13: What I already know

I took the first phone call the night my brother crashed his motorcycle. The friend he was riding with couldn’t get a hold of my mom. Or my dad. Or my brother’s girlfriend.

So he called me instead.

I remember everything about that night. What I was wearing and how my hair looked and the smell of the North Sacramento teen center where I was hosting an event for my summer camp. The shape of my bent knees and the way my right ankle landed in the arch of my left foot, like a ballerina in third position. I stand that way whenever I’m having an important conversation.

It’s instinct, automatic.

On the other line, an unfamiliar voice tells me there’s been an accident. My brother crashed a motorcycle on garden highway. He hurt his ankle and his shoulder and he’s in the ER.

“My brother has a motorcyle?”

There’s a sickness in my stomach when I admit, at first, I rolled my eyes.

The guy sounds calm and centered and his tone feels reassuring.

“But he’s awfully desperate to get a hold of my mom.”

The conversation ends and I get swept back up in the energy of what was happening before my phone rang. It’s noisy and my kids are demanding and minutes later, my racing heartbeat, starts to calm down. Within an hour, I’m laughing and talking over ice cream and grilled cheese sandwiches. Then, I’m three spoonfuls into my extra thick chocolate milkshake when I’m overcome by nausea, and dread. Out of nowhere, and without explanation. That deep, aching, immobilizing sensation, originating in my belly and radiating out.

“I have to leave.”

I throw cash on the table and get in my car. I’m out of the parking lot and on the road and I don’t even know where I’m going.

Somehow, I get there anyway.

At the hospital, my brother is in the ICU.

“I thought he sprained his ankle.”

They let me see him right away and sometimes,  I wish they hadn’t. He’s mumbling and delirious and as I make my way to the side of his bed, I see his whole body is bloody. It looks like Law and Order SVU when they first discover the victim. It’s gruesome like I didn’t know was possible in real-life.

I was up every, single hour of that, the worst night of my life.

In the morning, I cry. A lot. I cry driving to camp and for six hours after. I cry into my sweet dog’s fur as we’re both lying in my mom’s bed. I try to sleep, but just keep crying.

The night of my brother’s accident changed everything, for all of us. And in the months that followed, filled with “what could have beens?” and “is this really happening?”, I couldn’t shake the feeling that came over me and my milkshake. The why and the how of it, haunted me.

Six and a half years later it makes a little more sense. I have more experience tuning in to my intuition, my truth, and my authentic self. The places in my body that tell the stories my mind tries to ignore. I’m learning to pay attention. To quiet down and listen. To trust that what comes up as a sensation, has meaning in actions, and decisions and words.

Tightness and illness and fatigue and deprivation tell me something I’m doing isn’t working.

Lightness and inspiration and smiles and laughter and enthusiasm inspire me to do more of everything that fires me up.

When I keep running and stay busy and allow myself to get wrapped up in the energy of what’s already happening, I lose the connection to the message, that’s already in there. My knowing voice is silenced, before ever being heard.

When I take a deep breath, and let myself be still, and let go of the idea that something is wrong or bad or fixable, I connect to the knowledge, the wisdom, that’s already in there.

What I already know emerges, takes over, and shows me the way.

Things People Say

“Be sure to read the rules about alcohol consumption on the back.”

The sophomore working the sales booth hands me my first high school dance ticket.

“Oh yeah, you know me,” I quip back, assuming we’re in on the same joke about what an exceptionally well-behaved teenager I am.

“I know your brother.”

I turn away quickly, before the tears I can feel forming in the pit of my stomach, reach my eyeballs, and come pouring out.

I make it to the parking lot, and the shelter of my mom’s minivan, just in time.

“What happened to you?” My mom wants to know, as soon as I close the door.

“Just something somebody said.”

I reluctantly share the story. Immediately, she joins me. Fear, sadness, anger, shame.

It was the first of many experiences stirring a similar emotional reaction. It was my first recognition of my vulnerability to other people’s perceptions and opinions. It was my first realization that my private family crisis was a topic of public conversation. For the first time, home felt like a claustrophobic, unforgiving, small town.

At the local grocery store, women in our community dodge my mom. They duck into aisles and avoid eye contact. Maybe they want to give her privacy, or they don’t know what to say. Maybe they don’t want to look into her desperate, tired eyes without comfort, or a solution, to provide. Maybe they judge her. Or shun her. Whatever the intention, or motivation, the feeling is the same. It feels like judgement and isolation. Like failure as a mother. Like a vacuum of support when she needs it the most.

Friends and acquaintances, even our extended family, have ideas about where we all went wrong. We mostly come to know about them, second or third hand. Rumors and gossip swirl around us. Every time I leave my house ,I fear an unexpected encounter with someone I know. A surprise attack of exposure before I can get my armor on, my story straight, my smile right.

It is a painful period that leaves me increasingly guarded, and self-aware.

I learn to keep everything close to my chest. To spin a pretty good story about my normal, suburban life. When my best friend reads my college application essay about my high school home-life, she can’t believe her eyes. In my house, I feel frightened and restless. At school, I appear confident and collected. On my hardest days, I am funny and sarcastic. In moments of self-doubt and sadness, I showcase my easy-going personality and carefree laugh.

I keep a strong commitment to stay on my best behavior. My family needs me to be the perfect kid, everyone expects.

I make sure people only have good things to say, about me.

Many years later, I still hear tid-bits about myself and my peers in the hot spots of my home town. The entire world is connected by Facebook, but all of us who grew up here are linked by coffee driven conversations between our moms.

My reputation, and its reflection on my parents, is relevant to my decision-making, even now.

Thoughts of my fifteen-year-old self crept into every moment I considered quitting my job.

The night I pull the trigger on my resignation, I bump into a friend at a yoga class. A woman from my high school graduating class. She hugs me and asks how work is going. “Is it still overwhelming?”

I pause to create space, to stuff down the truth.

I dig into my teenage toolkit. I say something vague and non-committal, then do my best to change the subject, right away.

“Phew, that was a close one.”

Later, alone in my apartment, I relive the conversation with the integrity I should have brought to it the first time. The courage to answer honestly, without expectation of how she will respond. To set aside old hurt. To stand in my decision. To know it’s right.

The first person I tell is a friend who works the front desk at my yoga studio. She is sweet and open. I remember she told me she left a lucrative career in fashion to enhance her quality of life. I blurt out my news while frantically signing in for a noon class, standing in a khaki suit, wrinkled from my court appearance, earlier that morning.

She lights up with surprise and excitement. “I’m so happy for you.”

“Yes, I can do this.”

At first, I limit the scope of the announcement to the four walls of Zuda yoga. In every exchange, I am met with an abundance of affirmation. Soon, people initiate the conversation with me. “Hey, I heard that…” “Is it true you’re…?”

I marvel at their sincerity, support and positivity.

Fueled by the energy of my yoga community, I take it to the streets. My anxiety peaks while nervously reviewing the menu at a trendy midtown lunch spot, seated at an intimate two-person table, face-to-face with my family law mentor.

“This is worse than telling my dad.”

We’ve shared a few good-vibes text messages, but I remain skeptical, braced for the storm. Over the last six months, this man has dedicated countless hours to teaching me how to be a lawyer, run a law firm, interview clients and enhance my professional network. Hours he could have spent billing clients, or hanging out with his wife. He put his full faith in my ability, handed me the keys to a kingdom, and asked simply that I do my best to not screw it up.

“So.” He breaks the silence. “What’s going on with you?”

I breathe in an “oh shit” and bravely begin to explain myself.

With wisdom, compassion, and his trademark humor, he offers his unconditional support. He does little to question my maturity, or sanity. He does just enough to assure me that our relationship will endure, and the kingdom will survive.

When lunch is over, I’m ready to tell everyone I know.

My co-workers, my clients, my former classmates. People who never pictured me as a lawyer, and others who only know me as one.

One, bold, moment, at a time, I reveal my truth.

Where I expect skepticism and judgement, I experience validation and love. Where I fear rejection and dismissal, I feel embraced, and lifted up. Where I struggle to be witnessed, I feel seen and heard.

The emotional residue is so potent, my fifteen year old self feels it. She learns that people can’t offer support if you don’t tell them why, or how, you need it. She sees that people only know your story, if you choose to tell it. She discovers that when you engage in an act of personal bravery, you give people the opportunity to accept you, just the way you are.

It becomes clear that if you know what to listen for, there are beautiful expressions of love, in things people say.