Sunday, November 22, 2009

The walls came down

Something happened Tuesday that I wasn't able to get out of my head. It was just a brief moment and I couldn't figure out what it was about it that was puzzling me. The best way I could describe it was that there was something I just wasn't getting. That, and I couldn't put my finger on what it was I couldn't put my finger on.

The back story leading up to Tuesday is that the week before on 11/10, there was a fire that destroyed an elementary school in SE Portland. Thankfully, there were no injuries but the teachers and 435 students lost everything. It was quickly decided that a school that had been closed in 2007 due to budget cuts would temporarily house the displaced students and the organization I do most of my volunteering for, Schoolhouse Supplies (SHS), became the hub for donations for this school.

Every month, I lead a project at SHS that is organized by Hands on Portland, which is an organization that fulfills volunteer needs for other organizations. Our project for November was two days after the fire and SHS was already overwhelmed with donations for Marysville. It was clear that we would not be able to get through everything in the time we had for the project and they had a corporate partner scheduled to bring in a huge donation the next day.

Typically, a project leader needs to have a minimum 3-week window for posting projects on the Hands on Portland calendar, but I e-mailed them to see if we could do another project on the 17th to help expedite getting the supplies to the school. They agreed to let me have the project and put it on their front page to help get it filled. (I posted it Friday. It was full by Sunday morning. Yea!)

Saturday, 11/14, I packed up James' Steelers collectibles. I set some of the items aside for SHS: a football, a generic stuffed football, an insulated lunchbox-things that would be great for the incentive shelf (things teachers use to reward their students). I took the items with me when I went to do the special project on the 17th.

Normally when I get to SHS, I am chatty with the people who work there. They see a lot of me so I have established a friendly relationship with them. In fact, my friend and I recruited one of them to be in our bunco group a year or so ago. They even sent me a card when James died. Tuesday, however, I was not chatty. I was very quiet. I said "hi" when I walked in and filled out a donation sheet for my items. After a brief discussion with Volunteer Guy, we decided to leave the items in the store instead of sending them to the school, with the thought that there was a better chance of finding a Steeler's fan district wide than at just one school. I then went into the conference room and set out my name tags and sign in sheet and waited for the volunteers to start to arrive. I made small talk when they came in. Normally, I go over the project with Volunteer Guy so I know how to lead the group.

About a half hour or so after we got the project started, I passed Volunteer Guy. He asked if everything was okay and then asked what was wrong. And my eyes filled with tears. I motioned for him to follow me around the corner so we were out of sight of the volunteers. I took a deep breath and told him that it was one thing to pack up James' things but it was another thing altogether to actually dispose of them. And then the tears started to fall. I told him that I was sorry-that I was trying really hard to hold it together. That I had packed the stuff up Saturday but that was the first of it that I had actually given away. As I wiped my eyes, I heard him say "come here," but I just stood there and cried.

I don't know how much time passed, but probably not much. I tried to wipe my eyes again, and realized I couldn't really move my hands. I realized I was crying on Volunteer Guy's chest. "Volunteer Guy is hugging me," I thought. "No, Volunteer Guy's arms are around my waist. Volunteer Guy is holding me. hmm. I feel skinny. Damn! Volunteer Guy has a strong chest and arms."

I freed myself and told him that it has been almost 2 years and I keep waiting for donating his things to get easier but it never does and that it made me feel like I was erasing 8 years of my life. He said I can't erase the memories. I said that it also makes the fear set in that James was it for me and now I am going to be alone for the rest of my life. He said I can't think that way-that he doesn't believe that. There are too many people out there. I said it took a really long time to find the first one. He just kind of nodded in agreement and told me that if I needed to take a few minutes away from the project to take it.

At the end of the night as we were leaving, he asked if I would be there the next day for my front desk shift. I said I would and would try to be more like myself. He gave me a side hug and told me he would be leaving early for a supply drive at the basketball game and the volunteer cordinator would be coming in to close everything up but there would be about 1/2 hour where I was unsupervised. I asked if I was really being left unsupervised and then said I was going to throw a party. Wednesday, I was concerned things would be awkward but they weren't. I got there late due to a dead mouse issue in my office (grr) and he was on his way out when I was walking in. ( I was explaining to my boss that due to my having already disposed of a dead mouse in the break room I felt I had taken my turn and therefore, he would be getting rid of the one in my office).

I couldn't figure out what my brain was trying to tell me and it was starting to really annoy me. Friday, I had my appointment with the therapist. We were discussing all the healing steps I have taken since last month's appointment (driving his car, packing up the Steelers' stuff, the decision to paint the bedroom, etc) and she said that if I were to meet the right person-someone I felt safe with, I am ready to receive love (first instinct: run like hell!). I told her what happened on Tuesday and that there was something about it that I couldn't grasp. She said to continue thinking about it-I would figure it out. She asked if there could be a romantic connection there. I said no. She asked why not? I said that he's just not someone I have thought about that way and that he pretty much just tolerates me because I am a dependable volunteer. Plus, he is about 6 years younger than me. He's going to be looking for some hot 20-something year old. I really don't think I could land a 30-year-old so I don't consider him to be a possibility.

It finally dawned on me yesterday what was niggling at me. I let my walls come down with Volunteer Guy. I could have lied and said I had a bad day at work (not really a lie. Good days do not involve dead rodents under my desk). I could have said I was just really tired, like I usually tell everyone. But I didn't. I let my walls down-I let him in and I let him see me vulnerable. I don't like anyone to see that side of me. And I don't know why, but I felt he was safe to do that with. And I really don't know how I feel about that.

1 comment:

Sari said...

Wow, Heather.

Good for you for your volunteer work. That is really sweet. It's also really sweet to donate James's things like you did. I understand how difficult it is. Thinking about it is one thing. Packing them up is another. And actually handing them over can be surprisingly difficult. But you did it, and you got to put your face in some guy's strong chest! Dang girl!

I had to LOL about you feeling skinny. If only it worked that way for me.

I don't know what this means about Volunteer Guy, but at the very least, I think it's good you let yourself be real around him.