Sandpaper, a poem-ish about love

Love sounds coarse in his mouth. It twists his tongue awkwardly as if it were a foreign language.

I can see the furrowed brow of his heart peering out through his ribcage as it studies my gestures and the inflection of my voice and tries to decipher their meaning.

It’s like spending your entire life reading a word silently in your head, having never heard it spoken out loud until one day someone says it. It sounds strange. It doesn’t sound at all the way you thought it was supposed to and yet you know that that is it. And it changes you forever. You will never read that word in the same way again because now you know.

He’s like those kids in high school who studied Latin. They could read and write fluently in the target language, but they never actually had a conversation in it. I mean, who speaks conversational Latin? No one.

Love is not Latin.

Love is a language I can speak. I have had practice. I am well rehearsed.

But he is still learning.

Sometimes his terms of endearment sound more like commands than caresses.

Sometimes his responses are so abrupt and lacking in sweetness that I begin to doubt his sincerity. I wait though for his voice to warm up and soften, for the edges of his words to curl up around me. Sometimes I am not very good at waiting. Sometimes his coarseness reminds me of my own and I become cold and hard and confused. I worry that my fluency is fake, that I nailed the accent but missed the point.

Sometimes I wonder if the book I am reading is actually in French and all this time I have been reading it in Spanish thinking I understood, but as it turns out I know nothing. I do not speak French.

Or maybe it is not language that is the problem. Maybe we are reading books that tell different stories, and I never noticed until now. And now… with our dry mouths and sandpaper tongues we must somehow smooth the edges of the two competing stories into one: one of friendship.

Dirty Laundry

The first thing I did after he left was to walk slowly into my room and take all the sheets off the bed. I carried them ceremoniously to the washer, poured in the soap, closed the door and pushed the button to begin the cycle. I stood there watching the sudsy water overtake the inside of the machine, churning the sheets into an unrecognizable mass. I stared uncomprehending. I didn’t cry. That had happened earlier that morning when after several hours of discussing I finally asked: “Does this mean we are breaking up?” I already knew the answer, but I needed him to say it. “Yes.”

I can survive this I reminded myself. I have done it before.

After I put my son to bed, I tried to coax myself to wash my hair. I couldn’t. I wasn’t ready for him to be completely gone.

I took a shower and put on fresh pajamas and got into my giant empty bed alone.

I remembered that someone had told me once that the key to surviving the heartache of a newly empty bed is to not have a side. There is no one coming to fill the other half of that bed, so you are just torturing yourself by leaving it open. I moved my pillow to the middle of the bed and stared into the dark.

I remembered how glorious it used to seem to be able to stretch out over the entire bed for a few brief moments in the morning once everyone was up. I tried to tap into that feeling, sprawled like a starfish taking up as much surface area as physically possible. It felt vulnerable, and I quickly retreated to my previously coiled position.

Tonight is the first night where I am alone. I do not have my son. I do not have my honey. I am sitting in the kitchen typing because I cannot even bear to look at my bed. I don’t know how I will be able to sleep in it.

I know I must wash my hair. I know I must let go of this token of evidence that we were an “us.” I know but I am not ready. I am not ready because I don’t want to let go of “us.” And he is everywhere. In our tiny apartment there is nowhere I can rest my gaze without something reminding me of him.

Pictures of us are waiting for me at Walgreens. I ordered them before we split up. I haven’t been able to bring myself to pick them up. I was going to do an art project. I have no idea what to do with them now. I have no idea what to do with myself now either.

Nothing makes sense.

Except I had a very vivid and disturbing dream last night where all my teeth fell out. I woke up panicked and decided to look up what dream analysts think it means. I read that teeth falling out symbolizes change and fear of losing something important.

That makes sense.

Babies and Better Shoes

“Successful women still have their feet on the ground, they just have better shoes.” Oprah Winfrey

There have been so many posts I have wanted to write lately, but I’ve been consumed with making main idea worksheets and prepping my kids for standardized tests that don’t actually measure their learning and trying to get them to put a period at the end of any sentence ever. Please? Still no. And so I haven’t written any of the posts that are floating around in my head. I have started some but then forgot what I had wanted to say in the first place. Or I wrote the whole thing, but it all sounded too self-pitying to publish, so I deleted it. Or I fell asleep with my laptop beside me in bed open to a blank word document.

Today though I am posting something because Facebook is full of everyone getting married and having babies and buying houses and it’s fine because I was already married once, and I already had a baby who is now an increasingly autonomous human. I even -for a very brief time- owned a house. Ahem. Technically, it was a condo. So I’m going to sit and eat this entire pint of Hagen Das sea salt caramel gelato with whip cream and strawberries and I’m going to write something dammit. Because I can accomplish things. I can handle my life. I am not terrified that I might not ever get to have all the things that I truly want. I don’t spend nights worrying I am doing it all wrong.

It’s been a little rough lately, and I don’t like to admit that. I’d like to tell you about my students who brought me flowers from recess or how my son came up and rubbed my shoulders while I was working at my computer. I’d like to tell you about how I got to read stories to a fat, smiley baby this weekend and bounce her in my lap. If I told you these things, if I told you only the good things, then maybe I could pretend that’s all there was. I wouldn’t have to tell you about how I lose sleep worrying about those same girls who brought me flowers and whether they will have enough food to eat while we are on break next week, wondering how I can better support their academic growth, so that they don’t fall farther behind. I wont have to tell you about how one night last week I fought with my son for over 3 hours (i.e. until midnight) trying to put him to bed, and I thought I was going to lose my mind, literally. I think I might have. Temporarily at least.

Which brings me back to holding the baby, who made me remember just how much I love babies and how amazing they are; how amazing we all are.

Lately I don’t exactly feel like I am winning at life. I’m tired. The intricate planning and balancing of tasks required to keep my life moving in some semblance of a forwardly and functional direction is exhausting. It is easy to feel in the midst of it all that I am doing lots of things poorly and none of the things well.

But I held a baby… and I remembered what it was like to have an infant. In other words, I remember what it was like when things were harder, and so I am trying to believe that it will get easier. It, as in life. I’m really not sure it will, but sometimes the only way I can get out of bed on Monday mornings is to believe that it might. In any case it would be a bummer to miss out just because I don’t get to have it all the way I had imagined. Instead of thinking about how I am failing at all the other things in order to do well at this one, I’m working on loving the moments when I feel like I am doing any one thing well for any length of time and reminding myself that that is enough.

Tonight I got my child to bed on time, did the laundry and even took the clothes out of the dryer. Maybe tomorrow I will fold them.

I am not intending to celebrate mediocrity. I am hoping to shine a light into the dark places of my unrealistic expectations, so that they may be transformed. We’ll see how it goes.

Dark and Stormy with a twist

I haven’t been writing much lately. I keep starting to while I’m in the shower. I begin the first few sentences in my head. Then I turn off the faucet and leave the warm steamy world of rushing water, and there’s this beautiful man on the other side of the glass door. He says my hair looks like fire tendrils and my smile gives him goose bumps. His skin smells like home and his lips taste like a mixture of vanilla, honey and butter and the smell of oak and leather, kissing him is like sipping bourbon, but not because he’s been drinking. In fact he hates whiskey, which is admittedly a strike against him since I am from the South, but I forgive him because when I look into his eyes I forget I had a to-do list. We can do anything or nothing at all; it doesn’t matter as long as we are together.

A friend told me once about how she and her honey would just sit on the couch and hold hands. At the time I didn’t understand this. It sounded boring. Now it’s all I want to do.

I am almost thirty, and this is the first time this has ever happened to me.

I have dated a lot of people. I have fallen in love with many men and women, but despite determined effort, I have never really understood this whole relationship thing. I have dated people because it was convenient, because I was lonely and because I genuinely hoped that loving them would somehow be enough to quell my insatiable discontent with life, with myself. We had good times, I cared for them deeply and I learned a great deal along the way, so I don’t mean in any way to belittle the gravity of those experiences. It wasn’t that I was lost or aimless; I had a clear idea of what kind of relationship I wanted to be in… it’s just that I never was in one.

Naturally, I began to wonder if the kind of relationship I envisioned truly existed, so as any intellectual obsessed with matters of the heart would do, I read articles and conducted extensive field research. When I found examples in other couples of what I wanted it was both inspiring and worrisome. At once their presence both confirmed the existence of the thing I desired and denied the possibility that I might have it. I dated -with a few exceptions- really great people: beautiful, kind, loving, intelligent people. I was doing everything right, so if I couldn’t attain the connection and joy I saw apparent in others’ relationships clearly the only logical explanation was a personal defect, that my parts were assembled incorrectly. While my superhero power is loving people, my kryptonite -in bitter irony- is being in an intimate relationship with them.

I believed that an ideal intimate relationship would be the place where I would retreat from the harshness of the world, but my relationship was always the storm from which I felt I needed to retreat. I would write to try to understand the storm, I would dance to try to move the storm out of my body, but there was always a storm. It was coming or going or raging in full force, but there was always a storm. In truth, I am rather stormy. When I was a child, I would dance outside in the rain. I would wake up in the middle of the night and watch the lightning strike outside my window, feel comforted by the booming roar of thunder because it matched my insides. I was always very self-contained: calm, quiet, well composed, but my inner world never felt that way. Over the years, I have done much work to understand and navigate through the squalls, but they remain a constant piece of who I am. Given this fact, it makes sense that my relationships would mirror this intensity …or at least they always have.

This time though feels distinctly different. I actually want to sit still. And even on a terrible, horrible, very bad, worst day ever, when I am having a really rough time, it’s still a pretty good day because he’s there with me.

Mostly, I haven’t been writing because I have been to busy being in awe that this is my life, that it could ever be this good. I cried this week from overwhelming happiness, and until recently I didn’t know that was something you could actually do. While I understand that even good things sometimes end badly, I am daring myself to be hopeful. It is a struggle to give in and be optimistic because I am such a devoted critic, but for now I am simply grateful to be here with him.


The human body is the best work of art. ~Jess C. Scott

It happened slowly, casually as if it really wasn’t happening at all, until then it was.

One day after I came home from work, I made us dinner. It was nothing elaborate, but it was tasty and wholesome, and we sat down together to eat. I was exhausted and the day showed on my face, but I was happy to be spending time with people I care about. At one point, I leaned over the table to pass my son a glass of water, and as I sat back down, our guest looked at me and said “¡Mami, estás gorda!” It took me a second to register that his tone was in jest. I couldn’t find a response, but I know my face betrayed my displeasure. He laughed and said “I know you’re not supposed to say that to women, right?” All I could do was shake my head. He said it again, and I responded quietly unable to look him in the eyes “Please don’t say that. It’s not funny.” I decided not explain to him the history of torment and body shame he was calling up with his ill timed, unwelcome banter. He is an incredibly intelligent and well-read human being; surely he knows how inappropriate such a comment would seem. I said nothing because I decided being tired had made me overly sensitive, and like most women I have been socialized to assume my internal response is disproportionately emotional and should be suppressed. After a good night’s rest though, I was still annoyed.

It didn’t come up again until a few weeks later when he saw a picture of me dancing. In the picture I was wearing stretchy capris and a tight ¾ length sleeved shirt and because of the angle and the moment captured, you could see clearly all of the contours of my body. Upon seeing the picture he repeated “Pero mami, estás muy gorda” and laughed. This time I glared at him. “Mami, I’m kidding” Still glaring “You are like the tiniest thing ever” I crossed my hands over my chest and glared a little less intensely. “Look! I can practically put my hands all the way around your waist” He did. I relented: “I know that, but I don’t like you joking about me being fat. Please don’t say that anymore. It’s not funny.” But it happened again despite me saying every time that I didn’t like it and that he needed to stop. It became such a regular occurrence that I began to stop noticing as much when it happened. The last time was at a restaurant and in front of my son. This time my son was asked to participate: “Isn’t your mom fat?” To which my son replied by glancing at me perplexedly, and that is when I realized that whatever this is, isn’t going to work.

My six-year-old son does not understand this is a joke, nor should he because it’s not a joke I find funny nor one I’d want him repeating. What he sees instead is a man telling his mother there is something wrong with the way she is, specifically wrong with the shape of her body. His mother who is 5’7” and weighs -on a well-fed day- 119 lbs is nowhere near any clinical definition of being overweight. However, if that is the image he associates with being fat, what kind of insanity and distorted ideals of women’s bodies and/or his own body does he have to look forward to in his adolescence and adulthood? He is also being shown that women’s wishes are not to be respected since he has heard me ask for this teasing to stop and it has instead continued. This conversation would be no less upsetting if I was indeed overweight. My actual weight is, in truth, irrelevant to the greater issue that my son is being shown implicitly and explicitly that women are only worthwhile if they conform to an ideal that someone else has of them, rather than for their personhood. This is not the kind of man I intend to raise my son to be.

I see and hear messages about how my body is less than perfect all the time everyday from magazines, movies, songs, shopping malls and especially commercials. Depending on how I am feeling about the rest of my life, those messages have greater or lesser impact on my internal thoughts. It takes concerted effort to maintain some semblance of a positive body image, and the last place anyone should ever hear criticism about their body is from the person who has the pleasure and good fortune of seeing them naked.

The whole experience caught me off guard, and I was startled to find how quickly I found myself feeling undesirable and unworthy, even when logically I could explain it all away. The next time someone attempts to hit on me by complementing my shoes, I will make sure they have also noticed the incredible woman standing in those shoes before I give them my number. Because I do have great shoes, but the rest of me is far more impressive.

Wrap me up

She was supposed to be here this week. I keep thinking about that. I thought of her this evening. We were sitting outside on our tiny porch enjoying our dinner made from the last of the food in the fridge, impressed that I had made it stretch that far, especially with my son’s appetite. The sun was setting to the left, my favorite time of day. From somewhere past the apartment complex we were facing, came a flock of blackbirds. I love watching birds fly. They flew overhead and disappeared behind us. Then more came. And more. And more. They were silent and determined and beautiful. They reminded me of a scarf she had given me. I was there when she bought it. It was the last one, and I secretly wanted it, but I said nothing because I knew she liked it. I had plenty of scarves anyway. It’s not like my neck would go cold. A few months later she wrapped a necklace with it and gifted it to me. These days it lives in the back of my car with all my other belongings in purgatory, but tonight it was flying through the sky overhead.

I try to imagine how this week would’ve gone if she had come to visit as we had planned. She wouldn’t have fit here though, quite literally there is no space in my house for anything else, let alone another adult human being. It wouldn’t have worked. It’s been a miserable week with this afternoon and early evening being the only bright spot in an onslaught of tantrums large and small and mostly continuous.

When I think about what happened with our relationship, I feel confused because we had a lot of fun together, and I miss her, but it just didn’t work. She kept insisting I wasn’t trying hard enough which is ironic because I don’t know how many times I have felt that way about the other person in past relationships. It really hurts to be on the receiving end of that, and I understand now just how incredibly self-important and discounting an accusation it is (sorry ex-partners). Of course that wasn’t the only snag in the story of us.

What I realized though is that sometimes you really want to make tiramisu, but you have all the ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies. But you don’t want chocolate chip cookies, you want tiramisu. So you end up spending all your time trying to make tiramisu with the wrong ingredients when you could have had the most amazing chocolate chip cookies on the planet. In the end the tiramisu sucks and you feel completely inadequate and foolish for ever having tried at all and the chocolate chip cookies can go F- um… bake themselves because you don’t want anything to do with any of it anymore. It’s so disappointing though. They could have been really good chocolate chip cookies and now you have no dessert whatsoever. And I really love dessert.

I don’t know how anyone is ever going to fit in my life. I worry about that. a lot. I feel like the only people who stand a chance are people who have children because they “get it,” but if I date someone with children… well then they have children too, so we will never see each other. It might seem like I am saying I want to be with someone who is good with kids. Nope. I mean, that’s a given, but lots of people are good with children. I want someone who knows what I mean when I text them saying I locked myself in the bathroom because my kid is acting like a pyscho pants and I cant fucking take it anymore. I want them to understand how painful and how very true it feels in that moment when I –who have only ever been sure about one thing and that is that I want to be a mother- say I don’t want to be a mother right now. They need to understand, not just conceptually, but viscerally how dying seems like a viable option in that moment. AND they need to be able to help navigate out of that hellacious place without judging me for it. The not judging part is key.

You give up a lot of things when you become a parent. Some of those things I knew going into it and some of them were a surprise to me. Some of them I am still learning. Some of them may even be unique to me and my circumstances, I’m not sure. But you gain a lot more than you lose. Mostly, I have gained perspective.

It used to be really important to me this ability to make tiramisu, but now I think maybe I’ll never make it. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Next time though I’d really like to at least not burn the cookies. Because it’d be nice to be able to call and say: “The sky reminded me of you. I hope you are well. Thanks for keeping my neck warm.” Meaningful relationships don’t stop being meaningful just because you are no longer in that relationship. The impact is still there even if it tastes a little burnt.

The tears of my dreams

This morning I woke up crying, which most anyone who has hung around me much knows this is something I almost never do in waking life. Sometimes it’s a problem. I want to cry, but I can’t. I feel emotions very intensely and yet somehow I manage to express them with a great deal of distance, as if I am telling someone else’s story. I don’t know why I do this- I mean, I have some theories, most of them stem from childhood trauma and the result of growing up in a stoutly patriarchal society, where my worth was measured in how well I conformed to pre-suffrage movement expectations of women. I was shamed for “overly dramatic” displays of emotions, so I learned not to have them. I know this experience is not unique to me but rather common among women from a multitude of backgrounds. However, many of them still cry, so clearly my theory is flawed…

In any case, this morning I was crying.

Really crying, not just a few lonely tears, but small icy rivers slipping out the corners of my eyes, creating a large salty pool on my pillow.

I was dreaming, and in my dream, I was dreaming. I dreamt that I was watching myself cut myself open. What I was cutting looked exactly like me, but as it was cut away I saw that it was a hard exoskeleton and lying inside this shell was a softer version of me. The sight of her startled me awake.

More accurately, I woke up in my dream and began to process what I had seen, noticing that there were three of me: one who was watching, one who was doing the work and the one who was quite literally being broken open and set free… she was the one who was crying.

The symbolism of the dream was obvious even to my still dreaming self. I sat there awake but still in my dream, replaying the dream within the dream and analyzing what took place. I could still hear someone crying…

That is when I woke up, momentarily not comprehending that I was crying. With tears still falling from my eyes, I realized the sound was my own.

Everything was so much more beautifully tender and real without a filter. I wasn’t crying because I was sad. I was crying because I could feel.