Challenges

Sarah Rosemary at Sunny Side Up and I are hosting our own Reverb11, a series of prompts to look back on 2011 and manifest the new year.  Please check our Reverb11 pages for details, and join in!

Prompt for December 19: Challenges: What did you wrestle with in 2011?  What did you learn?  What challenges do you foresee in 2012?

 

I was not prepared for this year to be so…challenging.

 

When I arrived home from South America on New Year’s day, with that awful respiratory infection roiling my lungs, I thought that the biggest obstacles I was facing were some burnt-out lightbulbs; finishing some errands that Bill had promised he’d run but in the nearly two weeks I was gone, he had never gotten around to doing them.

 

I was wrong.

 

Each successive month of 2011 opened up like a giant, stinking corpseflower in bloom.  Living, thriving and carrying on — in other words, not at all rotten, but definitely smelling like it.  There were lessons to be learned from each month’s adventures, sure.  But that didn’t make them stink less.  Do I still have the smell of the year on me?  Perhaps this year will be stuck on me for a while — the way smoke lingers, or the smell of cooked animal fat stays in your hair and on your clothes.

 

By November, when the smoke of March through September was finally clearing, I was back from (more) travel, but on my way out to  my family Thanksgiving.  I was tied into a knot over the challenges posed by the first 11 months of the year.

 

I handled my quivering heart the way I have foolishly handled it in the past, which was to have a long conversation with Frederic about it.  Before you judge me, let me say this: Frederic is selfish, and petulant, and difficult.  He cares only about himself.  But by November, I need to spill my guts to someone who knew me well, and who hadn’t previously formed an opinion on my year.

 

He told me to write it down, and I did.  I wrote him a long letter detailing the things I had done, and hadn’t done; told him about the complex course things had taken after the train went off the rails in April.  And the challenges! I explained the highs and the lows; the hotels and airports; I told him about the races run, and the paths I’d travelled.  And I told him, bluntly, about the extraordinary and the mundane, the things that were making my head swim like I’d been drinking whisky but hadn’t touched a drop of drink all night.

 

At the end of the message, I said, This gets to the part about you, Frederic.  The part where I say: how could you have scarred me so badly that I am standing here frozen in place, convinced that history is about to repeat itself?

 

There it was.  The year had been a challenge, and the things that had been good; the things that had been so long awaited — they were living in the shadow of the man who had broken my heart.

 

Frederic deflected the question, as I expected him to do.  But the final challenge of the year had been not to go to the hardware store for oranges.  And I hadn’t — I hadn’t gone to him for emotional validation, I’d merely needed to spill my guts.  I’d spent all this time trapped in the airport, afraid to go forward or back because I feared another Frederic on either end of the terminal.

 

In sum, I had gone into Home Depot, and this time left with a hammer.

 

The challenges of the year boiled down to a handful of things beyond my control churning my insides to frenzied waters.  And my life is not likely to become any less complex or simple.  But ultimately, I don’t think things are complicated.  Maybe they smell complicated – but the things that smell putrid often deceive.  Maybe as rot sets in, it’s giving rise to something else – nurturing, growing, feeding the soil.  By the time death happens, growth is taking place elsewhere.

 

There were so many hotels; so many airports.  But there is also the Upper East Side.

 

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