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: the north

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.

Dance

Dance Quote @Crystal Chou Costello

via pinterest

This morning I had dance class. I take adult jazz and tap. I’m the youngest. The oldest ladies are late sixties or early seventies. Some of them can’t pivot-turn. Some can really cut a rug. I do not know these women well, but I adore them all. I love that we are women in every different stage of womanhood. I love that we warm up to songs by Jamie Grace and Toby Mac and Mandisa. “You’re an overcomer,” one song says. “I’m an overcomer,” I repeat to myself.  My dance teacher’s the type of person who radiates. I make myself go to dance class even when I feel dark.

I have not improved much in tap since I was a five-year-old in a bumblebee costume who ran off the stage because I forgot how to paradiddle and shuffle step, but I’m a decent jazz dancer. One of the jazz dance sequences today was clever—it involved some attitude and some groove and a hop. And it required a certain joy.  The movement felt good and spot-on, and so I laughed full and loud–a sound I hadn’t heard in a while, a sound my friend next to me said she loved to hear.

I felt high school dinner theater opening night-good. I felt closing ceremony of Dirty Dancing– good. I felt Susan Sarandon in Elizabethtown-good. Remember when she dances her beautiful tap dance routine during her husband’s memorial service? Remember her freely gliding across that stage? Her children don’t understand why she decided to take tap dance lessons so soon after their dad’s death, but she knew she needed to carpe diem. She allowed herself to feel good, to laugh, to dance in the middle of her grief. Through her grief. There’s a newly widowed lady in my dance class. She’s surely grieving, but she shows up every Tuesday.

She can’t pivot-turn.

I can’t tap dance.

I don’t know what I’m grieving, but I’m glad dance, movement, joy…..rescues us all.

Church

Church Steeple Sunrise Silhouette

via pinterest

Moving has taught me dozens of things—gratitude, most of all. I’m working on a list of all I’ve learned. In fact, I’ve recently concluded that the reason we haven’t received our transfer home yet is because we must still have some things to learn up here. God must have more to teach and reveal. And learning always involves growing pains and bruised knees. It’s the only way the healing begins.

One thing I’ve learned about moving away from home is that Sundays are hard. At home, I lived inside the nostalgic country song “That’s What I Love About Sunday.” You know, “Amazing Grace”, chicken for dinner, cat napping on a porch swing, new believers gettin’ baptized and all that. But up North, I dreaded Sundays—sometimes they brought full-on panic attacks. I knew I needed to be in church, but so many churches felt wrong.  “Where’s my warm and fuzzy community?” I wondered. Or “Where’s a community who won’t judge me for what I wear or for not having kids yet and for planning on immunizing those kids and for not planning on homeschooling?  And more importantly, “Where’s God amongst the drama and the Sunday school gossip and the legalism and all that unnecessary background noise?”

I church hopped. I did. I church hopped until I could feel God. And I think that’s okay.

Today as I sat by myself in my new northern church, I remembered I was missing Little Prairie Christian Church’s homecoming. I’ve been so refreshed and recharged by this new church the past three Sundays, but I can’t lie—I sat down for a few seconds during worship and cried (and not just because I was missing the amazing potluck of southern food).

I’m thankful for my many Little Prairie memories. It’s the place where I first sang special music with Josh. And its parking lot is where we had many fights, made up, broke up, and got back together. And eventually, I walked down its aisle, lined with pink rose petals, to my groom.

Little Prairie—that church body—those are my people.

It’s the place where Jack Kelsey handed me an index card with scripture written in his handwriting about where real beauty comes from (not from outward adornment). The sweet man said the Lord told him I needed that verse. I did. I was sixteen and had some very mixed up ideas about beauty. Little Prairie’s the place where Bible studies convicted me and stretched me and where I learned that women can be real with one another. It’s the place where Danny Lankford cheers me up without fail.

I am the product of Lorna Mann’s Sunday school class, Brian Maas’ high school youth group, Bible Bowl and Bible Busters, and Sunday movie nights at the St. Ledger’s. Little Prairie’s the place where I was on the prayer list and prayer chain for months. Where I can count on a card from Angie Garrett for every occasion and know I will not be forgotten. It’s where I knew Jesus with my head and rejected Him with my heart for years until Matt Johnson, who never gave up on me, took my anger and showed me God’s grace, took my sadness and showed me how to trade it in for Christ’s joy. It’s the place where I can count on seven or eight hug-like-you-mean-it hugs. I cherish my home church, but I got comfortable there. I had built-in things to do, ways to serve. I didn’t have to try or deviate from the plans set out for me. Children’s church. Worship team. Sit in my regular comfortable pew. Eat my weight in potluck food.

I’m proud of Little Prairie for many reasons, but most recently for their Block Party on the Bricks outreach yesterday. I heard it was cool. I heard the food was free, the bounce houses drew in all the kids, and the singers and musicians worshiped God from the very top of the pagoda. I heard random people walked up to see what the party was all about. Maybe they’ll check out this whole church thing. I hope so. I never paid much attention to “outreach” until I moved seven hours away and yearned for some northerners to reach out to me. “I just need people,” I said honestly and without inhibitions, to the lady standing in the row behind me.  Now, I feel like outreach could be a passion for this introvert. I’ve been a secure and comfortable member of a church…and I’ve been an uncomfortable visitor, a seeker, a girl so scared to get out of her car and walk to the door. A dear writer-friend of mine wrote an essay about sitting across from a church every Sunday for an entire year before a church member invited her into all of the love she found inside.

I have some tips on how to welcome new people. Firstly and obviously, please invite people to church. I wouldn’t have found my current church if two separate people hadn’t persistently invited me. Gather some people to stand near the entrance/parking lot. That first Sunday I found the courage to walk up by myself, an older fellow met me halfway down the parking lot, shook my hand, and introduced me to the others standing near the door. I felt so relieved that I had tears in my eyes. That same man said hello to me today. He remembered my name.

Show them where the coffee is. Coffee makes people comfortable. Coffee is a miracle. Tell them where the restrooms are. Do not allow visitors to stand awkwardly with their hands in their pockets during “greet one another” time. Visitors know that you can see them. They know they stick out. So really see them. Walk up to them. Acknowledge their presence. Invite newcomers to small groups and Bible studies. Personally invite them, don’t just assume they’ll read the bulletin. Exchange phone numbers. People just need people. Get to know another human soul.

And scan every single car in the parking lot.

Living Water

In the old southern farmhouse, the cistern once went bone-dry while I was in the shower with my head full of suds. I was mad. The dry cistern represented the heap of inconveniences I hated just like I hated his heap of dirty laundry on the floor. I despised setting mousetraps and killing spiders with my shoe. I loathed the tiny kitchen with no counter space to make a sandwich and hated the stove’s burners that quit in the middle of stirring the gravy, frying pork cutlets, boiling potatoes. I hated the stupid dead bush in the yard. I hated that he worked third shift and was never around to get rid of the stupid dead bush in the yard. You chose this, the dead bush mocked me. I chose this: marriage.

My mom tells the story of her first married Christmas with my dad. They lived in a tiny upstairs apartment. The Christmas tree toppled right on top of them on Christmas morning. Once, the grocery bags broke and tumbled down the three flights of stairs. My dad worked in a factory for nearly nothing. My mom worked in an office for even less. “We were poor. We had each other. We were happy as larks,” she says.

We had each other, too. Together, we hauled the water. And later, his arms encircled my waist while I washed the cups and scrubbed the frying pan. He turned me around, leaned me back for a kiss, got my shirt all wet with dishwater. I chose this. I chose it because it was worth the real passion, the country drives, the pink sunsets, the little sweet corn patch, the black-as-midnight Labrador I adored standing guard on the porch. We guarded marriage, would not let it topple-tumble-fall.

In this old northern brick house, his thumb strokes the length of my foot, sends a tingle down my spine. A stolen moment before bulletproof vest goes back on. He kisses me goodnight at two in the morning, stops in to say hello-goodbye to me while I’m at work at four in the afternoon. My heart still doesn’t know how to handle him in uniform—his shell I can’t quite get through. Handsome. Protective. Bravado.  I chose this, though moving has changed me—made me, all at the same time, brittle, broken, hardened.  I run errands solo, take walks by myself, attend a new church alone. I do not have a day-to-day companion. “I forgot to tell you,” We often share important bits of news three days late. No morning coffee, no evening programs, no nighttime prayers. Instead I’m carried through the day by faith knotted together by fidelity and a patient love, a love that cannot be self-serving.

“Don’t let the difficult circumstances dry up this marriage,” I pray. I kiss him hard, tell him to be safe. He is my one-person support system, and I have to share him because he protects the rest of the citizens, too.  I wait for the sounds of Velcro, the sigh as he takes off his duty belt, and the click of the radio cradled back into the charger. Then I can breathe again.

It’s all worth the sweet stolen moments, the organic love, the take-your-breath away hills and canyons, breakfasts at our favorite café,  the talks on the living room floor, the floppy-eared golden pup with paws too big for her body. Two Labradors now guard the yard while he’s at work. I watch the dogs from the window as I stand by the kitchen sink and stare at the faucet’s steady, gushing stream of living water.

Caramel Apples and Depression

Like toilet paper stuck to the bottom of my stiletto, a string of failures follow me. Any hotshot in a fancy dress looks ridiculous when she leaves a trail of Charmin.

Ridiculous and human and taken down a few notches.

I still haven’t landed any northern teaching jobs. Failure.

The state of Illinois requires me to take a math test filled with algebra and geometry before I can teach Shakespeare and grammar (although I’ve already taught for four wonderful years in Indiana).  I can’t pass it because I spent high school math classes daydreaming and writing poetry. Failure after Failure.

I thought graduate school classes–filled with writing and literature and all topics I’m used to succeeding in—would be easy. It’s not easy. Writing means criticism. It means struggling to type a single word for fear it’s not graduate quality. Writing means going to battle with the blank page. Sometimes it means losing that battle. It means many, many Failures.

These failures, along with the fact that God’s will is still not synonymous with going home to the south, sunk me. What was the point of getting out of bed? I used to be a perky morning person. I was the teacher who was so peppy at 8 in the morning that my students thought I was on crack.  But now, I panicked at the thought of a new day. What would I do with myself? How would I fill up so much empty time?

For weeks, I needed to get groceries…but the thought of shopping overwhelmed me to the point of tears. I just wanted to sleep and avoid life. I was paralyzed under those covers. Wounded. I was failing at everything that used to make me confident. And I was taking life too seriously.

While I was inside (my house and my worries and my own head), I almost didn’t notice that outside was autumn-crisp and bursting with pure beauty. Golden hours. Big-sky blue. Crismson-orange-yellow leaves. I had quit my joy dare and filled up my prayers with little complaints. I had bones to pick with God. But it’s gratitude that can make a grown girl fall to her knees. And its gratitude—this is key—that can lift her face back up again.

This weekend, I bought a caramel apple. I ate it with such gusto that caramel smeared all over my cheeks and somehow got up my nostrils. And I laughed at the sight of myself. Joy. Messy joy. Like a child. I was wondering where my joy went.

Feeling better starts with laughter. It starts with forcing yourself to do things that feel stupid. It starts with buying a pumpkin for my porch and making a wreath and buying an apple-pumpkin scented candle. I have to create my own cozy. Even if I don’t love where I’m at. I can save up all my decorating ideas and wait until the day when I have the house in southern Illinois with the big front porch or I can put a big fat pumpkin on my little stoop. I can tie a burlap bow around a mason jar full of sunflowers and bittersweet. I can adorn my table with festive five dollar place-mats. I can stop coveting what others have and start working with what I’ve got. And I can stop listening to depression’s lies, the ones that tell me “What for? Why try? What’s the point?”

The point is that even though it’s cliché, there is joy in the little things.

I can’t bank all of my happiness on going home. If I do, I’ll miss out on all of the little northern good things. If I wait for perfect timing, I’ll miss out on the life that’s happening. So I’m savoring the season– with caramel dripping down my chin.

I’m taking chances. I’m meeting people. I’m connecting.

I walked into a new church by myself and didn’t feel scared or lonely. I just felt God again. God’s presence dripping with grace. I was wondering where He went. (Although I know He never really left).

I spent time with a friend who also lives the police wife life. And she understood everything. She invites me over when she knows it’s not a good night for me to be alone. She crushed depression’s other lies: “No one understands. You’re all alone.”

I think I’m going to take that trail of toilet paper from my shoe and TP my yard with it in the spirit of the season. With gusto. I’m going to try to celebrate all of life’s seasons, knowing that God works all things together for good and knowing I must try my best to make the most of it all in the meantime.  Happy Fall, Y’all. Have a caramel apple. ❤

The Peace Place

I thought we’d be home by now. I thought we’d return home well before another brutal northern winter.  I thought we’d reunite in time to sit with friends around the fire pit, girls laughing, snuggling into flannel blankets, sipping spiced cider.

 I thought we’d build a little house with a wrap-around porch on some wild piece of land where Edwards County kisses Wayne County. And I’d never miss a Sunday chance to go to Prairie Church. I’d teach again. My heart would swell with words and purpose, and my abdomen would stretch and swell with miracles. I’d go on walks where dreamsicle sunsets stretched out before me, and my dogs would run, ears flopping, unleashed. I’d feel as free as they did. I’d remember how to breathe again.

I cried hard. I shook and sobbed until I couldn’t breathe over broken expectations and a broken identity and a dark dread that convinced me this world cares nothing for me anymore. I dropped to the bed and began to feel the familiar paralysis of a heavy and hard depression.

“I’m grieving,” I said. I’m grieving home—the place, its people. Leave me alone. This is what acceptance looks like. I’m getting there. I’m trying to get to that place of acceptance.

Husband said, “Enough. Enough grieving. Real acceptance is making peace with a place.”

Real acceptance is discovering the good, counting the joy.

 So we make a point to feel the land. We dig hands into this new earth, get the grit under our fingernails. We grow corn and squash and tomatoes. We drive the truck, aimlessly, to make me feel lighter, light enough to almost laugh again. We drive with windows down always, drive the back roads until their curves and canyons feel as familiar as his hand hooking into mine. We notice the same doe with her twin fawns in the bean field. They become familiar, too. Ours. We ride the four-wheeler over the hills and through the trickle-streams. We feast at the restaurant on the little cove at the lake.  I look out from under our umbrella and see the sun glisten, the water ripple. Tomorrow could be dark again, but today I’m drenched with grace.   

Just Get Used to It

You’ll get used to quick kisses at the screen door—the door that swings with the swing shifts, the door that shuts you inside. “Be safe,” you whisper compulsively. You’ll get used to seeing him asleep more than you see him awake. You’ll see him sprawled on the living room floor at six a.m., the theme song from Cops blaring from the television screen or the unmistakable voice of Unsolved Mysteries. He solves cold cases in his dreams. He can fall dead asleep to the sound of sirens. You’ll get used to camping out on a hand-me-down couch because you don’t want to sleep in a bed alone.

You’ll get used to the ten codes, the radio static. And right as you’re spooning up gravy and taking up a sizzling piece of fried chicken, and right as he lifts a piece of buttery corn on the cob to his mouth, he’ll get called to a domestic disturbance a few towns over. And you’ll be left with all your own desperate attempts of domesticity. You’ll get used to throwing out cold supper to the dogs.

“How was your night?” you’ll ask him. You’ll get used to his answers. He pulled his gun on a gang. He saw a dead man, saw his insides, saw his brain, saw his skull. He chased a criminal several miles through the woods. He busted drugs. Blood splattered on his uniform. Can you get the spot out? You’ll get used to it.     

You’ll get so used to the gadgets and gear that you’ll forget most people don’t have loaded guns in every room or a bulletproof vest plopped in the corner and the contents of the duty belt strewn across the floor. You’ll get used to seeing him in the crisp pressed pants and the buttoned shirt with the badge. You’ll get used to the whispers in public and the stares and the mix of tension and respect he gets when you walk with him into a room.  You’ll get used to a persona that’s always on duty even when he’s not in uniform.

You’ll get used to pulling into your driveway and sitting for too long in your car because you don’t want to go inside to another empty night in an empty house.

You’ll get used to going to church without his hand to hold. You’ll see the old man in the pew in front of you place his hand on his wife’s back, rub his thumb across her shoulder. You’ll swallow tears and hold up palms to God because you’re too choked to sing the benediction. “God,” you’ll say, realizing you don’t have to pretend. “God, I’m not used to any of it.”

Safe

You know that people do things differently in the South. They even die differently. Still, love strikes you. You work in a floral shop up north where the names aren’t familiar and the addresses are foreign. But when you walk in the flower shop at home to pick out the casket spray, you watch your mama get a good forty-five second hug. Because she lost her mama.

You ruin your vegetarian, gluten-free, paleo, clean-eating, low-carb diet because people bring you casseroles. And cupcakes. And coffeecake. Southern love is always shown through food.

You discretely throw away dirty underwear and wash the sheets she died in and cups she drank from. You find her eyeglasses on the table. You water flowers because you don’t want them to die, too. You clean the toilet. The washrags crusted with blood. “Bless her heart,” your mom says as her face crumples. “She was in more pain than she ever let on.”

And the collection agencies and bill collectors continue to call. The phone rings. It does not stop. The abrasive cadence to your cleaning as you scrub sinks, pull sheets tight.  Mom holds the telephone to her ear. Listens for five seconds. Throws the phone back onto the receiver. Mimics their fake professional voices, “No Ms. Fewkes is not available. Ms. Fewkes is dead.”

Her house, which used to have tiny walkways through trash she hoarded, is sterile clean. No pictures or Bible verses or notes on the refrigerator. No purses with mildewed receipts in the pockets. No clothes of all styles and sizes spilling out of closets. No termites, no spiders. A toilet that functions. A shower that’s sturdy. Shiny appliances. Attention to detail. A brand new foundation, un-sunk.  It’s nice. And clean. You’re in awe of the work and the cleanliness should be comforting, but it is not. The house is empty. Gone is every little scrap that frustrated and annoyed you and boiled your blood.

I do not cry during the funeral song. “Mama Liked the Roses” only reminded me of grandma impersonating Elvis. The way she bent her knees and posed, stunningly like Marilyn Monroe, grooved to bluesy melodies, called the king a ‘hunky hunk.’ And I heard floating memories of the song that was ours: “I love you. A bushel and a peck. A bushel and a peck and a hug around your neck.”

Silly, beautiful, loving woman. A barrel and a heap of crazy and kind and crazy-kind. And you are your mother’s mother’s granddaughter.

“You’re special,” she said two months ago on the last day you saw her. She tucked it between, “You look just like your mom” and “I like Ashley’s fiancé” and “I’m so glad Kaci didn’t get hurt in that wreck” and “You tell your sister to be careful goin’ to Evansville.” But you heard it—the thing you most needed to hear that day. And remember the rest of your life. You knew somewhere deep that those would be her last words to you. She validates you, still, just as she did after every awkward day of junior high school.

You do not cry until you feel the weight of her gray casket. Until the graveyard part of the service abruptly ends. The end? This wasn’t supposed to be the end. She was supposed to get more life to live. Better life. Better. You look back.  You glance back again, again. Gray casket. Red rose petals in your hand.

“Be careful,” you hear her voice. The tears roll. Finally. The relief. Because you realize she’s the one who is finally free from fear. She’s not merely pain-free.  She is worry-free.  She is safe. Safe and filled. With better life.

Nowhere and Somewhere

The best part of the book I just finished reading? The first page. The first page captures something I’ve felt since moving north and hadn’t been able to put into words. The author of A Wild Ride up the Cupboards describes the Nowhere Place, a spot coined by her autistic son, which is actually the distance between the Minnesota sign and the Welcome to Iowa sign. “We’re nowhere now,” she writes. “We aren’t anywhere in the world.”

Author Ann Baur continues, “Because even then Edward knew, as I did, that a human being can be knocked off the continuum of this ordinary, sweaty, oxygen-filled existence into the locked stillness of nowhere….I came to believe it was our momentum, traveling sixty or even sixty-five miles an hour, that anchored us and kept us safe. And that if we were to stop between the signs, all three of us might just tumble out of the car and out of our lives, into a nameless expanse of space.”

No other passage could more appropriately describe the odd little village in northern Illinois. It’s meaning holds more than just the space between Chicago and Dubuque or the expanse between Wisconsin and Iowa and Illinois. This time is also the “nowhere” time in our lives. The waiting area. The holding cell. We landed in a dystopia. A twilight zone. Limbo. The nowhere place. I had lost the momentum which propelled me, kept me exhausted and productive and smiling. Like Alice, I fell down a rabbit hole. I somersaulted into weirdness. I crashed into the wonderland of Woodbine.

I spent many days wishing to disappear. And the people I love most told me to disappear, hide, cover up the scars and the reasons for the scars. They even told me to stop writing. But burns are different from other ailments. In order for a burn to heal, it should not be covered. Burns need air for cell division and regeneration. Burns must breathe in order for new skin to grow.

Several weeks ago, I went in for some blood tests. I collapsed. The needle left a bruise that stretched from my armpit to my inner wrist. I lost control of my body, a helpless feeling I do not want to relive. While dabbing my neck with cold compresses, nurses encouraged me to open my eyes, to take a sip. I didn’t want to. I was lost in unconsciousness and echoes—a nowhere place.

Upon awakening, I examined the damage. The bluish-purple-green bruise paired with the pink-gray burn scars reminded me of the arms of a drug addict. In that moment, I realized the world would hurt me enough as it is without the added pain of harming myself, and I vowed to never hurt myself again. I also vowed to eat food and nourish my body.

I am a stubborn, stubborn girl. I must get to those points myself. Must feel the lowest low and wallow in it for a moment. Must decide, then, what to do next. Move on. Finally, I hit the low that would allow me to move on.

I decided I do not like the mental distress and despair of “inside.” More claustrophobic than normal, I am restless. Inside feels like caged confinement. I do not like the itch and crawl of sedentary, stationary, artificial light and plastic plants. Suddenly, outside is safe and free. In summer, inside is cruel and dark and dangerous like waiting rooms and cancer wards, windowless classrooms and coffins and prison and the last week of school.

I decide that, like a burn, I need air. I get a free sunrise and sunset every single day. I need them. I need the space between the sunrises and the sunsets, too.  I don’t even want to go inside for meals. I’ll partake of food in open air, the burst of sun-ripened tomato on my tongue. Skin kissed by this sweet tingle of sun. Do enough trails exist? Because once I start walking, moving this body, I don’t know if I’ll ever get my fill. I wander in the Nowhere Place. I take a step and breathe. And breathe. And inhale. Exhale. I learn how to breathe in the Nowhere Place.

And when we are home, eventually, I’ll look back at the Nowhere Place and see that it was actually….somewhere.

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...