Stella wakes me up by swatting at my face. This is her usual signal for “Dude, I’m really hungry and you’ve slept too long and now I’m getting pissed.”
When I sit up, I realize that I’m still wearing my coat. My contacts have migrated to previously unexplored regions of my eye sockets. The taste of metal fills my mouth. Someone has replaced my brain with cotton balls. I’m fuzzy.
I shuffle out to the kitchen, pausing to fill the cat food bowl along the way. The clock on the stove is trying to convince me that it is after 3 pm.
I grab a bottle of peach juice from the refrigerator as I wander back in to the bedroom.
I sit on the bed, after finally taking off that coat.
I consider the events from the night before. I know I should be angry at Ryan, but that situation is overshadowed by my own self-loathing. How can I expect anyone to treat me with respect when I am clearly incapable of any level of self-discipline. Let’s see: last night I drank a bunch of champagne, ate a hit of LSD, popped a klonopin, and then wandered through the empty streets west of the Loop at some stupid hour of the late night/early morning.
When am I going to get some control over myself? When am I going to start making positive decisions?
I imagine waking up at a respectable hour and feeling good about my actions the night before. I could settle for feeling neutral about my activities…anything is better than the poisonous sensation of hatred churning in my stomach.
I run into the bathroom, vomiting peach and bile into the sink. I turn the faucet on full force and then I drift down to the floor. Was I always this way? I wipe my mouth with the back of my hand.
I don’t remember being this weak when I was a child. I was strong. Silent. Holding it all in for the benefit of others. I ate junk food in moderation. I knew when to turn off the television. I forced myself to fall asleep each night, knowing that this would make the next day better. Straight A’s and elaborate science fair projects and every extra credit assignment. Looking out for my little brother and doing the laundry because my mom was too tired and washing the dishes every single night.
I always thought there was nothing I couldn’t accomplish. And everything I did would always be done well.
When did I become weak?
Years in the future, thousands of miles away, I will have a boyfriend. And this boyfriend will be weak. Every action and decision will broadcast his lack of strength. He will drink too much and spend days languishing in bed. His nights will be filled with emptying bottles long after I have fallen asleep and then desperately calling his friends on the West Coast, hoping that someone, anyone will answer. Those that pick up the ringing phone will only receive a fanfare of false cheer. “Oh, everything here is really amazing.” I will suspect that he has no control over any aspect of his life.
I will decide that it is my job to make him strong.
Some days I will be distant and silent, coldly brushing off his attempts at intimacy. I will do this because I think this can toughen up his skin. A daily dose of minor rejection can only callous his heart. This will not be easy, because I will be forced to squelch my own need for his closeness. I will remind myself to stay focused on the larger goal.
And then for a week or two or even three, I will drown him with love and affection. I will follow him from room to room, extolling his virtues. I will search my mental thesaurus for new ways to say “You are amazing.” I will decide that only the maximum level of encouragement can give him strength.
He will drift away.
Long after the fact…months and months after I have finally stopped worrying about him in the last few minutes before I fall asleep…it will suddenly occur to me: Strength can neither be created nor cultivated. Everyone has it…sometimes it slips away for a while…maybe even months or years. But eventually it returns, usually during the times it is most necessary. Finally he will stop visiting my dreams.
Here in Chicago, on my bathroom floor, I can only assume that my strength has been exhausted…spent too early on report cards and family problems.
How strong am I?
I will take a shower.
I will eat a meal comprised of the appropriate assortment of leafy greens, whole grains, and lean proteins.
I will get dressed: makeup, clean clothes, carefully styled hair…and then I will bike to a bar in Wicker Park. Ryan will be waiting outside.
Our friends will greet us with a wry “Oh look, it’s John and Yoko.” I will be reassured that I am playing the role of John.
I will spend the night smiling at the correct moments and playing the role of Good Listener.
Ryan and I will walk home together, holding hands the entire way. Conversation topics will include the hint of fall in the night air, crazy winter storms of yore, and records we wish we owned. He will not ask me how I got home last night and I will not utter the word “Meghan.”
Sometimes the simplest tasks require the greatest level of strength.