If you have an hour (or seven) to kill, you have to check out Post Secret. PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard.
Six months ago, my husband, Timmy, and I put our house up for sale and planned to move across the country to Seattle. There were many reasons, but among the most dire was the job situation. We live in a small Pennsylvania town and the only four or five colleges within driving distance don’t even offer a Creative Writing program. The trades, in which my husband works, are trending more and more towards using non-union labor. Unions in general are disliked by most in this area. So, moving somewhere more liberal, where unions and teachers are valued, seemed like a good plan.
And it was.
Only, we didn’t count on not being able to sell our home. We didn’t count on me landing a (Surprise!) job. And we didn’t count on Timmy getting called up for a major build (although, since it is a another casino related project, I probably should have expected it.) So, since the job situation resolved itself, we didn’t move. We aren’t moving. We made the plans and my heart soared towards Seattle. Then, we landed here, again.
I don’t know if we should have waited longer for the house to sell and left regardless of job offers. I don’t know if our daughters would have been happier out there. But I suspect, just maybe, that it would have been a great move. You see, something else happened in the time it took us to prepare for the now non-move: I spent months researching schools, homes, and neighborhoods in Seattle. I sought out Seattleites, formed friendships, and fell in love with what I thought was going to be my new home. And now that we are not going, everything feels flat. I still find myself yearning for the move, second-guessing our decision to stay here, and wondering what life would have been like somewhere else.
In short, I wonder if Seattle aches for me like I ache for it.
I was really upset to learn that the journal in which I published my very first (and only) piece of fiction had gone defunct. I wrote this piece at the very very beginning of my MFA program, so it’s pre-refining of my writing skills, it’s pre-book, it’s pre-writing for someone else. This was written by me, for me, in the back pages of a loose-leaf notebook. For the sake of preservation, here it is:
It doesn’t sound like you might think. Angie closes her eyes tight, pulls in different directions on her long brown ponytail, presses the flashing green start button, and listens to the buzz of the machine before her. One might imagine that a device such as this one may sound like a vacuum, a whirling sucking noise escaping from a series of complex knobs and tubes. Angie, herself, once imagined it as simple as the summer afternoon hum of her mother’s avocado green Hoover, with a dull-white hose and a shiny silver nozzle. But the truth is somewhere in between.
Somewhere in Between
The early abortion machine vacuum aspiration procedure is one of three available options to end an early pregnancy. This early abortion method can be used 5 to 12 weeks after your last menstrual period. This procedure is quick (5 to 15 minutes) and can be safely completed in a regular medical office or clinic. This procedure is also sometimes referred to as early aborton, apiration abortion, machine vacuum aspiration or vacuum aspiration. Before the Procedure, an osmotic (cervical) dilator may be inserted into the cervix to slowly dilate its opening either a day before or hours before a machine vacuum aspiration abortion. Also, pain or sedation medication might be provided orally or intravenously. Vasopressin (or a comparable medication) could also be mixed with the local anesthetic to lessen or slow bleeding at the injection site on the cervix.
Angie closes her eyes for this part.
Today’s girls all look the same. They march in, one right after another, hopping up on the white crinkling tissue paper, and are eaten by the sounds. Angie isn’t even sure if one leaves and a new one enters. They blend together like paper-dolls, clinging to one another, connected, braided. This morning, while one of them lies with her legs in a V, the alarm goes off. Bells ring, phones jump alive, lights flash. The young woman slips her white hand into Angie’s hot palm. Every hour Angie and her co-worker, Dr. Joe, must reset the broken security system. But now, Angie is handcuffed to the patient by fear. Dr. Joe curses under his thick Jersey accent and resets the alarm himself. Now he must scrub back in. Angie waits, her stony resolve is the young girl’s only tether to reality. How did I get here? Angie whispers out loud.
How She Got Here
She was drowned in her bathtub, Angie remembers, but never tells anyone. She imagines the memory a cloud, vaporizing into the thin air around her. It’s in the darkest of nights, the deepest of depressions, that it comes back, like a flashlight swooning over a dead body. Her mother’s long, slippery fingers. Her three-year-old neck, smooth and smelling of Ivory soap. Mr. Bubble nearby, staring at her with caution. Angie’s brown ringlets dipped forward like a crane over and over, until they pool around her like blood. The water is warm, like sweat, like urine, like anything from inside the body. Her mother is crying. Her father is screaming, their voices collide in the air and break into a million pieces.
A Million Pieces
Angie lives in a broken life.
This week, no, this year, I have been met with more disappointment in my professional life than I know what to do with. Jobs I was certain I had -slipped through my fingers, publishers I was sure would offer-passed, everything I thought would happen, the plan I had dreamed in my mind for myself, is gone. Each week there are rejection slips in my inbox, each month there’s another person/publisher/editor/chairperson telling me I’m not good enough, my writing isn’t good enough, my credentials aren’t good enough. This is the life of so many of us who write and teach or teach and write. It’s what you sign on for when you decide to become a writer. It’s not just my experience, this trampling of ego echoes through the masses, I know that, it’s just so, so, so…. humbling. And before you send me hate mail, or call me a whiner, yes, I know there are writers who are way more talented than myself who have been plugging away for twenty-some odd years without catching a break. This is not a competition. This is just me, telling you, how I plan to deal with this influx of negative energy.
I’ve been here before. After my divorce it was the same feeling only the destruction and utter disappointment was happening in my personal life. I had broken up with my ex to search for a better life, a better mate, a better fit, and I was finding…well, not that. So I slowly began to work on the things I could control. I began to exercise, lose weight, read more, focus on my job, and in the end, I was better for it. More importantly, I took the risk of leaving a bad yet comfortable relationship in hopes of finding something more, and in the (very) long run, it paid off.
Four years ago, I took another risk. I promised my husband that if he supported my decision to go back to school, it would pay off someday. I told my kids as I dropped them off at daycare every morning so that I could finish my MFA, that this would all be worth it someday. Now, that someday seems to be fading further and further into the distance. I know it will come, the risk will pay off, but it’s getting harder and harder to keep looking up. But these are things I have no control over. I can’t control the fact that publishers and editors don’t think a book about a fat girl is going to sell right now. I can’t control the fact that the job market is in the toilet. The only thing I can control is me, and what I do with my life and my family, my writing.
In honor of this, I have decided that I’m going to do what I have done in the past at every lull in life. I have reinvented myself more than once, and I’m ready to do it again. I’m going to commit to doing three things everyday. If I can do this for a month, I will add another. So, just in time for April, I’m asking you, too, to make a list of three things you can do everyday to nourish your mind, body, and spirit. Here are mine:
Mind: I’m going to read for thirty minutes a day (at least.) My life right now is full of “too busy to read.” That needs to change.
Body: I’m going to drink 100 ounces of water each day.
Spirit: I’m going to spend an hour a day doing something my kids love. Playing Candyland, reading Pinkalicious, building with Legos. Whatever they want, one hour. That’s the deal.
These three small things will help me to feel better about myself, connect me with my children, help hydrate my body after a long, cold winter, and help my writing by reading great stories every day.
These are my three things. I will do them every day in April. This may not solve my problem, but it helps to exercise control over something. By the end of April, I will have read, played, and hydrated myself to a better frame of mind. Hopefully.
My husband and I are moving our six-year-old twin daughters across the country. We’re leaving northeast Pennsylvania for the Seattle area. As such, we’ve been doing a lot of research on our new town. First, I researched the work outlook: good. I researched the state government: two female democratic senators. I researched the climate: not so great, but livable. I researched the public transportation: great. I researched the school districts: some of the best in the country. I called the schools, asked a variety of questions:
What is your curriculum like?
Do your students wear uniforms?
What are your after school programs like?
Are your art and music programs well-funded?
As my cell phone heated up against my cheek, the questions grew more and more vague. The silences grew longer. There was still one more question lurking in my throat, in my chest, lying against my broken heart: Would you take a bullet for my daughter?
This is the new rhetoric surrounding neighborhood schools. This is the new fear that turns parents in their beds at night. Will my child’s teacher be the next Lauren Rousseau, the Newtown, Connecticut, teacher who selflessly died trying to save her students? Will s/he be willing to stand up to the new face of terror in our schools? And the even bigger question looming over all of us as parents is: do we even have the right to ask such a sacrifice?
My daughters now attend a small elementary school in Pennsylvania. Their teacher, a wonderful and thoughtful educator, has a little boy all her own. is it fair to hope that she would leave him motherless in an attempt to save me from an imaginable grief? I don’t know if I, in good conscience, could ever ask that of another parent.
For weeks after the Sandy Hook massacre, I, like millions of parents across the country, couldn’t sleep. I relived the story in my head a thousand times. I imagined the fear in the children’s hearts in the two to three seconds it took them to realize what was happening. I lived in that moment. I lived in that classroom. I lived in that grief for weeks and weeks. I considered therapy. I even considered religion. Eventually, I began to move forward, slowly. But in Newtown, there are families who never will. I believe there is a community that will never get past this. It’s too big, it’s too horrible, it just doesn’t fit into any of the compartments inside of them.
The world became a different place on December 14th, 2012. For me personally, it was the end of my love affair with politics and news. I was an avid “newsie” for most of my adult life, but as time went on and my television was filled with men and women refusing to stand up to the gun lobby to ensure those children didn’t die in vain, I had to turn it off. I had to bury my anger, bury my head, bury my pain in the arms of my daughters. I’ve always been a staunch Democrat, battling fiercely for what I believed were democratic ideals. Now, I’m just tired and I’m always sad.
I’m sad that my government has let me down. I’m sad that this pain and fear inside those of us with small children is like a hot stove we are tied to, yet for most on Capitol Hill, it seems that heat has started to cool. I’m sad that I have to look at my child’s teacher and wonder if s/he would protect them. I’m sad that I even have to ask such a thing of another parent. I’m sad for the parents in Newtown, who cannot fathom that gun control is even up for debate. I’m sad that they don’t have the arms of their children for refuge from this cruel world.
The Sandy Hook shooting and the political fallout are a language I will never understand. I will never be able to comprehend what happened that day, how it happened, why it happened, and what to do with the fact that it did. The massacre has changed the way I think, the way I feel, and the way I dream. Now, in my dreams, teachers are not asked to take a bullet, the children of Sandy Hook are alive and tucked into their beds at night, and teachers teach, and bad guys don’t have guns. That is my dream, and the dream of so many parents. The American Dream of yesterday is gone. The new American Dream is a school from which our children return home at the end of the day, whole, fulfilled, happy, and…alive.
Announcing to your family that you are taking your children and moving 3000 miles away isn’t easy. We’ve been met with resistance. We’ve been hammered with guilt. Some understand, most don’t. Some make comments, some say nothing. The latest rash of negativity comes from my 78-year-old grandmother, a woman who has ventured outside of Scranton maybe three times in her entire life.
“You can’t move around with kids. Children need roots, Amye,” she says over the phone on a Friday morning. The knot in my stomach grows tighter with every spark of doubt she releases into the air between us.
She makes me think, her words make me think. I imagine my girls, twenty years from now, floating through the world without roots- drifters, vagabonds, unable to emotionally connect to anyone or anything. I grew up in a loving home with two parents. When I was twenty, my parents divorced and our home was sold. My mother moved into a small apartment across town, and my father moved in with a woman he was dating. My only sister was 2000 miles away in Georgia. According to my grandmother’s logic, I was rootless. And I felt that way. But instead of drifting, I rooted myself in anything that would have me. I rooted myself to my ex-husband and his family. I rooted myself to a job I hated. Why? Because I had been raised with relatively no change in my life, ever. So when change happened, I was terrified. I clung to anything, even if it was unhealthy.
When I divorced, I was rootless once more. My sister moved away again, my in-laws, to whom I was very close, all abandoned me, and I had lost my husband. And once again, I handled it poorly. I self-destructed and it wasn’t pretty. It was a long, crazy year before I finally started to right myself and to find stable footing. The lesson I learned from these two periods of change in my life is that my roots are under my own two feet, not in another person’s house or life. My parents are my roots, not where they live or who they are with. Their love for me is my one true home. Your roots are who you are, not where you are.
I don’t want my girls to become so rooted in Scranton, Pennsylvania, or anywhere for that matter, that they grow up and become afraid to leave and see the world. I want their roots to be me and Timmy, one another, or more importantly, themselves. I want them to be rooted in our love, not our living room. It is this belief that keeps me going, that allows me to make this move. I have to believe that the pain I’m feeling now by severing my own roots, will spare my daughters somehow. If not, well, I’ll keep plenty of bail money handy for when they are soulless, rootless, drifters.
After years of thinking about it, the mister and I have decided to relocate to Seattle, WA. This is a huge move for us both literally and figuratively. We live in Scranton, PA, so we are literally moving almost three thousand miles away. Also, this will be the first time that I will ever live away from my hometown. (with the exception of college, but even then, I only went to the middle of Pennsylvania.) Finally, what makes this the hardest is that we are taking our six-year-old twins away from ALL of their grandparents.
The hardest part for me, personally, is the guilt. The sadness in my father’s eyes when he plays with my girls now. The way my grandmother hugs them a little tighter each time we leave her house. The crack in my mother’s voice while she assures me she is supportive. None of this is bothering my husband. Guilt just rolls off of him. I swallow it and it sinks to the bottom of me.
It’s hard to do something for myself. It goes against how I’m wired. I’ve been thinking about and “doing right by” other people my entire life. This move, this adventure, this clean slate is something I’ve always wanted to do, and never got the chance. Now I have the chance. And this move has breathed new life into me. I am ready. I’m sure I’ll be crying like a baby the whole way, but I am ready to go.
There will be MUCH more on this.
I thought about starting a new blog to mark the occasion, but who better to share this journey with than all of you?
I finished my book just in time to miss the best years of my twin daughter’s lives. My MFA, two chapbooks of poetry, and an unsold memoir had consumed me for the better part of five years. I guess I half-expected that they would wait for me, that the milestones: the walking, the rolling over, the talking, the first night sleeping all the way through, would be there for me on the other side, ready to repeat themselves and allow me to linger and actually pay attention this time.
Instead, when I finally lifted my head through the skin of the water, I found a pair of little girls, almost six, ready to cross that invisible threshold into “not a baby anymore” land. Suddenly there were too-tight shoes, missing training wheels, a pint-sized boyfriend, and sight words that rolled off their pink shiny tongues like water rolling downhill.
Don’t get me wrong, I did what I could. I kept copious notes in a black journal with embossed flowers on the cover. Triumphs and achievements stretched out across each page like webs catching every date and every age. But I had never really slowed down to experience them, to inhale their importance, and when I pulled that journal out weeks ago, after the dust had settled and my writing was dormant, it was as if I was a stranger glancing through a history book full of events I had never witnessed.
So, when Penelope, the baby (by one whole minute), came to me three months ago with a pain in her tooth and it was discovered that said tooth was loose, I reveled in the emotion of the moment.
“Your tooth is loose! Your tooth is loose!” I cried as if she had just informed me of a full scholarship to Harvard Law School. The afternoon sun lit up the kitchen and I danced her around the bare floor draped in the warm rays. I called all of her grandparents, and acted as if this loose tooth would be it: the one event, the one benchmark of her childhood I would remember forever. I imagined she would call me up twenty-seven years from now and I would relive the loose tooth with as much vigor and detail as I had remembered her birth. Still, just in case, later that night through weary eyes, I pulled out the journal and wrote: Loose tooth, October, 2012.
Now, three months have passed and already that moment is gone from my mind. I remember the date, obviously, but I can’t remember the sequence, the order in which anything happened. Did she wake up with the tooth pain? Had she pointed it out earlier and I blew it off? Did I know to look for the wiggle of the tooth or did she mention it first?
This is what has happened to my brain since I decided to live the writing life. I used to remember moments effortlessly. In my early twenties, I could have told you every single detail of every relationship I’d ever had: How the leather back seat felt under my bare skin the first time I went parking with a boy, the smell of Jeff’s cologne, and how my stomach flipped every time I heard Mike’s voice. I was able to recite the phone numbers of my very first girl friends, my employee badge number from SEARS, the first nine numbers of Pi. Now, I cannot recall the simple historic moments of my own children’s lives. The events most mothers have living on the tips of their tongues.
It’s easy to make excuses. I’m teaching six classes this semester, that’s 120 students give or take. That’s a lot of papers, a lot of deadlines, and a lot of emails to answer. I’m also involved with a few literary magazines, host of a reading series, and mentor to some budding writers. I’m overwhelmed, clearly, but that’s not all. What’s taking up so much precious real estate in my mind is my next book, play, poem, short story, essay, and haiku. On any given day, there is a whole host of images and characters just floating around my head, taking up space. I do everything I can to hold onto the important things, to tether Penelope’s loose tooth to something that will help me remember. Penelope’s first tooth wiggled one week before Halloween. I was teaching Creative Nonfiction, it was right after I finished the book. I secure the rope tightly, but deep down I know it’s in vain. A little loose tooth is no match for the high tide of unwritten stories. The memory of my daughter and me in the kitchen, spinning on the balls of my feet while she laughs and beams with big-girl pride will be lost someday soon, the magic of the moment relegated to four words in a handwritten journal. This is the life of mother, a writer, a captain of uncharted waters just trying to stay afloat.
About a month ago, my husband yelled at our six-year-old daughter, Penelope, for something silly. She wrote in permanent marker on her sister’s magic erase board (these are the exciting things your life will be filled with should you decide to procreate…) Anyway, he was mad that Penelope acted this way seemingly out of spite and so, he scolded her. Nothing over the top, just a yell.
A few moments later, her sister, Samantha, came out of the playroom and told me that I better get in there to see what Penelope was doing. A few weeks earlier, Penelope had drawn a wonderful stick-figure drawing of us holding hands and she taped it to her playroom wall. And now as I stared at it, I saw a huge black X drawn over P’s little stick body. I was stunned. She is six. Could the bile of self-loathing already be present in her little belly? Have I passed on some defective gene that will damn her to a life of never feeling good enough?
“What did you do?” I asked her, almost in a panic. She said nothing. She just dropped to the floor and sobbed. Her black hair flowing bouncing up and down with each heave of her chest. I scooped her up and held her tight against me. If I could, I would have shaken every bit of this poison from her.
A few weeks later, I was teaching at a local university and noticed a student of mine was visibly upset. Her eyes were rimmed red and her cheeks were brushed with tears. This was unusual for her, she was always chipper and ready with an answer when no one else was. After class, when I asked her what was wrong, she released the flood gates. She had been in a fight with her boyfriend. She was angry with him over what I agreed was a justifiable offense, yet, the boyfriend ended up convincing her that she had done something wrong and he ended up dumping her.
“Do you think you had a right to be mad?” I asked her.
“Yes,” she replied.
“So why aren’t you?” I responded.
“I…I don’t know,” she stumbled. ”He said I shouldn’t be.”
I wanted to tell her that she should never let anyone invalidate her feelings. Who was this shmuck to say what she should be feeling? She should stand firmly behind what she feels and never back away from herself. I wanted to spare her the sixteen years it took me to learn those things. (She is nineteen and I am thirty-five). But how could I? I had people in my life who said those very things to me at her age, and I didn’t listen. Maybe these are things you have to go through in order to get to the other side of adolescence in one piece. In the end, I told her to have confidence that it will work out if it was meant to be. Then, I threw up in my mouth a little at the cliche I had become.
There you had it. Penelope was yelled at and her immediate response was to take herself out of the family, to internalize her pain and frustration. My student voiced her anger over something she felt was an injustice against her, and the minute her feelings were met with any resistance, she immediately questioned herself and backed down.
How long does it take and how much pain do women have to go through before we start allowing ourselves to stay in the picture? Are we predisposed to X’ing ourselves right out of the equation?