This week's Bouncer will be a book report of sorts, because what I have considered to be my bible throughout adulthood is getting me through a rough patch right now, and hopefully it will also help someone else if I write about it.
Are you sad? If you are sad, Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet is quite helpful. I mentioned Rilke a few columns back, when I wrote about the brave lil' Yorkie who ventured outside and got plucked up by a hawk. Well, sir/madam, I am that brave lil' Yorkie this week. I got hella plucked up and carried off over the city, only to have my entrails ripped out and gorged on by little birds.
I am incredibly sad right now. I got hurt by a boy. We were casually dating, but I really liked him, so much so that I knew I was taking an emotional risk because he was what you would call a “bad boy.” On our last date, his ex-girlfriend showed up. Eventually they began making out, and then moved into his bedroom for the night. I was left sitting on the sofa, feeling like a piece of shit. This, gentle reader, has made me very sad.
So tonight I'm not drinking anything, lest it make me sadder. However, both duty and Bouncer call, so I'm at Alembic on Haight Street, a bar with good food and good bartenders, where patrons can sit and read or write and not be bothered.
Alembic is upscale and expensive for the Haight, a neighborhood that, unlike the rest of the city, still seems to be able to support quainter types of businesses. The bar has a massive whiskey and beer selection, but, more importantly for a teetotaler like myself, it has deviled eggs. Of course, they are duck eggs, because, well, chicken eggs are, like, soooo Brisbane. I order three, and at a dollar apiece, that seems like a good deal. The bartender is interesting. In the haze of my sadness, I can make out her kind face, and the gentle way she pours my fizzy water. She isn't too distant or too intrusive. She is perfect.
While I wait for my eggs, I'm writing this in a notebook, something I never do. But I need to keep busy. I have just reached the point where I can get out of bed and face the world. This all may seem like an extreme reaction to rejection, but trust me: I take this shit really badly. Also, I do what I call “diving into the wreck,” something Rilke taught me.
I discovered Rilke when I broke up with my first boyfriend about 15 years ago. It was the most painful time of my entire life. I couldn't eat or sleep. I kept grasping for anything that I could do or say to feel better, but I was left with nothing. I was in college, so I had to take leave for a week. Luckily, my teachers understood. They had been there. I got on the phone and called every person who loved me, hoping that one of them would help me get rid of the retching pain. It was retching … and even now, in this current sadness, I keep feeling as if I am going to throw up. The fact that I can eat a deviled duck egg is, I suppose, a good sign.
Anyway, back to my first breakup. I eventually got my brother on the phone — my wonderful brother, who loves me, who knew me way before any romantic attachments entered my life; my brother with the soothing voice. He began to read to me over the phone, and it was from Letters to a Young Poet. “You have had many sadnesses,” he read. “Large ones, which passed …” He continued to read the most extraordinary things to me, all from the pages of this amazing book.
Rilke was the first person to tell me that it is okay to be sad. It feels like a foreign entity because it is a rare emotion, but, he writes, “If only it were possible for us to see farther than our knowledge reaches, and even a little beyond the outworks of our presentiment, perhaps we would bear our sadnesses with greater trust than we have in our joys.”
I took a leap of faith then, and I'm really glad I did. I dove into that wreck; felt it. I sat with it in solitude, as Rilke suggests, and I am doing that again now. I can slowly muster a smile for the person who has just sat next to me and asked how the deviled eggs taste.
Sadness is the physical manifestation of change, and change is healthy and good. Sadness takes courage. “This is, in the end, the only kind of courage that is required of us,” Rilke writes, “the courage to face the strangest, most unusual, most inexplicable experiences that can meet us.”
So I no longer retreat from sadness. It is an awkward friend who returns every few years, and, yes, wears out her welcome, but leaves me a little bit better than before.
The kind bartender asks me if I need anything else, the same thing that happens to me every week at every bar, but on this night her question feels extra-caring, because I am sad. I say no. I feel the strong need to get back into bed.
I will leave you with something from Letters that I have posted on my wall: “Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”
I am almost out of this wreck. I can sense it. The sadness doesn't scare me so much. I can see the other side.