I can't remember the first time I experienced the cognitive dissonance of looking at my body and knowing logically it was mine yet feeling like it was a completely separate entity from my inner world, but I remember the first time I tried to talk about it with someone. I couldn't have been more than seven or eight. This was before the impending deaths of my father and grandfather, and my grandparents were driving me back home after a weekend spent staring at the opium weights they had purchased on a trip somewhere in South Asia. My gaze remained steady as I listened to my grandfather's stories about his time in a camp in WWII, his voice trembling as he vacillated between dark jokes and terrorized tears. My grandmother always said he never left. It was as sunny as always as we turned down the street in San Diego where I spent most of my childhood, claustrophobically so. I peered out the window at a plastic green lawn then down to my hands and thighs, a familiar dissociation overwhelming me as I flexed my tiny fingers, examining the peeling skin around nails I bit so short that they bled. My wrists were always bleeding too, along with the back of my knees and the tender skin around my chapped lips, symptoms of my eczema. Even with medical creams underneath layers of bandages, I still scratched while I slept, ripping myself open over and over. I wonder now if I was trying to penetrate this flesh in an attempt to find some connection to this mind underneath. I'm reading a book about trauma called The Body Keeps the Score. One scientific study found a correlation between autoimmune disorders and significant past traumatic events. These events set off a fight or flight response, and the body can overcompensate so greatly that it begins attacking itself. Eczema is an autoimmune disorder. My recollections of my childhood are shrouded, vague shapes, but mostly obscured. This memory in the car is one of the few I have. Maybe this can be attributed to it being a key exemplifying moment of the disconnection I always felt between both pieces of myself and between myself and others. As I gazed at my tiny thighs- how strange it was that they were so slight! Microscopic in the scope of this planet- I asked my grandparents if they too looked in the mirror and saw foreign beings staring back. I assumed it must be universal, and I wanted to understand why it happened and how to cope with it. My grandmother said she had no idea what I was talking about. I now understand that this fracture was made sometime during the course of my life and is not an intrinsic state, but it's still hard to fathom the idea that most people have never experienced this sensation. I don't remember a time where it wasn't always occurring to some extent at any given moment whether I'm thinking about it- naming it- or not. Even when I do not give it attention or words, it scuttles around in the background of my consciousness. I've found ways to alleviate some of the most distressing aspects of this reality. Tiny needles filled with ink have penetrated my skin, depicting visions congruent with my inner world, reminders that this body is mine. As they increase, so does the reassurance that I'm connected to these limbs. Still, there have been times when the chasm between here and there have felt deeper, even recently. Last spring I spent exactly seventy days alone. Towards the end of this period I was tormented by a delusion I knew to be intellectually impossible, yet some part of me still felt it was real, like experiencing fear while watching a horror movie. You know it isn't happening, but it doesn't stop the nightmares. It consisted of the idea that if I was to look in the mirror I would see nothing there. If I looked at my limbs, they'd disappear before my eyes. The only thing confirming my existence was the heaving inhalation and exhalation of the walls of my apartment. Weeks of words unspoken can make you wonder if you're real. What is the difference between me alive and me dead if there is no evidence that I'm still here besides my own perception? I've come to the conclusion that seeking this sort of reassurance that I'm real from others is futile. When I think of that moment in the car, I am most struck by how much more isolated I felt when there was no solidarity, even lonelier than the seventy days I spent alone. Now I'm trying to connect the veins that pump blood through my body to the veins where intangible, hidden, ancient parts of my being reside. Just as my body is mine and mine alone, so too are the chasms. I'm the only one who can navigate them. I'm hoping someday that this archeological dig through my consciousness that I've embarked on might make me feel present in this corporeal form. It hasn't happened yet, but I'm starting to become the understanding adult the seven year old inside me still aches for. This body might still feel like a complete stranger sometimes, but she doesn't.
The sun was high up in the sky, shining with all its warm glory. I was sitting with my legs crossed on the floor of my room right under the air conditioner, reading. This amount of heat was not a unique sight during the month of June in Delhi. An ideal summer. What else would a just-turned teenager be doing in her summer break? Here I was, enjoying the last of my summer vacation, unaware that my life was about to be changed, entirely. Before long, the sun had started moving to the west and I decided that this was a good time to go cycling with my sister. My sister is younger than me by four years but we are each other's best friends. While I do have some really close friends from school, none have been with me as long as her. After about three quarters of an hour cycling around the neighborhood, I tediously dragged her back to the house. Usually we would have stayed out longer, but not today. Today papa would be returning early and I had to make some serious plans with him. Of course, I couldn't tell this to my sister because then it wouldn't remain a surprise when it was actually her birthday. As anticipated, our dad came back early. It seemed that he was just as excited as me which was a little rude since it showed that he liked my younger sister better. But I let it slide this time. He took off his shoes and was getting freshened up; with me waiting outside his door as a person who really wanted to use the washroom would. As soon as he was done changing, I took him to his room and began flooding him with ideas for what we could do on my sister's birthday. Only he (politely) shut me down immediately. Huh! Had he already made the plans without even including me? I thought. In a still excited tone he said “Calm down, we'll talk about this later. I need to tell you guys something. Let's go out in the living room.” He had to tell us something? But what? Curiously, I followed him. My mom was busy preparing the dinner and my sister staring at the television. My dad went ahead and retrieved some papers from his office bag. He went into the kitchen with me still following him at his tail. He asked my mom to join us outside to which she replied “I am not done with the dinner yet. Can this wait?” Apparently, it couldn't. So, there we were, the entire family sitting in the living room. My dad handed over the papers to my mom and she read. Now me and my sister were both baffled. We tried peeking over our mother's shoulder but before we could get a good look, my mom let out a loud gasp. What was happening? Our parents rejoiced while we just stared at them. After about a minute of this, our dad told us. “I have an interview at our bank's headquarters in Kolkata. They believe that I have been performing really well and now that I have cleared promotional exams, they really suggest I should give the interview.” Okay, so they were just excited about his promotion. I was expecting something more eventful but this could work too. My dad continued “and if I get selected after the interview phase, we could potentially be transferred to Hong Kong.” Okay, what!? Now it was me and my sister's turn to freak out. We could live in Hong Kong? We who had never even set foot outside of our country? This was surreal. I didn't even know that papa's bank had branches in places besides India. My sister and I hugged our dad so hard that we almost knocked him over. The rest of the day (which was only a couple of hours) was spent as we would on a festival. Soon enough, it was time for our dad's interview. We think he had prepared really well for it but wished him lots of luck nevertheless. He returned after two days and informed us that he thought he did well too. We had gotten our hopes up really high and it was not futile. He received the letter days later informing him that he had been selected to work at the Hong Kong branch for his bank and that we had to leave in a month. I don't think I had ever been so sad and excited all at the same time. On one hand, I was getting the opportunity of living outside of India and gaining so many new experiences. On the other hand, however, I had to leave behind so much and so quickly that it made my heart ache. Although I would have my family when moving to a completely new place, I would be leaving behind my two best friends from school (quite possibly the best people I have ever met so far). Throughout my childhood, I had moved from city to city and had to build my whole social life from scratch every time that happened. The thought of going through that one more time overpowered the dopamine rush from hearing such good news. I went through some serious brooding and heartfelt goodbyes after a crazy last month but it wasn't all bad. I constantly reminded myself that I could keep in touch with friends here and make new friends in Hong Kong and that everything will be fine. Turns it out, it was true. To gain something means to lose something else. It just depends on how you look at it.
I watched joy bubble in her heart as she said "I Do" to the love of her life. I could feel her happiness as she stared into his eyes and envisioned the start of a good life with the only man that swept her off her feet. Her smile was infectious and broad, reaching her eyes and spreading throughout her features as she had eyes for only one man, the man whom she would build a new world with, whom she would cherish for a lifetime and grow old in his arms. He drew her close and kissed her full on the lips when the Reverend said "you may kiss the bride" and we all applauded. The occasion was a memorable one and my best friend Vera was married to Vandy as he was fondly called in the full presence of her family and friends who wished the new couple nothing but love and happiness in their new home. Sadly, that happiness was short lived and replaced with visits to the hospital a few days after the wedding. Doctors appointments took over the honeymoon, kisses were replaced with prayers for recovery, life plans were replaced with charts for medication and together forever grew farther away as his health didn't improve. That fateful morning greeted me with news so heart wrenching that I couldn't help the tears that spilled out. She told me that her Vandy was gone, never to speak words of endearment to her, never to hold her lovingly and share dreams with her, never to touch her passionately and grow old with her, never to smile again and share this world with her. She was heartbroken and distraught, in denial and pain, shock and disbelief as she watched life take away someone so precious to her and her heart broke over and over again. How are you doing Vera? I asked, her only reply is to burst into tears and say, "my sugar is no longer in this world". Days passed as preparations to lay him to rest commenced and I watched my dear friend transition from a young twenty three year old lady to a widow mourning her husband one month after she tied the knot. As tradition would have it, she had her head shaved, she wore black clothes, she was holed up inside surrounded by older women who comforted and guided her through all the procedures. It was devastating to watch my beautiful, fun loving, energetic and vibrant best friend lose her light and vigour because life stole something precious from her. She was mandated to stay indoors, to avoid the backlash and stigma that would follow such an untimely and unexpected experience. My best friend matured before my eyes as she found courage to mourn the loss of her husband, endure the probing eyes and side talks, sneers and insinuation from people who think they are saints and god's. I could feel her sorrow behind the calm lifeless smile she shared with people around her, I could tell she was scared and confused, she was alone and drowning in the uncertainties of what to come after everything. That experience was a hellish one for someone as young as she to go through and I know she still struggles with it everyday of her life. To my best friend Vera, you are the strongest woman I know. You have endured more than any young woman I have ever met and you came out brave and strong. In the face of all that you went through you never grew cold or let the emotions bury you under its crushing weight because you kept fighting back. You are a conqueror and a queen, you rose about your pain and fought to be a part of this world and enjoy what life holds in store for you. I admire you my dearest and I pray in my next world to know a friend like you. You will love again, you will feel loved again, which won't make you love Vandy any less or forget him in an Instant. He is always in our hearts and I bet he wants you to find someone special to love and cherish with all your heart. Smile for the world to see that you pulled through, that you persevered and came out better and stronger. Smile for the world to know that you are not afraid to love again. Smile for me to show me that you are okay and moving on. My dearest Vera, this tribute is for you. Thank you for being the strongest woman I know. Your best friend, Jane.
When I was in seventh grade, I took an aptitude test that told me I should seek out a career as a butcher. This seemed like a shocking conclusion since, to my memory, none of the questions gauged my knife skills (poor) or my interest in animal entrails (quite low). In an act of defiance, I bucked my destiny and went on to get a bachelor's degree in Communications. My first job was with an arts organization run by a married couple. David and Elle were “free spirits” who tried to hide their entitlement behind eccentricity and pass off their lack of personal or professional boundaries as avant-garde. A couple of months into my tenure, the office was abuzz. World-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma was in town and would be dining at the home of my bosses. “Jen, you and Therese will need to go to our house to meet the caterers soon, so they can set up for dinner,” Elle informed my supervisor as she flitted manically around the office. “By the way,” she said with an air of forced casualness, “we've been having a bit of a…ladybug problem. So, if you happen to see any, just vacuum them up, if you could.” She hurried away as Jen and I exchanged raised eyebrows. David and Elle lived in an affluent suburb about 40 minutes outside of the city, in a mansion full of sleek, brightly colored furniture and peppered with experimental (read: nude) art. The house was swelteringly hot, even though it was March and nobody had been home. After setting down our bags and shedding our coats and blazers in the entryway, we took stock of the dining room. I gawped a bit at a large pair of purple breasts staring back at me from a painting hanging above the long table. The far wall of the room was made up entirely of windows, opening on one side to a raised deck and looking out over an in-ground pool on the other. The view was slightly marred, however, by concentrations of dark specs scattered over the bottom quarter of each tall pane of glass, like a bacterial culture growing on a clear petri dish. Jen and I glanced at each other and moved closer to the window. We stopped short when we got near enough to see that Elle had not been exaggerating about their little problem: each dark spec was, in fact, a ladybug. “Shit,” Jen muttered and turned on her heel back toward the kitchen. I quickly followed. “Do you know where they keep their vacuum?” I asked as she strode into what appeared to be a laundry room, dreading the prospect of sending a bunch of innocent ladybugs to a dusty grave. “No,” her reply was somewhat muffled as she rifled through miscellaneous household items. “…but this will do,” she emerged, grimly holding up a small blue handheld dustbuster. That's how we found ourselves, dressed in business casual, crawling on our hands and knees on the heavy off-white carpet. Jen led our bleak two-woman parade, sucking up all the ladybugs she could with the dustbuster. I brought up the rear with a roll of paper towel, scooping up those mercifully left behind. Kneeling in my blue pencil skirt, sweat accumulating under my stiff button-down shirt, I wondered how in the hell I had gotten there. Every four feet or so, we would get up and run out onto the deck. Jen opened up the dust buster, I shook out my paper towel, and we set the ladybugs free. We finished up the operation in plenty of time, a bit disheveled but surely less so than the ladybugs. The catering staff arrived shortly thereafter and began unloading large foil trays of food in the kitchen. The warm, spicy smell of potato samosas filled the room, made all the more tantalizing by the knowledge that we were not invited to stay for dinner and thus would not be partaking in the food. My mouth watered as I pushed down a wave of hunger. Glowing headlights appeared through the front windows, signaling the arrival of David, Elle, and Yo-Yo Ma himself. Jen and I quickly smoothed our rumpled blouses and skirts; I tried to pat down my flyaway hairs and performed a quick armpit smell check. David and Elle whirled in, all disingenuous warmth, showering us in greetings and feigned gratitude as we took their coats and hung them in their own closet. Mr. Ma followed close behind. He smiled genially as we made our introductions, waving away my handshake and offering a kind hug. The group ventured off for a tour of the house, and Jen and I were free to go. I snuck a few potato samosas from the kitchen and bid Jen goodnight. As I drove home, I remembered that aptitude test from seventh grade. I may not have been fated to become a butcher, I thought to myself, but I had dipped my toe into another unexpected profession: exterminator. Maybe the writers of the test knew what I was starting to learn – that you can't genuinely plan for much of anything, and throughout your life, your career path will twist and turn towards and away from what you actually studied. Or maybe they just got a kick out of messing with pre-teens.
I made mistakes and bad choices. I made poor decisions in life. Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and reverse my actions. I have been stubborn, selfish, hard-headed, indecisive. I took so many risks without considering the risks at all. I love too much and fall so hard. I do my best at work and get so little in return. I trust so much and get hurt too often. I enjoy the company of others and the comfort of solitude. I make my friends smile and laugh yet I can't even make myself happy. I can give hard-core advice but I can't even solve my own dilemmas. I am a living irony. My world is my stage. And it seems like everyone's enjoying the show. Except me. Maybe in my next lifetime, I'll be the woman that I dreamed to be. Maybe I'll find closure to all the hanging questions in my head. Maybe. For now, I'll just live in irony.
I was not actually thinking of it until I felt like I was asked to write about it, so here it comes. At quarantine I wasn't living that much but I was feeling so much, emotions which I learned to name during therapy, that I do for a long time now, but I forgot because for a really significant amount of time I haven't been dealing with myself alone, but I have a thing I learned about me. I like to feel the Sun. So this day I got up at my regular time, 8:30 a.m., and while I was doing some hibiscus tea, I turned my face and saw this sunlight shinning on the plants in my backyard. Then I put the tea in a cup and went to see the sun, I stood there for about 10 minutes with my eyes closed, just meditating. Hence, I decided to repeat this in the following mornings. For the whole week I woke up around 8:30 am, made my tea and went see this slit of light that illuminated the plants I myself planted a couple years ago willing to control my anxiety, it worked, allied with those things you know. It's funny how this light always shone over there, but I never really paid attention to it. It felt like a refuge, it felt a lot alike to be free. Whatsoever, this other day started raining and instead of being in the backyard doing my brand new routine, I started to scroll my social media feed and saw this post about eternalize your experience and memories by writing about it, so started digging into my memories everything that happened at home during quarantine and felt like an obligation to expose this experience, nothing was wrong. On the other hand, everything couldn't be more in the right place with my parents and sister, beside this week that was a month ago, which I lost two dears friends, not because of Covid, but because of it, we could not say a proper good bye, in fact, thousands of people out there couldn't offer their condolences to their loved ones. On this week I felt a darkness inside me, I felt sad for my friends, guilty and angry at those who were not respecting the social isolation, how come people could be this selfish knowing that every day thousands and thousands of people die in such drastic ways, the doctors and nurses were working twice as hard and people were struggling to survive. Nevertheless, I was lucky to be able to stay at home and connect with my family in innumerous possibilities, some good days, some bad days, in general, more good days than bad ones. So today, for the tenth time my sister did those chocolates with strawberries tartlets that she learned on the internet, those little pies where we find at bakeries and are incredible easy to make. Bakery, you just lost a client. Today, for the thirtieth time my father made his mind that he had to fix something that was not even broke. Today, for the fiftieth time my mother decided to clean up all the closets and cabinets of the house, it was a pile of useless papers to throw away, books from my school time, some History didactic books, that made me wonder about what history books will be like 10 years from now, another pile of clothes to donate, pieces which we didn't even remember, that we kept just in case this specific trend would be back and clearly didn't fit us anymore. Also today, for the thousandth time we laughed at my sister that if she doesn't do a standup comedy after quarantine, I'll do it for her, she's the most hilarious person I know, she makes fun of everything, the strange way I sleep, the weird habits my mother has, about how everything makes me cry, the weird habits our father has as well and every day she captures something different in all of us. Back to my daily routine, after this summer rainy day, very common here at this two degree below equator line city, I got back to my mourning ritual. Tea, Sun, meditation. After that I sat in front of my computer in my white desk seeing my bedroom's off white wall with some photos and random drawings on it, started working and an idea to write came to me and it reminded me this feeling of gratitude, but how can I put this feeling in a not boring and cliché words? I'm healthy, my parents are healthy, I'm at home, We are closer than ever. I'm lucky. What is all that noise? I can't believe it. My mother decided to change the paintings from wall and the furniture to different spots. Yeah, I think this kind stuff will be very common from now on, at least until the quarantine is over.
Eight days after my twentieth birthday, I'm rushed to the Emergency Room. Again. Twelve times in the last year and a half. The pain is so bad I can't pick myself up from the tiled bathroom floor, sweating, nauseous and sick to my stomach. “We're sorry, Ms. Ludemann, but we can't give you any painkillers -- have you tried ibuprofen?” I see a news segment about a man who took so much Advil that he burned a hole in his liver, and wonder if burning a hole in mine would convince people that I'm sick. I cycle between passing out and dissociating on my partner's worn couch. The EMTs who arrive in the ambulance joke that I can't be that bad. The (white, old, male) doctor asks me if I have any “mental health issues,” then tells me I am a woman and I simply have anxiety, manifesting itself in physical forms. IVs, EEGs, EKGs, MRIs, CAT scans. I am drowning in alphabet soup, but no one has an explanation for the ache in my bones, the snapping sounds my hips make, the popping of my subluxed shoulders slipping back into place. In November, I drive to a nearby medical supply store. The last few hundred dollars in my bank account are forked over for the only semblance of freedom I have had in weeks. The seat is too wide for my hips. The plastic armrests leave black and blue bruises on my arms for a month. My friends pick up a roll of cat printed duct tape at CVS, and we spend the evening carefully aligning strips on the side rails. It becomes my “pussywagon,” a humorous extension of myself in an attempt to conceal the bruises all over, the muscle spasms that rack my body, the tears shed as I struggle to literally crawl up the stairs to my inaccessible, second-floor dorm room. I soon learn that my college is built on hills, and try to ignore the pain in my shoulders as I push myself across campus and back. In December, I set up a GoFundMe, staring blankly at my computer screen at the hundreds of other fundraising campaigns set up by people like me who need money to cover the cost of surviving, which is its own pre-existing condition. We raise $400, and I have a break down in bed thinking about ways to make up the extra two thousand we need. My grandmother, whose own joint issues lead to a botched knee surgery and a large legal settlement, loans me the money, if only because we call each other and commiserate over the weather and the pain in our elderly bones. The chair I choose is bubblegum pink, bright enough that I can be spotted crossing the dark streets on campus at night. I name her Veronica and cover the sides in stickers and figure out hacks for attaching my backpack to her pushbar. They move me to a new dorm, where I don't have to humiliate myself crawling to my room. I spend January through April zooming across campus, waiting impatiently for the crowded elevator in academic buildings, calling facility services multiple times imploring them to shovel the wheelchair ramp and make pathways bigger than a foot wide. My partner and I trudge through the mud and muck of Pride in May, dodging puddles and shivering under sweaty plastic ponchos. When we roll over to compliment a group of fellow queer wheelchair users on their sign, which calls out the inaccessibility of having the parade terminate at the fairgrounds, they smile and ask, “Do you have Ehlers-Danlos too?” For the next hour, I learn that other people have the same pain I do, that the “party trick” I've had for years is really my elbow dislocating, that the dizzy spells and night sweats I get have a name, that my symptoms are real. I bury my head in my laptop for a weekend straight, digging up any and all information I can find. My parents tell me that researching too much is making me a hypochondriac. Two days before my senior year, my mother, Veronica and I fold ourselves into my small car and make the drive from our house to the only doctor within a fifty mile radius knowledgeable about Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Two white-coat wearing, tight-lipped doctors poke and prod at my body for an hour, making me bend this way and that way, asking my mother questions about my birth, looking at my teeth, taking samples of my blood. They tell me that I don't score high enough on the Beighton scale to have Ehlers-Danlos, but I might have Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder, the big umbrella under which EDS falls. I nod and smile blankly, knowing that the entire ride home I will have to listen to my mother prattle on about how she was right, that I was convincing myself I was sicker than I am. Two days before the start of my senior year, I sit in my living room, surrounded by suitcases and boxes. My sister fills her backpack with binders and books; I fill mine with meds, my foldable cane, KT tape to hold my joints in place, a heating pad, bottles of melatonin to force my body to sleep on nights when the pain keeps me awake. On move in-day, I sit in my dorm room and take a deep breath, processing my new suroundings. Then the typing begins.
It is a Tuesday, September 12th, 2017, around 10:00pm. I am sitting in a near-empty Frostbites with my dad and his co-worker, Tom. Tom is sitting at a different table, so my father and I can have time together, he says. We are eating frozen sorbets, and I am showing him the many (many) defects of my BlackBerry Torch. Yes, you read that correctly—it is 2017 and I have, for some reason, a BlackBerry Torch. While the height of technology when they appeared in 2010, BlackBerry Torches are now edging on artifact status. Having a BlackBerry is unique to most, and pathetic to some. Nevertheless, I have one. Or at least, I do for now. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss my approaching upgrade. I am getting a Samsung Galaxy of some sort, but the name is forgettable, like the phone itself. For me, the trade is bittersweet. I got the BlackBerry on New Year's Day 2016, after my old phone malfunctioned and died. The BlackBerry was supposed to be my placeholder until we got our upgrades in March. I accepted the BlackBerry with chagrin, with its slide-up keyboard and clock that insisted it was 2056. But March became May, and May became August, and a year later, I am still saddled with the BlackBerry. It is less of a pain at this point and more just an extension of my personality—I am The Girl With The BlackBerry. At this point, the upgrade is less for stylistic reasons and more out of necessity—like an old dog, I am worried about my BlackBerry's health, and I am uncertain it will go on for much longer. “The messages are out of order now,” I say, scrolling through my inbox. “I have two pictures saved, and it tells me I'm out of space. Also, this button is clearly missing,” I say, showing him where the “back arrow” and “end call” buttons should be. The list goes on. Tom joins us at our table, prompted by my father. As we further dissect the BlackBerry's ailments, Tom makes a comment: “That's embarrassing.” Although this jeer is pointed at my father for making me use this monstrosity for as long as he has, the comment slaps me. Embarrassing? Although we were literally JUST talking about what was wrong with it, I am offended that someone would make such harsh comments. I am about to burst into tears. I jump to its defense. “I know it's embarrassing, but I love this phone,” I say. “It's worked for so long, and only recently started malfunctioning. Plus, it's different,” I add, which is what it all boils down to. “No one else has a phone like this.” It is in this moment that my alliance fully manifests. Come to think of it, I have never loved the BlackBerry exactly, but I have a dependence on it. It means something to me. In a world full of iPhones and a smattering of Samsungs, my BlackBerry is an oddity. It is not an everyday occurrence, like a sand dollar. It is inconvenient for almost everyone—it sends group chats to me in seven different threads, and when I reply, it puts MY message in a separate thread to everyone else. It can take good pictures, but only if the lighting is absolutely perfect. It has no front-facing camera, so selfies are out. It can download no apps created past 2011, so the only ones installed are Twitter and an expired Facebook app, neither of which I use often. But like the sand dollar, it is rare—that is where the value lies. In a world of individuals striving to be different, to be unique, the BlackBerry does that. It keeps me grounded and doesn't allow me to look down on other people, because people have done the same to me because of it. It prevents me from being distracted, due to the apps (or lack thereof) it holds. I find myself more present and more observant; more aware and more involved in what's happening around me. In all my insecurities of being wanted and noticed and loved, my BlackBerry is what screams, “here I am! This is exactly who I am” when I am too afraid to fully be myself. When I am scared to be loud, quirky, goofy, my BlackBerry is that. Owning the BlackBerry has, in a cheesy way, helped me grow into who I am now. It has kept me grounded and humble, allowed me to be intentional. It has allowed me to express myself how I always wanted but never knew—as different, quirky, and unique. Tom doesn't know any of this. Tom hasn't had a BlackBerry for a year and nine months. It's not his fault that he doesn't know any of this, and given the circumstances, Tom can only assume that I am hindered by the outdated technology. I back down from my small fight, aware that I am the only one who knows I won. Tom says something, but I am not listening. I am looking at my BlackBerry. While it has not been convenient for anyone; while it has deleted my messages every time it restarts (which is often, due to its poor battery life), I know I will miss the BlackBerry, but I also know what I will take from it with me: the appreciation I have for being different, the awareness it provides me, but more than anything, the greater sense of self it gave me, allowing me to be who I am with no apologies.
In the clearing stands a boxer, And a fighter by his trade And he carries the reminders Of ev'ry glove that laid him down And cut him till he cried out In his anger and his shame, "I am leaving, I am leaving." But the fighter still remains -Paul Simon I Am Leaving, I Am Leaving Grandaddy's not dead yet, but I cried on the way home from my visit with him today. Mom and her sisters have been going over there for months, ever since Grandmother got sick with pneumonia. She died in the hospital on Thanksgiving day, just moments before we all sat down to dinner. Grandaddy didn't want to go to the hospital to see her. He hasn't been much of anywhere in months, scarcely even out to the back yard. When Mom told him Grandmother was gone, he cried and cried — strange since they hardly ever talked to each other, moving about the same house like ghosts. At the news of his wife's death, Grandaddy declared in his slow, measured way, “I guess I won't be around much longer.” Then, he attended to practical matters, asking if we should clean out Grandmother's office. In My Fear and My Shame I only recently started going to visit him regularly. When Mom and my aunts asked for help in caring for my grandparents, I didn't want to do it. I was busy with kids, volunteer work, and writing, but also, I was afraid. It seemed unnatural to care for my grandparents like they were children — Have you taken your pills? Take just a few more bites of your lunch. But at the age of 38, I knew if I didn't, I'd regret it. So Grandaddy and I talk, I fix him breakfast, make sure he takes his pills and insulin. I check his legs, which look worse and worse with sores and swelling. I wash the dishes and clean up mounds of empty artificial sweetener packets. I sweep the floor, so Mom won't have to do it in the evening. It makes her feel better to know it's clean over there. He Carries the Reminders When I sit by Grandaddy as he eats, if I'm quiet, he will tell me things. He was an only child. Every child ought to have a sibling. He was in World War II as a radio operator. He went to Japan but missed most of the action. He was glad to come home and never felt the need to travel after that. He met my grandmother and married her sixty-three years ago in 1950, just a year before my mom, their first child, was born. He gets a pension from AT&T. He worked there for years, starting back when it was Bell Telephone and was enticed into early retirement in his fifties. Grandaddy's always been interested in the Bermuda Triangle. I read some of his books on it once. He mentions episodes of planes disappearing off the coast of Florida, even though we're talking about golf. A Fighter By Her Trade My grandfather is a loner. He is a quiet man who often took a back seat to the limelight my grandmother commanded. From women's rights to protesting the Vietnam War, she fought. She'd argue about politics just as easily as about the price of lettuce. She was, in many forms, a fighter. If you want to talk to Grandaddy, you sit down next to him and wait. If no one interrupts, he'll probably tell you something. There are long, pleasant silences. Grandaddy told me the other day, “I guess I'm not real bright,” but that's just because he doesn't talk all day like Grandmother and the rest of us. Cut Him Til He Cried Out I don't know my grandfather as well as some. But he seems sad. Grandaddy says he's lived too long. But I see — even at eighty-nine, with diabetes, swollen legs and a hint of dementia — a spark. When he talks to me, he knows who I am. He doesn't ask small-talk questions, but he likes to chat if the subject matter suits him. I have realized I see his sadness and his introverted ways in myself. I feel his depression in me. And so I cried for the life he may have lived differently and for the imbalance of chemicals in his body that disallows his happiness. I cried for fear of what I will become as I age. And I cried for the loss of anchor I feel with all but one of my grandparents gone. Grandaddy always smiles at me quietly and thanks me genuinely when I leave. His loneliness is palpable. Maybe that loneliness gets us all in the end. He says, “I'm eighty-nine years old. I'll be ninety on my birthday if I make it that long.” Still Remains I don't know why he's still here. Maybe visits from his family are enough. Or maybe he simply doesn't have the energy to be anything else. He doesn't believe in an afterlife; perhaps life in any form is preferable to none. Or maybe even at eight-nine years old with his wife gone, heart problems, breathing trouble, rotting legs, and mental health issues — he still has hope against reason things will get better. Maybe I got that from him, too — a little hope and trust and a serious dose of perseverance. And maybe, even though we don't protest the loudest, we are quiet fighters in our own rights.
My son was 17 when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. I was busy in the kitchen when my son bustled down the stairs yelling, “Mom! Where are you?” Finding me at the stove, he asked if I was aware of the accusations. Elated he was up-to-date on current events, I turned to give him full attention. “Can you believe this woman is accusing him of sexual abuse that supposedly happened 30 years ago? Why did she wait until now? I think some women want attention by accusing men when they get famous.” I was incensed. I wanted to confront my son with statistics- to throw every scholarly article on sexual assault in his face. But I knew if I did, I would not only close the door on further discussions but slam it in his face. His words triggered deep wounds. I was also 17 when my gym teacher sexually assaulted me. He told me not to tell anyone, and quite frankly, I was afraid of him. He had all the power. When my parents found a letter to my friend detailing the assault, they contacted the school. Called to the principal's office, I encountered two angry men who stood by the coach's denial and accused me of lying. It was his word against mine-I had no proof. The coach was not fired and remained at the school. It is traumatic to be sexually assaulted, but to be shamed and called a liar compounds the trauma. False reports of sexual abuse are rare. Unfortunately, there is a cognitive dissonance that occurs when we hear about sexual assault, making it difficult for people to believe that it can be true- especially when the accused is famous, well-respected, or influential. I didn't know how to help my son understand this dynamic, but the silence was no longer an option. I had only one choice, and it would require a vulnerability my son had not seen from me. During a relaxing family trip to the mountains, my son and I were sitting on the deck of the log cabin enveloped by the gentle winds, the cacophony of birdsong, and the smell of the musty forest floor. Reluctantly, my voice quivering, my stomach full of bumblebees, I told my story. I shared what it feels like as a victim of sexual abuse; how hard it is to tell someone; how demoralizing it is to be discounted, shamed, and silenced. His gaze intense, I could see anger, pain, and compassion. It would have been easier to keep my secret, to share facts, figures, and scholarly research in the hope my son would see the issue from a different angle, but it would have eliminated the human component of a sexual assault. It is one thing to read about it; it's another to know the victim. Recently, my son asked for my abuser's name as I hadn't revealed this. When I asked him why it was so important, he said, “Because I want to hunt him down.” I guess our next conversation will focus on nonviolent activism, but for now, I have to remember he is 17 and loves his mama.
Fourth grade is a confusing time, an interesting time to introduce a child to death. Of course, this wasn't the first time I had heard of him, death had taken great-grandparents and other family members under his arm, but this was the first time his acquaintance had become so intimate. I don't remember the first time I met the boy with dark spiky hair. As I flip through the pages of my memory, he suddenly appears. He's by my side as we wander across the playground, unsure of where we belonged in our elementary school's hierarchy. Friendship between boys and girls was a new idea, one unfamiliar to girls who mastered double-dutch and boys who talked about Star Wars and Harry Potter on the playground. All I knew was that I liked being around the kind Puerto Rican boy with the sweet smile. When I was on crutches, the other kids teased me, but my loyal friend helped me carry my things. He was in my classes, and our friendship was no secret. I will never forget where I was when I heard. I remember hearing the words my mother said to me on that Saturday morning as she relayed the email she had received. They hung around me like arithmetic equations; sounded familiar but I just couldn't put them together in a coherent way. It was just a cold. That's all it was, a harmless cold. How was his mother supposed to know that he was allergic to the cold medicine she gave him? The allergic reaction was too much for his young heart to handle. Could you really die at ten years old? My teacher sent me to the counselor's office. It was just me and his best friend, two kids sitting there in the small room as we were asked to share how we felt about Ricky's death. I didn't know what to say, I didn't even know how I felt. I did not yet possess a vocabulary capable of conveying the confused and sober thoughts of my young and troubled heart. Suddenly I was introduced to the fragility of life, and the ground beneath my feet was replaced with thin ice. When would it break; submerging me under the frigid waters of death? Were we all just floating in an ocean of tears waiting for a wave to swallow us whole? There was a memorial in his honor, and I was shocked at the tear stained faces of kids who hadn't even known his name until he was dead. Where did this large group of mourners come from and where had they been when the counselor bombarded two kids with questions about grief? There were no tears in my eyes, my mind was still struggling to comprehend that he would never against sit next to me in class. I saw his Catholic mother with her blood-red rosary and tear stained eyes as she mourned her Ricardo at the memorial, surrounded by people who would never know the sting of watching their child slip through the veil of death. I don't even remember what we were supposed to write about, but I took my thoughts and watched them bleed on the paper. When the writing assignment was returned, my teacher squeezed me against her large body and told me about how my paper had made her cry. She let other teachers read it, and they had also cried. I have often thought about the boy with spiky hair and chocolate brown eyes. I have often thought about the time I learned about death's sting, and how I have continued to become more acquainted with it throughout my life. Fourth grade is an interesting time to introduce a child to death, an acquaintance who will always be near.
I don't know remember exactly when and how it started. Perhaps it never had a beginning but had always been a part of my soul. Books had captured my attention since infancy and stories lived on my tongue from the moment I could string a sentence together. The exact day I began jotting down poems in my school notebooks, doesn't matter. I was only releasing the steady current of words from my mind and watching them trail across the paper as they came to life. I can't recall how old I was turning the birthday that I received one of my favorite gifts. My grandma had given me a collection of poems by Emily Dickinson. I had never heard her name before, but her words would lead me deeper into the literary world. I was young and couldn't understand every poem, but I often got lost in that thick book as Emily taught me her own rules about grammar, romance, and life. As an English major, I would later learn a lot more about the immortalized poet. I wondered about her life in her room, peering from her window. Did she know what impact her words would have on the world? Who would have guessed that a recluse would play such a big role in helping a little girl grow in her love for writing and reading poetry? When studying Emily in college, I felt as though I was being reunited with an old friend. The taste of her words on my tongue brought back the musty smell of the book pressed against my face as I laid on the floor of my childhood room. Long before her words had really made much sense to me, they had awoken the poet inside. Not a skilled poet by any means, but a poet who understood the depth of life by giving breath to her thoughts, concerns, joys, and fears. Like the poets of English classes and beloved anthologies, my poetry was a showcase of growth and the evolution of a woman. They started out as descriptions of nature sceneries from the eyes of a child living in the suburbs. As an early teen, they grappled with life and the confusions of adolescence. When waves of depression came, my poems matured and darkened with themes of death, suicide, and a heartbreaking desire to be loved and understood. I continued to grow, and my poems became museum exhibits of old loves. As I became a wife and mother, they talked about the struggles and joys of marriage and motherhood, supporting me during the hard days and preserving the beautiful ones. I will forever be in debt to the shut-in who opened me to the world of poetry. The woman who opened her mind so that other could see what she saw from her bedroom window. The writer who planted seeds of inspiration. I wonder if she's wandered through the gallery of my poems. Did she too witness the evolution of a girl to a woman through words? Was she able to see traces of herself in my works; able to trace my progress back to the anthology of her works, that sat near my bed for many years? I will watch my poetry continue to evolve as I do. It will carry the years, hardships, and blessings of my life until we are buried together. While my poems may not be analyzed in lecture halls or studied by scholars, they once lived, and that's enough for me. They lived because Emily awoke them within me, and together we breathed life into their lungs.
Our national mythos may center on reinvention, but our collective consciousness cannot be wished away by obliterating our scars. We have to wear the markings with pride and celebrate their existence. My second husband does not understand the concept. “I want you to look like you never had children.” Frowning, he points to the excess skin and stretch marks on my abdomen. “I don't find you attractive otherwise.” I sigh with frustration. This man, who recently entered my life, desires nothing more than to erase the forty-seven years that came before him. Through plastic surgery, he wants to cut away the excess skin around my abdomen from carrying children and pull tight the remaining stretch marks until they disappear. If I choose to wear the scars where they landed, I will lose my second husband. “I don't find you attractive,” he says, which explains why we no longer make love. At first, under the blush of newness and the dimness of bedroom lighting, he ravished my body with the urgency of someone who had come to the table dying of thirst. Now, he pushes away from the table, refusing to sip from the same cup he married. How absurd, I think. Over the next two years, we argue and argue. The wedge between us widens until the dog sleeps between us, a physical reminder of our sexual abstinence. Eventually, in the third year, he threatens to file for divorce. “I don't understand why you won't have the surgery done.” He tosses up his arms in exasperation. “I'm paying for the expense. I'll hire a nurse to take care of you. I'll hire a chef and a housekeeper, so you can stay bedridden for the full three to six months of recovery.” I place my hands on my hips and broaden my stance. Narrowing my eyes, I counter. “My body is my history. It's the only thing I have left from the divorce.” Lifting his gaze toward the ceiling, he raises his arms. “That's exactly why you should want this mommy makeover as much as I do.” Shaking my head, I sigh. He doesn't understand. “Keep your money. I don't want the surgery.” He shook his fist. “I'll file for divorce.” Lifting my chin, I stare into his eyes. “Is that what you really want?” I step closer, wrapping my arms around his waist, pulling him tight against me. His pulse gallops against my chest. “No.” He slumps forward, his face falling into my hair. “Not really.” For a moment, we call a truce. I don't know how long it will last. I wish my husband understood I am comfortable in my skin. My body is the only thing I have. My scars are the only reminders of the children I bore, the same children my husband does not want to acknowledge. To keep the skin and scars is essentially saying, “Here is my history. Here is my legacy. Here is all I am, and all I am offering you.” When my husband refuses to see the beauty in my scarred body, I seek validation elsewhere. After stripping for another man, I sit naked on the side of his bed. He kneels before me like a disciple before a goddess. Tenderly, he kisses my breasts, my stomach, and my thighs. He gazes with adoration and declares, “You are beautiful.” The softness in his brown eyes mirrors the gentleness in his deep voice. I am beautiful, just as I am, no plastic surgery needed. When I refuse to alter my body for my husband, what I am really saying is, “Please, do not erase me.” I want to be seen with the eyes of the artist lover who called me beautiful. I want to be with a man who does not want to change me. I want to be with someone who allows me the freedom to be me just as I allow him the freedom to be whoever he is. We should not want to wipe away a difficult history and start fresh. W should embrace our past and reconcile our future. Will my husband ever get right with my body—the excess skin, the stretch marks, the cellulite, the age marks? Or will he seek someone else with a less difficult history? Only time will tell. For whether we want to or not, time changes us. All we have is our history.
I think I'm best defined as an idea. All of my sentences start off with, “I think,” trajectories, and I'll say something only to change track abruptly half way through my thought. I feel like an interrupted thought, myself, like half way through making me God or whoever got a call and left an unfinished mass, an afterthought, and thought, well fuck it, tossing this into whatever they could and crossing their fingers for luck. That's my modus operandi, anyway. The words half baked might describe me, I'm not much for alien theories and all that pizazz and the tin foil hat, but it's not because I don't believe it can't be true either, it's because I have the well, fuck it attitude towards that too and my M.O indicates that delving into all the millions of conspiracy theories- uh, too much work, so I leave it an open ended, yeah maybe, but don't care to look too much into it. I'm not a skeptic, just disinterested. For someone who doesn't believe in conspiracy theories not because I don't actually believe in them but because there's probably some truth somewhere and don't feel like going into the landmine of lost ideas, and I'm somewhere in between, not quite believing or disbelieving it but equally open ended to the probability, you'd be surprised that I actually do like research. That's how I feel with God too, I forgive you, big G, for that phone call, but I'm pretty meh on your existence or nonexistence either and anyway, kinda your fault if you did want to get pissed. Don't you know to leave your phone on silent when you're working on something important? It's funny, I'm sure you're looking down in disbelief. I'm looking at you with that too. Yeah, I'm half baked, a cake half batter and half real actual cake, never fully cooked up and just sitting in the middle. I like to come up with half baked things too. Even though I don't care for conspiracy theories. What if is another favorite along with my I think. I'm sure me and Descartes would have gotten along. I do love to learn which you probably got the impression that I'm someone who'd rather the information just be handed to them than to bother to delve into anything. I love delving into things, actually. I itch in a classroom and would rather read the information myself from my textbook than listen to a teacher drone on. I'm much more thorough. And a lot faster. I guess I do like the information handed to me. But handed to me, by myself. I think I argue for something only to end up on the other side of the argument. You know what they say, the grass is always greener on the other side. Along with my, “I thinks” (someone should really put a daily limit on them, actually) I tend to use some big words and convince everyone else all along until a what if thought pops up and interrupts me and makes me switch to the side I pulled others through or some nonexistent side that just popped up in my head. I also like to narrate, for myself. I guess when God's just as equally improbable as probable, you gotta put someone there instead. Sometimes I put my partner there, sometimes I put myself. For example, that pop, I imagined a balloon exploding, that sound, pop! With an exclamation mark, I imagined it in big letters, comic style, and imagined one of those light bulb idea things except a balloon in place of the light bulb. I do this a lot, a lot of words fill my head, I automatically detail things that I wouldn't say aloud. Adjectives flood my head on a daily basis and when I mean flood I mean Noah's ark and ushering all the words possible into my head just as he ushered all the animals onto that boat.Ark. Semantics. Insert my M.O here. Anyway, gee, Noah, mind saving us a unicorn or two? I think sometimes I could be a statue, too. I watch a lot of people talk and though my head feels like one of those factories with big wheels and little wheels and whirring and all of it connected and concocting something, but on the outside, stone still. Statue. Sometimes people talk at me and I guess I'm a convincing statue cause they either tell me all their secrets if they're superstitious and believe in statues or see me as a regular statue and only tell me all their secrets because they don't notice I'm there. Anyway, sometimes someone could probably wave a hand straight in my face for a minute straight and I might not even notice, and I get a lot of comments about regally staring into the distance like I'm lost and I don't really have much to say so I think I make a pretty good statue except I have lots to say but mostly to myself. Sometimes I don't even notice people talking, I'm so busy being a statue that I become a real one for a second. Disengaged, background.