Lessons in Accessorizing: A Childhood Traumedy

Milford Creek Lane was a straight, flat stretch of middle-class Georgian suburbia. The blue ranch house I called home sat about a quarter mile from the stop sign at the end of the street. During the school year, I walked that route twice a day to catch the bus in the morning and return home in the afternoon.

One morning in early winter, my breath clung to the frigid air in front of me as I walked—the grass still turgid and shimmering with overnight frost. I wore a navy wool coat and scratchy black gloves. On top of the gloves, I wore my newest prized position: a real, grown-up ring.

I had told my mother I wanted a real ring, and for reasons I’ll never understand, she allowed me this indulgence. She took me to Uptons department store where I peered in to the jewelry case on my tip toes. I picked out a small gold ring with a marquise amethyst and the tiniest of diamonds lacing over it.

The next day, I was so eager to show off my new ring, I couldn’t bear to cover it with a glove. So my eight-year-old genius decided to wear the ring on top.

When I arrived at the stop sign that morning, my fellow bus riders gathered in a loose mosh pit on the sidewalk. Older children and troubled children and stranger children all intimidated me, so I kept to myself.

I shoved my hands in my coat pockets and felt a wad of cloth. Pulling it out, I recognized my other pair of gloves. Not only did this set better match my coat, it also had sparkles woven in the fabric, giving it all the softness of a Brillo Pad.

Without a moment of hesitation, I peeled off my black gloves and put on the newfound haute couture pair instead.

I sat in my fourth-grade desk at school for no more than 10 minutes that day before the revelation occurred: my fingers were bare. The ring was gone.

Dread rose in my chest as my child-brain backtracked through the morning and realized the ring had popped off at the bus stop when I switched the gloves.

It could be anywhere now. It could have rolled into the sewer. It could be caught up in the blades of a lawnmower—yes, even in the winter! It could have been carried off in the talons of an eagle, swallowed by a jewelry-eating dog, found and kept by a vicious neighbor with excellent taste in rings.

My mother would never buy me another ring again. She might never buy me anything at all! I’d probably never have another valuable possession for the rest of my life. I hadn’t deserved the ring, and now I’d lost it in my first 24 hours of ownership. The thought of having to tell my mom what I’d done twisted my stomach in knots. Laying my head on the cool faux-wood of my desk, I tried not to cry or panic or simply bust through the school exit and sprint all the way home to look for it.

My nerves turned to nausea as the day ached on. Every bump and turn and squealing first-grader on the excruciating bus ride home forced my stomach farther up into my throat. As the yellow behemoth rounded the last turn to get to our stop, my entire body tensed.

By requirement only, I waited until the screeching brakes came to a complete halt before bolting to the front. I arrived at the door as it opened casually via accordion fold with its customary whoosh of air.

Darting out, I launched for the spot where I was standing when I switched gloves. I flung myself on the ground—aware of how strange I might look yet not caring in the least—and smooshed my hands frantically into the grass hoping to feel the hard metal against my soft palms.

Nothing. Nothing but cold dirt.

And then, amid my panic and dismay and guilt and terror and disappointment, I saw a glint of gold hope among the sullen green. I crawled over on my hands and knees.

There it was. Unscathed. Unaware of the anguish I’d endured over the past six hours. Bathing in the sunshine, just waiting for me to come home.

Even though I haven’t worn rings over my gloves since, I still don’t trust myself with valuable jewelry.

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The Unexpected Perks (pun intended) of Having Tiny Tits

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When I was 17, about to turn 18, and finishing my senior year of high school, I asked my mom if she and my dad would buy me breast implants as a graduation gift.

Not surprisingly, she said no. Mom was all about loving your body. Not so much about altering it to appease society’s unrealistic expectations of how women should look.

What mom didn’t know was how I had longed for bigger breasts ever since my darling duo started to fill in and then came to a sudden halt at what struck me as far short of the finish line.

She also didn’t know that my then-boyfriend had an obsession with big boobs, a fact I stumbled upon when using his laptop. While typing a Google search that began with the letter “b,” the search engine offered me his recent searches as suggestions.

“Big boob asian porn” was my boyfriend’s most recent “b” search. I deleted the “b” and typed “a” instead. “Amateur girl on girl huge tits,” Google suggested. I tried “c” to the same effect. D? You better believe it. One by one, I checked each letter in the alphabet. Every last consonant and vowel had been summoned to hunt for porn involving one common theme: the giant boobs I didn’t have.

I like to half-jokingly describe my figure as chocolate-bar shaped. When people arch a confused eyebrow in response, I’ll explain, “You know, like a rectangle. Broad shoulders. Broad hips. Broad waist. Flat chest. Built like Kit Kat.”

In college, I gained the cliché “freshmen 15”…two years in a row. Much to my dismay, my boobs refused to put on a single pound. Instead, my figure shifted from boyish to full-on doughboy. The same boob-obsessed boyfriend told me he was no longer attracted to me. And that was how we ended.

Without his standards weighing in, I finally saw myself through my lens of beauty. I realized how I loved my pale skin, dotted with freckles along my shoulders. And I stopped trying to brown it in the sun.

I rediscovered my big brown eyes, which always reminded me of my mother’s. And I stopped wearing green-tinted contacts.

I embraced my fat bottom lip, which often appears crooked in photographs. And I began drawing attention to it with bright lipsticks.

I even found love for my boobs—their roundness, their perkiness, their density. And I threw out every last one of my push-up bras.

In 2015 at the age of 29, I found myself once again single for the first time in a long time. Online dating had become a thing, and I threw up a profile hoping to meet someone new.

An older, newly divorced banker chatted me up. We both liked University of Georgia, literature, and witty banter. It seemed like a good match. After getting to know him over text messages, we met in person for a drink. I wore a navy dress and dangling gold earrings, hot pink lipstick and high heels. I felt fabulous and flawless.

Within an hour of the encounter, his tone grew serious as he leaned in toward me and asked, “Have you ever thought about getting a boob job?”

When I returned home that night, I plucked off my jewelry and slipped out of the dress. In front of a full-length mirror in my bedroom, I removed my bra and underwear. I looked at my body and resisted the urge to scrutinize it.

Instead, I looked with love. I saw a woman who won’t settle for less than she deserves. I saw someone who worked hard to find herself and fights to be the most authentic version of that self every day. I saw strong arms and healthy legs and a well-fed stomach.

And sitting proudly on my chest, I saw the boobs—my boobs. The boobs that are exactly right for my body—even when I don’t realize it. The boobs I have loved and hated and loved again.

They may never win a wet t-shirt contest, but those boobs helped me narrow my dating pool by one shallow divorcee that night. And that’s more than good enough for me.

 

Personal note: This post is by no means suggesting that having small boobs is better or worse than having big boobs. It’s an account of the journey I took to love my body the way it is. It is also not suggesting that there’s something wrong with breast implants. Everyone’s journey is different As long as you have found or are moving toward a place where you love yourself, you’re doing it right.

 

Image (Abstract Nude Female Laying Down) is from Ceres Fine Art and available for purchase via Etsy.

 

The Spirituality of Raspberries

My dad once told me, while looking up at the tops of the Georgia pines in our front yard, that the green-on-blue combination of trees against sky is proof of God’s existence. He said it could not possibly have happened by coincidence.

It’s too thoughtful. Too beautiful. Too perfect.

Raspberries are my proof. If you’ve ever picked one off a wild bush in summertime and plucked it in your mouth, you know: something like that doesn’t just happen. It’s intended.

I’m sure my dad would agree.

From a young age, Dad raised me to experience the world around me. He showed me how to appreciate the smell of snowfall. To love the constricted feeling in my lungs when I breathe in my first blast of winter air each year. He offered me the bird names. The bird songs.

Because of him, I can tell you the difference between a blue jay and a bluebird and an indigo bunting. And what the temperature high is for Anchorage, Alaska on any given day.

As we chat on the phone during my commute, Dad asks how the jonquils he planted at my first home are doing. Have they come up yet? And he’ll make an extra call in the evening just to tell me to go outside and look at the full moon. Does it look as yellow in Charleston as it does here?

Because of him, I love the warmth of a fire. The sound of fat raindrops pounding a tool shed. The soul-cleansing that is wading chest-deep in a clear stream. The subtle sweetness of nectar from a honeysuckle flower. The intricacy and wonder of seashells.

Of his two daughters, I’m the baby. I’m the carefree spirit. I’m the keeper of the bird songs.

In my 30 years, he’s shaped the gentlest corners of my being. He’s molded me into someone who laments the passing of orchids. Someone who stops halfway through her run to take in a marsh view or a fading sunset or a grazing deer. Someone who’s thankful for every clear starry night, every low-hanging moon, every first frost, every last jonquil. Someone who can’t imagine seeing the world without her father’s eyes.

Someone who finds faith in the treetops. And raspberries fresh off the bush.

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When One Door Closes

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When I was a little girl—all blonde curls and elbow dirt and sugary smiles—I believed in love. I believed it was possible. I believed it would happen to me. I believed it was the greatest magic the world had ever known.

When I was a teenage girl—all nerves and self-consciousness and anxiety—I found love. A boy with a perfect smile and confident stride and eyes of two different colors. I let him kiss me. I let him claim me. I swung the doors to my soul wide open, and welcomed him inside.

When I was a college girl—all independence and self-discovery and experimentation—I found heartbreak. That boy with the perfect smile and confident stride decided he didn’t want me anymore. But he didn’t know how to let me go. And so he pushed me away with infidelity and secrets and callousness. Until I couldn’t remember what love had ever felt like. Until I closed and locked the doors to my soul. And then boarded them shut for good.

When I was just 23—all newfound freedom and confidence and charisma—I searched for love again. I found a new boy with olive skin and deep feelings and dark corners in his past. I found safety in how he adored me. And when all I wanted was to not be lied to anymore, I found honesty in his eyes. I hoped it would be enough—that he would be enough—to take down the locks and chains and boards and bolts that guarded the doors to my soul.

When I turned 29—all fire and ferocity and fabulousness—I realized that despite his efforts, the boy with the olive skin and the deep feelings never did find a way into my soul. Without meaning to, I’d kept it just out of his reach. And somewhere along the way, he stopped striving for it. He stopped caring about it. And though our hearts would beat side by side on the same bed in the same room of the same house, I felt only alone. An anchor sinking slowly to the bottom of the sea.

When I let go of him—all tears and apologies and words left too long unsaid—I found you. A man with kind eyes and a gentle spirit and a touch that sends quivers down my spine. I found the love I’d believed in as a little girl—just as magical as I’d ever dreamed it could be.

Locked in your arms, I’ve felt the chains around the doors to my soul fall softly away. Caught in your stare, I’ve sensed the boards loosen, bolts tumble to the ground. Frozen by your kiss, I’ve heard the unmistakable sound of those doors creaking slowly open.

And that’s when my heart, peering out hesitantly from inside, found the welcome mat you laid down. And you—standing behind it, flowers in hand—waiting patiently for me to open the doors.

So to you, the man with the kind eyes and gentle spirit, I would like to say, “Won’t you please come in and stay for a while?”

 

Image Source: DelSolFineArt via Etsy

No Time for Now

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“Alone not Lonely,” an oil painting by ColournCanvas via Etsy

I was 22 years old when I totaled my Mustang while parking.

That cherry-red ’96 sported a perpetually lit check engine light on her dashboard and a colorful lei from Party City on her rear-view mirror. What I remember most about driving Ol’ Red is how stinkin’ cute I felt behind the wheel.

What I did not remember that fateful Friday morning—as I swung coolly into an open parking space en route to my internship at a Charleston ad agency—was which pedal controlled the gas and which controlled the brake.

And just like that, I drove my baby straight into a wall.

Both airbags deployed on impact. The doors jammed, trapping me inside, shaky hands still gripping the wheel. A 20-something Asian woman looked on with horror but did nothing; asked no questions, offered no assistance.

I wish I could say some awesome song on the radio diverted my attention that morning. That I had been applying mascara or sending a text message at the time of the crash.

Truthfully, the only thing I was doing was driving. And even then, I wasn’t paying attention.

As that hot, smoky airbag exploded in my face, I saw my days zipping by like mile markers and me, an absent passenger cruising through life without living it.

Nearly a year and half later, I met a guy online through a shared connection on Facebook. David lived five hours away, near my hometown in Georgia. Our social media flirts evolved to text messages. Our text messages grew to late-night phone calls until one Friday in early November, when he drove the 300-mile trek to meet me in person.

I fell for his honesty. His earnestness. His eagerness. We said “I love you” after a few weeks. And after a year of falling asleep over Facetime, he moved to my Holy City, and we got an apartment together.

Even then, I knew he wasn’t the one.

As a young man who never lived on his own, David lacked maturity and independence. His short temper flared with little notice, leaving me edgy and nervous. When I told him my love language was physical touch, he countered flatly that it wasn’t his own. He read comic books and played video games and waged wars on Twitter and waited for me to place a dinner plate in his lap.

Even as we drifted apart, I refused to stop that relationship from accelerating. I knew if we could just reach the next stop on our journey together, we would be happy. And I could finally lift my foot off the gas.

Three years into living with David and five days before Christmas, my mom died from pneumonia. Suddenly, all the next steps and finish lines and brake pedals and totaled cars and forlorn relationships vanished. As I stood by her bloated, comatose body in that buzzing hospital room, I discovered that time offers no promises except this one: there will come a time when you must let go.

After losing my mom, I became acutely aware of the ruthless and unpredictable clock ticking in my head. I scrutinized my relationship with David: the happiness it gave me and the happiness it did not. I tossed the good and the bad on the scales of emotional justice and realized our love too crashed long ago.

Once again, I was stuck inside.

This year—at the end of June–I figured out how to put that car in park and walk away.

Now I’m living alone for the first time in seven years. I read. I write. I run. I cook the foods I enjoy and drink red wine. I watch the leaves fall from the sweetgum trees in my backyard. It’s a strange and unfamiliar sensation but, for once in my life, I’m finally behind the wheel.

Occasionally, I catch myself slipping back into bad habits and just speeding through the days. In those moments, I can almost hear Mom’s voice nudging a gentle reminder of one of the greatest lessons she left behind: how to use the brake.

This post was written as part of an online blogging course with the incredible Cindy Reed. Many thanks to Cindy for her thoughtful critiques and abundant encouragement on this piece, which ended up in a significantly stronger place than it began.

The Weighting Game

When I started out this year—overweight and disillusioned yet somehow determined to make a change—I promised myself one thing: If I hit my goal weight, I will post a picture online of myself in a bikini.

I couldn’t tell you why this motivated me. Perhaps since the dawning days of Facebook, I’d seen other women my age boldly share photos at the beach, on the lake, in the pool, or simply modeling teeny-weeny polka dot bikinis in their mirrors at home. I’d envied their curves and their confidence, their flat stomachs and slender thighs.

Unlike these women, I’ve never been comfortable in a two-piece swimsuit. Being at the beach meant hours spent trying to figure out how to sit in a chair while hiding my stomach at the same time. It meant sucking in and being as absolutely still as possible. It meant feeling my thighs rub, butt jiggle, and belly bounce for all to see as I walked down the sand. There weren’t enough towels in the world to make me feel adequately covered up in a bikini.

That is until this year, when January rolled around, and I decided for the ga-zillionth time to lose weight.

I didn’t want the decision to feel like a fad diet or a weight loss scheme or a New Year’s resolution, so instead, I called it an opportunity.

When I first passed on bacon-garnished bloody marys and gravy-smothered biscuits during a Sunday brunch (and my friends cocked their heads in disbelief), I explained, “I have an opportunity…to take better care of myself this year. I’m giving it a shot.”

And just like that, opportunity became my mantra.

This year, I’ve had the opportunity to choose salads over spicy chicken sandwiches. The opportunity to go for a walk, a jog, a run. The opportunity to invest time each day into myself. The opportunity to feel proud. And to not go another summer avoiding the water that I love so much.

I marked successful gym days off on my calendar, tracked food with MyFitnessPal, monitored my heart rate with a Fitbit, only allowed myself on the scale on Wednesday mornings, and measured my red wine pours by the ounce. Some days I went decidedly off the rails, but I quickly got back on—always with the echoes of opportunity encouraging me forward.

By August, I’d lowered my blood pressure to healthy levels I hadn’t seen in years. I watched my BMI drop from “overweight” to “normal.” I went from a snug size 8 to a roomy size 4. And I lost a total of 40 pounds.

Now it’s October and the opportunity continues, although in a different capacity. Today, I have the opportunity to be strong, the opportunity to live life more comfortably—more fully, and the opportunity to love me, every day, both inside and out.

This morning, I decided I would keep the promise I made to myself in January—even though I don’t even fully understand why I made it to begin with—and post a photo of myself in a bikini.

Why?

Maybe just because I can. Maybe because I’m proud. Maybe because I think I’ve earned it. Maybe I just want to know what in the world it feels like.

Or maybe somewhere inside I know that if I never did anything that made me uncomfortable, I’d still be 40 pounds heavier and already dreading the summer of 2016.

So here’s to pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones…

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