Loud

Photo credit: Michael Donovan https://www.instagram.com/themichaeldonovan/

The ambient tension of these strange days has bubbled together until the visibility of what lies in the past and in the future is so hazy that I feel like I’m trapped in a fog. Maybe knowing what to expect was always a mirage we clung to – and now the truth has been exposed, and can never be covered up again.

By now, everyone knows someone who has been sick with it. You might know someone who has even died. Even in places that were built upon the ability to extend love and encouragement through a physical medium like a simple hug, there is a six foot trench we’ve all had to dig between us. A gulf exists that was not there before – it’s not that it cannot be crossed, but the distance is loud. It screams at us all and we just want to turn it off for a few minutes.

“Ambient tension” is the term I heard someone use for what this year has been. What we assumed – stupidly – would be a wave to hit another country, something far off, crashed inevitably here and we allowed the torrent to pull us all away with the tide. The heaviness in the air of 2020 is the unrelenting reminder that something silent awaits many – if not most – of us, and that most of us will be fine. But some will not. There’s a need to punctuate that fact.

And something else bubbles up in that tension – the knowledge that a wedge has been placed in the American psyche, some kind of deep, gut-twisting division that we don’t know who or what will dissolve. 

Now 2020 feels like a rope tied around my waist, dragging me through the water while I struggle to catch my breath. Seven months ago, I left my office on a Friday, expecting that I’d probably see my coworkers on Monday. That did not happen. Six months ago, my grandmother died alone – unable to have any physical visitors other than loved ones who came to her window and tried to communicate to her when her eyes were hazy and her body was giving out. She didn’t even understand that there was truly a global pandemic happening.

I don’t know if she died thinking we abandoned her. I have a very difficult time handling that.

Also six months ago, a beloved friend and coworker died suddenly, and at his funeral, we all had to make that split-second decision that has defined so much of 2020:

Is this a moment worthy of a hug?

Will an elbow bump not quite capture the gravity of this time?

I remember the hugs. It was like we leaned into something strangely forbidden and breathed each other in, virus be damned, and stood in rebellion together for one brief, beautiful moment.

Everything is loud. That’s the thing about an enduring silence that is interrupted only by the screaming of a child…the ding of emails…the crashing of a glass…the unrelenting buzz of social media…an absence of community where you are just so sure there was once something. When you turn off everything, you can really hear the sounds of your home. I’ve learned that in the 200-plus days since my last “Corona-post.”

An anger bubbles up in me weekly, but it’s sometimes hard to tell exactly who or what I’m upset with. Is it the leadership that seems bound to fail us? Or maybe the pushy meme culture of those who think our value still pours from productivity? Is it the shower I’ve tried – unsuccessfully – to take all day, or maybe the middle-aged knee that is nagging me when all I really want is to walk about in the woods and think nothing off the disarray this year has strewn about? Or perhaps it’s the assumption that because I don’t _____ (vote this way, cancel this thing, post this thing, agree with this other thing), I am not ______ (usually: “A decent human”).

That anger just sits there. It is loud. I may not say it, but something about living, about mothering in 2020 has ignited a certain rage, and I see it in women everywhere, women of all ages, backgrounds, colors, professions, and politics. Something vital to the structures we’ve built society on has been glossed over, and for the first time in my life, I feel like there will be no more rugs to sweep things under. I wonder if it will ever be quiet again, the way it was when this all first unfolded.

Something about peeling back the structures (schools, offices, uninhibited gatherings, etc.) that felt so normal to us before has exposed something much darker:

That maybe…just maybe…this wasn’t working as well as we thought it was.

At all.

If we lived life up high

Time moves slowest here on earth
If we lived on a mountain top 
or in the cabin of an airplane
perpetually floating through oblivion
this day would have come and gone - 
maybe weeks ago.

But as it is, 10 years have now passed
since the day I walked into the hospital circle doors,
looked up at the bricks and the windows reflecting sun,
and little did I realize
She would go in
and would not come out.

It's a warning I issue to every new mother
not in a spirit of foreboding
but one of birth and rebirth and rebirth
this neverending cycle of what life is
and can be
the lesson - so valuable - which you often teach me.

Your heart is deep and cavernous
so much that I never knew
how cold or closed off mine could be
and your capacity to see new possibilities
endless
I find myself always learning something new.

You've sharpened a sense of sarcasm
you were born with it
but now it seems smarter - 
it surprises me often
and leaves me wondering
how can you be so wise, so soon?

If the me then could see the us now,
what would she think
not of the ways this road has traveled
not of how it has twisty-turned and over-corrected
not of the broken headlight
but of the wonder of this journey?

Sweet Russell Clark,
namesake of bravery and sorrow
image of your ancestors
trail blazer with open heart
you have so much color to give the world
and I can only witness you in Joy.

There is no thing you will be
Capable of pausing my love of you
Capable of distancing you from the Lord
Capable of deterring your true destiny - MIGHTY!
Capable of starting what was begun a decade ago
Thank you for being my boy.

Day 1: On Mute

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“Working Mom Loses Mind Balancing Conference Calls and Cartoons”

I can see the headlines now, but somehow they don’t really tell the entire story. There’s a weight sitting on my chest these days, and I cannot tell if it’s the cold (?) I have not been able to shake since early February, or just the wheezing, incessant buzz of worry.

I am worried. Particularly on days like this one – Day 1 – of a school closure that could be extended indefinitely, when the clouds hang thick and low over the Upstate and I can’t even see my beloved mountains in the distance. My husband is annoyingly chipper on the phone because he is in an office where they are pretending to forget and it makes me so frustrated that I cry a little. Because sometimes when I am frustrated, I lash out and spew poison, but sometimes when I am frustrated, I just cry. And the weight on my chest gets just a little lighter and I realize this is how I will breathe.

I will cry. And then I will breathe.

I worked from home for nearly 3 years, 18 months of which with a baby. First a newborn, quiet gurggles and sweet nursing sounds muffled on mute during conference calls. Then a baby – squeals of delight and dirty diaper screams from the room down the hall at the end of his nap, still on mute. Then later, a toddler – still on mute, always rushing to grab him off whatever he was climbing or licking or drooling upon.

Always on mute.

I realize that I may live weeks or – God help us all – the next few months of my life on mute. And yes, I realize why. I realize why it could be necessary. To protect those with weaker immune systems. Those who are elderly. I realize all of that.

But what if things change. What if the playing field becomes more even and it starts to really hurt children beyond what we already know? What then? Cause really, let’s be honest: We don’t know fucking anything.

In 2019, I wanted to tell stories that nobody had heard about me.

In 2020, I suppose the best thing to do will be to take daily stock, catalog all the broken pieces, pray, wash my damn hands on repeat, yoga myself into a pretzel, and tell you what it all looks like when the haze lifts. But for today…

Mute.

Packing List for the Next Decade

In the next decade, I wish I could say that I will be one of those people who packs light and efficient. Let’s design a capsule wardrobe of emotional baggage! Oh, surely you’ve heard of this: Pair seven bad memories with seven creative tops to make 98 different outfits you’ll want to hide in bed in after too much socializing.

Ah, but it’s no use. In hearts and work trips, I am always the same.

I do not have to pack like a man.

I may curse like a sailor, but I pack like a lady (and occasionally, pay for it).

You can keep your duffel bag of suppressed memories and tedious small talk. I’ll say “No, thank you” to your polite – not too obtrusive, God forbid – carry on full of small words and comfortable thoughts and 27.825 years of avoiding long-standing family conflicts because they feel icky.

Pshh! Not for me! While you’re standing up the second the plane lands…I’ll be over here tallying the luggage.

Big hat boxes bursting with stories, starting in 1987, color-coded covers, working chronologically forward from there (1995 is heavy, loaded…2016 is a real humdinger). My backpack will be full of music and smell associations (motor oil conjures Junior Prom – and not in a good way; “The Taste of Ink” deposits my brain on The Battery in October of 2002; Led Zeppelin…well, don’t even get me started). To say nothing of an entire footlocker full of broken hearts, eye-rolling, anger, laughter, tears, and “Forrest Gump” quotes (…you should really listen to the soundtrack, you know).

I am a pack rat in the mental sense. And be warned: If you said it and it meant something to me in that moment, rest assured that it will be shipped by FedEx to my location and retrieved the moment you misquote yourself.

Everything travels, you know?

But in the next decade, I’d like to maybe utilize some packing cubes or something – clean it up a bit, you know? Therefore, I’m resorting to a list.

Pack:

  1. The laughter of my children, and the knowledge that in the next decade’s time they will – I hope and pray – grow happily to ages 19, 15, and 13. And yes – I will need to stop when I land there for a good, stiff drink.
  2. Courage to put myself in the shoes of anyone I encounter. May no pair be too small, too big, or too stinky to envision myself in and share someone’s joy, struggle, pain, heartache, or victory. Unless they are bowling shoes – because bowling shoes are fucking gross.
  3. A 2016 skill for sure: Whether you like me or not, if good things are happening for you, know that part of me celebrates with you. And…the other part makes fun of your email grammar.
  4. I will continue to not give a shit about your title. Of course, I acknowledge your hard work to get the title. But don’t be confused: If I respect you, it will have nothing to do with your title, but rather all the parts of your personality you either own or hide, but I see regardless. This one stays in my purse next to the lipbalm – a daily use item, for sure! #MustPack
  5. Fearing no man. Why bother? They’re all either big teddy bears or scared little boys, anyway. All of this to say…I know some really intimidating women…
  6. A righteous, indignant anger at bullshit. Just stop. Be kind in as much you can. Own your mistakes. Have opinions, but maybe don’t post *all* of them on Facebook – a little mystery is alluring in a traveler! Be changeable, movable. You’re a human, not a brick wall, right? Life is hard…but this part is so much easier than some of us make it.
  7. This reminder on a piece of notebook paper from 2013: The only way out is through…and love is always worth it…but take no shit.

Leave:

  1. Fighting to matter. It turns out…I always did.
  2. Sarcasm.
  3. Hahahahahaha…just kidding.
  4. Air fryers. You want a conspiracy theory? Tell me how the hell this thing makes decent fried chicken.
  5. Worrying or wondering about the President. He’s a moron, but that’s really all I know for certain.
  6. Convincing you I’m right. Maybe I’m not. Anyways…who cares?
  7. Avoiding having regrets? No time for it. I have an entire suitcase stuffed with them. Open up yours and we’ll compare!

See you at the next stop. Happy New Year!

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Yes, I am also really wondering what Henry is thinking about.

 

If The Day You Died Could Breathe

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If the day you died could breathe, it would be a millennial by now.

Maybe a sad girl, but I believe most likely a willowy boy.

He’d have a shaggy halo of sandy hair and

freckles falling like snow across his chest.

He would be startlingly pale and frustratingly rambunctious,

the paradoxical apple of his father’s eye.

If the day you died had a pulse, it would beat like a pencil tapped nervously

against an elementary school desk as the bad news was born.

I cannot forget the face of the boy beside me,

mouth agape and hand opening to release

the pencil rolling off his desk, and rolling and rolling

in my brain for 24 years.

If the day you died was a song, it would be “Name” by Goo Goo Dolls,

it was always on the radio and I wasn’t okay,

and it made me cry in grocery stores for the next 20 years,

‘til only recently I learned to smile for the time there was.

The guitar at the end reels like my brain

in the treehouse, mid-March, saying “God, why wouldn’t you save him?”

If your death had a perfume, it would surely be God-forsaken Bradford Pear trees.

The confused breeze of March is

warm and cold at the same time,

but smells sickly and floral and makes my nose itch.

I cannot remember what tree it was that we planted outside the school

But our friends say it is still there, even today.

If your death was a music video it would be children running through the aisles.

An old-fashioned Walmart garden center. (Sale! Red Roses $6.99)

A worker calling us to come back. (Nametag: Hi, I’m Jack)

We should slow down. (Time is a buzz saw waiting in the distance)

Elevator music. (Hall & Oates, I loathe you)

The instant reminders of restaurants. (Working through college, waiting tables)

If your death had a fingerprint, it would be all ten of mine,

pushing against the backseat glass, pleading

“Please turn around!

I want to say goodbye!”

My last chance fading

into the distance in Jamestown.

If the day you died was a costume party, here’s a fun surprise!

All this time, I thought I was the only one remembering this,

but then I found out everyone else got turned upside down that day,

and it felt like I’d shown up for a costume party where we all

accidentally dressed as Chipper Jones from the ’93 Braves team.

Because you’d have loved that.

If your death was a sarcastic person reading this poem, they’d sigh heavily,

“Does she write anything other than Dead People Poetry?”

Nope.

Sorry to disappoint you.

Just a one-trick pony

with loss issues. (Dress that in black and take it to a funeral)

 

There are three things I’ll never forget about

the death-birth day, 24 years old now,

if only it had air in its lungs and a tongue to say “I lived.”

The first:

Your dad at the baseball field a few years later,

and I didn’t realize at the time – this was how he fooled himself.

With the clang of baseball bats, the din of boys yelling, big lights glaring overhead.

I said “How are you doing, Mr. Jack?” and he said

“About as well as I could expect, I guess.”

Number Two.

Windows rolled down on my mom’s ’96 Buick Park Avenue

because I had my permit.

My first lonely-sunny stop was to see you under that tree at Hillcrest.

There, I updated you on what a loser I was,

and the birds laughed on your behalf, and it was a beautiful moment.

Number Three.

It doesn’t matter what I do,

as my sons do their homework,

a No. 2 pencil audibly rolling

and striking the ground

will always conjure your name.

Immortality: Achieved so easily.

 

Pink Pampas Grass

As I reflect on my past 35 years of life today and look towards a busy week and a new year of milestones, I feel both reflective and thankful. One thing I’ve been meditating on the last couple of weeks is all the wonderfully beautiful, colorful things that exist in my memory of my non-digital childhood. I think being born in 1984 was such an incredible blessing of pure chance – we were among the last generations to use landlines, stay out from sun up to sun down on the weekends, and ride bikes unencumbered around our neighborhoods. I think I’ll always endeavor to try to bring little aspects of this – the freedom, adventure, and simplicity of my childhood – to my kids’ lives. This poem is the first poem I’ve written in a decade or more, and it is dedicated to William and Jonica. I hope you guys are enjoying a beer in Heaven while I drink coffee here on earth. You are the narrators of some beautiful memories around the pampas grass.

Pink Pampas Grass

Lifetimes ago, on a different planet.

in another universe, we were princesses,

frenetic flock of hummingbirds

dress-up clothes scattered outside of a Rubbermaid tub beside the backyard trampoline…hummingbirds

we always kept a bath towel

tied around Jake’s neck, so he could

be the hero

and so he would not cry, because only princesses may cry in this game.

Just kidding, Jake.

As long as you kept the kid flush in Lay’s potato chips

he was usually pretty cool.

We used to fling our clothes off wildly and become Cinderella,

like a good little heroine, but with a nasty Madonna-like exhibitionist streak.

Right. So

I will try to write this and not cry

You know, since I’m sitting here in the corner of a depressing Starbucks

…and have I mentioned?

35 is kind of bullshit knowing that these memories exist on another plane,

flying planes,

pink bicycle flight down Betty to Donald Street

white basket with streamers, full of baseball glove, melted M&Ms,

handfuls of squashed magnolia carpel

we’d launch them, tiny red beans exploding into the Jasmine-scented air

Target:

whoever we didn’t want to play with that day

streams of consciousness flow back

to that super disgusting drainage pond that we thought

was just a magical little paradise

covered in a permanent layer of chartreuse foam.

We rode side by side, arms outstretched and screamed so loud the neighbors came outside

the weird feeling when you take your eyes off the road and look up at the cloudsLookin Up

is a handmade rollercoaster.

It’s like how an orgasm feels right before it pulls you under and drowns you,

Hey…I should feel weird about that. Right?

You fell over, I’m pretty sure.

Wisteria melted down the trees by that lonely horse ring.

Path in the woods past it

umbrella of oak crying spanish moss on our heads.

Undeveloped land dotted with

big, weirdly aqua-blue pools we swam in and then said

I just fell in a puddle, mom.

Of all postal workers I’ve ever known, your dad was my favorite.

Because he listened to Guns N’ Roses while he put letters in mailboxes.

We talked one day about emergencies probably because

that weird fire education smokehouse was at South Conway Elementary.

Fire safety and McGruff Crime Dog informed

the greatest fears of our elementary minds

and you asked “Where do we go?”

(cause there were a lot of house fires that year in South Conway)

and I said “Well that’s easy.”

In my head, I could see it going so well!

House up in flames, I would grab Jake and his potato chips

that chair from my grandfather’s house, perfect for breaking a window.

And we’d all meet at the pink pampas grass that we used to pluck pieces of

and hit each other with

like whips

Oh my God, why were we so fucked up?

Anyways…

Remember that rattlesnake my mom killed?

Shovel right under the head WHACK!

God, what a badass.

I wanted to be like that when I got to the pampas grass with Salt-and-Crumbs

I mean…

Jake. And maybe William, since he was always there.

Why must little brothers always be included?

Anyways…

If you see William, you guys should really grab a drink or something.

I’m still not clear on why you both moved so far away.

Nobody asked for my opinion on it. Or Salt-and-Crumbs.

I guess what I’m saying is I wish adult life was as good

as it was to be covered in dirt

creating tents out of beach towels and upside down lawn chairs

cooking leaves in a bucket strung over the tree by the tire swing.

I can’t do a pull-up without thinking about how we dangled from that one limb.

I can’t do many pull-ups.

You know what was my favorite thing, though?

Years later at a Korn concert when someone said

“Oh shit, is that Jonica?”

And you had yanked your shirt off on some guy’s shoulders

Jonathan Davis was screaming about something into the mic

cause anger used to feel very much like love

And I thought “Where is the dress up trunk?”

 

One day, when this entire world burns, we’ll meet.

At the pink pampas grass.

Bring your bike.

In the Handsome Sunshine

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A table sits for nearly 30 years, in the foyer of a home.

The years bleed through – scratches from The Owner’s dropped keys, cracks at the joints. A sensible provincial stain and shades of Amish crafting lend a restrained stature. The table doesn’t think it gets its due credit – true, the hidden supports underneath are a little warped, but nobody can see that. With a broad top and solid legs, devoid of fluff, it stands watch at the door.

The perennial observer.

But something is missing. The table doesn’t need anything – it’s fine the way it is – but it’s conceivable that a lamp could improve some things. The Owner is off on a mission to find the right one. With each new lamp that arrives, the table considers the possibilities – methodical in his examinations. The table analyzes the details. He is picky.

Months turn to years without the right fit. Dull ones, bright ones, light ones, dim ones. You name the lamp, the table has probably at least flirted with the possibility. He likes them all, in a way. Except maybe those pop-color, college move-in specials at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. The table has tried lamps that have utilitarian, beige shades, and the kinds with colorful floral patterns. There is even one with preppy stripes, which the table quite likes.

But then one day, a lamp arrives and the table is stunned. Emerald green glass – is this a banker’s lamp? It has curves and drama, and the table can just see what a sexy glow it would lend. A strong pairing. And it’s an antique – it’s been used, it has a story, just like the table. It’s seen some things, you know? This may be the lamp.

But there is one problem. The bulb is missing. And it’s a very unusual bulb, you see – you cannot just order one on Amazon, particularly not if you are a table (no thumbs). But the lamp stays – The Owner can’t give it up, to the table’s relief. One day the bulb might turn up. And just the very idea of the glow of that green shade keeps the table enthralled. And in the meantime, she looks so nice sitting here.

The table is enthralled, but occasionally enraged. This lamp makes everything a little harder than it was before – the basic beige shade never fussed this way. The striped shade was never this demanding! The green glass lamp has so many questions. She is unpredictable at times.

Occasionally, the lamp slides off the table. Could it be that the warped supports – which were always so well hidden before – throw her off balance? The table can see a chip developing on a corner of her green glass. Damaged goods. Maybe she is repelled by the table’s scent – furniture polish, but also cigarette smoke. Maybe it’s just too high up here and she feels unsafe? Occasionally the lamp runs away to another spot in the house. But she seems to migrate back. She clearly wants to be here. And let’s be honest, the table is not going to change.

It just wants her light.

The Owner ignores the busted lamp and the warped table for a few years in the entryway. Finally one day, the lamp disappears. Thrown out? Donated? The table is never sure. It is clear now that the lamp belongs somewhere else. Certainly not here.

Either way, the table is sure at this point that he does not care. He will find another lamp, one better suited to his space. He was looking for a lamp when he found that one, you know. Let’s see…everyone really liked that striped one, where did she go? Let’s try her for awhile. A quick twist of the knob, and a pale incandescence covers the table. She lights things up beautifully – the table has never looked better.

The clock on the wall and the coat hanger concur – this striped lamp was always the right one here, in this space. The curtains agree, wholeheartedly – this was the way it was always supposed to be.

The emerald glass lamp is forgotten as quickly as it arrived. The table is satisfied for quite some time. But he sometimes thinks of the emerald green lamp and what she could have been. The Owner occasionally finds a tarnish ring where her exterior left a permanent mark. Damn antiques. Memories of her get tucked in the back of a drawer behind some old papers and a cigar cutter. Even so, the table is complete – shining proudly in the light of the striped lamp.

Nothing is missing now.

But tastes change. One day the owner is tired of the table. A new table arrives – something lighter and more modern, a little less stoic than this rustic thing. As the striped lamp is carried away to a different place, the table is puzzled and numb. Is this what it is to be discarded? As the table is carried out of the foyer, the mover’s boot makes a sickening crunch sound as it crushes something that glimmered behind the table’s back leg. The table finally sees the shards of glass, hidden for years out of view.

He never knew. The missing bulb.

The front door closes and movers sit the table down on the sidewalk. Fresh air and daylight envelop his stain streaks, the one broken handle on the left drawer that nobody talked about.

The table looked for so long for a lamp, spent so much time thinking of the emerald shade. They both assumed it was her fault it didn’t work out, but now the table sees the truth.

All he ever really wanted was sunshine. The glow of the handsome sunshine.

Little Girl.

“Fire up your core and engage your quads.”

The instructor cues the class into plank position. I smell dirt and leaves. The memories snuck up at first. I was surprised by the sensation and the scenes that would rush back as I stared at the cork floor, images growing more vivid each week. The burn above my knees spreads and it happens again. My head spins back to Sherwood Drive.

You were not the first man I ran away from. You did not pop my Poor-Frightened-Girl Cherry. I’d been bullied, followed, hit, and held down plenty of times before. But I find myself filled with ugliness when I think of you. When I think of you in the summer sun on a street curb spitting in my face. When I think of Little Girl. Something is still smoking inside me. Somewhere in the dark spaces within me, something is still burning.

Though many scenes from my youth are growing jagged and warped at the edges, the summer of 2002 remains vivid. You probably don’t even remember my name. Here’s what I remember.

Sherwood 2

***

Legs pumping the pedals down the trail, a left onto Sherwood Drive. Early 90s model, cherry red Chevy Lumina parked at the edge of the trail. I pass the back of the car and see NIN and KMFDM stickers tacked across the rear fender. I completely gloss over the license plate – rookie mistake.

Clunky engine revving. Your faces turning like robots in my direction. A hard left to leave the wooded area, something feels off. Cold chills at midday. It’s the week before July 4th, 2002. The next house is too far away, pick up the pace, Becky. Whoosh of air. Windows rolling down. Hand cranks, a charming touch. Leering red eyes, grins of bad intention, and I count. Five faces I do not know. My shoulders climb into my neck.

Film and hope have both raised me to look for the one hesitant boy, the one who does not hurt or rape. The decent guy who fell in with a bad crowd. I cannot find him in that car with you.

“Can you tell us how to get to Myrtle Beach?” I already know you’re lying – you know the way. Must stall.

“Uh, just head up here to the stop sign, take a right, and keep going until you hit 905. Take a left and it’ll take you out to 22. It’s a straight shot from there.” Keep it light, keep it friendly, I tell myself, because in this world you have to be a nice girl so boys don’t hurt you – right? I just need to get to the first house. But my face betrays me, or you hear the scream that hasn’t escaped yet, and the wheel tilts in my direction.

“Tell ya what,” you say, words oozing. The car jerks. It’s starting. Everything I felt on the trail is confirmed as you pull your fucking moving vehicle closer to me. “Why don’t you just come along and show us?”

Your sunburned left arm shoots out of the window and grabs my right knee. Your nails scratch and dig in, and I feel skin breaking. Your friend behind you, greasy blonde, reaches out, hands clutching my shirt before I slam my hand through his elbow to break his grip. I almost expect the car to run into me. I tell myself I’ll be okay as long as I can still run. I scream. I scream as loud as possible. And scream and scream, until my own ears split, a fissure cracking down into me, my heart breaks open, and I become two people – the one who is afraid, and the one who is perpetually smoldering anger. The split happens here and never reunifies within me again.

I stand in the pedals, legs churning wildly as I scream, sucking air in between spasms, quads burning so hot I think they’ll fail me. You start yelling to come back. You reach again, car swerving all over. The boys in the back are laughing, banging the side of the car with open hands.

War drum.

Pedal.

Vicious laughter.

Pedal harder.

“Hey bitch, come back here! Hey!”

I am ablaze. You play a tribal drumbeat on the side of the car, and I am speaking in tongues, some other angry language pouring out of me. I don’t know what I’m saying. We do this for another 200 yards or so before I clear the wood line and see the houses.

“I’ll be okay. I’ll be okay,” in my head.
“HELP! Get off me! HELP!” from my mouth. I cannot find a single living soul, nor cars coming this way. It’s like civilization has disappeared and it makes no sense to me.

You reach out again, and this time I’m able to balance on the pedal and kick towards your face, which is now hanging out of the window. I don’t land a blow, but the car veers away long enough for me to turn onto a side street. You keep driving, looking for a spot to turn around, and for a moment, you’re gone. I see a car in the driveway of a modest brick ranch, and I go for it. Tossing my bike over the fence, I jump the fence, and my legs give out. So I crawl. Leaves in my hair, up my shorts. Beeline to the back door. Banging and screaming.

Nobody answers. And then I hear those twisted voices, the maniacal laughter. You’ve turned around and now you’re calling for me like I’m a scared child hiding in a closet. War drum.

“Hoooo-wee! Come on out, little girl! We just want to talk to you, baby,” you shout.

And the rage ignites.

I am not a fucking little girl. The words change everything, hovering over me like a magnifying glass in this July sun. They set me on fire, my DNA shifts, the color of everything turns red. I grow two faces, my thresholds become warped and misshapen, and I am somebody else now. I became somebody else that day.

Nobody ever comes to that back door. I crawl down the steps and hunker down in the dirt under the back deck, behind a shrub. As you taunt me from the road, I pray you will stay in the car as I look for something sharp – a wayward garden tool, tomato stakes, anything I can find to defend myself if you decide to come looking for me. I stop hearing your calls after 5 or 10 minutes and I slow my breathing, terrified that this is the quiet before you jump the fence. Was that a car door closing? I wait. Eventually it grows silent, save for birds overhead and the rumbling of a summer storm in the distance. My legs don’t want to move, but I pick up my bike and sprint home, head on a swivel. I run into the house, crying and screaming to my parents. I pour rubbing alcohol over the scratches where your nails dug into my leg, scrubbing it with cotton. I want to pull off the skin and replace it. I come downstairs where my dad is still on the phone with the police. I wait. They’ll be here soon.

No police ever come to my house. Cause see, the mistake was clearly mine. What was I even doing there to begin with, riding a bike in broad daylight? No license plate number. No witnesses. I don’t have anything to make them care.

The twist comes days later. The red Chevy Lumina, parked at the house on Graham Road where a disturbed boy named Seth once lived. Half a mile from my house, situated on the main route into the neighborhood. You.

eyes

You! I met you! The realization slithers around me. It was you. We met once – five years ago, before your voice changed and you grew six inches and you got shipped off to juvenile detention. I don’t remember much about you, except for one unforgettable detail – you told me that you had once tied your dog to the train tracks. I thought you were a psychopath then, but probably kidding. You were “troubled,” that’s what the women in the neighborhood said. Or maybe that’s just a nicer way of saying “He murders small animals and steals money from his mom’s wallet.” The second call to the police happens, license plate number in hand, and they still will not come take a report. Not enough information – you know, beyond what happened, your vehicle, your exact location. It’s maddening.

I decide I cannot run outside anymore, and that is the year I start to hate treadmills. It isn’t fair, I should be able to run outside, free and wild. But you see, everything has to change for me. In case you are there. It’s as if I know, deep down, that this isn’t over yet.

One afternoon two weeks later, my mom asks me if the man outside is the same as the one in the red Chevy. He has been in my backyard asking my little brother where I work. She just asked him to leave. I watch you leaving through the window and I feel like I might vomit. This begins the summer of hell. Weeks go by. You show up at the side door asking if I’m “around.” You found out who I was and where I lived, because the police didn’t feel like dealing with this, so my father talked to your father about what happened. And your daddy, ever the idiot, shared that information with you.

It feels like having a roach crawling up my leg with my hands tied – like there’s nothing I can do to stop you. You call my house and hang up repeatedly. You approach my brother and try to pry details out of him. Some of my mom’s jewelry disappears from her room one day when she walks down the street for a few minutes, back door unlocked. I become jumpy beyond belief. I run on treadmills in the gym where I work and I watch the stairs, always startling, eyeing the door to make sure you aren’t coming. I no longer sit with my back to a door – anywhere, at any time. I still startle easily, 17 years later.

On a Tuesday, I look out the front window of my room and you’re standing in the street, staring at my house. Dear God, this is real. I spend the entire summer becoming more and more aware that I am alone. Nobody is coming. Nobody is arriving shortly to take my report, to say “no” for me when my “no” is clearly insufficient. It’s me and you.

Nobody is coming.

I decide that I will be my own fucking hero, and the fault lines shift. I’m alone. I get it. Leaning into that truth becomes my freedom. It is not without some nasty side effects. I become colder. A switch gets flipped in me. Everything you do to create fear in me just feeds this darkness. I research guns that I can easily purchase and handle, I buy pepper spray, all of that. That dark space is still just starting to open up when you come back again. For the last time.

One afternoon two weeks before I move into college, my mom chases you out of our backyard. Recklessness grabs me and I can’t sit back anymore. I run out of the house, keys in hand, before my mother can stop me. I’m coming to find you. And there you are, around the corner, in the middle of Windmeadows Drive. You are right in front of the Garcias’ house, where Mr. Nick witnesses it all. I slam the gas as I round the curve towards you. I could end this all right now.

I blacked out.

I didn’t see him.

Little girl.

Barbie Car.

Crazy Bitch.

But I stop the car inches from your body, messy and sideways in the street. The door swings open and I am on you. Screaming. Spitting. Right up in your face. Pushing. Threatening. My voice flies out of me so loud that my body must push the sound out like birth. Something is born there in the middle of Windmeadows Drive. The darkest place in my heart. The most anger I have ever felt. The flagrant refusal to be your bitch. The nerve.

“You’re going to fucking leave me alone or I’m going to make you,” I say. Did I say “make you?” “Kill you?”

Or I’m going to kill you.

The words breathe. I burn five-alarm, roof caving in. I push my open hands against your chest, growls escaping me like a caged animal, shoving all 250 pounds of you as hard as I can – not because I think I can take you. I don’t. I just need you to hit me. It’ll hurt, don’t get me wrong. But I cannot afford to appear weak right now and so I welcome you to take your shot. Hit me. Do it. I see Mr. Garcia call inside the house for his wife to bring the phone. Yeah. Call them. They’re real keen to show up.

In my head, I can see a pile of me below us, dumped on the asphalt, bloody, broken, and writhing. I push again and again, your face becoming angrier each time. It will be worth all the pain. My awareness reverts to you, feeble vocabulary and tiny brain, hurling the word bitch at me as if someone who just came inches from mowing you down with a Chevy Prism would ever be bothered by that word.

No. We’re way past that, little boy. Your hand draws back twice, like you’re about to punch me. I consciously hide my response, stick my neck out further, get a little louder. I fucking dare you. I am so close. A strong shove from you, pushing me back a few feet before I charge again.

Do it!

You never do. Because this was only fun for you if I didn’t fight back. I’ve ruined it now, haven’t I? You go soft and I realize: You only get off if we’re afraid. The anger of a woman is enough to make it go limp, right? We spit and scream at one another with an audience forming in front yards, whispered questions if someone should call the cops, all while you call me every epithet your daddy taught you. And then it happens. My moment.

I watch you back up. One step. Then another. I almost cannot believe it. I watch the boy who entertained himself by terrorizing me, who has stalked me and followed me for eight weeks, backing away and shaking his head. Like I’m the psycho. Maybe I am. Maybe you made me that way. Why were you there? What did you do to make her mad? What were you wearing? See how fucking annoying that is?

“You’re going to leave me alone. You’re going to leave my family alone. Or I’m going to kill you.” There’s no use in avoiding it. Either you accept that I might really mean it, or this is just all way too much work for you. But that’s enough. I glare you down as you continue to back away.

I stand still with neighbors shuffling back into their homes and watch you retreat.

The burn becomes a simmer, for all my life.

***

Perhaps my greatest regret from the whole thing is that I get cranked up that day, and I never come back down. I function, I’m happy, I get married, get jobs, raise children. But I exist bubbling, always just shy of a low boil.

A few days later, when all of the stupid people have started to think it’s over, I march down Graham Road. I cannot change the fact that you live in this neighborhood. There you are out front, with your father. I stop. You both look up. This time I turn and face you. Angry eyes and squared shoulders fixed in your direction. I hold eye contact, for a painful amount of time until you look away. Like a dog who’s pissed in the corner. That’s you.

I am my own hero, standing here on my own two legs. There’s nobody coming to help save you from me. I could end you today because I’ve figured out how to destroy you. I glare you down, make sure that you know you’ve been seen, and that your sad little daddy sees the monster he raised. I get drunk on the victory and stumble home.

It simmers.

It simmers when I pass your house leaving to go to my wedding and I feel the same burning anger that smolders forever. I brush it off and I wear white, but it’s still there. A tiny blue flame that never goes out. The pilot light that propels everything.

It simmers when every once in a blue moon, I ride a bike and the wind on my face feels like panic and smells like Crabtree swamp.

It simmers in the burn of my legs in this yoga class, quads lit up with little snapshots I took that day, photographic fires that flash in my head and must be put out.

It simmers, when a car full of men bark at me and my friend, as if we’re dogs, and I respond by running-not-walking into the middle of the road like a woman possessed. Maybe that’s what I am. Possessed.

It simmers in the sick smirk that spreads across my face as I stand dangerously close to the car and dare them to do something about it, the sheer satisfaction I get from their stunned looks of embarrassment.

Jesus, what is her problem?

I’m just the wrong girl, man.

I don’t hate men. Not the way you hate women. I just hate men like you. And yet, we both went on in our lives to become parents. And I’m raising boys, always painfully aware of how they treat and talk about the girls in their classes. And you – with daughters? The injustice of it – you, a father – makes my breath catch in my chest and get heavy and warm on my lungs. Worse yet, the knowledge that you have daughters tastes like bile coming up. I cannot imagine a worse fate than being your daughter.

It will simmer on. Every six months, I will check your criminal record, as I have for the past 17 years. Various larcenies. Multiple assault and battery charges – always a woman, because you’re not one for switching it up. Kidnapping – a woman, and also the least shocking thing I’ve ever read. You hit her with your car because she wouldn’t get in. I would pick up my jaw if my teeth weren’t gritting together so hard.

license

I will always have an eye on you. Wrong girl. I sometimes think they’ll never lock you up for good until one day you finally get your life long wish and actually get to kill a woman. That’s what you want, right? And if you do, I will be the very first person to march down to Horry County, sit on a witness stand, and look you and your pitiful father in the eye once again.

I promised you that day in the road that you’d never be safe. From me.

Little Girl got angry.

I became someone else. And I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to protect that girl, hiding under that back porch, leaves up the shorts, scrapes from your nails, shuddering and trying to contain her tears as five men taunted her from the road. Little girl?

Little Girl never leaves my side. She is there in my “fuck you” smile. She is the daughter I may never have and the ones you were unfairly given. She is every woman with a story to tell. She is the smoking ash of the person I was before that day. She’s the pilot light for everything.

She is still angry.

 

 

Re: A sudden change of direction

By my count/stats, if you’re a regular reader of this sorely lacking blog, you are one of maybe five people (Hi, mom). So thanks for being here!

For 2019, I want to take a different direction and just write stories. There are a lot of little memory triggers I’ve noted lately that I want to explore more and flesh out into actual short stories. These are just things that all weave together into the person I am, and I’d like to have them on record for later on when I’m too old to remember them and my kids want to know who I was as a youngster, twenty-something, and a young mom. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned so far, it’s that time is accelerating, pulling on me, and – occasionally – pulling me underwater.

It is my hope that the things I write in my 35th year will not embarrass me down the road, but as most writers will tell you, we often find ourselves ashamed of past work. For example…please do not read blog posts on this site from prior to like…2014…

So in 2019, I will be posting short stories without a lot of framing, and – unless otherwise noted – these are true-to-life and pulled from memory.

Thanks for being here! I appreciate all five of you more than you know! 😉

Re: Smoke Signal

Motherhood is a source of joy, hope, and laughter in so many things. But I can’t talk about that right now. Right now, I have to be completely honest and get my matches. I have to set this fire so that the other lost mothers can see me here.

Motherhood has been a huge source of fear and anger for me, and I’m going to tell you about it. Not that I’m looking for sympathy or whining about it. This is just because I don’t think we ever really talk about the anger part of it.

Women are not “supposed” to get angry. That’s how our society is set up. A woman’s anger is seen as irrational, risky, emotionally charged, and wasteful. Wasteful has always been the kicker for me. Like the anger itself is a striving after wind (it is, but that goes for a lot of anger, including that of men) because the source of the anger is too weak to do anything with it.

Fear & anger. Why, you ask? Let me just brain-dump here. Bear with me.

Fear: I am not good enough for this job. I know women who cannot conceive. Women who have lost babies. And I’m sitting here, absolutely FILLED with the knowledge that I’m not good enough for this job. That’s the God’s honest truth of what my heart believes and what I have to work against every day of my life. Is that too strong of a statement? Does that freak people out? I honestly don’t know, but I just know…I’m not calm enough, sweet enough, patient enough…I’m not enough. That’s how I feel so much of the time.

Anger: I’m angry at the bar that mothers have to be “good enough” vs. the bar for guys. I’m sorry guys, I know there are so many of you out there who are incredible fathers in your own right. I know you’re not all looking for a pat on the back, for reasons that have nothing to do with the so-called “bar” that’s set. But let’s be honest – a lot of dads could show up occasionally, maybe coach little league once in a blue moon, and hug their kids sometimes, and that would be considered incredible on Dad Scale – and celebrated. Usually by older folks – the same ones women like me are dying to get guidance and encouragement from. “Oh, he’s such a good father.” But I feel like the things I need to accomplish are SO MUCH BIGGER than me. And I’m desperate to get them done. I’m desperate to be enough. It just gets to be so overwhelming and I feel so defeated sometimes. And these are the truths of it, and I don’t understand what’s kept me from saying it before now. It’s not just the usual plethora of pre-reqs – be kind enough, firm enough, patient enough, pack a decently healthy lunch, don’t use the “bad” sunscreen, make time for self care, be healthy enough, skinny enough, not too skinny, look rested, work hard, HUSTLE, don’t stress yourself out, don’t pay attention to other people, be on time for things, don’t be “too” perfect cause then other moms won’t like you, have strong opinions, but not too strong, make your kids do laundry and learn how to do household tasks, but LET THEM BE KIDS, soak it up! Soak it up! SOAK IT UP!!

I’m drowning here.

All I really care about it is that I just want them to be okay. But the despair and loneliness of this job…dear God. I’m drowning.

Fear: Maybe we want one more. Yes, I realize it’s insane. Who in their right mind is sitting there, barely treading water, and shouts “Toss me another brick!” But things are already insane, and this isn’t a dress rehearsal for my real life. This is THE DANCE…I don’t get a do-over in some next life. I don’t want to have any regrets (BTW I have tons of them). People ask “What are you thinking?” That’s the reaction I get if I don’t immediately answer questions about family completion with a firm “no.” What would happen if I did say “NOPE! We’re done!” Would I get an approving nod and a “Yes, that’s probably a good idea?” It’s insane to me how people react to this one thing. Nobody ever stops to say “Becky, you’re a good mom. You can do it.” I mean, occasionally I hear this from my husband and my best friend that lives two blocks away, but he’s kind of obligated to say that, you know? And my best friend (Hey Jess – love you) doesn’t really see all the ways I screw it up. Maybe I’m being dishonest because I don’t show that as much? Maybe I should’ve written this post years ago. Guys, I’m sorry I wasn’t honest about this until now. Maybe it’s because I work from home and only seem to wear the same black yoga pants 3 out of 7 days of the week. Maybe it’s because a lot of my former friendships have petered out. I dunno. But the silence when there’s a huge, gaping hole in my heart about the job I’m doing as a mother…it’s deafening. It gnaws at me. And some days, it just takes a big bite out of me. Today is that kind of day. Huge bite. Lost an arm. Typing this blog post with one hand. THAT kind of day.

*This is the part of the post where I mention that yes, I am PMSing, for all the MEN THAT ARE READING. Like you wouldn’t believe. Post-baby periods/mood swings can be pretty dramatic, but after this third child? DEAR GOD. And no, that does not negate the validity of this post.*

Anger: Bandwidth. Who came up with this term? Is there any mother who ever had enough bandwidth to handle all of it? Stop saying this shit. It makes mothers want to round up a vigilante brigade of pissed off women, and frankly, I’m not sure our country could handle that. We never had enough bandwidth after the first child. And bandwidth not withstanding, we were already feeling the mom guilt, most of us before our first children were even born. THAT’S the truth about “bandwidth.” And also, don’t throw IT terms into mothering if you’re not going to acknowledge that most moms (RIGHT HERE!) don’t have much of a “network.”

And the grand finale…the big Kahuna.

Fear: I’m scared to death that if I don’t do this right, my boys might turn into some version of every man who ever hurt me. This one is so, so heavy. But I have to get it out. Does your mother know what you did? Does your mother know how you hurt me? I wonder these things about guys from long ago (college). This is where regret turns into fire and burns me up. This is where real hurt and real sin does all the talking for me as a mom. I fight this one every day of my life. Because the scariest thing to me is that I could do everything right, do my very best, and one of them might still turn into ______________. And yes, ______________, if you’re reading this: I do still think about you, in those moments when Russell does or says something that makes me feel invisible, or Henry pushes someone down, or Odin takes a toy from Henry and then laughs while Henry cries. I think about you, and I am scared to death. And I’m sure I’m not enough in that moment, because I wasn’t able to keep you from doing it to me, so how will I ever be enough to stop them from turning into this thing, this thing I am terrified of?

I hope and pray that one day I find a way to banish this fear. More than any of them, I want to be rid of this one. I say that I must be on some mission because I keep getting boys. I take this responsibility so seriously. But what happens if I fail? What happens? That…is my absolute greatest fear.

There’s so much beauty in this experience of raising these little boys. But there will always be this world to contend with, and all my own hurts and sins that make me so sure I can’t get it done. Now, I want to be clear: I do not feel this way every day. If I did, that would be incredibly unhealthy. However, there are dark days where this is just sitting on my chest, and I wonder how many moms are out there maybe dealing with the same thing. Because so much of it is relatable, right? The yoga pants joke. That’s relatable. The “hot mess” status so many of us tend to wear like a badge of honor – totally relatable. The fact that many of our kids aren’t sure where their shoes are? Probably super relatable.

But there’s heavier stuff in there sometimes. And people never warned me about that part. So I feel the need to send up a smoke signal, here in these dark woods, on this dark kind of morning, as tears fall and I offer up all my greatest fears and angers to the Lord, and pray that He will soothe them all. That he will help me be what I need to be. That I will come out on the other side of this journey and feel like I did alright.

This is my smoke signal. I am here.

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