Month: October 2012

One of Those Nights, I Guess

Sometimes it’s just that kind of night

You try the best you can, or might,

To tell yourself that it’s alright

 And what, for real, is with the fright?

_

You have a home, you’re safe and warm

Suburban shelter from all harm

Head rests beside your MacBook Pro

Your iPhone, trophy, 4.0

_

That’s really not what matters, though,

You think, face pressed upon your sheets,

You feel an itching deep inside,

A purpose that you have to meet

_

You have not met.

You start to fret.

“Inadequate,” it whispers, yet.

_

The itch, personified, has voice

Your life’s all emptiness, no choice

Cookie cutter, middle class

Pale, purposeless, and lazy-ass

_

And, whispering Bob Dylan lines,

You wander, wonder, in your mind

What are you for? What is your life?

To not lack depth, must one have strife?

_

But suddenly you hear a door

Another soul is home once more

Unsure of purpose? It’s alright.

Your life won’t be complete tonight.

_

(There will be years to figure out

What eighteen years will dredge to doubt.)

_

That other soul leans on your doorframe

Your doubt and fear turn into more shame

Until you lift your eyes, meet hers

You realize that she’s seen worse

_

That we all feel this way at times

She listens to what’s on your mind

And, there, her arm around your shoulder

You sit up and feel much bolder.

_

Suddenly it hits you. Floored.

Something you’d found cliché before.

A purpose, why you breathe and live,

Lies in the love just you can give. 

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Ten Things I Will Carry

(A special thanks to the Annie I am named after, Annie Breitenbucher, for the first and last stanzas from her poem of the same title. I “wrote” this in high school, but thought it was a relevant thing to post now for some odd reason. The original is in her collection Fortune, one of my favorite books)

 

It has been cold and wet and dark

 

But now, as the chill beads up

and the skin is dried to the bone

by a warming wind, I rise up, back

up into my life, consider

what I will carry- what will carry me

across uncertain terrain:

 

A pen, perspective and rich adjectives

    So I can always see.


The open arms and warm voice of my mother

    So I know love and security.

 

Mozart Piano Sonatas and the husky ring of acoustic guitars

    So I can feel my heart beat.

 

Molly, my mellow ginger dog

    So I know unconditional love and friendship.

 

The clean, crisp, bright smell of pine forests

    So I remember hope and gratitude.

 

The warm hugs and support of my friends

    So I recall fortune and grace.

 

A portable sun

    So I will always find light.

 

My trusty Fischer RCS skis

    So I can fly.

 

All the best laughs I have heard

    So I can imagine the sound of God.

Black Trench Coat: A Passerby

       

   I see her walking towards me, her sharp black trench coat a stark contrast from the fiery fall leaves twirling freely as they fall behind her. Though I stare, she doesn’t note my presence. As we draw nearer, I notice she is at least a foot taller than me, her high-heels clacking on the cement in a harsh discord, lacking the rhythm footsteps usually possess. One hand holds a can of Red Bull, the other a cigarette. As she lifts the cigarette, I see the hand is shaking almost uncontrollably. Distress is clearly visible on her face. Small red puffy spots haunt the tops of her model-perfect cheeks, and her full lips sag almost hopelessly after she takes a drag.

            My staring is curtailed, however, as she quickly clacks on by me, heels in hectic discord. I turn and watch her leave, staring on in pity, vowing to myself that I will never wrap my problems in trench coats or lift my insufficiency with heels. I will never wake myself up with a cigarette and a can, and if I find myself in distress I will ask for help. Being strong, I decide, will also include the ability to admit when I’m feeling weak. She keeps walking. I turn away and do the same, but slowly, watching the fall leaves spiral downward. 

Gray

When I get old, I will not dye my hair.

I will let it grow gray.

Though I am afraid of death,

I will turn and face it,

look it straight in the eye,

and press my hands to my arthritic hips in defiance.

I will feel the earth beneath my feet every day.

I will ski slowly, but I will strap poles to my hands

Bind my Fischers to my toes

and photosynthesize,

Absorb the sun gleaming, twinkling off the immaculate white snow

the silhouetted naked leafless trees draped with downy fluff

Beneath the most peaceful blue of blue skies.

My stiff old joints will feel loose and limber in the freshest of air

With the most smooth and graceful of strides.

When I see the young ones pass, my skin will twinge.

Is it envy?

They look so spry, their motions so effortless.

But I realize soon it is a twinge of excitement.

I go flying down the hill with them, my spirit soaring upward,

High above the bleak and the gray

High above the stiff and degenerating.

My spirit looks down at me from above

And sees I am at peace.

When I grow old, I will not hide it.

I will not dye my hair.

I will let it grow gray. 

What’s In The Mirror (Part II)

I awoke to sunny strips of light beaming through the cracks in my shades. It wasn’t the next morning; it was several months later. Padding across the hardwood floor, my toes sticking a bit, I crossed my room into the small dorm hallway. Flicking on the light, I stood in front of the full-length mirror.

My mirror is not Sylvia Plath’s. Though I am young and often lost, I do not drown in it; it is thin, it is only an image reflected in front of me. I could smash it to teach it a lesson if I wanted to, but I know its secret. Its lack of true power.

I look myself up and down. My hair is fluffy as a lion’s mane from sleep. My quad muscles bulge from below my running shorts. These make me happy, though buying jeans is an unmitigated pain in the ass. Society, as demonstrated by women’s clothing stores, tells me that I can either be stick thin or plus-size.  You’re beautiful either way, doll, societytells me. (Society clearly didn’t care enough to bother learning my name.) Just for a bit of background: Society has already plastered my life, all our lives, with images of what we should be, paper-thin, glossy images of paper-thin, glossy women. Then, feeling a bit guilty, Society tacks on a campy addendum about how it’s okay to be fat, too, that someone, (though we haven’t quite figured out who yet), will love you anyway. This footnote is still somewhat nascent, as noted by its weakness of content.

Excuse me, I say to Society, to the mirror. I think you’ve forgotten me. My shoulders bulge through most tops and sweaters fond at the mall. But that’s not fat, kids, that’s muscle. Who has shoulder fat, anyway?

[Insert magazine with caption, “Lose Shoulder Fat Now!”]

Society, you’re interrupting me, I huff a bit impatiently. Now where was I? Oh yes. My shoulders. So what if I can’t fit in that blazer? I’ve won so many ski races in double-pole fights to the finish, in steep ascents, in races where the wax is so bad there’s nothing propelling me forward but my arms. Thick, strong arms, real arms.

What about those skinny girls at your school? They’re real. Society raises an eyebrow. This is where Society throws me for a loop. Here I hesitate. I glance back at the mirror, searching for a counter-argument but instead finding an entirely different person.

I find my mother.

I find my mother starting in my face, my eyes, my eyes the same hazel as her own, the same warm glow. My laugh echoes hers. Her tiny ears hide beneath my mass of fluffy brown waves, fluffy brown just like hers before it went grey. I let my hair go fluffy. My face is clean of make-up. I’ve dabbled halfheartedly in straighteners and mascara a few times, but I feel like I look presentable the way I am. As a small child, I didn’t watch my mom put on lipstick in the morning. I watched her tie up her running shoes and slip out the back door. The woman I later found out was a Division One runner despite lacking the skinny build, and even the toe mobility, for it. She doesn’t cover herself up, she builds herself up.

Society’s eyes dart away from my own. I turn around, noting in the mirror the definition lines in my calves. My mother taught me to run. My mother also taught me to set my own expectations for myself. Turning away from Society, from the mirror, I sit down by the door and slip on my running shoes. 

There Comes A Point

There comes a point in every race when you have to choose.

Your lungs burn as your throat, a hollow glass slide, feebly, uselessly tries to pump enough air to your screaming capillaries. Sore? Don’t kid. It hurts to pick up a limb, every lifting movement a colossal effort from lactic-acid-saturated muscles that, deprived of oxygen and tearing themselves apart, scream “Stop!” every time you take a stride.

“Stop?” Your mind says. You mentally hesitate for a second as you tuck and ride a downhill. It is beginning to occur to you that you could stop. You think of what you could say at the finish line. Excuses? No, we’ll call them reasons.

My shoulders hurt.

My feet have been bothering me again.

I forgot to take my inhaler.

If I had been further ahead in the starting lineup, I wouldn’t have gotten stuck behind that girl in the green suit and…

I didn’t have enough kick wax, I had to run up all those hills, it was so tiring…

I had way too much wax on and my downhills were so painful…

I had cramps.

I’m tired.

I’m stressed (about a test, because I’m a smart girl too).

I didn’t warm up long enough.

For half the next ascent, you toggle between these, trying to pick one that will satisfy your coaches, Mom on the phone, and, most importantly, yourself. Something that will wrap pity around you like warm comforter from the hotel bed you were so rudely roused from this morning before the race.

And then it hits you. If you drop out, if you quit, others may pity you temporarily, but you will not pity yourself. The truth will weigh on you like the extra minutes at the end of that race that could have been neatly shaved off. You will know, and it will eat you alive.

 Your heart leaps with adrenaline as you pick up your tempo. You see the girl in the green spandex at the top of the hill. Your fingers are going numb and your lungs ache, legs ache, shoulders burn, but every fiber of you now pounds with energy, vivacity, ferocity.

There comes a point in every race when you have to choose.

Skinny, Love?

You told her to be patient

You told her to be kind

Then how come only skinny wound up in the title line?

(Unless, of course, the skinny was the real thing on your mind.)

_

You croon at her with silky words as you come down upon her

Your minor chords and throaty cries a false complex of honor

Skinny love, oh skinny love, what really does that mean?

All your words are mumbled, slurred, as they come in-between.

_

She listens not within the song for emptiness or lies

There’s something captivating ‘bout the intrigue in your eyes

The way you call her skinny love and stare with passion deep

She lies awake and thinks of you, you suck away her sleep

_

Mumble-slur the verses so that skinny’s all that’s clear

No wonder skinny’s all that young girls want to be and hear

Patient, kind, get tossed aside, the intrigue’s in the thin

All hail Skinny, full of grace, not thoughts but purely skin

_

Pinterest, Tumblr, kissing shots of sunsets and of beds

Favorite, like, re-tweet until that’s all that’s in our heads

Be skinny, please a man, they say, and that will make it right

Don’t think about your purpose as you lie awake at night

_

No thank you, crooner man, I say, I’ll keep my carbs and dreams

Go try another girl with your guitar and skinny jeans.

About a Friend/Misguided Love

(This is old, and I am still not sure if it’s a good idea to share/post it. Please treat the subject matter with the gravity it deserves. Thank you)

It hurts to watch someone I love hurt herself, and it hurts worse to know I can do nothing about it. It also hurts physically to be darting through the musty, drab-carpeted hallways of the Sports Dorm right in-between two 5k races when all I want to do is rest. But I have to find her, make sure she’s okay, make sure she knows she’s important, knows we care if she’s missing.

I find her huddled against an eggshell wall, looking pale and gaunt drowning in my dad’s 550 Down Fill jacket. My dad hovers over her, pensive and uncomfortable, not knowing what to do. The worst is looming below, though. Her mom kneels right in front of her, trying repeatedly to press a bottle of orange juice into her tiny, pale hands that so blatantly don’t want it.

“You need to finish this RIGHT NOW,” her mom barks. Despite her puffy cocoon, my friend shivers. She has a defiant spark in her exhausted blue eyes. Doesn’t her mom realize that the more she forces food and drink upon her daughter, the more she presses love disguised as rules, misinterpreted as ruthless thirst for control, the less her daughter will be willing to take? I needed to intervene. I traipsed slowly over in my wool socks and knelt down next to my shivering friend.

“Hey, you,” I say, trying for friendliness but just achieving bleakness. I fake a smile, but then she looks up at me and smiles for real. Her tired eyes light up and glow warmly.

I look her mom in the eye. “Hi, um,” I hesitate, “I think we should go back to the team room. We race in half an hour and we still need to have our team talk.”

Mom looks sternly down at her shivering child. “Now, you need to finish your whole sandwich, and this whole juice. I’ll come to check and see in-“

“Um, I’m really sorry, but our coaches don’t let parents come in the team room,” I have to interject. Oh, misguided love. “I’ll be sure she eats.”

I help her stand up. She’s extremely light inside the illusion of her puffy cocoon. With my arm around her shoulder, we walk slowly back to the team room. As we creak the door open, we’re greeted by the accrued body heat of five of the best female skiers in the state, and five of our best friends. All the girls are curled up in their bunks, asleep. We pad across the room and sink slowly to a sit under the curtained windows.

She pulls out her lunchbox and begrudgingly digs out her sandwich. As she sets the bag down, I can see the contents of picked-apart granola bars and smushed orange wedges. The lies she didn’t eat for breakfast on the bus. Now comes the hard part for me. I have to tread the fine line between pointing out her falsities to help her and becoming the bad guy: becoming another force-feeding, towering authority figure in her life. I have to make sure she eats so she doesn’t pass out during the second race.

She takes a false sip, and I give her what I hope is a stern but caring look. “Come on,” I say softly. “You can actually drink it.” She takes a small but honest sip. She opens a granola bar and picks a few oats off the top, popping them in her mouth and forcefully chewing the false mouthful. I give the sandwich a pointed glance. Uncomfortably, she picks it up and peels back the plastic bag.

She finished the second race without any dizziness or accidents. After a drowsy bus ride home lit only by yellowing headlights, I climb into the passenger seat of my mom’s car. “I don’t know what to do,” I confessed after some small talk about my race. “I don’t want to say the wrong thing and lose her friendship, but I can’t just watch her hurt herself like that.”

She had always been thin, but a couple summers ago she’d turned absolutely gaunt. Her cheeks were tight to the bone and gray hollows hung below her eyes as her sticklike limbs propelled her, ever faster, up the hills in her running shoes.   “I can do twenty pull-ups,” She told me cheerfully. Always cheerful. I can do three, but I have a large muscle mass for my height. Let’s just say I have a bit more to pull.

My mom stared out pensively into the street ahead of us. “Well, just by being there for her, you’re doing the right thing. Just by caring about her. It’s not your job to fix her problem, even though it feels like it is. Your job is to support her, and you do a beautiful job of it.”

At home, I check Facebook before I go to bed. In my profile picture, she and I have our arms slung comfortably around one another’s shoulders, and big wide grins. We’re holding a cake it had taken us an entire day to make, including a marathon trip to the grocery store. It was a Tres Leches cake, and we discovered nothing feels weirder than pouring milk over a cake. But that was what made it delicious, along with the fact that we used raspberries from her garden on top because we forgot to buy cherries.

As I laid in bed, staring up into the dark, it wasn’t blackness I saw. It wasn’t “nothing,” whatever “nothing” is. It was the most beautiful, radiant smile I had ever seen, beaming from under blue eyes that were no longer weary. They glowed with gratitude. With love.

Real Girl

“Um, hi,” he says. He boldly ekes out a split second of eye contact with me before fixing his eyes forward, toward the meandering flock of people we were exiting the building with.

“Hi,” I say back, ripping out my headphones and stuffing them clumsily in my sweatshirt pocket. I have genuinely no idea who this kid is. “I’m Emma,” I add, purely to in an attempt at mitigating some of the awkwardness.

“I… know,” he mumbled. I must have looked alarmed or even irritated, because he turned bright red. “I just, um, I picked up your ID, you dropped it. I recognized you by your hair.” He reached into his pocket and produced my ID. He held it out hesitantly, as if there was a chance I wouldn’t want it back. My fluffy, copper-red hair glared out of the tiny picture in the corner of the plastic card. I pocketed the card and pulled my hair back into a bun.

“So, are you headed to lunch?” He asked in an attempt at being nonchalant.

“Yeah,” I replied, pulling the door open for him.

“Me too,” he said. I made a mental note to nominate him for the World’s Most Awkward Conversationalist award.

“So, what class did you just get out of?” I asked, trying to pull some conversational weight.   

“Statistics.”

He was really not giving me much to work with. Suddenly it hit me. “I never asked your name,” I noted aloud. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Jack,” he said, a faint smile gracing his face. He had friendly dimples beneath thick tortoiseshell glasses and short black curly hair.

I couldn’t help but smile a little back. Fortunately, we’d reached the dining hall and I didn’t no longer would have to conversationally fish in a highly chlorinated community pool. This time, he opened the door for me.

“Thanks,” I said, not realizing this positive response would lead him to trying to hand me a dining-hall tray moments later. However, as he soon realized, this complicated matters because I had to go back to the tray rack anyway for silverware. On emerging from the food lines, we stopped short and looked out over the dining hall. It was that ever-daunting part of the student meal experience in which the seating area looks roughly seven times larger than it actually is, the tables look eighty percent fuller, and all other students look exponentially less familiar and friendly than in other scenarios. Fortunately, I spotted my close friends sitting across the center aisle.

“I see my friends over there, so I think I’m going to go sit with them. You’re welcome to join us,” I indicated towards the table. Jack’s face visibly fell a bit. My stomach twisted uncomfortably.

We made our way to the table as a pair, but upon arrival, Jack muttered, “See you later” and walked away.

I sat down, stomach feeling worse. You know how some people are unable to eat when they feel uncomfortable or guilty? Fat chance that would ever be me. I scooped up a clod of mac and cheese and shoveled it into my mouth, trying to chew and swallow the hot foreign mass but really just gagging. I sputtered and my eyes watered pathetically.

“Um, Emma?” Josh made eye contact with me from across the table. At first, I thought he was calling me out on my inability to eat in a remotely human manner. Once the crocodile tears cleared from my eyes, it was clear that that wasn’t it.

“Yeah?” I replied, regaining my composure.

“Who was that guy?” Josh was onto me. And by me, I mean that part of my subconscious that tries to bury things I should really just be dealing with. As my closest friend, Josh seemed to have the inexplicable, creepy capacity to read me. He generally used it for good, but, like all gifts, it could easily be used for powers of evil or awkwardness.

“Oh, he picked up my ID in the Science Center when I dropped it,” I tried to sound nonchalant. “I invited him to sit with us be he didn’t seem to want to.”

“He kind of looked like he just wanted to sit with you,” Claire piped in.

Rats, I thought. They’re all onto me.

“Do you think he…” Claire started. There was a general vibe of consensus around the table.

“Ugh, come on, guys, he picked up my ID. In the Science Center. And talked to me for about five minutes.” Something told me I was losing this battle.

For the first time in the conversation, Luke spoke. Though he could definitely be the life of the conversation, he was equally capable of playing the listener role, or even the tuned-out-because-ice-cream-is-clearly-more-important role, which he had previously seemed to be in.

“Emma, I think you’re beautiful, and smart, and—“

“And I think you just took that way too far,” Josh said, giving Luke a mocking look. Luke returned his focus to his ice cream.

“But really,” Claire added, “you’re super nice and definitely not bad-looking!”

“Not bad-looking does not actually directly translate to good-looking,” I said, picking at the crust of my sandwich. “Not that I’m calling myself ugly.” I hesitated. “Not that I’m calling myself pretty.”

“Emma, you’re a real girl.” Luke had apparently mustered up the courage to speak again. “There’s nothing superficial about you. It’s obvious how that could be seen as attractive.” Josh set a lima bean on Luke’s shoulder, which Luke flicked back at Josh. It hung there, suspended from Josh’s flannel, for an alarming amount of time. I wondered what it was coated in, or even what it was made of.

“Well, not that this isn’t ridiculously uncomfortable or anything, but I have section at noon,” I announced, standing and picking up my tray and leaving to a series of grunted “bye”s and “see ya”s.

Talking about dating has always made me somewhat uncomfortable. Though I don’t have serious problems with myself, I seem hypersensitive to tiny imperfections in myself most people probably overlook. However, as I saw my reflection in the windows of a building on the way to class, I didn’t see the tiny paunch I get from slumping. When I opened the door, I didn’t see speckled zits on my forehead, or baby fat around my jawline. I saw  a real girl, whatever that may be.