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.

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Gratitude: A Thought Project

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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.

 

Nod Along

renfa (2 of 2)You are a special kind of summer day. The kind that doesn’t roll around ’til August when afternoons stretch longer and hotter. The buzz of bees is set to slow motion. The breeze has stopped. I find myself wishing for the brisk chill of fall and the vibrant sunset leaves, but then the warm rays of August sunshine hug me and I do not want to go. Pastel flowers quiver in the vibrations of a distant lulling lawn mower. My eyes blink in long pausing breaths. They will not light up until the sun goes down and the stars… Well, I don’t need to talk about the stars. We’ve all heard about sparkling constellations in the summer sky a thousand times. But you talk about them. You describe their twinkle as if you were the only one to have ever seen stars before, and the rest of us really ought to go check them out sometime. You reach your hands out in front of you and use your fingers to imitate how they glitter. I nod along.

I do not say what I am thinking.

Where We Will Grow

I smear red lipstick across my gray sweater. It is wine splashed across a stormy sky. At first I hoped it wouldn’t stain; now I hope it does. The car keeps rolling through the wind that warns of distant rain. The hills have warmed from brown to green. They are bright beneath the darkening sky.

As far as I can tell, I only have a few months left in the town of my childhood. My husband would like to move “anywhere but here” and I would like nothing more than to join him.

We are happy. It is strange to be so happy in a place yet want to leave it so badly.

We like our house. Our walls display photos from our wedding: Framed happiness. There is artwork: Hanging inspiration. There are bills on the fridge: Chilling procrastination.

We like visiting my parents’ home. Two dogs and a cat greet us. One pisses in excitement, one runs in circles and the other scurries away until he can return later to have us all to himself. My mom and dad are always glad to see us. They listen to our stories and give us food to eat. They remind us what joy and hopefulness look like whenever we struggle to remember for ourselves.

We like our friends. We laugh with them. We go to school and work with them. Sometimes we hide away together and sometimes we go exploring. We learn from them and they learn from us, although no one ever admits to being the student or the teacher.

We like the overcast sky and the mile walk to campus. We like the mud that sticks to our shoes. We like the buildings we’ve known since we were young and the shops and restaurants downtown. We like the sidewalks which have memorized our feet.

But we would like to leave.

Sometimes we outgrow people or places or things. I have found that outgrowing people is the very hardest of all. As I sit with my growing pains and my husband sits with his, I wonder where we will grow to next. And who we will grow to become.

I look down at the lipstick stain on my sweater. Perhaps it has smeared across my face. If my husband sees he will smile and think I am cuter than I was a moment ago. But instead he keeps his eyes on the road. I’ve known him to be one who is certain of where he should go and what he must do to get there.

Perhaps the thing I am most proud of in my life is that before I met him, I became the sort of person who would help him on the path he is already determined to take, rather than steer him towards a course that is easier.

“I want to show you something,” he says, and he drives past a house hidden in the fields where he once kissed a girl for the first time. I remember him telling me about his awkwardness in response to the aggression of her tongue.

I laugh. And laugh. And laugh. Then ask him to tell me more stories.

We love to share in the past, but we also like to be away from it, driving forward onto the next rolling hill.

 

 

Grade Me

I am the best student at that which is not in the classroom. If puddle jumping were graded, I’d never miss an assignment, although the best part about puddle jumping is that it isn’t graded at all.
Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 1.09.37 PMIf there were tests on how to adore another human, I’d already have my degree. If homework were kisses and laughter and love, I’d be a straight “A” student. My studies would be textbooks pushed off the table that we only use to entangle. Human anatomy learned by my own hands, eyes, lips, legs. Graded papers stacked only to be used as stands for coffee mugs, leaving circular stains as perfect picture frames.

Use your red pen to critique how I sing lullabies and never miss the sadness behind a fake smile. Give me a grade point average for diligence or dedication, patience or passion. Crunch the numbers. Put it on a transcript. Measure my worth if that is what you insist on doing.

But when you find it doesn’t fit on a transcript, that the numbers don’t add up, define me by my score in the classroom, because that is the way things are done.

 

Ladies, Love Your Abusers

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Fellow women.
Anyone who’s been mistreated.
This is important for you to know:
Bitterness can’t save you.
It’s not just that bitterness can’t save you; it’s that it can’t save you from anything.

Nothing at all.

Broken heart?
Weakness?
Physical harm?
Being manipulated?

Bitterness can’t rescue you from a single one of those things.
I see this far too often: girls who have been abused, cheated on, taken advantage of emotionally or physically, abandoned (which leads me to throw in a little side note- boys who make “girls with daddy issues” jokes: You’re not funny.)… And what’s the defense these girls choose to guard themselves with in the future? Bitterness.
Not only do they choose bitterness, but they are consistently encouraged to be bitter. Girls love a good bitch-fest when it comes to boys. It’s somehow viewed as having a higher level of girl-power than the meek if you can seethe enough poison and plights of victimhood.

In a way this philosophy almost makes sense.
If a boy has broken your heart, surely hating him will ensure that he never does it again, right? Right? Better yet, be cold-hearted and aloof enough due to former pains that no one ever can break your heart again.
Well it doesn’t work that way. A frozen heart will eventually shatter. It pretends to be strong in its hardness but truthfully it is brittle and prone to cracks.
And to be bitter towards a boy who has broken you does not keep him from breaking you again. It allows him to break you every single day, over and over.
Only broken hearts hate. Hearts that are whole and healthy love without ceasing.
So love him. Or her. Or whoever it is that harmed you in the first place.

If he spoke unkindly,
Love him.
If he made you feel small and worthless,
Love him.
If he hit you,
Love him.
If he used you once, then twice, then a third time,
Love him.
This is called forgiveness.

Without forgiveness in this world, there is no Life. There is no gospel. No grace from God. No Salvation.
Without forgiveness there is only death brought by the sins that were never washed away.
So forgive.

To be clear, forgiveness does not mean you have to let someone back into your life.
If a knucklehead shows up at your door begging for forgiveness, you would be fully justified to say with all sincerity, “You’ve already been forgiven. Now go away.”

It is not that you shouldn’t stand up for yourself. It’s just that love provides stronger ground to stand on than bitterness ever will.
With love you will embrace how immensely valuable people are (including yourself and including those who have harmed you) and therefore you will know how people ought to be treated. You will not settle for anything less.

I have a friend who is an excellent example of this kind of strength in grace. She is tall and elegant, a fashionable and artistic girl who has always dreamed of being a writer. As she’s grown she’s become demure in a way I have not, consistently clean in both diet and vocabulary, refraining from penis jokes (although she’s never been above laughing when I make them), and is such an image of sobriety she could probably get drunk off of a thimble of strawberry daiquiri.

There was a boy who she had been involved with who did not value her as he should have. As a result, he hurt her ever-caring heart.
One drizzling afternoon at a coffee shop downtown, I brought him up in conversation. My friend softly yet pointedly placed her coffee cup down in front of her, looked me in eye, un-shifting in her slender blue dress, and said in the most matter-of-fact tone, “Kira, he is an asshole.”

I laughed, first because she so rarely swears and second because she said it in a way that was completely void of any hatred or angst. It was just an honest observation. Nothing personal.
Because of this observation she will never again let him kiss her or wrap his arms around her as she sleeps. She is free from him, resistant to any head-games or second-guessing about being away from him.

But she loves him.

Not romantically. She’s too wise for that. Besides, this kind of love is stronger than butterflies in your stomach.
It is a love that I would never doubt is there. Something too strong to fade by circumstance.
It’s not because he’s anything extraordinary that she loves him (Rumor has it, assholes are very commonplace). It is because she is extraordinary. She loves people not based on what they give her in return, but based on love itself. That is not only rare, it is strong.
One day she will be with someone who loves her as he should, selflessly and irrevocably. But even as she waits, she will not be weakened by the seeds of bitterness that others so often plant in their lungs. Seeds which sprout poison roots that choke out fullness of breath and fill voices with hateful ramblings.
This boy may have harmed her before but because she has forgiven him, that harm does not keep on harming.

I realize some situations are more severe than hurt feelings. Trust me, I know.
I’ve been close to those who carried abuse to its fullest: a grave for one and a prison-sentence for the other.
I’ve seen tears and bruises, blood and scars.
I’ve held a dear friend as she cried because a world where the boy she trusted the most is the same boy who raped her is not a world she wants to live in anymore.
And I have told her again and again to hold on for just one more night. And then one more night. And then one more night again.

Believe me when I say I do not want anyone to be unsafe. Do what you have to defend yourself. Really, do what you have to.

But do not be bitter.

Bitterness is not a defense. It is a handicapped. A constant grief. A darkness that spreads in tangles like ivy on forgotten sheds and broken window panes.

Forgive. Love.

If someone tells you that it doesn’t make sense to love someone who has abused you, they are probably correct. But there is a certain joy that comes from being what the world calls nonsensical.

This is a joy I will choose again and again ’til there is nothing left of me because forgiveness itself always has been and always will be nonsensical. It requires unfairness. It requires someone not getting what they deserve.

Anyone can stay tied to the past, breeding hate.

But to love one must be bold and to forgive one must be radical.

So love radically.

It will make you stronger than any abuser you could ever face.

//wander//

 

 


 

NOT ALL WHO WANDER ARE LOST

– J.R.R. TOLKIEN –

 


 

Idaho.

Forests, rivers, wanderers in pickup trucks.

A man with a cardboard sign stands on gravel across the road from a bar called the Plantation, a Chinese restaurant that smells like stale cigarettes and an unfinished church office, all on the same corner. My brain goes off on a tangent that I believe was caused by the Chinese restaurant. Something about how the one downtown is better because the manager is kind and pretty and the wonton soup tastes even better when it rains… Before I can continue on to puddles and wet hair and all the best things that come with rain, the truck jolts and I’m back by the bar, the Chinese restaurant and the church office. My dad is pulling over…

With a smile and a nod, the hitchhiker jogs up to our Ford.
“Hey, do you mind riding in the back?” my dad asks pointing to the bed of the truck.
“Not at all, man! I’m trying to get to McCall.”
“Alright, we’re headed that way, hop in.”
My dad gets out to help the man and his bike safely into the bed of the truck. I just smile and wave. Dad helping out wanderers is commonplace. Honestly this bearded roadside guy appears to have more figured out in life than I do. He can say with complete confidence that he would like to go to McCall. I can say with complete confidence that I would like to go… somewhere with coffee…? Or without coffee. I really don’t care at this point as long as I get somewhere.

There are a few things I learned about this man along our journey: His name is Steve. He had just completed biking the state of Idaho when he met us. He has a friend who is also named Kira. He likes the way she says, “Keep it real, always.”

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As we drive I glance at our wanderer in the rear-view mirror. He’s looking around, eyeing Idaho and all her beauty. She’s a curvy broad with her rolling hills in all the right places, flowers at her feet and birds in her hair. Staring at her is a given for anyone who is not blind.

The road continues on to the winding Lewiston grade. I think I’d be scared if I were in the back of a stranger’s truck, rushing past so many semis and clunkers turn after turn. But not this guy… If he ever had a worrier’s mind, he let it go a long time ago. He has the look of someone who’s known peace not just as a passerby but as a close friend.

When we drop him off in McCall, he still seems genuinely grateful, even though he just spent hours in the freezing wind, sitting on bark in a truck bed. What matters to him his that he’s made it to his next step. He’s that much closer to home in Oregon.

As less than inspired conversationalists, my dad and I speak to him briefly and without much intention. Then my dad shakes his hand and hitchhiker Steve walks out of the gas station parking lot and down the sleepy streets of McCall.

“Sorry I couldn’t think of anything meaningful to say to him,” my dad says to me as we climb back into the truck.

“I think helping him and saying nothing is better than saying the right thing and doing nothing.”
“Very true…” he replies, “That was deep.”
“Not really.”
“Any deeper and I’d need scuba gear.”
I smirk. The line about deep conversation requiring scuba gear is from another traveler he once met along the way.

“Keep it real always…” I say in my best Steve voice.

“Keep it real always,” he laughs.

And we wander on.

 

Boys in Laundry Rooms and Freckles on Faces

~October 2014~

“I don’t like my freckles. They make it too hard to memorize my face,” said the boy next to me in a lecture hall filled with obnoxious college students texting and snap chatting.

First thought, “I’ll memorize your freckles…”
Second thought (which only occasionally comes along to save the day before I speak), “Kira, you were far too intrigued by that sentence than you should have been. You know what happens when you over-think and your brain reaches a weird combination of poesy and cheekiness… Don’t. Say. A word!”
I listened to the second thought… Sort of. I think I either giggled or said something unmemorable or both.
I did however write his words down in my notes. That probably didn’t seem weird at all if he happened to see….

Now comes the part where I over-analyze a statement that was probably not intended to mean anything. Welcome to my mind. This is how it works. For the life of me, I can’t help it.
Here I am, next to a confident, practical guy. Former marine. Studious. Logical. Brown eyes, which is only relevant because… well, brown eyes.

Why would he say something as silly as, “I don’t like my freckles. They make it too hard to memorize my face.”?
I even inquired to clarify and he seemed entirely uninterested in memorizing his own face. Naturally it follows that what frustrates him is that someone else can’t memorize his face.
Why would that matter??
What relevance is there to someone knowing every aspect of another’s face? Every freckle!?
But it does matter. Maybe to Mr.Military next to me it only matters an off-handed sentence’s worth. Probably more. Either way it matters.
It matters to everyone. We all want to be known. We want to be recognized for exactly who we are. We want to be admired down to the freckle.


~January 2014~

A cot shoved in the corner of a laundry room. Warm, at least the warmest place to be found that January. Yellow post-it notes with disjointed ponderings on the walls. No door.

Scene set for the bedroom(?) of one of my favorite people I’ve met along the way.

Never one to say everything he was thinking (or much at all of what he was thinking). Witty. Personable. Blue eyes, which is only relevant because… well, blue eyes.

Repeat standard: person says something I like… I write it down.
A few days later he saw what I had written, and unlike with Charmer McFreckle-Face on campus, it didn’t make me uncomfortable. After all I was a frequent peruser of his sticky notes. Thought for thought I suppose.
What surprised me was that he cared that his words were written there amongst all the other doodles and thoughts. Left to my own I would have assumed it didn’t mean much to him at all. I can think of few things in the world that are as unimportant as my tattered pocket-sized notebook. No one reads it except for me, and apparently strange boys who sleep on cots. But he told me it mattered…

The only reason I can gather as to why a scribble in my notebook would matter is that it was a scribble that made him feel noticed, appreciated… known. If only just for a single thought, known.

If I imagine a world where something about me were to show up on one of his sticky notes, then suddenly I understand.


~August 2014~

Laundry room again. Different laundry room.
Boy again. Different boy.
He wants me because to him I am convenient. I am fun. If I never speak to him again it won’t bother him. I know this. And so I tell him nothing truly meaningful about myself. Only surface things. Only laughter from the throat and not from the belly.
He shows me his books and tells me about his hopes and ambitions.
He’s cute. I like him. Yet I do not want him to know my heart, my thoughts, things I write down in my little notebook when my mind gets too crowded to lock everything inside.

He will know me on a shallow level. A skin to skin and no deeper level. I will think that I am safe because he did not get to see my heart. I will be wrong.
To be unknown by those who are closest is lonely. It highlights an emptiness.
But my sense of self is too worn down to put in the effort. Too tired to place things in the selfless and careful order in which they ought to go.

I think of his sweetness. His perfectly nerdy descriptions of novels and engineering and reptiles. His hazel eyes which are only relevant because… well, I guess to me they are not relevant at all. So I let him slip away without a word, and I’ve put in far too little to care that he is gone.


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