Tag Archives: strength

Happy New Year!


Another year has begun.  Every day is a fresh canvas, but for most people the beginning of each New Year brings even a stronger sense of renewal.  Once again we all have a chance for a “do over”; another opportunity to “get it right”.

I rarely go out on New Year’s Eve.  It is my least favorite holiday followed closely by Valentine’s Day.  Both holidays are so over- wrought with romantic illusion that it seems to set everyone up for an evening that fails to meet expectations.  So I simply stay at home and ignore the eve.

However, New Year’s Day is another story.  New Year’s Day I like to fill my house with close friends, delicious food and good conversation and this year was no exception.  As I write this I realize that unlike most years at no point did the conversation turn to New Year’s resolutions.  I suspect we’ve all reached an age where we realize that it takes more than an annual declaration to change our ingrained behaviors.  Most people agree that changing old habits, even when we’re strongly motivated, is one of the most difficult of all human processes.

Recently I gave up alcohol.  Not because I have a problem with it but because I tried to make a deal with the universe regarding the health of a loved one and I wanted the powers that be to know I was really serious.  So I decided to give up something I truly enjoy like a good glass of full-bodied, red wine (rather than the Brussels sprouts and raisins I used to give up during Lent as a child).  What I learned about myself during this lengthy abstinence was that although I normally have very little discipline when following rules regarding my diet I had a great deal of discipline when I was doing it for a purpose greater than myself.

As a writer I do a lot of my living inside my brain.  Not that I don’t lead a busy, active life, but I also spend a great deal of time mulling over things I’ve witnessed during the day, contemplating people’s responses to social cues, thinking about life, wondering “what if?”.  This is where many of my ideas for poetry, essays and short stories come from.

I don’t know exactly why but this holiday season I’ve been thinking a lot about hungry children.  I would like to do something to feel I’m helping to alleviate this problem but I’m on a very limited budget.  This led me to consider how much money I spend annually on Diet Coke alone.  I drink Diet Coke the way most people drink coffee in the morning.  It’s where I get my caffeine and I drink several of them each day.  For years I’ve wanted to quit and I’ve tried and failed to give it up many times.

It occurred to me, after my successful abstinence from alcohol, that I might combine these two very different issues and perhaps do something about them both.  I decided I won’t give up Diet Coke for all my usual reasons –because I think it’s unhealthy and most likely contributes to my weight issues—rather I’ll give it up in order to help feed children.  I’ll take the money I save each month from not purchasing Diet Coke and I will send it to an agency that provides food for needy kids.  Hopefully this will be the winning combination that succeeds in meeting two goals.

From what I’ve read it appears to take approximately three months to genuinely change a habit.  So it will be quite a while before I’ll have a proven outcome but I’ll make a note to post and let you all know if I’ve been able to contribute anything toward reducing childhood hunger.

Meanwhile, remember; if you’ve made resolutions and you find yourself slipping be kind to yourselves.  Change is a process, not a decision, and as I said earlier every day is a new beginning.

I wish everyone a happy and productive New Year!


Touchstone [tuhch-stohn] – Noun


  1.  A test or criterion for the qualities of a thing.
  2.   A black siliceous stone formerly used to test the purity of gold and silver by the color of the streak produced on it by rubbing it with either metal.

(Source: Dictionary.com Unabridged, Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2011.)

 

My mother died a year and a half ago and this weekend my sister and I thought it was time to go through the personal items that my sister had boxed up from her dresser when she died.  My sister brought the box in from the garage and gave it to me to open. The very first item I pulled out of the box was a simple, tiny, plastic stamp dispenser.  Like myself my mother was an avid writer but her writing took the form of letters.  Living over 2,000 miles away from her most of my adult life I’d gotten hundreds of letters from Mom.  Her letters were always engaging, entertaining and filled with humorous stories and vivid descriptions.

She probably wrote a letter to each person in her address book once a month.  So for years she had bought stamps in rolls of a hundred and used her stamp dispenser daily.  That stamp dispenser was such a tiny thing, yet such an enormous part of who my mother was that simply touching it brought tears to my eyes immediately.

I began crying, my sister began crying, and my sister’s little two year old granddaughter began slapping her grandmother on the leg because she thought Grandma had made Aunt McKenzie cry.  It was quite a scene which ended with us laughing at the baby girl and explaining to her that we were crying about our Mommy and that Grandma hadn’t hurt Aunt McKenzie.  We then put the box away to try again another time.

My mother was my touchstone.  She was my mirror to my place in the world. Being Lois’ youngest daughter — the attractive, successful happily married one who lived on the East Coast — was an enormous part of my identity.  She not only took pride in who I had become but reminded me always of where I came from.  With my mother’s passing I felt not only her loss, but without my tether to the past and my touchstone to reflect the purity of my beliefs, I lost a bit of my identity for a while as well.

Mom was a strong and independent woman who rarely asked anyone for help.  She survived a fractured skull in her twenties when she was hit by a car while on her bike.  Until the day she died she had slight hearing loss in one ear and dizziness when she turned her head to a certain angle from that accident.  She survived the loss of an infant child, WWII, the great depression, poverty, the loss of a spouse, raising six children alone, the death of her youngest child before his fortieth birthday, a dog attack, and at eighty was hit by a truck while out walking.  The doctors and physical therapists told us that no one else her age and in her condition would have walked again.  It was her sheer stubbornness that brought on her recovery and ability to walk again six months later.  She did all of these things, and others too numerous to mention, and carried on with a joy that brought tears to your eyes.

The one strong belief that my mother had that she passed on to me was that every day is a fresh start and a chance for renewed hope.  No matter how bad things get I realize that the very next morning I could wake up to a day that brings me infinite joy.  So it was with this belief that I put one foot in front of the other each day after my Mom’s death until the pain subsided and I was able to tether myself to my place in the world again.

I hope that one day very soon my sister and I can attempt to sort through Mom’s personal belongings once again.  Next time we’ll better prepare ourselves for the bittersweet memories we’re sure to experience and perhaps, without a toddler there, we’ll allow ourselves as many tears as we need to get through it and finish the job.

Reprinted below is the speech that I wrote for my mother’s 80th birthday celebration and gave again at her funeral.

My Mom was born on November 10th and shared her birthday with the United States Marine Corps.  These two events may seem to be unrelated to some, but not to those of us who know both the Marine Corps and Mom well.  Let me enumerate just a few of the characteristics they have in common.

 Courage – Whether attacked by the poverty of her early youth, distance between loved ones, government red tape, or the common hardships of everyday life, Mom always faced her enemies with courage and taught her children to do the same.

 Loyalty – Lord knows, each of us children tested the limits of our Mother’s loyalty and love and found it remained limitless and unwavering.

Honor – Mom’s honesty and integrity were beyond questions.  In fact, I’m sure there are those of us who wished at times that she had been a little less “honest’ since she tended to  “call ‘em as she saw ‘em”.  Her straight forward approach and homegrown advice usually hit the mark.

 Endurance – No matter how many times circumstances conspired to knock her down, she pulled herself up and never lost hope that things would get better.  In fact, it was because of her singular determination that many things in our lives WERE changed for the better.  Even getting hit by a truck couldn’t keep that woman down.  After her recovery, she continued to volunteer at St. Alice Parish and McKenzie Willamette Nursing Home.

 Strength – You can’t tell me that raising the flag at Iwo Jima was more difficult than raising six children to maturity (especially these particular children!).  As far as we’re concerned Mom deserves a monument in her honor as well.

 Through her 88 years she maintained a nobility of character that made us proud to call her Mom.  We’re proud today to celebrate her life.  She was a great mother, a great grandmother (in both senses of the term) and a friend to many.


Life Goes On


by McKenzie James

I get up

Do my hair

Dress for success and put my make-up on

Go to work

Smile and converse

And then I come home and cry about you

I grocery shop

I pay the bills

Run the everyday errands that we all do

Smile at the clerks

Exchange pleasantries

And then I come home and cry about you

I meet my friends

Share some laughs

Smiles and hugs

Let’s do it again

And then I come home and cry about you

I visit the kids

We run and play

We laugh and jest

And at the end of the day

I come home and cry about you

I cry about you

I still cry about you


Catholicism May Save Me in the End


By McKenzie James

Some of my friends have been worried about me of late.  I appear to be in a depression that is deeper and has gone on longer than I’ve experienced in the past.  It is true that I’m not my usual optimistic self and that anti-depressants are not working their magic.

Part of the explanation is that things in my life really are at a low point right now.  I have financial difficulties, my best friend in the area is very ill, I am going to have to move again, I’ve been robbed, my heart’s been broken, my job is particularly stressful, winter’s here suck and the holidays bring their usual reminder of just how dysfunctional my family really is.  All of these are things I’ve experienced and gotten through before but never in such abundance at the same time.

I remember a colleague telling me years ago that depression is simply anger turned in on oneself.  I never quite understood it before but lately, thinking about what’s taking place in my life right now, I think I finally get it.  I really am angry at myself for the position I find myself in.  Other than my friend’s illness, and the weather, I can’t seem to find anyone, or anything, to blame any of it on other than myself.

I am the one who made the decisions that got me exactly where I am today.  I chose to move back to Weird Town, I chose to accept my current job, I have obviously not handled my finances very well (which is especially embarrassing for someone whose spent a lifetime working in Finance and Accounting), I am the one who didn’t double-check whether or not the garage door was working when the weather changed (thereby allowing my burglars to walk right in), and although my lover did treat me badly I’m the one who let him come back into my life after breaking my heart the first time and gave him the opportunity to do it again.

All this said, I want to assure all my friends and loved ones who have been calling to check in on me, that no matter how bad life gets I’m grateful for each and every one of you and I would never take my own life (which I know is what you are all really worried about even though you don’t come right out and say it).

It’s simple: regardless of how hellish my life here on earth becomes being raised Catholic has left me with such an insurmountable fear of the afterlife that I will gladly suffer here forever rather than move on.  Intellectually I know that once we die we simply return to the earth and our energy disburses, but emotionally Catholicism has left me with a fear of the burning hell fires that I can’t get over.

Every time I think perhaps life is not all it’s cracked up to be I am reminded of the alternative and I’m fighting to stay alive with a willpower few can surpass.  For I know, having been a hellion and rebel most of my life, that I am not likely to find myself lulling around on a bed of clouds playing harp music and eating chocolates.  Oh no, if I’m wrong about my atheism I will find myself in burning fires being prodded with a pitchfork every few moments to remind myself of just how much fun I had in my youth.  So friends, never fear, I’m here for the duration however long that may be and I’ll be fighting to remain here on this good earth with my last dying breath.


Is Heartbreak One Word or Two?


My husband and I were together for 19 years and then just two weeks before my 49th birthday he asked for a divorce.  Happy Birthday to me and then almost before I knew what was happening I was single and thrown into the dating world again.  Looking back I remember that my mother was only 50 when my father died.  As far as I know she never dated or slept with another man again.  At the time that didn’t seem the least bit strange to me, but now it occurs to me that perhaps she understood more about men than I ever gave her credit for.  She always had admirers, even at 85 she had a gentleman sending her poetry about her beauty, but she just smiled with a twinkle in her eye and carried on alone.

Recently I received one of those funny emails where someone had written eloquently (and humorously) about how men and women view their bodies at different stages of life.  I wish I knew who wrote it (actually I wish I had written it myself!) and I would give her credit here.  What she said so profoundly is that women feel very differently about their bodies at every stage of their lives until around age 50 when we finally all figure out that regardless of our body shape…we’re awesome!  Men, on the other hand feel the same about their bodies at every stage until old age.  They have a penis, it works, and they’re obsessed with it!

It was right on target and it made me think perhaps this is one of the reasons why men and women find dating so hard in middle age.   We’re finally at a stage of acceptance and the men we’re dating still feel the same way they did as teenagers.  It also explains a great deal about why so many middle aged men want to date women who are so much younger than they are.  Because they have a penis, it works, and they’re obsessed with it.  Wow, I never realized it was so simple!

Seriously though, sitting here today after suffering yet another middle-aged heart ache, I have to admit there must be more to it than that.  I swore I would not become one of those bitter, middle-aged women who hate men and have given up on relationships altogether.  But, it’s been seven years, and I have to admit to dating a lot of men, and each time things became serious, one by one, they broke my heart.  Some slowly, some quickly, some in person, some over the phone or with a text!  And every time I got up, brushed my heart off, and got on with my life.

Somehow, today feels very different.  This was, by all accounts, a very good man.  A nice, well-educated, well-spoken, attractive, fun, sexy man who just two days ago told me he wanted a “relationship”.  Just forty-eight hours later, nothing at all has changed in the world, and he calls me at work to let me know he can’t do it.

Is everyone so broken down by their previous heart aches that they just can’t do it again?  I try not to be cynical but I’ve heard it all before.  He actually said the “I’d like to be friends” phrase!  What is wrong with men that they think after you’ve slept with them and given a piece of your soul up you can just turn back the clock and be friends?  I can only determine they don’t “feel” things the same way women do.

I miss my twenties.  Not just the hot, firm body I had.  Not even the fact that everyone else was single too and there were a lot more men to choose from.  Mostly I miss that there were rules.  I have fond memories of dating in my twenties.  The rules were clear and everyone was aware of them.  You met a man somehow… through friends, or out at a club, or in the grocery store, or the parking lot of your apartment building.  You struck up a conversation.  If he was interested in getting to know you better he asked you out, usually for lunch first.   If that went well he’d ask you out again — usually for a Thursday night — because Thursday night was official first date night.

If you weren’t in a relationship, Friday night both men and women went out with their friends and continued to try and meet people of the opposite sex.  Saturday night was serious date night.  You didn’t ask a woman out on Saturday night unless you were serious about her or already in a relationship with her.  If you wanted to see a woman on Saturday night you had to call and ask her by Wednesday.  No self respecting woman would say yes to a weekend date any later than Wednesday.  If all went well after your first Saturday night date…you began to see each other regularly.  After a few weeks you began having sex and you were now a couple.  It was simple, everyone knew the rules, and it worked really well.

The Beach Boys knew what Saturday night meant.  In their famous cruising song, “I Get Around”, they sang:

None of the guys go steady ‘cause it wouldn’t be right
To leave their best girl home on a Saturday night”

We all followed the rules back then and a good time was had by all.  Now dating again at middle age it appears there are no rules.  For one thing dating was designed for two people to spend time together in order to see if they have the possibility of making good partners.  In middle age, very few people are looking for a life partner any more.  In fact most of the men I’ve met have no idea what they’re looking for.

You can date a man for weeks, sometimes months, and it usually never gets past lunch or a walk by the river.  (Walking by the river seems to be big with men over 50.  Don’t ask me why because I can’t answer for them.   I suspect it’s for budgetary reasons, since they’re all divorced and have been hit financially, but that would just be a guess.)  After hours spent talking, eating, walking sometimes you get to the sex part but you still have no idea what it means to them.

For me, sex means we’ve reached a new level of intimacy.  We now have a new dimension to our relationship; a joyful, exciting, fresh area to explore.  For men it appears to mean one of two things:  either they now own you and expect you to be with them every free moment, or the relationship is now over.  They become uncomfortable, don’t want to talk about what it meant, become frightened about commitment and ride off into the sunset.

Most recently:  I met a man.  That’s how it usually starts!  We enjoyed a lot of the same things and had a lot in common.   We met for coffee and couldn’t stop talking.  We enjoyed some lunches and dinners and a wonderful trip to the coast.   We dated casually for a while and then one Saturday night I invited him over for dinner and a movie.  We had some dinner, we watched part of the movie, and then in the middle of a quiet boring patch…he made his move… and we ended up having sex.  The next morning we got up and took my dog for a walk, after which he went home.

No flowers were delivered.  No phone call telling me what a wonderful evening he had.  Days came and went with no phone call, email or text.  Finally, being a person who has a need to know, I called him and asked why he would walk away without so much as a word.  He hadn’t called because: he didn’t know what to say; it was too soon; he shouldn’t have done it; it’s not me it’s him; he didn’t want a relationship, etc.   Oh my God — I’ve heard it all before – from men I’ve dated and similar stories from my girlfriend’s forays into the dating world.

Sometimes I wish they’d make up some fascinating new reason simply for entertainment.  Something like this: His first wife, who he believed walked out on him, really was in a car accident in New Mexico and suffered from amnesia.  She just recovered and remembered she was married and showed up on his door step the very morning he left my house.   If you’re going to dump me at least be creative so I have something new to write about!

It makes a woman wonder if she’s no good at the sex thing –but over the years I have had the opportunity to learn that can’t be the case.  Sex just simply seems to turn most middle aged men back into foolish teenage boys who treat girls badly because they’re embarrassed by their own behavior and it’s easier to make light of it in front of the other boys in the locker room.

I’ve been thinking of writing a sitcom entitled “Another One Bites the Dust” wherein every week a middle-aged woman meets a new man who for one reason or another isn’t ready for love.  My girlfriend said she can’t see the humor in it but I think if I’m going to survive middle-age and not become a bitter, old woman I’m going to have to find a way to laugh about it.

As I sit here alone again tonight, just having been dumped by my most recent love and drinking the bottle of wine he bought me and told me to save for a “special occasion”, I find myself wondering: Is heartbreak one word, or two?  (Because that’s the kind of things writers think about even when they’re in pain.)  The other thing I’m wondering is:  Is getting dumped “special” enough of an occasion?  And:  Is this it for me?  Is there a limit on the number of heartaches one person can endure?  Have I reached mine?  Will I now become that cliché I so wanted to avoid?  Will I have to learn to live alone for the next thirty years?  Other than the spelling of heartbreak, I don’t have the answers.  We’ll have to stay tuned to life and see what happens next.

McKenzie James

September 27, 2011


Origins of a Dear John letter


I am leaving you, and I will write the words that you can never hear on this page, so then you can never again accuse me of refusing you honesty. You accused me of so much, so here I will explain my going, in the quiet vacuum of literature so you cannot twist my words and deny my intent. Nine years spent believing you were meant for someone is a hard habit to shake. I realized that every day I was gathering up the strength to not answer your phone calls, not respond to your emails, slowly beginning that uphill battle against your psychotic ego and voracious tendency to destroy anything you encounter in the name of self-adoration. You claim innocence from the bloodied bodies lying next to you, saying you are not responsible for the terror you have sown.

I am here to tell you, in simple English so you understand me, you are. Every day I look around at the myriad of men in the world, and wonder what it was about you that entrenched itself in me until I was dead. I am tired of you. You throw beautiful women up into your sky and claim you make them shine, how do you expect me to stand out in such a cosmos? Yet if I do not try you decry me, claim I am flawed.

I am more than flawed. I am beyond imperfect. I am tiny shattered shards of dismay awkwardly glued together. I do not need you to love me for what I could become, if someone were to come along and fill in the cracks. I do not need you to tell me how great I could be, if I were only more like her (or her, or her). I do not need to bend my words carefully so as to not damage your ego. I do not need to quietly stand here, carrying your past like a trophy, listening to you claim greatness while refusing to see the happiness already in your world.  I do not need you at all.

I am leaving you because it is not my duty to make you a great enough man to understand a love like mine. I am leaving you because I am proud, selfish with my love, and because my pride can no longer tolerate watching my body cry when you forget to call, when you leave me for other women, when you forget my birthday.  I am leaving you because I want to believe in love stories again. I want to still believe in princesses, that I merit feeling like one. I deserve to have my hand held proudly, I deserve to be in love and be unafraid. I am leaving you because I want a love that is brave enough to want me, to want to build a life with me, a love that is not afraid of saying that. Your only words of commitment came after I had committed to leaving you. A safe bet for empty words.

You accused me of not caring for you, of not loving you, of being so enamored with the glint of titles that I did not see who you were. For those words, for that idiocy, I will unabashedly give you my anger, coldly and without pardon. For years you had my heart in a shoebox in your closet, a dusty toy you had long since forgotten to play with. I loved you intensely, the only way I knew how. I loved you with forgiveness, for every word you had said and more importantly, for the ones you never did. I loved you so much the force of it almost made me lose myself in you.

When finally, I stood up and faced you down, roared out my freedom with savage screams and tore off your shackles till there was blood running down my body, then came the accusations of selfishness, of lack of love. I am not leaving you because I am flawed, although I am, nor am I leaving you because I am weak, although I am that as well. I am leaving you because you failed me, and my anger filters through you back towards my straggling limbs for having latched on for so long. I am leaving you because when I laughed you said it was too loud, and when I cried you said you didn’t understand, and when I was angry you said I was irrational. I am leaving you because you never wanted a lover or an ally; you wanted a doll made out of mirrors to reflect your current obsession.

Staying with you is a lie, a play I can no longer act in. You spread your hands as if drawing a question mark in the air, easily forgetting your role in this two-man show. You repeat ‘I love you’ to me with a look of condemnation. I am the deserter, a criminal in my own right. I am leaving you for my own preservation, beyond that I am walking away because a life is built in moments of bravery, and you have faced life with nothing but cowardice.

I am leaving you now, and in a year I will be able to say why. In two years I will have forgotten the black anger that coats my muscles, in three I will believe someone when they say they love me. And in five, I will have forgiven you, and myself.


In Session


Lewis taps his fingers rhythmically against the paperclip. He always has something in his hand to tap against. I picked him from the long list of other therapist profiles because he looks so… Southern California. The therapist website in itself was weird, looking like a dating site with pictures and small quips about the counselors, their educational backgrounds and particular therapy styles. Lewis’ profile was different, the way most profiles that catch your eye are. He didn’t write the profile as if he were talking to you, rather it read like a Curriculum Vitae of a potential research professor.

I really like Lewis. Lewis really likes himself, which we seem to have been trained to despise but in Lewis it glows outwardly, inspiring people around him to like themselves as well. Which makes sense as to why he is a successful therapist with an office in a high rise building in downtown, the view of the harbor glittering sunshine back in. His office is mild, clean, with an outdated laptop humming away in the left hand corner of his desk.

I started therapy because the depression had gotten to the point of destruction. I found myself in my kitchen one night, in an apartment that was too big for me, crouching like some crazed beast on the cold linoleum floor holding a knife and screaming through thick, clotted tears. I wrote words down that night that were so angry I cannot read them on the page, it does not look like my writing. The next day I could not get out of bed, because the only motivation I could find for removing myself from my bed was to jump off the roof and I could not do that to my mother. I didn’t understand before this, that depression could cripple you. Grab your mind and suffocate it slowly, a boa constrictor that takes over every aspect of your life, your mind, until you are a victim to it as if a stranger were squatting like a little black lizard where your heart should have resided.

Lewis titles these episodes as my ‘earthquakes’. He says this triumphantly. Lewis loves metaphors and his own cleverness, mainly the latter.

“It’s like an earthquake! You don’t know where its coming from or how long its going to be. And then afterwards you have little aftershocks, don’t you?!”

He sits back, a self-satisfied smile still floating over his lips. I look at him from across the desk. I sit in a deep leather seat, with a pillow on my back because otherwise I’m too small and my feet don’t reach the floor.  In Lewis’ office, I always make sense. I love it there, when the words tumble out of my mouth like tiny pebbles being thrown around by white water, Lewis just leans back until I am done and then carefully reconstructs what I have said, following the tangled strings of emotions until he has clean lines laying before us. Unlike anyone else in my life, Lewis presents me with cool, linear logic that doesn’t condescend. He never angers at my reactions, in fact for the most part Lewis treats every single one of my emotions, outbursts, tears, and laughter as the most singularly important thing that has ever happened in the world. He seems truly excited and enthralled by the fact that I, indeed, exist.

Today, I am explaining to Lewis about my self-sabotaging in relationships. Not only romantic ones but friendships as well. He leans back in his chair and looks at me through his spectacles while I take him through the claustrophobic vines that I attempt to machete through when explaining how I feel to people. Therapy is an odd art form, we attempt each session to place into neat categories every memory, touch, and influence we have had throughout our lives.

“Why is it concerning you now that you do this?” Lewis asks. He pretends it is an innocent question but Lewis is a very deliberate person. He explained to me that he is the most important person in his own life, and as such his time is invaluable. He does not spend it circumventing what he really wants to know. When he told me this, I asked him if he ever worried about offending people and having them not like him. He looked slightly confused when I asked him this.

“Not like me because I am asking an honest question? Well they sound like someone with something bad to hide and, I don’t want to know those people anyway”.  Lewis lives his life with a close-knit circle of people he loves around him whom he will do anything for, and the rest of the world he treats as if they were in an interview for the last available slot to be his friend; politely and with extreme discretion.

“I’m concerned because I don’t want to sabotage anything this time. I can’t lose him, and I like my friends and I’m tired of feeling as if the only way I’ll be happy is if I am completely independent of everyone. Like my safety net is figuring out a way that I will be completely okay if any particular person is no longer in my life”.

Lewis doesn’t say anything at first, just looks at me as my body clenches and tenses. Expelling this darkness in this neat rectangular office is the most exhausting thing I have ever done. It is a chain weighing 10,000 pounds that I have wrapped around me, longer and longer, for years. Slowly we are tracing back the knots and the kinks, figuring out what I have done in order to undo it and free me, pound by pound. Sighing inwardly, Lewis sits his small frame back up in the black chair and says

“No. You are not alone, you are not independent, you are not unattached. And it is not an admirable quality to be those things. I haven’t cooked a meal in 20 years because my wife is an incredible cook, if she were to leave me I would have no idea how to cook for myself. But I don’t refuse to revel in her cooking, I take it in, I bask in it”

At this point Lewis is leaning back in his chair, arms stretched out and an almost monk like expression of peaceful bliss extends on his face.

“You have to allow people to love you. You have to just, take it all in, enjoy it, swim in it. When people want to do nice things for you, you must nod your head in agreement and say ‘yes, do nice things for me!’. Otherwise life is miserable and short. And why wouldn’t they want to do nice things for you, why wouldn’t they want to love you? You must expect people to treat you as if you were the most important person in your life because you are.”

I laugh. Lewis is not joking but I can’t help but laugh, the idea is so freeing. I am still in shock when people love me the way my friends and family do. That demonic little presence in my head has slowly convinced me it is all false, Lewis’ main job is to tell me that I am fine, that I will be fine, and that no one has the capacity to hurt me anymore than I allow myself to react by being hurt.

The hour ends, and Lewis stands and smiles at me. Therapy is precise, within a set time frame, the way situational comedies always resolve themselves within a half hour.

“Next week, same time?” he asks as he opens the door for me. I nod as I walk out the door and back down the stairs, preparing myself to re enter a world that overwhelms me, a world that never seems to resolve itself no matter how many hours tick by. I look over my shoulder and Lewis smiles and waves goodbye, until next weeks session.


Anniversary


Anniversario

He left her a year ago, walked out of her office into the summer heat and drifted away, each step permanently bruising the cement. She never thought she would see him again, after a brief, cursory hug she sat back down in her chair and looked at her screen pretending with all her might that he meant nothing.

A year ago he walked into his house, into his ordered life with his neat, square fence, and prepared for the vacation he had been intending to savor for so long. But this girl had slipped into the crevices of his mind and she demanded all of him to be happy, he sensed her requiring every small piece of his being, every dark corner that only he was master of; she needed it all before being satiated and for some unknown reason, he had to satiate her. She was younger, impetuous, filled with a strong desire for him that he hadn’t felt in years. Absent-mindedly he wiped his hands on his leg before realizing her thighs had been left in the intricate mappings of his fingertips. He shuddered at the thought of someone else touching her, tasting her, swiftly cutting out the image of any other person creating the moans that he so viciously burned out of her. He would never admit this to her, never confess to his overwhelming need to have her only ever love him, need him, to consume her world the way she had consumed his. While he walked away a thick coating of fear trickled into his throat, if she did not love him he would disappear.

On her part, she tried in vain to forget him, convinced he did not care for her and cried in silent agony at falling for yet another human who could not consume her with the same vengeance she met every single moment of life with. She exhausted herself in the pool that night, each time she hit the wall and pushed back into cool blue wishing she would look up and see his face. He is not the type to surprise, not the type to need her so desperately that he cannot stay away. She loves this about him as well. Walking home in the thick heat to her small apartment her legs can barely pick up and carry her but her mind is far, far away. He smells stronger than the chlorine. Her organized chaos taunts her as she turns the key to her tiny apartment with too much furniture, arranged like pieces of six different puzzles. That night, away from everyone, she breaks and whatever small piece of her heart he left in her chest so that blood could still pump falls to her toes. She screams at her walls, her windows, rips down the pictures and paintings she has haphazardly put on the walls so that she would become attached to something. Left alone in this tornado she realized she was dying.

They are in love, that sickening sticky mess. Humans are piles of goop and muscles, growing bones long enough to stand up next to someone so that when they fall apart again there are arms to disappear into. She feels her skin stretch away from her breastbone towards him, forming a thin invisible line. The glue that holds the world together, and he knows that without it he will wither and die. But every mile that he drives away from her she senses herself breaking down, falling apart. Her existence is his memory of her, snippets of waists and nipples.

Together now, they celebrate the anniversary of this abandonment quietly, without flowers or cards used to mark occasions of lovers coming together, and every day she wakes up yearning for him more and more. He lies next to her every night, and yet she feels the sinking desperation to hold onto any part of him she can, mediocrity is her worst enemy, her worst nightmare. She remembers all too clearly how her heart cut out of her chest on that hot August afternoon, that horrible day he left her. She is afraid of becoming ordinary, of their love becoming daily, of becoming forgettable again. He loves her more and more, for the way she believes that omens are told through the moon, for her obsessions that change weekly, dictating the entire vacuum of her attention. He is unyieldingly proud of her, she has the courage and spirit he has emulated his whole life. She loves his ordered, careful ways. Not a single part of her understands them and it consumes a grand majority of her time to remember to put the glasses away in the right order, the place to leave the sponge, and how to lock the front door.

They live together and still cannot believe it. The darker memories gnaw at both of them in different ways, bittersweet reminders are left all over the house, a house she does not feel a part of. These memories cut at her, making her wish the skeleton made up some part of the human heart because maybe then bone could stop that cold knife of past loves from piercing. She is too young to realize how much of him she owns, youth clouds the mirror and makes it impossible to understand that other people hurt and fall in love with the same fascination. . Without realizing it they have become the lovers so many stories were written about, people so utterly smitten they have banished the cold thought of life after each other.

They mark the anniversary of this love by remembering that day, a day so hot the wind was too sticky with sweat to move.  The bitter memory of him leaving remains, like a cut on the side of her mouth that splits open every time she smiles. Her heart seizes with the thought of him one day walking away forever. Love, like life, is not to be savored because it lasts forever. It is its inevitable end that feeds the fire, makes hands grasp hips, and tongues slip over unfamiliar teeth. They love each other with voraciousness, all too aware of the pain of losing the other, and celebrate the dark side of that coin to remind themselves that for at least one more night, both get to fall asleep listening to the breathing of someone they secretly swear they can never live without.


Letters to Asher (A Series)


asher

His name should not be capitalized. Not out of lack of respect, admiration, or love. Capitalizing a noun gives the assumption that it is tied to something concrete, or understood. He is none of these things.

Heaven has either decided to curse me or the fates have an extraordinarily cruel sense of humor. I have dreamt of him, tasted him for years, reached between my legs to feel that prohibitive moisture rise forward at the sensation of him being near me and yet, he lies next to me in this white bed and my hands seem to tremble in fear of their own desire. I attempt, over and over again, to explain to him how I feel. As if this simple naive art will be enough to enthrall and overwhelm him just for some measure of time. He’s never shown any form of terror to me, yet he has so much of mine. Those cold, breatheless nights when I wake up feeling that my life has ended, I am resentful of the fact that his hand calms me down.

If I were to leave him (or more likely, him me) would I have shaped him? Carved any small piece of him in a new way? I’m afraid of walking somewhere and not leaving any discernible trace, even though I may have lost my soul among those footsteps.

It was Borges, in his interminably frustrating wisdom that said “To fall in love is to create a religion with a fallible God”. I am raising my legs as temples to him and rewriting every book I own so they will sing his praises, and just like every other God ever imagined, he is above the clamor and the rude interruptions to his existence. But I would rather dedicate my life to the blinding slavery of faith to him than to exist as a cynic without him.

Matilda 


Strange Sensation


STRANGE SENSATION

I have a strange sensation that I’m going to die today. Some sort of a natural disaster is going to take my life, and it’s not going to be singular or important in any fashion. I think I’m not only going to die, but I’m going to be one of those numbers people read about in the newspaper. You know, ‘today a city bus overturned on I-405, killing fifteen people and injuring several more’. My family will be devastated, as will my friends. People who knew me will pretend they were better friends than we actually ever were and I won’t be around to be disdainful. In a few years most people (other than my family) will feel slight twinges of sadness when they think of me but they won’t feel me in them.

How depressing is that? It’s horrible. I don’t know why I feel that I’m going to die today. It’s a perfectly normal Wednesday, it might be singular in that its one of those perfect, beautiful fall days where the sun is out and the leaves are changing colors. Other than that, there are hundreds of Wednesdays just like today.

Except, of course, this premonition of being on the precipice of my own mortality. Facing my own mediocrity down is hard enough as is, I don’t need imminent death to make me realize how utterly insignificant I am. I get it, Universe, I really do. I am alone in a huge city. This man that I am in love with, just like all the other men except that he is himself. This man is hundreds of miles away, just a sort of quiet distant voice at the end of a telephone. In the face of this feeling, I am supposed to say no. No I am doing the right thing having moved away from him, grappling with an overwhelming loneliness, a sensation of despair that seems to tinge everything I do. Peels me raw so that I have to find again the callousness that marked me for the last six years. But all of this is more important than being in love. Love is superfluous at best. People claim it is what makes life worthwhile but looking around at them I notice that most people live their lives in search of a few fleeting moments of perfection, and fill in the rest with inanity. We exist in this vacuous continuum of spinning our wheels and shouting out how important we are.

If I die today, if the earth opens up and swallows me whole, I will miss a lot of things. I will miss the feeling of safety I get when I’m laying on the couch in my parents house and my dad puts a blanket over me and brings me ice cream while we watch criminal movies. I will miss talking to my mom while we take walks at 7 in the morning, telling this woman my secrets because I know she loves me more than her own life, a love I have yet to understand. I will miss laughing with my sister until we are both crying. I will miss running with Ella, drinking with Amy and rating women in bars. I will miss the smell of a car heater when you are driving on a really cold night and the way hot chocolate curls up into your nose. I will miss the anonymity of existence. I will miss his sweet smile when he is about to fall asleep, when he forgets to wear the armor of daily life and he is just listening to me read him old poetry about hellish punishments.

I will miss my legs burning after I have been running for too long, excusing me from feeling imperfect because look; I have exercised until it hurts. I will miss the edge in his voice, the impatience in his look. The way nothing is ever good enough, the quiet comparisons in his head between his life now and his life then. I will miss the utter sadness that I get when I hear his hesitation, because I want so badly to not feel that in someone. I will miss saying goodbye to my grandma in the airport, crying together because neither of us knows if we will see each other ever again. I will miss the taste of coffee in the morning when no one is around and I don’t have to worry about my face being puffy or my legs not being shaved. I will miss hearing the pride in my dads voice when I tell him about my accomplishments, miss the feeling of being completely loved.

I will regret not having had children. I will regret not telling him that I would do anything for him, I would leave this program and finish closer to him, I would transfer to anywhere if he asked it. I will regret not telling Aaron that I loved him so much, that I wanted him to be my husband, and that when I realized that he would never live up to being the man I needed him to be my heart broke into ten million pieces because even I couldn’t love him enough to do that for him. I will regret not telling my sister that I forgave her, that I hoped she forgave me. I will regret not having told my parents how much I loved them, how much they inspired me to live my life with grace and compassion. I will regret not being honest with him, not telling him when he was pushing too much, being too cruel. I will regret not having found someone who saw me, loved me, wanted a life with me.

I will regret never having tried to become a writer. I will regret not calling Kathryn more, or emailing Annette back. I will regret not having gotten together with Maggie more often. I will regret the million and one times I sat in front of my mirror, sobbing until I couldn’t breathe, wishing against everything that I could take a knife and cut off my pieces of my body, I wish I could take back all those moments and revel in the incredible beauty of my limbs. I will regret the times I faked an orgasm instead of just admitting I wasn’t enjoying the night and asking the man to leave. I will regret the instances when I said “I love you” when I didn’t really mean it, just to appease the ego of an idiotic boy. More than that I will regret the times I didn’t say ‘I love you” when my whole heart was screaming it and my world needed to be ripped open by it but I held back because I was convinced that behaving that intensely would be ‘too much’ for the other person.

I will regret ever having felt that my intensity was something to apologize for. I will regret having toned myself down, explained away emotions, rationalized tears in silence, let myself get swept away by the bullshit rhetoric of a man who has lost the capacity to feel.

But, truth be told, I have felt this all before, on other days in other ways, and most likely the day will end and I will still be among the living.  Thankfully, joyfully, among the living and I will have time to tell the ones I love what I need them to hear and time to not repeat those errors that I feel have lessened my soul.

~Matilda~ 



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