It’s 11:30PM and I’m driving along I-45 north, coming out of Houston, Texas proper. It’s been a long time since I’ve made a trip down to where I grew up, to the Heights specifically where I lived for a beat in my mid-twenties. I lived in a garage that had been turned into an upstairs & downstairs apartment (I had the downstairs). I would jog the grid pattern streets of the Heights Historic District every single morning, usually waving at the same people who were up as early as me watering their gardens or walking their dogs. Not as much has changed down there as I would’ve expected, which makes me happy. Everything else has changed so much.
This was the first real outing in a public place around people and more than a half hour away from my little farm since before the pandemic. I was anxious—I’ve always been wound a little too tight for my own good, but after two years of isolation, whatever pieces of social graces I’d adapted to were lost a long time ago.
And since my last public outing, my health has severely declined. This makes the anxiety monster much bigger because what if I have a cardiac episode right there in the middle of a song? What if the room spins and I faint and they have to stop the concert because of me? It’s not that unlikely; it’s happened before (one time I fainted in a CPR certification class which, well, the irony is a bit on the nose). It’s been a big part of why I’ve continued to ride the isolation train (that and, COVID is still a very real threat, especially for the immunocompromised).
If you’ve been with me for a while, you know that I’ve traveled far and wide to see Old Crow. I don’t think it’s just super fandom (although that’s certainly part of it), but also human tethering. It’s connection. I wrote about it several years ago when I drove out to Atlanta for some last-minute escapism. (That story here: https://adonkumentary.com/2018/09/11/a-place-for-us-all-here/)
I could go on and on about my feelings for OCMS and why I all but obsess about them, but don’t think I could describe them better than I did in that story above…so give it a read if you have a few minutes 🙂 They really are remarkable and as far as I’m concerned, worth driving all over the world for over and over again.
…but that was back when I could confidently make a drive alone that far without fear of a medical emergency. The limitations of invisible illness are often overlooked because we might not (as they say), “look sick.”
“But you don’t look sick…”
There’s a discomfort that comes with having a problem without a solution. We get obsessed with “overcoming” illness. You hear stories about the people who “overcome” medical conditions (which is great and should always be celebrated), but it isn’t like that for some of us. Life becomes maintenance: managing your symptoms as best you can (while navigating the heartless, greedy insurance/pharma industry who profits off keeping you sick) and making safe and often difficult choices to accommodate your limitations.
It’s having to learn to be brave and take risks but also have a plan for the hiker’s pack full of “what-ifs” that you carry on your back forever. It’s wondering when your next “last” will be—for example, I’d love to have cherished my last run. Those early morning jogs through The Heights were everything to me and now, well, that’s a limitation I’ll likely never overcome. That’s okay, but it makes you wonder what other lasts are happening without knowing it.
Last goodbyes. Last “I appreciate you”s and “I love you”s.
The Heights may have not changed much, but the I-45 corridor certainly has. It’s always been a never ending sea of cement businesses and advertisements but somehow, it’s more chaotic than ever. It reminds me of Vegas in that the lights are so bright for miles, you’d hardly know it was night time. It’s also incredibly overstimulating.
I met up with a friend of mine tonight—a lovely woman who I met through the public school system and came to know much better when doing readings of my children’s books to various groups of elementary students. She’s been a supporter of mine both for my writings and just for me as a person and those kind of genuine people are…well…they’re pure gold.
She knows of my illness and helped me feel safe to go to the concert tonight. We talked before hand about the recent “episodes” I’ve been having and without a thought, she assured me that she’d be there for me should one happen.
I have to pause and pull this apart: I cannot tell you how much it means to me to have friends and family who support me regardless of the obstacles I face. I’m self-conscious of how I’m not as much fun as I used to be. I used to be a spontaneous adrenaline junky: sky diving, mountain bike racing, white water rafting…
Had my friend not gone to the concert, I wouldn’t have gone (as much as it would’ve pained me). It might seem small, but simply telling your friend who’s scared and anxious that “I got you should anything happen” is such an easy and meaningful way to support those of us with chronic / invisible illness. “Don’t worry, I’m here for you.” “I got you.” “You’re not a burden.”
I’m not a burden.
She was there: a bright, shining light whose energy made everyone gravitate towards her and I felt safe: safe with her, safe with my surroundings, and safe to let loose and enjoy a show that brings about togetherness like none I’ve seen elsewhere. I wasn’t a burden. My company was appreciated and my God, did I appreciate hers.
I still have another 30-minutes or so until I get home. I’ve passed the busy parts of I-45 having moved on into the East Texas Piney Woods where soon, I’ll be home at my small farm in the swamp.
Twice tonight, I cried. I cried because we’re only a week past Uvalde and while the show was happening, three different active shooter situations were happening elsewhere. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about guns last night and I hate that we live this way. But also, like I said in my last post, I felt guilty for trying to have a sense of normalcy for myself. It feels selfish. But….more on those thoughts here, if you’re interested: https://adonkumentary.com/2022/05/27/guilt/
The second cry was Molly Tuttle performing her song, “Crooked Tree” —
“A crooked tree won’t fit into the mill machineMolly Tuttle
They’re left to grow wild and free
I’d rather be a crooked tree.”
I’ve felt an awful lot like a crooked tree for a long time. Tonight, I didn’t have to be ashamed of that.
Take care of each other, friends. We certainly all are in this thing together.
P.S. A very special thank you (and swoon) to Cory Younts for handing me your harmonica last night!! *Screams in fan girl* My collection of OCMS concert things is growing and I cherish them so much ❤
(yes, I jabbed a hole through that guitar pick to wear it as a necklace and no, that’s not weird. Bite me.)