My whole life, there has always
been someone taking care of me, in one way or another. I moved from my
mother’s house to a boyfriend’s house, and when I wasn’t living with someone, I
was being taken care of by someone. I have always been taken care of—never
monetarily, no, but emotionally. Someone has always been there to back me up,
to do the things I couldn’t do, to make me do the things I didn’t want to do.
It’s worked both ways. I have been the one doing the shoring up and the
propping. But in the end, I have never honestly been honest-to-god totally
independent, not in a relationship.

I moved to San Francisco because I needed to take care of myself.
I needed to put together the furniture by myself, to tear off a chunk of skin
from the heel of my hand and nearly break a toe in the process. I needed to
hang pictures and curtains
by myself. I needed to carry the heavy things, make
the unpleasant phone calls to the landlord or the creditors or the doctors that
I never wanted to make. I needed to stop relying on someone to tell me that the
decision I made was a good decision. I needed to learn how to wake up from a
nightmare alone. To learn how to rely on my friends, for the things that
everyone needs to rely on friends for—and not the person I was fucking—for

And I did. I did all those
things, and I was so very proud for having done them. They didn’t kill me, I
was stronger. But I started dating, and I fell into old patterns. I relied on
him, the way you do with a significant other. I will not say that I became completely
useless and fell apart and regressed into kindergarten—but he took care of me,
and I let him. It was a relief, sometimes, to just let my hands fall limply to
my sides and let him do everything he wanted to, for me, and I let myself
become passive in a way I hated. And then, the end of the relationship, and
then, after some wallowing, the realization that I was on my own, again.

It’s been just three months, but
I have become, to myself, unrecognizably self-sufficient. I have done all those
little things that are, I know, so very little and inconsequential, but
sometimes seem so huge. I have carried and lifted and avoided, very hard, asking
for help; I have made important decisions and I have not, to my utter surprise,
collapsed into uselessness.

Which is why it has been so
frustrating, this under-weatherness, this cold, this plague that’s lingering. I
have been taking my multivitamins and drinking low-sugar O.J. and popping aspirin
for the fever and going through a super bonus pack of Halls for the nagging
cough, taking care of myself, because hey, who else is going to take care of

And that is the problem.
Overhanging all of this has been a knock-me-down desperation to have someone
come and do just that. I have found myself folding into a knot of
unhappiness on the futon and pulling the blanket over my head and wishing,
wishing hard for someone to come and rest their hand on my forehead and put a
mug of soup to my lips and tuck my hair back behind my ear and tell me that
even though my eyes are watery and my nose is red and my face is pulled into a
permanent frown and I sound like a dying chicken when I try to talk, I am

I have wanted nothing more than
to have someone pull the covers up around my neck and press a kiss on my
forehead and run a finger down my fever-flushed cheek and tell me that I will
be okay, that everything will be okay, and everything will be well. Also, that
I am pretty.

I do not like it. I do not like
suddenly feeling so vulnerable. I do not like that underneath the jokes I
have made about it ("Quick! Come bring me orange juice before I die! There is a
flight at 4 p.m.") is this quiet little nagging longing for someone to take me
seriously, to show up at my door with a packet of toast and a mug of weak tea
and an armful of bedtime stories. But there is, I know, a tendency to regress
when you get sick. It is not unusual. I bet presidents and emperors have sat in
bed with the presidential comforters or royal quilts pulled up to their
powerful chins and have whined about someone having to take their presidential
temperature because they are very, very sick and how someone better put on Cartoon
Network because they are royally bored and where’s our soup? It is
universal, this wanting to be taken care of to even a minimal extent (leave the
tissues on the bed stand and get out) when you are sick.

It was just startling, to be so
suddenly, unpleasantly needy, when I am still only getting used to at least
trying not to be. And it better not—oh, it better not—leave a mark.


6 Replies to “self-reliance”

  1. ACHOO! I’m right there with you. Only I’ve never had anyone who would tuck me in and tell me I was pretty. Not when I was sick as an adult, anyway. I’d sure like it if someone did, though.

    Feel better, bébé.

  2. It won’t leave a mark, sweetie. It’s not you regressing into wanting a relationship in which someone takes care of everything–it’s just you being sick, and as far as I know just about everybody out there gets mushy when they’re sick and wants someone to do all the things you describe.

    Once you feel better, you’ll feel better, you know? You will once again be tackling it all yourself, and proudly. And when you do fall in love again, this time it will be with someone who encourages the independent you.

    But, trust me, when you’re sick, you’ll still want to be taken care of. It’s perfectly normal.

    Oh, and also? You’re pretty.

  3. the sicky neediness tends to disappear when the sickness does, thankfully. I moved to korea to do the very same thing. lets make a club.

  4. oh yes– i moved to atlanta for the same reason, and spent this weekend sick as a dog, wishing i had followed the boy instead, or had pursued that boy here, just so, jeez, SOMEONE would care that i was puking and dehydrated and so pity party sad.

    i made it through the weekend though, and the icky-sick pit, the bottom, well it’s lonely, but it’s also okay.

  5. This speaks to me so much, because I am That Girl, the one whose Mommy always took care of her, and then I got married and now my husband takes care of me. Not just emotionally, either. He takes care of the bills, because I am Hopeless With Money. Sure, I work, I take care of our son, I do the dishes, I cook, but if he weren’t here, I would be screwed. I need a mommy. I am so embarrassed of it so much of the time, and so scared to just roll up my sleeves and say “okay, I am an adult, I can do this. I gave freaking birth, I can do this. My checkbook isn’t the enemy.”. I should be able to and I can’t. I think that taking back control would be too much like really being an adult, and too much like not having a shoulder there. I think I forget that there is such a thing as being independent in a relationship.

    I hijacked this post because you’ve reminded me of that.

  6. I totally agree with the comment about being truly needy vs. being sick. everyone(or at least 95% of humanity) is needy when sick. But, and your post doesn’t really say one way or another, is being interdependent a bad thing? I mean, you say you have done the shoring up and the propping. if neither of you are unhappy about what you’re giving/getting, is it such a bad thing to have someone to tell you to do the things you don’t want to?

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