The buildup to turning forty sent my emotions to the surface. A lot of retrospecting. A lot of thinking of my mother. A lot of thinking of my youth – from the time I can remember through my early twenties. It was like every memory was just below the surface, ready to erupt. I was a tinderbox just under my skin.
I am also in a (relatively) new relationship that is, truly, long term, for the first time in almost twenty years. I am facing, weekly, the ways that old shit keeps coming up. The way I react to that shit can be too much, even for me. It’s an old story: the different ways we each get in the way of our own happiness. An old, tired story told in a million different similar ways.
And I don’t mean Hallmark happiness, or Disney happiness, or even that movie ending kind of happiness that you know lasts as long as the credits and then gets really complicated, again, like life always does. I mean the life we can have, may very well already have, that is fulfilling and funny and rich with love. I mean: living with someone who makes you smile. I mean: loving people, both young and old, who know you and still love you back. I mean: finding the ways you can offer that back to people.
I mean: stepping our of your own way.
But I also mean: pursuing and preserving and protecting all of the things in your life that matter. That really really matter.
I’ve always, since I took the time to find words to name my thoughts on the matter – I have always believed that we are all broken. To different degrees and in different ways. For different reasons and with varying outcomes.
Life breaks us. In all sorts of ways.
It’s an interesting word to lean on. It begs the response: well, fix it.
That is a tricky prospect. And while I don’t typically invest myself in binary notions, to a certain degree I do think it is a human’s personal responsibility to try to fix their own brokenness. Not as though we can become unbroken. But just to find the ways we can be least broken, that we can be patched together, so that we can connect with other broken folks in order to commiserate and make life better.
It is really all of the ways in which we are broken that brings me to writing. To fiction, in particular. I can look, closely, at the ways we are broken and find true beauty in it, in the ways we still manage to make connections at all, sometimes. I can, even, at times, romanticize certain aspects of our collective fucked-uppedness.
What I don’t admire, can’t find beauty in, though, ever, is not at least trying to stitch those broken pieces together. Rambling on in life and dragging that pain and hurt around with you, snaring others in it, breaking, yourself and others, as you hobble along. People who wallow in those crippling fractures and refuse to believe that there is any fixing to be had.
As I get older, I find my already thin patience with this attitude practically disappearing. If you cry about what hurts, what is sad, what you find hard to live with, but you don’t do anything to change that, to own up to your own place in that hobble – well, I get tired of standing next to it. I get impatient with your cries. I get, sometimes, really fucking pissed that you keep on running in circles and complaining that your shins ache.
I’ve started therapy. For the first time in my life as a solo project. Where writing and thinking and processing with good friends has worked in the past, I now need more. My thirties were traumatic. And the outcome, mostly, has been amazing. But I am nearly half a century old. Sort of. Well, almost. And the shit I carry with me just gets heavier and heavier. I owe it to myself – and the person who lives with me and everyone who loves me – to be less broken, to still keep working on being less broken. To quit crippling myself. I thought I had done that already – and I had, to a great degree – but life keeps handing out shit stew and so we have to constantly mend up the holes and patch the seams.
Early on in this relationship, I began to think of the old shit that would rear itself up as an appendix full of old fights and hurts and betrayals. I wanted to imagine I could get an emotional appendectomy – excise the garbage from my body, get rid of it once and for all. Start clean. Start fresh. Scarred, but clear.
Impossible? Yes. Enticing? Absolutely. A fix. In true American fashion: cut out what is bad, live without it, toss it out. A scalpel, a pill, a chant, something something something. Make it vanish.
Broken, though, can be beautiful. It’s not inherently so. When we think so, we continue to run into walls, bruise ourselves, cradle people who only ache and ache and ache until their ache doesn’t only seem like your ache – it is your ache, big and swollen and stretched to snapping.
Almost nobody says that wounds are beautiful. Gaping and bloody and oozing. Flirting with infection and death. A wound. Flesh opened up and fat and muscle and bone pushed out.
We say it about scars. Some of us do. Some of us can find great beauty in scars, in the magic of them. But they are not wounds. They used to be. They are the places where our body was wounded and then healed – different, but functioning. Marked, but sutured and sealed and cells locked in to keep us safe and healthy.
Life is a scar, in some ways. But it can so easily be a weeping wound that we allow to pull us away from what we really care about. So do what you can to scar it up. Get whatever help you need to pull the edges of the pain together and allow your body and your mind and heart to do what they want to: mend. Stop limping around and telling me you can’t afford a crutch. I’m pretty sure there’s some on craigslist or freecycle or something. There’s always always always someone there to help you find what you need.
Ask. Look. Fix.
It’s what we owe each other.