Where I Sleep

Every few nights I sleep in a different bed.

Every few nights I fall asleep on new pillows. Every few nights I tuck a different blanket beneath my chin. Sofas, futons, air mattresses, loveseats, guest beds, kids’ beds, rinse and repeat. Every few days I take my clear plastic toiletry bag, my five sweaters, my jeans, my three pairs of shoes, my curling iron, my clutch purse, my travel jewelry box, my underwear, and my cocktail dress (just in case), fold and wedge them into my rolling black suitcase to be hauled to my new sleeping location. Zip and roll.

I’ve stayed in Manhattan: East Village, Upper West Side, Upper East Side, Midtown, SoHo, Greenwich. I’ve stayed in Brooklyn: Williamsburg, Bushwick, Crown Heights, Bay Ridge, Prospect Heights. I’ve stayed in D.C. I’ve stayed with people I know. I’ve stayed with people I don’t know. I’ve slept on loveseats that threw my back out. I’ve slept on memory foam mattresses that lulled me into 14 hours of slumber. I was downtown when the power went out for four days during Hurricane Sandy. I was at a friend’s country home upstate when the power came back on.

Every few weeks I visit my storage unit on 11th Avenue. I take the elevator and walk to the very back and climb the ladder to open my white tin box of belongings, and switch out shoes, exchange coats, or drop off something I’ve discovered I don’t need. Seven months so far. I’ve gone down a dress size.

I go to the park. I sit and listen to the redheaded piano player in Washington Square. I discover giant, magical swing sets in hidden mansions on the Upper East Side. I make friends with a carriage horse in Columbus Circle. I find a new favorite chocolate chip cookie. I see every movie nominated for an Oscar this year. I see plays. I go to the ballet. I visit the White House. Twice.

And every night I return to my suitcase. To my sofa/futon/air mattress/love seat/guest bed/kids’ bed. I put my earrings in my jewelry box. I fold my sweater and put it in my suitcase. I wash my face and fall asleep on foreign pillows that have become my fleeting rest. And dream of cherry orchards in bloom.

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Breathe

…I had power over nothing. And that’s when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow that I had to stay alive. Somehow, I had to keep breathing. Even though there was no reason to hope, and all my logic said that I would never see this place again.

So that’s what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing. And one day, my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am. I’m back in Memphis, talking to you. I have ice in my glass… And I’ve lost her all over again. I’m so sad that I don’t have Kelly. But I’m so grateful that she was with me on that island.

And I know what I have to do now. I’ve got to keep breathing. Because tomorrow, the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?

-Cast Away (2000)

Six

I remember this time six years ago I went to bed oddly easily. Sometimes the stakes are so high all you feel is peace.

We had sat with Momma all day. She was wearing her new, pretty pajamas– the ones she picked out right before she went into the hospital to help her feel better. That morning someone had– after ushering us out of the room to remove all the things that had kept her alive for the last few months– changed her into the powder blue set that would have perfectly offset her hair, had she still had any.

Her eyes were closed. She was slightly less swollen than she had been, and it was so nice to see her without the web of tubes and wires. She almost reminded me of the Momma I knew. Her picture– the one from when she was happy and healthy and working at the Chamber of Commerce– was above her bed, and all the nurses told me how much I looked like her. I loved that.

We sat with her, sang to her, held her hand, rubbed her leg– each irregular beep on the monitor or jagged deep breath halting our own. She stayed alive all day. We went and got lunch, came back, still she lay, jagged breath proceeding un-aided from cracked, once-beautiful lips. Hope began to rise. “Come on, Momma! You can do it! PLEASE come back!” I hadn’t heard her voice in months, but something in me, stronger than me, was willing her to open her eyes and come back to us. Rise from her bed. Make cinnamon rolls at Christmastime. Be on the sofa in the kitchen with her coffee in the morning. Tell me how much she loved me and laugh until her shoulders shook.

She stayed alive all day.

I went to bed that night unnervingly peaceful. Almost excited about the next day– desperately hoping it would bring news that she had recovered, that her body had started to function on its own.

Tomorrow came. I should’ve been in LA driving to class on the first day of my senior year of college. Instead I awoke in my high school bedroom to silence. Hope glimmered. “If no one’s woken me up, she’s still alive!” I lay silently rejoicing, anxious and hopeful. Then I heard my dad’s phone ring from his room down the hall. And I knew.

Sometimes the stakes are so high, all you feel is peace.

I miss you, Momma.
Girly Girl

Quiet

Yesterday I moved out of the apartment that has become my home in New York. It was harder than I imagined it would be. In the days leading up to the move I found myself getting sluggish and wandering aimlessly around my beloved neighborhood, grieving. I didn’t want to go.

It wasn’t even so much that I loved my apartment– although I did– it was that my apartment was the last living testament to any semblance of the life I had built in New York. I no longer had a job. I had scrapped the career path I was progressing down. Relationships had changed. Home had changed. The possibility, however small, of someday retreating to the west coast had faded behind the quiet thud of a shut door. My apartment was the one thing left. And I was leaving. To where I didn’t know.

In the last few weeks I’ve likened my current experience to the scenes in action movies where actors are in a high-speed freeway chase when the camera pulls back and suddenly you see that a mile down the road the overpass is down for construction and the actors are hurtling toward nothingness. The car can’t be stopped, the freeway can’t be fixed. Void and plunge.

I’ve been hurtling toward this void for the last four weeks since I gave notice at my apartment. No clue of what’s to come, no idea of where to live or how to do what I think I should do. Just incontrovertible passing of time thrusting me into the unknown.

And this is where it gets very quiet.

In the movie, this is the hushed, whistling moment that the car leaves the concrete and soars through the air in slow motion, tires spinning, time suspended. Quiet. No ground behind, no ground before, just a silent arc through the air as the audience holds their breath and waits…

I have two suitcases and a hope for what’s ahead. Waiting to land.

Swim

I swam in the ocean yesterday. Paddled out beyond the crashing waves to the cool, salty, open blue, stretching my limbs and splashing. I laughed and twirled like a dolphin in the salty swirl, suddenly so excited to be in the water and feeling overwhelmingly free. As I spun, the land behind came into sight and I gasped and stopped.

Beyond the crystal blue I swam in, and the pale golden beach, lush green mountains embedded with tiny jewel-toned houses rose up and surrounded my view. They stunned me. Perfect emerald guardians, sitting regally overlooking the Pacific as I bobbed like a little blonde buoy. I felt so small, so protected, so overwhelmed by the beauty of floating in the ocean in the sun, with these lush jade peaks surrounding my perfect little Eden.

 “What is my life?” I murmured against the saltwater lapping against my chin. Smiling, I laid my head back into the blue, and let the steady undulations carry me back to land.

What a Difference a Week Makes

A week ago yesterday I had just been fired and was watching Duets in a friend’s Brooklyn living room. Last night I watched Duets in a movie star’s penthouse (with said movie star) overlooking Columbus Circle and Central Park.

Life is weird. And really great sometimes.

Missing

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When I was little, Mom homeschooled my brother and I, and for several years into our early childhood we weren’t allowed to go get breakfast or watch TV in the morning until we had cuddled with her first. Every morning we’d clatter into her bedroom and dangle our muffed-up heads over her face as we asked, “Mom, can I go get some cereal?” “Mom, can I get up now?” “Mom, I think Kitty needs me…”

“Just one quick snuggle…” she would say.

She’d pull us under the covers and bury her nose in our warm, fluffy hair as she sighed with contentment. There’s no real activity to cuddling, just resting and loving, so we’d tuck ourselves in tightly next to her, each on our own side, and lay there and let her warmth wash over us.

When I was five the local newspaper came to our house and interviewed me because I had written them a letter. I thought they should do less stories about violence and more about cuddling. Somehow it made the front page.

One of the last times I saw my mom truly alive (before the coma and respirator), she was laying in her hospital bed as Dad and I sat and talked with her. I was tired and she could tell, so she pulled the covers down and invited me to come up and take a nap with her. There wasn’t a moment’s hesitation as I pushed the tubes and wires aside and crawled into her big, squeaky hospital bed. I laid myself down in the nook that had always been mine on those mornings at home so long ago, and tucked my now bigger head under her chin, resting my cheek against the soft skin on her chest. My legs dangled off the foot of the bed as she wrapped her arms around me and kissed my hair. We drifted off to sleep together that way, soft and warm and overgrown.

I don’t think I’ll ever stop missing that.

Titanic

I was 12 when I first saw Titanic. I sat stock-still in the theater, enraptured but unflinching as 3 hours and 17 minutes of romance, drama, history, and tragedy assaulted and set fire to my preteen mind. When it ended, my dad and I exited in darkness and walked calmly to the car, chatting in the chilly California winter air. But I never made it to the car. At least not right away.

When I was five to ten feet from the trunk of our gray sedan, all of a sudden it all hit me. I froze. Every inch of the weight what I had just seen hit me all at once and I began to sob in the middle of the movie theater parking lot. My father who had gone ahead, turned and saw his only daughter suddenly weeping openly, and came back around to ask what was wrong. I couldn’t explain, but continued to cry with heaving gasps that wracked my body.

We drove home and I continued to sob.

When we walked into the living room, my mom was sitting on the floor by the Christmas tree and innocently asked how we liked it. My eyes now dried, I opened my mouth to tell her, but as I did the sobs returned. “They just… They LOVED each other…! And… She said… she’d never… let go… And then SHE… DID…!”

I was inconsolable.

Tonight I saw James Cameron’s record-breaking masterpiece, remastered in 3D, in a theater in Times Square. I LOVED it. The tears didn’t hit me until I was on the subway platform, and made a steady stream on my cheeks as I rode home alone on the train. My heart feels tender and alive all over again.

15 years later. It still holds up.

Bad for Good

The story of Jesus standing before the tomb of Lazarus is an endless source of insight for me. As he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, Jesus was not smiling. He was angry. He was weeping. Why? Because death is a bad thing! Jesus wasn’t thinking, “They think that this is a tragedy, but no harm done! I’m about to raise him from the dead. This looks like a bad thing, but it’s not. It’s really a good thing! It’s a way for me to show my glory. It’s really exciting! I can’t wait!” He wasn’t thinking that. Jesus was weeping at the tomb, because the bad thing he’s about to work for good is bad. 

The story of Lazarus does not give you a saccharine view of suffering, saying bad things are really blessings in disguise or that every cloud has a silver lining. The Bible never says anything like that! God will give bad things good effects in your life, but they’re still bad. Jesus Christ’s anger at the tomb of Lazarus proves that he hates death. He also hates loneliness, alienation, pain, and suffering. Jesus hates it all so much that he was willing to come into this world and experience it all himself, so that eventually he could destroy it without destroying us. 

There’s no saccharine view in the Christian faith. The promise is not that if you love God, good things will happen in your life. The promise is not that if you love God, the bad things really aren’t bad; they’re really good things. The promise is that God will take the bad things, and he’ll work them for good in the totality.

-Tim Keller

Breath to Dry Bones

His eyes got big as I approached. “Hello!” he said. I responded with a cheerful “Hi!” and a big grin.

A few silent moments passed. “What do you do?” he finally asked. “You intrigue me. Tell me about yourself.”

I swiped my credit card as he loaded my groceries into the brown paper bag.

Well, I work for a marketing company, but I don’t DO marketing.

“So what do you do?”

I do all of our internal projects. Admin and stuff inside the company.

“That doesn’t seem right. You’re too outgoing, too alive.”

Pause.
Well… I used to be an actress.

His eyes lit up in satisfaction before getting very serious.
“OH there we go. THAT’S it. …But you didn’t ‘used to be’ an actress. That never goes away– you can’t just turn that off. You’re just playing the part of someone who works at a marketing company. You’ll always be an actress.”

Whoosh.