Perception

Some human beings live to be 100 – and others survive mere hours after their emergence into the world. In either and any case, the people that love them the most will always say that they died young. Age has never been a factor accounted for in the cases of the old, and is the only thing considered in the cases of the young.

Pocket watch, savonette-type.

Image via Wikipedia

When I die young, I hope I’m remembered for what I did, not what I could have done. Suppose I die young at 20, or 50, or 80 – I hope time is not considered. Because while character is reflected in actions, it’s also reflected in presence. (I mean that one should be remembered by the impression they leave on others.) Perhaps I’m just an awfully overemotional person (who am I kidding? I am just an awfully overemotional person,) but a day doesn’t go by that I don’t wonder how I affect other people.

What on earth defines character? If reality is perception and perception varies with each and every individual (we don’t even have any reasonable way of knowing that we feel the same emotions in the same way as other people – we have only vague descriptions we give each other to describe the pain of losing someone or the joy of discovery,) then does not character vary – the essence of character, that is? Is it a tad useless to seek out traits of honorability when honorability cannot be universally defined? Yes, I see that the questions are absurd, and it takes only a few moments to answer them. But I still ask them anyway because they seem to me to be worth asking. It seems like people forget to ask – or otherwise never wanted to in the first place. I suppose then I should wonder what sort of person would ask absurd questions like that if I’m asking them. Questions that seem to have answers before I’ve finished writing the last word.

I know it’s absurd to sometimes feel an inherent need to teach people when I have little to teach, and to seek out something with no name, shape or purpose. Often I feel the same way as I did when I wrote a small while ago, “I suppose I’m looking for something that I will know when I see it.” A sense of belonging in a moment, of certainty that one isn’t aimlessly wandering throughout space.

And, that would be my ramble of the week.

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Yesterday I had class at The Center. I was certain that Chase wasn’t going to show up, but several minutes after class started a door at the back of the classroom creaked open. He poked his head inside and a gust of cold air took advantage of the opening and swept through the room. I knew instantly it was him by the shade of his caramel hair in my peripheral, confirmed upon my glancing over.  His expression was one of a child whose hand was just caught in the cookie jar as he looked to Teacher Madame – he’s rarely that late to class. After he stepped inside he took a seat next to Marshall, who sat directly behind me to the left (I decided to take one of the seats in the front.) Class went by rather quickly, and Teacher Madame and I ended up talking after class for a few minutes, and directly after the mutual discovery that we’re more alike than previously believed, she lent me a couple of anatomy and physiology books she had purchased recently. I stepped outside of the building, and upon realizing on the walk to the center’s cafe how much time I had spent talking to Teacher Madame, I found myself thinking Well, you’ve wasted time you could have used elsewhere. But when I thought for a moment, I quickly snapped back, No, I didn’t. Just because I wasn’t talking to Chase doesn’t mean I’ve wasted time – how on earth was it wasted, anyway?

I stepped inside and glanced to my right to see Chase sitting at a table by the window, his laptop sat open, fingers poised at the keys. He looked at me for a moment before looking down at the screen. I walked into the restroom and checked my appearance. Tired, certainly. I had woken up early again to spend more time getting ready – three hours spent trying to look beautiful so any pretty I managed could be displayed for ten minutes before I had to leave for work and he for economics.

Thing to be happy about… I realized I couldn’t work up anything specific (it’s routine now that everyday I think of something to be happy about), so I thought simply, today will be a good day.

I ran my hands under hot water for a few moments, the temperature was colder than is comfortable inside the cafe and I was nearly shivering. Instead of wearing one of my usual trench coats or a thick blazer with my grey slacks I had on a forest-green Ralph-Lauren hoodie and (you might not believe me) jeans. I have not worn jeans in public for, bother, I can’t even recall the last time. But the hoodie and maroon-red blouse were much more flattering to my figure than a boxy blazer, same goes for the jeans. I haven’t tried to look pretty for anyone in a while, but the sudden change in appearance seemed natural. I even bought new make-up and whipped out my new Chi flat-iron (which is rather handy for styling natural-looking waves…ahem…) for no other reason than to look better on Wednesdays. I could almost laugh at the utter oddness of it, I wonder what he would think if he knew all of the trouble that goes into those ten minutes.

After I dried my hands and stepped out I saw Claire behind the counter in her usual barista attire.

“Claire!” I walked over to the counter and saw Chase suddenly look up, “How you be?”

She smiled broadly and nodded, “I be good, girl! How you be?”

“Great, thank you very much.”

I saw a friend of mine step outside of study hall and I started speaking with her, and then Claire again. I was aware of every move Chase made, when he shifted in his seat or turned a page in the book he had out and glanced up for a moment, but I didn’t want to stop talking to Claire or Marie (my friend from study hall.) When I would think back on it later, I would be equal parts happy and regretful.

While I was talking to Marie, I saw Chase start putting away his things, looking up once or twice and finally stepping outside and walking to his class. I was going to come up with something, and say that I was going to wait for my mom to pull up outside (so I could meet him at the door), but Marie was in the midst of a sentence and it would have been rude to suddenly leave. My time for the week was up.

When my mother pulled up I realized I hadn’t changed for work yet, so I ran inside the bathroom and changed into my grey slacks and a long-sleeved black shirt with one of my pocket watches around my neck.

“Claire!” I ran out of the bathroom and grabbed my scarf and grey knit cardigan. “I am in a dilemma!”

She ran over, completely baffled.

“Alight,” I said, putting on the cardigan, “I need help for what to wear to work. Should I wear this, or no cardigan and just a scarf?” She had me try a couple different looks before settling on the scarf.

“Thank you very much, Madame!” I said as I stuffed my items into my bookbag and headed out. I scanned the campus for any clues as to what building Chase’s class might be in.

For a moment I felt disappointed, the next ten minutes wouldn’t arrive for seven days.

“How was class?” Mom asked as I got into the Fit.

“It was alright.” I said, buckling in and looking over at her, “Nothing new.”

–Hannah-Elizabeth/Classic

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Looking (My Fear Of) Death In The Face – Pt. 2

“Because I’ve felt since I was about eleven that I’m supposed to be different…I can feel that so strongly. Even when I most doubted myself, what never changed was that I knew that I was different. And I think, death-it, it means that I’m not as important as I think I am…Dying means that my raw ambition, and all of my dreams before they even come close to beginning, aren’t enough to keep me alive…”

(Click here for Part 1)

I stared down at the glass in my hands and turned it. “I’ve tried fixing myself on my own. I know getting past this is a process, and this fear is something I can’t handle by myself.” I felt myself choking up, and cleared my throat, “I’ve been trying ever since this started.”

She nodded, her eyes looking to the floor a moment in thought. “What have you tried to do to fix yourself?”

“Prayed.” I swallowed. “I’ve used a homeopathic calming spray.” I nodded to my purse. “Sometimes, most nights really, when it isn’t so bad I can just distract myself until I fall asleep, just not think about it. But then-” Clear my throat. “Some nights are worse than others. I distract myself until I’m tired enough to sleep.”

“This fear is at night before you sleep?”

“Yes.” I took another sip, “But it’s always with me, the fear. I’ve developed-” I fought of another lump, “A fear of dying. And now every night it hits me. And, and-” That did it. I gripped the glass with one hand and the bridge of my nose with another. My hand started shaking. I shook from gasps and sobs that I didn’t humor by opening my mouth.

“It’s alright.” Olga said soothingly, “Cry. Let yourself cry.”

I shook my head and fought the sobs off by digging my nails into my palm and focusing on what I was saying. Dangit, I had been holding it together since my last attack, why break down now?

“I’ve developed a fear of dying.” I said with as much dignity as I could muster.

Olga looked to my mom and back to me before she continued.

“You study psychology.” She said. I sat upright and leveled my chin defensively, I knew what was coming. “Some people who study these things, they can read about them and see themselves in the books. How did you decide on what you have?”

“How I diagnosed myself?” I clarified.

“Yes.”

I looked over to my mother with a fleeting emotion of betrayal before I spoke. “I had not read about anxiety disorders when I had my attack. When I had my first panic attack, I didn’t even know what it was, my mother was the first to suggest it. When it happened, I was so sure– I was convinced I was going to die, I was sure of it. Only when she suggested a panic attack did I know to look in the area of anxiety. I grabbed my DSM and found the anxiety disorders. My symptoms matched perfectly.” I looked Olga pointedly in the eye so I was clear, “I’ve heard of the ‘psychology student’s syndrome’, in which a psychology student will see themselves in every disorder and so diagnose themselves as such. I’ve done what I can to avoid this and I believe I have. I don’t match the criteria to a T, I’ve tried what I can to be objective in my diagnosis, that has always been a goal. I’ve diagnosed myself with mild specific agoraphobia because of my difficulties entering a church sanctuary, but I’ve never decided that I match enough criteria for an actual anxiety disorder, I just know enough to know I’m looking in the right place.” I took a deep breath and looked at her face. She looked surprisingly understanding, but, I hoped, not patronizing.

“And why do you think you have this fear?” She suddenly asked.

I didn’t expect my own response.

“Because…Because I’ve felt since I was about eleven that I’m supposed to be different. I can feel that I am going to fundamentally change psychology. I can feel that so strongly. Even when I most doubted myself, what never changed was that I knew that I was different. And I think, death-it, it means that I’m not as important as I think I am. That I’m just a pawn, I’m not a key player.” My make-up was ruined from tears, but I was coherent. “Dying means that my raw ambition, and all of my dreams before they even come close to beginning, aren’t enough to keep me alive. That my will and my goals and this inherent feeling that I’m someone who is going to change things doesn’t matter.”

I breathed in, and out. And told myself I was breathing in and out. I stared at Olga in a moment of shock. I had just realized in that moment where my fear of dying is rooted in. My prideful entitlement and fear of not having the universe on a string.

“I believe everyone has a telos,” I continued, “A purpose in life. And I feel like this purpose that I feel that I have means nothing because of death. That maybe my purpose is not what I’ve felt in my heart what it is. That in the end it makes no difference. It won’t keep me alive.”

The world can go on if Watson dies, but Sherlock? Maybe I’m not Sherlock after all, not even Watson, or Watson’s brother or brother’s son’s son. Maybe I’m so far off the periphery of the story that you’ll never even hear about me at all. And death once and for all would rip away the success of- no, I don’t care about the success as much as I do the pursuit. Death once and for all would rip away the possibility of the pursuit of my dreams and goals and ambitions. Maybe I’m not important enough, vital enough to the story to not be backspaced from the grand scheme of things.

How could I not have seen this sooner?

“You said you always feel this anxiety?” She asked.

Mom suddenly chimed in, “I had no idea that it was every night. I knew you had your bad days, but…” I didn’t look up at her. I tried clearing the lump in my throat and, for the most part, remained coherent. But my voice was shaking. I feared this would make it even more difficult for Olga to understand me. I wanted to be clear, because after all this time I was spilling everything out into the open.

“She doesn’t know what to do, so I don’t tell her. She doesn’t take me seriously when I tell her. So,” I had started gasping again, “I handle it on my own. But when it gets bad and I br-break down, she listens so I only-” I paused again to breathe and get a grip, “I only come to her when I break down. She only listens then. That’s why sh-she doesn’t know.” I had started taking small gasps involuntarily.

At this point Olga had leaned back with a contemplative look on her face. She leaned forward again and spoke in a tone that suggested sympathy with an odd mixture of admiration.

“I cannot help you.” She said.

I blinked, speechless.

“I cannot help you,” She repeated, “I cannot heal you. Only you can heal yourself. What you’re going through is a blessing, because once you help yourself, you, can help others like you.” She pointed to herself, “I don’t know what you’re going through. I can read a thousand books and will never be able to understand your pain and what it is like.” She turned the manicured nail to me, “But you do. And I don’t know what with heal you, only you will figure out what will heal, but I cannot do that.”

A confused part of me rejected following her logic, but I listened still.

“To heal yourself, you need what I call a key.” She used her right hand to motion turning a key in a lock, “We might have to try two keys, maybe ten. This process might take a few months, maybe a few years. But only you can find your key. Sometimes we will try one and have to say ‘No, it no work’ and try another and another until we find the right one.”

She paused, watching my face for several moments. I realized she must be waiting for a cue and nodded. She continued.

“For first key, I want you to get a notebook, and keep it by your bed.” She said, “This notebook will become most important book you will ever have. And every time you feel this fear and anxiety, I want you to get notebook and, not using it as journal, but to write a novel about yourself. I want you to step outside of yourself and write about yourself as you watch while you feel these things. This will make you objective. Because you cannot be objective about yourself, no one can. But stepping outside of yourself will help you be objective, and see yourself in a new light.” She leaned back in her seat, watching me still, she ended her monologue in a tone of finality. “This will be your first key.”

–Hannah-Elizabeth/Classic

Looking (My Fear Of) Death In The Face – Pt. 1

“What a beautiful bridge.” I commented, feeling like we were driving in the middle of a giant art sculpture. I realized how close we were to Batwoman’s studio apartment.

Addison, Texas is an odd place. It has seedy motels, homeless wanderers who bathe in the fountains, and skinny little white boys who seem to think by some stretch of the imagination that they are indeed, gangsters. But in the middle of the filth and poverty, is an area of artistic flair, youthful nightlife, and, oh, shall we say, sanitation. This area would be where Batwoman resides. And where me and my mom were headed Sunday night.

I should probably mention, her name isn’t really the female counterpart to the hero of Gotham City, her name is Olga.

We pulled up to the victorian-styled building and I wrestled with my purse at my feet for a moment, the darned strap was stuck to the bottom of the seat. Eventually I gave up and quickly unzipped it to whip out my make-up to touch up before grabbing my hat and jumping out of the car. The beautiful faded brick and white-iron railed balconies again captured the images from my daydreams. I love this street.

Mom’s iPhone suddenly dinged with a message from Olga, and I looked up to the balconies, expecting to see the familiar raven locks and light green eyes. But I saw no one. I looked expectantly to my mom while holding my hat down in conflict against a sudden breeze.

“She’s going to meet us at the entrance.” She was still staring at her phone. “Usually she just tosses the key down.”

I followed her as she walked down the sidewalk and made an abrupt right. I blinked rapidly for a moment as I realized there was a very narrow hallway in the wall that wasn’t even visible until one was directly upon it. I paused and looked around me. A busy street square to my left, more sidewalk to my right, and a beautiful fountain directly behind me across the street. I wanted to find a reason to savor the moment, but the quickening echo of my mom’s gold flip-flops snapping against her heels told me she wasn’t in a Kodak mood.

We came upon a large tan gate, I had never seen one before except in movies and felt a need to study it up close while I could. Suddenly rapid footsteps down a stairway inside the gate could be heard. I watched the visible landing for her shoes. Five seconds turned to ten, then fifteen before we saw Batwoman.

“Hey!” Mom said in greeting

“Hello there at last!” She exclaimed. ‘At last’ was my thought exactly, for two months now we had been trying to arrange a meeting.

She wore cork-wedge high-heeled shoes, dark green khakis, and an intricately rhinestone studded t-shirt.

I thanked her as she held open the gate. Even in heels she was about an inch shorter than me. After she closed the gate she greeted me again and hugged me in an awkward embrace. She was thinner than I had remembered.

Olga’s thick accent somewhat faded into the background as we worked our way up the steps- and I assure you, there were plenty of them. I looked around us with each landing, suddenly dissociating because of the new environment (a bit that’s part of my anxiety – dissociation is when you feel like you’re watching the world through a movie screen and not totally involved in the situation.) The walls were a light-grey, the door frames were painted gold. There were echoes everywhere from our footsteps and the conversation of my mother and our host.

Her apartment wasn’t as grandly decorated as I had anticipated. From what I had heard, Batwoman has a good deal of money and spends it on worthwhile items. The walls were a typical eggshell white. She had a decent-sized kitchen and large bathroom, the rest of the place being taken up in the largest room which contained a king bed, a 50-inch TV, two bookshelves and a desk and chair. I thought for a moment on what I could compliment her on, but doubted my own sincerity and remained silent.

“Well,” She said, leading us into her livingroom/bedroom/office/library, “Here we are. Please, have a seat, Hannah.” She motioned to a large, tan leather office chair behind me. I sat.

There was a moment of awkward silence as Batwoman contemplated her next move. She looked tired and slightly haggard. A large contrast to when I had last seen her on a chilly night in November. She suddenly walked into her kitchen, my mother following after a pause. I listened until heard the sound of glasses clinking a few seconds later. I stood and joined them in time to see Olga placing the business end of some odd little device into a pitcher of water. It looked like a beige colored remote with flat buttons and a wire that led to a metal tube, the little remote beeped several times and she dropped the tube into the pitcher. I looked over to my mom with a look of What is this wizardry? She inquired of the device and Olga attempted to explain through the language barrier (she speaks excellent english, but sometimes things get lost in translation). So, there we all stood around this pitcher emitting a muffled buzzing noise for several seconds. The little remote then beeped a cheerful little tune, to which Olga removed the metal tube and poured me and my mom glasses.

After I sat, Olga took the chair at her desk by me and, having nowhere else, my mom took a seat at the edge of the bed. A twinkle in her eye when we heard Olga insist I drink the water. Mom had warned me about the water and our host’s unorthodox means of filtering. I took a sip, fully prepared to fall into convulsions, a coma, followed by death. But, to my slight surprise, none occurred.

“So,” Olga said, leaning forward in her seat and watching me with her intense stare, “Why do you think you cannot fix yourself on your own?”

End Part One

You Only Go Around Once

I’ve been thinking a lot. Which is a good sign, from what I hear. Other breaking news: my heart is beating, lymphatics are draining, and the Hindenburg went down in case you haven’t heard.

I’m scared about the next year. My mom has avoided the topic of the impending date of our separation when I turn 18 next year. I’ll be going further south to the University of Texas Pan American, and she and my father (and most likely my older brother) will become neighbors with Canada on Mackinac Island in Michigan. I’ve tried hugging her more and telling her how much I love her and expressing how proud I am of her success as an aesthetician, but I want to talk about goodbye.

Ever since I was 13 I began counting down the days to life on my own, making one scheme after another to get out quick. Some days because the fights were just that bad, and others because I was aching to try my hand at the dreams I had formulated while staring at those purple walls that I’m grateful I never had to paint over when we left.

You only go around once – that’s the line I’ve heard from toddlerhood onward, and only recently has it hit me head on what it means. You have choices to make every day, and once it’s gone, it can never be so again. My favorite philosopher and psychologist, William James, said that we never feel the exact same emotion twice. That’s because we feel different emotions for different reasons every time, so we can never feel the precise way we did the last time we felt it. In other words: you’ll only feel that brand of happiness once, you’ll only get kicked with that guilt in one swing.

I want to sit and talk with her a while about what inevitably will come to pass. A part of me is scared of when she does allow me, because now when she talks about her future, it’s no longer about dreams and ambitions and ending sentences with “One day I’ll get there.” Now, instead, they end with, “I may do that the rest of my life.” As though the day is so impending. But then, one cannot deny, it is. With my best friend’s wedding on the horizon, I’ll no longer have my Watson to rip the lenses off of my rose-colored glasses. When I’m at Pan-Am I will know no one, and be entirely alone for a companion who I can so entirely trust as I do with Heather, and the last thing I will do is call up my newly wed best friend in the wee small hours for one of my petty rants or paranoia episodes when things go bump in the night. No, I have to learn to always look reality in the face and consider all options and explanations, for once, learn to do such a thing alone.

At least I know I’ll only feel this brand of dread once, only get kicked with this regret in one swing.

It has been said before me, and so it will be said after. The reason stories of UFOs give us nightmares, goosebumps rise at the sound of invisible feet upon the floor, suspicion and fear arise when we think too long about the many monsters in the darkness, heck, why shaking hands give people with OCD a spike of terror, is because we do not understand. We fear the unknown. Where are the shoes that cause the echoing click? Where are the lights in the sky coming from? What could there possibly be in the darkness? Could this outstretched hand give me something deadly with a swift movement of greeting?

When we feel a dreading ache in our stomach, hearts and bones it’s that overprotective part of our mind sending signals that say very obviously “I don’t recognize this, I don’t understand this, therefore, I do not like this.” The past year I’ve come to see such an ache as a good thing: it tells us that we care about the outcome. But sometimes I feel this ache and overawareness of time and it’s passing make it difficult for me to enjoy the time I have left. Yesterday I suddenly asked my mom if she would like to go to Blueberries (a modern-styled frozen yogurt and boba tea place) if I paid for it. And as we sat and laughed I kept noticing lines on her face that I didn’t remember being there, I furrowed my brow in frustration that I didn’t perceive it earlier. Lines marking her cupids-bow upper lip and stretching from the sides of her nose and framing her mouth. Etchings near her eyes and on her forehead. When did my mother turn into a person? I wondered. A wise woman once said that there is a key point in life, where we stop seeing our parents as parents, and see them instead as people. My bubbly, Disneyloving, hardworking mother turned into a bubbly, Disneyloving, hardworking human being before my very eyes. And my heart broke a little.

Life is but a vapor, so says countless philosophers and the Bible itself. And what a beautiful vapor my mother is. I know I will wake up one day and she will be long gone, but, goodness, I can look into her eyes and hold onto her as long as I wish, it’s nothing but gripping falling sand in one’s fist. How can any human being properly love and cherish another in a way that stops time? I feel like this should exist. I feel like if I were to fight hard enough with nothing but my raw will that perhaps I can bend the cosmos in this way, that I might hold time in my hand and demand that it cease, and that it would. But the human will can only extend one’s reach so far, it can only do so much to hold the sun in one’s hand or the stars with one’s gaze. I can’t be the only one who has felt like this. Or perhaps William James would say I am. But then, what does he know? He’s dead. Where did his wisdom and ambition and raw will get him? All that is left of him is ink on a page. All that stands of Mr. James are quotes and requotes until sometimes words are said so often we don’t even care about what they mean anymore.

I wish that I could suspend the lives of the people I love for a while, but I know this would never be enough, it could never be enough. Because I am human, and so I fear the unknown of a world without them. But yet I still look into their eyes and hold them as tightly as I may, the sand continues to fall, the lines in the sand and the lines around her mouth are drawn by time, and nothing can be done to capture such vapors, what is done is done, what has passed has passed, and I am comforted only by the fact that I will only feel this brand of grief once, only get kicked with this fear in one swing.

Live On,

–Hannah-Elizabeth