At least I’ve got killer calves!
For many years, I struggled to find a single thing I liked about myself. Eventually I’d land on my calves, which garnered compliments long before I understood why the heck anyone would care about what was below the knees—or above them, for that matter!
When I became eligible to give blood on my 17th birthday, I seized that opportunity. Some years before, my godfather had died while waiting for a transplant. I couldn’t give a liver, an eye or a heart, yet, but I could help someone live by donating a pint of blood and an hour of my time.
Did I mention I hate the sight of my blood, or even the thought of it outside my body? I almost passed out every time I gave blood, not because the blood loss itself was substantial—it’s not!—but because mybloodisleavingmybodyomgnonononono.
The nurses all cheered for me when I actually watched them insert the needle on my tenth donation. I watched through the whole transfer process. I confess I still felt a bit faint, but I felt far more strongly the thrill of having given my phobia the finger.
More importantly, I watched that blood flowing and marveled at the thought of what that blood would mean to someone else: life. Read more…
Chrissy (silverfinofhope) captivated me with poetry she disguises in prose form, and kept me with the revelation her son is named after a beloved character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Through her word-snapshots of memories and could-have-been memories, constructed in such loving detail you’d swear you’d actually seen a photo, and the way she reflects on the questions her son presents, it’s easy to see the artistry that drives her soul while illuminating the world around it.
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It takes ten hours to drive to northern Mississippi from Knoxville, Tennessee. And it’s a long ten hours. Especially in mid-July when the whole south is choking on the humidity and practically going deaf from the roar of horny cicadas. Once you leave the peaceful mountains and gentle hills of East and Middle Tennessee, I-40 levels out and you’re surrounded by dry red earth and withering corn crops until you run smack into concrete, sprawling Memphis. Mississippi is just down the road from Tennessee at this point, and at first it appears like a lush, supple green oasis. Thunderstorms and agriculture have turned the northern part of the state Technicolor: the ground is an orangey-red, the sky is inky indigo, the cotton and corn crops are healthy and green. All that rain means that double rainbows are almost a daily occurrence, so occasionally you’ll pass an elderly farmer who’s stopped his tractor mid-field to stare open mouthed at the almost kaleidoscopic sky.
Northern Mississippi is so pretty on the outside that once you land in town, you feel like you’ve woken up from a particularly lovely dream. You’re only going to be in the town for a few days; you and your son are accompanying your husband on a film shoot. Essentially you’re just dropping him off for work; the two of you share a car and the studio didn’t pay for its crew to be transported to down deep Mississippi for a few weeks. The three of you are going to make the best of it before you head back to Tennessee. Maybe you’ll swim in the hotel pool, maybe you’ll window shop in the quaint, cobblestone downtown, maybe you’ll get lost in a grove of weeping willows and magnolias.
As your husband checks into the hotel you and your son stay in the car. The production isn’t paying for the hotel room, either, and your bank account is almost on empty. There’s just enough to pay for your husband to have a room for the duration of the shoot, to buy food, and to get home on, so you and your son must remain hidden. Once you get into the room, which reeks of moldy air, stale smoke, and curry, you realize that this will be no vacation. You check the beds for cleanliness, and are shocked (or maybe not) to discover rusty brown blood streaks of blood on the mattresses, faint smears of mascara on the pillows, and a not-so-mysterious, dried sort of milky stain on one of the top sheets. Your heart is broken. Your son knows something is wrong and stops asking when he can see the pool. It’s the image of him that’s breaking your heart: five years old, scuffed up legs that are finally getting a chance to stretch after ten hours in the car, gangly little arms clutching his stuffed monkey. You wanted to give him something. Things have been a little rough lately, money worries have haunted your heart for a while and it’s starting to show.
The rest of the room is no better. There’s a fly strip hanging from the ceiling (with a few flies in it). The carpet is coming up in spots; someone has stolen most of the light bulbs. There are no towels or toilet paper. You make your husband go to the office and demand a different room, both of you crossing your fingers that they don’t find out there are three guests instead of just one. He’s already given them his credit card to swipe, and you can’t afford the Best Western, though it has a vacancy and probably wouldn’t have rooms that resembled a Quentin Tarentino interior set.
There is another room, slightly better. Slightly less frightening, slightly less haunted with ghosts trapped in crime scenes. The gentle rain that brought the double rainbow earlier has now turned menacing.
The reality hits you that you and your son won’t visit the pool the next day at all, and not just because of the rain. The hotel is so terrible, so dirty, so sad and so dangerous that you must leave your husband in Mississippi so that he can work for two weeks until you drive to pick him back up when he’s done. Your son can’t stay there. The walls are too thin and the locks on the door are bent and broken. Your husband nods his head and says, “Absolutely. Please go home, it’s terrible here. Luckily I only have to come here to sleep a few hours a night and then in two weeks it will all be over.”
Earlier, after you switched rooms, the three of you pick up a cheap comforter, three pillows, and dollar bin towels from the only store open at midnight in town. The fifty dollars that you spend further depletes the miniscule balance in the checking account, but your husband says he doesn’t want to sleep on the hotel’s sheets, doesn’t want “his wife wiping her makeup off with one of their skanky towels,” doesn’t want his son “resting his head on something that might infect him.”
Miraculously, you all fall asleep in a comfortable heap on top of the navy blue, ten dollar comforter that your husband will toss in a dumpster once his two weeks of filming are done.
Before the sun comes up he leaves the hotel room to begin his duties on the multi-million dollar film, the reason you’re all in Mississippi in the first place. He tells you not to open the door to anyone, even if they work at the hotel. He kisses you, then your sleeping son, and you see the two weeks without him stretching across oceans, mountains, galaxies. Sadness turns all shaky in your chest, quickly turning to anger. You hate his fickle career, hate the industry he’s in, hate movies, hate rich people, hate the hotel, and hate Mississippi. How could a production with such a big budget not put up their crews better? How could they let them sleep in squalor before working until their fingers bled and their muscles ached in a the 100 degree Mississippi July?
You drag yourself to the shower (full of cave crickets and silverfish, and the shower curtain’s black with mildew) and feel dirtier after you bathe than before. You then wake up your son, have him use the restroom and brush his teeth with a bottled water, and together you leave the hotel room. On the way to the car (past the pool, which you notice has a dozen or so inflatable pool toys bobbing in the water) a hotel janitor stops and asks you if you need any towels. You mumble no and pull your son’s hand along a little too hard (let’s go, let’s go, let’s go). The janitor stares at you as you throw the suitcase in the trunk, struggling a bit with the pool noodles that were shoved in the trunk when you left Tennessee less than twenty four hours before. For some reason those pool noodles set you off. They’re a reminder of what Mississippi was supposed to be and everything that it wasn’t.
Careful not to squeal the tires, you drive around the backside of the building. Your son has fallen back asleep, still clutching his stuffed monkey close to his chest. He hadn’t put the monkey down even when we brushed his teeth, and told you to hold “George” while he used the bathroom and washed his hands.
Most of the curtains are drawn in the hotel; no one’s really awake yet and the film crew of course has already left for their early call time. One room, close to street, has both its curtains and door wide open to the parking lot. As you wait at the red light (which of course can’t turn green fast enough) you’re able to peek right into it.
The room is lit up brightly, and has a king-size bed. The comforter on the bed isn’t hotel issue, but rather a pink flowered one. On the brown shag carpet a great number of baby toys are strewn about, and near the front of the room is an Exersaucer; the same one your son had when he was a baby. On the dresser there are several large photos in frames, the tv is angled towards the Exersaucer, and Oswald is on. Whomever is staying in that room appears to be staying for much longer than a night, longer than two weeks even. A young mom walks out of the bathroom, carrying a nine or ten month old baby. She grabs a purse from the pink flowery mattress and closes the room’s door, locking it behind her.
By the time the light finally turns green you’re crying, grateful your son is asleep and can’t see the tears dripping hot and fast down your cheeks.
“How can I become a better writer?”
People ask me this (perplexingly) often. Regardless of the “why” of it, my answer is constant: Keep a journal.
Wait. Let me clarify that for those thinking they can simply tuck a journal between their mattresses and call it good. Regularly write in a journal. Really keep it, versus simply owning it!
In the sixth grade, my best friend gave me a Snoopy journal for Christmas. Thus began a lifelong obsession not only with documenting my life but working my way through its difficulties in a judgment-free forum. In my journals I found a confidant who wouldn’t get upset with me for trying 100 different times to find the right way to express exactly what I was feeling. With years and lots (and lots and lots) of practice, I got to the point where 1-2 attempts did the trick. In five minutes, I could sit down on my bed, jot down some words and feel the goodness of transferring weight off my heart and into my journals. Read more…
More than a decade ago, I spoke these words in a discussion forced by an older relative.
“Don’t you want to spend time with me, Deborah?”
“Frankly, no. Our only connection is my mom, and you only talk about her with disrespect and anger, which I’m pretty much not interested in.” Read more…
Monday’s post (“JUDGERNAUT: Ba.D. on Survivor & my less sensitive side“) was originally written as the preface to a guest post by my honey, Ba.D., about his experiences on Survivor. I edited the entry to be a standalone so Ba.D. could write his entry in his own time. He is, after all, doing me a favor!
My plans to give him plenty of time and space haven’t necessarily been met. Yet Ba.D. has, as usual, maintained his cheerful demeanor in the face of someone-who-is-not-me’s repeated questioning, “Are you ready now? How about now? Maybe . . . now?”
When I asked Ba.D. if he’d be open to answering questions from TMiYC readers, he was amenable to that, too. If you’d like to ask Ba.D. anything appropriate (aside from “How about now?” or similar, which are reserved by someone who resembles but is not yours truly), please leave a comment here or email it to me here by 12:00 p.m. PT on Wednesday September 21, 2011. At some point in the nearish future, he will answer those questions he’s able to.
(c) 2011 Deborah Bryan. All rights reserved.
Ré (Sparks in Shadow) describes herself as having “never met a contradiction without wanting to give it some study.” Her blog reflects this rejection of “just because” as an adequate answer, revealing a contemplative, assertive soul striving to create music from the hubbub and struggles of life.
Recommended post: Can Anything From Donald Trump Teach Us About Empathy?
One of the Things I’m Grateful For
I’m grateful for a body that responds extremely well to exercise. All I have to do is give it what it really wants, and it rewards me with sinew, limber fluidity, and glorious strength. Of course, that’s the rub. How does one find the will to begin one more time, when the darkness of the past gives way once more to light, and accents just how much the body has been ignored? For me, it helps that I’m lucky and I know it. After an inevitable period of adjustment, a couple of weeks of waning discomfort (not injury, just my muscles beginning their work– standing up and taking notice) my body craves the movement. It calls out sharply if it senses within me the notion to skip a few days. When I stay true to this course, my body looks forward to new challenges with hand weights, holds yoga poses longer, wants to increase repetitions within exercises, and gives me the gift of being able to run a block to catch a bus without being winded afterward.
My body will respond positively if I take it where it needs to go. It wants to be worked. It’s shown me that at least twice before, during periods when I had doubts, but held fast and found that it was hungry for weights, and push-ups, and movements that made its heart beat faster.
I remember the first time I got really fit. I would set out something for my young daughter to munch on (because children are always hungry for something when you’re on the phone or you begin to exercise). She would sit on the sofa with some toys, and amuse herself as music played and I pushed myself into a life-affirming, endorphin fueled sweat. I had taught her what to do when she got my signal, and when I looked at her and said things like, “I just did 80 push-ups!” she would clap and say, “Whoo-hoo, Mom! Good job!” Now she’s a grown woman, but I’m sure that if I call her after I cool down from a workout, and she’s able to answer, she’ll gladly say it for me again.
One of my proudest moments, happened after the second time I had achieved a healthy body and its subsequent dividends. My daughter had become a teenager and I’d walked into the room to ask her opinion of a clingy cotton sweater I’d picked up on sale. When she looked up at me, her head bobbed up and down and she said, “When did you get hot?!” I hadn’t known yet. I’d been immersed in the simple doing of it and how good it felt. I’d been loving the feeling of strength I had and how every other healthy thing flowed from it. It’s that long list of things relieved that fuels my resolve now. Persistent debilitating insomnia, my extreme difficulty with this summer’s heat, the need for those precious endorphins, the need for everyone (especially a financially poor person) to be as healthy as possible, and the need to also save money by fitting into the contents of my own closet– these all come if I only heed my body’s call. The call is a weak whimper at the moment, because it’s been ignored for a while, but I’m listening now.
I’ve begun with twenty or so reps each of crucial exercises that strengthen my most needed muscle groups– my legs and my arms. And I’m working my derrière because the sooner I build muscle there, the sooner that large muscle will enhance every other movement I do, doubling their abilities to burn fat. I’ve managed to find my resolve to begin this in such awful summer heat, that I’m sweating profusely now as I sit typing in front of the fan. I don’t know how I’ve begun, but I have. I need it and I want it, and I’m so grateful for this body of mine. It responds so well when I listen to its call, and give it what it needs.
Reneé (Lessons from Teachers and Twits) writes such lighthearted, fun entries, it’s startling the first couple of times you read her comments and realize her entries reflect but a small portion of an enormously complex, enormously beautiful soul. A teacher to the core, in almost all her words can be found a lesson.
One of the lessons contained in this entry is perhaps the most powerful to carry through rough times: the hardest lessons learned are also the ones that most illuminate the joy of what follows.
Recommended post: Lessons from Eight Junes
Annual Kite Flying Day
One August, a man that I loved tried to kill me.
Only he didn’t kill me.
Earlier that day, we had gone kite flying.
I stood quietly by his side watching the blue of the kite blend with the blue of the sky, watching him control the kite, make it do what he wanted it to do.
Later that night, he took my body and showed me that his was stronger.
That he was in control.
His leg weighed tons, and I couldn’t wiggle out from underneath him. At first, I thought he was just fooling around but he wasn’t laughing and he didn’t get off of me even when I told him I couldn’t breathe.
I didn’t scream, but I should have.
Afterwards, he took my head and tried to make me believe that he wasn’t a monster.
But he was.
Even though he sent me long, love letters filled with apologies.
Even though he put a heart-shaped rock on the windshield of my car.
Even though he tried to make me remember sweet, summer peaches.
I could only picture them bruised and split down the middle.
I remembered how he pushed me under water and tried to drown me.
How it almost worked.
Except it didn’t.
Every August, for over twenty years, I find myself remembering this man.
And, strangely, I feel an odd sense of gratitude.
Because that night, in a stranger’s room, in a borrowed bed, I learned that I could
But I also learned that I could put myself back together again.
And somehow, it is August again and I find myself in a park wrestling with a kite.
It is windier than usual and tough to fit the cross spars in their slots because the kite fights me impatiently.
I think it knows what I have planned.
Finally, I stand up. The tails snap, wanting.
I run backwards, feeling the pull.
I run, turning my back to the wind.
With the front of the kite facing me, I release it into a gust and pay out line and pull back to increase the lift.
In thirty seconds the kite is far out over the lake, pulling hard.
I run around the muddy field, making the kite dip and soar, dive and swirl.
From the ground, I control that rainbow diamond in the sky – make it answer my commands.
I remember how he hated things that refused to be controlled and so it is with great swelling pleasure that I release a new kite each year.
I like to imagine him chasing after the dropped driftwood reel, his hands outstretched, the Screaming Eagle kite a quarter of a mile up, blazing.