In the moments after Dr. Counselor asked if I wanted to make today a shorter session, I felt my stomach clench. I was better, but I wasn’t good. Still crazy enough to require free therapy! I started to wonder if I should cry – I hadn’t shed a single tear and he’d helpfully offered tissues when I walked in the door. I was abruptly afraid of not being allowed to see him again. What if he made the difference in helping me feel happier and more hopeful? What if I got all depressed again?! I sighed with relief and nodded when he suggested an appointment the second week of January. I’m not ready to let go of that outlet right now.
“I need fabric softener.” I mused on a trip to WalMart. Winter dryness has set in and static is pervasive. Actually, it’s not so bad because I live in the freaking south. It’s the middle of December and I don’t need daily lotion applications. But let’s say I need protection from static cling because sometimes that's true. There’s some way to use the liquid in my washer, but Mom uses the dryer sheets. So I do too.
I’ve found myself snuggling into my pillows a bit more happily lately. After a recent laundering, my bedding is even softer and sweeter than ever! It’s like breathing in the clean. I slip into sheets without any crackle of static. It’s remarkably pleasant.
As I hustled all over campus today – dropping documents off, going to therapy, filing paperwork, sending email and attending short meetings – I realized I didn’t put my gray pants in the dryer. They didn’t get exposed to the Snuggle sheet and they were a bit clingy. Clingy is bad, I decided, then realized if that’s the case, I suck quite a bit. It’s my nature to hang on too tightly for far too long.
I’m comfortable here, I realized, looking around at the buildings and cars on campus. I’ve started to pay more attention when I move briskly through the hallways – I know enough people that I might get to say hello to someone. I can find buildings – I’ve been to many of them before and have general mental landmarks. I can predict the response times of certain committees. I know what Boss will let slide versus what will bother him. I have an idea of who to call for solutions to problems. My list of priorities is coming together. I feel at home. It’s taken me a long, long time. But…I sort of fit.
I found myself thinking I might need a dryer sheet. I don’t want to stick here. That was never the plan. I want something clean and fresh – not the mess that I’ve slowly but surely created here. I want to slip into projects more effortlessly – not overcome slow starts and poor impressions. I’ve relied heavily on the kindness of this southern institution. I have also been incredibly lucky in my choice of departments and bosses. I found a therapist who seems to really work for me. I’m starting to get excited – actually, truly motivated – to do one particular project.
But somehow – whether I’m healing and have the capacity to be happier, I’m picking up on the relief of students as the semester ends, I like the feeling of making a bit of progress, or Christmas is weaving some sort of magical joy around my life – I’m strangely attached to my job, my home, my life. This worried me more than a little.
But what other things are hanging off of me? Unnoticed as if they were a sock stuck to the back of my pants. I rather like the walk from the parking lot – I’d miss it if I left. I love knowing that I can have lunch with Friend at least once a week. Get ice cream or sandwiches or cheesy potatoes. I know right where to meet her and she can also find her way to my office. Boss knows how I work and is figuring out when to push and when to let me figure something out. I adore working for him. I had a dream that I had to move out of my precious little house and awakened feeling absolutely miserable. I love this house – it holds all my stuff! And I like the lighting now that we’ve changed the globes! And I have memories here – Rachel’s visited, everyone in my family has been here, Dave is coming in January, Elle in February, M in June. I can point to where I first saw Sprout. I know Chienne rotates her napping pattern to hit each room, but ends up in my bedroom so she can listen for the garage door and offer ecstatic greetings upon my return home. I like my new church.
Crap, I thought with some dismay. I live here. I might actually be capable of being happy about it. What’s happening to me?!
Clinging is sometimes the wrong choice, after all. I was lying around the other morning – halfway awake and nuzzling into my pillows to breathe in the Snuggle smell – and thought about how nice it was to wake with a smile. There isn’t so much pain anymore. Even the anger is preferable to the despair. My friends like to hear about my irritation – I can be funny when I’m vengeful. Plus, it’s a sign I’m moving on. I refuse to make excuses about how long it’s taken. I was wounded. I had to heal. It takes time.
I got overly confident on that particular morning. When I wondered what I’d ever seen in him, I actually thought about it instead of making a snide comment and listing all the reasons he was lame and mean and icky. It took me a long time – I’ve vilified him to such a degree that sometimes he’s almost inhuman in my mind. I failed to think of a single redeeming quality. I had nothing that I thought was attractive at all. So instead of feeling grateful and moving on, I picked at the problem, rolling over to cuddle a different pillow.
“He kept me company.” I said softly. “He made me feel important. Smart, funny and talented. I knew he was out there and that I caught his attention. He kept me company.” Then I was sad. Not overwhelmingly and miserably hurt. Rather there was a small tug of loss.
Don’t cling, I reminded myself, trying to comfort my poor heart. Just let it slip away. You don’t want to know him. You don’t want to think about him. There are better people to keep you company.
Later this afternoon, I clicked along the hallway in strappy sandals, deep in thought, smiling at an important scientist I’d met before before returning to troubled thoughts about clinging to my current location. I headed to the exit and made my way through the automatic doors. As I turned the corner to head back to my office from the hospital, I stopped short before bumping into a woman waiting outside.
I smiled and scooted around her as she jumped back out of the way.
“I’m sorry!” She said, shaking her head and looking concerned as she tried to find another place to stand.
“No, no.” I soothed immediately. “You’re just fine.”
I grinned when, having moved a couple steps down the sidewalk, I heard her speak to herself softly. “Why does everyone keep saying I’m fine? I’m clearly in the way!”
I considered her accent – replaying her words in my head – and decided on Boston. It’s different here, I thought happily. She wasn’t in the way. We are, for the most part, more than happy to walk around her. I didn’t think about telling her she was OK where she was – it was a statement offered sincerely but without much reflection. I like that she had similar experiences with my colleagues and neighbors. It’s a nice feature of this place.
I cling. I just do. Turnover of my friends is very low. Accrual, however, is even lower. When I lose someone I love – even if it’s necessary and important – it will be profoundly sad. (Though I am working on other areas of my life so my resources will tolerate a similar blow if it should happen again.) Part of my dismay over being content here is that it’s harder to participate in my family’s daily life. I can’t hold on to them as tightly as I’d like. I worry that Friend will leave at some point soon and notice I sometimes try to keep some distance so I don’t miss her too much if that happens.
The point, I think, is that dryer sheets are nice. They make clothing and sheets smell good and prevent too much sticking. But it’s hard to apply a single theory across the board. There’s nothing wrong in letting go something that doesn’t work. There’s also something exquisite about appreciating and enjoying a piece of life, then hoping you get to hold on to that particular quality. It seems it’s figuring out where to cling and where to apply the fabric softener is the tricky part.
That’s the case for me anyway.