Having a body part to call home.

The truth of the matter is, I’ve been going through a lot lately.  No point trying to hide it.

In the last two – three weeks:

  • My husband and I bought our very first home,
  • We packed up three days after closing and moved,
  • My car failed to start,
  • Our cat ran away,
  • I got sick — not cute sniffly sick; rather, the type of sick that turns you into a hateful beast, 

And most jarringly of all, I can’t even believe I’m typing this:

My college boyfriend died.

We dated for two years, and last time we spoke, it was late February.  He wrote me after finishing a Buddhist retreat, and sounded incredibly happy.  More happy, in fact, than I had ever heard him. Post-retreat, he was returning to Maine to work on an apple orchard for a little while, then off to an office job that had recently doubled his salary.  He looked forward to being a best man at his sister’s wedding, an uncle to his other sister’s baby.

He died on April 15.

His passing was by all accounts an accident, but details are very few.

I drove to his funeral in Houston last Monday, returned home Tuesday morning, and bought a house.  My first.  Ross and I are buying it together.

Right before the closing, I forced myself to stop crying, put on some make-up and a nice dress, then drove in silence with Ross to the title company so I could sign all the papers for this exciting new phase in my life. 

***

The crying and the lack of sleep led to a cold last week, but sickness I can deal with.  What’s harder to manage, for me personally, is the knowledge that your emotions are still fragile, that they still have ragged edges around them, and that the person you’re with just might say something penetrating enough — “wow, you look exhausted” — to trigger tears.

You know?  It’s like your sobs are there in stealth mode, waiting.  Lying underneath every seemingly normal, calm conversation.

(I co-hosted a party at The Paramount last week too, and was terrified that I’d fall apart talking to some kind stranger.)

Anyway.  The reason I bring all this up is partly because I just feel better being authentic about my life on this blog.  I don’t know why.  Perhaps because bloggers are driven to share, overshare, and share some more? 

But I think the real reason I decided to open up my laptop and let my emotions tumble out has something to do with my hands.

***

Do you have a body part that reminds you of you?

I know that must seem like such a bizarre question, like this rough couple of weeks has turned me fully insane. Allow me to explain.

When I was a little kid, I’d lie in bed at night and lift my hands up above my face.  I could just make out their dark outline, and to be sure they really belonged to me, I’d shake my fingers around and watch them blur in a half-crescent streak.  It was reassuring to know that I controlled their motion, that they obeyed what I told them to do — like I had to convince myself that my hands weren’t these totally separate, alien entities.

I was talking about this today with one of my work clients, and for some reason, the conversation about me and my hands made me (surprise) emotional.  I told her that for me, groundedness always begins with the hands, but I’ve known feet people (yogis), breath people (meditators), even tongue people (anyone who has ever done a Master Cleanse). 

Now, there are certain parts of my body that I abuse to no end.  The hairs on the back of my neck for example, which I pull at when I’m nervous.  I’m sure you have yours, too.  Fingernails perhaps.

But for whatever reason, hands have always held a special, almost reverential significance for me.  Bored in class, I used to draw mine over and over again on lined notebook paper.  I have a large freckle on my left hand that various people have suggested I remove, to which I say NO, that’s my weird big freckle and I like it.  Until it changes shapes and turns magenta, it’s staying right here, thanks.

The only out-of-body experience I’ve ever had also involved my hands.

I was sitting in a car, listening to music turned down very low, and reached over to turn one of the nobs.  As I did, I got the singular sense that I was looking at someone else’s hands and said out loud, “oh my God, those are hers.  They’re so small and precious!”  (Isn’t that funny?  My own out-of-body experience got a little conceited.)

Anyway, it only lasted about a minute, but I got this profound sense that “she” (i.e. I) was worth taking care of — because those hands were so damn endearing.  It was like I got to get a glimpse of myself from an outside perspective, for just a fleeting moment, and had this impulse to be more nurturing, to take better care of that girl with the hands.

***

There is a school of psychology that believes that cognitive processes are shaped by the body, rather than the other way around.  Yoga is enough to convince me of that.

I think having a bodily reference point can be oddly helpful: Something you can look at, attached to your person, that reminds you that you’re a human being and vulnerable and lovely.  I’d been doing a lot of “hand gazing” this week, as I told my client yesterday, and slowly, things began to calm down.

We fixed my car.  We found my cat.  I bought duck eggs for Ross at the farmer’s market, to celebrate the fact that gas just got turned on in our house. 

Staring at your various body parts may or may not sound like your idea of a good time.  In fact, you very well may be thinking to yourself, “Tolly is just a little bit weirder than I previously thought.” 

But I think what I’m really talking about here is slowing down.  Having some kind of tool when life gets tumultuous, and taking a moment to do that thing and that thing only — even if it’s as silly as looking at your hands — rather than get carried away in the drama of the moment.

How I need to be reminded of that sometimes.