I'm in the handicapped stall in the Bertucci's bathroom, staring at the same four little tiles underneath my feet, trying to breathe, afraid to do anything more, anything other, than that. Outside are 4/5 sisters, a handful of my niblings and not my brother. Inside the bathroom, an older lady who'd held the door open for me when we were both coming in, is coughing in her stall. Peeing.
I'm just sitting and breathing.
In the movies, or books, when a character goes into the restroom to have a breakdown, it is conveniently huge, echoing and empty, or otherwise a single stall with someone rudely banging away on the door. Here, it's me and these four tiles and the old lady in the stall next to me.
And I couldn't have a breakdown even if I wanted to, because everyone is counting on my to be an adult, there has already been enough drama. My brother and older sister already had a disagreement that ended with him leaving the restaurant before we'd even been seated. There was no actual yelling, and it was probably better that he left, because restraint is SO not his thing, but the kids are on edge, the remaining adults are feeling a little awkward, a little off. (Or at least, I am.)
I have not slept - and I mean in any way for more than three minutes at a time - for over eighty hours. No real reason; just a shitty painsomnia cycle combined with brain overload and pills that stopped working all of the sudden. Not completely unexpected or unheard of, just another joy of life with chronic illness. I know I've made it over 100 hours with no sleep before, but it's been a while, and it's definitely disorienting. Everything seems either too close or too far away - as if I'm looking down the end of a spyglass, or as if they are all looking down the end of one towards me. Sometimes both, at the same time.
I've left the table rather abruptly, but when I get back, only one of my sisters notices. She claims I have a weak poker face "The worst poker face", she says. She has no idea how wrong she really is. If she can see through it even that much though, imagine if I had just started bawling in the ladies' room? Imagine if the one who puts everybody else's pieces back together - who can see that my brother's leaving is worrying my nephew and attempt to joke him out of it, who can see that the sister who tried to plan today's visit is poaching in self-recrimination (our first restaurant had been too small, too hot & unable to seat us quickly enough for my brother's patience; this next choice seemed to have no food options for our nephew with multiple food allergies) & try to give her a bit of a bolster (as the one whose plans USUALLY blow up in her face, I know that particular stew too well); who can see which little one is jealous of the baby and which big one is itching for his phone; who notices the fake smiles plastered on and rushes to fill the cracks in between - Imagine if she were to suddenly lose some of her own?
It is not a thing that any of us wants to find out.
I know I don't always have to be the strong one, or the bossy one, or the one who notices, or the one who tries to help. It feels like I do, but I don't. Usually, almost always, I WANT to be that one. I don't ever want to be the indifferent one or the one who doesn't care, or the one who walks away. Still, I try to step back and give people space, and let others step up and fill different roles.
But sometimes, like today, sitting in the Bertucci's bathroom, staring at those four tiles, trying to pull myself together enough to go back to the table instead of collapsing into a large puddle, I wonder "Why doesn't anybody ever put my pieces back together?"
I hope, some day, that there'll be someone I can depend on to do that for me. With me.
It's a lonely feeling, and I know it's not even 100% valid - I DO have people who care, who help, who fight with me to put my pieces back together: Even today, my sister noticed, asked, tried to help. But sometimes, just sometimes, it feels like I don't have that help, that I can't accept it. And that's a hard way to feel.
And if it took me a little bit longer to put my poker face back on, then I'm just going to have to be ok with that. Because I managed. I pulled through, and ate food, and coaxed smiles out of infants and adolescents and adults alike. I put a smile on my face that was semi-natural and I made it through. And we all made it home.
And that's today's triumph. And I'm going to take it.