Thursday, February 08, 2007

It'll be OK.

I walked in this morning to find the white board covered in red marker. We asked people to clean it – scrubbing at the marks that had soaked into the dry erase material – after Martin got a job offer and cleared out the odd items he’d collected. Then we cleaned house a bit. Erased the board, scooped off the dust, shuffled some boxes into another office when no one was there to stop us. It’s nice now – clean and neat and rather pretty now that three women have taken up residence with Ken - the lone male in the room. So there are teddy bears, butterflies and family photos scattered around everywhere but Ken’s corner of sparse studiousness.

He does, however, make his mark sometimes. I recognized his writing marching neatly across the board as equations morphed into different forms, working closer to some reasonable solution. But I didn’t see anything in a neat box at the end – that was my favorite part of finishing a math or physics problem. Making those four lines around the answer to indicate I was done. I’d figured out as much as I was going to. The work was there – I often got partial credit – but I was all about that little rectangle that contained the final answer.

I just glanced at the problem though – didn’t even try to figure out his overall goal or what he was trying to work through. My pager had sounded twice on the commute to work, the first time eliciting a “What is that?” reaction as Friend indicated it was coming from my bag. I called back and thanked someone for inviting me to an experiment at 1:00. Then I was surprised again as I walked into my building – the chirping sound was happening again. So I was pushing buttons at random, hoping that the little number I was supposed to call suddenly appeared. It did and my attention was divided between dialing the phone, removing my jacket and pressing the space bar to wake my computer after I made it to my desk.

I took a call from the IRB, wondering at its purpose. My pre-review had revealed several problems and the staff member had wanted to offer a “friendly call” to let me know that he was happy to work with me to resolve his concerns.

“Great.” I said, confused as to why he’d call when everyone else just passed along the necessary changes then handed the revised copy to the full committee for approval. But I settled in to fix the errors he mentioned on the phone, feeling my tension continue to peak and reaching for Advil. But I filled in blanks, transferring information to a form with a more recent version date.

“Are you getting worse?” I asked Friend as we moved closer to the office buildings on campus earlier that morning. I remember quite vividly the pain of getting to work some days. It was excruciating. I didn’t want her to face it on her own. So I waited until she was ready, drove her to work – deciding against stopping to get her car on the way since sometimes it’s easier to force yourself to do something icky when you’re not alone. Work was icky. But I was there. That was all I knew to do – to coax and soothe and be physically present so she could get to the lab and hope for the best.

I was downloading hymns – a capella hymns, actually – from iTunes a couple hours later. I had taken a break from filling in my blanks and tried to find something to ease myself. “Relax.” I said softly because I was the only one in the room. I was fine. Work was moving along, though the pace and setbacks were frustrating. My head hurt, but the Advil would help. Perhaps the hymns would bring some peace.

I was a bit startled when someone appeared in my peripheral vision. My officemates are good about obeying the headphones. If they’re on, I’m to be left alone. So I glanced up to find Friend. I freed my ears from their music and asked if she was OK. If she wanted to walk somewhere. A glance at the clock that rests on my desk assured me I had an hour before my experiment started, so I tried to quickly throw things in a pile to take with me before growing impatient with myself and tucking everything in a tote that I could quickly prepare to go somewhere.

We ended up in the corner of a hospital lobby on a padded bench. I faced the chapel, which I found interesting enough to comment on. It wasn’t that we sought a quiet corner. Rather the lunch rush had filled the available tables in most common areas and we were just looking for a place to sit for a little while.

The basic conversation was that Dr. Counselor wants us to be roommates. Friend should send two cats away. I should invite her to move in again and mean it this time. So we talked and considered and I offered again. Said I could probably do it. If she took the master suite and the cats all stayed in there. If I didn’t have to see them unless I really wanted to do so. If we imposed some time limit on her stay here. If I can find enough ways to control the situation, perhaps the fear will dial back a bit. The headache will stop, the guilt will ease and I might feel OK again.

“Now I feel guilty.” She said, looking down and trying to decide what to do.

“Well,” I offered, “we want different things. Someone’s going to get what they want and that one has to feel guilty. If I have to live with that many cats, you get the guilt. If I let you suffer financial and emotional difficulties, the guilt is mine. There’s just no good way out.”

Dr. Counselor wants to meet with both of us next week. I said we could use my appointment. It's on Monday morning. We’ll both go and talk and try to figure this out. But I’m tired. I don’t want to feel badly anymore. I’ve had enough of headaches and stress and ick. Let’s just pick an answer, put a box around it, and say that I did the best I could. I don’t like – no, I hate – the fact that I’m going to see a therapist to decide whether I should ask a friend to move in so that we both have some help with our mood disorders. It’s as bad as all the cats! Odd and abnormal and unpleasant. And while I find it funny on some level, I’m also disturbed. Is this who I am now? Really?

At the same time, it’s undeniable that I’m doing better than Friend at the moment. She’s sad and struggling and I’ve been there. It’s miserable and difficult and the urge to grasp at anything to fix even one of your problems is irresistible. I want her to be well. I want that so much that I don’t know how to separate out what I want in return. Enough people have now said it’d be good for me to have a roommate that I feel the need to prove them wrong. I’m OK. I can do it to help her but I don’t need it on a personal level. I’m better, damn it. I want to be better.

“I don’t like the idea of taking your bedroom.” She said when I told her that’s what we’d do. It’s the largest of the rooms and comes with a large bathroom/closet so if she needed to still separate the cats, she could do so. “It’s even wrong when I think about it symbolically.”

“Well,” I said again, trying to think and wishing my head would stop hurting. Wishing this didn’t feel all wrong. Wanting desperately for there to be an answer that at least felt better than the alternatives. “If you mean that I’m putting your needs above my own, then I guess that’s true. I do not want those four cats in my house. I just don’t. I’m sorry – I know you love and need them. I do get that. I do care about that. But it still freaks me out. That hasn’t changed. But I think you need the help more than I need the space. And that’s OK.

“It’ll be OK.”

I’ve repeated that statement over and over and over today. It’ll be OK. Regardless of what happens, it’ll be OK. Moving out of my bedroom and taking the clothes out of my closet to make room for Friend, et al.? It’ll be OK. One of her cats tells her stories – long, loud stories. I actually find this trait tremendously endearing – he just loves her so much and I can actually hear it in his voice.

“He does it all the time.” She fretted. “It might really bother you.”

“It’ll be OK.” I replied. And when the two cats returned to the study before I brought her home with me again, one of my favorites crept over, checked that I wasn’t hiding one of the new cats, then leapt onto my lap. “You’re OK.” I soothed her, smoothing my palm over her silky fur. “They’re gone now – they’re back in their room. You didn’t get hurt. You can adjust when they come out again. It will all work out. You’ll be just fine.”

I know we’ll be OK. Friend is taking steps to improve and I remember how difficult that is too. I don’t want to make things harder for her – I’d really rather do the opposite. I think I can. It would be OK.

“We should wait.” I told her as we waited for our Chinese food at a place near my house. “Talk to Dr. Counselor. See where we are and what we want and what might be good.”

She nodded. I know she feels badly. Doesn’t want to pressure me or push me. Doesn’t know what to think or do or how to respond. I don’t know either, so I’m not much help. And I don't think it should be about me right now.

“My tendency,” I told her, “is to make a quick decision. I get tired of thinking about it, of worrying and deciding. So if I just decide, then it’s done. But then I change my mind. Change it back. Change it again. So I think we should wait until Monday morning. Then make a call.”

Elle and her husband arrive tomorrow night. So I’ll do some shopping and cleaning and take Friend home when she’s ready. Then I’ll reconnect with friends I haven’t seen in a couple years, enjoy my city, let them meet Friend while we drink and listen to music. I’ll continue to think and consider and try to figure out how I feel.

I do know it’ll be OK. I don’t say it to convince myself, but to remind myself of a basic truth. I just can’t draw that box quite yet and make my peace with whatever’s in it. Because – just as I watched Ken do all day – I keep changing lines, peering at the problem while looking for mistakes, erasing it all and starting over from scratch, making notes and checking progress.

“Did you figure it out?” I asked before I left this evening.

“Not yet.” He said, sounding discouraged and tired.

Me neither. But I will. And it'll be OK.


joy said...

I'm glad you're both talking and working this out. I am glad you have someone to talk to about this too. Keep talking, it'll all work out for the best. :)

Anonymous said...

I know I'm butting in here, but isn't there someone either of you knows who could take 2 of Friend's cats into their loving home? That way, at least Friend can visit them.

It is REALLY hard to let go of a pet, even when they die, so I can understand the pain Friend would experience at the thought of giving up 2 cats. But, finding a loving person to take care of the cats for her may ease her mind somewhat, if it turns out that giving up the cats is the best way to compromise, especially if it is only a temporary rooming situation. Then, Friend could take back the cats if she moves on to another place.

I totally understand how you feel about having so many pets under one roof, too. It is a challenge, and if they don't get along for a while even, it can be really life-disrupting for everyone. Growing up, at one point our family had 2 male dogs that absolutely HATED each other (we took one of them as a charity case and couldn't bring ourselves to give him up). No amount of socializing was going to help it. We had to constantly keep them separated until one of them passed away (of natural causes). We made accomodations for them both: one was bigger and lived outside all the time (we even got a heating pad for his dog house in winter) and the other was smaller and lived inside except when we locked up the bigger dog in the garage to let the smaller dog out in the yard (when we couldn't walk him). Anyway, it can work if you have to separate animals, but it's not easy.

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