Saturday, October 25, 2014

I.


I ::

An I.
A snowflake.
A crystalline chunk of sugar.
A grain of sand.
A filament.
A forager.
A mother carved from kisii.
A kite's tail.
A loose fang.
An eye.



Monday, October 13, 2014

shapeshifting.

you can sit or stand closer to me. or put your hand on my shoulder, just for a second or two, so i'll know you're still there if i'm not looking up. or you can wait for me to decide.

but don't hug me when i cry.

two years ago, a friend reached out to me. a woman i'd known for many years but had never hung around or even talked with beyond critiques in a college course we shared years earlier. somehow, she sensed that i needed a friend who understood. she was right. we talked infrequently but powerfully. we talked about good listeners and poor listeners and well-meaning jerks. in one of our early conversations, she told me that hugging can be emotionally counterproductive to a person in pain. that made sense to me.

the general response to a hug is emotional tidying: if we could look inside our brains, we'd see ourselves hurriedly fluffing the pillows and shoving the dirty clothes under the bed. except in our minds, instead of domestic trappings, we're pushing away emotions. when the hug comes, the sniffles give way to a long exhale. the tears are sopped up by the back of a hand or the sleeve of a shirt ... i once used a pair of underwear because it was the closest thing i could grab. in a few seconds, we're no longer expressing our pain and we've moved on to a state of emotional purgatory.

tears help usher out emotions that need to be in forward motion. tears are part of the process that only time can complete. a hug, though well meaning and natural, can put those mobile emotions in reverse, and the crier is left without that moment of release. 

this afternoon, i was sitting with a friend, watching but not really watching E! i was mostly staring off into one direction or another and occasionally trying to make conversation by pointing out petty flaws in the cast members of a reality show. he was occasionally trying to make me laugh, as he usually does when i look like i need it. at times, i'm able to let a giggle sneak past the barred door; other times, i apologize for being bad company. he understands either way.

today, while watching but not watching E!, i sat next to a pile of unfolded laundry that i should've folded last night but didn't. i did make sure to vacuum at midnight so i didn't feel like a total slob. at some point this afternoon, maybe when we were discussing the staging of reality TV, i suddenly planted my face in that laundry pile from last night. my nose was smashed a little by the weight of my face, and breathing was awkward, and i stayed that way, with images of the past two years running through my head. did an entire minute pass? i'm not sure.

sometime between the time it took to lift my head and then turn it to face the tv again, the tears had escaped. it was the first time i'd cried. not ever, of course; just since the events of saturday.

saturday: as the numbers on the clock began their second ascension, the day began to collapse. "bad day" is a slight understatement, but if i were to go with my current emotions, i'd probably overstate it. in hindsight, i recall the night's events as if watching a movie on fast forward: i walked in. he walked up. another walked in. the three of us switched places and positions four or five times, engaging in heated conversation in pairs, always leaving one of us out. before the little hand on the clock reached its halfway point, everything had changed. what i thought was my future had quickly become my past.

love is an inexplicable connection between two humans, who are flawed—and within this territory of human error, love breaks all the rules. this is the place where good intentions can lead to pain; where pain can lead to bad intentions. when it all goes wrong, what rises above the ashes is this: all love is not good love.

this afternoon, i declined a hug, and i cried. in the middle of autumn, i cried a summer rain shower: sudden and brief. a few hours later, a different emotion stepped in. they're splitting my time today, the sadness and the anger, each taking a shot at resolving this: the one who wanted to be your hero, the one who said a thousand days apart was worth one day in your presence, can turn and try to break you.

you will never understand.

i picked up my son from visiting his grandparents this afternoon. he ran inside our place, frantic. mamma, i needa pee in potty! nowwww! when he finished, he lifted his arms for me to pick him up, which is becoming rare as he grows. we looked into the bathroom mirror together. saturday night was lingering under my eyes. two years had been laid to rest, and my entire mind was filled with WHY.

mamma, are you good? 

yes, baby. i'm good.

he squeezed me tighter and laughed. i laughed too.

two days past saturday: one earnest laugh and one perfect hug closer to tomorrow. 




Friday, October 10, 2014

let's get gay merried and fight drugs, west virginia.

west virginia, my hometown particularly, has an abysmal drug problem. when i moved back from memphis, i was shocked at how my hometown had devolved. drugs everywhere. families broken. children suffering. that's the worst to me—the kids. they get exposed to things they're far too young to comprehend. they lose their innocence because of choices someone else made. they're saddled with an uphill battle to overcome the circumstances of their youth. all parents will do something to screw up their kids, mostly just by being who we are on a daily basis—chock full of neuroses and anxieties and quirks. some parental choices leave kids with a whole lot more on their shoulders as they grow.

tonight, i saw lots of posts expressing disappointment and outrage over gay marriage now being legal in my state. all i could think was, i wish people were this upset over the drug problem. i wish i saw more posts about how the drug problem is ruining the sanctity of marriage and family—because it is.

who am i, a single mother, to talk about the sanctity of the family, right. i made a choice to have sex without a proper family intact, right. i did. and nothing is ruined. my son has a family. it's missing some elements, but he'll be fine. more than fine. he'll be loved beyond measure. he'll be encouraged to read and research and create. he'll be exposed to the lifeblood that is music. he'll know both god and diversity. 

some people choose partners of the same sex to build their families. some people break ties with blood relations. some people consider friends as their foundation. family is what you make it.

marijuana is the only drug i ever used. it didn't thrill me, but in hindsight i'm glad i did it. yes, really. because good memories are worth the vault. the first time i did bong hits i was 18, at a new year's eve party in an underwhelming college town a short drive from my much cooler college town. after partaking, i sat in a dirty recliner all night holding my tongue because someone told me getting high might make me swallow it. i got back to my apartment unscathed, tongue preserved for future communication, eating, and kissing. it was harmless young fun. i didn't even get hooked on crack after i reached the gateway of marijuana. i'd like to fancy myself an anomaly, just because who wouldn't, but i believe the supposed straight path from marijuana to hard drugs is a figment of some hysterical imaginations.

i haven't smoked pot for many years, but i think it should be legal. it's no worse than alcohol, which is, as we all know, legal. stoners are way better company than alcoholics, in my opinion. i've dated some drinkers. they get sloppy and angry; have trouble staying upright; take back late-night promises to love you forever; forget to be faithful. drinkers can be a real drag. potheads can get annoying, but they've got doritos, and they're totally down to share.

i respect religious opposition to gay marriage. i'm not here to tell anyone what to believe. then why do i debate it? i find their logic flawed. if gay is a sin, then it is a sin like all other sins. except it's not treated that way. it's not. no, it isn't. IT IS NOT. i haven't seen any facebook memes about how sickening it is that people work on sunday. have you? haven't seen any marches against cheaters being allowed to attend college. today's sly cheater could be tomorrow's pyramid-scheming CEO, you know.

people don't oppose gay marriage as much as they despise it. it seems they think that the more society accepts the gay lifestyle, the more gay people there will be, and that terrifies them because they don't want their kids to become gay. it could be true that more kids will experiment with homosexuality if they are exposed to it. i tried pot because i was exposed to it. i went on to smoke it a handful of times, ever—because, see, i'm me, and i'm not built to become addicted. just like some people are not built to become gay—no matter how many gay people they see or know. i've been told that you can even hug a gay person and not catch it, but i haven't tried. potential lesbianism is too much of a risk. i can barely deal with my period each month, let alone throw in another week of another woman on the verge of homicide when we run out of chocolate chips in the freezer.

i'm not 100 percent comfortable with all things gay. i don't know why, nor do i care, because i'm also not 100 percent comfortable with all things straight. like engagement photos that have the man playfully peeking around a tree at his beloved looking lovingly in his direction. odd that women want their future husbands in a pose that belongs in a christopher guest movie.

do people really believe gay marriage will ruin the sanctity of marriage and the family? surely not, because it's abundantly clear that straight couples cornered the market on dysfunction long ago. legalizing gay marriage won't change anything in terms of how nongay people live their lives. i'm not offended by religion that says gay marriage is wrong. i believe in god myself (although i'm a terrible heathen according to my upbringing) and respect my family's—or anyone's—desire to worship. what offends me is hateful language and the nasty tone with which people express their dissenting thoughts, which are often followed with "but i don't hate them" (okay, but you sure don't like them, either).

i've been watching ellen degeneres lately. at the end of every show, she signs off with this: "be kind to one another." i believe she means it, and i believe it's easy to mean it when you're the subject of derision from people who don't even know you. i'd like to see west virginians talk as passionately about the drug problem as they do about gay marriage.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

two rapes and a thousand words.

your fear thrills me. i want only power and satisfaction. i am everything. 

this is the mind of the subhuman who raped two women on the rail trail in morgantown five days ago. i haven't stopped thinking about it.

the trail has a few veins that travel to different areas of town, in one direction stretching as far as pennsylvania. the most populated section lies along the riverfront near downtown. during college in the late 90s and early 2000s, i used the trail often, running the small, straight stretch along the riverfront or rollerblading with my best friend erin and one time with a new friend, smitty, whose aloof pit bull, saturn—along with my own dog at the time, kaiser—was among my first introductions to a breed i'd grow to adore and defend (and in later years that breed would defend me as well). on the rail trail, i never went too far in any direction. when i moved back to morgantown last spring, i was just as wary. quite a few times, i would walk off the busy stretch toward the section under the south high street bridge, which winds around downtown and along decker's creek, but a feeling of discomfort would come over me and i'd balk. this is the section of the trail where the first woman was raped. eventually i started traveling that section, but only with joker, my pit bull, and only a few times, because it just didn't appeal to me. a runner for 21 years, i've always preferred busy routes to quiet ones. i don't wear headphones to cancel the noise; rather, i treat the sights and sounds along the way as swatches of color to save for later use, maybe in my writing or various quasi-art forms.

the straight stretch by the hazel ruby mcquain park and amphitheater on the river is seemingly the safest spot on the trail because of its visibility; last friday proves this is not so if you're jogging at 8:38 a.m., which is when the second woman was attacked probably less than a hundred yards away. this struck me because just last week i started venturing in that direction, past the amphitheater and toward star city, the next town over. still, i wouldn't go very far because it didn't feel right. turns out my intuition was correct.


since last friday i've been thinking: rape is like a crack in a window, splintering out from the source of contact. it's a crime against all women. this is not to take anything away from the victims, whose horror i can't fathom. i've tried. i've imagined that moment of feeling someone grab me and ... put his hand over my mouth? ... put a knife to my neck or side? i don't know how he actually attacked them. that moment has to be one in which they didn't know if they'd live. and to think it was brought upon them not by an act of uncontrollable nature or circumstance but by another human. he isn't human, not to me. in two events four hours apart on the same day, he proved his inhumanity. 

i've thought about that man. his face—in mugshots from various crimes—was all over facebook. is that a blank, soulless look, or am i projecting? i've wondered if i have ever passed him on the street or at the grocery store. i've thought about the fact that it's due to luck or statistics or god that a man has never hurt me, because the years have presented opportunity—in my many solo outings and late-night steps from car to front door and unsafe windows in rental homes.

i've thought about what i'd say to him:

who are you to take away my freedom to walk through my town? who are you to infringe upon my sense of safety? i hate what you represent: the facility with which men can oppress women. the way you use the human body as both weapon and target. you have only the appearance of a human, and to call you an animal is an insult to creatures who act on the purity of instinct. i've thought about how, if you had been unlucky enough to come across a victim with a safeguard, like me with my dog, i'd have unleashed him on you and kicked you in the face as he brought you down. hate doesn't come naturally to me. i try to see the good in everyone. you are an exception. all i see in you is a type of selfishness that surpasses comprehension. for the pleasure of dominance, you tortured two helpless women who did nothing but cross your path. if you're ever capable of recognizing the abject inhumanity of what you did, it won't take away what you've taken away from those women and all women. 

in 2011, in memphis, tennessee, i was living alone in a two-bedroom bungalow. it was a rental and in need of updating and repairs, but still i was thrilled to have my first "real" house after spending many years in lackluster apartments and cramped spaces. in april of that year, around 3:45 a.m., i awoke to my three pit bulls sniffing and barking at my bedroom window. a quick flick of the miniblinds revealed the outline of a man looking in. horror set in. i screamed and screamed. he didn't retreat as fast as i think one should when faced with three big dogs clearly in protection mode, but he did leave. nothing came of the police's search. he was long gone. in the following days and weeks, my longstanding sense of safety and the joy of my newfound home were demolished. will he come back? does he live nearby? has he been watching me? although i had friends, who let me sleep on their couches and in their extra bedrooms, i knew there were limits to their offers. the only people who'd never run out of time or energy for me—my family—were 12 hours away. so eventually i had to stay by myself again. i stayed scared for a long time. this is the mark a man—even if merely a shadow at a window—can leave. 

recently, i was jogging across the walnut street bridge in downtown morgantown, with my son in the stroller. a man, likely in his mid thirties, smiled as he came toward us, so i smiled back. as he passed, i could tell he was about to speak, and i figured he'd say some variation of the usual remark about what a heavy load i was pushing. instead, he made a vulgar comment about my body. i was instantly furious. how could he disrespect me in front of my child? on the verge of tearing into him, which has been the usual when catcalled, etc. in all my years of jogging through various cities, i instead bit my tongue because i didn't want to expose my son to potential confrontation. 

thankfully, my history with men—strangers and intimates alike—although far from ideal, is fairly tame. i've never been hurt physically, but hurt i have been. women are so often disparaged and devalued. it leaves a stain on the soul. we furiously rub at it, sometimes for many, many years, trying to make it fade. every time a man steps outside the confines of propriety or commits a horrific crime, especially in my community, i'm drawn to wonder: what happens to men in the course of their lives that makes them capable of dehumanizing women? did they lack parental affection or attention? were they abused? enabled? i feel like somewhere we are failing. women endure fear and disrespect as everyday parts of life. even when no definable crime is committed, the seeds of dysfunction in the male-female dynamic are all around. 

i grew up in a small town and went on to college in a bigger city and moved on to even bigger cities. mostly single during these years and away from my family, i developed a sense of suspicion toward strange men and a defensive stance of personal safety. i've been unfriendly toward overly friendly male neighbors or strangers knocking at my door; i never leave windows open in my home at night; when i go for a run or take my son to the park or walk to and from my car, i pay attention to who's around; i have always owned and will always own a big dog, or two or three. such is the state of being a woman. i don't live in fear but in awareness. 

may those two women discover the strength to move forward. may that criminal who harmed them be punished—both by the law and in the depths of his ravaged mind.