the slow return

after thanksgiving dinner at your mother’s, where your nephew eats three cupcakes for dinner & your mother’s boyfriend questions your boyfriend D to see what kind of man he is, D helps you hoist a slew of boxes up flights of stairs & into the attic efficiency that will be your new home.  the walls leak cold air & the smell of cigarettes seeps in from the apartment below, but the windows breathe in lots of wintry light & the space is big enough to stretch in but small enough to wrap you like a blanket or bathrobe.  together you fill the bookshelves with your favorite voices, then assemble & decorate a small, cheap christmas tree.  that night, after your bodies blend & sigh in your new-to-you twin bed, D tells you for the first time that he loves you.

a handful of days later, a week before his birthday & over a year after you mailed your severance package, your father sends an email:

Sorry. Started this at least a hundred times. All I can think of is “I’m sorry”. No explanations. Just I’m “sorry”. I wish things could have been different. Maybe in another life. I cannot change the past. “Sorry” to make your life so miserable. “SORRY”

it arrives in your life like a wrecking ball, a tornado, a fist pushing into your gut again & again.  which language to use?  to say it arrives when it detonates, crushes, demolates, lights you redhot, a fire in the center of your body that scorches to your throat.  devastates.  weeks later, the christmas gifts arrive–a check for five hundred dollars, a silver cat-shaped necklace with tiny diamonds.  the songbirds inside you clamor to fly out, a flurry of feathers & wings.  janet says, those are contributions toward a debt that will never be repaid.  so you cash the check.  you give the necklace away.

winter gets the best of you, as it always does.  you emerge from weeks of liquor-drenched nights still layered in fleece & flannel night clothes, your ankles tallying fresh scars, your apartment floor awash in lavender paper penned with ultimatums–if you try to find me, send anymore gifts, cross my boundaries, then…., the threats always ending in your death.  week after weekjanet repeats, a bad thing happened to you, but you are not bad.  the clocks spring forward.  robins hop at the side of the street, pecking through the salt & pebbles accumulated through winter.  they sing in early morning sunlight.  she says, you are allowed to feel pleasure, & she smiles when you tell her that you feel you’ve got nothing left, just a pile full of problems that all your self-destructive ways couldn’t solve.  so you lay it all down–the chocolate & lemon bars & ice cream, the glass bottles half-full of alcohol, the dreams of nicotine & your skin peeled like bark from a birch tree.  you lay it all down & return, again, to the blank page, to the steady, slow blink of the cursor waiting, always, for your nouns & verbs.

therapy

first elyse, who takes your insurance whosits & whatsits over the phone.  you say deductible, co-pay, & she says, wednesday.  you find the office tucked between a parking garage & a building spilling tables of fresh produce into the street.  the office is clean, a muted green.  she says, this is, like, a safe place for you.  absolutely.  she photocopies your insurance card; you sign privacy statement; she hands you a sheet detailing what psychotherapy is.  absolutely.  you spill your guts, let your wet, mucousy entrails vine: chair leg, vase of artificial cattails, bookshelf.  she says, at first you might need to see me a few times a week.  just to talk.  it won’t be easy.  she hands you the courage to heal & walks you to the door.  the following week, a handful of hours before your next appointment, she leaves a voicemail: i know that, like, you have financial concerns, & actually i’m not covered under your insurance, so you cancel the appointment — absolutely — & a week later, receive a bill for $100 in the mail.

second melinda, who scribbles notes about you in a packet of papers.  as you talk, she writes, & you look hard, snatching up the words your eyes can make out: alcohol abuse — denies — mother’s boyfriend – she asks, how long were you a cutter? & the question pierces you, twists your face into a hesitant question mark.  you ask, did i write that somewhere? & she clips, matter-of-factly, no.  at the end of the appointment, she challenges you to think about two things: one, quitting your job & moving back across the state to live with your boyfriend in a city where there are no jobs for you; & two, antidepressants.  you say, i’m not depressed; i took pills when i was a kid & i didn’t like the way they made me feel, & she says, you’re an adult now.  depression doesn’t mean crying & being sad all the time.  you say, okay.  i’ll consider it.  you cancel your second appointment with her the following day.

third, a hallelujah.  janet sits close, arms on her knees, listening.  she asks, honey, were you sexually abused as a child? & doesn’t tell you that, despite your non-memories, you are a liar.  she says, if it walks like a duck & talks like a duck, we call it a duck.  you’re carrying the aftermath.  she uses words like brave & resilient, asks–curious, interested–to see the taser you carry inside your mother’s house.  you tell her, i want to be bad, your voice carrying a laughter that wears a pitchfork & horns, & she asks, well, how are you going to be bad?  you shrug, smile, say, i don’t know; i just want to be bad, & together you laugh–not laughter that is polite, a courtesy, but loud, from the belly, heads tilted & tipped.  your homework, she says, think about your thoughts.  pay attention to those.  let’s get you feeling safe, & when you leave her office & are swept into the wind battering leaves, you think, this is it.  now we’re entering the big leagues, & you are up to bat, muscles flexed, ready to swing.

seven months’ summation

spring leads you to rivers & hills cascading trees, shopping malls & hot, split asphalt, chocolate mouthfuls & gin kisses, a bed with a body (warm).  summer is a languid sticky-taffy-stretch of yellow & blue, the way triple-scoop ice cream melts down the cone: that boy, the fan whirring from the window, your tanning, freckling bodies licked with sun.  summer, an opal flash, a cooling stone, a campfire dwindling in the damp night.

then fall finds you.  it walks you home, naming each river passing: susquehanna, clarion, allegheny lulling in your front yard.  you settle into a bedroom once stuffed with bear skin rugs, squirrels mounted to hunks of soft bark, deer heads with glassy black eyes, & you tuck your things quietly away, into crevices your silence left at sixteen, seventeen, between the girl you were (stolen cigarettes half-smoked at the window, razorblades tucked in jewelry boxes, notebooks fat with poems) & the girl your mother wished you to be (fairies, pink ceiling fan, wooden alphabet blocks spelling out your name).  the girls of your youth leave no room for the girl of your present, & so you parse her into confetti-size pieces to hide under the bed, in a sock drawer, behind a cabinet door.

shh.  shimmer, disappear.  shh.  your life quiets into a flat line, as if you were not there: ever, at all.  shh, shh, as fall tucks you into a bed of leaves, you who were never anything at all.

i make the going slow

coffee for breakfast
to get up, to write, to peddle
on the exercise bike, to buy
lipstick the color of rose petals, & leopard print
lingerie trimmed in bright red

M&Ms for lunch, for dinner
to self-soothe & wake,
rush: serotonin, endorphin, placebo

strawberry jello
one parts water, one
parts vodka,
for dessert
to let go
to forget
the rest

*

after a night of wet, heavy snow, the roads & parking lots puddle into grey slush.  as i stand in line at the grocery store, cradling a box of elbow macaroni, two bunches of kale, & a carton of eighteen eggs, the woman in front of me apologizes: for the items, now bagged, that would not fit into her cart; for the fistful of coupons slowly swiped; for breathing air & existing in the first place.  i say wait & help yank her cart through the parking lot, then load the bags into her car.  she tells me that for eleven years, she was a soloist soprano singer at her church; then she became sick with bronchitis & her voice never quite recovered.  my snow angel, she says, let me hug you.  tears fuzzy my drive home, & i spend the afternoon weeping myself into & out of sleep.

*

at advanced autoparts, the cashier asks if i want him to put on my new windshield wiper blades.  can you show me so that next time i can do it on my own, be independent?  i always think it should be really simple to do; then i try & break every piece of plastic available to me.  i ramble.  i am exhausted after a 10-hour shift at work & preparing for the four hour drive to spend the next three days with the boy i’m seeing.  he says, sure thing, & i work alongside him as he instructs: pull toward you; no, flip it the other way; no, now it’s upside down; no– like this, & i say, thank you; thank you so much.  he smiles.  says, no problem, & when he calls me dear, i am reminded of how i felt as a child when i pictured my imaginary friend, billy brumble, who was like an older brother that would lift & carry my body; protect me; say, don’t you look so pretty, when i smeared my mouth with hot pink lipstick & wore a grey hat too big for my head, a scratchy grey dress draping my body like a table cloth.

*

after i stop for gas an hour & forty-five minutes into my journey, i spend fifteen minutes kicking clumped up snow & ice from my wheel wells at a truck stop.  because it has been snowing hard, i am wearing my reading glasses.  they fog in the cold from my hot breath.  a man gets into the truck parked next to me, & before he closes the door, he looks at me leveraging my snow brush behind the front wheel on the driver’s side.  everything ok? he asks.  i tell him i’m fine, that i feel safer with all the gunk beaten out, & say, thank you for asking.  he tells me to have a good one, travel safe.

inside the truck stop travel center, i buy a twenty ounce coffee & a king size whatchamacallit candy bar.  the boy who rings me up says, whoa, i thought i was the only person who liked these things, & i tell him he’s not alone, that they are my favorite, too.  he says, if you get a chance, you gotta try the ones coated in peanut butter that have chocolate wafers on the inside.  they call ‘em thingamajigs.  i tell him i’ll keep my eyes peeled for them & thanks for the heads up.  he smiles, nods his head, then goes back to flirt-arguing with the girl running the register next to him, who wears blonde streaks in her dark hair, rings of black makeup around her eyes, & rainbow-colored buttons on her red work vest.

*

D & i spend our days off together caught in the cuddle zone.  we sleep late, his bedroom cloaked in dim, grey light, & open our eyes only to poke our heads above the pillows, peep at the time on the clock, & burrow back into bed.  when i pull the thick, dark curtains back from the windows, bright winter sunlight spills inside; we shield our eyes & squint, falling face down into our nest of blankets & body heat.  it can’t be daylight, we groan, our bodies static-clung, hand gripping forearm, bicep, legs crooked round knee & thigh.  on the morning when he goes back to work, i lie in bed staring at the ceiling, imagining my life if it were contained by these–his–walls.  i think of the night we spent in his hotel room drunk on his boss’s homemade blackberry wine, the slowness of our hands husking the clothing from our bodies, the way his lips shook & how i asked myself, do you want this? &, repulsed by my desire for the cupping of his hands, the curve of his biceps, the tenderness, many parts of me whispered, don’t.  i think of how, during our next encounter, i said, there are two kinds of people in my life–the people who care about me, & the people who sleep with me; how, when he asked, it’s not possible for someone to be both of those at once? i shook my head, saying, the circles of that venn diagram don’t intersect; how, still, our bodies joined, my mouth a cavern filled with a child’s howls, my face sopping tears & shuddering breaths.  the way he held my body, silent, his fingers brushing at my eyes, until i fell asleep, & how he returns, again & again, to the wreckage i am diving in.

then, i rise from his bed & tug the bedding into place.  in the living room, i fold our blankets, collect our coffee mugs & empty fruit snack packets from the table, & throw a pinch of shrimp pellets to the idiot fish swimming in their tank.  in the kitchen, i wash each dirty dish & pull half-wet laundry from the drier, draping each piece on a hanger, drying rack.  before i pack my things & let myself out, slipping his key under the doormat, i pull on a pair of his wool socks & tell myself to accept the kindness i find in this series of rooms, the heat that rises from the places where we’ve stood: vapor, love, intersection.  i make the going slow.

the mechanics of letting go

monday afternoon i put a pot of chickpeas & red beans on the stove to simmer, & then i fell asleep.  when i woke five hours later, my legumes were crispy & charcoal-black, popping & hissing in the quiet heat.

let’s not talk about the smoke alarm unhooked & idle on the little bookshelf next to the couch where i slept, its dying battery hanging, half unhooked, outside its body like an entrail.  let’s not talk about the haziness clouding my apartment, the way the smell seeped into my hair & clothes, how it lingered overnight & was here, still, to greet me in the two, three mornings that followed.

in my head, my mother scolds, junebug.  i say, i know, mom, my guts all knotted up, red-hot angst that makes me want to yell & shove.  i think of a cheap ring i owned when i was twelve years old, an amethyst-colored stone with sharp edges set on a gold band, & the way i dug it into the bathroom mirror, dragging, because something i’d seen on TV had led me to believe that expensive gemstones could cut through glass & i needed to know–was it real?  the way the stone scratched, nail on a chalkboard, & how the next day, when momma asked about the incision i’d made, i denied, denied, denied.

*

monday morning, before i left the town where my boyfriend lives, four & a half hours away from my apartment near the lake, i spent $4.50 in postage to mail my resignation.  inside the padded manilla envelope, a sixty-page manuscript written in august to this soundtrack, a beat up red cellphone my father pays for, & a letter that said, i love you, but i can’t go on this way, wishing you into a man you won’t become, any longer.

for days, a knot winds tighter, tighter still, in the center of my chest, until my shoulders draw in toward one another & my breaths are shallow & thin.  i stop singing in the car.  i drink less & less water.  my throat becomes a dry, squeaky reed, my voice a melody untuned.

*

over the past six months, i have done a pretty stellar job of isolating myself from the already-tiny social world i once inhabited.  my job exhausts me; my heart & thoughts exhaust me; my body’s autonomic functioning, this blinking & that breath, exhausts me.  i don’t have time for friends, for people who want to unload the details of their troubled lives into my lap but get squirrelly when i expect them to reciprocate.  it makes people uncomfortable: sadness, raw vulnerability, incest.  after expending most of my energy at work, where i care for eight grown men with various physical and mental disabilities, caring for myself when i go home is hard enough, & caring for two sometimes-whiny cats is harder still; so it follows that caring for others, right now, is implausible.

the trouble is, as i have sunken into this territory of isolation, i have become increasingly uncomfortable with being alone.  i don’t want my thoughts.  i don’t want this pain.  i don’t want to hear the sounds this tattered heart might make.

so i turn on the TV, & i allow myself to disappear.

months ago, i buried myself in dr. drew’s celebrity rehab, & i was struck again & again by the number of people with substance abuse problems who also experienced sexual trauma as children.  in general, the show made me uneasy–the clients showed such little regard for one another & were allowed to be purposely hurtful & disrespectful, i questioned the ethics of combining therapy with reality TV, & in general i didn’t feel like i was seeing many of the folks on the show get any healthier.  but i looked forward to the group therapy segments, where the patients all gathered together & hashed things out with dr. drew, bob forrest, & one another, & their conversations felt real & authentic in ways that the rest of the show does not:

jason davis: through my life, i’ve always tried to, like, in a way, change my father.  & every time i tried to do it, it always ended in a painful, horrible roller coaster.
bob forrest: it’s painful.  but now you need to be loved & you need to be nurtured & you need to be mentored, & your dad can’t do it & your grandfather’s dead.   let me ask you this, what do you want?
jason davis: i just want to have, like, a dad who, like, you know, i can turn to–
bob forrest: you don’t.  you don’t.
dr. drew: you don’t have that.  you don’t get that.

a coping mechanism i have carried with me since childhood is my ability to disappear from my “real” life & into kids’ movies.  on my days off from work, i watch & rewatch–sometimes as much as five times in a day–movies like the rescuers down under & labyrinth.  the hope is that, if i watch enough, until i have memorized all the characters’ lines & can recount, in minute detail, the plot, settings, & background music, that i will finally be part of the stories–stories where the “bad guys” get what they deserve, the “good guys” no longer suffer, & hope & predictability are the bottom line.

the problem with disappearing into these stories is that i carry a lot of childish ideas about the way life works.  if i disappear long enough, hard enough, i will wake up in another life where my problems don’t exist, or another world where a lot of people & creatures are willing to be kind to & help me.  if i am a good person, i will eventually be met with goodness.  & if i wish long enough, i can make my life into what i want it to be.

for a very long time, i’ve tried wishing my father into an amalgamation of the great ones i’ve seen on TV or read about in books–atticus finch, charles ingalls, danny tanner.  the part of me that is still a child–& it seems that a large part still is–doesn’t want to let go of that made-up father or the illusion of hope buried somewhere in his pocket.  because of that reluctance, that willingness to live in denial, mailing the package to my real-life father took a lot of steps & a very long time–in april, i bought the envelope; in august, i finished the first draft of the manuscript; in october, my brother & i purchased a cellphone plan & new phones, mine with a different number, together; in november, i wrote the letter; in december, i put it all in the envelope; in january, i mailed it–because at each step across those nine months, i was forced to accept part of the reality i am actually living.  i had to let go of wishing, which meant that the father i have dreamed of had to die.

*

so now i am panicking.  i am cranky & finding it difficult to care for myself or communicate with others.  the knot in my chest gets tighter, & i wake each morning with a headache & unquenchable thirst.  when i leave work, the muscles in my back are raw, tense, & i feel like i can’t breathe.  all day every day, i just want to eat chocolate & drink shots of cheap tequila, burrow into a nest of blankets & sleep away my desire to apologize.

instead, i comfort myself with pictures of cats wearing hats (& hoodies) & videos of zac hanson singing “don’t stop believing.” (there has to be goodness in the world, right?  when a boy that beautiful will strut across a stage in too-tight jeans with big biceps & a wiggly little belly & belt out a tune that renews hope with pipes that split my heart again & again?)  i apply to graduate school & try to ride my stationary bike every other day while watching an episode of my little ponies: friendship is magic on netflix.  i tell myself, it won’t always be like this, but i remember: the progress, the steps taken forward, & how terrible it has been to fall back.

i wait for him to show up in my driveway & knock at my door in outrage.  i wait for him to violate the conditions i laid out in my letter–don’t look for me, don’t try to call me, don’t show up at the places where i live.  i wait to get in trouble.  i wait for a reply from the school i’ve applied to that says, nope, sorry–we don’t want you.

& while i wait, i burn beans on the stove.  like an adult child who has believed she is dirty & bad her whole life, i punish myself first, before anyone else can, with impulsive, self-destructive behaviors.  i sleep, & each time i wake, my first thought is something like, fuck, i’m still alive, it’s still winter, & i’m still in this alone.  so i allow myself to fade back into sleep & hope for another life next time i open my eyes.

the reality is, atticus finch, charles ingalls, danny tanner–i don’t have that.  i don’t get that.

poppa, it’s hard to let go.

the devil on my back

when RB wakes in the night, he asks me, go pee-pee? & says, i’m thirsty; thirsty boy, a child wearing a fifty-four-year-old man’s body, his shoulders shrugged close to his ears.  i keep a cup in the bathroom for him, allow him to drink until the unrelenting thirst, a side effect of the lithium he takes, momentarily subsides.  on his way back to bed, his hands folded neatly in front of his chest, his pants hanging low on his hips, he looks me in the eye & says, smiling, i love you.

over & over i say, thank you.  you did a good job, RB; thank you.  when he lays down in his bed, i pull his blanket to his chin.  thank you, pal, i say. goodnight.

this is my work.

this is the job that i do.

*

some mornings, when RB is assigned to one of my co-workers to wake & bathe, he is agitated, his fingers pinching spit to fling from his mouth at the ceiling & my co-workers.  RB smashes his hands against the table, slamming his coffee cup again, again, again.  from the back of the house, where i lift men with a palsied bodies from their beds & into their wheelchairs, i hear him saying more–more coffee, more water, a ham sandwich & stack of american cheese slices.  my co-workers repeat, no–you have had enough.  always, in the two & a half years that i have been at this job, they are the people who determine when enough is enough.

*

on one of the mornings when RB is assigned to me, i find a string of finger-sized bruises fading on his upper arms.  he grits his teeth & claps his hands in the bathtub, muttering, wink, honey–you wink at your brother; smile, honey, or the doctor’s going to give you a spanking; take down your pants, RB, while his eyes dart & flash.  i say, where are you?  what are you doing right now?  are you taking a bath? as i try to pull his mind back into the room, the present moment, his body.  to quiet him, i sing m-i-c, k-e-y very softly, slowly, until he joins me: m-o-uuuu-s-e.  mickey mouse, mickey mouse.

*

tuesday morning at 7:30 AM, i hear RB pacing the hallway.  a co-worker says, get back to your room.  in a voice that shakes, RB says, no, no, i’ll be good, i’ll be a good boy.  i find him smashing his hand against a framed photograph of a flower near the doorway to his bedroom.  i say, come sit next to me; let’s take deep breaths.  he gets louder & rushes toward me, bashing the picture until it comes loose from the wall, dangles, then he rips at his window blinds.  useless, my head fuzzy from the violence & noise, i leave the room.  i wake my next resident, DS, & take him into the shower room.  most mornings i hum “leaving on a jet plane” or the only barbra streisand song that i know to keep him calm, collected, his hands busy soaking the sensation of the water spray against his fingers instead of slapping repeatedly at his head.  this morning, as a soap & scrub DS’s body, i am silent.  i keep my face & its tears turned away & hung low.

*

by 8:15 AM, RB has wailed on a framed picture in the living room hard enough, long enough, that the glass shatters.  after half the residents have been shuffled off to their day programs, after everyone has been bathed & fed, i isolate myself folding laundry in the back of the house.  our supervisor arrives a handful of minutes before my shift ends, & my co-worker casually says, RB broke a picture this morning.  the supervisor doesn’t say, what brought that about? he doesn’t ask, is he OK?  instead, he says, all right.  a shrug, a dismissal.  no investigation, no interrogation.  he tells me i am no longer able to keep a cup for RB in the bathroom at night.  particles from the toilet can get into it, he says.  health code.  i feel my face harden, my body stiffen.  i disengage, shut down.

*

when i get home that morning, my mind is raucous with frantic birds. to tire them & to forget, i pour two beers into a large glass & add two slices of lemon. i strip off my clothes, the germs & waste of eight other people’s piss & shit that cover me, & lie down on the couch.  over the next three hours, half-naked & sobbing, i try to wish myself out of existence as each bird in my brain wails, again & again, i’ll be a good boy; i’ll be good.

*

shame, disgust, despair.  i cannot stand to look at myself in the mirror.  when i eat, laugh, or accept love or kindness from the important people in my life, i tell myself, you are a coward & a liar, & you don’t deserve this.  voiceless, powerless, insignificant.  each day at my job, when i try to be an adult who is a brave & capable advocate, the agency & its culture reduces me to a child just learning to know her place in the world, & i remember fear.  i remember stillness & isolation, sickness & dissociation.  i remember father.

*

refocusing

so, it’s like this: you eliminate the last final method of punishing yourself & your body from your life, & you are left with a heap of feelings you don’t know how to process or manage. they pile up, strands of slippery kelp clouding into a puddle, & you wonder how you’ll get through this–not whether you can, but the ways you will learn: to allow yourself to exist exactly as you do, as a system of organs unified, not a brain compartmentalized from wild emotion separated from muscle & skin; to feel disappointed & mad with your job without throwing your hands into the air & walking out; to get comfortable in silence, in listening to your thoughts, without needing to sleep with the noise of the TV.

this is the way: you begin to learn the language of gratitude. yes, you have always been grateful, a girl moved to tears by gifts & others’ kind words, weeping rooted in feelings of unworthiness & deception.  dirty, damaged, different–if only they knew. & so part of this new gratitude becomes undressing your body of its shame, its desire to stay hidden or become very small.  a wall drops, one you didn’t know you’d built, & you are left out in the open, a pomegranate split & spilling ruby seeds, defenseless against plum-headed parakeets & long-eared jerboas in a desert that is very hot. the camera pans out, finds a new angle, & suddenly you see yourself as you haven’t before–not better, not worse, just different–& you begin to leak & warble, unsure how to pinpoint what is moving you this way & how.

if it’s true that somewhere, deep inside the wreckage we carry with us, there is an inner child—–you begin this sentence, again & again, patient in learning, in this new language, the words to complete the thought. you scoop that child into your arms, little song bird, bluebird of your heart.

*

*

december 2, 2012, i quit smoking.  for two weeks, i was tempted to quit my job before & after every shift.  at the same time, my brain was reeling with the effects of high levels of estrogen–a headache that couldn’t be cured, not even by half a bottle of acetaminophen, a moodiness that left me boiling with an anger that felt uncontainable.  with the thought i can’t go on this way any longer, i peeled the birth control patch from my backside & flung it into the trash, & i smoked the last cigarette in my pack of L&M bold menthol 100s.

that first day i busied myself painting, christmas shopping, & playing piano.  then it was three pounds of twizzlers and an eight-by-eight pan of lemon bars gutted in two days.  again, the thought came: i can’t go on this way any longer. 

next i began chewing six sticks of gum & drinking sixty-four ounces of water each day.   with those last changes, changes that felt healthy & slightly liberating, i also committed to tweaking my attitude.  after those two weeks of crisis, after i spent most of my days feeling apathetic, angry, & surreal, i decided: when something doesn’t feel OK, i can stop.

over the past three weeks, i can’t go on this way any longer has been playing on a loop in my life.

this, i think, is what gina was hoping i’d get to when she said, do something kind of yourself–beyond the bowls of chocolate mint ice cream & afternoons in my pajamas, beyond beezus & ramona & tiny animal toys.  it’s a scary place to be, because it means declaring myself as a worthwhile investment–not just to myself, but to all of the people in my life, too.  after a lifetime of working to make myself as small & invisible as possible, it is scary to be seen.  suddenly i am a high school freshman primping for my first homecoming dance, tucking & tugging creamsicle folds of an evening gown around my body & looking bashfully into the bathroom mirror, my stomach tied in knots with the question, will they see me the way that i do?   then, even more suddenly, i am a child in a flowery dress about to take my first steps into my elementary school & its kindergarten classroom, my black dress shoes shiny & new, my guts twisted with the thought, will they like me?

to go on, the answers have to be they will.  & it might be true, if my undergraduate public speaking professor was right when he told my class, “everyone in the audience wants you to see you succeed” & suggested that our nature as humans is to encourage & support.  if it happens that the answer to both of my questions is no, then i will learn whether these exercises in self-care have taken root inside me, if i will be able to face silence & strange looks & heads shaking no & tell myself–in lieu of i can’t believe you did that or well, that was really dumb or what did you expect, idiot?–that i tried my best, & that next time, i will do better.

so here i am, the pomegranate split & spilling ruby seeds, the songbird settled outside your window, shaking my wings of mud & dust, & these are the things that, in my language of gratitude, are synonymous with grace & presence, longing & forgiveness, struggle & growth.  i’m glad to have you here with me.