One thing I am beginning to understand less as I age is this need to be in pain, in subjugation to someone else. I watched an Australian series “Top of The Lake” that featured Holly Hunter as a strange “teacher” to a group of women in various stages of denial, despair and recovery. Hunter was by no means the main character but her character was pivotal in that the teacher finally announced that these women were “crazy bitches” who never learned.
I understand. I’m almost 60 and I’ve been saying I have learned from my mistakes for almost a decade. Have I learned? What I’ve done is cut myself off from almost everyone. It seems the only way to keep myself safe. I’m poor-I do mean poor, the kind of poor that has to choose between visiting the dental clinic for a yearly cleaning and making sure I have the rent. I haven’t had my teeth cleaned in 3 years. I’m careful, I floss, but the tarter builds up. I think things like this are important. I see other women who have never had their teeth cleaned and are holding their children in their lap when I go to the clinic and I wonder, who cares for these children? What are they learning? What do they eat? Crap from a box because their mother thinks it’s cheaper than real food? Because she never learned what real food is? How long can we function successfully as a society when the bottom tier, the tier where I live, cannot get real medical attention, doesn’t understand the basics of nutrition or birth control and will never make more than minimum wage?
While I may rant about those who have managed to work the system by obtaining disability and free medical care, there are millions more who are struggling to survive. Like me, they work-hard-and so cannot get help because they “earn too much” and so we fall through the cracks. It’s a shitty observation about this country. No one should be denied medical care. Period. Who the fuck are you to decide whether I can get my teeth cleaned? Who the fuck are you to decide whether I can get contraception or a PAP smear or false teeth when I’m 70? How can it be OK for people with addictions, who have been given options in recovery programs and work programs, who end up on the street because they don’t work the programs, to end up in group homes with medical care, 3 meals a day, a room of their own and any kind of help they ask for to get all that..And I can’t get my teeth cleaned? I’m the most liberal person you’ll ever meet. I believe in everyone getting the medical, psychological help they need.
But I also believe in people working for what they get. I don’t believe in handouts. To anyone. My past history with therapy taught me that, as well as my shitty childhood. You pay for what you get, you earn what you get. No one hands you anything. And why should they? Why should anyone think they should be handed anything just because they showed up?
Yet our society dos that all the time. Beautiful people get stuff just for showing up. I’ve seen so many people who grew up getting all the best toys because they were the pretty ones. In the real world, the pretty ones still get the best toys-but there are lots more of them. Some of those spoiled, pretty people can adjust but many can’t. So they marry for security, or use drugs, or adjust to the realization that they aren’t so special and try to figure out how to win with something other than a dazzling smile.
Back to learning as I age. My hormones don’t rule my life anymore. Yeah, I feel a terrible sadness when I think of all I’m never going to have. No one is ever going to love me the way I once loved. Well, I cry about that sometimes. But I’ll live. There are children in this world who will never know a single day they don’t feel hunger as a constant, like humidity. Or women who will never figure out there are no true reasons to endure beatings. There are young beautiful women who use that as currency to get out of horrible countries, whose beauty and youth are robbed from them as surely as a tourist’s pocket is picked. My life hasn’t been charmed, but what I’ve learned is that it’s mine and I can stop this journey anytime I get really tired of it.
I wonder if any of those people ever understand that. They don’t have to wait until they are so drained, so steeped in despair and pain before they can board the train for Outta Here. I won’t. Life isn’t so fabulous that I really care what’s happening in the future. Life is a series of experiences, nothing more. Gracious, when the experiences become nothing more than one long series of painful struggles, what’s the point? Really.
All this tossed around in my head while I waited to find out what was wrong with my car. Getting to my job-254 miles away- is a pain but now it seems the car will be OK tomorrow. The car has to make it until my retirement in 2 ½ years. I can’t afford a new one. I’m not going to make the last couple of years in my life miserable over something like a car. For what? Trying to do things like clean my teeth, drive a car…seriously, these things are worth continuing my life for? No, they’re not.
So, while I’m waiting to find out about my car I’m pondering whether all this is worth the stress. Ultimately, of course, it’s not. My cat Annie is making it worthwhile today. Max will be back inside soon and he’ll reinforce the feeling. As long as I have them, I’ll keep struggling. I’ll keep fighting. They are cats, animals. They don’t CARE whether there’s some deep reason. Life simply is. As much as they love me-and they do-if I’m gone they will find a way to keep feeding, living.
With us humans, it’s a little less clear cut. I have to pay rent or I live under a bridge. I have nowhere to go, no one to take care of me. I don’t want to live under a bridge, or even in a tent. Humans can’t scavenge food and shelter without eventually ending up in jail. I’m not going to jail because I can’t pay rent. So I can’t be like my feline friends. They depend on me now and I respect the commitment I made to them when I rescued them. They never asked for anything but I promised it nonetheless. Until they are gone I have to make a living. For them, I work and budget and try to find the “give a shit” to get up each day. So far, their affection and attention has worked. Max and Annie make me feel that whatever else is wrong with me, I have the love and affection of two of Nature’s creatures. They chose me, in fact, not the other way around. Max waited 7 months for me to get my Appalachian Trail obsession under control. He had no real home, no one guaranteeing his daily meals or even a safe shelter at night.
Yet, when I came back with Annie 7 months after I officially moved out of my little house he came home. It’s too much to tell now, and I still get short of breath when I think about it. No one, animal or human, ever cared for me that much. I’m still learning to live in my life. A series of experiences, as I’ve said. Right now, there are too many and they are too rich to turn my back on just yet.