Posted by: alegra22 | January 1, 2014

2013: Dancing with Demons

pandoras-box-print-c10100758Twenty thirteen was a consciously messy year for me. In one way or another, I’ve spent most of my adult life in a state of discipline and anxiety about not being able to accomplish enough. Some of it has been out of need (my health, for example). Some of it has been about simply not trusting myself to let go of the tight control I kept to feel safe in the world.

So for the last year, I’ve drank too much wine, beer, and vodka. I’ve stayed up late painting and watching horror movies.  I’ve written in fits and starts. I’ve eaten food that was poison for my body. I’ve been undisciplined in my exercise. I’ve gained weight and lost strength.  I’ve paid the price with illness and fatigue.

I’ve cried and raged with my husband.  I’ve listed all the things I’m afraid of, the secret horrors I’ve kept safe in my Pandora’s box; the box I’ve created with self control and discipline, with charts and checklists. After years of trusting in its security, I’d forgotten about it.  It sat stored on the top shelf at the back of my heart.  I tricked myself into believing that it would stay shut all on its own. Of all the tricks I’ve played on myself, this was the kindest.

About a year after Joaquin’s birth, I went through a series of events involving loss. Loss of beliefs, of people, of health, of control. They were punches to my heart, slowly knocking that box out of its shadows, until finally, in this last year, the box fell and smashed open. I’ve spent the last year dancing with my demons that came spilling out. We danced together until I realized they were teachers not tormentors.

In this New Year, I return back to those things that I used over the years to protect me; the writing, the exercise, the clean eating, the moderation with alcohol and caffeine, but I return to them with a peace in my heart. I don’t need to be hidden to be protected. I’ve danced with my fear and messiness for the last few years and emerged not destroyed, but stronger. I understand myself better. I trust myself.

My Pandora’s box was not about setting demons loose in the world but setting demons out of the cage of my heart. They finally had a chance to have their say and be put to rest.  Each one shook my hand when we were done dancing and we thanked one another.

I am thankful for the messiness of this last year. It has taught me that I can’t be lost in chaos. I can’t destroy what I am meant to be.

What I am is something to rest in.
I am something to say thank you for…

Thank you

again and again

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Posted by: alegra22 | November 26, 2013

serpent and vine

blog serpentLast night, I sat hugging my knees and crying as Dan listened to me. I felt like my heart was being strangled by some ancient serpent I thought I’d outgrown; the serpent of every rejection I’ve ever felt since I was a small child. The situation that created this is unimportant…I think it is safe to say that all of us have been misunderstood and rejected in our lives. Dan was trying to lead me out of the belief that the only reason I’d be feeling this sort of pain was because I deserved it.

I trust my husband. He has freed me from night terrors by holding me close and praying over me. He has held my hand as three of our children were cut out of my body. He asked me to look him in the eyes as we lost a child. He has seen me through my greatest fears, successes, pains, and deepest exhaustion. The only thing he has ever asked of me is to be his best friend. Falling in love with my husband is the greatest leap of faith I didn’t have the choice to make.The last eight years of having children, changing jobs, completing degrees, successes and rejections, moving homes, mourning children taken too soon, have had us finding one another’s feet in the dark as we collapse in exhaustion. Becoming a mother roused such a great fear in me that I’ve had a difficult time slowing down enough to look my husband in the eyes and let him see what I imagined to be my Great Unworthiness.

It was not until I was given one of the greatest gifts of my life, a trip to California to be with my mother, that I had to take responsibility for that hissing serpent inside of me that whispers: You’re not worthy….

I didn’t counter that hissing voice with the grace I want to claim I did. I pushed my body too far. I ended up in the ER. I ended up with a broken heart from a friend I’d invested in that did not see me for the person or friend I’d tried to be.

I have to believe that most of us can relate to this. I know I’m a slow learner, but I’m a deep learner.

On the other side of last night, I have an image for the hunger of that Great Unworthiness inside of me as the passionflower vine that has been unable to blossom but is reaching out to anything surrounding it so that it can spread. It has attempted to choke out the Merlot calla lilies that have pushed up through the earth, surprising me with their beauty. It has wrapped itself around the citrus trees and artichokes. There is nothing wrong with the passionflower, it just needs to be given something to grow around and have its growth contained and directed. I believe it has the potential to flower and bear fruit. I’m learning that personal relationships are the same.

There is a kindness in being able to move away from something that will strangle your own growth, not because it wants to, but because the two natures can’t exist side by side in the garden without someone surrendering.

But tonight, I’m not the passionflower. I’m the calla lily.
I need protecting and support.

Zaviera overheard most of my conversation with Dan, and came out to tell me, “We are a good family. We don’t need people that say we’re bad, because we’re not.”

We laughed when she said this. We lifted our hands in a high five, but I have to tell you, I was stunned by the determination in her voice.

My daughter knows who her people are and I’m realizing that my greatest role in this life is simply to say to my children, “Yes. I love you. I will always love you.”

And in that love, the best parts of the universe can exhale in peace.

Posted by: alegra22 | November 15, 2013

in the studio

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Sol, “I can’t believe some people have to lie about their age just to get a job.”
He is crouched down making window art on a plastic folder.
Me, “Where did you hear this?”
Sol, “I’m not sure, I just think it’s weird that there are people who’d be sitting at home watching television but if they want to go do something, they have to lie about being old, and try to be something they’re not. That’s kind of strange.”
Me, “What do you think about that?”
Sol, wiping his hair out of his face, “I don’t know. I’m more interested in drawing this earth right now. I think I could get drawing this earth down to super quick given enough time. You know, mommy, I’ll probably act strange tomorrow with all the people over. I do that to get attention, have you noticed?”
Me, “Yes, I have. Why do you do that?”
Sol, “I don’t know.” He shrugs and looks down at his project, “Would you rather have a hula hula girl or a flower? A flower might be a bit tricky…” *pause* “I don’t care, whatever I do, it’ll be better than Zavi’s.”
Me, “Don’t be so sure.”
Sol, “So why are they having an engagement party here tomorrow? I thought people got married and then they had a party.”
Me, “Well, they won’t be getting married for some time, so they want to celebrate that they’ve made the decision and commitment to be married.”
Sol, “Yeah, I’m not so sure about getting married. I mean, I’m not sure why people do it. It’s a lot of work. I think I’d prefer just having servants.”
Me, taking a deep breath, “What do you think having a wife means?”
Sol, “You definitely can NOT boss her around and tell her what to do.”
Me, “No, you can’t. So, I’m a wife to daddy. What do you think I mean to him?”

Sol, “Well, you’re different.”
Me, “In what way?”
Sol, “Well, you mean a lot to daddy and us.”
Me, “So what do you think having a wife means?”
Sol, sighing, “I don’t have the words right now.”
Me, “Okay. Do you have any words?”
Sol, “Not sure if they’d make sense.”
Me, “Try me.”
Sol, “I’d rather not. I’d rather you write your stories and I do my art, is that okay?”
Me, “Yes, absolutely.”
Sol, “Good. I think we can be good at this, me and you. We know when to be quiet and when there is too much quiet.”
Me, “Agreed.”

Posted by: alegra22 | November 13, 2013

existing

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Last night I had one of my shark dreams. The waters were aqua blue and the sharks were single minded, bursting up through the surface of the ocean, torpedoes with open mouths and rows of multiple teeth. At first, I was filled with terror and confusion, but then I became distanced from the dream, observant. I told myself, “You don’t have to go into those waters, just rest.” And for the first time since I’ve been having these dreams, I felt peace. I wasn’t afraid. I woke up and wrote my morning pages and once again circled around the idea that came to me in this last year that the sharks in my mind have never been predators but protectors.

Here is what I want to say with the precise burst of a shark hitting its target:

I’ve been living with chronic fatigue syndrome since I was fifteen. I’ve had multiple bouts of glandular fever. I’ve lived with chronic bronchitis for over twenty years. I’ve been in denial about all of it.

I’ve hated myself for these weaknesses. I’ve battled against living with something that can be so easily dismissed, that hasn’t received an accepted role, in the same way I’ve battled against the person that I am, the writer that I am, because it takes a streamlined courage, a faith in my purpose, and that is the scariest thing I’ve ever asked of myself.

I’ve also lived with inappropriate sinus tachycardia, anxiety, and food sensitivities that have translated into ‘food comas’ if I eat anything with the hint of corn in it. Corn farts on my food, I eat it, and pass out.

I am that person that has to say to others, “Sorry, no, I can’t go out and eat with you.” Or, “I’ve brought my own food, please don’t be insulted.”

Of all the dysfunctional things I’ve done in the last twenty years, the root of most of these things can be found battling against accepting myself as I am, and that whether or not I believe in it, I do have a purpose on this planet…or I wouldn’t still be here.

When I met Dan, it was the first time in a long time that I believed there was a purpose to my life. But even then, I was afraid when he discovered how weak my body is, how limited my energy, he’d feel ripped off for falling in love with me. We were so close that it didn’t take long for him to see the way I’d push myself and then collapse. Before Dan proposed to me, I told him that I was afraid of having children because I couldn’t provide for my own body. Dan told me, “I don’t need you to provide. I just want you to write and spend your life with me.”

About eighteen months later, I became pregnant with Sol. I was terrified. I was so exhausted that I’d find myself at the university library unsure if I could make it out to the parking lot. I looked for corners to curl up in and tried not to hate myself for challenging what was obviously a fundamentally flawed body with the sacred task of creating new life. I believed that what was in me was more important than what I was, and that was enough to keep  moving forward.

After Sol, I gave birth to three more children (we lost a baby at thirteen weeks) and this was my source of courage in each pregnancy, “If this kills me, it’s okay, because I’ll be bringing more of Dan into the world, and I’ll have served a purpose.”

I need to say these things unfiltered. I need to be honest in a new way. I need to be able to say upfront: this is who I am.
I need to claim it because this has been my story.

I can’t work a job. I’ve tried so many times. And because I couldn’t do that, I thought, “Hey, I need to write a commercial novel so at least I can contribute to my family in some way!” That didn’t work. In between a failed attempt at writing an airport paperback and pushing myself through one illness after another, overextending myself, collapsing and compartmentalizing, waiting to earn my way to permission to be what I am…I came to this last Sunday and said, “I surrender.”

This is who I am:
I run a 99.3 temperature most days of the week.
I can’t eat any packaged food. I can’t go to restaurants. If I eat the wrong food, particularly anything with corn in it, I’ll go into a sort of ‘food shock’ and pass out.
I can’t dig or saw or do interval training. I can’t do anything that creates a surge of force through my body or I’ll suffer for days, probably weeks after.

I’ve struggled with these limitations.
I hate that on the outside I look perfectly ‘fine’.
It causes a strange sort of shame in me when people try to fix me with supplements or recommendations. It makes me feel lonely and unseen. I’ve been researching all of this since I was a teenager. I’ve been braving doctors and tests and putting together a mosaic of answers, but ultimately, I’m realizing this:

I need to exist.
I’m not just a vessel that three beautiful children came through (although I would’ve gone to God proud of the job I’d done giving birth to all of them).
I’m not a parasite.
I’m not crazy.
I’m really, really tired.
I have been for a very long time.
And it is okay.
I need to be in honest dialogue about who I am.
I need to be able to write about my journey with chronic fatigue, and not about ‘curing’ it, but living in relationship with it.
When it comes to my health, I can’t summon the beam of light and burst of energy I have over the years because I was afraid of showing others how fundamentally fatigued I’ve been…because I want to be a contributing member to my tribe.
No, I can’t bring home a salary. No, I can’t do a thousand things in one day.
But I can do this:
exist.

Posted by: alegra22 | November 10, 2013

breathing and oxygen and gravity

Last Sunday I found myself in the ER, holding the hand of a friend’s father. I asked him to tell me stories about his life to keep my mind on the surface of things. So he did. He stroked my hair and I curled up on three chairs in the waiting room, still gripping his rough bear paw of a hand. I closed my eyes. He told me about his childhood and farming. When I was coherent enough we discussed our sons (his son is our downstairs tenant) and every so often he’d get me to laugh. What was important was that I felt safe with this man I’d only met a few times. It was in his eyes, his presence…it made me believe forces were at work to keep me on the planet.

Dan was in Hamilton, about ninety minutes away, and we had no idea what was going on with me. I just knew that I was running a fever, couldn’t string sentences together, kept fading in and out of consciousness, and that I’d woken up this way with no apparent cause. A lot of time passed. My friends Grant and Ellyn arrived. Normally I wouldn’t have asked them to come but I wasn’t sure if I was dying and I figured if I was, I wanted Grant there to give me my last rights, “You were a pain in the ass, Alegra. Go to God in peace and when you get there I expect they’ll all recognize the reward I should receive for putting up with you here on earth. Amen.”

Hours passed although I didn’t realize it. When Grant arrived I felt the need to hug his foot. I was fascinated with the softness of his shoe. He shrugged and told me the brand they were and that they were suede, because that’s the sort of friend he is; when the storm hits, he is a steady lighthouse. I closed my eyes and listened to the sounds surrounding me. A week after, he’d be giving me a hard time as we recalled events with friends over  homemade pizza and wine. “You were really attached to my shoe, Alegra,” he said, rolling his eyes, “I just went with it.”

We both agreed that when I sat up and punched him in the leg for threatening to move to Australia, I was on the mend. After the leg punch, he told me he knew how to cure my ills, in particular my fever. He was going to tie me to the roof of the car and hit the highway in faith all that fresh air would do me good. I dared him to. That’s when we both knew I probably wasn’t going to die.

Hours later the ER discharged me. I had come back to a certain level of being able to complete sentences (mostly in the form of smartassery) and I could walk on my own again. They suspected a strange virus. Surrounded by my children and husband, we left the hospital, but the fatigue/fever and disorientation kept coming and going. To summarize: another trip to the doctor and more blood tests have revealed things I was already aware of but hadn’t given much credit to over the years. Here is the thing that people without chronic illness sometimes have a hard time understanding; from the age of about fourteen, I felt I had two choices, to either surrender or fight and either choice demands, initially, a certain level of compartmentalizing.

In the beginning, I interpreted surrender as being debilitated and unable to earn my worth in the world, but fighting meant overriding my body and its chronic fatigue, bronchitis, food sensitivities, brain fog, heart racing, asthma, muscular pain…I could go on. So, I began to fight. As I got older, I researched the body. I studied alternative health and almost became an acupuncturist. I experimented with diet, cleansing, exercise, prayer,  and supplements.

Every few years, I’d get to a point of desperation coupled with the resources to go to a doctor. I’d get answers here and there that led to another stage in the journey, but mostly, I learned to use the energy of my mind and spirit to stay one step ahead of the fear I felt when I fully inhabited my body. I learned to compartmentalize the bouts of illness. I learned to counter desperation with action. I’ve been an athlete since I was eighteen. When you’re dancing, training, and surfing 2 or 3 sessions a day, you learn to push through limitations. Out in the surf, when there is a set wave on your head, you don’t get to say, “Oh, I think this is pushing my body too hard.” You take a breath and wait for whatever comes. You surrender to it. And then you come gasping to the surface, grab your board, paddle for the horizon, despite how fatigued you might be.

My second series of blood test results had markers for reoccurring ongoing glandular fever/Ebstein Barr. This coupled with my inappropriate sinus tachycardia and genetic food sensitivities is enough of a reason to explain almost everything, but we’re not finished with the sleuthing. The difference is, on Sunday something changed in me, in fact, since coming back from California (a blog for next time now that I’ve broken my blogging silence), everything has changed in me.

Last night, Dan and I sat up with Joaquin watching Rise of the Guardians. Dan was gently kneading at my shoulders as he does most nights but something had changed in me. I could feel a spread of warmth through my muscles at his touch and I remembered what it was like when I first met him; I hadn’t felt that sort of safety in my body since I was a child. It was like coming home. I didn’t say anything to Dan because I’m learning to relax back into that other language between us, the unspoken one. It is the language of intimacy. I’ve been speaking it with my children since their birth and last night I understood that when Dan has been saying to me, “I miss you. The children get you all the time” he meant it. Giving birth to three children was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. It meant I was absolutely anchored to the planet, committed to being in my life with all of its joy and pain. In the last few months I’ve begun to understand that while my fierce determination has brought me to this point in time, I no longer need it the way I once did. I’m swapping it in for something else: the vulnerability of trusting that my purpose on this planet is to simply exist.

On Sunday, Grant said something to me after threatening to tie me to his roof rack. He said, “I know what’s wrong with you, Alegra. You woke up this morning into reality and you’re just not used to it. You’re experiencing all of this breathing and oxygen and gravity and it’s all uncomfortable and new. You’re in shock.”

I think, at the very core of my spirit, Grant is right. It doesn’t discount the very real issues in my body, but it addresses my response to them.

As I sat with Dan, Joaquin curled up between my legs and carrying on a conversation with me about which characters he liked and why, I moved through the waves of feeling safe in my body. It was almost overwhelming at times and my mind wanted to time travel, to control the experience, but instead, I kept breathing and surrendering.

This morning I woke up and knew I was ready to come here and write it out, because it is my mind’s way of feeling safe in this business of pain and joy and oxygen and gravity. It is my way of simply existing.

Posted by: alegra22 | August 1, 2013

speaking in smiles

ImageI want to confess something; after eleven years together, I still get shy and awkward around my husband.  It’s because I’m in love with him. And because I’ve never wanted to be best friends with someone as much as I want to be best friends with him.

I sit on the floor of the kitchen, stretching my hamstrings, cozy from wine, fatigued from hauling stones and roughing up earth, and I say to him, “I’ve solved the riddle.”

“Oh yeah?”  He leans back in his chair, relaxing.

“Yeah,” I say, “You want to know which riddle I’ve solved?“

Dan, “Okay.”

“The riddle to every marital conflict we’ve ever had. Pretty cool, right?”

Dan, “Of course you did.”
Me, “Want to hear it?”

Dan smiles in the way that always makes me feel comforted. It’s the smile I watched the first night we sat and shouted stories at one another over the noise of The Loaded Hog club in Hamilton.
Dan, “Of course I do.”
“We kind of fell so fiercely in love with one another we didn’t get much time to hang out as friends before we found ourselves preparing for our first baby and then we were in this blur of parenthood. We didn’t get a whole lot of time to just be us.”
For eight years, Dan and I both wake up from dreams in which we are trying to spend time with one another but crowds overtake us or children interrupt us or we are missing the flight that will reunite us.  We had eighteen months together before Sol was conceived.  And for the last nine years, we’ve been renovating homes to sell or buy, finishing degrees, working, summoning bravery about my health, having babies, writing novels, talking to God, collapsing in bed way too late because we want to stay up and talk without being interrupted…

…we discuss all of this and I say, “Instead of doing some sort of party or girls’ night or whatever for my birthday, let’s go get a bunch of yummy food and build a big bed in the living room and play video games and hang out all weekend. That’s what I want. I want to hang out with my best friend.”

Dan nods and sighs, “Yes, that would be perfect.”

And as he begins to figure out the logistics of asking his mom to take the children for the weekend, Zaviera comes parading down the hallway with a birdhouse my mother hand-painted held in front of her.

“Peter Pan has been imprisoned!” she declares, concerned. She shakes the birdhouse and we hear Peter Pan rattling around inside. Dan and I look at one another and start laughing.
“What?! Why are you laughing? This is SERIOUS.”

She shakes the birdhouse again.

We glance at one and start laughing again because this is how we’ve been from the beginning: understanding one another with a look, a touch.
“We’re not laughing at you or the serious situation,” I tell her.
“That was just perfect timing,” Dan says, taking the birdhouse from her.
Zaviera looks at us suspiciously, shrugs, and walks away.

I settle in next to the fire as Dan sits in the kitchen, shaking the birdhouse, and peering into Peter Pan’s prison, trying to figure out how to get him free. I have faith that he’ll do it. I know he won’t stop until he’s solved the riddle.

Ten minutes later, he walks out, Peter Pan in one hand, the birdhouse in the other.
“Of course,” I say.
And he smiles. 
I understand what it is about his smile that gives me so much comfort: it carries the history of our past and speaks the language of our future.

Posted by: alegra22 | July 8, 2013

guardian

Some infinities are bigger than other infinities

Some infinities are bigger than other infinities

I’m sitting in the studio and writing. It is the first time I’ve done this since Belicia’s death. On Saturday night I was posting on FB about renaming my studio “the woman’s cave” and counting down the hours until my friend, Ellyn, arrived with her laptop, wine, pickles,  bacon, and the plans to write until we fell asleep. Now, on Monday night, my eyes are puffy at the edges and they sting when I blink. Not a bad sting, a weary sting. It is the opposite of the sting I used to get when opening my eyes in the ocean to watch a wave pass over my head. That sting was invigorating. This sting has a burn to it, like embers on the floor of a forest after a wildfire has stripped it back. I’m only just beginning to feel the edges of my body again. They feel singed and not quite safe.

And it is the first time that I’ve realized for the last two years Belicia has been a companion that curled herself against my body, but she also cuddled my mind. She has been listening to me in her way just as I’ve been constantly talking to her in my way. She was my witness. My writing buddy. She is no longer here to listen and so I don’t recognize my own internal voice.

I’ve felt Belicia’s presence in every room over the last few days. I stumble first into the memory of the presence – like the flash of a dream passing through my body, its whispers leading me to fall into the emptiness of the present. She is not here in the present. I can’t grab her mudflap lips and nuzzle her wet nose. I can’t take a break from my thoughts and stroke her belly. I can’t tell her thank you.

 My mind has been in conversation with her snuffles, sighs, tip-tap nails on the wood floor. The memories of my body, the ones programmed into my musculature and nervous system responses…they are all waiting for Belicia. It is as if I’ve lost an extension of myself in the truest sense.

If I breathe too deeply, feel too deeply, I see her leaping over the fence, circling around my car. I feel myself opening the door and saying, “Okay, come on, then.” I feel the memory of knowing I was absolutely, undeservedly loved by this kind and gentle creature. And I start crying again.

This year I have confronted feelings of shame, fatigue, fear, and confusion. Some of my cruelest internal voices have been reading detailed lists of my failings. I didn’t believe in their arguments that I was flawed or worthless because I’d look up and Belicia would be there, tail wagging, waiting for my cue. She loved me and I’d done nothing to deserve it. She loved me simply because I existed.

I realize now that she was my ongoing conversation with God.

I keep feeling like she is waiting for me to stop mourning and start listening.
And then I start crying again.
Because right now I’m in the in-between space, between heaven and hell, and she isn’t here to look me in the eyes.

Posted by: alegra22 | June 25, 2013

fistfuls

mud-maid2By eight o’clock, Dan is resting his head on my back, one of his legs thrown over mine.

I’m on my stomach, trying to keep my focus on a short story, but the strain of arching my spine and holding half of my body upright to type is too much.

The children, the dog, they all sense my surrender and swarm around us. Joaquin makes a dive for the triangle of space between my jawline, shoulder, and the crook of my arm. Zaviera nudges Joaquin out of the way. Joaquin howls, paws at his sister. She bargains with him.

Sol paces, “So about those buckets I need for Stomp? They need to be like this *insert Sol acting out shapes and angles* so that I can do this *insert Sol air-drumming various techniques* bah-bam-bam-BOOM.”

Belicia curls into a tight little ball inches from my forehead and does her anxious –shiver thing.  I scold, “Belicia, you are OKAY.” She continues to shiver and give me her best droopy-eyed look.
Joaquin is running a temperature and has yet to return to his  normal self. Dan and I both agree it would be best to keep him home…

…from about, oh, roughly, after dinner, Zaviera has been discussing her croaky voice and the way it will get her in trouble at school. Her forehead is a bit warm.

At some stage I accept that I’ll have three children home with me tomorrow.

I tell them, “No arguing.” They all agree and I know they’ll break their agreement against their best attempts. It’s okay.  There will be a point of exhaustion tomorrow but I’m not focusing on that.

My letting go brings me back to a dream I had when I was a child living in Ithaca, thirty plus years ago.

I was walking through a stone garden, running my hands along the plants, stirring the different scents of each flower, herb, and succulent. I’d  rub  their petals and leaves gently between my fingers, as if I could absorb some answer to the mystery.

I followed my shadow as it went ahead of me on the gravel path; it was familiar, a reminder that I was something separate from the garden. With all of that chasing, my shadow left me hungry. I wanted more of it and I couldn’t catch it or contain it or otherwise make it mine.

But still, I tried.

I tore off bits of plants and shoved them in my pockets.

I tried to memorize the details of the rough stones and the scent of earth, mineral, and broken-open-plant.

That sort of effort never works.

I woke up. Which isn’t such a bad thing. In fact, it’s the best sort of situation a person can find herself in; alive.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been slowly waking up.

I’m living in my secret garden.

I learn to let crumpled rose petals fall where they will and exhale:

Here I am. Now what I am going to do with all of this love that has been given to me?

I think about this when Dan rests his heavy head on my lower back, and asks me, “How are you?”
I love the weight of him. I love how he uses his size and power to gently contain me. Today, after days of stress, he tackled me in the hallway. I fought him. We laughed.
He is my best friend.

But still, I get mad at him because sometimes he falls asleep when I’m talking to him and I’m sure that is proof that there is something…something that confirms I’m broken and unlovable.

I don’t know how to say all of this to him, so I say:

“Better than I’ve ever been but everything inside me is settling in, finding its place. Are you okay if I don’t talk about it?”

I want to use less words but I don’t need to. I don’t need to apologize for myself.
Dan moves closer and says, “I’ve  missed you.”

“I’ve missed you, too. That’s all I need.”

“I’m here, babe.”
And then he begins to snore.

I laugh. A surrender-laugh.
The children and dog gather around. Zaviera starts her bargaining with me in regards to our conditions for tomorrow, “So, if I take care of Joaquin, maybe I can get chewing gum *she displays her best jazz hands*”

I repeat, “No, no, no…”

I know she’ll challenge me again tomorrow. I don’t want to disturb Dan but after I’ve been hit from three angles (Sol, Zaviera, Joaquin), I say, “Okay! Enough! Your father is sleeping!”

I shift Dan to one of the reclining chairs that he got for his birthday.

I swoop down and around the children, moving them toward bed.

I glance at Dan. He’s asleep, his mouth half-open. I think, “He’s collapsed just like he has every time  I’ve given birth.”
And when he wakes up, I tell him this.
I tell him that I think he’s been holding on, sensing I was in danger, that what I was carrying inside of me was trying to make its way into the world, but things were going wrong. He could see the stress lines, the fierce contractions, my pacing and cussing.
“Yes,” he says. “I’m so glad you’re writing again. I’m glad you’re here for all of us when we come home. It was what we’d talked about from the start.”

And it is.

In those beginning days of our marriage, I was anxious about my weaknesses but committed to “making more of my husband and putting good humans in the world.”

“I can’t do it all,” I told him. “I’ll want to, but my body won’t let me.”

He had said to me, “You don’t need to do it all, only what you’ve been gifted to do.”
I loved his faith in me, even though I didn’t feel worthy of it.

Nearly eleven years later, I’m learning that maybe I don’t need to feel worthy; so much as accept that I  am worthy. We are all worthy. I’m learning that Dan and I can’t do it all on our own. Accepting my interdependence on others has made me humble and grateful in a way that nothing else could.

I tell Dan to go to bed early. He needs the sleep. He’s been keeping watch for months straight and now the danger has passed.

We’re back on track.

“I love you, babe,” he says as he gathers Joaquin up into his arms and trudges off to bed.
“I love you, too. More than you’ll ever know.”
The house settles into its after-hours quiet.

The quiet is like light spreading.

And I stretch in its warmth. I let it sink into me. I unfurl.
I know that all of this can pass through me and I don’t need to grab it in fistfuls and pocket it.
It is mine.
This wild peace and unearned love.

Posted by: alegra22 | June 23, 2013

Troll Country

Image“Mommy, will you read this with me?” Zaviera pats the empty space on the couch and I don’t  pause, debate with myself, try to navigate the conflicting ‘shoulds’ or ‘need to’, because it is very clear what needs to be done and what I should do.

I sit down on the couch with Zaviera and we begin to read. Every few words she stops and gets confused. I sense that if she can hear the story, catch its rhythm and adventure, she’ll remember the words and the words will no longer be things to sound out only to be quickly forgotten – they’ll contain meaning for her. Meaning doesn’t leave us. It requires no memorization.

I say, “Do you want me to read a line and then you can repeat it?”

She nods and snuggles in to my arm, her fingers kneading my bicep like a content cat.

So we begin again.

I declare, “Elsie Fay, where are you?” in a blustery mother voice. I declare it with an apron-wearing, spoon in my hand, rounded hips and stocky legs voice.

Zaviera looks up at me and echoes it back, matching the rise and fall of my voice, but adding a touch of stern that is all her own. Her addition says, “I will use this spoon for something other than baking if you don’t get back here, child!”

We go back and forth until we reach the end of the story. We pause here and there to discuss the twists and turns of the story:

“He told me I was looking at the smartest troll in the woods,” said Mrs. Johnson.
“I said that I did not believe him, and he became very angry. He jumped up and down and he bit his tail.
“What did you do?” asked Elsie Fay.

“I opened my purse. I took out a tiny mirror and I gave it to him. He had never seen a mirror before. I told him that he was looking at a picture of the smartest troll in the woods.”

“What did the troll do then?” asked Elsie Fay.
“He looked very carefully at the mirror,” said Mrs. Johnson.
“And he became even angrier. He wanted to know where he could find that smart troll.”
Elsie Fay was too excited to speak.
“I told him,” she said, “that the smart toll in the picture lived on the other side of the deep, dark woods.”

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I ask Zaviera what she thinks is happening and she tells me that the mother is tricking the troll because he isn’t very smart.

I remember my mother reading this story to me when I was a child. I always felt anxious for the little girl and embarrassed for the troll and his ugly vulnerability. I felt bad that he was ugly, smelly, and not so smart. I felt relieved and a little intimidated by the mother who was able to take care of herself and send the troll scurrying away to attack his own reflection.

Zaviera gets the logic of the story, “The mom was tricking the troll because it was mean and she needed to get home. She showed it the mirror and lied to him.”

She shrugs, slightly impatient with me.
I’m a little in awe of my daughter but not surprised.

Unlike me, when Zaviera  meets a troll, I suspect she’ll slip out from under its anger, vanity, and territorial nature. She’ll hand it a mirror, kick it in the shins, and run like hell for freedom.

“Yes, my munchkin. Exactly.”

We read on. Elsie Fay has encountered the troll from her mother’s story and tries to use her mother’s trick but the troll isn’t fooled twice.

Elsie Fay has to think quickly and she does:

“Of course,” said Elsie Fay, “there is only one way to prove you really are a troll.”
“Oh, yes?” said the troll.
“Troll are very graceful,” said Elsie Fay.
“Quite true,” said the troll, tripping over his tail.
“And I have heard that trolls can even stand on their heads,” said Elsie Fay.

The troll had never stood on his head, but he did not want to say so.
“I can stand on my head,” he lied. “I do it all the time”
“Show me,” said Elsie Fay.

So Elsie Fay tricks the troll to standing on his head and her mother’s mirror falls out of his pocket.

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Elsie Fay picks it up and when she returns to her mother to share her story, Elsie Fay feels ashamed that she forgot to give the mirror back to the troll.

I think, “Yes, that would be me. Happy to have gotten past the troll but ashamed that in the process, I’d taken something that was never the troll’s to begin with.”

Her father declares:
“Trolls, trolls,” said Mr. Johnson
“There are no trolls. And that is that.”

Image

 

But here is the thing: they do exist.
Trolls and all of the other creatures of childhood stories: they exist.

I’ve been thinking about this over the last few days. If you pay attention to the classic fairy tales, they’re a little bit horrible. Okay, a lot horrible.

They’re scary and bloody and vicious and they require the heroine/hero/survivor to fight/flee/recognize when they are being fed to be eaten; in other words, led to the sacrifice.

I wrote about my decision to withdraw from my teacher training based on my health, my heart, my family, my writing, but what I didn’t write about was that in this journey, I came across a troll and an ice queen. I didn’t write about the records I had to take, the way I was torn to shreds by the women supervising me.  I had given one of them one of my favorite pens! I bought her chocolate when she accused me of losing her keys. I over-extended myself in trying to reduce her stress levels.

She met my children. And then she lied. Twisted reality and wrote a report that left me stunned. I felt like I’d been mugged.

It wasn’t so much that she’d slung mud at my character, because I’m ready to take a certain level of lashings, but it was that she’d met my family. She’d welcomed me, reassured me, and then turned on me.

I had forgotten that the world is made of fairy tale creatures. I don’t place the blame on my situation or the characters I tangled with. It was a lesson for me.

None of us are bad, we have our roles, and I believe that we shape one another toward our best selves with our bumps and bruises.

What would this world be without testing ourselves against trolls and protecting our hearts from ambitious queens?

Ice queens have their beauty and trolls have their trollish appeal.

I want my daughter to grow-up without feeling pity for pocketing the troll’s mirror.

In years to come, as she meets the challengers of her spirit, I want to say to her:
“When you are in troll country use your wits. You will always be kind-hearted. Do not let your heart be frozen. Do whatever it takes to cross that bridge, get past the troll, and make it home, your heart beating fierce and warm in your chest.”

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Posted by: alegra22 | June 20, 2013

Sol versus Jesus

ImageSol arrived with his two long arms and two long legs moving as if they were at war.

He arrived with words – so many of them.

The words arrived tripping, pushing, and within seconds, piling into my studio.

A heap of buzzing need; they need to tell me everything all at once.

I took a deep breath.

Never mind meditation.

Never mind yoga.

Never mind Buddhism, Christianity, Catholicism, Hinduism, twelve step programs, self-help seminars, or raw-food/Paleolithic diets.

I’m a parent.

This is my path.

I don’t know how to survive my messy life without letting go and letting god. I no longer have the energy to believe I’m capable of controlling my universe. I choose to trust that the universe is always working for my greater good.

I have to believe in a higher power protecting me because I no longer belong to myself.

I belong to my husband, parents, children, close friends.

My heart is hidden within them.

Every day my children push, yell, sing, dance, and stumble distractedly along a tightrope suspended above the world; a tightrope connecting one moment to another.  When they arrive home, it is nothing less than a miracle that they’ve not lost their balance and this makes me believe in angels.

I gather them to me. I feel their lungs, heartbeat, their hands gathering me closer to them, and for a moment… I’m at peace.

And then I remember that there will be a day when I can no longer do this.
Again, I exhale.

I inhale their warmth.

I let go.

Parenthood/meditation/faith – whatever stable point on the horizon you choose to focus on, it all comes back to the heart, the gut, the exhale and inhale.

The moment.
I used to think I was impatient, lacked maternal DNA, and if I was incapable of being a good mother, at least I had the good sense to fall in-love with a man who was made to be a father.

I used to think I could positive-think my way past my autoimmune issues. I prayed. I confessed .I fasted. I tried to behave. I identified food sensitivities.  I’m healthier now than I was at the age of fourteen but I still run low-grade fevers most days and have chronic bronchitis.

I’ve learned that I’m patient but not perfect.

And I’m challenged to be patient with my lack of perfection.

I’ve had to withdraw from the teacher training program because I over-estimated my ability to physically, mentally, and emotionally stretch myself. I was coming home so exhausted from a day at school that I had nothing left. I couldn’t keep up with assignments or be a mother and wife.

It is a great leap of faith for me. I’ve identified two competing voices in my head. One shames me for not being able to provide for my family financially right now. The other rebels and stomps her feet and says, “I’ve given birth to three children – against all of my deficits – I’ve given birth to three beautiful children. Isn’t that enough? Can’t that be enough? Can’t I just be a mother and writer?”

Last night I couldn’t sleep. I crawled into bed with Zaviera and she instantly melded her body to mine and began to fart on me. Machine-gun fire, little girl farts. We spent the night like this; my guts rumbling with anxieties, her guts happily letting loose as she randomly shouted out things in her sleep.

I woke up to Sol stomping through the room, flicking on lights, and pausing to see if he’d managed to wake me up. He stuck his tongue out at me and let me know he was angry.

“Come back, Sol. I tried to cuddle you. You kept kicking me.”
He did eventually come back to his bed and I crawled out from beneath Zaviera’s arms and cuddled up with him. As I rubbed his back and snuggled his gangly, unyielding body, I thought about the moment that he came in to my studio all arms, legs, and words.

He stopped and pointed to a sketch I have framed. He asked, “Is that Jesus?”

I told him yes, it is one person’s idea of Jesus, but in reality his skin was probably a lot darker and his hair crinkly.

“Oh,” Sol said. “So Jesus was brown?”
Me, “Yep, probably. I’m not sure. I didn’t know him  back then.”
Sol considered for a moment.

“Can I take his picture out and put my picture in?”
I laughed.
Yes, of course.

So now, instead of Jesus sitting on a frame on my writing desk I have Sol.

It seems appropriate.

I think Jesus would agree, given enough wine and discussion.

 

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Mathew 18:3

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