This morning after a previously rescheduled school appointment and before I visited my precious #Kitkats, I took myself on an outing. I had not been on any outings for a while. A long while. I got sick just before Thanksgiving and fought that flu to the bitter end. *cough* The bitter end resides in the dry hack I have developed which has me peeing my pants at inopportune times.
I couldn’t cancel my classes, as I had already found a sub for one so that I could attend my son’s first ever Baritone concert, and only one student showed up. I didn’t want to chance that they wouldn’t show up again, so I went. Throat Coat Tea with lemon, honey, and ginger in my tea mug, the cold catching at my face as I rattled my way down the deserted school corridors, my teacher cart’s warped front end, one asphalt crack away from exploding my materials everywhere. This sense of obligation is not foreign, must not be, to any of my teacher friends, and certainly not to those of you out there, whom I have not met. I felt none of this altruism to any of the private sector jobs that I worked. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a passion for any of those jobs. I always take pride in everything that I do. I definitely didn’t call in unless I absolutely had to and most of my sick calls were about my kids. That, of course, wasn’t pertinent during the 13 years that I ran my cleaning business. I took my kids or I stayed home depending on the severity of the illness or my fatigue from caring for it. It was why I scrubbed toilets for a living. I could breastfeed, I could take my babies with me, and I could stay home when they needed me. Even that job saw me give the best of myself. It taught me a lot of about me, other people, and how to organize my own home. Most of my clients were genius in the ways they organized their homes. Their fridges afforded me the opportunity to see the right or wrong stuff to eat. Their linen closets showed my where and how to put my linens away. The beds showed me what order the blankets went in and how to place the pillows. I didn’t know anything of these things. Now, before you think I was snooping. I never ever did. Any place I went was because I had a task there and then used the opportunity to learn from it.
But I digress. What I really came to talk about was a conversation I had at the counter at Preservation. It is a unique little coffee shop that I have been going to since it was Serrano Social Club. The coolest coffee shop I have ever been in. I say that with so much love. First, you must understand. I have no home base. I have no place to go where people say, oh she looks like… Or remember when she… I found friendship here. I found my tribe here. And believe me. That has been a long, hard journey. There is no drive-thru and the parking is a bitch. It forces me to walk, even when I don’t have time. It forces me to take time to just be. I rarely write there. I usually regroup. It is a place where I can always find a hug, a very good cup of coffee-made Doug’s way, which means it perfectly suits my taste and mood. It is a hub for motivated and creative people. There is always someone interesting to catch up with. It is also a place that allows me to just sit and stare out into the street, thinking my thinks. Or nothing at all. Calm comes over me. I begin to center myself, finding balance, which allows the stasis I need to write and be my best self.
At the counter today, I met up with Doug. I was being an irritating debutante, trying to determine if I wanted their eggnog latte rather than my usual-“Doug Knows”. Doug doesn’t suffer debutantes gladly, it is one of the things I love about him. Calm, unfettered by the ridiculous, and unimpressible. During this silly interchange (on my behalf) I was enfolded in a hug. By one of my favorite people. Auni. She is ethereal. I am not kidding. She glides rather than walks. Her countenance, a creamy visage of milk and honey with a sexy splash of red hair. Her contrast to Doug’s bearded, I am a fur trapper and friend to the Indian’s look, is very good for business. Though, it is the inside of them that attracts me. Auni’s is brown sugar with undertones of Sriracha, the amount of which depends of how much you fuck with her. I like my friends to be complex and capable. Auni is all of these things. I turned and closed my eyes, melting into her hug, accepting the goodness of it and responding with my own love and light. When she released me I looked into her big blues and saw the steadiness of her truthful personage staring back, the beginning of my centering began there.
A little backtracking. Several years ago, I went through a major transformation. A huge overhaul of my manifest destiny sans the killing of innocent people. It was about 2012 or so. It was all due in part to going to the social club. You see, I was starting to make friends, acquaintances. I was starting to feel comfortable enough to reach out, past the fear, the feelings of inadequacy, the shame I felt at cleaning houses. I was beginning the process of meeting myself and formulating the hard questions that needed to be asked of myself. One of the things that became apparent was that I couldn’t finish a sentence with any given individual without stopping and asking them if they needed to leave. Did they really want to hear what I was saying? Or even giving way to another person that would often walk up. In fact, I didn’t even give them a chance to answer. I’d stop mid sentence, ask the question, and then promptly say. “Oh, never mind. I am so sorry..” Or some such thing that would dismiss myself, my topic, my whole person as being unimportant. Because that is how I felt inside. Not because they did or said anything to warrant such behavior. And I am sure, now, that some of my conversation must have been tedious. It is why I love so many people, here, in Modesto. They have put up with the tediousness of me—in all phases of this transformation. It hasn’t been pretty. But then, I never do things pretty. I am even an ugly crier. Coincidentally. It is the longest I have lived anywhere in my life and despite my hatred for the heat and the constant of the a/c in the summer, I love it. This blog post is not about that transformation, which is not complete, I have another blog post about that subject. Suffice it to say, it is a testament to that period of time that I am able to have such heart to heart conversations. Like the one that ensued with Auni.
We chatted about her beautiful baby. Then, I spoke of the murder that I have in my heart for the ants. I explained to her that my house is built on an ant hill, a huge one with what I envision, a mammoth queen sitting on top of a mound the breadth of my house– under my house. I can clearly see her queenly eyes smirking as she intuitively signals her next attack on parts of my house. The more inconvenient, the better, I imagine her transmitting. This time it is my bathroom. Auni, nodded and vehemently added her own thoughts on the invasions at her own home. We clicked and clacked, comfortably sharing our passion about killing them all. Though, I don’t think I mentioned my dream of killing the queen. Exploding the queen and her smirk into a million pieces because, well, I know Auni loves me but she may become afraid of me if I told her that. I mean, I feel such shame that these urges exist alongside my love of the Earth. My respect for all living things. My regular and consistent recycling and saving of spiders. But this blog post is not about my hypocrisy. OKAY?!?
That’s when the deeply private part of me decided it needed to be heard. It was probably because of those baby blues and the honesty that shines from them. I told her how hard it was to finish the last few chapters of my book. A book that has taken me four years to write. A book, that when (IF) I mention it, I always preface with an apologetic air and explanation. Yes. I say. I was learning how to write while I wrote this novel. I rarely go into the fact that I decided to go to college, then restart college, and then go to high school while I wrote this book. That I lived through some of the most difficult time periods of my life, and that is saying something, while I was writing this book. That the transformation that took place in my soul and to my body took place while I wrote this book. I enfold that truth behind and between the words when I over-explain myself for the millionth time about this subject. It is an apology that no one really cares about nor do they really understand or pay attention to. But Auni did. Whether she saw the sheen of tears across my pupils or heard the tremor I have learned to mask, I don’t know. But she heard and saw something that made her say…
What if you died tomorrow, Shanyn? What would you say while you were looking down? First, I just want to say (please imagine tearful eyes and an obvious tremor as I say this) my heart trembled that she assumed that I would, of course, go to Heaven. NO matter your belief, mine is obvious, the gist of that is…she thought of me as a good person. This is so valuable to me. Beyond riches, beyond power, for people to think I am good is important to me. Call it what you want and I am sure there are psychological, in fact I know there are, terms for this. I want and need people to believe that I am a good person. I won’t go into why, suffice it to say, I have lived a long life. Sometimes it feels as if I have lived a million lifetimes, that is how weary I am. And I have done a lot of things that make me sad and shameful. To be to the point that I live my life so that people think I am good is one of the goals of my transformation.
The next and even more important part of this conversation was her belief in me and her care in responding thoughtfully. Because this attention, this address, this conversation got me thinking. If I died tomorrow, what have I done to change the world for the better? And does it,finally, outweigh the bad that I have done? Have I earned my existence on this plane? The same one that so many amazing people have inhabited and altered with their feats of good? The answer is not easily forthcoming and the few tidbits that stream amongst the detritus of thought in my head do not seem enough. Not nearly enough.
I know every act of kindness I have performed. For I have intentioned each one. Because, I know every act of unkindness, perpetrated by me and observed by me. This question is deeper than finishing this book, though, finishing this book is important. The question, begging to be answered by actions, needs attention.
I thanked her, while the synapses sparked and zapped, and I went to sit in the window facing the street. I drank my coffee, the eggnog latte I decided, by making Doug wait far too long and that I hoped had a splash of somethin’ somethin’ beside the nog. It didn’t but a girl can hope. I said I am transforming, I didn’t say I was an angel. I will NEVER EVER be perfect. I will always have more than my fair share of vices, pettiness, and useless vitriol.
I propped my legs up on a chair, ignored The Paris Review I had intended to finish, and looked through the people passing by. The bottom of my cup became visible and I knew that it was time to go. Finish the book. Finalize the questions. And then go about asking them. The answers will be what make the rest of my life worth living.