Sometimes I think my life has been one long tightrope, stretching out past the horizon and so far into oblivion that at the other end could be a supernova or a black hole or a nebula surrounded by the coital glowing dust of nascent stars.
I’ll never really find out what does exist on the other end; none of us get that. But one thing I’ve seen my whole life is what’s below. A void. No net. Just space and rope and the cramped straining of toes clinging to it, trying not to fall.
Looking backward — when I’m brave enough to twist my body and risk upsetting a delicate, desperate balance — I have many memories that exist in bubble-like form without explanation or necessarily understanding. Did we eat that cabbage soup for weeks at a time because it was really healthy or because it was all the food we could squeeze out of our pennies? Did my moms really take our evil rooster out into the woods shrouded in a blanket like a mob-murder, or did he end up on our plates? How close were we to homelessness, really? Was my reticence and shyness naturally my personality, or did I learn it through being bullied and changing schools seven times?
Was it just safer to disappear?
That rope stretches backward into those cloudy memories. For much of my life I’ve put one foot in front of the teetering other. Get through the first day at a new school. Sit as far away as possible from the kid who might ask questions about my moms on a school bus that smells of rubber and sweat. Just finish these dishes so you can escape to Fear Street or Klickitat Street or Stonybrooke or LA or Narnia. Get to the next class period. Oh, god, get to the next unrequited crush. Get to the admissions deadline. The scholarships deadline. Get through crocheting this scarf so they don’t kick you out of university. Get through pouring wine for this millionaire so you can put gas in your ’73 Mercury Comet. Get through this semester. To the next paycheck. To the next town, state, country, continent. To the next job. To the altar. To the judge who will declare you de-married.
I’ve been an ice cream swirler, a diaper changer, an order taker, a burger maker. I’ve been an English teacher, a Polish learner, a friend to kids who couldn’t read. I’ve been a brochure builder, a wireless network drive-around-and-tester, a beer-slinger, a bank cleaner, a sheet switcher-outer, a lobster racer, and an application wrangler.
I’ve wanted to be:
An astronaut, a professional hang glider, a sewer cleaner, an astronomer, a genetic biologist, an archaologist, a linguist, a marine biologist, an actor, a singer, a martial artist, a dancer, a physicist, a world-changer, a ninja turtle, a slayer.
Underneath all of that, from the time I could pick up a pen and steal a day planner to scribble in, I was a writer.
I sometimes picture myself as any one of those things (sewer cleaner is especially amusing) as I walk the tightrope. The wonderful thing about all of it being buttressed by writerdom is that I can be all of those things at once, or a little at a time. Or rather, my characters can if they want.
I spend a lot of time looking right ahead because I know what lies beneath me. The void. The lack of net. Sometimes that means I don’t even look to the side, because I’m too afraid the void is there too.
As 2014 draws to a close (*kicks the living shit out of 2014 and sets it on fire*), for the first time in a long time, I’m happily looking to the left and right. Because this month I discovered something.
I knew there was no net below me, and the rope beneath my feet was frayed and disintegrating, leaving rough bits between my toes. I cried out for help, and it was granted. Just as I slipped, hands came from around me, beside me — and caught me.
The lessons of this year have been that of community. Of reaching out and accepting when people reach back.
This year has been a time to look dreams in the face and see them crumble. Then to dust off and build new ones, owning those things over which I have control. I’m not a religious person, but the serenity prayer holds a lot of resonance for me this year, and for any times I feel as though the wind is catching me and threatening to fling me off my tightrope.
This has been a year of finding humanity in myself and others.
I’m not sorry to see 2014 go. I also wish I could be greeting 2015 with hope and joy — at best I can muster peace and a sort of grim determination. I know I’m not the only one who has struggled this year, through health and life and money and pain and death and all those other things that can fall spectacularly to bits. But I do know that we’re not alone.
Here’s to starting fresh and working, always working, to keep your balance — but knowing that if you put out your own hands, they’ll encounter others.