this is the story of how we begin to remember

You probably didn’t know, when you forced me out of you, when you squeezed and contracted and pushed…You probably didn’t know that screaming ball of hot pink flesh, who grew in your womb for nine months and two insufferable weeks…You probably didn’t know that little hungry, demanding child would grow into a woman who wanted to be nothing more than a reflection of your energy, who longed to sway beneath the shadows of you and breathe you in.

You probably didn’t know, when I was two and hooked up to tubes and monitors in a hospital emergency room…When one of my organs wasn’t formed quite perfectly and the surgeons offered no promises what the next moment would bring…And you held my tiny, soft hands and stood by my bed and whispered gentle lullabies in my ear…You probably didn’t know that I would return the favor 25 and a half years later…And stand guard alongside your hospital bed…And sing you songs and tell you jokes and pray, and pray that you would stay a little while longer.

You probably didn’t know, when you brushed my hair and pulled it into a taught, perfectly smooth ponytail, when you pinned a giant bow to the very top – one with glitter or buttons or polka dots…When you tied my shoelaces and smoothed my ruffled skirt hems and wiped the dirt off my elbows and told me I was brilliant and beautiful and could be whatever I wanted to be…You probably didn’t know that I believed every single word…And never let doubt or fear settle anywhere near my dreams.

You probably didn’t know, when you tucked me in at night, and we read A Wrinkle in Time or Mr. Popper’s Penguins…When we said prayers out loud in that intimate space, when you kissed my forehead and pushed play on the cassette tape so I could fall asleep…You probably didn’t know how hard it was not to follow at your heels when you turned to go. How I longed for you to come back to me before you even left the room.

You probably didn’t know, when you planned my elaborate birthday parties – with goodie bags and piñatas and birthday cakes thick with sweet cream frosting…When I inhaled until my lungs felt as light as the balloons tied to the back of my chair and blew forcefully at the candles, trying to extinguish those melting time bombs before the wax collided with the cake below…You probably didn’t know every wish I made was for us to be healthy and happy and together forever…Every flame held the promise of a long life…Or so I believed as watched their reflection flicker in your endless brown eyes.

And I guess I didn’t know, when I talked to you 10 days before Christmas, and heard your hoarse voice on the other end of the phone telling me it sounded worse than it really was…And I told you to rest and carried on buying coffee mugs and goat’s milk soap and chocolate covered cashews for your stocking…I guess I didn’t know that would be my last, “I love you.” And there was so much more to say.

And I guess I didn’t know, when we sang the hymns and hugged and wept, when we called it a celebration even though we all knew it was a funeral…When we sat on the rows marked “reserved,” the rows that no one ever wants to be waiting for them…I guess I didn’t know how broken my heart would be.

And how much we all need our mothers. And how I would still need you.

angel painting
One of my mom’s angel paintings.

the difference between hating and healing

You’d never believe it, but the thing I had confused my entire life, the thing that I couldn’t get straight – left to right, up and down – the thing I was so wrong about I would’ve sworn to death I was right, that thing was the difference between hating myself and healing myself.

And I know what you’re thinking. Those two things are nothing alike. Even a complete twat would know the difference between hating and healing. But I’m here to tell you this complete twat was damn wrong about it. For a long time, too.

Every time I picked up a cupcake or a French fry or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked Fro Yo, I thought of it as a treat to myself. A little splurge just for me. Because I was having a tough week or I had gotten a promotion. Because I deserved it.

And every time I laced up my running shoes and dragged my tired butt to the gym and moved myself round and round on the elliptical like a hamster on a wheel, well that was my punishment. Punishment for looking like a linebacker instead of a lady, punishment for not fitting into a single pair of pants, punishment for not going to punishment the day before.

And just like that, the lines were not just blurred, they were completely wrong. And I was lost in a world where I healed myself with hatred and hated myself as I healed.

I probably would have gone until I was a 45-year old obese, depressed, and real-damn-confused divorcee before I figured it out. But instead, my mom died. Right before Christmas.

And I swam around in a fuzzy world of grief and denial and numbness for a few weeks. Then one Sunday evening, after a zombie-like day spent walking around my apartment aimlessly holding onto a can of Pledge and an unused dust rag, I decided I should go to the gym.

But it wasn’t like every other time I went to the gym. Because I wasn’t being punished. In fact, just the opposite, I was going to try and heal.

So I went and pounded my feet on a treadmill for 45 minutes until my cheeks were red and I’d sweated so much my nipples were hard from the dampness of my shirt. But the whole time I was there I repeated five words in my head: “THIS. IS. HOW. YOU. HEAL.”

And the next day I went back. And I didn’t look at how many calories I burned. And I didn’t think about how I wanted to look in a bikini. And for once, for once in my entire life, I wasn’t there to change me. I was there to heal me.

It didn’t take long for the food revelation to follow suit. I think I was in the shower when I realized how ass-backwards I’d been my whole life in the way I thought about eating and exercise.

I finally figured out that healing yourself is about putting good things in your body. And taking care of yourself. And spending the time to do the things your body needs.

Every day, I make decisions focused on healing – first, from the loss of my mother, but also from the years and years of hate I inflicted on my body.

I don’t obsess about food or constantly day-dream about my next meal. I don’t dread going to the gym. And I don’t think about how I want to change myself.

Healing is based in love. And I’m finally healing myself. And I’m finally loving myself. And there’s this peace in my world that I can confidently say has never existed before. And I’ll tell you what, it’s quite beautiful.

eleven years too late

If I could, I would go back in time. I would go back and seek out the 16-year-old version of me. The one who didn’t quite know herself. Didn’t quite believe in herself. Didn’t quite love herself, but did manage to fall helplessly in love with you.

If I could, I would find her and tell her about you. Warn her about you. Let her know that she can love you with all her heart, but you’re going to break it just the same.

But she would go on and love you anyway. Because some things she’ll just have to learn on her own.

If I could, I’d go back in time and talk to my 18-year-old self. The one who gave you everything she had. Every ounce of intimacy. Then watched as you flirted with other girls at your high school. And felt her heart break for the first, but not the last, time.

If I could, I’d tell her it’s okay to feel broken. And it’s okay to ache. I’d tell her that time does heal, but she’ll never be the same. I’d tell her being lost for a while is the only chance she ever has of being found.

But she’d ignore me anyway. And she’d cling to you. Because some mistakes are worth making.

If I could, I would go back in time and seek out my 20-year-old self. The one who looked in the mirror and decided to see beauty. The one who discovered being herself filled her up with infinitely more joy than living up to everyone else’s expectations.

If I could, I’d tell her that you cheating on her had nothing to do with her weight. Or the size of her bra. I’d tell her that the details are even worse than what she’s imagining in her head. I’d tell her that turning her back on you would be the hardest thing she’d ever do, but her future self would be forever grateful.

But she’d stay by your adulterous side. Sweeping up the pieces shattered around her feet. Hoping for the best. Because that sweet little girl’s tragic flaw was always relentlessly following her heart.

If I could, I would go back in time in search of my 22-year-old self. The one who finally saw all she was worth. And all she deserved. The brave girl who stood her ground and said, no more. No more.

If I could, I would wrap my arms around her so tightly. And I’d tell her it’s okay to be sad. And I’d tell her it’s okay to miss you. I’d tell her to let her heart weep. I’d tell her to long and mourn. I’d tell her to dwell on the loss of her first love for as long as she needed.

But she’d shut that out too. And she’d choose to never acknowledge the sadness, to never talk about the fear that maybe she was wrong. And she’d choose to let anger be the only emotion associated with you. Then she’d move on with the heavy burden of a bitter heart. Because there are some things that are worse than saying goodbye.

But this 27-year-old can’t go back. And she got here with only foolish emotions guiding her way. And all those bad decisions took their toll. And you still haunt her dreams. And that time never did come by and heal. Because she never let herself break down. And grieve the loss of a truly great love.

So to her I say, it’s not too late. And it’s still okay to think of you. It’s still okay to be sad. And it’s still okay to wonder. It’s even okay to remember. It doesn’t make her weak or pathetic. It makes her human. It makes her the woman she is. Built on the bones of her reckless 16-year-old, broken 18-year-old, devoted 20-year-old, and valiant 22-year-old selves.

She’s the glorious compilation of all the mistakes she’s ever made.

And if she’s lucky, there’ll be many more to come.

courage to fall

We used to make leaf piles. Rake the yard clean of fallen mahogany and amber and crispy browns until the shivering blades of grass beneath were revealed. We’d drag all those colors into the back corner of the yard. But we didn’t burn them. No we’d never let them go up in flames.

We piled them tall and wide until we created a mattress-sized heap of all the trees had shed that year. Then we jumped high in the air and let our bodies fall carelessly down to earth.

It was fall when I found you. Or you found me. And we both forgot – even if for just a moment – that our hearts were too broken to love again. And the time it took for a ruby-red Sweetgum leaf to dance its way from the highest tree branch to the anxiously awaiting ground below, that was all the time we needed.

We were falling too.

In a coastal town you have to seek fall out or you’ll never realize she’s there. When the humidity steps aside, backs away after a cleansing rain. And winter’s bite hasn’t taken hold. The sun is still warm, but the swirling breeze carries just enough coolness to make it possible to sit under those soothing rays forever.

I miss the way the Georgia trees paint the ground with colors. And spending all day in the backyard raking up those leaves just so I could fall with splendid abandon.

But the trees here don’t change with the seasons. And as quick as she comes to visit, fall will move on.

So I’ll just breathe in each precious moment. And be thankful that a childhood spent watching leaves tumble helplessly in the air was enough to give me the courage for my greatest fall. When there was no leaf pile to catch me.

if i had a baby girl

If I had a baby girl, I’d tell her she was pretty. But that it didn’t matter anyway. Because pretty is just a label society creates. And those labels might as well be written in Greek. They have no meaning here. You’re not pretty or smart or skinny or fat or successful or stupid. You are my baby girl. You are perfect in every way. Society’s Pretty never met no one like you.

If I had a baby girl, I’d tell her she is worthy. A complete worthy being. Just for being born. Just for existing. And one day some freckle faced boy who thinks he’s a man is gonna come along and try to change your mind. You’ll think he’s giving you the world when really he wants to take it all away. And you might make a mistake or two. Thinking you’re in love. But when it’s all over and you’re crushed and confused, I’ll tell you you’re just as worthy as you ever were.

If I had a baby girl, I’d tell her life doesn’t start when you’re 13 or 16 or 18 or 21. Life isn’t womanhood or adulthood or maturity. It’s all the mistakes and magic that happen in between. Life is sneaking out at night with your best friend or losing the biggest game of the season. Life is the first time you drive a car. The first time you ruin dinner. The first time you kiss a boy. The first time you get caught telling a lie. Don’t spend a second thinking you can’t wait until … .Until is now. This is your until. Live in every moment of it.

If I had a baby girl, I’d tell her we’ve come a long way in how the world thinks about women. But we’ve still got a long way to go. And someone is going to look at you like an object. And someone is going to tell you what you can and can’t do with your body. And you’re always going to be seen first and foremost as a woman. And you’ll get used to that because you have to.

You’ll probably do more cleaning and cooking and laundry and child-rearing than your other half despite the fact that you too, have a full-time job. You’ll probably be expected to put your career on hold if you want to start a family. You’ll be expected to lose that baby weight and stay in shape and look beautiful or else lose your value in the eyes of society.

So you’ll have to create your own sacred space where society cannot reach you and tell you who to be and what to become and what parts of you are important and what parts aren’t.

If I had a baby girl I’d tell her that girls aren’t sluts for having sex. And when you think you’re ready, you’re probably wrong. That food is not the enemy. That all bodies are different and perfect and right. I would tell her that life is really tough sometimes, but that’s part of the journey. And I’d tell her to trust the soft little voice in her head that always knows the right thing to do.

If I had a baby girl, my heart would break each time she walked out the door. And I’d hope my words were enough to keep her safe. Or at least enough to keep her going.

I don’t think I’ll have a baby girl. I’m just not that kind. But if you do, please tell her she’s the brightest light in the universe. Please tell her all she ever has to do is shine.