"I can see that you bottle things up," she said. "You need to talk about things. You can't be a stuffer, like I am." I was facing the aunt on her couch, acutely aware of the mint green walls of her living room. It had been what, a day, a week since my girls and I plus our bags were dropped off here?
I wanted to make this work.
But I just couldn't shake my reservations about this woman. I looked at her and my eyes pleaded for someone to fall on, someone who could understand the hellish nightmare of uncertainty, injustice, confusion, and pending loss of a know-nothing, newbie immigrant.
Granted, I was only an American coming into Canada, but still. I had nothing. I had only been there a year with no status, no job, no provincial driver's license and it had been a year of major upheaval and transition--my husband's 2 other cancer episodes, moving five times with a toddler, a new baby, his just-barely-there new career, and all the post natal emotions which hadn't even subsided by this third diagnosis. There hadn't even been the time, much less the money, to start or pay for application of residency. So. To recap. I had no job, wouldn't have been allowed to work (immigration rules), and had no car with which to even escape. I relied totally and completely on everyone else.
And here I was. In the house of a stranger, wondering how I got there, how I got to that place in my life, no more assured of where I was than my own children. (I had been an independent woman before, hadn't I? I guess writing bad checks and scrambling to make ends me for me and my baby barely counted as independence, but it was hard to remember. It seemed like a lifetime ago.)
I looked at her. I was going to try this anyway. This getting-to-know-her thing. She was family albeit not the kind of family I knew. Maybe there was some value to us sitting there on that couch that winter day, her trying to get me to talk; and what did I know? Except for not to judge at first glance? But I was oblivious. Things? Stuff what things? I didn't even know what she was talking about, much less what I was thinking or processing.
I sputtered a response that somehow had nothing to do with my then-current state, something scattered and half thought out about the way I grew up. I think that's what she wanted to hear. I was able to pry into something more than just my current state. I waited for her response. This would be anecdotal or wise.
I don't remember what she said.
Whatever specifics that were exchanged, all I remember is being left with a feeling like she didn't understand what I was going through. I should have used that opportunity to tell her, to scream it maybe, "My life is a freaking nightmare and here's why!" I guess I just thought that she would be like every other basic compassionate, observe that I was young with two very young daughters, and put it together herself that being newly married and facing what our whole family was facing was terrible!
But maybe that is quite a lot of information to assume someone could know or put together. She at least knew that her nephew and I were newly married with a second child because she came to visit us back when the baby was born. That had only been 5 months prior. Hmm. The fact that she missed it just exhausted me more, and I at least sensed that she wasn't perceptive enough to be the person I should be talking to.
Then, just like that, I was beginning to feel like I was under a microscope. Instead of being relieved to find someone I could talk to, I just shut down (or realized that talking about my fears with this woman was just not going to happen,) and diffused her questions with lighthearted (if you could call it that) small talk, well-being of the in-laws, and... rent.
There seems to be a common theme in those times, and for several occasions and moments after. The way my brain was working. For all of the hard times I've had in my life, I've been able to look back now and understand that for what I was lacking in being able to acquire things/resources to make my life better, to help myself, it has been FAR less due to being wiser on this side of the fence than it is the compounded number of dramatic things to have happened in my life in those days, less than a year after having been behind the wheel of a rollover in August of 1999. My head was bashed around so bad that I was in ICU for three days with a concussion, and I've had to wonder just how much that head injury affected all/any of my abilities to process things in a logical fashion.
I have been hesitant and irritated to develop this theory too far. It doesn't speak to the choices I made, it doesn't excuse the shit decisions I've employed, and it wouldn't get me off the hook for anything. But I am curious just the same. A whole lot of unspoken, blurry time was spent searching for answers when I couldn't even recall the simplest exercises in memory (where I left my house key, my papers for school, even how the campus layout was from the year before) and then when my fog cleared--or what I thought was my fog clearing--my responses were always emotional, not always rational, and concentrating took on a whole new effort. I would get headaches from concentrating on something--the kind of pain I had after the accident.
Sometimes, even today, 12 years later, I will feel myself get dizzy from time to time. It's only slight, but it feels too familiar... I think that I would have made ridiculous jumps in conclusion for just about anything, but most especially when I was in a state of stress. Being the mom of two young girls, being young myself, and having a young husband in the hospital living with an aunt who upped the rent every month of our stay with her and threatened to call Child and Family Services on me when I couldn't fathom what or why out of thin air would qualify as stress.
It wasn't until I worked at the crusher of a local excavating company and had lots of time to journal, reflect, and otherwise beat myself up about stupid shit in my life that I actually felt such a clearing of my mind, I had to wonder if I snapped. Lucky for me, my snapping came in the form of realizing the world was opening up and I could match logic to emotion (a sweeping miracle for someone like me!) It was to be the beginning of being responsible for myself, rather than waiting for someone to come rescue me and live for me; and I was relieved for that. But it was extremely painful to take a look on my past with that puzzle piece in my hand and see with new understanding all that I could have done.