Another night, another attempt at making some kind of stupidly unnecessary move as a symbol of my independence, another four hours in an emergency room.
I had a lot of time to think about my foolish symbols of independence, the unnecessary treks I make and tasks I perform in order to prove I’m not dependent on other people, on insulin, on breathing; to pretend I’m somehow unlike other people, somehow removed from everyone else.
I fought hard for my independence in my early twenties, fought to show how strong and brave and emotionless I was. I could buy one way tickets to Alaska and live in third world countries and stop dating all together for six years, because all that would prove how strong I was, how coldly unemotional, how removed from this tide of people, from the social networks that keep us alive.
I did that for a long time, and I know it was a reaction. It was a reaction to a bad relationship, where I’d depended on somebody to do stuff who was actually inept, where I’d given up too much of myself, thinking that he knew what he was doing. I lost myself slowly over those two years, and then rapidly during the six months we lived together. I tried too hard to please somebody who was really just a scared kid like me, who really didn’t know much more than me. If we could have been partners, if he could have admitted weakness, maybe things would have worked out better ie not in an abusive clusterfuck way. But neither of us would owe up to the fact that he wasn’t invincible, and then the whole thing fell apart, and we tore each other up.
Sometimes, people say, when you’re abused, you become like the person who abused you, because you see that they had power; you, too, want to be powerful, so you emulate them. What I learned, I think, was all of the things I hated about myself. I hated my blind trust. I hated my inability to fight back. I hated the screaming, sobbing person I became during a conflict. I hated who I became in that relationship, and for years, I avoided relationships because I believed they made me weak, dependent. They would turn me into that screaming, sobbing, wreck of a woman, and I didn’t want to be that. I wanted to be somebody who wrote books and bought one way plane tickets. I wanted to learn French and learn how to fight.
The diabetes thing should have been a wake up call, should have torn me back from that other place. I was still having trouble with relationships, with, I believe the complaint was, at the time, “my inability to connect” or “a lack of connection.” I formed relationships in such a way that I would always be OK if I stepped away from them. I made sure I didn’t rely on them for anything: for money, for emotional support, for a trip to the bank. When you relied on people, it made you weak. People let you down. People weren’t perfect.
But it was Jenn who saved my life and found me in a coma and called 911, and Jenn who sat with me two nights in the ICU, sleeping on two chairs pushed together, holding my hand every time they dug into my veins looking for a line. It was Jenn who cut things for me when I came home too sore to move my hands, and Jenn who offered me everything, anything, whatever I needed.
This was love.
But to me, it was dependence. I pushed it away. I railed against it. I had to prove I was strong, prove I was still me, prove that I could do anything. I could fly.
Obviously, there were other issues involved, but that was a big one I was dealing with, one I was unable to deal with. I’d spent so long working so hard at not relying on other people that to not only have that freely offered, but to actually, in fact, sometimes really need that…. it was devastating. It was heartbreaking. It shook the core of who I was, who’d I’d become, what I’d made of myself.
I didn’t know who I’d be anymore, if I wasn’t this woman I’d built.
I lost a friend in part because of my inability to depend on others, to accept love and affection and just plain friendship, but that wasn’t enough. No, I couldn’t inconvenience people. I had to prove I was strong.
It took a harrowing, horrible situation in Chicago to make me accept Steph & the Old Man’s offer to stay here in Dayton. Things had to spiral into some kind of chaotic nightmare, and telling you how ingrained this idea was in me – this idea that I should not count on or rely on others – and yet, I moved to Dayton anyway, tells you how bad things had gotten in Chicago.
By accepting the offer, I hoped I was making some progress. Here I was accepting kindness, relying on others for a roof over my head. But no, I had to continue to do needless, stupid things, like not ask for rides to places they could easily take me and map out convoluted bus routes instead. Refuse to “inconvenience” them by asking for a trip to the grocery store because really, I could get most everything on my bike, and I didn’t really *need* any pop or anything really heavy. If everyone was home, I didn’t *need* to work out in the living room. If everyone was around, I didn’t *need* to eat with them, because I was independent. I’m strong. I can do anything.
And tonight I came home, and, me being me, I needed a copy of The 300. Because I’m me, and it’s payday. There’s a Wal-Mart three miles down the street, but I didn’t want to bike there because I wanted to pick up a book shelf for my pony mods, too. Steph was home, but she was visiting with her mother and sister in law, and you know, I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone. I didn’t want to get in the way.
So instead of asking Stephanie for a ride down the street to get the shelf, I took a half hour bus ride down south to the Dayton Mall. I wandered around the way-out-there Wal-Mart, lost track of time, and stood in a big ass line with my movie, waiting to check out, realizing I wouldn’t have time to get the shelf anyway. By the time I finished the transaction, I had four minutes to make the next bus.
I ran. I bolted out of the store and I ran like mad, because, this being Dayton, the next bus wasn’t for an hour and a half, and me being me, I wasn’t going to call Steph or the Old Man to come pick me up because I’d missed the bus. I would have to find something to do for an hour and a half, and it was Friday night, and I just wanted to get home.
Within sight of the bus station, I tripped over the curb and went down hard.
I rolled my right ankle and came up wincing. One look down, and I knew something was very wrong.
There was a fist-sized swelling on my right ankle.
I limped the rest of the way to the bus station and propped my leg up. I started getting those rolling waves of black flashes across my vision. I wanted to throw up. I thought I was going to pass out. My ankle kept swelling.
I called Stephanie as my bus pulled up and told her to come and get me and haul me over to the Miami Valley emergency room.
And when Stephanie and the Old Man arrived, the first thing Stephanie said, of course, with a sigh, was, “You realize we would have come and picked you up if you missed this bus.”
Yes. Of course I knew that.
But I didn’t want to rely on them. I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone. I wanted to be strong and independent.
But I’m an insulin-dependent diabetic. This desire makes no logical sense anymore. I can’t pretend I wouldn’t die without insulin. I can’t pretend I won’t die without other people to make that insulin, and the other tools I need to survive. But I can try and make myself less of a burden. I can try and be strong.
But these days, all my attempts to be strong just end up being attempts at being stupid.
And there I was, lying once again in a hospital bed in the Miami Valley emergency room, waiting for the X-ray results to come in, thinking about how lessons are repeated until they’re learned.
Tonight, I learned how to be a funny patient. I joked with the staff and was loud and gregarious when I was not hobbling or haggling with the security people who delayed my progress. The X-ray tech was hot, and I waxed on with the billing clerk about what it’s like being a document writer for a tax company. He remembered me from my last visit to this emergency room, and we joked about suing the RTA.
Hospitals, at some point, become terribly funny, because once something is done, it cannot be undone. Once you make a decision, a foolish action, you must live with it.
And you must learn from it.
Because if you don’t, it will be repeated.
I stared down at the fist-sized swelling on my ankle and thought about surgery, about broken bones, about half a dozen bad possibilities. I prepared for those while the Old Man waited for me out in the waiting room as the hours of his Friday night ticked by.
A nurse swung by and gave me some vicodin.
The friendly, boisterous doctor showed up with the X-ray results and exclaimed:
“It’s not broken!”
“It’s not?” I said, with a great rush of breath, an enormous sense of relief. Another tragedy averted. Another foolish warning given.
“You’ve severely sprained it, though,” he said. “You’ve chipped some of the bone on that knobby bone here on the inside of your ankle. Sometimes severe swelling is good, because it means you took most of the strain on your tendons and all the fleshy bits here.”
Thank god for the fleshy bits.
“We’ll set you up with an air cast you can strap on and take off for showerings, but you’ll need to be on crutches for a week. Here’s a prescription for some more vicodin and a doctor to call for a follow-up appointment.”
No surgery. No blood. No needles. No months lugging around a clunky cast. No crutches in Switzerland.
Sometimes I have to stop and wonder why I’m so lucky.
“Thank you,” I said.
And as I made my way back into the waiting room, there was the Old Man waiting for me, saying, “So you didn’t die? Too bad. I wanted all your stuff!” because he knows, more than anybody else here, how you deal with the never ending fight with your body, with the world, with failure and rebirth:
Humor and sarcasm.
I am so lucky.
When I came home and sat down with Stephanie and her mother-in-law at the table, I owed up to it, I told them, “I know this is a lesson. I know it’ll happen again unless I learn it.”
“People need people,” Steph’s mother-in-law said. “It’s really OK. It’s how we survive. We need each other.”
But I don’t want to need anything. I don’t want anyone to need me. I want something else, some phantom strength; I want to be a superhero.
But the person I want to be isn’t human.
I went to bed and rearranged everything and made sure the laptop extension cord can reach the bed and put the phone next to me and the hard candy near by and settled in for a long weekend of meals in bed and writing.
Writing in a world about a woman who thinks she lives, somehow, outside of the world, apart from it, a woman who believes she can live without love, while her body breaks down around her.
At least I have no illusions about where my core emotional story arcs come from.
There’s not much else to think about when you’re staring at the ceiling in the emergency room.
Except maybe that hot X-ray tech.
And my surprising ability to squeeze out just one more breath of life, just a little bit longer.