It’s All Downhill
What are you doing? Russ said. Too hot.
Russ inched away.
You’re too hot.
I’m not hot, I’m freezing.
Russ, now at the edge of the mattress, pushes me back.
Over there. Too hot.
C’mon, I’m cold. I need to snuggle.
Russ flips over to face me, sinking back into the nest of pillows, placing the palm of his hand over my face, like a catcher’s mitt.
What are you doing? I ask.
The crease of his eyes opened to a slit.
Closing them again, he sighed.
More times than not, this is indeed how we end up cuddling. It happens almost every morning. I sneak into a dark living room to write for a couple of hours, before climbing back into bed with a sleepy Russ to warm me up and snuggle. He calls me the “hot one” of the two of us, but not one to overlook a good pun, I do believe I’ve passed that torch this past year.
Russ is now the ember warming our coupledom.
He denies this. He’s still in the first stage on the road to acceptance of any major life-change: deny, deny, deny… thennn embrace. But despite all of the photo-filters at our fingertips, the bottled hair color, the black slimming wardrobe, and the endless plucking, tucking and hopefully fucking, middle-age is upon us. Most of us are burning up. “Hot” is no longer the wonderful euphemism it once was.
As my dad recently said to me, “You better enjoy life from now on, because it’s all down hill from here. After 50, it all goes to shit. So right now is as good as it gets, for the rest of your life.”
Umm thanks, Dad??
In his defense, these words were spoken while mourning the loss of his dear cat, Leroy, his buddy for the last ten years or so, since he was thrust into the fold of their home, from his days as a wily stray.
Russ and I just returned from PA. We crashed at Russ’ older brother’s (one of them anyway) and wife’s house for the holiday weekend. Their basement is a tricked-out flashy little flat, very private and spacious. Having stayed here a few times, I always find it ironic that upon arrival, I marvel their basement feels twice as big as our apartment, although they are roughly the same size. Empty space is a beautiful thing. What is it about combining the accessories of two individuals into one household that devours any surplus of available square-footage? Our trappings, bundled together, have replicated like clusters of mushrooms from measly spores. Our shit, now prolific, is squeezing us from the very ecosystem we constructed.
This coming from a habitual minimalist. I’ve always subscribed to “that which you own, eventually owns you.” I find this true of vehicles, real estate, livestock, all the way down to credit cards, the clothes you buy, and even the amount of luggage you choose to carry on your travels. The travails we encounter on a journey, are often buttressed with the amusement of watching fellow tourists wrangle their baggage, like they’re juggling unwieldy greased piglets in a stockyard.
Walking around one of the many farms I was fortunate to work from over the years, Dad turned to me once and sighed with a smile, enraptured by the vast beauty surrounding us. He said, “The only thing better than this farm would be if you owned it!” Then he chuckled at his joke. I looked at him quizzically, not sure whether to take this personally or not, before thinking to myself: Now why would I ever want to do that? Scratching my head I said to him, “I don’t know, Dad. I’m not sure it gets any better than working on a beautiful farm that someone else pays for. I’m thinking this right here is the best it gets.” I knew without a doubt that was a noose I would not stick my head through any time soon. Purchasing a new pair of riding boots was enough of a push against my ideas around ownership. The fact is, I owned more pairs of boots at any given time, than I ever did own horses. I had five pairs in constant rotation. You only had to have a zipper break once at a horse show, in the pouring rain, to ensure it never happened again.
Jerzy Gregory said, “Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.” I’ve thought about this quote a lot, especially in the last decade, when I finally earned enough wherewithal through my experiences to understand the depth and implications of this notion. Still, I question whether my comprehension has truly scratched the surface. Do we always understand which is hard and which is easy? Is it that clear? Do we know whether the easy choice was to leave a painful marriage, or to stay in it? Is it a hard choice to keep the secure job that numbs your senses, or is the hard choice to leave it for something less secure, but more fun? Is moving away from your hometown taking the easy road or the hard one? The best choice isn’t always clear at the moment of decision.
A friend recently shared she was struggling with the limitations and closures imposed by COVID. Not participating in the activities she loved left her feeling anxious and out of sorts. She asked me how I was dealing with the changes, such as not having a yoga studio to attend this year. I instantly laughed and said, “Are you kidding me? I gave up everything that mattered to me and that I loved most in the world five years ago. Compared to that, this is easy!”
I regretted it as soon as I closed my mouth. I hadn’t intended to belittle her experience, which of course I did, but I was speaking my truth, albeit crudely. Leaving the horses behind was the hardest decision I’ve ever made. It has taken years for the pain of that massive loss to subside. At the time, I wondered if I was making the right decision. As the dust has settled and past events are clearer, I now understand the huge advantage to ending something while it is your choice to do so, before you are forced to end it, when you have no choice and aren’t ready. There is a wide chasm between responding to a situation and reacting to it. One leaves you poised for success while the other leaves you scrambling. This lesson is priceless, but painful in the process.
Between the Two
Russ said I portrayed myself as “the ugly duckling” in my last couple of posts. That wasn’t my intention. I said, “I was just trying to share some of my own insecurities, because we all have them, but we don’t always talk about them. If I can share something that someone else can relate to, and maybe they feel better about themselves as a result, then that’s a good thing.” The difference in my last two entries was an earnest attempt to pull out “first thoughts” and write them down, before censoring and toning the content down with “revised (second) thoughts.” I think most of us revise our thoughts and words automatically (or am I wrong about that?) before sharing them. Sure, vomiting expletives all over the page could be considered “first thoughts,” but more often than not, even that is armour added to protect our vulnerable bits, from the fear of overexposure.
I accomplished my new goal the last two attempts, but it did leave me feeling a little weird after the fact. (Like I went to school but forget to put any clothes on first. Just like that.) I’ve struggled more with this entry. For the last four days, I can’t seem to shake the censoring in my head, or on the page, as much as I work to ward it off. I keep striving, thinking of this quote by economist, Kate Raworth. She said, “Too much efficiency makes a system vulnerable, while too much resilience makes it stagnant. Vitality and robustness lie in a balance between the two.” The sweet spot is in the middle and is hard to find.
I’m sure some of my distraction writing these last few days came from being a guest in another’s house. I also received a text from my mom the day after Thanksgiving. Her dearest friend’s husband had died the night before. This made me very sad. He was a wonderful man who loved the outdoors, and always had a terrific story, usually involving tracking wolves or polar bears, with which to entertain a young girl at the annual Christmas party. I am so happy to have known him, and I will miss seeing his smiling face this upcoming holiday.
In a year that can’t end soon enough, sometimes it feels as if it is all going way too fast.