Dare You To Move

For whatever reason, Switchfoot’s “Dare You to Move” keeps playing in my head lately. I guess it started during one of the days recently when I was camped out in a cozy nest on my couch, trying deperately to make myself get up and go to the bathroom or the kitchen or get the mail or anything formerly trivial but, since I was essentially rendered paralized by Covid for a week, I couldn’t. It was pretty painful just to exist – even my skin hurt so much that a shirt sleeve rubbing against my arm felt like a million pin pricks. When I walked more than a few steps, the incredible pain in my lower back and legs was both bizarre and overwhelming. It felt like I was made of cement, heavy and immovable yet also illogically wobbly. And it winded me! One day I took out the trash and that 2 minute adventure made me so bloody tired, that I came inside, fell onto my bed with my shoes still on, and slept for 45 minutes. On one hand, it’s a blessing that I lasted nearly three years without getting it and I am eternally grateful that vaccines kept me from experiencing the lung and taste and smell issues of early Covid, and that took the lives of so many people, some of whom I loved and grieved deeply. On the other hand, I wish so badly that I had made time to get my second booster so I wouldn’t have had to experience it at all.

The whole Covid experience is too much to rehash. One of the only comforts was going on Reddit and finding dozens of other people who had the same concoction of bizarre symptoms and in the same nonsensical order, and the same insanely unpleasant side effects of Paxlovid and tips to get past them. It made me feel less crazy and less alone. We all know I love a normalizing moment.

Another comfort though was the number of people who regularly checked in on me. I am not someone who likes asking for help or admitting weakness or acknowledging loneliness to the people in my real world. But I was forced to while I had Covid. It is scary and humbling to live alone when you are so sick. The first two days were so tremendously awful and terrifying that I actually considered whether death might be more palatable. I could barely walk, I had full body goosebumps and tremors even while I was sweating through my clothes, I had too many bathroom adventures to count, my head was full of nothing but snot and pressure, and I nearly passed out in public twice on the day I walked a mile to get a PCR test. I have never felt so small and needy and helpless in my life. And yet, when I called, my friends picked up. They helped. They gave tips from when they had it (Vick’s shower tabs are essentially heaven, btw). They sent Postmates and Instacart. And more than one of them texted. Every. Single. Day. As awful and gross as it was, I also felt loved.

It felt really nice. And refreshing.

It took me a really long time and so much unnecessary frustration to find her but the time that I have spent talking with my therapist over the past several months has almost been worth the struggle to find mental help. Of the many, many things we’ve talked about and tried to unpack and work through, one of the things I am most grateful for is her helping me to be more proactive with my friendships. I am still on the fence on the chicken-and-egg of whether I have always been a loner or, if due to growing up shy coupled with recurring emotional trauma over the decades, my independence and solitude have become learned and protective behaviors.

As I’ve shared a few times before, although I obviously have memories of childhood and high school and everything pre-college, I underwent a significant change in who I am and how I show up in the world somewhere around the age of 21 or 22. It’s difficult for me now, at 43, to remember much about the person I was before that shift. I objectively know that I was shy and quiet and sweet and demure and naive and Christian, and also a doormat. It’s just that I look back on that time, that period where everything shifted, when I found my voice and my backbone and a modicum of self-confidence, and I feel a mixture of both pride and regret. I am proud of who I am and who I have grown to be. While there were obviously external influences along the way, and pockets of rich friendships and formative experiences, I did most of that changing by daring myself to … move. On my own. I did it through conscious choices more than circumstance and, eventually, after I dared myself to speak up, show up, participate, reach higher, engage … eventually, those thoughts became actions became habits became character.

The regret part comes into play, niggling at the back of my heart and feeling a bit too close to shame most times, when I am faced with situations where perhaps I have become too bold, too outspoken, too brash, too honest, too brave, too intense, too passionate, too vulnerable, too comfortable. Sure, some of that is insecurity rearing up from the depths of my past self, an innate self-consciousness that lives vividly within my inner child. She calls out sometimes to remind me of how much I have always craved belonging because I never quite felt like I fit anywhere for the first half of my life. Once I found my place, I am not sure that I fully lived there, at least not to the fullest that I could. But I operated in that space and I did it well.

The majority of the past nearly twenty years have been spent devoted wholly and passionately to my work. I LOVE MY WORK. As a high school counselor for twelve and now as the director of pre-college and scholarship programs for the last five, I have gotten to play the most rewarding and fulfilling roles I could imagine. That isn’t to say that it was easy. On the contrary, there is plenty of evidence in the words on these pages that, in fact, there has been a lot of tribulation and disappointment, a lot of crushing heart ache, and so much literal blood, sweat, tears, and mental and emotional anguish. And YET, at least once a week, I still receive an email or a comment or a phone call that I add to the literal and figurative “smile file.” I have always felt seen, loved, and valued by my students, their families, and a lot of my colleagues, in ways that are unmatched in my personal life by a mile. And I know that this could sound a bit sad, that so much of my identity is bound up in my career, but similar to my penchant for solitude, I just don’t really know how much of it is innate and how much has been a learned, adaptive behavior, born from emotional necessity and self preservation.

That brings me back to cultivating friendships. My therapist and I have talked a lot about grief, loss, and rejection, specifically as it relates to what I experienced with John but also generally as I have exerienced, collected, and kept saddled to my being for as long as I can remember. As a child, several of my earliest memories are of loss. As a teenager, I felt rejection and exclusion so fully that they are like a velcro blanket over that time period, covering and clinging to the memories so tightly that I can’t separate them. As a college student and early 20-something, I felt both extreme lows and extreme highs in terms of belonging and self-identity. And as an independent adult over the past 17 years in DC, I have lost almost every close friend I’ve had to physical distance, marriages, mother/fatherhood, or job changes and, without exception, have been rejected or betrayed by every man I’ve dated. I have never been anyone’s number one, be it romantic, friendship, or family relationships. Every other person in my life has someone who is or becomes more important to them than me. I love that they have that love, but I am also jealous and envious and sad that I don’t. My family is the only true constant, but even some of those relationships have morphed and thinned in ways I did not anticipate, feel regret for not preventing, and wish were like they used to be.

Losses and emotional traumas are the fenceposts between which all the rest of my life has been strung. Some of those distances are spanned with solid, relatively unscathed streches of electrical wire, while a lot of others are bent, broken, tangled and in need of repairs of various magnitudes so that the pulse can flow through them. I think it’s probably possible to mend some of those stretches – at least in the ways that they still affect me. There are some stretches though that are always going to be rough and you’ll feel the jolt of the current if you get too close. I grew up on a farm; fence posts and broken fences and gates left open and electrical shocks were part of my normal childhood days. I know that even when you repair a stretch, it’s weaker in that spot unless you replace the whole damn thing.

Obviously, I can’t get a do-over on this life. I can’t go back in time and make different choices, walk through different doors, choose a different career or man, or see how things could have turned out if I’d been less bashful and more confident, if I hadn’t experienced some of the loss and violation I did as a tiny kid, if my trust and compassion hadn’t been broken and abused by people who should have been better humans. Although I have spent far too much time allowing myself to daydream or wallow in the sliding doors moments, depending on my mood or the season, I objectively know this isn’t possible.

My therapist asked me to write this week about unrequited love. This came from an observation I made after saying how nice it felt to feel cared for by friends while I was down and out with Covid. She asked why I thought it felt like people were more concerned and supportive when I was physically in crisis versus a year ago when I was experiencing emotional crisis. I told her that was an easy answer: I confided in more people. She asked why and I initially said because it’s easy to just simply text someone and say ‘I have Covid, it feels awful,’ when most of them have already experienced it, versus having to have a significant conversation full of emotional landmines and unknowns to explain what happened and formulate words for how it felt to people who haven’t experienced anything like it.

She pushed back because she’s good at her job. Of course my explanation is true but also, a year ago, I did not have some of the significant people in my life that I do now, I wasn’t as close to some of the ones I did have, and I made very little effort to cultivate or water those friendships, new or old.

She has been challenging me to try to take ownership of both my aloneness and my loneliness by making an intentional effort to be a friend and seek community. Specifically, to be less alone in my world. In some ways, I feel like the timid and polite 20 year old sitting in my Anatomy & Physiology class junior year with a bully of a professor and, exasperated and frustrated by the inequity, finally just daring myself to speak up and stand up and not be intimidated. Now though, I am daring myself to reach out to friends instead of wishing they would reach out to me. I feel like I used to be better at this or at least more natural but, now I actively send up smoke signals in the form of texts or even (gasp!!) occasional phone calls. I check in, I share more things, and I initiate physical time with people I like but also intentionally suggest things I like … concerts, dinner, HH, outdoor things, nerdy talks and live shows, etc. I am definitely one of those people for whom the snarky t-shirts “Sorry I’m late. I didn’t want to come.” exist. Except, I abhor being late and loathe flakiness so I usually either say no from the first suggestion -or- I make myself go but I really, really don’t want to and spend the preceeding days & nights wishing I had said no. If I suggest things I want to do, with people I like, that reluctance and dread leading up to things is much less crippling.

I know all of that is partially anxiety and introversion, but it’s also partly because I have grown so accustomed to being by myself, on my own, with no accountability for my time, that the idea of COMMITTING to something or someone that I’m not jazzed about is really difficult. So, I’m trying to be more proactive and it’s been helpful and, in most cases, enjoyable. When I suggest something and the other person isn’t free or doesn’t want to or flakes or whatver, there is definitely still an irrational level of disappointment and rejection and a reluctance to do it again. And I still feel slighted or excluded when I see on social media that suburban friends are in the city, less than a mile away, with their kids or something and don’t bother to tell me or invite me. I know that’s kind of silly and self-centered and they have every right to do things with whomever, whenever they want but I’m admitting that I still have to work through why it always hurts. I’m trying. It’s a work in progress. I’m daring myself to move. Again.

.

One year ago tonight, probably at exactly this time, I opened this laptop to write in this blog about a man I loved who was (allegedly) suddenly moving to another city and ending or at least changing what I thought was my best, most significant, most loving relationship of more than three years. What I found instead shattered me and blew up all the pieces of my life that I thought made sense. I didn’t know what to trust or believe, including my own mind.

I cannot say I am fully back to good. There are parts of this stretch of fence that will never be repaired without a significant weak point or two, and an electrical pulse that jumps and pops if you get too close, but I am moving. I no longer feel suffocating pain or crushing sadness. I still feel disbelief and anger and I still thirst for retribution and ache for resolution and long for any indication of remorse or contrition. I am less empathetic in some ways and more so in others. I have completed a grad program in management and gained a multitude of new connections, a community in which I not only belonged but thrived, and a couple of GREAT friends I can’t believe that I didn’t know this time last year. I no longer feel empathy for the other woman; I feel pity that she doesn’t respect herself enough to walk away but that is also not my business. I accept now that I did the best I could to help my fellow woman and I cannot fix stupid.

I have dared myself to date, dared myself to trust, dared myself to give men a chance, dared myself to keep seeing men that I wanted to run from too early because I’m scared and gun-shy, and I have dared myself to walk away from (stoopidly attractive) men who were far less than I deserve. I am learning to recognize that what some men give is only crumbs and I do not have to accept it just because I’m hungry. I still don’t like being hungry but I’m trying to find ways to fill the void, even if it’s not through a romantic connection.

I have some renewed insecurities that I thought I repaired a few times before but, again, those repair points aren’t ever as strong as they once were, and there are days when I do not see the point in trying to find belonging and feel overwhelmed by self-pity and hopelessness. And yet … I am also tougher, more discerning, less blindly compassionate, more comfortable being vulnerable (beyond writing in an anonymous blog), and have made a serious commitment to and impactful strides toward being mentally healthy and protecting my peace. And yes, medication has been a game changer.

Heading into another winter, I am anxious and trying not to let the sads creep in just yet. It’s a daily battle this time of year. But I am still here; there were days and a lot of nights in the past year where I prayed that I wouldn’t be. I did not want to be. There are less of those nights less frequently now.

It isn’t perfect. I still feel many of the emotions I felt on this night a year ago, but most of them are relatively dull more often than not. There are days when I am proud of me and there are days when I feel like the climb is too high.

But I wake up every morning and I dare myself to move.

“I dare you to move
I dare you to lift
Yourself up off the floor

I dare you to move
I dare you to move
Like today never happened”

Dare You to Move – Switchfoot

Keep Your Head Up

“We ain’t meant to survive, ’cause it’s a setup

And even though you’re fed up

Huh, ya gotta keep your head up”

Keep Ya Head Up – Tupac

I had a profoundly affecting experience yesterday that I cannot shake. There’s nothing to be done but feel it and wait for the intensity to subside. It feels so heavy and disappointing and sad, but there’s also some deep love and light woven in.

I spent most of yesterday at the DC jail. I was invited by a good friend to attend an event where the residents were presenting the group project pitches they had been working on for the past eight weeks. The topic? Curbing gun violence in this city. There were 14 groups and all of us guests, about 60 or 70 of us, were randomly assigned a group number and we traveled around to each of the 14 tables. We listened to their pitches, reviewed their presentation materials, and asked questions. Think science fair in a gym only, instead of scrawny and adorable middle schoolers, these students are all ages, shapes, and sizes in bright orange jumpsuits.

The experience itself was awesome. Truly. My cheeks hurt so much from smiling hours after I had passed back out through security and found my way to my car, where all of my electronics and everything except my photo ID were waiting for me. I have never gone through so much security and it was kind of intense for a first-timer. Listening to the residents though was thought-provoking, inspiring, enlightening, and humbling. From teenagers to old men, I was able to look into the eyes of each man as he shared his piece of the presentation and I was struck by how little we, as humans, ever bother to look beyond a label. Whether it is liberal or republican, disabled or athlete, CEO or felon, we rarely put the time, effort, or grace into having a simple conversation with those whose labels flash “other” in our minds like an alarm. I was interested to observe that while not everyone was nervous, most were visibly anxious and there were a lot of shaky voices and hands from men that are probably used to being quite intimidating. It was so humanizing to listen to these phenomenal, practical, uniquely informed ideas on how to effect change in violent crime and youth involvement in this city. When would you ever get to have conversations like that?! I could have done it all day. I wanted to just keep learning and soaking in all the ideas and wondering how, who, and where these ideas might get funding or get off the ground in a tangible way. There were folks from all over the city in attendance, including the White House, and I saw a lot of people taking notes and swapping business cards. I genuinely hope that something, anything, comes of the rich and innovative ideas we heard yesterday.

Despite how moving all of that was, it was not even close to the most impactful part of the day. Before things got started, guests were just milling about, reading the one-pagers we had been given for each of the project groups. There was a brief overview, a picture of the residents who worked on each project, and a list of their names. A few pages in, one name jumped out at me. Let’s call him Bryant Morris — common enough name but one man in the picture on that page looked too much like a Bryant Morris from my past. A student that I knew at the first high school where I was a counselor. For a moment, I thought, “that cannot be my Bryant Morris.” I looked around the gymnasium where probably 50 men in electric orange jumpsuits were scattered. It took less than a second for me to see him. I swear to you, I nearly hit my knees. Disbelief and sadness took my breath away and I almost believed he locked eyes with me from all the way across that gym — even though we were wearing masks and probably haven’t seen each other in 10 years. I had to keep looking away because I didn’t want to believe it. He was SO much bigger than I remember. Full sleeves of tattoos covering arms that looked more like tree trunks. But those eyes? Those eyes were the same as the ones on the baby face of a boy who is inextricably and heartbreakingly linked to one of the worst days of my life.

In 2008, two of my former students were in a car accident one night. They had just graduated the year before and one was my counseling aide and sat in my office every single day with her insanely infectious smile. The accident was bad enough that they needed to fly them to Maryland Shock Trauma. Except the helicopter crashed and killed everyone on board, except one. My aide was killed as were the two flight crew and the local EMT who had boarded to assist during transport. After so, so many surgeries, the surviving student lost her leg and had a lot of scars, both physical and emotional, but she survived.

The crash upended our community. The morning after, when the news broke, we knew two of our students were involved but we didn’t know who. I had seniors that year and my entire caseload of 262 faces went through my mind. I created my first ever Facebook account just to monitor how my kids were doing. It was an unfathomable tragedy and no one was okay. I wasn’t okay. I didn’t know who that first morning but I didn’t want it to be any of the faces I kept seeing in my mind.

I never dreamed they were alumni. I certainly never dreamed it was those two girls, my girls. In another giant fuck you, the EMT who perished was the mother of Bryant Morris, one of our football stars and a universally popular young man with students and staff.

He was out of school for nearly two weeks and when he returned he wasn’t the smiling, fun-loving, always joking kid that he was. Sure, he was still a standout athlete and I was there in the stands when he won the state titles that year in football, indoor, and outdoor track. He just lost his sparkle for a long time. He was (is) the sweetest boy. It makes my chest ache so deeply to remember those days right after the crash — the sickening sadness and profound sense of shock and loss — but also the weeks after when one student was still in the hospital facing a steep uphill battle, everyone else was dead, and Bryant was the one we all watched. It wasn’t really fair. It just seemed like, if we could get him to be okay, we would all be okay too.

There have been so many tragedies since then. So many students lost. So much trauma. So many things I wish I didn’t have to live through, that they didn’t have to live through. At some point, I feel like I became numb to anything new. A few years ago, one of my students, an Honors and AP student, shot another of my boys in the head. Two lives were lost forever that afternoon. I suppose I peripherally felt shock and sadness but, honestly? I felt nothing. It was just one more awful thing in a never-ending string of awful things in the lives of the students I serve.

I learned through all of those awful things the myriad ways that different people experience them, process them, and move forward at whatever pace they can. By graduation Bryant seemed to be doing fine. He got his full scholarship for football and, as the NCAA Coordinator for the entire district, I was there on signing day with tears of joy in my eyes. It felt like a win for all of us.

The last time I saw him, I’m not sure how many years ago exactly but at least 7 or 8, it was on my street. I was driving toward Howard University and Bryant was on a bicycle. The last I knew, he was out west at college where he got his scholarship so it was wild seeing him here, but he told me that he had just transferred to Howard and was the starting corner. He seemed really proud and happy and settled. We talked for a while in the street and then he put his hand on my driver’s side door with the window open and I pulled him up the big hill toward Howard on his bike, smiling as big as ever. The next time I saw him was yesterday, in an orange jumpsuit, in prison.

My group yesterday, of course, was assigned to start at his group’s table and I was not ready. I wasn’t processing fast enough. I wanted to find a quiet corner and have a good, selfish cry before I found some freaking strength. I wasn’t even sure if he would remember me, let alone recognize me with my mask on. It seemed like he was intentionally avoiding eye contact with me when he did his part of the presentation though and, when I heard his voice, there was no way I could deny that the man in front of me was that same sweet boy. It broke my fucking heart into a thousand pieces. After the presentation, he picked up a stack of their flyers to pass out to my group and he started with me. He looked me straight in the eye and I said, “Thank you, Bryant. Do you remember me?” He called me by name and said, “Of course I remember you. I don’t know why or how you are here today, but thank you for coming. Can I talk to you later?”

And so I went around to all the other tables to listen and found him after. I asked if I could give him a hug … and then I gave him about six. We could only chat for a few minutes before we were shuffled to the next building but it was enough to know he’s still that boy, with the same heart, the same bouyancy, the same drive. He told me he’s been in for 24 months now and thinks he’ll be out in eight more. He’s gotten his LLC while inside and is pursuing entrepreneurship so he can “do things the right way” when he gets out. We talked about his offense(s), why the money on the street was too good, and how he just got caught up. He asked what I do now and, when I told him, he said, “Do you all hire felons?” It sobered me up real quick and all the joy I was feeling from reconnecting with an old student in those brief moments evaporated with a big smack of reality. I gave him my email and my same old Pittsburgh number, to which he said with a classic Bryant smile, “Of course. Same as always.”

Then I came home last night and had myself a little breakdown. First I’ve cried in what feels like months but, oof, the floodgates broke wide open. There are kids that you know are never going to fully escape their circumstances. And it is not just the ones that you know are in gangs, or come to school with a gunshot wound, or already wear an ankle bracelet. There are also kids who are barely getting through or that could be doing more than passing but they hate school and, whatever the case, they aren’t going to continue school after high school, if they even graduate. You know those kids aren’t going to make it, despite everyone’s best efforts to help them onto a viable pathway. But then there are other kids that you know, with every fiber of your being, are going to be something. Bryant Morris was one of the latter. Ten years ago, I would have bet you 1000:1 that he would be well on his way to CEO of something by now.

I don’t understand why life is this way. The injustice of the cards you are dealt and all that. I just do not and cannot understand it. There are so many days and circumstances that make it feel like a fucking setup.

Like Pac says, you’ve got to keep your head up. And I would say to that, maybe tomorrow. Today, I’m deep in my feelings and thinking about a boy who already lost everything when he was 15. I have known him for literally half of his life and I cannot help but feel like maybe we didn’t try hard enough to make sure that sweet, funny, beautiful boy was really and truly okay.

I need to do some research over the next eight months to figure out how to actually help now.

High school lockers

I have approximately zero interest in writing these days but folks keep visiting so I suppose I should force myself, just to keep the proverbial juices flowing. That’s what we do, right? Us creative types? We force ourselves to do and move and experience and express in the ever-waning hope that, when we push beyond the present block, everything will eventually feel like it fits again and in a way that makes sense. My mind is still overflowing with rivers and streams of thoughts that cascade over the cliffs, plummeting to depths of which I can never see the bottom. It’s just that the babbling has all become a bit like white noise, sometimes too close and too loud but mostly relegated to the background of my somewhat less sleepless nights as of late.

The novelty of medication has worn off. It is still working, in a sense, of course. Last week, I experienced my first twinge of regret that I could not feel as much. After initiating a second follow-up request over three weeks, I learned that I did not even move beyond an initial phone interview for a job a really wanted; a dream job, honestly. I’ve learned not to let myself dream too much or get very invested or have any expectations when it comes to jobs. After more than 100 (200?) applications, barely more than a handful of interviews, and only two second interviews in more than two years of applying, the job search has become as futile and damaging to my self worth as dating. The chances of landing one where you aren’t settling or sacrificing part of your soul are about the same, in my experience.

Anyway, in all those many, many applications and thoughtful cover letters, there have been less than ten that I have been truly excited about. This was not only one of those elusive few but very easily the top one. There could not be more than a dozen people in the entire country who are more uniquely qualified for the role and probably none in my city, and yet, I did not even get to the second round. I have a hunch that sits like a rock in my stomach that it’s because I felt a bit too comfortable during the phone screening with a woman who knows and admires all of the same phenoms in DC education that I do and shares my often firy inability to accept inequity or injustice in any form, especially when it comes to students and representation (or former lovers masquerading as good guys). When she asked a direct question about my current manager though, I almost certainly did not respond in the most artful or calculated way I could have. I should have. I am just not built that way. Even when I try, there is no way that whomever I am speaking to doesn’t know what I think — I am too expressive, too honest, too radically candid, too comfortable being exactly who I am. I’ve worked so hard to find my voice; I cannot bear to whisper now. If that wasn’t it, then it has to be some nepotistic, DC-billionaires’-club kind of thing because I should have been a lock. For as much as my self confidence and self worth have taken a walloping over the past year or so, I have zero hestation in saying or believing that last bold statement.

It could also be because I made too much of an issue about how their organization is mostly white (men) and it isn’t representative of the population they purport to serve so, as a white woman, I may have effectively torpedoed my own candidacy. I am trying to convince myself that was the reason because I am okay with that one. I suppose we shall see when the person they do hire is finally named.

That said, I found out and I just did not feel a damned thing. I was theoretically disappointed, obviously. I still am. But I did not feel it. I haven’t even told but one other person and that’s only because this person was actually thoughtful enough to send a message to check in on me this weekend. That night though, I was thinking about how that was my last iron in the proverbial fire and, with my ridiculously horrible manager coming back from maternity leave next week, I should have felt pretty fucking hopeless. I cognitively knew this but I couldn’t feel one way or the other about it.

And that felt really … weird.

I shit you not, I looked up the movie “Beaches” on YouTube, just to find the part where Bette Midler’s character learns about her best friend dying, scenes from their childhood flash, all while Bette is belting “Wind Beneath My Wings,” in the background. I just wanted to cry. I wanted to feel. More than that, I wanted to wallow and sulk. So I summoned Bette and I did! It was weirdly comforting to know that I haven’t become a complete automaton.

This morning, in our last team meeting before my inept and insecure wench of a boss returns, the icebreaker opener was, “What was in your high school locker?” My teammates all shared about the decorations they had in theirs: a shrine to Tupac with fake flower garlands, a daily journal pad that one of them wrote in throughout every day with the two friends who shared hers, the dance outfits and ballet slippers stuffed into the bottom of another instead of books, pictures of 80s and 90s hip-hop and pop stars, make-up and perfume and all kinds of girly shit.

I wanted to go first because I knew mine was going to fall flat but they were all too excited to share and their energy was contagious so I just sat back and smiled and laughed with them until my cheeks hurt, until they forced me to go at the end. I said that I honestly didn’t think I ever had anything in my locker, if I even used it. I remember sharing one in the intermediate high (9th & 10th grade) with another girl but I can’t remember a single thing about it except that it was kind of near my cousin, Amy’s, and she was kind of popular and not very nice to me.

I didn’t share that last part because, honestly, no one wants or needs to know that I was a shadow in school, from elementary through half of college. I had some friends but my cousin, Shawn, was my best friend and he drove me to and from school every day. We were farm kids and we didn’t really give a shit about the groups that weren’t ours or people that we weren’t friends with. We didn’t have the same friends and that was okay with both of us. We had each other, mostly. I was not social and I got picked on in pretty much every grade I can remember. On the bus in elementary school, in class in junior high, the boy behind me used to spit on my back and in my hair in homeroom in high school, prank calls at my house that seemed to never stop, etc. I was really shy and quiet and smart. I was objectively cute but I think people thought I was stuck up … or an easy target … both?

I just don’t have many fond memories of school at all, and trying to think about my locker this morning was almost comical. Like, of all the many, many insignficant things that take up room in my cavernous memory, my locker is not one of them.

The funny thing is though, I have a recurring dream about high school that revolves around my locker. I have no idea why but on a fairly regular basis, I dream that I am in my high school, which was a huge campus (1200 kids for just the 11th & 12th grades), and I am at my locker and no one is around because I am late for class. My locker was in one of the buildings farthest from the main entrance and I can picture the hallway, the smell, the light through the walls of windows on either side, and I can almost remember the exact locker in a certain row. But I can never remember the combination in the dream or, if it’s already open when I’m there, I can never find the notebook I need. I am panicking because I can’t find my class schedule and cell phones/smart phones didn’t exist then to look it up. I always take the same set of stairs, there are always people going down while I’m going up, and I am always trying to get to one of three classes, Biology, Calc, and something else. But I can never remember which one I have at that time because I don’t know what day it is and, in the dream, I haven’t gone to class in so long that if I do make it to the right one, I am definitely late, my desk is the only empty one, and the teacher and the entire class stop talking and watch me walk to my desk. Sometimes it’s because I’m in the wrong class for that day and sometimes the teacher makes some snide comment about how it’s nice of me to show up. The irony is, I never missed a g/God damned day of high school, not even for senior skip day. I don’t even know if there was one — I was that cool.

Ah, high school.

Music for the Mood:

Baba O’Riley – The Who

Teenage Dirtbag – Wheatus

“It’s only teenage wasteland.”
Farm kids. What can I say? I’ve always had mad style.

Aftershocks

Featherlight kisses

Skimming up her spine

Warm breath at her neck

Her head turns, shoulder arches

She smiles

Foreheads touch

Four eyes crinkle

Her body shudders once more

He chuckles

She floats

He lies

Again, and again

.

She shudders now at the memory

Again, and again

.

And again

It’s different in this light.
Revulsion erasing ecstasy.
Reckoning replacing reveling.

Music for the Mood:

Reckoning

Reveling

– Ani DiFranco

Take the Power Back

For a couple weeks now, this powerful punch from Rage Against the Machine’s song of the same name has been reverberating through my brain. That it is now officially the short month during which this country seeks to recognize the historic struggles and contributions of African Americans is not lost on me. I’m not intentionally seeking to personally appropriate a song meant as a battle cry against the forced ideals of white America and an unbelievably prescient commentary on teaching (or not teaching) critical race theory in our schools.

Now thirty years old, it is just as frustrating and loathsome now not to have witnessed enough quantifiable progress for Black humans in this country as it was when this song was bumping and thumping through car stereos at deafening levels in the 90s, when the multitude of humanity’s hues were chanting and raging the lyrics with indignant anger, though often misplaced and misdirected toward parents, religion, teachers, and other entities representing authority. Teenage ignorance masquerading as defiance, really.

“In the right light, study becomes insight

But the system that dissed us, teaches us to read and write

So-called facts are fraud

The rage is relentless

We need a movement with a quickness

You are the witness of change and to counteract

We gotta take the power back

“Take the Power Back” – Rage Against the Machine (1992)

Because I wasn’t even in high school when Zack de la Rocha was yelling these words, I cannot pretend that I understood the lyrics then. Lord knows you couldn’t Google lyrics back then. I used to record songs from the radio onto a cassette tape and then pause, rewind, and play the lyrics over and over and over until I memorized them. I can still recall every word of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” by the way. It suffices to say that I wasn’t memorizing Rage Against the Machine’s lyrics back then.

In fact, those metal bands of the 90s like Metallica, Pantera, Megadeath, and Rage kind of terrified me. Those bands are what the “bad” kids listened to, the kids I had no interest in being around and, because I rarely talked to anyone beyond my family and very few friends in that time of my life, I sure as shit wasn’t listening to the music of “those” kids to try to assimilate. Motown and the Golden Oldies were what my family listened to and that’s what I liked! I’ve come to legitimately love some of those hard rock bands though and I couldn’t tell you when or how that happened. I’ll be seeing Metallica in concert for the second time in my life in a few months, and Rage somehow became the go-to soundtrack to my workouts. There is nothing as motivating as those opening, angry bars from “Killing in the Name” — you have to grit your teeth, you have to grimace, you have to growl the words through your chest — it just happens. Those songs have also been the soundtrack to more than one season of heartbreak … you know, after the sadness and self-loathing phase, when the anger pulses with such force that you just need to get it out? Yeah. I’ve been crashing on that couch, off and on, for a few weeks now. It isn’t comfortable and I still don’t sleep, but it serves a purpose on this journey back to myself. Again.

I have always marveled at the ignorance of those “bad” kids back in my hometown. Honest to g/God, they probably still bang their bloody heads off to these bass lines while screaming along. But those tough, redneck, steel town boys, now men, are also the ones who used to litter my social media timelines with bigoted, biased, conservative bullshit. Those unfiltered and appalling voices are the reason I haven’t had Facebook in years now. I do not miss it. And if I tried to point out the irony of their views and the music that molded them, they’d brush it off the same way they do any challenge to their glaring and profound ignorance.

Anyway, the lyrics of this song make me angry. And they help me rage enough to get up and get through another day. If I allow myself to not think too much about what de la Rocha is really saying, if I allow myself to just feel Morello’s guitar and thrash into the emotion, those words “…take the power back,” are a battle cry for me too. Personally. I am personally trying to take back the power —- the power to move, the power to heal, the power to take care of myself. I won’t stop fighting for justice and equity for humanity, in February or beyond, but right now, I’m fighting for me. I’m fighting to remember who I am, fighting to trust again, fighting for what I can give to the world if I’m healthy and my heart is glued back together, fighting for someone who wants to be present in the lives of people who are waiting for me to resurface (hopefully they can wait some more), and I’m fighting to be proud of that person again … once I find her.

First step: I bought myself a subscription for fresh flowers from UrbanStems. Is there anything more delicately and intricately perfect than a ranunculus? I think not.

Where we are
Where we’re going

Step Two: Found a new therapist. One who understands trauma in all its forms.

Next step: A solo vacation this week. I need Vitamin Sea (and D) and my soul needs to recharge.

I’ll be fine. I’m making progress. Sunshine will help. So does Rage.

Music for the Mood:

Take the Power Back

Killing in the Name

Bombtrack

Bullet in the Head

Rage Against the Machine (1992)