If We Do This, Then We Really Did This.

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Month: August, 2014

The first day of thirty-six looks like this:

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It looks like 174.4 lbs, twenty pounds heavier than the first day I was thirty-five, but it also looks like no more calories counted, like moving my body when I want to in the ways that feel good to me, like feeling the hard expanse of my thighs after a long run and the pull in my calves when I stretch down to the ground. It looks like eating meat again for the first time in a decade, feeling strong and content and full, like not craving sugar anymore and sleeping better at night, and it looks like pastures and henhouses, like eggs with real butter, like eating as meditation and muse. It looks like a two-babies-belly, seven years apart, expanding out into the universe then shrinking back into a soft sky of wrinkled stars. It looks like linebacker shoulders that can carry the weight of the world on them whenever it’s my turn to hold it there, and it looks like knees gone slightly to seed that still support me when I kneel in supplication to the spaces I’ve created to exist in.

It looks like hands that hold a hundred tales, each scar a punctuation, and it looks like birthing hips that know the kind of divine writhing change bodies can make when they meet, and it looks like arms that have held books and babies and a grown man’s sweet head to my breast. It looks like the gentle cup of collarbone, catching light and shadow, and it looks like flesh that responds to the warmth of a hand, rising and falling and rising again with the expert kneading born of a dozen years spent studying each other. It looks like stretchmarks and birthmarks and my first silver hair, and it looks like the ghost of my father’s smile on my lips. It looks like eyes tired from reading until 2 a.m., from middle of the night nursing sessions, from an old mattress and a flat pillow and from insisting on sleeping with some part of me touching some part of him. It looks like new tattoos and old tattoos and the retelling of stories through the medium of my skin.

It looks like hair I’m growing out and hair I haven’t shaved and it looks like fine lines in the pink light of early morning. It looks like lessons learned and bridges burned and old dead dreams, and it looks like new beginnings and reimagined purpose and the seeds of something bigger planted way down deep in a fertile heart. It looks like invisible wings made up of feathers of loss, a solemn cloak of sad memories that lies against me, even in August, and it looks like the kind of loneliness every one of us knows intimately, the kind of alone that sits right in the tailbone, and it looks like learning to love your own company before you drive yourself and everyone around you crazy. It looks like lines of poetry, and it looks like an unfinished novel, and it looks like a late summer heat wave, like dust motes glowing golden in a silent kitchen that smells of toast and tea. It looks like my mother’s relief and redefining faith, like finding that Sunday morning feeling on a Friday night, and it looks like letting go, and letting go, and letting go. It looks like saying no, and finding ways to live wide open but a little closed off, and it looks the way the word “grace” sounds when you speak it out loud.

It looks like a woman.
It looks like a mother.
It looks like a friend.

It looks like me.

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We Get To Remember.

When I was fourteen, my stepbrother shot himself in the head.

When I was seventeen, my youth pastor said that anyone who committed suicide would go straight to hell, and I got up and walked out, and it was the beginning of me questioning everything I had ever believed. What kind of God?, I asked myself endlessly. What kind of God would let someone suffer so endlessly, and then add an eternity of torment on top of it? I didn’t want anything to do with a God like that. I didn’t want anything to do with people who believed in a God like that.

For a long time, I was angry. I was bewildered, and I was frustrated, and I was so very, very sad. We didn’t talk about Scott after he died. We didn’t talk about his shy smile or his warm brown eyes or the way he covered me with his own blanket one night when I slept on the couch because I was too scared to stay in my room by myself. There was a large portrait of him above our TV, and the layers of silence fell on the ghost of his face, day after day. We haunted ourselves.

Imagine, for a moment, if we could see each other inside out: the battered spirits with ropes of twisted scars, the grievously injured souls with dirty tourniquets and torn bandages to hold in the blood and the guts, the fragile psyches just one blow away from a fatality. So many of us are walking wounded. “Suicide is a permanent solution to temporary pain.” But how do you define temporary? How does temporary feel when you are trapped on a battlefield under the weight of your own depression, pinned into the muddy ground by the intensity of your own self-loathing? If I am sitting upright in my saddle, bright sunlight in my eyes, looking out across the injured underneath me, how can I fathom what they’re feeling? I can’t comprehend lying broken when I am an intact observer.

“Suicide is selfish.”

“Only a coward would take their own life.”

“Look at the mess he left behind for others to clean up.”

“How could he do this to his friends and family?”

Have you ever been depressed? Not a little depressed — where you don’t want to get up from the couch and cook dinner or brush your teeth or get dressed. But really, legitimately, medically depressed — where your bones feel like black holes and empty universes span the breadth of your skin, where taking one breath is an effort that depletes you for the day, where nothing stretches as far in front of you as your mind can see, great waving plains of emptiness and ennui. The kind of depression where your heart sits in your chest like a fat useless thing, every beat an unnecessary distraction, a reminder of the pain, or the worthlessness, or the loss. Ba-bump: this is it, all there is. Ba-bump: you’ve never done a thing. Ba-bump: what a giant disappointment. Ba-bump: who could love you? Ba-bump: they would all be better off without you. Ba-bump: if you loved them, you would set them free from you. Ba-bump: fuck you. Ba-bump: fuck you. Ba-bump: this is it, all there is. 

Months. Years. Sometimes decades of an inner dialogue that destroys you cell by cell. Those among us who suffer from depression, from mental illness, from addiction — every day they keep breathing is a goddamned victory.

You don’t get to judge them. If someone succumbs to cancer, we don’t say, “He just didn’t try hard enough.” When someone has a massive heart attack, we don’t say, “If she’d just realized all her blessings!” When someone has a DNR order in place, we don’t say, “Oh, what a coward.”

Sometimes people just can’t go on living. And you know what? It is nothing personal. I couldn’t heal from the loss of my brother until I finally realized and accepted that, years later. In the aftermath of Robin Williams’ apparent suicide, I read one comment that said, “Your life doesn’t belong to YOU, it belongs to those who love you.” No. No. Your life is your own. Your body is your own. Your soul and your spirit and everything that makes up the essence of you is your own. It’s what makes you shine in that particular way you have, it’s how you shed light in your specific way onto the universe around you, and it’s why you are so missed when you are gone — but it’s yours. We can never claim true ownership of each other; we can only share for as long as the other person is willing to stay open.

It is hard to let go when someone dies. It’s even harder to let go when they commit suicide. We can talk about why. We can talk about what-ifs. We can talk about the desperate need for honesty in the discourse surrounding mental health issues, and we can talk about how we all need to talk more when we are struggling. But we don’t get to kick rocks and throw stones and let our confusion and grief become ugliness. We don’t get to name-call and knock someone who is permanently down. We don’t get to preach and point fingers and assign blame. What we get to do is this: live. We get to live. We get to wake up and know that someone loves us, we get to walk out into the sweet muted light of morning and know that we matter, we get to lie down at night next to a lover, or a baby, or a cat or a dog, or maybe we get to lie down at night with no one but ourselves and we’re grateful for it.

We get to remember. We are grief-bearers; we are lamenters. We are wailing women. But we are also the storytellers, the sentinels of memory; we carry the tragedy of all these burned out stars in our pockets and their soft sighs remind us of our wonderful, vulnerable flesh. We get to keep connecting. We have to keep connecting: each one of us is an important light in the immense constellation of humanity, and when we see someone dimming, it is our duty, and it should be our honor, to turn ourselves towards them and share a part of our light.

“Make your lives extraordinary.”

You still exist.

I have been sitting here for five minutes, trying to type through tears, trying to think of something to say that will convey how much my heart hurts to think of how much pain Robin Williams must have been in — someone so universally beloved, someone who had “everything” — to end his own life. And there’s just nothing. Nothing I can say to make it make sense, because depression doesn’t make sense. Hurting so much that death is the only relief doesn’t make sense.

Make someone laugh today. Touch their arm. Look into their eyes, and smile, the smile of connected human beings, not the distracted smile of two strangers passing each other by. Tell someone you love them. Tell them the world is better because they are breathing in it each day. Hug a friend. Hold a hand. Treat each other with unguarded kindness. Be a lifeline. Reach out to someone grieving, share someone else’s joy. Live. Live. Live.

Just keep living.

World Breastfeeding Week — It’s Hard, Y’all.

The tiniest tot, 18 months old.

The tiniest tot, 18 months old.

Most people won’t tell you breastfeeding is hard. In an effort to encourage mothers to try it, to increase our numbers, to raise awareness and work towards public acceptance, we all too often paint a picture of the serene mother with the serene child at breast.

Except, IT IS HARD. Or rather, it can be. Like any other human experience, some people have it easier, some people have it harder, some people sort of fall right along there in the middle. But I think we should tell the truth more. We should TALK about how growth spurts can feel like purgatory. We should TALK about how it really feels when babies begin teething. We should TALK about how bad clogged ducts hurt and how mastitis can make you feel like you are LITERALLY DYING. We should TALK about nursing strikes, and nipple twiddling, and how it’s totally okay to use shields if it’s the only way you can function without pain. We should TALK about nursing toddlers, how they go down to one or two sessions a day then all of the sudden amp that shit back up to like THIRTEEN TIMES A NIGHT for MONTHS ON END. We should TALK about the lost sleep, or the broken sleep, and how we all feel like gross face-eating zombies more mornings than we’d care to admit. We should TALK about how being touched out is an actual thing, when you simply cannot BEAR to have one more finger of one more person touch you. We should TALK about boobs that balloon up and then deflate down into shapes and sizes we never see represented in the media. And we should TALK about the times we’ve broken down and cried like our hearts were breaking because we thought WE were broken, because no one was TALKING about any of these things.

It’s not just you. It’s not just you.

And whether you make it one day, or one month, or one year, or four years: YOU ARE A STAR. Because it’s rewarding as hell, God knows it is, but this shit is hard work. And I’m celebrating each and every one of you this week.

 

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