As if by some act of providence, the rain parted long enough for my friend to take me to the farmer’s market. As we got out of her unassuming sedan, she asked me how I was doing, and I told her, “Not so good.” Ah. And we didn’t have to get into it any further. The simplicity and mutual understanding in that little exchange was a pleasant side effect of my first real experiment in radical honesty with a new friend. The problem dies in the daylight and thrives in the darkness, they tell us, and one of my greatest fears when this all began to come to a head two years ago was that no one would ever want to be with me, even just as a friend.
Not so, it seems, for I continue to play catch-up learning on how normal people navigate both the joy and the emotional landmines to which life inevitably gives rise. Though I continue to be my own worst enemy, I am finding occasional sparks of hope and joy by carefully and deliberately dipping my toes into the potentially perilous waters of making my life more complicated, despite medical advice not to do so right now.
So there we were, hunting for the elusive garlic man. We saw some interesting and unusual produce, but the blood-pressure lowering, vampire-fighting cloves were a no-go. We agreed it must
be a bit too early in the season for that good, local, deep-purple garlic that stains your finger tips with a smell for two days after cooking it. I had to make lunch without it. Together, we ate egg noodles in a sauce made of minced yellow onion, cheap hydroponic tomatoes, lime-infused olive oil, kosher salt, cream, cheddar cheese, and a dash of red pepper, for good measure. I told her my anecdotal hypothesis on why addicts tend to like their food spicy. “The capsaicin in hot peppers hits taste bud receptors that trigger release of dopamine in the brain,” I said. “It’s harmless pain that feels good.”
As Ira Glass told us a mind-numbingly complex story about a former USAID employee, I pretended to work on stuff while she actually worked on stuff. As I looked through an old paper journal, I found a page that reminded me of how far I’ve come, but also how far I still have to go. “I don’t know if I should show you this, or not,” I told her. I quelled a brief flash of fear of admitting to another particularly odd episode of drinking that took place last summer – in Greenland. The “Yellow Bar” was what me and my science research crew later named it when the ship finally arrived. A couple days prior, as I awaited my ship’s arrival, a young native woman approached me at the Yellow Bar and grabbed my journal. At first it seemed harmless enough, and rather amusing. Letting a person write in your notebook is an age-old, but very effective reporting technique. But then I suddenly realized that she wanted beer and/or money in exchange for … well, I can’t say for sure. Let’s just say that American male contractors staying in nice hotels overseas in economically impoverished creates a dynamic of temptation that could lead to a whole other level of trouble. Fortunately I didn’t make any bad choices beyond drinking beer instead of going hiking and sightseeing.
Still, my friend was listening, and didn’t feel uncomfortable or judged. What a miracle. She’s going to be a great doctor. “We should cook together, sometime,” she said. The few out there who actually know me know those words mean a lot to me. Whether it be my clandestine blogging or sautéing an onion, these intense acts of mindfulness lift the obsession to use as an escape.
The rain stopped and the clouds parted in time for her to leave. A few seconds later, my doorbell rang, and there she was. “You forgot your umbrella,” she said.
“Oh, thank you, it’s not even mine.”
Onward and Upward, Kirk Klocke