this body

Our bodies are always, in some way, a representation of our stories and our experiences, and as summer dawned and the heat coaxed my winter clothes back into the closet, I could not hide from my own weary body anymore. Denying the hatred of self that tempted me at every turn, I chose to explore all my body could experience and find gratitude in each touch.

Gratitude: A Thought Project

olliethebearcub (1 of 1)

When I look at this photo, I can feel it.

I feel the warm sun on my skin. I feel my puppy, who often looks and acts like a small bear cub, pressed up against me. His fur fluffs between my fingers; his soft belly rises and falls with each breath as he playfully squirms and makes muffled grunts and growls in my ear. I feel my thighs, touching where they did not before. I feel my waist, expanding farther in my waistband than it did the previous summer.

I have heard many women express gratitude for their aging bodies because their changes represent their accomplishments. Stretch marks from the children they have borne. Extra rolls of skin and fat brought on by bearing and caring for their little ones. Wrinkles from all they have felt and expressed. Freckles from laughter in the sun. Sore joints from years of diligent work.

It is this same recognition of what shapes our external selves that brought on such distaste for my own changes.

Mine was a body that had recently been shaped by despair. Muscles weakened by the days I could not find a reason to get out of bed. Extra pounds gained from the weeks that I only had strength for one activity per day. If I remembered to eat, it was whatever could be obtained the quickest. My face, which I had become certain would show the cheerful squint of crow’s feet in the coming seasons of my life, was now fleshed out without a laugh line in sight. For long draughts my insides did not stir enough for happiness to reach my face.

A new set of people entered my life, and for reasons I may never understand their actions suggested they would have prefered to have never met me. They painted some horrid unfamiliar image and labeled it with my name. I stood bewildered. It seemed the harder I tried to connect with them, the tighter they clung to this image and the harsher they scolded me for it. I was met too often with cold glances. Repetitive rejection. Whispers of gossip that followed me in the streets and confronted me in places I did not expect from people I hardly knew. But heaviest of all was that daunting knowledge that each sin of those who had targeted me would be placed on my own head. I was the subject of blame for their every turmoil. Each hurt feeling or elaborated offense. Even when I paid no notice of them, and mustered the strength to go about cheerfully with my life, there was always that impending text or that next conversation, where our lives would again be interrupted so my husband could be informed of the depravity of the wife he had chosen. Things as simple as shopping, grabbing coffee with a friend, attending or not attending a party, were marked as bitterness I did not posses, vengeance I had no desire for or pettiness I did not wish to serve but was thrown on me nonetheless. There was nowhere I could go to be free.

On several occasions I found myself consoled to the point of tears when any random acquaintance would do something as simple as taking an extra moment to ask me about my day or invite me to an event. I remember hastily brushing away the joy. Since the cold bite of judgement is what had harmed me in the first place, I was afraid to be vulnerable enough to let anyone see how deeply their warmth affected me. My soul had been bullied for too long. It had slowly been beaten into one aching bruise.

I had never been warned that loving someone could provoke such persistent punishment. Maybe someday I will ask my children that, when they have chosen someone to pledge their devotion.

“Do you love them enough to stand by them even when they make decisions that are unpopular?”

“Do you love them enough to be blamed for choices that were not your own?”

“Do you love them enough to be hated?”

I hope they will be like their mother, in that, when their time is right, they will say yes and mean it.

And I hope, for their sake, that they will not be like their mother, in that the hatred cast on them will not cause them to wither.

Because for me, the hatred was too heavy. Whoever I had known myself to be before seemed to have disappeared. I could not find her. I was some tired husk of myself.

When I would mention my physical changes: clothes fitting differently, simple exercises no longer being achievable, etc. my family would insist I did not look that different at all. And in a sense they were right. A little extra fat here. A little less muscle there. That was all that could be identified externally. But to me, those small changes were unmistakable because they were the result of belittlement, discouragement and a newfound hopelessness.

Our bodies are always, in some way, a representation of our stories and our experiences, and as summer dawned and the heat coaxed my winter clothes back into the closet, I could not hide from my own weary body anymore. Denying the hatred of self that tempted me at every turn, I chose to explore all my body could experience and find gratitude in each touch.

Slowly, I gained courage.

I am grateful for this body. Its transformation, which to me was once a sign of my weakness, is now an indicator of my persistence.

It is a body that still feels the cold rush of water across its surface with each dive into the cold waters of my home state.

It is a body that rows canoes and balances on paddle boards and wrestles with the little bear cub in my arms when he has too much energy to play on his own.

It is the body that hugs my friends and hikes through forests. That walks with head held high down mainstreet even when I have been told all too many times that I ought to be ashamed.

It is the body that makes my husband feel at home. The body that holds in it the hope of every future touch and sensation this life will bring.

It is a body that is weaker than it was one year ago, but houses a soul that is so much stronger.



20141018-150805.jpgSitting in bed, beer in hand, wishing away the time.

The beer would be better out of the bed,

And the bed would be better with a boy.

Sitting in bed, guitar in hand, wanting a little more time.

The song would be better on a stage instead,

And the bed would be better at night.


A Life of Nothing

From the Mouse House

#1- A Party: Those around me have coupled off, grinding to the beat, feeling as much flesh as they can through plaid hipster fabric.

They feel sexy. They look desperate. They are drunk.

Now I am one of them.

There’s a boy behind me, grinding awkwardly. I am bored. I met him moments ago. He tried telling me something about himself but the music was so loud all I could gather was that his lips were moving on his surprisingly attractive face.
I have picked up the habit of trying to scrub off the stubborn stick-to-your-heart memories of one boy with fleeting memories of another. This is about as useful as trying to rub off honey with dirt.

Not that this stranger is dirt…. He is a human. A human with thoughts and feelings and aspirations. But at the moment he is a handsome face who keeps badgering me to rush off to one of the dingy fraternity bedrooms.

I remember when I was younger hoping that I would wait for some kind-hearted guy to give me his last name. My standards have lowered to at least knowing a boy’s last name. Brown-eyed, strong-armed frat boy does not meet the standard, so I firmly decline his offer.

I am ready to walk away and find my friends, when suddenly he grabs my chin and plants his lips on mine. It is all that one would expect from a kiss with someone unknown, in loud humid basement, with drunk college students stumbling in and out of the moment under the black light….

Dirt on honey.

I do not want to go to his bedroom. Instead I go home, and brush his taste out of my mouth.

#2- A Party: It is morning. I am alone on a beige couch. Everyone else found a hook-up buddy at around 2am. They are passed out tangles of limbs in various bedrooms.

My solitude feels peaceful and safe as sunlight peaks over the cluttered window pane. Tiptoeing across the living room, I slip on my shoes and open the front door as quietly as possible. I feel as though I’ve just had a one night stand with… well, no one.

Last night a girl kissed me. I didn’t like it. I wonder if she remembers.
I wanted to kiss a boy with a friendly face who played guitar. I’m glad I decided against it.
The sunshine touches my face and I feel happy for the first time in awhile. I drive to a nearby coffee shop. I make pleasant conversation with the barista. Her smile is nice and she has silly anecdotes about her morning shift. We laugh. My coffee is warm and smells like my favorite pub in my hometown.

#3- A Party: It is loud. I can’t hear you. That’s alright. You say all the wrong things when you’re high anyways. I want to go home. But you are stronger than me. You taste like weed. Your hands are bony.

Dirt on honey. Dirt on honey. Dirt on honey.

My top lip touches my bottom lip but all I feel are yours, which are no longer there. I want my own mouth back. I want to go back to kissing only who I want and saying what I believe, not what others want to hear.

You are pestering me again. You are telling me how much you want me.

Dirt on honey.

#4- A Party: A pack of girls sit in a line on the couch. Legs crossed, arms folded. They are glaring at me. I have never met them. I try to be included in their conversation but they only look me up and down silently. I pretend to look at my phone until someone begins talking to me. It’s always some boy offering cheap beer. I am not in the mood. One of them takes me into a small back room. He has had over a dozen girls in that bed. Some of them are probably seated on the bitch couch.

He expects everything from me. I do not meet his expectations. Having the audacity to keep my clothes on makes him angry. I walk back out into the main room. The girls are glaring at me more intensely. I want to cry but I smile instead. I want to go home.

#5…. Not a party: Truthfully I have never trusted any man aside from my own father. No man has ever shown himself to be trustworthy. The boy across the table is no exception. I have never really trusted him. I trust him even less now than when I met him. But he is that rare kind of person who makes my tongue trip over itself like a toddler learning to walk, who makes that sad ache in my chest that settled there when I was 16-years-old fade into something warm and still.

I am smirking at his funny t-shirt. I am wishing I was born with hands that did not shake when I am tired or hungry. I am watching his eyes. I am wishing I did not think too much about everything.

He tells me about a night when he realized parties seem childish. “They just don’t interest me anymore. I keep thinking, ‘What’s the point?’ I guess I just want more in life now.”

Word for word his sentences stick in my brain. As usual, I do not tell him what I am thinking.

I think these parties are nothing.

I think I like a night of nothing. A night where it feels like there is no past and no future. Only a moment. Only a buzz. Only a laugh. Only a song. Only a kiss.

But I hate a life of nothing.

I hate going back again and again to the things that leave me emptier than before I arrived.

I hate watching my dear sweet friend struggle with depression, lying in bed all day only looking forward to the nights when she can drink until life doesn’t seem to hurt anymore. I hate how she laughs so loud and appears so happy but is so broken underneath it all.

I hate how the girl who I’ve heard purging in the dorm bathroom on so many rainy afternoons spends her nights where it’s easy to find someone who will call her pretty. Easy to find someone who will hold her tightly. Easy to feel wanted for a moment.

I hate how she will feel unworthy again in the morning.

I hate how the only thing I know about the blonde across the room is that she can tie a knot in a cherry stem with her tongue and that she likes to brag about how she used to date the crass musician next to me. But there is a kindness in her eyes and I imagine that if I met her during the day she would tell stories about her favorite dog or her crazy grandmother or anything other than the meaninglessness of a knot in a cherry stem.

I hate how I can see the same boy night after night, weekend after weekend and not know a single thing about his view of the world. I hate that he may be intelligent and have a million insights into life that I’ve never thought about, but I will never hear those insights because I only see him when his eyes are bleary and his breath is thick with alcohol.

I hate how back row Billy is the smartest kid in the room, but he won’t even pass COMM 101 because he’s too hung-over to show up to class half the time. He told me once that he wanted to be an ambassador and travel the world. I can’t think of a better candidate for the job. But now he only says that if he drops all his classes soon enough, he won’t fail the semester.

I hate the “one time things” that almost always lead to one person wanting a two time thing. A three time thing? Even just one more “Hello, how have you been?” than the other person is willing to give.
I hate the inevitable text message. The simple, “Hey,” or, “Want to hang out again sometime?” or “You left (fill in the blank of whatever possession the case may be). Would you like to come pick it up?”
Most of all I hate the indifferent reply: “You can keep it.” Subtext: I thought we had an understanding. I already got what I wanted from you.  Subtext: You might matter to someone but you don’t matter to me.


“What about you?” he asks. My mind returns to the table.

“Um, I go to them occasionally… Once in awhile is enough.”

That’s all I say. He nods.

A moment later he tells me a story about running from the edge of a storm on a back road in the rolling hills I know all too well.

Honey on dirt.

It all sticks to me.