I Am Loaded
When I was eighteen and a sophomore at Smith College where I’d been living for ten days after transferring from Kenyon College, I realized this life, this door into a life that was a lot like my mother’s, was not the life I wanted. I wanted Door B. I packed up my things, returned my text books, and went to the Dean’s office to fill out the necessary paperwork. Then I got on my bike in search of the Mass Pike.
I’d tried. I’d tried to be good. To be right. To make everyone happy. I was either going to die from loneliness and from eating too much ice cream or I was going to do something about my situation. Peddling down a long road in search of an even longer one seemed like a viable solution. It would give me time to figure out how to tell my mother that I had just shattered her dream of my life.
I had no idea who I was, but at least now I knew who I wasn’t: a Smithie. The idea of following in my mother’s footsteps had been appealing in that I didn’t have to make decisions of my own: I could trust going to Smith was a good and right decision because she had make the same one, but trying to be like someone you love just to make them happy and just because you have no idea how to be yourself isn’t the best life plan.
Luckily, I think, I got so lost I had to call my parents for help before I found the Pike. I wrote a screenplay years ago where the character actually makes it from Smith to Woods Hole on her bike and then takes the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard and strikes off on her own. The screenplay never amounted to anything because I had no idea of what a life of her own looked like. I had her develop a crush on the guy who worked at the fish market with her so I could focus on romance instead of life. It’s easier to go Hallmark than address the question of what would have happened if Thelma and Louise had not flown off the cliff. What would have happened if I’d really struck out as an independent woman and carved a life to my talents and desires? I still can’t see that life clearly.
Door B ended up being marriage and motherhood. I loved motherhood, but got divorced twice and my daughter left for college, and suddenly it was as if the space I’d been occupying disappeared. It was time for a new door.
I took what felt like a giant leap off a precipice, and I gave up my life in California and went to New York to write a book. When I was done, it felt like a miracle. I’d finished something creative! I’d written a book after thirty years of talking about wanting to do that. I’d finally claimed my spot on the planet, had found my calling, my reason for being. When I came back to California, manuscript in hand, I felt I’d killed the dragon. I was on top of the world.
“Broke” is an interesting way of saying you have no money. It implies that the money itself is not the issue, it’s that without it, your being is busted. A month after coming back to California, I felt busted. I was exhausted from having put my soul on paper and having it out in the world for strangers to see. All the sparkle I had felt in New York now felt like bad skin and sadness. I couldn’t find the special.
I felt as though I were circling the drain.
Here I’d gone and done this thing that was on the top of my list of things to do, and instead of being successful, I was “broke”. This was hard. I had to ask for a place to live, for a car. People fed me sometimes. There were days when I dug in all my pockets for change. One day I was living in the brownstone of a famous author, writing my book, and the next day I was sleeping on the floor of my friend’s house. Shouldn’t I have done better? Shouldn’t I have been sleeping on hundred dollar bills. I wrote the book, after all. I self-published it. I had done it. I’d faced down my fears and realized my dreams. Wasn’t I supposed to be rich?
It wasn’t until the other day that I was reading the blog post “Three Popular Ways to Avoid Spiritual Guidance" by Caroline Myss, and she wrote:
It will come as no surprise to you that among the most common questions asked of me is, "What is my Sacred Contract?" As I point out to audiences in rather theatrical tones, it is preposterous even to attempt to answer that question from the perspective from which it is being asked. The people who ask this question want me to tell them what their perfect occupation is -- the implication being that the "perfect" New Age occupation is one in which they are self-employed, work only three to four days a week because they are so "sensitive" and need gobs of time to "recover from psychic burn-out" or some other nonsense. This occupation, of course, has to pay enough money so that they can flee to a cabin in the woods for spiritual reasons while luxuriating in the belief that they are serving humanity with their life's work. Underlying this scenario is the hope/belief that because they are doing "exactly what I'm supposed to be doing," heaven will not surprise them with any sudden changes. They will hardly age, never become sick, always have love in their lives, and never again have to worry about money. Oh, and for some, this mythic Sacred Contract association has to include just a touch of recognition, because it's important that others make note of the value of what they are doing.
I felt like a hunchback who could suddenly stand up straight when I was done reading this. I had thought being successful equaled money in the bank! What if being successful meant following what you (I) felt to be a sacred contract? I’d done that! I was successful!
When my mother died before finishing her own book, she never talked about her bank balance. She did, however, work tirelessly, even when whacked out on morphine, on trying to get her book done. Cancer took her out before she got to the conclusion, and I’d promised myself the same thing wouldn’t happen to me, and it didn’t. So there’s that. And that feels good. Like a race well run.
What do you do when you’re 52 years old and your daughter is independent and you did the one thing you said you wanted to do?
Here’s the thing. I’m looking around for a new door. Door D. I feel like I’m just stepping into myself, just finding out who I am and what I am capable of creating. When I went through Door C, I found my story, but, even better, I found community. By writing about adoption, something I’d been silent about, the world shifted and I found I was not alone. There was an ocean of me out there. (As a typed this an adopted person texted me out of the blue and said, “We really do need each other and can’t do this shit alone.”)
So whatever I do next isn’t just about me and my family. It’s about community. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with this.
What IS Door D?
I was afraid there wasn’t one. I was afraid I’d used up my doors. All I know is the life I have lived. How can I imagine there is something different out there for me when all I know is what I have done? How do I step into something that doesn’t feel “broke”?
Maybe Door D is right there and I’m hiding behind it. Maybe Door D is authenticity, Anne as Anne. I’ve been courting this door my whole life, wanting it more than anything, feeling terrified of facing emptiness, the flatness of myself.
My mother used to tell me I was special. It’s hard to be authentic when you are trying to figure out what it is people like about you so those people will stick around. It’s hard to feel you are an okay person when you are feeling ordinary and all your life you were told you were special. Something must really be wrong if you aren’t standing out, shining more brightly than others.
Special becomes a mask and then a cage.
When I massage people, every single time, I fall in love with their faces. People in repose are gorgeous. It doesn’t matter what they’ve done with their lives or what they had for breakfast. We all carry a light, and it is so beautiful.
One time when I was driving home after a massage, I thought my arm was falling off my body. I realized I thought I needed to use muscular tension in my shoulder to keep my arm in place. I still think that! I’m lying here typing this and my crazy body is holding on for dear life to my legs and arms and head. What would happen if I relaxed? If I trusted that my body was created in such a way that I didn’t have to help it keep all its parts attached?
I’m going to relax now, even if it kills me.
And in that space of softness, I just figured out what Door D is. More than authenticity, it is self-love, self-acceptance. Authenticity is the by-product. Door D is taking the needle off the record that runs its scolding rants about how I am not right, not enough, how I am an affront to humanity.
Walking through Door D is like walking down the aisle with myself, and this is terrifying. It's one thing to get walk down the aisle with a partner and then, years later, to get divorced, but to commit to yourself in front of friends and God and then to find yourself was not a good choice? There's no divorce in the world that can face that kind of catastrophic relationship breakdown. It's better to dance around yourself than to fully commit. Or at least that's the belief I've had.
To get back to Thelma and Louise, I think that is why Ridley Scott and Callie Khouri sent the two women flying to their death, because the idea of women finding such wild freedom is unbearable. We can’t imagine it—even the artist fail. I’m supposed to believe that those two women loved themselves so much they killed themselves?
Door D is Thelma and Louise, alive.
I want that.
I want to have no idea what is going to happen next and to be okay with that. To court it. To yell into the wind and not care who hears.