Plot Twist: Karma Is Actually a Really Nice Lady

There’s this shirt hanging in my closet.

It says “Karma is only a bitch if you are.”

When I first purchased the shirt, I thought it was funny and clever. Now, rolling the cloth between my fingers, I realize that this theory feels completely foreign to me. I imagine all of the times I must have referred to Karma as “bitch,” and I’m not sure if I want to laugh or gag.

 I’m not knocking anyone’s beliefs. It’s just that I’ve had some weird experiences, and if you’ve been following me awhile, you know that they shape my perspective more than anything.

The words “Karma is a bitch” bounced around between my angst-ridden teenage friends and I A LOT.  So often I’m surprised we didn’t get smashed and have them tattooed. I have clear memories of being a regular offender, and I have managed to narrow my saying this down to the following 3 reasons:

Reason 1) Someone was a bag to me after I was a jerk to her cousin after they were obbvv starting shit with my girl Trina.  (Sidenote: I have never actually had a friend named Trina.)

Reason 2: A guy dumped me and I had intrusive thoughts about him developing relentless bacne.

Reason 3: I drew a major blank in heated conversation and needed to sound effortlessly wise and biting.

That worked for a while. The phrase was like a cigarette in the way that my pulse would slow as I exhaled responsibility and watched it dance unabashedly, stopping only to kiss the night. Then one morning I woke to find that I was 20 years old…and also that my life had fallen apart. It didn’t occur to me until right then that this might be karmic retribution. I was trapped and frantic for days inside of this completely weird spiral of hindsight.

“Is this about that time I stole the book about serial killers? Am I paying for the day I publicly outed a classmate for crapping in the outdoor pool? Is it because I left spiteful notes and lied about being at bush parties among a myriad of other things I can’t possibly begin to remember now?”

For all of the years spent in fear of being wrong, it was suddenly very difficult to remember being anything but. Very slowly I am learning that this is not any way to live. Very slowly I am purging this guilt about a trait so very human. There’s nothing wrong with being wrong. There’s no possible way to avoid it. I know that we all say “Nobody’s perfect” with voices flat as prairies, but if that’s the case, why don’t we ever want to admit it? Aren’t the hard things hard enough? These devastating things, these traumatizing, crippling, painful things…Aren’t they heavy enough without also wearing the notion that we DESERVE them?

I finally met Karma, but she was nothing like the way I’d written her hundreds of times before. She was less of a fiery, vindictive force and more like a mirror. As I become more comfortable being wrong, I can allow others to be wrong without the need to rub their faces in it. I am aware that every hostile situation I’ve seen has my fingerprints on it. Action and reaction. I think it’s strange now, the way one raises a voice and another a fist in a frantic effort to cover what we already know.

I don’t deserve to be sick. You don’t deserve to be sad. We have about as much control over these things as a parade has over a midsummer storm. We are going to fuck it up repeatedly, and then time will pass and it will be more of a scar than a festering wound. We’ll call it a “learning experience.” I hope we can listen to some Radiohead and pity ourselves before making the phone call that says “I’m Sorry.” And when that phone call comes, I hope we can say “I know.”

That obnoxious shirt has an entirely new meaning to me. It basically goes like this: What I receive is a reflection of what I am putting out. I know you’re probably picturing me wearing palazzo pants and drinking a smoothie the colour of the forest floor, but hear me out: Now that I don’t have to approach things with a sense of competition, I can just be kind. I can ask how someone’s day is and genuinely mean it. What I’ve noticed so far is that people are both surprised and delighted by a kind word and patient eyes. More importantly, they almost always return it.

You can look into any glass surface and see your sharp cheekbones tangled in vines of fine lines. But if you look at the face of the person in front of you, I mean REALLY look at them, you might discover hints of your soul in their expression.

What You Knew: Loving Someone With a Mental Illness

When you fell in love with me, there were two things that you knew.

The first was that I was going to make you late. It made you crazy at first. Your hands would busy themselves by moving in and out of your pockets, and my eyes would busy themselves with your eyes, darting around the room to avoid glaring at me. I couldn’t help finding it wildly adorable, which only slowed my pace. It was never long before you would give up on being timely and sit down to observe the storm. Missing shoes, heavy breathing and frantic laughter.

The second was that I was going to make you think. I wasn’t the type to go easy. On the nights you spent away from home, our phone calls would be flooded with the questions of the universe. I’d ponder what it all meant. You would tell me that being unsure was the grand adventure. I started to tell you what colour your mind was, and you answered me with soft, sleeping breath.

When you fell in love with me, there were things you didn’t see coming. When we stumble into such fondness, it is usually under the impression that love will tell us what we need to know. Love speaks, and it speaks often, but sometimes it only comes through in riddles. It’s not what we know, but what we learn.

And we learned

The first time I was hospitalized, you watched as a colossal dose of Haldol attempted to rid my head of the things so real that they couldn’t be. It took with them my peripheral vision and short-term memory. The doctor said that the side effects were temporary. It became very clear that my condition was not. It was when we learned that no amount of affection could balance my brain chemistry.

We grieved the loss. You laid next to me as I stared at ceilings and you told me that the emptiness would be encompassed by something more beautiful than I could imagine. It was never a skin I could shed at my convenience, though I tried. I said “this is not my life.” You said “it’s just part of it,” and you smiled when you told your friends and family. I learned (and forgot, and learned again) that it was my life, and not a life sentence.

We learned, and somehow we are always learning. I wonder sometimes how we ever managed to remain tangled in the shadow of a mind that tore at us from the inside. I think of all that our love brought, how much of it you must not have seen coming. I imagine that it’s a little like a Chinese gift exchange. I laugh and say thank you for not returning me. You tell me that I’m exactly what you were hoping for.

No amount of affection could balance my brain chemistry, but it didn’t stop you from giving every ounce you could muster. There wasn’t any fixing, just healing. You had no idea what to expect, but you trusted love to tell you what you needed to know.

I like to think that it did.

Love Has Paws

Sometimes I just don’t feel real.

It’s like I’m outside of myself, suspended in the air, taking in the scenery. When people speak to me, I feel their words entirely. I feel them and I want to say “Congratulations. I’m sorry. I love you.” I receive the signal and yet, my response doesn’t get through. Message failed. Return to sender. Blinking lights and wasted stamps.

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

Please believe me when I say that I want more than anything to talk. I love your voice. It’s a tiny, persistent stream of light seeping through the cracks of my closed blinds. I know you don’t believe it, because your phone never rings. When I tell you that my phone is broken, you will glance at it and tell me that it looks just fine, certainly fine enough to give you a fucking call once in a while, and I will cradle that phone between my shoulder and my ear waiting for a dial tone that will not come.

Every so often, I lose control. It happens quickly, taking me under and spitting me out like a clumsy tourist meeting the ocean for the first time. But it happens slowly enough that I can see the change occur, wishing always that it could just stop here. It’s a rollercoaster climbing the tracks and it’s me knowing that no amount of fearful shouting will stop the descent. Every so often, I forget what it is like to move my mouth without asking my disorder for permission. It is in these moments that I am not certain I was meant for this life.

People often ask me what saves me, what makes it worth it to stay anyway. It’s not my ambition or potential driving me to pave a successful path. It’s not the need to prove anybody wrong. It is not what I would miss. It is always the small things that keep me rooted here, feeding me purpose.

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It’s small things like the slap of a tail on the floor when I make it past my door frame and into the living room, only to rest again. It’s a warm body on cold feet, and somehow, the only silver lining that stands out. It’s a wet nose meeting my temple, a joyous greeting to dissolve every goodbye I’ve ever heard.

Though there are always many more reasons to stick around than can be seen in moments such as these, this is often all I can cling to, and I do so with tenacity, because it is enough. There are 2 furry, strange beings who literally depend on me for survival. I am responsible for them in a way that I am not responsible for anyone else on this vast and mysterious Earth, and for me, that’s magic. It’s 4 cups of food twice a day and a serious dose of tenderness. In moments when words are heavy, there’s none to carry. All that is left is their pulse and mine whispering of our fondness of one another. In between breaths I can think clearly, and I remember that my phone is broken, so it’s probably time I got a new one.

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As I watch them frolick and tumble through drifts of snow, I wonder what a happy dog looks like. I decide that it would look a lot like mine. A warmth comes over me then, contentedness wrapping itself around a heart that I thought was expired. I silently mull it over, and I smile knowing that I have helped more than I have hurt. I have made another being so ecstatic that they are rolling in their own shit. In this moment, I am here, I am real, and more present than ever.