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

Category: college

Red Reading Glasses

In college, I didn’t have many clothes. I snuggled into UE hoodies and high school jeans and old tennis shoes. Everyone else in the classroom equally looked they’d just rolled out of bed. So it was fine, until the weekend when everyone transformed into glamorous movie stars. I borrowed a dress that didn’t fit me to attend a semi-formal. And because I had smaller feet than all my friends, I wore my own clunky size fives that didn’t match the dress. I looked like a contestant on “What Not to Wear.” I always looked out-of-place at the fraternity house parties or when friends convinced me to go out. I looked out-of-place because I wasn’t the kind of girl who went out, and therefore, I did not have that short skirt, strappy heel wardrobe. I just couldn’t play the part—especially not on Halloween weekend surrounded by naughty nurses and sexy firefighters and Playboy bunnies and Hooters waitresses.

Not playing that part was okay with me, though. I wanted to be like my writing professor who wore a lot of basic black and perfect lipstick and chic red reading glasses. She was a professor, a writer, a traveler, and a speaker. I wanted to be her. In fact, I desperately wanted a pair of red reading glasses although my vision was perfectly fine.

When I go crazy, I usually do something drastic. Or change my hair. When I moved seven hours away from my home and my teaching job, I went back blonde. Then I chopped it all off.  Then I got rid of all my teaching clothes. See, I was the best dressed teacher. I wore my title proudly. I accessorized. I enjoyed the click, click of my heels on the hard floor. I was a professional working woman. I was a fashionista. I finally had the money to buy the clothes to play the part.

“Your closet must be so big!”

“Great outfit.”

“Mrs. Knackmuhs, I love your dress.”

“You always look so cute.”

“How do you always manage to look so put together?”

I liked the attention from students. And I hoped, in a private school where students noticed fresh manicures and new highlights and the subtle glow from a tanning session, that having a fresh manicure and highlights and a subtle glow might get them to listen to me about Shakespeare and kindness and life and how not to be superficial and stuff. Meanwhile, shopping was my hobby. I went several times a week.

When I no longer taught, I no longer had an identity. I no longer had a part to play. In a wild fury, I flung the pencil skirts and the dress pants and the blouses and the blazers and the cardigans and the heels out of my closet. I took all of the beautiful professional clothing to the consignment shop. “You do not get to be the woman you used to be,” I told myself.  “Stop pretending nothing’s changed. Everything has changed.” I stopped shopping. I wore UE hoodies and jeans from high school. I wore leggings and yoga pants. I looked out-of-place. I stopped looking into mirrors. Yes, I was voted most likely to look in the mirror in high school, but I went back to being an eligible candidate for “What Not to Wear.”

When my mom came to visit me recently, she thought shopping would cheer me up (ha!). We went into Maurices (an old favorite store of mine), and she immediately found an outfit that would be perfect for her job at a law firm. She looked pretty and professional and powerful and confident. I started to tear up because I had no reason to shop in the professional clothing department. I had no reason to look pretty, professional, powerful, and confident. I locked myself in the dressing room and stared at myself in the mirror. Who am I? And what do I wear?

I’ve started going into stores by myself again. It’s a step. But I always talk myself out of buying. I think, “Where would I wear that? It doesn’t quite fit right. If I don’t buy this shirt, I could buy more groceries. I don’t earn enough to buy new clothes. This material doesn’t feel warm enough. 100% cotton? Hand wash only? Is this outfit really me? This shirt feels too ‘special’ for me, for my life.” I walk out of stores empty-handed. I walk out of stores knowing that my identity is not inside a shopping mall. I start my car, I put on my red sunglasses, and I go home to change into yoga pants and brew some peppermint tea and write. And I dream of someday needing a wardrobe fit for a traveler-speaker-professor-writer.

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...

For My Tigers

People snicker, ‘Those who can’t do, teach.’ But, oh, how right they are. I could never, ever do all I dream of doing…while having only been given one thin ticket in this lottery of life! In the recessional, as I watch them, mine, the ones I loved, I overflow with the joyous greed of a rich man counting coins. Wrongly I have thought teaching has lessened me at times, but now I experience a teacher’s greatest euphoria, the knowledge like a drug that will keep me…It’s an almost psychotic feeling, believing that part of their lives belong to me. Everything they become, I also become. And everything about me, they helped create –from Educating Esme

Dear Almost-Graduates,

I remember our very first home room class downstairs. And for those of you not in my homeroom—I remember our epic English classes. Every. Single. One. I remember you. Every. Single. One. I didn’t always know what I was doing, obviously, but we learned. And we had fun. And I thought it was so cool both those things could occur at the same time. I was happy you were mine. Blessed. We grew a lot together, didn’t we? You taught me. And I think, with the help of genuine friends and coaches and mentors and teachers, you found the courage to become yourselves. I hope so. I hope you at least started the process.

See, my first real class is graduating college now. I have a very special chunk in my heart that belongs to them, but you were my fresh start. My joy. You made me want to drive the fifty-seven miles. You were so purposeful to me.

Without you, I went crazy. Spent fifteen months just aching.  Doubted myself and God and His plan. Spent lots of time hurting myself. Haunted by you. I didn’t know who Mrs. Kiefer was without the teacher part. Didn’t know how to be just Melissa.  Had a major, terrible, unhealthy identity crisis. I never want you to have one of those when change and transition come. And change is coming. So please let me tell you who you are. You are a Tiger. Capital T. Forgive me for being a little cheesy and running with this metaphor.

We all came to be Tigers somehow. We were meant to be. And every experience you have had in the past and will have in the future has a purpose. The purpose is so that you can help others or help yourself. God intends so.

As Tigers, we are fierce and humble. A hunter of dreams. Noble, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made. We might travel the country and the world, yet we are territorial of Evansville, of MHS, of home, of our tiger pack. I’m still working hard in therapy and praying hard and loving hard and learning…and slowly remembering and accepting that I am still a tiger. And you taught me how to be a fighter for all the good and right things. Ferociously, we fight.

Maybe I was too young to teach. Maybe I found too deep of friendships with you. Too many things in common. I’ve always felt a little too connected to you. So maybe it’s no accident that you are beginning something new at the same time I am starting a journey new. We can compare notes if you want. Discuss literature. Share ideas. Buy backpacks and notebooks and those nice flow-y pens. Be nerds together.

I’m starting a new school in a new place, too. I feel many of your same emotions. Excited. Anxious. Thrilled. Afraid. Are we enough? Yes. Yes, we are enough just as we are. And we have more to learn. I’m thrilled to create projects instead of assign them. I get to write instead of grade. I never have to use my mean voice!

Through the Kiefer Café’s, the quotes on the board and the door, our talks on the floor, the way I watched you struggle and overcome—you inspired me. Your drive. Your passion. Your determination. Your wisdom. You depth. Your blank slate. Your unfolding and brilliant future. Your hope. I want to write about you. And I want you to someday be able to say you are as proud of me as I am of you.

You are prepared. So light-filed, so strong, so intelligent, so passionately curious. Life might not end up the way you planned. It’s ok. God is so good and knows what He’s doing. I’m proud of you. What beautiful human beings you are.

“What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.”

Just wanted to end with some wisdom above from Mama T.

Love, Your Mama K ❤

Quarter-life Crisis

I’m having a quarter-life crisis. You’re laughing, aren’t you? Teaching for only four years made me feel I’ve lived a lifetime already, so I’ve decided to retire a few months shy of twenty-six. I’m just kidding. I haven’t even started doing all I dream of accomplishing. Writing a book or three. Earning my MFA. Owning a café. Building a house. Teaching at the university level. Seeing more than a tiny speck of the world. Raising a kid or three with that man I love. Am I too late? Too early? Too old and too young. Cursed in-between. Where do I go from here? Which of those dreams are in God’s big-picture plan? On my back-and-forth Illinois road trips, I’ve noticed this quote on several church signs: “When life knocks you down {during your quarter-life or mid-life crises} and it’s too hard to stand—kneel.” Oh, bruised knees. Makes sense. ❤

Is a lack of passion and purpose worse than stress and busyness? It’s a question I ask often while on my bruised knees and can’t figure out if not teaching is a relief or not. I saw my students and friends at my Memorial when I went home. I hadn’t felt that kind of love, that fullness of joy since…my last day there in January. They just heard the laughter and endured my too-tight hugs—allowed me to indulge, saw me get caught up in the flourish of excitement and find my heart again that I had hidden in the halls. And reminded me how much I adore the sound of “Mama.”         

That door has been closed for you, people tell me again and again (and again).  But I wait at the door and ask, seek, knock. Maybe I don’t want to move on. Maybe I just want to keep that memory sacred. My students (should I stop saying “my”?) just saw the smiles. But my tears came later. In the quiet. After the crowd. (Ok, fine, I cried for five days—the whole visit, especially while holding my new baby niece). Tears slipped down my cheeks again at the University of Evansville when several students (and a dear education professor) gathered on campus to show me all they’ve become. I’ve never been so touched or so proud. So stricken by the beautiful full-circle of time and life and learning. Yes, those side-by-side homes of Memorial and UE harbored a lot of stress and a lot of busyness. But I had a whole world built right there on Lincoln Avenue.

I’ve been thinking about money a lot lately and if you know me, you know how uncomfortable money makes me. I know it would have made more sense to take a more practical, inexpensive educational route. Perhaps a debt-free educational route would make those other dreams of mine happen a little quicker. It would make more sense if I were doing something related to my degree. And perhaps I would feel less guilty in my marriage and more vibrant around a friend’s bachelorette party guests (mostly holders of doctorates) instead of pale and tired and old and sad and a little purpose-less. But.
But.
I will defend college. A real college experience. Knowledge and lessons and inspiration and fun and support and incredible teaching and becoming. See, something happened to all of us in that place. We became us. So although I’m vice president or some officer of my high school class, I’d rather suffer cruel and unusual punishment than attend another ECHS reunion. Just kidding. There are actually about five of you from my class I’d love to see. But it’s the mention of the university’s Orientation Leader reunion that makes me vibrant again. Because they know the soul of me. They understand the whole of life, the leads to….leads to….leads to. The circle. Oh wait, the We Care circle.Makes sense. ❤ They know how attachment feels. About stepping stones. And adventures.  And helping whoever you can and loving as much as you can along the way. They know that BECOMING YOU was the biggest hurdle, and you can’t put a price tag on climbing over that kind of hurdle. The process involves a lot of falling, a lot of bruised knees. Victorious bruised knees that come with stories to tell. And I will tell the stories. Because in my quarter-life crisis, telling the truth of the stories is the only thing that feels passionate and purposeful enough to me. And when it comes to circles, what seems like the end is really only the beginning.    

Published!

Today I am featured on LA Family online magazine. The more responses I get from readers (please comment, like, share, tweet, vote, etc. on the site), the better chance I have to keep writing. Thank you for your awesome support. The link is below. ❤ I love you, faithful readers. And I want to continue writing the truth and telling it on my bruised knees. Blessings.

http://www.lafamily.com/life-after-college/imperfectly-grand

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65. My classy grandma Mabel and feisty, kind-hearted grandpa Earnie
66. the surprise gift of a sweet summer dress from my mother-in-law that makes me feel special (I plan to wear it with my cowboy boots).
67. little pick-me-ups, like new yellow shoes, that make me feel sunny

68. pretty old quilts and the hands that made them

69. gerber daisies

70. strangers who became friends who reach out to me when I’m being weird and unfriendly
71. my one friend who is my person, who gets my weirdness, and who knows I’m not actually unfriendly
72.  HIS VISION
73. cool evenings on the stoop with Jovie and Josh

74. pretty, colorful, preppy prints

75. My barn (it’s not actually mine; I just call it that) that says “To God be the Glory.” Amen, yes?
76. my latest best discovery which I slather on every inch of my body (and smells awesome):
coconut oil
77. coconut shrimp. and lobster and crab legs. and plans to go to Maine someday and eat the same.
78. husband hugs. I feel like I’ve loved him for a thousand years. and would love him for a thousand more.
79. walking into a middle school now and feeling like a celebrity (waves, excited hellos, invitations to sit at every table). yet when i was a middle school student myself? the cafeteria terrified me.
80. asking a special needs kid to teach me sign language. i remember….about five words. but he loved being the teacher.
81. warmer temperatures. thank you, thank you, thank you.
82. knowing we get to visit home soon and having lots to celebrate there
83. seeing pictures of my beautiful ladies and dashing gentlemen from memorial’s prom. so grown up. and feeling like their mama again. all proud and teary-eyed.
84. OL memories. realizing just how much they created me. I wrote about it in an article that will be published later this month. Remember how we sat for hours duck-duck-goose style? you made me feel, for the first time, like i was more than an awkward timid ugly duckling. i want to look all of you in the eyes right now and not say anything. and make you understand how much you are still a part of me. that was my becoming.
85. hearing from my sis
86. art.
87. words. words are an art. ❤
88. the fact that I’m not steering the ship. but also the fact that the ship is not left in harbor. that’s not what ships were meant for.