Today I got up before the sun. I went out into the little backyard and looked up into a still-dark sky and saw it teaming with stars, perfect studs. Each one was a glittery rhinestone shining, winking, smiling almost.
It was clear out, something it isn't very often here. I didn't expect to see the sky dancing like that. It was pulsing tapestry made of millions and millions of years of light. Some of those stars shone despite their already being dead.
I saw a shooting star Wednesday night. Which, of course, is not a star at all, but a meteor. Just space dust. Some piece of what's out there, maybe no bigger than a penny, catching fire as it enters Earth's atmosphere. Just burns right up. It's not a dying star at all.
I always thought shooting stars were dying stars when I was a kid and that if I spotted this dying star it would pass me some of its magic on its way out. But that's not it at all.
The city steals our stars, you know. Robs us of them most nights. Seeing a shooting star or flaming sky garbage or dying magic or whatever is up there is a real gift.
Sometimes I panic. The panic is triggered and it immediately begins to spiral. The spiral can be stopped cold with the right external feedback, but I have no control over that feedback, so sometimes the panic spirals until I literally can't breathe.
"Taking a breath using my gut feels like a five mile run..."
I'm somewhat overstating things up there. I am lucky that I don't have that many full-blown panic attacks. Instead I operate with a general, nebulous, often-present sense of dread and doom. However, my anxiety levels have dropped dramatically in the last two years, I think mostly due to just gained wisdom. I've simply been alive longer and know better what causes the fear cloud and, if it arises, better how to stop it.
One of the most effective ways for me to beat a panic attack to the punch is to write it out. Just fling the words, fingers flying, though still not fast enough to keep up with my speeding bullet train of a brain. But because my hands can't keep up I'm forced to slow my mind down.
By making me slow down, writing during an anxiety attack eases the suffering almost instantly, at least for me. The simple act of writing--even if I am too far into the tunnel of panic to be coherent, it doesn't matter--just getting words onto paper is the goal.
"What are you scared of? Talk yourself off this ledge."
Writing when under the siege of anxiety also forces me to be present. If I'm writing about now then I have to be here now. By its very nature it calms me. Writing about the now forces me to be present, which doesn't allow my brain to do that whirliwind business wherein if someone doesn't do something I've created for him or her to do only in my mind that it means very bad things. And that I'll die. Yes, it sounds irrational, because it is. But panic brain is very convincing; panic brain holds your breath hostage.
"I feel ill right now. Nauseated. Like I'm going to puke. Breathing is shallow and my lungs hurt. They ache, but feel secured by nothing but tissue and so if I breathe too deeply they'll burst. So I'm just sipping air."
It takes no time before I'm writing about how I feel because I'm writing about the present. And then it happens in a gush. As I'm stringing together sentences, I see my fears made out of letters and spaces and periods and all those question marks and none of it makes sense. I can see with my eyes that it doesn't make sense. What I'm really scared of, once I write long enough, comes percolating to the surface and I see it for the first time in its true form. And it's old stuff, nothing new, nothing dangerous, not now.
"Do not let old wounds make your precious few hours on this Earth be filled with tension and worry and misery. Do not let that shit win."
My diary is for me, and I can be as mean and petty and spiteful (or as or insecure or boring or batshit crazy) as I want to be. My diary is a secret glass cabinet where I can store some of the bizarre and unsavory and otherwise unfit-for-human-consumption garbage that accumulates inside my person. The clear drawers allow me to look at what I've unpacked from my brain and see it for what it is.
When taking public transportation in the Bay Area I make sure I have three essential things: my Clipper card, a fat sack of patience and a sturdy pair of headphones. The last item is mandatory. Those headphones allow me to opt out of catcalls ("Lalala, I can't hear you over Robyn!"), drown out the poor lady in the seat beside me conversing with the people who exist only in her head and otherwise ignore the swamp of humanity that is taking the same route I am.
I boarded the 12-Folsom outside my office yesterday after a quick sprint. The driver pulled far, far ahead of the actual stop so that everyone waiting had to break into a run in order to avoid being left to wait another 25 minutes for a bus. Climbing aboard I saw all seats full except for one beside a little girl who was splayed across her seat and the one empty next to her. I opted to stand. That is, until the bus became so full that it was better for all involved if I took the empty seat. So, I did.
That's when the little girl looked up at me and let out a huge smile. "Hi," she said.
I said hello back. I smiled down at her but planned to keep listening to the music on my headphones. That's when she offered me her hot dog.
This sweet girl, all bangs and grins, hot dog bun stuck between each of her tiny teeth, wanted to share her food with me.
I politely declined, but pulled my headphones down around my neck.
"I'm four," she told me.
"I would have guessed five," I said, remembering how I always wanted to be older when I was a kid.
"I don't want to be five!," she insisted.
"Oh! Well. You are four now. So, live it up." She grinned her white bread grin.
"How old are you?," she wanted to know. I told her I am 35 and her eyes went wide.
"You are old!," she said in shock, and her mother shushed her then sheepishly apologized to me with her face.
Didn't matter. I was enraptured by this child.
"Where did you get that hot dog?," I asked her.
"Chinatown," she told me. When I was four I'd never been on a public bus, nor did I know what a Chinatown was.
We counted for a while. She knew what was after nine, even, getting all the way up into the double digits without a struggle.
"I take the N-Judah," this little girl said. She knew which train took her home, out by the beach, into the Sunset.
"Do you have a donkey?," she asked me, or at least I thought. She actually said doggie.
"No, but I have two cats."
"What are their names?"
"One is named Goat and one is named Gracie."
"Gracie!," she squealed, as if that was the funnier of the two names.
"Is Gracie a girl?"
"She is. Just like you, but a little hairier." This made her laugh with her whole body.
Then it was time for me to get off the bus. I waved goodbye to her and put my headphones back on.
Just a moment or two later I saw her deboard with her mom and brother in tow. The sweet little girl, still clutching half a hot dog, pointed at me, grinning wildly, and said something to her mom. I couldn't hear her over the music.
I get so wound up, so nervous, so worried--so very, very worried--that I sneak off to the little park down the street, though it is not much of a park. There are man-made falls of water, a man-made creek all clear and clean, that meanders through this corporate nature space. It was all carved out and paid for by the people who make Levi's Jeans.
There's a giant tree in the park with long limbs and leaves like hair that shade a whole bunch of stuff, but it's not for me. I climb the hill and crawl into the grass and lie back and listen to the man-made waterfalls and the man-driven cars and the man-announced tour buses and try to pretend I'm deep in some thick, safe woods so that I can calm down.
Sometimes in a city the size of San Francisco--not too big, not too small, some might say just right--you get close to people who are total strangers. Closer, at least, than you were before you never saw them at all.
This big city is such a small town that you can see the same people every day on your way to and from work. You are neighbors, apparently, who work in places along the same route. You know his red and black plaid lumberjack shirt that smells like fresh cigarette smoke and his sock hat pulled over wet hair and how he plays solitaire on his phone every morning as if there are no other games.
There is the morning when you are still sleepy and the music in your ears is lulling and the hum of the bus comforts you, and for an instant you let your neck go slack and your body falls slightly to the left, before you realize you nearly laid your head to rest on the shoulder of a man whose name you do not know.
I don't remember her being born or the time before it; she's always been my sister.
She was the girl who the opposing softball teams would intentionally walk because she could crush a ball over just about any fence while I sat on the bench.
She was the life of the party with the bawdiest jokes and the loudest, most infectious laugh while I tried to warm up to a cat in the other room.
She was always the one with the biggest, tenderest heart, the openest arms, the most to give.
She was the one who let mean boys treat her like pure shit because she sees the good in the rottenest of things (and because she's capable of so much intimacy and affection).
She's the one who changed all that, stopped letting people treat her badly, and grew strong and tall with a backbone the likes of which I have rarely seen.
We used to beat each other senseless as children. I used to think it was because we are so very different. Decades later I know it is because we are so very much alike, and just typing that fills me with such pride that my eyes well up.
When we were teenagers I ratted her out for sneaking out of the house at night. It was retribution, but also out of spite, because she had the courage to be bold and brave and naughty while I desperately obeyed all the rules. That she still speaks to me after this betrayal is a testament to her soft heart (though it did take a good long time).
I love that girl. And my daddy was right. That kid I used to shove and kick and hit is now my best friend.
And it's her birthday! I hope it's the best one she's ever had.