Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Let Go

“Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.” ~ David Foster Wallace

The vacuum makes a loud emphatic squawk before it falls silent. Fantastic. Our guests are expected in 30 minutes and my carpet looks like 6th Avenue the day after the Macy’s parade. In desperation, like MacGyver’s manic wife, I run upstairs to see if I can find some packing tape I could maybe wrap around my hand to create a makeshift sticky lint brush and just narrowly miss barreling over my 8yr old who is curled on the steps in front of her room. Silent tears tumble down her cheeks and smear with puzzling streaks of blue and grey.

“What happened? Are you ok?” She looks fine. Better than the carpet anyway.

“Mommy! I was trying to paint an elephant and it doesn’t look how I pictured it in my head.  Now it’s all ruined.” She starts sobbing and I sit to fold her into my arms. “I can’t explain it. I don’t like how it turned out!”

I look at her paper. “Oh baby, it looks cute! Maybe you could paint some jungle over here. Or maybe you could paint a different elephant. Just try again!” I say encouragingly.

“No! It’s not supposed to be like that. And I don’t want to paint a different elephant. This is the elephant I want to paint.” Her sobs have subsided but her face is destroyed by disappointment and my heart can’t help but ache in sympathy. Dammit.  I so don’t have time for this right now.

“Why don’t you do something else for a while?  What about your Sudoku puzzles. Ah SU-do-KU… ancient Japanese art of number placement!” I attempt to distract her with my ridiculous all-purpose Asian accent but she is not amused. I give up. “So what, are you going to just sit here forever?”

She stares me down and declares, “Maybe. I just can’t be happy right now. You don’t understand.”

Maybe I do.

Liz and I met in university. She was the radiant centre of our social circle, smart, stunning and always out for a good time. We loved that she was popular and hip enough to get invited to all the cool parties but carefree enough to bring the rest of us along. She was the charismatic coed all the guys wanted and all the girls wanted to be (or wanted…or wanted to be wanted by...) By our twenty-something standards she had scored the holy trinity of success- good grades, good skin and a great boyfriend.

Soon after graduation she married her college sweetheart and it seemed she had pulled together all the elements to film the happy ending of her very own romcom. Their lives seemed perfect. She was slowly climbing her way up the corporate ladder, had bought a cute starter home in the suburbs, and was dreaming of having a second child when she was sucker punched by the discovery that her husband of almost ten years was leaving her for a woman at the office.

When it first happened, we all circled like hens, stunned to see our friend crumble. We fed her tubs of Chunky Monkey, sat through hours of tears and questioning and cursed her ex with estrogen-laced empathy. Sometimes she wouldn’t answer her phone for days and we would show up unannounced only to find her balled up in her covers, stinking of guilt and regret. We’d bolster her with red wine and reassured her that no matter what had been going on in the marriage, he had been a coward to end it this way.

Eventually she re-entered the world, but she could never shake what had happened. Over time, disbelief and dismay set into resentment and self-pity which by the time she was finally divorced a few years later, had quietly cured into a crust of bitterness. Nothing inspired her. Professional opportunities floated by unnoticed, she turned inward and her suburban garden overgrew as had her spirit.

Like Liz, I have had moments where life got derailed by the unexpected. Relationships that strangle with stagnation and control. Respect unreciprocated. Life plans that unravelled. Who hasn’t longed for something so much that when reality hits you can’t accept that it’s not going to materialize, that it’s gone or that maybe it wasn’t what you thought it was in the first place. And sometimes it is so hard to concede that you are grasping at nothing but a shadow of an idea, a ghost of an identity that you lose sight of what you are sacrificing to hold on so tightly. We are told to try try again if at first we are not successful but at some point, maybe hanging on hurts more than the fall.  In casting loose, at best we might discover a transformational moment that pushes us off in a new direction. At worst, we’ll discover that we are still here.

I hadn’t seen Liz in years when I bumped into her in the pharmacy recently (aka-the most awkward of random meeting places.  Ever notice how no one makes eye contact in these waiting areas? Everyone is too busy praying the pharmacist won’t loudly call out that their antibiotic prescription is ready and force them to unadroitly explain to a room full of strangers that their meds are for a terribly painful strep throat and not some other unfortunate more intimate infection…)

But with only six seats in the cramped area, we could hardly pretend we hadn’t seen each other. We exchanged the expected if dubious Oh-My-God-It’s-So-Good-To-See-Yous and I’ve-Been-Meaning-To-Call-Yous. She looked great (What can I say? Some things never change…) and I asked her how she had been.

Oh you know, her son was getting so big and work was mostly the same old same old.  She had recently adopted a cat and she was back in court with her ex and couldn’t believe he was refusing to help pay for their kid's summer camp. He never returned her calls, and last weekend she walked by his apartment and just stood on the sidewalk outside his window for 20 minutes.

I wanted to yelp, “You did what??” And to ask the pharmacist to recommend a treatment for her psychoemotional constipation. But the truth is, her relentless yearning resonated with me. I could relate to being so far from yourself that you don’t even notice you have become a stranger. To fighting so hard against no one but yourself because you can’t stomach the truth that you are in the wrong place, that you are lost. That this dream, this version of yourself is no longer who you are and you have no idea how to find your way back.

I wanted to say, “Yeah, Shitty stuff happens. Unexpected stuff happens. And sometimes, really shitty unexpected stuff happens.” But there is a point where the source of your derailment doesn’t even matter anymore.  When whether someone caused you to fly off the tracks is as irrelevant as your own responsibility for the mess you find yourself in. When all that matters is your willingness to accept that the squirrels have eaten your carefully laid breadcrumb trail, and it’s time to venture out of the woods by a different path.

But I said nothing of the kind. Instead, I left her to pay for her medication and told her I hoped she felt better soon. I meant it, but knew as the master of her own unhappiness, it was a choice that only she could make.

Eventually my little one reluctantly left her disheartening pachyderm and decided to join me in my absurd game of “sticky-tape-rug-hands.” So...not the most efficient of cleaning techniques, but powered by giggles, it did the trick. We finished just in the nick of time, and, taking a last glance around at the state of the house, I dimmed the lights and went to answer the doorbell, both of us quite ready to move on to something else.
Names and some details have been altered to protect the privacy of those involved but remain true to the essence of the events.




  1. This is so true Maia! Why is it that some people bounce and others get stuck in a forever cycle of unhappiness? Thank you for another thought provoking article!

  2. I loved reading this. It was very insightful. It makes us think about how the process of letting go or "undoing" is just as important as the process for creating the dreams we see in our mind. Makes us also realize that it's not only about succeeding but also about how we pick ourselves up after we fall.

  3. Thanks for the kind feedback. Truth is we all fall and we all get stuck sometimes. The choice to let go can be so scary. I heard someone say once, when you're not sure what to do, make the choice that feels most like freedom.