Browsing Category

Self Image

Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love

Ugly Duckling Goes To The Prom

June 30, 2021
prom

by Emma Margraf

After four or five hits of pot on prom night, the hotel bed felt like the most amazing place I’d ever been. I was still in my discount-find dress with shoes kicked off and my date, James, was smoking his share of pot out of a small ceramic pipe. James was still in his suit shirt but without his jacket and tie. We were sharing a suite in San Francisco with two other couples. We paid for it with our part-time jobs and some contributions from our parents  after giving them a complicated argument for why this was a rite of passage they should support. The pot was James’s contribution – not part of the argument. I laid there wondering what I expected out of this moment – James and I were exes at this point – he was with someone new. He was with me because we had history, even though at the time I didn’t know what history meant.

I was certain my doctors wouldn’t be ok with the pot smoking, but I was young and, even with a number of chronic conditions piling up, it didn’t seem to matter. I would realize the direct consequences decades later.  My doctors were perplexed by my propensity for illness and injury and by my head size. I had to get a graduation cap special ordered.

My friends were in other parts of the suite with their boyfriends, and they all had muddied expectations as well. They wanted to lose their virginity, and also didn’t.  They’d pulled us off the dance floor, because of their anticipation. James and I lit up when the hits came on, goofing on dance moves and swinging each other around during the slow songs. I bristled at the way the photographer moved me around and told me to try and look pretty. I could hear James mutter to himself, come on man. So much of this didn’t feel as fun as it was supposed to be.

Come on man.

As we’d been walking into the hotel that night, James and I both noticed a look from a frenemy of mine. She used to copy my answers in Government class and somehow still get a higher grade. She called me an ugly duckling under her breath one day, thinking she was the smart one. I didn’t know she wasn’t at the time.

I was self-conscious about my dress. The only other formal dance I’d gone to was the year before, and my drunken father spent more money than was appropriate on a dress  I liked because it looked like Marilyn Monroe’s dress in that famous picture where her skirt flies up. This dress was more mainstream, a struggle to find, and one my friends liked. James turned me around toward a large mirror in the lobby and put his arm around me. It was the first time I realized that our outfits matched.

“LOOK at us!” he exclaimed, “I mean LOOK at US. We are FLY”.

He wouldn’t let up until I agreed that yes, we were fly. We were.

Doctors don’t ever tell you that you look fly. My doctors have always been sort of surprised when I even did normal things, like join the basketball team in seventh grade. When I did, I got unsurprisingly injured. The injury led to one of my favorite moments in my short sports career: too many girls on my team fouled out, so my coach put me in and told me to stay on our side of the court. When the other team came back with the ball I would be right there, arms in the air. It would be unexpected.

Doctors don’t talk to you about those moments. Doctors never ask you if you are going to prom. Or at least mine don’t. Sometimes I find myself trying to tell them I am normal. I am here. I am a person who lives a real life.

Come on, man.

My girlfriend Erin jokes that between me and our Great Dane, she loves big heads. She loves us both intensely, and it soaks into all of her daily choices. She came home one day from Costco jubilant, excited by a possible victory: she’d found a helmet, and she thought it might actually fit. I pulled it out of the box and put it on while looking at her hopeful face as she jumped up to push my hair into the sides of the helmet.

I love movement, and a helmet means that I can get on a scooter again, or an electric bike, or get my roller skates out. Wearing short shorts and a Star Wars shirt she’d given me for my birthday, I put on my skates and practiced in the house, smiling the whole time.

She and I have moves like James and I used to, only better. We have danced in the street in New Orleans and Las Vegas, but also in the Christmas aisle at Home Depot, where we bought a singing avocado that we dance to in our living room. We met in a Zumba class, where she was the teacher and I was the student. I fell totally in love with the way she taught us to Samba, the way she expected everyone to constantly improve, and most of all, the way she loved the music. It was thrilling.

After a few months of Zumba, I felt comfortable enough to move up to the front rows of the class, closer to the mirrors, with more of a spotlight on my body, my arms, my legs, my big head. I knew that some of the men who collected outside the door to watch us wondered why I would feel so confident. I knew some of the women in the class would feel that way too. I kept dancing.

“Don’t stop, make it pop, D.J. blow my speakers up

Tonight Imma fight ‘till we see the sunlight

Tik Tok , on the clock, but the party don’t stop no”

Our hands waved above our heads, back and forth as we strutted down towards the mirrors and backed up to our spots, singing along to a song sung by a woman twenty years younger than most of us. A song sung by a woman who would later sue her handlers to get her freedom back.

Leaving class one day to get water I heard a YMCA staff member telling a guy to stop staring at our class.

Come on, man. 

That guy, that look, that feeling —  like the photographer at prom, like a boss who said I was easy to get to know, like the frenemy who told me I was the Ugly Duckling. I didn’t get overtly bullied for my big head, mostly because I grew up in communities that took bullying seriously. But it was baked into our culture. When folks referred to mainstream kids, they didn’t mean me. Everyone knew I was in a wheelchair as a kid and you don’t bully someone who used to be in a wheelchair. And the big head isn’t her fault, you know? She’s sick.

Come on, man.

What the mainstream folks didn’t know was that the wheelchair protected me. I didn’t get conditioned to feel like I had to look a certain way or to be a certain way because the wheelchair made me a nobody to everyone except those that really loved me. I didn’t get invested in rituals like the prom because no one expected me to be a part of them. When I did participate, the narrow view of beauty that came along with the ritual felt like a shocking inability to see the whole world.

We’d spent more money than any of us had to spray our hair high, layer on makeup, and put on pretty dresses. That part had actually been kind of fun, all four of us girls moving in and out of the bathroom, trading makeup and curlers and hair dryers along with gossip. The terribly overpriced terrible dinner was the first of many I would pick at later in life at weddings and fundraising dinners, but I didn’t know it at the time. Then my friends wanted to leave early, cutting our dancing short, racing to their expectations.

And so this is how James and I found ourselves clothes on, laying on a hotel bed smoking enough pot to make up for the fact that we wanted to be dancing. The dancing was like the time on the basketball court, like roller skating, like Zumba. We talked and laughed about the awkward people at prom that were Not Having Fun and whispered about the occasional sniping we heard from the next room, where it didn’t sound like things were going well. I woke up the next morning in my dress, with a blanket pulled over me, James asleep on the couch nearby.

I was listening to Allison Janney on a podcast last year reliving some of her time on the tv show The West Wing twenty years ago, and she said she looks at her younger self and thinks that she had no idea how beautiful she was. Folks have always told me I looked like her. I’ve always thought she was beautiful. Were people making it clear to her that she wasn’t considered beautiful too? Are we the same? I think about her looks vs. her career and her life and I don’t long for her glamour, but I would give anything to spend time in the same room as Martin Sheen, to trade dance moves with Dule Hill. Dule Hill danced with Savion Glover on Broadway.

Erin and I now live in the country, across the street from an inlet that produces some of the most sought-after oysters in the world. She read an article about the science of oysters and champagne and why they’re paired. Soon, we’ll go down the street for the oysters and have some champagne delivered. If we feel so inspired, maybe we’ll put on dresses and have our own prom. We’ll eat at the farm table my dad made me using the discarded wood from a millionaire’s mansion’s floor and dance in the living room or outside on the deck, under the country stars.

Emma Margraf is a Northwest writer whose work can be found in Folks, Entropy, Chronically Lit and more. She lives with her girlfriend and her Great Dane on a small inlet in the forest.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

emma

Stories of parent/child relationships can be complex, and Emma’s Laugh, The Gift of  Second Chances, is no exception.  Convinced of her inability to love her “imperfect” child and give her the best care and life she deserved, Diana gave Emma up for adoption. But as with all things that are meant to be, Emma found her way back home. As Emma grew, Diana watched her live life determinedly and unapologetically, radiating love always. Emma evolved from a survivor to a warrior, and the little girl that Diana didn’t think she could love enough rearranged her heart. In her short eighteen years of life, Emma gifted her family the indelible lesson of the healing and redemptive power of love.

Read Diana’s ManifestStation essay here

Order the book from Amazon or Bookshop.org

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Click here for all things Jen

 

 

 

 

Guest Posts, Self Care, Self Image

Resistant as F*ck, part 2

January 14, 2021
body

This is part two of a two part essay.  Read the first installment here.

By Melody Greenfield

Drew agrees to come back later in the week. In preparation for his arrival, I light some candles, curl my hair in loose, sexy waves, and down the requisite two glasses of wine, just like I’d done at the bar. Just like always. I’m uptight by nature, and a bit of vino helps me to relax the way that, years later, yoga nidra meditation will.

Greeting Drew at the door, I feel confident and uninhibited. I go to give him a long kiss, then lift up his shirt and run my hands against his strong, warm abdomen. He tenses up instantly.

“I don’t usually do things like this—sex on the first date,” he confesses in his smooth, sexy voice as he takes a seat in the overstuffed chair. “And now, I don’t know if we’re good together anywhere but here,” he motions over to my bed.

I sit on the ottoman facing him and reach up for his face. I try to pull it towards mine in an effort to comfort us both, but he backs away again—resisting my touch, my advances.

“Stop trying to distract me with your eyes and your feminine wiles,” he warns me. “I know what you’re doing. Focus for a minute. I want to talk to you.”

I attempt to seduce him the way I do every man—with a look that will be his undoing—but he sees right through me, even though he’s half blind.

“Sex too soon…” his voice trails off. “It ruins things. I mean it.” He is opening himself up to me, but I want him to open me up, instead. I decide that if I refresh his memory on our compatibility in bed, it will prove, somehow, that we work well everywhere. “Seriously,” Drew says. “You’re so beautiful and way too smart to be doing these kinds of things. Why do you do them?”

I get quiet for a minute. “I don’t know,” I sigh, looking down. I refuse to say out loud what I already half-intuit. That I want to feel powerful, desired, sought after. That I hope his physical yearning for me will translate, miraculously, into love. That at the same time, I am too scared to delve into something real, for fear I’ll get hurt. My childhood babysitter was right: I do have walls up all around me.

I can stand naked before this man, but I can’t expose more than flesh. That would be riskier than the unprotected sex we’ve already had. Here in this moment, I don’t want to face reality. Or my patterns. So, I lift my chin back up and give him a puzzled look like I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about. I suspect though, that by being inside my body, Drew has somehow gained access to all of these answers; to my psyche; to the stories I hold tight in the core of me; to the secrets I bury between my legs. And, of course, this makes him the exception. He may be the first person since the babysitter, who knew me well, to read me in this way. He is that rare soul—unusually perceptive and sensitive to those around him—who picks up on things that others shrug off, just like I’m doing now in hopes of barring him from the truths of me.

It’s not working though. He wants answers. I make my mouth go all pouty and give him my best distracting, sultry stare. Think Blue Steel from Zoolander, only sexier. Maybe that will do the trick, I think, but it’s no use either.

“I’m not going to sleep with you tonight, you know,” he says, disappointed at my blatant attempts at seduction. “We really have to start over if we’re going to do this right,” he continues, softer.

But I have a different idea. Reliant as ever on my sexuality, I wrap my legs around his body and plead for him to touch me. I convince myself that I can make this man love me without so much as knowing me. (To his credit, I should probably know and love myself, first.) I convince myself that a purely sensory experience can open his heart, as I believe it has mine. I convince myself that I’m good at convincing, but again, Drew is the outlier.

“I should go,” he says brashly, the upset visible on his face, in his eye, even in the candlelight.

“Don’t leave,” I plead, my buzz wearing off quickly. I tell him, as I’ve told so many others before him, that I hate it when you go. I yearn, instead, to feel that release, that human connection and contact that drives me. But I don’t share that. Nor do I share that there is a part of me that goes through the motions of sex for the afterward, when the guy pulls you in close and falls asleep with his nose in your hair. Or that listening as a man’s heartbeat slows to a normal rhythm, your ear to his chest, is the closest thing you can get to a real connection with a veritable stranger. Or that watching my partner close his eyes peacefully in my bed is, for me, the ultimate feeling of security.

I never get the chance.

“You left your jacket here,” I inform his message machine and type to his phone mere moments later. “Do you want to come back to get it?” I ask, but he doesn’t answer. Suddenly nauseous, I realize that he isn’t going to reply, that I have sabotaged another potential relationship, alienated another partner, and I am to blame. His forgotten belonging, his fleecy overcoat, serves as the sole reminder of what we shared: the passion, the intensity, the feel-good endorphins I confused for real emotions; the connection I futilely hoped would extend beyond the physical. Alone in the bed we so recently shared, I breathe him in with a pang of regret. If I can’t have him beside me or inside me, at least I can have his sweet scent. I cling to his sweatshirt pathetically, leaving a trail of salt in its soft hood—a realization which makes me think of his manhood and our lovemaking all over again.

***

“We’ll always have real estate in each other’s important zip codes,” Drew tells me some months later, after I’ve informed him of my impending move, and he’s decided there are no hard feelings. I’m not entirely sure what he means by the real estate comment (he often says things that go over my head, and I chalk it up to a mismatch in intelligence—he’s lightyears ahead of me, despite having no formal education beyond the twelfth grade), but he claims it’s a good thing. Something no one can take away from us. Something as resistant as tear stains on a jacket, or so he jokes, after I sheepishly out myself. We’re both giant (albeit good-looking) nerds, and his smart sense of humor endears me to him even more. Fortunately, Drew remains open to texting and talking occasionally. I even manage to convince him that we should celebrate his thirty-first birthday together. He’s not typically one for celebrating, he says, but I insist. I like making a big deal over people to let them know how much I care.

I bring a personalized cake over to his place, a studio apartment in Burbank. I bring his jacket, too. He’s grateful but doesn’t beg me to stay—that night or in the country—as I’d hoped. Instead, after he blows out his candle and makes a wish, he offers to walk me out to my car. I stall by petting Rowdy. That’s a good girl, I say to her, even though I’m totally clueless when it comes to animals. (My parents gave the dog away when I was a baby, and I haven’t had one since.) I’ve always hated leaving, hated being left. But this goodbye is especially tough—especially poignant—because it’s final. In just a few weeks’ time, I’ll be Canada-bound.

His parting words to me: “I really could have loved you, if only you’d let me.”

 ***

I think of Drew occasionally, even now, three-plus years into a happy marriage. That last sentence specifically—more than the smell of him or his touch or the way he saw into my soul— sticks with me. At the time, it gutted me. During quiet, reflective moments, I’ve been known to mouth a silent “thank you” or two into the ether. I like to think he sparked a resistance inside of me—a revolution of sorts. Though we hardly knew each other, despite a physical connection that felt transcendent, even spiritual, the way he cared for my body, loved my body, made me want to care more, too. By the time I met my now-husband Eric, a few months into my international move, I was ready to believe what I now know to be true—that my body is a fucking masterpiece. And it was Drew who laid the groundwork, the foundation.

Ironically, in older homes, like the ones you’ll often find in less-affluent Canadian suburbs, foundations are built of brick as opposed to concrete. Brick—the very material I envisioned when my childhood babysitter told me I had walls up all around me. Drew strengthened the foundation, but he also began to chip away at those walls, brick by brick. Why do you do it? he’d asked about the way I mistreated my body, the implication being: Why don’t you love yourself the way I could have loved you? Maybe it sounds cruel—how he put the onus all on me. But we’ve kept in touch, very loosely, over the years. A “happy birthday” here; a “you were a beautiful bride,” there; and, most recently, an encouraging nod about my writing: “The vulnerability you write with is a gift. More people should be able to read your beautiful words,” he said after clicking on the link to a published essay I’d posted on social media. I know he had the very best of intentions. That he faulted himself for sleeping with me “too soon” as much as he blamed me. We both met our b’sherts—the life-partners we were destined to be with—after we almost-loved one another. It comforts me to think that we launched each other into loves that are an even better fit.

***

If I rewind back to my childhood, I’m confronted by my own fragility: I had a high resistance to, a low tolerance for, heartbreak—despite the hard façade I presented to the world. I feared that men would leave, like my emotionally-absent father already had, so I gave them my body—my amazing, beautiful body, my chef- d’oeuvre—without having to earn it. I was resistant to change this pattern because it had become comfortable, routine. What’s more, I resisted the truth about my own body—its inherent greatness—because acknowledging it would have required a shift: I’d have to start caring for myself the way it cared for me. The way Drew cared. The way Eric still does.

I never had to pray for Eric’s love—he gave it freely, the way I gave myself to the ninety-three men who preceded him. His gestures, his lightness—they reminded me of Drew. Of what might have been but never was. This is intimacy, I thought on our first night together. This is what people do when they care. This is how bodies care. How they love: gently, with small caresses. I want to respect your body, he told me, and he showed me with his actions too, looking deep into my eyes—blue-to-blue. He saw my body as something sacred. As the foundation to build his love upon. The very foundation that Drew had strengthened and simultaneously dismantled.

But I had to do the inner-work necessary to believe him. To believe them: Eric and Drew and all the bedfellows prior. If talk is cheap, pillow-talk is cheaper. Through my Pilates practice, I learned the importance of opposition. In Pilates, we stretch in two directions at once. We press down to go up. Reach forward but pull back. I was learning to be two things at once, too. I could strengthen my bones and muscles—harden my core—without also hardening my insides. I could be as emotionally pliable outside the studio as I was physically pliable on my mat.

In college, I’d written a children’s story about a turtle named Sammy with a tough exterior but sweet interior. I didn’t even know I was writing about myself. A sixth-grade student aptly pointed it out to me after I read the story aloud. (I dabbled in teaching English before ditching the kids and books for adults and Pilates equipment.) Ms. Greenfield—you’re Sammy. You’re the turtle! Strong center, soft heart-center: of course, I was. It was an opposition as true as the Pilates ones I still preach. How obvious it seems now in hindsight.

To some extent, although my walls are low enough for a wolf—big, bad, or otherwise—or a genuine suitor, like my husband, to get in, I wrestle with my Sammy-like tendencies, even today. But I know there’s been a shift, an easing. What protects me aren’t bricks or a turtle shell anymore so much as the physical body I’ve built for myself. (Think: less plaster, more abs of steel.) But it’s not physical perfection I’m after, either. This pièce de resistance is perfect in its imperfections, the stretch marks and scars proof of where I’ve been and how far we—this body and I—have come.

“MELODY GREENFIELD” has an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing (CNF) from Antioch University Los Angeles. The LA-native and Pilates instructor has been published under this pseudonym in The Los Angeles Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and forthcoming in HOOT. Her work can also be found under a different name in Brevity, Lunch Ticket, Annotation Nation, and Meow Meow Pow Pow. She enjoys reading CNF, furthering her Pilates practice, and occasionally curling her hair and getting out of stretchy pants to enjoy this pandemic-life with her aforementioned husband. Melody can be found here on Facebook and as @melodygreenfield_writer on Instagram.

Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Click here for all things Jen

Guest Posts, Self Care, Self Image

Resistant as F*ck, part 1

January 13, 2021

Photo credit: Peak Pilates

This is part one of a two part essay.  Read part two here

By Melody Greenfield

My body is a masterpiece.

Sacred.

A pièce de résistance.  

An amazing doer of all the gerunds: twisting; bending; reaching; rounding; arching; fucking; praying.

But for so long I didn’t regard it as such or even so much as respect it. As a pre-teen and teen, I deprived my body of food. I chided myself for the way I stored fat on my cellulite-ridden thighs. For the way I resembled my pear-shaped, chef-mother. The photos, however, tell a different story: I was thin enough to slide through a fence; I was simply developing faster than other girls my age. What I thought was fat was actually just my new womanly shape (hello, hips!). What I thought was cellulite could only be seen under a microscope if I pinched and squished and otherwise manipulated and contorted my skin. I exercised compulsively (if there was an informercial for it, I owned it), then went through rebellious periods where I was completely sedentary. This pattern continued on into my twenties, when I doubled-down on misusing my body—sleeping with too many men, often unprotected. My type (aside from tall, dark-haired, bespectacled, and Jewish) was whatever was new. Fortunately, my body was resistant…to STIs.

My heart did its fair share of resisting too—always looking to dodge suffering. My childhood babysitter once told me, on a walk around the neighborhood, that I had walls up all around me. I was about seven at the time. Even then, I was suited up in armor to resist hurt and heartbreak. I think she was trying to warn me that, later on, if I continued to keep my guard up, it would be hard to form lasting relationships, which was exactly the point. I pictured a brick structure when she spoke. Think: the indestructible third house in The Three Little Pigs. Impenetrable. Resistant to wolves. I wore those walls proudly for decades because change is hard and scary, hence my resistance to it. The walls kept me safe. If no one could get in, no one could leave, either. Likewise, if my body never changed, I would never become my Jenny Craig- and Weight Watchers-going mother. May Mom never fit into my pants was a secret mantra of mine that I recited even at her thinnest when, on occasion, she tried (and failed) to borrow my jeans.

Judaism teaches that each morning when we wake, we should take the time to appreciate our bodies, aloud. In reciting the Birchot HaShachar blessing, we thank God for the miracle of our bodies—these complex machines that work so hard to keep us alive. If only I could have conjured this prayer to mind all those evenings that I willingly went to bed hungry, ignoring the empty feeling in the pit of my already-flat stomach. If only I could have conjured this prayer to mind all those times that I exercised obsessively—doing jumping jacks on the school yard and then coming home to pop workout videos into my parents’ VCR. Two favorites were The Firm Aerobic Workout with Weights (Volume 3) and Kathy Kaehler’s Strong Legs; she was Michelle Pfeiffer’s personal trainer, and my hope was that she’d make my legs not only strong, but also skinny and cellulite-free. If only I could have conjured this prayer to mind all those nights that I treated my body as so much less than a gift when I gave it away to men who didn’t care, who wouldn’t stay. Your own father doesn’t love you, or so I believed. Why on earth would they?

Since taking up Pilates nearly a decade ago and especially since teaching it for the past six-plus years, I’ve learned to love myself a bit more. To treat this God-given vessel, this container that expertly stores my equally-worthy insides, as something special. To show it a modicum of respect. To celebrate its splendors. Interestingly, in Pilates when we work with the apparatus—complex machines (like our own bodies), designed to stretch and strengthen the limbs—we are often resisting the springs, pushing back against them. Take the Leg Springs series on the Cadillac: We push our legs into the straps, and the attached springs try to bully us—woman versus apparatus—but we don’t let them win. We are the machine. They’re strong, but we’re stronger (especially after years of that Kathy Kaehler routine). Other times, we’re asked to lean into the springs. We allow them to give us feedback. To support us. Take Airplane on the same piece of equipment: We press our feet into the straps and our hands into the metal poles behind us in order to sail through the air. The springs help us levitate. This is how I see my body now—as this magnificent structure that quite literally soars. But what a journey it’s been to get to that place. For far too long, rather than lift myself up, I was the damn bully-spring, fighting myself.

***

December 2013: North Hollywood, California

It isn’t my body but the road I’m focused on as I rush, in my bite-sized electric Chevy, to meet Drew—my date. We’ve been texting for several weeks since both swiping right on Tinder, and tonight we’re meeting face-to-face at a dive bar in North Hollywood, which I’m speeding to straight from a bad day at work. I’m in a new job as an admissions assistant at a small private school, just down the street. This is our busy season with prospective parent tours, so no more leaving the office when there’s still daylight to burn. Stealing a glance in my light-up sun visor, I confirm—to my horror—that my hair, which I’ve deepened for the fall, is having a worse day than I am, even resisting the quick finger-combing I gave it. I also confirm, via the car clock on my dashboard, that I’m seven minutes late for our date. Crap. It always embarrassed me as a kid when my mom ran late, so I try my hardest to value other people’s time.

With the help of street lamps, I can make out a tall, lean Drew—his back against the bar’s entrance—from my parking spot across the street. He’s dressed for the occasion in dark denim and a button-down shirt, which makes me suddenly self-conscious of my own attire: wrinkled corduroys and a sweater that isn’t as figure-hugging as it was when I put it on early this morning. Aware that he’s been waiting for me, I quickly touch up my burgundy lipstick, blot with a tissue from a to-go pack in my purse, check the mirror once more to make sure no tissue bits have stuck on, then dart across Magnolia. The air is brisk in that LA-winter way that feels more like East Coast fall, and I go in straight for the hug (remember those?), hoping to warm up. I’m also convinced that physical contact is the surest way to make my date warm up to me, and it seems to work, too. He pulls me in close, surprising me; so close, in fact, that I can smell the musky cologne on the nape of his neck. When I take a step back, I can see that his pleasant face matches his profile pictures. Delicious, I’m still thinking as we take our seats. I’m drunk on the idea of him—heady and dizzy and floaty-feeling—and this is all before I’ve taken so much as a sip of booze.

Sitting across the table from him, I can finally inspect Drew, close up. He’s thirty to my twenty-nine and six feet tall to my five foot seven. He has even, honey-colored skin and a warm smile. He’s put together, well dressed and groomed. His voice is sexy and soothing, as deep as it is gentle. I find myself admiring his strong, capable hands and the way he effortlessly strings words together. I love an articulate man. What holds my attention most though is not his vocabulary or the timbre of his speaking voice but his eyes. Even in the dimly-lit bar, I can tell there is something off about them—I just can’t quite put my finger on what.

Just then, our waitress whizzes by, creating a brief breeze, and I catch another whiff of that yummy musky man-scent that got my juices flowing and made my head all spinny a few minutes ago. When she swings back around the corner again, I order a glass of Pinot Grigio, then another. Just be normal, I say to myself. Quit staring. I try to distract myself by prattling on nervously about my crappy work day. I’ve had so many of them in this new role, and I’ll have many more before I’m eventually laid off in June, which, I learn, is Drew’s birthday month. Typically, Gemini men and I don’t mix, but I already find myself hoping: Maybe he’ll be the exception. Incidentally, Drew will soon be let go too, only neither of us knows this yet. Nor do we know that sixteen days after his June 9th birthday, I’ll surprise us both by moving in with friends across the globe in Toronto.

In between crisp, fruity sips, I explain that my boss makes me feel incompetent, which, in turn, makes me act incompetently (the ol’ self-fulfilling prophesy at work); I’m worried that too many more days like today—when I was admonished for alphabetizing the touring parents’ nametags in rows instead of columns and slicing the bagels unevenly—and I’ll be sent packing. Of course, I’m right to suspect as much, but Drew does his best to reassure me. Isn’t it possible you’re being too hard on yourself? It’s probably not as bad as you’re making it out to be in your own head (except that it is). I divert his question with humor—“No non-Jewish person should ever correct a Jew when it comes to handling bagels. Am I right?”—then deflect by asking about his job, instead. As it turns out, he’s been a glove designer at the same company for eleven years now.

“Holy shit,” I say. I tell him I admire his ability to stay put and wonder silently if this means he might stick around with me, too.

“I’m blind in one eye,” Drew blurts out. Talk about a non sequitur. “I’m sorry to cut you off. I just needed to say something.”

Crap. He must have noticed me staring. “That’s okay,” I assure him, both about interrupting me and being part-blind. “If you’re willing to share, I’d love to learn more.”

“Well, I wasn’t born blind, but I didn’t get the care I needed, not soon enough anyway. It was too late to save my vision by the time I finally saw a doctor. Please don’t feel bad for me,” he says in response to my doe eyes. “That isn’t why I told you. I just sensed you were wondering about it. It’s no big deal that you were curious. Everyone is.”

I’m ashamed to admit this, but rather than go to a place of empathy or outrage over his negligent upbringing, my mind goes instead to a place of curiosity. To him, I may look concerned, wounded, even horrified, but I’m actually determining where to affix my gaze—that intense look that gets me into exactly the kind of trouble I seek. I’m also worrying that, in staring at his one eye all night, I’ve failed to send out those come-hither signals with my own. I take his hands in mine, tell him I’m sorry about his sucky vision, his suckier parents, and my blatant staring, then invite him back to my apartment to make it up to him.

 ***

Comfortable on my own turf and emboldened by the liquor (which I’m not as resistant to as I like to believe), I begin to kiss Drew. Like my car, the kissing is electric—all tongue and lips. It’s the kind that leaves you lightheaded and that happens when two people either really like each other, have an undeniable physical connection, or both. Hoping for option C, I run my fingers through his hair voraciously. I’m hungry for more of him, greedy for the high that sex brings.

Drew unbuttons my blouse, as I likewise busy myself removing his clothes. This is a man who works with his hands, I think to myself as he expertly undresses me. I am startled, but not revolted, by his many tattoos—a tiger on his chest (my husband has a nearly identical one in the same spot); a symbol of some kind on his left shoulder; a star below his waist; and a quotation written across his ribs—In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king—he tells me later. Gently, Drew licks and breathes on each of my nipples until my entire body warms and responds. He holds me close, and his intoxicating scent—part man, part cologne—fills my nostrils once more. Tenderly, he makes his way down my torso and in between my legs, licking me softly, then sucking on me more aggressively, drawing a figure eight with his tongue.

“Mmmmmmm. You taste so good,” he says, as he reaches his left hand out for my larger breast, and my legs begin to quiver. I pull on his hair, and my body unfolds, submitting to him, wholly. Finally, the build-up becomes too much to bear. I’m cumming!” I shout for the first time that evening but not the last. Before I know it, I am tasting my own sweetness in his mouth and putting his hard condom-less penis inside of me.

“Oh my God,” he says, his hood gently massaging me. “You feel amazing.”

“Yeah?” I ask innocently. I’ve heard this countless times before but never tire of it. Compliments are my crack. I grab onto his firm butt cheeks, moist with perspiration, as he holds onto my face, seeming to see all of me, if only with one eye.

“You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever been inside of,” he whispers sensually in my ear like he knows it’s a portal to my soul. “Your body is perfect,” he goes on as he slides himself in and out of me more gently than any one-night stand has before. Men always praise my physical form—my hourglass figure—but I’m still a few years away from believing that what they say is true.

It does occur to me, for an instant, that Drew is being genuine, but the thought is fleeting, my inner-skeptic loud. I force myself to quiet the noise, to stay present. I kiss him hard, and the shock I feel courses through us both. “You feel amazing too, baby” I tell him, and I mean it. In this moment, as I glance up at him, and we move in sync together, we are utterly connected. It’s like he was made just for me.

“I love fucking you,” he tells me as we near climax, but I hear what I want to hear instead, mentally subtracting one word from his sentence. He is making love to me; he can love me. I am sure of it. In fact, touching me in ways no one ever has before—brushing the wispy, chocolate brown tendrils from my too-pale, too-trusting face; cupping my head with his gentle hands; tickling the tops of my ears; looking deep into me, his thumbs against my now-messy brows—he already is loving me, or so I reason.

Drew places one arm under the small of my back and pulls me in close as he hardens and contracts inside of me. Together, we surrender to the building sensations. I feel hazy and clear-headed all at once. In control and out of it. My heart and groin clamp onto him with equal intensity and, magically, our bodies shudder in unison. He moves to pull himself out of me just then, but I reach for his penis and put it back inside of me, as a rush of semen fills me and makes me whole.

I know it’s dangerous, which is part of the allure. It gives me the kind of stomach-dropping thrill that roller coasters used to until I became terrified of them, without warning or reason. I’ve been on birth control since before my seventeenth birthday, so pregnancy isn’t my concern, but there are diseases out there that, HPV aside, I’ve been lucky enough to dodge. (Thank you, resistant body!) But that’s just it. Taking chances—even big ones—is habit at this point, and I am hooked on it the way I’m now hooked on this beautiful man. On the way he strokes the soft spot behind my ears and uses the tips of his fingers to trace a line from my jaw down to my neck. There is no denying that this is different. That he is different.

We fall into a blissful sleep: Drew’s stomach against my back, his hands wrapped around my small waist (a family trait). Some hours later, he turns towards me—our bodies two crescent moons making a full one—and softly kisses me. It’s late, or rather early, and my date has to leave on account of his pit bull Rowdy. I turn to look at my nightstand and see that the green numbers on the alarm clock read 4:03 a.m. That means his dog has been alone for at least nine hours, and now I’ll be alone, too. He kisses me again on the lips, and this time, it means goodbye.

I don’t feel contemplative or regretful about our night. I’m on autopilot. Groggy and still naked, I take out my list of sexual partners, which by now is thirteen years old and several pages long, front to back. Even in the dark, I can see that my lopsided C-cup breasts are also thankfully round and perky (another genetic win). My nipples, quarter-sized and peachy-pink, harden as my bare feet touch the floor. I’m grateful for the faux marble, which I’ll take over ugly apartment carpeting any day. When I stare down at myself, I don’t love how I look, but when I’m standing upright in front of my closet’s (slimming) full-length mirror, I don’t hate the curves I see, either. Yesterday morning I weighed in at 130.5 pounds—half a pound more than I’d like. I’d jotted that down on a Post-it Note. Now, grabbing a pen from the kitchen, I neatly write Drew’s name down beside the number eighty-five on my ever-growing list. (May my body not follow suit!)

85) Drew M.

I like the way this distinct combination of letters and numbers looks on the page—round and clean—and how his initials, DM, like direct messaging, remind me of the way we first communicated: with words instead of bodies. I like the way committing this act to paper feels—the “8” in 85 conjuring to mind the figure eights he drew on me with his tongue a few hours ago (word-play always makes me smirk), and how writing it down solidifies the experience, makes it real. This really happened. He really happened.

As a teenager and young adult, I kept detailed food journals, cataloguing everything I ingested. A page from seventh grade might have looked something like this:

 

Weekday:

Breakfast: Half a plain bagel and 1 pack of Sour Punch Straws (blue raspberry) from the food truck

Snack: 3 Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies from the vending machine – gave the rest away

After-school: Half a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (blue box)

Saturday:

Breakfast: 2 bowls of Life cereal with nonfat milk

Lunch: 1 Yoplait yogurt cup (peach)

Dinner: Half a chicken tender and a Shirley Temple at Michael’s bar mitzvah

Then, with equal precision, I kept track—am still keeping track—of the men I put into my body: 7 Mikes, 6 Adams, 5 Matts, 5 Jon/John/Jonathans, 4 Dans, 3 Jeffs and a Geoff,

3 Joshes, 21 J-names, 15 M-names, 60 Jews, 40 men from the Interwebs. I like that there’s never been another Drew—just two Andrews and a Dru surname. As I play the night’s happenings back in my head, I shiver. I need socks, and another dose of this man.

To Be Continued…

“MELODY GREENFIELD” has an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing (CNF) from Antioch University Los Angeles. The LA-native and Pilates instructor has been published under this pseudonym in The Los Angeles Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and forthcoming in HOOT. Her work can also be found under a different name in Brevity, Lunch Ticket, Annotation Nation, and Meow Meow Pow Pow. She enjoys reading CNF, furthering her Pilates practice, and occasionally curling her hair and getting out of stretchy pants to enjoy this pandemic-life with her aforementioned husband. Melody can be found here on Facebook and as @melodygreenfield_writer on Instagram.

Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Click here for all things Jen

Guest Posts, Self Image

“Deaf” Does Not Define Me

January 10, 2021
deaf

By Challis Popkey

Jen Pastiloff writes about her “undue shame” about her hearing loss. I also feel shame for my hearing loss, but I still feel like mine is due. Like it was my fault.

I overdosed on heroin, cocaine, and benzos on Valentine’s Day 2017. I was living in New York City and was not breathing, no pulse, when my boyfriend found me. I’d been ‘down’ for an unknown period of time when the paramedics arrived. I was 0-0-0 — unconscious, no breathing, no heart rate —  and it took them 20 minutes to restart my heart. My body had given up. It quit. I died.

They wouldn’t tell my dad if I was alive or dead when he called the hospital. He flew out from Boise, my mom from Hawaii, and my brother from LA to spend 3 weeks at my side, hoping, praying that when they removed the ventilator I would breathe again. On day four, a CCU surgeon told my parents that I had a 0.5% chance of surviving.

I did.

I woke up with this terrible ringing in my ears, and honestly, I was confused as to why everyone was beaming. I found out my lifestyle was over; I’d lived on my own since 18 and now at 24 I was to move back into my dad’s pink house on the corner? Not to mention learn to sit up, talk, and walk again. They called me the “miracle baby” – and I couldn’t grasp why everyone was celebrating. I felt ungrateful for my second chance at life. I flew back to Boise from New York two weeks later, now moving slowly and with a walker (which I proudly tossed when I saw my friends awaiting me at the gate in Boise).

Still, the ringing. I couldn’t hear what the doctors were telling me about my condition, the wound vac, compartment syndrome, medically induced coma, overdose… I felt unable to participate in conversations about my own body, my health. Conversations about my future, was I going to rehab? Was I a drug addict or was this just an experiment gone wrong? What about my career in journalism (or my server gig at Henry’s, I had been fired at this point from a PBS station in New York).

I saw an audiologist in April 2017 and learned that I had lost 70% of my hearing in both ears (actually, 73% in the left). They attributed this to the lack of oxygen arriving to the cilia in my ears — I’ve since come to think of this as flowers wilting, shriveling up, dying due to carelessness, lack of love and attention.

My first pair of hearing aids were over the ear. It was late May when I got them and despite the heat I refused to wear my hair up. I felt such shame about my hearing loss, and I still do.

Since then I’ve gotten a pair of in-the-ear aids. Only recently have I started to wear my hair up at work. Still, on first dates or when I know I will be hugging someone, I take them out. I don’t want that awkward buzzing feedback that happens when someone gets too close, like rubbing against a microphone. The questions, “Did you hear that?” “Are you a robot?” “What’s that noise?” Because then I would have to explain that I am deaf. So instead I pick up about 30% of what they’re saying to me, nodding and smiling when I don’t hear them and I can’t read their lips. Do you think they get it anyways, that I can’t hear?

“What’s that?” is my placeholder for, “Can you repeat that, please? I am hard of hearing and I don’t have my hearing aids in because I am ashamed of my hearing loss.” Three years, one rehab, twelve steps, good and bad therapy, and now a career as a therapist later, I still feel like it’s my fault. I am embarrassed to ask for subtitles on TV with new people, people who don’t know why I need them. If I’m with someone who knows, I might wear those headphones in movie theaters.

I want to believe my shame is undue. And I AM grateful for this second chance. I currently work at a women’s drug and alcohol rehab as a therapist, working towards my MFT licensure. When I tell my story I have included a few times that the overdose also caused hearing loss, and my clients don’t gasp or treat me differently. If anything, they speak more clearly. They look at me when they speak so I can read their lips.

People often ask me what it was like on the other side. I wish I had an answer. There is shame around that, too. I literally died – no heartbeat, no breathing for untold minutes – and I don’t have anything to report. My memories of the weeks leading up to the overdose are blurred, shifting, a mirage. They change over time, and are ultimately unreachable.

I remember this narrow basement pharmacy where we bought Q-tips and insulin syringes and how I pleaded with my boyfriend that morning to “let me try it straight.” He didn’t want to, but after doing coke all night I can be quite convincing. I remember shooting heroin that morning, watching as the blood punched up into the syringe, knowing we had a hit. It felt psychedelic, warm, safe.

Later that day, just hours before I died, I called my father from the sculpture garden at 110th and Amsterdam. The February sun was holding me close, whispering, imploring, “You like this, you like life.”

That was the last thing I heard.

Challis Popkey is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist based in Santa Barbara, California. She grew up in Idaho and her love for wild places and adventure have been her steadfast companions. She is an ultrarunner, running coach and wood-fired pizza aficionado. Challis can be found on Instagram at @challypop and online at www.challispopkey.com.

Recommended Reading:

Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Click here for all things Jen

beauty, Guest Posts, Self Image

Just For Me (No Lye)

December 2, 2020
hair

By Bella Reina

I look into a mirror and the first thing I see is hair. It is a big mess of curls that at first looks black, but up close is many different colors, like myself. My hair is large and bushy, but when touched feels like the inside of a teddy bear, a bit coarse and a bit soft, also like myself.

Hair–what a thing to hold significance. It can be cut, it grows anew, it is an extension of my body that is noticeable but holds no pain. That is unlike me. I’ve had a long journey with this hair and this body.

In my baby pictures I am chubby, with my grandmother’s American features peeking out from underneath a baby afro. Round. My nickname was bolo bolo, a Cameroonian word that means balloon, to fondly reiterate my roundness to me. Growing up, my mother never had to care for her own curls because she was forced to keep them short in boarding school. When I was around two or three she realised she cannot make beauty out of this growing, thick, baby afro mix, and relaxed it. Quickly I went from round to short and skinny, with lanky arms and knobby knees. My hair did also. Because of the chemical damage it never grew past my chin, and was always in braids with colorful beads hanging down my face that the little white girls in school would comment on.

I hated it. I did not want my skinny ribs or my braids, and so I went to the hair salon every week for years to have my hair straightened out, to make beauty of it, to make my mess fall in line. And always, my hair would be straightened and afterwards, as I looked in the mirror and people would tell me how beautiful I was, I still could not believe that the girl with the short straight hair hanging by her face was real. By the end of week my hair would always become big and frizzy again, it would no longer be beautiful, it would take up space, it would not fall in line. I could not fall in line, I could not straighten myself out.

Sometime in middle school, amongst my sadness that my hair would always curl no matter how much heat I pressed to it, my nanny (who did my hair) decided she would only keep doing it if I went natural. I stopped relaxing it, I went back to beads and braids, and tried to hold my head high when other girls commented on it, although it shamed me that bolo bolo was so easy to attack through my little girl braids and beads.

Finally, in the last two weeks of eighth grade, I cut off the ends and put my hair in twists. Before eighth grade prom I took the twists down, and curls, pretty, defined, corkscrew curls framed my face for the first time. I never knew my hair could be something I wanted others to see.

I went into high school and my mess of hair was the thing I became most identifiable for. I am still short, but womanhood has changed skinny and straight into softly curved, like my hair. My hair is long now and grows up to the sky, taking up space wherever I go, and I no longer try to make myself small.
The bushy mess, for the first time, brings community, as women on the train in the Bronx nod at me and raise a fist in recognition. A new generation of little black girls look at my afro as I walk by in Central Park and do not recoil at the sight, at the statement I make. They find beauty, and more importantly, themselves. With this community still comes divide, and girls still comment, adolescent tongues sharper than ever at my refusal to conform. Somedays, when I am tired of carrying the weight of myself, I am amazed at my hair’s ability to defy the gravity of these comments, to remain above when I feel low. That’s unlike me, but still like me in that I too have the ability to grow to be high. I find life in the insignificance of my big, secretly multicolored, curling, messy, paradoxical hair. I look into the mirror and I’ve become me.

 

 

Bella Raina is a rising senior at Notre Dame School of Manhattan. She has been writing since she was 8 years old and has written a multitude of different pieces in varying forms, ranging from creative non-fiction to poetry. Bella has performed her poetry in school, during the Notre Dame Christmas Concert. She hope to write in college as well. (We hope she she keeps writing, too!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Click here for all things Jen

Guest Posts, Self Image

Me and My Body – A Tumultuous Love Affair

October 22, 2020
body

By Skye Nicholson

I have always struggled with body image – weight was the major area of concern for me. I have fluctuated up and down in a 50-pound range for most of my life, going through phases of diet and exercise then gradually gaining again as I slipped into complacency or depression.  Determining at which precise angle to lift and tilt my head to avoid multiple chin folds in pictures has been a constant priority.  Sucking in my soft tummy and pushing out my average-sized boobs as I entered a bar made me feel more desirable. I was always frustrated at the last 10-20 pounds that swarmed about me like annoying gnats.

I won’t say I “hated” my body, but I have found it to be an irritating nuisance for most of my life since puberty.

I remember feeling FAT at 14 because a small roll (of skin, probably) would squish out over my tight stonewashed jeans, preventing me from wearing sexy crop-top sweaters like all the cool girls.  Looking at pictures from back then, I see a self-conscious child with a sweet round face. She was not overweight at all, but was weighed down by a look of fearful yearning in her eyes. Like most young girls, she wanted so much to look like the waif-ish overdone models on TV and believed her perfectly-unique self did not measure up.

In junior high we had to wear shorts for gym class – you know, the mandatory Poly-blend uniform shorts that shimmered and chafed. My legs were so white, not like pink-white or beige-white or even cream-white… I’m talking see-through, clear, transparent white. So white that my purple and blue veins shined through like neon ribbons across my shins.  And my leg hair that I begged and begged my mom to let me shave in 7th grade was black as coal.  So even after I won the tearful battle of the disposable razor, that spotty black stubble would inevitably be growing back in by 6th period gym class. My legs under those blue polyester shorts looked like 2 flabby plucked chickens.  (Maybe no one would notice, I would hope every single day in the locker room. But, unfortunately, junior high kids are not known for their kindness and discretion)

It wasn’t until my 30s that I began voluntarily wearing shorts again.

My reflection in the mirror has always been picked over by my critical eye: Is that a pimple? Why are my chin hairs so dark? I wish my freckles would go away. I wish my freckles would come back. Why don’t I have cheekbones? My face is fat. My neck is droopy. My skin is too pale. My skin is too red. Are my eyelashes thinning? I wish I had a thinner waist. My butt isn’t the right shape.

My body was always a thing I had to deal with because, well, it was where I lived every day.

There were times when I would join Weight Watchers and start working out, and I would feel good for a while. But again, it was all tied to my size and shape: numbers on a scale or not having to stretch my neck quite as far to reduce the amount of chins, etc.

I don’t know if I ever looked at my body and felt LOVE for it.

By the time I decided to quit drinking for good I had been on Weight Watchers for about 5 months and lost 20 pounds or so. I had been tracking my points pretty regularly, but I didn’t ever count the points from the 8 vodka tonics at the bar or 4 bottles of wine at home.  I couldn’t face the shame, and so those calories didn’t exist to me.

I started being very honest with my point counting once I decided to get sober. It was a good motivator and a necessary distraction from drinking. If I could get through this ONE DAY without adding any alcohol points to my tracker, then I was winning. And try to do the same thing the next day.

I went and got my old gym membership back. My sober friend Ed said that when he first quit drinking he would go for a run anytime he felt a craving sneak up. Then he would be too tired and too legitimately thirsty to want alcohol. And of course, when you start exercising you release endorphins, and you tend feel a little better about yourself when you are done. Therefore, less likely to hide from life and seek out poison.

I have done much damage to my physical self over 25+ years of heavy drinking. I could feel the aches and pains, the difficulty breathing, the red skin, the digestive problems, sleep problems, etc. I hobbled and wheezed through my first few weeks at the gym. Getting myself there was worth a fucking medal in itself.  I was sweating my ass off and watching my heartrate go through the roof as I flailed around on the elliptical, trying to get my arms and legs to sync up.

But soon I began to be in touch with my body in a different way than ever before.  I started meditating by listening to short guided clips on YouTube, and for the first time in my life I could actually connect with the energy inside my body.

When I was about 3 weeks into sobriety, I went to a Breathwork session. I had never heard of it before and I had no idea what I was getting into, but something was pulling me there. I knew this was something I had to do.

In the Breathwork session, we used our own deep breathing to shift our minds into a state of open clarity. I had the sensation that I was observing my body from outside. As the practitioner moved her hands across trigger points, I began to feel pent-up rage and pain and sadness release through me. As she reached my liver I started sobbing, deep convulsing wails of grief and guilt. I cried for what seemed like hours. In my head I kept repeating “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry” on a loop as I connected with my body in unconditional love.

That experience opened up a relationship with my body that had been silent for decades. I began to fall back in love with my being. I felt a glimpse of the way little kids must feel when they find comfort and awe in their own skin.

I practice yoga regularly now, and many times I am moved to tears as I stretch through the poses. It is my body sharing with me emotions that have surfaced, some good and some difficult. I always feel waves of love for myself when this happens; like my body and I are no longer on opposing teams, but partners in this life.

It is this relatively new loving relationship with my body that gets me back on track when I inevitably stuff myself with Chinese food and feel bloated and weak the next day, or skip 2 weeks of exercise because of sick kids, or get frustrated that my favorite jeans are tight, or feel that familiar tug to go out to the bars for (just one) night.

There are times when I get fed up with my body and still catch myself throwing shade at my reflection. But I can’t get mad at my gray hairs or my turkey neck or my wrinkled brow or my tummy roll. My body is not aging to spite me. It’s just biology and entropy.

I am not defined by the imperfect details of my appearance. I depend on the health of my organs to keep me going so that I can pack lunches and remember where everyone left their shoes and buy cat food and listen to my daughter sing the shark song for the nine-hundredth time and be a loving spouse. I can’t do those things without my organs being on board for all this responsibility; and they can’t function without me giving them healthy stuff most of the time, like yoga and kombucha and cucumbers.

Skye Nicholson rediscovered her love of writing after she had been sober for 2 years. She is currently a Stay-At-Home mom living in Indiana with her husband and 2 kids. Skye posts on her blog www.wakinguprazzledazzle.com under the pseudonym Vixen Lea.

Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Upcoming events with Jen

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

THE ALEKSANDER SCHOLARSHIP FUND

Guest Posts, motherhood, parenting, Self Image, Self Love, Women

The Pink Wig

July 24, 2020
wig

By Tricia Stearns

I have more regrets than Amazon has distribution centers. Still, one regret I do not have: buying a pink wig for my middle daughter.  At age 10, she was the self-appointed influencer for her brat pack, as well as her sisters. If she decided it would be cool to cut up their designer jeans and make them purses, they would have stripped and handed her the scissors.

While I chauffeured them through childhoods I wish I had experienced, Daughter Two commanded the CD selection for the ride to school and taught her sisters backseat dance moves to Brittany Spear. From fashion to food to music, she navigated her world as if she was the CEO of Me, Inc.

Her zest for extra-curricular activities kept me spinning a schedule of dance lessons, theater rehearsals and private singing lessons. I couldn’t count on child support, but I could count on the sun rising and a new performance idea from Daughter Two. Kitchen clean-up doubled as a re-cap of dance class or a reprise of the opening of “Newsies.” Bedtime stories were told with a theatrical flair and always included happy endings.

She scrimped her allowance to buy the acrylic pink bob only to learn that her school dress code banned wigs. After a few rounds of letters to the school board failed to change the rules, she threw it in the Prop and Future Halloween Costume bin.

When Daughter Two decided to wear the wig on a rare outing for pancakes, it did not surprise me. The smell of bacon and maple syrup thickened the air as our waitress sugar-pied us up, and we ordered. We gave no further thought to Daughter Two’s accessory, accepting the pink wig into everyday wear. However, pink wigs were rare in our southern suburb, and breakfasters’ glances soon fell into stares.

The girls and I folded our straws into pretend people and created a story, positioning the ketchup and salt and peppershakers as props. My voice rose trying to drown out the chatter from a four-top of older ladies going to a Baptist bake sale, or maybe on their way to bingo.

“I never.”

“…should know better”

“Bless her heart. ”

Daughter Two’s mouth pursed. She wiggled in her seat. She twiddled her straw.

She stared right back at them. She re-arranged her fork and knife on the menu.

“Why in the world…”

We started a new play; our straw characters already tired. Daughter Two surveyed the restaurant, meeting the looks of a family of four wearing matching soccer jerseys and the chatty ladies closest to us.

She slapped her napkin down and plowed by our waitress carrying a load of pancakes.

She’d be back, we assured the waitress who volunteered to keep her plate warm. We slathered on butter and syrup, and wondered about Daughter Two camping out in the toilet. Perhaps, there was a line.  Daughter Two’s chair sat empty. The glob of butter now melted over her pancakes, cold.

We found no line in the bathroom, just a weary traveler, adjusting her snowman sweatshirt, preparing to wash her hands. Outside a stall, I tried to coax Daughter Two with bathroom humor. The lady nodded toward the last toilet.

The girls and I shifted, peaking through the cracks. Daughter Two perched on the edge of the toilet, her blonde hair flattened, her small hands wringing the wig.

With eyes red and big tears raining, she declared she would never eat a pancake ever again, and to leave her alone. Forever.

“No pancakes for the rest of your life?”

“Can I have what you ordered?” asked Daughter Three.

“Hush.”

“Can I have your bacon?” asked Daughter One.

Elevator music looped, toilets flushed.  Women moved in and out, offering looks and opinions. “Yes, thank you.” “NO, thank you.” “Bless YOUR heart.”

My youngest squatted down in the corner of the bathroom, looking up and under the door begging Daughter Two to come out.

My mom genes kicked in. There was more at stake than a little restaurant embarrassment. I had to get it right.  I felt the weight of the moment: The rock of my daughter’s soul was tumbling down a dark hole and she might never be the same.

I needed time, to figure out how to pull the knife of doubt out of her heart, to stop the bleeding and convince her she could love the identity she created; at the bare minimum to re-enforce her natural strengths and beg her not to question her ability to pull off a fashion statement. She needed assurance it was okay to trust her truest self.  If she couldn’t trust herself then I had failed as a mother, as a fellow female.

No longer was I standing in the bathroom of an interstate pancake house. No longer were we just using a coupon for pancakes before it expired. I was kneeling in a forest next to a hole freshly dug by a beautiful human, my child. She had sunk into a deep space carrying her childhood comforts: cookies, nuts, a blanket. She smoothed out the tattered edges of her childhood lovey questioning her place in the world.

I looked through the crack of the door. Her puffy eyes met mine. And in that moment, she knew I knew that place, too. She made room for me under her blanket.

I wanted to tell her, it gets easier, but judgment is timeless. Judgment is a relentless foe. We all stood in silence. Swoosh, another toilet.

I knew when I gave birth to a bevy of girls what I wanted for them. I also knew it would be difficult to teach. I was still trying to figure it all out: How to be myself in a world ready to tell me who I ought to be.

The real battle, the battle for one female to get it right, was right before me.

“You know, I don’t know a lot, but I do know if you wear a pink wig, you will get stares,” I said, with a calm assuredness. I held her gaze through the crack of the door, leaning on the door.

“ You got to be ready for it. If you wear it, you can’t care.” I paused, not knowing what I was going to say next, praying for the right words to come out of my mouth.

 

“Wear it. Don’t wear it. You decide. But if you do wear it, wear it with guts.

But be ready. You do not need permission to be yourself.”

Stillness. We sat in stillness. No one walked in or out for a moment.  Daughter One sat down and grabbed Daughter Three’s hand. Moments passed into a future memory that I hoped would become a point of reference for my girls.

Daughter Two straightened and smooth out the pink wig and opened the bath room door. We walked out and into the world, feeling altogether different. Altogether better, all together.

Tricia Stearns has been published in Atlanta Journal Constitution, Bloom, Loose Change literary magazine, and wrote a weekly column for five years for  the Fayette Daily News. In this column, Tricia dcumented how she started a farmers market and built the largest community garden in the Atlanta metroplex. She is currently working on a personal narrative essay collection. Tricia can be found on twitter as @tstearns2014 and on instagram as @triciastearns.

On Being Human Online Workshops

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Other upcoming events with Jen

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Anti-racist resources because silence is not an option.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

THE ALEKSANDER SCHOLARSHIP FUND

 

Guest Posts, Self Image

Don’t be a Baby – Lessons in a Roy DeCarava Photo

April 8, 2020
decarva

By Trish Cantillon

Labor Day Weekend 1979 before we started ninth grade, my best friend Mery and I went to my family’s vacation home in Newport Beach. Since my parents’ separation it was where my dad spent most of his time, and by extension, my time with him. I assumed that since I was fourteen, I would be afforded some independence. I believed I’d outgrown the obligation to keep him company while he sunbathed on the front patio glistening with cocoa butter, a vodka cocktail always at arm’s reach. My plan was to spend those days laying out at lifeguard station fifteen, with afternoon bike rides down the boardwalk to the Fun Zone for Balboa Bars. We’d endure dinner with my dad, and whatever drunk personality he embodied, because his barbecued chicken was delicious. After dinner, we’d disappear upstairs to talk about boys and how great high school was going to be. This was my expectation.

Late Saturday morning, as we finished up bowls of cereal, Mery and I made our plans. My dad sat on a barstool at the counter: newspaper, coffee and vodka screwdriver in front of him. “I’m out of vodka. I’m going to need to go to the store before you head out,” he said, without looking up. His arm was in a sling from a shoulder injury and he wasn’t supposed to drive, though he seemed to pick and choose when he followed that rule. I was unsure what this had to do with us until he stood up, slipped his wallet into the pocket of his trunks and plucked the car keys from the dish next to the phone. “Come on, you’re going to drive me to Balboa Market,” he said.

“What? I can’t drive! I don’t even have my permit,” I replied, certain that once he realized that he’d back off.

“Oh, it’s fine. It’s just a few blocks. Come on,” he insisted. His tone got sharper. I was not in the habit of talking back, especially when he had been drinking, but this felt like a legitimate place to speak up.

“I’m not driving you to the store,” my voice quaked.

“Don’t be a baby,” he said. Me being a ‘baby” was an idea often directed at me, either in a lighthearted way, like when he’d sing, Yes, sir, that’s my baby on our bike rides, or, in this case, with anger and disappointment. It always made me feel small.

“No. Please don’t make me. I don’t want to.” He was silent, then looked at Mery.

“You wanna drive?” he asked. Mery looked at me and shrugged, as if to say, if you’re not going to, I will.

“Sure,” she answered.

“Atta girl,” my dad replied. I was dumbfounded. My grand gesture undermined in an instant. Mery didn’t see him as a bully trying to get his way. She hadn’t lived with that behavior her whole life. For her it was something cool; an opportunity to break the rules and have fun. I felt the heat rise inside me with nowhere to go but smiled as he handed her the keys. I followed them out the open front door.

Mery looked confident as she climbed into my dad’s loaner, a red Ford Granada. The jealous part of me was glad she wasn’t getting to drive his Mercedes 450SL. In abbreviated stops and starts, she backed the car out and pointed it in the direction of Balboa Market. From the sidewalk, I watched the surreal sight unfold slowly, like the final scene in a movie. Everything about it unrecognizable. My best friend behind the wheel of a strange car with my dad riding shotgun on an errand to buy vodka. I felt empty and deserted. I wandered into the house, unsure of what to do with myself. As the minutes ticked by, I began to question why I was so worked up about this in the first place. What’s your problem? It’s no big deal! You’re being a baby! I grabbed my beach bag, tossed in the Bain de Soleil, two cans of Tab, Seventeen Magazine and waited for them to return. Eager to pretend the whole thing never happened.

***

The tears came suddenly and completely. Before I was even aware, they were running down the sides of my cheeks. My husband Quinton and I drifted through the Museum of Modern Art that spring afternoon in the mid-nineties and happened upon the Roy DeCarava exhibit. I shuffled, along with the other patrons from one image to the next and came upon Graduation 1949. When I saw it, I was overcome with a sadness that’s hard to articulate. In Hyperallergic, Colony Little describes DeCarava’s work this way, “He transforms otherwise mundane moments into intriguing narratives with beguiling characters, extracting drama like no other.” The sadness I felt was familiar; an echo and I could instantly envision the life of this girl at this moment.

On a day she thought would be free from disappointment, she put on a happy face when things didn’t turn out as she hoped. She walked alone to her own graduation, through a decaying Harlem neighborhood and an empty lot strewn with trash. She gathered the sides of her beautiful white dress into her hands and lifted the hem so it wouldn’t drag. Everything she reasonably expected for the day had disappeared; except her fancy clothes and accoutrements. She would look the part, even if she didn’t feel it.

Graduation, 1949 exposed an interior life I had long kept at bay with a smiling face and cheerful demeanor. The physical representation of the young girl alone spoke to a deep abiding loneliness. I grew up in a large family and found myself most comfortable amidst the attendant noise and chaos that accompanied that life. I loved falling asleep listening to my brother’s music down the hall and my sister’s hairdryer in the bathroom. However, because I am the youngest by seven years, I often found myself alone. In those moments when life was quiet, I was consumed with a melancholy I could not name and didn’t understand. Distracting myself with elaborate imaginative play, TV and food, I felt a little less blue.

When I was ten new neighbors moved in next door. It was a Friday afternoon and a last-minute change in plans meant I would not have the standard-issue divorced kid weekend with my dad. My mom had a date so I would stay home with the housekeeper who spoke little English. I had the house, and, most importantly, the kitchen to myself. A few days earlier I had talked my mom into letting me buy a fancy Bundt cake mix I’d seen advertised on TV. Because we weren’t the type of family that baked cakes and had them around our own house, I had to have a reason to bake it and a somewhere for it to go. I told her I thought it would be nice to take to the new family next door.

With the family room TV on in the background, I put all my baking supplies on the counter: cake mix, egg, oil and water. I put an apron on over my t-shirt and shorts and when I was ready to begin preparing the cake, I silently called “action” on the imaginary TV show I was starring in. I carefully walked through each step of the recipe explaining the process and offering my valuable tips for the make-believe audience at home. When the cake was finished, I drizzled the packaged icing over the top (the whole reason to buy this cake mix), saved some for myself for later, and proudly displayed the finished product, with great personality and flair, to an invisible camera. I then walked it to the neighbor’s house and rang the bell. A petite brunette woman opened the door looking surprised to see a chubby blonde ten-year-old stranger holding a cake.

“I wanted to give you this to welcome you to the neighborhood,” I offered the plate to her.

“Oh, well, that’s very nice,” she replied, taking it from my hands, ‘Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. It’s kind of a neighborhood tradition,” I said, puzzled by how quickly the lie flew out of my mouth.

“Hope you like it. Bye.” I turned and stepped off her porch.

Back at home, I polished off the leftover batter that clung to the sides of the bowl and the beaters. I fixed myself a boiled hot dog and large bowl of buttered popcorn for dinner, then settled in for a night of television, interrupted only by a move from the den to my room upstairs. Tucked in bed with the portable black and white TV perched on the end of my desk so I could still see it while lying down, I watched The Rockford Files and waited for sleep to take over. Sometime in the middle of the night the white noise, or the National Anthem that preceded it, woke me up. The TV station’s final sign off for their broadcast day brought with it a profound sense of dread and flickers of panic. I was all alone. No one or no thing left to keep me company.

***

Aside from what was obvious in the light, the darkness and shadows in Graduation, 1949 said plenty to me about a literal childhood fear of the dark and an adult fear of the unknown. In Reading the Shadows-The Photography of Roy DeCarava, Ruth Wallen maintains, “The shadows house the riches as well as the dangers. DeCarava’s persistent focus on life in the shadows demands that they be read in a new way, as fertile ground full of possibilities.”

My mom was thirty-nine when I was born in 1965, which, then, was considered late. I was the fifth child who came seven years after the fourth. Growing up I was conscious of the fact that she was older and quickly attached myself to a fear of her death. In its early state, it was born from panic that if something happened to her, I’d have to live with my dad. After he died when I was fifteen it was simply the prospect of losing her that was devastating. Then, as I got older, it became more acute. I’d fret if she didn’t answer the phone or if I got a busy signal for more than an hour. I monitored every sniffle or cough that lingered. I read obituaries to check the average age of the old people that were dying. I didn’t want to think about life without her, or what it would feel like, so I tried to manage what I could not control.

She was a life-long smoker of unfiltered Pall Mall reds. She had a glass of wine and a cocktail every night and considered her vanilla ice cream a good source of calcium. She did not look after her health but managed to appear healthy. From 1978 to 2003 her only visits to a doctor were via the emergency room for a twisted ankle, a broken wrist and finally a broken pelvis. The extended gap in her health care was precipitated in 1978 by an irregular brain scan that doctors incorrectly presumed was a tumor. From that point she adopted the philosophy that doctors make you sick. By 2003 and the fractured pelvis, some legitimate, long-ignored, health issues were unmasked. She spent eight weeks in the hospital and rehab with a few touch and go all-nighters in the emergency room. In the darkest moments, I tried to talk myself into being okay with the fact it might be her time, but quietly sobbed at the thought. On top of knowing I would grieve losing her, I wasn’t sure how I would get through it.

Mother-daughter relationships are complicated by nature and ours was no different. Its complexities, however, were not typical. I never sassed her, talked back, or crossed her. Her emotional support was the only thing I felt I could trust and rely on as a young overweight girl with an alcoholic dad, who just wanted to feel good about herself and fit in. And she relied on me as a companion and ally, her number one booster and cheerleader. For her, my being “the baby” made her believe she appeared young to her peers, even after she had a handful of grandchildren. When she lied about my age to an old friend we ran into, she told me “They don’t want to know how old you are, it will make them feel old.” But an identity of “the baby” made me believe, by its definition, that I was not capable as an adult. This idea seeped into my fear of her death. Could I handle it? Or would I be an inconsolable mess?

In 2012, after several years of declining health, and several remarkable rebounds, my mom let us know that she was ready to not be here anymore.

“I want to be knocked out,” she said. Sitting up in her bed at the assisted living home she’d been in for a couple years, sipping the Bloody Mary my sister had fixed for her.

“You mean, like go to sleep and not wake up?” I asked.

“Yes,” she answered. Her mind was sharp, but her body was frail and, quite literally, shutting down. Less than twenty-four hours later, after the first dose of morphine had calmed her breathing and her nerves, my brothers and sisters and I gathered in her room. We’d been told she’d get a dose of morphine every four hours. The hospice nurse would be back in a day to check on her. I stood near the doorway and observed the scene for a moment and then felt compelled to go sit on the bed next to her. I rubbed her hand, remembering how much I loved the liver spots I thought were freckles as a kid. I could see and feel that she was slipping away, life draining from her body. It was not terrifying. It was not beautiful. It was a somber experience punctuated with inexplicable odd, humorous moments and a peacefulness that’s hard to describe. I felt no fear.

I realized, not long after, I had been present with her when she found out my dad died, when she broke her pelvis in 2003, when she fractured her back in 2010 and finally on the day she died. I had been moving from light to shadow and back to light endlessly but needed to fully experience the thing I feared most to appreciate what was possible in those shadows.

It’s been over twenty years since I first experienced Graduation 1949, it still evokes the same deep melancholy from the first time, when I may have believed I conjured an imaginary life for this young girl on her graduation day, but I what I really did was ascribe my own to her.

Los Angeles based writer and native Angeleno, Trish Cantillon has published personal essays on The Fix, Refinery 29’s “Take Back the Beach,” The Refresh, Storgy, Brain Child Magazine Blog and Ravishly. Her fiction has appeared in Gold Man Review and Berkeley Fiction Review.   She works for Dream Foundation, the first and only national organization providing end-of-life dreams to terminally ill adults. 

 

Upcoming events with Jen

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

THE ALEKSANDER SCHOLARSHIP FUND

Divorce, Guest Posts, Self Image

A False Sense of Security

August 1, 2019
self-worth

By  Jamie Carmichael

It’s 6:50pm when I pull in to the condo complex in the minivan. My 12-year old daughter is next to me and her toddler sister is in the back.  The timing is deliberate.  I don’t want to be home too early and I don’t want to be back so late that we have to stress through the nighttime routine. The large white van is parked in front and I sigh. He’s home.  Not surprisingly since he usually gets home between 330 and 5 but still.  Once in a while he’ll work late and I’ll be giddy with the quiet space that will welcome us. I can unload the bags. The girls will shake off their coats and let out some energy. We’ll eat whatever we picked up from McDonald’s or the pizza place or I’ll make something and then put the dishes in the dishwasher, fold the laundry and just be in peace.

But those days are few and far between.

Usually what happens is that we’ll come back from the library or the grocery store and my husband will be upstairs in the bathroom where he spends an inordinate amount of time doing whatever it is that he does.  I’ll be in the kitchen or helping with homework with our older daughter and then at some point he’ll come down instantly ramping up the tension.

Will he acknowledge me or go straight to asking the girls how they are as if I’m not there?  Will I greet him in a measured way so I’m not being superficially upbeat but also not ignoring him? The thing is that I’m not ever entirely sure where we stand that day.

Partial disclosure:  We have been married for 16 years. We haven’t slept in the same bed for 12.

Full disclosure:  I had an affair 6 years ago and filed for divorce.  After confessing both to my husband said he eventually said he wanted to stay together.  I didn’t think it would work out but the fact that he wanted to stay together automatically made me want to too. Continue Reading…

Eating/Food, Guest Posts, Self Image

Body Unlovable

May 8, 2019
body

By Karie Fugett

In my small Alabama high school, before I’d ever considered the calories I put into my body, a boy told me I needed to eat more cornbread to get some meat on my bones. He told me I had a flat ass, then said “But at least you got DSL.” I was fourteen. I was fourteen and I’d never heard of DSL, so I had to ask around to find out what that meant. This was before the high speed internet DSL. Back then, according to another boy who laughed at me when I asked, it meant dick sucking lips. I’d never considered that before, either.

. . .

When I quit high school, I gained weight rapidly. In a single year, a whole 20 pounds.  I was no longer on Adderall, was no longer playing sports. When my boyfriend at the time broke up with me, I stood at a payphone, cars buzzing by on a highway, all of them oblivious to the tragedy that was unfolding on the sidewalk. He told me he’d gone to New Orleans and cheated. “I got my dick sucked. I never wanna see you again.” He actually fucking said that.  I figured it was the weight I’d gained, and I craved punishment for letting it happen. That night, I stood looking in the mirror, crying, and cut a large chunk of my hair off, dyed my hair black, buried myself in my closet under a pile of garbage-bagged clothes mom kept forgetting to bring to Goodwill. I wished I could cut the fat off, too, leave chunks of my body hidden in the closet, pretend it never happened. Instead, I cried and I cried and I cried some more, the wet plastic from the trash bags sticking to my arms, my hair crooked and dark, my body unlovable. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, Writing & The Body

Powerful Child

March 10, 2019
swim

By Monica Welty

Strong currents of chlorinated, blue silk push against my body and I push right back. I also pull. We work with and against each other: me pushing forward, the water sliding back along my body. Spiraling and bubbling in my wake and then calming until I flip and come back again, heading in the opposite direction. I cup my hand to grab a swirling ball, like a wizard’s spell in his open palm. On land, water cupped in my hand drips down between the crevices of my fingers but in the water, I grab hold of it and use it to my advantage.

I love the muffled world under here. Even though I can’t breathe, it feels as if my chest is heaving like a track and field sprinter. Even though I can’t feel the sweat pouring off me, the salinated beadlets are instantly dissolving into this chemical-laden universe. Even though I feel as sleek and strong as any sea mammal, my skin, my temples, my thighs are pulsing and burning from the hot blood flow of my movement. Until I turn my head to put my ear to the bottom of the pool, all I hear is a tamped down world and the heavy breathing I am not doing. Then, I hear my quick gasp for air, my lifeline, the moment that both fuels me and slows me down. Back into muffled bliss, I feel more keenly the splashing water on my forearm and elbow as they leave the water momentarily in my flurry. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, Writing & The Body

Claiming the Right to Cherish My Body

March 8, 2019
cherish

By Signe E. Land

Soaking in the tub on Christmas Eve, I studied my naked body. My two sons were on a trip with their father, and I live by myself, so I had plenty of time to reflect on the noticeable weight I had gained after a recent surgery. My breasts had grown larger and were pleasantly round with a fullness they hadn’t had for a very long time.  My stomach and sides had grown thicker too.  I considered some pros and cons of the weight gain. Pro: my butt was rounder, not as flat.  Con: my butt was not as perky.  Pro: my breasts were larger, pleasingly heavy when I weighed them in my hand.  Con: I had a little pot-bellied tummy.  Pro: I felt surprisingly more grounded in my body.  Con: I had to buy new jeans.

In the past, I had always abdicated judgement of my body to others.

Now single, for the first time I was the only one experiencing my body; I was the only one who would decide if the changes were good or bad, ugly or beautiful. In the past, partners had taught me that a fit, trim body was acceptable and loveable, though they had said they would love me “even if” I gained weight, whatever that meant. Judgment of my body was for others, including my mother, for whom my body had never been quite right: for her, I had always been too heavy or too thin. Now, as I considered my new curves and softness, I was surprised at the lack of horror and shame I had always felt before when I had gained weight.

As I considered my new body, a word popped into my mind along with a question: Cherish.  Do I cherish my body? Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love

Love Is A Hell Of A Drug

September 20, 2018
love

By Jasmine Sims

You fell in love with the word long ago. You watched the movies and figured out that was something you wanted. You didn’t realize that you had, early on, fallen into an addiction that you’d spend your life looking for.

You looked for it in the eyes of your father. Prided yourself in being daddy’s little girl. You lived for his laugh and nod of approval like an addict. The mere acknowledgment of your presence and masquerade of acceptance was enough of a hit to keep you pushing until the next time. You didn’t know you were the daughter of a drug addict, because he hid it so well that you didn’t realize when you visited his friends and left you in the car you were at a crack house. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love

Loveless at 34

July 12, 2017
garbage

By Shauna Lange

The day I found out I was having a heart attack, was a day like any other.  Other than the radiating pain in my arm and chest every time I moved, it was a fairly average day.  I smoked my two cigarettes on the way to work.  I typed my spreadsheets, drank my coffee, enjoyed some laughs with friends, binged at every meal, and smoked my last 2 cigarettes on the way to my second job.  Most importantly, I spent a good portion of the day internally bullying myself for every calorie, every mistake and bullshit excuse, with the good old stand-by “I’ll just try again tomorrow” – rationalizing every ugly moment.

Since complete self-loathing accompanies the decision to eat a few too many McDonald’s french fries, sans ketchup (to save some calories) you can only imagine my emotional state when the ER doctor came to me later that evening.  With a look of shock on her face, she told me that I was having a heart attack. As the tears streamed down my face, with a gaggle of hospital staff staring at me, paralyzed by my meltdown, I realized how truly broken I was.

I felt rejected by my own body.  How could it do this to me?  Stupid heart.  Lazy ass.  Ugly idiot. Fucking food addict.  I stayed up all night in the hospital in this state of anger and loss. I cried or I berated myself.  I sat there for hours and tried to figure out all the things I had done that lead me to that moment.  The years of poor eating and binging, the avoidance of exercise over the last year, the decision to take myself off my diabetes meds while putting myself on birth control to avoid my fear of pregnancy, all the way to the final cigarette I tried to have in the car as I drove myself to the hospital with pain shooting from my chest to my arm.

March 22, 2017 was my day of reckoning.  It was time to pay for my sins.  At 34 years of age, I was now confronted with the reality that all aspects of my life needed to change.  Each health issue needed to be addressed; each coping mechanism needed to be taken away and replaced with something healthy.  And while I had spent the last four years of my life making some healthy strides emotionally and physically, it was time to take off the kid gloves and dig into the mess.  Quit smoking, control my diabetes, exercise, and most importantly, finally deal with my compulsive eating.

I spent the first few weeks after getting out of the hospital lost.  For me, it’s been difficult not to blame my own actions for my heart attack.  “If only.”  The words circled around in my brain every day. While I was able to quit smoking and start exercising fairly easily, the food continues to be a struggle.  For the last 15 years, binging has been a way of life.  Food is used to celebrate or mask all emotion.  Hating myself for eating is an automatic response.  Choosing to eat poorly is easy, and frankly, safe and comforting.  Once that food is shoved into my mouth, an insult immediately follows.  With each bite I take, I berate myself, and imagine years of fast food piled on top of each other, an impenetrable wall in my stomach while the self-hate has created a wall around my heart so I feel loveless.  No love can get in, and no love will come out.

Where did my love go?  I don’t have problems expressing love, or cheering people up.  In fact, making people laugh is my favorite thing about life.  Making someone truly laugh is powerful.  So, why do I stop the love from penetrating my heart?  Where is my self-compassion, my patience, my own truth?  Even when people asked me how I was doing, I replied very upbeat and excited and made sure to reassure them that I was good.

I finally admitted to myself that I failed.  Not at losing the weight, or taking care of myself, or listening to the experts, or any of the shit the world throws at you.  I failed at loving my body, inside and out.  I became loveless at 34. “You gotta love yourself first” they say, right?  Fuck that. You have to love period. I realized that so often, I’m not actually sad or mad or angry.  I THINK I need to feel this way.  That my life should have some drama in it, or it’s not worthy.  But when I asked myself – “Worthy of what?”  – I came up with a lot of bullshit and decided enough was enough.  I admitted that while I can enlist the help of family, friends, doctors, nurses, nutritionists and therapists, they can’t do the work for me.  They can love me, and I can love them, but I still need to love myself.  This is starting to sound like an ad for masturbation….Let’s move on.

I admitted that regardless of the number on the scale, size of my boobs, the strength of my arms, the color of my nails, or the shininess of my hair, what is actually important to me are the beating organs that keep me alive. The gifts of the senses.  The ability to sleep and dream and wake up rested and ready to take life by the proverbial lady balls.  My body is not a garbage disposal, a punching bag, or a broken piece of glass. It’s fucking beautiful, in all its messy, fatty, sexy glory.

I may have a stent in my artery, but that just means I’m one piece closer to being bionic! I’ve got amazing bedhead.  I love my eyes, and sometimes I look at them in the mirror because the color is so unique.  If you ask me, my boobs are perfect.  I hate wearing a bra, and thankfully, my breasts are still a little perky!  My brain never stops, and while sometimes it’s exhausting, I love the constant state of randomness it’s in.

I’m learning to love the bloody, messy bleeding heart inside me.  I want to tear the wall down and build a nice soft pillow to protect it and keep it safe.  My heart is my queen, and she’s getting stronger every day.

I am beautiful, and I am fat. I have heart disease, and I am a diabetic. I am both complicated and simple.  I am love, and I am pain. I am loud and shy. We are all these amazing dichotomies and creations of our own choosing, and I am learning to embrace all the good and the bad, because I no longer want to be perfect.  I just want to be me, and as corny and cheesy as it sounds, it took breaking my heart to find the courage to accept that I want to live a life full of love.

Shauna Lange was born and raised in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. She has a BA in Psychology from Lemoyne College in Syracuse NY. While she dreamed of being a writer since she was a kid, it’s only been recently that she has allowed myself to write, and share it with the world. Shauna can be found on facebook and on instagram. She also loves photography, comedies, and the beach.

 

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. Sep 30-October 7, 2017.. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

 

 

Join Jen Pastiloff at her signature workshop in Atlanta at Form Yoga on Aug 26 by clicking the picture.

 

Donate to the Aleksander Fund today. Click the photo read about Julia, who lost her baby, and what the fund is.