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We were too busy to shout “Happy New Year,” so the DJ calmly expressed his well-wishing as we clasped the arms of the people closest to us and pressed our bodies together. The second floor of the club, splattered with layer upon layer of graffiti that commemorated a thousand separate memories, crowded us together between several pillars on a flimsy dance floor that shuddered under our bouncing weight. Once midnight hit, our friend had been pounced by an old fling of hers whose eyes were wide and sparkling, rolling on molly, and they were entangled in the middle of the room in a kiss.

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My partner and I had moved to this city inspired largely by her, but once we arrived her life fell apart. She lost her wife, she found someone new, and then she lost her too. The overwhelming density of her strife meant we had also lost her. She lived down the street but she was adrift in her endless preoccupations, not answering our messages and canceling plans. I was irritated, yet empathetic, and through my annoyance I continued to comment on all her photos and reach out to her, even if she didn’t respond.

And now, once she parted from her most recent lover and stumbled away, she came to our arms and we hugged her and told her we loved her and were inspired endlessly by her.

The three of us left the narrow old building that housed the club, standing on the sidewalk with goosebumps crawling up our arms and Uber vehicles crowding along the side of the road. Our friend’s tryst stood in the doorway, her body alight, her wild eyes trained on us, insisting we enter her vehicle and come downtown to Black Mass with her, dance away the rest of the night with her even though they would soon be unable to legally serve alcohol. We weren’t alive with uppers, however, and had multiple bottles worth of depressant drenching our organs, so we slid into a van to head back to our friend’s apartment.

Around the time I entered the Uber, my hair slick with sweat and my damp shirt slipping down over my shoulder, 200 miles away in another state, my father’s heart muscles struggled to receive a supply of oxygen. He laid down in bed, squeezing his eyes shut and thinking that if he died, at least the pain would stop.

But he woke up the next morning. He went to the hospital and they slithered a wire through his veins and put a stent into his heart with a balloon catheter.

My little brother contacted me the following morning, our lives so different yet his brain so much like mine, doing neurotic circles, a game show reel spun out of control and every prize actually a possible demise. He had recently had his first child and he held his newborn, contemplating worst case scenarios. When I called my father’s cell phone, my mother was a manic scribble as well.

My own neuroticism was firing off and so I recalled the progress I had made, the progress I had reflected on while drunk and silly in the graffiti’d club bathroom the night before, fluffing my hair in the mirror and staring into the drunken spiral of my eyes, observing the purple half-circles of perpetual illness standing out crass against my pale skin. I rubbed my face to bring some color and, as the New Year’s occasion called for, reflected on my personal progress of the past year.

I assume that others, during the whir of drama and chaos and inebriation, stare at themselves in the mirror and demand the truth. My soul procured what I most desired in that moment, which was pride — in myself. For what? What good had I done in this past year? I had barely made enough money to get by, many bills going unanswered and mostly unnoticed; I had worked pitifully small jobs and hardly lived up to my full potential, failing to inspire during job interviews; my relationship had completely fallen apart and I had managed to slap it back together with skill and grace. So much failure, but that last one — the latter conflict — had put me on a path of realization.

It hasn’t been that long since my last meltdown, my last time checking into a crisis service center and begging them to help me sleep. A year and a half, not even. Since then, I had put forth a considerable effort to help myself, or, to try to build up some defenses and thought patterns that would prevent myself from shutting down again. I read articles and books that were not necessarily always about self-help but had the sort of content I could use to infuse myself with good ways of thinking that I could practice.

I had practiced changing my thoughts. Swiveling away from the anxiety and neuroticism to more constructive ways of thinking. I flexed my brain cells, attempted to build a reflex toward reason. I read many articles on, simply, how to breathe. I felt silly reading them, but still — I caught myself not breathing when I stressed out. I found myself remembering to take good breaths.

I also found myself asking this question that had been repeated to me over and over again by therapists, who I had ignored: What can I take care of right now, in this moment? I began to seriously ask myself this. Often, the answer was nothing. Often, I found myself jotting down a time in which I would take action toward solving a problem, which wasn’t at that current moment. I had trained myself into a habit. This question had been meaningless to me for so long, until I managed to prescribe it with my own personal, intimate meaning of self-improvement. Maybe one day it will be meaningless again to me and I will need to find a new question to infuse with intimate personal power.

Standing in the club bathroom, surrounded by graffiti about hot, wet pussy and colorful tags, I stared myself down and acknowledged that a year had passed and the work I had put into myself was noteworthy and fruitful. Though continuously plagued with insecurity, I felt pride bubbling up in my chest. A sense that these thoughts, habits, friendships, myself… were not worthless.

I could hold my pettiness in my hand and then gently swat it away, just like any normal, pained human being. After this continued reflection of the night before, I held my phone in my hand, thinking of the neurotic triad of my mother, brother and myself. We had all influenced each other, touched by conflicts and trauma that traced far back into the past. It would be a long story to tell, if I were ever so inclined to write it down, but I knew where my anxiety came from. I knew who I shared it with. I knew, also, that I was capable of handling anything, that I had proven that to myself.

I spoke to my dad after speaking with them. After his dazzling heroism had worn off years ago, I had spent the majority of my adult life being angry with him, for his bad politics and prejudices. But this evaporated into a petty cloud of smoke in the conversation in which he told me his thoughts about believing that he was going to die.

Only one memory pushed to the forefront of my mind then. I was five, vulnerably small in my large bedroom, my bed pushed up against the window over the driveway and the apple tree so I could see the comings and goings of the outside world instead of the tall shadows of my cavernous room. I lay in bed with my nose pressed up against the windowpane and watched my dad’s car crunch up the driveway to rest under the tree. I was supposed to be sleeping, so I pulled the covers up around myself and pretended. My dad came up the stairs and set something next to my head, kneeling over me for a minute before leaving.

When he was gone, I rolled over. There was a book. He had brought me a book.

My entire childhood, my dad gave me books. It is because of him that I love to read. It wasn’t something that just happened, I didn’t just find books and devour them. He summarized books for me, sparking my interest, then put them in my hands. This became an integral part of my identity, leading me up to the point where I am today.

In the midst of conflict, anxiety, despair, I have managed to hold the good in my hand and ruminate over it with a calm heart. I have curled into myself in the bathroom, my chest crushed and holding back sobs that threatened to rip me apart, and I stood up afterward and recovered. This did not just happen. I wasn’t able to immediately use my legs properly after being shoved so forcefully to the ground.

But with effort, it happened.

I mull over these new realizations, habits, and histories on my drive into work, now that I’m working consistently again every day, driving a half hour to a school that offers me the best experience possible, even if without insurance benefits. I think about myself, about the politics blasting from my speakers and shaking my flimsy car; I think about the friends who both push and pull, disappear under their grief only to hold me tightly in an embrace the next time we meet. The patience I forward to my friends is worth it, despite the frustrations.

January has brought cold, icy rain that slicks up the roads and makes everything gray. I swish along the hissing water on the highway every morning, the sky blanketed with black clouds, navigating myself using the golden halo from the street lamps overhead. The sound and smell of constant winter rain is the backdrop to my thoughts on this place inside myself I’ve slowly discovered, this infinite ocean of patience that swells and moves, that is colored by my mood and kept undisturbed and endless through simple and sheer willpower. Underneath the anxiety bursts, the paranoia, the self-doubt and insecurity, it’s still there. Underneath the troublesome clouds of despair, it’s there. It’s somewhere at my center, infinite in all directions.

Acknowledging its presence doesn’t make the chemicals in my brain flux correctly however. This ocean isn’t a panacea, it’s just there and accessible. I still have my bad habits, such as washing my poor brain with all sorts of drugs to modulate my experience.

On Friday, one of the few friends I’ve made in this city returned from Saudi Arabia — having visited her family over her school’s break — and she returned wanting to do two things for her upcoming birthday. She wanted to go to her first concert ever and she wanted to take LSD while she did it. We had taken acid together before after a tryst we had the previous year, so there was nothing objectionable about this situation. I was hoping the acid could help me clear some of the depressive gunk in my brain, something that was far more difficult to rid with healthy thought patterns because it just calcified to my personality and ebbed and rose in mass throughout the month.

After the show, I burst out into the night, holding her and my partner in an embrace and breathing in cold air and tasting it, tasting the colors of the lights, tasting red and blue on my tongue. The following day, sunshine radiated through my brain and the shadows disappeared. But my energy was zapped and my heart was beating too fast.

Another week begins, my mood is high though I’m exhausted and no amount of sleep after Friday has been good enough. I want to be wide awake and I want to sleep forever. I caught myself not breathing this morning, my heart thudding in my chest, holding my breath for no reason other than anxiety rearing its face at the change in my daily schedule, however small. I’m struggling at both being awake and receiving the appropriate amount of sleep, knowing that mixed up in my desires is the need for balance in order to actively maintain good habits.

And underneath this flux of daily routines, too much sleep or not enough, distant friends and needy friends, the eternal complications of love, unexpected troubles and matters of life and death, I am aware of that infinite ocean of patience. I may lose sight of it again one day, but it’s there. It’s always there.

I feel shitty due to a dream, a good dream.
I reconnected with a college friend, she laughed,
fussed with her hair like she always did, rosy face
framed by her hands. The world was a mall,
we browsed through arts and crafts, all of that,
I saw everyone I used to know, even people I hated.
I looked great, all of us functioning fluidly in a seamless social scheme.
“How is it that we don’t talk anymore? Can I see you more often? I miss you so,”
She was amazing, everything I miss, connective conversation drawing me in —

but she’s not actually like that. She breached the surface of
that colorful, that connecting, that stimulating, for three days in time —
and if we were to reconnect it wouldn’t be like the dream at all,
she was never that bright or friendly, and if I spoke with her again,
the motions would be cold, and even — the horrible truth — awkward,
she’s just not who I wanted her to be, didn’t turn out how I wanted her to be,
she had every right to be something other than what I wanted,
but how am I nostalgic for something that never even was?

Sometimes it’s not that you burn the bridge,
it just crumbles due to poor infrastructure
and you dream of the blueprint and a matchbook.

I am sitting square in my youth, but at the same time, growing far above it and learning more about myself now than I ever did when I was in my early twenties and felt fresh and malleable. I really wasn’t, then, and I’m probably not even as malleable as I think I am now even. One change that’s developed in the past year or so, however, is that while before I was so ready to admit how right I was about certain things, now I feel even more ready to admit how wrong and/or inexperienced I am.

I realized this  while I was clearing out an old, personal Twitter account, deleting compromising tweets so I can use it, possibly, for more personal and family connections. I was so cocky, before, so stubborn in my beliefs and ready to be spiteful. Not saying I’m free of spite now, because I certainly still enjoy a bit of spite, but not nearly to the same degree as several years ago. I was happy to delete those tweets.

Another thing that’s developed in my mind that wasn’t there to such a degree before—my gratitude for other people. I’ve realized that I would be nothing without the rich connections I’ve built in my life, this coinciding with the fact that I’ve also been very harsh toward other people during my young lifetime and have burnt many bridges. Some of my bridge burning has been cruel, but some has been as an act of self-preservation, to remove poison from my life. I can look back, now, and discern when I was right and when I was wrong. So this leaves me, a gracious mess of harsh and cynical bite and loving cling. I’m working on softening up, being more friendly. That’s an ongoing project.

But the people I’ve known. The ways they’ve helped me grow and patched up the areas of my personality that were gaping holes. I want to be the kind of person who always recognizes a good friend, so I can keep my good friends and we can continue to help each other. There are two things in this life that seem to be very Good—and those are soul-enriching music and soul-enriching conversations with other people. If I can continue to cultivate those things, maybe I’ll have an amazing life.

Once, during an extremely foolish period, I was kicked out of my apartment by an ex-boyfriend and left to scramble, cat in my arms and a car full of my possessions, for a place to live before I started my student teaching. I was at this chaotic point in my life where I was trying to kick-off my career amidst a crew of people that were either actively exploiting me or about to leave me to build their own careers. As I was in the middle of losing my mind, a friend told me to come live with her, in the apartment she was moving into. I knew she thought I was a silly, over-the-top person, but she wanted to help me. Plus, I would help with rent. After all, the apartment was a small one bedroom apartment.

So we got cozy together, sleeping together in the same small bedroom.

This action on her part made a huge impression on me. She offered her living space to me, and this allowed me to thrive. Now, whenever the situation arises, I feel I must do this for others. I let people stay with me, and offer them my things when they are in trouble. I have to, because I once benefited from such charity from a friend. Not saying that I’m all-giving, because when I sense that someone is nasty or exploitative, I still cut them off.

One of those friends who has slept on my couch, sleeping with his eyes open (literally), drinking all my booze and lighting things on fire, answered my calls when we were in the process of moving to another state. He came over with his tool bag and an electric saw and cut up all the furniture I couldn’t get rid of and couldn’t put out on the street without receiving a fine. Thinking he would leave, disappear maybe, like he always does—he didn’t. He stayed, for days, helping us pack and load the truck. We hadn’t asked for all that, but he did it anyway, and I will always be grateful for that.

Especially for his quick action during a ridiculous scene: Just as we were about to get in the Uhaul and drive away from our amazing, beautiful old apartment forever, I let the cats out of the bedroom so they could use the litter box before we put them in their carriers. My favorite cat, my big beast, bee-lined from the bedroom and opened the door under the sink with a purpose that confounds me still. He climbed right in, slinking into a hole where the pipes went, and got himself lodged under the sink. Stuck. In a matter of two seconds.

I start wailing, thinking we’re going to need to find someone to cut the sink up and then deal with the landlord and delay everything and lose money in the process in order to save my poor stupid cat, when our bug-eyed friend appears with two-by-fours he whipped out of nowhere—I still don’t know where he got them—and used them to create a wedge. We pried the sink from the ground enough for me to lay flat on the floor and drag my cat out with one arm.

Another friend is always ready with a bottle of champagne whenever there’s something to celebrate, whether that be a Master’s degree obtained or a birthday. He’s helped me unseal my car door when it was frozen shut and -25 degrees Fahrenheit out, and no one else would come help. We trudged together in the icy, cavernous world.

Another always lets us sleep on her couch when we’re back in our home city, and always listens, no  matter how heated the rant. Her advice is stoic, solid, spectacular.

I want to absorb the positive qualities in those around me, recognize them, in the hopes of growing myself. Growing because of them, growing with them. I hope I can keep these people in my life, and obtain friends of equal caliber by nurturing a good character and being good to myself as well.

 

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