I tried to socialize last weekend. Twice.
On Friday night I joined some girlfriends and about a third of the City of Richmond to see the Lumineers. I’ve heard it was a great show, but I really couldn’t tell you. I was preoccupied the entire time by all the hair around me.
You’d think that I would have paid this much attention to hair months back, in the immediate wake of shearing mine off. But it turns out that I’m having even more trouble coping with my baby chick look than I did with the straight up bald look. Or maybe its just that I am genuinely done with looking this way. I am aching to braid my hair again. To see a messy bun sticking out of my shadow. I want to look like myself again. And that feels like it may never happen.
It feels like this is normal now, but like its not normal at all.
And so everywhere I go these days, all I see is hair.
We had gathered for dinner before the show and I already knew I wasn’t ready. My new normal makes me the girl who comes to parties with dinner in my bag, because I’m not allowed to eat or drink like everyone else anymore. So while everyone else had pizza and beer, I sat on the outskirts of the circle with my fig bar and carrots and kombucha and tried to make small talk when it seems I have nothing small to talk about. I used to fit in here. Now, its as if a wall has erected itself that separates me from the rest of the world.
My new normal is on the wrong side of the wall.
* * *
This happened in its own way the last time. I am remembering that. I managed to make only three friends in law school because of that wall. Despite how much I wanted to, first year started just ten months after chemo ended and I couldn’t get around the wall in time to really connect with people.
* * *
I woke up Saturday feeling hungover for the first time in more than fourteen months. The exertion of the night before enough to make me wonder if I had picked up a glass of wine again but just forgot about it.
Nonetheless, I planned to go to the party I had on the calendar that night.
I had good intentions. I walked into the yard and recognized many people. And actually walked up to a group of them and said hello. But within thirty seconds every part of my being was screaming “Abort!” and before long I found myself tucked into a dark corner trying to pretend the wall was real and not just in my mind and that no one could see me and notice how uncomfortable I am in public. I used to be so good at these things.
Not anymore. Not in this new normal.
* * *
As I slowly limped down the stairs Sunday morning, my body aching thanks to menopause and chemo and my heart aching thanks to the reality of the night before, I saw the torn up leather before I saw the mounds of sick on the floor. Hope looked up from her nest of the couch and her face said it all: “Things are not normal right now, mom.”
I slumped down on the bottom step and she plodded over to lay her head on my lap.
I know Hope. Things are not normal.
* * *
Growing up, we often made the drive from our home in Connecticut to my Nana’s house in Rhode Island. My mom would load all three of us in the car, and more often than not her best friend would follow behind us with my best friend tucked in with her.
It wasn’t a particularly long trip, but as a kid it felt like forever. There was always a point when things got equal parts frustrating and exciting. It was the moment when we were close enough to the shore that the air clearly changed. It felt a little bit heavier and you could smell the salt from the ocean, but there were no beaches or waves in sight. It was as if there was a wall there – keeping us from our destination.
The miles dragged on, slower and slower, until finally the shoreline appeared.
The wall was gone.
This wall will disappear eventually too. And normal will actually normalize and there will be conversation and connection and even pigtails.
One day the wall will come down.
At least for now, I can smell the sea.