Thursday, May 5, 2011

Having a body part to call home.

The truth of the matter is, I've been going through a lot lately.  No point trying to hide it.

In the last two - three weeks:

  • My husband and I bought our very first home,
  • We packed up three days after closing and moved,
  • My car failed to start,
  • Our cat ran away,
  • I got sick -- not cute sniffly sick; rather, the type of sick that turns you into a hateful beast, 
And most jarringly of all, I can't even believe I'm typing this:

My college boyfriend died.

We dated for two years, and last time we spoke, it was late February.  He wrote me after finishing a Buddhist retreat, and sounded incredibly happy.  More happy, in fact, than I had ever heard him. Post-retreat, he was returning to Maine to work on an apple orchard for a little while, then off to an office job that had recently doubled his salary.  He looked forward to being a best man at his sister's wedding, an uncle to his other sister's baby.

He died on April 15.

His passing was by all accounts an accident, but details are very few.

I drove to his funeral in Houston last Monday, returned home Tuesday morning, and bought a house.  My first.  Ross and I are buying it together.

Right before the closing, I forced myself to stop crying, put on some make-up and a nice dress, then drove in silence with Ross to the title company so I could sign all the papers for this exciting new phase in my life. 


The crying and the lack of sleep led to a cold last week, but sickness I can deal with.  What's harder to manage, for me personally, is the knowledge that your emotions are still fragile, that they still have ragged edges around them, and that the person you're with just might say something penetrating enough -- "wow, you look exhausted" -- to trigger tears.

You know?  It's like your sobs are there in stealth mode, waiting.  Lying underneath every seemingly normal, calm conversation.

(I co-hosted a party at The Paramount last week too, and was terrified that I'd fall apart talking to some kind stranger.)

Anyway.  The reason I bring all this up is partly because I just feel better being authentic about my life on this blog.  I don't know why.  Perhaps because bloggers are driven to share, overshare, and share some more? 

But I think the real reason I decided to open up my laptop and let my emotions tumble out has something to do with my hands.


Do you have a body part that reminds you of you?

I know that must seem like such a bizarre question, like this rough couple of weeks has turned me fully insane. Allow me to explain.

When I was a little kid, I'd lie in bed at night and lift my hands up above my face.  I could just make out their dark outline, and to be sure they really belonged to me, I'd shake my fingers around and watch them blur in a half-crescent streak.  It was reassuring to know that I controlled their motion, that they obeyed what I told them to do -- like I had to convince myself that my hands weren't these totally separate, alien entities.

I was talking about this today with one of my work clients, and for some reason, the conversation about me and my hands made me (surprise) emotional.  I told her that for me, groundedness always begins with the hands, but I've known feet people (yogis), breath people (meditators), even tongue people (anyone who has ever done a Master Cleanse). 

Now, there are certain parts of my body that I abuse to no end.  The hairs on the back of my neck for example, which I pull at when I'm nervous.  I'm sure you have yours, too.  Fingernails perhaps.

But for whatever reason, hands have always held a special, almost reverential significance for me.  Bored in class, I used to draw mine over and over again on lined notebook paper.  I have a large freckle on my left hand that various people have suggested I remove, to which I say NO, that's my weird big freckle and I like it.  Until it changes shapes and turns magenta, it's staying right here, thanks.

The only out-of-body experience I've ever had also involved my hands.

I was sitting in a car, listening to music turned down very low, and reached over to turn one of the nobs.  As I did, I got the singular sense that I was looking at someone else's hands and said out loud, "oh my God, those are hers.  They're so small and precious!"  (Isn't that funny?  My own out-of-body experience got a little conceited.)

Anyway, it only lasted about a minute, but I got this profound sense that "she" (i.e. I) was worth taking care of -- because those hands were so damn endearing.  It was like I got to get a glimpse of myself from an outside perspective, for just a fleeting moment, and had this impulse to be more nurturing, to take better care of that girl with the hands.


There is a school of psychology that believes that cognitive processes are shaped by the body, rather than the other way around.  Yoga is enough to convince me of that.

I think having a bodily reference point can be oddly helpful: Something you can look at, attached to your person, that reminds you that you're a human being and vulnerable and lovely.  I'd been doing a lot of "hand gazing" this week, as I told my client yesterday, and slowly, things began to calm down.

We fixed my car.  We found my cat.  I bought duck eggs for Ross at the farmer's market, to celebrate the fact that gas just got turned on in our house. 

Staring at your various body parts may or may not sound like your idea of a good time.  In fact, you very well may be thinking to yourself, "Tolly is just a little bit weirder than I previously thought." 

But I think what I'm really talking about here is slowing down.  Having some kind of tool when life gets tumultuous, and taking a moment to do that thing and that thing only -- even if it's as silly as looking at your hands -- rather than get carried away in the drama of the moment.

How I need to be reminded of that sometimes.


carrie said...

love this post. a lot. i'm so so happy for you!

kellynD said...

Tolly, I am so sorry to hear (read?) about your crazy few weeks. I've been having a terrible week. My vacation was cancelled and I've been pouting over my sister leaving me at home by myself for four days.

Reading this kind of woke me up. There are worse things out there than cancelled vacations and staying home alone for just a few days.

I hope you get to feeling better soon. I'll send some good vibes your way! :)

Cathy Benavides said...

The only thing worse than loss is sudden loss. When you know someone is on the way out, you can prepare, say your pieces, dole out extra long hugs. When it's out the blue, it's like a sentence fragment- it cuts you off and you don't get to know what happens next. It's like playing Mario Cart and when you don't get first place, the game just ends- you don't even get to finish your lap. And then you are expected to go on with life because for some strange reason, the world doesn't stop. It's surreal and bewildering and it just plain sucks.
You have my deepest sympathies on your loss. Picture me reaching through the interwebs and giving you a big hug.
PS- Congrats on the new home. I will start scouring the internet for a Liberace trivet for your housewarming present :)

Heather Howell said...

Tolly, I LOVE your personal posts. I am a hand girl too. I'm not so much in love with my own hands but I love looking at other people's hands. One body part I guess you could say reminds me of me is my neck. It's bright red. Reading this post made me realize that I've never even seen it in real life, only in photos and the mirror.

I hope you are feeling better and getting settled into the new place. Good juju is being sent your way. XO

Christi @ Rumination Avenue said...

I lost my brother in February. Loss sucks, but sudden loss is a punch in the gut. You really do get back to a primal level, just a place where you realize that as long as you are breathing, then the rest of the world can fall away. My heart goes out to you in your grief, it really can change your perspective on life. Wring out the best of it you can.

Natalie at said...

I am so sorry about the loss of your friend. I think it's beautiful, though, that you've found a piece of yourself to stay grounded to. Though it's nothing like the death of someone close to me, this week has been pretty rough over here too -- in the midst of final exams week, I found out my grandfather has cancer, I spilled water on my brand new macbook, and my car got broken into. The day that the first two things happened, I rounded a corner in the English building, saw one of my professors, and when he asked me if I was okay, I broke down crying in the middle of the hall. I couldn't believe I was THAT GIRL crying during finals week in the middle of the hall.

It's hard to feel like nothing's in your control. I'm not sure I have a body part that makes me stable, but I do have a great mom. Seeing her number light up my phone instantly makes me feel a little more okay. My sister sends me pictures of my niece, too, that help me to put everything in perspective. Thank you for writing this.


Austin Eavesdropper said...

Hi you guys,

First of all, zomgwtfbbq? You all are wonderful. Like, seriously thoughtful, comforting and kind, and I have been reading your comments smiling and tearing up by turns! Thank you for reading, and writing like you do.

Secondly, for those of you who have ever experienced sudden loss -- preach sisters. It IS still painful, but lacking that layer of shock, when you lose someone gradually. By which I mean, it is indeed heartbreaking in almost every single way. But, BUT, at least you get to say goodbye, squeeze their hand, visit them in the hospital.

When you just get a call saying, "hey -- they are dead," it's like, "WHAT?!? I was just talking to them!! You've got it all wrong!" When I first heard about Courtland, my ex-boyfriend, I didn't even cry at first -- I just started Googling like mad, sure that I was going to straighten the events out. That he hadn't actually died, just had a near-death scare, that it looked dicey for a moment there but he's alright. I was SURE I was going to find something like that.

And then when I finally found an obituary, my perspective on life changed almost instantly (like you said, Christi). I'm still righting myself after this kind of blow, and I KNOW that the outcome ultimately will be: I am more grateful for every single teensy tiny moment, I need to squeeze my parents and husband and friends every chance I get, I need to respect my body and the road and my mother and overall realize how special it is THAT I GET TO WALK AROUND AND EXPERIENCE LIFE ON EARTH.

But. Until that wisdom fully descends, a little part of me is still just trying to piece together exactly why he died -- and that's the thing keeping me up at night. Even if I find out, I'll still be left with all these existential questions, though. So I guess the main thing is to work on acceptance, rather than trying desperately to gumshoe mystery solve his accidental death. It was caused by medication, if you're wondering -- I'm not sure what kind, or what the dosage was, or it it reacted to something else in his body, or what.

ANYWAY. Mostly I just wanted to say thank you.

Thank you for reading and commenting, y'all. It seriously means the world to me. Off to hand-gaze inside the new house. If I hold my hand still in the air long enough, Claudia usually comes by and forces me to pet her head with it. :)

Breanna said...

I don't have much to say, but I do wish I could give you a big hug right now. Take time to rest this weekend, friend. You deserve it.

Hope to see/hug you soon!

katherine. said...

loved this for a variety of reasons. i love it when people are willing to be so open - makes for better human connections.

glad the move is going well, and glad to know you're still in the neighborhood (or close to it!). :)

Anastasia said...

I kind of have the opposite thing. Sometimes I will look at myself in the mirror and really see myself all of a sudden. that's what I look like?

Jason said...

Well said, well spoken. Yes,Tolly. Hell yes.

Anonymous said...

Beyond beautiful and lovely. Having only just found your blog this evening, this is the 4th post I've read and I'm now, more than ever, grateful for the coincidence and humor in the universe. Thank you for sharing, for being so courageous and brave. I'm contemplating moving to your fine city to begin anew and if your personality, experiences and joie de vivre are anything to go by, moving is the right choice.