Two people in my life have told me that I have too many problems for them to continue. I will not name them, nor describe the circumstances. Outing them serves no purpose. One was a friend; one was a romantic partner. Both cut off our relationship as a consequence, at least in part, of their assessment. One used these very words: You need too much, at a time when I had just come home from an extended hospital stay and did, admittedly, need a lot. One used more forceful language: I’m broken, but you are more broken than I am. Both made valid points, and damned my empathetic soul, I had to concede that in their shoes I might also choose to leave.
For the last eight years, I have tried to strip away any pretense of complacency. I’ve examined my choices and my chances. I’ve taken hold of layers and peeled them down, looking for signs of rot. Conversations rewound and replayed in my head, in my essays, over the telephone wire to my confidants, especially my sister Joyce. I walked when I could; I drove when my legs would not hold me more than a handful of feet. I stood on the bluffs above the sea in turn-outs with my car engine cooling and the wind ruffling the wild curls of my Syrian hair. Over and over, I have examined the accusations levied at me by the two who so harshly condemned me and others, including my inner voices and the ghosts of people who shied away from deeper connections. Sixty-six years provide a lot of chances for failure. I’ve squandered many opportunities. The crumpled roadmap of my life unfolds to an odyssey from which an astute traveler might avoid more than a few inopportune detours.
I look around me, now, here. I see cobwebs and dust trails. A long swathe of broken leaves lies across the doorstep. Layers of grime on the sills testify to months of inactivity while the Delta winds blew through the open windows. Wrinkles besiege the clothing crammed in my little closet. A load of laundry has sat in the unit so long that I can’t remember on what day I set it to cycle. A stack of folders hold paperwork that might have been ignored long enough to become irrelevant.
I step through the summer from doctor visit to doctor visit. Last night, I got a text from someone who had noticed a few optimistically phrased posts on social media. You’re on a medical roller coaster, aren’t you, he observed. I studied the words. I raised my eyes to the window, to the pale light of a day growing dim as the sun eased itself down. It’s true that physicians keep throwing curve balls at me. But I’ve overcome everything after a fashion. I can only repeat what I recently told one of the newest gurus: It doesn’t limit me because I don’t let it.
Yet it does, I know this. Pain and inability sour my moods. I snap. I snarl. Then I retrace my steps and apologize. Coins fall to the floor and I cannot retrieve them. I fabricated a tradition of leaving them for the angels. I gave this explanation to my son in his childhood and cling to the excuse even now, even here, in a tiny dwelling where coins on the floor look rather shabby. People ask me if I’m going somewhere or doing something and I shrug, pretending disinterest. In reality, the places they mention and the events they reference challenge my capabilities farther than I can endure.
All of my life, I have wanted to be enough: Pretty enough, loving enough, kind enough, valued enough. My grades never rose to perfection. My salary hovered below solid success. I learned to be satisfied with secondhand clothing, leftovers, and the middle seat. Once in a while, I rise and grab something better. But remorse follows. I do not actually consider myself worthy of the best. I know this of myself. After all, I did not protest those two people who abandoned me because of my weaknesses. I understood. I forgave them.
Now, in this moment, I have a chance to reorient myself to acceptance of my worth. I understand that I am not everyone’s cup of tea. I will always have definite ideas about life which others protest. My disability repels many casual observers. My forthright nature offends some who draw a bit closer. Pain, the great equalizer, rises to claim space even when I strive for civility. I do not dress like others. I do not talk like others. I do not walk like others.
But here, today, with the birds chirping outside my window, I finally think that I might be enough. Not for you, perhaps; not for many, in fact. Maybe for nobody. But for myself. Possibly I am inadequate for every other person on the planet except myself. For me, I am enough.
It’s the second day of the one-hundred and third month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.