I am a professional traveler, just recently passed the 2 million mile mark. I’m that person who ignores the flight attendants when they give their pre-flight spiel. I’ve heard it thousands of time, could probably recite it if called upon.
But today, while sitting in my car having a conversation I knew was coming, the words of all of the flight attendants over the years echoed in my head: If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.
The words resonated so clearly because, even as the person on the other end of the phone was ripping my heart out, I was looking for a way to make it easier for them to deal with the loss. I asked, “What do you need from me?”
It was an eye opening moment. I have never been that person. I’ve always been the person who walks away. You don’t want to be here, in this moment with me, fine. You go do you; I’m going to take care of me. It’s served me well for 40 odd years. Oh I’ve had my heart broken, we all have, but I’ve never stood there as it was breaking and said, “Please may I have another.”
Some will say perhaps I have never truly loved (not the case) or perhaps I am just selfish (I have my moments). But I think it’s something deeper. In the past few months, since my dad passed away, I have spent so much time taking care of others I forgot to take care of me. Quite simply, I forgot to put on my mask.
I’m feeling it more of late. These odd moments of melancholy or irrational anger that appear and then dissipate just as quickly. There is a strong desire to be around people and then once I am surrounded, I can’t get away quickly enough.
There are only two people I am currently talking to regularly. I’ve told these two people everything, have shared those moments of irreparable grief. There is an intimacy in this type of sharing which is palpable. It creates a connection which is hard to sever; an almost dependency.
And today, one of those two people told me they couldn’t do this anymore. They can’t be there for me, but not to worry, it’s just for a while. They need to press pause. But, hey, give it a few months and maybe we can resume, pick up where we left off.
And I agreed. As I sat in my car, gasping for air, looking for the mask that never deployed, I asked that stupid, fucking question. “What do you need from me?”
Well I’ve changed my mind. I won’t be there in a couple of months, or next week or even tomorrow. Instead, I will be over here, sucking oxygen from that mask I forgot to put on, getting on with my life.
And, in a few months, I won’t need you and, more importantly, I won’t want you. A little piece of me might always care but I suspect getting over oxygen deprivation will fix that. Of course, I have no idea how I will do it. But I’m going to start with some air and then I’m going to stop taking care of everyone else and take care of me.