20 years of dead children

When Columbine happened I wasn’t quite twelve, and I was horrified. I remember reading the articles, staring over and over again at the video footage of the shooters stalking the halls with their guns. I remember reading everything, anything, trying to understand why they did it and what the warning signs were and which of the victims said what and where they died. Where they were hiding and how anyone survived.

I was traumatized.

A friend read Rachel’s Tears — about the girl who said she believed in God and then was shot? I remember the drawing of the flower with the 13 tears. I remember that cold, sick, hollow feeling in my chest. What if it happened here.

I remember one of my best friends getting arrested the next year. Someone had found plans and maps, notes and anger. He was going to shoot up the school. The cops came and everything. He was put on house arrest and we were never classmates again. We would talk on the phone and he would complain about his ankle brace.

Arkansas? Newtown? I don’t know. Washington state? Where do these things keep happening? I don’t read about them or dream about them or stare transfixed at the news about them. Not again. Not anymore.

Florida. 2018. It’s been almost 20 years since Columbine. Can you believe it? My eyes well up just writing that sentence. Just thinking those words. 20 years. This has been my whole life. My entire adolescence and all of my adult life to date. I found myself at the library last night, my favorite place. My favorite ugly building in all of downtown. Feeling so good and cutting myself off in the middle of it: what if a shooter came in right now. Where would you go? Would you have time to live?

We have drills at work. Everywhere I’ve worked. Colleges. Where would you go if someone came in with a gun? Don’t run. Hide. Do you know where the light switch is? Do you know where to sit to avoid the trajectory of a bullet? Think about it. Think about it now before it’s too late. Play dead. Block the door. Take these drills seriously. This is serious.

I have changed. This has changed. Our mindset. But nothing else. The violence and the pain and the death continue. We continue to fail.

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Keep a list

Last night I watched Lady Bird. We had to drive to the next town over, but we paired it with Laotian food (boba tea, Sai Oua, and the noodle soup special of the day) and a stop for grocery store candy bars, instead of movie candy, and a beer afterward.

I felt emotionally wrecked driving away from the theater. The beer helped a little. The Olympic women’s cross country skiing event helped more, I think. The release of adrenaline.

Why aren’t there more movies like this? Why weren’t there movies like this in 2002? I grew up with Heathers, Clueless, 10 Things I Hate about You, Mean Girls. Funny, memorable films, but nothing like Lady Bird with a character that is complex and vulnerable, open. With a story that didn’t culminate in boy loves girl, but in girl loves girl (self) and all the people that have contributed to self (best friend, parents, hometown). There’s been nothing like this before, where the girl retreats, but then reaches out, pulling everything in her universe closer to her. Sustaining herself on all that’s been good and reliable and strong. It made me feel happy for her and happy for the world we live in that this story can be told now, told well, told to open, accepting audiences.

Nothing was wrong in the film, nothing was traumatizing. The mother/daughter relationship was real, was full. The teenage girl was self-absorbed but was conflicted, trying to sort out, who am I and who are you? Where does that edge live? Support, safety, hope.

And it made me sad, made me cry, feeling that sureness, that vein of solidarity throughout the film that I felt, still feel, was missing from my life. That feeling of, if only you had grown up with a catcher, with someone to catch you if you fell. With some trust. You should be able to go through life with some bumpers. You should be able to spiral outside of yourself and trust that you will bounce back, off of someone who loves you and wants you to be the best version of yourself. Anyone–friend, parent, teacher, sibling.

That was the difference I always felt. The separation between me and them. The kids at school. The customers in the grocery store. They grew up with nets, with bumpers. I felt like I was careening through the sea, “decks awash.”

Alone. I felt terribly, incredibly alone.

And I wanted to grab my housemate after and shake him and tell him, you are my parent now. My mother, my best friend, my net. You catch me when I start to fall. You help me step out of harm’s way. You want me to be okay, but you’re not forcing me to be okay. You reach for me, but you don’t hold me, don’t keep me. You are my bumper. You let me bounce away, bounce back.

I feel safe and steady now. I can see the shore.

 

Fertility practice

I’m starting a writing project for the month. I’m interviewing friends with a uterus on their sexuality and experience(s) with fertility. I want to learn more about what shapes their understanding of sexuality and fertility, and what that experience is like for them, and more importantly, how and why it differs for each of us.

I realized I probably should start with my own story before I blast the stories of others.

I also realized, during my first interview, that any chat about fertility might start with sex. One’s relationship to/with sex and one’s opinion of sex.

I like sex. I’ve always liked sex. I started masturbating very young. So young I didn’t even have the words to describe what I was doing. Nap time? Great, feel good time. I had a brief moment of doubt somewhere in later childhood because I read that perhaps masturbators (ers?) are sinners and all going to hell. And I thought, Oh, no. why god? But then I got over it because I realized I was harming no one and doing nothing and if enjoying myself was a sin, I was going to make peace with the idea of a long and terrible afterlife. I don’t believe in a God who would think that way of people. That is another post.

Masturbation was one thing. Sex another. I started reading teen magazines (mostly YM) at a young age. My mom thought it would be a good way for me to access the things girls are supposed to know (how to hate your body, how to waste your money on make-up, how to worry about boys). I was mostly interested in the advice columns. In the scared entries from teens who thought they were dying of an STD. I learned the word “blowjob” from one of these articles. (What the hell is that?) I had to later ask a group of friends at a sleepover. I think we figured it out.

I became convinced from my teen mag reading I was going to get an STD if I started having any sex. With my mouth, hands, or vagina. There seemed no surefire way to protect oneself. Pregnancy was another reason to abstain, but not my number one. While my mother had terrified me with her stories of conception, I was more afraid of photos of genital warts. (She first conceived me on accident and later my sister: “I’m good at making babies,” she would say.) I wasn’t sure what I was good at, but I did not want to be good at making babies.

I was a late bloomer. I read Are you there God, it’s me Margaret around the time I started wearing my much loathed training bra–age 10. Puberty, overall, seemed terrible to me. My body was not the same. I couldn’t run as fast. I couldn’t shoot a basketball. Why was this necessary? And I was terrified of starting my period. My mother hated having her period. I heard no good things from her during those times of the month, and there were enough sights and sounds to support my idea that having a period was one of the worst experiences in life. Luckily, my body held off as long as it could and I didn’t start until right before high school. Freshman year was also the year many of my peers began having sex. Lots of factors contributed to my decision not to have sex. My mom had started having sex at 14 and had gone on the Pill then, but always told me her story with a hint of regret. She wondered, maybe she was too young? But no one had discouraged her, and she seemed to enjoy her experiences. Knowing my grandmother, who is very sex positive, mom’s sex mindset makes sense to me. My grandma is very much in support of decisions we make as women to feel good.

I remember stumbling on some marriage and sex book in my mother’s library. I wasn’t taught to feel ashamed about sex, only that it was something to be careful with. Only that it could kill you and that babies were forever.

I had a boyfriend in junior high and another in high school. We would rub against each other, and expose a bit of our bodies to one another, but it was all pretty innocent. I spent most of high school trying to figure out my own body and had little interest in boys. I went to a small town school and all the boys around were boys I’d known forever. After reading The Pact by Jodi Picoult, I realized I felt a bit incestuous thinking of my male peers as possible sexual partners. I waited to get out and meet strange boys.

Finally, when I was 20, I had the sex. It wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t anything. It wasn’t memorable or painful or sweet. It just was. With a soon-to-be boyfriend in his bed. Sober. We used a condom and spermicidal lube (much later I learned I was painfully allergic to spermicide). I was fine and happy with all of that. It was very casual. I hadn’t let sex become Sex, even though everyone seemed to want that for me. (Mom, friends, siblings). I was so excited to finally tell my mom during Christmas break I had achieved losing my virginity. Weren’t we more of the same now? But when I told her, she was surprised, explaining she thought I had lost it long ago, at 15 or 16 to the high school boyfriend. I couldn’t believe how little she knew me.

I had lots of sex with college boyfriend. I had gone on the Pill the year before because of menstrual issues (debilitating cramps; irregular periods). I felt comfortable with my body then as a sex body. I felt comfortable with college boyfriend (who had lost his virginity as a teen) to teach me the basics, what I needed to know to be a good sexual partner, but I lost a sense of myself in this relationship. I didn’t know what I should be getting out of it, and I didn’t know what I should be expecting from sex.

Then there was the boy who always wanted to have sex with me; there was the boy I really wanted to have sex with; there was the boy who was around and would say, “no one can hear you.” Trying to turn me on, but creeping me the fuck out. There was the boy who would close his eyes, who was afraid to take charge; there was the boy who thought he was really good at sex, then there was another like him. There were a few girls, here and there. Drunk girls. Sober girls.

There was one, maybe two, pregnancy scares. Only one I can remember. The boy with all the want. He named it Hank. Made me a grieving mix CD for after the abortion. “For Hank,” he titled it. Of course I wasn’t pregnant. I was on the Pill. I was too careful. But the body still seems unknown to me. Capable of anything, even after all this time. I’ve tried since to better understand ovulation and the cycles of the body. I started seeing a doctor who taught me about temperature change and mood swings. I began to track days and weeks. I began to understand how my body marked time.

In between, once a year, sometimes twice a year, I visited my doctor. I got the STI tests. I filled out the forms. I worried a little, every time, that my test results would come back life changing. I was lucky, most of the time, that I knew what I knew, and I was safe enough.

I took a break. As much as I liked the physicality of sex, I needed an emotional connection to coincide. I have never done the one night stand. I tried once, but quickly realized I was not interested in sharing a bed with a stranger or in talking to them the morning after. People, they’re the worst. And my body is mine, my own. I don’t have a desire to share it with anybody, with everybody. I need a password and a secret knock and an upfront deposit. This shit is mine. You can get in line.

The break from physical relationships was worth it. I was able to articulate my own feelings around/about sex. I was able to reflect on my sexual escapades and rate them. To realize what was good and what was not. I read a lot about female orgasm and sexual trysts and tried to understand what I would need from a future partner. Tried to understand what would make the sex good for me. Began to practice the words I had always been afraid to say to partners previously.

Now, I’m in the best sexual relationship of my life. I’m also in the best physical shape of my life. I feel the two are definitely connected. I’ve taken the time to invest in myself physically, mentally and emotionally. I feel comfortable and confident and content. I’m also on the most convenient form of birth control–the nexplanon implant. I’m finally able to enjoy a sexual relationship with 100% confidence– no babies and no diseases. No fallout. The ambiguity has gone.

And my fertility story is simple in comparison: I don’t know if I want children. I was taught early-on, and I saw firsthand, that children mean giving up a bit of yourself. Children take you away from yourself. I have no desire to be separated from myself. There is nothing that needs filled. Nothing I am missing within myself.

Children are a physical experience for a woman. Am I ready to share my body with a third person? For an extended period of time? Am I ready to see it morph and mutate and give it over? Give it up? I don’t know. I don’t even know if I am fertile, if I can have a child. I’ve never tried. My current partner would make a good parent. That could be fun, but that is not all the fun. That is not the only fun we could have. But suddenly, I realize the option isn’t always going to be there. If I want the experience–the physical challenge, the knowledge that results, then I need to decide. I’ve spent all this time running away from procreation, only to find myself in the middle of the maze, face-to-face with it. I should make the most of my body’s capabilities while they exist. I should take advantage of my pelvic floor and my mental stamina. So they say. I hear the clock of my friends’ bodies ticking. Hear them talk around it. Like the crocodile from Peter Pan. One big twitching clock. They are Captain Hook, living in fear. What do we do? Why does it matter? Who do we become after we pass the plateau, the child-bearing plateau? What helps us ascend, what causes us to stop and rest, what sends us over the edge? So I’ll be asking my friends, taking notes, thinking about it. What is it like living with a uterus?

Fertilization

There is always work to be done. There are always things to write about. I pull myself into my quiet center. Away from the day.

I love to read about pregnancy. I love to read about miscarriage. I love to read about abortion. I love to read about female pain. In general, I find the female body powerful, impressive, mysterious. I find the constant battle (conflict) with pregnancy fascinating, overwhelming, mind-boggling. How is this not all women talk about? (Patriarchy?) How is this not all anyone can talk about. The ability, the capability, the interest in, the obsession with, growing a human inside of you. Secretly, obviously, regularly. On and on we make babies. Fertilize the eggs and watch the tiny humans come into the world. On and on we deal with human after human. Each life carving out another path. Leaving another wake.

Bloody and painful and dangerous = the female body. And yet we allow it to go on unknown. We allow the experience to remain mysterious. We continue not to obsess over the powerful process, the life-altering decisions. The tiny humans we bring into the world to make something of it. To become something of it. We forget all that came before. All the thoughts and actions that led to each and every one of us sitting, breathing, destroying.

Why? Why am I here, we ask of God (of the universe). Instead of asking, demanding of, demanding from our mothers: why!

How many of us are accidental? How many of us are unwanted? How many of us almost killed our mothers, terrified our fathers, broke up marriages, scared off dreams, took something irreplaceable with our coming into being? How many of us were demanded, willed, sought, chased? How many of us had to be coerced into existence, tricked, bargained with, prayed for? How many of us came into life quietly, unnoticed, a surprise?

These are the stories I want to hear. The stories of conception. The stories of growth. The stories of rounding bellies and backaches and heartburn. Softening pelvises. How did we come to be? Were we happy daydreams or horrible nightmares?

Talking at you

Things I learned a long time ago but am now unlearning:

Don’t tell a white man you disagree with him

Don’t tell a white person you are afraid of them

Don’t tell a woman she cannot have a child

I was raised by this deception. Deceived into believing the world would only give you what you wanted if you acted a certain way. And even then, not necessarily what you wanted. Just what was necessary to survive.

None of this is true.

We are realizing we are not all the things we thought we would grow into. Realizing that this is it. Realizing how history repeats itself. Realizing as ambitious and as excited we were in our youth, this rarely continues. Something else takes over. Something else insists.

There’s something missing. A call and response…An echo I’m expecting…we’ve fallen asleep.

Wake up

teeth or some

The psychic said I should write. But that’s not why I’m writing.

We both have head colds. Did I pass it to you or you to me? Does it matter? I make us tea. A shot of bourbon in mine. You don’t want bourbon or honey, just lemon. You are missing out. You aren’t getting the full effect. I get all warm and loose. You are still whiny.

I tell you I don’t have any cavities. I saw the dentist today. I feel silly at the dentist. Slight. Teeth are the only thing that makes me feel…ill accomplished. The condition of my teeth. Most of my days I pass as a middle class white woman. It’s a safe bubble to inhabit. But at the dentist, I know my story is there in my teeth. The full story. The sugary cereals early in life. The poor nutrition. The poor genetics. The well water. Life on the farm. Life in the city. Life with few safety nets.

Amy, the hygienist, asks me if I ever had a retainer. She is always asking me funny questions. As if my parents could afford to send me regularly to the dentist, let alone splurge on something like a retainer. My sister has a permanent retainer, I want to tell her, different moms.

There in my bottom row are hints of my dad’s criss-crossed cuspid and bicuspid. Amy asks me if I whiten my teeth. Oh, Amy. I think of my mom’s stained yellow after decades of nicotine.

Out walks the dentist. The reason I come. He is young, maybe younger than me. He has thick black hair and brown skin. The reason I come. He shakes my hand, even though I’m lying back. He always hesitates as he says my name, spelled differently, he told me once. He always asks if he’s pronouncing it correctly. Black hair, brown skin.

That’s not how dentists looked when I was young. Old, fat, and white. Thick fingers. One didn’t wear gloves. Sebastian, my dentist now that I’m not so young, he spends some time with the pic in my mouth. He is chatty and I am still. He does his best to comfort me, but there is nothing he can do. I am not afraid. It is the excitement of watching him work, as I try to see around my gaping jaw and the ridge of my nose. It is the excitement of hearing him talk about his family in Florida. The feeling of being like someone. The feeling of being different together.

We can be all the same and get by, but that is not the point.

Can I get a

I wrap the towel around my leg. I press. I hear you bouncing up the stairs. I hear you calling my name. You drown out the sound of the podcast I’m streaming. I do not respond. You did this the other night, tried to talk to me through the closed door. When we were children and we did this to our mother she would yell at us in response. It is not polite to talk to someone when they’re in the bathroom with the door closed. That is alone time.

You seem to realize I am preoccupied behind the bathroom door because I hear you bound down the stairs. You stop shouting my name.

When I finally make it down the stairs (I put away my things. I clip my nails. I clean the long black pubes out of the tub drain. I empty the bathroom trash.) you ask if I saw your text message. I expect you to ask if I heard you calling my name. This takes me aback.

In the kitchen I unload your dishes from the dishwasher. Your fourth? load in a week. I tell you you use a lot of dishes. The plates slam together. You say it is because you made dinner every night last week. Is that so? You talk at me and you watch me. I ask you not to put my Tupperware inside. You say you thought it was sturdy enough.

The dishwasher is not mounted to the countertop. Sometimes it slides back, underneath, inside. I squat down and begin to wrestle it forward. I’m squatting and pulling. Standing and switching. Corner to corner until the door of the dishwasher is even with the lip of the countertop. You are still talking at me. Now you are complaining about grading. But if you don’t grade, what else will you do? I finish and start to chop brussels sprouts. As they roast I decide to scrub the stovetop. I cannot remember the last meal I made on the stove. It is blackened. Charred crumbs surround the burners. I soak it and scrub it and scrub it some more. You laugh at me when I don’t let you insult a colleague. Why do men think women are funny? Why do they think we are joking?

You keep talking at me. You are talking to me about some worry you had, some stress. The scrubbing could have been therapeutic. I could have wondered away as my elbows and my wrists dug into the grit. But your voice keeps me tethered. Just out of reach of my own thoughts. My own silence. You notice I have unloaded the dishwasher. “But that’s my job.” I do not respond. You ask me what I’m roasting. “Brussels sprouts.” You leave the kitchen as I go over the stove for the third time. I am scrubbing so hard I can feel my tongue tasting the outside of my lip. You are still talking. You talk to me about the mindset of a mutual acquaintance. Someone who just gave birth. I frown at you. I do not understand why you are explaining the mindset of a postpartum woman to me. You like to talk about pregnancy like you know it. Like you get it. I move out of your line of sight and begin to put the dense cages back around the gas burners.

I have maneuvered around your coffee thermoses. You like to leave them in the sink for twelve hours, at least. Right under the spigot. I begin to clean out my lunchbox. Then I will wipe down the counters. You decide now is the time to wash your thermoses. You finish and finally leave the first floor. Going to call your wife. I begin to wipe down the sink. Stained with coffee. I can hear you laugh with your wife as I begin to sweep the floor. First the kitchen. Then the dining room. Bursts and splashes of your conversation dribble down the stairs as I go to the basement to get the swiffer. I scrub the salt and the dirt off the floor. We have two rugs and a drip pan for the boots but somehow there is salt across the hardwood floor. I scrub until my back burns.

I get up early and I work through lunch and I go to the gym to lift and then I come home and I shower and I unpack my gym clothes and I repack fresh clothes for the next workout and I clean up my room and I get everything ready for the next morning. I come downstairs and I clean and I make dinner for myself and then I have a couple hours to watch tv or read or write. Every morning and every night you sit and wait to talk at me. Are you a dog with vocal chords? You talk at me. Do you care if I care? I think it’s pretty apparent I do not care. You are smart enough to analyze the evidence and conclude I do not care. But you need me to care. Men always need women to care.

When you talk on the phone with your wife I hear you repeat the same stories to her you have just finished talking at me. I used to think that was somehow endearing. That you wanted to make sure she felt apart of your day. You had to make sure not to leave anything out. Now I wonder if it is something else. I try to remember the last time I repeated a story in the same day.

I bring my dinner to the couch. I turn on the tv. I hear you stumble around upstairs as you pack. Who knew clothes in suitcases could make so much noise.

In the morning, I will wait until you bound out the front door before I leave my room. One morning I forgot my plan and found you with every kitchen counter surface covered. In the morning, I will take out the recycling overflowing with your beer bottles. I will turn off the lights you leave on. Once you made fun of my chicken wing eating abilities. “Clearly you are not the child of immigrants.” What kind of child leaves lights on and runs the dishwasher multiple times a week? Whose parents don’t care about electricity and water bills?

Soon this will all be a distant memory.