Monday, April 19, 2010

The Gift Came in a Gym

I don’t box, anymore. I sustained a concussion in January and had to take a 4-month break, and even though I thought I’d come back to continue honing my boxing skills, I spent those 4 months thinking about myself, Jonathan and the baby we might still have the chance to bring into our life.

The boxing gym was extremely important in my journey towards peace and wellness after Chris died. I only went there because I wanted to punch things, and what I ended up with is a sense of inclusion and warmth among a group of people who are just as goofy as I am. I have never belonged to a gym that gave me that kind of payback before.

I was walking on shaky ground when I noticed the first signs of my breaking away from the boxing gym. In one sense, I felt very sad, like I was once again losing something special to me. In another sense, my lack of excitement about punching and exercising myself into utter exhaustion is a very clear sign that I’m feeling better…less angry, less like hitting things and less like placing myself in front of someone who can hurt me and assuage the guilt I felt surrounding Chris’ death.

I once equated my intense workouts at the gym (which used to consist of a 3-hour cardio, strength training and boxing routine, 3 times a week) to cutting, as in razor blades and inability to deal with pain in a constructive manner. Not allowing myself to quit before every last rep and every last set of way too many workouts all wrapped up in one was completed was my way of dealing with my pain. I also felt as though I deserved nothing better than pain and exhaustion for what happened to Chris.

Times have changed. I do like to run long distances now, but it’s different. I do it because I like it. And those crazy boxing drills on the wall that I used to love to do – I still love them, but I skimp. I cut out entire sets, reps and I leave just because I’m tired. I can do that now. I no longer feel compelled to punish myself.

All things considered, a person who wishes to inflict pain upon herself could have chosen many, much worse ways of doing so. I got fit in the process of working through my pain.

So now what? I don’t want to leave the gym. The boxing gym is my friendly neighborhood bar, where everybody knows each other. We see each other at boxing events, we have a beer together, we like each other. I don’t have to leave just because I’m not interested in boxing, anymore. I’m a little interested...I mean, I haven’t yet donated my headgears. Maybe I’ll keep one for some light sparring. Getting in the ring, although harrowing for me, filled me with excitement and adrenaline.

Nobody there would think it strange that a person who has all but lost interest in the sport would still come in to work out in a more traditional way. And if they did, it wouldn’t matter to me. I spend much of my life looking for environments void of pretense, and I found a good one. It’s my gift to myself for weathering a storm I thought couldn’t be weathered

And I get to keep it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

All That and a Load of Laundry

Tonight I brought home the new futon cover I bought for Chris’ chair, the one he sat in right before he died. I remember him, in his morphine haze, saying, “I wanna sit in the chair,” and getting up from the hospital bed the ambulance drivers had pushed into our bedroom for Chris’ safety during the last four days of his life. There was no way Chris was going down in a hospital bed. Although he was incredibly weak, he got up and, with our help, walked over to the chair so he could sit upright and go out in style. I still remember him in that chair, finding me among his friends and family and locking his eyes on me. I talked him through his departure, because I knew it was best for him to go with as much guilt-free ease, and as little fear as possible. He did a good job.

I have sat in that chair a few times since his death, but the one single time that haunts me still is the night I realized, for the first time, that Chris was really gone forever. I can’t describe the pain, other than remembering how much I needed him. The pain was searing, like my skin being ripped off of my body, a hollowing feeling like screaming into an abyss. Nobody could hear me because I couldn’t make sound. I could just hold onto the futon chair and hope and pray that I could open my eyes and find that it was him I was holding, and not some stupid chair. I almost lost my mind that night. I had never before felt on the brink of snapping…really snapping…and never since.

Thinking about that night puts me back there, and I know I shouldn’t be doing that, but sometimes, that’s really all I want to do with a quiet evening at home.

I remember that even though Chris was dead, I still thought he was coming home. I still remember the piles and piles of unopened sympathy cards I came home to after being away for a time, the length of which I still can’t remember. I hated those cards. They were anything but a comfort to me. I grabbed them up and threw them, as forcefully as I could, into the trash without opening them, threw away all of the food from the days preceding his death, and emptied all of his toiletries out of the bathroom cabinets with one sweep of an arm. I couldn’t get away from his stuff, and that’s all I wanted to do.

Everybody felt sorry for me, and I wanted to die and I wanted everything to stop, and I wondered how long I was going to remain in the state of shock I was in, and I just wanted to be able to breathe again.

I still wonder where he is, and if he’s okay, and if he still knows me.

Last week, I took the old futon cover, the one on which Chris died, folded it up, and placed it into my little Chris-box of his stuff I keep for myself. There are only a few things in the box, but they’re important things that remind me that he was here, and that we met.

Tonight, before I left the futon store, I asked the salesman behind the counter if it would be okay for me to share a story with him. I told him about how Chris died in my chair, and how after five years I was giving my chair a makeover and giving myself hope for a brighter future. I said all that without crying. He smiled, God-blessed me, and wished me luck.

When I got home, I put the new cover on the chair. It’s Chris’ chair, the one I set up for him when he returned home from having surgery, so he could be comfortable while he recovered. Now, it has a new face, a brighter face, a face of the future, my future together with Jonathan, and it has a chance to become my and Jonathan’s chair.

I just don’t know how long that will take.