Notes from the island: Amie

She was starting to feel like she was alone in a crowd, singing a song no one could understand. Nearly every day she found herself wishing she could better articulate one simple point:
Calm down. It will all be okay.

Ironically, in a city gone mad, that seemingly simple point was harder to make than any complex legal argument. Try telling the man staggering up the street, drunk at 9am, that it will all be okay. Try telling the people driving like bats out of hell to jobs downtown that it will all be okay. Try telling your coworkers that, or your mother, or even your cat.

Driving off the ferry one night, safe from the rage-filled city, she felt inclined toward a whiskey ginger. Into the dive she walked, wondering how many stories in her life began with “I walked into a bar,” or ended with, “And then I paid my tab and went home.” She couldn’t seem to escape the reality that no matter what else was going on in her life, one solution was always to sit down on that stool.

If only she had such faith in other spiritual practices, like yoga, or helping at a soup kitchen.

But this was another question she could ponder over ice.

Fiddling with her phone, she remembered that she had uninstalled all her social networking apps, like Instagram and Facebook. In a fit of enlightenment, she had realized that these supposedly social tools were actually preventing her from socializing. The only way to explore this theory had been to uninstall them. Toying with the idea of now re-installing one just for something to look at, she sighed.

Forcing herself to test her hypothesis, she set down her phone, walked over to the group of folks at the other end of the bar, and asked them how their night was going.

She was soon ensconced at the corner stool, discussing everything from Utah to Hawaii, software to poetry, suicide to morality. This was what always tempted her to return to a good dive: it was the most likely place you could have philosophical conversations.

And it was better than an app.

It was revealed to her that she shared her name with one of the bartender’s children, who had committed suicide as a teenager several years before. He elaborated, describing how and when and why. Inhaling, she felt no need to run away from the conversation. This was an opportunity to practice articulating her inarticulate song.

She said, “I feel the need to say something presumptuous.”

He waved his beer at her in invitation.

“I have always struggled with anxiety and depression. I know a little bit about what inclines someone toward suicide. What you’re describing… the way he did it, and his reason… there was something in his wiring. If he hadn’t done it then, it would have been a year later, or five.”

“That’s what his sister says,” he told her.

“But you feel guilty,” she pressed on.

“There is some of that,” he agreed, and joked without humor, “That’s why I come here.”

She suggested he think about letting go of that.

She didn’t really know if he could have done things differently. She just knew with utter confidence that it no longer mattered. His guilt now only served to keep him on that bar stool with that pint glass.

If she was ever going to get off her stool, she had to find a way to show people that it would all be okay. Even when it most profoundly was not. It was simply a song she could not get out of her head.

He thanked her, patted her shoulder, and bought her another drink. A stocky regular sat down with them. They chatted about her recent move to the island. And then “Amie” came on the jukebox.

Together without discussion the three of them began to sing along, and sang every chorus to the end.

For 4:23 minutes, life was completely, unreservedly okay.

The husky fellow held out his large hand to shake hers, saying, “Welcome to the island.”

She paid her tab and went home.

notes from the island: twirl

notes from the island: twirl

Driving home from work on Tuesday, she decided to pick up the tea the doctor had recommended. It was dark out, well past six on a January night. The doctor’s hippie tea blends were sold from big jars at the coffee shop. She parked in front of the coffee shop and got out of her car distracted by the light-filled building across the street. A concert or something at the Arts Center.

It looked fun, full of people on an otherwise sleepy weeknight. Too late to join in, probably. Preoccupied by this, she walked into the coffee shop and found it dark and empty.

She looked around.

There was no one inside.

Even considering what a quirky, hippie business it was, this seemed a bit much…

And then the alarm went off.

Tiptoeing out of the building, she was met with a guy leaning against his car outside, saying, “They’re closed.”

He said it in in that mellow Northwestwerly way that is chill and friendly, but uncaring.

“I figured that out,” she said. “Hopefully they will, too.”

The doctor had agreed that she was BURNT OUT. She had been prescribed the tea to restore the burn, and was also supposed to go in on Saturday for blood work to confirm.

She had sat down with this doctor, an island doctor, who must be kinder and more patient than most, because she lived here, for more than an hour. They had discussed everything from what kinds of foods she craved to what caused her stress as a child.

Trust in a doctor-patient relationship is not just about discretion. It’s about an investment of time, and of confessing one’s sins.

I drink too much.

Okay, yes, I do smoke.

Sometimes I eat a whole box of donuts.

You tell your doctor, not for forgiveness, but because your imperfections are presumably a factor. In a perfect world, a doctor would see the whole you, so they could diagnose the entire ecosystem of you, mindful of the donuts, but not judging them.

In a perfect world.

She had had a wonderful first date with this doctor. They had covered so much ground. She felt the afterglow of confession, of feeling recognized in the eyes of an extremely educated medical professional. She felt that, surely, this woman would understand her situation and help her fix it.

So she had pills to take and tea to drink and blood work in a few days.

A designer and artist, she felt her ailments in color and texture. Thursday, in the overcast heart of January, she felt as she had for months a craving forΒ red. This red was the color of passion, and not just any red – cabernet. Call it pretentious, but by god, only the deepest, richest red would do.

In her quest for this rich, vivacious, un-burned-out, reddest of reds, she was lured by the corner of a dress folded on a 50% off table. She hadn’t been into this shop, up the street from the doctor’s office, before. It looked so twee from the street. But here she was rummaging through their sale goods.

Carrying two dresses into the shop, one (let us go ahead and call it) cabernet and the other turquoise, she was greeted by a fluffy woman in overalls, arms outspread, offering her dressing room – Behind the curtain, just shove the wrapping paper out of the way.

When she emerged a short time later, she was met with, “You didn’t come out for a twirl!”

She bought both of them and promised to come in next time she was wearing one, to twirl.

On Saturday morning she walked into the doctor’s office to be greeted by the typically calm assistant bursting with explanations and lectures. I was just calling you… so you know… you would be the one to call the lab to check if the blood work was covered…Β 

The doctor emerged. It was that moment, after a date, when you run into someone on the street and they’re suddenly frosty. I said you would need to call them, the doctor said.

She left feeling like an idiot. The labyrinth that is American healthcare had defeated her, once again. She hadn’t read the invisible ink.

Silly girl.

There was surely moral enough in the fact that she, personally, diagnosed and treated herself with a dress of a certain color. But that was the thing about this life, an assumption she made, perhaps foolishly – that everyone had a role and could work together. She assumed she could be the one who thought in colors, and that a doctor could be the one who thought in treatments, and so on. She believed in specialization. But it was becoming clear to her that she would need to start educating her specialists. Write it down in more detail, please. Who am I calling, and what do I say?

In the meantime what made her feel better was not the tea she hadn’t been able to buy, or the possibility of this lab work, or even the red of the dress she’d bought.

What made her feel better was remembering that shopkeeper, arms open wide, insisting, You owe me a twirl!