The Worst Day I Keep Reliving
How we can grow from the horrible shit we’ve experienced in the past.
I talk a lot about Earth School. And trust me sister, I know it sounds hippy dippy. But Earth School is anything but - it’s more like warrior training… if you take it seriously. I’ll tell you about one of the most brutal classes I’ve had to take in my 49 years…
An innocuous trip to the dentist with my child unlocked one of my worst memories.
Several years ago, my eldest daughter needed braces. My response to her beloved dentist, Dr. Ruby Gelman was basically like, Come on…braces are for rich kids. We don’t need to subscribe to the American standards of beauty. Crooked teeth are cool. I’m so glad I have crooked teeth. They give me character. Yadda, yadda, yadda…Dr. Gelman patiently smiled and sent me to meet with multiple orthodontists that she trusted. Still, I was digging my heels in. “We” don’t do braces. At one point, Dr. Gelman, who is also a dear friend of mine from college sat me down and in her gentle but all knowing way said (and I’m paraphrasing): Listen, your child needs braces. This is not about vanity. You can afford to give her braces. Not giving her braces could result in much more invasive procedures when she’s a grown up. She also suggested considering that there may be another reason I’m showing such strong resistance. I sat with what she said.
And that is the first time in my adult life, I remembered the following…
When I was 12, I desperately wanted braces. One issue: I was an Iranian immigrant and Iranian immigrants just didn’t do things like get braces….especially Iranian immigrants with no money. This was a strange American custom to my parents. And a very expensive one. Especially back then. It was as though I was asking for a pet unicorn. But after doing my research, I found an Orthodontist who offered a free consultation in our tiny town in Long Island. My parents may not have understood braces, but they understood free and with enough badgering, they finally agreed to let me make an appointment. And I did. I felt awkward calling the office. I had never made an appointment for myself before or initiated a conversation with an adult I didn’t know on the phone. I wasn’t sure what words to use to say what I wanted and I was painfully conscious of the sound of my voice. “I saw your ad in the PennySaver… about the free consultation.” Luckily the lady on the other end knew how to take it over from there and she asked all the right questions, for which I, thankfully, knew all the right answers. “Ya know ya gotta bring a parent to the appointment, right? They know you’re calling?” Yes, yes, I assured her. They don’t speak English very well so I have to help sometimes. It was true that they didn’t speak great English, but not true that I had to help sometimes. They got along just fine without me. But this was my moment to begin living my American Dream. Braces! Just like Marcia Brady! 🤩
So on the appointed day after school, I changed into a fresh outfit. I had been waiting for this appointment all week. When I told my father it was time to go, he was immersed in reading the Iran Times. “What is this…the orthodontist?” A question that silently contained its own answer: It’s nothing important. “NOOOO! We have to go! I have an appointment!” I said with a sense of urgency that bordered onto hysteria: A vibe I rarely, if ever, expressed. I couldn’t let his disinterest get in the way of my one opportunity to be a normal American middle schooler. “No. No. No!” In my family, this level of emotion from the children (the child – me) was never seen or tolerated. Usually, I was the one making sure there wasn’t a scene by accepting whatever came my way. In this case, he had to give. Thankfully, it wasn’t a long showdown. He rolled his eyes, tossed aside the paper and got up.
I wanted this to be ceremonial. I wanted to walk to the Orthodontist. I wanted to bask in every little moment that led up to the big moment. This moment that signified my normalcy….my family’s normalcy. This 20-minute parade to the Orthodontist was pregnant with so much for me. It was an opportunity to bump into kids from school and proudly tell them I’m going to the Orthodontist. This appointment that said I had value beyond being an obligation to my family. That what I looked like mattered. That maybe my sister cut my hair unevenly. Maybe my clothes smelled like my moldy basement. Maybe my hairy legs and armpits made me the target of the bullies at school and camp. But I was going to the Orthodontist. Just like the other kids at school. The kids who have flip haircuts. The kids whose clothes smelled like fabric softener. The kids who didn’t have how they looked as an obstacle to getting to know who they are. Today, I was going to be one of those kids. I was so proud.
Our town is actually a village. Suburban, but small. And very, very quiet. I used to joke that I could take a nap in the middle of my street and I’d likely not be disturbed. There were cars on the main roads. But the side roads? Rarely. And those were always the ones we took, when we walked, when we drove. The main street had stop signs so you couldn’t zoom into town. And so when we walked we took the same path we’d drive: By habit, I guess. As we walked into town, I noticed my father was slowing down. At one point, he stopped and leaned against a tree. I couldn’t quite compute what was going on. “Come on! We are going to be late!” I urged. He was looking at the ground. “Come on, Baba. Come on!” But he was having trouble breathing. “I just need a few minutes to rest,” he said to me in Farsi. But as he was saying it, his body was going slack. I immediately tried to hold him up with my arms. I quickly realized I didn’t have the strength and instead used my whole body against his. “What’s wrong?” I screamed, “What’s wrong?” My voice, shrill, reflecting the same anger my own mother expressed whenever I showed an uncomfortable emotion: One of my earliest signs of maternal misattunement. I was yelling at my father for dying. At least we both thought he was dying. His usually laughing blue eyes pierced me with a terror I had never seen reflected in them. As I pushed my body against his, I kept looking from side to side. Hoping for someone. Anyone. There was nobody around. Just those empty streets we were seeking when we wanted to zoom into town.
My father didn’t die that day. But a part of me did. I still don’t know how that scene ended: How he got to the hospital where he was treated for a heart attack…how I got home. When I asked my brother recently if he knew, he said he wasn’t aware I was with my dad that day. That wasn’t part of the family story about the incident.
There’s so much to unpack here. I try not to get stuck on the fact that no one wondered, “Was Atoosa okay? How did she get home?” I, for one, do wonder. I still think about that little girl. She never did get those braces. But this incident that would keep replaying in different ways throughout my life has in some ways created the belonging that little Atoosa was always yearning for. A point of connection…with you…and with myself. Life is so beautiful…even when it’s hard.
Here’s another story. Very different…but connected.
Senior year in college. My boyfriend “J” and I were having a fight. We had been drinking. It was going sideways. He was done…I wasn’t done. He suddenly sprinted out his house, down the street like he was playing the football game of his life. I ran right after him though he was no where in sight. I walked up and down the street screaming his name. Screaming without any level of self-consciousness. Screaming like my life depended on finding him. Screaming until my throat was raw. Screaming like a feral animal in the night. Terrified to be alone. Not able to even think two steps ahead to realize that eventually, of course, he would come back. Whatever we were fighting about…it wasn’t that important. It wasn’t big. But the energy behind how I showed up was big. The energy was old. In retrospect I understand it was the energy of a little girl clinging to her father, terrified he would die.
Although I left the story of that day with my dad in the past (it’s not anything that I thought about until that conversation with my daughter’s dentist), it has been vibrating inside of me and reverberates like an earthquake anytime I am experiencing a potential ending with a man – particularly vis a vis a break up or even just a fight. It’s the energy that takes over when a relationship ends. But I never made the connection until my most significant relationship, with my husband, Ari, ended.
While the end of a 26-year relationship is never “easy,” I was just so ready. It was like a tooth that was hanging on by a single thread. For me, as an individual, (not as a mother - I felt awful for the children) I felt a great relief and emancipation. And yet, there were several moments, where I would get so, so upset. I mean, psycho upset. Finally, there was this one night when I was hysterically crying after Ari came home at 2:30 in the morning (it was before we started living apart, but he was already living a single life) and he was like “Hey…hey. I’m ok. I’m alive. You’re acting like I died.” And in that moment, I realized that the feeling that was coursing through my body didn’t actually belong to that moment with Ari. I hadn’t slept with Ari for years. I didn’t want to. I wasn’t conflicted about it. And of course, I want him to be happy romantically. And I want that for myself one day, too. But because our relationship was entering into this less stable territory, I would occasionally slip into abject terror. My body went right back to that energetic place of holding my dad’s body up against the tree. The terror of being the person responsible while the only man in my life was dying.
Unprocessed trauma shows up in unexpected ways. Thanks to that experience a few years ago with my daughter and her dentist (Yes, she ultimately got braces! 💁🏻♀️), the memory of my own fateful trip to the orthodontist emerged from the subconscious cellar I had locked it up inside. And when I noticed I was having an outsize reaction that didn’t match how I knew I felt about about the divorce with Ari, the connection happened very naturally. I realized this energy still lives in my body and pokes out here and there. Acknowledging its origin has helped enormously. When those desperate or clingy feelings come up today, I invite myself to feel the sensations. I remind myself that it’s not about whatever narrative is going on in the moment that’s causing my anxiety, but rather I’m in Earth School: The anxiety of the moment is just providing an opportunity for the remnants of the old vibration to be discharged. And I allow the feeling to just pulse through my body. And uhhh….it fucking SUCKS. So I put my hands on my body, let the sensations just rip through me…and I breathe. I hold the girl who was holding her dad. I give that girl comfort. I give myself comfort. And usually within a few minutes, the sensations pass. The key is to be there for myself rather than grasp for someone outside to give me assurances (Ari, “J”, The Bear) because that never works. It’s like grabbing for someone when you’re ice skating. It’s not good for either of you and ultimately takes you both down. We just learn to skate little by little. I’m learning little by little.
And that, my dear friend, is the process of Earth School. The one curriculum that is tailor made for you and you alone. When you feel really fucking jammed up inside about something that’s happening currently, see if you can connect the cord to something that happened when you were a kid. You just may discover something really surprising that can help unlock your next Earth School class. It takes the charge out of the present and puts your focus on healing the past. If you want to share anything that comes up, I’m here for you 24/7, as always, at email@example.com
The soundtrack of my 🤍🖤❤️ :