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: high school

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 ❤

Letter to my sixteen-year-old self

credit: (via pinterest) galleryeight.blogspot.com

I see you writing poems in Algebra class. You’re scared. You feel trapped. You’re so immobilized by your fear, so hesitant to speak, so unconfident, so self-absorbed in pain and worries and doubts. You are so inexperienced in every way. You assume no one feels the way you do. You want to know the secret, the rules of this game of high school, the secret rules of girls—the password, the handshake. And you never ask anything because you are so afraid of the answer. “How do you feel about me?” you want to ask a particular senior. But you never do, so you always wonder, analyze, second-guess.

You don’t understand why no one makes eye contact with you in the hallways. You wonder why you’ll never be just one of the girls. You wonder why they intimidate you so much. You wonder why girls—and guys—make up rumors and constantly change the rules of their own stupid game.  You wonder when these high school boys will grow up.  You wonder why you feel too much and think too much.  Take heart. You are feeling all of these emotions so that when you become a teacher, you’ll be able to tell your students that you understand. And you’ll be able to mean it. You’ll be drawn to the rebels, the outcasts, the underdogs, and the ones who have extraordinary talent but no confidence. You will make them feel important, seen, worthy, understood.  You’ll tell your classes to never, ever make a person feel invisible.  Thank your English teacher. Thank your choir teacher. They were the diamonds in that dungeon. You’ll want to teach most like them.

  It is okay that you don’t care about what is trending, what is popular. It all changes. Like what you like and be proud of it. You don’t have to be in every activity.  Pick a few you are passionate about, and throw yourself into those only. There’s already too much noise in your head. Stop worrying about trying to impress people.  You won’t talk to very many of those lunch table girls after graduation. You should go off on them and tell a few of them that they are bitches and you’re tired of their gossip.  You are sick of their cold stares, their biting laughter, and their screaming silence when you sit down.  Go ahead. Say it. You were thinking it. In fact, speak up more about everything—the wrong you see, the good you see, the things you need, the things that others need. Slap them with some truth. Tell them they are hurting themselves by making others feel small. One day they will grow up and realize it. And strangely, you’ll become dear friends with a few classmates that you didn’t talk to and thought you had nothing in common with at all. Why could you not see them then? How dare you miss those opportunities? If you just would have opened your eyes, life would have been easier, more bearable, and more real.  

Your parents convince you that your sixteen-year-old emotions, the ones you tell them about, anyway, are normal. It is indeed true that the world does not end because nothing looks good on you that morning and your hair is being especially funky, but you still should have had some therapy.  You’ll feel a lot better knowing that you aren’t crazy, that many people suffer from panic and anxiety. You’re not a freak because you want to drown yourself in the bathtub or drive off the bridge because you can’t breathe and you’re so cold and the weight and the pressure is too much because you have a biology project due and because you know he’s slipping away and because in her fakeness, she makes seemingly innocent remarks pointed straight to you. Every day. And she knows it. And there’s no one to sit with on the cheerleading bus. And this town is So. Very. Flat. 

You’ll meet friends in college, and you’ll feel so surprised they invite you to events and speak to you and want advice and want you around. There are no rules.  You’ll bloom in college. People will tell you that it was ridiculous to go to your beloved university and your student loans will be outrageous, but you meet professors and people who aid in your becoming. You feel at home for the first time. You’ll feel curious, wide eyed, and important. People here are original and have their own thoughts and views. They are not apathetic. You needed to surround yourself with creative people who Were. Not. Apathetic.

You’ll adore the women in the lives of Josh’s friends (Yes, Josh, the guy who winks at you; the one with that voice you sang with at church). They will become your own friends, your own sisterhood. You are connected by the men you love, the babies you dream of, the simplicity and complexity of what it means to be woman, wife, sister, mother, friend—to sacrifice and want, to need even when the needs contradict.  You’ll feel so loved, so light. You’ll meet a friend at work. She’ll hate you at first, but then she’ll become the only friend who truly gets you. Oh, how you learn from her. Oh, how she saves you. She’s the best you have.  Having a person—people like these angels—is worth waiting for. I promise.

There are lots of things that are bothering you right now, my misunderstood teenage girl-self: Your under bite. The bumps on your arms. Your nerves. Your annoying voice. Your expressions. Your flaws.  your sweat and your stupid face. The thoughts in your head.  The way your lips twitch when you’re nervous. The fact that the only thing people do in this town is drive around and sit on the square. You feel like you’re missing something. Everyone is growing up without you. You feel too young and too old for high school. Yes, you’ll always look this young. You want to look mature and sophisticated and older like the other girls, but you’ll always have a pure look about you no matter how much you tan or how much makeup you apply or what kind of haircut you ask for or what style of clothes you wear.  It’s okay that everyone thinks you are too much, too much and yet you feel not enough. Not pretty enough. Not liked enough. Not talented enough. Not good enough. Every day feels like defeat. Some of the things you pray for do not happen in ten years. Some do. Many prayers surpass your sixteen-year-old dreams. Be thankful you and God talked a lot when you were sixteen. You built a solid friendship that carries you. Praise him for the fact that in order to see twenty-five, you had to survive and learn from sixteen.

You’ll meet a man so soon—you know him already, actually– and you’ll never have to wonder about his feelings for you. He thinks you’re everything that drives a man crazy (in all the good ways and in all the bad ones). And he told you so. There is no better person who knows how to take care of you or wants to so fiercely. And when you lose more of your hearing, he cups your ears and kisses your forehead, your nose, your cheeks, your chin. And you can feel him praying silently, asking God to fill you so that you don’t feel that hearing is another flaw or thing you lack. Yes, you lose even more of your hearing and you feel frustrated and forsaken. But, you gain more than you lose. Trust me that you gain more than you lose. You had to lose in order to connect with special people and connect with future favorite students. You had to lose in order to write about it.     
 Josh loves all that you hate about yourself. He’ll be the only one you are ever fully comfortable around. He’ll continue to be your unconditional love. Don’t break up with him just because the world tells you that you are supposed to. You don’t have to date other guys when you know their kisses won’t feel the same. If anything doesn’t feel right, you don’t have to do it. If it does feel right, you don’t have to let it go.  

Commit everything to memory—every sensation, every mistake, every glorious risk. People, memories, moments collide.  Remember the scent of Hollister cologne still clinging to you after he’s left. The white and red tube top with tiny cherries you wore on the Fourth of July resting your head on his lap in order to see the sky and receive tingling upside-down kisses and watch the most colorful fireworks display you’d ever seen. Remember the dizzy hopeful chance encounters at the grocery store. The music–the soundtrack of freshman year and summer.  The titles so fitting of the time—the songs I still play sometimes. Remember the farmer-boy and the undeniable flavor of his cinnamon altoids and your Watermelon Bonne Bell. The undeniable smell of a southern summer.  Remember your young future husband–kissing him the entire length of the train while it rushes by fueling our intensity when we’re stopped at the tracks.  Night swims. Sandy bank on your back. Your rainbow-stained hands that make his favorite cherry snow cone while you watch him walk that way he walks. Towards you. In muddy jeans and baseball cap, sun-streaked from work. The brilliant canopy above us and the sound of leaves crunching while we walked—your only romance that lasts into fall and into the rest of your life. Smile at the way you pretended you were on Broadway when you put on those eyelashes and ruby lipstick and dance shoes. You knew you belonged to the dinner theater lights, the curtain, the audience you wanted to please and create magic for, the show choir where you felt joy and felt like you fit—but got shoved, purposely knocked right between the shoulder blades because you were in front and they wanted you off of that stage.  The way you played “Insensitive” over and over again, feeling the vagueness in his eyes and his casual goodbyes and the chill in his embrace. Remember everything, won’t you?  You are collecting material. Perhaps the unexplainable things happen so that you can grow up and explain them, expose them, understand while simultaneously helping others feel understood.

He’ll apologize to you, the one who broke your heart, at the most peculiar and perfect time. It is the way God’s divine plan for your life always works. You get the apology, the acceptance letter, the proposal, the publisher at the very moment God knows you’ve honestly released your fist of bitterness. You don’t need that grip in order to be okay. Perhaps this is why you continue to write the words in your bones. You don’t have to be published. At sixteen you were filling up spiral poetry notebooks in algebra class to simply write—to be your truest self, to connect to God, to counsel yourself in inexpensive therapy. You are writing purely in honor of the beautiful act of creating. 

You’ll never believe it, but you do get out of there. It was always too flat for you. You’ll get a rush, a reminder of being sixteen and wanting to speed away while blaring Dixie Chicks’ “Wide Open Spaces” when you pass the square and drive seven hours north. You’ll feel peace as soon as you see those hills. You grow into your dreams. You grow into your thoughts and your depth that no one understood and other teenagers felt so off-putting.  You learn to own your awkwardness—sort of. You may still not physically be able to hear, but somehow—you learn to speak.  
Keep your hunger and your thirst, but don’t lose yourself so much. Have hope—the future is more beautiful than you thought it would be. Spend more time with Kathy, your grandma, and especially your sister while you can. Trust this almost other-worldly intuition and instinct that you possess in your heart. You are brave. You are enough.  Now go get that blond out of your hair. Then go force people to look you in the eye. Go burn bright. You have a lot of helping to do. So go. You have a lot of living, a lot of moving on, a lot of people to meet, and a lot of becoming to do. 
Love (Because people finally taught me how to love you),
Me