The In Between Place

(Reimagining of a sunset from a family weekend: 03/17/18)

There is a place that I have found myself in time and time again, that I am just now becoming comfortable inhabiting. It is a space you cannot locate on a map, nor give anyone directions to find; it is one of those locations that you only know when you’re there. It is the beat between steps, events, thoughts, and breaths.

It is ever changing; incapable of conclusions or assumptions, it remains open as life occurs. It is changing every moment and offers life precisely as it is, moment to moment. It is capable of multitudes and combinations; juxtapositions and paradoxes. It is uncertain, ambiguous, and complex; it is the In Between Place.

As a child, being here filled me with wonder and curiosity. It was the place the fantasies I had in my head became real; like a white and blue castle fit for a princess, or buffalo in a snow-filled canyon. My home was my playground and my sanctuary.

However, when I was 14, the In Between Place turned into a vision from a nightmare. The narrative of family and home that I’d known was ripped in two, and I found a tiger and a penguin on different sides. One was either a hero or a villain; never both. And I had to choose my caretaker in the space in between.

Now I know what you’re thinking; a tiger and a penguin? 

It was a hard choice. Yes, the tiger might potentially eat me, but on the other hand, she was flashy, fierce, and wanted me to be the best version of myself. And penguins are cute and notoriously good at keeping things warm in freezing temperatures; but also, I might potentially eat the penguin.

So I picked the tiger. But with my choice, came a loss in autonomy and a new role; interspecies mediator and lackey. Once husband and wife, I was now the mouthpiece to tell “THAT PENGUIN….” or “your tiger…” what was what. It was exhausting; they couldn’t even be in the same room after the tiger threatened in an email to chop up and serve penguin gumbo.

And being a lackey to a tiger is hard work. They HATE litter boxes, and you have to bring them everything on a silver platter. And if you raise your voice, or protest in any way, because I don’t know, you’ve got your own life or something, they’ll snarl and bare their claws, and it’s back to scrubbing. If I didn’t enthusiastically agree with the tiger’s retelling of events, I’d get roared at for hours. I began to jump every time I saw stripes.

Don’t even get me started on how confusing it is to be half penguin and half tiger; it’s like I’m adorable and entertaining and walk awkwardly, but I also have dark stripes and orange fur and accidentally destroy things on a regular basis.

To live in the In Between Place meant merging the image of my mother the nurturer and caretaker with the image of a tiger who could literally eat me. So I ran from it whenever I could, clinging to a singular narrative; that if I could make it through high school alive and get to college, I would be okay.

In survival mode, I lived in split realities. Those I loved were untouchable penguins that could do no wrong until they hurt me; then they were tigers out for blood. I saw only good and evil, white or orange, heroes and villains everywhere I looked. In the mirror, I was either the good child incarnate, or satan’s spawn; a binary that sent my young mind into rollercoasters of depression and escapist fantasy.

When I sensed relationships entering this space, I would do whatever I could to bring them out of it. This ranged from emotionally overcompensating, to cutting them off and going dark. Change meant something I loved being taken away and replaced, while I looked on heartbroken; and so I feared it.

But the funny thing about the In Between Place is that it’s always with us. And when our immediate surroundings no longer resemble tiger dens, the things we’re drawn to become clearer, and remain. I was afraid to be here. I was afraid of the relationships I had; of the ugliness they brought out in me, the terror.

I blamed other people, situations; denied who I was, or who I wanted to be out of fear. I thought if I didn’t know where someone was going, if I didn’t assume the worst, that they’d hurt me. The definition of hot and cold; warm and loving, and at once cold and on edge. Meanwhile, the once proud tiger I knew began to hang her head; her fur started to turn white, and her bite began to lose its power.

Without her domination, the binaries I constantly flipped between looked… insane, and ridiculous. It’s like my intimate conversations were on a stage, and I, wearing an orange and white ensemble, would speed in a swiveling chair to a different light, where I would completely change the tone of the conversation with each back and forth.

Others weren’t changing into good or bad, or heroes or villains; my perceptions of them just painted them that way. It’s like I had glasses that used to show me the real world, but the real world BROKE so I made two alternate ones; an escapist fantasy and a depressing nightmare. And all I’ve been able to see for a long time is the two; I didn’t even know there was a world in between them. I didn’t realize that a penguin tiger child is scientifically impossible.

In this world, I feel both dread and hope, sadness and joy, terror and courage, all at once. The magnanimity, the complexity, the weight; it used to feel like too much to bear. The uncertainty of one moment to the next felt like it would rip me in two.

Here, there were no stories or characters that resembled anything like I’d seen before. Men were neither gallant heroes nor conniving villains, but boys whose actions and intentions didn’t always match. Women were neither perfect mothers or sultry temptresses, but girls just trying to live their lives. These stories had no conclusions of redemption or falls from grace, because they never ended; and any attempt to summarize their proceedings had to be constantly re-evaluated in light of the coming future.

I am done using the past as an excuse for the present. I am done reacting to events in the present out of fear and anger, instead of listening and responding appropriately. Things don’t have to be reduced to one or the other, they can often be both. My mother was emotionally abusive; but she loved me the best way she knew how. My decision hurt my father; but forgiveness and healing are always possible.

I have been codependent in relationships and hurt people I love. Some of those relationships are over, and some of them require forgiveness and self-awareness; but all I can do is extend an open hand of remorse regardless. I do awful things sometimes, but I also do good things; yet neither is indicative of my worthiness of love. I am called to love because I am beloved.

My future currently resembles a gigantic question mark; and that is something that is ceasing to terrify me. I am learning to trust myself, for the first time. Holding two seemingly conflicting ideas or emotions at the same time as true. Being at peace with a storm in my belly. Tolerating mistakes and failure as natural learning opportunities. Understanding that feeling conflicted emotions about something isn’t symbolic of brokenness or schizophrenia; but that our emotions are our gateways to different realities, and by choosing to act on them, we are exercising our ability to make multiple universes for ourselves.

(Reimagining of dogwood blossoms in my hometown: 03/14/18)

Right now, it is 7:43 p.m. The sky is blue-grey tinted, with wispy clouds floating across a pale orange background. I am sitting on my back porch; I hear birds chirping behind me, and the sound of a truck cracking down Clinch. The tree branches above me seem to shimmer in a slight breeze; green buds resting on their tips, not quite ready for spring. I am sitting on the cream coloured cushion of Maddy’s wicker loveseat; red, pink, and yellow flowers serenely rest in a clear flower vase to my right. My eyes are wide and I’m leaning back to look up at the sky, outstretched; my legs are crossed, and I can feel my spine retracting as my belly grumbles. And I am completely, and utterly, deliciously alive. I am in the In between Place.