DPChallenge

Who Am I?

I. A daughter

I was born to walk the middle ground, the first child of type A and type B
[and what does that make me?]
Constantly stuck between too small and too tall,
Talks too little, reads too much, sings too loud,
Hips too big, mouth too small,
Needs too little, wants too much, dreams too big.
I am a combination of everyone I’ve ever known,
But mostly I am too much like my mother,
And too much like my father,
[and too torn between the two people I am to really know who to be.]

II. A sister

I had bite marks on my back and my arm in a sling
Because that’s what it means to have your thunder stolen
When your parents decide to procreate again.
[I guess it also means feeling important,
Because someone looks up to you so much
That it makes you want to be better than you would be for yourself.]
And I would have laughed if you said someday I’d be proud
To have him for a best friend,
But the first time he asked for my advice
[because he thought I was wise]
I thought maybe the bite marks were worth it.

III. A friend

I learned more about friendship from the people who didn’t stick around
Than from the ones that did,
Because I learned when to hold on
And when to let go.

IV. A scholar

I’ve been taught to question everything.
[“Don’t be so gullible, Gwen,”
I hear as I fall for another stupid joke.
“Don’t believe anything you can’t prove.”]
I go to class and they tell me,
“Think critically, Gwen. Pick it apart. Find the truth.”
But I don’t think there’s just one truth.
I think sometimes the truth is that you don’t have to question everything.
[my professors disagree.]

V. A writer

My fingers bleed a lot because I pick the skin,
My brain bleeds words because, because?
[because it’s the only way I know how to feel.]

VI. A survivor

Once I thought that to be happy,
My bones had to poke out of my skin,
And my worth as a person was dictated by a number
On a scale
[or the label of my jeans.]
But when I stopped chasing perfection,
I found someone wonderful,
[Daughter, sister, friend
Scholar, writer, survivor]
I found me.

 

Written for the Weekly Writing Challenge. I don’t usually write poetry.

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The End, In Three Parts

I.

She was always the first one to notice.

“You’re bleeding again!” she’d yelp as she dug through her backpack for a Band-Aid. No matter how many times I drew blood, I never learned to carry them around with me. When she was there, I never had to.

She learned to solve a Rubik’s cube somehow. I was too impatient to figure it out on my own, so she taught me too. “It’ll give you something to do with your hands,” she said. “So you won’t destroy your fingers.”

My history teacher took it away because I wasn’t paying attention. She handed me a Band-Aid, marched up to the teacher, and got it back. “You need this,” she whispered as she slid it across my desk. I spent the rest of class quietly spinning the faces of the cube under the table. I didn’t need the Band-Aid, but it was nice to have it, anyway.

I thought, “this is what it’s like to have somebody you can count on.”

II.

She slept three nights at my house during the Great Ice Storm of 2008.

The days we spent together were full of jokes and musicals and molasses cookies. Then at some point after dark, unexpectedly, she’d slip. Her face would suddenly be devoid of emotion, her voice high-pitched and soft. She’d curl herself up into a ball at the foot of the bed and just lie there, unmoving, until whatever it was had passed.

“Is there something I can do?” I asked once, helplessly, desperate to fix her somehow.

She was quiet for a moment, and I heard her breath hitch before she spoke. “No. There isn’t.”

When she was like this, she never looked at me. She responded to questions sometimes, if I was lucky. But she wouldn’t turn around. I didn’t get to see her face.

I was there, but that wasn’t enough. I turned out the lights and tried to sleep while she kept drowning two feet away.

III.

She made me a card for our high school graduation.

“Don’t forget about me, okay?” it read. “I’m nothing without you.”

I didn’t make her a card. I didn’t even say thank you. I was never good at that sort of thing, and I figured she knew how I felt already. She was my best friend. She’d always be my best friend. Isn’t that how it works?

I took her for granted. I forgot.

And she wasn’t nothing. She was something more.

The Lover I Never Had

This post is written in response to WordPress’ Weekly Writing Challenge. The details of the challenge can be found here.

He looks at me with a cold glint in his already icy blue eyes.

“You lied to me,” I whisper softly, edging away from the sharpness of his gaze. “You lied.”

Leering closer, he smiles the smile of a thousand empty promises, a thousand heartbreaks. “Believe me now, you ungrateful little bitch.”

He backs off again, retreating with deliberate steps into the storm of dust from whence he came. “No one will ever love you.” The wind carries his words to me like a dagger in the chest.

**

I met him on an airplane that was flying from Chicago to Boston in December. His seat was next to mine; our arms were so close that the slightest turbulence caused us to bump elbows and apologize profusely to each other, too embarrassed to meet each other’s gaze. When I finally gathered the courage to glance at him as he asked the flight attendant for a black coffee, I found myself immediately spellbound by the light, bright blue of his eyes. The corners of his mouth crinkled slightly when he noticed my stare.

“Do you want anything, miss?” I heard the flight attendant ask politely, drawing my attention away from the ocean I was drowning in.

“I’ll take a coffee, too, thanks,” I replied, taking the small napkin she offered me.

“Aren’t you a little young to be drinking coffee?” he asked, those beautiful eyes drifting across my face.

“The life of a college student.” I found myself picking slightly at the corners of my napkin, too shy to really look at him. He laughed, a pleasant and almost musical sound that seemed to soften my nerves and make the stuffy airplane cabin feel quite a bit airier.

“What’s your name?” he asked me curiously, tossing me a packet of peanuts that had just been passed to him from the aisle.

I met his eyes, his hypnotizing eyes, and I trusted him more than I should have. “I’m Gwen,” I told him.

“It’s nice to meet you, Gwen,” he said, resting his head back against his seat and offering me a lopsided grin. “I can already tell you’re somebody special.”

**

I cried and he was there and he stroked my hair with his long, slender fingers. “It’s going to be okay,” he whispered over and over again into my ear. “I promise. I’m going to make it all okay.”

**

I was curled up on the couch, half-studying for my algebra final and half-dozing off into dreamland, when I felt his strong hands on my shoulders. “Don’t fall asleep now,” he said good-naturedly, taking a seat next to me. “Not when you’re so close.”

I moaned and let my face fall forward into my textbook. “But I’ve been staring at this book all day. There’s nothing left in here that isn’t already somewhere in my brain.”

He lifted my chin up and looked at me with sincerity in his glacial eyes, the eyes I loved. “I know you’ve been working hard,” he said, running his index finger along my jawbone. “But you need to work a little harder.”

I sighed and touched the hand that was kissing my skin. “I know.”

As I moved toward the kitchen to brew myself a cup of coffee, he reached for my hand and squeezed it. “I’m only doing this because I love you.”

The Lie.

I believed him. He loved me.

**

I returned, sweating and panting, from my 5:30 am run.

Pouring myself a glass of water and wiping my sweaty hands on a paper towel, I took off my headphones and pressed “stop” on my iPhone. It had been a good workout. I’d beaten the heat and run my fastest five-miler ever. All I wanted to do was collapse onto the couch and celebrate with a giant spoonful of peanut butter.

When I reached into the drawer to pull out a spoon, cold arms pulled mine back. He spun me like a top until I was looking straight into his eyes, never releasing his grip on my biceps.

“Five miles?”

“Fifty-four minutes,” I announced proudly, waiting for him to give me the gorgeous warm smile I’d been lusting after all summer. Waiting for him to say that he was proud of me, that he loved me, that I was strong and capable and lovely.

The smile never came. His face remained as cold as the fingers that were wrapped so tightly around me.

“Not good enough.”

His words echoed through the darkened crevices of my brain as I slammed the drawer shut.

**

“Come get ice cream with me,” pleaded my best friend desperately. “I haven’t seen you since June and I miss you!”

He put his hand over the mouthpiece of my cell phone. “No,” he declared menacingly in a voice so low I could barely hear.

“I can’t, I’m sorry. Some other time.”

I pressed “end” and looked up at the face I loved, at the eyes that had become so unfamiliar. I was angry and scared and yet still I barely moved, holding a state of nothingness until he finally told me what I had to do. I was going mad waiting for something I did to make him love me again, for him to hold my hand and tell me he was going to fix everything. Instead, I got an icy stare, a loveless face, a charming sadist.

He was everything. He made me better than I was. He pushed me to be better than ever. He kept me on track and he oversaw my routines and sometimes when I did something right, I saw a tiny glimpse of the man on the airplane who’d drawn me in so cleverly without a word. I craved those moments, no matter how infrequent and difficult they became. I was special; he’d seen that in me. It was my fault that I couldn’t live up to my potential. It was no wonder he didn’t love me anymore.

**

I throw up violently and silently on the side of the road. Embarrassed, I try to kick some dirt over it, managing only to stir up a dark cloud of hot dust. I cough as the heavy air enters my lungs, so that I do not notice him step out of nowhere until he is standing right in front of me.

I am humiliated. I am red and soaked with sweat, still reeking of vomit and stale air and barely able to stand up on my own. And of course he is there. He is always there when I am at my worst, ready to throw the knives of my inadequacy into my already broken heart.

He is fierce. And I am nothing.

Daily Prompt: Unconventional Love

In my life, I’ve loved a lot of people. I’ve also been lucky enough to be loved by a lot of people.

What is a conventional love story? Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl, boy and girl live happily ever after? That’s certainly the story that 98% of romantic comedies teach us. Either that or one of them dies at the end (although generally those movies are less comedic).

I’ve never had a love story like that. I’ve never had that kind of love at all. Unless “spineless girl pines for boy she’ll never speak to” is a fashionable new branch of romance.

A great deal of my time has been spent wallowing in the woes of my sad, sad love life. I feel as though that’s a pretty normal rom-com “girl” thing to do. I mean, Drew Barrymore did it in Never Been Kissed, and then she got Michael Vartan in the end, which is a spectacular end to an almost comically depressing story. But is that really conventional? No, she was a journalist masquerading as a high school student who ended up falling in love with her teacher – not exactly the most banal of circumstances. Even our “conventional” love stories are still pretty atypical. You want to know why? Because conventional love stories are boring. My parents, for example, met in a textile engineering graduate program, fell in love, and got married. I don’t see anybody making a movie about that. I mean, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t watch it even if they did. It sounds like it would include a lot of science, which I’m not very good at, nor do I particularly enjoy. But that’s not the point. The point is that the love stories we hear about on the news and watch on TV are all unconventional. That’s why they’re so beautiful and fascinating. That’s why people pay attention.

Unconventional love seems exciting. I’ll admit that it would be a pretty incredible story if I were dying of cancer and became romantically involved with my oncologist, or if I fell in love with the subject of my magazine article while trying to scare him away from me (I’m looking at you, Kate Hudson).

But those stories also kind of suck. I mean, for one, I don’t want to get cancer. That seems like a pretty big downer, and I don’t think I could seduce anybody if I were bald because my head is very oddly shaped. But even in Never Been Kissed, Josie had a seriously horrific high school career. I loved high school, and I would not choose to go through that even if I knew I’d get Michael Vartan at the end (although I might seriously consider it for like a second because that man is insanely attractive). Somehow, the situations are always dramatic, scary, or sad, even if they’re downplayed in a sort of comedic way.

So maybe I wouldn’t watch a movie about my parents’ relationship. But I would choose a love like that over a lifetime with Matthew McConaghey’s rock hard abs. Not everything about them is conventional, obviously, because nothing is ever exactly the same in any two relationships. But while my parents have been married for almost 26 years, nobody bothers showing you what happens after the couple makes out for awhile and the credits roll. Give me convention. Give me stability. Give me unconditional, unwavering love. No games, no unrealistically witty banter, no unethical situations. I mean, I guess if it turns out that way, so be it. I like a good story as much as anyone, especially since I would love to write about it. But I don’t care if there isn’t some wacky situation or overdramatic proposal. Just give me real, 24-karat, genuine love. And I’ll be beyond happy with that.

12 Things the World Needs to Get Over

1) Girls poop.

While this originally only bothered the feminist side of me, lately I’ve realized that what I thought was a predominantly male misogynistic idea has extended into female-female interactions as well. Like, why do I feel embarrassed when I poop in a public toilet, surrounded by only other females? Because even girls have grown to believe that it’s unladylike to defecate! Ladies and gentlemen, this is ridiculous. Do we need to provide every US citizen with a copy of “Everybody Poops”?

2) Politicians suck.

Stop pretending like you’re personally offended by the amorality of politics. That’s why it’s politics. The people you actually trust would make terrible politicians, because politicians are liars pretty much by definition. They want your vote, not your friendship, so stop expecting them to actually care about what you say. Unless you have money and influence, in which case they’re bound to listen.

3) Everybody can’t win.

Someone once affectionately referred to my generation as the “cupcake generation.” Everybody gets a cupcake. And that’s kind of true (even though I can’t eat cupcakes because they’re full of gluten). When I played Under-12 soccer, every person got a trophy at the end of the season, even though the team was terrible and I was terrible and nobody was really even remotely good at soccer. In fact, I ended up with a shelf covered in trophies that I freely admit I didn’t earn. There is no such thing as “A for effort.” Sometimes you actually suck at things, and you crash and burn and fail miserably, and nobody’s going to give you a trophy for trying. Life is full of competitions where there is a clearly defined winner, and everybody else loses. It happens. I mean, I’m a firm believer that everybody can win at something, but nobody can win at everything. Besides, getting accolades you don’t deserve just makes the real accolades less meaningful.

4) Kids are going to do whatever the hell they want.

I’m lookin’ at you, US government. Replacing the Pop-Tarts in high school vending machines with tiny packages of peanuts and banning coffee during school hours isn’t going to change the world, it’s just going to piss a lot of people off. Anyone who’s seriously addicted to caffeine is going to find a way to consume it, and large groups of obnoxious male athletes are going to end up at McDonalds every single day. This is just a specific example of a general need people have to exercise control over everyone around them. Educating kids about proper nutrition and safe sex is a way better idea than shoving kale chips and abstinence down their throats, because really, they’re going to do whatever they feel like doing, and they should probably at least be smart about it.

5) Adults are too.

Everybody drives at least 5 miles per hour over the speed limit. Unless you’re that asshole who remains at a solid 20 no matter what road he’s on. Rules are meant to be broken, right?

6) Watermelon-flavored things taste better than watermelon.

Yeah, I know real watermelon is healthier than fake watermelon. But that’s because real watermelon is pretty much just slightly flavored water with seeds in it. It’s disappointing, like drinking really diluted orange juice. Fake watermelon, on the other hand, is just the right combination of sweet and sour. Sour Patch Watermelon, watermelon jolly ranchers, watermelon jellybeans…washed down, of course, with a nice tall glass of water so you still feel refreshed. Now THAT’S a summertime treat.

7) There are things that don’t need to be proven.

Call it whatever you like – the Powers that Be, the hand of God, the way it is – but some things just are, without any satisfying explanation. Science and math are wonderful, beautiful things, and I am a huge advocate of using them to solve real-world problems. But it’s okay for science to leave some things unexplained. I mean, people have tried for years to prove or disprove the existence of God using complex mathematical equations, to no avail. And people who have real faith wouldn’t care even if there WAS a solution. The most meaningful things in life are those which cannot even be expressed in words, much less in theorems. Sometimes we just have to let those be. We can’t solve everything.

8) Grammar is a dying art.

You can fight like hell to make sure every one of your Facebook friends uses “your” and “you’re” properly, but the fact of the matter is that the next generation sees both of those words as “ur.” There’s nothing you can do about that. They will go through their lives probably never hearing the terms “gerund” or “dependent clause,” because Microsoft Word will essentially write their papers for them. It’s horribly depressing, I know, but we have to let it go.

9) The Kardashians.

I feel like this is pretty self-explanatory. Getting invested in Kim’s butt implants and failed marriages is probably doing nothing for you but lowering your IQ by a couple of points every day.

10) People make mistakes.

For some reason, we have a tendency to believe that there are some people in this world who are absolutely, 100% perfect. Sometimes it’s a celebrity, sometimes a mentor, sometimes a friend, but when we idolize people, we forget that they’re human too, and everyone ends up under a lot of unnecessary pressure. And then we run into problems like thirteen-year-old girls crying hysterically because Justin Bieber smoked weed. Well guess what, little girl, your parents probably did too, and they turned out okay.

11) Mental illness is everywhere.

We can ignore it all we want, but we can’t change the facts. According to a 2008 study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, about 5% of the US population had been diagnosed with a serious mental illness (defined as “a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder diagnosable currently or within the past year which results in serious functional impairment and substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.”) And that doesn’t even take into consideration all the people suffering in silence. We seriously need to rethink the way we, as a culture, address the topic of mental health.

12) Shit happens.

Sometimes life deals you a crap hand and then kicks you while you’re down. It happens to literally everybody. You can’t escape the shit. But that doesn’t mean you should whine about it, either. Every experience teaches you something, even if it’s as simple as “I don’t ever want that to happen again.” You learn, you adapt, you change, you grow, and you almost always emerge from situations with a stronger sense of who you are. We could all benefit from realizing that even when things are going rather poorly, we are lucky to be given the chance to live through them.

Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

Shoulda, woulda, coulda.

What should I be doing right now? Probably a lot of things. For instance, I have a list full of to-dos that really should have been checked off two days ago, but for some reason no matter how long I stare at those items they aren’t actually being completed. Funny how that works.

Or maybe I should be packing for my trip to Penn State this weekend. Or maybe I should be doing the dishes from dinner so my parents don’t have to do them when they get home from church. Or maybe I should be responding to the numerous text messages that I’ve read today without bothering to reply.

The fact is, if I think about it enough, there’s ALWAYS something I should be doing that I’m not. That’s true for everyone; we’re hit with “should”s from all around us every day. There’s some new finding in the news that says we should stop eating red meat or disable certain services on our computer or exercise more or watch this new TV show…it’s exhausting. And in a world like this, it’s so easy to constantly “should” all over yourself.

“Should” statements are one of the cognitive distortions associated with CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). Basically, some people get into a pattern of thinking in terms of what they “should” be doing or thinking rather than what is actually beneficial to them. Often these statements are based on external triggers – for example, the idea that a person should look a certain way in order to be attractive – but they can also stem from internal pressures that may not have any logical cause. I’m not an expert in CBT by any means, so the best example I can give is one I have personally struggled with, which is an eating disorder thought. Eating disorders love “should” statements because they have a unique way of making you feel guilty if you disobey. Once that sneaky little voice comes into your head and says, “You shouldn’t be eating that, it’ll make you fat,” every bite you take is riddled with shame. “You should skip lunch today” carries the same unpleasant emotions. Eventually, to avoid the constant feeling of guilt and inadequacy, it gets easier to let the “should”s make decisions for you.

While I was in treatment, one of the counselors noticed that when I spoke with her I used the word “should” as a part of almost every thought. She challenged me to carry my notebook around with me for 24 hours and write down every “should” statement as soon as it formulated in my brain. And let me tell you, I only did it for eight hours, because by that point the list was already 3.5 pages long and I was tired of writing. It was certainly sufficient for the counselor to make her point – I spend a whole lot of my time worrying about what I should and shouldn’t be doing, feeling, thinking, eating, saying, writing, literally anything. If I started to notice that I was feeling angry, for example, I might tell myself I shouldn’t be angry right now. Okay, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m angry, and now in addition to that anger I feel guilty, so I’ve pretty much just exacerbated the problem. Or maybe if I was feeling okay during a meal that was particularly challenging for others at the table, I might think, This should have been harder for me. I shouldn’t have been okay with that meal. I mean, seriously, what? Logically, these statements are totally irrational and unhelpful. Why the hell can’t I be okay with eating a meatball sub? Technically, isn’t it a GOOD thing that I got through it without crying?

So what’s the lesson I learned here? Well, when I showed my list to the counselor (who, I might add, laughed out loud at some of the more ridiculous items), she told me I had already done the hardest part – recognizing that the overwhelming number of times the word “should” floated through my brain was not ideal. We went through each item one by one, discussing how every statement could be reality-checked and/or whittled down into a much less extreme statement. For example, I shouldn’t be angry right now might become I’m feeling angry right now, and I’m not sure why. Amazingly, that simple edit manages to delete all the associated guilt and shame associated with the statement. I am no longer doing anything wrong. In fact, I am in tune with my emotions, which will allow me to properly experience and regulate them. Which is a good thing! Instead of feeling like I’m doing something wrong, now I’m doing something inarguably RIGHT!

Of course, it is ridiculous to think that all my problems were solved that day. Reframing a thought on paper is certainly not the same thing as reorganizing the way you think it, and beyond anything else that kind of thing takes a whole lot of practice. But it’s a start. And every day I have plenty of opportunities to teach myself how to think differently.

What about things like the fact that I SHOULD turn off the lights when I leave a room or the fact that I SHOULD do the dishes after I cook? Yes, there are certainly some “should”s that are not inherently evil, because not every “should” is distorted. Generally, though, it’s pretty easy to tell when you encounter a legitimate “should.” The questions I tend to ask myself are:

  1. Is this statement supported by concrete evidence? (ex. “You should drink three glasses of milk a day because it builds strong bones.”)
  2. Will doing this bring me closer to my goals and values? (ex. “You should graduate from college,” since I value education)
  3. Will it bring happiness to other people? (ex. “You should be kind to your supermarket cashier.”)
  4. Will I feel good (like really, heart-of-hearts good) during/after I do this? (ex. “You should go for a walk because it’ll clear your mind and you’ll be happier.”)
  5. When I look back on this, will I ever regret doing it? (ex. “You should punch him in the face” is probably not legitimate, because you might feel bad later.)

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be flabbergasted by the amount of doors that open when you stop “should”ing on yourself. All of a sudden, you’re free to ask yourself what you WANT to do (which was a concept quite foreign to me). What did I want to do with my life aside from what I thought I “should” be doing? Well, I “should” have a practical major and go right into a high-paying job, but honestly, writing makes me happier than anything in the world, so you know what? I’m keeping it on the table. A year ago, I never would have given it a passing thought.

Back to the question. What should I be doing?

I’m sorry, I don’t recognize that word.