When I wrote Drawings From the Top of the Seasonal Affective Disorder Rollercoaster, I portrayed October as the top of the coaster, poised over the abyss of winter. It’s more complicated than that. While I love Halloween, the track to get there is full of potholes.
I woke up this morning to the dawning realization that we will likely have to turn our heat on tonight. October weather in the Carolinas mimicks my mood — a wild ride of ups and downs as we careen towards darker days. I try to keep laser focus on Halloween, and blinders to the rest. It never works.
This year, I filled the early autumnal calendar with Things That Make Rhiannon Happy™
A dear friend and her kids made the trek down from northern VA and we spent two days at Museum of Life and Science, snatching bits of conversation as we walked several paces away from our children. We looked like all the kids were ours together, strawberry blonde triplets and their strawberry blonde little brothers.
Later, we sat on her hotel bed, admonishing the kids to go play every time they opened the door. My love for good conversation is practically never-ending. I will stretch every last second into infinity to just keep talking and listening and talking and listening. But now I’m old and have kids and these things draw to a close before I’m ready. Maybe I’m never ready. So the next day we said goodbye over Snoballs, and I took one step closer to the edge of winter.
The museum hosted a “Fall Adult Camp”
21+ with mostly free reign over the museum, and lots of food and alcohol samples. There were various camp crafts, too. You could tell the people who have small children from the ones who don’t, as we were hovering around the alcohol rather than making yet another pearler bead design or friendship bracelet, because when we go out the last thing we want to do is fucking arts and crafts. I didn’t need a designated driver, since I can walk to the museum, so I partook in perhaps one too many “samples,” some of which were closer to the size of a full drink. Also, I ate a lot of s’mores. Because I am an adult, I went to work the next day and mostly functioned like a person who was not slightly hungover.
Saturday morning, a friend picked me up at 8 am and we ran away from home to Myrtle Beach.
You know you’ve found good people when the fun level of the drive is indistinguishable from the destination. We went to Ripley’s Believe it or Not, where I geeked out on nostalgia. We bought souvenirs for our kids at the Gay Dolphin, which is not a gay nightclub, but rather a comically large gift shop that has been around forever.
I found a fantastic deal on a hotel room — a two bedroom, two bathroom suite. Both bedrooms and the living room had ocean views. There was a full kitchen. Rooftop hot tubs. We pretended to be grown-ups with money and ordered room service and drank champagne. We fell asleep at 9 pm like what we actually are — grown-ups with small children.
I woke up the next morning to the sun rising over the ocean. The clouds stopped an inch from the horizon, giving way to a dark orange band separating the water from the sky. The strip of light brightened until the sun found its way into the crack of blues and oranges, and then disappeared again behind the clouds.
By check out time, the clouds had burned off, and the day was beautiful. We sat on the beach, our feet in a tide pool, and shared a beer. Neither of us wanted to leave, but eventually, we stood up, let the ocean kiss our feet, and headed back home.
We did stop at South of the Border on the way back. We had both driven past it before, but neither of us had actually been there. Now we can say we have, and that’s good enough for a lifetime. We spent most of our time playing the “just how racist is this?” game, and also contemplating how weird it is as a whole. What do fiberglass dinosaurs and giraffes have to do with Mexico? And what does any of it have to do with South Carolina? And why would I take a glass elevator to the top of a huge sombrero to see the landscape of… the NC/SC border? The entire purpose of SOB (heh) is to be kitschy and garish, which it does well, but I think we both spent a lot of time asking, “what the fuck is going on here?”
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about writing, and how sometimes I write what I want to be true.
My therapist loves to points out the compassion that I have in boatloads for my friends, but lack the ability to carry for myself. Or maybe not the ability, but the skill. When I write, I love to tie everything up in neat little bows of compassionate optimism. Sometimes it’s easier to leave you with the pretty images and tales of travel and friendships, rather than the self-doubt that always follows. And it. always. follows.
I keep moving forward because the safe landings outweigh the sometimes nearly crippling fear that I’m fucking everything up. That my friends leave my company wishing they hadn’t wasted their time. The present moments with my fantastic friends get washed over, become past-tense and clouded with the uncertainty of memory. Why did I say that? Did I talk to much? Why am I so weird? Do they just pity me? And on and on. But I keep stepping, hopeful of finding solid ground.
Similarly, I think of the Things That Make Rhiannon Happy™ approach as stepping stones through October. Trying to step from good thing to good thing, while giving adequate pause along the way, but not sinking down in the muck. I know that by the end of the year those safe spots will grow further and further apart, and I will become more Artax than Atreyu.
The dark nothing in between landings are deep this month.
Ten years ago, two of my best friends suffered tremendous losses. One friend lost her infant nephew. Another friend’s mother was killed while biking on a trail in Virginia. A boulder fell from a mountain and struck her. That night, I fell deep into the OCD pit, trying to somehow protect everyone else from danger. I knew it was ridiculous, naming every person I knew to create safety. I fought against myself, which only led to frustration and fear.
Three years ago, my friend Rachael was pregnant with a baby girl. On October 23 she suffered seizures and strokes related to Eclampsia, and her tiny micro-preemie was born via emergency c-section. While her daughter, Ruth, has done as well as possible for a baby who weighed less than a pound, Rachael never woke up. She died in February, 2015, when I was nearly the same gestation as she was when everything went to hell. Less than two months before it would all go to hell again.
But back in October of 2014, I had only recently found out that I was pregnant. While I was shaken by everything, I at least had confidence that “it won’t be me, because I have no risk factors” You guys know the rest of the story. How it almost was me. My weeks in the hospital. Rowan’s premature birth.
I fucking hate preeclampsia.
It took Rachael far, far too early. Left her less than one pound baby girl struggling for life.
It left me with blood pressure that stubbornly refused to go down for more than six months. A lifetime of increased risk. My own baby didn’t come home for five weeks, and prematurity has left its fingerprints on his life so far. It stole so much from me, and from Rowan.
And yet it asks us to be grateful. Because it could have been so much worse. Because it stole everything from Rachael. And stole Rachael from her family and friends.
And there is no rhyme or reason. There’s no explanation. There’s no reason why it was her, and wasn’t me.
So in October, I try to be grateful for all that we do still have.
I keep my sights on the stepping stones ahead.
Concerts. The state fair. Halloween.
I keep trying to see the light in the cracks.