Wednesday, April 19, 2017

being seen

I once began a blog entry by saying “I breathe in the pauses, and I live in the flurry of activity from moment to moment.”

I just went back to look for it. It was in April of 2011, which was startling to me. It is burned into my mind, somehow, that pretentious, awkwardly-turned phrase, and so I had thought that I had written it far more recently than that. I have hated it ceaselessly since writing it, but I have not had the audacity to wipe it from the slate.

There’s something to the spirit of the sentiment, though. There’s something to the idea that life is happening just a little too fast and I notice it only when I manage to surface for air.

It has been a long, long time since I last felt the urge to arrange words together in long, winding lines. On good days, they flow easily and smoothly, and on worse days, they twist up in each other and stop me in my tracks until I walk away, leaving half-finished thoughts strewn across the page.

When I come back, I often wonder about the partial entry: what I meant it to be, what it is… the piling up of documents, some many pages long and some only a few sentences, but all compiled where I can easily get at them and wonder about myself.

Last night, I baked cookies. I did it with Kate’s company on Kitchen Couch, the stopwatch on her phone metering the whisk and rest, whisk and rest, whisk and rest. The smell of brown butter and homemade vanilla extract, the quiet whirring of the oven preheating, pressing chocolate chips into smooth domes of dough to yield picture-perfect cookies.

They came out of the oven fragrant and dense, skin crackling in a way that made me wonder if their insides were desiccated and hard, but I trusted - transferred them to the cooling rack one by one, checking their golden-brown undersides as I went.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the gym for my weekly session with the trainer they’d matched me with all the way back in January.

I can remember our first meeting viscerally: my first impression of her was that she was very short. This is surprising to me, right now, in this moment, as I consider it: I don’t think of her as short anymore. She is merely who she is. She is a whole person whose height is wholly irrelevant. But she was short, and she had a curly blonde ponytail and an easy smile. She rocked back and forth over her heels, testing the shift of her weight before sinking into a squat.

She always does it. I always watch for it.

She possessed the kind of enthusiasm you can’t fake. She sat down and wrote all over the back of a piece of paper. She asked me what brought me to the gym, and I ducked my head in shame and told her I’d run out of excuses, that we had a subsidy at work and that I just wanted to be functional. She told me all about how she was pregnant and had pregnancy-brain, how the baby would be terribly smart because she just couldn’t remember anything at all.

I was scared of her. I remember it well. I was intimidated by her and the wall of self-confidence that she projected in my direction. I wanted to follow her instructions. I didn’t want to let her down.

It paid off. I am leaner and stronger. I have more confidence. I am happier. First heal the mind (2016: restoration), then heal the body. Healing the body heals the mind, and around and around we go.

Several weeks later, she called off our session. We met again on Monday. I asked if everything was okay and she said, “well, no - I lost the baby,” and her voice was quieter than usual, and even though she dialed up the wattage on her but-everything-is-okay smile, everything wasn’t okay. But this is the method by which she processes. She throws herself fully into her work.

She might be afraid to feel.

I understand it. I’ve been afraid to feel before.

Maybe a month ago, I ran into her in the locker room as I was changing. She always has a smile and a compliment for me. She understands how to connect with people; she understands how to make people feel seen and loved, whether she does it consciously or unconsciously. We discussed progress and personal training, and she expressed her frustration that many clients just want “to hold hands and lift weights.”

I laughed and said, “isn’t that what we do? hold hands and lift weights?”

She laughed, too. She likes when I laugh, her own mirrored laugh never far behind. She understands the significance of making someone else laugh.

I told her that I was glad I’d gone for it, though, that it was clearly worth it.

She told me she was proud of my progress. And then she said, “and you got a friend out of it, too!” and, caught in the tractor beam of her smile, I thought, you know, maybe it is okay to accept that. Maybe it is okay to stop holding her at arm’s length because I pay her to hang out with me and accept that maybe there could be a genuine friendship there.

So a couple of weeks ago, I got to my session and when we met there, I looked into her face and the fire was missing, much as she tried to throw sparks for both of our benefits.

“How are you?” I asked.

“I’m leaving him,” she said.

And it was good, because he was no good. And even if he was good, he was not good for her. She needs something different. I am not sure what it is, but she needs something different. Something specific.

She needs to know herself, and I think she might be afraid to, whether or not she realizes it.

I can relate. I’ve been afraid to look into the mirror, afraid of what I might recognize there.

The session was no less productive for me than usual, but she was defeated. Tired and confused.

“What do you think?” she asked me, after several rinse-lather-repeats of quiet followed by a burst of her thoughts / rationalizations / retellings.

I completed a few more reps. “What do I think about what? Any of it?”

“Why do you think he’s doing this?”

I didn’t want to tell her that I didn’t know much about him except what little window she’d given me, and despite her relentlessly positive spin on him, he’d never seemed like a particularly decent person. I didn’t want to tell her that I thought she was better off without him - not in the face of her apparently unshakable faith in having found her soulmate.

But I do.

This past week, he packed her things up and left them by the door, stranding her without a place to stay and then taking it back, over and over again. “You need to be independent,” he told her, after helping to strip her of her independence, “and then we can talk.”

And then they collide again and again, over and over.

I want to tell her to harness the strength she shows me every time we meet and refuse to hear him out anymore. I want to tell her to walk away without turning back, but I don’t know how to enable her to do it.

I tell her that she is magnetic and strong and that it makes me so angry to watch him try to put out her light instead of letting her share it with him.

I watch the way she achieves ‘touches’ with everyone around her, casual contact that makes people feel seen, and I wonder if he is insecure, jealous that he can’t have that to himself. Maybe he doesn’t understand that she is a different sort of person than he is, that she is unselfishly sending love out, desperately hoping to receive love back.

The last time we had barre class, as I was putting my shoes back on to go upstairs and continue my workout, she came and sat down on the floor opposite me and the story spilled out past her lips, and she looked into my face and she wanted to be seen. I sometimes (unkindly) joke that she loves an audience, but what she really seems to be searching for is support and love that isn’t conditional.

After her story, we stood and walked out and up, and that was the first time she ever hugged me. “Thank you for listening,” she said, and it struck me. It had never occurred to me to state thanks so simply for someone lending an ear, but she says it, over and over. “Thank you for listening.”

In that moment, I had seen her.

So this past week, he packed her things up and put them by the door and told her to move out, to find a place and get on her own two feet (after repeatedly knocking her off of them) and then they could talk.

I told her I thought she probably should never talk to him again.

I told her to let me know if she needed anything.

I told her I’d make her cookies, because I didn’t know what else to offer.

She responded to it.

Last night, she came over, brought her seven year old son on spring break. I introduced her to my roommates and she turned her smile at them and shook their hands, shimmied out of her trainer shirt and into an oversized sweater, and there she was, a human being like the rest of us.

I experienced the surreality of feeding chocolate chip cookies to my personal trainer, sitting with her on one side and her son on the other side, across from both of my roommates, all together at the table playing Uno with some convoluted rules. I began to think about how it felt like being able to love, to be able to feed someone, even if just with cookies.

And I felt peaceful, then, having her sitting safely at the table in our apartment and knowing that she would be okay, at least for that night.

I did hide my protein powder, though. She doesn’t approve of whey.

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