Friday, May 9, 2008

Magical Realism

My friend C and I go way back; no one has been my friend longer. This means she can read my handwriting, remembers my first boyfriend and my birthday, has loaned me clothes, has heard me snore, flies in for a visit now and then, knows how to make me laugh, has mopped me up thousands of times, and watches my back. It means I can confess to her with only mild embarrassment that I've read (and enjoyed) all the books in the Traveling Pants series, and that she would be in my sisterhood if I had a pair of magic jeans.

So I asked her recently why I tend to need the mopping up part so often. And I also asked her why I have such trouble measuring the size and scope of problems, especially ones that start with "A" and end with "ism." I asked her, "What is wrong with me? And with my sense of perspective?"

C shoots things straight. I know it; that is why I asked her. Her answer shocked me, even though it didn't. Don't we all have those moments? Her answer reminded me of who I am, and made me realize that I do forget sometimes. Click; focus restored. I have been thinking often of what she said.

It was late and I was tired, but my version of what she said goes something like this: "You know, G, I think if it weren't an ism it would be something else. I remember when you thought you'd fail Spanish in high school and you went a little over the deep end. And you didn't even fail Spanish, did you? I think that's how you're wired. Sure, the rooster has stuff going on. Last summer I saw him have some ugly night terrors and things like that and I knew there was stuff going on that wasn't entirely typical, so I wasn't completely shocked by his diagnosis, but if you weren't freaking out about that, you'd be freaking out about something else. You're G. That is what you do. I'm not sure why, but it's kind of who you are."

C is exactly right. It is soooo C of her. That is who SHE is. The smart one. The calm one. The doctor. Had I been born Doogie Howser, medical genius, I would refuse to practice. I never want that kind of responsibility. The only worse job I can imagine involves air traffic control while managing nuclear power plants. C drove an ambulance before we graduated high school; I sometimes have been known to check three times to be sure I'm in park before I get the kids out of the car. I make my husband dispense all the medicines around here; if I so much as give them Tylenol, I can spend as long as half an hour later worrying if I measured out the right dose (and our boy's medicine record fills 5+ pages at the doctor's office). I left a job editing because it gave me ulcers to put an issue to bed because putting it to bed meant I approved it as done and accurate, and I would wait in agony for corrections and complaints to arrive in my inbox. My head throbbed to the beat of, "WHAT IF I MADE A MISTAKE?"

So how on earth did I end up a teacher, let alone a parent? I am ill suited to the pressure of either sometimes.

But far as I can tell, few good paying or rewarding positions call for neurotic, oversensitive, sentimental creative types with no tolerance for having the buck stop here.

When I look at the rooster, my eyes play tricks on me all the time, as I see him one way one minute and one way another, morphing fun-house style. He's tiny and twisting all around, he's giant and scary, he's something in the middle and shining, he's changing again before my eyes, he and his isms... And the whole time, I'm staring, and hollering, "HELP! I HATE FUN HOUSES! I'M SCARED!"

What C said reminds me that I built this fun house, and I am the one tormenting myself. I know what I should do with that information, of course. I should stop. I should dismantle the fun house and shatter the mirror, and I should stop staring at the rooster all the time. But there is a little relief in knowing that I am just G, this is just what I do. It's my own ism. I take some strange comfort there.

I might not be able to change the thing about me that has always been skewed, but that has always been -- well, ME. But I can use this self-knowledge in my self-talk, when C is 3,000 miles away and the time difference is working against me and I panic. I can translate what she said into, "Calm down. The rooster is uniquely challenged in his way, and you are uniquely challenged in your way. That means things probably are not as bad as you think they are. You got a B+ in Spanish. The letters to the editor were all good. The car hasn't rolled away yet. Go to bed. Hasta manana. No te preocupes."

Thanks, C. I've got your back, too, sister. Maybe when you come visit in July we can buy some magic pants.


Niksmom said...

Good friends are priceless. Glad C is able to help you find or maintain perspective. :-) Happy (almost) Mother's Day!

KAL said...

Those are the best kind of friends!