Skeletal Flower Congratulations Friendship

Driving to the gym from work tonight I heard two songs, back to back, which were in heavy rotation at the bars 5 years ago. This, of course, brought me back to memories of that time in comparison to where I am now. You know – my parents thought I was that kid who would probably kill the neighbors pets because I talked back to them so I was in therapy at age six and have grown to see the world through a lens of self analysis. I can’t just appreciate a good song or allow a memory to come and go.

It was just over 5 years ago, Thanksgiving week, when we found out about my dad’s first round of cancer….yes, there would be 2 more as well as Afib and passing out in malls. But the first time was the one where I felt like the floor of my life disappeared so that I landed with a heavy thud into my new reality without support. Synapses didn’t just fail to properly connect. They blew up and set everything on fire.

My biggest fear (outside of flying) has been my father dying. We have had a tumultuous relationship over the years and I feel like I missed out on having a real dad until my 30s. So the idea of losing him when I was 30 years behind my siblings is more than devastating. Just weeks before finding out he got sick, I started going back to therapy simply because I was ruminating on the idea he could get sick any time with some Vietnam cancer because he was hitting the age when other Vets were coming down with Agent Orange related illnesses that incubated in their bodies for a good 40 years. I felt I might be being paranoid because I felt like I was sensing something so I diagnosed myself as crazy and got a therapist. It was only 2 visits in when my dad got diagnosed. Not crazy after all. More like a dog that sniffs out tumors in humans.

But I did go crazy after that diagnosis. Until that time, I was a girl who always did the right things. I hardly drank. I never drove after drinking. I didn’t sleep around or do one night stands. Yes, I was still willful and talked back but there is nothing wrong with those things. I did not need childhood therapy because of that. Not every child “falls in line.” This is not 1980s Russia.

I was so sick of being a “good girl.” I was used to being shit on or treated as though I were invisible in many aspects of my life. I just took it and didn’t complain. But having my dad get sick made me feel like I had earned the right to be selfish and irresponsible. No longer did I feel like solving everyone else’s problems and worrying about how my behavior might impact them. It was my turn to be a jackass so I just started getting wasted on the regular. I became a high school reunion cliche by hanging with my ex and proudly declaring I would never sleep with a married man. I woke up with him in my hotel room the next morning. At first, I as horrified and thought I was going to burn in Hell. I was thinking about going back to church and confessing even. But a couple days later when he asked me to meet for drinks I said “Fuck it. It’s my turn. I’ve earned this.”

With the exception of yoga nights, I started drinking every night of the week. I stopped at the bar on my way home, got drunk and texted back and forth with him or met up with him. There were some Fridays I would go to work not having slept the night before because I was walking into my house at 5am after shutting down the Boston bars with him. It was so wrong but so freeing and fun. It was my secret and I had something to look forward to; something to distract me from my dad.

It was really messy and super high charged with emotions. He was incredibly self absorbed and immature which was the perfect enabler for me because nothing I could do was worse than what he was doing. He was the one person who couldn’t judge me or tell me what to do and that’s exactly where I wanted to be. I wanted to be with someone who would let me self destruct because it was beneficial to him. I could see it. I was aware he would let me be messy so he could get laid. I detested him. And I loved him. It depended on who I was trying to be at the moment. What’s shocking is that I thought this was the rock bottom of my life. I had no idea that April 15th would change everything and far worse was to come even though I had rid myself of him at that point.

5 years later, I still think about him when I hear those two songs. It’s not fondly I recall him. I get a little angry and resentful still. But that’s because I have managed to circle back to the roots of me who would never behave like that girl from 5 years ago. Whenever he had tried to start things back up with me, it’s significantly easier for me to resist. I don’t identify with that girl right now. In some ways I am far better and stronger now. In other ways, I have some permanent damage which leaves me a little vulnerable….not to him, but to myself if ever I decide I have had enough again and want a “good girl” pardon.

I can never be steadfastly promising I won’t screw up again. I will never have that confidence in my resolve again. It will always be a process of fighting the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. Once you’ve invited the devil into your life, he never leaves. He can only be exhaustingly mitigated with every time a choice is encountered. Yet I am hopeful because I have been humbled. I also receive those health problem phone calls from my mother much better than I used to. I expect them and am always prepared now. I try. I fight madness.