Tag Archives: choices

Everyone Deserves an Ordinary Day

Those who know me well know I am a creature of routine. I eat the same things each day; I walk dogs in the same order each day; I walk the same ways each day. I’ve got one dog, a little miniature pinscher, that lives in Tribeca (South Manhattan). Every day that the weather’s nice, we walk to Hudson River Park. We cross the highway from her house. We cross the bike path. We walk along the river, we meet up with our puppy friends, and then we walk back along the bike path to her building. 

Yesterday was just an ordinary day. We walked along the water and met up with our more reluctant walking buddy. My dog stopped to play in some fall-tinted leaves at the corner of Chambers and West, and I had to urge her along so that our friend would make it home in time. I promised her we’d come back and play after we left our friend, and we did. She pranced through the leaves with her long tan legs, kicking them everywhere and somehow getting them stuck to the Velcro of her purple windbreaker. I peeled off the foliage, scooped her up, and took her home. 

As I was leaving the tiny pup in the care of her moms, a man in a Home Depot rental truck jumped the curb off the highway, accelerated over the bushes, and crashed down onto the bike path. He mowed down some pedestrians almost immediately, a group of Argentine tourists, and then proceeded to speed south towards World Trade Center. He sped past the dog park where my dog and I stop to train, past the benches where we sometimes hang out, past the skate park where she sometimes stands and barks. He mowed down people biking, someone on skates, pedestrians. He crashed his truck into a school bus a few minutes later. 

On the corner of Chambers and West. He crashed on the corner of Chambers and West. Where I had literally just been. Where I had stopped. Where I had loitered. Where we had played like it was any other day. 

We (New Yorkers) thought at first it was a shooter. This wasn’t true. The police had moved to intercept him, and after he crashed into the school bus and exited the truck with what turned out to be a paintball gun, they shot him and stopped his rampage. It last around 12 minutes, from what I can ascertain. 12 minutes. Had I been late yesterday, even by a few minutes, my pup and I may have still been at that leaf pile. Who knows how that might have ended. I don’t want to answer that question. I shouldn’t have to. 

All the social media seems to be focusing on is that this man, a man I won’t name because he gets no fame from me, “planned his attack for weeks in the name of ISIS,” that he was a foreigner who wanted to kill people to glorify this regime. I don’t think his race even matters; he could have been anyone. What matters is that he did this here, in my city, where I work. My city that I love. Had I been earlier, I would have been going about my ordinary day just like the 11 people were that no longer have an option to do so. And that doesn’t sit well with me. 

This man is a coward. He planned a cowardly attack on innocent, everyday people just because he could. And I’m angry. I’m angry for the people who won’t wake up today, for the families that have to go on without them. I’m angry that I now have to look both ways before crossing the bike path because I’ll always wonder if it could happen again. I’m angry that I’m not sure I want to walk there anymore. 

I’m angry that someone has made me afraid. 

I will never understand how some people get off on causing fear in others. By being afraid, aren’t we just giving these people what they want? Because there are more people like this man out there. They want us to be afraid. But we shouldn’t have to be. 
Everyone has the right to have an ordinary day, to go about their business and to do their work and to have their fun without worrying about a rental truck barreling off road down the bike path and mowing them down. There are 11 people today who no longer have that privilege, who can no longer appreciate the simple things because that coward took their lives away. And for what? The glory of living on forever in the media? Was it worth it?

I want to say that I have answers. I don’t. Clearly. But what I do know is that we have to appreciate even the most ordinary of days. Because we don’t know when those will end. It’s not fair, but we will never know. I am grateful for today, for the pittie sitting in my lap while I write this and for the sun (that hid behind the clouds, but who cares). And I am grateful that I was on time yesterday, that I was not in the wrong place at the wrong time. I am grateful to play fetch and to get hugs and to appreciate every single bit of this ordinary day. 

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We All Make Mistakes

I can still remember when Corey and Topanga broke up. I’m guessing many from my generation can. Boy Meets World; TGIF; quality thank goodness it’s Friday television programming. Topanga was crying; her family was moving to Pittsburgh, away from her childhood sweetheart, and what was the point in continuing a relationship when they couldn’t be together?
I had middle school play practice the next morning. Eighth grade, so it was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. So and so had kissed so and so. So and so had gone to the movie with a bunch of so and sos, all of whom shall remain nameless I remember so vividly though because it was the start of something for me–my friends were talking about real boys, and I was talking about Corey and Topanga breaking up as if they were real people, because, in a way, they were. 
I’ve written stories in my head for as long as I can remember, intending to inscribe them for the masses but never being motivated enough to publicize my fiction. Samantha and Rebeckah were (are; let’s be real, I still write them in my head as I fall asleep) my favorites. Both had terrible lives marked by notable happy endings, followed by more terrible, followed by more happy. Every bad is met with its match in good. And in my stories, they always met a boy, and that boy was what saved them. Somewhere along the way, I convinced myself that meeting a boy would save me too. 
*
How to make a mistake:
Step one: Evaluate all possible choices. 

Step two: Evaluate all possible outcomes. 
*
It was hot in the church on the afternoon of June 2nd, a few years after I graduated high school. I sat in a pew, my annoyance marked with my traditional silent eyeroll that I hid from B with my then-long bangs. Just a few more things, they kept telling us. Just a few more, then we could go. It turned out wedding rehearsals were harder than they looked. It was a bunch of go here, do this thing, do that thing, go there, sit. Move. Wait. 
We were poor, so our after-rehearsal dinner consisted of a bunch of meat thrown on the grill on the backyard deck by B’s dad, who had left the rehearsal early to commence the cooking festivities. So far as we knew, everything was fine. Until the phone call: “So everything is fine.” Nothing is fine that starts with that phrase. “There’s just been a small fire on the deck.”
It was another event in a string of events that shaped a loud and clear broadcast stating it was wrong to marry B. We lost our church, our free catering, our pastor, our wedding counselor, all in the weeks before the wedding. But we kept plunging ahead. Or rather, I kept plunging ahead, because I wanted the happy ending I knew existed. I thought. I knew it was a mistake. I made it anyway. This one mistake set in motion many other events, many other mistakes, much more unhappiness. I kept thinking that I had done the thing I was supposed to–I had gotten married–and that this would be the thing to save me because it was always the boy that would save the girl.
That night, after the dinner, I sat on my bed, my last time without B in my apartment, and I painted my toenails with sparkly silver nail polish while my good friend sat across from me and told me not to do it. Not to go through with it. Not to marry B. But I did it anyway because I thought I was supposed to. Girl meets boy; girl marries boy; girl produces many children and stays home to take care of the family for all eternity. I wanted to do the right thing. 
But I made a mistake; my life was none of these things. When everything disintegrated, despite looking for someone else to save me, I had to be the one to save myself. 
*
How to make a mistake:
Step three: Choose what you think is the expected outcome, the one that everyone else wants. 
*
I know this great dog who shall remain nameless, since that’s how the rescue game is played. She came to the rescue with her mother and two sisters from a backyard breeder in New Jersey that saw what was amazing inside the mommy dog and used it to make himself money (it’s no wonder I wanted to adopt the mommy dog then…). This puppy was my first real placement of a dog I loved. I drove her to the house, I dropped her there. I celebrated when she stayed, and I lived for the picture and video updates and the times I got to visit in an era of my life when I wasn’t seeing many rescues doing well. When so many dogs would act out or bite or never leave and sit Saturday after Saturday not finding a home, it was nice to be reminded that good homes did exist, that all dogs have good inside somewhere, and that they all have a place, like we all have a place. But then this dog made one mistake, and she came back to the rescue. Her return was the right thing for everyone, but right or not didn’t make it suck any less for any of us. The mistake was too colossal, too all-encompassing, to come back from, a permanent black mark on an otherwise impeccable record, and a black mark of the biggest sort. 
*
How to make a mistake:
Step four: Do that thing that everyone else wants. 

Step five: Watch the results and know that you’re screwed. 
*
I think it was pack instinct that drove this dog to do the thing she did. “I must protect the pack, because the pack protects me/because the pack loves me/because the pack has brought me my happy and I must return the favor.” It’s impossible to know for sure though. But what I do know, both from my own life and the lives of those around me, is that we make the biggest mistakes trying to live up to the expectations of those around us. We make the biggest mistakes when we’re genuinely trying to be the best we can be. It doesn’t make us bad; it doesn’t make us unworthy; it just means that we have not found our place yet because we haven’t learned to define ourselves outside of other people’s expectations. 
Doesn’t this make us all just like dogs? We want to please so badly sometimes without a thought to the consequences that we plunge headlong into situations we can’t come back from. If you stick to the norms, follow the expected commands to their given outcomes, and don’t step out of line, everything will be fine. Right?
*
How to make a mistake:
Step six: Do not repeat; learn from the thing you’ve done. 
*
Queue the after-hiatus Boy Meets World Cory-without-Topanga episode that ended with Topanga outside the door in the rain, her hand pressed to the glass and her long brown hair slicked against her skin as she declared she was moving back to live with her aunt and would be together with Corey forever. I wish all decisions ended so happily. I am too old, have wasted too much time, to make the wrong ones. Writing stories, living with and in characters, does nothing when they always have a happy ending, because those endings do not exist through others–and it’s a mistake to believe they do. We write our own stories. We make mistakes we can’t take back. We live. We learn. 

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There is No Normal

I’m not a huge believer in attending social functions. People frequently get annoyed with me because I don’t go out when there are large groups; often I SAY I will go and then find a reason to back out at the last minute. Large groups make me focus on all of the ways that I’m different rather than the ways I fit in or the things I have in common with the people around me. I don’t know how to be a person when I don’t have a predesignated topic of conversation. As a shining example, any time I do anything that has to do with dogs, I am confident. I know dogs. I know their behaviors and their motivations. I’m learning their fears. I know how to discuss them in a way that people can understand, though, quite frankly, I would rather spend time just me and the dog. I can also play well as a teacher, a manager, a friend. But groups are hard. I don’t know how to be a person sometimes; it’s a skill that was taken from me that I’ve never quite gotten back, the ability to not be judged. There’s this wall between me and the world that I’m not sure how to negotiate in a crowd; I don’t think I can be more than one thing at once. I don’t think I can let go. Not completely.

*

Pedro is such a handsome boy. He’s gorgeous—tall and black with little specks of white—but spends most of his time with his tail tucked, his majestic head stiff and his eyes alert. Watching. Pedro is one of the few dogs I’m not completely comfortable walking. Not because I can’t control him; I can. More because I understand too well what other people refer to as his unpredictable nature. I don’t find him to be unpredictable at all. Pedro just doesn’t know he’s a dog. To Pedro, dogs on the street are all big and scary, while, to most other dogs, dogs on the street are all potential friends. Each week, Pedro finds a new things to be scared of. Man in a white van? RUN!!! Woman with a rolling grocery cart? BARK!!! A LOT!!! Tiny chihuahua off leash? BE FEROCIOUS WITH ALL SIXTY POUNDS OF MIGHT!!! Pedro’s mission is to scare the world away before it can scare him.

*

The first time I went out, after, and I went to a bar with some friends. Two friends? Manageable. All of the other people in the bar who wanted to touch and talk to me? Less so. I wanted to be the little woman hiding in a box as we came in. She had a reason to be there, a cash box in her lap, a special hand stamp in one hand and a light in the other. I identified more with her than the friends I was with in that moment. I wanted nothing more than to hide in that little black room. Give me the cash box, give me a job, give me anything but having to be the person that I was. Anything to keep from thinking those words. Instead I kept quiet, observed the room around me. The people dancing in gray metal cages, the multicolored lights that crisscrossed the stage and bled up the curtains. If it hadn’t happened, I thought, that could be me out there. Taking shots. Dancing. I leaned against the counter. But it happened. He raped me. He took everything. I spent the night holding up the counter.

*

I’m a fan of redirection commands for dogs over negative reinforcement. Pedro is not the type of dog who will ever find the world to be not scary. However, he can learn to associate the scary with food. “Pedro, look!” TREAT! “Pedro, let’s walk!” MORE TREATS!!! Dog walks down the sidewalk? ALL THE TREATS EVER!!! The scary things are still scary, but there are good things that come with them that make the scary easier to deal with.

*

I let my friends get my drinks for me so I wouldn’t have to converse with the bartender. I didn’t want to answer any questions about myself. I wanted to be anonymous. People were dancing, flamboyantly waving their arms in the air as they shoved themselves against each other, an act which had never been my thing. I was never free enough to dance before. I was certainly not free enough after. Two men circled the edges of the crowd, and I named them Green Shirt and Gray Shirt. Green Shirt was a grinder; he kept coming up behind women and rubbing himself against them, but none of them seemed to mind. Gray Shirt was different. He hopped over the counter and wandered behind me, towards the DJ booth. My friends were off, dancing, as his hand found my back and slid down, down, down…I elbowed him and fled to the bathroom, far away. My friends didn’t notice I had left. I sat in the stall and I wondered if I had imagined him, if he had touched me at all, or if I was remembering the hands of someone else. Of Him.

*

If I could be inside Pedro’s head, I imagine it would be something like this: “Another day. More time spent in the shelter. At least I have my bed. Oh, wait. I hear something. Keys?!? It’s my friend! My friend is here! She’ll play with me. Oh, wait…I have to go outside. I don’t want to go outside. Don’t make me go outside. But, wait…I have to go to the bathroom. I have to go outside. I can do it! Here we go! IS THAT A DOG?!? Wait, she said look! I should look at her! I’m looking at her! I’m doing it, I’m doing it, I’m doing it! Dog? What dog? My friend is smiling. I’m doing this right! I’m gonna do it again!” And he does. His new training program is working amazingly well. Two minute walks became ten minute walks became thirty minute walks. Storming the shelter window barking when a dog walks by is now grabbing a squeaky toy and running to get in bed. Baby steps for Pedro. Small doses. Being in the world to learn how to be in the world.

*

I don’t often admit the real reason why more than one on one or two on one is hard for me. It’s that I don’t know who I am yet, that I might never know, that I don’t always know how not to be afraid. How many people are there? Can I see the exit? Can I get to it? Do I need to? Who is that person behind me? Has he had too much to drink? Have I?

Does it matter?

Sometimes, I’m lost. More often than not lately, though, I’m not lost at all. I’ve been going out more, in small doses. One on ones. Two on ones. Building relationships for group situations. Giving myself “rewards” for milestones. Working up to staying 45 minutes. An hour. Two. Being in the world to learn about being in the world. I may never be “normal,” but there is no normal, really. And if I don’t work with what I have, I will never have anything more. It’s not enough to simply survive, to say “I survived,” if I’m not any better for it. 

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On Love

This has been a weird week for me and love. The third would have been my anniversary, so there’s that. Also, I finished the most beautiful video game in the entire world, “The Last of Us,” and I went to see “The Fault in Our Stars.” Why, you ask? Because I’m apparently a glutton for punishment. And feelings. All the feelings. You see, I’m really not one who finds it easy to believe in the good, in love. I believe this is the reason that I watch so many horror films. They tend to favor gore over feelings. While I personally am not into gore in my real life, it makes for a good escape. 

I am not sure I have ever believed in love. So when I watch amazing movies such as “The Fault in Our Stars,” I find myself a little lost. It isn’t really real to me. I have never clicked with a person like that; I have never been loved in that way:

“I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.” 

Love isn’t real; life will always end; people will always return to dust. The sun will eat the earth. These things will happen. They are facts. And just like they are all facts in the moment of this speech, it is also a fact that this boy loves this girl. I have never been everything to somebody else, despite all of my greatest efforts to be. I will give everything. Part of that is just my personality, but part of that is also that I really just want people to like me. I say all the time that I don’t need to be in a relationship with another person to be complete, and that’s the truth. But holy crap, do I want to feel that type of love even just one time in my life. Just once. Do I cry over this movie because of the beauty of it all? Or because of what I don’t have? Or both?

I thought that I had to be a certain way, fit a certain mold wherein I married and had kids and did all of the womanly things I was supposed to do. I did that, but it didn’t work out for me. Because it wasn’t me. It isn’t me to give everything and receive nothing in return; it isn’t me to give everything because I am made to do it. Giving everything of myself to someone needs to be a choice that comes from within me, not an idea that is pressed upon me. Never has anything rung more truly to me. Love should not ever be that way. Love is not ever one-sided, or, at least, it shouldn’t be. 

Every person on this planet, all six billion plus of us, are orbiting in small circles that occasionally come into contact with one another. And we all leave tiny ripples behind; everything we do alters the paths of those around us in even the tiniest of ways. The greatest lesson that I’ve ever learned is that there is no right way to be with other people. There is not one singular way in which to do it. Everyone is doing what they need to do to survive, to show that they care for each other. And somewhere, out there, there is perhaps another person who is doing the same things that I am doing. Showing the same things. A match.

This year has opened up a whole world I never knew existed, thanks to the making of many new and openly honest friends. There’s romantic love, there’s attraction. There’s men with women, and vice versa, and women with women, and men with men, and people who don’t identify with any of these things in particular. There isn’t one formula for love; it is always different. And perhaps the reason that I have never found it, never felt it, is because I have tried to place it inside a box.

I lost something, but I lost it because it wasn’t the right thing for me. And what I lost was in no way real love. It wasn’t love at all; I see that now where I couldn’t see it while in it. So thank you world, for opening my eyes. Maybe I will never be loved in the manner of Augustus and Hazel Grace. But the hope is there. And that’s enough.

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Why I Can’t Go to Grad School (And Why I Will Anyway)

At this time last year, I wasn’t sure I would graduate.

I remember sitting with my laptop, trying to wrap up a difficult paper, and realizing that my brain was on shut down mode. There was a lot inside my head that kept from being who I wanted to be. I frequently hid in the third floor stacks at the library, in my special chair that overlooked all the things. I couldn’t walk down the hallway without headphones on because the world was too noisy. Too loud. There was a wall between me and the rest of the world, built brick by brick of the experiences in my life. The easiest way for me to communicate was the written word. So I said “to hell with this,” and decided to throw everything into grad school applications. Because it was easier. Because I could. Because it filled a hole.

I applied to eight different grad school programs. I didn’t think I would get in to any. So where I thought last year that I would be figuring out now what to do with the rest of my life, I am instead figuring out what I will do with the rest of my education. I didn’t realize this decision would be even more difficult. It’s funny, really, that I was so set on the idea that I wouldn’t get in that, while I was sad at my first rejections, I was solid in my backup plan. I didn’t plan to get in.

Not only did I get in. I got in to four. A plethora to choose from.

The choice is narrowed down to two now. 

*

I showed the cost breakdown I had worked out to D. She looked at it, and passed my phone back. “What is it that you like about these schools? Break it down.”

After thinking for a second, I answered, “Well, School A is new, and it’s high up on the rankings list. I already have relationships forming with people there. The program is more of a one on one or two as opposed to a mass advising thing.” I smiled at her. “And you know I like people.” I gestured between the two of us.

She nodded. “I noticed.”

“And the best part is the amount of connection available to the publishing world.” If I want to write eventually, I’ll be closer to knowing people, I thought. “It seems like they really set their students up.” 

“And School B? What is it about that one?” She knew I didn’t like it.

“It’s just…so…Okay. It’s really institutionally. Like, they really lack one on one advising, which I love. The program isn’t as set up in terms of the publishing world. It feels stiff.” And am I good enough to go there? Anywhere? Maybe that’s why it’s stiff. Maybe that’s why it feels like I don’t fit with them. Because I don’t belong there. The things I can’t say.

“Well, maybe it isn’t as connected. But it’s one of the top schools in the country. And you WILL write there. Have you talked to students there?”

“Yes,” I laughed, “you told me to.” I don’t know what to do.

“What’d they have to say?”

“Good things. They like the program, the courses. And they have their magazine, which is amazing.” And it’s all great but I’m freaking out nonetheless. What if I’m not good anywhere else? What if I’m only good here?

“What about what’s coming out of there, what the campus is producing?”

“I’m not sure how to ask about that,” I replied. “They seem like they like it though.” They are all pretty. They are all good. They could all be the right choice. But they could also be so, so wrong.

“What about the ones from School A?”

“I can talk to whoever I want at School A. They’ve really set me up in that way. I could tell you everything from what the courses are like to 

After a minute I added, “I really like the advisor at School A that I’ve been talking to. There’s already a relationship forming.” I’m afraid of being alone.

“I get that. I do. So I suppose it comes down to what you want to do when you graduate.”

“What do you mean?” Will I graduate?

“If you want to teach, go to School B. But if you want to be in publishing, go to School A.”

And if I fail at all these things, what will I do then? Out loud I said, “I’m just scared.”

“I’m just worried about this, about you, financially.”

Me too. But I was more afraid of everything I didn’t know than the obvious thing that I did.

*

Where will I live?

What if the classes are too hard?

What if my roommates are secret axe murderers?

What if I don’t have anything?

What if I have to sleep on the floor.

What if I can’t hack it?

What if I don’t know how to live on my own?

What if I fail?

What if I always belong to HIM?

*

There are a lot of reasons that I can’t go to grad school. I’m comfortable here. I own no furniture. For the first time in my life, I am actually fairly comfortable where I am. I have friends; I have people I can trust and talk to. I don’t want to leave that. Part of it too is that this really is a totally new start of my life. And I take that really seriously after all the life that’s happened to me. So to think that I might screw it up is very frightening to the point where I don’t want to decide at all.

But the truth of the matter, the real truth of it, is that I refuse to trust myself. I refuse to trust my gut, I refuse to trust what it is telling me. I refuse to just buck it up and make a decision. Do I continue, or do I turn back? Do I stay? Or do I go?

There are a lot of reasons why I can go to grad school, or rather, why I should. My GPA is excellent. I’m a good student. I write very well. I could actually make myself proud of me.

I need that new start.

The choice is narrowed down to two now. 

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The Depths

Image

The Jellystone campground had a high dive.  It wasn’t just any high dive, mind you.  This high dive was about fifteen feet high.  I was a fish in the water, but ten feet was one thing when swimming down in the water and a completely different story when flying through the air.  That’s what I would be doing if I jumped off.  Flying.  

I curled my toes over the edge of the board and bounced a little, my heart threatening to burst out of my chest.  The kids behind me screamed at me to go, to jump already.  There was no turning around, the ladder was too crowded to get back down.  It was too late to change my mind.  The only way down was off the edge.  Into the water.  Plummeting.  Fifteen feet.

I couldn’t go back.  So I leapt.  

*

Some decisions can not be undone.  They keep telling me this, disregarding the fact that I am well aware.  In reality, there are no choices that can be undone.  Every choice, every move, that we make results in an event or an action.  Some of these things are small, but some are huge.

This was huge.

My entire life, I have taken pride in my ability to fly solo.  I carry the weight of the world; I’m not good at sharing.  I don’t want to share.  No one should have to carry my weight.  I only share when I’m desperate.  

I know I should be paying attention to what I’m being told.  Words like irreversible.  Choice.  Options.  Force.  But I’m not.  The words float in and out of my consciousness and seed themselves in the back of my mind.  I’m supposed to let a friend in, let a friend help.  I need to give this careful consideration; it’s required of me that I bring someone.  I should do this, I should do that.  I should, I should, I should, I can’t.  I’m tired of this; I am tired of should-ing and I’m tired of caring.  I want to not care.  Can I do that?  Just for a little while?  No.  Hiding was an option I did not have.  This would not go away.

Four semesters into undergrad.  Six classes, eighteen credits:  three upper division Psychology courses and three upper division English courses.  Keeping a balance between my two majors was a fine line; I was attempting to finish them both in the time it would take an ordinary student to complete one.  I was pulling a 3.89 GPA, had straight A’s, and teaching a successful TA section of Psych 101 alongside the chair of the psychology department.

There was no time.  There was no time for this; there was no time to figure it out.  There was no time for this to happen.  Too much was happening, too fast.  Too many things.  Too much.  No.  It isn’t fair.  But it is less fair, if that’s even possible, that I have no one to tell.  No one to let in.  

I am breaking.

It’s impossible to survive alone.  I realize this now.  But it’s too late.  Secrets kill.  They shatter everything.  Which is more important, an intact reputation or a life?  Is it better to be completely destroyed emotionally but still seen as good?  Is that living? 

What makes a life?

So this is your choice?  I nod.

I have always been shy, since back when I was a kid.  But school was a new beginning for me.  I could be myself at school; I wasn’t as shy.  There were people at school who believed in me, supported me, and encouraged me to form my own ideas about how the world worked.  Academic, strong, intelligent, awesome me had become the norm.  The people around me, and even I myself, had begun to expect her.  I had to do this.  I had to do this, or I would lose her forever.

I stare at forms and figure out what info goes where.  As I stare at the question that asks “Do you have any children?”  A single tear slips down my cheek.  I swipe it away furiously as I check the no box.  There are no exceptions.  No allowances.  And I don’t understand why they need to know.  If that makes it better.  It doesn’t make it better.  Nothing makes it better.

I am struck by a memory, an echo of the words my ex spoke that night, his profession of love for me.  We went to McDonald’s the week after we returned from our honeymoon, and he informed me that he would be giving me an allowance—I would have three dollars a day to eat on.  He quit his job soon after that, leaving me the breadwinner of our family, in order to advance his private recording business and travel with bands.  I earned all of the money, but I couldn’t spend it.  He never lifted a finger to do any housework; he believed it to be the wife’s job.  My job.  But he loved me.  And every time he took something away, every time, he would tell me he loved me.  He loved me.

He loved me.

*

I thought I’d be happy once we divorced, but it didn’t feel as good as I’d thought it might.  I wasn’t sure how to be my own person.  I started school right around this time, and I found it to be a fantastic outlet.  I had always known I wanted to be a writer, but I discovered that I loved the psychology field as well.  Rather than pick one, I signed up for both majors, put my nose to the grindstone, and got to work earning my degrees.

The third semester of my undergrad career, I met D.  She taught the gateway course for the English major, and in the process of tackling her challenging course, I started getting better.  She didn’t know how much she did for me back then; there was no reason for her to know.  But I started talking again.  I raised my hand, I participated in class.  I volunteered information.  I started making friends.  I learned that it was okay to have my own thoughts, and that people liked me for me.  And I gained respect as a writer and as a student.  More importantly, I started to respect myself again.

The pinnacle moment of my growth was when, more terrified than I could ever remember being, I had to present a paper I had written in front of a crowd of both professors and peers.  I insisted in the days leading up to it that I would rather take an F than have to speak in front of people, even though I had never received an F in my life.  But with her encouragement, I pushed through.  There was no going back, only forward.  I had no choice; I couldn’t turn around because I couldn’t go back to where I had come from.  I spoke in front of people.  I articulated and shared ideas that had come from me, without fear that they would be put down or criticized.  My presentation, and my paper, were a hit.  So was I.  I dove into the depths of life, and I didn’t sink.

*

What I know.  

Not doing this will end badly for everyone.  Removing me completely from the equation, I imagine the pain that will come.  I imagine the let down, the loss of NOT making a decision.  

What I fear.

The people who care, how different their opinions of me will be when they found out.  If they find out.  I think of the pedestal I have put myself on; I imagine the way they see me.  In my head, I make their respect, their caring, conditional.  How wrong they would find me to be when this was over.  How much I would lose.  

I weigh the scales, the pros and cons.  I remove myself; it’s the only way I can push through.  I sign the dotted line.  I close my eyes.  I leap.

It’s over in a blink.  It’s painful sometimes, the aftermath, the consequences of making a choice.  But some choices are worth that pain.  This is one of those.

*

I didn’t know.  I didn’t know how much of a hole would be left behind.  I didn’t know how much hate would remain.  I didn’t know how much removing myself from the equation would wreck me.  I hated that I was the only one who knew.  I hated that I was the only one who had done this.  I hated so much that I wanted to disappear.  I was nothing.

Until suddenly, I wasn’t alone.  Until there was someone else too, someone braver than me, someone willing to stand up and say, I’ve done this.  Someone braver than I.  Someone who had done this, but it didn’t define her.  While I hated what had happened, perhaps it didn’t define me either.  Knowing this saved me during a time when I was drowning.  I couldn’t go back; the path behind me had been decimated.  But I could go forward.  Could, and did.  

I couldn’t go back.  So I leapt.

 

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My Own Decisions

I have wanted to get my nose pierced for years. It isn’t a decision that I came to lightly; it’s something that I have toyed with for quite some time. I’m a firm believer that if I do something like this, it’s forever. It’s a commitment, and I was ready to make it. I’ve been ready. Nearly five years ago, I got a fake nose ring and wore it around for a while. Until my ex made me take it out. Which I did readily, because I belonged to him. It was his choice.

*

“Why would you want to do that?” My husband stared at the box of hair dye in my hand. “It’s going to look ridiculous.”

I set it down on the counter and stared into the sink. The first time I dyed my hair, I was thirteen years old and the color was an awesome shade of red. I’ve been coloring it ever since; I wouldn’t know my natural color from Adam. And every time something major happened in my life, I changed the color. Something major had happened; I was changing the color. I was changing me.

“Because I can,” I replied finally. “Because it’s better than shaving my head.”

He blinked slowly. “I don’t like it. It’s so…it’s almost purple.” He swept the box into the trash can. “Next time, you need to ask me before you buy this crap.”

He was never one for letting me make my own decisions.

*

My first experience with body modification post-divorce was getting my tattoo. My ex would never have allowed such a thing. I swore (though am considering caving) that I would only get one. My tattoo has significance, it isn’t just something pretty that I painted on my body.

Image

I did it to honor my son. He’s not here anymore, though I suppose that’s not an accurate statement. He was never actually here. He died prior to birth. But I have nothing of him. I don’t have the locks of his hair. I don’t have his ashes. I don’t have his things. I have a hospital bracelet and a hat that was donated by the angel group at the hospital, but that’s it. During the divorce, my ex took everything.

I tattooed my son’s name on my body because I needed a part of him to hold on to. I wanted people to see it and think, even if they have no idea what the tattoo means. I wanted something that I could touch, something that would show the world that he had been real. He was a person.

I wanted a part of him that belonged to me and no one else.

I was scared shitless; I have never experienced anything like the process of getting a tattoo before. I passed out in the tattoo chair. The artist told me that this happens to a lot of people the first time that they get a tattoo. There is a huge buildup of energy and adrenaline in anticipation of getting inked, and then when you sit down in the chair, there’s no place for it to go. This makes a logical sense, but I’m not sure it was the case for me. I think that, for me, it was more my body not knowing how to handle me being brave for the first time in my life. I was scared, but I was going through with it anyway. My body didn’t know how to process me overcoming my fear.

I got my tattoo for a reason. I got it not only to get over my fear of the unknown, but to have a piece of my son to hold onto. I got it because it was the only choice I could make.

*

My husband stood behind me, taking up the space in the mirror above my shoulder. “I like it when you curl your hair.”

I kept sticking in the pins I was putting in, shoving my hair into a messy bun.

“I like it curly better than when you put it up. You should curl it for church today.” He phrased the last part as more of a demand than a suggestion.

I began to pull the pins out of my hair. “We’re going to be late.”

“But you’ll look beautiful. And all for me.”

*

People keep asking me why I chose to get my nose pierced today. It wasn’t about being pretty, or doing something cool or fun because so many of my friends have nose rings. While it is pretty, and many of my friends do have this piercing, it was never about those things. It was about overcoming a fear, about leaving a mark that I no longer belong to him. I can make my own choice, a choice that I have let him and others stop me from making in the past. I was scared today. I practically mauled E’s hand when they stuck the piercing in. But I did it. I did it for myself. It is a symbol of me being my own person, as well as me letting go of him, in ways that many people will never understand. I refuse to justify it, because I made a decision for myself and it is one that I will happily live with.

I can keep in my nose ring if I choose to do so. And I definitely choose to do so.

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Choice

Choice.  The act of choosing.  Selection.  An option; a decision.  An opportunity to choose or select something.

*

Not all choices are easy.  In fact, some are utterly ridiculous and lead to equally insane life events.  Not all choices have a good and a bad.  Sometimes they are only good; sometimes they are only bad.  But they are ours, as individuals, to make.  Black and white do not always exist.  I have often swayed between whether our lives  are governed by fate and the universe, completely predetermined, or crafted by self determination?  I like to think it’s a little of both worlds.  I am meant to be here; I believe that I have a purpose.  However, I believe that I have the power to change the events on my given path.  This is a lesson it’s taken me a long time to learn, but I think I’m finally at the point where I am ready to control my own life.  

When you make a choice, you have to be careful in the choosing.  There are consequences.

*

This idea is never more at the forefront than when I am hiking.  A couple of weeks ago, I went on a hiking adventure with a good friend of mine.  I am ridiculously out of shape, due to my entire summer of teaching, performing, and NOT running.  I was gung-ho at the prospect of hiking, but also aware of my level of unfitness.  We broke the hike down into quests; our first was to scale a bluff and then search for something called The Stone Elephant.  We got out of the car and this was the terrain:

Image

 

*

In the city of Boston, there is a sixteen year old girl who was raped at the age of fourteen by a twenty year old man.  He was not considering the creation of family, merely the taking of power from a defenseless child.  And yet, he is suing her for parental rights to the baby that came as a result of the rape.  The court is allowing him to see the child, and tying them together for the next eighteen years.  If the ruling stands, she is not allowed to leave the state.  She can’t take the child anywhere that he does not know about.  She can’t make choices.  When she made the choice to keep the pregnancy, she didn’t know what consequences would rain down on her.  There was no way.

*

Keep in mind, we were hiking in the summer, so there was a bit more foliage.  (I stole this off Google images.)  But the entire hike up to the bluff was straight up just like this segment.  It was ridiculous, and I was fairly certain around halfway up that I was going to die.  We hadn’t even met the bugs yet.  I bitched in my head, I complained about the stretch of the trail, but I kept walking at a pretty good clip and we made it to the top:

Image

 

This whole adventure sums up my view on life.  I chose to keep going on the trail, just like I have chosen to keep going in life and keep fighting for myself.  Sometimes, life tells us that we can’t do things such as climbing mountains.  But we do them anyway.  Sometimes life tells us that we can’t get over something, but we do it anyway.  Decisions are made every day that consider all of the factors.  Fate and the world around us can not dictate where we go and what we do; this is a job that rests solely on an individual’s shoulders.  I control my own life.  I make my own decisions.  I am not governed by fate, but rather by my own choices.

This past year has been a dumping ground of me struggling to get others to make decisions for me; it is easier to follow (and sometimes blame) the choices of others rather than take a risk and make choices on my own.  There was one moment when I went on autopilot; I went to school on time and started walking towards class, but then stopped and hid in the library instead.  I found a special section that was all for me in the back of the top floor stacks, and I hid there essentially all day.  I only emerged for tutoring appointments.  Why, you ask?  Because I was trying to make a choice.  Sometimes there are decisions that ONLY the person in question can make, where there is not even an option to ask someone else.  This was one of those.  

I had class that afternoon, a class that I loved and didn’t want to skip.  But I was at the end of my rope with school, and life, and everything else.  I left the tutoring center after my final appointment and emailed the professor from my phone as I walked.  Ridiculous question, but if you have some time before class can I stop up?  She replied that she did.  My assignments were done, of course.  But I couldn’t go to class that day.  Even if I did, I wouldn’t be in class.  There was really no point.  Because I had a choice to make, and I couldn’t think.  And I couldn’t ask for help.

I wanted to say that it was someone else’s fault.  Anyone else.  But no, it was mine.  My failure.  My disobedience.  My screw up.  And so this choice was mine, despite fate trying to screw me over.  I wanted to say something, tell someone, but I didn’t know how they would react.  I wanted someone to tell me what to do, but I knew that nobody would.  Or if they did and I followed, would I always wonder if I had made the right choice?

We have to make our own choices.

*

The justice system does not consider feelings, only black and white pictures.  Society does not consider all sides, only the stereotype that is presented. Many people get their kicks out of telling others how wrong their decisions are, without taking the time to consider the ramifications that those decisions would have were they reversed.  My choice was really the only choice that weighed in on all the factors.  I had already made it by the time I got up the stairs to the English department.  I handed her my sheath of homework papers, commiserated for a moment on the horribleness of life, and the proceeded to tell her there was absolutely no way I would be attending class today.

Because I was stuck.

Thinking.

Knowing that I had to do the impossible.  Knowing that I would bear the consequences.

*

Consequence.  Something that logically or naturally follows from an action or condition.  The relation of a result to its cause.

*

Sometimes the choice we make is what gets us over the mountain.

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