I slip into my favorite red undies, then wriggle into a skirt and lightweight sweater. A slide of shiny luminizer eye shadow to brighten my eyes, a few strokes of mascara, a dollop of blush, and some lip balm. I take a few deep breaths and study myself in the mirror. I'm ready.
Or am I?
It's been nearly 10 years since I've been on a date. Nearly 10 years since my body utterly gave out on me as a result of an improperly-healed head injury that happened when a tabletop mounted on the wall of a furniture showroom fell on my head. Crushing head pain, vertigo, life-sucking insomnia, memory loss, racing heart, disorientation, plus isolation and profound loneliness — for a great wash of time this had been my life.
Though years of treatment have helped, on damp days (approximately 342 a year in Michigan) I still feel like I'm trying to rise from the bottom of the deep end of the swimming pool, pushing up against the heavy water that gravity is forcing down. And I still feel as if I'm watching my life on a high-definition television screen: vibrant colors, crisp sounds, yet somehow, I remain separate from the world. But so many other symptoms are finally gone: Most nights I sleep deeply and soundly, I'm free of pain, my world no longer spins, my heart is calm, I can find my way home if I go for a walk.
For years now, I've been convinced that if only I could be strong and healthy again then my old self would reappear. That is to say, my younger self, with the scrappy fearlessness and curiosity that once carried me around the world, that plunked me in the front row and then backstage of every concert, that moved me at 20 to Manhattan where I didn't know a soul, and that landed me jobs in fashion and journalism I wasn't necessarily qualified for. The self that disappeared when my life became centered around my injury.
If only my symptoms were gone, I've reasoned, love, work, money, adventure, everything would glide easily into place. And I'd be happy.
Yet here I am, ready to burst through into well-being, and I find myself strangely afraid.
I've become accustomed to the "almost" zone I've been living in for the last couple of years: Healthier, but not yet healthy. Out and about more, but not yet dating. Finished writing the novel I couldn't even touch when I was at my lowest, but not yet sold it. Making more money, but not yet solvent. I've been waiting to become fully well, and all these key parts of my life have waited with me.
It's been frustrating, scary, infuriating, expensive, disheartening. But there's also a sense of safety in it. Nothing good has happened, but nothing bad has, either. Lately I've been feeling stronger and more capable than I have in years, but with that progress looms a terrifying doubt: What if I heal but remain single, my novel never sells, and I don't make enough money? Currently, I have an excuse, albeit a waning one, for all my shortcomings: my health. But what happens if I trade in that excuse for wellness ... and I still don't progress in life?
Despite this fear, I've been forging ahead, taking risks. For instance, the man who's waiting for me right now at the local coffee shop as I assess myself in the mirror. Checking my makeup, but even more so, checking to see if I can do this.
I recently signed up for Match.com. It took me weeks to create the profile — a side effect of a long healing trajectory is that I need to pace myself through new experiences. I was cued to share my favorite sports and exercise, so I started there. What once would have been Thai boxing and yoga was now walking my dog to the park.
Then I was prompted to fill in my favorite travel hot spots. Once a dedicated traveler, often taking off to far-flung places on my own, I barely left my house for eight years after the injury. While I was starting to carefully venture back out, my favorite hot spots felt like distant memories, and I felt the shrunken size of my identity as I struggled to answer the prompt. Moving forward with my life was forcing me to grieve the loss of who I had once been.
But I forged ahead, and eventually managed to fill in who I read, what I ate, how much I drank (gone were the days of bourbon, neat), until, at last, there I was, out in the world.
Almost immediately, men began reaching out. This panicked me more than I'd anticipated. There were, of course, creeps, extra-odd oddballs. I deleted those. There were also emails from intelligent, funny, kind men. One sailed the world. Another was passionate about helping children in Detroit. Yet another rescued animals. They asked me what I'd been doing with my life. It reminded me of when I first joined Facebook back when I was still so sick I rarely left the house. The community I found there was much needed at the time, but everyone was doing something fabulous — traveling, marrying, birthing, signing book deals, winning awards, et cetera — while I was celebrating that I'd driven a mile to the store. I didn't know how to answer, how to explain that the last decade of my life had involved a lot of internal growth, but external stagnation, which didn't make for light email banter.
Nevertheless, I set up two dates, including the one I'm on my way to now. He is witty and engaging, and we share common interests: love of travel, veneration of dogs, revulsion of Trump. We sip tea, nibble cake, and discuss our lives. The next date is just as good. It's exhilarating. And terrifying. And also completely normal. I surprise myself with how comfortable and confident I feel, despite the downward dampness pressure and the television haze. I feel my old scrappy energy pulse through me. They both ask to see me again. This is it, I think. I'm back.