mid-air mumbles

pause. sigh. go. hi.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my co-workers asked me if I had any Christmas plans.  I don’t know that she really wanted to know, but it was the polite thing to ask.  So many of our conversations are like that—flimsy obligations that make us feel like we’ve done our due dilligence.  

As I do most of the time, I diplomatically straddled the fence—letting the wood cut deep.  ”Oh, nothing much.”  I’ve said this more times than I can count over the last seven years.  I could just as easily say nothing, I suppose, but I’m not so much interested in making people feel bad.  

So, I laugh in that awkward way that reminds me of the shy 10 year old I once was—and I let her off the hook: “The typical stuff.”

But I know I do it more for me than her.

One time, someone asked me if I had finished all my Christmas shopping.  I remember looking at her and nodding.  I was once asked if I was Jewish.  Which made me laugh—mostly because the Jewish faith appealed to me for a long time.  I am not a practicing Christian—I’m not anything, really—but my roots are steadfastly in those traditions.  I just looked at her with an amused look on my face.  And then she said, “Well, because you hate Christmas.”

And I remember almost crying then because nothing could be further from the truth.

###

In my closet, behind lots of junk, you will find a big box that’s nothing except pictures taken on old point and shoots.  They are, by and large, all taken by my Mama.  You will find almost every embarrassing photo of me that exists, in that box.  You will find me dancing in a blow-up pool.  You will find the horrible haircut I got in 7th grade.  You will find the Aqua Net days.  And you will find me—beaming—with pincurls and red striped dresses—in front of a ridiculously decorated fake tree—with an angel on top…with tinsel on its head.  You will find me with rosy cheeks and exposed belly.  You will find me with stretched out panties soaring about my head—in a sea of blue paper and premade red bows.

You will see me: happy.

Because absolutely no one loved Christmas more than me.

###

I had reasons not to love Christmas.  So many reasons.  Life was not exactly easy for my family when I was a child.  We struggled to make ends meet.  Money was a constant factor, and my father was circling the drain of addiction.  

But, despite that, every year, I found an easy joy in the twinkle lights; in my mother’s ever-reliable penchant for the most gaudy decorations; and in the small gifts that mean everything.  I learned that time was the most valuable gift anyone could give.  I learned it was easy to make a dream come true.  You just had to love someone.  

And then, my father died two weeks before Christmas.

I’ve told this story before.  The story about how we had so little, and everything was disintegrating before my eyes—how I had given up on God and Santa Claus and parents.  How sad and broken I was.  And how good people who knew we were hurting came to our door with food and presents and money.  And they loved us—made my dreams come true.  Even when they didn’t have much either.  And, even though my Daddy was gone, and I was so sad—for one day, I didn’t feel alone.  And I felt rich.

Until 2004, that memory kept me in love with Christmas.  It was the reason I bought toys for strangers.  It was the reason I spent days cooking.  It was why I made homemade gifts and sent Christmas cards.  It’s why I went caroling and put up every decoration known to humanity.  Money or not—I always did it up.  It was almost as if I knew my time with it was limited, and I knew I had to make the most of it.

Even in the depths of my Mama’s horrible illness—even after I knew I’d be alone that year, with the news she’d be hospitalized for a while after her upcoming surgery—even then, I made plans to travel, so I’d at least have a story to share with her.  I never went anywhere, and I never accumulated happy stories.  Instead, I accumulated stories about induced comas and SICU waiting rooms—about strangers who saved my life on worst ever days—and a play about a year of cyclones.

And I broke up with Christmas.

###

This is the first year in the last seven that has even remotely reminded me of even 1/20 of the joy I used to feel.  This year, I somehow tolerated most things, and I went out of my way to tell people, “Merry Christmas.”  I decorated the house, and I indulged traditions.  And I sang.  And it sometimes hurt.

But it hurt a lot less than it used to.

And sometimes, I even found joy—found glimmers of that girl who yelled MERRY CHRISTMAS at the stroke of midnight every single year.  Giddy, wonderful joy that came from love and the simple magic of being alive.

It’s hard to associate such a day with the worst day of your entire life.  It’s hard because there is a constant reminder that you are lucky, but an intense pain that comes from being permanently displaced from normal.  

For me, it’s a permanent desire to want to be someone I can’t ever be anymore.  It’s a desire to slip into old patterns that aren’t mine, and to exist by other people’s standards for what I should make mine.  I have not yet “moved on” or made up with Christmas, but I suppose we’ve reached a truce.

###

For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about traditions and legacies…the things my parents gave me, for better or for worse…mostly because I’m trying desperately to hold on to the important things and let the other stuff go.  So, I can create a legacy that is intentional and mine.  I am still young, and I don’t have children.  But it’s important to me to create things to help me remember the important things so that those I love will love them, too—and will know some part of my parents and the person I used to be.  That girl who loved Christmas more than anyone.

This Christmas was a good one—not the same—but good.  It was my first celebrating full-throttle…or as close to full-throttle as I could get.  While, in years past, I put up Mama’s tree and decorated a bit—in an effort to approach normal and plunge back into it all—I didn’t exchange presents.  I didn’t play music.  I didn’t spend time with people or really cook.  This year, I did.  It was small and quiet—and exhausting—but also somewhat comforting—kinda like meeting a long-lost friend in a dark alley.  And it was different.  Mostly because I am different.    

Most Christmases, I find myself with some sort of illness.  True to form, I woke up with a head cold yesterday morning and felt like a truck ran me over—which promptly sent me back to bed.  That’s a new tradition, I suppose.  It made it easy to slip down that rabbit hole of “it’s not fair” that’s so easy to find on this anniversary.  I wanted to curl up in a ball and wake up some other day—pretend the whole thing didn’t exist.  But I didn’t.  In some ways, I am grateful for this because it gave me a reason to be kind to myself on a day when I am usually incapable of choosing such things.  I still beat myself up for her not being here. I still play the what if and the if only games in my head.  And I still tell myself to “just get over it.”  Being sick forces me to sit in it, and to feel it—to be frustrated and angry if I need to be.  It forces me to stop.

And, I suppose, it helped me realize that I didn’t want to feel like this anymore—that I could choose to not feel like this.  I stayed up very late and slept very late (more traditions) this morning.  I knew I probably would.  My roommate graciously agreed to get going on food since he is almost always awake before I am.  It reminded me of my Mama and how we handled dinner.

It was nice to know I could depend on him to help me through the day.  I didn’t whine about getting started with cooking, but it did take some inner peptalking.  But I was looking forward to it as much as I was dreading it.  I made peace with it and went forward.  With Christmas music going and movies at the ready.  White Christmas and The Christmas Story entertained us.  We had decided to make a pot roast in our new crockpot—the kind with pearl onions and root veggies all around.  In my adult world, Christmas was always ham or beef—usually a roast, though.  I’d make popovers and scalloped potatoes with salads and tons of vegetable sides.  Fruit salad and three different pies—one of which had to a cream pie.  New Year’s was easier—Mexican food…usually enchiladas.  And I love that, so I thought this should happen still…but smaller, easier.  More ordinary, but elevated.  

We made the same scalloped potatoes I’ve made since 1994.  I didn’t have the recipe anymore, but I remembered it well enough to fudge it, and a Martha Stewart clone helped with wet ingredient measures  It turned out messy, but tasty and looked beautiful.  I made a bacon and pea salad with a lemon mustard vinagrette, arugula, and lots of shaved parmesan.  It was bright and green.  I loved it.  It was not something old Alma would have enjoyed.  I never ate arugula until a few years ago.  I made a great sauce for the pot roast that Mama would have swooned over.  And some rosemary parmesan biscuits that sorta just popped in my head—which will probably become a new holiday mainstay.  I also really wanted to get back to making new things every holiday.  So, I decided to whoop it up with dessert—choosing baklava (one of my favorites) and a banoffee pie—which is basically toffee (for English peeps; dulce de leche for my Mexican friends).  All from scratch.  I was nervous about both and enlisted my roomie to help.  Both were good challenges—simple, but time-consuming.  And I was pleased with the results…though I still haven’t tasted the baklava.  It’s still soaking up sweetness.  Which brings us to another new tradition—a midnight snack—Sweaty Redhead drinks (something I invented that I hope tastes good) and baklava while playing Mario Kart—a new obsession and something that would never have happened when my Mama was alive.

I am learning there are new opportunities here.  Being an adult is weird sometimes because you can choose exactly what you do.  As an orphaned adult, I have no obligations.  Even though I kinda want obligations.  I miss calls to family where everyone keeps it short and sweet because it’s long distance!  I miss the intense Christmas wrapping that would happen on the floor, with homemade bows and much cursing about lack of tape.  I miss the angel at the top of the fake little tree, with tinsel on her head.  I miss giant signs taped to the wall haphazardly proclaiming, “Merry Christmas” in 50 different languages.  I miss cookies and coffee left for Santa.  

And I think I might keep those things—maybe next year when it’s a little easier—when I have people to sit with instead of just me and the roomie.  I have plans and ideas that make me smile and make me remember what I still could have.  I still guess my presents—and I’m glad they are either useful or absolutely silly…no in between.  I still love giving them more than receiving them.  I still want to share food with all my neighbors.  

Last night, as I yelled, “Merry Christmas” out the balcony door with my roomie—like I’ve done every single year of my existence (save the last 7), I  remembered exactly who I am and who I want to be.  And I was happy.  I felt joy.  And it was the most easy thing in the world.  And, in that moment, I don’t think anyone was happier than I was.  And that gave me hope.  

I am learning that it’s okay to feel what I feel—but that sharing it transforms it into something that’s powerful—something that can heal my heart and let people in.  I am learning to be patient—though I am terrible at it—and to ask for patience from others when I know I need it.  I am learning that I can take everything I used to love about this day—everything I loved about my parents—and infuse every day with it by being kind and genuine.  I am learning the lights are pretty every day, not just in December—and I can always keep that magic burning.

I am remembering that I love her—that I love him—that I love that little girl who I used to be.  That they are not gone.  That hating on Christmas denies my light—their light—our collective light.  I am choosing that—and joy and hope—because these are the things my Mama gave me.  That’s who she was for me.  And I can be those things for others, every day I’m still here.

And maybe one day I’ll even love it more than I used to.

Happy Christmas, everyone.  

Posted at 9:36pm and tagged with: Christmas, traditions, grief, loss, death, blog, orphanhood,.

12.14.11

As the date gets closer, my voice becomes more shrill—at least in my head—and the entire world starts to blur together—sorta like when you’re driving on the highway with the windows down…90 mph.  The patient noise of motion.  Until you resist red slams to breaking points and rear-ended muses.  And then there is so much quiet, you’re sure you’ve been buried alive.  People are talking, but someone turned down the volume.  And what you say is inconsequential because you are asleep.  Dead.  Maybe mute.  You’re not sure.

You awake to another you—a different you than the one that existed yesterday or in 1986 or in 1992 or maybe even 2001.  You can’t say if she is more or less you—just different and odd—and worth diving into…but you’re not sure if you’ll stay.

I roll the window down and then begin to breathe in the darkest country road and the strong scent of evergreen from the passenger seat as you are driving me home.

###

Seventy-four.

It’s impossibly old.  I suppose, in my childish heart, thirty-three is, too. 

I wonder how it is those numbers are right.  I double-check with my calculator and flip lenses—jumping hastily between 16 and 31 and finally 26.

These numbers mean nothing—as much as dates on calendars.  This is what I tell myself, but I quickly know I’m full of shit when I say it.

I have a plan.

I always do, and sometimes, I even engage it.  Sometimes, it saves me.  Sometimes, I drown in it.  Flip a switch, and I am not here.  And you are not gone.  And it’s only 1993.  And I am arguing with you—insisting that is NOT me in that embarrassing sweater.

And I wonder which one of us is really 14. 

Thirty-three year old me wants to take it back.

Thirty-three year old me wonders how you’ve been gone 21% of my life.

Already.

Then looking upwards, I strain my eyes and try to tell the difference between shooting stars and satellites from the passenger seat as you are driving me home.

###

It was a day full of growling.  I flitted around like an awkward hummingbird reaching toward sky, but only getting tree branches.  Time propelled me forward, and it was time to choose something else.

Today was less about choices and more about the I shoulds I observe each day.  Tit for tat, pleasepleaseplease, drop everything, why nots.  I acted so nothing would spoil—even though I wanted to stay in bed and pretend it wasn’t almost that day.  The noise was my friend, though—I decided as much as I tried not to think the thoughts that have been bouncing around for days—months—years, maybe.  I told them to go away.

I cooked. I don’t do it enough, and truthfully, I prefer my meals mine.  I miss my flavors.  I miss how I can make my taste buds jump—how I sweat while making some spectacular something—and how proud I am when all my experimenting—and that pipedream in my head turns out better than I thought it would. 

I used to always cook.  When I lived alone.  But especially, when she existed in this world.  I would get books and choose the most ridiculous things—just to see how badly I could mess it up or to prove that I was still his daughter—even after his long nothing.  I did it because I could settle into myself and not have to say a single word to prove who I was and what I was about.

I stopped when he came here.  Because, suddenly, the kitchen wasn’t mine.  The whole thing just wasn’t mine.  And I let him own me.

And then, he didn’t anymore…and I didn’t know how to own myself anymore.  And I spent a long time just trying to find my keys. 

I don’t know why I do that.  Why I hand over things to others.  Because I never used to.  I used to hold on to everything so tightly—used to shrug anyone off who wanted to matter. 

While cooking today, I didn’t love it like I used to.  I felt the strain of it against my achy muscles.  I got tired of standing and sat down to watch television.  For just a minute.  And ended up burning a carrot.  I am good in a crisis—good at saving things before they ruin everything. 

I realized why I was fighting it—why I’ve been fighting it.  Some part of me cooks for them and the person I used to be.  Some part of me pouts because they no longer exist here, and I can’t do things the way I’ve always done them.  I can’t cook giant vats of onions and peppers.  I will be the only one who devours them, and there is no satisfaction in just me.  But I still throw them in the bowl—without realizing it’s wrong.  I find blankets to keep out the cold in my attempts to please everyone and make myself worthy.  And that’s not what I need anymore.

“Do they collide?”  I ask, and you smile—with my feet on the dash, the world doesn’t matter.

###

I have been reminded lately of the kindness of strangers.  I use the term stranger relatively loosely nowadays because almost everyone lately feels rather strange to me.  Not strange in that foreign—you’re so different from me—kind of way…but, rather, in that you’re not me sort of way.  And, I suppose, that’s a good way to feel because I’ve—honestly—mostly always preferred the company of strangers.  I find them comforting. 

I’ve been rather astonished by the random things that have happened to me lately—how certain people have gone out of their way to connect—how easily connections have happened—and how grateful I am for the small things people have sent my way.

I’ve had a lot of these things happen throughout my life, but it has been especially abundant this year—especially on days that are inexplicably hard for me.  I am not always graceful in the ways I accept them or acknowledge them.  What seems so easy is often just some halfhearted whimper.  I feel the noise overtake me some days, and no matter how loudly I shout, no one can hear what’s in my heart.

I have been alone so long—have come to expect certain things for so long—that I get lost in the noise too easily.  I get frustrated when people can’t seem to hear me.  And I long for the people who used to know without me having to explain.  I long for the days when I belonged to someone and something.  And I wish people would understand that I still do—and I still want to—even if it crushes me—even if I seem lost in the blur of cities passing by. 

I was thinking that tonight as I sank into my bath water.  I looked at our nearly-dead poinsettia—and saw a single leaf perched precariously on another.  From my angle, I could see what I couldn’t see while standing—that it wasn’t connected.  It was close enough to touch—to appear like all the others—but its ties had been severed.  Probably accidentally, by me.  I do that, too.

It reminded me of me—in some weird, small way—how I’ve appeared like everyone else for so long, but in reality, I am just existing without any tether—supported on what I happen to fall on.  Only from certain angles can you tell I’m not quite the same. 

I still want to belong—even though I’m not always sure I deserve to belong—or what belonging even means.  I want to be remembered the way I used to be—and I want people to know I want that instead of just assuming I’m okay because I always seem to be just like you.  I want someone to really look at me and know it’s nice to be considered—even if I really can’t belong.  Even if I don’t want to.

When you feel embarrassed, then I’ll be your pride.  When you need directions, then I’ll be your guide.  For all time.  For all time.

*Song lyrics courtesy of Death Cab for Cutie

Posted at 5:35pm and tagged with: full width, blog, journal, death, death cab for cutie, lyrics,.


12.14.11
As the date gets closer, my voice becomes more shrill—at least in my head—and the entire world starts to blur together—sorta like when you’re driving on the highway with the windows down…90 mph.  The patient noise of motion.  Until you resist red slams to breaking points and rear-ended muses.  And then there is so much quiet, you’re sure you’ve been buried alive.  People are talking, but someone turned down the volume.  And what you say is inconsequential because you are asleep.  Dead.  Maybe mute.  You’re not sure.
You awake to another you—a different you than the one that existed yesterday or in 1986 or in 1992 or maybe even 2001.  You can’t say if she is more or less you—just different and odd—and worth diving into…but you’re not sure if you’ll stay.
I roll the window down and then begin to breathe in the darkest country road and the strong scent of evergreen from the passenger seat as you are driving me home.
###
Seventy-four.
It’s impossibly old.  I suppose, in my childish heart, thirty-three is, too. 
I wonder how it is those numbers are right.  I double-check with my calculator and flip lenses—jumping hastily between 16 and 31 and finally 26.
These numbers mean nothing—as much as dates on calendars.  This is what I tell myself, but I quickly know I’m full of shit when I say it.
I have a plan.
I always do, and sometimes, I even engage it.  Sometimes, it saves me.  Sometimes, I drown in it.  Flip a switch, and I am not here.  And you are not gone.  And it’s only 1993.  And I am arguing with you—insisting that is NOT me in that embarrassing sweater.
And I wonder which one of us is really 14. 
Thirty-three year old me wants to take it back.
Thirty-three year old me wonders how you’ve been gone 21% of my life.
Already.
Then looking upwards, I strain my eyes and try to tell the difference between shooting stars and satellites from the passenger seat as you are driving me home.
###
It was a day full of growling.  I flitted around like an awkward hummingbird reaching toward sky, but only getting tree branches.  Time propelled me forward, and it was time to choose something else.
Today was less about choices and more about the I shoulds I observe each day.  Tit for tat, pleasepleaseplease, drop everything, why nots.  I acted so nothing would spoil—even though I wanted to stay in bed and pretend it wasn’t almost that day.  The noise was my friend, though—I decided as much as I tried not to think the thoughts that have been bouncing around for days—months—years, maybe.  I told them to go away.
I cooked. I don’t do it enough, and truthfully, I prefer my meals mine.  I miss my flavors.  I miss how I can make my taste buds jump—how I sweat while making some spectacular something—and how proud I am when all my experimenting—and that pipedream in my head turns out better than I thought it would. 
I used to always cook.  When I lived alone.  But especially, when she existed in this world.  I would get books and choose the most ridiculous things—just to see how badly I could mess it up or to prove that I was still his daughter—even after his long nothing.  I did it because I could settle into myself and not have to say a single word to prove who I was and what I was about.
I stopped when he came here.  Because, suddenly, the kitchen wasn’t mine.  The whole thing just wasn’t mine.  And I let him own me.
And then, he didn’t anymore…and I didn’t know how to own myself anymore.  And I spent a long time just trying to find my keys. 
I don’t know why I do that.  Why I hand over things to others.  Because I never used to.  I used to hold on to everything so tightly—used to shrug anyone off who wanted to matter. 
While cooking today, I didn’t love it like I used to.  I felt the strain of it against my achy muscles.  I got tired of standing and sat down to watch television.  For just a minute.  And ended up burning a carrot.  I am good in a crisis—good at saving things before they ruin everything. 
I realized why I was fighting it—why I’ve been fighting it.  Some part of me cooks for them and the person I used to be.  Some part of me pouts because they no longer exist here, and I can’t do things the way I’ve always done them.  I can’t cook giant vats of onions and peppers.  I will be the only one who devours them, and there is no satisfaction in just me.  But I still throw them in the bowl—without realizing it’s wrong.  I find blankets to keep out the cold in my attempts to please everyone and make myself worthy.  And that’s not what I need anymore.

“Do they collide?”  I ask, and you smile—with my feet on the dash, the world doesn’t matter.
###
I have been reminded lately of the kindness of strangers.  I use the term stranger relatively loosely nowadays because almost everyone lately feels rather strange to me.  Not strange in that foreign—you’re so different from me—kind of way…but, rather, in that you’re not me sort of way.  And, I suppose, that’s a good way to feel because I’ve—honestly—mostly always preferred the company of strangers.  I find them comforting. 
I’ve been rather astonished by the random things that have happened to me lately—how certain people have gone out of their way to connect—how easily connections have happened—and how grateful I am for the small things people have sent my way.
I’ve had a lot of these things happen throughout my life, but it has been especially abundant this year—especially on days that are inexplicably hard for me.  I am not always graceful in the ways I accept them or acknowledge them.  What seems so easy is often just some halfhearted whimper.  I feel the noise overtake me some days, and no matter how loudly I shout, no one can hear what’s in my heart.
I have been alone so long—have come to expect certain things for so long—that I get lost in the noise too easily.  I get frustrated when people can’t seem to hear me.  And I long for the people who used to know without me having to explain.  I long for the days when I belonged to someone and something.  And I wish people would understand that I still do—and I still want to—even if it crushes me—even if I seem lost in the blur of cities passing by. 
I was thinking that tonight as I sank into my bath water.  I looked at our nearly-dead poinsettia—and saw a single leaf perched precariously on another.  From my angle, I could see what I couldn’t see while standing—that it wasn’t connected.  It was close enough to touch—to appear like all the others—but its ties had been severed.  Probably accidentally, by me.  I do that, too.
It reminded me of me—in some weird, small way—how I’ve appeared like everyone else for so long, but in reality, I am just existing without any tether—supported on what I happen to fall on.  Only from certain angles can you tell I’m not quite the same. 
I still want to belong—even though I’m not always sure I deserve to belong—or what belonging even means.  I want to be remembered the way I used to be—and I want people to know I want that instead of just assuming I’m okay because I always seem to be just like you.  I want someone to really look at me and know it’s nice to be considered—even if I really can’t belong.  Even if I don’t want to.
When you feel embarrassed, then I’ll be your pride.  When you need directions, then I’ll be your guide.  For all time.  For all time.
*Song lyrics courtesy of Death Cab for Cutie

I send them—one after another—until my eyes cross and cloud over. My legs are aching from hours of Indian-style hunching—waiting…tick tock…for it to finallyfinallyfinally be quitting time.  No matter how good my intentions, I never log-off at four.  Usually, it’s 5:42 or maybe 5:14. Sometimes, 7:02.  Most days, I don’t really mind.

Today, it was 4:15. Exactly.  I made a date with myself earlier today—sometime between twiddling thumbs and racing toward an impossible finish line.  The way I do now.  I felt proud in that odd, masochistic way that got me through childhood.  Like I had climbed a mountain and sprinted toward Heaven.  I raced into the bathroom—grabbed the black one-piece that’s always on the back of the doorknob—grabbed a towel and a dress and shoes. Searched for keys—locked up—staked out—and pushed the door open.

The door is heavy—dark wood with the pneumatic push of an arthritic knee stepping out of gear.  Heavy chlorine pushes it back toward me like so many Marilyn Monroe vents, and I am transported to summer mornings at Garfield Park—standing in line with V—our hair wet from the public shower—quarters in hand.  

Down the steps, to the chair.  I slip the dress off and hang it on white plastic—kick shoes off—why did I wear loafers, again?—and circle to the stairs. 

I am not a diver. 

###

I can’t remember when I first started swimming.  There are pictures of me in a blow-up pool in our backyard, but that wasn’t really swimming so much as splashing.  And posing for cameras—pulling my best covergirl shot.  I’d always loved water, though.  Baths, showers, lakes, streams—you name it, I was in it.  I think my long-lost love for rippling, babbling anything came from Daddy who spent so much time in California with all its beaches.  He was a Navy man, too.  Water was in my blood.    

I suppose the swimming part came about because our house lacked any air conditioning whatsoever for most of my life.  The floor in my bedroom would actually sweat.  I’m not even kidding.  We tried fans—even bought a stupid window AC—which didn’t fit and scratched up both my arms when I lifted it the five feet to its perch—next to Mama’s violets that shriveled up two weeks later.  Our go-to cooling off strategy involved spraying cold water from a bottle directly into said box fans.  Twenty-five cents was 1/4 of an ice cream sandwich, so the pool was a big sacrifice—but I made it.  

I was old enough that Mama let me go alone with V. We would usually go to Garfield as soon as they opened—spend the whole day there—watching the lifeguards—and then walk to the penny candy store on Morrison Road.  They had a Coke phone and candy that reminded me of jewels.  We’d walk in the middle of the street, walkmen on our heads, singing some poppy song—mouths full of every candy they had.

I suppose you could say what I did wasn’t quite swimming.  More like holding on to edges.  Because I didn’t actually know how to swim. I wouldn’t necessarily volunteer that information, but I’d tell you if you asked me directly.  It was kind of embarrassing, I guess.  The pool people gave lessons to the little kids in the morning.  I remember watching them through the bars—listening intently—sure I could listen my way to knowing.  But mostly, I just held on to the edges and kicked.  And got ridiculously sunburned.

When I was 10, I went to a water park for the first time and nearly drowned three times.  No one noticed.  I didn’t let them notice.  I instead came back and kept trying to master it.  After the third time, I decided to go back to the edges.

I taught myself to swim formally in college.  I’d go when no one was there—slowly pushing away from my beloved edges.  I was still pretty terrible, but—when I eventually traveled—I didn’t die when I went snorkeling.  And then I stopped swimming—stopped for no good reason—a reason I can’t even remember.  Maybe it wasn’t hot enough in my apartment anymore (yay, AC).  

Two years ago, I moved into a building with a great big pool. And I thought to myself—“I should do that.  I like that.”  And I almost drowned the first time I went in.  After that, I stuck to the edges.  I then became obsessed with learning again—started reading swimming books and went every day.  And then, I stopped in the summer because there was HOLY MOTHER OF GOD MOTHS (AHH!) in the pool. 

###

Today was the first day I spent in the pool in like three months.  I had promised myself I’d go for about two months, but every day, I’d make an excuse or get lost in someone else’s needs.  I do that.  I get lost.  I forget I need my attention.  I forget to breathe—to exhale.

I pushed back on that door like my life depended on it, and I carefully sank into nothing.  And it was warm—like a hug from an old friend.  The pool was empty—the lobby was empty—the gym was empty.  And I sank more and more.  Yes—I held those damn edges.  

The lights were off, so all I could see was the twinkle lights from the tree in the lobby.  And the windows.  Runners passing by the lattice of our fence—the frosted glass distorting them into acrylic gazelles and the warm ember of the sun finally burning out with dark trees acting as picture frames.  

The light from the pool sparkled through bubbles and foam as I moved.  And all I could think of was my iPhone and how I could get some amazing shots.  And I wanted to run upstairs and get THIS.  But I told myself NO.  

And then I thought about writing.  

And this.

And my parents.

And anniversaries.

And how, for months now, I’ve been holding onto edges—afraid to float all by myself—and to release all of THIS somewhere.

I wrote letters and notes today.  Letters and notes about real things.  Letters about them.  And I found kindness and hope and the me that’s been floating somewhere.  And I felt myself settle into myself.  

And I kicked away from the edge.

Maybe, one day, I won’t remember it’s there.

Posted at 10:41pm and tagged with: full width, 12.12.11, photography, blog, swimming, childhood,.

I send them—one after another—until my eyes cross and cloud over. My legs are aching from hours of Indian-style hunching—waiting…tick tock…for it to finallyfinallyfinally be quitting time.  No matter how good my intentions, I never log-off at four.  Usually, it’s 5:42 or maybe 5:14. Sometimes, 7:02.  Most days, I don’t really mind.
Today, it was 4:15. Exactly.  I made a date with myself earlier today—sometime between twiddling thumbs and racing toward an impossible finish line.  The way I do now.  I felt proud in that odd, masochistic way that got me through childhood.  Like I had climbed a mountain and sprinted toward Heaven.  I raced into the bathroom—grabbed the black one-piece that’s always on the back of the doorknob—grabbed a towel and a dress and shoes. Searched for keys—locked up—staked out—and pushed the door open.
The door is heavy—dark wood with the pneumatic push of an arthritic knee stepping out of gear.  Heavy chlorine pushes it back toward me like so many Marilyn Monroe vents, and I am transported to summer mornings at Garfield Park—standing in line with V—our hair wet from the public shower—quarters in hand.  
Down the steps, to the chair.  I slip the dress off and hang it on white plastic—kick shoes off—why did I wear loafers, again?—and circle to the stairs. 
I am not a diver. 
###
I can’t remember when I first started swimming.  There are pictures of me in a blow-up pool in our backyard, but that wasn’t really swimming so much as splashing.  And posing for cameras—pulling my best covergirl shot.  I’d always loved water, though.  Baths, showers, lakes, streams—you name it, I was in it.  I think my long-lost love for rippling, babbling anything came from Daddy who spent so much time in California with all its beaches.  He was a Navy man, too.  Water was in my blood.    
I suppose the swimming part came about because our house lacked any air conditioning whatsoever for most of my life.  The floor in my bedroom would actually sweat.  I’m not even kidding.  We tried fans—even bought a stupid window AC—which didn’t fit and scratched up both my arms when I lifted it the five feet to its perch—next to Mama’s violets that shriveled up two weeks later.  Our go-to cooling off strategy involved spraying cold water from a bottle directly into said box fans.  Twenty-five cents was 1/4 of an ice cream sandwich, so the pool was a big sacrifice—but I made it.  
I was old enough that Mama let me go alone with V. We would usually go to Garfield as soon as they opened—spend the whole day there—watching the lifeguards—and then walk to the penny candy store on Morrison Road.  They had a Coke phone and candy that reminded me of jewels.  We’d walk in the middle of the street, walkmen on our heads, singing some poppy song—mouths full of every candy they had.
I suppose you could say what I did wasn’t quite swimming.  More like holding on to edges.  Because I didn’t actually know how to swim. I wouldn’t necessarily volunteer that information, but I’d tell you if you asked me directly.  It was kind of embarrassing, I guess.  The pool people gave lessons to the little kids in the morning.  I remember watching them through the bars—listening intently—sure I could listen my way to knowing.  But mostly, I just held on to the edges and kicked.  And got ridiculously sunburned.
When I was 10, I went to a water park for the first time and nearly drowned three times.  No one noticed.  I didn’t let them notice.  I instead came back and kept trying to master it.  After the third time, I decided to go back to the edges.
I taught myself to swim formally in college.  I’d go when no one was there—slowly pushing away from my beloved edges.  I was still pretty terrible, but—when I eventually traveled—I didn’t die when I went snorkeling.  And then I stopped swimming—stopped for no good reason—a reason I can’t even remember.  Maybe it wasn’t hot enough in my apartment anymore (yay, AC).  
Two years ago, I moved into a building with a great big pool. And I thought to myself—“I should do that.  I like that.”  And I almost drowned the first time I went in.  After that, I stuck to the edges.  I then became obsessed with learning again—started reading swimming books and went every day.  And then, I stopped in the summer because there was HOLY MOTHER OF GOD MOTHS (AHH!) in the pool. 
###
Today was the first day I spent in the pool in like three months.  I had promised myself I’d go for about two months, but every day, I’d make an excuse or get lost in someone else’s needs.  I do that.  I get lost.  I forget I need my attention.  I forget to breathe—to exhale.
I pushed back on that door like my life depended on it, and I carefully sank into nothing.  And it was warm—like a hug from an old friend.  The pool was empty—the lobby was empty—the gym was empty.  And I sank more and more.  Yes—I held those damn edges.  
The lights were off, so all I could see was the twinkle lights from the tree in the lobby.  And the windows.  Runners passing by the lattice of our fence—the frosted glass distorting them into acrylic gazelles and the warm ember of the sun finally burning out with dark trees acting as picture frames.  
The light from the pool sparkled through bubbles and foam as I moved.  And all I could think of was my iPhone and how I could get some amazing shots.  And I wanted to run upstairs and get THIS.  But I told myself NO.  
And then I thought about writing.  
And this.
And my parents.
And anniversaries.
And how, for months now, I’ve been holding onto edges—afraid to float all by myself—and to release all of THIS somewhere.
I wrote letters and notes today.  Letters and notes about real things.  Letters about them.  And I found kindness and hope and the me that’s been floating somewhere.  And I felt myself settle into myself.  
And I kicked away from the edge.
Maybe, one day, I won’t remember it’s there.