Tuesday, June 17, 2008

From the distance, right next to me

I used to be very deliberate about my birthday -- I would think: what is the one thing I want today? And then I would find it. For the last two years, mostly I’ve assumed that I'm going to visit the sea lions at Pier 39, I guess because the sea lions make me feel like a little kid and I never felt that way growing up I mean I never felt like it was safe. I pretty much thought I was an adult by the time I was five or six, and I was kind of treated that way except that I had no power. Or, no power to change the circumstances of my life.

Anyway, this year I'm so exhausted as my birthday is approaching that mostly I think about whether I want to invite anyone to go with me, and then at the very last minute I decide sure, but by that point no one's available and I'm okay with that, because I wasn't sure that I would have the energy to be around anyone anyway. Anyone but Chris, since he's the friend I've known the longest and I don't generally feel like I have to act like I have energy or anything. With a group it's harder, because I have to think about the dynamics of everyone involved and the way that all relates to me. Especially on my birthday, when I guess it's about me.

In general I like hanging out with people one-on-one better anyway, in a group I see all the ways people conform and it kind of startles me. Or I get bored because I'm hearing the same stories that I already know, delivered with less intimacy. Or I get so exhausted from the energy than I get from a group, because there's energy also it's just that afterwards it usually drains me.

Anyway, Chris and I go to Pier 39, which is one of the worst places on earth with all the tourists and the tacky trinket shops and the chain store rundown mall ambience, and this year there are all these high school-age kids all dressed up, even the bad kids with dyed hair and piercings in suits and I'm wondering what's going on, is it prom? Chris doesn't know, but he wants to get a piece of fudge, so we’re in this store that smells like sugar in a really dense and overwhelming way it's almost enough to make me hypoglycemic. But then we’re through the mall and over to the sea lions, Chris says something about how it smells like rotting fish, and I say that's what you say every year and he says well we have a tradition, that's part of my tradition. Which is true, except it's not part of my tradition, but I don't say that because we're supposed to be having fun.

Then we get out to the sea lions and everything’s different because all the tacky tourists are focused on the sea lions it's like we’re all in this together I mean some of the tourists still stare wide-eyed at me when they don't think I notice, but then they go back to the sea lions and everyone's laughing and talking and pointing and it's kind of fun. I like watching the huge sea lions the best, and the babies, and then this year there are all these individual sea lions on faraway docks, the ones where boats still go and I like watching them too because maybe they're more like me than the ones jumping on top of one another and pushing each other into the water. Chris says something about how that one is bleeding, how that little one has been scratching the whole time, how they all sneeze so much and you don't think we could catch anything?

I say something about how I like watching them stretch, and Chris says I hate the way you anthropomorphize them. I guess that kind of shuts me down, then I just feel sad when I'm watching the sea lions, still kind of like a little kid I guess but mostly just sad except that I'm aware of it and I'm trying to focus on the things that make me happy, did I do that as a kid?

I sit and eat for a while, and then I feel better and I'm ready to go but Chris says you don't want to go to the gift shop? So then we go to the gift shop, I like looking at the children's books and the stuffed animals but everything’s made in China; I adopt one of the animals at the marine mammal center for my sister as a birthday gift, I've done that before since her birthday is right after mine. Chris likes pointing things out but then he says: that was as much fun as a hangover. I can't tell whether he's just in a bad mood, or whether he's deliberately trying to provoke me.

We were talking about going to this restaurant in the Marina so we're trying to find the bus but we don't really know the lines around here and Chris is getting angry because it's close to her bedtime and I've walked too far so I'm exhausted, I say we don't have to go to the restaurant let's just catch this bus and I sit down on the ground to wait for it. Someone’s smoking a cigarillo scented like fruit except it's still tobacco, which is almost worse, so we walk a block further and then we're silent until the bus arrives, and it's filled with various types of daytime drunks, Chris says it's crowded I say yeah it's packed. Chris says well it's not packed, but it's crowded.

Kind of like my father is what I'm thinking, no maybe I think that later right now I notice that it's hard to speak it's like I'm on drugs I'm floating and Chris is talking from the distance but he's right next to me I don't want to look at him because then he'll notice I can't see him so I just answer with short sentences: you're right. Uh huh. Definitely. No, not really.

We get to Union Square and I guess the good thing is that I'm not pretending that I'm happy, Chris walks me to the bus stop and I'm just looking down and she says I'm sorry I didn't want to go to the restaurant. I say I don't care about the restaurant, I just don't like it when you get grumpy -- it shut me down and I couldn't speak. She says I wasn't grumpy -- maybe I was annoyed but I wasn't grumpy -- I thought I did a good job of letting it go. I say I don't care whether you were grumpy or whether you were annoyed, what I'm saying is that it shut me down and I couldn't speak.

Chris has this flustered look like he's angry and frustrated and trying to hold it in, I don't know if he's angry at me or himself but this happened last year on my birthday too, except there were other people there and I told him to go home, get some rest and go home and we can go to dinner on another night. Just before she been complaining about her birthday, when Brian insisted on getting in a fight with her right after I left. I say I don't care if you get angry -- you can get angry at the tourists or the bus or Pier 39 or the world, I don't care if you start screaming and yelling it doesn't bother me at all -- I just don't want you to be angry at me, or if you are angry at me then it's fine just to say I'm angry, and we can talk about it, or you can even say I'm angry, but I don't want to talk about it, but otherwise I'll just hold your anger and then I can't speak.

Chris says I don't feel like I was angry.

But the good thing is that I brought it up right away, this is the kind of thing that I have the tendency to think about for six months before saying anything and then I'm holding it that whole time. I say I'm glad that I could say something, and I wish Chris could say me too, but she’s still angry. The bus is coming so we hug goodbye and I don't expect her hug to be so present, I love you. I love you. But I still feel distant. And sad. And worn out. I guess if I'd thought about it ahead of time, I would have said that for my birthday I just want one day where everything feels easy.


Oli said...

okay, I don't know how to say this so it's gonna come off trite and schmaltzy, but for some reason it was really good to hear you talk about feeling bad, the malaise, like your articulation helped somehow. thanks girl.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Thank you, Oli -- that doesn't sound trite at all -- actually, it's why I tried to articulate it.

Love --

keidy said...

I am glad you did not ruminate for six months before you said something.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Thanks, Keidy -- yay for no rumination!

Love --

michele said...

i'm sorry you felt shut down on your birthday. that's an awful feeling... it can start out almost good, like you're protecting yourself inside a sad bubble but in the end you feel lousy - unless you find a way to name it out loud, which you did!
i find it incredibly difficult to step out of that bubble, it takes so much energy but then at least i guess there's the chance to feel things, rather than shut down.

again, thanks for sharing with such honesty...!

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Michele, you're right about that comfort that can sometimes take place inside the sad bubble, I just keep trying trying trying to pop it but, well, you know well there it is again...

Thanks so much for the support!

Love --