Tag Archives: growing up

To the Woman Who Taught Me of Compromise and Courage

8 May

Happy Mother’s Day to the woman who decided that being there to wake me up and make me breakfast and pick me up from school and take me to extra math lessons and tuck me in at night were more important than maintaining an untarnished sanity. I knew about the yelling at night, but I didn’t understand the compromises until later.

Happy Mother’s Day to the woman who taught me how eyes speak and the turn of a head threatens and the grasp of a man’s hand about his silverware tells you the degree of appeasement you will be serving that night for dinner. Happy Mother’s Day to the woman whose sharp and endless questions fueled by the anxiety to just keep me safe taught me to be prepared, to think ahead, to see not just the road before me but the seven hundred ways it could be different. I may have inherited the endless chatter and vice-grip-on-the-heart of your invisible traveling companions, but at least I know how to answer their whispers.

Happy Mother’s Day to the woman who’s shown me that heroes do not always come with laurels. They are found instead in years of loaded dishwashers; bags under the eyes and wrinkles frowning about the mouth from a tongue kept too long; the silent ferocity of a mind that knows better but is trapped behind a white picket fence of housewife civility; a backstory unknown till long after one’s own has been collected. I got a clean page; still, I mourn your palimpsest.

Happy Mother’s Day to the woman ineffably practical who saw my books with titles with words like “wizards” and feared my proclivity for the fantastic and the magical, till you insisted one day on reading “this Harry Potter” and after hitting the last page asked if perhaps you could borrow the next one, after it came out, and I’d finished reading it. Just so long as I didn’t tell you any spoilers before.

Happy Mother’s Day to the woman who raised me in care and caution but has not begrudged me my edges and little bits of reckless. Happy Mother’s Day to the woman who laid in my skin the practice of being hidden and invisible and yet blesses the ways I have chosen to make that skin stand out. Happy Mother’s Day to the woman who for all her practice in dustbowl acceptability didn’t even bat an eye when I told her I like girls as well as guys, and who answered with confused silence when I asked if she’d have been so supportive if I’d told her back when I was young, because she did not understand how, loving me for me, there could have been any other option.

Happy Mother’s Day to the woman whose jawline I’ve started to see when I glance in the mirror, especially back when I’d cut my hair short, and stripped it blond. I am not yet accustomed to the idea of looking anything like you, but I will not begrudge my face its ancestry. The jawline is strong, and a graceful one, even if we do sometimes clench it too hard.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

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Existential Crises, Games Wizards Play, and When You Await Yourself Inside a Book

5 Feb

games wizards play

Books do not face many temporal restrictions. The words within them may change with spelling conventions, or the print might shift across font type fads, and the phrasing may even slouch around or slick up a bit with the passing decades, but what the books really say, what their stories are, what worlds they contain within those pages and convey across years and years of minds – those are things that time doesn’t really touch. They’re always hanging around, somewhere. Tucked between a dust jacket. Hidden under the covers of someone’s slumbering subconscious. Murmured in the soft sktch of your footfalls. The stories never really go away. They’re there, behind a wardrobe door, or a carefully tapped pattern on a pub’s back brick wall, or an amulet whispering around the neck. All those worlds, in all those books – they wait.

Games Wizards Play, the tenth book in Diane Duane’s Young Wizard series, released a few days ago. It’s been waiting a long time.

Six years. Six long years. A Wizard of Mars, the predecessor to Games Wizards Play, came out in 2010. Wizards at War, the book before that, came out in 2005, which is nearly equally long in time lapsed, but who I was in 2005 and who I was in 2010 were highly congruent. 2005-me and 2010-me almost form the lower and upper bounds of a set of my existence, since they were both broken in remarkably similar ways, and believed pretty much the same things – about themselves, about life, about love and religion and the universe at large.

But 2010-me was not so static a figure as 2005-me. 2010-me read A Wizard of Mars sitting on the couch of her first apartment, shared with four other classmates the summer after freshman year. I moved into the apartment later than those other four, having spent a little over a third of the summer in treatment for anorexia. It was my first stint in that long progression of treatments that eventually carved out my recovery, and I’d been left red and raw and ready for the changing, though I didn’t know that yet. Change would be a long time coming.

But I remember sitting on that couch, holding the book in my hands, fresh out of treatment, wondering who I was going to be now, thrilling at all the possibilities but thinking (erringly) that I knew pretty well which one I was going to wind up with. I opened up to the first page of A Wizard of Mars, looking for (and finding) reaffirmation in that world that had built me as a middle and high schooler, that I trusted to carry me forward through the rest of college, unaware of just how much of a mental precipice I was really standing on.

2016-me is no longer standing on that mental precipice. She’s standing on a different one. On what I’m pretty sure is also an entirely different planet. The shape of the world around me and the horizon before me, it’s all so different from what 2010-me thought she was looking at. And the way my shadow stretches away, telling of my form in the light – it, too, has changed. Which is a good thing, mostly. But which is also terrifying.

I am better – but I am less good. I know more, but I believe less. My understanding has grown, but my hope has so diminished.

Within me is so much of the same fire that kept the midnight oil of 2005 and 2010 aflame, but while it still burns, I can sometimes see it flicker.

Like 2010-me, 2016-me has some decisions to make about who she wants to be. 2010-me decided that she wanted to be a wildlife vet, and 2016-me has finally gotten into vet school. In the US, and the UK. Whether I choose to stay or choose to go, there are pro’s and con’s. Risks and benefits. Uncertain futures rolling out before me like the fever dream of a hallucinating D20.

And I have to pick a starting point for it all.

Life, like YW-style wizardry, is all about choices. And I am terrified I am going to pick wrong.

So. My life has become a choose-your-own-adventure story, except I can’t flip through all the pathways to find out how they all turn out. I just get one. One character archetype. One plot arc. One final destination, out there in the future.

All of it starting with a choice made because of who I think I am, right now.

…And reading Games Wizards Play will directly confront that.

2016-me has a pretty different world view from 2010-me, and I am afraid of what that will mean for how the YW world will be able to fill that space within me where it used to resonate so well. So unquestioningly. I am afraid that because of whom I have become, where once there were echoes and vibrations will instead be dead, mute space. I am so scared that because of how I have changed as a person, I might not relate as well to what I’m going to find once I go back into the YW world in Games Wizards Play, that I have been afraid to so much as open the front cover.

Or I might just relate to it differently, but that kind of scares me, too. To be clear, I trust the books. I trust Diane Duane and her writing, the Young Wizards universe with its depth and complexity, the characters of Nita and Kit and Tom and Carl with their ability to face ethical conundrum and moral grey area. The more I’ve sat down and really thought about those nine preceding books, thought about what the adults in the books said and did as well as the kids, the more I’ve realized that the world of YW is much bigger than I’d realized at fourteen, or nineteen. I trust that the story can hold up against my doubts and uncertainties and questions. I trust that the story can handle who I am, now.

I am less sure that I can.

I have grown up. Not entirely, but more than I ever wished to. And that is a good thing, but it also a very painful thing.

And so, as I said, I have found myself shaking, whenever I try to open that front cover and turn to page one.

Because once I do, my past self and my future forms and the existence I am, truly, right now, will be left to stare at each other from within the lines on a page, and I don’t know what’s going to happen once one of them blinks.

Guess there’s only one way to find out, though.

I was warned, I suppose. All those years, all those pages ago, Nita Callahan did say that life, at least, would never be boring

My Mom Is Not My Best Friend

10 May

My mother is not my best friend. And that’s okay. The concept of who my mother is has changed in my life over time, as I think it should have.  As a kid, my mom was that great mass of maternalness that gets epitomized in Baby Muppet’s mother-human-thing-character, a body wearing a dress tall with a nice voice who’s tall enough that her head is somewhere off the top of the screen and all you can really see are her legs and the tray of cookies she’s bringing into the room. My mom was my mommy – dinner-making, school uniform-buying, rule-creating, playdate-arranging woman who took me out to Gloria Jeans Coffee for hot chocolate with whipped cream and cinnamon flakes on top on my days off school. She was the Adult And Thus Essentially God who brought me to the pediatrician the zillion times I had strep throat, forced me to wear sunscreen when I was too young to understand the words “Irish complexion,” and for god knows what reason took on what must have been the hell of running my elementary school Brownie troupe. As it goes with most kids, for me in my childhood, my mom was a set of actions and routines and a few shades of mannerisms. I loved her, I needed her, but I had close to zero understanding of her as a person.

Puberty hit, and I’m pretty sure neither of us understood the other as a person for a solid five years or so. With my flush of preteen hormones came the genetic ticking time bomb of mental health predisposition, with anorexia and OCD taking the lead. It was me and my brain against the world. (Well, it was really my brain against me and the world, but I wouldn’t know that until something like a decade later when I was three years into therapy.)

As I fell into a world of misconceived misperceptions and my mother tried to fix it all with tough love and no science or psychology, our relationship devolved into secrecy and butting wills. With my mom not really having a background in psychology or science, I don’t know all of what went through my mother’s head during those years, but I imagine it was something like “WHY IS MY CHILD BREAKING WHY WON’T SHE JUST DO WHAT I SAY WHY CAN’T I FIX IT FUCK FUCK FUCK.” My brain, in the meantime, was going “SEE HOW SHE DOESN’T UNDERSTAND SHE’S TELLING YOU TO DO WRONG THINGS SHE DOESN’T UNDERSTAND THAT EVERYTHING WILL BREAK IF YOU DON’T DO THIS WHY WON’T SHE JUST TRUST YOU SHE DOESN’T KNOW WHAT SHE’S TALKING ABOUT.”

Lovely, lovely communication there.

My early teen years were not pleasant. Combined with friendlessness at school and expectations all around of high-achievement, my developing mistrust of my well-meaning mother and growing resentment toward other family members led to a lot of walls and broken battleground. Things were wrong. My brain scrambled desperately to fix them in maladaptive ways. My mother tried in her own misinformed way to fix it as well. Everything was terrible. My mother was not my best friend. From within my eventually clinically depressed brain, she was barely even someone I liked.

It’s entirely justified if that sentiment were mutual.

Adulthood, or the mini-adulthood that is college, at least, offered some respite. I got both better and worse, but there was greater communication that happened. I mean, there kind of has to be when your daughter winds up in a treatment facility. You kinda have to talk about what’s happening for real, at least a little bit more, then.

I got to understanding my brain more, and it got harder for it to pull one over on me. I don’t know what changed for my mom, but she started backing off of mama bear mode and started interacting with me on a more peer level. Slowly, excruciatingly slowly, we started understanding each other as adults.

And honestly, I don’t even think I mean in some gushy, and-all-was-well way. I’d go home for a visit over the summer, and find out that my mom’s favorite band is PINK FUCKING FLOYD. And then she’d just suddenly rattle off the lyrics to some rap song. And then she’d tell me about how she put herself through a few years of college while working full time because she wanted the education for herself even though her mother didn’t. And I’d tell her about how I’d gone on birth control (at that point in order to regulate my unruly menstrual un-cycle, but my mother’s immediate response was “OH GOOD YOU CAN HAVE SEX NOW!”) and about how sucky vet school applications are and about how I adopted a snake (she was less okay with that than the birth control). With my mother’s mama bear a little bit more tamed, I can now ask her for advice on things like renting a car and how to do taxes, and, I mostly trust that she’s not going to jump into let-me-do-everything-for-you-oh-child-of-mine mode where I feel like respect for my own competence goes flying out the window. No, I feel like now, in her eyes, I am an adult. I can see her, the adult, more now too. I like her. I hope she likes me. I think we’re something like friends.

But not best friends. Which is good, because that’s not what I need her to be.

I need her to tell me to put on sunscreen when I delude myself I won’t burn. I need her to sit down and have hot chocolate with whipped cream and cinnamon flakes on top. I need her to somehow sometimes know more about old school rock than I do.

I just need her to be my mom.

On Feminism

22 Sep
Though if you want to be a delicate princess, all the time or sometimes, then you are damn well welcome to do so too. (source)

Though if you want to be a delicate princess, all the time or sometimes, then you are damn well welcome to do so too.
(source)

Just moments ago, to put it in breaking news lingo, I read an article on Emma Watson’s speech to the UN on feminism and, particularly, the HeForShe campaign. The article cites a glorious portion of Watson’s speech in which she says that she decided to be a feminist because it just made sense.

I decided that I was a feminist. This seemed uncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word. Women are choosing not to identify as feminists. Apparently, [women’s expression is] seen as too strong, too aggressive, anti-men, unattractive.

Why has the word become such an unpopular one? I think it is right I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decisions that affect my life. I think it is right that socially, I am afforded the same respect as men.

Many a badass woman has talked about how they of course they decided to be feminist, because when they paused to look around at the world they lived in, it just made sense.

This is not how I became a feminist.

I don’t think I’d go so far as to say I was “born” a feminist, but I was certainly shaped into one from before the age that kids develop theory of mind. What feminism really stands for, the ideas of equality – equal opportunity, equal respect – they were delivered to me as the norm. I grew up a feminist the way you can grow up a Southerner, or a Catholic, or a French-speaker. What feminism said was just a fact of life, the same way that belly buttons and fingernails and noses were.

Well, mostly.

Let’s back up and pan out. I grew up in the Midwest, as many of you lovely readers know. Because my parents are brilliant humans who cared deeply about my education, I attended a private, all-girls school from the age of three. Sure, this caused a lot of difficulties in my life, because a pre-pubescent or post-pubescently-hormonal clique of girls is about the social meanness equivalent of a pack of rabid hyenas starving for unsuspecting prey with a side of well-marinated sadism, but beyond that, uh, tiny pitfall, my school had a hell of a lot going for it.

For one thing, I was surrounded by girls. Yes, I did art and English and social studies and French entirely surrounded by girls. But I also did algebra and geometry and trigonometry and AP calculus and honors physics and AP bio and AP chemistry entirely surrounded by girls, too. There was never even a spec of the “girls can’t do/are less good than boys at STEM fields” attitude that apparently pervades other academic institutions. For me, the idea just plain didn’t compute. It was ridiculous. It was laughable. At least, it was once I heard about it. Because growing up from the age of three going to a school that required I and my entirely female classmates to take all those STEM field classes, and furthermore take them under the direction of something like 98% female faculty – the idea that “women aren’t good at math/science” never entered my brain. It’s like how I don’t know the Chinese word for milk. It’s just not ever something that was taught or exposed to me. I don’t speak Chinese. I don’t speak anti-feminism.

My school showed me that women could run the gamut of competence. My English teachers were 99% female. My science teachers were 99% female. My math teachers were in fact 100% female. Interestingly enough, my music and drama teachers were mostly male. And straight. So there went any kind of “heteronormative males can’t be interested in the performing arts” stereotype.

When it came to higher education, the faculty that taught me included both women and men with PhD’s. Most of the administrators at my school, both grade school and high school, were women. And what’s more, my school has had a 100% college acceptance rate for its graduating seniors since women were first allowed into college after my school’s inception in 1833.

So, I had a lot of role models. I saw adult women in positions of administrative and academic power and expertise. But my school also taught me that capability was not something I needed to look upward to find. I was shown that women are competent at any age and level of experience. When it came to student government, being at an all girls school, obviously, every single position was filled by one of my female cohorts. Our state-winning sports teams were entirely female. Our academic competition teams were entirely composed of females taught by mainly females, and we routinely routed out the all-boys schools we competed against. Our clubs, our plays, our every extra-curricular ever – they were run and attended by female students. I – and other students – even created clubs. We saw a need, we filled it. We problem-solved. We critically thought. We engineered. We created. We supported. We fought. In my sixty-seven person graduating class alone, one female student set a new record for the military entrance physical fitness test. Another went to West Point. And another to the Naval Academy. On the flip side, one of my friends deferred college for a year and prioritized full life experience and went to teach in Peru.

I lived in a world of intelligent, competent, caring, complex women. Sometimes we hated each other. Most of the time we at least got along, if not fiercely loved each other. Our views on love, sex, religion, politics, academics, sports, literature, really life in general were spattered across the board. But whatever happened between us, we knew it was because we were people, not “just” because we were women.

When I was still in grade school, I once asked my father on an election year if there were any female candidates. He told me that no, there weren’t, because women are naturally less good at being leaders than men.

That statement did not compute with small me’s view of the world. And to my school, I am incredibly grateful for that.

Oh yeah, I later ended up heading five clubs, creating a seventh-twelfth grade mentorship program, graduating as valedictorian, and becoming the first of my school’s students to go to Caltech.

I think I did all right on the leadership front.

Oh! And I do believe that next election, I’ll likely be voting for Hillary Clinton, very serious female Democratic presidential candidate.

Because the fact that she is female does not bother me.

Because I know that what her second sex chromosome is matters less than what she has shown of herself.

Because I know that women can be leaders.

Because I was raised a feminist.

I thank my fellow females for that.

Misogyny, Misandry, and Father’s Day

15 Jun

I hate Father’s Day. I by no means hate fathers. I don’t even really hate my father. I just hate the nationally celebrated day that will overstuff my Facebook and Twitter feeds and force me to think over and over again about the complicated relationship I’ve had since, well, ever with that terrible, wonderful, intimidating word. Father.

Honestly, I’m pretty confused about how I happened. Yes, yes, I do technically know how I happened. I have two heterosexual, reasonably fertile parents with differently sexed genitalia. I remember that talk my school gave us back in sixth grade. But as for the why of that how – I am confused, since I’m generally under the impression that my parents have been fighting since before I was even born. But apparently passion, like humans and their human relationships, is a complicated thing.

And so I was born, thanks to the complicatedness of existence. Naturally, that meant that my existence has been consequentially complicated too.

I know that there were good times with my father while I was growing up. Afternoons of hide and seek, nights of my father’s consenting to play barbies before bed. My dad is the reason I was thrown into the water and turned into such an aqueous creature so early on. There were giggles and smiles.

But there were tears, too. Oh so many, many tears. And I, built for better or for worse to register the negative over the positive, tend to remember those tears first and foremost. I was three or four the first time I encountered the word “divorce.” My parents were shouting it at each other downstairs in the kitchen. I heard them from my hiding place, crouched just around the corner at the top of the stairs, where they couldn’t see me. I heard my father shouting, his yells deep and growling. I heard my mother shriek back, her words shrill and defensive. Even at three, I knew that one of those timbres was the one with the threat, and one of them was not. My mother’s yelling carries hysteria. My father’s yelling carries violence. His is the anger that has always scared me more.

Now, at the age of 23, I understand that my father is human, a damaged individual with a backstory of dysfunction that explains so much of his threats and narcissism and alcoholism and distance. He is doing the best he can with what he himself was given to work with. But at the age of three, that higher reasoning hadn’t kicked in yet. All I knew was that my father, the man I was supposed to believe was there to protect me, was someone of whom I was deeply, deeply afraid. And while that is something I have come to understand, it is not something I can yet entirely forgive.

I grew up living in fear. The man who taught me that promises are important with the force behind the words he used to tell me that he would always keep them is also the man who taught me more with his actions just why that is when he broke oh so many of them. The man who said he would always be there for me, no matter what, is also the man I would come to think of as “the bachelor who happens to be married to my mother” because of how often he was away on business, golf trips, hunting vacations, or affairs.

I am so much of who I am because of having preferred the counter examples to him. I am trusting because my father is manipulative. I am a giver because my father is a salesman. I am a pacifist because my father is a predator. I am widely accepting because my father can only believe that what he wants is right. I will ask for help because my father will keep on blundering ahead. I am supportive because my father is so critical. I lack so much self-confidence because my father is so self-assured.

I am perhaps equal parts broken and strong because of how I have reacted to my father’s lessons, direct or otherwise. I have spent a lifetime trying to defend who I am as a woman because of the man who acted as if women are nothing more than pretty tools for his disposal. I grew up expecting to be assaulted, in one way or another.

And yet, his misogyny has not instilled in me an equal misandry. Yes, for much of my life, I was flat-out afraid of males. My all-girls school education and sheltered childhood spared me having to interact with guys on any sort of regular basis. But the occasional visit from male neighbors, or uncles, or cousins, or, you know, going to a restaurant and having to talk to a male server – I was routinely petrified.

A slow introduction to the male half of the human race and a college education at a male-heavy college where I was the only girl in the room often enough that I eventually stopped noticing has helped a bit, but there is still some amount of inherent distrust in me. I was taught, by action rather than doctrine, that males are a people who could very, very easily hurt me. Physically or otherwise.

And yet, I have also grown up craving male attention. Approval. Affection. The things that I did not at all register sufficiently getting from my father. It was somewhere around middle school when I first realized just how desperately I was searching for a surrogate father. I had a male music teacher, and after I’d used an untraditional medium for a project in his music appreciation class, I asked him over and over again, for something like a week, whether or not that had been okay. The answer was obviously yes, every time. I stopped asking after I realized, in a moment of horror, that I was continuing to ask the same question of this music teacher not because I was still unsure of whether or not how I’d done the project had actually been okay, but because I knew that it was, and I wanted to hear the music teacher say that. I wanted to hear him tell me that yes, it had been a good idea. Yes, it had been okay. Yes, I was okay. Yes, he approved of me.

Hello, daddy issues.

I have since worked very, very hard to pull back those daddy-seeking tendrils. There’s been a lot of therapy.

And yet, somehow, I continue to become close to males who treat me in some way or other like my father did. I actively try not to, try to make friends and lovers of the guys who display qualities that I value, rather than qualities I grew up fearing. Still, I too often wind up with quick-tempered, stormy friends. Guys who will say things with their words and never follow through with their actions. Recently, I realized that I was staying with a guy who completely ignored me because I feared my emotional turmoil of a life would be harder without the paltry reassurance I got from that flimsy titular relationship than it was with it.

In other words, I was staying with him for the exact same reason my mother has stayed with my father. Down to the very words she’d used to explain it to me.

We broke up shortly thereafter.

So. Father’s Day. Such a complicated day for me. “Father” is the word for the man who gave me my first real taste of misogyny. “Father” is the word for the man who made me seek so desperately a desire to find his counterexample, rather than falling into easy misandry. “Father” is the word for the man who was causative for so many of the bricks that build me, and for the cracks in them as well. “Father” is the word for the thing I view with equal parts despisement and yearning.

“Father” is a word that has only ever been associated with the word “happy” in a negative sense. So how can I not hate the phrase “Happy Father’s Day?” There is so much unfulfilled wishing in that phrase for me. So much history, so many complications and contradictions.

I find it difficult to wish people an oxymoron.

I do not write happy stories.

9 Apr

People want happy stories. Good characters. Sweet endings. Family-friendly. At least, that’s what a lot of magazine submission guidelines seem to be saying.

But I do not write happy stories. I swear, I try. Took me five goddamn years to write a YA novel with a happy ending and after another five years I’m still not finished editing it yet. Happy stories are not the ones that come to me most naturally or most frequently. They are not what my brain generates. They are not what my brain understands. They are not what my brain has had to work with.

Happy stories, sure, they can be nice to read. Like a delightful little square of baklava. But too many of those delightful little squares, and odds are you’re going to be left with sticky, nut-grimy fingers and an urge to go puke up at least half of the sickly sweetness now residing in your stomach into the nearest toilet bowl. Or onto the nearest politician. Either would be acceptable, probably.

I mean, too many sad stories, or difficult stories or unsettling stories or generally unhappy narratives, and you’re also probably going to be left in a huddles mess o’ blankets on your living room couch crooning yourself into a tear-slopped sleep with that bottle of whiskey you’re clutching as your only friend. Not exactly a more preferable kind of overdose.

But at least… at least those tears your crying are real. The elation you feel from a happy story may be a vicarious kind of wish-fulfillment but the pain you’re left dealing with from a grungier tale is a memory, the recollected aching from some time before when your story veered a little too closely to something a character got herself into. Probably why the sadness lasts so much longer; it’s no mere slap-on-the-surface temporary veneer. No, it’s an upwelling of past shame or doubt or anger or disappointment. The kind of sadness that leaves you as said whiskey-breathed mess has roots.

Maybe it’s just because of my own negative-lens tendencies the depression fairy apparently decided to, uh, gift me with at birth, but I know that I, at least, remember pain more than I remember pleasure. In my life-flashes-before-your-eyes-’cause-you-done-fucked-up-and-somehow-now-you’re-drowning reel, the moments of hurt, of regret, of loss would be the first ones to play out again before me. They are, unfortunately, what my brain, my memory centers, my inner interpretation mechanisms snap to first. Over time (read: SO MUCH THERAPY OH MY GOD), I’ve been able to re-groove my brain a bit (hoorah neural plasticity!) and convince my brain that it really is okay to go the positive route every now and then, really, there’s probably not even that much of a traffic jam,  but still… inner GPS forgets about those routes a fair amount.

I’m tempted to write that to me, happiness just doesn’t feel natural. But I know, really, that’s not true. Happiness is totally a natural thing to experience. It’s more appropriate to write that for me, happiness hasn’t felt usual. I grew up in a household of parents who had been fighting since before I was even born. I wasn’t exactly the cool kid in my class for much of high school (but then come high school people realized I was smart and that they needed me and then I ruled the world! AHAHAHAHAHAHA!). I’ve been battling mental health shit since god knows when. Yes, there has been a lot of happiness in my life, but it’s not exactly been the baseline or background. Happiness has been an exception.

But honestly, I don’t think it’s just my own experience that’s made writing happy stories so difficult for me. Ever since, well, ever, I’ve been an emotional go-to for other people. I may not have been the cool kid, but I wasn’t ever that kid – but I did usually end up getting picked out as OMG BFF! by that kid. Then come middle school, when puberty hit and we were all just leveled to a singular playing field of awkwardness, the girls who became my closest friends were also the ones who, like me, had some inner demons that started clawing a bit more actively at our vulnerable brains. And our vulnerable hormones. The rest of pre-college schooling for me was a slew of late night phone calls, desperate pleas to hang on just a little while longer, letters sent every day to some treatment center other, constant scans of wrists and arms and rib cages and stomach circumferences and little pricks in the back of our minds any time one of us wore long sleeves or baggy clothing. Chat sessions into three and five am, glowing laptop screens hidden behind closed doors and under the covers.

Yes, there was a strain of hope. Maybe, just maybe, if I can get through this, you can too… We were all one giant mess of hands and arms clinging to each other and brace the entire structure of our lives. Support went in all directions. Hurt went in all directions. Despair abounded. Hope was a parched substance. It did not rain; it sludged through the ravaged sewers of our tenacity, tainted and unsafe even by the time it got there in the first place. But when you’re dying of thirst, you stop being so picky about these kind of things. Even dirty water will keep you going. For a little while. It might kill you a little while later. But I don’t think any of us would have minded that for ourselves.

We would have wailed over it, though, for each other.

The real-life stories that I have known have not been ones that work out. They have been ones of struggle. Constant struggle. You think you’ve gotten over one thing, and then something new crops up. Your once-savior becomes your new slave master. Relief only lasts so long. Every so often you may find yourself on your feet again, running, and you run as far and as hard and as long as you can, but then some invisible un-reason reaches its ugly snag and you don’t even see and suddenly you’re on the ground, scraped knees and bleeding elbows and your legs are so tired they don’t want to work anymore and your arms are wondering what the use even is anymore to try to pull yourself up one more time if you’re only going to end up down here covered in the dirt of a failed attempt again anyway…

And yet somehow we keep going. Knowing we have likely only doomed ourselves to repeat the process. But the way out is no more glorious than the struggle. So you might as well finish the race. Might as well find out if it was ever going to get you anywhere anyway.

You understand if your fellow runners decide they can take no more of the dizzying, soul-quenching exhaustion. You understand the decision to finally cease running, cease panting, feel only one more final sharp stab at the weary lungs you have forced to keep filling you with breath before saying that no, no more, I will stop here.

It’s a tragedy, yes. But it’s less of a tragedy than most people seem to realize. The loss of uncertain future happiness ways a little less to you than the end to present, undeniable pain.

So far, only one of us has dropped out of the race.

This impossible, endless race. There is some pride in my fellow runners, every time I look around and see them still there, straggling through this thing with me.

We will arrive at the finish line cut and scarred by thorns and brambles that held no roses. Our souls will be impossibly bruised. We might not have the strength to hold even our heads high. But we will have made it. We will have finished.

That is not a happy ending. That is not the kind of story I write.

But it is a story. With a horridly natural, un-fairy tale ending.

And that is something.

Evening Storytime

2 Mar

Well, lovely readers, I think it’s time for an evening story. I sure could use one. A simple story. You know, the kind that you tell little kids. The kind that don’t sound scary, the kind that’ll make ’em laugh, but also the kind that when they remember that bedtime story again when they’re older, will give them a few moments pause. Will make them sit down and think. About whether there was maybe more to that story than they had caught onto at first.

That whatever they decide, at least it will have made them wonder.

So, a story for you this evening, lovely readers. A story called “Ice Cream Cone.”

ice cream cone

Ice Cream Cone

“Sue! Sue, hurry up!”

“I’m coming! I’m coming!” Sue’s voice ricocheted down the stairs at out the front door to the porch. I shuffled my feet on the wood planks, swung the creaky porch door back and forth. Swung it back and forth again. Still bored.

Grown-ups always take so long to go anywhere.

“Suuue!” I called up the stairs again.

“Hold your livestock, I’m coming!” Sue shouted down the stairs, clanging down each step in her steel-toed boots.

I held the door open for her as she bustled out. “Livestock?” I asked, curious. “Why livestock?”

“Oh, you think I should have said horses?” Sue locked the door after us. She looked down at me with her big, brassy face of loudness. “What if people don’t have horses? Don’t you think that’s a mite insensitive?”

I bit my lip and tried not to laugh. Sue was making her funny face again, the one where her eyebrows went all wiggly and her eyes got big and her voice got all squeaky and indignant. “But Aunt Sue,” I skipped so that I would be fast enough to keep up with her. Mama says that I have long legs for being only eight, but Sue’s legs have always been longest, ever since I can remember. Sue told me it’s her job to keep astride of everyone, she has to, so that’s why her steps are so big.

“But Aunt Sue, what about people who don’t have any animals? What if they don’t have cattle or sheep either?”

“Eh, little miss,” Sue stopped and bent down so that her heels propped up and her knees jutted out and her face was on the same level as mine. She reached out one of her hands, all rough from life’s work, she says, and brushed a stray piece of hair back from my face. She cupped both her hands around my face, the way she does when she’s trying to tell me something real important. “What about the people who don’t have any animals? That’s a good question, innit, little miss?”

I nodded. I didn’t know what Aunt Sue wanted me to say, I don’t a lot of times, so I just nodded and tried to look real serious, like I always do when I don’t know what Aunt Sue wants me to say, and she nodded back like always, ‘cause me nodding is good enough for her. She tells me to think about it. I don’t know why. Maybe one day she’ll ask me again, and then I’ll have an answer for her. Maybe. Mama usually just gets real quiet when I ask her if I should, and she just says I should try.

Aunt Sue was big-striding again. I skipped faster to catch up. Aunt Sue looked down at me, now she’s the one who’s all curious. “Little miss,” Aunt Sue always calls me little miss, not my name like Mama and Pa do, but I don’t mind because it’s special, “how come, little miss, you got so much energy like that? All the time?”

“Um,” I looked down at my feet, “Mama says it’s because I eat so much ice cream. But I like ice cream, so I don’t mind.”

“Well, I sure could use some energy.”

I looked up at Aunt Sue and made a face. Sometimes she didn’t seem to realize the obvious things. “Well,” I said, trying to sound like Aunt Sue did, “then you should eat an ice cream cone, of course.”

Aunt Sue stopped. She looked down at me and smiled, then opened her mouth and threw back her head and made a big belting laugh, like Papa sometimes does.

Me, I don’t know what was so funny.