“This city,” the general says, “Has been around since the 80s.” He lifts and drops his heavy boots on the desk; lets them land carelessly with a THUNK on a pile of manila folders stamped CLASSIFIED.
“Back then, there were no walls. Some young towns learn early; they get invaders ransacking the place, and up the walls go. Men and women working day and night to get the job done. Usually the whole damn colony will be in on it. They don’t elect a few. They know it’s in their best interest to finish quickly. Get the walls up before the next come along. It’s industrious of them, I’ll give them that, but it depresses the ass off of me.”
The general shifts his feet, scattering papers. “Not this one. First came the words. Awful storms of words. Tornadoes.” He pinches the bridge of his nose with his fingers, pained. “We lost a lot of people. We were not prepared. The boss lady, she ordered no barricading work done. Just repair jobs. Not quick repair jobs, mind you. She insisted we restore. Improve. Inspire. Each time something was destroyed, something else more elaborate was built in its place. She was determined, you see. She wanted the place to be a reflection of the people living here. A reflection of their hard work. Of their character. Things were gilded. Marble sculpted. Fountains erected. And the longhorse topiaries…” He sighs heavily.
“The only ones who didn’t lend a hand at rebuilding were the corps. The plates, we called them. They are the team guarding the chamber. They were there to keep out the raiders. We lost a lot of the plates over the years.”
“We had plenty. Raiders, that is. The first one threw us for a loop. We were used to the tornadoes toppling over towers; tearing roofs off of buildings. Sharp words would get jammed into tree trunks. We had learned how to handle the storms. The first raider came and we had no idea what we were up against. It was a bloodbath. He managed to make it all the way to the chamber in the heart of the city. Managed to do quite a bit of damage in there. Valves were destroyed. It still works, but not the same as before, after all was said and done. We did our best to fix it, but those machines never work the same again, not really.”
He reaches into his desk drawer and pulls out a tall bottle of dark liquid, offers it to his guest, who politely declines. The general shrugs, wrenches off the top. Swigs.
“Once we were on the map people started noticing. We do our best to manage. We tend to our own. We have scholars. Artsits. And the poets.” He rolls his eyes. “The place is lousy with poets. People still come. She lets them in, on occasion. Each time, art was stolen. A poet would go missing. A valve would deflate. Each time, the walls would start to go up outside the city before her order. Her advisor advised she let the work be finished, but she didn’t listen. She had the walls disassembled. She’s not foolish, mind you. She’s seen the other cities. Their walls are tall and strong and sturdy, sure. But there is nothing there to protect. The streets are empty. Nobody visits anymore, and if they do, all they will hear is the echo of their own footsteps in a chamber where the machine long since stopped working. She insists that with walls up, one cannot see the sculptures as they approach the city; can’t hear the fountains through all that mortar and brick.”
The general’s heavy boots THUNK back onto the floor. He leans forward, both elbows propped on the desk. “That’s why we decided to call in a specialist, you see. We needed a professional in that chamber to guard the machine. I think she’ll love you.” He grins. “Welcome to the team, lad.”
“This city,” the general says, “Has been around since the 80s.” He lifts and drops his heavy boots on the desk; lets them land carelessly with a THUNK on a pile of manila folders stamped CLASSIFIED.
Life lately has felt like a mad rush. The finish line is a pretty shitty one where we all cross bewildered and exhausted and I can’t stop thinking about how eventually turning to dust is something I will never be able to stave off. There’s no sadbagging against death. The problem with overthinking everything all the time is that you have an existential crisis an average of every fifteen minutes. It’s like I’m in a perpetual midlife crisis without the affairs and convertibles.
The last time I updated, I was still in the middle of my divorce. I left college and moved back home with my parents. I wasn’t thrilled about being a gypsy again. This was my second not so triumphant return home since I left John. Being a transient is cool and Bohemian when you’re in your 20s, but when you’re thirtysomething and have two babies, really it just feels like failure. Loss. Confusion. Uncertainty. Hollow and slightly worn. My insides felt like a poorly constructed paper crane made by a clumsy kid just learning to fold origami. Nothing made any sense. I was mad at everything. I was sad. Not because I wasn’t with John, but because it was apparent to me that whatever sort of creature I was, I was unlovable. How could I fail at something so simple? There was no love lost when I left. There hadn’t been any between us at all, ever. I was with him because I was afraid of being alone. Later, I was with him because I was afraid of being a single parent. I was afraid of who I was and thought that because I was so odd, I would never find someone that would love me. Not really.
My divorce was setting me back enough that I couldn’t pay rent and afford to keep going to school, and the lawyer was telling me that if I couldn’t afford to pay him and he dropped my case, John would win and I’d be screwed. I could have gone pro se, but let’s be honest, I had no idea what I was doing. I moved in with my parents in December of 2012, the kids and I crammed into my childhood bedroom. Last May, my lawyer told me, “I know what you’re asking, and I believe that you should get it, but I don’t know how to present that to the court in a way that will get it.” I had hired the first lawyer that I talked to, so apparently I got my brain from the same crackerjack box he got his degree. I frantically called around until I found a lawyer that practiced only family law and had an extensive background in domestic violence.
Things were not much better, but I could at least fall asleep before 2 a.m. every night because I wasn’t up as much religiously searching for every bit of information I could find on domestic violence, custody, and all the awful bullshit that comes with divorce. I soaked up everything I could. I tortured myself with every possible way things could go wrong for my situation. Legal jargon these days makes me queasy. The family court system is fucked in a way that suggests it had way too much to drink way too early in the night and somehow made its way to a frat house.
I found a job in April, and it’s the best job I’ve ever had. I love what I do and I love the people I get to be around every day, and there are very few people who can say that. Plus, I get to legitimately say things like, “The portal is locked, so it can’t come through to us.” and pretend I’m on an adventure.
The kids and I moved to our own place. It’s a decent three bedroom, one tiny bathroom notwithstanding. It’s nice to have my own place. Not just in a “no longer a vagabond” way, but to be really free.
I don’t have to answer to him any more. And that’s the best gift I have ever given myself and my kids. I earned that shit. Hard. I don’t HAVE to be with someone to be happy. I wasn’t happy when I was with him, so I decided to lay quiet a while and get to know who I was. I’ve always been lost in my own head, but when it came to liking who I was? That was kind of something I resigned myself to never happening. It was like side stepping broken glass littering the floor. I could get to where I was going without getting hurt if I was careful enough. I navigated away from bits of me that were weird just to make it through life because it felt like they were wrong for everyone else.
We numb ourselves with whatever happens to be available so we don’t have to take a closer look at who we are and how we feel and what we need. It doesn’t matter what it is. It could be a relationship, drugs, reality tv, work. But we do what we have to in order to keep all the sharp stuff out of focus because life is easier that way and things hurt less. I decided to climb back into my own skin ans mind and figure out some things. I don’t think I’m any closer to finding the answer to much of anything, but I’m happy. And you know what? I’m pretty rad. I’m still weird as hell, but I like me better that way. I like all of me. I have a wicked sense of humor, I’m sharp, I’m fun, and I have great tits. (Just making sure you’re still paying attention.)
Around September I received an email from my attorney saying john’s attorney called him and that he was prepared to settle out of court. I don’t know all the whys, but my lawyer said john said he was sick of fighting and was agreeing to supervised visitation. Four years after the kids and I left, two years after I filed for divorce, thousands of dollars and countless hours of lost sleep later and there was a tiny beam of light in the distance. I declined any sort of claim to anything he owned and offered to take less a month for child support, anything to get him to sign.
The court date was terrible and probably a whole other post that I don’t want to get into right now. But the outcome was supervised visitation for him, and I have full custody.
Even if things hadn’t turned out the way they had and if I’d still be losing sleep over this, leaving was the best decision that I ever made. I mean that with everything I have in me. The best decision. My ancestors crawling from the primordial ooze all led up to the very moment I got my shit together and left. Because it doesn’t matter if you’re getting knocked down stairs every day or if your marriage is one where you just come home to a stranger every day. We do things we think we’re supposed to and most of the time I’m not even sure why. WHY? A lifetime seems like a whole lot of time to live, but when you stop to consider the weight of that, it’s really not. Let that sink in for a minute. Please. You get one go. That’s it. One chance to taste the air and feel the sun on your skin. One chance to laugh and sigh and move and feel and WHY waste something like that? Don’t spend your only time here in mediocrity. Go feel. Go be you. And spend it alone or spend it with someone but for the love of God, if you spend it with someone make sure they know you’re worth it.
I have a friend who is directing the local production of The Vagina Monologues this year. She invited me to audition and I have three parts I’ll be performing next week. I’ve never been on a stage before and I’m fairly certain that once I’m in front of all those people, I will start shaking and shatter into a shower of sparks on the stage. But it’s good. I’m not ready, but I probably won’t be ready until it’s well over. I practice everywhere. after the kids go to bed, I’m in my room yelling “cunt!” I take a shower and I shampoo my hair while I practice “CUUUUUUNT!” a stranger at the gas station made eye contact with me while I was in my car rehearsing. I’m sure he thought I was insane, but whatever, I’m a THESPIAN.
I was driving on Broadway and came to a red light next to a bank. The words “Deposit a check with your phone!” flashed across its sign and it made me think about just how far technology has come in my lifetime. I remember both of my children looking at me like I had grown another head when I told them that phones and computers didn’t used to be something we carried in our pockets and that to talk on the phone, you were tethered to a wall.
I glanced across the street and in the dimly lit shop I saw its old pressed tin ceiling. On a geological time scale, humans have been around for a hair’s breadth. I saw all at once all of time that has ever been, all that was, and all that will ever be, smashed all together in an infinite loop. I realized that nothing at all matters because every small thing matters in a such a profound way.
Then I decided that yes, I think I WILL have those Arby’s curly fries. Har.
I’m not going to pretend that I have all the solutions. It’s been a long while since I’ve written anything worthwhile or with a purpose. But This hit too close to home to stay silent.
I was bullied constantly in school. I grew up in a tiny town and the people from kindergarten were the people I graduated with. I think there were maybe 50 students in my graduating class. I won’t go into details or dynamics, but I know what it’s like to wake up every single day dreading to go to a place where you know you’ll be treated poorly, and you know it won’t end any time soon.
I feel for this girl, and all those like her. Like us.
There are too many times to count that I was sure I couldn’t take it anymore. Countless times that I was ready to give up.
I wanted to die.
I won’t pretend that I saw the light and had hope and strove to make it through. If you want the truth, I was honestly just too terrified to go through with it.
I don’t have the answers, and I won’t try to pipe rays of sunshine into anyone’s orifices, but you know what? It does get better.
It gets better. I promise. Just hold on. Hold on tight and fight with everything you have. Because one day school will be over. I guarantee you that you have more drive and strength in you because you’ve made it through this much, and you have something to prove to the whole world. And those assholes who tormented you for years for their own amusement? I promise you won’t ever have to see them again unless you decide to go to your high school reunions.
This world isn’t easy, and it will never, ever be perfect. Once you’re out of school you will have college and jobs and relationships and children. It’s hard and sometimes it hurts. But I promise you it’s beautiful.
You have an important mission, and a lesson to memorize from this. To those struggling with the same thing:
1)Tell someone. Tell any authority figure that will listen, and if they won’t listen, keep talking until someone will.
2)Don’t become like the people who hurt you.
3)Don’t make your heart hard. You don’t deserve this. Don’t take to heart what they’re telling you ABOUT YOURSELF. Keep yourself open to the beauty in this world and don’t let your hurt cloud your vision.
4)Prove them wrong. Prove them all wrong. Use your passion and imagination and fire and strength guide you to make this world a better place. This world needs you more than you know.
Don’t give up. I promise you that you are beautiful and wonderful and we need you. And you know what? I love you.
I’m grateful to the people who offer me support as I try to find the correct path.
I’m grateful to my brother, who coerced me (gently, and with much love) to leave my comfort zone and meet some of his friends, who became my friends also. I’m thankful that I met each of you, and I wouldn’t trade anything for having met you. I’m glad that I got to know your kindness, your humor and your caring. Know that even though I’m far away, and can’t see you much that I still wish that I could. I love you.
I’m grateful to the airmen during my overnight layover in Baltimore, during my stressful flight back home from Italy. I was physically sick from lack of sleep and weary to the bone in every way possible. One let us watch Transformers on his laptop to keep the kids entertained so that I could sit still for a minute – thank you. To the very young airman who drew my son a picture of a Goomba to keep him entertained, (and then let him keep it) while I held my daughter, thank you. I nearly wept at the look of confusion and askance on your face when you drew a severe frown on the character and asked Trent what letter of the alphabet it looked like, thinking he would answer “U” or “V” and he said “That looks like my daddy.” And to the airman who let the kids pick some of his extra snacks, and told Lilly how awesome she was when my two year old picked Pocky, thank you.
I’m so thankful that my mom drove all the way to Kansas City to pick me up from the airport. I didn’t know I could feel such a sense of relief and comfort knowing that I had finally come to a place where I could just lay quiet a while after everything that had happened.
To my Warrensburg friends: thank you so much for helping us feel welcome, loved, and supported in a town where I’m a stranger. Thank you for being wonderful, lovely friends. Thank you guys for being you, and for letting me be me.
Amanda, thank you for commenting on my blog that first time, for following me on twitter, and for not macing me right in the face when I saw you at the thrift store and I nearly yelled, “Oh hey, I follow you on twitter!” Thank you for being lovely. Thank you for inviting me over. Thank you for being wonderful to me and my kids. Thank you for being a crafty inspiration. Thank you for the invitation for tea, even though I haven’t taken you up on it yet.
Thank you all for being so very patient with me, for giving me space when I needed it, comfort when I craved it, love whether I felt that I deserved it or not, an ear and a shoulder, and for inviting me out to various places. Even when I can’t go, it’s a great feeling to be asked. And thank you for still asking even when I’m not up to it sometimes.
Lastly, I’m grateful to Dragon Ball, for teaching me that sometimes to get stronger you have to have the crap knocked out of you.
Ok, that last part was a joke, but if anyone has some spare senzu beans, I’ll totally take them if you’re giving them out.
When the kids grow up and leave the house, things will stay where I left them. I won’t find toy trucks in the fridge anymore, there won’t be a basket of toys in the bathroom for bath time, I won’t have child safety locks on everything.
I remember before I had kids, when I cleaned things generally stayed that way unless I mucked it up. I have to spot clean walls to remove rogue crayon marks and handprints.
Some day I won’t have to do that either.
I’m gonna miss that.
I made something. It’s a picture frame with pieces of rolled magazine. I had better pictures, but I forgot to save them when I reset my phone because it was acting all wonky. Yes, that’s a technical term. I made it for a friend for her birthday. I think it turned out okay considering it’s my first try and also I was up until 5 a.m. making it because I waited until last minute to make it and since it was my first try I had no idea how long it would take.
Summer is a time that all children look forward to; whether it is to escape the everyday drudgery of the classrooms, or the noble goal of sleeping in, summer break is a much-anticipated time of year in a child’s life. There is an almost tangible sense of mounting joy near the end of the school year, and hearts soar at the prospect of visiting relatives, sleeping in and being lazy, or being free to get out of the dusty rooms and enjoy nature. My mother was a single parent, and she worked early in the morning; she would never allow my brother and me to stay home alone unsupervised even when we were older. As a result, we both woke up earlier than a child had any right to on a school break. Each morning, we would protest as we were forced out of bed to get dressed, and get ready to go to our grandparents’ house on the edge of town. Despite having to get up early every day during summer break, I am thankful that I had the opportunity to spend my summers with my grandparents in the country, where I learned to be appreciative of nature and its beauty.
I never slept in during this sacred time, and I was covetous of my classmates on hiatus. I would imagine them collectively waking up once the clock had gone past noon, sleep plucked from their eyes by the bright light shining in through their curtains. They would sleepily yawn, groggy from oversleeping in their disheveled pajamas, and pad into the kitchen to forage for whatever happened to be in reach, edible, and readily available. I could picture their hands outstretched and hovering like a humming bird poised. Their dainty limbs would be still, frozen; small arms, even belonging to the boys, fragile and prepubescent, reaching for the cereal boxes colored as brightly as flowers, vibrant and inviting like humming bird feeders. They would most likely choose cereal; they would not eat anything healthy, nothing with any real sustenance. The cereal boxes are lined up on the shelf, each boasting how nutritious it is to convince the parents to buy, buy, buy! At the same time, they display the toy inside, enlarged for detail, lurking in the crackle of the plastic bag, nestled in the sugary dust of crushed breakfast pellets. Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs! Now fortified with thirteen essential vitamins! Fruity Frosted Sugar Lumps! Part of this complete breakfast! Having accomplished this monumental task, they trudge into the living room to plant themselves firmly on the couch to watch television or play video games; with this one swift, final motion they declare here is where we spend our summers, this is how we spend our time off.
My grandparents live on a dead-end road, in the summer the trees standing on either side of the street make a grand tunnel entrance to their property. Acorn and walnut provide treasures when they are in season, the cherry trees to the left, beautiful when in bloom, burst with soft pastels; when they bear fruit, my brother and I are allowed to help my grandfather pick the cherries. Acorns, leaves, and sticks litter the lane from the latest thunderstorm, and they crunch under our sneakers. A giant sycamore tree stands alone to the right of the sidewalk; the leaves have a waxy smell. When the cicadas shed their skin, emerging from their exoskeleton with wings clear as glass, this is the tree that we find their shells on the most. Their empty bodies crackle under our fingertips, and we try to scare each other by gently pulling the tiny fragile husks off of the bark and attaching them to each other’s shirts.
Everywhere is the smell of earth; we play in the dirt, we thread our fingers through the grass, we dig, we make mud pies. We are not worried about getting dirty, and we are not worried about staining our clothes. My grandfather is a gardener, the scent of the tilled earth clings to him, and this smell mixed with the fragrance of Off bug repellent is what my grandfather constantly smells like during the day. He is always in his garden, and we are raised on freshly grown vegetables. To this day, I can buy fresh fruit and vegetables from the grocery store, and they do not taste anything like the crisp, fresh food my grandfather would coax from the ground with his hands and hard work. I helped him shuck corn, and as I would peel at the green husks, silken threads intertwined themselves on my fingers. I helped him shell peas, and pick strawberries. I would be rewarded with a pear, straight from the tree and cut with the green handled knife he always carried with him, the blade dull and the wooden handle worn smooth from years of use. I can remember pulling tiny, hard gooseberries off of the bush and popping them in my mouth, laughing as everyone else cringed at the thought of the sour berries; I never really enjoyed the taste so much as the reaction from my family.
The air is fresh and clean; bees, flies, butterflies, lady bugs, and all manner of winged insects flit through the leaf-filtered sunlight. On the rare occasions that a gentle breeze dances through, we are granted a reprieve from the sweltering heat already creeping up on us, teasing us. Soon, it says, soon there will be red faces; soon there will be sweat-trickled foreheads, soon there will be great gulps of water on rare occasions we break from playing to refresh ourselves. We relish the breeze, and on that tiny puff of cool air, we can smell the blossoms.
Flowers surround the yard, and line the walkway. Red, pink, and white peonies circle the sycamore tree, providing the best smell in that lovely shade. Iris blooms, once just a few, have taken over the left side of the walk, cross-breeding and creating the deepest reds, the softest velvety purples, the most soothing cornflower blue. Next are the lilac bushes, towering high above my grade school self, and these are my mother’s favorite. I would pick them for her on occasion, and would require help from my grandmother bearing her orange handled scissors because the stems were too tough for my small hands to break. Tiger lily grows in spots, in corners, at the base of trees, wherever it can seem to catch a foothold; they grow almost like weeds, their patches of growth splash the green and create pockets of orange. White and yellow daffodils stand at attention on the footpaths leading the way to the house.