NOTE: This is a guest blog by the inspiring Jennifer Pastiloff.
My grandfather’s mother was raped by her stepfather or uncle (no one can really be sure) when she was fourteen. They lived in rural Illinois, and, at fourteen years old she had her first baby, my grandfather’s brother Sonny. A year later she had my grandfather, Donald. I’m sure it wasn’t a good time to have a baby, either one of them, yet she did, and my grandfather is still alive, plugging along. No one was any worse for the wear. She then had another son, George, a few years after my grandfather.
Never a good time.
There’s never really a good time for anything. There’s always going to be something. Something in the way, someone coming to visit. Someone leaving, someone showing up, the weather, the football game. your mother. Death. Whatever it is, there will always be something saying Wait! This isn’t right! Do it later. Not now. Now is not a good time. Now is bad.
And yet. And still.
She was fifteen and a mother to two babies in Effingham, Illinois and I am sure she didn’t say This is a good time to be a mother. She was raped and no longer a child. It was 1925 and what was she supposed to do? My great grandfather married her, a pregnant fourteen year old, and they started a life.
And they started a life.
That’s what it’s all about isn’t it? Starting a life. Sometimes you find yourself in the midst of one and you think I don’t remember starting this, yet here I am and sometimes you literally have to wake up and say It’s time. Despite everything pointing south, I must go north.
People keep asking me how I did it. How I went from A to B, from waitressing and being stuck for so many years to doing what I do now? I woke up and decided I’d had enough and despite the timing being utterly horrible, I was going to go for it. And even though I had no idea what it was, and some days I am still not sure, I kept rising to the coffee pot and looking into the cup and you know what? It spoke. It said things like What are you doing? Who do you think you are? And you know what I did? I gulped it down quickly and drank cup after cup until it stopped talking and I no longer had to hush it. If it did decide to speak again, I would ask it Who do you think you are, asshole? I am bigger than you. You don’t exist. You don’t get to tell me what I can do. I created you in my imagination. And then finally the coffee started agreeing with me as if it saw the sense in what I was saying. Sometimes it was the eggs who spoke or the wine or the customer at the restaurant but always it was I who got to choose who I listened to regarding my life and my own personal clock.
The timing is never right.
Don’t believe me? Go ahead and name some perfect times for things. There’s always going to be a something in the way and it’s always going to be up to you if you swallow the coffee or just stare into it like it has something to say about this or that.
There will be people, too. People will remind you how bad things are and how bad of a time this is. Much like the coffee or the eggs, you have to look those people in the eye and say You may be right but I am going to do this anyway. And if you decide not to, which is ever as much your right, just make sure it’s because of what you want to do and not what the coffee and eggs want you to do. Sometimes you have to think of the other people as coffee and eggs or you would never get anything done, you’d be so busy listening to their mouthless, albumen, over-caffeinated voices.
I have often thought that the timing of the earth is off. Maybe I have just experienced too much death for someone so young and the only way to justify such loss is by explaining it away with a problem in the earth’s rhythm and cadence.
Maybe it’s like everything else. Maybe it’s the coffee and the eggs and everything else.
Maybe the timing is always just right and it’s up to us to decide if we keep going or not. I’ll take mine sunny side-up, please. Coffee black.
My grandfather’s youngest brother George had a wife named Bernice who had been a longtime employee of General Electric. George, in the words of my grandfather, had been a con artist. Of course my grandfather clarified that he was joking. Duly noted Pop, I said. Got it. A joke. Bernice got a nice pension from GE when she retired and with it she bought George a new Dodge Dakota pickup truck. This was in 1997. I had just moved back to California and dropped out of college, although at the time I was calling it taking a semester off even though I think I knew somewhere in the knowing part of me that I would never return to NYU. Something would always come up. The timing was never “right” to go back.
Bernice bought George the truck and he’d decided to take it out onto the country roads. My grandfather specified country roads, not highway which made me think of that James Taylor song, Country Road.
I guess my feet know where they want me to go
Walking on a country road.
Take to the highway won’t you lend me your name
Your way and my way seem to be one and the same, child
Mamma don’t understand it
She wants to know where I’ve been
I’d have to be some kind of natural born fool
To want to pass that way again
But I could feel it
On a country road.
My grandfather’s brother George had been at a stop sign in big new truck when some other guy in a truck (they knew each other, it was a country road and all) plowed into him and sent his new Dodge Dakota into an embankment. His neck snapped and he died. Just like that. Six months later Bernice died when she had a hemorrhage in her groin and the hospital couldn’t stop it.
Never a good time.
Although I think it might have been. Probably better that she went right after him and, most likely, inevitable.
My grandmother died two years ago and the last year of her life she spent on a used hospital bed in their dark living room in South Philadelphia. She couldn’t walk up the stairs to go to the bathroom so she and my grandfather spent nearly a year without moving from that front room off the kitchen. All the bathrooms in the old South Philly row houses are upstairs, which I find oddly private- you’re walking in on something holy like dirty laundry and toothbrushes. These rickety old stairs lead up to the bathroom and the whole house watches you go like you’re leaving for a trip. I’m just going to pee guys. It’s okay.
After she died, my grandfather still kept that makeshift hospital bed in the living room and used it as storage for over a year. Never a good time. There’s always something getting in the way of getting rid of it. He finally did get rid of it, sold it for twenty five bucks, and what small amount of light that room allows for returned as if it was the start of something.
She was probably better off if she’d never recovered from the stroke because what life did she have for that year or so in that bed with all her sores and darkness? But hey, she didn’t get to decide. She didn’t get to say This probably isn’t a good time for me to stay alive. She just did it without question, and, without much grace.
There will always be something to stand in the way. To tell you No, absolutely not. This is not right. You mustn’t. If you wait for things to speak, they will. Even the eggs. Even the coffee. Everything has an opinion. You know what they say about assholes and opinions. Everyone’s got one.
I have started to go off all anti-depressants. I am still on a small dosage because the timing had never been right to go off 100%. That 30mg keeps me affable enough; it stops the train wreck inside my brain, the flatness of mornings, the circle walkings, the scribblings. There was always something in the way of me going off sooner even though I talked about it often. I’m going to stop taking my meds soon, I’d announce as if people cared. But I didn’t- I was always busy or I was going somewhere, I was leading some retreat, I was in a class, I was tired, I had headaches.
I’ve finally realized that timing is an invented thing, an inherited trait, and that along with your native American roots and your penchant for sleep and for coffee, you will have inherited the ability to create the life you want for yourself.
You think that when my great uncle George was cutting down logs to sell to the whiskey companies to make their barrels that he thought what a great time it was for him to be splitting open wood, to crack into black walnut trees? No, he just did what he had to and kept going until one day his truck rolled into an embankment and even then he thought to himself just before he died I have had a good life.
Don’t wait for the coffee or the eggs or the shmuck in the front row to tell you how it is. You’ll wait your whole life and then end up in an embankment with a heart full of sorrow and I could have done it betters.
I don’t know what time could have been better for me to embark on this weaning off my meds adventure. Perhaps next year. Perhaps last year. Maybe never.
My grandfather jokes and says that his brother was a con artist, but the way I see it, time is the con artist. The con artist telling you that this isn’t a good time, that you should wait. The right time will never exist. Like so many of the things we think are perfect and in the end turn out to be just some scrambled eggs and a hot cup of coffee.
Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, most recently, The Rumpus. She can be found drinking coffee (or wine), reading books, writing, or wasting time on Facebook/instagram/Twitter. In no particular order. She leads retreats and workshops around the world. To be invited on her annual Tuscany retreatJune 29-July 5 2014 please email email@example.com with subject TUSCANY. More info at jenniferpastiloff.com and themanifeststation.net And like her on Facebook at facebook.com/jenniferpastiloff
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