|Me in Seaside, Oregon circa 2013|
My friend took me on a drive through Oregon to Seaside while I was here, where I saw the ocean for the first time. I fell in love with the muppet moss, as I dubbed the fuzzy tree covering greenery. I adored the smell, the feel, and the general vibe of the people here. I loved it so much that, out of all the places I've visited, Oregon was the one I kept talking about. I even wrote a blog about it at the time (which you can find here.)
But that was 2013. My kids were still little. I had a home I could afford, my health was okay (not great, but okay) and it was literally a different world than the one we live in now.
Since then, my kiddos grew up massively. They're old enough that they're beginning lives of their own, something every parent who gets to that point knows means massive identity questions for the parent--how do I become ME again, since I've been Mom for the past twenty or more years? What do I want, when they leave me?
Are they going to leave me all alone, and I'll just sit here and miss them until my chest aches with emptiness and the memory of their litany of "mom" over the years?
Aside from their ages, my health took a massive nosedive. Inflammation had my joints so swollen that movement equaled agony. After the pneumonia turned my lungs into useless blobs, the steroids to help my lungs blew up my body like a balloon, and the brain problems turned my mind to mush, I honestly just thought my age was a huge factor in all my various physical miseries. Maybe this was just my life now--hurting until eventually my lungs would stop inflating one day and it would be over.
Honestly, I thought the pneumonia or the recovery after the pneumonia were it for me. Like, a very final it. I remember laying in my chair, unable to pull in even a single full breath without choking, and dreaming of my aunt who died a few years back. She told me to get out of the chair before I died, but even for her, I couldn't summon the will to move. So, instead, I rested my head on her slippers like I did when I was a kid and told her I was tired. She sighed in that way she used to and said, "Okay, Turkey," and I remember being stunned when I woke up from that chronic dozing of the horribly ill to find myself still at home.
I thought it was over, but it wasn't.
Once I got a little better, my parents situation got exponentially worse. My father went into hospice, my mother's health deteriorated, and my kids always needed something or other. I went through the motions, even though everything hurt.
I kept thinking, "Someone is going to see how unhappy I am. Someone is going to see how much I'm hurting, both emotionally and physically, and stop me from plodding one foot in front of the other. Someone has to care enough to realize that between being sick and depression, I've been nothing more than a shell for a long time..."
But no one did. Eventually the depression got so bad that I'd go a week or two without showering regularly. Which was good, really, since I could barely afford shampoo past the kids, the pets, the house, the cost of driving people around, etc...
Saved on shampoo, I told myself. Not a sign that I don't even care anymore.
Not a sign that the depression has gotten so bad that I kind of wish I did die on that couch when I had the comfort of Aunt Lee's familiar slippers and her voice to see me through the scary transition to being not-alive.
Still, I plodded. I plodded right through my stepfather's funeral and right past that until I got my mother's health stuff mostly figured out.
A shell, going through the motions, crying every night once everyone went to sleep. Still not showering. Not really wanting to eat. Not wanting to breathe, even if my lungs felt better, because everything hurt--my body, my swelled joints, my head, my heart.
But then I met this guy. Yeah, trite, right? But aside from talking to me--really talking, and hearing and remembering what I said--he also talked about Oregon, where he lived.
A little light went on inside me. I remembered Oregon. Man, I loved that place. It felt right to be there, and I wished I could see it one more time. Silly, since how the hell was I going to finish grad school, be the mother my kids needed, the one taking care of my mom, all of that, AND get to Oregon of all places?
|My Vanessa and me in Seattle|
The guy and me kept talking--six whole months without missing a single day. We talked for hours, whole weekends sometimes, and between his voice and that little Oregon light inside me, I managed to plod through the rest of grad school and a really rough 2017.
Until the little light had a pulse that sounded like a drum in my head. Or maybe that was my blood pressure (which had now taken to dropping dangerously low and then spiking dangerously high randomly) thrumming in my ear? I don't know, but the pulse of sound said to get into the car. To just go there. Something waits. I had a reason to wake up again--I needed to find a way, somehow.
It would be selfish. Wildly so, but even that was a strange thrill. People talk about "me time" and "self care" but for me... Yeah, I found no peace, not even when at rest. My pulse thrummed like a wooshing sound in my ear, my joints continued to swell, everything hurt... there was no me time that wasn't drowned in the agony I took to be my new reality.
But maybe, just maybe, I could go. A last hurrah. I told myself it would be good for the kids, too. After all, they're of adult ages and had never survived without me there to fix anything that went awry. It would be good for them to see they COULD do it.
After all, with the dire things the doctors kept saying (the raised CRP levels in my blood tests, in addition to the very low vitamin D levels, put me at risk of another heart event or stroke. To resolve this, I needed less stress, more movement, and studies have even shown that temperature and climate can have a significant impact on lowering CRP) about my health, I might not be around for a whole lot longer. Wasn't it better to give them a trial run, of sorts, with me still alive enough to resolve any issues that might arise than to keel over one day and leave them helpless?
So I decided I would go. I would meet the man, see Oregon one last time, visit with my Vanessa (who
conveniently moved to Seattle right around then) and have that trip for myself. Greedy, but I was going to do it. Just... do it. While I still had breaths in my lungs and a pulse I could literally hear most of the time.
It didn't magically cure the depression, my plan to go. I still didn't care enough to shower. Still felt like I was going through the motions rather than living, but I had a goal. A little flicker of light in my chest that was MINE and I held onto that. I could keep going for another day, I told myself. And another. Because I might actually manage to visit Oregon again. I might meet that guy and see his smile in real life. Maybe.
So, with all of that in mind, I did the most wildly selfish thing of my life. I hopped in my car and drove to Oregon. The plan was to stay a week, because it would take me a week to drive there. Two weeks away from home. No biggie.
I got here, and my joints shrunk within 48hrs. The constant thrum in my ears, that wooshing sound that I thought would drive me insane, stopped. I slept--something insomniac me never takes for granted--and woke up rested and smiling.
I sat on the deck after talking to my kids one day--just me, alone as I was during the week here--at the AirBNB that I booked for a month because of the polar vortex hitting and destroying the mountain passes between me and home, and I held my tea in hands that didn't ache. I could hear the turkeys that hung out on the hill behind my tiny little rooms, and the sun was just rising to gilt the muppet moss with shining tips against the emerald green... and I breathed in deep. It didn't hurt. I didn't hurt anywhere--not my head, not my fingers as they curled around the mug, none of it hurt.
|Me at Cannon Beach (goonies rock) circa 2019|
I had gotten a shower that morning, because the warm water felt good on my skin and not like needles poking too sensitive open wounds, and I smelled like soap... which blended nicely with the peat scent of the air here. Soft air, the kind that kisses your flesh instead of frosting it with ice like back home. My hair lifted a bit, all clean and light, in that gentle breeze. I knew later that my gentleman friend would be over to visit, which would be nice because falling in love was another thing I thought I'd gotten too old for, but in that moment I didn't need him or anything, really.
I was happy as I was. Calm in a way that I literally haven't been for years. At peace.
Tilting my head back, I started talking to Aunt Lee. "Is this why you told me to get out of that chair?" I asked her. Aunt Lee did like travel, after all. "Did you know all this green waited for me, if I just had the courage to go look for it? Did you know I didn't have to hurt all the time, that I could still find happy... if I was just brave enough to look for it?"
Aunt Lee didn't answer. Nothing did, actually, because in real life we don't get those mystical voices who give us the answers when we ask aloud. (Well, unless we're running a hundred and four degree temp, while suffering from lack of oxygen, I guess.) Anyway, it didn't matter that she didn't answer or that no one answered...
You see, that's the weird thing about me coming all this way all by myself. No one has actually answered. My best friend went radio silent just after my arrival. My crit partner buddy also has been completely silent--the crit partner I used to talk to daily. None of my closest associations have really called me here. Only the kids and sometimes my mom or adopted mom, really, have talked to me since I fled across the country to the magical place where my body doesn't ache all the time. It is like I slipped into some pocket of space where they don't want to reach out or something, which is sad, but it makes me wonder.
Did they only like me when I wasn't happy? When I was so drowned in my physical and emotional misery? Now that I am happy, they don't want to talk to me? Why? Why are the people who I thought cared most silent now, when I have things I want to share with them? When I want to tell them how I don't hurt, and I can think straight because the pain isn't blurring my brain and distracting me from completing thoughts?
Even that, though... it doesn't change the basic facts. I found a pocket of happiness--my body doesn't hurt. My heart isn't beating so hard that I can hear it. I don't feel like a shell going through the motions here. I found a man I wouldn't mind sharing a bit of my life with--I'll walk with him for a while, see if it sticks--who makes me feel cherished rather than horrible. It may be selfish, but I think I really needed to be selfish finally.
I think if I didn't get selfish RIGHT THEN, maybe I would've eventually gotten too tired. I was already too tired to shower or care, what other basic things would I have sacrificed to the alter of that growing bubble of apathy? How long until I couldn't force myself out of bed past the pain? How long until I just lay there and watched the sun rise and set from my windows without bothering to so much as roll over?
I don't want to know. I know for sure my situation was bad--getting worse fast--and I'm glad I got in
|The ocean at Tillamook|
I'm glad I went to where the muppet moss grows thick and the sun shines so brightly. I think we need to be selfish sometimes.
And it was my time, dammit.
I'm going to move here. I have to work out the logistics yet (it is going to involve me affording the house in Ohio as well as a small place here, simply because my children still need that place and they are mine to care for) but the little light in my chest has become a glow. I have something to fight for again, a new goal.
I will live here, on the edge of the forest, and I will breathe without hurting... just you wait and see.