I live in Iowa

This may sound incredibly stupid at first, but really, who cares? This is what I’m thinking about tonight so this is what I’m writing about.

Imagine if you will…

…You’re playing a video game. You’ve gotten pretty far along in the game and at this point you think you’ve got a handle on where the game is going and how to win. Except something happens. You lose power or there’s a glitch in the Matrix or your cat vomits on the console. Everything resets and when it powers back up you realize… you didn’t save your progress. *Cue Twilight Zone music.*

August 7, 2021, I had the rug yanked out from underneath me, my heart stopped and the universe’s cat vomited all over my console. My life reset and I hadn’t saved my progress. I’d been sent back to my last save and lost everything I’d gained over the last 21 years.

Life is a simulation and we’re all in the fucking Matrix so this should make perfect sense to you, right?

We start off in training mode and then around 18 we’re finally given a quest, an objective. We hurl ourselves forward collecting all the power ups, magical items, and weapons we need to reach our goal. What is the goal? It’s different for everyone and, if we’re being real, it changes a lot over time as life continuously kicks us down the stairs. But for the most part, we all have the sense that we’re aiming towards something, right? Education, marriage, kids, career, retirement, adventure, fun. Some of those or none of those. What we want and what we think the objective is changes but we still feel like we’re moving forward and that our inventory is stocked with all the crap we’ve been collecting along the way.

August, 2021, my game reset, I lost my magical inventory. I felt like I’d been thrown backwards in time to before my marriage when I was still just 18 or 19 years old. I no longer had a goal or an objective. I was fresh out of training mode and needed to play the game all over again, revisiting every level, redefeating every boss, sitting through endless cut scenes. I had played the game for so long and now I had to start over.

When you lose your progress in a game all you want to do is get back to the place you left off. Maybe you decide to go and explore some other areas of the game you previously left untouched, or you complete some side quests you ignored, but for the most part, you are intent on getting back to where you were. You have a game to finish, after all.

That’s been me since August ’21. Trying to get back to where I was in the game.

Where was that exactly? To be honest, I don’t entirely know. I know that it felt like I had my old life and a new life yet to come. But my new life wouldn’t start until I found a satisfying career and new routine to settle into. One life defined by its routines and meaningful activities and another life defined by equal but different routines and meaningful activities. The problem was, I couldn’t just step from one life into the other. I didn’t know what the new life’s objectives were. I didn’t know what my career or daily routine should look like. I couldn’t start my new life because I didn’t know what it was supposed to be and I definitely wasn’t equipped for it. My inventory was empty.

It’s a strange thing to feel so completely lost in your 40’s.

It’s like that scene in Lilo and Stitch. Stitch is supposed to be this bioengineered super being, highly intelligent with superior strength and strategical planning capabilities. And, yet, in the darkest moment of the film, he feels completely helpless and lost. *Wipes away a tear.* That’s how it feels. I’m a fucking adult, for cripes sake. I’m not supposed to feel lost and disoriented. I’m supposed to have my shit together and be heading for that damn goal, off to fight the final boss.

But I didn’t have anything together. I just knew there was a version of me waiting in the future that did know what she wanted, had a career, and a life. So I entered this liminal space between the two lives. A space where I work to figure all of that out. A space where I play the game all over again, trying to get back to where I left off before the cat vomit. I felt like Scott Bakula, just trying to get home.

And, to be honest, I have felt like I was living in some sort of suspended time loop outside of my real life. I decided that I wanted a college education in order to have the kind of life I want. And in my head, my real life would start in 4 to 5 years when I had my degrees and a new career, after I’d moved to wherever and settled into a new daily routine.

But, and we’re finally coming to the part I’ve been thinking about tonight, (thanks for holding on so long as I wade through all this)… I live here NOW. Not in some mythical future. Now.

Stay with me.

I’ve been feeling like my real life is out there waiting for me in 4-5 years. But that is completely ridiculous because I am alive right now, living.

I’ve had this feeling of urgency, like I need to sprint towards my new life, like I’m trying to just get through the levels and get back to where my life ended. I’ve told myself that I need to put some things off and wait to explore them and enjoy them until my new life starts. I’ve told myself I don’t have time for hobbies or leisurely pursuits or relaxation or dating or friends. All the things I was once interested in learning about or experiencing went on the back burner. I’d have time to get to them later, when my new life started.

But that’s really not how life works. That future is all in my head. I have not yet perfected the ability to see into the future, though I’m working on it daily. The truth is I am here now, in the present. No amount of self-denial will make that mythical future arrive any faster and all I am doing is making myself miserable.

For about a year and a half I’ve been chanting rhythmically to myself over and over, “This is all temporary. This is all temporary.” I haven’t finished unpacking and daily I think I may as well start packing everything up again because I’m not going to be living here that long anyway. I haven’t let myself live. I avoid doing things that mean I’m making a life.

Not only that, but I’ve had this feeling that everyone I meet is going to slip through my fingers like sand. It feels like I either have to hurry up and spend as much time with my new friends and acquaintances as I can now or not worry about it at all because soon enough I’ll be gone, on to my next life. Everyone feels like that friend you make at summer camp. You know for one summer you’re going to have the time of your life with your new camp bestie but then there is a solid chance you’ll never see them again.

But I’m not at summer camp, I’m not in limbo, and I’m not working my way back through a game I’ve already played. This is just my life. Life doesn’t stop for cat vomit. It keeps going and drags you kicking and screaming along for the ride. You can’t make it go any faster or slower. And you can’t pretend it isn’t happening. It’s not a sprint, baby, it’s a marathon.

I live in Iowa. I live here. I actually live here. This isn’t a vacation or a pit stop or a stepping stone. This is where I live. How long will I live here? I can’t answer that. I just know that I can’t put my life on hold while I wait for my life to begin. I have to live. I have to do things I enjoy and realize that the people I’m getting to know aren’t going anywhere because I’m not going anywhere.

Maybe all this is just a sign that I’m starting to come out of survival mode. Idk. I’ve been in survival mode for so long now, I’m not sure I know what anything else feels like. I just know this, I’m going to stop telling myself that this is all temporary. No more Gregorian chants. I think I’m going to let myself try living for a change and see how that goes. Maybe step out of the liminal state I put myself in.

So that’s it. I live in Iowa. That’s the take away. It’s small but it’s so big. I’m not waiting for life to begin anymore. I’m living it.

not palatable

If I look back over my life I can say the one thing I’ve consistently tried to be is palatable.

You’re going to consume me, the way that all humans consume all other humans. You’ll consume me with your eyes – taking in my appearance and making judgments. You’ll consume me with your ears – listening to my voice, my words, my laugh and cry. You’ll consume me with your mind – assessing my personality, intelligence and humor. And as you take me in – chewing, tasting, digesting – you’ll decide whether or not you like my flavor. Do you want to swallow or spit me out? Am I your cup of tea or do I turn your stomach?

I’ve spent so much of my life knowing I was emphatically not most people’s cup of proverbial tea. I grew up in a world where I was strange and off-putting. Awkward. As I child and for most of my adult life, I didn’t know I was AuDHD (autistic and ADHD). I just knew that what came naturally to me was unnatural to everyone else. Forever and ever, amen. So I tried to make myself more palatable.

(It’s called “masking”. Look it up.)

At some point when I was around 17, I got tired of being palatable. (If I’m being honest, I was never really trying that hard before then. My sense of fashion spoke for itself.) My senior year of high school I just stopped giving a damn. I was discovering Bonnie and all her idiosyncrasies, her joys and delights, the things she most desired and what she disliked immensely. I was peeling off the mask layer by layer and letting myself breathe.

I joined a band and married the guitarist at 19. I thought we’d play music for a long time, maybe go on a DIY tour like a lot of other small bands were doing at the time. I didn’t want to have kids for at least 10 years because I had oats, baby. They were wild and I was gonna sow ’em. But when your band breaks up after just 2 years of playing together and you get stuck in your small town, well, that changes things.

Shoulda, coulda, woulda.

I could spend the next few paragraphs waxing ineloquent on all the shouldas, couldas, wouldas, etc. But that’s boring. What happened is what happened. And what happened is that my ex-husband and I became involved in the local church scene.

I hope it’s no surprise to you that I did not fit in with the church folk. My ideas about life and liberty, coupled with my love of the strange and unusual, not to mention my rampant undiagnosed AuDHD, meant that I was once again unpalatable. I had learned that in the right peer group I could unmask and be my weird self. But in this new setting, I definitely could not. I had to layer the mask back on.

I tried. Holy Mary, Mother of God, did I try. I wanted to be both palatable and myself. I looked for other Christians who shared my interests or held my beliefs. I tried to make friends in the hope that I could eventually peel the mask off all the way with someone, anyone. But I never could.

What’s worse, is now that I’m divorced and I’ve been on my own for a while, I see that I wasn’t just masking at church. I was masking with my ex-husband as well. Not my kids, unless their dad was around. But with my ex, I knew I had to make myself palatable or we’d fight or he’d brood. I had to be what he needed to keep peace in the house.

What can I say to all this? My story is not unique, certainly, but who the fuck gives a flying mouse’s fart? I had to live through this bullshit. I spent my whole goddamn life chopping off the bits of me that no one wanted to see or deal with. Bleaching my soul, compacting my heart, crushing the life out of me. In the brief moments of my life when I can truly say I wasn’t trying to be palatable, I felt the most freedom and pure joy of my life.

And I hope you’ll forgive the amount of swearing I’m about to do but…

I’m so goddamn, mother fucking, fucked in the goddamn ass TIRED of being FUCKING PALATABLE.

You don’t like my flavor? Choke, bitch. I taste like magic, unicorns, and fucking rainbow cupcakes. I am a mother fucking delight. Not your cup of tea? Drown, asshole. I’m the best fucking tea in the whole goddamn British Isles. Shove a crumpet up your ass.

I’m 17 again and I don’t give a damn. If you don’t like me, that’s not my fault. I’m wonderful. If you don’t like me, that doesn’t mean there is something wrong with me. It just means our vibrational wavelengths do not match, homie. So kindly, fuck off elsewhere, brocito.

It’s exhausting and painful to spend so much time trying to figure out what’s wrong with you. It’s one of those unsolvable math problems that even Matt Damon can’t solve. He can’t solve it because there is nothing fucking wrong with you.

Like everyone else, I want to be loved. I want to be desired and wanted, not just needed. In fact, don’t need me at all. Just want me. Want me until you ache for me. But want me, not some masked, palatable version of me. Desire the Bonnie hidden under the layers of bullshit. Because I am peeling off the mask again. Layer by layer I am revealing a real and raw vessel of pure Bonnie.

It will take time and if the gods of therapy see fit, I may try to get a therapist at some point so I’m not just screaming into the void, but instead paying to scream into the void. But the time and screaming will be worth it.

My name is Bonnie Margaret. That means “beautiful pearl”. And that’s me. This little irritant that wormed its way into the world but is becoming this thing of rare beauty. I am a thing of rare beauty. And, I don’t want to be palatable ever again.

I hope I remember that I posted this.

Posting this so I can remember I had this thought.

Been feeling like human garbage again. If I’m being honest, all I can see is someone who is ugly, boring and annoying. All I want is for someone to comfort me, to hype me up. I want someone I’m attracted to, to tell me that I’m beautiful, hot even. I want them to tell me I’m interesting and a delight to converse with.

And here comes the reason I’m posting this: it doesn’t matter if someone else says it, if I don’t learn to see myself that way, I’ll never believe it. Every person I find attractive could say those things to me and right now I’d call them all liars. I do not believe I’m beautiful or interesting or delightful.

I can look back over my life and see the instances when people I trusted, loved and looked to for validation betrayed that trust and love. I can easily pinpoint when they callously and, at times, cruelly tore me down. To what end? I don’t know.

Now, all those people are gone from my life but the damage they did is still there. This isn’t some unique experience I’m describing. This is just how humans work. But this is how I sort myself out. Writing.

I don’t know if I’ll ever feel beautiful or interesting or whatever. But I do know that no external validation will ever be enough. Yes, external invalidation is what fucked me up in the first place. But getting someone else to validate me would just be letting them fight my battles for me and that won’t ever work. No one can be with me 24/7 to keep these demons at bay. And wouldn’t that be an exhausting job for anyone? Constantly, having to boost someone else’s mental health.

Here’s the fucked up thing, as I was typing that last bit, I realized that I’ve been that person for others. I’ve been the one constantly boosting someone else’s mental health to the detriment of my own. And, yes, it’s exhausting. I don’t want to put anyone else through what I’ve been through.

I get that it’s ok and even good to reach out to people when you’re not doing well mentally. And I’m not saying I don’t because I do. I have people I trust and reach out to often. I just know that when it comes to this issue, there is no one in the world that can help. As badly as I want external validation, it’s not gonna help me.

So, once again, I’m here. Writing about my private (very ordinary) pain, publicly. My sincere hope is that I’ll think about the fact that I posted this every time I start to feel bad about myself. When I’m hoping and wishing for that external validation that isn’t going to come, I hope, instead, I’ll remember that I posted this.

I don’t know how to make myself feel all those wonderful things about myself. But I do know that I’m not gonna get it from someone else. And that’s what I want to remember. I have to be brave enough and strong enough to fight my own demons.