Tegan & Sara, concentric circles and failed resolutions

One time, quite a while back, I had my heart broken pretty badly. Correction, that one time in particular, I had my heart crushed to smithereens not by being left abruptly (which I was) but by the words uttered to me when I asked my then-boyfriend how he could just leave me for someone new after all we’d been through together.

The begging for an answer went on for weeks! I couldn’t stop myself beating myself up, beating him up even more, with incessant need to know why. “How could you?” I whimpered. “How could you leave me for her?” And then one day he said the fateful words I never needed to hear…

“She was just too good to pass up,” he said.

Wait a minute. I thought I was the one who was too good to pass up but apparently suddenly I’d taken a turn into pass-up-able territory without anyone ever clue-ing me in. I was mistaken. I wasn’t too good to pass up at all! SHE was. Well, shit.

The words don’t pack the same punch they had almost 20 years ago, of course, but they pop into my brain sometimes at the oddest moments to remind me that there are, indeed, some things one can never really forget but that doesn’t make those things right or true.

Sometimes the thing that jogs these words back into my mind is a particular song, that I happen to love, that sums up the flat-out flummoxed feeling I was left with once I was actually, suddenly left:

“Where do you go with your broken heart in tow
What do you do with the left over you
And how do you know when to let go
Where does the good go,
Where does the good go?”

That’s from the song by Tegan and Sara called “Where Does the Good Go” and if you’ve never heard it, check it out. It sounds sad, but for some reason, it always makes me feel happy when I hear it. Perhaps because it’s right in the sweet spot of my vocal range and I can really belt it out in the car when it pops up on shuffle?

Whatever the reason, it keeps popping up on shuffle again and again in these last few weeks and it’s starting to mean something different to me now.

It’s not so much about an age-old heart breaking memory to me anymore. It’s more about life now. My life. Your life. Life in general that is always changing, always knocking us on our collective asses only to surprise us with unexpected joy before it knocks us on our collective asses again, then back to joy and repeat. The stanza that speaks to me now is this one:

“It’s love that breaks the seal of always thinking you would be
Real, happy and healthy, strong and calm
Where does the good go,
Where does the good go?”

I used to believe there was nothing I couldn’t do, nothing that could really ruin me. I knew that even when my heart was broken, I was strong, happy and calm. I was healthy. That thing we tend to take for granted while wishing to be thinner or prettier or stronger or more talented or able to run faster. Health is the thing I never questioned. I believed somewhere way down deep that nothing could break me.

Along the way, these past two years since my diagnosis with MS, I lost that fundamental belief. It threw me for a serious loop because if there is one thing that makes me who I am – not the way I look, what I do, where I’ve been, how much money I make, how successful I’ve been, the car I drive or even how many cats I have – it is my fundamental belief that nothing can break me.

That’s how I used to feel. That unrelenting optimism in my own heart protected me. I would always be happy, healthy, strong and calm, no matter who broke my heart or what might make me feel otherwise for a short period of time.

Lately, I’ve been haunted by the notion of concentric circles.

I guess it’s somewhat obvious but I see my life in a series of concentric circles that once were wide and varied and full of new and exciting colors, lately the circles have gotten smaller and smaller, more focused and built of fewer colors than I’m used to, a lot like my predominantly black wardrobe. I think this notion about life as a series of concentric circles began in 2015 right after my diagnosis when I was freaked the hell out but still not fully aware of what my new life would be like. As my health started to go downhill, the circles started to get smaller, but in tiny increments. Nothing too scary. Then with my first big relapse in mid-2017, the circles were suddenly so small, that sometimes they threaten to suffocate me.

And yet they don’t. I’m still here.

There’s always a time period, a date or line in my mental sand for when I am expecting to feel somehow better. Those dates come and go without feeling better and it gets the better of me. It makes me feel like the good up and went. It makes me wonder, in the great words of Tegan & Sara, “what do you do with the left over you.”

Like everyone else in the world at this particular time on this particular night of the year, I’m sitting here on this last night of 2017 wondering which resolution I will fail to achieve this year (last year’s was so good! And also a dismal failure…it made for a great blog post, but it never did stick).

I’m going to try a few things with the left over me, and see if any of them stick…This is my honest attempt to kick myself in the ass and start focusing on the center of the circle – I think that might be where the good actually goes.

I’m in the center. The center of my circles is me.

So for this, the last day of 2017 looking ahead into a brand new set of 365 random days, I’ve made some commitments to myself. They’re not complicated:

I will try to remember that some pretty crappy shit has happened to me in this life so far and none of it has killed me yet. This disease is not likely to do it either (not even death by embarrassment).

I will stop judging myself and my abilities (or lack thereof) so harshly. It’s not the world that is ashamed of me, it’s ME that’s ashamed of me. I need to stop doing that. I walk funny. I stay in my house a lot. I wear pajamas a lot. I read a whole lot & go out a whole lot less. So what?

I need to give myself a break from all the judging.

I do need to try walking a little more. I do need to stop thinking of myself as no longer good for anything I used to be good for (I could make a list but some of those things would be pretty embarrassing so I won’t). I’m still good for a lot of things! The good hasn’t gone. It’s just gotten more inwardly focused and to be honest, closer to my center is not a terrible place  to be.

In 2018, I will listen to more music, laugh with more friends (either physically or virtually), try harder to be nicer to myself, stress less about how hard it is and how funny it looks when I walk around…I will allow myself to just be instead of wishing for how I used to be. I will eat more ice cream. (I figured I should give myself one easy resolution just to be safe.)

I will be where the good goes, for me, on good days and bad days.

I wish all good things for you, too, dear readers. My wish for you on this new year’s eve is that you find your good, wrap your arms around it and never let it go.

The new Mr. Costanza

This isn’t a picture of Mr. Costanza. But I imagine where ever he is now, he is doing something like this.

Mr. Constanza lived on my street since the day I moved in, about three houses up on the same side of the street.

He and his wife, Mrs. Constanza, were pretty much a fixture on Virginia Avenue, him because he was always out walking around. Up and down the street, in his rumpled beige zip up jacket in the spring and fall, heavier black jacket and plaid scarf in the winter months, head down, walking so slowly it almost looked like he wasn’t even moving at all. But there he was. In the morning when I left the house for work, he’d already be on his way down Virginia Avenue in his super-slow mode, looking like he had everywhere and nowhere to be at the very same time. In the evening when I got home, he’d be coming back up the street toward his house, with Mrs. Constanza sitting on the porch, smiling, her crinkly face sitting atop her perennial black cardigan, over the faded print house dress, the uniform of old Italian ladies the world over. I had no idea how long he’d been out. If he actually went anywhere. If he came home to rest or if he was literally out walking around all day long.

Mr. Costanza used to mutter hello, ask me how I was doing, mention the weather or the latest happening on the street in his broken English, always with a half smile on his face (not a full smile) like he was grateful to you for putting up with his ineffective American talk, after so many years in this country. Mr. Costanza made his own wine, like lots of old Italian guys do, in his garage behind his house. He told me about it one day on his daily constitutional, and told me, “My wine. Is good to drink. You try it sometime when it’s ready. I come get you.” And off he’d go in super slow mo, back down the street like it was his job to be on patrol and he wasn’t the kind of guy who shirks his responsibilities.

One year, it might have been the time of the neighborhood Memorial Day parade when the streets were filled with families setting up lawn chairs on our sidewalks to watch the parade go by on our perfectly situated street and my neighbors across the street at that time, Jon and Rochelle, were over at my house chatting it up with me while we all waited for the parade. It was kind of a neighborhood tradition on parade day.

Mr. Costanza didn’t let the parade stop his daily patrol. But on that one day he stopped to chat with Jon, Rochelle and me, he invited us to his garage to try the wine because it was finally ready! “You come taste.” So, we followed him back to his garage where he had quite the set up of barrels and tubes and such, and he poured us each a glass in a small juice glass, as old Italians tend to do when serving their homemade hooch from the garage winery. We all said, “Salud!” and downed our dark purple liquid. We felt like we’d been given some amazing honor that day, actually trying the wine on that Memorial Day parade day, Mrs. Costanza sat on the porch and smiled and nodded at us as we walked by. “She don’t talk too good,” he explained. But we already knew that.

Until the day he died, I saw Mr. Costanza on his daily constitutionals and I always wondered how he never got bored or tired or just over the whole thing. The same neighborhood. The same houses. The same trees and alley cats and kids on bikes everywhere. I never asked him because that just seemed like a silly thing to ask a guy like Mr. Costanza. In my head, the imagined response he would give me would be something like, “Eh, because what else would I do? Sit around? I like the walk.” Or something simple and obvious like that. After he was gone, I missed seeing him on his daily journey. I also eventually missed seeing his smiling wife in her old-Italian-widow-before-her-time uniform once she also went to be with her ever-walking partner in life for all of eternity.

The Costanzas came to mind for me today because I did something I almost never do. Actually, I did a few things I usually never do and the first of them was to make a New Year’s resolution. I know. Resolutions are doomed to fail. I get it. That’s why I never make them and why I think they are generally overrated and self-defeating and all things hopeless and rather silly.

But here I am. A year after my diagnosis, feeling like life is changing faster than I can keep up with it, while all at the same time slowing down to a screeching grinding halt, with me sitting here looking at it all wondering how that is even possible to have those things happen simultaneously. I feel like what I’m doing, how I’m dealing or managing or whatever you want to call it (or generally waiting for something to feel normal or better or OK), is obviously not working. Something has to give. I’m getting to a point where I feel sad and hopeless more of the time than not and if you know me at all, you know that I have an almost physical repulsion for those feelings when they go on for too long. Enough is enough.

My resolution is so small and simple that it’s almost embarrassing to write it down or make some declaration about it, but today I decided that I need to make small changes to help myself feel better, even if it’s only a tiny bit better, even if it doesn’t really change much at all but my brain and how it works.

I decided that I will go outside every single day and walk for at least ten minutes. I won’t force myself to go far. I won’t force myself to go fast (as if those things are even an option!) but I will go slow, and walk funny and probably not get very far at all, but I will go. I will walk for at least ten minutes every single day.

Pathetic, I know. But you have no idea how enormous this is to me. Just stepping outside of my door and not walking directly to my car feels odd to me. It was cold today and windy and I probably should have worn a hat. But I did my little walk. And then I came home, had my breakfast (yes, it was 2:30PM, but whatever). I felt…better.

I’m picking up Mr. Costanza’s mantle and I’m going to be that lady. You know the one. She’s usually by herself. She walks funny. She barely makes it to Freeport Road before she simply turns around and heads back the way she came. She is always dressed in black (right down to her sneakers). She has that insane hair that always looks like she’s just been scared to death by something or like she just rolled out of bed (both could be true lately). She walks funny without anywhere to go and doesn’t get very far. But she walks.

Maybe she will start making her own wine in her garage some day, too.