Because I like to work astrology into as many conversations as possible–under the guise of “I’m mostly joking, I swear”–I frequently found myself teasing a Virgo friend about his sign’s tendency toward “compartmentalizing one’s feelings.” This cued exaggerated eye-rolling and theatrical scoffing from him. I laughed–usually giving myself a case of the hiccups–as I envisioned a hidden room in his house, filled from floor to ceiling with neatly stacked boxes. Since Virgos tend to also be uptight and controlling, a complex labeling system would be involved. Alphabetical by the first letter of the cause of the inconvenient feeling? I liked this idea, because certainly all concerns relating to me would be in the front of the room. Or perhaps the boxes would be color coded by emotion? Red for anger and blue for rejections. Purple for concerns about one’s sexuality. Green for money problems.
Well, I am a Leo. This means that I tend to spend too much money on haircuts and knee high boots. More importantly, I frequently find myself in the midst of an emotional tempest, saying things I regret while inflicting punishment upon myself. I am a busy lion…single parenthood, eyeliner to apply, a career to steer, friends to make, books to write…I don’t have a moment to spare for the inconvenience of feelings.
Inspired by my Virgo friend, I decided to try a new strategy. As soon as a new problem arose, I stuffed into any available box, stacking it on top of the last packaged worry. Fears, disappointments, and minor heartbreaks received the same treatment. Even the most fiery anger–threatening to explode with even the slightest mishandling–was stuffed into the nearest vessel. I held my breath to prevent trembling. Certain situations required a fair amount of huffing and puffing. If the problem was too large–a real monster of an issue–I would sit on the box while I sealed it up.
The same boy broke my heart for the second time. I was more angry at myself than at him. I could feel the accusations forming circles around me. “How could you let this happen again?” and “Only someone has stupid as you would believe that there was any future there.” I decided to cram this into a shoebox, before it a had a chance to grow into a metric ton of drama, complete with weepy late night phone calls and months of secret starvation. I tossed it into the corner, just before smiling bravely for my friends. “Oh, I don’t care at all…I always suspected that I might be too good for him.”
A girl I labeled “enemy” revealed more ugly truths about that lying ex-boyfriend. The drunk one. The one who inexplicably lied and lied and lied to both himself and me. I wore my deluxe “Calm and Composed” mask as I zipped my rage into a huge old suitcase. I dragged it over to the pile as I told the girl–still perhaps an enemy–that I pitied him far too much to feel any anger about his actions. She did not notice my clenched jaw and white-knuckled fists.
The mountain of packages grew and grew.
Take out containers filled with work stress, filled up every day around 2 pm, after I choked down another frenzied lunch at my desk.
An old make up bag held the despair that washed over me the day I suspected both of my best female friends had abandoned me in favor of boyfriends.
When I found that an old friend had a secret live-in girlfriend (his lips were sealed in my presence), I wrapped my confusion and anger in a barely-used plastic shopping bag (emblazoned “Forever 21”).
Fear of lifelong loneliness required several old moving boxes and one empty (rinsed out) gallon milk jug.
The stack grew into a mound, reaching the ceiling. Since I live in an apartment–and there isn’t a single room to spare–I was forced to store all of these packages, barrels, and envelopes in my room. I created a small walkway that ran between my bed, closet, and air conditioner. The stench of rotting worries was drawing flies. Some of the bags and boxes were leaking, sending rivulets of despair under the furniture, warping the floors and staining my linens.
Leos are terribly disorganized. There was no color code system. And nothing was alphabetized. Worse, there were no neat stacks.
And so, I was not surprised the day I found myself buried under hundreds (maybe thousands) of emotions. A simple sneeze had rattled the loosest packages, starting an avalanche of previously avoided feelings.
I had no choice. Confronting the contents of each and every box, bottle, bin, and bag was required.
That stupid old suitcase went out to the curb for trash day, after I allowed myself to write a letter–never sent–to that awful lying ex-boyfriend.
I opened the shoe box gingerly, before having a dream wherein I told the source of my heartbreak exactly how I felt (for the first time ever). Sure, it would have been better to say it all in real, live daylight…but there was no opportunity then.
I recycled numerous milk jugs, shopping bags, and coffee cans.
I have spent the last few months sorting it out. Facing up to one’s feelings is an exhausting task. No shortcuts can be taken. This project required bike rides to nowhere, rowdy days spent with my family, and quiet nights spent holed up in my bedroom (listening to hip hop records and talking to my cats). I read a long list of books (sometimes while lying on a blanket in Clark Park). I drank too much bourbon with Brad and I sometimes fell asleep in my day clothes.
Some days I was sad. And a few mornings were filled with rage. I cried and gnashed my teeth. Pulled my own hair as I hid in my bedroom. Drove my car too fast. Yelled at pedestrians. Brushed my teeth obsessively. Choked down pills to quell my headaches, irritating my stomach and upsetting myself even more.
I couldn’t write a word…even a basic email detailing my weekend wore me out. The words were wrong; the sentences were stiff. Speaking was challenging, too. My voice was strange during long-avoided phone calls to friends. I forced myself to grin into the phone because I had once read that smiling automatically made a person sound happier.
And then a funny thing happened…I started to feel better. And not the pretend state of “better” that I experienced when I was stuffing everything into boxes….because now I wasn’t secretly worrying about the ever-expanding mountain of feelings threatening to collapse at any moment.
Which brings me to now–late August, 2009. I can write a sentence without paralyzing hesitation. Smiling is easy. I sleep better when I’m not hating myself. And now I can get back to work…new chapters will appear here this week. Thanks to all of you…some of you are old friends, and others are new…but all of you have hung in there, sending encouragement and love during this difficult time.