I was working away on my NaNo project today, listening to a random mix on Pandora when an Our Lady Peace song came on. The song was “One Man Army”, but it’s not that song that matters. It’s the fact that it was Our Lady Peace.
I was instantly taken back to the early 2000s when we were living in a little one room apartment on the bad side of town. The carpet was a horrible orange, threadbare and pulling loose from the corners, the linoleum was just as ancient, worn, and looked filthy no matter how clean it was. The kitchen was riddled with cockroaches. But the back porch had a cascade of ivy that I adored, we were able to pick up someone’s satellite on our bunny ears, and the rent was low.
I took to living there with a jaded sort of attitude. The neighbors were all nice enough and kept to themselves. I was particularly amused by the couple across the way from us who had popped the screen out of their window facing the street so folks could walk up and… ahem. Chat. Different people. All the time.
Police parked out back were a regular sight, but rarely of consequence to us. Our car got broken into once, and police talking some guy down one night with a loud speaker at about 3 a.m. was the worse it ever got.
I look back on that place fondly. More important than the place are my memories of what happened during our time there. I had my first real encounter with my own fragility and mortality.
One autumn day, I went into work and I began to feel strange. I had noticed the day before that my lunch had tasted odd. I had figured I just was getting sick. That morning, one side of my face became numb.
I went into the projection room where we had a small mirror, because the bathroom wasn’t private enough. I felt horribly self conscious, and even more so when I realized that the left side of my face motionless. I dug out the my medical card, my cell phone and promptly called the nurse hotline.
I was twenty-three at the time. Far too young to be having a medical crisis of this sort. I had no idea what to think. I’d been sick but not very. Naturally, I didn’t expect to be told, “You need to go to see your medical professional right away. Have someone drive you. You may have had a stroke.”
So, in the middle of a work day, I had to ask my very pregnant with twins supervisor to drive me down to the Kaiser Hospital. On the drive down, I called ahead to make sure they would fit me in so she wouldn’t have to wait long. It did help to ease my nerves a bit when I went into the clinic and no one seemed to notice my numb and drooping face. My very pregnant supervisor attracted more attention, and it was a bit of a relief to explain with a laugh, that, no, she was fine.
I was seen quickly and promptly. My Nurse Practitioner took one look at me, went over my symptoms and my chart and told me I had Bell’s Palsy. She explained that a nerve in my temple area had been pinched due to inflammation, but I was lucky. I was young and it wouldn’t cause permanent damage. The swelling would go down and the nerve would recover in about three months. Until then, I needed to rest, keep my stress levels down.
So, at twenty-three, I endured with my morbid sense of humor, having a partially paralyzed face. At lunch, I’d joke with my coworkers when food would dribble out of the limp side of mouth. After hours, though, it was harder. Going to the store, I felt as if everyone noticed, that they could tell that I was broken. Just walking up to the register to pay for things, it was difficult to make eye contact with the clerk.
At home, I spent a lot of time watching movies, sleeping, and listening to music. I was obsessed with Vanilla Sky. Even to this day, The Beach Boys song, “Good Vibrations,” is chilling to me. Our Lady Peace’s music also struck a particular chord in me.
“Innocent,” in was a favorite song of mine. I would listen to it over and over again. But it didn’t make me feel hopeful. These lyrics in particular stuck with me:
“I remember all the feelings and the day they stopped.”
I felt paralyzed, frozen, stuck, numb.
And: “One day you’ll have to let it go.”
I had let everything go all at once. I just stopped. I rested. I waited to recover and I reflected.
“Life” and “Thief” were other poignant songs for me. I knew I was lucky that I would recover. Many were the times, as dark as it was for me, that I cried not for myself, but for those who had to deal with being physically and obviously scarred. Each stare that I endured while I was out was only brief and fleeting. In a few months, I would blend in again. This was only a temporary test for me.
I knew all too well that: “It’s all messed up but we’re alive.”
I am not really sure how other people perceive me. I know I’m fairly stubborn, a little bossy and to some people, abrasive. But one thing I do know about myself, I’m far more empathetic than I tend to let on.
Emotions and my reaction to emotional situations take a long time for me to process. During this three month period of recovery, I was processing this very emotional experience. What I took from it, though, was that I was given a gift of empathy, of seeing the world, even if briefly, through someone else’s experience.
I was determined to make myself better afterwards. I lost weight, attempted to get healthier, started working out, got married and went back into therapy when I started struggling again. I’ve had to repeat this cycle of self discovery several times since then, and I’m thankful that I’ve always recovered even when I’ve slipped.
But this experience will always stick with me as pivotal. I was lucky. I didn’t have a stroke. I was lucky my body recovered. I was lucky I had this opportunity to reflect on the life I was given.
And I was lucky that an Our Lady Peace song came on today to remind me where I have been. To remind me of my mortality. To realize that everything could change in an instant, and that’s okay.
I went digging through Our Lady Peace lyrics looking for perfect song to leave on an up-note. But I realized quickly that that was not possible. That would be too cheap, too easy, too fake. That is not life.
And that is what I love about Our Lady Peace. Their lyrics expressed the painful paradox of life. They are not happy songs. They are too honest for that.
I’ll leave you with these lyrics instead.
“What you want
What you lost
What you had
What is gone is over
What you’ve got
What you love
What you need
What you have is real
It’s not enough
It’s not enough
It’s not enough
It’s not enough, I’m sorry“
It’s never enough. Life will never be enough, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry that people will struggle to find a way to make life be enough. I’m sorry that it never can be enough.
“Not Enough” by Our Lady Peace from the album Gravity.
Listen to the song on You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnIQVpntAXM