two hundred & thirty two: slope

okay wtf is with the math terms? first angles, then slope? (ps my lovely pocketbrit will surely take issue with my saying math, apparently it is maths, plural. the brits are a weird fucking people, i’m just saying.)

i’m not even sure i have a photo for this. i’m trying to think of a one…there must be at least something, somewhere. okay, but as i started to write i had a couple thoughts about hitting the slopes…shit, the last time i went downhill skiing was ten years ago, a couple months before getting pregnant with our daughter, when i went on a cross-border bus trip with my friends. highlights of the trip: not the slopes, but 1) the amazing caesars they served at the chalet, 2) the absolutely horrifyingly amazing country music bar we went to after our first day of skiing (which culminated in me hugging the toilet, i seem to remember) and 3) cross-country skiing, on our last day, where the snow sparkled like a million diamonds in the brilliant sunshine. i was sweaty yet cold, exhilerated but exhausted.

not very exciting, but it’s what i’ve got.

one hundred & ninety five: fly

  • fly me to the moon…the frank sinatra song
  • how, like so many kids, i often dreamed about sprouting a pair of wings and being able to fly – how magical that would be
    • in that vein, how i tried, so very often, to fly as a little girl – jumping off roofs, fences, sheds – and how one attempt (from a fence; i believe i was trying to be mary poppins?) ended in fairly significant scrapes, bruises, and a decent head knock when my foot got caught in between the fence boards and instead of flying, i flopped headfirst, suspended upside down by my pinched, bloodied leg
  • how much i love taking off in planes…how the roaring, and the gentle gravity pinning your body to the seat, is like a lullaby, a hug
  • how running, when i was younger, fit, and a significant number of pounds lighter, felt like flying
  • seeing jeff goldblum in the movie ‘the fly’ as a little girl and being simultaneously disgusted and intrigued at the scenes where he puked on things before consuming them (i don’t know why i was allowed to watch this as a small kid)
  • the satisfying, palm-smacking arrival of a really high, pop fly ball in my glove
  • how so many people, including two people really close to me, are quite terrified of flying, and whose nightmares feature plane crashes regularly
  • the frequency with which i have fantasized about jumping on a plane and showing up on pocketbrit’s doorstep (which i wouldn’t do, not really, coz it would freak her out totally and that’s not how i want us to meet)
  • how simultaneously liberating and frustrating it is to fly a kite
written april 12/19; backdated

one hundred & eighty six: smile

my first thought was about how often, and in how many ways, women are told to smile, and what bullshit that is. we should be able to arrange our faces however we want. i’ll smile when i feel like it, thanks, and if i don’t feel like it…then i won’t.

*

and yet…when i actually said the word smile to myself again (and again), i saw images of people’s smiling faces in my mind’s eye, like a slideshow. and as i lingered on these faces of the people i love, studied them, drank them in…i thought about how a truly genuine smile transforms a face: the way the eyes seem to transmit light, how the skin around them crinkles. how the cheeks lift, how the brow softens, how the mouth stretches and moves. how dimples appear (my wife has the most lovely, deep dimples, and i remember the heart-skipping, breathless feeling of first seeing her smile).

i thought about the power of a smile. how changes the face it graces, but also, can actually change the course of your day. i realized how dependent i am on seeing smiling faces, how important it is for me to elicit them, but also to receive them unsolicited. i thought about how hard it is not to return a smile.

there are so many varieties of smiles, too. beaming ones, full of delight. slow, mischievous smiles. dreamy ones. quick polite smiles. secret smiles between lovers. shy ones. sad, resigned ones. gentle ones, full of love. sleepy ones. impy, cheeky smiles that are on the brink of a laugh…and so so many more. just thinking about them all, i felt the corners of my own mouth turn up, funny, isn’t it?

*

then i meandered towards the evolution of smiles…how tiny babies begin to smile, at four or five or six weeks of age, mouth fully open, eyes wide, locking with yours, entire body vibrating with unadulterated delight. (as an older baby, i remember how daughter used to smile with her whole body, wrists and ankles rotating, breath quickening, eyes sparkling…it was my favourite. it felt like the best gift, those smiles.)

and then, depending on attachment between parents and baby, and the disposition of the baby and probably a million other things, the smile starts to change. mostly around the eyes, it seems…and also in that smiling becomes far more interdependent, and will intensify or decrease with the feedback the smiler receives from the people around them.

trust me to take a post on smiling down a grim path…but i keep on thinking of some of the pictures i have in my possession, as a baby, and a toddler, and then a little girl. some of the pictures are formal and posed, like at a portrait studio, and others more candid…it doesn’t even matter, because when i look, when i really look, i’m struck by how fucking sad i look in nearly all of them. how my smile, even when i was absolutely fucking tiny, was so guarded and contained.

i hate that. i hate that confirmation.

i hate seeing that same type of smile in pocketbrit’s baby and toddler photos. the same kind of eyes. i don’t know how to describe it other than to say it’s familiar and hurts my heart and makes me mad and definitely does not make me feel like smiling. it fills me with grief and sorrow.

*

i was also thinking about the evolution of the relationship between pocketbrit and i, how something as automatic and commonplace as a smile was something we didn’t share for ages. we shared all sorts of other things, but not that.

i mean, we knew what the other looked like via photos we shared, and daily goofy selfies, emojis and gifs, the occasional video…but in terms of seeing each other’s true, unedited, unplanned, spontaneously smiling face? it hasn’t even been a year, i feel like. and the first time we actually video-called each other (after months of talking about it, and then being terrified about it), guess what we ended up doing?

basically, we looked at each other and smiled for about 10 minutes (that’s all we could bear that first call, i think). think huge, dorky grins. i was so nervous but also so completely delighted to see her, to be with her in that way. it’s making me smile really big thinking of it now, too…but smiling’s such a simple, daily thing we take for granted, right? like such a basic way we interact with others? and yet, it is also such an intimate, lovely thing, that can convey so so much.

i remember thinking afterwards how completely odd it was, that she she knew the inside workings of my brain and my fears and my trauma before she knew what i looked like when i smiled. how backwards and weird and wonderful it was.

*

i actually googled how often we smile, and was surprised that it was only 20 times per day on average, according to this source. apparently happier people smile 40-50 times per day, and children, 400 times per day.

(okay but then i scrolled down and started to laugh so so hard…because apparently brits only smile 11 times per day, according to this study. so get a-smirking over there, friend, so you can keep up with us over here!)

one hundred & eighty-four: magic

i’m not much capable of much beyond some free association tonight, so here goes:

  • the very very first thing in my head was this song – the tune is so so catchy, but honestly the lyrics are pretty cheesy (and those are some serious 80s mullets in the video!)
  • this magic set pictured below, from when i was little…i remember feeling pretty clever doing all of those ‘tricks’

fisher price magic

  • the ridiculous scene from the movie ‘magic mike’ where channing tatum’s character is in the gas station store and pours water all over himself and starts dancing on a dare…i can’t be arsed to google and find it but it’s fully silly and makes me laugh every time
  • how often i’ve wanted to magic away all of the shame, all of the hurt, all of the trauma of these past few years
  • and even more frequently, how many times i’ve wished for a magical travel portal so i can blink myself to the UK, or have pocketbrit get her skinny british butt over here for dinner or honestly, just to be in the same room so i can give her the biggest most squishy hug…i wish that so often. that is the kind of magic i could get behind.

one hundred & seventy three: fine

at first i thought that my comment on pocketbrit’s post was pretty much all i wanted to say on the topic…except it seems that her post has disappeared, and now i don’t remember what i said. so i’m going to try again.

i think all of us live in what i like to call opposite-land at times…we say one thing while meaning another. and it’s all in the delivery, right? ‘i’m fine’ accompanied by a downcast gaze, or quick, snappy body language, or a blazing stare all mean, quite clearly, that the person is not very fine at all. but for pocketbrit and i, who built our relationship via text on a screen (on a forum for survivors of sexual abuse, then over email, now using a chatting app), it was sometimes hard to tell tone. however, i learned fairly quickish (yet slower than most, likely) that for her, fine usually did not mean that she was okay.

i tried to search through our chat history using the word fine but it came up with about 75,420,291 hits…okay, a slight exaggeration, but it is a word that comes up between us frequently, and hurts us both. she won’t believe it, but i don’t think she’s wrong and i’m right in how we use it, not even a little. it is more just that this one small word has managed to highlight so completely and painfully the worst and biggest hurts from our past, the ways they have settled in our bones and continue to injure us in the now. it is horrible and amazing both, how quickly it can flip a switch on our communication, how much power it wields. and tonight, it makes me mad that i let it so often, when i should know better. (oh hello shame, you wily arsehole.)

as she has written about previously, my sweetest pocketbrit was not permitted feelings in her family; her role was as a peace-keeper amongst her brothers, her dad, and even between her parents. there was no room for her to feel anything. no one asked, and no one, within or outside her family, dug beneath the facade of fineness. any unfine feelings she did have were quickly swallowed in order for her to stay safe, to survive.

being fine was the only option for her, really, for years and years (and i’d argue, even now) and that’s an awful thing to come to terms with. re-experiencing the aloneness of a forced fine-ness is fucking terrible, bad enough as an adult, but even worse through the heart of a child. a child who wants to be rescued; who wants to be seen and known and adored and held, like all children do. like we deserved.

i know pocketbrit’s story. i know it, and i understand it. i know that her need for fineness when she is anything but is not to do with me. i know it’s about protecting herself, and most of all, i want her to be safe. god, it is so so important to me that she is safe, that the wee ones inside are safe. and when i’m firmly planted as an adult, her fineness/not fineness doesn’t affect me in the same way as when i’m less adult. it doesn’t hurt. i can think, ah, pocketbrit needs to stay safe, okay. it is in those moments that i can ask whether she’s really fine, or whether she needs to be (as she referenced in her post). it’s those times that no matter her response to that question, whether it’s truthful or less truthful or angry or barricaded, that i can stay steady. if she says she’s fine and she’s not really, it may be mildly frustrating, sure, but i don’t spin out. i can be fine, truly fine, in the face of however she is.

the crap part is, i haven’t had many of those moments lately, where i’m fine, or anything approximating it. i’ve been very unfine lately. and so has she.

and that’s when it all goes to shit, really. when we’re both little and needing. when we’re tired or missing each other. when we want to have our needs met without having to ask, without having to say the words. when we need to be remembered by the other, when we can’t do it ourselves. basically, when our traumas get all tangled and knotted between us and suddenly we’re wading through a colossal triggery mess.

for me, the hook is the word fine, a little, yes, but mostly it’s about doublespeak. when i’m young, or if i’m not sturdy in my adultness, my terror with hearing things are fine (when the circumstances are so shit that there’s no possible way they could be) comes from knowing that i am expected to know, and that because i don’t, i will have to guess, that i will have to search, and that i will inevitably get it wrong.

coz that was my entire childhood. i grew up with a mother who had an endless number of triggers, it seemed. who metamorphosed into a petulant furious child when she was hurt or upset. and her lack of boundaries, her volatility, her inconsistency, made for very confusing, unsafe times for child-me. coz when my mom was hurt or upset, she raged, she lashed out with whatever was nearest, she slammed things around, she screamed in my face, but worst of all was when she would go completely silent, for hours or sometimes days.

it made my stomach drop out. it was clear i was being punished, but she wouldn’t tell me why, or what. during these silent periods, when i asked for something she’d sometimes respond, but with no eye contact. she would serve me food, turn on the taps for my bath, but in silence. and if she did meet my gaze, her eyes were empty and dead. she handled me like i was a thing. it was like i had disappeared, like i didn’t exist, and i absorbed her disgust like a sponge.

for years, when this happened, i would flail desperately, trying to make it right, trying to fix it, trying to get her to look at me, to love me. and then, in a distant, quiet voice, looking somewhere over my shoulder, she’d say that she was fine. it didn’t matter. and there was no correct response to that. the only right thing was that i was wrong, regardless. my existence, my presence, was wrong.

so it’s a little bit the word fine, but mostly it’s the perpetual wrongness that’s my trigger. the feeling from long ago, of being trapped, of having no clue what to do but being pretty certain that it will be wrong no matter what. the helplessness that swallows me whole when i’m faced with a word that has so many shades of meaning, that is so super charged.

so yeah, when i’m already triggered, or when i’m young already (or teetering on edge of it), when i’m lost in shame, hearing pocketbrit tell me she’s fine creates instant panic. it feels like i have to guess and i know i’ll get it wrong, and then many times, i’m flooded with anger and blame (to cover my terror) and then it’s already gone to shit, hasn’t it.

so here are my solutions around using the word fine. we should:

  • identify exactly how we’re feeling every given moment
  • only say the word as it’s meant – as in, all is well over here!
  • stay safe at all times so we never resort to past coping mechanisms
  • check our shame at the door, or if we experience it, be able to dial it back asap
  • remember that we love each other
  • remember what love is, period

yeah they’re shit solutions. i know. i knew it when i started trying to write them. it’s coz there aren’t any solutions, i don’t think.

saying fine is not a problem to be solved, to start…i mean, yeah, all the things that are glued to it are problematic, but we didn’t paste them there. we didn’t choose them on our own, though we are the ones who have to deal with them.

update (as of may 12/19): even though the original entry was only a couple months ago, i was struck by the fact tonight that this word hasn’t come up in ages. i mean, we certainly haven’t stopped triggering each other, and we’ve had some absolutely horrific arguments since then…one in particular for which i need to do a whole lot more repair with one of her young parts…but not about this word. progress? i think so. i really do. coz even after reflecting on all of this again, even thinking about all the hard stuff we’ve been through together and on our own, all i feel is love and gratitude. she’s the friend for me.

backdated; finalized on May 12/19

Music (112)

Music is important to me. I like to have sound, particularly if it’s loud out, busy with people, if I just want to be in my own world, or quiet all the noise. I can’t sleep without noise, either a film, or music. Always, if I really can’t sleep, there’s one song that I turn to, and the best thing of all is that my best friend sang it for me and recorded it (along with her cat), and on nights like last night where I was sick, I put her recording on and not only did I have my favourite song, I had my best friend singing it. It is safety to me, a place to rest and be loved. I haven’t been able to sleep without music in years, and in my family, there is a lot to be said for being able to put earphones in and no longer have to hear conversations that are hurtful.

This ones very much for PC, a little truth telling – I used to, and still do occasionally when the mood takes me, listen to country music…. (Trust me people, she might unfriend me for this one, the blog could be over before we know it….)

Classical music reminds me of my paternal grandparents (both dead now). Something I adored about my grandmother is that every single day, when I arrived at their house after school, I would be greeted with the smell of the house…an old cottage, wood fire smoke in the winter, the smell of freshly baked bread or cake or dinner, the TV on in the sitting room, pot of tea keeping warm on the aga, and the sound of classical FM on the radio, a permanent presence, morning till evening.

I have also always wanted to go the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall, particularly standing up in the gods. It kind of makes me sad because I absolutely love the Last Night of the Proms, and it’s always been a tradition of my dads and mine (the only ones who enjoy it) to play it loudly through the stereo system and listen and watch, eyes wide and sparkly, marking the end of summer, and the beginning (back then) of another school year. It was a connection of ours, and I just loved it. I’ve asked a few friends if they would want to go, but never really to any success… but perhaps I’ve just found my answer, PC?(though be warned, I know nothing about music, so I’ll very much be clueless if I’m there with you). If you came to the UK in the summer one year?

eighty-nine: adventure

i used to read these ‘choose your own adventure’ books when i was a kid…anyone remember those?

choose adventure

those were so so fun. i would get lost in all the twists and turns of those books…i know they were formulaic, but maybe i wasn’t that bright a kid?

unfortunately when i think of them in the context of now, they feel tainted…sad. coz this is not the adventure i’d choose. no one would. (although, without it, i wouldn’t have my pocketbrit. and i would choose her time and again.)

eighty-one: outside

i wish i could launch myself outside of this brain of mine. i just want to be outside of me entirely. outside of this body, this head, these thoughts, these emotions. i know it’s just coz i’ve just been a bucket of triggers lately, but still. get me out.

*

i feel like kids play outside way less than they used to. when i was a kid, i would spend hours outside, with my cousins or my brother, or on my own. singing to the trees. playing with my dollies. throwing the ball for my dog. catching tadpoles, making forts, befriending worms. searching for four-leaf clovers. hanging from the monkey bars. running through the sprinkler.

*

when it was warm, i used to climb outside my window as a kid after i’d been put to bed, i’m not sure how old i was. six maybe? seven? when i was sure the coast was clear, i slid open my screen and jumped down (i can still feel that thud under my bare feet) to the green grassy carpet below. usually i’d sit and pet my cat, sing to her, but lots of times, i remember being sad, tucking my knees up to my chest and feeling the tears spill down my legs, as i sat on the ground, in between sheets and towels that were hanging to dry on the clothesline. i felt safe in there, hidden. and when i was done, when it was getting dark or when the bugs got too bad or when the tears had stopped or if i got sleepy, i’d push the square weathered step stool that was used to hold the laundry basket up to the wall under my window so i could clamber back in.

i don’t remember ever getting caught. or having anyone ask me about it…i mean, they must’ve known i did it. how many mornings must my mom have moved the stool back? or did they notice at all?

*

when i was in my early teens, i remember summer nights, outside with my friends, riding bikes, bouncing balls against the school walls, playing tag by streetlight in their richly-kid-populated neighbourhoods (mine was full of old people and babies). drinking gigantic slushies together with the same two straws (or with red twizzlers – yum!). all of that was as close to bliss as i could imagine, then. free and wild. sweaty necks, dusty shoes, smiles glinting in the night.

seventy-nine: weather(ed)

i keep thinking of the weathered hands of elderly people: the geography of aging. the smattering of brown speckly age spots, the raised, snaking veins, wriggling their way between bumpy knuckles and fragile tendons. the delicate creases in the pliable dough of their palms. i love hands, anyway, and i love the hands of old people perhaps the very very most of all.

and now, i am thinking of their skin. have you ever held the wrinkled hands of someone very old? or brushed your lips against their soft, lined cheek? their skin is like silk… so soft. so dry and so soft. the calluses of their younger days mellowed, the strength of their grip and sharpness of their joints diminished by time.

even though it has been nearly thirty years since i held the cool, knotted hands of my grandmother in my own, as i sat with her, in the throes of fitful dreams induced by the narcotics to dull the cancer that was eating her body from within…even though it’s been so long, i can still imagine her soft, soft hands like it were yesterday. as though she were right here, smoothing my hair back, wiping the tears that are suddenly on my cheeks, stroking my face so gently, so carefully, with such love.

seventy-four: uncertain

this word makes me feel sad.

for some reason, i have in my head this picture of me, when i was fairly small, maybe it was the first day of school or preschool or easter, but i’m posing in front of our white picket fence (yes really – ha!), hands at my sides, wearing a short-sleeved white dress with a pleated skirt and a green sash, hair in matching green yarn ribbons, all of it moving slightly with the breeze. i’m squinting and smiling into the camera, i really was cute, like so so cute in this picture, and all looks completely normal. just a sweet little kid in her front yard, white knee-high socks nearly even, hair shimmering in the sun.

but look closer, and i’ve got my one foot tilted outwards, not quite standing square, and just that one detail entirely belies the illusion of fineness. it’s like a subtle shrug or something, a tiny little giveaway about how it really was, how unsure i felt, and it makes me feel so fucking sad. because i’m totally looking fine and normal and okay…but that little foot, supinating…it’s what i still do now, decades later, when i’m nervous or worried or fidgeting.

so i feel it all differently, thinking about that picture today. i wasn’t okay, then, but no one knew, no one noticed. i was on my own.