“Sure, it was all for a reason, a reason I had yet to come up with. Years of searching, and I still end up in the backseat, ruminating on God and existence and the consequence of good and evil in humanity. I lived my parents’ struggle. I was their kid. It was my birthright. I owed it to them, to their past, to my childhood, to our old happiness. What karma was this?”
— He Never Liked Cake
There are days when I think I’ve grown out of it. I wake up and go to bed, all perfectly me. I’m a thirty-something with my career and my spacious apartment and my ridiculous love for my parents’ golden retriever puppy. Life spins wildly and beautifully around those days. Those days bring the happy confidence of great friends and new relationships and career gains. Those days are jamming out to my favorite bands, the taste of good coffee, and the feel of a yoga class well taught.
There are also the other days. Thankfully — and thank you, yoga — there are far fewer than in past years. I drag my body out of bed and bargain with myself all day long in order to complete my obligations. I’m a thirty-something exhausted by my endeavors and frightened by my lack of faith. Those days bury my confidence under indecision and doubt and tears. Those days are when I get mad as hell at that brain injury of my father’s. Those days my mind reels, spinning in endless circles, pointless thoughts going around and around and around …
Why did my dad get in a car accident — was he supposed to get a brain injury — what did my family do to deserve this — what was the point — why did everything have to get so hard, so sad, so stupid — where did all this come from — why my parents — what am I supposed to do — why does it matter so much — what’s the point, the purpose, the reason — why is it always f@#king everything else up — why does brain injury happen to anyone — why am I in a puddle of tears on my damn bedroom floor again — WTF????
It’s exhausting. My Gram Margaret calls it dumb, and any best friend of mine — and most assuredly my mother — will say something along the lines of: Janna, that’s enough. You make things too complicated. This did not happen to you. You cannot carry this with you into everything else. Okay, okay. They’re all right. Give it up. This is all just one big lesson for us, isn’t it? Life?
More often than not our lessons are born from a particular experience, and that experience spawns a “tiny mad idea,” that one notion that dictates a whole lot more than we’d think it ever would (go check out Gabrielle Bernstein’s book Spirit Junkie). My experience is my dad’s accident. My tiny mad idea? I think that because I lost one thing — one relationship, one way of life, one idea of a future — in the seconds it took to crash a car, then I need to always be ready for the crash. In undoing our tiny mad idea, we learn about ourselves.
I know I have learned a lot from my dad’s crash, from brain injury. The lessons have changed over the years. First, it was strength. I learned to be resilient (like my mother), to love my family and to be present. That was high school, and I was young. Next I learned independence and self-confidence, both of which carried me through college, away to Spain and off to New York City. The New York years were a medley of acceptance and patience. The acceptance erased some of the anger; meanwhile, the patience showed me that not all things happen in the time it takes to crash a car. Life is not brain injury. And when I get a break from the lesson learning, the undoing of the tiny mad idea, I get to coast and be comfortable with where I am. Coasting allows me space and time to write a book (He Never Liked Cake), to help others get through their stuff, to enjoy my own stability, to breathe, to grow.
But it’s life, and there is always another lesson. Enter in my next one: faith. Yeah, yeah … of course I have faith. I go for things, big things. I go for careers and crazy ideas and big moves. I love beating odds. I love a challenge. Absolutely, I got faith.
Faith? Yeah right… I thought as I was sobbing into my spacious apartment’s bedroom carpet this past week. There I was, surrounded by my own embarrassing truth. I really don’t have any faith. I am afraid to know what it feels like to feel safe, loved, and happy. I’m afraid that life will just take it back. And if there were a round two of the very big things gone wrong, then I couldn’t handle it.
I know this injury. I’ve written a book about my father’s injury and how it’s affected me, our family. I’ve turned myself inside out — with yoga, with the one summer of an Upper West Side therapist, with relationships with the wrong men, and with way too much overly analytical and deep contemplation. I’ve shared it, blogged it, spoke about it in public. I know my father. I know who he is and who he was. I know that both of those men have taught me many, many things. I know that the injury was going to be in my life, and in my mother’s, one way or another. I am strong. I am accepting. I’m more patient than I used to be. I know myself. Yet, all the strength and acceptance and patience and confidence, and I’m still very afraid. Why?
“You know you’re not your parents,” my friend Sarah tells me over the phone. “You’re not your mother or your father. Things are not going to turn out the same. Have some faith. You know I miss my dad, too, a lot this year.”
Besides, my dad has been acting a lot like a dad lately. He gives me adult advice, some of which I actually take. He makes jokes about having a beer with me because he knows my mother would kill us both (his medical cocktail does not agree with alcohol). He makes me coffee and soup for lunch. He buys my mom flowers. He apologizes. He unabashedly loves his dog, his “Myla Muttley.”
I used to say my three biggest fears were bears, spider webs, and happiness. I used to think it was a funny thing to say. Today it sounds childish. Faith. I gotta get some, because it’s not always all about brain injury.