I would like to take a short break from talking about my self-improvement project and instead talk about about my bizarre methods of handling overwhelming emotion. In other words, I'm a basket case who might need to be committed. For my own safety and for other people's sanity. Here's the issue: sometimes I have a hard time interpreting where my pain and sadness is coming from and so I have to let off steam in other ways before I can get to the root of the problem. Normally I err so far on the side of even-keeled that it alarms people*. I'm going to go ahead and categorize myself as cool as a cucumber. I'm not an extremely expressive person and I rarely ride the emotional rollercoaster, so anytime I hop on it's unnerving and really very frightening for me. In addition, I don't like talking about my feelings. I don't have a lot of patience for it, and also it makes me feel exposed and vulnerable, and that, above all, is the worst feeling in the world.
But! I'm not a robot! I have to express things somehow. Normally that translates into me walking around my house in a huff and occasionally bawling about things that on an emotionally stable day I would scoff at. For example, the puppies in the refrigerator commercial debacle circa 2008. Ask Samantha. I dissolved into tears when those little furbulls came romping onto the screen and said the now famous line, "Is that a puppy?" in the most pathetic quaver possible. I was in the middle of trying to choose a college. It was rough. Later that summer, Sweet Child O' Mine by Guns n' Roses brought me to the brink of insanity and not for the reasons Axl Rose probably intended. I was about to leave for Tulane. I was a mess. More recently, I came home and banged around until my poor unsuspecting roommate asked me how my day was, which is when I launched into a very teary explanation of how I got asked out by a football player. One of the more interesting catalysts, I'll admit. Was I just distressed by whether or not I was making the right choice by staying exclusive with somebody from home? Of course. Did I express that by crying over something mostly unrelated? Naturally. Did I feel immensely better when we found him on facebook and noticed he had an enormous family crest tattooed on his bicep? Yep. That's what friends are for. And also I laid on Erin's bed for awhile while she patiently went through a laundry list of things I was sad about until we hit on the one that was causing this particular breakdown, and then once I knew I was fine and went on with my life.
I'm making a point of bringing up my history of meltdowns because on Wednesday I had a jarring encounter with a homeless man and his dog that just shook me to the core of my being. I intern two days a week at a conservancy in Belle Chasse, across the river, and every time I drive home I pass by the same dog and man. The dog sits on a little flat bed trailer behind the man's bike, and he wears a red hat. He's tan. He has a pretty big body but a smallish face, and he sits very patiently and looks at the man while the man holds out his hat to traffic. I've never seen anyone give them money, and I never do although I've thought about it every time I pass them. It's just there's a toll station right before them and so I always have to give them my dollar and I never have any money when I get to the man and dog. The man is older, in an aging hippie way, and he sort of looks like a thinner version of Willie Nelson. And on this day, on Wednesday, I was pretty far back in the line waiting at the light. Before I got there I watched the man flip his hat back up to his head and turn to the dog, kicking a leg out and opening his arms, sorry buddy nothing today. And the dog looked back, and his face was still the same, patient and ok, and without any condemnation even though the man wished he could do better. And I felt so bad I put a hand over my mouth in the universal way women do awhen we find ourselves breaking apart inside, and I had a series of irrational thoughts, what if they're not there when I get back from Arizona, what if I gave them my debit card what if I had twenty dollars, I only have change I don't have any money anyway. So I drove through the light and I cried and cried, and I found myself saying I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry over and over again until I wore myself out and then I was just driving. And I went to Starbucks and tried to pour some good, upper- middle class consumerism into that wound but I was still only left with a raw ache in my chest and underneath the hollow of my throat. And a terrible latte.
When I told my sister she started guessing right away, she knows me too well not to. Are you worried about Arizona? she asked. Is school going ok? No, I'm not, yes everything's fine. For whatever reason,that day I was just sad about the human condition. Some days it's just heartbreaking. I don't know why but I feel like I'm just beginning to find this out. There are only so many barriers between yourself and sadness before something comes tumbling through to make you see how hard life can really be. Which is, I think, the moral of the story. There is a certain amount of perspective to be gained from someone else's pain, although I feel like that somehow diminishes the dog and man. This will be the start of a much longer meditation for me on gratitude and guilt, equality and the way of the world. Maybe this is just growing up, and the real difference between children and adults is that adults see not the red hat on the dog but the desperation in the man's face. I don't know for sure, but I have a sinking feeling that I'll soon be finding out. Probably accompanied by a crying jag.
p.s. I'm typing this on my phone from a gate at Louis Armstrong International...on my iPhone. Forgive me my mistakes, autocorrect isn't always what it should be.
*A few examples: Once I was walking home from campus with the aforementioned roommate, and bashed open my toe magnificently on one of New Orleans' notoriously horrific sidewalks. I'm not lying, I did not react. Once I could feel the blood starting to make my sandal stick to my foot, I told Erin, I don't want to alarm you, but my toe is bleeding profusely. She just about had a heart attack. I didn't look down and walked all the way home. There are witnesses. That's a positive example--sometimes there are negatives. Sometimes people think I'm not happy to see them or that I like them because I don't react like my sister does. Sorry, people, my voice doesn't go into that high of a register. Anyway. A story for a different day.