Moved

Last Saturday, the hottest day of the year so far, I moved from the Zombie Tramp House to my 2 bedroom, 1 bath apartment. The Zombie Halfway House of Ill-Repute.*

I had a whole gaggle of people show up to help. I was as prepared (stuff-wise) as I could possibly be for the event, disease and time permitting. Though still not as prepared as I’d have liked, I’ll grant you. I have a personal pet peeve about showing up to help someone move and they’re not even ready to do this thing. Like…I’ve had to do dishes, then pack the dishes, then move the dishes. YOU KNOW THIS EVENT IS COMING UP. PUT YOUR SHIT IN BOXES. IT MAKES IT EASIER AND HELPS YOUR SHIT NOT TO GET BROKEN. Some last minute things and cleanup is inevitable, but OH MY GOD PEOPLE WHY IS YOUR CLOTHING NOT IN BOXES YET. I try really, really hard to not be that person. So not only was most of my stuff in boxes, it was pushed out in to the hallway when I could, to make maneuvering as quick as possible.

And it worked! The guys (and gal) had everything in the driveway and front room, ready to rock, by the time we got back with the truck. I had a lot of friends work hard in stupid heat, and I was done in record time. I got the truck at 10:30, it was back to the U-Haul before 3. One last round to get the cats and all my groceries, and then I was all moved! With an hour to spare to get ready to go see Eddie Izzard perform (PROTIP: GO SEE EDDIE IZZARD PERFORM. HE IS A MAGICAL HUMAN BEING MADE OF UNICORN RAINBOWS AND SARCASM).

And Sunday, I was alone in my new apartment.

…which was the problem.

I had been frantically preparing for this move for a few weeks. As much to not be that person, as to keep my brain busy. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about the house being sold. Don’t think of your dream home in someone else’s hands. Don’t think about this being the first major loss to ALS. Don’t think about the sheer magnitude of work that’s going to need doing to find the next place. Don’t think about THAT place as temporary, too. Don’t think about this being the last Saturday you will ever sleep in at the house you own. Don’t think about this being the last time you’ll have to clean your kitchen floor. Don’t think about this being the last shower in a house you own. Don’t think about it. Don’t think. Don’t.

Sunday, I crashed. Left to my own devices, and with sweltering heat besides, I slept a lot. I went out for brunch with a friend, with the intention of going out and running errands and buying things that I needed for the new space, but found myself falling asleep at the table when he went to the restroom. He brought me back to the apartment, and I slept some more. I moved some furniture around, hooked up my TV and made my bed, and slept.

I called off work Monday. “I wrecked myself,” I told my coworkers in an email, “clearly I should have chiggity-checked myself.” And then I slept. I woke around 11AM, answered an email from my realtor, rolled over, and slept. 4PM I woke, with the intention of putting my PC together, and stared at my desk for 10 minutes before just sort of…collapsing out of my chair in to a heap on the office floor and lying there for probably twenty minutes, just staring at the wall. I went back to bed. 7PM I woke up, used the bathroom, fed the cats, unpacked my socks and underwear, and went back to bed. I just had no power to do anything else.

I’m not stupid, I know what depression is. And this? This is it. After all of everything, and a REALLY shitty week last week, I finally crashed and depression grabbed me by the jugular and shook hard. And I bled out and slept.

It’s still there, very much, but I managed to get to work today and do some things. My body is so fucking TIRED but my mind is going a million miles a minute. The sale is not quite final, there’s last-minute fuckery going on. I’m not quite out of the house yet, there was still some storage stuff and a couple of fans and cleaning materials, and then I have to clean everything up to make it presentable to its new owners, just as I’d wanted it presented to me but got a filthy house full of broken and useless shit instead. So much unpacking to do before this apartment is even navigable, much less livable. And so much to do after that before it’s mine. I have medical forms to fill out and new bills to pay and addresses to change. This afternoon, sitting at my desk at work, I cried, overwhelmed at how much was left, how much I had to do, and wishing someone would just fucking DO it for me.

I got a voice mail from some inspection company to reschedule an inspection I didn’t even know was happening at my house. That I still own. They’re doing work on the Zombie House to prep it for the final sale, now, and apparently the buying broker doesn’t think it’s necessary to actually let the owner of the house know that strangers are going to be there, working. I chatted up Justin, the Wunderbruder, and asked him when he was free to help me clear out the rest of the stuff at my house, to make the last storage run. He said he’d already moved all the straggler stuff into the garage, and just needed to sweep it out.

I said he was amazing, and he said Nope. Just a crazy white guy.

I told him it sounded like he had it mostly sorted out, and asked if he needed me; he said, “My thought was to bring to your place what goes there, get the storage key and code, stop back by the old house and get the remaining stuff out of the garage.”

And just like that, my brother had already sorted my shit and had a plan and I didn’t have to do ANYTHING.

“That way,” he said, “you can focus your energy on your new place.”

And I fucking cried. Totally lost my shit at my desk in front of my Sea-Monkeys and everything. Because he was an answer to my desperate prayer. I didn’t have to do anything. I didn’t have to ask. And I can’t even tell you how much that allowed me to just…fucking…BREATHE. For a minute. For a couple of minutes.

He has my back. I never doubted this. All of my friends have my back. I have never doubted this either, though this weekend was serious and hardcore proof. But to have him here, to have him step up and just…fuck. Just. Fuck. Without even….fuck. I can’t even tell you. Grateful. SO fucking grateful. He quiets my brain and I know I’m taken care of. And every time I tell him he’s amazing, he says, “Nope.” But he lies. In my darkest moments, I know I can pull through this because of the love of the people surrounding me. I don’t know what I did to deserve this much light, and this much love, and just..fuck. Yeah. So much love. And gratitude. And just…fuck. All of it. Everything.

Sometimes angels are real. Even if they used to punch you in the head when you were kids.

*That’s from a Dresden Dolls lyric. I’m not that clever.

Life, Death, Something in Between

Metarie Cemetery, NOLA

Every city is a person. San Francisco, for example, is a cooler-than-you power player by day, club kid by night with a serious drug problem and crushingly low self esteem. He’s beautiful, but the kind of beautiful you regret finding in your bed in the morning when his makeup’s come off and you see what he really looks like. Sacramento is his younger sister who wants to be as cool as her older brother and tags along to his parties, but she really just doesn’t get it, and won’t, ever. She’s self important and destined to be either a politician or homeless, depending on whether she’s willing to sell out or not. Portland simultaneously hates himself and thinks he’s better than everyone else, writing mostly bad but occasionally amazing poetry, while drinking whisky flights and watching the rain mist over the concrete outside his rent-controlled studio apartment downtown. He’s beautiful, quirky, and surprisingly athletic, which is amazing considering you’re pretty sure he lives mostly on coffee.

New Orleans is a man who laughs too fast and too hard, talks too much and too long, drinks to work up the nerve to socialize and then keeps drinking until he’s sick, the sort of drunk who can turn on you without warning. He’s a fantastic pal to hang around the town with because he knows everyone and doesn’t mind introducing you, an amazing cook able to whip up the most amazing meals faster than you can blink, and overall will show you a damned good time as long as you’re buying. He’s got a timeless sort of tired beauty, the grace of a man who’s been through some really rough times, and the charm of a desperate charlatan in need of some quick cash. He spends way more than he earns in an effort to make himself seem far less tired and sad than he feels, and he dates twin sisters Life and Death. When Life has partied herself out and goes home in the morning, Death visits by day and they stroll among graveyards and quietly share memories of happier times.

He needs the love of both women to be allowed to be who he is.

New Orleans is a larger than life, boisterous, beautiful place. In some places, the beauty is plastic and painted on, but there nonetheless. In other places, it’s quiet and stately and dignified; beautiful if you notice it or not. Everywhere you look, death and life are married and inseparable. Among the touristy, horrible glitz of Bourbon Street, there’s a smell of sick and decay and deteriorating sidewalk rubble to trip you up at every turn. Among the quiet graveyards around City Park, plants grow between the cracks of the crypts, the living wander freely, and the whispering of traffic is never far off.

New Orleans remembers what it’s like to have a healthy relationship with death.

We visited a very beautiful paper and pen boutique in the French Quarter, called originally enough – Papier Plume – and spent a fair bit of time looking at the most elegant instruments for committing ink to paper. Beautiful glass fountain pens, calligraphy pens, ink of every shade, and journals of artisan paper for keeping track of your life in. Everything you need to spill your living thoughts on to dead trees. As a sort of team memento thing, we all three bought glass fountain pens. We spent more time deliberating on ink than we’d spent choosing the pens, and I’m grateful and surprised that the shopkeeps never got the least bit impatient with us. I found shades I loved, but was dismayed that they weren’t permanent ink – they would fade in light or run when wet. The shopwoman asked why I was so set on permanent ink.

Colin looked back at me for a moment unsure of how I wanted to proceed. I smiled gently. “I ..have a terminal disease,” I explained, “and I mean to use these to write my farewell letters.”

She was quick to recover, immediately understanding and warm. She expressed her condolences, particularly when I mentioned ALS specifically, as – with so many people I’m finding – someone she knew had been lost to it. We made our selections, and she sincerely wished me luck. I appreciated it, and told her so. New Orleans was such a wonderful melt of life and death, that it wasn’t awkward to have that conversation. I only mentally dwelled on it at all in order to marvel at how normal that exchange seemed, before putting it away in my memories.

Several times I felt like I ought to have been somehow overwhelmed by it all, achingly sad to know that it’s the last time I’ll be in that city, thinking on life, death, the afterlife while sitting in St. Louis Cathedral, waiting to be moved enough to weep, and never really feeling like I needed to do so. I felt very comfortable and at peace there. I did not need to mousecreep my way through social interactions, because death was a part of life there. No explanations, no apologies needed, just a warm bath of understanding at the very core of the city. Time enough to relax and revel in a healthy attitude towards death before returning to a world still terrified of it.

I could never live in New Orleans, but it was delightful to be in his company for awhile. I’m grateful for the chance I was provided. Seven days being allowed to be what I needed to be, with two amazing people who love me to the ends of the earth and with whom I feel safe enough to relax my constant need to assure everyone I’m okay, and admit when I’m overwhelmed and need to sit down a bit. Seven days to live and eat and breathe and sleep for a week in a city that made me feel welcome and …normal.. enough to drop my guard in public for a little bit and just be unapologetically weak and flawed and alive.

A chance to be a dying woman in a city perfectly okay with death.

Followup to that last thing

1) I told that to my therapist last night and he got a bit weepy. Awesome.

2) I sent her an email this morning to thank her for her words, that it was one of the sweetest things anyone has ever told me, and she said, “I thought I was stating the obvious.”

She finished with “Just keep it, joy is something that heals and grows.” And it does. And I’m once again so grateful for the planets in my orbit.

Beyond a compliment

A coworker stopped me in the cafe today to talk to me a little bit, she’d just discovered I have ALS and had been told I was choosing the right to die when I want. We spoke a little about prognoses and comforting thoughts and coping mechanisms and …silver linings, if you will? Beautiful ways to think about death, thoughts that get you through it.

I told her that I’m almost (almost!) grateful for the disease, because it’s shown me how much love I have around me, how many people I have willing to support me, and to hear through their words how important they think I am. I’ve always thought of myself as a little bit ..standard, ordinary, unimpressive? But people have come out of nowhere to tell me I’m wrong.

“Well of course,” she said. “You can’t radiate THIS much joy and not draw people to you.”

I think that’s the most beautiful thing anyone’s ever said about me. And I was speechless.