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Goodbye, Little Growing Pains

Dear friends, family, readers, and supporters,

I’ll cut to the chase: I am retiring this blog.

That’s right — retiring. Everything will still be available, but I will not be posting any new content. I will be releasing my domain name, transitioning this blog back to its original host (littlegrowingpains.wordpress.com) where it will live untouched for the rest of time. I don’t know who will buy littlegrowingpains.com in the future. I hope they use it well.

The decision to discontinue my investment in this project is not an easy one, but it does feel like the right one. I no longer feel like this blog is the right way for me to share my writing with the world. I am proud of all I accomplished — entering contests, making friends, building a huge network of supporters, and raising awareness for the mental illnesses with which I was struggling — and I will forever be grateful to each and every one of you for the way you stood by me while I was discovering myself.

So here’s to the next journey. Here’s to the full recovery from anorexia I made while I owned this little piece of the Internet. Here’s to Yeah Write and NaBloPoMo and all the other communities I found, here’s to fodder for the MFA applications I didn’t finish and all the less-than-stellar posts I wrote. Here’s to all of you. I wish you all the best things life has to offer, and I hope your little growing pains lead you to something better than you could have ever imagined. I know mine did.

Love and thirty-second dance parties all around,

Gwen

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The Recovery Pants

I, like probably every middle-class, twenty-something female, own several pairs of pants. These pants range in size from zero to nine, run the spectrum of color from white to black, and take up way too much space in my dresser, banishing my shorts to a second-class home on the shelf of my closet. But that’s neither here nor there. Yes, I have many (probably too many) pairs of pants. I would like, however, to tell the story of one.

It was December 2012 when we first met. I was two months into treatment; better, but just barely. I was still pretty convinced that I could recover without gaining any weight, at least until the day when I could no longer button my smallest pair of jeans. That hope died fast.

The Pants were hanging on a rack at Macy’s, waiting to be snatched up on holiday sale. I was looking for Christmas gifts for my family, giddy from the atmosphere of lights and wreaths and carols, trying to forget about the loss of my beloved flared jeans and doing a pretty good job of it. Then Willa and Kate saw them.

“Hey, Gwen, didn’t you say you needed new pants?”

On came the rush of speeding thoughts. Those are cute. They probably won’t fit me, though. I don’t even know what size I am anymore. I could be a 2. Or a 6. Or oh dear Lord Christ I could be a 16 or a 32 or what if they don’t even make pants big enough for me? What if I have to make my own pants from now on? I don’t even know how to sew!

They must have been able to read my mind, or at least my deer-in-the-headlights facial expression, because they immediately offered to help me buy a pair of perfectly-fitting, gorgeous pants without any knowledge of their size. “Trust me,” said Kate. “I’ve done this before.”

I followed her blindly into the dressing room, where I was given strict marching orders. “Close your eyes,” Willa instructed. “I’ll throw you a pair of pants, you put them on, then you open your eyes. No peeking at the label.”

“Sir yes sir,” I muttered as the first pair sailed over the door and smacked me in the face.

The first two were unsuccessful. One pair was too small, the other so big I easily could have fit Kate and Willa in there with me. And then there were the Pants.

I could tell they fit perfectly from the second I pulled up the zipper. They were soft and long and a little stretchy; a beautiful rust-red color that glowed just enough in the fluorescent lights. Kate was right. They were gorgeous.

I didn’t look at the label. I took them off and lobbed them back over the door and held them tag-side-down as I stood in the checkout line. And right after I’d finished paying, Willa asked the cashier for a pair of scissors and snipped the tag right out of the Pants, ensuring that I would never again have a chance to peek.

It’s been a year since then, a year in which I have gone shopping several times and been totally aware of the size of my new pants. I’ve learned to accept that I am not defined by the number on the label; after all, it’s not actually very reliable. But there’s something comforting about my Pants, the lovely Pants with no size at all. They are the size of me, and they are perfect.

And On The Thirtieth Day…

Well, folks, I did it.

As soon as I hit publish on this post, I will have officially blogged every day of November. And that’s pretty high on my list of things I never thought were possible.

I would like to thank the community at yeah, write! especially my wonderful rowmies Susannah, E., Michelle, and Sam. I was a terrible rowmie caught up in my own little world, but even though I didn’t comment on your posts, I always, always read them, and they were wonderful. I’d also like to thank team Nano Poblano, with a special shoutout to Rarasaur for organizing a fabulous group effort. It was amazing how many Poblanos got freshly pressed this month, and it just goes to show that writing every day really does improve your craft.

Honestly, I’m glad this month is over. Blogging every day was fun, but it may or may not have contributed to a few slight dips in my GPA. Or maybe more than a few. Also, I felt like a lot of the stuff I published this month was of lower quality than I’m used to publishing, which is kind of hard to stomach for a perfectionist. I think I like writing better pieces less often. But you know what? I’m glad I participated in my first NaBloPoMo. And even though it killed me…I might even do it again.

Now, if you all will excuse me, I’m going back to a ridiculous photoshoot with my four-year-old cousin. Because sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

Photo on 11-30-13 at 3.52 PM #2

Two Heartbeats

“Maybe it’s nothing,” I say as I stare at the gray wall in front of me.

“Maybe it is.”

I gently trace my fingers over his knuckles and give his hand a protective squeeze. “It’ll be okay, you know. I’m here. We’ll be okay.”

He awkwardly shifts his weight to his other leg and jams his hands in his pocket. “Yeah.”

We are enveloped by sounds. A gentle humming seems to emanate from the flickering overhead light while the constant pitter-patter of human steps reverberates through the floor under our feet. Every few minutes a telephone rings, interrupted soon after by gruff mutterings rendered unintelligible by the general chaos in the air. I notice a low rhythmic pounding and realize rather uneasily that I am noticing the sound of my own heart. Or maybe his. Or both.

Sometimes, in the moments right before sleep overtakes us, I wait for our heartbeats to converge. Resting my cheek on the cavity of his chest, I let the thumping echo through my body until every nerve ending signals my own system to follow. For a few moments, the blood pumping through his veins flows through mine, too. We are linked by something so simple, so primal, that no power in the universe can tear us apart.

The first time he ever slept in my bed, he passed out while laying on my left arm, and I woke up with the horrifying sensation that I’d lost a limb. When I woke him up (begrudgingly) to ask him if he could please move, he laughed, this deep, rich, beautiful laugh, a laugh I fell in love with over and over and over again. He kissed the fingers of my limp, dead hand and held it tightly. “When you start to feel again, I want the first thing you feel to be me.” And it was, oh, it was.

I hear his name and snap to attention. Someone walks by with a manila folder, deeply absorbed in its contents. Someone bumps into someone else and spills her coffee, resulting in a myriad of hasty apologies and a promise of penitence. Someone stands in front of us, frowning, one thumb resting nonchalantly under the loop of his suspenders. It is he who speaks, tersely and emotionlessly, those precious few words that bring us closer and closer to the moment of truth.

“We will see you now,” he says with finality.

The one person I am sure I love walks away from me. I wait for him to turn around and look into my eyes and tell me not to be scared, to take my hand and let his pulse surge through me so I can believe that everything will be okay. But he doesn’t. The sound of his footsteps fades slowly with the distance, echoing less and less through the darkened hallway, and I am struck once more with that same startling and horrifying sense of loss.

I want to tell him that when this nightmare is over, when he finally starts to feel again, the first thing he feels will be me. Until then, I won’t let go.

Thanks for the Memories

This Thanksgiving, I am surrounded by family – doting grandparents, fabulous aunt and uncle, adorable tiny cousins. Sure, I’m sad that I’m not with my parents or my brother this year, but if I had to be stuck anywhere else, I’m glad it’s here.

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Oh, and you know who ISN’T at the Thanksgiving table this year?

My eating disorder.

Feels pretty damn amazing.

Reading Is Different Now

I love a lot of the books I read for my classes. I really do. The Sound and the Fury and The Sun Also Rises and Dracula and The Brothers Karamazov…I mean, I’m lucky that I can at least sort of understand such complicated and important literature, you know? I’m confused a lot, but I always end up taking at least something from each book. Learning history, understanding society. I like feeling intelligent when I read; I like that it’s sometimes a challenge.

But sometimes, I miss the simplicity of reading. I miss the honesty. I miss being able to relate to the characters, to look for pieces of myself in them. Those books that I read through my childhood, the ones with no “literary merit” whatsoever, those are the books closest to my heart. Sometimes, before I go to bed, even if it’s late, I take one of them off the shelf, open the crinkled, worn out spine, and start to read.

Sara Nickerson’s How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found is one of my favorite books on the planet, and it’s about a twelve-year-old. The book doesn’t criticize society or have some important philosophical message behind it; there isn’t any symbolism or really any rhetorical devices at all. It’s just a twelve-year-old girl, on a quest to discover the truth about the death of her father and her complicated family history. She doesn’t fall in love, although she does realize the enormity of possibility. The writing is simple but clever, and the story is sad but hopeful. I remember being twelve, all that horrible confusion, and reading this book is kind of a moment of clarity, a tribute to the past.

This is the kind of thing I feel like the big-time classics I’m reading now don’t offer me. I’m not transplanted there anymore, I don’t begin to feel as the characters do. Opening a book is like trying to understand a foreign language instead of meeting a new friend. It’s different now, I’m older, I should be able to handle more. But I still hold onto those midnight readings of children’s books, waiting for the day I’ll find the same truths in something else.

I Remember

When I was three or four years old, we moved from a little ranch on a crowded street to a house that had three stories and a two-car garage. Not surprisingly, I don’t remember much about the move. Sometimes I have a fragment of a memory – a quick image of the view from the top of the stairs, the feeling of the carpet underneath my feet – but before they can come together into something whole, I lose the picture. My first two houses are buried somewhere in my memory, overshadowed by my vivid recollections of the past thirteen or so years.

One day when I was walking with my mother, I had one of those flashes. I remembered a girl, a little younger than me, with curly hair and a big smile. I remembered her name for just a second, not long enough to speak it aloud.

“Hey, Mom, do you remember that girl I used to play with when we lived on Churchhill?” I asked as we moseyed along the sidewalk. “Curly hair…I think she had a baby sister, maybe?”

“Hillary,” she responded. “She came to your birthday tea party.”

“Yeah, I remember,” I said, searching my memory for more information about her. Maybe my mom had given me some retrieval cues. I had a vague, blurry picture of that birthday party in my mind, a bunch of four-year-old girls in poofy dresses drinking water out of tiny little teacups. Sure enough, more information surfaced. “Her sister was sick?” I added tentatively. “Right?”

“Yep,” Mom answered.

“Whatever happened to her?”

She didn’t look at me. “Oh. She died.”

The words jarred me. I combed through every memory I had in my head, trying to find some remnant of the tiny human to associate with this tragedy, but I came up empty. Maybe I’d never seen her. Maybe I’d forgotten her. All I could find to represent her was this blurry, probably inaccurate picture of her four-year-old sister. My heart ached at the thought of little Hillary, who met and lost her baby sister in less than the length of her own short lifetime.

I thought of my brother, who had been almost a baby himself when we lived in that house. The monster who used to drive me crazy, who once drew blood because he bit me in the back. The boy that grew up to become my best friend.

Life is brief. No one stays around forever. But I thank God for giving me the gift of watching my little brother grow up. Through his awkward phase, through his annoying phase, through his morose stage – even at the worst, he was there. I never had to face anything alone. And every time I think of him, I remember them. Claire, the one who never got to steal her sister’s toys or become her best friend. And Hillary, the one who never got to experience the joy and laughter and madness of being a big sister. At least not to her.

I bet not a lot of people remember her. I do.

I’m Good At Being Afraid

There are butterflies in my stomach, but not the nice kind; they seem to be trying desperately to escape at the expense of my internal organs. I can’t keep food down, can barely swallow. My heart runs a marathon through my chest, the echo of its thick, rapid beats reverberating through my veins. The constriction of my chest muscles freezes my body in its tracks; I hyperventilate. My brain jolts, sizzles, runs haywire like a fuse that is about to explode; my vision blurs and my entire frame trembles. I have already lost control. I cannot hear you talking to me; you cannot help. The only thing you can do is sit with me until this stops, until I can focus again.

Fear. It’s a word I’ve been hearing for a long time, from the first day I went to the doctor and told them I couldn’t breathe. The doctor looked at my mother and said, “Your daughter may have an anxiety disorder.”

What does that mean to an eleven-year-old? It meant that sometimes I couldn’t sleep because I was too afraid that my heart would stop beating in the middle of the night, and that when I saw a piece of glass on the road I was terrified that I would swallow it. Irrational, unexplainable fears. It was as the doctor described: I had a keen awareness and anticipation of danger that caused me frequent panic attacks as a result of seemingly insignificant triggers. Some spells were worse than others, but I was always able to handle it on my own. As early as the fifth grade, I knew how to get through an anxiety attack in school without the teacher ever noticing. By seventh grade, although I was not able to eat more than a few bites of any meal for over three months, I seemed like an expertly adjusted individual. And at the end of sophomore year of high school, I taught myself how to do things as complicated as math problems in the midst of a full-blown panic.

I’m used to fear. Even when I go months without the irrationality and terror of the true disorder, I still get scared. I’m afraid of being in front of people and saying the wrong thing and dealing with my emotions. I’m terrified of how people perceive me and how I perceive myself. And every day, I turn down the things that I really want because I’m too frightened to face the unknown. Sometimes those facts discourage me, but mostly I just know I have some more growing to do. Maybe it’s true that I have a pretty long-term anxiety disorder, and right now I might let fear rule a lot of things. But I have already conquered so much of it on my own. I am capable of so much more.

The Curse of Indecision

​I stand in front of the white wooden wall and stare. It is the most daunting piece of crudely painted lumber I have ever seen, overwhelming me with its peeling text and childish, hand-drawn pictures. There are words misspelled and letters missing; only the discolored sketches seem to be totally intact. Squinting, I read each line carefully, as if in preparation for a test of my knowledge. I compare words with their matching drawings. I take one minuscule step forward, just a tad closer, and then with a rush of panic I hear the dreaded words: “Can I help you?”

​On-the-spot decision-making has never been my strongest suit. In fact, my uncanny lack of decisiveness makes enemies of every ice cream scooper I encounter, as well as waitresses, aggressive drivers, people standing behind me in line, and at times even my own mother. I feel the need to overanalyze every situation, create extended pro-con lists, mull over every option for longer than 24 hours, and ask for recommendations and opinions before I decide on things as simple as which flavor of ice cream to get or what to eat for dinner. Spontaneity makes me nervous; impulses are terrifying and irrational. In my mind, choices should be made through the employment of logic and reason, considering and weighing each possible outcome. Choosing involves much more than just what I “feel like”; it involves “should” and requires an answer to “why.”

​I cannot believe that my extensive decision-making process is entirely my fault, however. I remember family road trips as early as the age of six being unbearable because none of us ever wanted to choose where to stop for dinner. When we planned a “family fun day,” no one ever picked a destination. At a restaurant we would force a waiter to take at least three trips to collect all of our complete orders. From the time my brother and I were toddlers, my parents tried to instill in us the decisiveness they lacked, but we were hopeless. The four of us always employ three words when asked our opinions, and those words are “I don’t care.”

​I stand back from the wall for a moment and let the words surround me, swirling a current of choices around my brain. I feel a tightening in my chest, my pulse quickening with tension. My breath catches as the impatient question comes again. “I said, can I help you?” Her fingers are tapping a drumbeat on the sticky counter, matching the thumping of my heart. I have fewer than five seconds to make my choice. The rhythm of the clicking and the drumming and the pounding clouds my senses.

​“You’ve been in line for, like, ten minutes,” the girl says with contempt. “Can I help who’s next?”

​I am shoved off to the side by a crabby man’s elbow, the jolt to my ribs shifting my thoughts away from my dilemma. All these people have been standing in line for just as long as I have, and they seem to have all made a decision. The wide-eyed woman with the toddler clutching her leg is placing a long and difficult order; the sweaty boys’ soccer team is in the process of tackling triple scoop sundaes. It is my last chance to make this choice today, but the decision will be a trivial one. What flavor I decide on won’t matterin the long run, not tomorrow or tonight or even an hour from now. So why can’t I do it?

​I finally step up to the counter, shaking but confident. It’s time to choose something just because I want to. I haven’t weighed every option or asked for every opinion. But for the first time, I’ve listened to my heart. I take a deep breath. “Peanut butter cup sounds good.”

Sometimes You Learn

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Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.

Sometimes you win. You wake up to an email telling you that you’re finally employed. You dance around your room without your glasses on, only to trip over your nightstand and fall face-first into the radiator. Sometimes you learn.

Sometimes you win. A boy with an adorable smile tells you that your imperfections make you beautiful. For once, you can see yourself through someone else’s eyes; the fierce loyalty, the shy crooked smile, the eyes that draw the world in like a whirlpool. You fall in love with what he sees, but he doesn’t. It was never meant to last longer than a moment. Sometimes you learn.

Sometimes you win. Sometimes the words flow easily, like Ernest Hemingway meets Niagara Falls. Everything comes together perfectly, a flawless concoction of letters and words and phrases and sentences that steams with meaning and glows with passion. Sometimes they’re lost in your head, swirling through the pathways of your brain, unwilling to fall out the way you’d like, leaving you tired and angry and meek. Sometimes you learn.

Sometimes you win. You look around at your messy living room and your mismatched throw pillows and you think, “this is mine.” You never thought you could make it on your own, not after everything you’ve been through, but here you are. It could use a good vacuuming; you should run the dishwasher. But you’re here, your feet resting casually on the coffee table, cheap Christmas lights twinkling in the windows, typing words that a thousand people will read. You are everything you never thought was possible. Sometimes you learn.