Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Inside Jokes

Small, thin cow. “Hole” Foods. Klokora Rrrrrovel. Fortuna’s Wheel (that wench). Rojo Pony. Desmond. Paul Robynson.

I love inside jokes. They bring depth and creativity to a relationship. They are pieces of absurdity that no one can understand, other than those who have shared in a particular experience. There is a sense of freedom with this type of humor. Who doesn’t love taking the liberty to say something to a trusted friend that would be deemed completely unsuitable for the rest of society to hear? Inside jokes provide us with hysterical laughter, countless conversations that start with, “Remember the time when…,” and unique ways for people to deal with things in the context of their own relationships.

The words at the beginning of this piece may seem random and nonsensical to you, but to me, they mean everything. For me, each statement makes sense because I am one of the keepers of the inside jokes to which they are attached. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about those stories, and I smile to myself. The smile turns into a giggle. The giggle turns into an urge, which turns into a strong physical craving to talk to the other keeper of the jokes. There is but one person in the known universe who would understand the hilarity of the “small, thin cow.” If I tried to explain any of these stories, I’d probably be caught in that awkward moment of an amused look, followed by the statement, “I guess you just had to be there.” What happens to the inside jokes and the stories when one of the keepers is gone? I think about this often because on April 30th, 2012, this particular collection of private humor was, all at once, suspended in a space where perhaps only unused inside jokes can float around. The warden of the “small, thin cow” (and many others) was Paul. When Paul died in 2012, I carefully hung up our jokes and stories, and I didn’t start taking them out again until very recently.

Paul’s death was hard on me for a ton of reasons. We spent a lot of time in a parallel process of growth-- recovery from things we had been through, and learning how to manage our lives differently than we had before. We worked on this mission alongside each other, with the light falling upon us differently, and sometimes, not at all. One morning in April, I lost my journey partner when Paul ended his own life. He did so in a way where he could protect himself from anyone having to interrupt his objective (because I had tried so many times before), and in a way where he could protect me from having to agonize that he wasn’t doing better this time (although I never stopped worrying about him for a moment). I will always remember the last text that I received from my Paul: “It’s a beautiful day. Using coping skills. Love you Blu J.” Two days later, I woke suddenly, my brain racked from a terrifying early morning dream. A frequent and intense dreamer, I distinctly recall sitting in bed, thinking how it was the worst I had ever had. The panic of what had disturbed my sleep hung around through my waking hours, despite my efforts to peel it off entirely. I had not experienced anything like this before. Two days later, I would learn that this horrific dream took place around the same time my dear friend had ended his life. Partners, we were. Connected, I suppose, even in living and dying.

There are better things to remember Paul by. Of course, I experienced anger, devastation, sadness, and guilt. There was confusion, forever questions without answers, and more anger. These feelings, although not meant to be minimized, are obvious byproducts of a suicide, and are not the reasons why I wrote this piece. Because there are better things.

I work in a field where, sadly, I have seen suicide attempts, accidental overdoses, and completed suicides. I have also lived a lifestyle that has allowed me to develop close friendships in the recovery communities of substance abuse and mental health. Unfortunately, when you collect enough of those friends, you almost inevitably end up seeing some sadness on the other side of the people you have had the fortune to know. Every single one of those lives is so much more than the reason, or the manner, in which they left this world. Because there are better things.

Paul bought me my first pair of running sneakers, and even some super sporty highly ventilated socks to go with them, just because I said that I thought about running. He also knew me well enough to know I would probably never follow through on that particular ambition. We routinely hit up the Whole Foods buffet for takeout, which we would eat at his apartment. He would arrange the items in his container in a fairly organized manner, while mine was disaster of foods that do not go together. We were regulars at the “The Last Drop,” a coffee shop that we refused to acknowledge by it's proper name, preferring our own name, “The Lost Drip.” Most street corners in downtown Philadelphia remind me of him, of us. I always felt safe and comfortable around him, and that is the reason he was so special to me. I have forever struggled with having relationships that feel genuine. Historically, it has been difficult for me to feel that I can just be who I am, in any given situation. For me to come upon that type of a friendship, as I did with Paul, is an extraordinary occurrence. To lose it, is incredibly difficult. I thought that Paul’s death would be a reason for me to shut down-— a kind of confirmation that there is no point to opening myself up to such relationships if they are going to be painful, and ultimately, lost. Instead, it is his living that taught me that I am capable, and willing, to continue to build relationships with depth.

Paul’s struggle with suicidal thoughts was no secret to those who were closest to him, and they were evident throughout our entire friendship. It came up in our conversations, emails, and texts. Sifting through my old emails between us, I found one dated 7/29/11, in which I had written, “I’m glad you want to live. It would suck if you were dead because then we couldn’t be friends.” I did not know that nine months and one day after this, this would be a world without Paul. However, I was wrong about something. You see, Paul and I would not, could not, cease being friends, if he was to die. It would be impossible. I know that now because I have finally figured out where the inside jokes go when one of keepers is no longer around. I found that we still get to hold them between us. They never disappear, and no one ever takes them away. I know that, because Paul is forever the keeper of the other half of our inside jokes.

In memory of Paul R. 4/13/1964-4/30/2012
Philadelphia cannot possibly be the same city without you in it.
I hope, that wherever you are, you are looking down in disbelief, and laughing at me when I jog. I think of you each time I do it.  Your presence is with me in all that I do.

“Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”

From “Desiderata,” Max Ehrmann

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Kids, Fire, and Suicidal Goldfish

I never liked kids too much. If you know me, you may think this concerning, as I live with two of them. I was never focused on having any, figuring there would only be a small percentage of a chance that I’d be even slightly fond of my own child. My ex-husband and I did not have any children together. He liked them even less than I do, and I doubt they would have enjoyed his company much at all. One time I saw an elderly, sick cat get up and leave the room when he walked in. That should tell you enough. Ironically, I ended up dating a man who has two kids. We have been together for almost four years now. From the beginning, I knew that if I wanted to have a chance with him, I could continue not liking kids, just as long as I didn’t dislike these two in particular. We are now a family of four humans (and by the way, it turned out that I love the kids to pieces), plus three parrots and two elderly goldfish who experienced some type a miracle by being restored to health after “resting” on the bottom of the tank for one week. By the way, they tend to do that now, every couple of weeks. They convene at the bottom left corner of the tank for a few days, and then start swimming normally again. I believe they are plotting something huge, and it makes me nervous. Their former tank-mates had become ill, and then dead, right before the current fish began staging their first sink-in at the bottom of the tank. Those deaths ended with two separate occasions of hearing boyfriend in the bathroom: “Thanks for the fun times. I love you. Goodbye,” followed by the flush of the toilet. I wasn’t sure what these fun times entailed, but I didn’t bother to ask.

I would really like to continue with this entry as I had planned it, but now know that I need to write about the time when our largest goldfish committed suicide. It was December of 2012, right before I officially moved into the boyfriend’s house. I had been staying there a lot, but didn’t have my own key yet. I had my very own dresser drawer, which was lovely and exciting, but I was more comfortable spreading out my belongings in every available space of every single room in the house. That’s how I knew I almost lived there. The morning of the suicide, I locked the backdoor from the inside, as I normally did, and left for work. On the way there, I became paranoid that I had left my flat iron on. I was extra nervous because I was so close to officially moving in with boyfriend. I felt like burning down the entire house might work against me. I had to make sure it was unplugged. I went to his parents to get the spare key for the back door, which ended up not working. This led me to have to climb through a window in the rain. Once I finished breaking into the house, I ran upstairs to shut off the flat iron, in order to save the house from burning down. Naturally, I found that I had never left it on in the first place.

On the way to the front door, I noticed something orange on the floor in the dining room. I stopped to take a look, and to my horror, found that our largest fish, Mr. Roy Halladay, had jumped to an untimely death. I immediately started panicking. Of course, I called boyfriend; my first thought being that he could somehow fix the dead fish situation from work. I now know that this was the dumbest move I could have made. At the time, I did not anticipate that he was going to tell me to pick up the fish. Dead fish just give me the “creepy-crawlies” (one of my mother’s favorite terms), and having to relocate a dead fish is one of my worst nightmares. Angel directed me to scoop the fish up into the green net that we keep for these purposes, and then dispose. To my dismay, I noticed that the fish, while very near death, was still breathing slightly-- not enough to have survived if I had put him back in the water, but still breathing, nonetheless. There was no way I was going to be able to endure this task. I presented boyfriend with the following argument of logic, while crying on the phone: It was about 10am on a weekday. Normally, no one would be in the house at this time, given that the kids are at school and we both work. I reminded him-- if I didn’t think I had set the house on fire, I wouldn’t have had broken in through a window, and I would never be where I was standing, at that moment. I would have been at work, just like any other day. He would have gotten home before me, and fish disposal services would have been his responsibility. My closing remark: ‘Why interfere with a situation that we wouldn’t have known about on a normal day?’ Boyfriend did not agree with my rationale, although I thought my argument was pretty solid. In fact, I was pretty pleased with myself for having come up with such a strong case while panicking at the same time. “But you are home, and you did see it,” he kept saying. “You can’t just leave a fish on the floor.” I was still crying, but now I was mad at him, too. Why couldn’t he see that avoiding the situation and pretending that it didn’t happen, was the best option? I realized that he wasn’t going to let this go, and I didn’t want our relationship to end over a suicidal goldfish.

I picked up the net that we keep under the fish tank, and considered the task. The handle was only like one foot long, which was completely unacceptable. It would place my hand no more than 12-inches away from the fish. There was just no way. I decided to invent a device for people who need to pick up dead fish at more than 12-inches away. I figured this could be a very marketable product, and I would have felt quite proud of myself, if not in the throes of a crisis.
I taped the handle of the net to the end of a long broom. This put me at several feet away from the fish, which was still not ideal, but better that what I was dealing with before. Scenarios began to run through my mind. I imagined that when I touched the fish with the net, he would start going psychotic. Also, we have hardwood floors now, but at the time we had carpeting. My next image was one of attempting to pick the fish up, but inadvertently smashing it into the carpet because I couldn’t get the correct angle on the net. My further attempts to correct this would only make it worse, further smashing the fish until the carpet fibers were mixed with mashed goldfish. I took a deep breath and with my eyes nearly closed, I guided the goldfish into my Dead-Goldfish-Picker-Upper invention. It went smoother than I expected. Then I laid Mr. Roy Hallady on top of the trash, which I had pulled can in from the kitchen to the dining room, so I wouldn’t have to parade around the house with a dead fish. After that, I left the house as quickly as possible, not caring if it did go on fire, or even if it completely exploded two minutes after I left.

Rest in peace. I would also say "thanks for the fun times," but there really were none.