Gretchen L. Kelly, Author

The Other Shoe

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photo: Deviant Art

“Happiness hit her like a train on a track…”

-Florence and the Machine, Dog Days Are Over

I have written before about being happy. And I wasn’t lying. Most of the times I am content and pretty happy. Happy is my default setting. But sometimes, behind the smile is a little sense of dread, a little apprehension, a dark shadow persistently tapping me on the shoulder.

Waiting for the other shoe to drop. I don’t know where this phrase came from. It doesn’t really matter, we all know what it means. That other shoe is the thing that floats around in my subconscious. It is my nemesis, the thing I am battling constantly. I refuse to let the other shoe and it’s haunting presence take away my decidedly determined good mood. I will be happy, damn it.

There have been times in my life where everything seems perfect. Things feel almost blissful. And then BAM. Life slaps you in the face with a shit storm. The most memorable and significant incident went like this:

Joe and I got engaged. I was excited, I was in love. I felt incredibly fortunate. I had never been more content and sure of my life and where it was going. During this time I was struggling with a close friend who seemed displeased with all my happiness. I told a mutual friend “I feel incredibly lucky, my life has never been better. But should I feel guilty for being happy?” This was expressed as gratitude for my happy situation and confusion over the other friend’s cold reception to our engagement news. Those words that I spoke, those words would haunt me in ways I could never have imagined.

A week after our engagement we found out my brother had Stage 4 cancer. Wind, sucked out of sail. Balloon, deflated. It literally felt like the sky changed from sunny blue to colorless and stagnate. A gray suffocating blanket of pain and fear and disbelief.

That shoe dropped hard. But there was no time to wallow. We had to fight. We all, my whole family, had to strap on our boots and steel ourselves and be strong for my brother. The other shoe would continually drop for the next 18 months. Hope would be raised only to be squashed. He would seem to be getting better, only to have a scan show more tumors. The final shoe that dropped crushed us all.

We all forged ahead. We found ways to be happy again. Four babies have been born since then (I had my 3 children and my sister gave birth to her third child). We all healed a little with each tiny soul that entered our world. Each baby opened up our hearts a little more to allow some joy. Each one of them gave us permission to feel a little more happiness.

In those early days with my first child, I felt like I was constantly looking over my shoulder for that other shoe. Behind my joy and wonderment was a paralyzing fear. What if something happened to him? What if he got sick? What if someone took him from me? I had come to believe that with joy comes pain. That for every happy event, there was an equal and opposite devastating event.

I have been fighting these thoughts for all these years. They come less frequently now, but they still pop up occasionally. I have honed my mental shoe battling skills. I remind myself that I can’t possibly predict when the other shoe will drop. I can’t foresee it and therefore control it or try to prevent it. It’s ludicrous to think that I can control fate. Life will deal what it deals. But part of me is standing watch like a sentry. Part of me is ready to see that shoe falling and by seeing it coming I can step out of the way. I can pull my family to the side and watch it hit the pavement. Whew. Close one.

I don’t know if this is healthy. I know it is a way of coping with the trauma of life sucker-punching you. And coping skills can be a great tool. Until they’re not. Until they are impeding you form moving forward. Until they are preventing you from living you life.

Right now, I am happy. I think about that other shoe a little bit less. I’m still scanning the world around me vigilantly. My eyes track back and forth, along with my mind. I don’t think I’ll ever not be on watch. Part of that is being a parent. It’s our job to keep our eyes trained our young subjects. But I might be standing a little stiffer, a little more vigilante than my neighbor. Having seen that the unthinkable can in fact happen, I have no choice. But I will keep my watch with a smile on my face. I will break this vigilance to play and engage and relax. But I will never be off duty. When I’m having fun with my kids, my ears will still be listening. While I’ll sleep soundly, my rest will serve to make me more vigilant when awake. I am working feverishly to not live my life in fear of that other shoe, but if it does drop, I will be fighting like hell to keep it from landing on those I love.

13 Responses

  1. Nearest I can tell (from my very scientific method of Googling…lol), is that “waiting for the other shoe to drop” came from tenement/apartment living, listening for the person above you as they were either walking or taking off their shoes.

    I think we all, to a certain extent, do this. Perhaps it’s just a mark of getting older and having life experiences that feel like sucker punches. For me, I think that it’s also a result of knowing that life is brief, complex, and it only happens once.

    1. I definitely think you lose that sense of invincibility as you get older. I know for me this has at times been extreme, almost paralyzing. I realized that if I didn’t get a hold of it my kids would grow up with some serious anxiety or be hypochondriacs! Hopefully they don’t remember the early years when I was constantly in fight or flight!

      1. I’ve had a lifelong struggle with anxiety, and it’s gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. There are so many new things to be anxious about!

  2. Doesn’t sound unhealthy, since it’s not keeping you from being healthy or enjoying life. I deal with that too, though when it’s time for my ticket to get punched, I guess it will just happen…

    1. I think the way I deal with it now is pretty healthy… I hope! There was a time when it was definitely not healthy and I was in panic mode about every little possibility. It’s good to know that other people have some of this going on, makes me feel a little less crazy!

  3. I think waiting for the other shoe to drop is a very natural feeling, especially after someone has gone through tremendous loss. And the fact of the matter is, the other shoe WILL drop eventually, and that is the scary thing. But the uncertainty about when or how many shoes or how hard it will drop can really be nagging. I worry about it as well.More than I probably should.

    You always speak about your experience with your brother with such painful eloquence. Your love for him is always evident.

    1. Thank you so much for that Kelly. I don’t want this blog to be always about him, all the time, but it has been therapeutic to write about him. I guess it’s cheap therapy! I think becoming a parent does it to some of us too, your job is to protect them so you start thinking of every little danger. The world looks a lot less safe when you have babies! I really had to work on my mentality with all of this, I knew that if I didn’t my kids would be affected. I mean, I was bad. Really bad. Hopefully they were too young to pick up on any of my craziness!

  4. I feel like reading this was serendipitous. I live life in a similar way, I have been trying to sell a flat which would be last tie to my “old life”…but until every last document is signed and the bank transfer is done I can’t help but worry about it all falling through!

    Great piece of writing.

    1. Thank you! I think a lot of us go through this, all the “what if’s”. I really have to work on not doing it so much, but during times of stress it definitely comes creeping back… good luck with selling your flat! Hope all goes well!

  5. I read this after “meeting” you the other day and wanted to comment, but didn’t want you to think I was always a Negative Nelly. But after chatting with you a bit, I don’t feel quite so paranoid.

    First, I’m so very sorry for your loss. I realize it’s been some time since you lost your brother, but I know the grief will always be there. However, I’m glad to know that you have come out the other side of such pain and found joy and happiness again.

    I’m still partially in that tunnel of grief right now. I lost my mother in ’09 to pancreatic cancer and strange as it might sound, it not losing her that hurts so much. In a way, her passing was a relief as she had suffered horribly all her life with a myriad of health issues. No, what really hurts is that I lost most of my family along with her.

    No, they aren’t dead. It’s more a case of now that I’m no longer useful as the caregiver, general family lackey and finally started calling them on years of thinly veiled mental and verbal abuse that they’d thrown at me for as long as I can remember.

    The secret venom they have hold towards me -for times and events they weren’t there and have zero factual information about, yet blame me for – came bubbling to the surface in the weeks leading up to her death. And even played out at the funeral.

    And now, nearly five years later, still refuse to hear what actually happened from me, or our father.

    No, one of the three still living brothers has decided I don’t exist.

    Another couldn’t stop screaming at me even when I called hoping to connect after I found out I have MS. And apparently have had it for decades. He basically told me to suck it up, because after all, “we’ve all got something don’t ya know,” and then after telling me, “to get over myself and think of others for once,” proceeded to telling what a terrifying experience he’d had that day. Someone had walked out in front of his truck and he narrowly missed the guy. He could have killed someone, you know! However was he to recover from such a shock?!

    And here I was selfishly crying “just because” I found out I had an incurable, degenerative neurological disease!

    I did not intend to go in this direction when I decided to comment, and what I have said is just a small sampling of what I’ve been through with my so-called family. I’m sorry, I’m still quite bitter and angry, but I shouldn’t let it here. I know I should just delete, but for some reason I can’t explain, I’m not going to… Please feel free to do so if you feel I’ve over-stepped.

    The point I had started to make, was that while I try very hard not constantly fear the other shoe, it seldom works as the shoes *always* comes crashing down. For every single good thing, there is always and has always – without fail – been some kind of crises/bad news – hit shortly thereafter.

    I try really hard to be happy, I do. I try with everything I’ve got to always look for the bright side, but….

    Nevermind, I should have stuck with not commenting on this one. At the very least I should delete all my whining. But something is telling me you might understand. If I’m wrong or have made you uncomfortable, please do delete this whole comment.

    1. You are welcome to come to this place and comment, vent or rant. Anytime, seriously. I can relate a little to what you are talking about. Someone I love very much has gone through the same thing with their parents. It’s been years of no contact. But, it was an unhealthy dysfunctional relationship. This person knows they are healthier now, but it still hurts. I wish we could change people, and I fully believe people can change, but we can’t make people want to change. Also, what I have learned and the person I’m speaking about, what they have learned as well, is that when people treat you this way it is truly a reflection of how they feel about themselves. Whatever shame they are carrying they are putting on you (and others, I’m sure). When we realized this it took a little of the sting out of it. It doesn’t mean that it is not hurtful, but I think it helped us to know that it wasn’t even about us. I hope you have people in your life who care about you and support you.

      And I am so sorry to hear about you having MS. And maybe I’m overstepping here, but I wanted to share something with you. Take it as you wish, but I just want to put it out there. I have been seeing a Classical Homeopath for about 8 years after suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (I got Mono and it just lingered). After the Doctors told me there was nothing I could do but “deal with it,” I started exploring other options. One of my close friends recommended this Homeopath. Her mother had been cured of Lyme disease and her friend had MS and had seen him. He didn’t cure the MS, but his treatment stopped the progression of the disease. It is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I started seeing improvement in my symptoms right away and eventually I was back to being healthy again. I still see him for overall health (physical and mental) and my children have been treated by him. I’m not suggesting you see my Homeopath, but I just wanted to mention it to you. I know when you are facing something that there is no good treatment for it is sometimes helpful to look at alternatives. There is a lot to educate yourself about with Homeopathy if you do want to look in to it. Not all homeopaths are the same. Some are Chiropractors and practice Homeopathy on the side. In my opinion, it’s not the same. Homeopathy is complicated and more of an art/talent than a side job or hobby. And it is cheap. I think my first extensive 2 hour appt with my guy (it was over the phone, he lives in a different state) was $275. That is a lot of money, but it was a one time fee. The treatment (remedies) are about $8. Anyways, it changed my life and I only tell people about it if I think it’s something they would possibly be interested in. I’m sure some people think I’m a crazy flake, but I know what it did for me. My husband is really a skeptic with this kind of stuff and even he will admit (when he’s not teasing me about it) that it changed me and was pretty amazing. Like I said, it’s not everyone’s thing and I totally understand that, but I just wanted to mention it to you!

      I am so sorry for the loss of your mother as well. You’ve been through so much. I can totally see why you feel like the “other shoe” is going to drop. I really hope there are no more shoes in your near future. Stop by and say Hi anytime…

      1. Thank you, Gtetchen. For your kindness and support. (To a stranger, no less!) You made me cry, but in a good way.

        I don’t want to give the impression that none of the fault for this family rift lies at my feet, because it surely does. Or that that my parents are/were saints. My Dad isn’t and Mom wasn’t. They did the best they knew how.

        I am trying ssooo hard not to be bitter or angry, but….. It IS, however, getting easier with time. I can pretty much guarentee I will likely never speak to them after Dad is gone, and I really am okay with that. It’s just right now I still have to hear about them through him. Anyway, ‘snuff about that.

        Regarding the homeopathy, I did try one years ago before the MS was found. But after spending a small fortune not coveres by my insurance, did not find relief. I have CFS too and a few other things thrown in for good measure.

        I am very happy to know it’s worked for you! I know for many people, it is a tremendous help. I do believe it’s better to always try everything before resorting to medication, and believe me I have.

        Over the years I have tried spent endless hours and obscene anounts of money on physiotherapy and chiropractic care, along with too many medications to remember. The former did help to a degree, but as it’s something that needs to be maintained, we just plain ran out of money. (No, we do not qualify for any kind of help other than the disabilty pay from my old job.) I am more fortunate than many in that I have both basic and extended health coverage. Unfortunately, it only covers pennies on the dollar for physical or alternative treatments.

        I truly do appreciate your advice and understand you are only trying to help. My neurologist is a wonderful lady who is actively trying to find effective symptom relief. The MS medications are, in my particular case, rather pointless for a number of reasons.

        Honestly, all I really care about at this point in time is pain relief. 25 years of severe chronic pain has taken it’s toll. If I can get that, I know my “quality” of life will improve dtamatically. I can and will be stronger and more physically able if I can focus on things like say, movement. I can still walk, though you’d swear I was drunk half the time. And I can’t go for long without resting. (Kids are grown, THANKFULLY!)

        After our two of our three elderly – one being positively ancient – furry kids are gone, we plan to downsize and get a cheaper place. That will take a lot of pressure of both of us. Neither of us wants to lose them, and we refuse to abandon them or put them down just because they had the nerver to get old. (And really, it is our own damn fault for not getting pet insurance when we could have! Word of hard earned advice to any wanna be pet parents – GET the insurance. You have NO idea what it can really cost.)

        Actually, it sadly won’t be that long for the kitty – she’s 20 years old! (And in the final stages of kidney disease. Comfortable, but not far off until we have to say goodbye.)

        In fact, knowing we will lose her in months or maybe even weeks, with the dog not too far behind, is probably why I’m feeling so fatalistic about everything. My poor girl. We got old together! 🙁

        I do, normally, cope better. I really do! 🙂

        Okay, having yet again poured my heart out all over your blog, I feel a nap attack coming on.

        Sending you BIG HUGS! (Best meds ever, in my opinion. 🙂 )

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