engaged with Peter than I ever should, for reasons that were probably not all that altruistic on the shrink's part. Ah, it was a mess.

So, at one point, he and I are fighting (because we did that about 60% of the time), and there had been a blowup, and we weren't speaking (because he knew that I HATED it when he stopped talking to me). And I was in northern Florida for some other reason, and he was refusing to acknowledge me being in the same state.

And then, there was this little storm that blew through.

I remember being caught in the outer bands of Katrina; I have never seen it rain that hard in my life. I was soaked straight through to the bone from running from my car to my hotel. They had to give me towels in the lobby because I was just so drenched I was leaving puddles on the floor. I knew the eye was passing over southern Florida, where he was, but well, it was only a Category 1 storm at the time. And I'd gotten quite an education from him already about Cane-Proof windows and storm readiness and blah, blah, blah.

But I got up the next morning, and opened my browser, and the first thing that popped on to my screen was "KATRINA BALLOONS INTO CATEGORY 5 HURRICANE." I looked out my window at the glorious sunny day that had appeared, and tried to figure out what to do with the ball of lead in my stomach. And after much internet reading, caffeine, and contemplation, the answer seemed irrefutable to me: I was headed south.

An hour or so down I-95 (far enough that I wasn't likely to change my mind but not so far that it would cost me much time if he was like, fuck you, stay the hell away from me), I decided I should probably warn him that I was in town (my friends in north Florida had all been like, just show up in the south. Call and be like, hey, I'm at the Starbucks down the block, come meet me for coffee). But that felt a little too stalker-ish to me, and I wanted to give him the chance to tell me not to come. So I called.

He answered, of course, because no matter how mad he was at me, he never seemed to figure out how to screen my calls. I could hear people talking in the background, recognized a couple of the voices as those of his family members. And I was like, hey, I'm heading your way. He balked a little - never told me not to come, said he wasn't sure he'd have time to see me, wasn't sure what kind of disaster their clinic schedule was going to be the next day, wasn't sure of much of anything. How long was I going to be down there? Because maybe he could see me the day after. I was like, look, I'm coming down because I'm so much closer than I usually am, and because there was just this big natural disaster, and that tells me it's time for you and me to work this the hell out. Once and for all (although it wasn't).

And somewhere in all the discussion of semantics and scheduling, I finally realized the one thing I hadn't asked that I really needed to: "You guys are okay, right?"

He says, "What? Oh, yeah, fine, of course."

I guess I'd known from the tone of his voice, the stories (metaphors) he'd told me about the day's activities, the laughter in the background. But I still needed to hear it stated.

As it turned out, I drove down, we had a very long phone conversation while I was stuck in traffic on 95 and he was sitting in the hospital parking lot. We never did get into the same space, but we parted on much more amicable terms (that time). I was able to drive for a while around sunny south Florida, in a town I absolutely adore (with or without him in it), and see for myself that Katrina, there, had been little more than a thunderstorm in their view - a far, far cry from the devastation it was unleashing on the Gulf coast.

Somehow, Katrina, from my vantage point, seemed as equally metaphoric as any story that had passed between us, any words spoken or unspoken, in so many ways. It was, indeed, a harbinger of things to come with us; it was also a perspective on how each person individually perceives and experiences a storm, how that storm may vary in lethality and intensity from moment to moment, and how none of these things have any bearing on what has been forecast.

It's better that we've parted ways. But I still worry about him. I have moments where I still miss him (or, at least, parts of who he was). I know how different I am from then; I wonder what he'd think about that, what he'd say, how he's changed. And I can't get through one of our southern squalls without thinking of him, of Katrina and what she meant, and smiling a little at those few fond memories I still hold.

1 comment:

penguinshrink said...

That was a beautifully told story.

(Also, the verification word is "abodmal". Seems funny to me, almost like a tummy...)