Sunday, July 14, 2013

Over The Bridge

I have a list problem.  I love lists.  I may even be a little bit in love with lists.   Or a lot in love with lists.  I love the sense of order and completeness they provide and I love that little burst of accomplishment after I complete an item.  Lists are comforting to me and they're somewhat soothing--map out the steps, follow the steps, complete the tasks and POOF!!!!  A sense of purpose! A sense of control in an uncertain world!  What else does one really need, anyway?

I would totally bash my OCD---and you still may--but the fact of the matter is that my OCD basically pays the bills, puts food on the table and puts my feet in a pretty fierce shoe collection.  I may be borderline certifiable, but I'm also a loon who looooooove my shoes.   When the nice men come to haul me away to that much-deserved white padded cell vacation, I'm going to run away with the superlative for best shoes in the (looney) bin.  I've always wanted to be the best at something.  This is my chance. A victory is a victory, people.

I spent the entirety of 2012 committed to completing a good deed and having a new experience each day.  At the time, I thought it was so rewarding because I was forcing myself to actually live, but now, upon some reflection, it also makes perfect sense why it was also so comforting.  I spent every day of last year with a LIST.   I spent every day of last year with a PURPOSE.  AHHHHH.  I love lists.  Lists make everything so easy.

Here's the tricky part of coming off a year-long list challenge.  You enjoy it for a minute, you take a little breather, and then you need to figure out what the HELL to do with yourself after you've checked off every item on your list.   You need to figure out what (the hell) comes next.

Yikes.  What comes NEXT?

It's an interesting letdown, actually.  Kind of like the day after Christmas rolled up into the day after finishing a marathon you've trained 6 months for.  (Full disclosure:  I know what the day after Christmas feels like, but considering that I get tired after driving 26 miles, I don't exactly know the day after a marathon feels like.  But i can imagine).

So, I managed to set myself up pretty nicely to kick off 2013 in an interesting state of letdown, under the best of circumstances.  The problem is that I didn't end 2012 on some euphoric high after completing the challenge.  Oh, I lied and made it sound like it was great and even did it in writing, but the truth is I ended 2012 pissed off, shaken up, and thinking that I spent the entire year completing a challenge that was ultimately for NOTHING.

For this statement to make any sort of sense, I need to tell the story of the bridge.

The bridge was the Walt Whitman (which I've driven on a few thousand times) and the bridge happened on December 16, somewhere around 11:45 AM.   The bridge was on the eastbound downward side.  The bridge happened in the span of 10 seconds, or 10 minutes and I've been replaying it for nearly 7 months.

It was my mom's birthday, and we were driving to take her to brunch.  By some small miracle, we were actually going to be on time, which never happens.   Like never.  If I ever think I'm going to be on time, I manage to squeeze in an extra errand or two that will ensure that I will be at least 10 minutes late and racing to my destination.  Maybe I will ponder that one later.

But we were on time that day.  I wish we had just killed time at Target like good, non-punctual, Americans that day.

There was a black Jeep Liberty in front of us.  It was new.  It was really clean and shiny when everyone else's car had the sheen of early winter dust on it.  There were two men in the car.  They looked to be about 40.  I had noticed the car earlier, and I wasn't sure why.  In retrospect, I realize I was being warned.  Oh, foreshadowing.  Great in movies.  Not so great in real life.

Out of nowhere, and so quickly, the passenger door opened and the passenger dove out, head first, and landed head first, in a heap and with a thud you'd expect for someone who dove out of a car at 50+ miles and hour.  I can still hear that thud.  It happened less than a foot away from our car.

It was probably a series of small miracles that prevented it from being even worse.  My husband was driving that day and we were in his car, which is much newer and more nimble than mine.   We're not even going to talk about how much better his reflexes and reaction time are than mine.  There was no one in the left lane to hit us (with our 4 year old in the back seat) when he swerved to miss hitting the body.  He still only missed hitting the body by a matter of inches.

I have no doubt that if I were driving, or if we were in my truck, we would not have been able to avoid hitting him.  And THEN what?

I'll be deliberately light on details...because it was awful. I honestly don't know if it was a blur, or so clear that I can see it happening again.  Think CSI.  The pulling to the side of the bridge (did I mention I'm afraid of bridges?).  The frantic 911 call trying to explain it like an useful witness.  And the worst of it---the walking up the bridge to the scene itself to talk to the police.  The stream of blood that extended for at least 12 feet and ran down the bridge.   The heartbreaking wails of the man who was the driver of the Jeep as he tried to explain what happened to someone on his phone.  I won't ever forget what he said...ever.  The sight of the motionless and bloody person just lying on the asphalt.  Peering over the side of the bridge, looking down, hearing the noise of the ambulances and the police and the screams and the cries, and realizing that I was never going to cross that bridge again (and I drive it frequently), without remembering what happened that day.

Suffice it to say, no one was terribly hungry at brunch.  Of course, we were late.  Oh well.  The bar of expectations was already set pretty damned low in that regard.

It didn't take me very long to realize that the bridge was really bothering me and I really couldn't shake it, try as I might.   I kept on seeing it replayed---every time I closed my eyes, every time I saw a Jeep Liberty on the road, every time I saw two men driving together.  I knew I probably wasn't okay---but I also knew the only way to get okay was to dust it off, put one leg in front of the other,  get busy getting busy and wait for time to take care of it.  Wait for it to go under the bridge.  You fall, you get back up immediately, and you move on.  That's life.  And least, that's life done right.  No excuses.

I also realized pretty quickly that talking about it wasn't going to be much help.  What would I even have said?  That I saw something horrible happen to someone else, but I was actually unharmed?  What kind of weak crybaby talks about stuff like that????  I'm GERMAN, for shit's sake.  Germans just deal.  

Add that all to the fact that pretty much everyone I know is insanely busy, with much bigger and more pressing problems than mine.  Trust me- I'm not complaining that my life is basically a perennial bake sale.  I know I'm lucky, and I also know that I don't want to be the winner of the "World's Shittiest Life" competition.  It just seemed kind of tactless to talk about something like this to someone who was busy...with real problems.

And then there's the kicker.  I realized that I was angry at the guy who jumped.  Not sad, not full of compassion for what caused him to do it in the first place....I was straight-up angry.  I felt horrible for the man who was with him, and horrible for his family, but the man who actually jumped?  ANGRY.  Angry that he came out of nowhere, on a seemingly innocent day, and jacked it up.  Angry for the flashbacks.  Angry for the fact that if my husband wasn't able to avoid hitting him, my husband would have to live with that guilt for the rest of his life when he did nothing more than being in the wrong place in the wrong time.  Angry that if I were driving, I'd be the one that would have to live with that guilt.  Angry that my child was in the car.  Angry that all it took was one unstable person to royally jack up people who were previously stable.   Angry that I had spent 350 days at that point doing freaking GOOD DEEDS which I thought were some sort of insurance policy, only to have that exercise end up being utterly pointless.   Angry that every time I saw a Jeep, I'd feel a crazy fight or flight response.  Angry to have the efforts of a year's worth of trying to restore some level of good and order in the world end up in complete, unstable chaos.  Angry that my list was worthless.


Yup.  You can't really tell people that you're angry at someone who dove head first out of a moving car on the highway without sounding like an asshole.  Go ahead and judge.  I have.  More times than you can count, actually.

I did finish off the good deeds of 2012---largely because I had committed to it, but I no longer believed that it meant anything.   I no longer believed that it had any purpose.   And when 2013 started, I decided that my "now what?" was going to be doing the basics, and nothing more.   I was going to get up, show up and handle my business, but I wasn't going to take on any more risk or more effort.  Oh, and I started to really notice how interdependent people are, and I don't necessarily mean that favorably. I started to really notice the number of times things slipped through my hands, even when I did everything my lists told me to do, because someone else came through with a bigger issue that required immediate attention.  I was rapidly becoming completely bitter.  I decided that my lists were pointless.  I stopped writing lists.  I never thought I'd stop writing lists.

Until, one day, when I realized that I missed my lists.  That I missed the sense of purpose.  That I missed the sense of implied hope that were associated with those lists.  When I began to reconcile that "good will prevail in the end" and "life's not fair" weren't mutually exclusive and that they had to co-exist for life to really mean something.  It's easy to have hope when the results include only good outcomes.  To be able to accept that you can hope, and you can execute and the end result might still be bad, and you choose to hope anyway???  That's where real courage kicks in.  And I'm there.  I'm really there.   I'm not sure what my next list will include, but I'm going to enjoy the hell out of writing it and seeing what happens next.

It's funny.  One day last week, someone commented that they considered me to be "bulletproof" because they thought I could take anything.  That's quite a compliment- one I might treasure for the rest of my life, actually--but it's not entirely true. It's actually not true at all.  I'm not bulletproof.  I feel every single bullet that I take, and most of them hurt like hell.  But I can take those bullets.  Every single one of them, I can take and get back up.  For me, it isn't so much about avoidance, it's about being able to take them, deal with them, and carry on while missing as few steps as possible.  It's not waiting for things to go under the bridge, it's about finding a way to cross that bridge and move on to the next.  I think I like that...a lot.  Can't lie, though- still a pretty cool compliment.  I'm taking them these days.

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