onbruisedknees

"Tell your story. Tell it on your bruised knees if you must, tell it at the risk of madness, scream it at the top of your lungs." –Andrew Lam

Month: May, 2013

Bare Cupboards

No secret. I don’t like it here. My attitude is awful.

Last night I ran away. And the plight (and also salvation) of the trooper’s wife is that she’ll somehow always get found.

Lost and insecure. You found me, surround me.

Just a little late. Where were you, where were you?

I ran because I missed him.

Oxymoron.

I ran because the small mind-mentality of the home I miss is to talk about a person instead of to her. To say logically that future employers won’t hire me. Because of my truth. Because I dare to share it. Because burying is just as foolish. To me. I should be careful, he said. Said it not to me but about me instead of caring as a friend should for a broken human being.

I ran because I wanted to feel God again. Somewhere. Somehow. And I did not. Not in verses or conversations or in the quiet. And this feeling is no fault of God’s.

What is so bad about feelings? I know they are temporary. I simply can’t comprehend, in this moment, how God will redeem the years the locust devoured. But I know. With faith, I know. But I don’t agree with the throwing around of scripture to cover up feelings and then not even feeling the scripture. Feelings are bad. Repress them. Choke on them like you would choke on vomit. Follow the rules. All of this:  The culmination of the only message I remember from months of northern church-going.

But..

Jesus wept. Washed dirty feet. Bled. Wept and washed and bled, and because he was as equally human as divine, he felt emotions. And did not throw stones at others’ emotions. And why are we ashamed of humanness, of brokenness, of our own sometimes-darkness?

As I ran, I realized the loneliness of nowhere to go. I am to blame. I isolated myself. If I were home, I wouldn’t bother a soul by showing up on anyone’s porch. Not even family or closest friends. But the difference between here and there? Simply knowing that I could. Comfort in that knowledge. I could say, “I just need to ‘be’ for a moment. Need some shelter from this dark night.

Then I could be, for a moment, a human being instead of a human “doing.” Then I could stop trying to convince others, “I was good once. In every sense of the word. I wish you knew me when I was good.”

No secret, obviously. I do not like it here. But I can tell you what I do have here, the things I’ll look back and be thankful for.

I have the opportunity to work with women who’ve taught me how to get stuff done. Effectively. Efficiently. Successfully. You dive right in. You embrace creativity. You don’t have to be afraid of ideas. You don’t necessarily need a man around to help you get the shit done. You simply convince yourself you are not a dainty bird. You innovate. You dream. You visualize. You do it. And you care genuinely for others in the process.

I have the opportunity to help a girl feel more comfortable in her humanness. And in her own writing. And in her own communication. And in turn, every Thursday at her house also helps me.

We have a house with a too-small kitchen too close to the highway. Old, old bathroom. Bad furniture. But I feel safer here than the other house. Basement is dry and clean. And there are no mice taunting me. No infestation. And there’s enough room for a garden plot. We are not settled. How can we be when we do not know? Still some boxes. No paint on the walls.

But I’ve been wondering lately what shelter means. I think it is the place where you get found. And I read somewhere recently, is love a lavish feast to devour? Or is love what you manage to pull together for a meal when the cupboards are bare?

Sucked Grace

I went out to feed the dogs this morning. Moments before, I finished reading Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett and identified too much with her best friend Lucy Grealy, a woman who made sure people knew her physical suffering should not be identified with because it could not compare. But what disturbed me most, more than her disfigured face ever could, was that I identified with her mental and emotional struggles.

I told one of my dearest friends, “Read this beautiful book. I’m hallway through. I’m Lucy.” And not knowing what would become of Lucy, she enthusiastically agreed.

Her clingy behaviors in the book become increasingly more annoying and identifiable.

“Do you love me?” she asks.

“Am I talented?”

“Am I the favorite?”

“Why am I lonely? Will I ever be happy?”

“After this next thing….then I will be happy.”

“Am I best?”

Do you love me. Am I talented. Do you love me.

Are you mad at me? Do you forgive me? Do you love me?

I opened the door of the dog box and Gracie yelped. I said out loud, “Gracie you have beautiful eyes.” And they are beautiful—light and dark and amber brown and olive-green. Like there’s a soul in this dog. And I cried. I picked her up, remembering, “It’s okay to need things.” I just wanted to feel her paws around my neck. Give her a hug. Get a hug back.

And I found a little tick on her left ear. I couldn’t pull it off. I made a mental note to tell Josh later.

And then, clearly, I knew. Something was trying to suck the grace out of Grace. And days before, I was just thinking about how grace would never stiffly sit at a piano or sternly preach from a pulpit…or perch,

because it’s Sunday church,

mediocre on a pew.

No. She prances, dances, plays and sleeps and loves.  Just as Gracie leaps and attaches sweet tiny claws into me, ticks attach too. And I felt the hallucination of my own flesh crawling with them. Sucking all the grace.

The hallucination hadn’t come from nowhere. I know how my brain works. Yesterday, after morel hunting, I found a tiny deer tick on my chest.  And while it was crawling around, I asked Josh what to do, what to do? “Throw it out the window. We don’t want to keep it as a pet.” And then we joked about checking each other for ticks later. Like the redneck song says.

But I didn’t want to later. Other things on my mind.  And if he naked-examined me for ticks, he would find three burns on my left thigh. Three punishments I’d inflicted. And I am not allowed to self-inflict with any kind of harm. And blood was coming from between my thighs, too. And there’s nothing sexy about a shower with blood. Blood that’s not supposed to be there. Blood from pressure and stress hormones. I choose to burn instead of cut when I screw up or when something hurts my heart. And because I don’t like blood, my body’s goal is to make me bleed, somehow, with no reason or rhythm or schedule. And the friends who ask me if I’m miscarrying tiny little humans make my heart hurt more.

I took my too-hot bath. I locked the door and prayed he wouldn’t hear that little click. Later, he asked me why I took so long. The movie he’d picked up (a sweet Nicholas Sparks’ this time) was ready. I knew what he was thinking. He was hoping desperately the latest detail I’d screwed up on hadn’t driven me to burn my wrists.

I thought about how the welts and blisters and scabs were not on my wrists this time.

Thighs are not wrists.

“I’m so glad you are here with me tonight.”

“Me too,” he said. Kissed my forehead.

I am a shadow of what I once was. A sliver. A slice. A shiver. A wisp. A whisper. A ghost. So it doesn’t surprise me as the number on the scale goes down. It just seems fitting…..

Do they love me? Am I talented? Do they love me?……

Because something is sucking all the nourishment. All the life. All the grace.

Boxed Contentment

My husband asked me a loaded question. He asked me when I will be content. And happy.  I told him I was quite content in my job before I had to leave it. At my best. Kicking butt. But I wasn’t wholly content with life. And everyone knew it. The students. The teachers. My husband was away. I didn’t have him to come home to at the end of the day. Now, I’m content in my marriage. Hold it sacred. But I am not wholly content in life. And everyone knows it.

He always wants to know if teaching makes me so happy then why am I never happy to put the newest teaching resume and application in the mail? I told him I just put in the mail an awesome letter of interest and the most beautiful recommendation letter from my former colleague and one of my dearest friends. I told him I also sent along a copy of the stunning valedictorian speech that one of my favorite students will give this weekend (and will make you rise to your feet in ovation) because it was the best thing that could ever explain the special place I come from and what I’m all about and what that place is all about than anything else could.

Through the eyes of a student. I refuse to play politics. I refuse to play them in Edwards County and I refuse to play them up north. Why? Because what we do should be all for the students. And I want special. I do. I want a special place again.

At my church back home, a lady in Bible study never specifically mentioned her prayer request. She simply asked for the desire of her heart.

The desire of my heart? To speak to people. Full rooms. Auditoriums.  Classrooms. Singe souls. Face-to-face holding a coffee mug gulping cup after cup of grace and love. Or speaking to people through a book. My truth. In writing. Helping them find their own truths. THE truth. Dreams do not simply dissipate. If I feel I was created to do something big and I cannot let it go, please do not put me in a room and leave me to peel away at yellow wallpaper. Because if you’ve read that short story, then you know how it ends. For most people, “the little things” are what breed contentment. But I’m not most people.

“God is contentment. Learn to be content in all circumstances.” Well that’s just the easy answer, people. And the hard one.  And the real one. I know. I KNOW.

She had a baby.  In “The Yellow Wallpaper.”  And in the Great Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan was a silly little fool who had a silly little fool of a daughter too. And sadly, they weren’t content. But I’m no fool. I know babies fill a certain void of contentment nothing else can. My sixth sense Holy Spirit twitch tells me the women I love who most want to be mothers will be mothers. And my best friend since birth? She’ll birth another miracle this winter.

I see it more for them than I do for me. Always. A few Sundays ago I held my niece through church and I adored. Adored. She smiled. Touched my face. Danced to the worship songs. Fell asleep as I kissed-kissed the top of her head.  And my preteen nephews? Hugs. When they are eighteen and twenty, I will still get those same hugs. Because I’m Aunt Melissa. Because they were already mine at baby and two. Because there are no other two boys I could possibly love more.

I looked up our baby name—the name we agreed on years and years ago. I very well could have still been in high school. I love the meaning of names. I gasped when I read the name’s meaning: “bright and shining light.” I don’t have my shining light yet. Because we are not home. Because I am not healthy. Because I dropped fourteen lbs. and don’t know why. Because my meds are switched constantly. Because my body is screwed up. Because I can’t seem to handle anything. Because I have a Master’s degree to start and finish. Because I have higher-paying jobs to land. Because. Because I’ll screw it all up. Yet somehow, if God gives her to us? She’ll be true to her name. Light. What I’ve quested all along.

And maybe my contentment. Or my green light at the end of the dock. But I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on the girl. Her life is not merely for my contentment. It’s for hers. Are you listening, parents? I lived it. I saw that kind of hurt in the eyes of my students.

Once, I made my Themes class give speeches about their most important message. What did they most want the world to know? I think I assigned these speeches right after we read Fahrenheit 451, a book with an obvious message. Thank you, Mr. Bradbury, for your message. It’s a message that got stuck in our minds and never left. Why did I assign these speeches? Honestly, I was stalling. I hadn’t finished reading 1984 and didn’t know how to introduce another novel with such huge themes. Prophetic themes. Themes of life. The name of the class.

Some of the speeches were dull. Eating right. Exercise. Being a good person. Blah. Snore. Some students rambled so much that I couldn’t even pinpoint the message. And that’s ok. Because I don’t remember if I gave them much direction and probably didn’t give them a rubric. So I’m sure I gave everyone a good grade.  But some of these students? Their props were meaningful. They spoke eloquently. They interacted with their peers. Made me gawk and gape and wonder what kind of presence was I in? These kids were geniuses.

And one speech I remembered in the middle of the night, four freaking years later because its truth literally woke me and ironically reminded me of how everything I want right now was everything he warned against.

After he spoke, I was so inspired (and he reminded me too much of the unconventional, caged-in high school-me) that I made the students (those who wanted to) run or gallop or skip back and forth down the basement hallway, loudly proclaiming the specific ways they wanted to express themselves and get out of their comfort zones. I’m also pretty sure I got in major trouble for that one. Ah, well. You remember it though, don’t you? Stepping out of your boxes.

This student is in some city right now. He’s a talented playwright, a director, an actor. He impressed me from the moment I met him, and he will be famous. Brilliant.

He began his speech with an analogy and drew a street map of Lincoln Avenue on my whiteboard. Basically, he told us what drove him bonkers, and he said it with a lot of passion:

“You can be born at St. Mary’s. You can go to elementary school at St. Ben’s. On the very same street, you can attend high school at Memorial. You can go to church on this street. You can hop a block over and get your college degree from the University of Evansville on the same street.  You can have a nice Catholic wedding ceremony on this street. You can rent or buy a house on this street. You can do something during the in-between, and then you can go retire at the little nunnery place down on the very same street. And then you can die. And have your funeral. A nice Catholic wake.  On the same street.”

And that is exactly what some people do. And other than becoming a nun because I am not Catholic, I would be perfectly content returning to Lincoln Avenue. I’d happily return to teach at Memorial and then become a professor at UE (some professors in my subject matter departments are getting up there in age, God bless them). I could have my coffee every day at Coffee Cottage. And Barnes and Noble is right at the end of that long street! I could do book signings. I could browse the titles until I went blind and my fingers bled. Bliss, I tell you. Bliss. And my biggest dream ever since Ms. Felling took our class to see Twelfth Night at the May Studio Theater. Magic. I felt magic. I felt home.

I was told that if I can’t talk about a place without crying, then I have issues. I’m constantly told that Memorial is not the pinnacle of success. I’m reminded of law suits that should have been filed and of everything that was unfair and how it sucked everything I had in me right out of me and the retirement is pitiful. I’m reminded UE parking sucks, that we’re still paying on the ungodly tuition, that it is not Ivy League.

The street? It smells like sewer and it floods.

Shit. I just put myself in a box. I would live in a box. I would live in a box on Lincoln Avenue. And I would maybe or maybe not be content.

English: A square open cardboard box. Based on...

Because it’s ok to need…

I hate needy, clingy, high-maintenance women. I also hate that I am one of those wives. Because he was in the academy for the newlywed phase. Because schedules do not allow us to spend appropriate allotted time. Because I would like some normalcy. Because I hate that we were transferred. Because I know certain self-injury behaviors scare him and worry him and I cannot do them. Or I might do them. If I want attention. If I want to simply not be alone on a bad evening.

And he uses every stolen moment to cherish me. To ask if I’m ok. To Gesture of every tenderness. To show me love is a verb. I wonder when did I become so selfish?   

I could tell you it’s hard to be a law enforcement officer’s wife. A state trooper’s wife, in fact. But, heck, it’s hard to be anyone’s wife. Amen, sisters? Amen?

Does he want food, I wonder? Is he coming home for personal time? What shift is he working? When is overtime again? When is court? Is he actually off work or “off work” but working a seatbelt or drug detail? What were those sirens? Where? What county or counties or zones is he working tonight? Did I tell him to be careful and safe? Did I say I love you and kiss him like I meant it? If I call him right now will I break his concentration during a time when he should be concentrating on driving during a high-speed chase or reaching for his gun to stop a lunatic with a gun so he can come back home alive to me?  Will he ever come to bed? Will he EVER come to bed?

Fine. Then I will sleep in the living room floor. So that at the first eye-blink of morning I will know if he is home. And when he’s not working, I will sleep with him on the living room floor as he watches intense criminal-cop television shows too loudly and puts my nerves on edge even as he is physically beside me.

I will wait on him. I will wait on him to wake up so we can do something, anything that makes me feel alive and not trapped in a house with the blinds down and curtains drawn. I will leave the coffee brewing in the morning. I will move with him. I will listen to police politics, to crazy DUI stories, to tales of stupid citizens.

 I will adore him. I do adore him. For being others’ protection and hero and helper and defender and truth. And for being mine. I love him for what he is and does and believes. That you are not entitled. You must keep your kids safe in car-seats and safe in their general well-being. You don’t get to put others in danger. You do not get to bully. You do not get to try to pull any sort of crap.

My husband said to me, randomly, “It’s okay to need things.”  I’m not really sure what he meant. But I repeat it often, a little sweet incantation to myself. Okay to need people. To need some kind of healthy, not harmful fix to get through the day. Currently mine are caramel lattes because my appetite is zero. Currently it’s talks with Annie, my warrior. Currently it’s that snappy “Ho Hey” song from the Lumineers and a couple of too –truthful songs from The Band Perry’s Pioneer. It’s okay to need to call someone from back home and stop worrying about being a bother or wondering what to say.

Ok to need sunlight or a walk or a drive or a puppy. The need to lean way back into the solidness of him against a farmer’s fence at nightfall. And listen to the thunder and the heartbeats. And the wind. And the turkeys talkin’. Ok to need. Therapy or medicine or doctors or sex or Jesus or a good book or THE Good Book or people or an electric blanket or a really tight hug.   

Today at work, I needed. Something. So to see if it would help, I sat outside with the store’s phone in order to not miss any telephone orders and took out a bucket of starburst-colored roses and a handmade sign. Roses. $2.50

I felt like a kid with a lemonade stand selling some freshly squeezed J-O-Y.

And the northerners smiled. I people-watched happy customers spill out of the café.  Some spoke. Said hello. Talked about the sunshine. I said hun and darlin’ and sir and ma’am and southern phrases with extra twang. And they probably thought I was half charming and half crazy.

 I wheeled a homeless man across the street. I opened doors. Paid for a prom corsage for a special young lady.  Told myself I would look for opportunities to do something purposeful today. I’m not bragging about good deeds and believe works naturally spill out of grace instead of earn it. I’m trying to understand that whole ‘small things with great love’ idea. Trying to understand an extravagant grace. I’m trying to take care of others so I don’t harm myself. So that I take good care of myself. And that is Not. Selfish.  

And the northerners?  They’re a little different still. But humans can’t help but admire God’s beauty in those vivid bloomed-out roses. Older folks and young lovers and dog walkers and runners and passersby and mostly wide-eyed sweet latch-key kids stopped to admire. At least they talk to me. Look up to me. A role model until they ask about the boo-boos on my arms and I have to lie.

 I say feel spring in that warm breeze? Smell the good earth?  I kick off my shoes. Hopeful. I need bare feet. Such a long winter. They kick off their shoes, too. Sit with me on that little stoop.

We all need real light.

It’s okay to need grace. Did you know that’s why I named my puppy Gracie? See, I learn more about grace from her than I do under a steeple. My Grace leaps—leaps– into my arms. And how can she be so sure I’ll catch her? She attaches herself to me like a little puppy hug around the neck. Covers me and licks me clean. Finds within me favor and mercy unconditionally. When I get lost, she finds me. Grace. Amazing.