Flying Off at the Handle

Here’s a little truth-telling from me, the Queen of Oversharing.
 
I write a lot about my growing relationship with my anger after decades of being afraid to express it or even to allow myself to feel it. Anger and I are still in the early stages of what I hope will be a solid relationship that spans the rest of my life. I need her and appreciate her, but I am still unfamiliar with the full breadth of her range.
 
Saturday, I had a stunning flare-up of extreme rage, something that has happened a couple of times during quarantine, and seems directly connected to my struggle with months and months of isolation. Saturday’s flash fire was alarming in the speed with which it came on and its ferocity. It left me shaking and physically ill.
Each time I’ve experienced one of these rage flares, I have been shocked by their suddenness and ferocity, and distressed by the physical toll they’ve taken on me. As I write that, it occurs to me that my experiencing this rage so completely in my body is for-sure connected to the fact that I turned my anger inward during all those years when I was afraid to express it, swallowing it rather than letting myself feel it.
 
Saturday’s rage blew up and blew out fairly quickly. But even after the shaking and nausea passed, I was flattened for hours, not feeling like myself until I woke up Sunday morning.
 
So why is this happening? I blame COVID and quarantine because I’ve never experienced anything like this until now, until spending all this time mostly alone. I lose my temper, of course. That’s not new. What’s new is going from zero to critical mass in a second.
 
When quarantine started, I thought I was pretty perfectly suited for self-isolation. I’m extremely comfortable staying home, comfortable with my own company, comfortable being away from people. I have about 10,000 distractions in my house — hundreds of books, materials for at least four different crafts, coloring books, art supplies, notebooks and pens … Being home is easy.
 
I was pretty fine with self-isolation. I’m still fine with isolation … And, too, I miss the world. I miss people. I miss physical contact. I am a hugger, a hand-holder, an arm stroker, and I haven’t touched another human being since March 8th.
 
Yes, I am angry about what COVID has stolen from me, angry at the ways it has shrunk my world and my life. More, I’m angry at the way COVID has been allowed to ravage this country, angry that almost 145,000 people have died, angry that BIPOC are disproportionately impacted by COVID, angry that this country has no interest in protecting people and saving lives, angry that Caligula is more concerned about lining his pockets and destabilizing our democracy so that he can strong-arm his way to re-election than he is about a single human life, let alone the tens of thousands of human lives already lost and the millions more currently at risk.
 
I am angry. I am furious. I am so engulfed in anger that I haven’t been able to see it because it’s everything, it’s the air I breathe. And these rage flares I’ve experienced are maybe my system’s attempt at release, at lessening the pressure that has been building up in and around me since the start of our colossally horrific response to this pandemic.
 
I need a different release, a better one. The physical toll Saturday’s rage had on me isn’t something I care to deal with again. Time to ease back into that long-ago-discarded meditation practice? Maybe so.

Failure to Launch

I wasn’t sure I’d post this one. I wrote it the day after the poems I shared last week but held it back. Not that I haven’t written about this in past posts, but maybe precisely because I have written about this in past posts.

Sheltering-in-place has been sucking me dry. I keep trying to push myself back to the page, and I keep not getting there. I have been doing plenty of other things, but I miss my writing, miss finding my way through my thoughts on the page. I know it will come back, but I’m feeling it today.


Try and Try Again
Forty-one

The nurse held your hand.
She looked into your face and smiled.
“I’m saying the fertility prayer over you,” she said.
Her face was kind
was sad.
You had seen the waiting room.
Most people came here in pairs
not like you, alone.
She must have said her fertility prayer
for all of them.
And sometimes it must have worked.
Not for you.
You left as you’d arrived, alone.

I can feel your heart rise
then fall.
I can feel your anticipation,
the way you tried not to dream
and dreamed all the same.
And I can feel the crash and burn
the sting of it,
the finality.

It would have been easier, maybe,
to get a registered letter.
“No, you aren’t meant to be anyone’s mother.
As you were. Thank you.”
Easier than all those hopeful days,
Easier than all those tears.
Easier.

Still.
You accepted it.
It took two false starts
and three failures.
It took all the money you never had.
It took all of you.

Not anyone’s mother.
It can still make you cry,
but you have accepted it.
Because what else is there but acceptance?

You think about the nurse
her wedding ring hard and cold against your hand
her eyes sad
her smile sad, too.
Her fertility prayer
over you like a shawl,
slipping from your shoulders
to pool on the cold, tile floor.


It’s National Poetry Month!

As I have done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. This year, the form I’ve chosen is the epistolary poem — poems written in the form of an epistle or letter. They are also called verse letters and letter poems. I’ve also chosen a theme for the month. Each “letter” is going to be written to a younger me: 12-year-old me on the first day of junior high, 5-year-old me navigating the overt racism of her kindergarten class, etc.

National-Poetry-Month-2020

That’s not how love works, redux.

I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter …

Yes, almost half a month into epistolary poems. I haven’t reached that crossover point, the moment that happens a lot of the time in April when I suddenly realize I’m enjoying working with the form, even when I have so much still to learn and work through. I’m no longer feeling as if I’m in a pitched battle with the form, and that seems like for-real progress.


Unscarred, Not Unscathed
Twenty-five, power and control

I want to sit with you
on the train ride home after the first date.
Could I warn you,
convince you?
I want to say
stop, sweet girl.
That man will hurt you.
Not with his hands —
he will never strike you.
But you will be years recovering.
I am still recovering.

I want to sit with you
and tell you the sick you feel in your gut
isn’t a giddy tickle of new love.
That’s your fear response,
your body sensing a predator,
just as he scented prey
the first time you smiled at him.
I am still recovering.

I want to say
you deserve so much better
than his shaming, his belittling, his insults.
He is the story you’ll never tell anyone.
He is every cruel question,
every angry blame you’ll hurl at yourself.
I want to shield you
call out his lies.
I know you learn so much in these two years,
but your soft heart shouldn’t bear the cost.
I am still recovering.

I want to sit with you,
I want to say you are strong.
I know you will resist him,
won’t give over the total control he’ll demand,
you’ll stand and walk away when you finally see him.
And that will save your life.
I am still grateful.


It’s National Poetry Month!

As I have done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. This year, the form I’ve chosen is the epistolary poem — poems written in the form of an epistle or letter. They are also called verse letters and letter poems. I’ve also chosen a theme for the month. Each “letter” is going to be written to a younger me: 12-year-old me on the first day of junior high, 5-year-old me navigating the overt racism of her kindergarten class, etc.

National-Poetry-Month-2020

Fleshing Out the Five: Into the Woods, Part 5

At the start of SOLSC month, I wrote about getting lost in the woods when I was at a writing retreat upstate this past fall. And that has led me to remember time after time after time that I’ve been lost in the woods! This will be, at last, the final story. It’s a little different from the others. It might also be a little more alarming for readers. Just remember that I’m right here, writing this blog post. This story happened a long time ago, and I’m totally fine. Nothing terrible befell me back then, I just made some foolish choices … and — as has often happened in my life of foolish choices — I had the gift of divine intervention and people turning out to be as worthy of my trust as I believed them to be.


In the mid 80s — 1986, I think — I went to Prague. It was my second trip there. The first trip had been magical but super short, and I’d been hoping to find my way back. (Comical aside: As I prepped for my trip, one of the men I worked for asked if people in Czechoslovakia would notice me, would recognize me as not being one of them. At first, I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t a particularly jokey person, so I thought I’d clarify and asked, “You mean, other than the fact that they will all be white, and I’m … not?” If ever there was an indicator that we needed better geography and world history in our schools …)

I got to Prague. I hooked up with my old friends. I made new friends. I wandered the beautiful streets of that beautiful city. I sat in coffee shops, ate excellent ice cream, went to wine bars.

In one wine bar, a favorite spot of the new back of friends I’d made, I met two guys whose names I no longer remember … and maybe I only knew one of their names in the first place? The guy whose name I knew got chummy really fast and spent the rest of the evening hovering too close. At the end of the night, he invited me to meet them the next day for sightseeing. That seemed harmless enough, so I agreed.

I met them at the astronomical clock, and we started walking around the Old Town. And then the guy — let’s call him Miloš, though that was definitely not his name — suggested a trip to … I don’t know, some beautiful attraction. When I agreed, we walked to the train station, not the metro, but the trains that went out of the city. That should have been the point where I demurred, the moment for me to end our encounter. Instead, I got on the train.

The whole way out, Miloš talked about his hard life as a writer and philosopher and how awful it was that his ex-girlfriend had smashed the windshield of his car and he had no idea how he’d get it fixed. The other guy — we’ll call him Honza — never said anything. He was a big, shaggy presence beside Miloš or me wherever we went.

We got off the train at Černošice. Right. Who knows where that is? Certainly not me. I mean, I can find it on a map now — it’s about five kilometers outside of Prague — but that doesn’t really help 34-years-ago me. We got off the train and started walking.

We walked and walked and walked and then walked some more. Was it pretty? Maybe. Did there seem to be any reason at all for us to have left Prague to be there? Yeah, not so much. We were well out of whatever counted for “town” in Černošice, walking through a sparsely-residential area, occasional houses carved into the forest that surrounded us. We went to a house and were let in by a guy who seemed surprised but pleased to see us. Inside, there were three more men. There was a lot of conversation in Czech, a couple of phone calls, and then Miloš said we should leave our things in the house because we were going for a walk in the forest.

I had no “things,” since I’d left my house that morning for some casual sightseeing. Miloš said I could leave my purse because I wouldn’t need it, but that seemed silly.

Now here, of course, is yet another moment when I should have extricated myself from the situation. Somehow. I was who knew where, with a growing number of men I didn’t know. I wasn’t being invited to leave my identification behind before wandering off into the forest with the unknown men. I think about this now, and I marvel at how unbelievably stupid I was as a young woman. At the time, however, I wasn’t apprehensive. I was annoyed. I had a limited number of days in Prague, and I was annoyed to be wasting one of them — no beautiful attraction, no time spent with my friends, and no end in sight for this unplanned side trip.

We set off into the forest. There was a clear path we were following, so we weren’t lost, strictly speaking. I include this story in the “into the woods” series because I was lost. I had no idea where I was or how to return to anything familiar. I didn’t speak more than a dozen words in Czech and no one other than Miloš seemed to speak English. The men with me weren’t at all lost, but I most certainly was.

At one point in our walk, we came out of the trees into a pretty field of tall grass and wildflowers. We were on the crest of a hill and below us was a beautiful ribbon of river winding through a valley. That was lovely … though no one stopped to make note of it, and it was pretty far from where we were, so it was surely not our destination. We crossed the top of the hill and went back into the trees and didn’t see the river again.

After more walking, we were suddenly at a little beer garden. There were maybe ten people — including women! — waiting for us there. We got a big table and had drinks and sausage, cheese, and bread.

It was nice enough, but I couldn’t speak to anyone, the sun was going down, and I had no idea how to get back to anywhere. I asked Miloš how long before we headed for the train, and he looked shocked. He said he thought I’d understood that we’d be staying the night. He said there were no more trains to Prague at that hour, and the house where we’d stopped was where we’d sleep.

This story took place a lot of years ago, long before I began developing my rich and healthy relationship with my anger. I was still, at that time, afraid of expressing anger. But not in that moment. I was instantly furious, and — unlike most of the times I got angry back then — it was immediately obvious to Miloš, Honza, and everyone else sitting near me that I was furious. Miloš was apologetic but kept saying it wasn’t serious, that I’d get back in the morning and not to worry about it. This didn’t do anything to blunt my rage.

it was decided that, since I wasn’t enjoying myself, we should go. We started the walk back through the now-entirely-dark forest. Two of the women came with us, which was good, as both of them had flashlights. Miloš kept trying to apologize and assure me that there was no real problem and I shouldn’t be upset. Finally, one of the women made him shut up and walked with her arm through mine the rest of the way.

We made it back to the house, and it was decided that the two women and I would share the bedroom and the men … I don’t know, they slept somewhere else.

In the morning, Miloš, Honza, and I walked to the station and got the train to Prague … and Miloš spent the whole ride asking me to give him $500 so he could fix his windshield. Ugh.

Back in the city, I walked away from them at the station and went home, furious, grubby, hungry, exhausted.

Two nights later, I saw Miloš in the wine bar. He came right up — his face a dramatic display of distress — and told me that the most awful thing had happened, that some crazy person had smashed his windshield, and he had no idea how he’d get it fixed. Could I give him $400? It wouldn’t be a problem for me, such a small amount, and he’d get it back to me someday.

I kid you not.

 

In the years since that crazy experience, I’ve wondered what Miloš had actually planned for that day. Was he hoping to rob me — assuming I’d have crazy amounts of money in my wallet because I’m American? Was he hoping to seduce me so I’d feel inclined to give him lots of my American money? Or was he just an idiot? I also wonder about the women who slept with me that night. What made them come back to the house with us? What had they heard or seen that made them decide to stay with me until morning? Neither of them could speak to me, but they stayed with me, and I felt comfortable with them, having them around me.

See? I came through it all unscathed. And that’s the last of my into-the-woods stories. I’m glad I’m here to tell it, and hopeful that I won’t have any (many?) future ones to add to the list!


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Fleshing Out the Five: Into the Woods, Part 4

At the start of SOLSC month, I wrote about getting lost in the woods when I was at a writing retreat upstate this past fall. And that has led me to remember time after time after time that I’ve been lost in the woods! In my last tale, I told a story about summer camp. And, this story is about summer camp, too!


The summer after high school, I had snagged for myself what I thought would be the perfect job: counselor at the beloved camp I’d attended as a child. It didn’t turn out to be the worst job I’ve ever had, but seeing behind the curtain took some of the shine off for me.

Before camp started, counselors and staff had lots of work to do: setting up tents and bunks, organizing the craft, ceramic, and wood shops, anchoring floating donuts in the lake, cleaning the barn and getting all of the animals in kid-ready condition …

And while all of those chores were team activities, there were also specific team-building activities. Counselors went off on day trips to get to know each other and the area. I went on a hiking day trip, a climb up Mount Van Hoevenberg.

Just a little backstory on Van Hoevenberg. It’s 2,940 feet tall — not one of the high peaks of the Adirondacks (the 46 highest mountains in the range, all over 4,000 feet). It’s considered an easy hike, good for kids. It’s named for Henry Van Hoevenberg who build trails in the high peaks decades before the creation of the Appalachian Trail (no competition here, just a time marker for historical context). It’s home to the Olympic bobsled runs from both the 1932 and 1980 Olympics.

It’s also the first mountain I ever climbed. As I said in my last into the woods post, most campers’ first climb is the tiny, not-a-mountain-really that The Boy and I snuck away to climb. My first trek, as a seven-year-old, was Van Hoevenberg. So it felt only right to go on the counselor hike and start my life as an adult at camp on the same mountain.

I have no memory of my childhood climb other than walking down the bobsled run on the descent from the summit. I didn’t really know anything about the Olympics then, and certainly not a single thing about bobsledding, but I thought the runs were cool.

Our counselor crew set out, led by a man who’d been a counselor when I’d been a camper, a really funny man who made everything seem possible and fun, a good leader for a day hike that would have some rough patches.

There was a lot of singing and laughter. There were discoveries of wild raspberries and bear tracks and a field of Indian Paintbrushes. There was even a stop in a clearing for some impromptu square-dancing and the high drama of crossing a rushing stream by waling across a tree that had fallen and created a bridge to the other side.

For a person who has no relationship with her center of gravity, walking over that fallen tree was a trauma. I was certain I’d end up in the water, which would have been embarrassing and also painful because it was full of small boulders and about 8 feet below. But I had divine intervention on my side and I made it across just fine. I didn’t look forward to doing that on the return trip when I’d be tired, but I needn’t have worried: there was no way we’d find our way back to that path!

In retrospect, it seems pretty clear that crossing that tree was the start of our problem. There are no hiking trails that include such an unstable and impermanent feature. And yet, no one expressed any concern about learning the for-real path. Maybe we thought John’s good mood would steer us true. You know, or something. Turns out, this is really not a thing. Quel surprise.

We’d been hiking close to two hours when we acknowledged that we weren’t on a trail and no one knew where we were. Someone made up a song about bushwhacking and — as The Boy and I did on our hike — we decided to keep trying to find the summit rather than immediately trying to find our way back to the base. Maybe it’s something in that not-at-all-thin mountain air that inspires this ridiculous decision.

We made a weird, stair-step path — hiking sideways, hiking up, hiking sideways, hiking up. We had another impromptu square-dance in another clearing. We ate our cheese and crackers and PB&J lunch.

I don’t know how long we stayed out there, scrabbling around the side of that mountain. We probably would have stayed longer. John kept us in good spirits and seemed perpetually convince that we’d magically find the trail if we just pushed ourselves a little further, convinced that we could come down the train if we just made it to the summit.

We never reached the summit. Instead, we reached the top of a bobsled run. Seeing that formal structure, we knew we could get back to camp, and the decision to head down the shuttle was unanimous and made without words. We all just stepped into the track and started walking down.

Walking the bobsled run was as fun to me as a 17-year old as it had been to me as a 7-year-old. At the bottom, we poured out into the stadium. In one of my photo albums, I’ve got snapshots of counselors walking onto the field with their arms raised in a victory V. 🙂 We left the stadium and finished our hike the same way my sister’s Girl Scout troop did: on the road. We walked up that quiet road back to the entrance to camp, still singing, still laughing, and with a little bit of impromptu square-dancing. Lost and then found.


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot