So I spent the last two hours writing a very long, rambling and personal account of my history of getting high on life. And it was sad and beautiful and true and it made me realize things about myself that I’d never known how to put into words. Until now. And you know what happened on my epic fail of a night? Blogger the Enemy deleted my draft and then quickly auto-saved the blank page. Ummm… So I was heart-crushingly queasy and sad for about fifteen minutes and then I decided to start clean and fresh and still inspired. And I’m over it. Really, I am. (Blogger – I’m totally going to hurl urine-filled water balloons at you)
Ok, now I’m really over it.
So my story begins with a road trip. And a boy. (Don’t they all?) It was the summer I turned 16 and my best friends were Sheila, this awesome maroon dress she gave me, my Tori Amos “Under the Pink” album and Sheila’s friend Joe – an aspiring filmmaker I had a wicked crush on. Boys at Roxbury High School were not intriguing at all (except the gay ones and the ones in my Japanese class) so this Randolph High boy was an exotic specimen to me. We had all the makings of timeless love story. I had never even been to second base with a boy and I was still years away from not being afraid of them. Joe…well let’s just say he wound up preferring my old friend Emily who is now engaged to my brother. However, our real problem started the night he asked me out and I pretty much dry heaved. And then for the next week straight, every night he came up to pick me up I’d run to the bathroom thinking I was going to throw up. And you see, this was before “South Park” and Stan puking every time he sees Wendy so I simply couldn’t find any comedy in it. I took Pepto for my troubles and we drifted apart wordlessly. (in fact, I think we’re still going out since we never offically broke up)
And that’s the week my world changed.
I was a few days away from a ten day Canadian tour with my Aunt who was moving to Florida and wanted to sow her wild Northeast road trip oats before leaving. I had never been away from my immediate family for more than one night. My sister was going to Rutgers later that fall. I’ll never know why exactly Joe made me feel so sick. I’ve since been in much headier relationships…and relationships that were actually relationships…and nothing like that ever happened again. I don’t think it was him exactly – maybe it was the idea of him. Maybe he reminded me of my father. Maybe I was afraid of abandonment by opening my heart to a male I could lose since the last one I loved dropped dead in front of me. Maybe I was afraid of abandonment by my college-bound sister who had been my practically Siamese twin since birth. Maybe I was afraid of my own abandonment of my old life since I was set to leave my family and experience an exotic new world. All I know is that I was growing and changing so fast that it whipped me into a motion sick frenzy and turned my world to black. Suddenly in this span of one week, I knew things would never be the same and I couldn’t handle it. I felt something I’d never felt before – depression. And wow, it was nothing like sadness. Sadness to me was a loud, colorful, painful buzzing in my ears. Depression was a colorless thief of life. I was hollowed out and drained of joy. It was “The Nothing” from NEVERENDING STORY. It was…nothing. I couldn’t eat or drink much for about four days. The day of my trip arrived and I didn’t want to go but I couldn’t back out and I took a baggie of Lucky Charms with me that took two hours too long to swallow down.
Our trip started grimly in Watkins Glen, NY in a Bates-Motel-Style Inn run by Angela and Klaus, a charmless couple who gunned a pick-up truck outside our cottage all night long. The dark night ended. The next afternoon we passed by heart-shaped natural lakes and smiling-faced dogs and climbed three miles to the top of the famous gorge to find a magical water fountain. I drank until I wasn’t dizzy anymore and then drank and drank until I was dizzy again. I had climbed a mountain on four days without food and on only enough water to survive. When I opened my eyes up there, I started seeing a bit of color again. I noticed dogs and babies and hearts everywhere. I was enamored with my senses.
We traveled onto Niagara Falls to Toronto (LOVE you, Toronto) to Thousand Islands to Montreal and back down to NJ through Lake George. I ate smiley-faced french fries and took pictures of tourists. I charmed the cute college boys who ran our youth hostel into pulling my name in the free breakfast raffle. I sat alone in my high rise window looking out at the CN Tower and I fearlessly stared 1815 feet down onto earth through a glass bottomed floor when we finally got into the tower. I had survived my emotional growth spurt and I came back to NJ taller, thinner, and inspired to turn from an underachieving B and C (and occasional D) student into a straight A student. I threw out my black wardrobe and wore eye-offensive bright colors. From the urging of my Human Behavior teacher, I started to LEARN rather than MEMORIZE and it really changed the way the rest of my schooling went. I smiled at everyone and said hi to every kid in the high school hallway. I was so alive, it was just coursing through me.
I discovered the biggest after effect of my transformation a few weeks after the trip when I visited the local library of the town I had spent my first five years in. Something about the smell of the library and the possible memory of my father taking me there made me so dizzy and light-headed that I had to sit down. And when I stood back up, I felt GREAT. I felt high. I thought I could fly. This started happening to me on a regular basis, especially when I heard the music I had listened to on my road trip: “Under the Pink,” Sarah McLachlan’s “Fumbling Toward Ecstasy,” and the Dire Straits live version of “Romeo and Juliet.” I was totally going through life high on my senses most of the time. And it didn’t even cost me a cent and I didn’t have to smell like a stoner either!
I first remember being high on life when I was 10 and my math teacher took us for an outdoors lesson with some strange measuring math device. I remember sitting in the grass on a warm sunny day and getting dizzy when I thought about all of the things that made me happy in life and how I believed life was bigger and more magical than I could ever imagine.
I believed back then that my experience of being depressed and getting through a painful emotional growth spurt gave me immunity against future mental illnesses and blocks. And I was half right. There were still many painful times to come and I’m sure there always will be. However, that hard time followed by my comeback into life, bigger and badder than ever became a deep secret of mine for years. I just didn’t know how to explain it to anyone. For one, I looked at it in a spiritual or religious way since I had starved and thirsted and ailed and then cleansed and climbed a mountain only to see things more colorful and alive than ever. On the other hand, if that wasn’t magic…well…it was me. And isn’t that just as good? Or at least different good?
I haven’t talked about that story in so, so long. I mean, remind me one day to tell you about how I got into the college of my dreams in early AUGUST when I was already set to go somewhere else in late AUGUST. And about how I met the man of my dreams in an airport after months of longing and learning. And maybe about the travel, animal encounters, love and magic I’ve experienced. It’s not that life has lost its luster since my starry eyed late teens and early to mid 20’s. Rather life has lost its luster several times over and gotten it back brighter than before each time. It’s been hard at times, though.
My most painful time/emotional growth spurt to date happened just last year when I was 28 and pregnant, jobless, somewhat newly married and without a home of our own. I thought my “secret to life” was gone for good. Heck, I thought I was the one who was gone for good. And yet, since we’ve made our home here in Northampton, I’ve slowly being easing back to life and even sometimes hurtling fast back to life. And today of all days, after a busy day at work, time with friends, and a cool non-profit meeting to see how I can give back to these parts of the world, it occurred to me that my secret was never really gone and was instead whispering in my ear, “Hey now, I’m still here.”
It’s like all of that passion, joy, strength and wisdom that I’ve gained through my transformations was a dormant ball of fire that Scarlet burst on her way out into the world. (Pardon the visual) And suddenly today, I feel fierce. At times I’m so excited just to exist as this new person who has given birth and blossomed from a repressed, scared kid into a wife and mother. I’m no longer much afraid of physical pain. Or sick. Or communicating. These bits of burst fire are circulating through me sparking my brain to say and try new things. They’re burning my legs to move, move, move and push that baby-heavy stroller up steep hills time and time again. A little fire on my tongue makes me talk, talk, talk my way through job interviews and mother support groups and to my husband. I’ve got a fever and it feels flippin’ fantastic. It’s flushed my face and makes me say saucy things about “Lost” characters and makes me want to change our reality in ways I’ve only ever imagined. Stay tuned – I feel more change coming.
A very special person who I may talk about some other day once said to me, “I think you’re a confident woman in an anxious woman’s clothing.” I hope she’s right. For the first time, I feel like she may be.