To What I Become: I’m coming up on eleven years of a milestone in my life. It felt like a good time to write about what life in over a decade without decadence has looked like for me. It’s not glamorous, for sure.
My life is very tiny. I am content to be a drop in the ocean. And yet, to claim my place in it.
What’s over a decade been like? Well, I’ve broken nails and tried a hundred things that didn’t work. I have amazed myself at some of life’s disasters and how with something like grace, I’ve managed to handle some of them. At times, I’ve sailed like a glider on a current over the elephants in the living room only to stumble over the ants in the kitchen.
Sometimes the little things bring out hysteria in me. I’ve become Meryl Streep working on an Oscar over a flat tire. It’s a crapshoot, but I’ve watched myself do both things.
I’ve lost and regained, and then lost again; the same two women’s worth of weight. The two women inside of me are in a constant war. The outside world can quickly spot who’s winning at any given time. There’s the me who carries outwardly the very visible weary task of holding up all of the walls.
She is carefully hidden behind the thick padded layers of extra weight. She is the physical manifestation of all the bullshit that I fear I am unworthy of rising above. She is the one I silence under an avalanche of molten cheese.
Then there’s the fighter who also exists within me, and she is sticking her tongue out flipping you an awesome bird grinning like a Cheshire Cat, daring you to doubt her. There’s a softness to my smile that belies this spirit within. This woman is strong and shapely, she’s built of sleek muscle and sheer will, and she digs herself out; time and time again. She is the shining confident example of the possibilities of the “Oh no, well then watch me, fuckers!” spirit of who it is, that I equally am.
Oh, but how I’ve battered those women inside of me, even in these last eleven years. Perhaps, even more so. These two women of me duke it out upon my skin. I slide like a shapeshifter in between those two physical manifestations. Today I’m in a healthier space of in-between—it’s like my other battles are contingent upon my spiritual fitness. It’s not a reflection of my physical fitness. Yes, you did; you read me right.
I quit smoking for six years before picking it up again. I spent two years stopping again. I climbed a mountain or two. I hiked the Tuxachanie Trail, and I am eyeing parts of the Pacific Crest and the Appalachian Trail for some future stomping.
I’ve walked endless miles! Trekking far and wide. Here and there and everywhere. I learned through slow agonizing exposure how to do it by myself. How to navigate when there’s been nobody against whom to bounce my fears. How to keep a quiet, more companionable company with God, nature, and finally; with myself.
And, out there, out there; I have found peace for every little-wounded place that weeps from within.
I had a writing published in a beautifully bound hardcover book. I’ve had a couple in glossy print. I’ve had several optioned and signed over, and then passed on. And, I’ve had a zillion and two that have been outright rejected! I am working on my courage to start submitting again. I have not done that in years.
In over a decade, I’ve traveled, and I’ve stayed put. I’ve discovered the soothing properties of the Pacific Northwest. My skin sighs softly on the shores of the McKenzie River with my dad, or as I drift across from Vashon to Seattle on the ferry. I love the rugged unhurried come as you are aesthetic.
I lose myself in the lush greenness that surrounds me. The friendly emerald green grungy clattery trash can lid-banging groove is kissed up with wildness and freedom. The mixture is tantalizing, and it appeals to me deeply.
I get to watch my son emerge there. The therapy and respite my son and I get there, and the friendships I’ve made, are the single best things I will ever give to him. I had to learn so much about what it means to do anything for my son. That has meant accepting charity and help until I could do more for myself and then waiting patiently for my chance to pay it back out into the world again. The PNW is a very soft place to learn about that.
And, in this over a decade I have begun to pay it back in as I can. When I’m there I’m confident I’m doing one thing, one damned thing right.
And, so there is an unmatchable kind of softness to the peace there. It’s gathered up from exposure and willingness and accepting and giving. The place itself is all wrapped up in my emotions that way. When I think of it I see it as gorgeous. The easy roll and dip and slope of the hills and the toughness of skid row gently knocking shoulders together are beautiful.
The steel and glass of the skyline, the cobblestones, the flipping of the fish, the kiss of the Sound, the rambling musty shadows of the underground city, my son smiling and resting easy; and the full gypsy skirted flow of the art—ahhh yeah. It’s good!
I’ve also recently discovered the strange aching appeal of the South. I never intended to give a rat’s ass about it I felt like an unwilling participant when I was first called there. My curiosity was blunted, torn out of my spirit like a sudden amputation. What was left for me to draw upon was shock, fear, and a barely banked anger. It was like being shot out of a cannon into a foreign country altogether. But—sigh. There’s a slow oozing groove that I finally came to find.
The place does not carry a feeling of wildness, which is a different setting, for me. Reluctantly I found a resonating sort of connection to it anyway. No, not in wildness, but it carries ghosts of something else. It has a distinct cottony feel of a place wrapped, contained, and living almost entirely within itself. But, I think, it escapes all confines through art.
It is a place that is as much engaged in playing slow looping revolutions of its yesterdays as it is in anything happening today. And, it rolls and weeps with moonlight and jazz; and the gulf breeze finally picked up a soft answering shivery rush across my skin. There’s a slow dawning need to tell of it. Of course, that appeals to me.
Because I did not feel it coming, there’s a slow grinning unassuming buttery smooth lick of moonshine and charm, and it’s easy to miss at first. It tickles until it finds whatever ‘it’ is for you. It draws out, sprawling unapologetic and lazy.
It rises from its very own ashes, and it is at once ramshackle and graceful. It is all at once a delicate curtsying swish, and it is also deeply bowing, proudly standing, and broadly sweeping. It writhes and twists and forms itself, it waltzes softly in. It moves inside until it finds a way to express itself. And, then it pours out in every imaginable art form.
It eventually tumbled across me whispering of music and poetry, and sorrow, and longing. That place drips slow and aching, like sweet torture. It’s honeyed and low flamed and tender and soft, and it goes down all kinds of slow and gentle. It’s warmed up affable and gracious. But, make no mistake; it is all shades of excess carefully hidden behind Mardi Gras masks and good manners.
And it is every bit as fluid and ever-changing; as it is slow-moving and all remaining. And that’s the whole bewitching beautiful befuckery of it! It evolved in me. The South did not seem to change. Oh, but my time spent there, changed me.
I have a profound grudging respect for that. What I lost there became the very thing I reclaimed, and then became able to release on better terms again; eventually. And it no longer pisses me off, though it certainly once did. I stomped stupidly across it. I repeatedly bashed myself full force against it. I resisted my own curiosity. Somehow though it became the exact pace, setting, time, and place that I needed it to be. I found a restless sort of peace there. And, so, I claim it. I claim the South as something of mine.
I’ve snorkeled on Catalina and driven through eleven states with two kids and a Chihuahua. I’ve been on two cruises with other mothers of Autistic children. I’ve been to Canada and Mexico! I’ve driven Route 66! I’ve been to Vegas and stayed sober! I’ve been to Calexico, and I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve been to Quartzite Arizona.
And in the culmination of one long-held dream, I touched my feet down in Alaska! I sighed in awestruck wonder in the inescapable vastness, the utter jaw-dropping wild ruggedness. I felt the mystery of it seep into my skin. It tickled such teasing promise, unlike anything—anything else! I squelched my urge to take off and never return! Oh, I could have lost myself forever there. Someday I will return, and I will stomp all over it too until it also gives up whatever it has to say.
Those are some of the places that I’ve traveled to. They are precious to me. If not for one tiny decision made eleven years ago, they would not have happened at all. They are what I gained from what I gave up. And, these places I’ve traveled to, whether I planned them or not; have shaped me.
My marriage in this over a decade sees itself coming up for twenty-four years. We have left each other in the mess over these years, at times. But, oh my goodness the sizes of the disasters have been quite amazing! Honestly, how could we have managed in any other way? There was so much outside of us that needed fixing. And it all stacked and stacked climbing dizzily into the realms of the utterly absurd!
I know that for some of the wounds served up; it was to make the screaming stop. Of knowing she was gone. Of trying to breathe her back to life anyway. Of all the pretty little pieces that scattered. They scattered everywhere. The screaming of our best intentions clanging hard against tough realities. Sometimes we were what had to give.
We are on a delicate sort of ground, full of wide-open possibilities. We still laugh a lot. We are such polar opposites. For me, that has always been the draw. The ways we are different offer up so much to discover, and endless ground to tease each other over.
He lets me be. He makes me laugh with his straight-edged lines. I sincerely love to mess up his neat, orderly rows. I love to zig-zag and splash through the puddles; straight down the center of his carefully plotted point A to point B. I like to smudge him up, stick my tongue in his ear; and watch him try to recover. And, he lets me. He lets me become.
And, in these eleven years, I also lost my mother. It’s a terribly mixed bag of emotion. For a long time, I could not even begin to access it. It came just two days before a tragedy landed in my life that usurped all of those emotions. But, over time I’ve worked through her more and I’ve connected to all of the goodness she brought.
She never really got a chance to show up for me. I do not begrudge her that. Because today, I understand so much better about how she might have struggled against herself. How that was good enough. It’s just love, after all. I celebrate the magic and eloquence and intelligence she poured into my life.
And, in this just over a decade, I’ve met my son and my daughter. I’ve met them exactly where they are. I’ve shown up. I’ve detached and re-attached with love. I am a better mother for every single one of the ways that I have ever failed. I am a better mother for showing up, anyway. Whatever the disaster, whatever the barrier—against whatever obstacle that I’ve had to move around; I have come for them.
Against the stiff, flat expression of Autism. When I was told there was no hope, not even for potty training. As I sat in an office and watched him completely lost within himself playing in the shafts of sunlight that spilled onto the floor. Listening to the words coming from behind the white coat “He’ll be one who’s going to be very hard to reach. You’re going to need to pace yourself, get help, and understand that this is life-changing. He is on the severe end, the statistics are very grim.”
So, not knowing what to do, I took him home, and I met him where he was. Against what the expert said, three months later, he potty trained nearly on par with typically developing peers.
And, I learned never to doubt what is possible, ever again. I found the cracks and threw my love against them. For whatever reason, I have been graced to find little ways in.
I came for her where she was drowning in her own sea of self-destruction. Even when I was forbidden to go, I went. Even when I was told again and again that there was no way that I would hold. No power at all to wield. I would not even be able to see her. Well, then I just flat begged. Even though she was grown; even though I had to go alone; even though I was so very afraid; I went. I got to grasp a chance to live out my amends to her. A single chance for both of us. A very rare shot at something like a re-do.
It was a precious gift to me. I do not know what it will come to mean to her. For me, it has meant everything, no matter what should follow. Somehow, I found the cracks. I threw my love against them. For whatever reason, I was graced to find a way in.
I have come for both of them. I have faced them each exactly as they are. It’s just love; after all. Maybe I’ve not gracefully and certainly not without struggling against myself, and I have made every mistake in the book, but I have come for them. I show up. And if I do nothing else in this life quite right, l will show up for them; every time. I will be a face of love for them. I will be a mother in progress, if not in perfection. In the end, it will just have to be good enough.
I’ve been sick and healthy and in between. I’m in and out, and thick and thin. And, I’ve decided that pain is the price we all get to pay for the love we keep. I turn into life’s skids. I find help. Experience. Strength. Hope. I lean in on those who have it to give. I watch for my chance to give back. When I see them, I often do. I practice a set of principles in most of my affairs. I own my life the best that I can.
And, that is over a decade in. Over a decade doing my best to remain present in my skin. To show up, every day with a willingness to learn, to embrace, to lean in, to let go, to remain, to be imperfect, to make amends—and to grow on and on. In the middle of that, I have also decided to seek joy.
And if all of that seems sort of light, I assure you it hasn’t all been. I do bear some mean and ugly scars. My scars are there in my waking moments. Sometimes the ugliest marks are jiggled to the surface from deep in my sleep. Sometimes an unforgettable copper and flower scent wafts in and wakes me in the night.
I wake on the edge of an awful dream. In that dream, I am trying to clean a stain. She is not crying at all. She apologizes to me. I hear her over the wailing and screaming cries of someone else. It jars me into motion. Nobody has tried to clean it up. Nobody has moved her away from the screaming. I take her down the hall, and I begin to try to clean it. I know it is hopeless the instant I start. It’s splashed across the face of her watch, I yank it off of her wrist, and I hide it deep in my pocket.
But, it’s on her shirt and it is in her hair. It’s everywhere! I become frantic to erase it. She apologizes again.
I try with fistfuls of lavender-scented tissues to wipe it away, telling her to look away from the mirror and to look at me instead. When she does, I am obliterated. I meant to be strong enough, but in one meeting of eyes; I know that I will not be. I lower my face. I am powerless to stop myself as I drop to my knees and begin dabbing uselessly at her shoes and legs. It’s there too. I want desperately to clean it up. And I know that I can’t. Because for her, for me, for all of us; it is everywhere. She apologizes again. And I’m trying. But, I can’t wipe it away.
Slowly, it registers, and I stop. My tears fall onto her shoes. The stain widens under the rush of them. I crush the soggy, stained tissues against my face. It instantly spreads to me; on a captured indrawn cry. It is tactile and pungent and indelible; it is forevermore.
The brutality of the scent of blood on lavender are at once in intertwined. And I sometimes wake still trying to clean it, wiping frantically; checking for the unmistakable scent of tragedy in my nose. Trying to distinguish by scent if it’s real, again. And for me in those twilight seconds, it always is.
And, so that’s there inside of me too. It is a flashbulb moment that will forever mark my life. This piece would not be complete without some mention of it. Though, these days I am much more apt to reflect on the image of the little girl with the heart-shaped face tilted up, with her big bright chocolatey eyes rolling heavenward; trying to catch sight of the Sun Conure perched upon her head.
The joyful wide armed dance she did with her hair dazzling forth a million drops of light, as even the sun was wooed to bend in and kiss her hair. And how blessed I was to have been graced to be given a chance to have loved her at all.
And her mother and I are gently, tenderly, brushing shoulders again. On neutral ground. Our conversation is skipping here and there flickering like butterfly wings. Brushing and moving away, if it gets hard. The brokenness is still there in both of our eyes. We wear sunglasses a lot. But, we are beginning to push through in whatever ways we can. That is tender but good. I’m cautiously hopeful to see what it is to become.
Yes, it has been true for me. Life, it hurts, but it also offers up such beauty. Such thick and lovely, deep and indelible moments of beauty. The beauty that follows the shadows has become as equal a touchstone to who I am, as pain ever was. It points ultimately to light.
And, so there you go, then. In the middle of whatever it has been, I have begun to live my life. Somewhere in this over a decade in, I’ve begun to live it right out loud. To stick my tongue out in your face, and to then just love the shit out of you anyway. And, for all the good bad, and the ugly, there’s just me.
I’ve learned that some children grow up. And some will not. Relationships come and go. People shift in and out and change places, and they are fallible; so very fragile. I need to love them in a way that carries integrity, the best that I can. But, it is I, that I am trapped within. So, this is my life to live. I had better get at it. At eleven years in that is what I’m trying to do.
I’m embracing the jumbled-up package that I am. I’m childlike but strong. I’m kind and loving, but dark and a little bit dented. I am wildly flawed. So perfectly imperfect. But, I am also evolving and growing. I am becoming. I like the experience of finding myself. I have decided that for now, I will continue to become!
I’ll emerge forth from every experience, every single one, for as long as I can. I’ll continue to become, poking up through whatever crack in space is left open to me.
I am willing to show up today for that, for the beauty of it all. Because running under everything sure and steady is the beauty. A beauty that I’ve never quite been able to dismiss. It licks like an ever-dancing teasing little flame. It sets my innate curiosity ablaze. Curiosity? It always leads me to the next very good thing.
I’m ready to see what the next over a decade gathered up one day at a time will bring. Perhaps I’ll even invite some decadence in. I am ready to begin. I am willing to leave the next page open. Open to whatever it is that I am to become…