Monthly Archives: December 2013

2013: Reflection and Goals for 2014

When I was a kid, we lived in a second floor apartment that faced the street.  The apartment had enormous bay windows with ledges that were big enough to sit in.  Across the street from our apartment building was a dentist and a bank, and sandwiched in between the two buildings was the exit for the bank’s drive-thru.  I would frequently sit in the windows, either reading a book or people watching.  Sometimes, I would try to guess who the people were coming out of the bank just by what their cars looked like.  The curtains were large enough in one window that I could draw them around myself to hide.  I loved the windows.  It was because of this love for the windows that I saw a girl riding her bicycle down the sidewalk get plowed down by a car going much too fast out of the bank drive-thru.  One minute she was riding along, top speed, and the next she was lying on the ground—half in the street and half under the front of the stranger’s car. 

Looking back on the experience now, of watching that girl fall to her ground and have her bicycle crushed, reminds me of life.  One minute, a person can be moving along and doing the things they are supposed to do.  The next, they can be completely derailed from their life path for reasons no fault of their own.  2013 has been a derailment of sorts for me, but it’s not the primary derailment.  That knock was of a very different sort.  

My original plan for my life had me loyally serving my husband, working fifty plus hours a week, and producing a family that fell in line with his specifications.  So my goals then were, necessarily, different.  Go to church, be successful in my job, have a ton of children.  Make my husband proud of me.  Nowhere on my goals list did bettering myself fall into my job description.  When I thought about going back to school, the idea always lingered in the back of my mind that I wouldn’t be able to support my husband if I was committing myself to school.  I would always come close to enrolling, but never fully follow through.  

When our son died, it changed things.  The lens through which I looked at the world was irrevocably altered.  The subsequent dissolution of my marriage and resulting divorce left me on a completely new path.  It wasn’t even really a path so much as a landing pad, a rocky place with uncertain footing and no clear ending.  I was free and suddenly able to think for myself.  And I was lost.  My goals changed.  Enrich myself.  Fit in.  Find myself.  I went to college.  I shoved the past away.  I met new people.

I got hurt.

And now I’m on another path entirely.  My path has changed so many times that I can’t even begin to say where the starting line might be.  I’m on the edge of this cliff where jumping off will lead me to something new.  I have amazing friends in A and E, and amazing professors in D and T and N (and T).  I know all of these things that I never knew before; I have made connections and I have stories to tell that are not solely sad ones.  

Part of me clings to the idea that I would change my past if I could.  Take a giant eraser and just rub the crud out of the events that have made me jump path to path until they disappear.  But I also know that if I did that, I wouldn’t have the people and the connections in my life that I have now.  I wouldn’t be where I am.  I believe that going through things makes you stronger.  I have gone through my fair share of things; I am very strong.  While 2013 could have broken me, it hasn’t.  I am one step away from graduating, and two away from graduate school.  I’m in this whole new place, and for the first time in nearly thirty years, I feel like I have the opportunity to actually seize my life.  My life is happening.  Therefore, my goals are different yet again.  They’re mine, and only mine.

Be okay.  But also, be okay not being okay.

Lose a little weight.  The right way.

Graduate, move, and prove that I can stand on my own.

Write something awesome.  Several somethings, perhaps.

Write him a letter (whether I send it or not).  And then, let him go.  Let what happened go.

That last one is the most important piece, the one I want to get done before 2014 begins.  He was an integral part of my life for so long, was so controlling, that I am left with way too many things unsaid.  Where I don’t intend to forgive him, because I don’t believe that I can, I believe that saying the things I need to say to him is the first step in forgiving myself.  And that forgiveness is the thing that I need to be okay.

I want 2014 to be the first year that he has no power in my life.

To me, this is the most important thing I can do for myself.

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“Eating Disorder Recovered”

My nemesis is small.  Gray.  With a tiny display.  I could smash it into the ground and break it into smithereens.  I could beat it easily.  And yet it beats me, time and time again.

Slowly the numbers creep up.  Higher.  Higher.  I don’t like where they are going.

I told E that I wouldn’t do this.  I wouldn’t come home and get on the scale.  But even as I said it, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop myself.  I knew I would do it.  Nobody wants to hear they’re fat.  I needed to know.

“Have you gained weight?” he asks me.  “You’re looking fatter.”

I open and close my mouth.  I don’t know how to respond.  I know full well how dangerous this statement is for me.  I know that I need to have an answer.  But there isn’t one.  I haven’t seen this man in two months, but I’m fairly certain I haven’t gained weight—I’ve lost it.  I think. 

“You should weigh yourself.  Start keeping track.”

The numbers stop.  I blink once.  Twice.  I get off the scale and then back on.  The numbers tick up quickly this time, because I know where they will land.  They are higher than I would like.  This is why I do not often allow myself to look.  This is why I have not looked in almost a year.

*

The first time I took my measurements and weighed myself after being pregnant was for a dress fitting shortly after Carter died.  When I was “eating disorder recovered.”

I tried dress after dress, trying to force my body to be the body it had been before.  But I couldn’t go back.  I couldn’t erase what had happened to me.  They whispered about me—the salespeople and my friends.  That I had lost a baby.  That I didn’t know how to adjust to the weight.  They acknowledged that I was grieving.

I only heard how fat I was.  Baby fat goes away when you nurse.  I wouldn’t nurse.  I didn’t have a baby.  Just fat.  Their words echoed, banged around inside my brain.

Fat.  You.  Are.  Fat.

I cried.  I was afraid to come out of the dressing room.

Words are that powerful.

*

I have often tried to psychologize my eating disorder, with little success.  In her book Wasted, which I read and reread and highlighted incessantly, Marya Hornbacher writes, “We turn skeletons into goddesses and look to them as if they might teach us how not to need.”  This is a perfect summation of society and the way that people are viewed.  Our self-worth as woman is based upon the size of our ass, not the size of our brain.  It’s based on the way we look on the outside, not on what we legitimately contribute to society, our real worth.  I think of the eating disorder, in a way, as a denial of my own self worth.  A refusal to see that I am as good as people say I am.  Food is a basic need.  In order for the body to function, it must be fed.  Denying the body that basic need is like saying that the body, and therefore the person, is not worth enough to warrant even something as minor as food.  So when I don’t eat, I am telling myself I am not worth enough; that I don’t have needs.  That I will be worth something when I am, as Hornbacher puts it, a skeleton.  I hate that.  I hate that part of myself.  I prefer “eating disorder recovered.”

“Have you gained weight?”

The phrase echoes in my head.  I step on and off the damn scale again.

“You’re looker fatter.”

I think of a ton of responses.

“Fatter isn’t even a real word.”

“You’re an asshat.”

“Just who exactly do you think you are?”

But it’s too late to say anything to him.  The moment when we are sitting together, conversing, has passed.  I let him say these things and didn’t stick up for myself.  What does that say about me?  It is easier to let the world tell me I am worth nothing than it is to accept the things that have happened to me; it is easier to say that these things are my fault over admitting that things happen.  It is easier to dismiss myself rather than dismiss others.

“You should weigh yourself.  Start keeping track.”

It is easier for me to listen to the word of a man who knows nothing and wants to control me than to my own self who knows so much better.

*

When life was overwhelming last semester, I heard those words in everything again.  That it was my fault.  That I deserved what happened to me.  That I was a horrible person.  That I was not good enough.

The answer was simple to the old me; not good enough, don’t eat.

But unlike in my marriage, I had more important things in my life.  More worth.  “Eating disorder recovered.”

I was more.  Worth fighting for.

*

People shouldn’t say things like this.  They shouldn’t make ignorant comments.  They don’t know who they’re talking to.  They don’t know people’s past, or the battles they have fought.  They don’t know where they are in life.  There is a sensitivity that some people severely lack.

I have fought through many things and won.  But this is something I can’t triumph over, not fully.  This is something that will not go away.  It is hard.  I know that I will run on the elliptical tonight while I watch the next episode of Orphan Black.  I know this like I know that two and two make four.  I want to eat and be okay with myself, so I will take care of myself in the only way I know how.  I will run him away.  I will run his obnoxious comments away.

I told E I wouldn’t do this, that I wouldn’t get on the scale, but I did it anyway.  And though I’m precisely where I thought I was in terms of weight, I am afraid of the number that I saw there.  I know that it’s okay.  But I don’t want to know it.  I also know I will not keep track.  I will not weigh myself again, because it will break me.  If I keep track, I will do whatever I can to make sure the number is lower each time I write it down.  I can’t do that.  I won’t do that.  I will not allow myself to do that.

It won’t be like when I said I wouldn’t get on the scale.

I want to be rational about this.  I want to know that he is full of shit, that I don’t need to freak out.  I want to not cry at the number I saw, at his words.  I want to know that they mean nothing.

I want them to not hurt.

Because I am “eating disorder recovered.”

As I sit here and eat a donut, I tell myself that I am okay.  That I am worth it.

That I am enough.

This fight, this weakness to certain words, to certain actions, is what it means to be “eating disorder recovered.”

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Broken

(Link to Refrigeration-previous piece chronologically)

Building a crib is hard.  Especially when it doesn’t come with instructions.  The cat crawls underneath the bottom piece and presses his face up against the springs.  I swear that he’s laughing.  If cats can laugh, that is.  And I believe that they can, and do.

The husband sits on the floor, various crib side pieces strewn about.  He ponders what goes where, and I shrug.  He tries one piece, and then another.  He tosses them aside on the floor.  “We need a new mattress for this.”

I look at the mattress and nod in agreement; it has minor stains in a few places and has obviously been well loved.  This is something I can do.  I pull out my laptop and look up crib mattresses, trying to figure out which one will be the best.  There are many choices.  It’s hard to choose.

This is all hard.

Getting ready for a baby is hard.

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We are sitting in the parking lot at Walgreens, and I do not want to get out of the car.  It’s not that I’m incapable.  It’s just that I simply do not want to move.  But I need things.  My mother in law comes around and opens my door in an attempt to inspire me to get out.  I wonder offhandedly why the husband is not here.  Why he did not drive me home.  And I don’t get it.  It’s all too hard to think about.  Life is too hard.

We are in my car.  It has taken me the entire drive to realize this.  I look in the rearview mirror and see the carseat base.  Nobody thought to take it out.  A simple little thing everyone forgot, but huge.  No carseat would ever attach to it.  No baby would ever ride back there.  I fight the urge to rip it out and throw it into the snow, run it over until it is shattered and broken.

Dead.

I get out, the maternity pants I’m wearing slipping down around my hips; they’re too big now.  Nothing will fit me; I haven’t been home yet, but I know this.  My feet sink into the slush around the car.  I hate winter.  It seems so awful that the world is still moving, that it has snowed and melted, that Earth is completing these cycles and he is gone.

He is gone.

I follow my mother in law blindly through Walgreens and I throw things into the cart I am using to hold myself up.  Giant bottle of ibuprofen.  Yes.  I hurt everywhere, in every inch of my being.  Extremely tight sports bra.  Check.  Feminine products.  Check.  Caffeine.  Check.  I may never sleep again.  I will need caffeine.

We go up to the register to pay and the clerk flips my credit card over and asks to see my identification.  She looks from the identification to me and back again, and I imagine how horrid I must look for one fleeting second before I realize I don’t give a shit.  It doesn’t even matter.  Not without him.  The clerk asks me my birthday, but I can’t remember it.  My mother in law says something and steers me away with my things.  Back to the car.  I dimly think that I must still be in shock, and I wonder why I didn’t stay longer in the hospital.  Why?  Because it’s expensive.  That’s why.  And it won’t help.

He is gone.

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The husband has gotten two out of four rails properly fastened to the crib.  I am holding the third in place as he attaches it with a screwdriver.

“A few drop rail cribs have been recalled lately.  But this one’s not one of them; I checked.”  When he nods, I let go of the piece I’m holding and hand him the last side.

As he screws it in, he asks, “Why were they recalled?”

“Babies get caught in the drop rail.  A few have died.”  I shudder.  Our baby dying isn’t something I want to think about.

“But not this one?”

I shake my head.

He puts down his screwdriver and shakes the last piece slightly, making sure everything stays together.  “That’s good.  We wouldn’t want to kill our baby and all.”

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The husband is leaning on the breakfast bar when I get home, talking to his father.  And eating pizza.  He didn’t drive me home because he was eating pizza?  I don’t understand this.  I don’t understand anything.  And I don’t want pizza.

I didn’t think it would be this way.  I pictured coming home to be happy.  Tiring, but happy.  Just like I had pictured the delivery ward differently.  No one expects their baby to die.  I certainly hadn’t.  I hadn’t seen this coming.  And suddenly I was back in my life as it had been pre-pregnancy, just expected to move forward.

It hurts to walk.  I move nowhere, let alone forward.  I can’t believe life is expected to go on.  I will not go on.

He is gone.

I sit on the couch.  People visit us in seemingly random spurts, but I don’t remember who they are or when they come.  I remember random details.

A single yellow rose in brown paper.  I think it goes in a vase.

A handful of brownie batches still warm in their pans.  They go to the fridge.

An empty cardboard box.  Something had been inside it.  The cat takes it over.

I do not notice these new things.  I only notice the lack.  When people are gone and everything is quiet, we rent a movie on demand.  “Land of the Lost,” the new version.  It’s absolutely ridiculous, but I am not watching.  I am staring into the side room, the room where the crib and all the things had been.  The things that aren’t there.  The crib that is gone, broken, somewhere else.

He is dead, broken, somewhere else.  Not here.  The lack can never be made up for; the hole can never be filled.

He is gone.

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We put the finished crib into the side room.  One cat climbs inside to investigate while the other sit beneath and sniffs at the legs.

“We can’t let the baby sleep out here,” I say.  “When will we switch this area with the office?”

The husband shrugs.  “After the shower?  Maybe we could do it then.  Get some people over.  Put them to work.  Feed them pizza.”

I imagined how the nursery would look when it was all finished.  How it would evolve as our son aged.  How we could take out the drop rail; how he would become a big boy in a big bed.  How it would be broken down when he was a toddler, put in to storage.

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The room was never used.  His things were never used.  They never will be.

Somewhere in existence, there is a storage shed that is filled with baby things.  Bouncer, car seat, crib, clothes, toys.  Everything disassembled, broken.  I don’t know where these things are; I gave up everything in the divorce.  But I wouldn’t want them anyway.

They’re broken down.  Unused.  Unneeded.

He is gone.

Things can be broken, and broken down.

People can be broken too.  He was broken.

He is gone.

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Endings

Another semester has ended, and with it, a part of my life.  But a new segment of my life is beginning.  A new part of the journey.  Me moving forward, hopefully into grad school.

I came up with an end segment for my memoir this week.  Here’s a portion of it:

This memoir has been the story of a recovery.  Of a hike.  But more than that, of a life lived and people met along the way.  

If nothing else, for me as I am now, what happened to me doesn’t matter in the same way that it used to.  Yes, it’s still there.  And yes, it still hurts.  But it hurts in a different way, because I am different.    I don’t want to spend my life behind a pane of glass.  I want to experience all of the things that the world has to offer.  I want to be confident that I can handle life’s occurrences, even though it’s hard.  

I want to know the things that other people already recognize.

Life on the other side is hard and bright and loud.  But it’s also fun and enriching and educating and a million other things.  I want to cross the threshold and experience life beyond the wall that I’ve constructed around myself.

This has been the story of my journey.  All of the pieces of this journey and the people within it add up to the place where I am now.  Because I have survived these things, I know that I can survive anything.  N told me recently that when, not if, I get in to graduate school, I will become my best self, even better than I am now, because I will be around writers and I will be writing.  What makes me strong is my words, and they’ll be with me wherever I go.  

Like I said in the beginning, this story isn’t pretty.  It isn’t magical flowers and rainbows; it doesn’t feature a unicorn.  But it does belong to me.  I have struggled for a long time regarding how to end this.  But now I know that there is no ending.  To end would be to stop growing, and I don’t ever want to stop.  I always want to grow.  I want to continue to be better than my past, to be better than the holes.  I want to hold on to what I have and take it and use it and be better.  

I want, more than anything, to keep this journey moving to the other side.

These people will be with me forever, because they are part of my story.

These words will be with me forever.

This life will be mine.  Forever.

I’ve been worried lately about endings.  The end of my undergraduate career.  The end of my life in Wisconsin.  The end of my time with the wonderful people I have met and been blessed with the opportunity to learn from.  I have had amazing mentors within the college I go to who have given me the opportunity to learn more about life and myself and everything than I ever thought possible.  I have made real friends that will be around for a long time.  Many times, I think about how scared I am to leave this place, to end this time of my life.  But the end of this semester and my subsequent reflections upon life have shown me that I’m thinking about this all wrong.  Instead of thinking about endings, I should be thinking about beginnings—like that saying about one door closing and another opening.  Every ending in my life has actually been a beginning.  The end of my son was the beginning of the dissolution of my marriage.  The end of my marriage was the beginning of my college career.  The end of my college career will be the beginning of my new life and, hopefully, a graduate school career.  Each time something in my life has ended, as sad as it has been, it has pushed me into a new place.  I am learning to handle my life, bit by bit.  I am making allowances, taking care of myself and doing the things that I need to do to be okay.  I’m learning that it’s okay to not always be okay, that it’s okay to be broken sometimes.  But, in turn, I’m also learning that just because I break occasionally does not mean that I am forever damaged.  I am not damaged.  I have been hurt, but it does not define me.  I am healing, slowly but surely.  And this ending is a new beginning.

Endings are sad, but they aren’t as sad when we reverse them.  When we make them beginnings.  The word beginning implies an opportunity to grow.  My words make me strong, and they will always be with me.  I will take myself and lay everything out; I will learn and grow from my experiences and the knowledge and support of the people around me.  And because I am giving myself opportunities to grow and become my own person, I will be my best self.

I have been worried about leaving, about the end.  But there is no end.  There is only growth.  And I will never, ever, stop growing.

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No Matter What

I’ve had a flurry of contact with two different graduate school programs over the past few weeks, most recently a phone interview for one program.  The interview went incredibly well, which I found pleasantly surprising.  We spent ten minutes or so covering my writing sample, and the ways that art relates to my work.  We talked about why I want to go to graduate school, and I got to ask questions regarding the types of courses the particular professor who was interviewing me taught.  After that, they asked me about my greatest literary and professional influences.  I spent a good ten minutes talking about Chaucer.  And I started thinking.

Nothing has stretched me more than college has.  For the first time in a long time, I have found a community where I actually fit.  I have found people to learn from and people to be friends with, people who think like I do and share my interests.  People who have taught me new things and new skills, and helped shaped the skills that I already had into things I could use.  People who have allowed and even encouraged me to be myself, and helped me to develop that self into someone that I am proud to call me.  People who have helped me not to quit.  I have never had a group of people, between the friends I have made and the professors who have both supported and enriched me, that have made me feel so comfortable being me.  I am more grateful to each and every one of them than most of them will ever know.

This interview process combined with the weekly emails I’ve been exchanging with another school have made the process of graduate school very VERY real to me.  As in, it is really happening.  As in, it looks like I’m going.  I might actually be accepted.

I’m going to be leaving where I am now behind.  I am going to leave HERE.

I can’t decide how I feel about this.  This place has made me who I am, reminded me how strong and independent and fully functional I can be.  Presented with the prospect of doing an in-person interview for the school I phone-interviewed for, I suddenly find myself pondering where my identity comes from yet again.  Can I be the person that I am now somewhere else, without the people who have helped me and taught me SO much?  Can I be confident in another place, another setting, without people to lean on?  I’m not sure if I can, and it scares me.

I pushed for graduate school because I wanted to be in a place that isn’t local, where my experiences are not the first thing that come to people’s mind when they see me.  I pushed for graduate school because I wanted to get away.  But now I’m not so sure.  I’m not sure I’m ready to get away.  I’ve been taught my whole life how to listen to others, and I don’t know how to listen to myself.  I’m not sure this me can come with me, and I care for her very much.

I wrote something similar to D today, and she responded, “You will carry this with you wherever you are.  This is yours no matter what.”

This kind of statement, from someone I greatly respect, is exactly what I’m talking about.  The support I’ve found, the place that I’ve made for myself, is not something that I want to give up.  I have grown from the person I was when I was with him into someone else entirely.  I have learned how to be on my own.  My advisor once told me that one of the greatest moments she has while teaching is the moment when a student does not need her anymore, when they can do things on their own.  Through the guidance of my awesome professors, through the love and acceptance I have received from my friends, this is exactly the point I am arriving at.  I have learned so much.  I am at the point now where I have to start learning on my own, and have confidence that my ideas still matter even when they are just mine.  This person that I am, as influenced and supported and cared about and accepted as she is, will still be me even if that goes away.  Even if I’m on my own.  Because the things that these wonderful people have taught me will always be with me.  I will carry these things, and I will carry me; I will grow, and I will learn more things.  I will carry the new things too.  I will carry me, always.  No matter what.

This is all totally new to me.  I’ve become something totally new.  But heck if I’m not scared.

I’m not ready to leave.

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