Browsing Tag

women’s bodies

Guest Posts, motherhood, The Body

We All Live Here

April 16, 2020
hair

By Jillayna Adamson

First, the wrecking.

For months, my hair would come out in clumps. Gobs, pulling out in my fingers while gathering it into a ponytail, or brushing it out of my face. In the shower, the gobs were bigger, and as I rinsed the conditioner I would gather my broken hair onto the side of the tub to throw it in the trash can. In my palm, a mass, wadded and shocking.

16 months later, every single day when I strip my clothes, I am shocked at my body. If I lower myself into the tub, I get flashes of those months I was so immobilized in it, barely able to wash myself. Flashes of the huge round of my bulging belly. Of the weakness of my whole body, my legs hardly able to carry me. And I still see the endless needle marks and swells all down me. Bruised veins from the IVs. My pump hanging over the tub, its tube a trail to my bruised and scarring thigh. “I don’t like needles” my son would say, watching me reinsert the tubes every two days, tracing my body for untapped skin not scabbed or knotted with scar tissue, to insert.

Now, my hair isn’t coming out in clumps. Instead, it breaks like straw. Over one half of my forehead, you’d swear I went scissor crazy and started for bangs and changed my mind mid-forehead. And so I moved my part, dividing my hair down the middle to hide the long patch of short jagged hair. At my part, it is brittle with scattered short patches. And underneath, it’s all broken off. It coils into curls under my long blond waves that stretch half down my back. Perhaps a person wouldn’t notice, but I do. Every day it dictates how I am no longer able to wear it, and the careful ways I have to keep all the broken parts in some semblance of order.

It reminds me every day that I am in shambles.

The great bulge of my belly is gone. It’s now walking around with my same curls, wreaking general (though adorable) havoc. And my stomach has a sag of wrinkles below my belly button. A deflated balloon, extra skin bunching up in patches, slick white stretch marks now collapsed and synched. Again and again, I look in the mirror, or down at myself and I recognize a light alarm of disbelief through me. Throat shock, sinking down, down, down, to a pit in my stomach. This is me now, somehow.

I see it in the mirror, the now-lines on my face, the way the bags under my eyes have grown and darkened. How I look older, creased. And again, I feel those shambles. Not much the shambles of a great passage of time, which might feel more natural, but the tumbling shambles of experience. Of heavy living, in relatively short spans. Of getting wrecked.

You have done something amazing, they tell me. Your body has been through astronomical things—twice. You have survived grave illness twice over. I know these things. I say them too. They are true, yes. But I am still here in these shambles. Within the leftover rags of wars I somehow survived and yet don’t even feel close to out of.

*

Exhaustion exacerbates the shambles. There are almost always people on me. Grabbing at my body, laying atop me, cozying themselves into my nooks. Climbing, pulling, pushing.  Rarely am I just there with my own autonomous self. The scarce self. There are days I can’t help but flinch at the hugs and grabs of my husband because he counts as one of these beings always situated on me, or pressed close, or pulling for a kiss. The dog too. And I wonder why. Why do they all come to me? At me? On me? My body, my autonomous self so far from my own. We all live here. It’s all of ours. And the times it’s just my own, I’m scarcely awake.

But I do love these people. These grabby, needy people that ask for all of me. I love them endlessly and consumingly. But I wonder, where have I gone?

This mothering thing, it is all of you. A disappearing act. In the gain of that love, you can feel an overwhelmingly exhausting and hollow loss.

This wasn’t in the parenting books. My mum never mentioned it, nor did I ever suspect it. It occurred to me one morning, after reheating my coffee for the tenth time, that as a child it never crossed my mind that parenting—that motherhood, specifically—would be hard. Would be difficult, exhausting, depressing, depleting. I carried around my sweet, rose-skinned dolls, and swaddled them up and pushed plastic bottles to their lips without ever once considering any possible unpleasantries within it. I played house, and mothering—I always wanted 12. I was a nurturer, a lover of kids. Never once did I look up at my mum and think is all of this hard? The three kids? Three! That are always hungry, and wanting more, or complaining or fighting, or having meltdowns. Do you know where you are? I never wondered if my mother knew where she was, if she lost herself or sought herself out. And now, she comes and she visits, and she scrubs at the crust on my stove I’ll never get to, and spoons yogurt to the baby while the boy runs in loud, fanatical circles around her, and she says, “You forget. I don’t know how I did it all.” And she doesn’t blame me for being in bed by 8:30 and she says, “It gets easier”. But I can’t help but think it should have crossed my mind, as I cradled my waterbabies, or made my mum lay with me at night until I fell asleep, my little hands gripping at her arm.

I told my 6 year old son the next day, after a regretful argument. I had yelled at him—I never yelled. I hated yelling. But I had lost it, my patience had cracked. And so I told him. “It is hard, you know, being a mom.” And from the back seat of the car, he was perplexed. I watched his eyebrows furrow in the rearview mirror. He was so young, so small looking sitting in his booster. “I love you and your sister more than anything, but sometimes I make mistakes. Because sometimes being a mom is exhausting and difficult. It is a lot of work.”

“I didn’t know that” he said. “Why?”

“Well,” I answered carefully, not wanting him to misunderstand that this didn’t mean I didn’t love him, nor love being a mother. “It never shuts off or stops. Moms worry, moms do all the little things to take care of you all the time. It’s a whole lot of little things. Big things too. There aren’t breaks from it. There aren’t clear cut answers to everything. There isn’t time to do a lot of things we like to do for ourselves.”

He is quiet for a moment, taking it in. Then he nods. “I just thought you get to play like all the time. Plus grownups get to do whatever they want.” He puts his arms out, hands flexed like it’s a question he sees a different answer to.

*

When I gave up my business and we moved out of state away from family and friends, it came up most starkly. I was playing the role one hundred percent. The glue. Making the best choice for the marriage, the family. Sacrificing the elements of me—that’s what this so often was, wasn’t it?

But there, in the beautiful sun and the palm trees, in a town I knew no one and had nothing, I was just a mother and a wife. Just the glue, with no independent self. Day in and day out, the shambles of me so apparent. I felt like nothing. Like the great erasing had taken hold.

My body showed it. Cracking, breaking, creasing. The wrecking.

Enmeshed in love and devotion but also stripped and also wrecked.  Highlighting Japanese Folklore about the Crane Wife, CJ Hauser wrote for the Paris Review, “ to keep becoming a woman is so much self-erasing work. She never sleeps, she plucks out all of her feathers one by one”. I read this, and I think, yes.

First the wrecking, then the erasing. We all live here now, this body and self isn’t just me.

I push my partner away (No, I don’t want you to join me in the shower, I want literally 15 minutes without another human on or near me, thank you!), I sigh at the dog’s eyes following and beating into me constantly (Really, you too?). At the baby, holding my legs in screams as I try to make dinner, my son, asking for the 18th time if dinner is ready yet and lamenting that he will starve as he wraps himself around my waist. Not because of a lack of love or devotion. But because of depletion. Because of the tightness atop me, of the energy it takes to take a breath. There is no getting your oxygen mask on first in all of this—there isn’t. It’s a nice thought, and it’s true health-wise, sure! But it isn’t realistic. It is goddamn unattainable. It is a laugh, and every mother knows it. We, by our very nature, will scramble like hell for that mask at the final moment for ourselves because we are fucking busy and we are relied on and even when we want to take care of ourselves first, we don’t know how. The world is on top of us and screaming at us and for us, and until it stops, until we can simmer it, there is no breath, no mask. Try and tell me that we can’t help until we can first breathe, and you’d be wrong. I’d tell you, you don’t know mothers.

*

My hand travels mindlessly up to my broken chunks of hair often. Twirls their short coils. My hair has changed. It’s no longer its familiar texture, no longer thick. Sometimes my hands run through it again and again, feeling the frame the breaks made around my face. As if searching for familiarity, as if getting to know this new wrecked self.

My breasts, the soft stretching skin of my stomach. My body half nourishment, half playhouse and home for grabbing, poking, squishing. And it’s the same on the inside. The reflection is right, it is truth.

For centuries, folklore, literature and history has shown us just how love allows humans to leave ourselves for others, to neglect and deplete, but to somehow carry on, shells intact, some semblance of strength we can’t quite find the source of. And mothers are the queens of wrecked selves who soldier on, who pause in the mirror, who stare a moment longer in the bath. But don’t get to dwell a second longer than that. It’s in the background, there isn’t much noticing in it, nor heroic championing. It’s just the bare bones of motherhood. Not the main character, scarcely explored nor marveled at. I think back to mothers across cultures and time and history—mothers who have fared true hardship I could never fathom—mothers whose stories haven’t been told because they never had a moment unneeded to do so, and because these are just the things mothers do. Their sheer devotion, survival, their pain and isolation, the stripping of their selves. And why mothers have held onto this so quietly, so careful not to let their children or those around them know that this is hard, I don’t know. The core, the basic structure of motherhood is careful knives carving folds into our bodies for our littles, chipping at pieces of ourselves we’ll sew onto them. Becoming a house, a home, the food, the love, and the catcher of tears, the holder and fixer of little hearts. Allowing for, inviting the wrecking, the erasing. Our bodies and selves, the background noise, the unnoticed shell for piling into. What we become, so far beyond ourselves, a place for us all.

Jillayna Adamson is a mother, psychotherapist, writer and photographer– and can often be found wondering how just to fit all those pieces together. She is passionate about all things people and culture, and explores this through writing and photography.

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beauty, Guest Posts, love

The Pleasure Is Mine

November 8, 2019
pleasure

By Sandra A. Miller

It was the summer of my 29th year, a few months ticking down to thirty, when I left my Swedish fiancé. Blue-eyed, fetching, and fluent in five languages, he looked great on paper—and in an Armani suit—but my heart knew better and needed to be free.

After years of indecision, I moved out of our marble-floored apartment in a cushy European banking capital and flew to Boston where I had one friend and no job. I was in recovery from responsible, from a too-soon engagement to the wrong man and a life that left me in a perpetual state of longing for something bigger than a healthy retirement account. Standing alone on the cusp of thirty, I realized that I had plunged headfirst into adulthood and acquisition and had lost pieces of myself in the process. I had to rescue that creative young woman before she was gone, and then I needed to resuscitate her.

I took a cheap studio sublet on the still-ungentrified edge of Boston’s South End. I bought a rusty orange Toyota with a broken muffler as if needing to be loud. Then, after considering expenses and counting my meager savings, I gambled it all for the sake of my soul. I gave myself two months off from being a grown-up—a summer of pure and unapologetic pleasure.

Boston sweltered that July, and I only had a lazy ceiling fan to stir the heat of my apartment. I could lie in bed and smell summer in the city—street tar and Thai basil plants that I set outside my window on the fire escape. After years of living in a country known for rule abiding and wealth, those smells brought me back to my girlhood growing up in a factory town with a farmer father and gardens tucked into every sunny spot. I spent my days writing stories, reading novels, discovering Boston’s gritty urban corners where flowers bloomed like art from the pavement, and the graffitied walls of the subway told bold-colored stories of ugliness, outrage, and passion.

#

Passion. Everything whispered to me of passion that summer, and when, I met Chris, a wannabe writer six years my junior, my lust for him—my novecito—summoned my tired libido back to life. Rail-thin with a shock of blonde hair that smelled sweet and clean like baby shampoo, Chris would come by a few nights a week with a bottle of wine, sometimes take-out, often a single rose plucked from a nearby shrub. We spent our time savoring that all-night-into-morning brand of lovemaking that I needed, like a lifer in a prison craves touch. We would trace each other’s bodies with ice cubes, slow jazz on continual loop playing to a persistent hunger circling inside, a pas de deux of body and spirit. Late at night when the heat kept us from sleep, we’d stagger across the street to the Middle Eastern market for Popsicles and little packets of Sominex. Then when Chris stumbled off to work the next day, I would sleep for hours more, lazing in the morning sunlight before starting my day at noon.

On Sundays I might stroll around the corner to Wally’s Café where old black men who once played with the likes of Charlie Parker would jam with longhaired white kids from Berklee College of Music, just down Mass Ave. As other guys wandered in off the street with a saxophone or trumpet, they would be called to sit in on a set. From a rickety table in the corner, I would watch them disappear into a song, their heads nodding the beat, their faces reflecting the rhythm of a beautiful riff. Once a big, graceful black woman in a flowered red dress got called up on stage and sang “I’d Rather Go Blind.” Eyes lifted, arms raised like an angel imploring the gods of love, she put that room under a spell that not one of us could resist.

That summer was an experiment in surrender, to music, to pleasure, to love, to food, the kind I hadn’t eaten in ages: bagels slathered with cream cheese for breakfast; for dinner, a greasy slice of pizza from the shop around the corner. It was too steamy to cook, or maybe that was my excuse. I’d spent five years fussing with European measurements, preparing dishes that tasted just fine, but never like home. So, I ate out when I felt like it, giving in to cravings, savoring a fullness I’d been denying myself for a decade. Sometimes, I’d go a day on coffee and dark chocolate, then late in the evening I’d call my friend Lisa for a stroll through the South End to Deluxe Café. We’d drink salt-rimmed margaritas and play Scrabble until we were slouched across the bar, half asleep but still bickering over the spelling of some word that one of us had maybe concocted.

On scorching August afternoons, I might coax my neighbor Paul, a gay guy who worked from home, to come with me to Walden Pond in Concord. We’d waste the afternoon with our books and a thermos of gin and tonics. Once we stayed until the park closed at 8 p.m., hiding in the depths of Thoreau’s woods as the guard who cased the pond had passed by, deeming the place empty. When it was as quiet and dark as No Man’s Land, we swam naked in the cool, deep water, the best respite we could find from that clinging heat. Another time we swam the entire width, laughing so hard we almost drowned midway. We got to the other side without our clothes and the worrisome realization that we likely would not survive the swim back. So, naked, we circled back on foot through the woods, mosquitoes feasting on us as we slapped our bodies and howled into the darkness with frenzied joy.

I needed that summer to recover my soul, my kid, my sense of joy. I also developed an appreciation for the rejuvenative powers of pleasure, pleasure so good and liberating I often had to remind myself that it wasn’t wrong. It was just pleasure. Personal. Satisfying. Essential. Never in 29 years had I lived so sensuously and decadently by absolutely no one else’s rules but my own. Never had I let myself wander with abandon to the opposite side of acceptable. For this middle-class Catholic girl, pleasure was always meted out in a carefully measured dose, then swallowed down with brimming glass of guilt. But here I was guzzling right from the bottle, feeling the warmth in my throat, the heat in my belly radiating out until it coursed through every vein.

Only towards summer’s end did I start to nervous, wondering how I would walk away from this lifestyle before becoming addicted like a washed-up rocker who still gets drunk in hotel rooms and smashes lamps. Indulgence can be habit forming, I was learning, and even this cautious Catholic girl was finding it increasingly easier to surrender to the sensual, to sleep late, to laze.

But then something happened. Was it because I’d surrendered? Was it because I was looking for nothing that the magic found me, and life offered up a version of the dream I’d been living all summer?

Through a conversation in a bar one night, I met a woman who knew my college boyfriend. We had parted ten years earlier when we weren’t ready for a real relationship. But my thoughts would often stubbornly wander back to him. Now we were both in Boston, and both recently single. We reconnected on the phone and planned a date.

When that still-swarthy boy-man picked me up in my South End studio on Friday evening, I instantly remembered being 21 with him in a sweltering Brooklyn apartment almost a decade earlier. I remembered life and its pleasures before stepping onto the up elevator of adulthood. And I believed that the universe was giving me another chance to love deeply, seriously, to not just indulge in the occasional pleasure now and then, but to insist on it as a part of my life.

So, with August fading to autumn and feeling sated in every way, I relinquished my sublet, got a job, and—hand-in-hand with the man who, 25 years later, still shows me pleasure—stepped around the corner to thirty.

Sandra A. Miller’s writing has appeared in over 100 publications. One of her essays was turned into a short film called “Wait,” directed by Trudie Styler and starring Kerry Washington. Her memoir, Trove: A Woman’s Search for Truth and Buried Treasure, will be released by Brown Paper Press on 9-19-19. Sandra writes at SandraAMiller.com and tweets as @WriterSandram. You can also find Sandra on Instagram as Sandra.A.Miller.

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Guest Posts, Writing & The Body

Life Cycles

September 9, 2019
rhythms

By Abby Braithwaite

I lift myself off the front seat of my car and dig into the pocket of my jeans to extract four off-brand ibuprofen. I pick out the pocket lint and toss the pills into my mouth, chasing them down with the dregs of my son’s water bottle, chilled from a night forgotten in the car.

I’m in the parking lot of not-my-doctor’s office, waiting for a midwife I’ve never met to remove the last piece of birth control I’ll ever need — assuming I can avoid divorce and widowhood for the next decade. I’ve done my time on pills that turned me psychotic, and a few rounds of IUDs that made my cycles flare up and down, and ultimately disappear. With this last, the tiny plastic Mirena, my uterus was so damn sure she was done hosting babies that she sucked the whole contraption up inside a few years ago, string and all. An ultrasound confirmed the device was in place, no immediate action necessary, so I left it there.

But my husband got a vasectomy last fall, and I’ve decided to let my body return to its natural rhythms for a few years before it shuts off, to join my adolescent daughter as she learns to navigate womanhood on her end, and I get ready for crone-hood on mine. With my husband snipped and sperm count tested, I made an appointment to get the IUD removed. My doctor, a family practitioner, doesn’t have the tools or techniques to go in and get it, so she sent me to the big clinic I left ten years ago because it was so cold and impersonal. They were able to get me right in, so I dropped the kids off at school this morning and now I wait in the parking lot.

It’s time, I know. I swapped my mini-van for a Chevy Bolt last spring, graphic novels and granola bar wrappers have replaced board books and Cheerios in the back seat, and the other night I found myself saying, “If you guys are going to be so unappreciative, you can make your own (damn) dinner,” and the kids fed themselves on cereal, eggs and leftovers.  My daughter, almost thirteen, started her period more than a year ago; her developmental disability means she needs more support with it than another girl her age might, so we talk a lot about menstruation in our house, and her nine-year-old brother learns more every month about the trials of puberty for girls. Though they’re both peanuts on their growth charts, my kids aren’t little anymore, and there’s a lot to be said for this era of near self-sufficiency.

Five years ago we talked about having another baby, but my husband was worried about my health after two complicated pregnancies. After I spent a year getting in shape before trying again, our third child came to us in the body of a fully-formed 14-year-old, the daughter of an old friend. She lived with us almost four years before returning home last December, her time with us eating up any reserves of energy we had for another kid; the conversation about babies was off the table.

***

And so, here I am in the parking lot, not ready to go inside. Part of my hesitation is purely physical, as this removal could be pretty uncomfortable. When my doctor mentioned a “crochet hook-like tool” I knew ibuprofen would be on the menu. But there’s something else, too. I should have gotten over my grief back in September, with the vasectomy. But the surgery went so fast I didn’t even get three lines down in my journal before my husband limped back into the waiting room, ice pack down his pants. We were supposed to have a lot of sex over the next few months, to get any live genetic material out of his system while I still had protection. But then I broke my leg and wasn’t much interested in touching anyone, so he was left to his own devices. When he took a sample to the lab three months later, he was deemed sterile. I didn’t grieve then, either. So why can’t I get out of the car?

***

I remember sitting in birthing class in our midwife’s living room before my daughter was born, discussing our fears around childbirth; I wasn’t afraid of pain, or complications for myself or the baby. No, I was afraid I would reach what I deemed the **pinnacle of feminine physicality, and blow it. Not be able to birth a baby through sheer physical prowess, not be able to open myself to the primal force childbirth and push this being out of the center of me. I’ve never understood or strived to obtain the * feminine, but physicality? That’s been a thing. Always pushing to keep up with my big brothers. Finding my currency at recess by being picked with the boys for kickball and Red Rover; I found it easier to join the testosterone gang on their terms, rather than try to decipher the arcane language of flirtation, attractiveness, seduction. I had lots of boy friends but never a boyfriend, until college. And even then, and beyond, I never really figured out the game, finding myself at staff retreats in my twenties, my 5-foot tall self competing with the 6-foot tall dudes with arms as big as my thighs on the high ropes course, impressing them with my prowess, joining them for jocularity and beer in the bar, while my friends flailed and flirted and later bedded them. I never could figure out what I was missing, why I was always alone.

Now I had fallen in love with a man who loved me anyway, and conceived a child with him in the throes of a wild abandon I have only experienced one other time (three and a half years later, the night we conceived our son). I was six months pregnant and fully embracing the biological imperative of procreation; I wanted to push that baby out. But instead my body reacted against her. I got pre-eclampsia, we induced labor to get me well, and the baby’s heartrate fell through the floor, and she came into the world under a surgeon’s knife in a sterile operating room. We were just happy that I was healthy and the baby was here, and we went about the business of becoming parents. In the coming days we would learn our daughter had an extra 21st chromosome, and suddenly everything seemed more important than how she came into the world.

But we would have more kids, I would have another chance to reach this mythical milestone. Hah. Kid number two sat up like a little Buddha in his cozy womb, and try as we might we couldn’t get him to flip over; once again I found myself in an operating room, another surgeon with his knife at my midsection, and our boy was born, butt to the ceiling. This time, I was mad and sad and not distracted by anything but how unfair it was that I had been robbed, again, of the opportunity to prove myself a woman. My sweet boy was suckled on milk with a tinge of rancor, but he made it through; we all survived a few dark months of post-partum disorientation, and in the depths of my heart I planned another chance that never came.

***

So here I sit, a few days from 44 and a tiny bit reluctant to declare that this old body is done generating new life. The last two times I went off birth control, we made a baby in a matter of minutes, but this time I’m becoming fertile again for no reason other than my nostalgia for natural rhythms.

It’s time to go inside. As I unplug my phone, I notice a pink bread tab stuck in the bottom of the cup holder. I pick it up, fiddling it in my fingers, feeling heat rise from my crotch to my cheekbones. Thanks to an off-the-cuff comment in a marriage counseling session, bread tabs became the **token in our sexual economy, and they appear EVERYWHERE. My husband and I came into the marriage with wildly different intimacy needs, and the chasm between us was widened by pregnancy, and this hang up of mine that my body let me down in childbirth. And so, for our tenth anniversary we gave ourselves the gift of marriage counseling. We worked on boundary issues (his), control issues (mine), rejection issues (his), control issues (mine) and tried everything from assigned sex days (**Fucking Tuesday, you choose the inflection) to, somehow, bread tabs. If he handed me one before six pm, I could accept or decline. If I accepted, I was committing to sex that night, even if I just wanted to lie down and sleep. He had the worst timing, handing me a tab the moment I cleared my lap of dogs and kids and inhaled my own space for the first time all day. Other days I would accept, fully intending – wanting — to follow through, and then renege when I was just too tired. I started to throw away every bread tab that came into the house, while he snatched them up from other people’s kitchen counters.

But in the last few months, for the first time in our 15-year relationship, I have initiated intimate encounters almost as often as he has. He blames his vasectomy, convinced it has lowered his libido, a dose of emasculation good for our marriage, not so good for his ego.

I credit the two months I spent in bed recovering from surgery on my broken leg, relinquishing control of the household. All fall, I listened to my husband getting the kids up and out the door every morning, working with the babysitter to keep us fed and cared for, running the show with a strength and grace I had never seen in him – never ever allowed him to show me, with my relentless gathering in of every important and trivial detail of running our home. So we fell into some twisted version of ourselves, a partnership that worked, in its way, but that wasn’t true. Even after three years of marriage counseling, open and honest counseling, where we cut incredible paths back toward each other, there remained an impenetrable thicket when it came to sex, and we surrendered to this as a truth of our marriage.

As I lay there throughout my recovery, incapable of anything more tangible than being present, I watched my husband step up and in, not as a father, because he’s been an incredible dad since day one, but up and in to a confidence and competence that I am ashamed to say I may have been unwilling to see. And it’s sexy.

I smile and put the little pink piece of plastic back in the cup holder, thinking I should hand it to him later. Letting the flush move through me, I climb out of the car and walk across the sunny parking lot into the clinic.

***

As it happens the midwife is wonderful, finds the IUD string with nothing more invasive than an oversized Q-tip, and sends me off with a warning that, with the device removed, I could start bleeding at any time, there’s no way of know where I am in my cycle, and I spot a bit over the next couple days. On Sunday, my husband texts me while I’m out in the studio — ** Black underwear days. Our daughter has started her period again, and he’s digging through the bathroom drawers to find all the blood-absorbing Thinx panties, making sure they’re stocked and clean for her week ahead. I make sure they don’t need me, and step outside to pee in the woods. Whoops! Seems my body has noticed the IUD is gone, and I’ll be bleeding with my girl this week. Better dig out the Diva cup and remind myself how this whole process works. It’s been awhile.

Abby Braithwaite lives in Ridgefield, Washington, where she sometimes writes from a converted shipping container in the woods overlooking the family farm. Her essays on parenting, escape, and disability have been published in the Barton Chronicle, the Washington Post and the Hip Mama blog, as well as a handful of non-profit newsletters. She shares her home with her husband and two children, and whoever else is passing through

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

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, Writing & The Body

Her Own Beast

December 19, 2018
animal

By Natalie Singer

Once there was a girl who had a wild animal. She had never touched the animal but she knew deep inside her body and her soul that it was hers. She didn’t remember when she first understood she had an animal, maybe she was 12 and it was her first summer away at sleeping camp and she stayed in a canvas tent on a metal cot made up with a sleeping bag and old threadbare floral sheets that felt soft when she rubbed them between her fingers with three other girls including one named Frankie who peed her bed. Frankie peed her bed but she also showed the girl how to peg her jeans tight around her mosquito bitten ankles and hide her candy in a lockbox under the cot so the counselors wouldn’t find it and how to whisper late into the night without getting caught while the July rain drip drip dripped on the dirty canvas roof of the wooden platformed tent. Maybe she met the animal then, that summer, at the summer camp in the mountains with the tents among the pines. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Trauma

MY GHOST BODY’S THOUGHTS

November 29, 2018
ghost

CW: This essay discusses sexual assault and eating disorders

By Cyndie Randall

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.”
– Fred Rogers

“Survivors feel unsafe in their bodies. Their emotions and their thinking feel out of control.”
– Judith Lewis Herman

The carpet was bitter this morning. It jammed itself between my toes – the first resistance – and burned the skin on my knees like tiny pin pricks.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

I never say “Amen” without remembering the empty, sweaty hands I’ve held in countless circles of healing.

Several complex galaxies were pushing on my back by the time I stood up, each so heavy that I went looking for my daughter and apologized to her immediately.

“Why are you sorry, mama?”

My body told me I’d be crawling back into bed after tea, so I answered her by giving an advance on the second apology.

The third one came a few hours later – “Oh my! Sorry!” The clock read 1:30 p.m. and I was still wearing a tattered nightgown when her friend bounced up the driveway and to our door. Continue Reading…

beauty, cancer, Guest Posts

Accessorizing

July 11, 2018
chemo

By Annarose F. Steinke

At first the jewelry takes me by surprise: chandelier earrings, layered necklaces, sequined infinity scarves that have no business in a room where store-brand cans of pineapple and orange juice are the only drinks served. A big show is made of giving these things ample space on tiny end tables alongside Dixie cups of Tylenol. Companions are ordered to remember these silver hooks and spirals once the session ends, and in the meantime, to keep an eye on the table should the items’ owners need to use the toilet. Simply standing up while making sure to lift the arm so that the wrist retains the IV and the IV stays attached to the machine that must be wheeled into the bathroom while managing the door lock with the free hand, all while the first dizzy spell begins (no, thank you, I can manage) is such an all-consuming task that asking after your Alex and Ani bangles set in that moment is out of the question.

I used to wonder why they won’t leave these things at home, but now I know why all of it must be worn, even if only in the lobby. I recognize the sigh from the woman two seats down as she uncoils ropes of translucent orange beads from her neck: it matches my tone when telling the scheduling coordinator to hold as I shake out receipts and crumbs and broken pens from three different purses when I could just as easily store the Medical Record Number card in my wallet with my driver’s license and the other items anchoring my everyday. Now I understand that “fighting cancer” does not mean doing certain tasks with gusto but refusing to grant others the time and care they’re supposed to deserve.

As for me, I wear my great-grandmother’s rose gold chain, its sharp rectangles falling just below my collarbone and exactly where a chest port would be if I needed one. My grandmother’s accompanying note reads “I want you to wear her things. NOW!” and I honor her demand. Wearing this chain, I grasp the concept of a “statement” necklace: this piece states that I’m not here long enough for a chest port, this searing jab to my wrist is truly a perk of this good-kind lymphoma, and the nurse is visibly annoyed at the extra work so my demeanor had better be accomodating since my small veins are not. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing, The Body

Robot Kisses

August 27, 2017
shower

By Laraine Herring

You’re separated from your family at 5:30 am and taken with a group of six down a wood-paneled hallway into an older, darker portion of the hospital. You’re assigned a bed and given a plastic bag for your clothes. You have to take your third pregnancy test in three days because, why the eff not, even though you haven’t had anything to eat and very little but Gatorade mixed with Miralax in three days in preparation for your second colonoscopy in two weeks and the colon resection surgery, and besides, all that rectal bleeding from the malignant tumor didn’t make you feel very sexy. You wonder if men have to take a fertility test before surgery. Seems only fair.

You tell them your name, again, confirm your birthday, again, and they scan your barcode on your ID bracelet, which is next to a wristband that contains the numbers for your blood vials, which are stored somewhere in the building should you need a blood transfusion, permission for which you had to give 48 hours previously. Your allergies are marked on a red band, and now you have three bracelets. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, The Body

Figure Modeling

April 19, 2017
naked

By Jera Brown

The moment I disrobe and step up naked on a platform where anywhere from two to a dozen pairs of eyes are staring at me has never bothered me. I don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed. Before I started figure modeling, I’d enjoyed other public nudity experiences which led me to believe I’d be a good candidate for the gig.

There were other reasons I started modeling. As a broke graduate student, it is a way of supporting the arts without the ability to buy much. It’s also physically challenging, and I love a good challenge. And — though this was not something I consciously admitted to myself when I considered modeling — I believed it would help me love my body more. I was wrong.

I model for members’ organizations where artists pay a fee for studio space and access to models and for classes where new and intermediate artists learn how the body works and discover their unique style. Here’s how it works: Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image

Pale Pink Robe

April 16, 2017

By Anonymous

I have a pale pink silk robe hanging in my closet.  Every time I open the door, it makes me feel delicate and artful and foreign and adventurous. In life, I am better off in a gray zippered sweatshirt because of the coffee I dribble, the olive oil spatters that zap me when stir-frying onions, the mascara wiped on my sleeves from the night before. Once a week I put the silk on, feel chilly, and go back to the sweatshirt.

But, god, I love that robe.

I bought it at the Casbah on Sunset. The Casbah was my favorite place to write ten years ago. Everything was beautiful and curated and sheer and perfect and the coffee was strong and there was the sense that the owner didn’t treat the staff like garbage. It was a good place to be. A good place to write and get hopped up on caffeine and candied apricots and look at huaraches and baby T-shirts and Turkish towels I could not afford.

When I look at the robe in my closet now, I think of the day I got it. I was with two friends. I had stared at it during previous visits. The perfect, barely blushing pin-up, nippley shade of pink with a muted, red, woodblock pattern, a simple cut, sheer-ish, a belt. Continue Reading…

Abortion, Guest Posts

The Boy With No Name

April 14, 2017
winter

By Carmen Calatayud

When my son died
a thousand miles away
I made my arms a cradle.
~Kelle Groom, from the poem “Marguerite”

In the dream, it’s wintertime and I hate winter. I’m scared of the cold in the dream as well as in real life because my body can never get warm enough.

There is a hill with a naked tree, its limbs shivering. There is snow and wind and a dead grey sky, as though winter will never end. I’m not sure I can survive if there’s no escape from the cold.

Then a voice: I know this is the winter of your discontent. I have not forsaken you.

I wake up sobbing and realize I was weeping in my dream. I’m weeping into my pillow even though there’s bright desert sunlight streaming into this bedroom in Tucson. This voice, a mixture of Shakespeare and Jesus, is unlike anything I’ve ever heard in a dream. I’m convinced it was the voice of some deity or higher power that hasn’t forgotten me. With a broken voice, choppy from the sobs, I tell my boyfriend about the dream.

This dream comes one week before I learn the reason I’ve been feeling so sick for the past 2 ½ months, much more than usual. I’m pregnant.

***

When I was the moon, I wasn’t whole. Just a blue half-circle drifting through the sky. After I sloughed off pieces of myself I became a quarter moon, a sliver of light that gingerly rocks back and forth like a porch swing.

This is what I remember after the abortion—just a sliver of me being left, and a sliver of a child being sucked out of my uterus with a vacuum that hurt more than I could have imagined. It hurt so badly that I asked the doctor to stop. He couldn’t. I got dizzy from the sharpness of the puncture and suction.

My son was sucked out of me and spit into the sky. I couldn’t imagine where else he could go, so I saw his pieces in the Sonoran Desert darkness.

Each small star was a spark of my boy, glitter above me every night.

***

I go to the doctor because I feel sick, more than I usually do from what is chronic fatigue syndrome. Since the doctor is concerned about an ovarian cyst, she does a sonogram. I look at the screen as she drags the gel-covered wand back and forth across my skin, until a black and white picture appears.

“You’re pregnant.”

“Are you sure?” I’m stunned and feel my cheeks burn from the shame that I’m pregnant and didn’t know it. I’ve been nauseous for weeks, and had missed my period, but my period was already erratic. I thought it was the flu.

It’s a few days before the 12-week cut off for legal abortions, so the doctor reminds me that I have to decide quickly.

“I’ll support you whatever you decide,” she reassures me, her voice steady, warm. Then she pauses and I hold my breath.

“But you need to know that this is going to be a difficult pregnancy.”

I imagine what it would be like to hold my son. What he would look like, how he would sound. An August-born boy. I consider who his father is: a father of two young children who need and deserve attention, a heavy drinker, cocaine user and gambler who insists he is my soul mate. All of these addictions wash through my insides and create a pool that never drains. My body is heavy with this water, swollen and scared.

***

Little boy, if circumstances were different, I might have had you. I might have weathered being sick for nine months straight. But I didn’t believe I could survive what my life had become and hold you above it.

I sit outside the apartment door on a warm winter night in the desert. The stars are out. I see pieces of you float freely and sparkle in this universal life of yours.

You race across the Milky Way while my life stands still on Earth.

I’m stale and pale white, afraid of your father, an empty future, and the shrinking amount of change in my jar.

Poet and writer Carmen Calatayud is the daughter of immigrants: a Spanish father and Irish mother. Her book In the Company of Spirits was a runner-up for the Academy of American Poets Walt Whitman Award and a finalist for the Andrés Montoya Book Prize. Recently her poetry has appeared in Poet Lore, Origins and Cutthroat. The Boy with No Name is an excerpt from her memoir. Visit carmencalatayud.com. 

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Guest Posts, Health, The Body

Why We Must Remain Vigilant: An Affordable Care Act Story

April 3, 2017
vigilant

By Jenny Giering

For me, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act is a life and death issue.

I used to define myself in various ways: a musician, a mother, a wife, a yoga devotee, a cook. Some friends (and my husband) called me the Energizer Bunny. Now: I am the poster child for Universal Health care.

The day I got my breast cancer diagnosis, I was in the process of re-certifying through the Massachusetts Health Connector (Massachusetts’ version of the state health insurance exchanges) for the following calendar year. My local Navigator, a local public health official trained to help with the application process, told me about Massachusetts’ Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Program, a Medicaid initiative designed to cover middle and low-income women through their treatments. We were relieved to discover I qualified. Our two children were simultaneously enrolled in MassHealth (Massachusetts’ Medicaid program) and their care became free as well. This was what saved our family from financial ruin. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, The Body

Mythical Beasts

March 28, 2017
hair

By Beth Cartino

“Don’t you secretly want to be fuckable?”

We were in my small kitchen and I was cutting her bangs when she asked me this.  I had just finished dying her hair to cover the course white wires that were sprouting and multiplying on her scalp. I froze for an instant comb and shears halted in midair and then…

“No,” I said the word with conviction. Her brown eyes peered up at me through her thick dark brown hair, I could feel her assessing my answer trying to decide if it was the truth, and I looked way from her focusing instead on making sure her bangs weren’t crooked.  We were both silent for a while and I moved around to the side and began to cut in long layers to frame her oval face (the perfect face shape according to every fashion magazine ever).  Into the silence and safely unable to make eye contact with me she says, “I always want guys to want me, you know? I’m single and I’m almost fifty.”

I hear the unasked question in the slight tremble that enters her voice and the way it raises in pitch at the end.

What if no one ever wants me again?

What if this is it?

What if I die alone? Continue Reading…

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