Day 17 I begin to feel bad I wasn’t more patient. The nightmare of the first ten days has paled, holds less definition now. So the voice comes to tell me I should have been more kind, to tell me I shouldn’t have yelled at her, altered as she was by the drug. How could I have so lost sight of that? The voice says I should have been able to fend off the anger better, to have been able to remember it was the medication. But I keep thinking this drug did not invent things that weren’t already there, only exaggerated them. So, where is the choice? I am blurry, confused. Warmth and engagement, even laughter with others. Is that choice? Or only conditioning, habit, not willed? Regardless, the voice wants to tell me I should have been better, been more. But today I don’t want to listen. I am still too raw. I don’t want blinders, either. I know I failed again and again in this. “But humans fail,” I say. “And you like being human.” I do. I like being human, being a being in a body on this wide, glorious, suffering planet of ours. I cry a little then, softened toward myself, my failings. May I believe I am doing my best. May I recognize my victories, all those times I was soft-voiced, tried to explain, even reassure. Linda says I am heroic to have even tried. I am pretty sure this is much more than I deserve, but I repeat it to myself anyway.
“Two blocks,” she yells. “Two blocks to the vet.” It is more like eight or ten blocks, but that is not the point, I think. Most accidents happen close to home. If she shouldn’t be behind the wheel right now because of the medication, then she shouldn’t be behind the wheel. But who am I to judge? Her doubt haunts me. I know she is not yet fully herself. The drug is still affecting her even though she didn’t take a pill today. Do I give up and let her drive because it is almost unbearable to endure her constant railing against it, against me? Do I wait until tomorrow after the blinker is fixed, from the day last week when I misjudged and let her drive, and she broke it backing up in the parking garage? I am inside my writing, sitting at the table in the back yard, when she comes to the sliding glass door. “Two blocks,” she yells. I don’t say anything. But I am angry again, and I know it is hurting me to be angry. My liver. My gallbladder. My gut. I am drained, exhausted by the onslaught, but not able to sleep. I wake in the night spinning over everything. I can’t wait to go home. Later in the afternoon, she takes the car and leaves without telling me. I am so angry I want to be gone before she gets home. I have to wrestle with myself to stay, to not respond in kind. The end in sight now, I want this to be over.
Day 11 I feel like living proof we are only given what we can bear. I am not pointing to biblical references, only the proverbial sayings, and I don’t even know if I believe this is true. I think sometimes we break, and then if we are lucky we mend. But today she wakes better, more like herself. The angry attacks come less often. And the change feels calibrated to just before my tipping point. I could not have endured it much longer, but I only know this because it has lessened. I sense the full strain of it only now when there is some relief. Today in chavasana I fill with gratitude and leave two small puddles of tears on my green yoga mat when I am done. I marvel at the timing, this pushing me to the edge but not over. I’ve never been so aware of it, this intricate tuning. I bet it has happened before, many times. But today I am awake to it. I feel how big the gift.
Day 10 I lie in chavasana and know how tender I am, how vulnerable, how beaten up I feel by all her anger. Every nerve is raw, taut, humming, waiting for the next assault. I am afraid every moment. What will be next? The sliding glass door opens behind my head. I keep my eyes closed, but I cringe, waiting for the blow. “I’m afraid of you,” she says. She hurls the words at me, accusation not confession, and closes the sliding glass door with a thud. It is said to wound. She said it earlier, and the best I can gather is it is because I am so “strict.” She takes to calling me Hitler, says “Yes, ma’am” with such derision I yell at her to stop. So ugly. Today I lie here, my fear vibrating, and recognize the echo of childhood fear alive, too. I keep my eyes closed and breathe. May we both be safe and free from harm. May I know I am enough just as I am right now.
Someone I love, medication to stop smoking. I go there, try to keep her safe while she adjusts. Signed up for this, I say. Not this, though. No sense of having chosen the path for herself. Wave after wave of anger, accusations, threats. Thinks I am doing this to her, trying to control her, no good reason. I am battered by her venom. I yell back. Or I keep my voice steady, remind her again and again this is temporary. She chose this. I am only here to try to keep her safe. No driving until she adjusts to the drug. I read out loud the contract she signed before we began. She ignores me. The next day the contract disappears. We fight over the 8 ounces of water with each pill. Over only one Scotch and soda per day. Over everything. Even now, when she has chosen to stop taking the medication, it is impossible for her to believe me when I say the doctor told us it would take several days before it is out of her system. On the first day without the medication, Day 16, she finds her spare key and takes the car while I am working in the back yard. I walk around the neighborhood looking for her before I find the empty garage. I am in shock, appalled. She doesn’t leave a note. “I was angry,” she tells me later, as if that makes it okay. I get caught over and over in my stories about how I am being wronged. I refuse to accept what is. I tell myself it is the drug talking. But I don’t believe me, not all the way. Day 18 now, and I want to cry. I am too tired to cry. I am all used up, and sad. So sad.
I fall in love with people at the hostel. Three who work there and a handful who are visiting like me. There are two young women in particular, one from Senegal and one from Argentina, who steal my heart. They are both so vibrant, so strong and confident, so warm. (I cry when we have to say goodbye.) I spend mornings in my green wooden chair overlooking the meadow. I greet people as they walk by. One morning I am brimming with goodwill, and I notice little ways I’ve come to be different. I am saddened by one woman at the front desk who decides I am annoying. (I can be, I know, don’t think I’ve been unduly so with her.) It hurts my heart, but I don’t let it swallow me. I turn away from it, instead, allow it to be her problem, let my heart lift again. I am irked by the woman in my dorm who gets up early, goes in and out, lets the door slam every time. But I don’t get myself all worked up over it, don’t stir self-righteous anger. (I do show her later how to close the door more softly.) In the late afternoon, I sneak a yoga mat from the big basket in the basement and an extra blanket from my bed upstairs and walk down to the basketball court beside the meadow. Birds sit on the chain-link fence and watch me meditate, keep me company when I do my sun salutes. Once, the covey of quail come, and I take quick peeks at them, shy and sweet in the coastal grasses. I take the ferry back to San Francisco, and a second one to Oakland and my train, loving the sunlight and the open water. I eat sourdough olive rolls from Acme bakery and fresh, purple figs on the long trip home. I drink black tea to stay awake, write two blog posts, read a novel on my mini iPad. The late-night air is hot in Palm Springs when I arrive. Exhaustion claims me. I feel a little lost now in this other world.
My short story “Between My Ribs” is a finalist for the 2018 American Fiction Short Story Award from New Rivers Press. The 19 stories selected for their anthology are now with the final judge who will choose the first, second and third place winners in the next few weeks. I’ve been eager to tell you, my readers, wanting to share this sweet news, knowing you’ll feel glad for me and wish me well in this. But I’ve been shy about it, too. As I write, I feel big gratitude and quiet glee. But I’m not sure I can do justice to all the feelings this evokes in me. I feel thrilled and grateful and lucky. Of course. And I’m delighted my first publication will be with this university press who I’ve been so fond of for years now. But I feel afraid and sad and uncomfortable, too, and I can’t really point to why. I know I’ve been grappling with my discomfort over wanting to win. I feel honored to be chosen for the anthology, but I would very much like to win the contest, too. I worry about being greedy, so I wrestle with it. “Of course you want to win,” I say. “That’s only natural.” But it sits awkward in me, this wanting it to be more. But maybe I am only afraid of being disappointed if my story isn’t chosen for first place. Maybe it’s as simple as that.
But there is a deep desire in me to win. I want that recognition. I’ve held myself back in so many ways for most of my life, I think. I want to just step forward here. I want to lead this collection. So I’ll ask for your good wishes in this now while the judge is still reading our stories, still weighing his responses to each of them, still sorting through them for himself. I whisper my own prayers into the palms of my cupped hands. I can hear the house finch in the courtyard, and the mountains are clear this morning for the first time in months, keeping vigil with me. I kiss the center of my palms, fold them around each other, bring them to my heart. I sit very still, holding my hope. And then I open my hands, slow movements, the bird released to take to the sky. I grin, lightened, filled with the honor of this gift, at peace in this moment with whatever is meant to unfold next.
And thank you, too, for holding this in your own hearts with me. Just the thought of it makes me want to cry.
[Editor’s note: I don’t know much about Facebook, so this is clunky. But below is both their announcement of the finalists and my own section of that post when you scroll through all the photos. Here I am in my goofy head covering—I got the news when I was staying at the hostel and had to get a photo to them right away, so I took this with my iPad in my favorite chair outside. You can also access the post in their Facebook page here.]