Darkness, Quiet, Change and Some Panic
I wish I could tell you it’s odd for me to be wide awake at 4:30 a.m. I wish I could tell you that.
But folks, it’s really not. To be honest with you, rarely do I sleep through the night. Sometimes, it’ll work out where I’ll get up, say, 45 minutes ahead of my alarm clock. When it happens like that, I can quietly lay in bed and talk myself down from whatever mental frenzy I’m in until I’m calmer and ready to face the day that lies ahead. Not ideal, but not awful.
Sometimes, however, it’ll be like tonight, when my mind rips me out of a sound sleep at some ungodly hour to have me worry obsessively about shit I usually can’t change, anyway.
I’ve developed all sorts of mental tricks to get me through such times, if an internal pep talk doesn’t work. My old standby is picking a choir piece I did a long time ago, and singing through as much of every voice part as I can remember. (Side note to ensemble singers — this, I firmly believe, is the best way to learn your music: by making yourself aware of what the other parts around you are doing. It gives you a level of connection with the piece that makes performing it even more thrilling. Or maybe I’m a giant nerd who thinks about choral music way too goddamn much.) If that doesn’t work, I’ll run down a list of affirmations I have at the ready, making myself repeat each of them three to five times so that I’m absorbing their words rather than using the repetition itself as a balm.
When all else fails, I’ll pick a number (usually 100) and I’ll slowly count down to zero, forcing myself to go agonizingly slow while clearing my mind. Focusing that intently on something so simple starts out as frustrating, but ends up quieting things down inside of me to a point where I can finally allow fatigue to carry me back to sleep. But even that doesn’t always work.
Tonight, for example, it did not.
So I thought I would try writing my way through what I’m thinking and feeling in the moment. It’s worth a shot, I figure — and hey, maybe it’ll even quiet my mind enough so that I can grab a few more winks before my Friday begins. Then I’ll post this, and a grand total of 5 people will see it. That’s fine, though — no offense, but this one’s all about helping myself.
Anyway, what has my own mind shouting at me right now is the concept of impermanence in relationships. It’s one of the few things that connects us all as humans, I know, and completely unavoidable. But it also freaks me the fuck out, especially as someone who is calmed by the familiar.
Like many, I rather enjoy routines, and reliability, and patterns. I know some find such concepts incredibly dull, but I find comfort in even the tiniest bits of ritual that exist in my day, like having “my” side of the bed, or always starting with the top left side of my mouth when I brush my teeth, or having the same chair at my desk at work. This sort of repetition probably sounds like a rut to some, but I simply don’t view or experience it as such.
Of course, all of the little habits that make up my day—the way I drink my coffee (totally black, or coffee-flavored-sugar-milk), or the routes I’ve created for getting home from work — I execute all of them in a world that is chaotic and wholly unreliable. At most, they give me the illusion of reliability. Deep down, I know this, but the rituals comfort me all the same.
I think all of us are, on some level, more aware than ever of how quickly and profoundly things can change. (Both because we in the U.S. currently live under a government run by erratic, unintelligent racists, and because we’ve all survived living life on Earth into adulthood.) What has me worked up right now aren’t thoughts of those big, loud shifts that jar us out of that comfy everyday life, however. Sometimes, that is exactly what keeps me up — getting scared about the prospect of such life-shifting occurrences (particularly the unavoidable ones, like death or disaster, especially in such an unstable environment). But at other times, those feel more like concepts than true concerns; other times, it feels easier to insulate myself from the severity of that particular truth. (Privilege is a hell of a drug.)
No, right now, what I can’t stop thinking about are the quiet, sneaky ways in which life can change, specifically in regards to relationships. Those shifts that happen so gradually that you don’t even see what’s going on until it’s too late, the way an inching glacier eventually creates a canyon. And by the time it happens fully, it’s too goddamn late to do anything about it. That sort of impermanence, combined with the complete impotence I feel in such scenarios, flat-out haunts me.
Earlier … yesterday? (When it’s this hour, I’m never quite sure of how to refer to nearby points in time. Technically I’m talking about a day that has already passed, but it still feels like it’s a part of “today.” But it’s Friday morning, and I’m talking about Thursday evening, so let’s stick with what I put down. This is unimportant, so let’s move on, shall we?) I ran into an old friend from one of my college a cappella groups on the train. I had a great time talking to her, and I was thrilled to hear more about how life is going for her. (She’s doing great, by the way.)
After we had gone our separate ways, I naturally found myself thinking back on those days gone by, and the silly shit that group of folks got up to. It was a fun little trip down memory lane, recalling the times we all spent together rehearsing and hanging out, laughing about the absolute dumbest shit and working for hours together on hard arrangements or competition sets. Then I got home, and I made dinner with my husband, and had the sort of quiet, ordinary evening with him that I absolutely love having (and yes, it was full of the little patterns I hold so dear). It was a funny, random thing that happened in my day, and I’m glad it did, and that was all I thought about it.
For the moment.
Right now though, I’m thinking about how that was a group of people I once felt so close to, and now no longer really talk to, save a random dinner here, or a surprise meet-up there. Those bonds feel so strong in the moment, don’t they? But then the shifts happen — people move, or get new jobs, or travel, or have kids. They make new friends, forge new bonds. And the old ones, while valued, become more a part of the fabric of who they are than a focal point in their minds.
To be clear, such changes can be sad in their way, but they aren’t necessarily negative. Lives change. People change. Often in good ways. These are facts and I get that, and I’m happy for the positive shifts that bring good feelings to good folks. But the lack of permanence of relationships, of friendships, of love … I still have trouble dealing with it all the same.
This isn’t just about me being an extrovert, and feeling energized by social interactions in general. Deeper connections — not necessarily romantic ones, to be clear here, though those have the same impact— ignite something in me. It’s a warmth and a joy that nourishes me in a way that nothing else does. So when I feel it slipping away, I’ll sometimes dig my heels in and fight it as much as possible, until giving up is truly my only option. Because no matter what, one person isn’t going to stop that inching glacier. Hell, sometimes two people trying together can’t even manage it. And then the canyon forms, and someone with whom you’ve shared laughs, and secrets, and hard moments … they’re now barely visible from the other side.
Sometimes, I’ll stand at the edge of that canyon for a long time, far too long really, trying desperately to find my way around or across it by examining it from every angle — even after the other person has made their peace with our separation and walked away altogether. I can’t see them anymore, yet I’m still desperately urging my brain just to figure out a way across, already.
There’s stubbornness influencing that, sure, but it’s mostly strong, deep *want* that keeps me stuck in place. I want those people around because something about their way or their world view struck something deep inside of me. They’re precious, and special, and important to me. That kind of shit doesn’t fade so fast, y’all. So for a long while, I’ll fight natural distance however I can, even if I’m logically well aware that it’s going to ultimately be a Waterloo moment for me.
I wish, so much, that I were better at letting go when life does … well, what it does, and takes some people away slowly, quietly, even organically.
Perhaps it’s immaturity that keeps me from being able to reach similar places of acceptance. It does feel like a child’s wish, after all, to hope that life and loves remain so comfortably the same. Perhaps it’s fear; I’m scared of what my world — hell, my heart — looks like with new, human-shaped blank spaces in it. Perhaps it’s just hurt, that others could so easily move on from the loss of me while I’m still trying to work my way back to them. Or maybe it’s just that, when I experience that type of bond with people, I feel the severing of that tie more profoundly than in other similar situations and, panicked, I’ll do whatever I can to try and stitch it back together. (Spoiler alert: It’s clearly a mix.)
Anyway, I’ve been writing my way through this for well over an hour now, and I still feel mournful, because … folks can catch up occasionally, sure, but let’s be real — it’s not the same as it was. It can’t be. It’s still wonderful, and I deeply treasure those opportunities and moments of reconnection. I know I am lucky to have them at all. And sometimes, in the best cases, we eventually find new ways forward together, and those become something great all their own.
But it’s often fleeting, as life will interfere time and time again (as it’s wont to do). This is how things go. I get that. But damn it, it still stings. (Folks, in case you’re ever wondering if you’re missed or loved from afar, odds are I’ve got you covered.) And I don’t have a solution here, or a revelation, or a way forward that makes any of this easier. It’s just one of those facts of life that happens to sometimes (often) hurt like a motherfucker.
Understanding my pain helps to ease some of the panic about how reliably unreliable everything is, though. Seeing and knowing the nougat-y center of why I’m hurting gives me clarity, which in turn gives me (the illusion of) control. It’s enough to calm me, anyway, and to bring my fatigue back into focus. And hey, as if on cue, a bit of sunlight has begun to show itself. (Yes, I’m 34 years old and I’m scared of the dark, don’t @ me.) Perhaps time, thought, and a little light is all that’s needed to make my emotions seem manageable again.
Perhaps I’ll try writing through these moments more often.
For now, though, I’m going to silently wish some folks well, close my eyes, and picture “100” in my mind.
You get the idea.