A long time ago, in the beforetime – long before a pandemic changed our lives – when I was single and searching, I moved from my hometown with a dream in my heart and not a pot to piss in.
I bunked at the house occupied by the little red haired girl, her mom, dad and aunt, sharing the front office turned guestroom with a giant golden retriever who would pin me down on the futon, rendering me immobile under the covers until he decided he’d had enough, and a big black schnoodleiver (That’s a golden retriever/schnauzer/poodle mix, in case you’re wondering) who could magically transform himself into a tiny ball small enough to curl up on the pillow beside my head without waking me; a fan of the nap, he’d move from bed to bed as the household rose until the last of us was awake, and that was usually me.
The little red haired girl was even smaller then, and she rose with her mother to fill the kitchen next to my room with boisterousness a little too early for my liking. It was on one of those mornings when, free of the golden retriever’s pin down, I stuck my head out the door to see what all the ruckus was about and found the red haired girl sitting in her high chair, long legs dangling lower than the foot rest, dressed in a pink onesie, apples in her cheeks, a wild and glorious halo of red curls about her head.
Her expression of delight at seeing me eroded any remnants of morning grumpiness. She threw her arms open and cried “Neen!” I have been Neen to my closest friends and family ever since.
Eventually, I took an apartment within two blocks of this family of choice, close enough for the wee girl, now in junior kindergarten, to come visit after school and before her parents were home from work. On one such occasion, I’d poured us each a drink and set it on the kitchen table that sat next to a bright window and in the shadow of my great grandfather’s smiling scowl, painted for me as a gift from my father.
I took a too-quick sip of my drink, breathing in some of the liquid and resulting in a loud and long bout of undignified, eyes-watering, nose-running coughing. When the drama subsided, I caught the look of sheer terror on my wee friend’s face, and attempted to soothe her by assuring her that I was okay, that something had just gone down the wrong way and that it was all better now.
Some days later, I picked her up at school and we returned to my bright kitchen for a beverage and snack. My friend raised her glass, stopped midway, put it back down on the table again and asked wide-eyed, “Neen, how do I keep it from going down the wrong way?”
What is the answer to that question? Sometimes things just go down the wrong way. Most of the time it all ends up okay. We can trust in our bodies’ stasis-seeking mechanisms to protect us and regain balance.
I don’t remember exactly what I replied in answer to her question then, but I know I was able to assuage her fears, the drink was drunk and hundreds more after that without incident.
Now, more than fifteen years later, that wee girl having just turned 22, in this strangest of stay at home times, when months before I walked away from that career of choice that had brought me to the nation’s capital in the first place, unsure of what comes next, in search of healing and a softer way, I think of that wee girl and her question quite often.
How do I keep this from going down the wrong way?
Did I do something wrong?
Have I made a mistake?
How do I know it won’t hurt me?
How do I trust in the wisdom of my body?
Is everything going to be okay?
I’m learning to soothe myself when those questions arise, with assistance from an expanded network of support that thankfully still includes that now not so wee girl and her family.
The truth is that I don’t know. But I have trust that it’s all going to be okay.