My Daughter and Her Nipples
This is my daughter; and those are her nipples.
In fairness, let me give you a minute to process that.
Yup. My daughter.
Yup. Her nipples.
I’ll just wait here quietly while you rant, drool, hurl, or whatever other judging and/or inappropriate response you wish to express.
Okay. Finished now? Because time’s up. Let’s get real.
Loosening the Corset
I write because my work day is devoid of anything that resembles me. It is filled with crabby backward things and people chasing someone else’s bottom line. It smells of sulphur. With no time to pee. It’s ugly. And gray. Or, more specifically, some nasty version of 70s blue. It’s rancid and shallow and missing my authenticity.
…so I write…
Cornfields and Character
I have been learning how to loosen my own corset; not so easy when it took an army to cinch that motherfucker so tight in the first place.
But, bind by bind, it’s coming undone.
Like the corset laces that feign a cheerful bow, I have been constrained by physical things that are unnecessary and unwanted limiting my space and movement. Books full of ideas that other people thought I should hold, t-shirts given to me by men who no longer have permission to graze my breasts, clothes in a size zero from when I tortured myself in order to be attractive by someone else’s standards. Letters full of lies. China that was never used. Photos of ‘happily ever after’. Stuff that looks pretty but has no substance and occupies the very space that I so desperately need to breathe. Ruthlessly and with diligence I allowed myself to feel them one last time before tossing them in the Good Will bin and making another pilgrimage to the donation center. And with each van load my house is beginning to feel like home. I will never again neglect it in favor of another’s needs. I like being here. It feels like me again.
It is unprecedented to have a fast pitch softball team remain intact for six years. Unprecedented. But, for every summer weekend for these last six years we have met in remote places like Hamburg, Saugerties, Cheektowaga, Cicero and Horseheads which are tired, sleepy towns outside of ‘bigger’ cities like Buffalo, Syracuse or Albany. Sometimes we travel further. Cedar Point, OH. Ocean City, MD. But, for the most part, we are beckoned to a complex of softball fields past the local John Deere Tractor Supply or the Feed & Seed. If we’re lucky, adjacent to a nearby soft serve ice cream stand complete with a large but faded hand-painted cone on the exterior of the tiny building. But, there isn’t much else. Just cornfields. And yet, we all look forward to it because we know that we are privately witnessing something exceptional.
De facto – adverb, adjective. actually existing, especially when without lawful authority
I am this; the de facto expert that I never wanted to be.
Last week, three women sought my help. I’m not really sure why. I don’t know if they just recognize it in me. Or if the news of my writing and eventual documentary have begun to circulate. But, I do know that each and every one of them has that wide-eyed look that I have too often seen in the mirror. It is as if they have just witnessed the death of a loved one when what has actually died is their sense of safety in this world and their belief that ‘it’ would never happen to them.
Two weeks ago something terrible happened in my life. Two things in fact. On the same day. That’s all you really need to know.
What I want to write about is why those things happened and what I have since done about it.
For my entire life I have stashed my emotions into containers unfit to hold them for long periods of time and placed them in chambers on makeshift shelves with the lids askew. I did this, in part, because I thought they were bigger than me and would consume me if I gave them space. And, in part, because my unyielding life did not afford me the time and emotional energy to deal with them as they arrived. But in doing so I allowed them to ferment untended taking on shapes and meaning and power that they never should have had. Blue tinctures; wild, fiery tonics resembling Jack Daniels but with a bigger bite; black sludge in gallon containers set upon narrow oak planks too meager for their girth; clear liquid in vessels with hand etched notes reading “Flammable. Do Not Drink.” Some that smoldered. Poison.
What am I supposed to do when Ed comes to dinner?
I showed him the door already, TWICE. But he’s back again.
The first time we met I was barely 18. He must have noticed that I needed a companion. He approached me during a late night walk back to my dorm and, while I now know I should have been terrified, at the time he felt like family. And in the years that followed for countless hours he would sit with me quietly at the Off Campus Deli (OCD) while I tore the edges off my turkey sub and contemplated life. He would walk with me in silence until 3am on Spring Street, and College Street, and through the Quad near Sigma Chi. All over campus; just so I wouldn’t be alone. I found that so very thoughtful at the time.
"Send my hero my love"
Last evening I fell asleep in an Adirondack chair listening to the sounds of Sixth Lake. It’s a frigid early Fall already here but that was of little consequence. I was happy to shiver, a small price for this kind of peace. Perch jumping. Creaking pontoon bumpers against the dock where I rested. Canoe paddles dipping as sunset approached. Nearby ducks slapping their tired wings against the water as they labored to take flight while the loons warmed up their vocals ~ the changing of the guard. The distant sound of tired little boys who had one cannonball too many. Haunting wind chimes grumbling as they were jostled to a wakefulness but even their distress was no match for the angry wind itself.
Like most everything else thrown her way my daughter, Mackenzie, has handled the news of Ed’s death with wisdom and acceptance beyond her young years. While she misses him terribly she also knows that this happened with purpose and benefit we do not yet understand. This is the very same wisdom that brought Ed into our lives in the first place.
Mack had a catastrophic stroke in the lunchroom at school when she was 14 years old. Face drooping, arm and leg hanging, speech impaired, head throbbing, life-changing stroke. I will never get over the sight of her broken body and her last audible words that day, “Please make it stop, Momma.”
“Your eyes show the strength of your soul.”
For a lifetime people have asked me how I do “it”. I wasn’t really sure what “it” is. But, I think they mean keep going and not be overcome by fear or frustration. Sometimes even doing the “impossible”.
It’s pretty simple. I lean in.
I used to refer to this as doing the counterintuitive but recently found the term ‘leaning in’ in the book Fearless at Work by Michael Carroll. I like it better. Short, sweet, no bullshit. Like me.
I am ashamed to admit that I began to take for granted my virtual freedom. To some extent, I have forgotten to appreciate fully the joy of browsing the internet without interrogation or fear of retribution, without attempts to create guilt or fear, without angry outbursts in the next room or menacing stares. I had simply forgotten.
Today, as I searched for a place to share my poetry it all came rushing back. It immediately struck me that each organization that provides support for Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse victims and survivors prominently displays a button entitled “Quick Escape” ~usually in neon red or bright orange ~ so the victim who is looking for help in the quiet moments that s/he can steal is able to click it and instantaneously switch to an alternate home page and clear the cache. But even at that, they warn that the “Quick Escape” isn’t failsafe and that those who are still living with their abusers may be at risk by even visiting the very page they need to get help.