Growth

Gumption

Blonde ringlets, solid frame, pink cheeks & a look of determination so severe, the nickname Killer Baby was deemed a worthy appointment.
She’s arrived.
Sassy, sarcastic, bold.
A feisty force to be reckoned with.

A kid built on being last in the predominantly strong-willed female family line.
The easy target for a lazy schoolyard bully.
The odd one out.
She knew it. She stood her ground.

A kid who grew to have a lot of fight inside, who could take a punch – who did it often.
A little girl who craved a voice. A place in the world.
One who rubbed some people the wrong way, and sizzled charisma to others.
She never knew why.
She didn’t know which qualities made her admirable or contemptible.

A picture of Anne Shirley – the hallmark vibe she strived to give off.
Not all together a bad thing. In fact, at the time, a role model.
Stubbornness & all.

A girl who was smart, tough, funny, loyal, capable – at least that’s what she wanted to be. What she wanted people to see.
Not always successful.
Misinterpreted intentions or poor execution could get in the way.

Never the “inbetweener”, a common phrase expressed to her was, “You’re the kind of person people either love or hate”.
That’s a weird thing to say to a kid.
She believed them, too.

She evolved as a person never thinking she could “win ’em all”.
Never everyone’s “cup of tea”.
That’s good, in a way? Right?
At least she wasn’t cocky.

She had a “healthy sense of self”, they said. She knew her level of acceptance.
Though, not quite sure what she really considered it when left to ponder it alone.
In retrospect, it was clearly a lack of self-confidence, a long way to go to worthy, though she could convince herself otherwise when needed. A survival tactic.

She was never under the impression she was going to win a popularity contest, or be Belle of the Ball.
She knew hard work was ahead, no handouts or favours were coming her way.
She’d have to prove herself.
Perpetually ready to meet the challenge.
She wasn’t necessarily good at it, though.

The shout inside her was never from the lion. It was always more like a mouse with a megaphone.
But, she couldn’t show that. She had to seem tenacious to them. Strong. Sure.
I’m made of something great, just wait and see!
An adolescence steeped in misunderstanding.

But, somewhere along the way it changed.
No clear beginning, no specific turning point. Just a gradual development.

Eventually life would knock her about enough to chip away the resistant exterior facade. The one held together with fraudulent self-possession, concealing the not-so-sure-I’m-good-enough little girl trembling inside.
She was going to be something undeniable, unavoidable. Valid.
Once she stopped listening to what people told her she was, she could start discovering it for herself.
It slowly revealed the person she believed was in there all along. Legitimately.
She had built her, finally!

I see it now.
It was me.

I was in charge. Now qualified & ready at the helm.
It didn’t matter what they saw anymore. What did I see?
I had no desire to be weak, flimsy, unreliable.
No plans to be vicious. No need for slander.
No use for becoming a mockery of a human being.

The results of a lifetime of perseverance.
No more pretending to be the worthy warrior, now unequivocally living as her.
I know what I’m made of now. I am smart, tough, funny, loyal, capable.
I’m also a million other things that fill in the gaps & make me well-rounded.

I like me now.
Grateful to a little girl who stood her ground long enough to mould me.
Patient enough to know her time would come.

There will always be plenty who hold the same kinds of opinions as before.
The ones who don’t quite know what to do with me. What to make of me.
They can’t decide, is she entertaining or irritating, intelligent or tedious, endearing or repellant?
I bet I’m all of that. I don’t care.
I know who I am. I’ve put in the work.
I made the sacrifices and endured the battles.

What matters are my actions.
Love me or hate me, I’m going to be an undeniably good human being.
That’s the most important qualification.
I’ll fight for myself, for those like the old me. I’ll give them more time to make it out alive.

Working on that part helps all the other pieces fall in to place. The parts that build & fortify a person, capable of withstanding the remainder of life’s beatings.
Good quality stock that keeps the world moving in the right direction.
That’s what I’ll be.

This old gal still needs work, though. There are still coarse edges and gritty textures, many years left for re-evaluation, for fine-tuning.
She’ll never fully be considered finished until she’s dead. Even then, her memory will be contested by those on both sides of her personal sphere. 

But so far, so good. Everyone should get to feel like this.
Satisfied with their progress.
Capable of growth.
Eager for the challenges of life.
Regret free.

 

Him

You say it’s time. You’re asking for freedom. A chance to start living.
Here I sit, frozen between worlds. Both unclear right now.

I don’t want to forget him. I don’t want to let him go. I know I have to, but please – not yet. 

I don’t want to pretend like he never existed. I don’t want to act like he didn’t mean something to me.
I travelled oceans and gave up time to share life with him.
I would give my world to see him again, talk to him, love him, have another try at this, working hard to do it better. I’d ask him to stay. 

Please stay.

… But it was never really true – what I was seeing, was it? Not like I thought.
It’s not fair of me to ask.
I won’t.

I look at our old photographs; his stormy eyes under commanding brows, perfectly maintained scruff on his face, firm shoulders. His hair always done just right in some trendy style.

A face that was always charming. Better looking than I ever imagined my own to be. He was a movie star to me. I felt lucky by his side.

The wedding photos of these 2 young strangers in love, excited for a partnership that could lead to adventures unknown. One perfect white dress, one sage green tie we carefully chose.

Flashes of life with carefree smiles, sombreros & party drinks, shaving cream moustaches, contorted faces, the time we dressed as Ricky & Lucy for Halloween.

Images of him proudly holding our newborn sons, of candid moments caught building Legos, on family hikes together. Loving glances and warm, safe hugs while we slept. Holidays by the tree, countless birthday celebrations and exciting vacations.

Family portraits that looked more perfect in print than the moments taking them ever were. But the shot always seemed worth it. A family image of what I was always working towards. Of our potential.

I see them now and wonder what I’m meant to think, what should I see?
The pictures look odd. I can’t figure out what is there. Something inside me feels crippled with confusion.
A feeling of inadequacy. How did we live so close & I not know?

I hadn’t known of his unhappiness. His pain.
The parallel life lived right under my nose. Under his.
I didn’t notice the person I saw then was never really him.
I thought it was all of him.
It was all of me. All I had.

I scramble quickly trying to control the visceral reactions inside me when I look back, when I remember.
My body takes over in a way I can’t govern. It pangs, aches, rattles.
It tries to tell me something my brain is incapable of processing yet, something it doesn’t want to know, to believe is real.
It screams for me to protest loudly. It wills me to acquiesce.
I keep trying to step outside the moment and see the reality. Attempt to absorb the truth.

But who are you now?
What will you mean to me if you’re not him?

I’ll no longer lay by his side. He won’t feel the same when we hug. I won’t inhale the cologne on his skin. We’ll never hold hands or kiss goodnight like we used to. These moments are gone forever. I don’t get one more chance – at least with him.

There’s no moving forward in the old direction. No husband & wife to build a life together.
A porch swing left empty.
We’ll never grow old sitting side by side while we recall our grand love story that stood the test of time. 

It couldn’t.

These plans will be replaced with new ones, composed of a partnership we never imagined. One we’ll need time to grow in to.
It will work, we’ll make it work, but it wasn’t how I wanted this to go.

We were one for a time. We didn’t make the most of it then.
Too broken to notice the partners we had in each other.
Too hurt and confused from lives before to know the worth of us.
Inexperienced at life in many ways that surprise us now. 

If only we’d been these people then – would it have mattered? Could it have changed any of this?
Probably not. 

I’ll wonder what to make of our story for a lifetime. One planned alongside him no longer an option.
You’ll still be here, of course. I’ll get to know you by the particles you’ve always been made of, just rearranged. 

With time, I’ll no longer see what I thought he should have been, but who you are. The person you longed to be.
It won’t be tomorrow, or maybe even years from now, but one day I’ll see you fully again.

It’s too hard now.
I haven’t properly grieved his memory. It’s not that simple.
I don’t know when I’ll get over him. I loved him.
I’ll love you too.
When the grief subsides and the memories turn back to rose-coloured. 

It’s not time for me to move on yet. I’m not ready.
I’m forcing myself to try.

I know I can’t wait around for him. I know he’s not coming back.
I know he won’t walk through my door anymore, won’t greet me at the end of each day. He won’t put on his best suit and take me to Christmas parties on his arm. No more deep, comforting voice to sooth me, no loving gaze from his eyes.

He’s gone. He wants to be gone. He needs to be. 

I can’t drag around his memory heavy in my heart forever.
I don’t know how long it will take to let go.
If I don’t, though – it’ll kill me too.

So, what now? How do I do this next part? I’m not prepared for this.
How am I supposed to give him up & let you in? I don’t know you!
I want to see you. Acknowledge you.
I know you must have always been around from the start, at least in whatever way you could be. But you’re new to me. A stranger I’m not familiar with. One I worry I don’t want to know. 

You’re the one who took him from me.
I know it wasn’t to hurt me. It was never about me.
It was because you couldn’t bear the pain he was bringing you.
You were drowning.
He had to die for you to live.

I’m still left without him, though.
I’m still here with his things left in my closet. His pictures on my walls.
Still here singing some dumb Third Eye Blind song that reminds me of him. When we met. When he filled up my senses & I drank him in.
I think I hate that song now. I wish I didn’t.

I don’t want to hate my memories. I don’t want to get a stomach ache when I see 12 years of my life in some form or another, reminding me of who I thought we all were. What we meant. Where we were headed.

I hope there’s a day I let go of the pain. I want to let it go now. I haven’t found a way yet.
I hope when I see you, when I recognise you again, I’ll love all our memories for what they are.
When they don’t feel like sinking boulders of what should have been. They won’t disappoint. They won’t hurt.

Someday they’ll remind me of a man I once loved in my youth. The father of my children, a great love of my life. The right person for the right time to build the right me. To build the right you?
Someday we’ll sit as old friends, natural in each other’s company. Strangers no more.

I’ll visit him from time to time in visions of past lives. I’ll love him for what he was to me. I shouldn’t let that part go. Parts that remind me of a love story I was proud of. It’s a great story.

I know it’s time to let you start living. Time for me to figure out how to do it without him. Who I am without him. I guess you’re in the same boat.

So, I’ll work on saying goodbye. I’ll work on getting to know you.
I know I’ll love you too.
Just give me a little more time to come out of the dream.

Level Up

School starts tomorrow. We’re pretty late out of the gate in the PNW. Another Summer has really slipped through our fingers this year with little to show for the months on hiatus. I can’t tell if that’s a good or bad thing? I guess it depends on if the “nothings” were enjoyable or not. Probably a little of both, which is fine. But it’s difficult as a parent to strike a balance at this time of year between the crushing pain of losing our daily play dates and lax schedules and unadulterated joy from having the kids freaking go and get entertained by someone else for a while!

It’s a pretty cliche´ set of emotions that crop up during these new stages of life. The ones like,  “they grow up so fast” and “enjoy it while it lasts because it will be over before you know it!”  The trouble with expressions like these are that while you’re in the thick of it, time can feel excruciatingly slow. Like, why haven’t you moved out & got a job yet? slow, or how am I still wiping your ass for you? slow. But then you realise the actual current ages of your children instead of the one you’re imagining & try to cut them some slack. Then the pendulum swings to the other side! Suddenly you’re swatting away visions of moving them in to college dorm rooms or they’re off getting married, when in actual fact, they’re just starting third grade.

We probably project a lot of our own schooling experiences on to our kids which may falsely steer them in directions resembling very little to what they’re actually dealing with, because they are, in fact, not us. For the previously bullied kids inside us, these parents might helicopter, overly instruct their child with an attack plan, or are constantly wary of all the other kids’ intentions towards their offspring. There’s the parents who thought school was a blast because they were smart, popular or funny; these parents might not understand why their kid isn’t experiencing the same level of enjoyment in their academic careers. Whatever it is, letting go of our little humans is a tough ask sometimes. They’re still in training, and this is part of the curriculum whether we like it or not.

I had plenty of variety when it came to school experiences. Between Kindergarten and graduation, they would ebb & flow between smart, bullied, class clown, smart mouth, loud & fun, sarcastic & in trouble, mainstream popularity, niche group experimentation, academia, sports, the arts. I was a veritable cornucopia of personalities. My interests, strengths, weaknesses & levels of acceptance among my peers could change daily. I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s meant to be? There was never a moment where I was settled long enough to claim one cohesive brand of experience. But life doesn’t work like that.  Kids don’t work like that! These are little people on a path of discovering who on Earth they’ll be some day. And even when school’s done, they’ll still be evolving and growing long after they’re released from our daily care, because that’s just human nature.

I bet these kids are way more capable at asserting themselves in life than we give them credit for. It’s my job as their parent to give them guidelines for what our family believes to be good, well-rounded & successful humans, and to create a home that is safe & full of love … and sometimes yelling. Outside of that, I need to step away from the dual steering wheels we’ve been using to navigate their personal vessels and let them start the process of learning through trial & error. They will undoubtedly crash & bash along, that’s how learning goes. The older they get, the more I need to move aside & coach instead of holding their hands in place for them. Of course there will be plenty of back-seat-driving and sitting in the passenger seat (for as long as permitted) while I violently jam my foot down on the phantom brake when they inevitably do something stupid. That’s my right as their parent. It’s also my right as their parent to poke fun at them a little when they have self righteous tirades, or to find some clever way to teach them a lesson (hopefully while also maybe traumatising them a little), or simply to throw buckets of water over them when they refuse to wake up for school (which will also help diffuse the cloud of axe body spray I’ve been warned will fog up their room.)

In any case, as I prepare the lunch boxes, check the back-to-school supply list for the 20th time, make sure the child-approved outfit is not in the dirty laundry pile, I’ll also try to enjoy the process that will some day be long gone. It’s definitely quite a task most days, especially the 7:50am start time! But, I’m ready to put on my Big Mom Jeans tomorrow & head in to a new year of learning, growth & battles with lice outbreaks. I’m prepared to deal with all the ways I’m unprepared for this. I’m gonna “Mom so hard” this year! (apparently that’s a thing now)

Trust

Trust is a problematic concept to me. A requirement amongst humanity to safely steer each individual’s journey through life, yet more often than not, it’s never quite upheld by most around us. When push comes to shove, how often do we respect fully the obligation to the safety & care of others by preserving their right to complete sanctity within the confines of the shared relationship?

Real, unwavering trust in another human being is rare to find. I personally don’t know if I’m lucky enough to posses it. I’m not even sure I could claim that I am yet capable of fully providing it. But that doesn’t stop me from trying. 

With the ever-growing media popularity of health care professionals like Brene´ Brown, the general public are being treated to easy access on information and guides for topics that are deep & often unspoken about. Shame, vulnerability, self-appreciation, trust. Trust has been a subject I’ve often pondered. I lament over it, really. I wonder either why I am not worthy of receiving it, or why I am so remedial at preserving it! 

As each of us drive our human-shaped bumper cars around life, there’s no avoiding the many collisions this will unavoidably bring. We are meant to bend, break, err. It’s part of being human. An equally large part of our human experience is sharing it along side other humans, just as inept at keeping their bumper cars from bashing and scraping against us and each other, never quite mastering the wheel of their own vessel. The best we can hope for as we bungle along, is the idea that we can all work harder on self-improvement. Giving heavier weight to the attributes we are mostly neglecting, but make the biggest difference in the overall quality of our experiences while we’re here.

Many opt out of honouring faithful and unwavering trust in lieu of providing juicy treats of gossip & “you-heard-it-here-first” accounts of our painful & private experiences. There are lots who claim sanctuary for your grieving soul, you bear your open wounds to their soothing claims of privacy kept. Then without warning, they sink their teeth in to your neck & ask others to gather round & enjoy the entertainment of the bleed-out. Who are these people? Surprisingly, they’re all around. They’re planted in every corner of our individual cosmoses. Disguised even to themselves. 

There is a popular Native American anecdote, commonly peddled among my childhood Sunday school classes, that told the story of a young boy and a rattlesnake. The boy is on a journey & is descending a mountaintop where he finds an ailing rattlesnake. The snake asks the boy to carry him back down the mountain as he is unable to do it alone. The boy is skeptical he can maintain safety in this deed, and so declines. The snake promises to keep from harming the boy if he would only take him back down the mountain. The boy agrees and keeping the snake warm & protected on the journey, delivers him safely to the base of the mountain. Request fulfilled, the snake strikes & bites the boy, guaranteeing inevitable death. The boy is aghast & cries, “Why did you do that?! You promised you wouldn’t harm me!” The snake affirms, “You knew what I was when you picked me up!”

This is one of the most excruciating ideologies repeated to each generation. I bring it up here to illustrate that, sure, when faced with the rattlesnakes of the world, we know whose company we are in. Their intentions clearly marked from the start. When we get bitten by the not-so-competent-confidant we entrusted ourselves to, we feel foolish at ever being convinced they were capable of trust in the first place, and hopefully learn our lesson while moving on. But the more common fable we deal with is the wolf in sheep’s clothing idea. We’re mostly smart enough to avoid the rattlesnakes, but we are time & again hustled by that damn wolf. The one hiding in superficial friendship. The one coaxing false hope & security. The beast that lays in wait. Unfortunately, the most common wolf scenario is the kind where the wolf fully believes it’s a sheep until given an opportunity to change the narrative. People flip-flop between the 2 identities depending on how they can assert themselves further in whatever gains there are to be had by others private revelations.

The urge to partake in these practices seems irresistible to many. They don’t necessarily strategise to extract useful information (though some do), they’re just too concerned with their own internal high-stakes popularity to stop & comprehend the destruction they’re unleashing with every whisper & divulgence of confidences promised. So, what is to be done about it?

First, we hold ourselves to the same standards expected of those we’re asking trust of. Second – don’t be unwise. In this I mean, there are ways to allow the right candidates to make it through the filters needed to guaranty (as much as possible) our safety in sharing the intimacies of our experiences. We need to share as a requirement to further growth & safety, to allow appropriate aid and care of ourselves.

Brene´ Brown explains it best. There is a formula to effectively distribute trust to the trustworthy. Remember it by its acronym BRAVING;

B – Boundaries. You respect my boundaries and when you are not clear about what’s OK and what’s not OK, you ask. You are willing to say no.

R – Reliability. You do what you say you’ll do. At work this means staying aware of your competencies and limitations so that you don’t over-promise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.

A – Accountability. You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.

V – Vault. You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need to know that my confidences are kept and that you are not sharing with me information about other people that should be confidential.

I – Integrity. You choose courage over comfort. You choose what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them.

N – Non-judgment. I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment.

G – Generosity. You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words and actions of others.

We can follow this type of guideline as we search out honourable companions and relationships, and use it as the formula we can measure our own worthiness by. For we cannot expect a noble exchange of trust if we aren’t first credible candidates ourselves.

** Brene´ Brown talks about The Anatomy of Trust here **

Home

I’m an Australian ex-pat. Not the most ocker girl you’ll ever meet – I lack the intense nasal quality so befitting this category of my countrymen, but I’m true Aussie stock none-the-less. I’ve been residing in the States for over a decade now and have growing fears I’m forgetting how to be Australian as I fanatically sip Starbucks coffee & complain about the antics of Trump. I’ve spent my entire adult life learning the ways of the Yanks. I’ve done all my adult “growing up” here. I know more about gun control issues & the US Customary System than I ever wanted to. I measure in inches, drive in miles, say “diaper” & “trunk”. I can sing the anthem, though I don’t, recite the pledge of allegiance, which I won’t, and have ticked off more American cities & National Monuments than I ever have in my homeland. I’m grateful for what America has given me. But America isn’t home.

Though my children are born and raised in this great nation, I long to take them back to a time in a country that is more familiar and nostalgic to me. It may have changed drastically, in fact, I’m sure it has. But in many ways it will never be too far off from the life I lived as a sweaty-faced, sunburned kid growing up in the suburbs of Perth. A childhood filled with days eating icy-poles & Bubble-O-Bill’s as they dripped down our sticky little hands, afternoons spent throwing boondies at each other & building yellow sand forts, trips to Inglewood swimming pool where I took lessons with my school class every year, evenings eating white snapper & a “couple dollars” worth of vinegar chips out of folded butchers paper by the beach, Sundays hiking Bell’s Rapids or playing footy at Whiteman Park, visiting the joeys at Caversham Wildlife Park.

As a kid, I remember epic school sports carnivals where you barracked for your faction. Your families were in attendance as you dashed around your events, working hard to win a ribbon in your personally screen-printed shirt with bright blue, red, green or yellow spray crusting up your proud carnival hairdo, while they cheered for your team, usually named an aboriginal word like Maloo or Waratah.

I remember the best BBQ’s consisted of sausages, grilled onions & tomato sauce enveloped in a piece of Wonderbread, potato salad, Burger Rings, Pasito soft drink (anything but orange Fanta!), all things Cadbury. We would have street parties at Christmas in the warm Summer air, Father Christmas in stubbies & a tank, wrestling 6 white boomers. There were neighbourhood cricket matches played against big green wheely bins that stank in the heat. There was Constable Care, Fat Cat, Blinky Bill (to name a few) who taught childhood lessons, and when it was time for mindless entertainment, there was always Neighbours.

Maybe things seem better than they were in retrospect. Most things do. But after all these years assimilating to my new country, I still find myself a stranger here. An outsider. Different. You’d think in a country comprised of such diversity I wouldn’t feel so out of place, but I do. The charm of my accent holds appeal to people for a short amount of time as I am regarded a novelty, asked to recite any and all cliche` Australianisms for their entertainment, until eventually it’s a tired gimmick & they move back to their own kind.

Perhaps my kids would feel that way in Australia? Only ever half fitting in. Being exciting for a second, then boring the next. I hope not. I hope my country does me proud when I bring my children home. Visions of quick-witted sarcasm & big smiles, warm welcomes, generous hospitality. That’s what I remember. The “don’t take yourself too seriously” attitude that buoys the Aussie life along in a constant state of jest. Qualities I find embedded in myself that aren’t always received as intended in foreign lands.

I have dreams of fulfilling my “Clancy of the Overflow” fantasy & taking up droving somewhere out west. Of watching kangaroos bound across red desert plains, blasting throatily-sang rock anthems appreciating the land we call our home. I miss sharing inside jokes about tv commercials from the 90’s that still get daily references & chuckles. Freely & understandably exclaiming things like, “Stone the flamin’ crows!” or “Strewth!” I even miss avoiding going past my ankles as I wade through the coastline of my Western beach shores, never being brave enough to conquer my “healthy fear of the ocean”. I can still recall the smell of wet, fresh eucalyptus after the rain – one of my all time favourite smells.

But for all the things I remember & miss, there are equal parts terror hanging on to each memory that I have somehow forfeited my claim to call myself true blue. Will I fall right back in to place when the time comes? Will I recall the right words at the right time to express myself? And when I don’t, will I still have the ability to laugh at myself without shame? When I go home, will it still feel like home?

I probably shouldn’t worry. Even writing about my feelings is so un-Australian. I should probably just grab a beer & a mate, eat a pie in my double-pluggers and watch the lightning crack over cane fields, laugh and say “I am Australian” …. (Ha! See what I did there? … Don’t worry, I’ll get better at it)

Omens & the Crows

I have a superstitious soul in me. A grand one. It takes up more space than I realise most days. I’d like to admit it unapologetically & with pride, but I tend to leave the untestable, illogical, voodoo-hippy, gut-feeling-with-no-basis side of myself buried to the masses unless pressed upon to be revealed.

I whole heartedly believe in something bigger, greater, and more magical than what I can see. I believe that I don’t know anything for certain, not even my own mind. Change is the only thing that is a provable & believable notion. Life in constant motion.

With this concept deeply planted in my soul from an early age, I have many different ways I let myself be influenced through life outside of my general conscience. To most, these indicators of good versus evil in the life of Laura seem like hokum. That’s ok. They might well be. I don’t care.

When I was 7 years old I went on a 2nd grade field trip to the Fremantle Prison. A prison that was essentially a fortified jail for early Australian convicts and settlers, which now stands solely as a memorial of those times. Our Alcatraz. Large limestone walls towering over my Primary school-sized self, crashing up against the white sandy coastline of a now popular beach. Windowless cells, dank hallways, echoes that had memories. It already spoke to me. I believed whatever it was going to tell me.

We were corralled through the clammy corridors out to “the yard” where the inmates were to attempt some sort of physical fitness on a tiny patch of grass encased by imposing walls topped with spikes & barbed wire, with no escape but for a single door used as entrance & exit for this one space alone. The only distinguishable markings of any kind my little brain retained were the numbers 1-20 painted on one of the four walls used for exercise games. I scan them back & forth, doing my best to remember my numbers correctly, and it strikes me each time that something is off. Of course! These fools have left out 2 numbers! I’m so clever! No one else has noticed! I’ll educate them!

I raise my hand & upon being called on, I ask the tour guide, “Why are the numbers 6 & 16 not on the wall?” The tour guide delights in my attention to detail & fills us in on the why of it. “When the prison was in use, back when criminals were hanged by their necks for their crimes, inmates were terribly superstitious & trusted in omens and signs to tell of what their fates would be. A 6 represents a hangman’s noose, a 16 was a man next to the noose. It was understood to symbolise whether you would live or hang depending on the date set for your trial … you were certainly going to die with 16! For this reason, no 6 or 16 is used throuhgout the jail.”

Needless to say, I was hooked. I believed! This was something that was going to mean everything to me. I didn’t know why, I don’t even remember choosing to sink in to its power. I just remember the overwhelming feeling that I too was meant to live life by the convicts code of 16. (It helped of course that my birthday was a 15, so 16 was obviously the worst because it was meant to signify the end of another birthday celebration of which I wouldn’t enjoy again for another year. It wasn’t that hard to give weight to its evil powers when you’re 7!)

I have experienced so many times in my life where this superstition has spoken to me. 15’s always led down a path that offered the fruits of safety & prosperity. I would see these forks in the road & the choice that I could connect to a 15 was sweet & safe. The new house number, the new job, the day to have a child, the model year of the car – its influence could be pointless, but limitless all the same. The 16’s always led down a darker path for all the same types of decisions, but which now felt unsafe & destined for failure and pain when a 16 was associated. Solid logic. 

Now, who’s to say how or why this particularly spoke to me & determined my fate? Is it divine intervention? A means for a greater being to communicate their desires for my life’s journey? A way to signify the right from wrong in a way I could clearly see & abide by? 15 hooray! 16 stay away! Or is it a self-fulfilling prophesy? You asked for it – so you got it! You wanted 15 to work, so it did because you worked hard for it. You wanted 16 to be bad luck, so when it was unavoidable, you self-sabotaged! I honestly don’t know. Perhaps a little of both makes sense, or neither at all.

A few years back all signs pointed to “yes” when a decision was to be made to relocate to Seattle, WA. It was time for a change. The well had been sucked dry for years in our current situation and it seemed like the right change to make. My (then) husband & I ventured out sans children for a house-hunting trip to Seattle in hopes to find a new place to call home. I remember one of the most distinct visions surrounding me upon my arrival in the late December grey of a Pacific Northwest winter, was the inexplicable amount of crows that littered the view. Everywhere I turned, there they were. There’s a reason they’re called a murder – one look at a gathering of crows & people seem to convert to “believers” in the omens these creatures foretold. I shrugged it off. They gave me a sinking feeling. I ignored them. There was too much to love about the new home I could make for my family here. The possibilities were too enticing. I wasn’t going to let some meaningless superstition dictate my life … (oh wait)

Eventually I would succumb to the crows.

We moved, we settled, we got in to a routine. I still saw the crows and I continued to ignore them. Whatever misfortune they were warning me of was obviously a concoction of my own fears mingling together to overshadow something that should be bringing me joy. No negative self-fulfilling prophesies allowed here, thanks! What could go wrong anyway? We had a good job, good money, health & wellness for our whole family. We lived in a nice neighbourhood, went to a good school, made wonderful new friends – we wanted for very little, and mostly trivial. Life was finally getting on a track toward a version I had always imagined it should. I had worked hard & sacrificed to get here, it was time to enjoy it.

As it turns out, the visions of perfection Norman Rockwell littered our dreams with to make us believe things were heading in the right direction were full of shit. We’re hand-fed ideal images of what all our lives should look like. Intricate oil paintings overflowing with beauty & nostalgia that invite us to partake. Believe. In reality, how many of them actually look like this? And if they do, for how long?

As the months rolled on and the seasons inevitably changed to mark the time passed in our new life of perfection, that old murder would flock about reminding me that something wasn’t right. I ignored countless signs around me (un-crow related). I explained them away … Enter the crows. Why did I only believe in the power of my childhood superstition, but this one was somehow too juvenile & broad to put stock in? 

Things started to slowly unravel, then seemed to gain unearthly speeds towards total annihilation. New adventures in friendship & family began to corrode before my eyes. In every corner of my world I would begin to fail. My friendships, my marriage, my religion. All my best efforts to keep them alive & well were in vain. The harder I fought to fix my ideal life, the quicker it disintegrated. In my mind, there was no excuse for unhappiness. What right did we have to complain, to fail? I felt weak in the chaos.

I attempted new levels of “mature conversations”, the kind I was under the impression could convince adolescent behaviours to be abandoned in our mutual favours. As my social world crumbled, I clung tightly to a precarious marriage as all I had left. I tried therapies, mindfulness, prayer, meditations, medications, activity, solitude, breathing. 

Major life events have naturally occurred on these 2 numbers, 15 & 16. Instinctively I flinch at the 16. What, you ask, was I possibly going to do to survive the entire year of 2016? I wondered the same thing. Then I would quickly dismiss the notion that an entire year could be tainted. What juvenile thinking. What unproductive thinking. I’m an adult, what place does this sort of frivolity have in my world now?

As my family prepared to leave Seattle for a Christmas packed with relatives, I remember seeing the crows. I laughed a little to myself at their expense. What did they know? During our snowy-white, Norman Rockwell-esque holiday I would be punctured with the final nail in the coffin of my white-picket-fence dreams.

A husband I had left family & country for, for whom I sacrificed 12 years of youth, an education, career, identity. A partner I would love & bear children for; would reveal to me the most challenging truth I think I’ll ever hear. No future news could conceivably shock me as much as this did in that moment. This was a turning point in the kind of life-changing news that would make all future “controversial declarations” seem commonplace & manageable in the aftermath of the first of its kind.

In an instant I knew that everything I imagined my life would be, it could never come close to now. There was no turning back from the news – the kind that shakes you to your core & calls in to question all that you are now & all the memories you’ve ever shared together. No amount of expert maneuvers, nor blinders or denial could keep it at bay. Life had been irrevocably branded now, whether I liked it or not. All the futures I could have possibly conceived would need to shift a dramatic course in to the abyss. A fog laying over the standard narrative for happiness that I still grow weary of ever navigating out of.  Searching for a new life of contentment & simple joy. The journey now overwhelming.

This announcement would come on the cusp of a new year. New Year’s Eve for 2016. Fuck.

Those damned crows. They knew. They’d tried to warn me all along.

 

Mirror

As I stand in front of the mirror staring at my reflection, I wonder how many others do the same – stand at the mirror to see themselves, not out of vanity, concern or preparation, but just staring. Hoping to catch a glimpse, to see if you can find yourself somewhere through your face.

I do.

Without warning I feel an impulse to check, as if with a sense of urgency.
I run to see.
Is something new? 
Who is this person?

I stare in to the glass, studying my face, absorbing as many of my details as I can. 

The colour of my hair. 
A colour that has been complimented my whole life, yet I rarely have appreciation for. In a family of brunettes, you might think I’d find uniqueness in my sunshine coloured hair, but it was just another way to be different.

I hated being different.

I look at the shape of my cheeks, my Jackson family nose, my “too fair” skin. To this day it brings up old school yard taunts in my memory & holds me hostage to a beauty standard forever out of my reach. I should probably “get over it”, but those kinds of things have a tendency to stick around.

The heavy blue bags hung under my eyes. Part of this is age – most of it is pain. 

Lack of sleep.

I just stare, sometimes it triggers tears.
I contemplate as I try to see past my face. What else is there?
What has led me here?
How did I even get here?
Am I supposed to accept all that is part of “my story”?

I don’t want to.

I worry if I’ll ever be the person I want to see looking back at me.
Thoughts continue to stampede through my mind.

I wonder what I could have done better, what was unavoidable, what was just the luck of the draw.

There’s only a finite amount of control we honestly have in this world. We kid ourselves constantly that we have or can achieve more. 
People often proclaim the answer is just to love. But guess what?
The trouble is love (too), especially when it comes to control.

Love means opening yourself up to vulnerability and giving permission to another to tend to it. There’s a lot of times it doesn’t end in your favour. More than we’re led to believe.
But what choice to we have. We’re human after all. Isn’t that the point of all of this?

These days I just see exhaustion & decay staring back.
The decay that is my spirit, my hope, my future, my life. This can’t be it?
The decay that is my face.
It’s only 31 you know.
It’s already seen deep heartache, more than most I know will experience. 
It’s been drenched in more tears too. 
Well, that’s dramatic. Perhaps I’m wrong – I know I am. 
We all carry our invisible scars. We all have a history.
In reality I suppose my face is also like many others. It’s not unique in its anguish and trials.

How many faces look like hers today? All hiding the deep cuts and scars that plague us, but ones we are too ashamed or broken to reveal?

Mine isn’t even the biggest heartache. I don’t have the biggest cross to bear, though it feels like it right now.
But my pain is unique to me. I own it. I live it. 

It’s unlike yours in any way because, though our pain may cross paths or have similarities, my pain has only ever had my past. It will only ever hold my future. It is the only pain running over my individual scars creating deeper valleys in the stories that led me to now. The ones that built me.

None of that knowledge, however, stops the pain. 
It rapidly & violently runs on. A torrential river. Maybe somewhere down the road it will trickle down to a stream and eventually just be some puddle that dries up in the warm sun. 

It’s hard to imagine that now. Almost impossible.

I look at my eyes though, I notice their physical traits. 
They’re light green and speckled. Once baby blues. I like my eyes. When I cry they are electric. It’s a funny thing to notice amidst streaming tears, but occasionally I’ll catch the brightness of them against their bloodshot backdrop. 

I wonder why I notice that? 

It makes me take a moment from my misery and note something else, something interesting and beautiful.
I love my eyes when they’ve cried. 
But then I look at them and wonder if there will ever be another who will look in to them and notice beauty. See their own future in me. Like there’s just two of us.

I had that once.

It was magic, and chaos, and future and hope in one electric gaze.
I was hooked.
It was my whole life ahead of me in all its happy potential, played out in perfect harmony.
All the dreams & plans I didn’t even know I wanted until they came erupting out with hopes of concealing the life before that moment.
But, love fades. Maybe it was never really there?

Real life is made up of charismatic moments, true, but most of the time they’re usually mundane, painful, stressful, sad. At least so far.

Like the first chapter of my youth, a close would inevitably come to this chapter. I didn’t expect it so soon, or in such a fashion. Possibly even at all.
How many chapters does one get?
I’m not interested in quantity. I crave quality. Stability. 
The introvert inside me longs for the missing piece. There should have been only one. I thought I found it already?
Perhaps that’s naive. I can see that now. But, is there at least one more?
Something better?
Is there a new chapter that doesn’t leave me like this? Broken?
I need the right face staring back at me. 

I just can’t tell yet if it will be someone else’s or my own.