The moment I realize I’m hurt, I move into bargaining mode. I’ll take the rest of the week off of running, I say, hobbling my way onto the sidewalk, palms screaming red, and then I’ll be right back to it. It never works, but my first instinct every time is to persuade. To coax my healing into a hurry.
Twist my ankle, and I start walking on it just ‘to strengthen it a bit.’
Wake up trembling, feverish, and I start a regimen of orange juice and Friends episodes. “Only one day,” I assure myself.
Break my heart, and I bite my lower lip, choke back tears, swallow hard questions, and try to assemble my shattered pieces into a convincing self. “No one can break a whole person,” I write, my fragments spilling across the keys.
Healing is apathetic to my timelines, so I ache impatiently in an empty room, a whispered question echoing, Why am I so gentle with others and severe with myself?
More often than not, I’ve got a bag on my person. Strapped over my right shoulder, sloping diagonally my torso, resting against my hip, held securely by my left palm. Contents vary, depending on the occasion, but usually I carry these: books, the one I’m reading and the one I’m excited about; felt-tip pens, a handful at first but eventually an army, until I realize my office jar looks empty; a notebook, pages littered intermittently with ideas and lists and doodles; a piece of mail, something I probably meant to do something with; a candy wrapper, defeated and forgotten, color and sheen relinquished miles ago.
I carry it with me on the train, trips to the coffee shop, journeys across the city to meet friends. The bag rarely sees much use, actually. I only crack it open once I remember I’ve brought it with me. When I’m stepping out, though, and I see it waiting on my chair, I muse, what if I need it later?
I do the same thing with memories. Walking around my early thirties, I remember the time I was fifteen and a friend and I were Saturday Night Live cheerleaders, the auditorium roaring its approval. Hugging friends at the bar on a late Saturday night, I recall the night in undergrad when Colleen twisted her ankle, that groggy morning after, how I insisted (laughing so hard I was crying) she had whipped her earrings off onto the shelf. Pulling open the door to a first date, I think of the first time another man kissed me, the way I pulled away, not yet convinced I had the nerve to want out loud.
There’s not a single important person in the pages behind me I don’t somehow keep in the ledgers. I’ve wrestled my heart away from false futures, gotten it moving again, hoping, dreaming, but it still finds a way to pull me back. Run my palms across old chapters.
Remember him, it tugs, remember the game you played, face to face, you singing a note and him trying to stay with you you as you sang, the absurdity of it, the way the singing and laughter blurred together, the moment you let yourself want forever.
Three days on my couch, and here’s what I can tell you: Healing is not a comfortable state. It is slow, and insistent, and lonely.
A few weeks ago, I asked a friend the following: If you got injured, and you had the option to be ‘put under’ for the whole healing process, would you? He’s a writer, a profound thinker and feeler, so he said ‘no.’ He said I wouldn’t, either. That healing ‘mattered too much.’
Sometimes I’m not sure. I get so frustrated by the setbacks, the interruptions to routine, the barriers to doing all that I want to do. He’s probably right, I know. So much of my compassion comes from my hurting, and so much of my sincerity comes from my recovery.
So I write it down. Take the time to heal, it matters, pin it to my bag, on top, carry it across my shoulders. A reminder for the days I forget to be gentle.