September 12th: I had early morning blood work and an early morning ultrasound so I walked around the hospital grounds and watched the sun rise. A couple of hours later, sitting in bed and reading about Lady Jane, my husband calls.
“My brother was a fucking MESS last night, I can’t believe how crazy he was, accusing me of fucking Jess (I’m married and have a baby coming, why would I want to fuck her?) and ugh he was on blow, he tried to fight me, he was out of his FUCKING mind-”
“Did you do any coke?”
“I had a couple lines yeah but that’s not the point just listen man-”
“I gotta go.” Who can hang up on who first?
I text him something about how I don’t know if this realistically can work; he doesn’t seem ready to be a husband or a dad. And he was just where he was a year ago and we need a real conversation about all of it. He said “I don’t need this right now”.
I don’t need this right now either, baby. I guess “praying” is as helpful as calling a psychic hotline. Fuck prayers.
Becky the RN brings me a bottle of Flonase and headache medicine. She has a large diamond ring with an anniversary band in yellow gold.
“Becky, how long have you been married?”
“Oh, 40…40-something years-”
“Does it get any easier?”
“Well every stage has its challenges. Maybe a little. … There’s an adjustment period at the beginning.”
An adjustment period. Is this an adjustment period? And am I doing this wrong? Do I need to show more compassion? Shrug off the bad habits? From a scale of ignore and nurture to leave him forever, what do I do?
Maybe when Dakota is here and I am there I will intuitively have the answers.
“I love you, I can’t lose you,” Charley says.
I love you too Charley, and I want it to work….
“We will thrive okay?”
I am getting sick of words, to be honest.
“How long have you been married?” I ask Colleen the Nurse Leader.
“Well I’ve been married twice but 26 years with this second one.”
Of course I want to ask a string of personal questions but I stop myself. “Was it hard in the beginning?”
“There are trials, but I look back on them and they helped us learn and become closer.” I feel like I’m talking to Hillary Clinton.
This- detour to Salt Lake- is a trial. My DUI was a trial. Living in Asia was a trial. Being raped was a trial. Charley moving in with me in the first month was a trial. Getting pregnant three months after we met was a trial. Getting married seven months after we met was a trial. Money has been a trial. And this is a trial. But think about everything we have learned? What doesn’t kill you makes you wiser (and more neurotic) right?
“Tell me about Annie’s memorial.” Charley starts to tell me about an old lady who worked with his grandma Annie as a flight attendant back when a flight attendant was called a stewardess and was as enchanting and glamorous as being a Hollywood film actress. Then in the middle of describing the event Charley gets quiet.
“Hello, earth to Charley.”
“Sorry I was just thinking about my brother. He said some real hurtful shit, like nasty, hateful shit last night.”
“Yeah, it sucks when someone you love and care about sends you hate.”
“Yeah he was really hateful.”
Does he not see the irony in this? I’m having flashbacks to a trip to Moab in early July, when I got food poisoning and Charley, not having a license, forced me to drive an extra two hours to meet his friend to camp out and drink. I puked and had diarrhea on the side of the road every half hour and ended up in the ER with dehydration and cramps. I was already five months pregnant. A couple of days later, drunk on vodka, Charley totally lost his senses and started hitting me. Later he said, “That’s all in the past, Cloudy, I can’t believe you would bring that up! I said I was sorry.”
Thing is he didn’t remember it and the bruises embarrassed him. He felt shame. And now hanging out with his brother in Taos was like looking in the mirror, and again he felt shame, and it hurt.
And none of us are saints. Fight me and I’ll fight you back. Charley’s dad has a temper. Charley’s mom’s boyfriends had tempers. One would throw him and his brother in a suitcase and pound it until they stopped crying. My dad has a temper. He would break my bike for not learning to ride it fast enough. He’d punch holes in the door and cover them with bumper stickers. People see our composed, social selves, but what is hiding behind the walls?
Fast forward to now and I’m paying for a busted tire over the phone. Is Charley going to pay me back? Is he going to get some baby stuff? What happens next?
“I’m sorry for all those times I’ve been a dick to you. This shit with my brother really puts things into perspective,” Charley says. I can hear music blasting in the background. It’s his day off and somehow he’s able to afford beers with a friend. “It’s a hangover beer.”
Abuse- emotional, psychological or physical- embarrass me. Watching my parents fight growing up embarrassed me. Why? Because I can’t believe it. Just like I can’t believe Donald Trump is a presidential candidate that people are actively supporting- I just can’t believe how absurd everything is every day.
Charley, what gives your life meaning?
“Love. Passion for this existence we call life. … Slidin’ down snow and flyin’ through the air.. That last one is a Shane McConkey.” McConkey was a professional skier and BASE jumper who died in a ski-BASE jump accident in the Italian Dolomites, when his ski failed to release and it was too late to deploy his parachute.
French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre- who regularly had hemorrhages behind his left eye and therefore had a lazy eye that usually looked to his extreme left periphery- once said: “The absurd man will not commit suicide; he wants to live, without relinquishing any of his certainty, without a future, without hope, without illusions … and without resignation either. He stares at death with passionate attention and this fascination liberates him. He experiences the ‘divine irresponsibility’ of the condemned man.”
We realize our finitude, and that we are just tiny lumps of matter in an ever-expanding Universe, and yet we continue to create meaning, to make ourselves meaningful and even when we are discarded or abused, or hating our lives or ourselves, we will persist. Why do we do that? We are “condemned” and yet we are too fascinated by life not to continue and see what might occur next.
We find value through made-up criteria: So you married someone. So you created a family. So you have a good job. So you have a network of friends who also watch the same tv shows you watch. What’s the point? Who cares? Who fucking cares?
We receive and structure values from the people and communities that surround us, and then we think: “I am important and I am not a construct.” But we are constructs and we are absurd, and even when things are terrible we hope for something great.
Absurdity is the notion that we have expectations of the Universe, and the Universe will never respond to those expectations. Remembering a punch in the wall or a rape in college is remembering an absurd occurrence in the grand unpredictable scheme of things. Morality and immorality doesn’t matter to the Universe because it’s too busy creating galaxies and alien planets and black holes and stars.
Becky comes in with my 12 o’clock blood pressure medicine. It’s been hopping downstairs in Labor & Delivery, she says.
“About how many of your deliveries are C-sections?” I ask.
“It’s a surprisingly high number, approximately 1 out of 3. It’s a lot higher now than it used to be, because the risks of having a C-section are a lot lower and the benefits are greater, like not having to use forceps for instance.”
For Becky, this is a huge part of her life- nursing, helping people, and watching babies enter the world. For others, life is consumed with bagging groceries or fixing highways or teaching kids. And then we build our families and choose our homes and create our meaning.
Albert Camus was another French philosopher who worked closely with Sartre. Camus wrote “The Myth of Sisyphus” in 1942. The essay describes a man’s futile search for meaning exemplified by the mythology of poor Sisyphus, condemned to eternally push a boulder up a mountain. As the boulder reaches the top of the mountain it immediately rolls down again to the bottom and Sisyphus returns to roll it back up for all eternity.
Baby I’m trying,” Charley says. “God please forgive me for everything I’ve done.. I See it now.”
Sisyphus is the absurd hero who hates death and is condemned to a meaningless task for eternal life. “The struggle itself […] is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy,” Camus concludes. Sisyphus is the modern man who, if successful in his attempts to love the passionate life to the fullest in the face of the absurd, is a conquerer- a warrior.
Absurd or not, pregnancy, birth, morality, meaning, value, love, jobs: these are all appealing endeavors in the face of an alternative void. Even the trials and abuses, for us conscious beings running around in the unknown Universe, give us something to chew on, and move forward from, and through that appearance of evolution in our own life projects, we find meaning. We are all warriors fighting absurdity. We are all Sisyphus.