identity

All of this sifting through possessions and selling my home have gotten me thinking about my identity. Self-identity is a uniquely human trait, a sum of many things that defines who we are. I started off with an obscured identity, one attached to the circumstances of my birth and subsequent adoption. I had another name, another birth certificate. I firmly believe (along with most other adoptees) that this caused a fundamental scar that has, in many ways, defined my identity more than any other factor. In adoption literature, this has been called the “primal wound.” Very often it is one of the first things people learn about me.

Another event that has defined my identity was a fall from a tree when I was seven. I cannot hide that I am deaf in my left ear for long, nor do I try. It has impacted my life on a near daily basis for fifty-five years. One of the top  hearing specialists in the country(the son of one of my dad’s neighbors in Tucson) did an informal test one night after we had eaten dinner. He said that even if they could restore some ability to hear  in that ear, my brain had forgotten how to hear on that side. Isn’t that amazing, that the brain could forget something so fundamental? Three years ago, when I was fifty-nine, I got a tattoo of the mute symbol inked behind my left ear. This indelible mark is an announcement that my deafness is a permanent fixture of my identity .

I’m a straight, mostly white woman. I have a BA in Anthropology and an MFA in Creative Writing. I’m a mom of one and a daughter. I currently have Lyme disease. I like movies, books, cleaning, cooking, reading and swimming. These are all markers of my identity that I most often want people to know about me. I don’t identify as English or Hispanic or Catholic or Jewish or descended from (blank). Those labels hold no interest for me. My genetic background is too complicated for explanation, and I belong to the atheist tribe, a highly fragmented group.

It’s also not by accident that no possessions or places are on this list. Both of those things are complicated. I’m from a lot of places but not really. I was born in Texas  spent 39 years there.  I’ve lived in Louisiana, North Carolina, and now Colorado. I’ve always had possessions, and like many of you, have collected more and more of them as time goes on. I’ve gotten a lot of pleasure out of most of them (not cars, though. I am not interested in cars at all except as a means from point A to B). I can tell you when I bought this or that, and I take care of them. But what does where I am from and what I own say about me? I am a Texan by default. My relationship with Texas is complicated and I don’t consider myself to be a Texan. Many of my possessions were acquired during my 29-year marriage, a time that doesn’t please me to be reminded of anymore.

The truth is, neither of these things are that important to me. However, there is a slightly larger than small place inside of me that cares about my identity as defined by possessions and places. In America, besides what you do, where you are from and what you have managed to acquire are two of the most basic facts people use to show their self-identity and their ability to be firmly rooted in life. Most of us have proud pictures of ourselves or someone in our families in front of their houses. Sometimes the people are standing next to their new cars. People proclaim “I’m a New Yorker,” or “Atlanta born and raised,” as if this makes them a member of a tribe. To not have things, or belong somewhere, is to be pitied, as if you have not done what is expected. And so I doubt my intuition that tells me that now is my time to shed both and go forth into the world.

Another part of me, that nagging voice of insecurity, says that the time to reinvent has long passed me by.  That I’m too old, or that I should be content with what I have and where I am. My intuition says loudly and insistently to fuck that noise.

I hate the adage “age is nothing but a number.” It is misused, trotted out as a paragon to healthy living and/or a firm denial of the reality of aging. The reality is that we do age in spite of our best efforts. No one truly knows how long they are going to be able to do all of the things they’d like to do. At our last meeting, my dad’s financial advisor had to ask me “what the life expectancy is for people with chronic Lyme disease.” I don’t know, nor does anybody else seem to know. The CDC sticks with its’ assertion that even with “post-Lyme disease syndrome” one can expect to be fully well in less than a year. They are full of shit. But they’re not studying outcomes, either.

I want adventure before I’m forced to shrink my world due to the vagaries of aging. The truth is I can’t manage the energy to have it all anymore, especially with the ever-present specter of relapses. I’m not even sure I want it all. My hope is that this great purge clears the way for a larger life with less things and a clear sense of who I am.

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restless

I’ve moved enough times that there is a rhythm to each move. There’s the relief of deciding to sell the home and move. Then the flurry of activity necessary to get the house ready for selling. I had a head start on this house, because before COVID I had considered selling and got rid of a bunch of stuff. That was a great help. After that, there is the wait for someone to buy.

That’s where the rhythm sped up. I’ve never sold a home in a market like this one. It sold in three days. We only had one bid but it was the right one. Our realtor wisely negotiated for a sixty day close and an additional sixty day leaseback. Because the corollary for a hot seller’s market is a tough buyer’s market.

I really like our realtor. I hav known him for seven or eight years through swimming. He is a good swimmer, and I either swam a few lanes over in a slower lane or was lifeguarding while he swam. Showing up at a pool at 5 am, sleep tousled and in a bathing suit to voluntarily swim a few miles tells me a lot about a person. That’s how I knew he was a realtor, and it’s also how I knew I could trust him to be reliable and trustworthy.

I think it takes a certain type of personality to be a great realtor. You’re not so much as selling something as guiding someone through one of the most purchases most of us ever make. You have to get to know what the person wants, yet make it clear what they can have. You have to explain strategies and pitfalls and advantages and all sorts of terms. My daughter is a virgin home buyer, so a large part of our realtor’s job is to explain the whole process to her. Our realtor is pathologically cheerful and patient, and has done all of the above, and more.

So we have a contract. I’m working on all the problems of making repairs, which is always a hassle and has its own peculiar rhythm. In fact, everything about a move is a “hurry up and wait” kind of motion. Some days are spent worrying if you’ve done the right thing and other days are seemingly consumed in a flash with phone calls, appointments, and paperwork. If I add watching the Olympics or writing into the mix, it makes getting anything else done extremely difficult.

What I’ve discovered about myself is that I can no longer juggle multiple things and push through a hectic day without paying the price. I lose my train of thought on one thing when I’m interrupted and can’t get back on track. I fall asleep at eight pm and sleep until six but I don’t feel rested. What level of stress can I handle now? I guess I won’t know until I’ve tested the limits, and this move is proving to be the perfect situation.

I miss the rush of having a jam-packed day of chaos and knowing that I dealt with all of it. Katie and I were talking about the time she went back to her second semester of school in January 2005 and discovered that Pikes Peak Community College had a Zookeeping degree program. This was what she had been looking for. She withdrew from Mesa State, I came and got her, we drove to Colorado Springs, enrolled her in the program, found an apartment and moved her all within three days. I doubt I could do that now.

When we moved to this house I got the house in Evergreen ready between December twentieth and January fifth. Katie and I packed over 85 boxes. I also found a new house all before I left for Bennington, VT on January thirteenth for my first term of graduate school. I was still negotiating the contract on the shuttle bus from Albany to Bennington. When I returned ten days later, I had seven days to finish packing, close on both houses, hire movers, and move in February second. I know I couldn’t do that now.

This move is dragging out, though, because of the craziness of the market. I have started thinking about packing, but it’s too soon. Besides, I am getting rid of at least half of my stuff, maybe more. But that depends on where we move and how much space I will have and how much space Katie will have. Because this will be primarily her space, not mine. I’ll be a co-owner but not here for the day-to-day living. I’ll be in Tucson for a while, then I’ll be all over the place, I hope. Eventually I hope to live somewhere outside of the US for six months each year and travel to see friends/tennis tournaments/for pleasure for weeks at a time. It’s funny, that doesn’t seem daunting at all. Because I will have total control of my travel times, recovery times, and when I come and go. I won’t have to clean the house, or do yard work, or deal with all the everyday things that sap my energy.

The end result of all the chaos of downsizing my world will be worth it, though. A much smaller property which means much less upkeep. I’ll have a co-owner I can trust who happens to be my daughter. She is thrilled to finally be a property owner. A smaller payment, which means more money for living. And lastly, a great shedding of things from a former life. Time will tell if that will be liberating.

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moving

I can always tell when I’m fighting an infection now. Babesia, a malaria-like protozoan parasite co-infection that hasn’t been in the picture for over two years (maybe more, I can’t keep all this shit straight) has returned. It’s probably due to an overload of stress and activity. I’m selling my house and down-sizing. I made the decision, traveled to Denver, prepared the house, and sold it all in three weeks. Fortunately, I have plenty of experience in this area. I’ve moved 39 times (give or take a few hasty moves in my college years) both as a child and as an adult. When I was married, I was the one who did all the legwork to prepare the house for selling and moving. As a child, I watched my mom do the same thing. She was highly organized and I don’t recall any trauma from a poorly thought out move. So I scrubbed, cleaned, packed some things up, and made the house look like someone would like to live there.

Houses are selling in less than a weekend in Denver at considerably more than the asking price. I don’t know when I’ll ever see a stronger seller’s market for houses in my price category again. It was no surprise when we had an offer Monday morning after the first weekend.

All that activity wore me down and that’s what babesia was waiting for.  This is part of the reason I’m downsizing in the first place. The more stress I can eliminate from my life the more I can control relapses (I hope!). There was no sneaking up with this infection. It barreled in back in early June and it is raging right now, in spite of being on medication. And babesia has a unique set of symptoms: my eyes ache, itch, water, and blur, my teeth hurt deep in my jaws, I have a sharp headache constantly, I break out in sweats, my muscles ache, and my brain gets anxious and angry. I know, you’re thinking it sounds a lot like my other co-infection symptoms, and you’d be right. It’s the nature of the symptoms that is different. I could write pages on the differences, but I’d bore both myself and you. Let’s just say you know it when you feel it.

At any rate, the end result is a body in combat. I sleep a LOT, like ten or more hours a day. This Sunday I couldn’t stay up for the entire Wimbledon Men’s Championship match. Bear in mind, this was 10:30 am. I’d been up for four hours. In my defense, I detest Novak Djokovic, so not seeing him play isn’t exactly a hardship. It’s just frustrating to bow down to my body’s needs instead of doing what I want. I slept until a little after twelve and when I woke up, Djokovic had won. Yuck. I don’t like him. I find his whiny arrogance combined with his neediness that tennis fans adore him off-putting. I didn’t had the energy to do much else. It is one of the truths of chronic Lyme that it takes a tremendous amount of energy to fight off active infections, especially a parasitic one that feasts on red blood cells, like babesia. 

The other sign my body is working overtime is my appetite. I am constantly hungry. Not junk food kind of hunger, but a deep urge to eat nourishing foods. I crave fruit, protein, vegetables, and fats. I give in to the cravings because I think my body knows what it needs when it’s laboring like this. Today it was leftover grits and fried catfish with some eggs on top for breakfast. Lunch was a big salad and sardines (go ahead haters, sardines are delish). I had popcorn for a snack and dinner was a baked sweet potato and steak. I’m still hungry. But I’m full. It’s annoying. What isn’t annoying is that I don’t gain a pound while this is happening.

So, I’m sleeping and eating or thinking about both most of the time right now. It’s a strange activity, fighting infections. I don’t necessarily feel ‘sick’. I feel like a bear must feel at the onset of hibernation. Grumpy and eating and eating for the long winter and becoming increasingly sleepy. If I don’t have anything else to do it’s not bad. I basically plan meals, cook, and lounge around waiting for sleep to overtake me. But I don’t get too much else done. I can only hope that allowing my body the rest and nourishment that it needs will get me back on track soon, because I have a lot to do in the next few month. I have to find another place to live, pack, and get rid of a bunch of stuff. I have to line up movers and a service to sell all the things we don’t want. I’ll have to sign a bazillion pieces of paper in order to sell and buy a place. I can’t say the process will be enjoyable. I can say moving is one of my life skills that has proven to be incredibly handy. I’ll do what I always do: forge ahead and remind myself daily that when it is over, I’ll be in a better place, physically, mentally, and financially.

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time

If I were to characterize myself, I’d be the grasshopper in Aesop’s Fable #373, “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” The grasshopper dances and frolics all summer, while the ant toils away, gathering food for the winter. When winter comes, the cold and hungry grasshopper begs the ant for food and shelter, and is refused. The moral of the story, of course, is the daily grind is a far worthier pursuit than fun and games. I have trouble with this concept. I’ve been content to drift along on the gentle waves of a privileged life. Being content is not a recipe for professional success, however. My friend Laura and I talk about this often. Neither of us would say we were ambitious, an almost shameful admission in America. When I was younger, I chose a path that suited me, that of corporate housewife. We moved every couple of years, so I worked part-time, usually at jobs that had some benefit to the family: free childcare, free gym memberships, or discounted clothes and gear. I took pride in being a good housewife. I drifted. Things changed.

Lyme disease, as in every aspect of my life, forced me to reevaluate. I am now in a big hurry to “do things”. And by doing things, I mean being true to myself and not being afraid. Life is short. I know that now, at the solidly middle age of 58. Maybe part of this hurry IS middle age, the tidying of loose ends that were neglected earlier. Most people toiled away and neglected friends, family and fun. I was fortunate to have the opposite equation. We could get into a whole discussion of whether the trade-off of marriage was worth it, but why? I can’t change my choices, nor do I want to. I have been able to experience life events fully without the interruption of a job. I was present during my mother’s illness and her death. I have helped my parents through surgeries and moves and have gotten to spend time with them. I was able to torture my daughter by being there for most of her life. Okay, there was that time I forgot her at her math tutor’s house and maybe I was late for a few things, but I was there. My not working allowed my ex-husband to concentrate on his career, and while that didn’t work out so well for me in the long run, I still don’t regret it.

What changed? There was no epiphany, nor was there one cataclysmic event. There were a series of small events. A marriage foundering slowly. An only daughter leaving the nest. A random afternoon spent watching the Westminster Dog Show with the daughter. The announcer told the story of the Hungarian Komondor, whose long, corded coat protected the sheepdog from wolf bites. She thought that was fascinating, and from that a germ of an idea sprouted. I started to write a book about Golden Retrievers. Believe me, if I had known how hard writing a book was, I never would have done it. I slowly dipped my toes into the waters of the writing world.

While I wouldn’t recommend a serious illness to anyone, I am once again grateful for Lyme, and especially for neuroborreliosis. The reawakening of my once inflamed brain has produced both an urgency and sharpness of thought that has been highly beneficial to my writing and myself. Man, the above sentences are a testament to silver linings. I can hardly imagine how anyone could benefit from losing one’s mind for an extended period (say, longer than an acid trip), yet I did. What I do with this newfound urgency is an ongoing struggle. I am not fully recovered. Energy and stamina are precious commodities in my world. Writing about my past, especially the physical and sexual abuse, is surprisingly exhausting. Dating is exhilarating and exhausting. Taking care of myself and my home is calming and exhausting. Looking for a “real” job falls to the bottom of the list for now. Lifeguarding will have to suffice as I put myself back together. I don’t have an old life to return to. There is no loved one, no job, no “normal.” I was in the throes of reinvention when Lyme hit.

It has taken years to discover my voice, and what I must write. I was my own worst enemy. When I think of all the time I have wasted doubting myself when I was younger, I cringe. Oh, I still doubt myself, often and with great energy. The difference is that doubt doesn’t stop me. I must write, and I must write about deeply personal things. Is this what ambition feels like? Or is this a form of self-therapy, or personal flagellation? I could have chosen an easier path. The arts are no way to make a living.

The metamorphosis from ant to grasshopper continues. I know I shortchange myself, it’s a problem. I work much harder than I let on. I also think waaaaay too much, as any friend of mine knows. As I attempt to embrace the thorny new normal, I will remind myself that I’ve survived happily for most of my life as a grasshopper,  dancing, frolicking, and experiencing life.

 

 

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