Last week was glorious. Borja, Charlotte’s godfather, came to visit for the first time in six years and it was awesome. Actually, it was the best week I’ve had in months. There was beach-going, park-going, whiskey-drinking, and countless hilarity-inducing renditions of “Let it Go.” But more than anything, there was my friend, just hanging out with me while I did laundry, allowing the minions to treat him like a jungle-gym while I made dinner, reminding me at least once a day to “just breathe”, and making me laugh, all day, every day, with his weird accents and constant joviality.
This week is already kind of a bummer. The house feels empty and the work feels more like work. But he gave me a gift that his absence does not negate — he reminded me that my kids are funny, and that life can be fun, if I stop approaching it like some kind of Sisyphean tragedy.
In September of 2004, I got on a plane to go to Italy for a semester at UD’s Rome campus. The Ogre, who had broken up with me the spring before, gave me a leather-bound journal and a St. Christopher medal before I left. When I opened it on the plane, I found the medal and two inscriptions:
The only thing I wanted the day I opened that journal was to find a way to stay on meth and stay thin, and not have to spend my first week in Rome in withdrawals and hiding it. I didn’t think that was exactly an appropriate thing to ask God, though. As for the Eliot poem, I had no clue how I had gotten where I was, and I didn’t much care. I didn’t want to explore or remember or discover; I just wanted to sleep. So I shut the journal and put it away.
God did not give me an oil jar full or meth or a magical metabolism or healing from withdrawals. But he gave me an English professor who made me journal instead of write essays, whose wife knew how to love without judging or enabling, and I found, at the end of that semester, the unknown yet remembered gate of life without meth. It took me another year to rediscover how to live it, and in the end I couldn’t do it alone. I couldn’t do it at all, really. But I found myself surrounded by people who did the heavy lifting for me. All I had to do was ride out the storm, and that was work enough.
Too often, I get caught up in my own head and forget to live. Having people around is good for me, because they pull me out of my head and back into the real world. And here, at the tail end of this rather hellish spring, I am looking back and realizing how many people have been surrounding me all along, doing the heavy lifting for me once again.
The first time I wrote about this, the first time I let it be real enough in my own head to put it in words, I tried to joke a little about wanting a maid. It wasn’t a joke, but it was, but really it wasn’t. A week later, a neighbor in Ave Maria hired someone to come clean my house from top to bottom.
Not much later, I found myself facing the Ogre’s birthday and midterms (which are as bad for the wife as for the professor, lemme tell ya) and almost unable to get out of bed. I couldn’t find it in myself to move, to do, to act, to care, and I hated myself for it because I knew my family needed me. I was failing them, and myself, and I did not know what to do.
So I did what I considered unthinkable: I called the Ogre’s mom, in tears, and begged her to come help me.
It was unthinkable because I knew that no matter what she had on her plate (which happened to be a surgery she immediately rescheduled) she would come. And she did. She came the next day. She is literally the most selfless person I have ever met, and I hated to ask her for more. Most of all, though, I hated to swallow my pride and ask. I hated to be less than she thought I was, to admit that I couldn’t do it alone, that I wasn’t taking care of her son, that I wasn’t taking care of anything. Of course she never thought a single one of those things about me, but I thought them about myself, and asking for help felt like digging up the secret core of failure that I tried so frantically to hide.
The first time we went to Mass in Ave Maria, I looked up at the crucifix in the front of the Oratory and distinctly heard, or felt, I brought you here to be crucified.
It was weird, okay, and it freaked me out, but it stuck with me. I thought for a long time that I was going to be crucified by the townspeople of Ave Maria, a sort of righteous martyr for some fuzzy and unidentifiable cause, like Doctor Who or yoga pants. Then I thought maybe the point was that the Ogre and I would be crucified — the “we” part of us, like our marriage would be tested and would balance on the point of a knife, with no way to tell which way we’d fall.
But what happened was actually just what was said. I was crucified a little bit, because I had to be. Not because I’m righteous, but because I’m so very far from it. Because I’m still too attached to sin, to pride, to vanity, to myself. I was on a high freaking horse at Christmastime. I was blogging better than ever, being read by more people, keeping my house together, keeping my weight down, keeping my kids clothed almost all the time, and generally being a self-satisfied jerk. I thought I had finally figured out this life thing, and the key wasn’t God, it was me and how awesome I was.
I feel like I’m back on that plane again. I don’t know what to ask for or even what I need, and I wouldn’t recognize it if it hit me upside the head. But I have this life with this husband I adore and these ridiculous, amazing kids, and I want to figure out how to live it and be at peace. I’m sure, though, that even if I could figure it out alone, I can’t do it alone. Like always, I need someone to do the heaving lifting. But no one else can do the heavy lifting that I need the most except God.
I need to go to confession.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning…