Tag Archives: creative nonfiction

How to Fix Your Face

I was eight when I first discover how to close the gap between my private and public face.

It started with cold, damp paper towels pressed against my eyes in the school bathroom. I sat on the toilet, face to the sky, letting the water pool along the swollen skin. It stung. By the time I can leave the stall, most signs of my panic attack had slipped into my normal features – save the swollen, cherry-colored downward crescent of my mouth. I quickly learned how to escape from rooms while drawing the least attention possible as I ran away – to bathrooms, to empty classrooms, to my mother who had to rearrange her life and work in the school office for my health.

From there, it became an art. I prided myself in putting everything back together – in rearranging my face to hide the roaring distress – in settling the surface of the water and allowing the piranhas, with their snapping jaws and glassy eyes, their freedom beneath the stillness.

But fuck if it doesn’t get harder. Maybe it’s that the wounds got worse, the damage more visible.

A bad hookup led to covering bruises, hiding burst blood vessels along and inside my eyes. It looked like someone had thrown paint in my corneas. When I caught others looking, despite the hours I had spent with ice packs over my eyes, I tried to smile. I can’t remember if my lip was split or if something else made my mouth ache. No one asked about the red-tinged bruises lining my throat. But I remembered them every time I swallowed.

I covered the raised, patchy mess of my face with plain Greek yogurt. I left metal spoons in my freezer, then pressed them against my eyelids. I wish I could say I had seen stars – instead I saw nothing.

When I opened my eyes, the room struggled to take shape before me.


I’m older now.

My private face has shifted almost entirely inward – the river has frozen over just enough to allow safe passage. I swallow panic and it is sharp against my tongue. But sometimes I find myself locked in a bathroom stall, chin tilted skyward, cleaning the saltwater from my cheeks – reducing the swelling with paper towels as cold as I can handle. I feel so small in these moments… as if I’ve stepped out of time and I’m eight again, somehow equally privy to the horrors to come and surprised when they arise.

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Seasons

Today I am picturing the year like a long table and each month is a different body, a different person who sits beside me.

January slipped her hand in mine. February brought me flowers, the snow from the petals melting into a puddle. I can still trace my name through the moisture left behind. March was loud, booming, his hands punctuating every breath and I found myself biting my tongue when he asked how I felt. April was softer – April brought me soup in a bright red bowl but no spoon. May watched me drink straight from the bowl and only laughed when some dribbled on my chin. June sunk into my arms – June asked for coffee, for time, for the sweet light of morning to shine forever. July kissed my cheeks and braided my hair and invited me home. July asked me what I was missing.

The days are peeling slowly, with anticipation, as I wait to uncover August. She is beautiful and still, not unkind but precise – every movement building.

I don’t know what’s coming next. I sit at the table with my palms up, open, waiting for the harvest of fall.

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It’s Not Blood

bloodinthewater.jpg

My hands are clean. Open.

And I want to write something but it’s still stuck in my jaw, a burden too heavy to carry and too personal to abandon. What else can you do in the renovation process? Either I’ll get stronger or it’ll get easier. That’s survival.

Two summers ago, I was crashing and burning in an abusive relationship. One summer ago, I tasted happiness and didn’t know if I could bear to see it change.

And now?

I smile more than I thought possible. I’m planting roots in a city I had never before loved. I finally have room to breathe and I relearned how to laugh and I cut out as much poison as I could without erasing everywhere I’ve been. I never knew healing could be so…consuming. So freeing. So completely and overwhelmingly terrifying, at points.

thank you for your patience with me. Sometimes, just having a little space for words and thoughts makes all the difference, and I am so grateful.

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The Parting of Clouds

I’m not one to complain about happiness, but I am bewildered by it.

I’m more afraid of the dust settling than I am of the storm, you know? There’s something comforting in the struggle – something familiar. Even the loudest crashes of thunder become white noise if you hear it long enough.

But now… life is quiet. Life is peaceful. I have a job that I enjoy, I’m in a healthy relationship, I finally found a space of my own, and no one who wants to hurt me has access to me anymore. And that should feel freeing. I’ve successfully run from every abusive situation. I got away. Not everyone does – and I’m so grateful. I never imagined I would get this far.

So why can’t I relax?

I’m still  scared. I wait by windows, watching the clouds, almost desperate to prove my happiness can’t last… almost wishing to dive back into the eye of the storm. It hurts, but it’s supposed to hurt.

I’m afraid of how badly it will ache when this happiness ends. It’s almost paralyzing. I look at the happy little details, the beautiful moments, and I don’t know what to do with my hands. They’re hungry – they want to seize every second, to feel the texture of my life scratch against my palms. But I worry that my grip is too tight, my hands too greedy.. I worry that I will ruin everything I touch, if only given time.

I have to keep going, right? That’s the only way forward, the only way to build the life I didn’t know I could ever have. I’m going to let myself be afraid until I stop flinching. It hurts, but it can’t hurt forever.

I’ll be okay.

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Home

The bruises in the palms of my hands have just healed.

The skin had speckled and only recently has the purple hue faded from my skin. There is pain in growth, always always always, but this time it was my own stubbornness that hurt.

I’ve spent a solid 12 hours building fairly unimpressive furniture for my new apartment. I live here, by myself, with the cat I grew up beside. My boyfriend is often here too. It’s beautiful, a slice of a dream that I never imagined fulfilling.

Anyway.

Happiness has an edge of vulnerability and discomfort. I’m never quite sure how to hold it. This time, I’m trying to let it wash over my hands – never grabbing, never demanding more, simply enjoying the sensation as it flows.

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They Could’ve Been Dancing

I truly believe you’re either born a poet or forged into one – but I can’t decide where that leaves me.

I’ve been a poet longer than almost anything else – my love for poetry just barely predates my trauma and the subsequent illnesses it wrought. Poetry was my coping mechanism long before I understood what I had survived. Words just make sense in a way that numbers and figures never quite managed.

April is National Poetry Month, intended to expose the nation to the beauty and calamity of words. Poetry is where I began. My first poem was published in Highlights magazine before I was old enough to type. It was about the wind. There was an owl. That’s all I remember. But I dictated the poem to my mother and I was so proud when she printed it out. Proud, but nervous. Once it was sent to the magazine, it wasn’t my poem anymore. But we have the print in my closet, locked away under other little memories deemed soft enough to treasure.

And so I was a poet.

I won an award at Tattered Covers. It was expected that the winners would read their work aloud but I couldn’t, not in the slightest, so I trembled behind my mother instead. She read about the wind and I shook, face red, my words so separate from myself that I could barely stand to hear them. Then the crowd applauded! And suddenly the fear and dread melted into something different, something I have struggled to define in the years since.

It was like being heard for the first time.

I hope I smiled then, but it’d be true to form if I had cried instead.

 

 

They Could’ve Been Dancing

we’re packed into a storage house
past its prime, plastered with graffiti and
band stickers and my friend’s glitter
bombs from five shows ago that never
washed away

I don’t know any of the songs but
that boy has my heart in one hand
and my hand in the other and
I’m shouting beneath my skin, eyes open,
watching the men grab each other
and sway

it’s beautiful
tangentially speaking
as if music, like weeds, grew
around a structure and said

“yes, here,
this will be enough.”

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The Rock and the Storm

There was a picture hanging in the main bathroom of my mother’s house – a dark stone, large and rough, surrounded by a roaring sea. Or at least that’s how I see it when I try to conjure it now. I haven’t looked at the photo in some time, preferring instead to imagine that the rock remains fearsome and giant, just as it was when I first heard of it.

The story is loose in my brain with pieces slipping in and out over the years, clicking into place at the strangest of times. I think the details rearrange themselves depending on who’s reconstructing that day on the beach, but key players stay the same: Hawaii, the rock, a sudden wave. My parents stood on the rock until they didn’t, until the ocean had pulled them so far out that my father didn’t think they could make it back. With a memory not quite my own, I can almost taste the sting of salt water against my tongue. The sea had looked calm before they swam out, hadn’t it – had seemed safe and welcoming until it wasn’t. It snatched them from the rock, as if trying to steal them away entirely.

And then there is a lapse in the story, a sudden void, and my parents are on the shore. Exhausted, scared, but alive.

I don’t know which of them decided that they should have a picture of the rock and sea, but it hung in the bathroom for longer than a decade. The picture is gone now. I don’t even know which island they visited or anything else that transpired on that trip. Only that my parents could’ve died, survived, and took a picture of the thing that could’ve killed them. As I prepare for my first trip to the island, I find myself lingering on the story more and more – wondering which details I have wrong and how the story will change after I’ve bathed in the same waters that nearly swallowed our family before it truly began.

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Meta

Hey, honey bees.

We have officially made it through the hellscape that was October and November – I’ve spent the first part of December recovering, passing out at odd hours with my tongue glued to the roof of my mouth. I wake up just as strangely, arms thrust upward, and I am consistently confused by my surroundings.

But now we’re here, you and me and a screen. That’s a lovely place to begin again.

A man once told me that I have a startling predisposition to share what’s bothering me, loudly, and I can’t argue with that. I can’t process pain unless I open the wounds, scoop out the infected tissue, and sew myself shut. That’s just biology. If I let it sit inside me, silent and raging, then I end up in the hospital. It’s the equivalent of emotional sepsis.

That doesn’t mean I’m good at processing emotions, nor does it entitle me to everyone’s time or attention or love or affection. It simply means that this blog is my surgery room. You are welcome to sit in the operating theater or leave the hospital. I can’t tell you which is best for you. I can only lay here, heart open, and make sense of my own mess. What you do with my findings has always been up to you.

When I sit down each week to write, I find myself circling two feelings: the feeling of trauma, which is heavy and dark, and the feeling of intense gratitude, which is heavy but bright. My life trickles out in these two extremes, or shades similar, until everything looks black and white. It is my sincere hope to be seen as more complex than that dichotomy, that slippery slope more divisive than healing. Most things are not solely Traumatic just as most stories of Gratitude have a bite of something more.

Writing my adventures lets me find gratitude in the aftermath of trauma, grief in the bodies of friends, and wholeness by way of misplaced hope. I write about my body, my illnesses, my friends, my successes, and my failures because I want to be seen and understood. I can’t do that without risk. I’ve had people hurl my words back at me, as if something carved from my own skin could be rendered into poison – but that is the price of discovery. I can’t understand or be understood if I am not willing to risk that pain, as unfortunate and jarring though it often is.

In short, I remember every single person who tells me they read this space. I also remember every single person who has abused my vulnerability for their own gain. And the former makes the latter seem so insignificant, so banal, that I can never believe their malice hurt me in the first place.

So, my friends, are we okay? Do let me know.

 

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The Ex

Here’s what I want to say:

The last time I was in Minnesota, I was shoulder deep in an abusive relationship. I remember sneaking off to take my ex’s phone calls, knowing how angry he’d be if I didn’t answer every one. When I made him angry, he’d either threaten to kill himself or tell me it was my fault, that I didn’t understand how much he loved me and blame me for hurting him. Looking back, it was terrifying. I remember being in the car with my best friend as lake after lake yawned, open and deep, alongside the highway. She told me I didn’t deserve to be treated so cruelly – told me she’d love me and support me, but I needed to leave him.

I knew she was right. My best friends are always right and each had their own reason to hate my ex. But his hold on me was so strong that I couldn’t see around it, couldn’t fathom how much water I was swallowing. All I could do was watch the lakes scream by, desperately wishing to sink beneath them. It was the only way I could see myself escaping. That September, the Ex came into town on his way to live with another woman. He dragged me to a tattoo shop where he wanted to get matching ink. When I refused, he got a tattoo for the woman with whom he was romantically entangled instead. That night, he took me back to his hotel room and demanded that I drink with him. I didn’t feel comfortable saying no, so I drank. Hours later, the word ‘no’ was still lodged in my windpipe. I laid down in the shower and cried, nauseous and confused, as he changed the sheets. I heard him call the other woman and tell her how much he loved her, how much he wished she was with him right then.

It’s been over six months since I last spoke to my ex. When I called him to tell him he was no longer welcome in my life, I wept but I did not apologize. I explained how abusive he had been, how crazy he made me feel, how cruelly he had treated me – and he agreed, before begging me to stay. He told me he would kill himself if I stopped talking to him. I told him I hoped he would reconsider that, but I needed to go.

And I left.

A few days ago, I boarded a flight to Minnesota. I’ve returned for a moment to the very lakes that I thought could free me from his clutches. I’ve returned to some of the women who held my hands and led me from the dark waters, who taught me to breathe on my own. I could not be more grateful. There are still days when I’m furious – at myself for staying and at him for hurting me – but there are more days when I’m happy, thankful, and whole.

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Gatsby Seeks Daisy

It is too cold to sleep. My toes shrivel inward beneath my comforter. I have been awake for hours. Every movement stings , as if the fibers of my muscles have frozen over. They catch on to one another, splintering in the lining of my skin.

I’ve often written about desperation and honesty, the lines of which blur in my brain. Is it honest to confess my confusion and hurt or does my need for concrete information render that act desperate?  I stuff my fists in my mouth to choke the words I’ve stored behind my tongue for you. Syllables slip through my fingers, landing softly on my keyboard like the first snowfall of the season: it is cold, and I miss you.

So instead of being desperate or honest, I’m going to give you some old lines of mine. My heart is too heavy to create something new.


the devil is hard of hearing – his lips
curl inward around our names,
like fruit flies encircling old apples

he writes letters to my father but misspells the street name. a few blocks over
he lingers, signing rapidly, his hands
too loud for the intersection

anyway
I don’t know how to tell him
it’s not the leaving that I love – it’s the victory
march, absolution in the form of ticker
tape coating the streets like a comforter

but the devil just bares his palms
with a shake
fingers wide as he trails behind me
the whole way home.


 

We are a gradual dissolution into blue – deep blue, like the depths of the universe, unfolding in a matter of syllables: everything ends.

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