2005-05-16

Independence

Time to go…
I had this idea in my head that I was an independent woman, capable of doing whatever I wanted to do.
The truth was that the feeling of independence attributed to me should maybe have been applied less liberally. I was not that independent. I was surrounded by friends, family, and familiar who with one question of a decision or feeling that I was having, could trigger in me a lack of conviction as wide as the Mississippi River.
Perhaps instead of calling me independent, I should have been labeled open-minded, free-spirited, or probably most applicable: Naively optimistic.
Taking care of myself emotionally and financially scared the hell out of me and I really wanted nothing to do with either of those tasks. But fate found me at 28, living near Springfield, Illinois, the town where I’d gone to high school and graduate school and the town that was the scene of my first adult love.
Everyone told me that I had to leave to be cool.
I sort of didn’t want to leave but once again, I listened to other people instead of to myself. I had no idea of the meaning of independence, nor did I know how much of it would be required to move. But, everyone kept saying I had to move and so, in a clueless state, believing that I had to move to be any good for anyone, I decided that I should move really far away.
Truthfully, I knew that I was living a little as a bird in a gilded cage.
There was no risk, no fear of falling, no…
Well, no nothing.
I guess deep down, I agreed with the people telling me that I had to leave - I could feel deep in my gut that I had to do something different and unique, or I would never be satisfied to get married and live in small-town Illinois, watching my children take up smoking and never knowing about vegans. I had no idea how difficult it would turn out to be to embrace that need that I felt.
It may have been easier for me to find independence by moving to Chicago, like everybody else in small-town Illinois but I’m not really a city girl. It may even have made sense for me to move to my childhood home, way down in Carbondale. None of that felt like enough of a challenge for me.
I moved across the country to Tucson, AZ. I had no job, I had very little money saved, I had plans to live in a borrowed fifth wheel trailer, and I had never been to Tucson.
Hell, I'd only been to Arizona once, and that was well-after I'd decided to move there.
Needless to say, lots of folks tried to talk me out of this choice and there have been MANY times since the move that I go back and think to myself, “God, it was SO EASY back in Springfield. I want to be back in the cage.”
At the time that I moved, I was 28 and I had never stuck to my guns in my life. I wasn’t really good at follow-through and once I decided to move, I also decided that nobody was going to take this fantasy of moving to Tucson away from me. I needed to follow through.
Again, let me stress that sometimes, I could kick myself. If I'd known then what I know now, I might not have chosen this particular Last Stand.
I know – it doesn’t make sense, right? How does someone who is generally considered to be (and who generally considers herself to be) independent not capable of making a decision and sticking to it?
Low self-esteem is your answer, friends. To say I lacked conviction, except in matters where I felt that my boyfriend Steve was wrong, would be an understatement. The opinions of others had guided me to places I did not want to be. The opinion of others was that I should get out of Springfield. I created a fantasy and now, I was leaving to go someplace that I chose and that nobody else wanted anything to do with.
Independence?
In my head, it sure was.

Leaving….
I saved up some money and used some money that I later learned I was not allowed to use… without going into a mother diatribe, my issues with inadequacy and low self-esteem can be not-to-subtly traced to some roots that I don’t want to get into here. I said goodbye to Steve – it was then and only then that my heart stopped beating for a millisecond and I almost took it all back to stay.
It was November though and the trees were dripping into the piles of wet leaves on the lawns. The grey sky matched the grey roofs and the only birds for miles were crows. I can still smell that day.
I almost changed my mind because Steve bought a house in the neighborhood where I wanted to live and told me I could quit work and we’d be fine.
I so vividly remember looking at my packed car in his driveway and I was sobbing, I mean, absolutely howling. I remember he was standing in the doorway, in his underwear and we both collapsed, right there in front of the door.
“I have to go,” I sobbed, “If I don’t, we’ll keep messing this up forever and I promise, I promise, I promise to come home, okay?” I’ll always feel that day, the dampness of an Illinois winter that’s about to set in. I can still feel the catch in my throat when I think about that day – how innocent and naïve I was.
I thought I had to go because I was so independent and now I know that what forced me out of Steve’s house was not my independence but my need to find it.
I drove off in the rain, smoking and thinking that in a year; I could come home to Steve and have experienced things like yoga, scorpions, and the sun beating down into every fiber of me.
I'd be a more experienced person.
Two and a half years later, I bow to Karma and say, "Touche."

Tucson…
Did I forget to mention that I sort of moved here with someone?
I guess he and I can both admit that we used each other. I don’t want to hurt anybody anymore than I already did but picture it: I’m now living with most of my clothes in my car. I did score a job but I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m living in a trailer park that is filled with retirees and at 7 am every Saturday, an old, shrill voice calls out over the park’s PA system, “Gooood Moarning! Coughee and donuts are in the rec room!”
I wanted to die.
But I didn’t go home and I had no idea how much worse things were going to get before I would learn what it means to be independent - not needing approval and permission.
I felt like the trailer I had borrowed was owed to me. I felt like the old people were an imposition. I did not make the connection that being independent means that you are responsible for your decisions. I guess it was valid for me to not make the connection – I’d never really made a decision.
Soon after arriving in the freezing cold, yes, COLD Tucson winter, the guy and I ended whatever it was that we had going and I flipped my lid.
I had moved to a little apartment, where to this day, I still live. He spent a significant amount of time pining for me and I loved it. When he met some girl whom I refer to as a stripper but whom, in all actuality is probably a cool girl, I got crazy. The craziness was a direct result of being all by myself for the first time ever and being completely over-whelmed by independence.
Several months played out wherein I fought tooth and nail against the thing that I left my home for. I didn’t want to “do it alone” and I didn’t want to choose where I would go to meet new friends – I wanted it to be done for me. During what, for all intents and purposes, was a nervous break-down, I realized how truly NOT independent I was. I began understand that this move was not a display of independence but a search for it.
And I was really far away from finding it.
I still didn’t want to go home, even though I felt the window of opportunity to go home to Steve, no harm, no foul was closing. I wasn’t ready to go home yet.
I had made one friend here, a neighbor, Matthew. He was younger than me and he was my very best friend here. He let me cry whenever I needed to. He did art, and that’s the way he did it. He didn’t set out with a painting or something formal… he just did art on the floor of his house.
I hung out with him in the basement of his work and we made up dances and we cursed a lot and we went skinny dipping in his boss’s pool while house-sitting for months on end in May - October summer of Tucson. Matthew accessed a part of me that had been pent up and afraid to talk for years. Matthew helped me begin to see in myself the reasons why going home was not on my radar even though over-all, I was still miserable.
Mathew introduced me to a folk-singer named Namoli and for the first time in my life, I had a girlfriend.
Things really began to take off in the independence department.
I loved that nobody could talk me out of being with her. I loved that I wasn’t being watched by friends of friends and that the people at the grocery store wouldn’t make a discreet call on their cell phones to tell so-and-so that they saw me with a tranny.
I loved that Namoli adored the things in me that other people had called stupid or immature. She and I could laugh for 45 minutes about a fart joke and she thought it was cute that I love to listen to classic rock really loud in my car.
I met some vegans and befriended them and I got into yoga and I realized that you don’t have to listen to everybody; you can listen but still make up your own mind about how you want to live and dress and eat and even about what entertains you.
Looking back a year and a half ago, I know partly why these two friendships are beacons in the sea of my history. They were the very first people that I chose to put in my life as friends. They were not friends of people that I knew from high school. Their parents didn’t know my parents. Each of them was a hand that I took on my own and despite what my friends and family back home would say.
I loved them, not because I had to maintain some sort of decorum but just because they were bright, wonderful people.

Testing…
Just as soon as I began to understand how truly not independent I was when I moved; just as I began to understand what independence meant to me and that art night, yoga, and fart jokes were baby steps toward my independence, Matthew moved away.
I had to steady the boat and make sure that I was still afloat without him.
Check.
A few months later, at the end of summer, Namoli and I broke up.
The boat was tippy, for sure but also for sure, the boat was afloat.
Independence – not easy, but achieved!
“ Huh. It’s kind of lonely out here on the open water. I mean, I can sail and stuff but there’s nobody to talk to really and I wish…”
BAM.
An underwater volcano of human experiences erupted onto my sad little boat.
I was diagnosed with a common but terrifying form of cancer and I had to have surgery.
I was mugged rather violently.
I got a dui.
All of those things happened in a very short amount of time and I had another nervous break-down.
Fortunately, my new-found independence prevented me from going all-out and turning into the slobbering, useless fool that I felt like inside – even my casual boyfriend cheated on me and left me for his ex-girlfriend.
I wanted to snap. I thought I had had enough and that I would no longer be able to keep up the act of being independent. I was thisclose to calling my mom and telling her everything and returning to the confines of What Mother Thinks is Best.
But I had to make a car payment.
I had to feed my pets.
I had to go to work and keep trying to figure out my job.
I had to not sob in the bathroom because nobody knew me and nobody would understand why I was freaking out.
My not breaking all the way down was a direct result of my decision to move to Tucson. I left a place where everybody knew me and everything I did was excusable under the “Sarah Wides is a screw-up” list.
In Tucson, I couldn’t screw up. I had to take care of business and I had to do it, ASAP.
Independence, my friends, had been achieved.

Beginning…
The cancer?
It’s gone. It might come back in 10 years but we deal with it then, we don’t cry about maybes now.
The mugging?
I chased that attacker.
Instead of freezing and being a Stunned Princess, I sprung into action and actually chased the guy out of the restaurant and jumped a fence to trail him across 3 out of 6 lanes of traffic.
The dui?
I had no idea that I would be over the limit. I’d had three drinks with Casual Boyfriend and I was going to his house. I made a wide right turn, turning into the far right lane, instead of the curb-side right lane and there was a Christmas sting operation and I got popped. I blew .09 on the breathalyzer and I have to spend the 24 hours in jail in the very near future.
But Casual Boyfriend?
He lent me the money to pay for this so that I can continue to take care of myself financially. He, too, unexpectedly turned out to be a well-chosen hand to hold onto long enough to feel some depth of person.
I’m not afraid of any of these things anymore. I know I can take care of them. I thought I could before I moved but it turned out that I had to learn how to take things in stride and fix them, one step at a time. I know that when something awful happens, or when a build-up of the sort-of awful gets to be really heavy, I know how to put some of the weight down.
I know how to liberate myself from the things that are hurting me. I know how to find people who will bring me Orange Crush after surgery (I don’t know if you’ll ever know how much you saved my life, Namoli). I know how to find people who need me and who think I am beautiful. Matthew cried to me at least as much as I did to him. I had to be strong for him on many occasions where I felt like I was dog-doo left in the park for someone to step in.
Casual Boyfriend is dong a fairly casual favor in our socio-economic group.
He’s doing a massive favor in the circumstances of my life.
He is someone that I never expected to be so bonded to and to feel like I am a meaningful friend and yet… it’s there.
I’m experiencing independence.
It has neighbors, music, lesbians and sweet messages from people that you thought for sure you would hate (I really wanted to hate you Tania, I really did) and it has a puppy named Rosie.
A long time ago, I wanted to get a dog with Steve. Over and over I heard what a bad idea this was. In two weeks, I am getting a puppy and not one person has told me that it’s a bad idea.
You know why?
I got my lesson and I am making my choices and I believe that I have done well-enough over the last two and a half years in Tucson that my real independence shines out as cleanly as my lack thereof did before I moved to Tucson.

arizonasarah at 12:39 p.m.

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