A Farewell Letter to My President

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Dear Barack Obama,

I was keeping a journal for my two-year-old twin daughters when you began your campaign all those years ago. The night you were elected, as they slept soundly in their cribs, I sobbed. I sobbed so hard my body shook. And when you and Michelle walked out onto that stage in Grant Park with your little girls, my chest swelled with pride.  We, as a nation, had chosen HOPE, and I couldn’t have been more proud of this amazing country. In my journal I wrote: This is the beginning. This is the beginning of a beautiful chapter in our lives.

And it was. Your presidency hasn’t been easy. But, despite the harshest of opposition, you kept our hopes and dreams with you at all times. You made decisions based on logic and facts. You weighed consequences, listened to opposing views, and made choices that you felt would benefit most rather than some. Under your presidency, my marriage and my family bloomed. I was able to go back to graduate school and earn my MFA because my husband’s union was strong and secure. And once I graduated, I was able to secure health insurance even though I did not have a full time job. As a nation, we moved forward as we saw some of our most vulnerable communities get the rights and protections they deserved.

When you were first elected, we saw a well-dressed black man in Target. My girls were three, maybe four, and they yelled out “Obama! Obama!!” The man smiled and kept walking. I was immediatly embarrassed, but quickly realized how wonderful it was that when my young daughters saw a black man, they saw a President.  They are now part of the most inclusive and racially diverse generation, embracing all colors and backgrounds, and I’d like to think you had a lot to do with that.

Then there was that fateful day, when a madman gunned down a classroom full of first and second graders at Sandy Hook Elementary. I’ve written so much about this, about how that day affected me not only as a mother, but as a human being. I remember that day so clearly, and I remember looking to you for a comfort I knew I would find. When you came out into the press briefing room, you were stoic and composed. But as you spoke, as you recalled what had happened, the tears streamed down your face. There you were, not the President of the United States, but Barack Obama, Daddy to Sasha and Malia. I remember feeling that raw emotion with you. You made something impossible hurt a little less that day.

I don’t know what’s next for you and your family. But I wanted you to know that your presidency was not a shadow, but a shimmer over my daughters’ lives. You showed this country what it means to be a grownup, a thinker, an intellectual. And for the short eight years that we had you, I was proud to have called you my President.

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2008

A Letter to My Daughters as You Turn Ten

Dear Girls,

Last year I wrote you a letter about how we failed you as a country. How we should have done more to protect you from the overabundance of gun violence in this world. How you should not have to live through “lock-down drills” in which your principal bangs on your classroom door and tries to lure you into the line of his imaginary gunfire. You were nine. These things were impossible for me to imagine.

This year, so much and so little has changed all at once. You are ten, and in every way you have grown more than I have expected. You have boyfriends now, little boys who tell you that you are pretty and buy you bracelets and necklaces to prove it. You don’t want toys for Christmas anymore, preferring instead clothes, earrings, and pretty-smelling body spray. Also, our shared history has started to reveal itself to you. You say things like “I used to think you were a bad mother…” followed by a very specific example of when I was. I no longer have to protect you from gun violence only, the web under which I need to hold you now has grown larger and less secure: boys, peer pressure, bad memories and sadness have all tried to sneak their way in.

Every year, as much as you grow and change, I’d like to think I do as well. I learn something new about how to be a mother, how to parent you, or how to love you in a new light. But this year, the lessons were hard. This year, I had to parent you through grief: yours and mine. This year has been a year of loss. For all of us.

We lost Grandma Gigi, the woman who lived just to love you.  At almost 80 years old, she watched you three or four days a week for most of your life. She taught you to do puzzles, to play Solitaire, and to hold a special place in your soft hearts for “old ladies.” On her death bed she said to me “Oh, Amye, you don’t know how much I wanted to see those girls grow up.” It was and remains to be the single most painful thing anyone has ever said to me. Those words have strung themselves together in a little bow around my heart and squeeze hard enough to break it most days. This first year without her has been like finding my way through the darkness with only a match.

We lost Hope. You were too young to remember the Obama elections, still I bought you shirts that read “My mama’s for Obama” and posted pictures of you wearing them on Facebook without your consent. But this year, this cycle, you were able to participate. I bought you Hillary shirts in which she was made to look like Rosie the Riveter, and you wore them proudly. It was fun for you, to root for a girl. You had no idea of the struggle behind those words. Your elementary school became a hotbed of political conflict. Everyday you came home with a new story about a new friend with whom you were upset because he/she told you they were supporting Trump. You couldn’t wrap your nine-year-old brain around it. “BUT, he wants to kick all of the Mexicans out,” you would decree in shock and anger. I lacked the ability to explain it. I didn’t understand it myself. But we held fast to the idea that Hillary would win. I baked Stromboli and vowed to let you stay up to watch the results. You were in bed by ten. I cried myself to sleep wondering how I would explain to you that someone filled with such hate could be chosen by so many. Trump’s America will be the very opposite of Obama’s America, and I realize now how lucky I’ve been to have raised you in the latter.

My mother was 20 years old when her father died, and I often wonder-now that I’m a parent-how she managed to keep the ship floating in the wake of all that grief. How her sadness didn’t just overwhelm her, pull her under the surface and hold her there for a long while. But she didn’t sink. She kept swimming, kept moving, and she and we survived. Each day I have to learn to swim all over again. What once came so naturally to me-moving forward, moving on, moving… has become difficult. I smile for you, shove the pain of losing my grandmother and the shame and disappointment I feel for my country into a black box inside of me and I struggle to inch forward against the current.

There has also been some good. Everyone is healthy and my heart is full when the entire family is together. You have grown into amazing individuals with different outlooks on life and the world. I’m so proud to hear from your teachers that you’re excelling. I’m so proud to see you question the world around you. I published my book! The thing that pulled me from you in every way for the previous five years was finally a reality! We also saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time. It took me thirty-eight years to get there, it took you nine. I stood on that coastline, closed my eyes, and breathed the salty air deep into my lungs. I had waited and wanted to see California my whole life. And there we were. In that moment, there was hope.

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Here is what I know to be true: I love you more with each day. I love you differently than I once did. I love you in spite of yourselves, sometimes. I love you enough to give my life to protect yours. I love you in ways I never thought I could. I love you enough to keep swimming for you-every day. But, most importantly, I love you enough to teach you to swim for yourselves. There will be hope again. There will be paths forward. You and I will find them together. In the darkness, I will be your match.

Love,

Mommy

This is 39: Day 26.Survival.

 

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You’ve spent your whole life convincing yourself of things.

He’s not a bad boy. He loves you. He puts his poison in your mouth and you drink it because he doesn’t hit you. He knows you. He loves you more than all the rest.

I can live without you.

They won’t notice your body-big and blooming. They will notice the hard-fought poem that kept you up last night-the slant rhyme, the image, the effortless onomatopoeia.

I can live without you.

He will do what he says. She means what she says. They will do the right thing.

I can live without you.

He can’t live without me. I am a tether to this earth, and he must hold on.

I can live without you.

Your value is not defined by the weight of your mattress. It can hold one. It can hold only you.

I can live without you.

He is a good man. He will do the right thing. He will mean what he says. He will do what he is supposed to do. He will shelter me. He will protect me.

You’ve spent your whole life convincing yourself of things.

And then one day you stop.

They will notice only your body. He is not a good boy, man, woman. He will not mean what he says. She will not be honest with you. You will need to protect you. Your value is defined by the throb of your heart-broken or whole.

You can live without him. You can live without her.

You know how to survive now.

This is 39.

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Amye Archer is 39. She is the author of Fat Girl, Skinny, a memoir about skinny jeans, Weight Watchers meetings, and horrible life choices. Follow her at @amyearcher

Why I’m Fat…and Trump

sad-505857_1920I don’t want to share this, I shouldn’t have to share this part of my life, but I cannot stay silent any longer. I, like most women, am disgusted by not only Trump himself, but more so by the attempts of his supporters to dismiss his lewd, sexual comments as “locker room talk.” What’s happening with the Trump campaign and the rhetoric surrounding this election is striking a familiar chord somewhere inside of me, and it’s time I tell you all how Donald Trump made me fat.

As a teenager, I developed quickly and early and the boys noticed-as did the girls. In gym class, I tried everything I could think of to get out of running, jumping, or any other activity that would cause the boys to hoot and holler at my bouncing breasts. Boys dated me because of my body, and other girls called me a slut for the same reason. I learned early on that my body was something I should be ashamed of. That idea-body and shame-rooted itself inside of me and bore fruit for years and years in the form of bad decisions and self-loathing.

Sometimes, I welcomed the attention. If a cute boy said hello in the hallway, I smiled. If a boy told me I was pretty, I accepted that compliment. But the language never stayed benign. The rhetoric always escalated. There were nicknames, obscene gestures, forced sexual encounters. What should have been a kiss always ended with a hand under my shirt. Boys would grab my breasts under the bleachers at the football games, press themselves against me in dark corners at parties, or break up with me after I refused to allow their hands to wander. At 12, 13, and 14 years old, I never knew how to handle the Donald Trumps of this world and their overtly aggressive and sexual advances. I didn’t know how to respond, how to handle what I perceived as ridicule, or how to hide my body from them.

Then, I discovered a way. I began turning to food for comfort and protection.I know now that I didn’t want boys to stop paying attention to me altogether, I just wanted them to pay the right kind of attention. I wanted boys to notice my sense of humor, to appreciate my intelligence, and if they thought I was pretty-I’d take that too. What I didn’t want was the boys leering at my breasts, thinking I was easy because I was shaped a certain way, and for girls to hate me because of it.

In my late teens/early twenties, I gained a massive amount of weight, hence changing the shape of my body. And while being fat brought with it a new kind of shame, in many ways it felt safer. I felt safe. I found a boy who loved me in the right way, who saw my humor, my mind, my inner beauty, and who-for a while anyway-loved me for those things. I didn’t attract attention from men on the street anymore. Girls didn’t hate me. I was still ashamed of my body, but I no longer felt unsafe because of it. I had finally found a way to protect myself from the Trumps of this world, from the boys and men who had reduced me to a sexual commodity.

Today, I am 39. I have two daughters and a wonderfully supportive husband. I am a better weight, not great, but better, and have learned to love the body I have. Still, the Trumps of the world are out there. It doesn’t happen often, but once in a while a man will make a comment or an advance that focuses once again on my body-specifically my breasts, and I am immediately 12 years old again and can still taste that shame on my tongue. The instinct to hide myself from sexual aggression is a reflex born out of a lifetime of feeling ashamed of my body. It is the tree still living inside of me-no longer bearing fruit-but refusing to wither.

That’s why Trump’s campaign of sexism and hatred is so very dangerous. Many of us still have that tree inside of us. We know what it feels like to be objectified, to be ridiculed, or worse yet, to be sexually assaulted. Trump’s comments went beyond any “locker room” talk I’ve ever heard, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t heard them somewhere before. I’ve heard talk like this under the breath of the boy pressed against me in that dark corner at a party, before I could wiggle out of his grasp and before I could muster the word “no.”

If you ask me what I want for my 9-year-old daughters the list is long. I want them to be strong, to have a solid education, to make their mark on the world with kindness, not power. But if I could only have one thing-just one wish for my children-it would be that they find their voice and they learn how to use it for change. Simply put, I want better for my girls. I hope they never have to feel how their mommy felt, or her mommy, or her mommy before her.

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Amye Archer is the author of Fat Girl, Skinny. Follow her at @amyearcher

An Open Letter to Millennial Voters

Dear Millennials,

I get it. I get you. As a student of generational dynamics, I’ve studied your generation quite a bit. I know, for example, that you’re pretty pissed off at me right now because you resent me telling you that I know you because, you can’t be known. You’re unpredictable, rebellious, you are custom-your own person. How dare I suppose to know what you’re thinking or feeling? Part of this knee-jerk reaction to conformity is the fault of my generation, Gen X. We raised you, and for the most part, we hovered. We were latchkey kids, raised with minimal supervision, and we vowed never to do that to you. We went to all of your soccer practices, trotted the entire extended family out for gymnastic competitions, argued with teachers when you were unjustifiably held inside during recess, bought you cars when you turned sixteen, gave you our credit cards willingly, and pretty much guided your lives along a track, rather than letting you forge a path.

Now, you’re pissed off. You want to buck against the status quo and what better way to stick it to the rest of us than to vote for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson? They’re outsiders. They’re not the “institution.” And I get that. I am the child of Baby Boomers, the quintessential provocateurs, and that resistance to conformity has been baked into me as well. In sixth grade, I flat out refused to support the first Gulf War, I held walkouts to protest the use of Styrofoam trays in the cafeteria, and as a high schooler I dumped out all of the testers at the Estee Lauder perfume counter because they tested on animals.  While I’m certain that none of those actions resulted in change, it felt damn good to be an agent of chaos, even if only for a fleeting moment.

But now, I’m a mom to two beautiful nine-year-old girls. I’m a teacher, a wife, and a citizen in my community. I pay taxes and attend school board meetings to see how those tax dollars are spent. I have a husband who equally supports our family with a union job. I worry about the economy, carry a mountain of student loan debt, and vote in every single election, especially the primaries.

My point is, I have a lot riding on politics now. When I was your age, I didn’t. If the government was running at a deficit, legislating against labor unions, or rolling back women’s healthcare, it didn’t affect me greatly at 18, 19, even 21 years old. At that young age, I cared more about feeling heard than I did about actual policy. Well, I’m here to tell you that we hear you Millennials, we do.

You are one of the greatest generations to have lived. In the short time you’ve been adulting, you have helped lead this country to some amazing milestones. You’re the least racist, most inclusive generation to have come along. You’ve legalized same-sex marriage, questioned gender roles, and advocated for mainstream education for all. You’ve connected us through social networks, transformed mass media, and showed us all how to express anger through emojis. But perhaps your greatest accomplishment, at least for you older Millennials, is that you gifted us the election of Barack Obama.

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So, I beg of you this- don’t let all the awesomeness you’ve helped create be destroyed.  If Trump wins this election, he has promised to rollback same-sex marriage, dismantle LGBTQ protections, and will appoint one, possibly two, Supreme Court justices. Why is that latter point so important? The religious right in this country is chomping at the bit to defund Planned Parenthood and to overturn Roe v. Wade. Trump will help them do so. Think about that for a second. You-the independent generation who wants complete autonomy from the government- will live in a country where the government will tell you what you can and cannot do with your body. Could you live with that?

I understand you don’t like Hillary. She’s charged outrageous speaking fees for private engagements, she deleted a whole shitload of emails, and she appears stiff when she should be laughing or relaxed. But she is the candidate your generation has created. Those of you who worked so hard to support Bernie Sanders helped make Hillary the candidate she is today-way more progressive and to the left than she ever was. She’s not pandering, she’s evolving. And she’s evolving because of you. You want to be heard? Hillary has heard you. She’s evolved on same-sex marriage, on public education, on trade, and even on the drug war. And we have you to thank for this transformation.

So, this November, I beg of you to do one thing: think of Bernie. Think of the legacy you’ve helped him create, the work you’ve done together on social reform, and help him get those policies and promises into the white house. I get the appeal of a third party, really I do. And I’m with you that they should have more of platform and voice than they do. And if this were 2008 or 2012, when a reasonable, not-so-scary republican were on the other end of the ticket, I’d say go ahead! Vote your conscience. But, I’m afraid Millennials, that this time is different. We need you now to help us. We need you to once again give us the president we deserve, not one that will erase everything you’ve worked for.

Simply put, you gave us Obama. Please don’t follow that act of graciousness with the delivery of President Trump.

The Drunk Boys

Here’s how a poem happens.

You’re watching a reality show where people meet one another at the altar and get married. Your house is quiet. Your twins are asleep in matching but separate beds, your husband is asleep on the couch, and the dog you didn’t want but love anyway has wedged her weight against your hip, drool slipping from the corners of her loose sigh. One woman is having difficulty kissing her new husband. His body angles toward her like a coworker asking what she did last Friday. There’s a hint of sexuality, but she’s not entirely sure it’s for her. You begin thinking about the wine. Give him some wine, you think, he’ll open up.

Here’s how a poem happens.

You’re watching trashy reality shows on a Friday night while your family sleeps around you. The dog you didn’t want but love anyway, the dog who knew exactly the right amount of pressure to place against your body in the hours after your grandmother died, shifts and twitches as you whisper-yell at the TV. Get him drunk, it will fix everything.

Here’s how a poem happens.

You’re watching a reality show where no one is getting laid, and your response is to add alcohol. Then you realize: you’ve always trusted the booze more than the boys. The booze will make them honest, unzip their hearts and pull you in. You have been told some of the most flattering things by drunk boys with diamonds in their mouths: you are beautiful, you are sexy, you could be my girlfriend, you are beautiful, you are sexy, you are worth my time. The dog you didn’t want but love anyway stares at you with the world behind her chocolate eyes.

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Here’s how a poem happens.

You remember the booze and the man who wore it on his breath. You remember the rage, the pain, the invention of love. You remember the tip of the knife against the flesh of your neck, the fear in your veins. Your body forgets sometimes, but the memory of him lives at the tip of your pen. You wonder when “drunk” has ever made anything right in your life.

Here’s how a poem happens.

In your safe, comfortable home with a man whose heart has no clasp, a dog whose breath is measured against your own, and twin girls who hum sleep like two notes of the same stringed instrument. Far away from the booze and the boys and the bars.

Here’s how a poem happens.

You think to yourself, I should write a poem about this.

 

Amye Archer is the author of Fat Girl, Skinny, a memoir about waiting, weight-ing, skinny jeans, fat girls, bad choices, and happy endings. You can buy it here.

I Fucking Hate My Body, and I’m Tired of Pretending I Don’t.

A few weeks ago I read an article called I F*cking Love My Body.   I tried to get into it, to understand the message, to feel the same pride in my inherited features, but I cannot pretend to be something I’m not. No matter how hard I try. So, this was born:

I fucking hate my body, and I’m tired of pretending I don’t.

I buy dresses, hike them up above the knee, feel the swoosh of them on the back of my thighs, but cannot forget the purple inky veins slinking across my skin. Blue, black, deep red, these lines remind me to pull it down, tug it over my ass, stay grounded, stay knee-length in all things.

I buy new bras, smaller across the back, skinnier straps for a slimmer body, yet the cups remain overflowing. My breasts hang heavy with past mistakes. The valleys in my shoulders remind me of their heft.

I buy panties with the most elastic, walk past the lace, past the high hip cuts, straight to the strongest, sturdiest pair. I buy black, hoping there is some sex appeal left in color.

I buy tools to quantify my being. My digital scale holds bad news. My FitBit says I haven’t done enough. My Fitness Pal says I’ve overeaten again.

I fucking hate my body, and I’m tired of pretending I don’t.

I can’t wear short shorts because of my veins.

I can’t wear tank tops because of my floppy biceps.

I can’t wear a bathing suit in public.

I can’t sit down without worrying about muffin top.

I can’t be naked in the daylight in front of my husband, ever.

I can’t fake it. I never could.

I fucking hate my body, and I’m tired of pretending I don’t.

But, I love the inside. The red, gushy throb of my love, the seemingly endless canals of hope, the equal parts sweet and snark.

I just wish I could turn myself inside out and meet you heart first.

 

Amye Archer is the author of Fat Girl, Skinny, a memoir about waiting, weight-ing, skinny jeans, fat girls, bad choices, and happy endings. You can buy it here.

Review of Amye Archer’s Fat Girl, Skinny

Thanks to Brevity for reviewing Fat Girl, Skinny! So exciting!

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

41YCR2btxyL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_By Debbie Hagan

I’m working on a memoir about mental illness, and, at times, the process feels like a long, combative, and slightly schizophrenic therapy session. One part of me lies on the couch, reluctant to divulge details. The other part of me sits in the chair, pen poised, grilling my prone self: What did you mean by that? Are you telling the truth? Why are you so defensive? What’s wrong with you?

The analyst part of me can be rather brutal. That’s why me, quivering on the couch, eventually pops up, storms to the door, and cries, You’re just trying to embarrass me. While me in the chair shouts, Wait! We were just getting to the good stuff.

After a few hours of this, I sit back and wonder, have I at last fallen into the black abyss?

Reading Amy Archer’s sassy memoir Fat Girl, Skinny (Big Table…

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New Column

I was so honored to have a column on Mothers Always Write today! Please check it out if you get a chance!

“If I’m to tell you the story of me as a mother, then I need to start at the very beginning. I need to start on a warm, muggy night in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where a song came on the radio that drew “I love you,” from a good man’s mouth and poured it like honey into my ear. That’s the night my daughters were born, in every sense of the word. Because that was the night they became possible.”

Read the full column HERE.

 

Cigarettes, Lipstick, and Cobain

I fell in love with you on a kitchen floor after my junior prom. You wore a loose tie with your red chucks. I wore a size 12 black and white dress that hour-glassed my expanding body into something more desirable. You couldn’t keep your hands off of me. That night became the night against which my beauty would always be measured. Remember how beautiful you looked in that dress on that night? You would ask me when you remembered it. It was as if that version of me-young, beautiful, thin, and sexy-was an island I could never again reach, not by swim, by boat, by rocketship.

We went with another couple, rented a limousine, sat at a table, ate a meal, and danced, just like we were supposed to. We had been dating only three months at that point, and if you were panicked or anxious, you didn’t show it. You wore a steady smile that crushed the world. We spent the night at a friend’s house. My mother called several times to verify our location, she even called and spoke to the mother of the house before granting permission. Your mother would have let you do anything.

The theme of our prom had to do with that Elton John song from the Lion King soundtrack. It was a weird choice because Kurt Cobain had just died, and I remember thinking we should have had a Nirvana-inspired prom. But I wasn’t popular enough to suggest it. You and I slow danced, and I should have remembered this more clearly-your hand against the sateen of my dress, your rough palm catching on the fibers, your breath against my ear-but I don’t remember dancing at all. I don’t remember the limo, the clumsy game of pool at a local bowling alley, I just remember you: how you looked, how you smelled, how you electrified me with your touch. I had never been so in love with anyone before, it was as if you eclipsed any reason I may have had.

I slept on a water bed with two other girls, not a water mattress, but an actual water bed with plush leather sides for steadying yourself. You woke me in the middle of th23111_lge night with a gentle touch. Come with me, you whispered into the darkness.

We sat on the kitchen floor and talked about Cobain, the cigarette they found in the ashtray with lipstick on the filter. I assumed Courtney had been there, that she had pushed him somehow into killing himself. She had to be involved, had to wear that responsibility. If only she had been better, cleaner, sober, softer. You disagreed. The lipstick may have been his, or maybe hers from long ago. It boggled my mind that someone so talented could hate themselves so deeply. Life is hard, you said between drags of a Newport, death is easy.

It was dark in that kitchen except for a distant porch light. We sat cross-legged on the linoleum, our backs against a slip of yellow wallpaper. Then, you said it. Casual and quiet.

I love you.

I love you too.

Your blue eyes lit the air around us and your kisses tasted like menthol, but I didn’t care. You loved me, and that was all that mattered in the world. Life is hard, this was easy.

 

**Learn more about Amye Archer here.