The rules of hurting

We’re all going to hurt each other.

I’m not saying you should feel comfortable with that, nor should the notion grant you permission to hurt people left and right, but it’s true. You will hurt every single person you love – and every single person you love will hurt you.

The degrees will vary, of course. Not every pain is a death sentence. Sometimes it’s something simple, unintentional, like an ill-timed joke about your hair or forgetting someone’s anniversary when they were counting on you to make the cake. There are different levels of hurt.

Here are the rules of hurting:

  1. It is your job to tell people when something aches – even if you think they should know. Our thresholds for pain are so wildly unique that at times we must guide each other to the wounds that have been poked through our skin – even when you still see blood on their fingers.
    1. Rule one can be disregarded in two circumstances.
      1. If the person has committed bodily harm against you, there is no need to tell them about it. For example, if a man punches you in the face, do not return to him – even if he was drunk and claims he can’t remember his fist colliding with your jaw.
      2. If you have told the person before that their actions hurt you and they’ve made no move to fix it, you are under no obligation to tell them again. You can. It’s your life. But repeating oneself is tedious and hope can be most dangerous here.
  2. To paraphrase the brilliant Louis C.K., when someone tells you that you’ve hurt them, you don’t get to say you didn’t. If you have a strong bond, it hurts to find out you’ve hurt someone you love. But to trample over them and fill the air with excuses or reasons why their pain isn’t your fault is cowardly at best. We’re all going to hurt each other. That doesn’t mean we should allow our friends to hurt by our hand.
    1. Make amends, not excuses. If you can’t stop hurting someone you claim to love, please let them go.
  3. Just because you’re hurting doesn’t make you right. Those thresholds I talked about earlier? Those levels of sensitivity that guide us throughout life? They do not give you room to be cruel or vindictive. Your response to being hurt should not be to hurt someone else. And let’s be clear – having that drive doesn’t make you a monster, but acting on it does.

There are aspects of life in which you do not get a say. You don’t get to choose whether you’re chronically ill or disabled. You don’t get to choose where you come from. But it is my fondest hope that you get to choose who hurts you. It doesn’t have to be the family in which you grew up. It doesn’t have to be anyone who proved themselves unable to care for you in healthy, constructive ways.  I can’t wish you a pain-free life. But I hope you find yourself in the position to surround yourself people who will balk when they’ve hurt you, who will throw up their hands and hold you and make strides to never injure you the same way again.

Leave a comment

Filed under Story Time, Uncategorized

Adoration

I’m trying to put into words this magnificent, strange chunk of time in which I’ve found myself.

Did your parents ever ask for a list of what you wanted for a holiday? And you thought of everything, every toy and ad and commercial, slowly eliminating anything that was too much (rude to ask, sours the holiday) or illogical (impossible to find, can’t be wrapped)? But there are a few items lingering beneath your tongue even after you turn in your list.

Christmas morning breaks. There is snow outside and no one’s fighting, it’s warm inside, Dad fixed the fireplace before Santa got there last night and! There are reindeer prints outside that you barely notice because Mom’s guiding you to the tree. Red flannel pajamas brush against your skin and you can’t articulate the magic that’s happening here, in your sweet little living room, hardwood floors gleaming.

You watch your siblings open their gifts. The joy is almost palpable. Your child tongue is afraid to explain how good this is, so you try to take everything in: your father’s morning stubble scratches your cheek, wrapping paper covers the ground like a patchwork rug, your brother sneaks another cookie and icing coats his fingers. This is the closest you’ve ever come to having God in your house but you don’t even mind.

Finally! There’s one more present under the tree. Pastel lights wink between branches, against your parents’ teeth, in your brother’s eyes. You don’t even want to breathe too fast, you might suck it all in. So you bend, slowly, fingers pressed to cool cardboard as everyone watches. Your nickname is on the tag and you can’t help but grin. It’s really for you.

Hungry hands tear the wrapping paper into careful strips, gentle, a quiet anticipation building in the pit of your stomach. When the box is bare, you almost stop – unveiling this last present marks the end, doesn’t it, and it’s so beautiful to be here that you almost don’t care what’s inside, it doesn’t matter, your heart is so full that it’s heavy against your ribs. But your mother rests a tan hand on your shoulder and you know it’s time.

Fingernails dig into the lid, prying the box apart, and you don’t even realize you’re holding your breath until it’s open, whoosh, the air escapes you. Your eyes are squeezed shut but you see with your hands. You’re not sure when you started crying, but you open your eyes to relieve the pressure and! Inside the box! You cannot believe it, you practically refuse, you look up at your overjoyed parents and they laugh and laugh and laugh like a song, like a hymn.

You didn’t tell anyone you wanted this. You were too ashamed, too afraid to even hope. It didn’t make your list. But here it was, pristine and beautiful in a box with your name! You’re afraid to hold it, almost, because your hands are clumsy and chubby fingers could break it all apart. So instead you press the box against your chest, heart thumping against the cardboard, and you cry grateful tears.

It’s not even the present (yes, it is wonderful, how did you know?), it’s not the day, but it’s the moment. The magic of it will never happen the same way and you know that, somehow, it never could but you’re so grateful that it unfolded around you like this – fragile but whole, enough to remember it for the rest of your days, enough to replay it when you’re older and lost and in pieces.

that’s how I feel about him.

Leave a comment

Filed under Story Time, Uncategorized

On Again

Some days I can’t be touched, not even by animals. The thought of someone’s fingertips on my skin makes me queasy.

Some days I cry because I want to be held so badly that my skin physically hurts.

It’s not easy to think of me as a survivor of assault. I know that. Remembering that my body was a space I had to reclaim, time and time again, has never made my loved ones happy. But I want to be seen fully by the people I love. I want them to understand, almost viscerally, the ground through which I had to claw myself in order to become the woman I am today.

I relish the idea of being known to my depths and I’ve been fortunate in that there are a handful of people who can throw my voice from their mouth. I am lucky. And even they don’t want to hear about all the nights I spent peeling other people’s fingerprints from my skin.

So why do it? Why remind you of where I’ve been, of the shape of the bruises that still ache when I move?

Writing is the only thing that makes sense to me. It’s the only cure, the quickest way back to normal, the most trusted record of who I am. And for years, I wrote without sharing. I wrote for myself, chronicling every breath, every misstep, every victory. Now, I write with you.

My father told me I share too much – that my words could, at any moment, outlast me in the worst ways. For a moment, I was scared. But then I flipped through my journals, through the pages that questioned and wept and burnt for something, some sign that I was meant to live and create, some proof that my pain could matter somewhere outside of myself… and I couldn’t look back. Writing is all I can do.

It is a selfish practice. I can’t sugarcoat that. I am trying to rip experiences from the walls of my ribs, the good and the bad, so my lungs have more room to expand. But sometimes I read comments and secret messages, written for my eyes alone, and I remember that I’m not the only survivor you know.

I don’t have a tidy ending to these thoughts, only a promise that I will keep creating as often as possible and I will be honest. There are good days and there are bad days. I’ll continue to share both.

Leave a comment

Filed under Story Time, Uncategorized

Sleep

I don’t fall asleep; I chase sleep, feet crashing against paved streets every night in my hayday. It eludes me more often than not. In fact, I only ever catch sleep at inopportune times: during movies I wanted to see the end of, or against my boyfriend in his living room as his roommates make crepes, or while I’m flossing (fingers still in my mouth, tied together by string).

My body lurches in these moments, desperate to fight off the victory I’ve been chasing. My head falls forward and down until I snap awake for a moment, just long enough to realize everyone knows I’m sleeping. There’s nothing to be done. I try to hold conversations. I reach for cold water. I reposition myself so I’m less comfortable. But when it wants me, no amount of effort staves off sleep.

I wake up hours before anyone else on those nights. My eyes trace imaginary shapes in the dark, straining for light. Sometimes I can’t remember where I am for a second – especially when I’m by myself, in my own bed. But it lasts for just a second, and for that I am grateful. I always remember in the end.

I try to coax sleep to return. My eyes watch the door as if convinced it’ll sweep through, sand in hand, ready to lead me back into slumber. But my door stays shut, my blinds closed. I count backwards until I reach morning.

Leave a comment

Filed under Story Time, Uncategorized

Sometimes We Are Monsters

My sister taught me to view relationships logically. She calls her process the cost-benefit analysis and, when she first explained it to me, I thought it was too cold. How do you look at a friendship or romantic entanglement and sum up its worth? How do you justify letting someone go?

Recently, I saw a post on tumblr that reminded me of my sister’s lesson. To paraphrase, if we allow ourselves to cut people out of our lives because they’re a hindrance to our happiness, we must also accept that someone may cut us out of their life as well. It is, in fact, a give-and-take. Sometimes we are the monsters in someone else’s closet, despite our best intentions, despite our greatest aspirations. We’re going to hurt the people we love and then they will have the choice: stay or go. Sometimes, if they are afraid or hopeful, they will choose something in between – a grey area in which the ground is never still, never peaceful. When you linger there, your stomach is in your throat and you can’t fill your lungs fully. You are always out of breath, body torn between running away and bolting your feet to the floor.

I lived in that space for a very long time, longer than I care to admit. When I finally walked away, I swore to myself that I would not return. I also respect that others won’t want to be caught in that situation, which is a long way of saying that I only want people in my life who decidedly want to be there and I will never force anyone to stay by me if it hinders their happiness. I only choose people who choose me – I have no energy for anything else.

So, if you should ever want to leave me, I will urge you to go. There are very few people that I would chase

Leave a comment

Filed under Story Time, Uncategorized

Country road home

Courteney and I were direct opposites. She was bursting with spirit for things that didn’t even register in my mind – like country music and sports and God. If we hadn’t spent hours at the restaurant together, I doubt we would’ve made it as friends.

The first day she stepped into the restaurant, I was intimidated. Courteney was thin, tan, and beautiful and, for our first few shifts, I felt less than good enough around her. And then one day, just by chance, we had our free meal at the same time and started talking. She was kind and smart and awkward to the point of hilarity, and from then on, I loved her. I’d call her C-Dazzle and C-Dizzle and anything stupid to make her laugh at me.

When I became her boss, I always had to tell her to stop talking – or to talk and walk, talk and sweep, to do something ‘productive’. And she never gave me shit for it. She’d smile and take the broom, barely faltering in her story-telling. Courteney also listened to every single god-awful story about my ex-boyfriend. She’d never yell at me or tell me I was stupid for sticking around for a man who continuously hurt me. Instead, she begged me to do something good for myself.When I finally cut him out of my life, Courteney hugged me and let me cry until I was empty. Then she told me how proud she was and that good things would be coming.

She was right.

The story about Courteney that I hold most dear is one that many people, even our coworkers, don’t know. In June, I had to leave my beloved restaurant because my manager refused to protect me from an aggressive, mentally unstable man who threatened to assault me. That same manager then told me and my entire staff that I was such a slut, I had no right to be afraid of any man. I’ll never forget when I broke the story to her. She was so angry that she was silent for a second.. but then Courteney said the most amazing thing.

“I’ll quit with you. The way she’s treating you is so wrong, I can’t believe this is even happening.”

And my heart almost burst in that moment because finally, someone saw and understood just how wrong the situation was. Someone believed me and loved me and knew I didn’t deserve to be mistreated. But I couldn’t ask her to go. This time, I embraced Courteney and asked her to stay. To watch out for everybody, since I wouldn’t be able to do it anymore. And she cried with me, just a little, just for a moment.

The last time I saw Courteney, I had popped in the restaurant to turn in my things. She raced from behind the counter like a baby giraffe and landed in front of me, absolutely beaming. She gave me an update on the boy she had been pursuing – I told her I finally got to date my crush, the same one she watched me pine over for ages. And she squealed and hugged me and made me promise to come back.

I fucked up, Courteney. I’m so sorry. Once Fort Collins was in my rearview mirror, I felt so relieved that I forgot to hold on to the people who made that town tolerable. I didn’t mean to let go. I thought I’d have time to get back to you, to go out and drink shots and watch you dance like an absolute weirdo.

I miss you. I’m going to spend the rest of my life missing you, threading you into the stories I tell and the poetry I write so that you can live on in me. I love you, Courteney. Thank you for your loyalty, your heart, and your spirit.

Leave a comment

Filed under Story Time, Uncategorized

The Importance of Temporary Happiness

When I was a child, I thought happiness was like a rushing river – once I jumped in, it would carry me forever. It would rush around me, swallowing me piece by piece until only my face remained above the water, and I would be Happy. I thought it was a constant, a plane of existence that I never dreamed I could grasp. I could dip my hand in the water, sure, but somehow I never jumped.

I remember nights with my friends, all packed together in the basement, as we told stories and drank grape propel, and I thought, this is it. This is happiness! But morning always broke and with it some new symptom, some new heartache, and I felt happiness drip from the palm of my hand. I couldn’t hold it, not for any longer than a moment, and I felt broken.

But still, I grew. I changed my surroundings, both my landscape and my social scene. I cleaned all the poison out and waited, wounds open and weeping. I surrendered to good moments, good people who I knew could flit out of my life just as easily as they wandered in. I found joy in the mundane, in the smallest interactions between myself and the world, in wondering and laughing and trying to do good.

Slowly the moments built up. I stopped watching the river – stopped pursuing happiness as a permanent state of being. And I was amazed. The moments of happiness tasted sweeter and lasted longer.. some days I forget I was ever chasing happiness at all. I’ve fallen into it, head first, and I’m not afraid of its ending any longer. Somehow I know that I can find my way back, no matter how far I’ve strayed.

Leave a comment

Filed under Story Time, Uncategorized

Across and Over

I was planning to leave.

Not now, but soon enough. I saved money, I checked out travel books, I asked friends and family and travel writers. I reached, stretched out, until my fingers were nearly across the Atlantic.

I was going to be gone. Far enough away that I’d be more memory than woman, more reflection than flesh and bones but now…

Plans change. Dreams must be flexible or they’ll die, you know, so adjusting my course isn’t a sign of surrender – it’s the only way forward. I’m not giving up.

Right?

If I stay, if I run and find a little room of my own, I can create on my own terms. I can belong somewhere. I can feel at home. Maybe I’ll be able to breathe again. The air in my lungs is stale and muggy, made thick by time and tension. It’s made me so tired.

What else can I do, really, besides linger at the edge of a life I never imagined?

I suppose I could jump. Let the wind carry me if it must. Find somewhere new, seek the sun. Who knows, who knows, who knows.

Leave a comment

Filed under Story Time, Uncategorized

Wisdom teeth

Learned today that most young girls
wake up crying after sedation
Doc pulls the needle out and before
their eyes open,
they’ve flooded

hot tears, a riverbank bursting,
nothing sweet about it – just sad
on sad on sad
the gauze lining their beaten gum tissue
fades to red as they shake

Doc is gentle, Doc is good
but I know this will not be the last time
a man carves bloody craters there
I know these girls will be
floodland women, jaws aching
as they struggle to pry
calloused hands from their bruised tongues.

Leave a comment

Filed under poetry, Uncategorized

Here is Where We Are

I’m stretched out on a couch in Hawaii, island air sweet and heavy on my tongue. I want to put words to the past year – to pin it down, to hold it accountable – but my thoughts are scattered, rough.

Here’s what I’ll say.

I’m older than I ever imagined possible. My relationships are richer than I thought I deserved. Even if I had the chance to go back to myself at 18, at 15, at 8, I would never have believed life could be this good. I would’ve thought it was a cruel joke.

Some days still feel like that. Things still hurt and there is still work to do.

But I’m here, I’m breathing and creating and stretching myself in new directions. There are beautiful places to find, there are new people to meet, there are three thousand ways to break my heart that I haven’t even tried yet. And you’re here. There’s a certain magic in that.

Two of my babes have deemed 2017 as the year to do what you want. I think I’m going to chase that. My face is toward the sun – I might finally be ready. I hope you are, too.

Leave a comment

Filed under Story Time, Uncategorized