M is for Misunderstood

by melissakiefer

In high school English, we made an acrostic with the letters of our names. Probably a first day of school activity or something. You know, A stands for “awesome” and “amazing.” P stands for pretty and popular, R stands for remarkable or radiant or risk-taker. And so on for whatever your mother named you.

I thought all of those adjectives were stupid. I took this assignment seriously. I was after all, defining myself. Oh the pressure. And the thrill. While I don’t fully remember the rest of the adjectives used to describe the other letters of my own name, I remember the first letter–the M. M always stood for misunderstood. Misunderstood Melissa. “Good word,” my favorite teacher said. Different. Interesting. Creative.

I love Billy Collins’ Introduction to Poetry. The poet-teacher is frustrated because the students automatically want to tie the poem to a chair and torture a confession out of it. Much is missed. by trying to find all answers, by assuming, by jumping the gun. by a one-explanation-fits-all mentality.

by not holding it up to the Light. not taking the time to meander the life maze.

And I am frustrated, too. We cannot catch the Holy Ghost in a paper sack. We cannot label these misunderstood mysteries. Cannot call disappointment sin.  Cannot beat it with a stick. Cannot capture. Cannot wear and hold its power or pain on a cross around our throats.

Or in a behavioral analysis diagram.

Therapy takes time. Can mean something new at different stages just as an old poem can bring new ideas to life. You must sift. Revisit. Sift again.

I brought the misunderstood jagged pieces and scraps to my appointment. Reopened the old sea salt-weathered satchel. Heaped it all up like a sandcastle wailing wall. Stuffed half-prayers into crevices.

Ta-da, empathetic therapists and educated doctors. I want to be well. I’ll take the help. I used to be good, I want them to believe. I used to be very vivacious, impressive.

But I wonder which one was real? The manic? The depressive? The pushed through the panic? The misunderstood. Sift and find me, won’t you? Just in case there’s gold. pearl. treasure.

I want to be well, and,

right now…this is all I can do. I cannot be good or impressive. But I can survive. With the help of diet coke and white and yellow pills and good coffee in the morning and solid soul-advice and a too-good husband.

And this the glamour of surviving:

I sit in front of the space heater cocooned in blankets. I do not move from heat. No heat is bad.

I pick up my puppy, Gracie, and zip her in my coat. Because she’s alone and cold and confused. She burrows there in the crook of my neck. Tiny claws securing skin. And I need grace close to my heart. And her mama with the name that means joy by my side. So I keep the dogs close. Attached.

I re-read a lot of Anne Lamott because she’s neurotic and funny and honest and faith-filled in a way that doesn’t make me gag.

And I read a lot of WordPress to feel less alone.

I don’t wash the dishes in the sink. I don’t put away the laundry hanging haphazardly from the chair.

Afraid to be alone. Afraid in my bones. Afraid of myself. Afraid of people. Afraid to watch him walk out the door. To go to work. To go to the garage. To pick up the mail.

I drink enough to warm the insides and I sleep. And then wake up at 3 in the morning. To take the hottest bath. To see if I can shock the body into calm. And I burn. The curse is too much fire in the veins.

The curses are the raw burns on the forearms from the iron and the glue gun and the curling wand because I like the sensations and the tingle and the warmth. The warmth that takes away the tremble and the mind’s chaos and the ringing and the body’s disarray.

This is what it looks like when it’s sunny and finally April and still thirty degrees. Almost. The dreadful almost. The waiting.

I accept your triple-layered diagnosis. And the labels. And the stigmas. I will accept them in order to dignify them. Because dignifying, affirming, validating, facing truth–makes humanity more human. My life-song mission. And I will use this season of survival. And I will teach again someday with even more dignity. If they let me. Because, see, I am not less. I am more. So I will wait. Because the time will pass.

And someday I will offer scar-burned arms in an embrace. And I will bare bruised-up knees. I will tell a thousand daughters that beneath this weakness and this damage and this fragility is a strong and brutal beauty.

And I will use it.

Expose

in order to

dignify

and teach

and

tell.

And someday the daughters will come out from under the covers

and do more

than survive.

They will live

honest

and

dignified.

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