*Deep breath* Welcome to my writing space for this blog, where I’ll share little snippets & pieces that I’ve written for your
gentle , constructive critique, support, and suggestions, and so you can get a sense of the type of writer I am (if you haven’t from the blog posts thus far. The newest ones will be on top. Enjoy (and comment)!
August 29, 2011
I wrote this piece some time ago, in 2005 before I’d ever met my youngest little brother. It perfectly describes how I was feeling at the time, but not how I feel now. I went back and forth with whether or not to post this, but it really is a beautiful piece (to me) and I can’t publish it anywhere else. So I hope you guys enjoy it.
Obed’s Bridge or Crossing, whatever it is. I never met Obed, and I only stood on the bridge once. My dad no longer works at the youth facility where it is and maybe it’s called something else now, but that bridge between my father and I may as well go up in flames.
I didn’t even ask why there was no Erica’s Alcove or Denise’s Den, but he told me anyway. He bid on the bridge, won, named it Obed’s Crossing (or Bridge or whatever) and he didn’t have enought left to bid on anything else. Funny, I thought, I’m your first born second. I’d wondered what Bilal meant by that, thought it was a coy, pseudo-intellectual colloquialism he’d coined, but Obed’s Bridge changed my understanding.
All I knew was that it hadn’t made a difference I came first, never would. I was cast off first, forgotten about, nourished and supported by other people until he “got saved” and decided he had obligations to fulfill. Even then, he complained and took snippy sarcastic bites out of my flesh.
It amazed me how he married and too on two stepsons, had a son, and called me with the fait accomplait, expecting me to be just as pleased as he was. It amazed me more when they all disappeared and I was expected to be appropriately contrite. I tried to be those things; indeed, I practiced each expression in the mirror, constructed sentences, and sent the appropriate voice/face package out, but it all cam back “Return to Sender.”
I fought hard to suppress the urge to rip to shreds pictures of him holding Obed, beaming, the proud father. I can’t recall where they are now, but they are still in one horrifying piece. As for me, I met my dad when I was already walking and talking well enough to climb on a table and cuss him out eye to eye.
So now here we are, some eighteen years later at the empasse of polite conversation and surface civility. I’ve made myself available for the odd school holiday to be “oohed” and”ahhed” over like a trophy or large Catch of the Day, and he’s made efforts towards proud father (but failing because he can’t manage to let a compliment get away without a complaint attached). We interact as best we can on opposite shores, unlinked by a bridge or crossing…or whatever.
Walking on the Edge
I should do it and get it over with. There wasn’t really any reason not to do it, was there? But then, I’d probably screw it up. I’d managed to make a mess of everything else so far. Why would my death be any different?
I was walking along an overpass on the shoulder of the road. Behind me was the college I’d attempted to go to after realizing I couldn’t return to Purdue and finish. Instead of fitting in seamlessly there and completing my last year, I was walking away, literally. I could blame it on the lack of transportation, the lack of family support, the odd way my credits transferred, the different requirements I had to meet, the tardiness of my financial aid, but what it all came down to was the same lassitude I’d been fighting ever since I learned my financial aid at Purdue had fallen through. I was now marked FAILURE: HANDLE WITH CARE in big red letters with a square border. Maybe it was the imperious pointing finger of a RETURN TO SENDER stamp. Either way, I was damaged and undeliverable.
I was on my way to my mother’s job, the closest place to walk to from campus. I was dropped off there that morning to formally withdraw. It had seemed like a simple solution to be dropped off and walk over to my mother’s job. It was the only way I could get a ride to the college. My mother’s job, in a hotel close to the Palace of Auburn Hills where the Detroit Pistons had recently won back to back championships, was about two miles from the school. It wouldn’t take long to walk the distance, and I needed time to think, to try and sort out the confusing tangle in my head. It felt as if I had a huge pile of downed live power lines in my head, sparking and hissing with information lost between point A and point B. My actions had no motivations, and my feelings had no outlet. I was emotionally disconnected.
I didn’t remember when I set out that my route would take me over the overpass. The overpass was situated over a busy interstate, I-75. As I walked along the shoulder, watching cars whizzing to and fro underneath me, the usual dizzy feeling I got looking over, the insane fear of falling over from the push of some unseen hand or errant wind left me. I felt calm. It seemed like the most logical thing in the world to just lean over and let gravity do the rest.
Some sane part of me was struggling to be heard. I had never contemplated suicide. I wasn’t sure that was what I was contemplating now. It was as if I was wrapped in cotton, as if what I did or thought didn’t matter, that whatever was going to happen would happen. That’s what the last six months had shown me, wasn’t it? Everything I’d worked hard to build up had been torn down.
There wasn’t really any reason not to do it, was there?
But then, I’d probably screw it up, my sane self argued. My sane self, hobbled as it was by my disconnection, wasn’t above using my failures as a stop gap to stupidity. My legendary sense of self preservation had been severed from my body, but failure was still a working line. I could imagine me sliding off of a car, badly hurt but still alive. I imagined cars swerving to avoid me lying in the road, car accidents and back ups for miles caused by one simpleton whose self preservation and momentary depression were playing chicken, and self preservation blinked first. Lastly, I imagined my mother, after wondering what happened to me, stopping at this same overpass, looking down on my crumpled body.
All the time, I had been walking. It seemed as if the overpass had stretched itself out more as I walked briskly across. The epic battle in my head concluded with me simply having reach the end of the overpass, hurry across the street before the light changed.
I can’t say that self-preservation won that day. I can’t say that I ever intended to do more than think how easy it would be to exit stage left and not have to deal with putting my life back together and getting it back on track. What I can say is that that was the first and only time some sense of self preservation didn’t jump into the gap and save me well before I could act out of frustration to my detriment. I can also say this was the first time being a failure turned out to be a good thing for me to be.
February 18th, 2011
I started this piece a few days ago. It was supposed to be a blog post, but it triggered a memory that spun it out into a creative writing post. I’ve wondered what on Earth to do with it. It’s not polished or finished, but if you know of a market for this type of creative non-fiction, let me know, as I AM working on a memoir for future publication, possibly as essays in various magazines.
“Imagine a string coming out of your head and going all the way up to the ceiling.” Or something like that; it’s been so long now I can’t remember that one quite right. What I do remember clearly, though, are the golden apples on the ceiling. To pluck them, we had to reach up with one arm and twist as if unscrewing a lightbulb. We were in the ballroom/recital hall at my high school, and the ceiling, with it’s chandeliers and aristics flourishes were fanciful enough that I could see those golden apples.
I took Tai Chi for at least one semester in high school. Everyone had to participate in an intramural sport, intern at the science museum, or sign up for one of these “soft” exercise classes as an after school activity for your entire tenure there. Even though I loved running, I feared my exercise-induced asthma would keep me from excelling in it, so I chose Tai Chi. I had a vague notion that I would relax my mind and get out of doing any real exercise. Besides, I liked the teacher.
Madame Fuzet was also the French teacher. A little French woman from what I imagined must be the south of France, she had the most lyrical voice and serene laissez-faire French air I’d ever encountered. When she shrugged her shoulders, it looked like a graceful dance move. Even the odd little mewing and tsking and “aha” noises she made at the back of her throat could put any “throaty” laugh to shame. I had studied French a long time, but I didn’t have the savoir faire, let alone the sangfroid, to pull off that French womanliness. I suppose I wanted some to rub off on me while taking the class, or better, to reach out and twist a golden ball of it off some invisible branch suspended from the ceiling.
“Embrace Tiger,” she intoned, squatting low, sweeping her arms towards each other near the floor. Rising from the squat, she held her hands in front of her chest as if she clutched a heavy burden to it. Her hands were soft, the fingers slightly splayed. The breeze swirled her short dark curls around her cheekbones.
We were in the Japanese Gardens practicing. I loved when we practiced there. I would walk onto the upraised surface of the little bridge and pause a while, listening to the water trickle over the network of stones beneath, breathing in the warm air underpinned with a brisk coolness to remind that summer was running late on its way to Michigan, again. I liked standing in the clearing doing the artful motions, pretending I was taking part in a ritual dance. For a few moments, the awkward tension of adolescence would leave my limbs.
I liked Embrace Tiger. I imagined my tiger was a white tiger cub. I had to make it something I wanted to embrace, heavy enough to warrant the deep squats, yet precious enough to hold gingerly. It had to be rare, uncommon. It also had to be a little dangerous to hold.
I’ve seen TV shows in which tigers have attacked their handlers or unsuspecting spectators. There’s really no such thing as a tame tiger. Any time you go to embrace a tiger, there’s a good chance you’ll come away maimed. To me, this made Embrace Tiger a power move. Every time you did it was a gamble.
“Set it back on the mountain,” she instructed, floating her hands down, palms downward, in a firm pressing motion. Once the tiger was out of our hands, was it more or less dangerous? At least when we held it, we had placed some restrictions on its movements and had some control. We looked it in the face. Now, we were firmly setting it away, as if it didn’t have the power to maim us.
There’s a sequence I only vaguely remember the proper labels for, one in which we would leave our back foot flat, perpendicular to our front foot with its toes pointing forward as made stop signs with our hands, palms outward. We would “roll back” “spin the wheel” “pet” or “trace” the swallow’s tail.” The main thing I remember about this is spinning the wheel and petting the swallow’s tail. You spun the wheel much like you would on The Price is Right.
Even though the wheel spun like the wheel on The Price is Right, I always visualized the wheel of fortune. I liked to imagine it was my turn and I was spinning. It’s funny how much I thought was up to chance then. I replaced the monetary amounts and trips with colleges, career aspirations, and possible mates. Where would it land? University of Chicago, writer, married to HIM?
How much of my life was up to chance? How much was a bad bounce and how much was a sheer dumb luck? Did it matter what I did at all? I figured if the most I could control was the spin, then I would put my all into it. I reached up and spun that wheel as hard as I could, and waited for it to stop.
Tai Chi is filled with power, with action: reach, embrace, roll, push, step. It’s also filled with grace: soft hands and flowing steps. Perhaps the tranquility it brings comes not only from the gentleness of the practice, but the images it creates in our mind: we can simply pluck valuable fruit off the tree if we will be willing to reach a little higher; we are strong enough to pick up and embrace rare, dangerous things, then place them back on a mountain without fear they will maim us.
I still don’t have the nonchalant grace of a Frenchwoman, nor do I have physical access to that tranquil Japanese garden. When I look up, I see the uniform white squares that most cubicle dwellers in Corporate America labor under. Yet, I feel this inner strength, poise, and grace in me. I feel this woman who has conquered tigers and mountains, who has embraced them. And I see golden apples hanging from the ceiling. If I could only convince myself to reach…