Feeling the Feels of 2020

I sometimes meditate, I sometimes “pray,” but as 2020 progressed, the peaceful breathing and quiet communication with the god-presence wasn’t enough to pry open the jammed up emotions that have piled up like dead fish on ice.

It must be a 2020 thing because I’m (too) good at feeling the feels in “normal” times. Between covid and the ensuing physical disconnection, political disparity, and overall anxiety; a minor personal health issue; and the myriad issues with my aging parents, I started to feel like I didn’t have access to any emotions anymore. I knew they were there. I sensed them. But my subconscious couldn’t let them go.

Then a few weeks ago, I stumbled on to an animal rescue video. A rail-thin dog was crying out in pain from a gutter and a team of folks calmed him, took him to the vet, and after months of foster care, the once near-dead pup was ready for adoption. I cried and cried and cried some more. It felt so good I watched another video and another. Now I start every morning watching rescue videos and crying.

The dogs and cats and goats and horses are surrogates for my unprocessed emotions, and their rescue reminds me that hope still exists even in the darkest moments. They help me feel the things I need to feel in order to feel the things I can’t.

I realize that I’m seeing the good side of rescue and that a lot of animals don’t make it. I deal with that in another part of my brain. Right now, I need good news and positive outcomes: The dog who can’t walk and whose foster parent works with him to walk again; the abandoned mama whose pups are stuck under a concrete structure and are rescued in time to nurse and grow up healthy. I need these stories! I need their sad beginnings – the fleas, the scabs, the brokenness. I need to witness their healing. I need to experience hope.

I went back to my blog post from January 1, and not surprising, it was about hope. I couldn’t know then about all the feels we’d be feeling this year (and there were a LOT of them!). But just like then, I wish the same for all of us this new year: May we find (and facilitate, when possible) hope in 2021.

Obligation

It’s been thirteen days since Dad fell, eleven since an ambulance took him to a hospital, six since he was released to a nursing facility and one since someone at the facility tested positive for covid.

Dad a few weeks ago.

When covid killed Dad’s cousin in April, I wondered how long before it affected our family again.

Between finding the right help, the right facilities, and the money to pay for everything, caring for elderly parents is challenging. The paper trail alone can destroy a small forest. Add covid to the mix and fear, concern, and frustration pile up like snowdrifts that won’t melt until spring because everything takes twice as long to do as it did before.

Dad, who will be 90 in two months, needed occupational therapy to help him adjust to chronic dizziness, but it’s not helping much. Mom, with poor eyesight and hearing, and the kind of joints you’d expect of someone nearly 89 years old, can’t care for him the way he requires. Through a million phone calls and emails, my brother and I have secured a small apartment for Dad in an assisted living facility, which he was supposed to move into tomorrow, the day before Christmas. Not exactly home, but at least he’d have people around and some presents to open. Now he’s in quarantine, alone in his room, and his world, which has shrunk considerably in two years, is even smaller.

There’s a fine line between love and obligation. Love is a living, breathing thing; hopeful, and yet can cut us all to the bone. When loves wounds, it’s counterintuitive to go back for more, although we usually do again and again. Obligation, on the other hand… There’s no emotional attachment to obligation if you do it right and don’t let love creep in. Obligation makes the hard decisions easier. Obligation, more than love, is the driving force behind why (and how) I’m helping my parents during this time in their lives.

Our family dynamic is as fragile as crepe paper. It’s mostly obligation that keeps my parents and siblings loosely tethered to one another in good times, and in this current crisis, we cobbled together enough give-a-shits to tap into our collective conscience and, with Dad as the common denominator, put the skeletons and years-old-feelings back in their closets to do what needs to be done.

I feel no guilt making arrangements for Dad to move to assisted living and, in the near future, insisting Mom moves, too. Love just makes me cry over the whole thing: Dad’s loss of independence, his loneliness, and – most of all – his inability to accept any of it.

This is the point in most blog posts where I find the light, the positive, the “moral” of the story. Not this time. With all the pain around the world and especially in our country this year, I don’t want to puff up this piece with a lot of positive. That would just be phony and fake anyway. Obligation, not love, is getting me through this frustrating end to a frustrating year, and honestly…that’s OK. I’d rather feel my way through this the way it is, in all its yuck, instead of living in a fantasy wishing it was different.

Two Scenes, A Dozen Stories

Pumping gas at the Get Go last week, I noticed that near – not in – the garbage bin was an empty can of Chunky soup and its pull-off lid, a used-up Right Guard roll-on deodorant stick, an empty can of Pringles (the regular kind), and a can of Lysol.

I imagined the items were left by someone traveling alone. Maybe a male in his early 20s? Eating Sirloin Burger soup from a can seems like a young man kind of thing to do. Consuming a can of Pringles only takes a few miles, but it’s takes a lot of miles to use up an entire stick of deodorant and a can of Lysol. Where was he going? Where had he been?

So many questions. So many possibilities.

I’m nebby by nature. (The Pittsburgh definition of nebby, not the Merrian-Webster one.) Especially when I see something like a gathering of used items alongside a garbage can at a gas station. It’s not “trash” when you’re curious, and wouldn’t you be curious, standing there holding the gas nozzle with nothing else to think about?

Years ago, I acquired a box of miscellaneous paper items from an estate auction. In it was this holiday card from the 1910s:

Except for the stain, it’s a pretty little thing. It’s even got a church on it. So serene, so peaceful. Snow, stars… I place it on my Christmas tree every year. But that’s only part of the reason I keep it. I keep it for the message inside:

The sender put quotes around and underlined the words “My dear” for emphasis, and wrote, using a dip pen, “To the prettiest girl I ever knew.” Awwww…so sweet, right? Clearly the sender is enamored by the girl and wishes only wonderful things for her.

Or does he?

I’m usually on the side of true love, and every year my mind explodes with sweet stories when I dig out this card. I’ve been partial to the one in which the two – the girl and the sender – were ships that passed in the night, and that the girl kept the card to remind her of a secret love that could never be.

This year, though, the story in my head has steered me in the direction of unrequited love or maybe something sinister. This year, I paid attention to the signature, and for the first time, I compared the letter “r” in the word “ever” to the squiggle after the M and I think it’s signed “Mr. D”.

I’d not noticed that before.

Mr. D.

Hmmm…that feels weird. And it changes everything I thought of this simple Christmas card.

Unless it’s a pet name, “Mr.” infers distance or hierarchy in a relationship.

And now a Nabokov novel comes to mind…

Moving on…

“The best friend you have.” That’s a bold statement, even if it was true. I wouldn’t sign a letter telling a friend that I am the best friend they ever had.

But, OK, let’s assume things were different in the early twentieth century. Maybe Mr. D is an innocent character and is assuaging the girl’s fears and letting her know that he really is her best friend. Kind of like we used to do in junior high, maybe.

Nah… Mr. D/best friend? Now I’m hearing a Police song in my head.

Just one more step to the Stephen King Misery level. You’re the prettiest girl and I’m your best friend. Don’t forget it, “my dear.”

Yikes!

If any of these scenarios is true, why would Prettiest Girl keep a card like this from creeper Mr. D, only for someone to purchase it many years later?

Unless…

The box of miscellaneous paper didn’t belong to Prettiest Girl; it belonged to Mr. D, who kept it all his life because Prettiest Girl was his obsession. He knew he couldn’t send it, so he kept it as a reminder. A reminder of what he could never have…

OK, I’m done! It’s your turn. Be nebby with me! Jump in with your own interpretation of either story. Creep us out or create a Hallmark movie scene. It’s your choice, your imagination. (And you can keep your story to yourself, too. I just hope you have some fun letting your mind go.)

And remember, “Don’t stand…don’t stand so…don’t stand so close to me…”