Browsing Tag

identity

Family, Guest Posts, The Body

Her Skin, My Skin

March 29, 2019
skin

By Niyati Evers

My mother discovered she was ill a few months after I was born. The way the story was told to me many years later, my mother had sat down in her favorite lounge chair in our living room and by the time she got up, the entire chair was covered in blood and poop. She’d been too ill to look after me, too sick to breastfeed me, too weak to hold me in her arms. A few months after my birth, while my mother was in and out of the hospital and my father was working full time to provide for our family, it was my Nana who mostly took care of me.

My older brother and sister were teenagers by the time my mother died. I was the toddler who’d been left behind. A toddler with the same dark hair and the same light blue eyes as the daughter Nana had lost. Because Nana had been my surrogate mum so soon after I’d been born, when Nana lost her husband and her only child, I was all Nana had left in the world. Nana lived to be with me and I lived to be with Nana.

There was a short gravel road that led from our backyard to Nana’s back garden, so short it only took a minute to walk from our house to Nana’s. I spent time with Nana almost every day of the week but each time I went to see her I was so overcome with excitement I did not walk but ran as fast as I could. Even if I stumbled and fell and my knees were covered in little gravel stones I just got right back up and I didn’t cry because I knew that in just a few seconds I’d be back with Nana. Continue Reading…

Addiction, Binders, Family, Grief, Guest Posts

Consequence

April 22, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Chris J. Rice

 

Small bodies stared out a car window, helpless, listening to the drone of a voice, pitiless, and naïve, a horrible combination. Houses never furnished. Refrigerators full of liquor and doggie bags, steak slices, and baked Alaska, toddlers hidden behind beige drapes peeing on white carpet. Babies crying. Shit stains and Martini olives. Poodle yelps. Flash of ocean daylight. And remorse.

My Moody Sister died in a drug-induced coma. Dark hair matted with vomit. Fell asleep on a double bed in a Tulsa motel room beside her abusive boyfriend, and never woke up.

I jumped out of sleep to answer the phone.

“I’m calling to let you know,” my paternal aunt said. “Didn’t want you to hear it from none of them.”

Receiver to chest, I crouched down. Balanced on my heels, and rocked.

“Cancer,” my aunt said. “Had to have been. Just look at her obituary picture. Looks like it to me, like she died of cancer.”

I knew that wasn’t true. Got off the phone quick as I could and searched online for my sister’s obituary, head full of unanswerable questions. When did the drugs and drinking start? Was it because we had no real home? Why did she stay in Mama’s dark orbit so long past youth? Was it the only life she knew, or the only life she could imagine? Frantic and doubting, I searched until there she was in glowing bits, my Moody Sister.

Pixilated otherworldly eyes smiled above a brief paragraph.

She left behind three children, at least eight half siblings and survived by both her parents, was buried in an Ozark cemetery facing old Route 66. Her three children went to live with her last husband. Their names in her obituary were long jingly strings of karmic payback and wishful thinking: combinations of our Mama’s real first name alongside my sister’s absent father’s surname.

She didn’t meet her biological father until she was a grown woman.

Come from a childhood with no fixed address.

Identity, a combination of what you’ve done, what’s been done to you, flawed mosaic of who you are, and who others think you are. Not who you are inherently, but also who and where you came from, and what you were able to make of yourself.

Outcomes.

Origins.

Consequence.

She was Mama’s favorite child and most constant companion, always riding beside her in the front seat of the car as we traveled from town to town. Disregarding its isolation, she accepted the position of best loved, her dark head barely visible to the other kids crammed together in the backseat. When left behind with the rest of us she became inconsolable, running after the car, plopping herself on the sidewalk as Mama sped off. Sat there, cross-legged, head thrown back, mouth wide open and skyward, wailing with all her need, outdoors and out loud, for her Mama to come back home. My peaceful respite, lolling alone on the motel carpet unobserved with a new Nancy Drew, was her full-bodied pain.

The daughter in the front seat never learned to be alone; disconnection terrified her.

I ran away from all my family, especially my Moody Sister, putting real distance between us, and seldom looking back. Her unhappiness was of another order altogether from mine: unquenchable, indulgent, and seductively unhealthy, like too much syrup on an already too sweet dessert.

The last time I saw her, I drew her portrait. Pencils sharpened, I layered colored lines on a flat green page, porous and textured. Watched her bow her head slightly to the left, as she had done so often in our earliest days together, and recorded what I saw and what I knew to be true. Made art of our brutal detachment.

Long black bangs curled across a forehead into downcast blue eyes.

A heart-shaped face held sharp lips painted red.

Absence charged by a presence, deceptive and confounding. Continue Reading…

Gender & Sexuality, Guest Posts, Self Image

A First Grader’s Gender Identity.

October 14, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-blackBy Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser.

“Hi, Avery,” I heard my daughter’s friend, Crystal call out earlier this summer. Clad in pink tank shirt and blue skirt, Avery’s hair cupped her chin. Avery waved, and turned back to the music. Crystal and my daughter continued through the farmers market.

Avery? Last summer, Avery was Henry—about to enter kindergarten, just like Crystal and my daughter. “As soon as Crystal learned about Henry’s transition, she instantly switched not just name but pronoun, and has never made a mistake,” Crystal’s mom reported.

I wasn’t entirely surprised. Very small kids pose big gender questions: “Can boys be princesses? Why do girls get babies in their bellies?” By age five, however certain they are that boys are one way and girls another, perhaps they remain closer to more fluid, flexible notions of gender.

A small child’s interest in clothes “meant” for the opposite gender—the boy in the tutu, the girl who rejects all dresses—often passes, a “phase” dictated by a sense of style or by preferred activities, such as dance or monkey bars. Classic picture books like Charlotte Zolotow’s William’s Doll and newer ones, like Ian and Sarah Hoffman’s Jacob’s New Dress endeavor to make such explorations amongst very young children accepted (and acceptable). This takes conscious effort. For example at my house, where three sons preceded the daughter, I didn’t need to buy her a baby doll: we already had three, along with trucks and train tracks.

But what happens when a child declares, like Avery did, a territory beyond mere experimentation? What if the child’s experience is an authentic transition? How does a school respond, and how do friends rally?

Continue Reading…

Self Image, Things I Have Lost Along The Way

Keep Going. Don’t Look Back.

August 10, 2012

We never know where we will find our history, where we will discover what has formed us, what we will find while farming tomatoes or doing yoga.

Who needs a history anyway? I find myself saying except I am writing a memoir, and when one writes a memoir, one need to go back and unleash the dragons and all the locked boxes.

As I write my own book I remember all my relationships, all my loves, all the deaths, all the things that happened.

All the stories.

I once loved someone who liked to sculpt vases as gifts. The pounding of the clay, the pulverizing; the creation and inevitable destruction of matter.  The process of his sculpting was inevitable as any ritual. It was like watching women pound acorns with long rocks. Holes the size of nickels were created by the repetition, that repeated impact of stone against stone. It was meditative to watch. I can only imagine what actually doing it must have felt like.

Perhaps like creating your own life as you go. Perhaps it felt like that.

Or perhaps it just felt like sculpting.

As I write my tale, I think of him sculpting red clay into things of mythic beauty. Then letting it dry and crushing it into the earth. To be reshaped, over and over. This natural desire towards achievement he had. That we all have.

What turns into memory? I wonder as I wade through old places in my mind turned yellow with time and a certain forgetting.

Around 300 BC, the Olmec Civilaztion vanished for reasons that vanished with them. Poof! Gone from the Gulf Coast in what is now South Mexico.

We usually know why relationships or people vanish. Sometimes. Although with time that why often becomes a memory as well.

We invent what we have to.

With time, we might wonder Did I invent him? Did I invent her? Did I make up that ten year period of life in my imagination? Where is the proof that it existed? Somebody prove to me that I was a waitress for ten years, I demand it! Did I invent my father out of thin air? Did he really march us up the stairs to bed and yell “Hut 2-3-4, Hut 2-3-4”?

I wonder about the architecture of love and loss. The commodity of it and what remains after the concrete has been whittled away. The skeletons that get left after the meat is devoured. The blueprint is still there, but even the foundation has crumbled.

Everything must be rebuilt.

I am in awe of the catalysts that cause us to mutate and transform. Whether being trapped inside a volcano or having an old friend come to stay for a week on your sofa. Whether it’s having the rug yanked out from under you or losing your job of ten years or being dumped or your child dying before you. Whether it is selling your book or getting a promotion or deciding you actually don’t want to be an actor after all. We change. In ways big and small, measurable and unseeable to the naked eye, we evolve.

We change shapes and figures over and over again. We exchange one body for the next, one precious stone for a different one. One pleasure for another.

Jade used to be the most valuable stone in the world but over time its value diminished. Who can explain why the value of something increases or decreases? Or why we fall in love with someone, as quick as the pressing of your face into their shoulder blade as you ride on the back of their motorcycle, the wind slapping you with confirmation- Yes! This is love! Or a moment like the one when you watch them sleep and a surge of protectiveness knocks you awake. You want to make sure they take the next breath, and the next.  You want to watch them forever.

Who can explain why, like jade, love’s value decreases, unaccountably? And then one day all that is left is a little piece of red clay. Who can explain that change?

Who can explain why that same person you wanted to watch sleep forever, that night, there on your couch, the rise and fall of their chest a steady reminder that you were safe, that there was some consistency in the world, why this same person makes you want to beat your fists against their chest and take back time?

Which parts of our lives have shaped us the most?

Which loves? Which fingers on our cheek, which heartbreaks? Which parts of our lives have caused us to lose little pieces of ourselves?

Where do we find our history when there is nowhere left to look but forward?

You find what you remember. What’s left inside of you as you lie your head down on the pillow at the end of the day and every vein in your body pulses in a language that says Keep Going, Don’t look back.

Keep going.

Don’t look back.

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