Greetings, KuKd-ers and Inquisitive Guests!
So much to say, so little Internet speed in my pleasantly air-conditioned airport hotel outside of Pittsburgh, where K and I are preparing for our return flight to Seattle. Bikes are packed up, legs finally shaven, hair washed, bruised arse still bruised, mandatory post-shaving-post-showering hotel-sex had, supposedly canned- ravioli-induced rash still present but less noticeable (honestly, I don't think it was the ravioli; what could possibly be harmful about ingesting the mass quantities of things like disodium guan-itch-icide and monosodium glut-a-rash that Chef Boy-R-Dee can't seem to leave out of his recipes?).
I have some pictures of certain things I want to highlight about our trip - such as a close-up shot of a jar of bean salad with two cartoon Amish men on the front, picked up at a farmers market off the bike trail. But I'm going to leap backward instead, and talk about the little psychological "game" I found myself playing at the start of our trip. Gotta process this now before it disappears like a foggy dream.
It's called: "Glad I Have ____."
Some necessary background: we began this trip in Washington, D.C. at an annual reunion of friends who were all in Peace Corps Uzbekistan with us over a decade ago. Which is to say that for 2.5 years we all got really dirty together, taught Uzbek youngsters how to say "book" and "tree" in English (for the humanitarian betterment of the entire world, of course), got drunk on vodka made of fermented onions and motor oil and did lots of subsequent hooking up, learned a strange Turkic language that never ever comes in handy in the real world, and grimly ate foul-tasting sheep-ass cooked in sheep-ass fat. All funded by American tax-payers. Woo-hoo!
As with any reunion, there was a lot of catching up to do. Lots of questions asked and answered about work and family status. Of course, there were pregnant women and lots of formerly-infant kids running around, too, and with that came some internal musing about my own "status," if you will, juxtaposed against everyone else's. So who/where/what/how am I now, eleven years after returning hairy, dirty, broke, and unemployed from Uzbekistan? What's this life that I have?
Which brings me to the dialogue I found myself having inside my head as I chewed thoughtfully on nan-bread with butter while conversing with others. Not so much of a dialogue, really, but more a bold new assertion that kept swinging itself out of my mind and back to me, like a boomerang: "Glad I have ____."
* * *
Not long ago, oh...say...a year or more ago, I was in a distinct place of longing for something better. It wasn't about "glad I have." It was about: "wish I had." I recall there being a little kernel of bitterness lodged in my brain, flashing a single toxic statement across my frontal lobe whenever I was near women expressing their pregnancy/parenthood-related complaints: sure, your nipples might be sore and what-not, BUT I WISH I HAD WHAT YOU HAVE. A terrible and bitchy and unfair thing to think, but I'm embarrassed to say, I thought such vile things anyway.
Sometimes this"wish I had" mode of thinking (well...pining, actually) even spilled over into other areas of life. At least you make six-figures. At least you have a big kitchen. At least you didn't stupidly buy your home at the peak of its market value. At least you know how to bake good bread. At least your spouse makes so much money that you don't have to work. At least you know five different languages fluently. At least you can eat as much fried chicken as you want and never gain a pound. At least you have a Harvard degree. At least you get to live on a farm, in a farm house, with farm animals, and do farm-like things.
Got all that? Well get this: reasons unbeknownst to man, THIS trip was different somehow. Don't ask me why. Passage of time, maybe? East-coast coffee instead of west-coast? Even with the pregnant bellies popping out, the growing children racing around everyone's legs and squealing - things that should have cast that cloud of gloom over my soul - that little phrase "wish I had" instead became, barely perceptibly even to myself: "Glad I have______."
* * *
Let's start with the phenomenon of being a single, intelligent, thirty-something person who may WANT a child, but hasn't met Mr. or Mrs. Right yet to shoot / soak-up the spooge respectively. Or maybe not thinking about kids at all - just wanting a long-term relationship with a loved best friend who has sex with you on demand. Not a bad or outlandish thing to want, is it? You might be one of those very people, or know people like that.
I have a lot of very good friends who fit into that exact category - several of whom attended this very reunion, and at least one of whom I happen to know would like a child. It's just the man-component of the equation that's missing. This makes me terribly sad, and I don't mean to sound condescending about this; these friends of mine are all brilliant people, doing fine and living productive and amazing lives. It's just that being with someone you love is so...rewarding....and of course, you want the best for your friends. You want them to reap the relationship-rewards that you've already discovered - kind of like sharing your favorite recipe or restaurant. It makes me wish there were some magical marriage-making ravioli that people could eat from a can and POOF - meet the sexy person of their dreams.
But even more than that, it makes me grateful for what I've got. I'm talking consciously, viscerally grateful - more than I've been in some time. Several time during the course of this gathering with friends, the sentence shot through my frontal lobe like a message dragged by a small airplane:
I'm glad I have Kevin.
For as uncannily shitty luck I've had with creating a child, my fortune has been equally awesome in falling into a relationship that works. Kids or no kids, house or no house, farm or no farm, money or none, I'm just glad I have Kevin. And not for anything that I did better than anyone else; no real reason other than happening to have been in the right place, right time, with a man whose needs and wants and values matched mine in precisely the right way. (Please don't tell him I said that or his cheeks will turn red; he hates this sort of talk.)
* * *
It didn't stop there, this onslaught of unforeseen gladness. There were friends with kids ages two-and-up, all the way to one couple with a seven-year-old daughter. Most haven't traveled overseas in years, or even gotten any alone time away from their offspring to just cuddle and screw and eat French onion soup in candle-lit restaurants and drink wine and take road-trips and do other romantic couple-stuff (not that there's much more romantic than the three things I just mentioned). Not that they were complaining about this overtly; it just came up in conversation. And for the first time, instead of thinking I WANT WHAT YOU HAVE, my dominant thought was:
I'm glad I've gotten to do everything I just mentioned - and a lot of it - over this past decade. And I'm not sensing an end to it anytime soon.
* * *
There was more, much more. I'm glad I'm basically healthy, and that all of my terminal ailments until this point seem to exist primarily in my head. I'm glad I live in a city surrounded by mountains - I mean, real West-coast mountains- and water. I'm glad I have a basically awesome, sane, intelligent, joke-making family AND family-in-law (see? luck-o-the-Irish!). I'm glad I have a dog who supports me, and who loves me even when I'm gassy and burpy. I'm glad I love my job.
Now, none of this is to brag or boast about how my life is better than anyone else's. There are still plenty of things about my life that I wish were different, gaps that I'd like to fill.
It simply came as a refreshing shock to me that I could suddenly see, without the haze of grief that weighs a person down so hard and fiercely, what I have. I'm going to be bold here and put a generalization out there: losing something - not getting what we want so badly - makes us wiser in some ways, but blind in others. At least, for me it's done that at certain times in my life: made the deaths themselves eclipse the good parts of life like a big, black round moon - making me lose sight of what I have that others might be mourning themselves, the very "I WISH I HAD WHAT YOU HAVE" mantra that could be going through my own friends' minds when they look at me, those thoughts unspoken because we never really say such things out loud.
Maybe we all have things that others wish they had; we just sort of forget to think about those things. It's much easier to focus on what we're missing.
OK, I'd better sign off before I accidentally give the false impression that I actually know what I'm talking about, that I'm not just the bumbling, babbling gnome in a forest trying to navigate my way around. Oh, it's also time to lift up my shirt and demand that Kevin examine my rash and assert that it's still there, and that it "looks like it's really uncomfortable." That's been our twice-daily routine since this whole rash-brouhaha started.
And why break a good routine.
(For the record, I AM NOT GLAD about this rash).