At the end of 2015, just after Christmas, I packed a small bag and headed to Manhattan for a couple of days. The first song on the musical playlist I had made was Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks”:
If I ventured in the slipstream
Between the viaducts of your dream
Where immobile steel rims crack
And the ditch in the back roads stop
Could you find me?
Would you kiss-a my eyes?
To lay me down
In silence easy
To be born again
To be born again
I was saying goodbye to a difficult year, a year I had deemed as my “rock bottom” year. I kept wondering how far down a person could go. Was rock bottom like trying to find the depths of the ocean? You landed, but then learned there was further and further?
This was 2015 for me, from an outsiders’ point of view: separated from my then-husband, spending lawyers’ fees I didn’t have to arrange a split-custody arrangement of my three kids. No job for steady income, four part-time jobs at different times. A forbearance on my house. No idea where I was headed, how I was going to make ends meet, who I was.
And yet, as Titilope Sonuga says in her poem “Becoming,” “rock bottom is a perfect place for rebuilding.”
Because that year, I also went on dates and met plenty of handsome men, including one I fell in love with. I drove with him often in his convertible. I drank lots of tasty, expensive drinks, ate lots of good food. I grew stronger in friendships with women in my life, was able to get help and support from my faith community. I met new people in all of those jobs, kind people who felt like angels. Where did the term “rock bottom” come from anyway? Why did we think it was so bad? My year was chaotic, for sure, but it was more joyful and interesting and life-filled than many years that had come before. I wouldn’t take that year back for the world. I was learning who I really was, what I really wanted, opposed to the bad lessons I’d been force-fed. I was seeing who I was after being set free, and I hadn’t even known I’d been locked in a closet. (You don’t have to be gay to feel like you’re being hidden, suffocated, stuffed away and unable to be fully yourself.)
So now, as I drove to Manhattan, I prepared myself to embark on a new year, and I took stock of all I learned.
I learned that I had a tendency to give away too much of myself when I was in love with a man. I put my needs on the back burner to take care of him. And I knew I’d never have a fulfilling relationship if I didn’t take time alone to get to know, more deeply, who I was. (Like, did I even want a romantic partnership? Was it fulfilling?)
I learned that trying to be the perfect wife and mother, the perfect person, ended with me totally broke and without career experience, which got me in trouble. Now I didn’t have a strong career record, and it was harder to get a good-paying job, which was what I needed post-divorce. I was not going to make that mistake again.
I learned that I had amazing people to support me in my life, and that was the real, true wealth of this world.
I learned that there were beautiful people everywhere, and I loved talking with them and engaging with them and hearing their stories. I hadn’t known how much I liked doing that, and now I was doing it all the time, naturally. (It was nice being out of that closet.)
I learned that I really liked convertibles. I learned that I was attracted to a man who was financially secure. (Can’t help it.) I learned that gentleness and non-judgment were pretty important to me, and anything otherwise was a complete deal-breaker.
I learned that you can love someone and let that person go for the good of all involved.
I learned that it wasn’t until I was at the cusp of losing that I saw all I had, and I would not continue to live in a way that took the beauty and richness of my life for granted.
2015 was chaotic, for sure, but it was also amazing. Really, really amazing, because I was forced to take my hands off the steering wheel and just let the car take me, and that’s good practice for life. 2016 was, as expected, more peaceful, and calmer, and solitary. I started a new job and moved and spent lunch breaks resting on the grass at a nearby college campus. I wrote a whole friggin’ book. (A novel!) I scrubbed the floor of my new apartment and felt so grateful to have gotten through the rocks, and I took my kids on a short summer vacation and smiled at the open blue sky. I had hope.
We have to let go of the concept of a bottom and top to life. Within hierarchies, we begin to believe that there is an “above” and “below,” and we think it’s necessary for some people to stomp on top of others, or to climb up and up. But life is much more cyclical, much more like nature, much more like the forest. We find open pastures where we can sit a while and relax. We have rocky terrain we have to get through on the way to a brilliant view. We learn patience, endurance. We swim in cool waters, and sometimes we experience tremulous waves. There’s no ending to the ways we must adapt and grow and transform, over and over again, until we die. And if you’re living your life without adapting and growing and transforming, are you really alive? That’s something to consider.
Me? I’d choose living over death any day. I keep moving through passages and back into the light, renewed, open to learning what’s next. Born again. And again, and again and again. I’m not getting stuck in that annoying closet anymore. There’s too much in this world to see.