I’m still listening to the Black Dagger Brotherhood and once again, I was struck by the wisdom of JR Ward. I’m listening to Lover Enshrined, Phury’s book. Phury, IMHO, is one of the greatest characters ever written. He is so complex and so well developed I am sure he exists somewhere out in the world. Except he’s a vampire and a member of the Black Dagger Brotherhood, so maybe not. But despite being a badass who lives in a mansion existing at the pinnacle of the social pile, Phury has had a difficult life. And those difficulties have left scars that no amount of health, wealth, friends, family or status can smooth over. Phury is a hot mess, and, in Lover Enshrined, we become privy to his devolution and descent into the abyss of addiction and self-destruction.
The way JR Ward describes the reasons behind Phury’s addiction and the inevitable progression of his disease makes me think she has some experience in this arena. So do I, but that will be a topic for another post. What captured my attention today is a line where Phury is thinking about his existence and believes that, “life was a coin that had disaster on one side and waiting for disaster on the other.” I could relate.
Suffice to say that when Phury talks about life being either disaster or waiting for disaster, he knows what he’s talking about. All children who live with addiction and neglect take on a certain measure of waiting for the other shoe to drop. But living under the sword of Damocles is a very difficult and draining way to live. All that waiting and worrying and peering upward or over our shoulders screws with a person’s head.
I should know. For much of my life, I spent my time in the same useless place—living in disaster or waiting for it to hit. Such a way of life sucks the joy out of every moment. Because I couldn’t be in the moment when I was distracted by my own misery or the certainty that misery was just around the corner. For a a lot of my childhood, I was justified in my wariness. Life with my mother was no party, I can assure you. But eventually I grew up and interacted with the source of my insanity only when I chose to do so. As an adult, my mother didn’t control my thoughts, words or deeds. Except she did. She had taught me to expect bad things to happen, and to paraphrase Henry Ford, whether you think something bad will happen or you don’t, you’re probably right.
We can waste our whole lives waiting for Godot, or disaster. I thought I had made progress with this particular problem, only to be reminded of how insidious the lessons we learn as children can be. As you know (cause I’ve talked about it ad nauseum), I turned 50 three weeks ago and planned a party. Yay me. In fact, and again, as you are all more than aware to the point of being thoroughly sick of it, I had prepared long and hard for this milestone, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I was feeling good—dare I say, even joyful. I was embracing my new status as a card-carrying member of AARP and reveling in the blessings of age while trying—more or less successfully—to stave off the worst of the inevitable melting thighs and jiggling arms. Life was good. I had stopped waiting for disaster.
So, of course, that’s when it came. A few days before my big party, one of our dogs bit my husband on the nose (this was my husband’s fault for putting his face near the dog’s mouth—he’s a great dog, in fact). Well, to make a long story short enough to prevent your eyes from glazing over, the dog bite became horribly infected and was not responding to any antibiotics. This was not good. In fact, it was disastrous. I hadn’t taken my umbrella. So it rained.
I was angry. I was disappointed. I felt betrayed by the Universe. I had actually let go of waiting for the other shoe to fall and had some faith that I could be unreservedly happy—for just a little while at least—and my world came crashing down around my ears with portents of becoming a young widow and facing single parenthood (yes, I totally went there).
And as I pondered the coin that is my life and railed against the gods for dangling joy in front of my face, only to have it snatched away like some sadistic asshole teasing a dog with a bone he’ll never have, someone told me a story that shifted my whole perspective. It’s a Zen story about the tigers and the strawberry. Essentially, some poor shmuck ends up being chased by tigers over a cliff. He catches himself on a branch protruding from the side of the mountain, but realizes he won’t be able to hold on for long. When he looks down, he sees a long drop and another tiger waiting at the bottom of the cliff. But he also notices a perfect, plump, ripe strawberry growing out of the side of the mountain. He reaches out and plucks the strawberry, savoring its sweet taste.
This is a powerful story about living in the moment and wresting everything we can from life by being present to the reality of our lives as it is RIGHT NOW. In the moment, my husband wasn’t dead, or in the hospital, or disabled, or battling a protracted illness. In the moment, I didn’t have to cancel my party or our upcoming vacation or life as I knew it. In the moment, my friends all came to celebrate with me and show their love, and I was able to receive all of it. In the moment, though, I wasn’t completely there—because I was so distracted by the tigers, I couldn’t fully appreciate the sweetness of the strawberry. I was Phury and his blasted coin of disaster.
I don’t think I’ll be spoiling anyone’s experience by saying that Phury eventually overcomes his affinity for disaster and finds his own personal HEA, which for him involves hitting rock bottom and then overcoming his addiction, finding true love and fulfilling his destiny. Phury trades his coin of disaster in for a different currency—one of hope and faith and peace. I need to find a new ATM.