Browsing Tag

women’s bodies

Guest Posts, Women

Dancing in the Waves: My Reflection, Water, and Aphrodite

October 13, 2020
aphrodite

By Callie S. Blackstone

The bathroom was dark except for the light emitted by a pink votive candle. The air was heavy with rose incense and the warmth emanated from the bathtub. It was my second or third year practicing paganism, yet I was still struggling with accepting the existence of any deity —  spiritual doubt created by an abusive childhood. I squinted in the dimness and read the words of the ritual calling upon the goddess.

I don’t remember why I chose to call on Aphrodite that day. I believe I wanted to connect with the element of water and knew she was a goddess associated with it. So I whispered the words welcoming her into my bathroom. I stepped out of my clothes and into the water. I tried to relax and let it embrace me, but as always it was difficult to focus and my mind was racing. Am I doing this right? I felt silly calling into the darkness. My body was tense.

Admittedly, I was also hesitant to call on Aphrodite. My education included several courses on Greek literature. Older, male teachers had explained that Aphrodite was a shallow deity, absorbed with her own looks and driven mad with lust. What connection could possibly be made with such a deity?

Aphrodite spoke loudly and clearly to me that day and told me what she expected of me.

The first thing I learned was that Aphrodite is a goddess of surprises. She did not speak with the ditzy, flirtatious tone I feared. Her voice was strong, her words loud and clear. I did not understand everything she told me on that first day. But, she told me it was time to do deep shadow work regarding my father and his legacy of abuse. She guided me, and I told my father that he no longer had control over my mind or body.

I felt my energy building and crescendoing and I visualized myself creating a psychic boundary  my father could not penetrate. He could not keep me captive anymore.

I had worked with other deities before I made an offering to Aphrodite. After the bathtub meditation I continued with my regular routine. The meditation had been powerful, but power is often frightening for those of us who have lived without it for so long. Other deities demanded things I was capable of giving. Could I do what Aphrodite was asking me?

I continued to make offerings to other deities. I spent the summer trying (and failing) to learn basic beading so I could craft sacred jewelry for them. As I toiled away, my stomach started to churn and fill with guilt. Something was not right.

Colorful beads flickered in the fluorescent store lights. I eyed bright red sale stickers and slowly walked waiting for the right purple beads to show themselves to me. My eyes rested on a seasonal display of golden summer beads shaped like conch shells and sand dollars. I fingered some small pearls and my mind drifted to that night, the night of the bathtub meditation.

I began to list the traditional associations with Aphrodite: pearls, scallop shells, roses, doves. The churning in my stomach slowed to a stop.

While I understood that Aphrodite was making a request of me, I ignored the implications. I assumed Aphrodite wanted to receive the honors other gods I worked with did: daily offerings of candles, incense, and prayers. Badly made ritual jewelry that took painstaking hours to create.

Yet, I still refused to acknowledge what Aphrodite was trying to reveal to me — that I was a woman capable of knowing herself, accepting herself, and of loving herself. A woman who would manifest her desires and accept no less from herself, let alone others around her.

I was attracted to deities associated with darkness that many others feared. But it was Aphrodite, a goddess strongly associated with all things feminine and that scholars framed as weak that terrified me the most.

My father controlled everything about my life during my childhood and teenage years. On weekend visits to his home he would sift through the clothes I brang and determine what was or was not inappropriate. His eyes lingered over my body and what I wore. The clothing that made him stare the longest enraged him and was deemed unacceptable.

Teenage independence was a double-edged sword for me: the ability to leave my father’s home for a few hours was a respite. I barely knew how to function outside of his control but I groped through these early social interactions blindly, joyous to be away from him. But when I returned the lectures and the punishments for my excursions were unbearable. Once, he told me that I should be careful during these rendezvous — “ugly girls can get kidnapped and raped, too.”

I made it through these years by dissociating. I did not inhabit my body because it was no longer my own, it was an object that attracted disgust from all of those around me. I could not stand looking in the mirror and often left the house without doing so, donning frizzy hair, toothpaste stains around my mouth, and wrinkled, baggy clothing that hid my body. I did everything it took to hide from myself, from my own body.

As I navigated graduate school I gained weight and my thighs expanded, stretch marks rippling across them. The idea of looking at my own body naked was becoming more and more nauseating.

Men had taught me that Aphrodite was a goddess of beauty, preoccupied with her own face and cosmetics. Men had taught me that Aphrodite was a goddess who betrayed Hephaestus, a god who was a skilled provider and caretaker. No one seemed to acknowledge or care that he was forced upon her.

In reality, some myths stated that the marriage between Aphrodite and Hephaestus was forced upon her to stop male deities from fighting over her. Other myths stated Hephaestus tricked Hera and forced her to give him Aphrodite’s hand in marriage. Yet, male academics still found a way to twist these facts and blame Aphrodite for men’s uncontrollable, violent sexual desires.

Shame is inconceivable to Aphrodite. She is a goddess who knows her own body and what it desires. She owns her grounded reality. Because of this, Aphrodite easily rebels against the expectations forced upon her by others. She seeks sexual gratification elsewhere when she is not satisfied by the husband forced upon her. She has sex with gods or mortals. Aphrodite laughs in the faces of men– divine or mortal– who think they can tame her. She is wild and dances in the foam of the waves that lap the beach. She opens her eyes and sees herself clearly in the water. She runs her hands  through her long hair and over her body and smells and tastes her own saltiness. She grins as she thinks of the next man she will consume for her pleasure– the next man deemed holy enough to worship at her altar.

Darkness enveloped the beach. The full moon hung pregnant and heavy, the only light source on the empty beach. The only sound was the faint, steady lapping of the waves. I brought awareness to my body, brought my focus to my breath. I let myself relax, I let myself feel my belly and my thighs, skin and flesh I had feared for so long. I whispered prayers to my own body that transcended men’s values of attraction — I thanked my body for carrying me through this life. I let myself relax into it, and could not remember ever doing so before.

Aphrodite. Goddess of self-control. Goddess of our bodies and our sexualities. Goddess of confidence. A fierce warrior of self-love. A wild woman who defies stereotypes without even acknowledging them. A woman whose language does not include words for self-doubt or permission. Goddess hungry for vengeance against oppression. Goddess who demands that we create our own revolutions by finding ourselves and looking deeply into our reflections.

I stood at the edge of the waves and peeled off my socks. My body was electric and alive, grounded in the hard packing sand beneath my feet. The waves lapped over my ankles, soaking my jeans. The water was bitingly cold and the wind ripped through me. I stepped into the water and saw my pale face reflected back at me. No fear. Nothing except for my reflection, the water, and Aphrodite. Power.

Callie S. Blackstone is a lifelong New Englander. She is lucky enough to wake up to the smell of saltwater and the call of seagulls. Her creative nonfiction has been published in special interest magazine ‘SageWoman.’ Her poetry has been published in The Elephant Ladder. It is also forthcoming in an anthology titled ‘Tell Me More’ that is being published by East Jasmine Review.

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

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

Upcoming events with Jen

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

THE ALEKSANDER SCHOLARSHIP FUND

Compassion, Fertility, Guest Posts

The Mindful Mother – When are you having a baby?

September 15, 2020
question

By Denise Castro

I recently attended a lecture on mindfulness a few months back and it stopped me dead in my tracks. I learned from our professor that about 46% of our mind wanders when having a conversation. As I write these words I am already going down my to-do list of work, dinner, laundry, mismatched toddler socks and back to these words. Our professor collaborated in neuroscience research that explores the efficacy of mindfulness training on attention, emotional regulation and working memory in high stress professions. He draws upon this expertise in the infusion of mindfulness into the learning environment. As a new mother I am constantly learning about what it means to be me in this new role in addition to the various roles I have played before. My mind wanders even more now that I am a Mother. I realize that I tune in and out of conversations because I am trying to constantly multi-task and cram all the things I need to do in a day which really can lead to program overload. Think Sad Mac symbol used by older-generation Apple Macintosh computers with the black screen of death. Followed by the little annoying horn that you just want to curse out. You keep clicking incessantly, nothing. Okay, time to re-boot. And sometimes that’s necessary. Forcing yourself to re-boot and or even shutdown. Command-Option-Esc.

I considered myself rebooted when I attended this Mindfulness lecture. It purposely brought my attention to experiences occurring in the present moment without judgment, and allowing true reflection on my life altering occurrences. I remember mine in that very moment. The voice came and it said Denise – when are you having a baby? I know exactly this person’s voice, the intent behind their question and eyes searching for an answer. Perhaps the voice is merged with mine re-asking the question. The question still remains unanswered. When are you having a baby; always seems like the question your waiting for your biology to answer. “Presently Kendra, my husband’s sperm is pinpointing the egg from the ovulation cycle that I semi tracked and will have 7-28% chance of fertilizing the egg. Will forward you the meeting minutes of that event ASAP”. Did that answer your question? Is that a satisfactory answer? Or simply put whenever the hell my husband’s sperm wants to hook up with the egg. Period. However, instead we always answer cordially with “oh, who knows, maybe soon, we will see what the future holds”. However, what we really mean is it’s none. Of. Your. BUSINESS followed by slight spike in blood pressure, mild twitch to the eye and excusing yourself to the bathroom so you can scream a couple F bombs out loud. The truth behind this question has a multitude of repercussions within our subconscious.  I would know because I once asked a Mother this question. Not being one yet myself I realized it’s actually a really intrusive question. It’s not asking about where she got her cut and color done? It’s so private and deeply personal. To that Mom – I am sorry, I just didn’t know what I was asking.

Sometimes friends and family will ask this question very candidly in an – as- a-matter- of- fact kind of way. I must’ve heard this question a million times for almost a period of two and a half years. When are you having a baby? Perhaps I should’ve written a rap song in response “When are you having a baby – featuring NUNYA – None of your Business Inc. I swear if I had a money jar for every time it was asked I’d probably be a millionaire by now secretly cursing and smiling under my breath. The truth is, that it hurts. That question hurt me. It hurt my very core and it still hurts. When you have a miscarriage this question is your worst enemy. It menaces you like a dark figure in the corner waiting to punch you in the gut. I had been punched several times until no breath was left inside of me. Just when I thought I had recovered it’d be inserted somehow in a conversation that was totally unrelated. Nobody would know that I had miscarried my first baby and had chosen to keep this information to myself as a way to cope and the memory still haunts me.  So when asked, it was as if lightning struck; allowing electric shocks to travel to all the nerve endings in my body and a finishing blow to my heart. Now, this question may pose no immediate threat except- have you ever considered that this person may already be asking herself this question over and over again. Why turns into when, when will it happen turns into what’s wrong with me, and then back to how am I going to answer the why is this happening to me. This turns into a vicious narrative that leave us emotionally depleted and unable to answer. No one in particular may ask you anymore but it doesn’t mean that it stopped it from triggering the auto-renewal of these questions to yourself. It’s like that subscription you never signed up for. Reappearing is our Sad Mac symbol with the little pop up window that reads “When are you having a baby?” Now it’s multiplied into a million damn windows; followed by the super annoying prompting horn. Yes or No reads the little window? F#*@#*# just STOP. Go away! You click incessantly; nothing.  Command-Option-Esc. Shut down. Reboot.

Being mindful of ones journey is so important; I can’t stress it enough. So stop yourself before asking this question. Our emotional regulation is similar to the lines on a seismic chart after an earthquake, erratic upward and downward lines mimicking our fluctuating feelings on the verge of collapsing. We need to train our attention to body language; and being a silent but present comfort to women who may be navigating this period in their lives. Finding a sense of normalcy and peace during the period of conception was one of the most challenging things ever. My mind was like a radio with too many talk show hosts talking over one another essentially asking the same thing. My husband silently watched me month to month doing the math in his head for any signs of a missed period and/or ovulation kit purchases. He never asked the question and I wholeheartedly appreciated it. His silent understanding is what we needed to get through this – together.

At some point we may be the woman at the baby store sobbing into a baby blanket and cradling it when she only meant to get a quick gift for a baby shower, the woman staring at the trash can questioning the three ovulation sticks with smiley positives for ovulation that just didn’t work, the woman whose crippling infertility is breaking her spirit and she’s not sure she can endure anymore needles, the woman who is now considered geriatric after the age of thirty five and has her biological clock ticking fiercely away implying she better hurry or simply miss the motherhood train. There’s the woman who cries out Why?! Dear God. Why! she was unable to carry her baby to full term and bring it home to the now empty bassinet. There’s the woman who has one child and never intended of giving it a sibling; yet we divulge about the “only child syndrome nonsense” or maybe she is trying to conceive once again but your questions just weigh her down; as she is perfectly aware that her body is not the young vessel it was before. Deep breath. Just take another deep breath. And finally the woman who simply did not want children, misjudged and scrutinized for choosing a career instead, simply put -it’s her body and her choice therefore- no baby. There are so many scenarios that need to be considered when we want to ask this question. So perhaps don’t ask it all, instead turn your attention to making it your business in blog and being mindful; you don’t know the power it may give a person to persevere; because at some point in your life you were in their shoes too.

Denise Castro is a Cuban American, a working mother and photographer, who currently resides in Miami. In response to unsolicited advice about how to handle her body after pregnancy, Denise began to blog about what it really means to be a working mom. She has previously written for Scary Mommy and Motherhood: The Real Deal. Denise blogs here. She can also be found on Instagram and Facebook

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

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

Upcoming events with Jen

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

THE ALEKSANDER SCHOLARSHIP FUND

Health, Women

We Must End Period Poverty For All Women And Girls

September 10, 2020
period

By Rita Serra

I chose to backpack around the world as a 22-year-old, pierced-nosed, May You Stay Forever Young-tattooed, Hubba-Bubba pink, blue and purple-haired, flower child. Equipped with a degree in US history and ample youthful exuberance, I was ready to feel the unparalleled freedom of solo travel. My only armor for this eight -month endeavor was my blind faith in good vibes. What could go wrong?

Four months into my wanderlust pilgrimage, airport security procedures had become a mundane chore rather than a cause for stress. With off-handed indifference, I referred to the time spent waiting in lengthy passport control lines as, “the traveler’s tax.” As I stood in the diminutive security line of Lombok International Airport (LOP,) I was pleased to pay these meager taxes that evening.

Measuring forty-seven miles across, the tranquil island of Lombok, Indonesia is relatively untraveled by tourists compared to its neighboring island of Bali, allowing the landscape and pace of life to remain much closer to its organic form. The majority of Lombok consists of rural villages separated by large swatches of undeveloped land. Although LOP is the only airport on Lombok, a single terminal is apt for receiving all domestic and international fights.

I stood in line with a placid smile as I watched the female agents check every pocket of every traveler’s bag with a Swiss watch-maker’s precision. But then, like Isaac Newton and the infamous apple he took to the head, I was struck with a sudden realization that overtook my idle thoughts. In the top pocket of my backpack was a plastic bag that contained; a brick-sized stack of Laotian currency, US dollars, Euros, Cambodian Riels, anti-malaria medication, traveler’s diarrhea pills, and a smaller zip lock bag containing off-brand Advil. The lack of original packaging making it seem as if the Advil could be any drug. In my effort to maximize packing efficiency, I set myself up to look like a suspicious character while attempting to enter a country that regularly applies capital punishment to drug traffickers and drug dealers.

Light-headed, my mind went into a hazardous spin. I oscillated between berating myself for committing such a blunder and conjuring ill-fated visions of myself sitting in an Indonesian jail cell. Stress-induced sweat droplets rose to a beady line of attention along my brow. I pushed past these negative thoughts and began to practice my explanation. Yes ma’am I know this looks weird, but I purchased all of the Laotian money from a friend to save him from a bad exchange rate, as if my inherent altruism would help me out of this situation without issue.

My turn came and an Indonesian woman with soft brown eyes and dark hair pulled into a tight bun, started to rummage through my bag with silent diligence. Standing at 5 foot 10, I towered over this woman by nearly a foot, yet I felt as if I was small enough to fit in a front shirt pocket standing in her authoritative presence. I attempted to hold a pleasant, unsuspecting smile as I wondered if this agent would believe the reason for this money and various pills, some unmarked, was due to my naiveté and not because I was a drug dealer.

The agent used her thumb and right index finger as a pair of tweezers to pluck a tampon out of my bag. Mystified, she raised the tampon until it was even with her eyes and after a few moments of greater inspection, she inquired in English, “What is this?”

I surmised that it must have been unfamiliar packaging throwing her off, so I gave what I though was a simply yet efficient answer, “a tampon.”

The bewildered expression remained suspended across her caramel-toned face. I wondered if my bluntness had been misinterpreted as curt, but then it hit me; she had never seen or heard of a tampon before. A piece of my innocence expired as I explained to this woman, who was at least ten years my senior, what a tampon was and how it is used. Her cheeks pulled back like an accordion, forming elongated, vertical smile lines and the austere formality of her uniformed appearance melted away. With an enlightened sounding, “ahh” the woman placed the tampon back in my bag, forgetting to check the final pocket, and sent me on my way.

I walked through the sliding glass doors and was greeted by the hot, sticky, humid night air like an impassioned lovers kiss. I breathed out a sigh of relief, and inhaled sharply making my lips form a tight O as my mind unpacked what just transpired. What did this woman use while on her menses? Will this woman tell her friends about what she just learned? Her mother? Her sisters? Her daughter?

 I had never considered that a tampon was not basic knowledge for all women. I sat with this profound knowledge for some time, not knowing what to do with it. But the unanswered questions remained, so I launched into conducting research on women’s reproductive health among different countries. In doing so I came across the topic of period poverty.

“Period poverty” refers to the estimated 500 million women and girls around the world who lack the monetary funds and /or access to menstrual products each month. For a myriad of these females, the root causes and devastating effects of period poverty extend much deeper. In developing regions of Africa, Asia, Central, and South America there is a substantial lack of education about women’s reproductive health, what sanitary products are, and how to use them. This issue is often compounded by the absence of hand washing stations and other sanitation facilities, leading women and girls to not be able to manage their menses in a safe, dignified manner. Extending deeper for many women and girls, the crux of period poverty is caused by the long-standing cultural stigma that menstruating women are dirty.

Within numerous communities around the world, the topic of menstruation is taboo. Women in rural India are perceived as impure and unholy, leading to them being treated as lepers and banned from entering temples and participating in prayer during their menses. Considering that the overwhelming majority of India’s population are either devout Hindus or Muslims, two religions based upon praying multiple times a day, the act of menstruating is debilitating to Indian women’s daily lives. In Nepal, woman and girls are forced to undergo the custom of “Chhaupadi” in which females are ostracized from their family homes and made to live and sleep in cramped, window-less huts because they are seen as unclean while on their menses. Due to poor ventilation and snake bits, this practice has claimed the lives of many. Chhaupadi continues today, in defiance of a 2018 law forbidding the dangerous practice. For young ladies in Uganda, they feel they must hide their periods from their brothers and fathers for fear of crippling shame and utter embarrassment.

The disempowerment millions of females suffer through every month is marked by bitter irony because without the act of menstruating, the creation of life would halt all together.

Adding to the gravity of this gender inequality issue, is the fact that period poverty impedes girls’ educational endeavors and constricts their future prospects. Worldwide, millions of girls stay home from because they lack sanitary products and/ or fear becoming a social outcast. One in five American girls have reported staying home from school due to the inability to afford sanitary products. Across Africa, it is estimated that at least one in every ten girls will miss up to fifty days of school a year because of menstruation. These habitual absences cause girl’s grades to suffer and for them to fall behind their male counterparts. Even more damning is the fact that a multitude of girls will drop out of school because they are not able to adequately manage their menses. This is the case for at least twenty percent of girls in India.

Navigating the dust-kissed, stone streets of Morocco, I often happened upon a group of school children walking in their uniforms of white coats, casting the illusion that every one of them was a young scientist on the verge of discovery. In Luang Prabang, Laos I was always tickled to see a young lady zipping through traffic on motorbike with two of her female compadres riding side-saddle, (a feat much more difficult than they made it look.) Their long ponytails waved wildly like streamers in the wind, making them seem so free, despite their school attire of navy-blue jackets, knee-length grey skirts, and nylons.

Of all my carefree experiences interacting with locals, I most fondly reminisce on a day spent in Koh Rong, Cambodia on the beach with a cohort of travelers. Three Khmer children, two boys and one girl, stopped by our blankets after spotting our idol tennis ball. The kids ushered us to our feet by means of animated hand gestures and arranged us in a large circle. Captivated by the childlike-wonderment that marks the lighthearted days of travel, we played a laugh-filled game of catch for nearly an hour.

I occasionally look back with concern at the array of silly-faced selfies of myself and the little girl on the beach in Koh Rong. It is disheartening to imagine her, the girls on the motorbike, or the young ladies in Morocco, who bubbled with life and were free from inhibition, are now routinely filled with shame for simply menstruating. I cannot help but think about all the bright, young ladies around the world whose academic standings have slipped due to the constricting realities of womanhood imposed by their cultures.

Before traveling to Indonesia, I had never equated a tampon with freedom. Awareness is the first step in bridging inequality. From my experience in the airport, I became aware that hygienic products allow women the ability to play sports, receive a full education, work a steady job, participate in religious events, go about their daily life unencumbered, and to rise to the same playing field as male counterparts.

We have made great strides in America in the field of women’s equality and reproductive health thanks to the activism of Margaret Sanger and our other feminine predecessors. In 1960, the FDA approved the use of the pill as contraceptive which was a divisive issue at the time. Many women took the pill in secrecy, afraid of being outcast or labeled as promiscuous. After decades of continued activism, these same women now lead women’s gatherings with pride and conduct ceremonies that celebrate young ladies’ menstruation, and empower them as they cross the threshold into womanhood. Today young girls are taught about menstruation health in school and women have access to an array of contraceptives and sanitary products. Furthermore, there is a Red Tent movement sweeping the nation, where menstruating women and girls are invited to come together and celebrate their menses on a monthly basis. Nevertheless, we still have ground to cover in America when it comes to eliminating period poverty.

Ending period poverty is a matter of accepting and normalizing female biology.

One way to get involved in the movement is to vote. In recent years there has been a large push to remove the “tampon tax.” Although the FDA considers tampons and other menstrual products as medical devices, in forty states they are still subject to sales tax unlike other medical devices. For the women who live in poverty or work low income jobs, removing taxes on sanitary products would make managing their menses less of a struggle. Georgia House of Representative member Debbie Buckner, presented a bill in January 2019 that would make Georgia the eleventh state to remove the “tampon tax,” As of today, activists in Georgia are still working to have this bill passed. Scotland made history in February 2020 by becoming the first country to make period products free to all women.

Supporting organizations such as, Alliance for Period Supplies, is another way to get involved in this movement. This organization was founded by U by Kotex and aims at ending period poverty in the US. Support can be a simple as shopping for your own sanitary products. For every U by Kotex purchase, sanitary products are donated to women and girls in need through Alliance for Period Supplies. For people who want to go a step beyond, consider hosting a period supply drive. This is done by linking with your local allied program, (which can be found online through allianceforperiodsupplies.org) food bank or women’s shelter to distribute the collected products. This might be of particular interest to women who have stopped menstruating, but still have unnecessary sanitary products.

On the international level, donating to organizations such as WASH United or the World Bank is a way to help end period poverty. These organization partner with groups such as UNICEF, UN agencies, the Global Water Security and Sanitation Partnership, and other NGO’s to promote advocacy and provide menstrual hygienic management (MHM) education designed to empower woman and remove cultural taboo. They also provide woman and girls with hygienic products and improve conditions for women to manage their menses in a safer, more dignified manor such as providing clean water, constructing hand washing stations, and sanitary facilities.

Finally, spreading the word is a way to promote advocacy and transform period poverty into “period positivity.” Since writing this piece, I have begun discussing period poverty with my male roommates who have all been receptive to discussing the topic. May 25th – 31st 2020 is period poverty awareness week, by sharing stories on social media and using hashtags such as, #EndPeriodPoverty #EndPeriodStigma #WithUSheCan #eachforequal #NoMoreLimits and #MenstruationMatters, we can normalize the topic of menstruation.

As the torch is carried forward in the women’s health and equality movement, we must ensure some women are not getting left in the dark.

Rita Serra graduated from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill with a degree in US history with a special interest on the social and political moments of 21st century America. For two and a half years, Rita backpacked around the world, often solo, on a quest for human connection, cultural enlightenment, historical intrigue and natures wonderment. After her period of Rolling Stone Embodiment, Rita found herself in Northern California where she currently spends her days writing prose & poetry and farming.

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

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

Upcoming events with Jen

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

THE ALEKSANDER SCHOLARSHIP FUND

cancer, Guest Posts, motherhood

Malfunctioned Muliebrity

July 31, 2020
never

By Jessica M Granger

The sights we see and the sounds we hear now have none of the quality of the past.
-Virginia Woolf

I remember feeling guilt the first time I met my daughter. I was told I could never have children and that was true until a medical procedure to treat my endometriosis while I was stationed in Texas left me pregnant by a man I had grown to hate. I decided to keep her, gave him control over my body when I decided to keep the fetus I never thought I would have and refused to give up. I was tentative when they placed my daughter in my arms. Then she opened her eyes as if she knew exactly what was going on and stared up at me with the will of a fighter. I was locked in that aged wisdom she carried in the most beautiful brown eyes I had ever seen.

*

I was headed into Kroger grocery center today and saw a man, anger in his balled fists, his body swelling, his face contorted to fit the fear he was trying to instill in a woman. He stormed away from her as she stood in the middle of the street, palms up in a questioning gesture of his unprecedented eruption, and it made me think of you. I could see myself in her and turned away, huddled deeper into my winter coat, my shoulders caving in toward my center, arms hugging my chest, and I wondered if the approaching car would hit her. Then I realized it didn’t matter.

*

My stepfather is a heavy drinker. He had been drinking at Thanksgiving dinner last year when he thought it was a good platform to inject the recent political campaign into our family discussion. He was reeling from excitement that a man who refused to be politically correct would finally put women in their place. He slammed his fists into the table in a thumping sound that enhanced every syllable of his speech. “I’m sorry, but no woman could pull me from a burning building,” he told me. “Dad, I can pull you from a burning building and I am a woman.” “Well, you’re different. You’re a veteran and you save lives every day,” he shouted, spittle flying from the corner of his mouth. I explained many women are braver and strong than I am, that there are women across the globe just like me, women willing to face danger head on and overcome it. His eyes held mine for a minute when I was done. He lingered in my words as he swayed in the oak dining room chair. When he finally spoke, he said, “You win,” but I don’t feel like I’ve won anything.

*

I think part of why I chose a male heavy career is to prove everyone wrong.

*

One day, on a walk in the cold, bitter nowhere of Eastern Europe, a stranger put his hand on my shoulder, right above the stitched American flag on my Army uniform, and recited a practiced statement I asked my interpreter to translate. He said, “I won’t walk down the street behind a woman.”

*

A woman once told me I could never be a mother and a writer.

*

Without my glasses on, I must lean in close to the mirror and see the real me in clarity. The one who smiles on the outside, who checks every blemish and tells herself it’s going to  be okay, the woman who traces the lines of her aging face back to the beginning of who she once was before the plastic surgery to repair the injuries to her broken nose after a car accident with a friend.

*

It was very early in one of my pregnancies that I discovered a second line accompanying the first, like the world’s most positive equal. I couldn’t wait to tell my husband so we could share the joy we’d been hoping for and anticipating for months, which turned into years, which turned into a crimson swirl as it left my womb to mix with the water of the shower floor a few days later.

*

The Army is a lot like miscarriage.

*

There is hope at the beginning of any pregnancy. There is happiness and love. Your expectations are high and you have dreams for the future. You picture the baby and question whose eyes will grace its face. Then suddenly it’s gone and you’re left to mourn what you never had, the miscarriage process irreversible. You can’t catch the bits of blood clot and reform it into a child, push it back into your vagina as if your life had never come apart in the first place.  Neither can an Army contract.

*

My defenses have morphed into a gilded cage around me that quivers at the proximity of a man.

*

One day, out of nowhere, I decided I’d had enough. Saying “out of nowhere” seemed to appease everyone who felt uncomfortable walking through a home riddled with holes in the drywall, pretending not to listen to the berating, to the words he truly meant when he was drunk. They said maybe I deserved it, the idea alleviating the pressure within them.

*

Being a single mother was a true test of my feministic ideology.

*

My mother allowed my biological father to go free when she petitioned the court to release him from past and future child support payments as she filed for bankruptcy due to her inability to both feed us and pay her bills. The bill collectors would be calling as I entered the house after school. They’d ask for my mom, but I kept telling them she was at work. “She won’t be home until after six o’clock,” I’d say, but they kept calling. I’d unplug the phone when my mom got home. I knew she was tired, because I could see her swollen feet stretching the nylon of her stockings when she’d finally sit on the couch. She would never eat until my brother and I had finished our meals. I remember being so angry with her then, because I imagined she was suffering in some way, but she only said, “I’m free,” when I asked why she did it.

*

I struggle with my obligation to be there for my children and my obligation to leave them at a moment’s notice to be there for my patients.

*

When something goes wrong in brain surgery and they ask me to call one of the guys to fix it.

*

I was stationed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center when I went into labor with my daughter. I was walking the hospital halls, timing my contractions with my ex-husband’s watch. They were three minutes apart. I Googled contractions and read a few articles about them. I called the Nation Naval Medical Center’s maternity ward, where I was supposed to deliver. I told them about my contractions. “Should I come in?” I asked. I was so confused; I had never been in labor before. The lady asked for my pain level, “On a scale from 1 to 10, 1 being no pain, with 10 being excruciating pain, how do you rate your pain?” I stopped walking and turned inward. I could feel my daughter shifting around, her small body rotating low in my pelvis. There was bile rising in my throat and I felt nauseous, but I wasn’t really in any pain. “Maybe a four ma’am,” I said. She laughed at me in a good-natured manner. “Oh sweetie,” she said, “you are definitely not in labor if your pain is a 4.”

*

I hate the person I pretended to be with you.

*

I was six years old when I discovered Santa Claus was the figment of a dream I could never keep. I’d begged my mother for a toy kitchen. My brother and I were dressed in our blue snowman pajamas and eager to get to bed so we could open presents in the morning, but we never actually fell asleep. A few minutes later, alone, my mother began assembling the kitchen for us as we listened under the covers. I was devastated that Santa wasn’t real, but I remember she wanted us to be happy. The next morning I can remember wishing she would be happy too.

*

My drill sergeant had my graduation certificate from basic training in his hands. He looked down at my name, then at me. He asked the crowd who crazy belonged to. The crowd was silent, no one wanted to claim me, and no one understood who I was. As I turned red, my mother caught on and stood proudly. “Jessica, is that you? Are you crazy? I’m crazy’s mom!” she kept repeating as she took her place at my side and accepted my accomplishment on the brittle certificate. It was a day no one would ever forget, September 12, 2001. I was seventeen-years-old. The World Trade Center back home had just been hit by two planes and the buildings collapsed, taking lives and our will to live without the lost with them.

*

I remember the day my daughter Marleigh apologized for the pain I’ve endured. I became upset with myself because she wasn’t supposed to found out. I should have been more discrete, should have lowered the pitch of my late-night sobbing to a dull roar.

*

I took a day off from work to run errands. I went to the courthouse to file for divorce and I had a yearly appointment at my OB-GYN. It was a few days before my 27th birthday. My doctor came in and grabbed my hand, my tiny one being engulfed by his much larger hand. I looked up at him, waited for him to speak. He kept my hand, but rolled a short stool over with his foot and sat in front of me. “How are you feeling?” he asked me. “I’m going through a lot, but I feel better than I have in months.” “How are things at home?” he asked. “I’m doing much better now that I asked my husband to leave,” I said. I knew something was wrong by my doctor’s posture, the way he worked to seem smaller than his 6’7” frame, but I couldn’t get my mouth to form the words to ask. I leaned in toward him, kept eye contact, and lingered in this final moment of reprieve. “We found some irregular cells on your cervix, but they’re not anything we’ve seen before,” he said.

*

The words possible cancer written on the front of my chart.

*

By the time I was sixteen years old, my family was already talking about my children. I knew that I would want them one day, but I also knew I was too young to worry about it. I consoled myself with this to cover the stigmatization of being a Hispanic American woman and a mother. In the end, it took me eight years after having Marleigh to garner the courage to have my son Cameron, because I worried what people would think of me, the breeding machine.

*

Marleigh approached me recently about a problem she was having with a boy in school who was bullying her. I told her the reason he’s messing with her is because deep down he really likes her. I ignored what I’ve lived for repeating what I’ve heard all my life.

*

I teach my children values I don’t believe in.

*

At each delivery they’d ask for my birthing plan when I never took the time to make one. The hospital staff would smile and tell me I was doing great. They’d ask if I wanted to watch my children breech with the use of mirrors. Each time my answer was a resounding no.

*

I remember the first time I felt around in the dark for you and you weren’t there. I’d had a nightmare and realized it was you.

*

From the time I was full of angst, a defiant teenager, I knew I wanted to donate my organs and save someone even while I was dying. My only condition was that my eyes be left in my body so no one ever had to witness what I had.

*

I called my mom during my cancer testing. I sat in a Sonic parking lot and mustered up the courage to finally press the number programmed on speed dial. My mom was upset that I hadn’t told her sooner, but she’s sensitive, and I went back and forth on waiting to tell her until I knew for sure. If I received a clean bill of health, I would have stressed her for no reason, but I needed her to understand the situation and why I was making certain decisions for the future. “I’m getting married,” I blurted. I was so afraid to tell her, to disappoint her again, because I had already done it so much throughout my life. She scoffed at my outburst and told me I didn’t know what I was doing. I tried to explain myself. “Mom,” I started, “I want to try and have another baby before they have to remove my cervix.” Cervical cancer is a slow progressing cancer, the replicating cells destroying the organ in a lumbering manner. My team of physicians agreed to let it go untreated while I had another baby if the test results came back positive. I called Granger, my best friend at the time, to ask him if he would have a baby with me. “Of course I want to have a baby with you,” he said, “but I want to do it the right way and get married.”

*

Last October, Marleigh’s boxer Loki, passed away after eleven years together. She had lost thirty pounds in six months, the dog’s ribs standing starkly through her brown fur. She began to have seizures, her body locking up as her eyes shifted rapidly when her brain began to depreciate from the pressure of the tumor. I took her to the veterinarian, but she was too old to treat a serious ailment so the veterinarian gave me his best guess. “With her symptoms, it’s most likely a brain tumor,” he said. I went home and called my parents, asked them to help soothe Marleigh in the days after we made the decision to put Loki to sleep. My daughter was devastated to lose her lifelong companion, the dog that cuddled her in bed while I left for work in the middle of the night.

*

The moment one of your children is grieving and you have no idea how to console them because you are already grieving what you once were.

*

I once witnessed my father drag my mother from the bank she worked in all the way to our house down the street. He had one hand fisted tightly in her hair as her skin tore on the concrete of the inner city street, but he kept on going. I sat pressed to the window, but I didn’t try to help her. Her eyes bulged as she begged him to stop, but he never heard her.

*

I am a fatherless daughter.

*

When I was pregnant with Marleigh, the doctors gave me the option to abort her at thirty-two weeks due to abnormalities in her growth. No one could explain what was wrong. Her long bones were being calculated at two percent of a normal child’s, they said she would be a dwarf, but there was no history of it in my family or her father’s. She was killing me from the inside. I had lost thirty-five pounds due to a diagnosis of hyperemesis gravidarum that kept me in and out of the hospital. I was weak, I needed relief. Begged for it and felt selfish afterward. In that moment, when they all sat staring at me in pressed, white coats, with ambiguous expressions on their faces, I remember being at peace with my own death if only she would live. I just wanted it to end.

*

My eyesight is failing.

*

Before I ended that call with my mother, before the results of the biopsy came back as irregular cervical cells, non-malignant, before I knew the struggle with my cervix would follow me as I aged, I knew that what I needed in my life was a stable relationship and that stability was Granger, the person who knew and accepted me more than I accepted myself at times, the person who would never raise his voice to a woman with my past. I told my mom I was sorry I upset her, but she needed me to know she just didn’t understand. “Why don’t you wait for love?” she asked me. “I do love him and he loves me,” I said, “It’s just time I saved me from myself.”

Jessica M Granger holds a bilingual MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Texas El Paso. She is an Army veteran, divemaster, writer, and mother who seeks to understand life by writing about it. Her work can be found in TheNewVerse.News, SHANTIH Journal, The Molotov Cocktail Magazine, As You Were, and Ruminate Magazine, among others. She currently resides in Columbus, Ohio.

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, 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.

Upcoming events with Jen

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

THE ALEKSANDER SCHOLARSHIP FUND

 

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.

Upcoming events with Jen

****

THE ALEKSANDER SCHOLARSHIP FUND

 

 

 

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…