Ask and you shall receive I guess. I went to another doctor for a second opinion on my recent knee saga. I’ve been to this doctor before and didn’t particularly care for him. He had a way of looking through me and avoided answering my questions. But I was referred to him again and went anyway. He had me lie on the table as he probed around my knee. He said he felt something that wasn’t right so he looked at my MRI scans from about 5 years ago and noticed something odd. He had me do a new x-ray image that I’d never had before. It’s called a sunrise projection and it’s aimed at the patella looking for fractures. And there you have it. A nickel sized bone fragment that had been fractured and severed from my knee cap. He says that there is no way to tell how or when I broke the patella but it’s a start to answering the questions as to why am I always in pain. You’d be in pain too if you had a pointy piece of bone grinding between your joints. So the answer is now what?
When I was a teenager I tore my Posterior-Cruciate Ligament (PCL) while running. I twisted an ankle, heard a loud pop, and suddenly I was in the most pain I’d ever been in in. My body knew my leg was broken. Students ran to the nurses office to have the school call an ambulance but the nurse refused. Instead she said I had to come to her. So three of my closest friends carried me from the track field to the nurses office where she suddenly realized how serious my condition was. She called my dad and he took me to the doctor. No ambulance was called that day and almost nothing was done for me.
I was told my leg wasn’t broken. In fact I’d torn my PCL, the ligament that crosses behind the more well know Anterior-Cruciate Ligament (ACL). I’d also dislocated my knee which tore my Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) and had done irreversible damage to my joint. The doctor said there wasn’t anything to be done and referred me to a physical therapy office which was shut down about 6 months after I finally stopped going. Not only were they not professional and not accredited they continued to cause damage to my knee. I didn’t walk for 3 three weeks and was on crutches for a month after that. From then on my knee dislocated easily and it happened constantly through the rest of my adolescence being that I was an active kid on the volleyball, tennis, swim, and sailing teams. I also developed arthritis in my knee before I was 20. Twelve years have passed and my life looks a lot different now that I realized the wrong doing that was done to me when I was younger.
Now, my friends want to go out to a bunch of bars on a Friday night. We get ready back at my apartment and they’re all in agreement that they’re not going to bring a purse. All of them tuck their cash and cards into pockets or bras and they’re ready to go.
I can’t. I have to take a bag. I have to be able to fit my 200 count bottle of pain relievers somewhere. I have to be able to bring my giant tin of Tiger Balm. I have to.
No, I can’t just leave it. Yes, I will need it; all of it. I will without a doubt, 100 percent be in pain. And if I’m in pain, I can’t dance, I won’t drink, I won’t move, and if it gets bad enough I won’t be able to speak. All I’ll be able to do is rub my joints and beg my friends, who are having a blast, to take me home.
I’ve been in pain since 2004. In the most recent years after seeing every doctor made available to me, I’ve been told over and over I have no options. There isn’t a surgery that exists that can help me, too much time has passed, and the bio-mechanics of my knee are uniquely…fucked, if you will.
I won’t leave my house without pain relievers or Tiger Balm. I won’t leave my city without my heating pad or an ice pack. I’ve canceled hundreds of plans, lost thousands of hours of sleep, and have had dozens of x-rays and MRIs. Doctors can’t operate, physical therapy doesn’t work, there isn’t anything I can do. So I deal with it.
Unfortunately, I am used to it. I’m in pain, always. You can’t imagine what it’s like to be woken up in the middle of the night because you’re in so much pain your brain can’t rest. But then, at that point, you’re in so much pain and you’re so tired you can’t move. You can’t get up to get some water to take your medicine or search through your belongings looking for Tiger Balm. Your brain is so chaotic with bright lights and your whole body is burning and there is nothing you can do but writhe miserably in pain. And no one else understands.
They can’t relate and they don’t know how to help you. Even I don’t know what to do but bite down on a leather strap and hope it’s over soon.
How could I pick just one quote to always go back to? I have many quotes that support me like a old wooden crutch bent at occasional awkward angles. I have quotes that have pushed me across countries fueling my desire to keep moving. I have quotes that have effortlessly expressed what I’ve struggled for years to arrange into words. I have strings of words that have made me step away from so many edges. There are quotes that have made me laugh or smile; those that have inspired me to paint, write, or sing. Quotes that pulled tears from my eyes and stirred emotions I wasn’t prepared to deal with. I have a page of quotes I’d more than happily carve into my skin and fill the empty places with a course black ink so that I could carry them with me always. But based on where I am today and as of late I think I will go with this:
“Promise me you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves that you forget, truly forget, how much you have always loved to swim.”
-Tyler Knott Gregson
An inspiring explorer has died during a large undertaking. I have nothing but admiration and respect for this great man. I hope he has found peace.
“I’ve always sort of lived by the phrase, “Try something you could fail at. We all do things that we can comfortably achieve, but rarely do we set the high bar one notch above what we think we can clear, and that’s what’s driving me on here.””
I imagine the day the computers quit that there would be a delicate buzz and whirl across the world. It would pass unnoticed by the population until everything went off with a click. And then a zap! You would come padding into the kitchen with bare feet and start ranting. I’d look up from my coffee cup at your early disturbance.
I can hear you now, what is happening? How will you ever finish your work, read: watch Netflix, or mindlessly scroll through the virtual day. You angrily shove the coffee pot back into its housing shifting the whole thing with your frustration. Your hair is sticking up and your beard is too scruffy; I find your annoyance cute. Continuing to mutter to yourself you’re down on hands and knees in the pantry where we keep all of our pots and pans. There’s a loud clanking of metal on metal as you search for the right one, this cacophony echoes in our silent home. I’m convinced that with the absence of technology all of our neighbors can hear your discontent. Soon, you’ve found the pan and your chopping and dicing making something delicious to eat. Fragrant smells leak around us staining the air for the first time in weeks, our trash piled up with to-go containers and pizza boxes are a stout comparison. When your hostility passes you’re talking, chatting away about your boss, and making time to fix the broken outlet, and telling me that we should take a vacation.
You laugh as you try to flip an omelet in the pan. I set the table with our guest china and fill glasses with orange juice. We pepper each other with ideas about where to go, making plans to do research at the library. Tahiti, Paris, and New Zealand we shout excited about starting our planning. You bring breakfast to the table and we sit and continue to talk. I’m not sure how much time passes, our phones and computers lay somewhere abandoned in their futility. The sun is high up in the sky before we start to clean up the kitchen. You sit at the table with your feet propped up in the chair next to you. I look back at you from the sink. Our eyes meet and you smile.
I found myself scared, cold, and sick running through the woods. Why had I come here. Something was behind me, chasing me, propelling my body forward. I was moving so fast I wasn’t sure if my feet were actually hitting the ground. I just kept moving, wondering what it was that I had actually seen. These woods were haunted, filled with ghosts…why had I come here again? I could see the cabin’s yellow light gleaming through the tree line. If I could just get to there, if I could beat down the door, and run inside I would be okay. My body seemed to move even quicker as whatever was chasing me breathed on my neck. It too knew I’d be safe once past the tree line so it raced after me harder. My clothes snagged on everything, my hair danced around my face. I could feel a warm liquid running down to my chin. I wasn’t sure if it was tears or blood or both. Something reached out and grabbed me, I screamed but no sound pierced the night–I screamed right? Just as it grabbed a wad of my hair I hit the tree line and everything was silent. The dark cold vanished along with the warm breath of whatever it was that had my locks in its grasp. I stood with my back to the trees afraid to turn around. I was afraid the minute that I saw it that it would swallow me whole.
The yellow light through the cabin’s glass windows beckoned me forward. It was up high off the ground in the middle of the tree clearing. A old man and his wife stepped quietly out of the door and walked down the stairs. A young man opposite of them caught the door as it closed and disappeared inside. Maybe I wouldn’t have to beat down the door–maybe I could just slip inside instead. I waited until my heart wasn’t pounding and I could feel my legs again. As I took a few steps away from the treeline I had the nerve to glance over my shoulder. The woods formed an impenetrable black wall that I couldn’t see beyond. I couldn’t even see where I had come from–like they had closed tightly after me. As I backed away heading towards the cabin I couldn’t fight the overwhelming feeling of a hundred eyes on me waiting for me to come back in.
In the cabin it was warm and bright. People walked around silently looking at the desks that displayed brochures about the area, admiring the photography on the walls, asking young volunteers where to stay. I walked up to the front desk to find my co-worker behind it. She didn’t know me, it was as if we had never met. I asked her where I was and how I could get home. She avoided my eyes and coldly told me that she couldn’t help me. She threw a stack of paperwork at me and told me to ask her supervisor. She pointed a long bony finger at a large closed door.
Suddenly I was on the other side of it. I had interrupted a meeting, a large conference filled with grim and serious faces. The room looked like a smaller version of the senate. Large men in long black robes towered around the perimeter of the room. There was a small girl in the middle of it all shaking. I told her I needed her help and she scolded me. She wouldn’t stop shaking as she told me that this wasn’t a good time.
“I understand but I really need to go home.” The small girl kept shaking like she was having a seizure. The men in the robes were silent, never moving or speaking.
“Fine.” She scribbled her signature across the forms and shoved them back at me. I gripped them all tight to my body to keep them from scattering across the floor. I was pushed out of the room without moving my feet and the door slammed in my face. I looked down again at the blank forms. My index finger had smudged the ink of her signature before it dried. It took me only a second to realize that she’d signed me away with blood.
I called the only number I had memorized. My memories seemed fluffy and round, I punched the number into the keypad but I didn’t know whose it was. A male voice echoed on the line.
“Michael.” I heard myself say.
“Hana? What’s wrong.” His voice seemed far away but the concern was real. It had been such a long time.
“I need help. Can you come get me?” I fought back the tears rubbing my face to preoccupy my thoughts. I realized how frightful I must have looked having mixed the blood and dirt mixture on my skin.
“I’m on my way.” The line cut off. I didn’t question how he knew where I was even after all of these years. I sat on the steps of the cabin in the dark while I waited. An hour later Michael pulled up in a silver car and waved me over. I tried to remember the last time that I had seen him. It was years before but I wasn’t sure exactly. Enough time had passed between our friendship that he was no longer obligated to rescue me. He was one of those friends that I had once been close with but somewhere along the way we forgot to make time for each other. It was nice to know though that after everything we’d been through and all the days that passed since then that he’d still come to me if I really needed him to. I think that’s what makes relationships like this so beautiful.
He sped out of the woods and I was relieved to be headed away from whatever was lurking in those trees. The farther we raced from them the lighter it got even though I knew it was still night. We didn’t talk on the ride back; without asking me he whisked me into town to a bar we’d been to a thousand times before. It was unsaid but assumed that I needed a drink. We got a small table for two in a dark corner off to the side away from the madness of drunk college kids partying on a Thursday night. From then the chatter came easy, he talked then I talked and soon we were in the present and no time had passed. He didn’t ask me about the woods or what happened. Instead he dipped his paper napkin in his water glass and folded it before handing it to me. I wiped my face clean of all the day had brought. He folded another napkin, I watched his hands as he methodically did so. I noticed a glimmer on his left fingers. It was like the ring suddenly appeared and took up all of my view.
“You got married?” I asked in disbelief.
“I did. Yea, I guess I forgot that part.” He smiled and it was a real smile. The kind of smile that is true after a lifetime of smiles that weren’t. I’d known him closely when the smiles were a forced facade. I knew them well because they were a reflection of my own. We’d spent years leaning on each other when faking it was too hard. Now as I stared at him from across the table over a long overdue beer I could see him clearly. I fought back the hot tears behind my eyes. He seemed to glow as he told me about his husband and the life that they had formed together. And for the first time his smiled didn’t reflect mine. I should have excused myself to the bathroom but I couldn’t face myself in a mirror. I knew that my smile wouldn’t look like his in the fluorescent glow of a bar bathroom.
I cried. In a small dark corner of a dive bar in Charleston, I cried. I cried as an old friend lay his hand over mine and cried too. We cried as the cheers from the Thursday night crowd cast over us like a blanket. We cried silently together over the years that had grown between us and the directions our lives had gone. We cried together but for different reasons. And inexplicably, it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
I inhale, suddenly, more aware that I’m doing so. I focus my brain on the wind tunnel that my own body can create. The air within and around me seems to whisper back breathe. I am trying everyday, I am trying. It’s difficult to let go of the sticky memories that cloud my brain. I wish that they were the easy kind to clear out, but unfortunately as I get older it seems that the easy ones to clear out are the light and good ones. The ones that you wish you’d remembered to hold on tighter to. The ones that slip from you ten or fifteen years after they’d happened, leaving a hollow space amongst your baggage. You can’t remember what used to fill that void but when you run your finger along your soul you know something is missing. It’s a dip in the surface alluding to something long gone.
The hard memories, the sticky ones, are heavy and burdensome. They are magnetic having been pulled and pried from my brain only to resolve to press themselves ever more tightly to my seams. Those memories I can’t shake; and when I can’t shake them I can’t breathe.
I inhale again reminding myself all the things I need to hear:
It’s in the past.
You are safe. You are alive.
You are here.
Let it go. Breathe. In. Out. In…
But if I could let go…when I really let go I catch of glimpse of someone else. Someone light and free. It’s as if that person is directly in front of me, as if they’d always been but my mind had been too foggy to notice. I see this person and in a brief moment of clarity I realize that this spectacular shining being is me. For one wonderful but succinct moment I had the vision to see who I am capable of being. It is then, however, that the cumbrous thoughts I’ve resiliently carried to this point squeeze back into view and snuff out any light I could possess.
I live for that moment of peace. That one pure, polished moment in my mindseye where I was free.
It’s there; the passion is still there. It’s buried deep down within in me somewhere. This location is often unknown to me, like a common spot I misplace my keys and the names of people I should know. Because it’s out of my periphery I regularly convince myself that it is in fact not there at all. I have it in my mind like a mantra; it is gone, I am void of it, and I am better now.
It’s been a little over a year that I’ve been out of school, out of my oceanic world, and out of place. I still desperately love science and the sea. I still want to be the kick-ass marine biologist that I’ve dreamed about being since I was 15. But somewhere along this journey, serpentine-ing through life and it’s obstacles, I have totally lost my way. Most days are now spent trying hard to pull away from the watery world that led me astray. Sometimes I feel betrayed by my field of study–how could I have been so wrong? How could something that I thought would fuel and fulfill me also make me feel as hollow as a shell that’s washed up on the beach.
These days I find myself so hellbent on trying to be something new. I’ll be a writer, or an artist, or a vagabond. Hell, I’ll commit my days to working in an office convincing myself everyday that I’m okay…it’s what I want. I can do this most days. I can do it…until I go for a walk on the beach. Then it’s almost impossible to lie to myself. I am instantly filled with euphoria when I am on the beach. Especially the beach in the winter, when I have to bundle up under flannel layers and beefy boots. I can walk miles along the waters edge and not come across another soul–not another sound. It is just me and the pounding force of the wind and waves. This is the greatest gift for my chaotically loud mind, to be quieted in sheer comparison. To work through my shit all I have to do is walk. It’s when I let my mind and body wander that I believe they find their true calling.
Suddenly I’m bent over in the sand shifting through frozen shells looking for signs of parasites and carnage. I find myself flipping over a sea star looking at the tubfeet and racking my brain for the scientific name. I’m noticing the difference in dune heights, the slope of the beach, and the wrackline. This is where I am safe, this is where I think that I belong. But it’s like I don’t have the rights to call myself a marine biologist anymore. I have no initiative to stand up dust the sand off of my clothes and charge into a lab demanding a job. And I’m far too exhausted from years of education to run back through the halls of academia. So I do nothing; instead wondering how I am so certain this is what I am supposed to do but am so unwilling to go out and get it. Rather I cling to the memories of what it was like to have fit so perfectly in a space the universe had designed for me. It’s like refusing to let go of an old heartbreak because the wound just hurts too good. And despite how much I want to be a scientist I am so terrified of sitting still. I am so terrified of only getting one: either I can have the career that fulfills me or I can go out and lose myself in the world. I don’t believe I can do both. I can be a scientist or I can be an artist (slash writer, slash vagabond).
So what do you do about buried passion? What does a twenty-something with a degree in Marine Biology, a burning desire to see every corner in the world, and an insatiable appetite for a greater purpose do with her life? How am I, at my age, supposed to choose the path I’m to walk over the next 60 odd years? What happens if it’s the wrong path, or it’s too late, or if no one will walk with me? These might seem like the petty questions of a naive 24 year old with no sweet fucking clue–and maybe that is exactly what they are. But honestly, I ask you, what in the hell am I supposed to do now? How do I exit the paradox in which I’m too afraid to do anything so I do nothing?
Make a move. I can hear you screaming it at me. You, the universe, or whoever you are…I can hear you.
I am trying.
How exactly do we do this? No, seriously I’m asking. How exactly are we all suppose to do this…life thing? It’s this giant fog that hangs over our entire beings and it is all at once amazing, hard, miserable, and bright. And what’s so mind-warping about all of it is that we all think that everyone else has it figured out; that they’ve already jotted everything down and we’ve completely forgotten our pen.
I’ve always been over in the corner doing my thing. I try my hardest to remind myself how exciting and thankful I should be to be standing at the cross roads of my early twenties. I have several directions that I could take my life in. This is humbling considering I’ve been many places across this globe where girls my age never had a choice, their fate was always decided for them–written in stone by those that came before her. How lucky am I to be able to freely turn against everything planned for me. Even from the things that I plan for myself.
But that’s where the contrary facts come into play. I have so many options that I have frozen in fear of making the wrong decision. Life is short. Life is long. Which is it? Do I have the time to do everything that I want to do or am I going to have to chose one path and follow it to the bitter end?
My friends are getting married, they’re settling into full-time jobs, they’re bringing life of their own into this world. And I spent most of my nights pant-less, alone, drinking and sinking into an abyss. And people say “there’s nothing wrong with that” and “good for you” and “there’s still time for you.”
And none of this helps.
Because regardless if it’s okay or if everyone feels like this–what matters to me is that I feel I am wasting my life away. “This is just temporary” everyone says to me. Well temporary madness is still madness. And I am going crazy.
But for reasons practical I’m chained to my current position destined to die in this cage that I’ve made for myself. And no amount of drinking and activities to pass the time can make me forget how much I’d rather chew off my own arm than stay behind these bars any longer.
That may be a bit extreme but I just wish someone would run up to me tap me with a fairy wand and bang some sense into my head. Fill me with a purpose and a destination. And for the love of god give me a push in the right direction.
Women are not diminished by forgoing motherhood. Women ARE diminished by inequality and misogyny, and by living in a world that is primarily tailored to the needs of men. I’m not one of those people who blames all men everywhere for this – just look at the expectations men themselves have to put up with, such as having to kill each other when their governments decide to go apeshit on each other – but I’m just saying, there is a reason why motherhood is still not fully accommodated by most modern societies (empty praise doesn’t count).