The story goes, my great-great grandmother Helena was a hysterical invalid.
Almost all of the silvered, faded photographs show her reclined in a sumptuous cloud of sheets, or on a fainting couch. She wore her hair piled up in tiny curls, and the high-necked lace dresses of the time. Generally, she holds the back of her hand piteously to her cheek. In one, she is wrapped in coats and propped in a delicate sort of wheelchair. The family telling is, she was almost never well. Melancholia. General malaise.
There is more to the story. There always is.
I was three Helenas later. Unstoppable, unflappable, unwaveringly self-assured, hell-bent. Example:
I once performed the lead role in our grade school musical with strep throat and a fever of 103. I sang several solos. My costume involved a false beard, adhered with spirit gum that chemically burned my skin. I didn’t say anything about the pain from the glue or my raw and blistered throat. At a fierce age 12, I already thought I was supposed to suffer for art.
Also, I had mastered that part. I had people counting on me. I was defiant.
The show must go on.
Twenty-five years later, I had determinedly collected a bunch of smart titles on my resume. I got married (destination wedding, oh yes) and bought a house. I had a perfect, tiny daughter. I had great friends and cocktail recipes and a paid-off car. I was holding it all together, and baking cookies on the weekend.
I also had an ever-nastier commute, seasonal affective disorder, an unused and moss-covered yard, dinner from boxes. I had lower back pain and sudden onset rashes on my jaw line, weird earaches, jitters. I had terrible dreams, when I didn’t have insomnia.
But I could handle it. I had mastered my part, you know. People were counting on me. My defiance could hold it all together.
We did come to understand that our life was broken. That is, I understood it, and then accepted it as normal. My family looked at me with eyes that held what I now know to be worry and grief.
I carried on like that, waking up every morning with a knot of anxiety in my throat, frozen. I wanted to sink into the sheets and rest the back of my hand against my cheek and stare at the walls.
Getupgetdresseddresskidpacklunchschooldropoffdrivethroughrainworkworkwork. Despairpizzaforlunchcandybowldrivethroughrainservemealoutofabox. Bedtimedisheslaundrydrinkbedinsomniaanxietysleepalarmclock …
I wasn’t doing anything really well. I was almost constantly nervous. Frayed and waiting for something dark around the corner. Nauseated, depleted, bleak.
My best moments were generally on Saturday afternoons in our old and creaky house, slicing vegetables for homemade soup, warm laundry waiting to be folded. Organizing my kid’s crayons. Tasks of home-making felt purposeful and needed. They mattered, a lot, to the people who mattered most to me.
Laundry and soup and crayons. Right. I know. [eyeroll]
Four months ago, in the span of six weeks, the universe tossed a series of impossible possibilities in my face. I counter-launched obstacles and no-ways and what-ifs. And the universe (and my spouse) batted every single one of them aside.
I was out of excuses.
In the middle of rocketing unemployment rates and a plunging housing market, we sold our house, quit a job, packed a truck, and left a large city for a small town to start over.
These entries will be a record of starting over. There will be chickens. And possibly a rabbit. Also, food growing and making. Art. Snark.
Do-overs. Lots of getting up and trying again.
There is more to the story.