Editor’s Note: I debated posting this – it’s one of my newspaper columns from a couple years ago. And then I thought, “No, Melissa, you have to post this. It’s you, good and bad, in all your dorky and awkward glory. Enjoy!
During one of my three-hour lunches last year (hey, I’m a freelance writer and get the most out of my DVR), I sat in my mother’s cozy room. The ceiling fan swirled cool air, and outside the window, I could see a tall green tree reflected against a classic early autumn sky.
I sat in my own private cocoon. It may have been the tail end of summer, yes, but I felt myself sinking into a mini-hibernation. A place of deep contemplation. A place where the streets are lined, not with gold, but with an endless row of question marks, topped off with a few “whys” and “hows” for good measure. But the scenery never changed. The long stretch of highway sported pretty flowers – flowers of the same shape, color, even texture. I knew what to expect at every turn.
I was safe.
Then I came to a fork in the road. To the right lay that consistent, even, steady path. To the left? A dark, damp cave. Where should I go?
I had no idea.
And then I heard a booming, energetic voice holler from the television. The man on the screen sat in a comfy chair, his hands moving as fast as his lips rattled off facts, figures and, of course, advice.
“How’s that working for you?” he asked one of his guests in his Southern drawl. The issue was addiction or adultery or some other affliction, but in the moment – for those five words – I somehow felt that the Good Doctor was reaching out of that TV and speaking directly to me.
Dr. Phil McGraw. My eyes filled with hope. He’s my s avior, I thought. He can surely help me. I’m not a hopeless case.
But what was my case? What was my inner demon? During one of my first counseling sessions last year (this was after I completed nearly 90 sessions with my previous therapist, just to give you some perspective; and no, I am NOT ashamed to admit that), my official-looking therapist wasted no time in getting down to business.
“Where would you like to start?” he asked, a large pen poised over what looked like 20 sheets of paper.
Am I really that far gone, I wondered?
I sat there for a moment. Stunned. In the silence, I pondered that blunt question. I pictured my little universe. My fears, my anxiety, my quirks – they all spun and revolved around a glowing core – the magnet that repels and resists every ounce of change. Why do we try so hard to make our lives fit into that box we’ve neatly tied with a fluffy bow? Why are we so scared to turn with the tide of change?
MORE JUICE AFTER THE JUMP…
This week, I’ll be celebrating my one-year anniversary as a columnist – a time that’s ripe for pondering and contemplation. I’ve circled – sometimes doing a little jig – around the big umbrella of change and alluded to my fear in quite a few columns of yesteryear.
Last October, I told you to keep an eye out for me at the NIU Homecoming Parade. I said I’d be sporting my stylish, large ’80s specks I’ve donned since, well, the ’80s.
I donned with the best of ’em.
A few weeks later, I confessed that the shift from tapes to CDs threw my whole existence out of whack and how I’ll be forced to swallow a Xanax when I have to buy a new – and differently designed – CD player.
I still have my original CD player. But the Xanax is always nearby, should the need arise.
In April, I let the world know that my lovely bed was as old as Bush senior’s administration.
I can now fall asleep within 10 minutes of jumping into that 20-year-old cushion of goodness.
And what I neglected to tell you? Most of my room has remained the same for nearly four years. The bed. In the same spot. The blue dresser? In the same spot, implanting a permanent impression on the gray carpet. And my CD shelf? Against the same wall, the CDs neatly arranged in alphabetical order.
It’s the only logical way.
The closest diagnosis I can muster is a touch of obsessive-compulsive disorder. I do things in a certain order – I eat every morsel of my lunch in a certain order, with the crackers always coming first. I do things a certain way – four squirts of soap each time I wash my hands.
I simply like my universe to be ordered and predictable.
Apparently, this worried said therapist. He looked me squarely in the eyes and asked, “What does this fear of change look like?”
Another blunt question. Does this man know Dr. Phil?
Again, I thought for a moment – or two or three. Then the image flashed crystal clear across my mind. It was that cave I envisioned before. A large cave. A dark cave. I stood in front of it, unable to get my footing. I feared entering its hollow walls, thinking I’d be forever lost in its damp maze. And it was a deep cave. You can’t see ahead, and you didn’t have a flashlight. Not even a candle to guide your way.
So I resigned myself to standing outside the cave. Maybe I was standing guard, darting my eyes in every direction to make sure everything stayed exactly the same. Forever.
See, I could explain what I was doing, but I hadn’t a clue why, even though I know that it’s quite idiotic to think life, your career, even your hairstyle (oh yeah, I’ve had the same hairstyle since Bush senior’s administration as well) will be constants in your life.
But that cave. What is there to be afraid of? Maybe that cave represents my new life, post my father’s death. I don’t want to say hello to this cave because that would mean saying goodbye to that other flowery path – my old life. As I tightly grip the past, I’m desperately trying to keep my old life alive. The flame’s going out, but I keep relighting it as if carrying the candle into the cave with me will seemingly blend my two “lives.”
Life doesn’t promise stability. It falsely advertises it, but in the end, it never delivers. The only certainty is uncertainty.
Sometimes you need a rainy day, said my cousin over lunch one day. She’s 17. What a smart girl.
Maybe I need to step outside and get a little wet.
I don’t want to sink in the rip tide anymore. I want to stand on the shore, letting the water rush across the tips of my toes, and welcome the incoming waves, no two waves ever exactly alike.
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