Thank you to Denise-Marie McIntosh from Fairy Tale Access at Nashua, New Hampshire Public Access for asking such thoughtful questions and for giving me space to speak about my novel, “Everything Grows”.
Thank you to Denise-Marie McIntosh from Fairy Tale Access at Nashua, New Hampshire Public Access for asking such thoughtful questions and for giving me space to speak about my novel, “Everything Grows”.
What am I meant to leave behind? Bury into the soggy, spring ground and walk away from? This morning, while walking the pup, each leg felt like an office building with more windows than one could count, and cubicles and photo albums from every calendar, and at least 100 underpaid employees, and it may have been someone’s birthday because there was cake and an awkwardly harmonized Happy Birthday.
All of this latched onto, into my thighs as I walked.
This weight I carry with me cannot be lost with a diet of grains, gluten- and sugar-free, and more water. I don’t need to join a gym right now. At least, not because of this office building built into my body.
I think I need a burial. For everything I carry with me that can be let go of, that can be left behind.
Last night, I dreamt that I lost my sandbag. I was walking and fell–while clutching my sandbag–into a thick, deep pit of mud. It pulled me in, but I got out. Unfortunately, my sandbag did not make it.
In real life, I sleep with a purple sandbag stuffed with flaxseeds and scented with the calming aroma of lavender. Others may call it an eye pillow. Sandbag prefers to be called Sandbag. There are nights I wake up and cannot find it. I travel my fingers beneath each pillow, search further down the bed. My sleeping spouse will sometimes (instinctively) find it for me.
Some have teddy bears. Some prefer light music to fall asleep to. Some like to sleep in silk undergarments. Or leather. Or….we all have our needs.
For me, Sandbag puts me to sleep. And though I do sometimes put it over my eyes, there are many nights, I fall asleep clutching it like a wish against my chest.
To analyze my dreams, I become each person, each important part. This helps me to understand it, unfold it. A therapist suggested this once, and it has offered me quite a bit of insight.
So, as I walked my dog and felt the wet air twist itself into my curls, I thought about my dream. I became my sandbag, losing itself in the dirt. Burying itself.
So, what am I ready to bury and move away from?
My current therapist–the best one–has told me that I may be ready to rewrite my story. I keep telling the same one.
But I know it so well. I’ve memorized only a few facts, but THIS story I can recite backwards.
When I was in my twenties, I had boxes. The first one started when I was nineteen, and I was with my first girlfriend. It became a casket of memories, even though we were still together then, as I stuffed receipts from outings, movie stubs, love notes, photos, even some gifts. When we broke up, I couldn’t get rid of the box. It was such a large piece of us, so I hid it beneath my bed, in closets as I moved and carried it with me past many state lines.
The next box was smaller and that one bled into another box which was bigger and then my next box overflowed and I had to graduate into a bigger one. I never told anyone of my boxes because it was a way of holding on, it became another secret I collected (I was so good at that). But then, my partner (at the time) learned of my collection and asked me to get rid of them. I was reluctant, but understood. We were moving in together and it wasn’t right to move in my past loves too.
So. I threw. Them. Away.
There are some things we simply cannot get rid of. I’ve got this army of scars on my arms and (elsewhere) that cannot be recycled or composted or buried beneath my bed. I guess there are creams and treatments, but mine are so embedded, and just like my glasses and the way that I hiccup only once sometimes, they are a part of me.
My sandbag is trying to tell me something. As it comforts me through the night, it whispers in its healthy flaxseed-soaked voice: How about you stop living behind you, and living ahead, and start walking within your current?
I do not like to leave my house. The subway has become a traveling circus of panic attacks. Lately, I have been daydreaming of mountains and closet space. I just don’t know how to be present.
Perhaps this is all to say that maybe a contemplated burial is enough right now. A realization that yes, it is time to let go because by doing so, I can make room for more. More memories that have been waiting on line for years to get into the packed club that is me.
What I was and what I am have been battling my whole life. I am ready to examine what I could be.
This is what it feels like to be held hostage by mental illness. The wooden floorboards covering my tiny, Brooklyn apartment are suddenly replaced by sludge. This mud strangles my ability to move; I feel terrified and confused. There can be doors and windows (openings) all around me and yet, I feel like I cannot move. Like I cannot leave. I am trapped.
Two and a half years ago, I did something I never thought I would: I got married. As a queer person, the government always taught me that these rights were not offered to me, so I loved many, but never took this step. On June 26th 2015, the United States legalized it, and one year later, I did it.
Little did I know I have been wedded to my mental illness for almost three decades. The problem is, I don’t remember ever saying yes to its proposal. But that is the problem with depression, it does not wait for a convenient time to lurk and lunge.
My spouse is patient, loving, kind. These are all adjectives one desires in a human, but my mental illness is none of these things. Instead, it is debilitating, suffocating, devious.
More recently, I have begun to feel the weight of my depression wrap around my limbs and cloud my brain. It is like a mistress I never pursued but keeps trying to get my attention. It is beyond blocking somebody’s phone number. And I certainly cannot apply for a restraining order. My mental illness finds me wherever I relocate, when I travel, when I am being intimate with my spouse, and when I am at work.
It is difficult to be in a healthy relationship while I feel this way. And this is something that needs to be talked about more. The balance or more specifically, the imbalance. Trying to survive with voices constantly telling me I am unworthy, ugly, dumb. I never realized I have been in an abusive relationship, one which causes me to cancel plans at the last minute with friends, which makes me appear extremely unreliable or flaky. This relationship severs the trust I have in others because I cannot fathom anyone wanting to be next to me, love me, or even like me. Depression is persistent.
When my spouse comes home from work, he asks me how my day went. What I often do not tell him is that there are days I barely survive. Panic attacks on the subway, flashbacks paralyzing my body, feeling such utter sadness that I spend hours thinking of ways to stop existing. Sometimes, self-harm.
Having depression and being depressed are two different experiences. Many of us have said in our lifetime: I wish I were dead. We have days where we want to climb back beneath our comforter and sleep away our melancholy. But it is important to note that depression is an illness. A disorder. It is not just a bad day. It is something I will live with for the rest of my life.
At sixteen, I was hospitalized for my first suicide attempt and my last attempt was just five years ago. I stopped eating, was unable to concentrate at work and began cutting myself again. Various therapists have helped me to find coping mechanisms to soften the scream of my depression: punching pillows, snapping rubber bands against my wrist, drawing lines on my arms with red markers, breathing. But I have been trying to cut myself out of my body for decades. It has never really felt like mine. I yearn for the day when I can look in the mirror and recognize my reflection. To truly like who I see staring back at me.
My mental illness never lets me forget it exists in me. When I find myself relaxing into the marriage I chose, my depression taps me on the shoulder and punches me in the face. It does everything it can to get my attention.
My last breakdown was fueled by too many endings. I have never been very good with change. My mental illness insists things remain the same; it likes routine. So, at thirty-four years old, I lost my mind (again). My family gathered around me, took me to the hospital and I remained there with my mistress, while my bones protruded from beneath my skin because my body would not allow me pleasures like eating or laughter.
My father visited each day, and when I was released, he stayed with me in my apartment, drove me to work, and became like medicine for me without the side-effects. He reminded me that even though I was in this toxic relationship with depression, there was love all around me trying to get in.
My parents just want me to be happy. This is what they say, and of course, what parent wouldn’t want that for their child. The problem is I learned the meaning of this word early on, yet I have a difficult time grasping what it looks like.
“You were such a happy child,” my mother once said. But here’s the thing. With all the technology we have, the ability to chat with people from all around the world, share pictures of what you ate, spend hours LIKEing your friends’ words and images, we really do not always know what is happening within. I can smile for hours, but underneath I am in pain. I am drowning. My smile has become an easy mask to wear. It lets my mistress follow me everywhere without others knowing. I sew that smile to my face, inserting laughter at appropriate times, and no one knows. Then, I go home, rip off the smile, place it on my dresser to wear tomorrow and my mental illness mistress takes over.
This is what it is like to be married to a person with mental illness. My spouse and I will be playing our favorite card game (Skip-Bo) and suddenly I will break down crying. Words will try to tip-toe down my tongue, past my lips, but my mental illness will garble them. At night, I will move to the couch because my anxiety is like a thick rope twisting around me, constricting my ability to breathe. My mental illness jumps on my chest; it weighs six-hundred pounds. Six hundred pounds of trauma. How can I possibly sleep? I will ask my spouse multiple times: why do you love me? I doubt everything. I try to run away. The cutting never stops.
The thing about this depression is I know it so well. It knew me before puberty, haunted me as my body started to change, watched as I had my first kiss, fell in love. And as I began to get older, my mental illness became like a bully. It whispered distractions to me. My mental illness became my drug dealer. My mental illness brought me into strangers’ homes and led me into miles of bad decisions. When I tried to get away from it, it always found a way to bring me back.
I took prescribed pills to quiet it’s voice. Unfortunately, it’s speech grew louder. I tried yoga to get back into my body, to own it again. My mental illness whispered words which reminded me all the times I gave it away. When I wash my skin, my depression throws dirt in my face to remind me how filthy I am.
This is all to say that I am still here. Amidst my bully, my mistress, this sadness, a constant STOP sign for living. I go to work; I teach the most incredible minds how to write, how to think about the various texts we are reading about. I meet students who share their own stories of depression and anxiety and I watch them survive and thrive each day.
My spouse and I go out. We experience parts of the city that still amaze us after so many years of living here. Sometimes being around others can feel like a salve. Other times, I cannot inhale. The crowds make me feel like I am stuck. The skyscrapers scrape me. I fear that I cannot live here anymore, in a city where it is difficult to find a space of solace, of silence, where I can carve out space not already overfilled.
To be in love while having mental illness is a constant confrontation. I fight with the doubt in my head. I try to just trust that my partner loves me, and even loves the mistress who tries to break us up. Over the years, my mental illness has caused me to lose so many lovers and friends. I have missed out on enormously nourishing friendships because I stopped trusting them. I couldn’t understand why they would want to be near me. I would explode and then relationships would end.
This is what it is like to be friends with a person with mental illness. We disappear. We cannot go to your parties. We construct conflicts to prove we are unworthy of friendship. We are moody. We are inconsistent. We love you and then flee.
When I got married, I thought my mistress would disappear. I’ve got this piece of paper now, I said to it. I am bound to another. Leave me alone. And it did for a while. My spouse and I played cards without the interruption of my mysterious emotions butting in. We went to parties. We stayed out late. We went dancing and had spontaneous adventures. But then, I could feel my depression start to crawl around me. Mental illness cannot be ignored; I have tried.
So, I remain. Each day, I check in with myself. I take steps that are slow and sometimes that stop me. I cancel plans, oftentimes at the last minute. I try my best to communicate with others why I am like this. There is more vocabulary around us which allows for exploration of mental illness.
It is a different experience for everyone. This is mine. I am just trying to survive in a body that keeps trying to push me off ledges and onto subway tracks. But I am still here, today; I will check in tomorrow to see how I am.
First semester of graduate school and my professor asks us to state our name and where home is. These literary-soaked strangers name places on the west coast, in the middle and a few from the south. I hadn’t lived in many places, but none really felt like home to me and what does home even look like. So instead, I thought about the place I knew the best but felt at home in the least: my body. My professor was not impressed, a little confused and asked about a place on the map. I said it again: my body. He made that sound men make when they just want you to concede.
We collect stamps in passport books and catalogue our trophies from everywhere we’ve traveled: post cards, shot glasses, magnets, t-shirts. But what about the markings on a body. That bullet-shaped hole beside my knee from challenging, beautiful, love-soaked canoe trip in Canada; blisters on feet from all that walking in Amsterdam; sunburn and hair loss and sore throat and those pants from that thrift store.
What will be discovered today? What will be lost? What will be mailed back? Someone will say a prayer for a part of the body that never felt like it belonged, so trained hands will scalpel and remove and sew and send home a body that now looks familiar, only bloodied and bruised and tender and right.
Someone else will stand beside that person and wonder what else can be removed. Wonder if one can create a gofundme page for a brain that is soaked in sadness.
Many years later and “my body” is still the answer when asked about where home is. Welcome mat long gone (did it ever exist?), windows stained, door hinges rusty and squeaked, quite a bit of hoarding. No, I guess there is no map with my body’s coordinates plainly presented, but not everything that we (want to) believe in can be seen.
I am trying to let go of something
–Tracy K. Smith
It feels like cold sore body gristle cracked molar memory of sixteen to nineteen
Misshapen elastic mourning its taut, its firm, its locked box casing
It feels like that time you learned Lucille Ball died while on the way to family Thanksgiving or Grandma’s grave or synagogue or some other place that triggered loneliness
You awake from a dream where all your teeth have been replaced with slurs. You try to sound out help or hungry or not now but all that comes out are four letter words bleeped out on the radio
Remember when your body was new. A gift-wrapped holiday. Upright and without all its springs popped. Yesterday, your veins started scratching their way out of each thigh. Morse code of aging. You want to call them beautiful; all that comes out is malnourished spider legs.
You are trying to let go of something. Of every organ which has grown slightly off-kilter. Of your misshapen brain, congealed due to improper adolescence. Of every time your welcome mat was set on fire.
One day, you will go on a bike ride. Your ears will be unplugged, just waiting to surf over wind and traffic. You will notice that your muscles can take you away but also bring you back home. You will lose your breath but something inside you will locate more. You will cry because every time your body moves, it remembers. It remembers. You may howl because sometimes you feel like a cone snail or a saltwater crocodile but you just can’t seem to commit to danger, so you keep pedaling. With every block, you let go. Back there, fingerprints from that time. Three pounds of hair, a partially lobotomized fingernail, some skin ready to flee, spit, all gone. You are something else; you are everything you were; you are nothing from before; you are all of it; the sum of calendars. You are still here. As you check your imaginary rearview window, you can see its blur miles behind you. You really wanted to let go. You were really hoping it wouldn’t follow. So you keep pedaling; you keep panting; you keep pushing your way out of __________ .
first published by great weather for MEDIA
It all began with an eyelash. Perhaps poison ivy found in Marquette, Nebraska. Or maybe some dust mites.
After returning from a two-week trip out west, I found myself in the ER of a hospital room in Brooklyn, covered in curious and extremely itchy red marks. As usual, I do my best to pretend away my body but when the blotches spread to my eye, my spouse insisted on a medical intervention.
As we waited, I tried my hardest not to itch, so I forced my attention toward the television above me. A new game show where contestants could win up to one million dollars just for naming that tune! I had twenty dollars in my wallet and two college degrees.
I always know I’m really sick when my appetite goes away. I usually dream about dinner while I’m eating lunch, so after spending an entire day with maybe 100 calories in me, I knew something was wrong.
I stared at the welts of varying shapes on my arms, legs, two on my belly, gathering beside my hairline. I imagined being this itchy for the rest of my life.
The smell of the waiting room was a mixture of fast food, sour cologne, and August sweat. I turned toward my mate and said, “Remember that eyelash? I can’t remember what state that was.”
“Minnesota, I think.”
“Yeah,” I paused. “I wished I were dead.”
I’m unclear where the tradition started that a stray eyelash gave permission for one wish if blown off the tip of a finger. But I feel like it had always been there.
I started to cry or maybe I hadn’t stopped.
“Do you still feel that way?”
“Not right now,” I spoke.
“I think it was from the dog’s fur, actually. I don’t think it was an eyelash.”
When my name was finally called, the nurse weighed me and asked about height and habits. Then she sent me back to the waiting room until the doctor was available.
Recently, an almost-stranger grabbed my forearm and asked about the state of my skin. “You get attacked by some zoo animals?” they asked.
I can’t remember any time I understood my skin. It was never smooth and unbothered. And if it was, those memories have all dug themselves away.
When my name was finally called again, I was sent to a room with beds beside each other. “Take the second one,” a nurse instructed.
A young, long-lashed physician assistant approached me. I removed my sweater, so she could observe all of my itchy constellations.
I watched her burnt caramel eyes approach a diagnosis.. “Any idea what this might be?”
Suddenly, I panicked. I’m paying $150 to diagnose myself?
“I’ve been traveling the past two weeks, so I’ve experienced different environments. Been outside a lot. Maybe…poison ivy? I’m extremely allergic.”
“Everyone is, really,” the doctor said.
“I don’t know. Maybe bug bites?” I don’t mention the eyelash and my fear that wishes (if wished enough) do come true. I don’t mention my fear that these welts are the beginning of my end.
“I’m gonna put you on steroids for a few days and some Benadryl.”
“But you don’t know what this is. But—”
“They’re all treated the same,” the doctor interrupts.
I used to be allergic to milk. Then, perfume. For a significant portion of my life: men. On and off, I’m also allergic to any derivative of happiness.
I’ve wished on eyelashes my whole life. Over three decades of birthday candle wishes. Two or three shooting stars. I have no memory of any wishes coming true.
Day three of these unconfirmed mountains of itchiness and I do my best NOT TO ITCH. My spouse tells me they are fading. I wish I could wish this itch away, but I’ve sworn myself away from fallen eyelashes and my birthday is a long way off.
first published by great weather for MEDIA
You worry you enter rooms just for the free coffee.
I write this into my notebook and leave it there, unattached to anything else. I try not to think about all the times I have walked into spaces I didn’t belong, or didn’t think I belonged. But this is not a story about coffee. Although, I am drinking some as I write this. No, this is about my life as an imposter.
I am approached by seven doors by the time I get to work. Some open and close without my hands pushing on them; some need to be messed with. I have a key to two of the doors, yet even when I’m inside, I’m not quite sure how or if I should be there.
I am a teacher. Some call me professor. Though that word sounds way too buttoned-up and makes it sound like I brush my hair or wear deodorant (I often forget).
Three days a week (sometimes four), I head into the Bronx and teach at a community college. Throughout the hour and fifteen minutes commute there, I read. Write in my notebook if there are enough words collected inside of me. Sleep. Stare at people staring at their phones. Marvel at the ways in which our lives can twist and turn us into so many different variations of being.
Every other week, I receive my paycheck and still grow astonished that I am getting paid to swell minds.
Growing up, I always thought teachers were aliens. Like flesh-covered dictionaries and encyclopedias. I firmly thought libraries of every book and fact lived inside their bodies, pressed up against their organs, which of course they knew all the names of. Ask a teacher anything and they knew the answer; this is what I believed.
My parents never put my report cards on the refrigerator like my sister. She was in the extra-advanced classes; I was in the low self-esteem club (yes, there was such a thing).
I wanted to be a veterinarian until I figured out I’d have to deal with blood and death. I thought about being a hairstylist, and then changed my mind to a pastry chef until I became a drug addict and that took me away for a bit.
I have been a nanny, a house cleaner, a barista, a bookseller. I’ve worked in a movie theatre, a diner, a dollar store, a fast food chain, a bagel shop. I’ve sold jewelry; I’ve sold my body.
Ten years ago, I never thought I would call myself teacher. What am I saying? Five years ago, I wasn’t sure I could call myself this. For most of my life, I never quite knew how to be. How to sit straight, how to socialize, how to be a girl, how to study, how to be bad, how to be good, how to remain.
I tell my students that doors represent an opening. An engagement with another side, land, perspective. I tell them that our bodies contain doors of varying sizes. Doors with padlocks; doors with police taped ribboned around; doors with broken locks. Doors with windows, screens, metal, wooden, translucent.
Even an imposter has a door to their insides. The problem is that sometimes they just don’t always know the way in or through.
I carried around an EXIT sign sewed into both my wrists from all the times I tried to walk out and jump off the ledge of this body. Yet I always found a way to get up and keep walking. But this is not a story about my mental illness and all the scars creating an alphabet on my skin.
I am an imposter. But maybe we all are? I mean, what qualifies any of us to be in any room? I want my students to remain and get their degrees, but that paper doesn’t necessarily get them into a room. Because then there are other STOP signs, which might assault their path like gender, race, class, religion, sexual orientation, must I keep going?
When I walk into the classroom, the students have no idea how nervous I am. Are they really going to listen to me? Me? But I almost flunked high school. I was a restless mess in college. And when I pass by the other teachers, I wait for them to ask me about my credentials. How many books I’ve read and if I’ve gotten through the literary cannon (definitely not).
In New York, where I teach, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for those ranging in ages of 15-34. Every semester, my students tell me about their depression. Their anxieties. Their losses and their fears. I do not tell them all the times and ways I tried to walk off the ledge of this body. How I still feel this urge…
I do not tell them because what I show them is far more important: I always come back. At the start of every class, I welcome them as writers (because they all are) and remind them to be as present as they can be. At the end of the semester, I tell them I will always be their teacher, even when we are no longer walking through the same door.
And yet, I still cling to this word of imposter. I’m not trying to deceive anyone, as the definition often suggests. It’s more about how I feel.
I scratch hate crimes into the death of my skin, dry from winter fornicating with its oils.
I find this in my notebook, dated a few months ago. I have a steady job and a magical spouse who I love and a dog and an apartment and things and nourishment, but this does not mean that I don’t fall sometimes. Mess up. Relapse into old behaviors. Hence, my self-stuck imposter label.
I worry that I am an imposter in my marriage because I don’t believe in this word. I’ve had no great examples around me, and even though it’s a word my people have fought to have access to (and won), I still feel unclear by it
I am an imposter hippie. Swallowed by panic attacks at marches and rallies. Hairy but hungry for all varieties of animal. Can I still be a non-conforming subculture beatnik, and live inside this queer-stained heteronormative lifestyle?
Recently in my Women’s Literature class, my students and I watched Lidia Yuknavitch’s TED talk titled, “The Beauty of Being a Misfit.” Though I have watched this many times, I still feel emotional throughout. She said, “Even at the moment of your failure, right then, you are beautiful. You don’t even know it yet, but you have the ability to reinvent yourself endlessly.” Afterwards, I asked the students to react and one announced that she felt like her soul had been touched. So often we don’t quite have the words to say how we feel or even what we are. And then someone else articulates it as though they have been swimming inside our lives, our brains. A student asked, “But what is a misfit?” And I let the other students answer: outsider, someone unlike the others, someone who doesn’t fit in.
Maybe being an imposter is like being a misfit. It’s this giant secret I have living inside me. Like seeds of my former lives growing in my gut, pushing it out. It feels like the reason I should not be welcomed, but maybe being an imposter is the reason I should be here.
I have an exercise I do with my students each semester. It is based upon all the times we are approached by boxes: a box to check off our gender, our race, socio-economic class, educational background, religion, etc. Before the students arrive, I tape up blank pieces of white paper all over the classroom. Then, I ask them to stand up and approach a piece of paper.
This is your box, I say. Think about all the times you are asked to check boxes that may not include what you are or how you see yourself. Boxes with someone else’s language and expectations. Boxes which aim to label you with words or categories you may not feel connected to. Boxes just not big enough to include your vocabulary. I tell them that these pieces of paper are their boxes. They get to fill it in with their words. In the past, students have written: mother, battered, divorced, misunderstood, smart, latina, multi-racial, brother, son, survivor, queer, human, pansexual, Muslim, and even a question mark.
I ask them to sit down when they are done and write in their notebooks about what it felt like to choose their lexicon. Then, we get back up and walk around the room, taking in each other’s language. We notice the repeated words, what we have in common, and what words surprised us. For some, this is their first opportunity to give away their self-identified language.
I absolutely hate labels, even though I wear this imposter one across my bound chest. And I wear other labels too, which I self-imposed. Do I do this before someone else does?
Dictionaries are thicker now, and so are we. In brain stem, worry lines, and flesh stretch.
Maybe we need new definitions? To take these words out of their tightly-sealed casings and wrap new syllables around them. Make room for more meanings. Expand the width of our doorways.
first published by great weather for MEDIA
When you are carrying all the baggage around from childhood and a mismatched set from adulthood as well, it’s really hard to get around. Everyone is tripping over your teenage years and let’s not even mention ages 24-27, 32-34, 35 too. You can’t fly because you can’t afford the extra fees for the weight of what you carry around with you everyday. People (before meeting you) think this is a metaphor. Oh, right, baggage. But this is inconveniently heavy with zippers and hidden pockets and it all looks the same so if you left it alone, you wouldn’t know it’s yours and this is when you realize other people carry around baggage too. Lots of the same shapes, but some a little smaller and (yeesh) even bigger than yours. There are dull colors coding these bags, but bright ones too. You swear you can see a leopard print in the distance.
Now that you start to see other people’s baggage, you realize you aren’t alone. So, you start to walk more, sweating and grunting a little by the weight of it all, but while you’re out, people start to ask if they can help.
“That looks heavy,” one says. “Can I…can I carry something?”
Your eyes grow wide like your hips when you went from girl to woman and you say sure. You give them a bag and suddenly you feel lighter. Just a little, but enough to notice the difference.
You keep walking and notice someone else. They have tied all their bags together with hemp string and masking tape, carrying the whole lot on their back.
You approach them because you recognize the pain in their face.
“Hi,” you say.
“Hey,” they shoot back.
“Looks like you’ve been carrying all that for a really long time.”
“I have,” they say.
“See that water over there? They call it the East River. Think we could walk over there together and just…let our baggage go? If not all, then some?”
“OK,” they answer.
So, you and this stranger walk to the East River where the birds fly just above the water and the secrets down below carry their own version of baggage and you each choose a few bags to let go of. There are moments you each cry, dropping tears into the water like soft stones creating hints of rings swelling the salt. There are no words spoken between you as you lift and let go. Lift and let go.
When you are done, you notice what is left. Still a significant amount, but some of the heavy ones are gone, doing a limbless breaststroke away from you. The stranger beside you has walked away, with only one bag left.
Now, you step outside more. venture inside new places. Your arms still carry this baggage around but you have enough breaths in you left to speak and even sometimes laugh. You thought you saw that stranger again, though you almost didn’t recognize them by the width of their smile. And when you looked down to note their baggage, all that was beside them was the comfort of others.
You still have your bags. Far less and not as cumbersome to carry around. You’ve since met others who you’ve walked to the water with to let go of some weight. It makes it so much easier to live.
first published by great weather for MEDIA
WARNING: This post may cause abdominal pain. And it may increase digestion. And those who read this may develop bed sores on their bed side. Side effects may also include: increase of oxygen to most parts of the brain, teeth whitening, freckle recognition, harmonized memories and unambiguous thoughts.
****** ****** ****** *****
Resting against my face is not a smile. I used to take pills to push one into my skin like the imprint a foot makes in the sand. But there were all those side-effects and suddenly a smile just wasn’t worth all the small print tumbling me into nightmares, dry mouth, loss of sexual appetite and on and on.
I walk on Utica Avenue in Brooklyn from home to subway and three different humans (all male-bodied) stop me and say, “Smile!” as though I had forgotten how.
On the train, I study the commuters who travel like I do and try to decipher the language of their faces. I realize that my lips are turned downward. I lift one side, not quite into a smile but less than a frown. Then, I stop myself. Who am I manipulating my lips for?
I enter a room and collect a bouquet of “How are you’s”. I answer wisely: “Well” or “Good, thank you.” But what I want to utter is: “Troubled, at times” or “Feeling stifled by language which I cannot connect to myself” or “Traumatized by my trip here” or “Okay, but I’d really like to be better.”
My father reads my blog. Tells me my posts have grown sad. I want to tell him that my words are all from the same seed. That the soil they live inside is sometimes colder and sometimes rotten and sometimes neglected but always feeling. I want to tell him that I am a writer and words cannot all be yellow with three dimensional, rotating suns singing in unison. Sometimes syllables shake and have to sit down.
I just don’t want to fake it anymore because in that fake there is tragedy. I want to frown in plain sight; how terrible it feels to be in hiding.
At night, our faces can rest. No one needs clarity when the lights are turned down and we travel into REM. We can wince and we can furrow and we can twist our flesh into sorrowful sighs. And how beautiful and how real all that is. To just rest in a face you really feel without having to make someone else more comfortable.
It’s okay……really…..please…..don’t smile…..just be.