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1, 2 i buckle my shoe

Year One:
I met a girl named Kate. She was a petite firecracker of a woman with wild red hair and a thin angular face. She shook her raised fists when she spoke and folded them to pick at the cuticle on her thumb when she talked about wanting to die. She taught me to show up. She taught me that if I don’t fight for what I want then I won’t get the chance again.

She fell in love over coffee with three different men while I knew her. I watched her move away from the curly haired boy who thought law school was something to be done alone and with quiet solitary conviction. I watched her tighten her jaw and lift her head after being left by a boy who didn’t understand that people like Kate are once in a lifetime.
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Old Wounds

The phone is nestled into the pillow at the head of the bed and I’m shoulder to shoulder with John. I feel stupid for being excited, trying to talk myself out of the hopeful nerves that are tightening my stomach and causing me to curl a toe over the length of John’s calf. It’s strange- the morbid fascination I have with the relationship with my father. It’s like picking at an old scar just to watch it bleed. It stopped hurting a long time ago, but sometimes I just need to remind myself that there was something that hurt there once.

The Face time fails. The phone call that ensues is a raucous of voices with me solemnly identifying the background “Merry Christmas” as my Father’s voice. I strain to hear it again.

I don’t.

The phone call ends after seven minutes, the length of the call a dull set of numbers fading as my screen fades and I sigh. “That’s my relationship with my Dad in a nutshell.”

It’s dissembling and evasive as I suck my teeth and reach for another cigarette. I smoke more when I’m hurt. I can feel my lungs ache. It’s not nearly as hurtful as my embarrassment. The smoke not as damaging as the quiet that rings in the space between me and the rest of the world. I can only explain to people who understand the loneliness of missing a father that’s not actually gone. It’s something darker than blue but not as vibrant. It’s an old ache that kicks up with the weather and I brace for the coming storm, but that just leaves my back stiff and my muscles sore for something that never actually comes. A storm means that there would be a fight.

Sometime in my past I realized that I wasn’t the one worth fighting for and simply float watching the vastness of sky.

I have all these memories I keep in a cedar chest in my mind. I have all these pretty little baubles of my Father. I don’t talk about my parents. I don’t refer to them as a single family- it’s always one or the other separate and unequal. I have dancing with my Father in the small kitchen of my youth perfectly preserved because dancing with him at my wedding was as distant and unfeeling as a hand I slept on wrong. It tingles with the idea of feeling and the threat of movement, but it’s disconnected.

John frowns slightly and gives me a look that doesn’t really understand but wants to. “You okay?”

I shrug. It’s a defense. It’s a mannerism. “Yeah.” I exhale smoke and don’t quite look him in the eye. “I just miss my Dad.”

Simple Truths

“I’ve always had this weird…” I pause, unsure of the phrasing and rolling the taste of something bitter and uncomfortable around in my mouth. It tastes like pebbles under my tongue before I sigh, tilting my head and pushing the smoke from my lungs like a blanket to hide the next words. “It’s like this story that flows under everything I do and it’s so simple. You’re not worthy.”

The air was a damp warm that meant the fog would roll in over the bay and obscure the drive home. The thick kind of night that felt wonderful on the skin by played havoc on the hair. It haloed around my head, the silver strands catching the light even as a few moths battered themselves against the over head lamps. Barb is a slim woman with thin blond hair that hangs neatly around her face. She’s Eastern European by way of American accent learned from years. It lingers around the tightness in her eyes when she smiles and moves around to sling strange dip-thongs onto her phrasing. She’s lovely as a siberian iris, trusting that the green shoots that knife through the snows will be allowed to bloom purple and lush. She nods once, taking the difficult statement and tucking it between her palms that are cradled in her lap just under the table between us.

My mouth smears to the side and I duck my head. Even this is weir. My truths don’t really deserve to see the light. Six years sober and six years of walking a path that leads me to an addiction to the truth and I can’t even look her in the eye around my odd self consciousness. People need to know that I’m okay, that I’m good, that everything is fine. They don’t need to know that there are days when I have to step over the pile of dirty clothes that sit like a wall on the left hand side of my bed. They don’t need to know that I’m so exhausted at the end of the day I can barely see straight as I answer the texts for help and slide one leg at a fumbling time under my sheets. They don’t know about how I fall asleep between breaths and wake up running.

I feel like I’ve been running my whole life because when I stop just long enough to look around I realize I’m so lost that I don’t know where to even start. It’s not true. I have moments of pause where I can gather up my clothes, my bills, my dignity, my heart, and fumble through the simple tasks of setting my life in order.

you don’t deserve nice things, you’ll just lose them. you don’t deserve a boyfriend who cares about you because you always think you’re in love but the moment it’s over that light switch flicks and you’re done with it all like it never existed. do you even know what love is? you can’t even love yourself most of the time. you’re disgusting and unworthy and –

And I’m running again. Reaching out a hand to help the next person behind me. Answering the phone at four in the morning to a girl in tears because she can’t imagine a life with or a life without. I can hear myself saying words of comfort. I can hear myself making the noise of hope, because it’s in those moments that I feel worthy. It’s in those moments that I have hope.

It blurs from one day to the next in little moments of exhaustion. I remember the way my best friend looked after nearly 27 hours of labor. She was limp with exhaustion, but her eyes glowed fierce under the glossy cut of her bangs. She was flushed, damp, and reaching with a single mindedness to find the next thing that made sense. The next thing that had captured her heart in a way that made little to no sense outside of that moment. That one moment when she caught her son so close and touched shaking fingers to his dark curls. He screamed and she knew she was forever going to love one thing more than anything else.

That’s the only way I can think to describe the moment someone asks me for help. That breathless enthusiasm for a chance to give something the best possible life I can manage. But it’s not me. It’s not me who’s managing anything but finding the energy to be present.

The light flickers and Barb blows out a breath and catches my eye. She has these pale blue gazes that catch the mind like fine china or the massive breadth of a glacier. “You know why you fight that?”

I shake my head.

“Because it’s not true. But-” She pauses and holds up a finger and I can feel myself quaking somewhere just behind my heart. “FIghting it makes it true. You need to be right about this one thing. You need to be right about the most basic truth about yourself you have.” She tips her head and the smile is beautific. “Because if you’re wrong, then everything you have ever though about yourself, everything you have ever believed about yourself is wrong. You *need* to be right about this one horrible thing so that everything else is right. Let it go. Be wrong.”

I laugh, nervous and welling. “You make it sound so easy.”

“You’re not worthy.” She cocks her head and I can almost taste my thrumming need for this next truth. “You have never been more wrong about anything in your whole life. Let it go.”

Sunday

“I want a baby more than anything in the world. I’ve wanted to be a parent as long as I can remember.” It’s a Sunday night and I don’t want a baby. Cars hum over the pavement and my shoes have a hole in the toe. The glossy black patent leather is gnawed, fraying just to the right of my big toe and colored in with sharpie. Travis is a barrel chested gay man sitting to my left, hands laced over the breadth of his stomach as he narrows his eyes at the night sky. He nods once. “I’m not in a relationship and I don’t see myself being in one, but I know that I want to be a Dad.”

“You’ve got all the time in the world, man,” I reply. My nose wrinkles as I stub out my smoke and it’s sensible to turn the conversation away.

“That’s the only thing that L— and I ever talked about you two dating. If you want kids you have a time clock.”

“Yeah.” It’s not like I can forget. It’s not like every time it gets quiet my age doesn’t settle like afternoon sunshine around my head. I’m not old. I don’t feel old.

“I mean, you’re looking at like five years tops if you want kids. That’s a lot of pressure.”

“Yeah.” I shrug, I don’t want to talk about this. I don’t want to talk about the fact that I don’t know if I want kids. I don’t know if I’ll ever want kids. I don’t want to talk about the fact that sometimes I’m terrified of the way my brain compartmentalizes so specifically that I worry I’m sociopathic. I never worry about loving the idea of the possible kid I could make from scratch some day, because love comes easily.

I worry about not being present. I worry about resenting them. I worry about rushing into having one because it’s my last chance. I worry about single parenting. I worry about co parenting. I worry that I’ll be just like my dad- or sometimes worse, just like my mom.

I want to build a home and a life for myself and I think that maybe I build walls to keep other people out and the possibility of being a mother locked far far away. I loved my ex husband, but I didn’t want to have children with him.

There are moments in my memory that have this golden topaz colored skip jump photography. They’re round as river rocks and drop to make waves in my present. I remember the way my Dad would pick Gingko leaves, twirling them between his thumb and forefinger like a flapping yellow fan to batter against my nose. I remember the way he smelled like cigarettes and scratchy beard. There’s a specific noise that I can only find in playgrounds, the slow cry of metal on metal from a swing hitting that perfect epogee and apogee of my childhood.

There are trees that I pull myself into because there’s no one to lift me up anymore.

I watched myself hit an age that was unimportant to my Father. I watched my brother hit it. Then my half sister. I watched him go from completely entranced and wondrous of the life he can hold between his palms to the man who missed my birthday at 28… 29… 30… older and older and less and less important. I know the way a basketball court feels empty and waiting to be remembered and how the pause of nothing to talk about sounds over the phone and states in between us. I remember the feel of hugs when I was special and the feel of hugs that happened as I became an adult and no longer deserving of that glowing yellow cake batter idolatry.

I think about my mother and her 16 cats and three dogs holed up in a house that’s dusty with litter and a phone gone quiet. I call, but sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in the loneliness she chose, throat sore with swallowed words of: is this what happens when we choose to be alone? Do we just get smaller and quieter, joints aching as we fill our lives with fur and something to feel warm against our skin- something to make us not feel so utterly and completely alone?

Travis is nominally handsome and kind of an asshole. He talks about children and long term with L. He talks about how important family is. I think about how important the people I’ve picked as family are in my life. I think about the breathless wrung out beauty of my best friend as she met her first son. I think about the heavy curtain of privacy we put up between ourselves in a relationship and the people we love. I think about how two women could be so miserable and so silenced. I think about how I feel trapped by tiny chuck taylors in stores or the way a six month old baby looks in the arms of a new twenty something mom. I think about the girl who took fertility drugs so when my ex husband was an idiot who couldn’t operate a condom she could catch him and a child.

I wonder if I could ever do that. I know that I couldn’t.

“I just really want to be a Dad.”

I nod. I’m sitting outside a Starbucks in Tampa on a Sunday night. The air is orange with that buzzing streetlight shine. I’m an endless array of moments of people falling in love that led to me. I’m a perfect storm of paranoia and pride, ego and emotion. I’m thirty five and I have five years.

The world tells me I have five years.

I think about the last five and I wonder how in the hell anyone can ever be sure enough of who they are and what their life is going to be that they can bring a whole life into the world and know that no matter what they’ll be there.

“I think I just want to be me.”

Mulish

I’ve spent the better part of the week being momentarily grumpy over people telling me about me.

You deserve better. You should get a real job. You should go back to school. You should settle down. You deserve a good man. You would be a great mom. You should. You are. You. You. you.

Here’s the thing:

I decide who I am now.

Give it a minute to sink in. I had to. I looked at that statement and balked immediately on the idea of how selfish it is- how self serving. I’ve been told my entire life that relationships are about compromise. Meet them half way. Give of yourself to others. If you love someone, you do what is necessary to make it work. I’ve been working my entire life to be a better person, to be likeable, generous, and humble.

I sat on a couch on Saturday listening to someone earnestly break up with me (my first foray back into the dating world since my divorce). My knees were bent, legs folded under me with bare toes and a raw uncomfortable feeling welling in my chest. I notched my chin onto my palm and watched the shapes his mouth made when he couldn’t look me in the eye. The small divot of fabric over the dip of his collarbones shifted as he wet his lips, punctuating the faltering half prepared emotionally honest statement:

I’m not in a place where I can give you the kind of relationship you deserve.

I must have made some noise of distaste because he paused, brought short by the way my mouth twisted sideways on sour bitten back words. I thought for a moment about the last time someone told me I deserved better. It was a similar moment- sitting quietly curled on a couch as someone walked away.

My ex-husband moved out on Valentine’s day after a month of half heated arguments and new car payments. Everything he deemed worthwhile could be neatly packed into the dove gray Honda Fit.

I was leaning a shoulder against the porch rail; there wasn’t room for me.

He packed his records, his khaki pants, and his inability to compromise away as he told me I deserved a husband who could provide the kind of life that could afford a family. He gave me a hug, fingers digging into the doughy skin over the small of my back before squaring his jaw before driving away – complacent yogurt flavored happiness left me soft and mushy. The dogs were strewn around the living room the way we used to discard clothes. Now, the laundry was started once a day and his shirts never got softener.

J is a kind man, but selfish. L is a sweet earnest boy, but naive.

Neither of them knew me. Neither of them really tried. I was a convenience and an interest to be appreciated, enjoyed, and set aside.

Today I woke up and slipped on my shoes, unreasonably pleased that for the first time in my life my “skinny” jeans are too big. I’m not losing weight for any other reason than I’m happy. I’m not waking up in the morning for any other reason than I look forward to seeing what happens in my day.

I don’t kiss people I don’t want to any more. I don’t sleep with people because “no” seems like such a hard word to say when someone wants something from me. I don’t have to be anything but completely content with the state of my life as is.

I looked up at L, tilting my head and catching a glimpse of the black and white tiled kitchen out of the corner of my eye, only half paying attention to what he said next.

“I don’t see this going anywhere. I can’t be the kind of boyfriend you expect. I can’t be in the kind of relationship you deserve-”

“That’s great, however-” I remember how he looked at me for the first time then when I held up a hand to stop him. He really looked with soft brown eyes and a half scared breath. He saw me, that 35 year old woman who was leaning into the comfort of that brown couch. He saw the way my jaw went tight and I lifted from that core lace inside myself that knows when something is not quite right. I listen to that voice now. I respect it. I want to encourage it because that voice is the basis of my self worth: ignoring it says I can be ignored. I never raised my voice. I didn’t snap. If anything I smiled the words out like a sigh tasting of warm lazy sheet mornings. I spoke from a place of love, because no one loves me more than me. “You don’t know what I deserve. You don’t know what I expect. If this was about me in any way, then this would have been a conversation. This is about you. I’m sorry that I’m taking away your ability to feel like the good guy here, but please, leave me out of your excuses. You already left me out of the decision.”

I shrugged and pulled my sandals back on. I wasn’t going to argue. I can’t fight the way someone feels any more than I can fight the fact that it rains sometimes. I will admit to being annoyed that I’d shaved my legs and that my skin was soft to a touch that wouldn’t come. I was annoyed that something I had been enjoying on a moment by moment basis had been extrapolated out into the future and therefore to a place of uselessness. I was hurt, embarrassed, and horny- never a good combination.

What I wasn’t? Devastated. Overwrought. Depressed. Raging. Thrilled. Broken.

I gave him a hug at the door, his fingers pressing against the back of my neck and the curve of my ribcage before exhaling on his front porch- happiness burns spicy inside me and melts away the grayed layer of soft over my bones. I took a moment to rest my head against my steering wheel and just feel the loss of a small bit of something exciting and simple- the feel of a smile pressed against my temple or the touch of his forehead to the nape of my neck. I breathed in and told myself, the only person who has to live with me on a daily basis, what I deserved:

You deserve to live your life for you.

Buried in Tulle and Moving Boxes

For dinner tonight I made black grouper in a lime scallion teriyaki with huge sea scallops and crispy green veggies. I was inspired.

I have a new kitchen. It’s glossy with large cabinet space that opens into the living room. It sprawls. It yawns. It glitters. I’ve never had anything quite like it before in my life. It’s beautiful and I find myself trailing absently happy fingers over the granite counter tops while plotting.

I’ve got a lot to plot lately. I’ve gone and busied up my life.

I’ve moved. I’ve gotten engaged. I’ve taken up origami. I’ve decided to refinish and reupholster a kitchen table and chairs. I’m starting to get crafty. I read a whole bunch. I did absolutely nothing but contemplate the length of my toenails. I’ve grown my fingernails and bitten them all off. I bought a veil. I bought shoes. I quit smoking. (OMG!) I’ve gone crazy and I’ve found bits of serenity. I’ve fought with my fiancée and fallen more in love with him by the minute. I got into a car crash and walked away from my car. I got paid. I got a new job. I’ve learned new skills and forgotten them promptly. I thought I was ugly then remembered I’m not. I got more freckles and noticed more grey hairs. I stopped going to school for a semester and am wondering if there is some way to parlay my love of crafty things into a full time living. I have decided to make a letterpress. I spray painted things that were legal for once.

I’ve lived and junk.

I’m going to space out the full update, but that’s enough for now yes?

I work. I learn.

TAKE THAT RESUMES!! I squish you all with words.
**
This is my response to the university question about briefly summarizing my work history and or inclusion of a work resume.  This will either get my application torched or amuse some poor person.  I’m hoping the latter.
**
In my lifelong search for the perfect job, I have worked long hours in the restaurant industry.  In this profession, I perfected the ability to speak fluent nonsense and hold reasonably polite conversations with disagreeable people. I can carry a tray above my head and fist over three drinks in one hand.  I know the difference between Garganelli and Gorganzola.  I’ve had moments where I distract myself with the idea I can do other things: grave digger, haunted house employee, writing tutor, and military personnel.  However, I find myself drawn to working with people in a fast-paced environment requiring me to be sociable on a daily basis.
If nothing else, my decade working with the public has given me more experience than the average eighteen year old on the importance of a degree.  I understand that without the proper education I will be pigeon-holed into believing that I am capable of nothing more than remembering whether my customer wanted a baked potato or a side of rice.  I also know that this is not true. I do not look good on paper, because a resume doesn’t include the wonder of a sunset over the pacific, the knowledge that I can drive only so far on a quarter tank of gas, that most people just want to be listened to, and that I am capable of nearly anything.  So, work history aside, I am an amazing person who deserves the opportunity to become more than just a waitress.