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: Sex

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.       

Item of Clothing Kept for the Memory

The dress bought on our first anniversary.

Patterns of white, brown, and tan.
The length of the floor.
 Fit the hips like second skin.
 Too sleek for any sort of garments
underneath.
 And I danced.
 The girl stops apologizing
 for the woman she is.
 For dancing the way she wants to.
For all that is natural.
 Free. Fierce. Feminine.
He peels off my tribal dress.
Fingers undone ringlets damp with sweat.
 Flings all of the heat and the rhythm
to the crisp-cool sheets
 of bed.

credit: via pinterest

  

Reignite

Today I read an article from an old issue of More magazine. The gripping piece revealed a torrid love affair between a young single woman and a married-with-children man and her choice to accept his invitation to coffee years later after she had moved on, married, had children, and found happiness. She also chose to stay in touch with him after the coffee date because of the way her heart pounded with excitement and because the way he looked at her “instantly reminded her of what it felt like to be eighteen.” Her fling with the “man who got away” made her feel exquisite. desired. alive in her world of diapers and cheerios and pressed pants and dust rags and boredom.

I believe there is truth in the love languages. The problem is, I’m needy and trilingual, responding best to words of affirmation, physical touch, and quality time. And sadly, we sit on separate couches, work different shifts, and keep different sleep schedules. We run out of things to talk about. We are alone up here. Alone and together, two people who know everything about the other. Is it possible to feel so familiar yet so disconnected? Don’t you want to learn about me? Touch me? Find me smart and funny or precious or pretty?

I complain often that I liked us better when we were dating. I felt closer to him then somehow. We’ve been together for over ten years, he reasoned. It’s not the same. It’s not going to be the same. But it isn’t fair, I think. It’s not fair to make the wife sacrifice and not get to have the good stuff, the fun, the adventure. So I tell him. I use my words that I sometimes forget to speak because I’m accustomed to choking down disappointment.

And so he pulls me off of “my couch” and onto his lap. He tells me he remembers that I was wearing a tight red and blue striped shirt with a white collar and tiny jeans. A too-skinny late-blooming girl. Loose hair. Tight morals. Fifteen. And he was twenty, having all kinds of inappropriate thoughts. We went to feed his friend’s horses, a daunting task because one was evil. But I walked right up to the horse, not knowing it was mean one, talking gently and stroking its mane. I think he loved me then. Even then. And I remembered. I remember every rush of seeing him and knowing he saw me.

And as we age into old, into married, into old married couple, he reminds me again that I am seen. And I catch small glimpses, nostalgic sparks of what it feels to be fifteen, eighteen, twenty-three. And someday he’ll remind me of the rush it felt to be twenty-five and thirty, how well-loved I was. I am. How I adore him still and look at him with teenage-twinkle-eyes. I am lucky. I am lucky this hard marriage comes with so much history that makes it work. I am lucky that I don’t need to have some wild mistake to take me out to remind me of what it felt like to be alive. I like the contentment of knowing that every passion-flash of memory has been, will be with him, and that any little flicker-flame of reconnection can reignite.

"And possibly I like the thrill of….quite so new"



credit: (via pinterest) topgraphe.tumblr.com

“i like my body when it is with your body,” wrote e.e cummings. My rebel-poet refused to capitalize letters and broke rules of grammar and syntax and unconventionally used or did not use punctuation.  He went with whatever he felt like. So did I on this Valentine’s Day.  I immediately thought of the e.e cummings poem when my husband reminded me that I once said I wanted to make love in every room of the new house. “it is so quite a new thing,” anywhere, everywhere, every room.   And my eyes, big love-crumbs, said yes as we tumbled from the kitchen through the dining room to the living room couch and then toppled to the living room floor.     

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                e.e cummings created. He created new. He created beautiful. I love creating anything. I love creating layers of lasagna, grating real mozzarella; I love the the art of tossing in a thousand spices and swirling them into the deep red sauce. I love creating the nostalgic mood of candlelight that frames a halo around the roses, our wedding photographs, the white antique windowsill I turned into a treasure. Even the pina colada scented candle in my kitchen creates in me the balminess of summer, heat on my skin, naps on the dock, everything golden, Okeechobee Florida and the midnights walks lit by stars and lampposts.

                   His prayer before dinner said thank you for a wife who sacrificed for him, who came on this journey with him. My prayer of gratitude was one I whispered all day. Thank you for the gift of time with him on Valentine’s Day when the norm was not even seeing him on Christmas. Thank you for day shift when the norm was sleeping alone. He’s off most weekends? What is this absurdity? A real life? A time for marriage? A time for dancing?  Quite so new. Thank you for the fact that he wakes up and feels excitement for his day. And that’s living—even though there is danger in it.
                I buy groceries and find joy in it. I write letters. I plan, I wonder, I wander. And that’s living too. Peace is just here—it comes in the snowflakes, I guess. But I am warm enough. And I am calm. And I am hopeful. And I am well.
                I get a phone call from a publisher and my heart sings a new song from a very old dream.  So this is my becoming. I am asked how far I am on a book. I am asked what I write about. I say that maybe my work is not focused or where it should be—yet. But I will create. Maybe I don’t like categories or conventional punctuation. But I will create. Maybe my writing is a patchwork quilt of scraps that make up my soul—beautiful scraps about God, teaching, marriage, illness, pain, whatever I feel like, creating, living, becoming. 

The Weekend Wife

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credit: (via pinterest) from the notebook

Love is patient. I thought I knew the meaning of this verse in 1 Corinthians 13, especially since I’ve had the whole chapter memorized since junior high Bible Bowl and even recited the chapter at my cousin’s wedding. I thought I knew what the verse meant because when I was in high school, Josh was in college world. I waited desperately on my porch for Thursday after his night class just to get a long kiss that simultaneously meant hello and goodnight. I waited for others to accept our love in spite of our age difference. When I attended college in Indiana and he worked in Illinois, I yearned for the weekends and the rush of seeing him which was more powerful than the booze and blare of seedy fraternity houses. I waited for the day when I wouldn’t have to live in a dormitory or apartment with roommates. Josh and I lived for two years in different states so I could work after college. I lived eight years of love is patient, which is what happens when you realize the man you want to marry at fifteen but live in the twenty-first century instead of the 1940s.  Television, movies, books, and my own romantic daydreams gave a much different image of newlywed life, but still I clung to “love is patient” and hoped he wouldn’t work mandatory overtime and Saturdays and Sundays and second and third shifts our whole lives. Now he’s in the Illinois State Police Academy. He’s training for a career in which he could get shot. I write him pathetic, dramatic, transcendent love letters that don’t get to him until weeks after they are mailed. I feel like I am living in the forties and he’s away at war.      

I am told to enjoy my “me” time. My married and married-with-children friends tell me I’m so lucky to have the privacy to take a shower or pee without a screaming toddler walking in on me and demanding my attention. I can follow my own whims and make my own schedule. I can go shopping after work and no one can tell me not to. I can do laundry whenever the hell I feel like it or until I run out of underwear. I can watch Sex and the City marathons. I don’t have to worry about making my husband supper each night. My supper doesn’t have to include meat. Supper can consist of cereal. Or wine. The life of a Weekend Wife includes so many perks. I get to be selfish. But I’d rather just take your screaming baby beautifully sculpted from half wife and half husband, hold it to my chest and rub my cheek across its soft head, breathe in the baby shampoo, and find my own comfort in any creature that needs me.   
I have so much time. I have time to think and worry—dangerous pastimes. I have time to sleep, so I go to bed at six in the evening because I’m exhausted from staring at the blank wall and the spot on the carpet. I’m exhausted from listening to the seven mouse traps snapping shut like gunshots and listening to my mother’s voice inside of my head. And I’m too aware of the rifle, loaded for my protection against intruders, in the drawer beside my bed. My voice of reason isn’t here, my perspective isn’t here. Who will protect me from myself? I am not alive and too alive. I am paralyzed and spinning. I want to hibernate. I want to sink down into a cocoon. But this is my life, and humans aren’t allowed to hibernate. And at the first eye-flutter of morning when I realize he is not in bed with me, dread washes over my body. I’m covered in sweat but also so cold—every part of me.  All of the strength bleeds out of my body. The body knows—how else can one explain the occurrence of an elderly woman dying within minutes of her husband? The body knows instantly. I mourn him in the mornings because I know the comfort weekend mornings bring. I know the tightness of arms wrapping me to him. I know the tenderness of nose and eyelid kisses, the satisfied heap of entangled magic and urgency and heartbeats and skin and covers and the way he covers all the cold inside me with simple, extraordinary love. But the body is not designed to soar and then plunge to extreme temperatures. So I am sick and stuck on this drug that feeds my scarred and purpled veins.
After my daily morning panic attack, I commute to the school I love and have to leave. I humbly realize my job will move on without me, but I might not move on without it—my other drug that numbs the pain and disgrace I feel from existing as a Weekend Wife. They won’t be closing down their doors because the young unconventional teacher is moving and collapsing and is not sure she can bear or dare to teach anywhere else. It doesn’t matter who plants the seeds (I did) or who does the watering (I should). Love means patiently waiting for God to make the seeds grow. Is there a world growing outside of the classroom where I owned my own awkwardness and preached uniqueness and love?
Josh’s district placement when he graduates the academy is an excellent and convenient excuse to throw up my hands and quit. There are just no jobs available. I cannot find one single lead in the education field. It is time to work somewhere that won’t pull my heart apart, someplace where my feelings aren’t so damn contradictory. I could work in a bookstore or café. I could write for a magazine. I could work in an office on in retail. I could answer a fucking phone all day or bag soup and beans and bananas. I need a job that allows me to be an Everyday Wife. I need something not so tangled up in heartbreaking human beings. I thought I thought about the students more than they thought about me. But my heart turns violently inside of my chest when they do think and say thank you in the form of Christmas ornaments and a homemade blanket, homemade music and bread and crafts and Starbucks gift cards, coffee mugs and hugs and chocolate, and most of all when the thank you comes in the form of letters and cards and comments and words. Words. Words show me in my own love language that they use what I taught them. I can’t just rip off the Band-Aid. The cuts have all healed, but still I pick and peel in slow motion all of these brightly colored bandages from legs and elbows that look like they belong to a kid learning how to ride a bicycle. I learned how to ride the bike of education and took off the training wheels too fast. My skin swallowed chunks of gravel from the crashes, precious pebbles now a part of me wherever I go. But just because coasting with the sun on my face and arms outstretched was worth pedaling the hill doesn’t mean I want to stay on the bike.     
Weekends wives know weekends can’t be forty-eight hour (or thirty-nine hour) sultry love fests, though we do find any way to attach ourselves to one another through hugs in the kitchen and holding hands in the car and in the tub and through church and through dinner and sometimes through the night. Still, Josh and I have to pay bills. We have to do chores and run errands and make lists. We have to go to the bank. We have to wash and iron uniforms. We have to see family. We have to see friends. We do not get to be selfish. Weekend Wives also know that life happens through the week when the husband can’t be there to fix it such as my car stalling on an interstate bridge, hitting a deer, blowing a tire, being seriously ill and making it to the doctor, filling out paperwork I don’t know how to fill out, making phone calls, asking questions, pretending to know answers, embarrassedly asking favors, talking to people, fearing. I have to have concepts and policies and protocols repeated several times. I am not allowed to call him unless the emergency is a death in the family.  This policy is what deprives the Weekend Wife of her dignity when she patiently loves him daily with words and thoughts and prayers and body and passionate heart. Love is patient, but love still needs. And I need time. And I need him to fix the lost time. And I need to work on love, selfishly taking all of the time with him I need, until I feel so much more whole than just a Weekend Wife.    

Masks Fall

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                     I come into the world impatient and stubborn and restless, an angel hell-bent on not being a present wrapped up in a perfect bow.  My tiny body is overwhelmed by the unruly dark hair I inherited from my father. My mother is sick. In every newborn picture, my mother wears a mask so that she does not breathe on me. In the moments after birth as I drink from her breast, we are close. I imagine her holding me too tightly, wanting me to remain hers forever. Yet there is distance, a barrier.  My infant fingers desperately attempt to claw the mask away from my mother’s face. 

                         At five years old, I sit at the salon with a cape around me.  My dark hair is starting to fall out in places. Soft tufts of hair are coming in golden, like my mom’s. I look a bit like a baby skunk. Tsk, tsk, snip, snip—the dark hair disappears, was never there. My eyes are blue-green-gray. I am my mother’s daughter with my dad’s coal-black eyebrows and glistening long lashes.  But by thirteen, I am no longer my gorgeous mother’s mini-me. I am awkward, ugly, and shy.  My hair is growing in dark again.  “She needs highlights–the blondest you’ve got,” my mother says matter-of-factly.             
                         My mother is mad when I am sick.  She frowns when she feels my forehead.  Life—or the fairytale—is disrupted when something is wrong with me. She is aloof when I am desperate. She is suffocating when I don’t know how to communicate. She covers my depression and anxiety with fresh bright paint, paint that makes her house look beautiful and clean. I manically scratch at the walls and peel off the moldy layers of wallpaper that are stuck to this barricade surrounding me, desperately trying to get to bare plaster. 
                         I date boys because they call, and I’m pushed to get to know people, to be “known.” And then, too young, I fall hard in love with a grown man who takes me horseback riding. With urgency and intensity, he grabs my face and knows how to kiss so deeply he hits my soul, makes me stand in the rain soaked to my core until the mask finally washes away. My mother hates Josh for his maturity and frankness, his natural firmness and authority, his ability to see through superficiality. Josh brainwashes me, my mother says. According to my dad, he isn’t good enough. He’s not the star of the football team, the cocky jock who tries to jam his fingers down the waistband of my jeans during homeroom but won’t acknowledge me in the hallway.  My mother would rather see me with this “Ken” to my Barbie. My dad would rather see me go on shallow dates that mean nothing.
                         If Josh isn’t good enough, I fear I must not be good enough either. I escape, often, to the place that feels most real to me—his parents’ house and more specifically, their swing which feels more like mine than any memory. Their house is beautifully lived in, and no masks are hidden in the closets or drawers. Their moods don’t change and lives don’t stop if they have a guest or an audience. They hand me an always-open invitation for supper. When they are mad, they are mad. When they are happy, they are happy.
                         I break up with him towards the end of high school. They pull too hard; my parents win their tug-of-war. They convince me he’d put a ring on my finger and a baby in my belly. They assure me I’d be stuck forever in my hometown of no opportunities. They say I’ll never get my degree from the university I apply to that makes my future feel packed with possibility. But life doesn’t feel real or even possible when I’m not with him. I am robotic, colorless. I am overcome with strong urges to touch the earth, ride bareback, climb a mountain, skinny-dip in twilight, and feel alive with passion again. I drive to his house and cry in his swing. “Forgive me,” I sob. He looks me hard in the face. “I’m in,” he said, “all in. I’ve never questioned anything with you. This is real. Are you ready not to run? Are you ready for this to be it?” And so I finally stop fighting hands that always held me. I need his touch, his taste, his truth, his voice, his fierce loyalty, his gentleness. I need what feels like home—the highs, the lows—the swing.
                         My mom pretends the wedding won’t happen. So I take the three hundred-count guest list and attempt to plan a wedding myself. If I could marry him again, the wedding would be more rustic, less pink. I’d marry him at sunset in autumn. I’d marry him in my cowboy boots. I’d marry him in a field under a tree with just God attending. We’d whisper vows we wrote ourselves.  We’d make love and wake up covered in leaves.   
                         At twenty-three, I find myself as a new wife in a house my mother swears is haunted. I run my finger over the date 1920 and the words “Aint Love Grand” which are carved into the wall of the closet.  Knowing Josh’s job would force me to often dwell alone, mother makes up ghost rumors. Because I leave mother and father’s house to be united with my husband, her irrational fears and loss of control conjured up an apparition living in the basement of the house.
                         I think I hear noises: gurgles, whispers, creaks. I lock the doors, but she still floats through the walls of our house, making me wonder in my lonely bed if love is really grand or even worth it or if I should have paid attention to her constant alerts of “red flags.” She tells me life could be convenient, more glamorous.  I could go back to school, have a mother-approved house, a husband with a mother-approved job, and have anything “I” wanted. Her ghost-games taunt me, haunt me. I relive the time I told her I was going to see him and she dove into the backseat of my car, then got out, and jammed her foot under the tire like a deranged refugee shielding her child from the bullet. But the bullet is just life. The bullet is the reality of heartache and sickness and inconvenience and messiness and shattered expectations. Sometimes we bleed and scream. Sometimes we nearly die. Sometimes the bullet sticks and stays as new flesh grows over top of it because the body always knows how to repair itself.    
                         I want our mother-daughter relationship to heal. I begin to understand that her suffocation is a twisted form of love, an attempt to fulfill all she wanted to be, a desire to lock me inside a box and remain her companion and company, a gift she doesn’t have to share. I believe she tried to control me because she could not control her own life—her parents’ divorce, her own mother’s breakdown, the fears she allows to control her, her own loneliness, and her own battle with self-doubt.
                         I sit in a chair draped in a cape. “Do I need to mix up your usual?” my hairstylist asks. I pause. I will never grow long nails the way my mom wants me to. I will never be perfectly polished. I will continue to take the anxiety pills that prove I have a problem but ultimately make me feel better. I will continue to write the truth instead of pretending perfection.  I will never have the patience to iron my unruly curls into submission. I will always love the man who fills my soul and tears off my clothes and my masks and my fears. I believe authentic love is unconditional and grand and the hardest thing of all.  I’m learning to understand the mother I love with all of her flaws. I’m learning to love my own.

                         “Brunette,” I blurt out of nowhere. My stylist mixes a shade of color, a liberating hue as dark as years of bleaching is able to stand. I simply was not the girl my blonde hair shouted to the world.  I relax at the touch of her hands massaging the chemicals, the fakeness out of my head. A sly smile crosses my face as my eyes sparkle blue-green-gray. I think of sophistication, my favorite coffee, warmth, my own definition of confidence and demure beauty. The shade appears much darker than my mom’s, still lighter than my dad’s—a transformation that I know in my heart is much deeper than a mere cut and color. She takes off the towel, and the mask—finally—falls.
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