Happy 100 Days: 97

Reasons for gratitude on the day the teacher emails half a dozen times in 24 hours, calls home once, and sends the kid to talk to the school guidance counselor:

  1. The teacher emails and calls when the kid is having trouble.
  2. The teacher responds to email replies and returned calls by providing additional information and suggestions.
  3. Tee copies me on every correspondence with the school (and I do the same for him) even when the teacher forgets.
  4. The school has a guidance counselor on staff who has time for kindergartners
  5. My kid has a whole team of caring adults supporting him.
  6. Next year, he will have a different teacher.
  7. At the end of the school day, he can run off all that accumulated talking-to and think-iness at Chicken School.
  8. Grandma makes a veggie lasagne and pulls it hot out of the oven as soon as we walk in the door.
  9. At bedtime, Bug stumbles across his first word search in the coloring book he brought to bed. Fascinated, he looks for the correct adjacent letters then draws his brown crayon around the words, “hunt,” “movies,” “safety,” and “tell.” He sounds out each letter, following along with the key at the top of the page.
  10. After books and songs and cuddles, Bug presses his face into mine, kissing my cheeks sideways. He giggles twice then rolls over and falls fast asleep.

If a Tree Falls

We climb to the top. He hangs on my arm and wraps his hands around my thigh. “Mommy, I’m tired.” He drags at me, trying to make me stop. He has no idea. Gravity has no effect on me. I am stronger than he can imagine. His fifty pounds are a ball of cotton, a cheesecloth sail. I can carry him to the top. Down the crevasse. Hoist him back up. I can lift him into the branches of an oak. I stand below him and know he will not fall because I will not fall.
I will not fall.
The hands under me are not visible. Are they any less present? Are they any less real? I have skidded and tumbled but still, my body is not broken. I rise every day. The smile comes, even it is forced. Music whispers at my throat. The legs walk on.
A good job, a good living. All there is? No, I still believe. Maybe that makes me a romantic idealist foolish idiot. Maybe small minded and smaller hearted. Maybe unable to accept the world as it is. Maybe? Maybe not believing in this one approach to things. Maybe ready to welcome the self that is becoming and not just the self that has already become.
It could have been beautiful, but then it was not. I left one when he was as ugly as I am now. When he could not get up and out of himself. When he got stuck. This is karma. It shows no mercy. It is a pitching machine. It hurls its force at a guilty spirit. It is deaf to the pleas. It is blind to the body, curled in a ball.
Get out of the cage. Just get up and out. It only hurts if you stay inside.
What is this jail? I built it. I put myself in it. The key might be right here in my pocket, but all I find is an ID card, a mobile phone, lint. I find the inside of the pocket. But there, a tiny thread, a small tear in the making, the skin of my thigh there, warm. Alive.
Who will come if I wait here? A chariot? A winged horse? Icarus, maybe? I would dare him to fly even closer to the sun just to feel its heat.
Up, away. Through the rent fabric, I feel my own leg. I feel the possibility of rising by my own volition.
This is what’s begun. The end. We unravel. We fray. The edges were never bound. It was all just us pressing the hems into one another, holding it up. The thread was not real. It was spit and prayer and no sudden moves. As soon as the twist was 180 degrees, the whole garment split and fell away. We were as naked as the emperor.
I could have gathered up what was left. I could have brought it to our naked breast, covered the soft place there before the broken branches had their chance to pierce
Our poor torn heart
There were three there, inside that one body. Three bruised and busted creatures in need of a gauze, a soft wrapping and an untouched room with a curtain at the window to soften the glare.
It was not in my hands. I did not reach for anything but my own rope. I let the others slip down under, grabbed only the hair of my son.
I am single again. It is sweet nudity. It is defenselessness. He is not coming to get me again. This is not his job, and I must grow up enough to know this is the way it is.
Grow up. Bear down. Bare truth.
What is the thing you still believe even though you know it is false?
You have all the time in the world. You will get there someday. Being beautiful will make you happy. Having things will bring you peace. You can live a halfway life and still be whole. You can have it all. You deserve better. You deserve worse. You are a piece of garbage. Someone will write to you even if you do not write first. Doing more will get you more. People will change. Your criticism protects you. Love is unconditional. The number in your bank account is based on hard work. You can trust your neighbor. You’ll have another chance. You’re out of chances. People forget the words you say. People remember the words you say.
In which myth will I place my faith today?
You can live through your children. You can live without music. You can live alone. You can live without making something of yourself. The way will appear if you keep walking. The voice will guide you if you shut up and listen.
Which myth?
Swallow it down. Choke it back. Squeeze the muscle and contract. The only way to the woman I am becoming is to punch through to her, rip the torn place wider, shape her, make her, smooth her into being, breathe in life life life. Oil her. Wet her. Paint her with a paste of pollen and creekwater, gather the milkweed fluff and tuck it between her thighs. Draw down the branches of the hemlock tree. Weave moss and bough to shape the organs that beat her blood into breath.
Whatever is haunting me, I have to perform this exorcism alone. It is not the job of any man to boil down the sap of me into something sweet. He cannot discern the obscenities of the ghosts. He only hears their echo called back through my own flailing limbs.
A wise woman once told me, do not adore your man. She meant to be cautious of idols. We deify our lovers. We pray to them to shoulder the burden and quiet the demons, to absolve us of our sins. This is too much to ask of anyone. When I left the man I married, I merged into the first one I found waiting. He promised he would come for me. They all say this: I am here. You are not alone. But it is impossible. No one can get as close as would be required to inhabit the place where the dark chill lives. To unfurl the buds. To bring the spring. They would have to press themselves entirely into the skin I call my own. They would have to squeeze me out and become the skeleton of me. This is what the one adoring dreams of. Obliteration. Complete.
Now, here, I release the myth of disappearance. The only story I can live is this one. It is not for me to make this into anything other than what it is. The paycheck comes. The child is fed. He climbs, he runs. The work waits on Monday morning for me to arrive, for me to claim it as mine. This is mine. This is the only narrative, and here sits the only protagonist, inside the arc. I never thought of myself as anything other than an independent woman, but I have lived for 20 years as one who cannot get through a day without fantasies of rescue. This is the cage.
Giovanni will, alas, not be the last man I love. But he will be the last I dream of saving me. No one is coming. I save myself.
Maybe there is nothing to learn from this. Maybe it is the same lesson after all, returning like the first leaves. Falling is a choice. So is growing. So is stepping out from behind bars. So is opening to the sun.

Change, Choices, Co-Parenting

Stuck Landing

We will need to limber up for the advanced scheduling contortions set to begin on September 4th. Kindergarten means our little family-ish arrangement has to bid goodbye to the preschool on the campus of Tee’s university. Aligned calendars and an easy childcare commute have been blessings in a rather tumultuous chapter, and now we brace ourselves for a school-year timeline designed for long extinct agrarian families. Bring on the yellow buses, packed lunches, and after-school children’s warehouses.

Continue reading “Stuck Landing”


Shift Happens

I was nearly twenty when I learned to ride a bike. As a kid, I had tooled around my neighborhood on my 3-speed, but these short trips never took me beyond the distance my feet could cover if a tire blew. It took the self-righteousness of young adulthood coupled with a bike-snob boyfriend to push me past the safe circumference of my known territory. Living in accordance with strict ideals about justice and simplicity meant a vegan diet, a cooperative house, anti-racist activism, and thumbing one’s nose at the auto industry. In Burlington, Vermont in 1993, a womyn had to learn how to ride.
The finely muscled boyfriend and I ventured into the country on our slick, matching Fat City Wickedlights. With shoes snapped into slim pedals and water bottles sloshing, we were so much who we aimed to be. In the span of a few months, I learned how to change a tire, true a wheel, adjust a derailleur, and repair a busted chain. Who needs AAA? On the side of the road with just a tiny cache of tools, I could handle anything short of an organ transplant. When the apocalypse came, I would be delivering the mail.
The only problem was that I could not ride. My personal drill sergeant would pedal alongside me, offering up corrections. He called it “help.” I had another name for it.
“Shift up,” he’d holler. “Lean down and just glance back.” I was too frightened to see if a car was gaining. Every time I did, my bike would sway like a drunken frat boy. The stress further constricted my peripheral vision, and I could only hope I would hear an engine coming before I had to make the next turn. Wildly swinging into traffic when I most needed to hug the shoulder, I was a two-wheeled terror on the Hinesburg-Shelburne road. I covered dozens of miles with the boyfriend drafting me as he shouted out warnings about approaching traffic.
After a few near misses and a lot of yelling, I figured it out. Just as a driver checks mirrors and blind spots before changing lanes, a cyclist has to look back while staying straight. I practiced leaning down, steadying the handlebars to keep the front wheel aimed in the forward, and taking a quick peek at the terrain behind. It is a bit of a mind game, turning the head without steering the body in the direction of the eyes. After a few tries, I could share the road.  The boyfriend got off my rear a few hollers short of a black eye.
Hills, on the other hand, refused to yield to either logic or determination. At the base of every incline, my well ran as dry as my mouth. Vermont is not flat country, so the Green Mountain cyclist has no escape from the ups. Every time the ground rose ahead of me, my gut contracted and my heart raced. I hated hills the way George Mallory must have hated gathering clouds. My legs were not strong enough. My lungs were too tight. Every bump on the landscape was my own personal Everest. The altitude, no matter how miniscule, conquered me every time.
I tried to hoodwink the topography by speeding down the previous descent as fast as I possibly could, shifting into the highest gear and spin spin spining to get up the other side. Pedaling like a maniac carried me about halfway up before I started to lose steam. Barking in pain and gritting my teeth, my momentum slowed to a wobble. The sight of Lance Armstrong up ahead, standing up on his pedals with his legs of bronze sinew glinting in the sun as he floated up to the summit, was enough to make me want to shove a tire lever up his axle. I walked my bike to the next flat stretch.
“You have to shift to a higher gear,” he explained.
A higher gear? You’ve got to be kidding me. “You mean the harder one?” That went against all logic. When a tough stretch approaches, why would a rider increase the difficulty? I was working as hard as I possibly could in the lowest gear, and still was not strong enough to get up the hill without teetering off. I was a lost cause, and he was a fool.
He went on explaining. “First you shift higher then you stand.”
My mind rebelled and my body followed suit. “I just stand?” I saw him doing it, but I could not make sense of it.
“Just stand up. Like this.”
He orbited around me, shifted up to the highest gear, and lifted his fine backside up off the seat. I had a hard time believing this thoroughbred was my companion. His claims of confidence in my cycling abilities were even more incredible than his affections. It all seemed like an elaborate ruse, and I was the one who would land on my ass.
He continued to draw smooth ellipses around me. “Then you can climb. It’s easy. Try it.”
Nothing is harder than the task someone else tells you is not.  I did try it, goddamn it, and it was anything but easy. Over and over again, I tried. My bike crossed that stretch of blacktop, and I willed myself to stand. I commanded my legs, “Climb!” I roared at my tush, “Up!” These intractable parts paid me no heed. My posterior remained planted on the seat. I rolled to a stop.
“Maybe it’s like the eyebrow thing,” I panted.
“The what?”
“You know how some people can raise one eyebrow, but other people can only do them both?” I lifted both mine to prove my physical deficiency. “It’s genetic.”
“You mean to tell me you are genetically incapable of standing up on a bike?”
I shrugged. “Maybe I am.”
“Yeah. Maybe you are. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. You can always just get off and walk up the hill.”
“Yeah. Thanks.”
My tolerance for his proximity quickly exhausted itself.  The ability to ride alone was too compelling.  I would have to be independent after I killed him, after all. He was too perfect, and even if he were not, any witness was a distraction. This was between me and my goddess. Or, more accurately, it was between me and my demons. The boyfriend, no matter how right or skilled or just plain gorgeous he happened to be, did not have a say in the matter.
A few days later, I made my way alone to a stretch of somewhere road with a shortage of cars but an abundance of contour lines. I walked to the top of the first hill and perched there like a sky diver at the open hatch. I swung my leg over, kicked the chain up to the highest gear, and let ‘er rip. Body and machine sped as one down towards a rising wall of blacktop. “Go girl, go girl, come on!” I hit the dip at the bottom and started the ascent. My speed dropped and my legs began to scream. The urge to downshift almost won. I shouted at the road and the sky and my own resistant butt. “Up! Come on, UP!”
Just like that, I stood. Off the saddle, legs push-pulling the pedals, I was up where I had no business being. My torso tipped slightly forward to keep the now careening handlebars even. I sat back down and promptly ground to a halt, tipping off the bike and onto my feet. “Woah,” I breathed. “Just stand.”
Back at the summit, I did it all over again. Leap, fly, grind. Then, right at the beginning of the ascent, I stood. I started to climb. Climbing was exactly what it was. Ascending a hill is like walking up a staircase, one foot in front of the other.  The bike felt alive in my grip, ready to lift right off the ground. The only way to hold it steady was to hover miles above the safe clutch of the frame. I willed my skeleton to stay upright, refused to succumb to the desire to cling, and pressed my mighty muscles into the climb. I trusted the laws of physics to pay me back in motion. In a blink, I crested the hill and went whirring down the other side. I hooped aloud, flushing grasshoppers from roadside brush.
It turns out that this is how it works. Plates make their tectonic shifts without so much as a warning tremor. Mountains appear where the land was once flat. The impulse is to pull back and creep along, gripping the earth and keeping to a familiar pace. It will not work. A greater effort is required, but that effort is unlike anything ever required before. Shifting into a lower gear may keep you feeling safe, but the wheels just spin twice as fast while covering only half the distance. Trying to stay grounded will wear you out long before you reach your destination. You will not make it over the hump.
No matter how counterintuitive this seems, the toughest transitions require a hefting of more weight, not less. Change has no mercy. It has no attention for resistance, cowardice, or the illusion of control. The starkest way is the only way forward: pure exertion. Crisis requires the courage to press pass the point of self-imposed incapacity.
Conquering the mountain is impossible, yet nothing could be simpler. Bear down. Engage the muscles. Brace yourself and rise up out of your protective posture. Allow momentum to carry you forward.  The extra effort is unavoidable, but the mind and body are stronger than gravity. They are mightier than the imagination’s most clever tricks.
Increase the tension, lift your body past the pull of gravity, and climb.

Stories have a way of moving towards their proper denouement. The aforementioned boyfriend found his way to a partner and a purpose perfectly suited to him. Read about their adventures at 2cycle2gether.

Love, Poetry

Make Shift

Candles are cliché. Shopping, a bore.
Practicing signing the childhood name
is just picking at the scabs.

A run is too lonely. A book, too removed.
Vows of poverty smack of desperation
and prayers fall on deaf ears.

Road trips are dangerous. Housework numbs.
Fasting hollows you. Feasting bloats.
Whiskey just makes you throw up.

Movies are escapist.
Scrapbooks sting.
Baths are too girly. A hug, but from whom?
Confession requires a witness.
A red-eye to Vegas is far too expensive.
Animal sacrifice, much too involved.
Throwing a party takes an awful lot of work
and incense sets off the smoke alarm.

Trying on his old clothes
might work if you’d kept them.
The ring might still fit
if you dared.

Go to bed early.
Cry if you must.
Before it’s all over
sing just one song.
from among those you loved
you chose to love him.