I am not brave.
I few days ago my mother, with whom I have not spoken in about two years, reached out to me. She told me that a hospital back home was trying to get in touch with me, as my father was in critical condition. As it turns out, the situation is very dire. The doctors have told me that essentially, there is no hope. I am urgently requesting any help possible so that I may fly home and be there for my father’s final days.
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The air has been beautiful lately. Even at my most tired, I have opted to walk to work in the early mornings and soak up the sun’s first rays peering through my neighborhood’s gold and crimson leaves. The air has also been biting on these occasions, but unable to give up the smell of the night’s rain on the pavement, I have pulled my scarves and sweatshirts from the back of my closet, and inhaled the changing seasons.
This particular time of year is usually one I find difficult. This time around isn’t especially different, although I have been taking steps to avoid the annual hibernation and shutdown I have experienced in the past decade. The frost gets in my bones and saps my already-meager supply of energy. I have written about this before: it is debilitating. So far, I am still able to get out of bed at a reasonable hour and I can laugh honestly.
By this time I have generally barricaded myself under my warm covers and turned away from an active social life, save one that exists only electronically. But I find myself participating as actively as I can in this small town where I know only a few people. I have learned the limits of my energy in this past year and in doing so I have begun to manage it as efficiently as I am able. So in this sense, I suppose this year has been different. Of course, that is not to say that my worse days do not make an appearance. This time, it is not the icy air and the falling leaves that has saddened me. Nor is it the early evening onset of a darkness that is so deep it lingers into the morning as I make my way to work, when just a month ago I could breathe in a brightening dawn. Rather, it is as I reach for my woolen coats and see my sweet summer dresses, hardly worn, that I feel a desperation to put off the impending winter.
When I am truthful, I can admit that I spent the whole of this summer in turmoil with how I perceived my body. More often than not, it was my distaste and loathing for my physical appearance that reigned over my practicality. Most days I chose to wear clothes that were ill-suited to the temperature rather than reveal whichever part of my body was causing me shame. My back was spotted with acne that I felt should have cleared up years ago. In my embarrassment, I forewent tank tops and dresses and my shoulders remained pale and unkissed by the sun.
I am unsure if the troubles I have with my physical appearance are a symptom of my emotional difficulties, but somehow they have become intertwined so tightly that sometimes it is challenging for me to decipher the feelings I am having in relation to my body. This post has been brewing in my mind for some time now. In fact, the first paragraphs have sat on pages in my notebook for weeks, but every time I attempt to continue, I stare blankly at the paper and instead flip aimlessly through my phone. Sometimes I am apt to believe that I have trouble expressing this because the feelings themselves have passed and become irrelevant. Other days I am painfully aware that the relief of these feelings is only temporary and at those times I find the things I want to write so personal and humiliating that I have no desire to do so.
Maybe also, in some small part, is the principal that has been drilled into my head: talking about one’s body is essentially forbidden. I am acutely aware of what women are supposed to look like, and like everyone else in the population, I know exactly where I do and don’t measure up. This creates its own problems; I have learned to feel ashamed about the physical parts of me that do not adhere to the model. At the same time I have been taught a distaste for vanity and whatever pride I could potentially take in my body has been smothered. In a single breath I have inhaled these ideals and as a result I have been blinded to the parts of me that may remain attractive to the popular standard. Worse yet, as much as I’d like to subvert this, I catch myself considering this The Standard. Society dictates that I am only allowed to look a certain way, but that I must never, ever take pride in the parts of me that are deemed acceptable. It is a vicious and detrimental combination.
I suppose that I can imagine I’m basically attractive. But this thought has taken years of work to say and believe, and on many days it still does not ring entirely true. I asked Miguel the once, “How long have you known you were hot?” I can tell that my questions are strange to him. I know that he doesn’t experience a physical self-loathing in the same manner I do. I watch him strut around the house completely undressed and I am stunned by and envious of the confidence that seems to come so naturally to him.
“Have you always walked around like this?” I ask, “It’s just so foreign to me.”
He looks puzzled. “But you’re naked all the time,” he says. It’s lost on him that learning to be nude in his presence has been a difficult and painful process for me. Even now, over a year after he first saw me bare and vulnerable, I always avoid his steady gaze.
“Stop staring,” I tell him.
“I’m just looking.”
“I like your body; I want to learn every line.”
I know Miguel means it sincerely. Even so, I tense up. I can feel a spotlight on each imperfection. As I lie there rigidly, I recall every stretch mark, spider vein, clogged pore, and every hair. I can never stand this for as much as ten seconds before I push him away.
I wonder if he knows how much these insecurities have affected our sex life. I can think of numerous times that the moment was heavy and our sexual tension was high but I could not bear the sight of my body. As much as I wanted him, my anxiety took over. There have been times I begged for him to turn the lights out even though it was disruptive and somewhat killed the mood. There have been times I have wriggled away from him, humiliated at the thought of him seeing the blemishes on my back. Time after time I have kept my shirt on under the guise that I was cold.
Some days I sit in front of my full-length mirror and stare at myself hatefully. I have begun to carry weight on my small frame and my hips spill over the top of my jeans. My upper arms jiggle and new stretch marks crawl down my inner thighs and up my sides. I am angry to watch my size 4 body acts as though it is a size 14. I see so many girls who are both considerably larger and more radiant. They carry themselves and own their pudge in a way that I am just not capable. I am bitter that I am fortunate enough to be a size that is supposedly attractive and somehow I still feel morbid and disgusting. I stare at the mirror and I cannot unsee the small hairs on my upper lip, the too-big pores, and the acne scars.
On these days I opt out of social activities. “I’m having a bad body day,” I tell Miguel. He doesn’t understand; he thinks I mean I’m sick and offers to make me soup. There have been times that I have felt this way but kept silent and that he has told me I look good. When this has happened I have been certain that he can see how terrible I look that day and that he is trying to make me feel better. Only later do I realize that he may have actually meant it.
That is another part of the problem: I am not able to take compliments at face value. I generally have such a poor opinion of my body that I assume compliments are in someway insincere. Most times, I feel as though I am being mocked. When I can see that the attention is genuine, I conclude that the person must be some sort of creep. I have difficulties believing that “normal” people would find me attractive, and so I determine any admirer must in some way be predatory. I have posted nude pictures online on multiple occasions when I have felt inadequate. And in a more artistic move, I have modeled nude for a photographer friend. Always, the feedback is overwhelmingly positive. Still, I pinch my belly in the mirror and look on with scorn.
I am practicing. I have given up on the hope that my breasts will ever grow and I have found positive aspects of their size. I am trying hard to look at the jagged purple marks on my legs and hips and to say, “yes, those are my stretch marks. Those are my stripes.” I want to glance at the little blue veins popping up on the back of my knees and thighs and feel unphased by them. I am trying to accept that I am aging physically and to think of all the weathered women I have known and how glorious they were in all of their experiences and laugh lines. Certainly there are things that I could try to reverse some of my flaws. But generally they are expensive and ineffective. It has become more important to me at this point to ease out of attempting to attain physical perfection: instead, I want to look at my body with a forgiving eye, and then a loving one. None of this comes easily to me, but I am grateful to know that Miguel is a safe place for me to struggle through these lessons. Our bodies are so much a part of our identity and it is cruel to be unaccepting of them. For me, it is a big first step to be outing my struggle in this way. But sometimes when things are said out loud they lose some of their hold on you. And now, I am going to go easy on myself.
everything is spiders
I am a bad writer.
I am disorganized. Melancholic. Distracted. Exhausted.
I have been told that writers should write something daily. Truthfully, I have been trying. Unfortunately, I find myself that I am piecing together essays at supremely inopportune moments. As I’m steaming milk for someone’s extra-shot-half-skim-no-foam latte sentences suddenly start constructing themselves beautifully in my mind and I have no way to record them. I promise myself I will remember. I promise myself that this afternoon will be different and that I’ll finally sit down and somehow write the pages and pages that feel as though they are trapped in my very fingertips. But I get home feeling utterly beaten after a long day of burning my arms on plates of eggs and somehow the words never get let out.
I’m trying something new. I think that part of what is keeping me from writing is that I have a lot of ideas for specific pieces I want to write. For now though, I do not have it in me to complete them and as such, they are blocking up the way of my writing anything at all. I feel guilty for not finishing these specific posts, but if I refuse to move past them then I am only condemning myself to my own continued discomfort and unproductivity.
Anyway, things are happening to me. I want to write a book some day. I better start recording this nonsense.
Blogging: Take 10.
I’ve said it before: my life has often felt like nothing but a series of people leaving me. I’ve sought counsel in a number of places, all with limited success. Somehow I always find that my connections with these people are temporary and I am often left sitting with a good deal of disappointment. In my adult life I have learned to be self-reliant and to lean on these relationships less than I felt I needed to in my adolescence. I am aware, however, that this is not entirely a result of my own growth, so much as it is the result of many difficult lessons that have trained me well. I have become very accustomed to the people I relied on slipping away and leaving me to fend for myself. To be clear, this has never been a demonstration of tough love. Over and over I was left simply because it was easier for these people to do so. One of the most devastating losses I experienced was that of my uncle.
Although he had been a somewhat regular part of my life as a child, he did not become so critically important to me until the few months following my fourteenth birthday. I truly don’t think there was any specific reason for my sudden connection to him. I imagine he enjoyed–or was at least amused by–my love of combat boots and band t-shirts, and for some reason that struck a chord that resonated deeply: Uncle Adam gets me. Uncle Adam is not my mother. Uncle Adam will save me.
For a while this was true. I tried hard to use him as my friend and mentor. I called him when my mother was pushing my limits–which was often. From time to time he would even drive to our house and take me to his for the weekend where I would relax with him and his girlfriend, Emily. These escapes were monumental to me. I found that we liked similar music. He let me have a beer. He showed me the marijuana plant in his closet. One night he cooked the most amazing steak I had ever tasted–still rare and bloody–and he and his girlfriend shared it with me while we stayed up late and laughed. I sipped his scotch and was blissfully certain that they understood me. We retired to the deck to smoke a joint. I was in heaven. I was sure Uncle Adam would save me.
Months passed and his girlfriend introduced me to her close friend Alena. I began regularly babysitting her children and we quickly bonded. She thought I was bright and I felt that I had made a new connection, guiding me safely through the instability that was living with my mother. I had no idea how correct I would be.
Away from the knowledge of my family and even of me, Alena and Emily discussed my living situation at length. They lamented my having to endure my borderline, unfit mother, calling my life a “Cinderella story.” Quietly, they planned to take me under their wing and fix what seemed to be an inevitably disastrous adolescence. Both were aware that I desperately needed a way out of my mother’s unfathomably unhealthy home, and they were also wise to the intense rift this would cause in my close-knit, skeleton-hoarding family. Alena, recently divorced and with new-found space in her house, offered to temporarily take in the girl of whom she had become so fond, and thereby absorb the blows of a family who detested anyone who rocked the boat. Ultimately, I was to live with my uncle, his girlfriend, and their respective children. This, of course, never came to be.
The July of my fifteenth birthday, I could no longer bear living with and being subjected to the volatile and mentally unstable whims of my mother. After having considered her offer for a solid eight months, I asked Alena if it was still on the table. After getting her confirmation, I wrote my mother a letter and found myself in my new home a mere ten days later.
As it happened, the day I moved was my beloved Uncle Adam’s birthday. After an extensive process involving my mother and our therapists, Alena and I made a late-afternoon trip up to his house to update Emily on our circumstances. My uncle was at work, but I made sure to leave him the gift I had bought with the money I had managed to save from babysitting. He had once told me of a certain CD he had always loved but was disappointed to have lost years before. I had been ecstatic when I found it at our local record shop, and I waited anxiously for the enthusiastic thank you that never came.
Nothing came, actually. I had no idea at the time, but my move had begun to pull apart the threads of my family’s years-long tradition to endure and suffer its discordance silently, always letting the blind eye rule. In doing so, I had set myself on a fast-paced course to what became my own shunning. In hindsight, the immediate distance my uncle took from me should have been a clear sign. But I was a child, and witlessly I continued to call, despite my messages never being returned. Soon after, Emily withdrew from Alena, citing a sudden previously-nonexistent empathy for my mother.
This is not to say that I never saw them again. For the first year after my move there were still a number of family dinners to attend, each more uncomfortable than the last. In my hurt, I tried hard to ignore my uncle’s presence. Truthfully, I have never been one who is able to maintain a steely gaze and pursed lips in an awkward situation, and this was no different. As my uncle knelt by my grandfather’s blue recliner, where I had attempted to take refuge, I was horrified to find myself smirk. His words, feigning victimization, were biting. The jeer in his tone was not lost on me. I shrank into the chair as he needled me, wishing he would leave.
Over dinner, I made sure to find seats away from my mother and uncle. Emily’s voice, high-pitched in its phoniness, dominated the conversation. Her eyebrows arched high above her wide eyes as she announced, “Adam likes a lot of things!” My family murmured in superficial interest. I stayed silent.
It was only a few months after this dinner that my family stopped speaking to me altogether. I was heartbroken to lose contact with my grandparents, but the worth of my relationship with Adam and Emily had withered months before. The loss still pained me, but I had long grown accustomed to their absence.
One bright summer day I found myself walking a few blocks from my home when I heard a familiar voice calling my name. The voice was singsong; mocking. I looked up to see my uncle and his girlfriend sitting on a nearby roof. He had recently begun a slate roofing company and it shouldn’t have caught me by surprise that he was in my neighborhood.
“Marieeeeee!” he sang again, waiting for my response.
I felt goosebumps cover my limbs, and without considering the possibility of passerby I inhaled sharply and shouted: “Fuck off!” I waited for no reaction and continued home, where I collapsed on the couch and sobbed, devastated.
Years went by and our relationship was never repaired. I tolerated him and Emily, but even after things began to heal with my mother, my warmth for my uncle remained missing. We did not reach out to each other and they refused to let me partake in any of the preparation for holiday meals, despite my enthusiasm to do so. Whether or not they were oblivious, the strain between us never lifted.
Three years ago my grandmother died, and with her so did the reign of her generation in my family. My mother, now bereft of both her parents, quickly began to spiral downward, her grief flecked with symptoms of her mental illness. My great uncle died soon after, and in an unfortunate course of events, his funeral was held on what would have been my grandmother’s 76th birthday.
My mother stood in the basement of the church weeping silently. She moved slowly, as though her body was that of an elderly woman: twisted and painful. Her eyes glazed over as she whimpered and stared unseeingly at everyone in the room. Furious, I watched as my aunt, now grieving the deaths of both her husband and sister, went to my mother’s side, comforting with her strong arms and voice.
My uncle caught my eye and looked at me knowingly, Emily smiled gently and suggested that the three of us have a movie night sometime. I smiled as minimally as was acceptable and gave a noncommittal, “sure.” I scowled as I walked away, angry at their sudden interest in helping to buffer the difficulties that my mother’s illness presented. There had been a time that I, as a child, had desperately needed them to fill this role. As a young adult, I felt that what they were offering me was both too little and too late. This deflection of their negligible efforts was the first step in severing contact with them altogether.
I told my sister I didnt have her number anymore. She gave me the landline. No one answers my calls. Then I have to hang up really fast because hearing my mom’s voice on the voicemail makes me feel sick.
I am so absurdly exhausted. My poor body. I feel useless. I am only capable of working and sleeping and drinking.
I have been entertaining the hypotheticals: the what-ifs, the coulds and woulds, the maybes. I am going back.
My regular customers, as invested in my goings-on as they are their own children’s, are fascinated. I have received hugs and handshakes, joyful applause, and an excited onslaught of questions asked mostly in English. One man looked at me through years-wise blue eyes and told me, “be careful.” I readied myself for the political lecture that did not come. Instead: “The heart is a delicate thing. Be careful, honey.” Everyone seems to agree that traveling a third time is significant. I’ve become the object of a love story they never had. God help me.
I wrote it a thousand times: my time from Israel would be long. I was certain. It wasn’t a feeling; it was knowledge. Truths are so temporary.
If I am honest then I must admit that there are days I am horrified by my decision to return. I am astonished by the amount of time I have decided to stay and for the thousands of dollars I have already spent. There are days that I am overwhelmed by the realisation that I again have no idea what it is that awaits me there. The bigger fear I have, though, is what waits for me when it is time for me to go. I’m pretty certain it’s awful. And if I’m sure it’s both awful and inevitable, what business do I have going back? I wrestle with this.
I’m so very jaded in a whole host of ways. Even still, I always go for the glimmer of hope. I usually pay for this. Maybe someday I’ll learn.
My life is making my fucking head hurt.
There is some insane baby-blocking, hormone-spewing object in my uterus and it’s giving me horrific cramps and creating CryFest 2012.
I finally felt good enough to go to a cafe and write. But when I opened up my notebook and saw everything I had written while I was in Israel suddenly I felt so anxious and nauseous that I had to take some of the anxiety medication I keep in my wallet for when I can’t calm myself the fuck down. I wrote something eventually but it fucking sucks.
I don’t think I’m doing very well here in Western Mass. This is an old, old problem, but I feel as though the more I leave and come back the worse it gets. Maybe it would be different if I got homesick for this place. But I just don’t. Ever. There’s no relief in being here. When I ride home from the airport when I get back I feel like it’s a bad dream. I don’t understand how I could be there when I had just been somewhere that makes me feel so much better. What am I doing?
And I feel like if I leave again and then have to come back I will only be breaking my own heart again. Sometimes I feel that by having left and having begun to explore other places I have essentially started to ruin my own life. How fucked is that? But I can’t imagine that I will be able to stomach making myself come back here over and over when I feel so much more vibrant when I am oceans away. So I think I need to find a way to stop coming back. That feels a bit overwhelming.
All day long I thought about cutting all my hair off. Or dramatically changing the colour. Or getting a new piercing. Or a tattoo on a whim. This is what I do when I feel restless and trapped. This is not good.
I’m gonna go drink a giant beer.