Something new

I haven’t really talked to her in so long, but I’ve wanted to. Ever since I read her writings, I’ve been eager to reconnect. She slides into the booth on the same side as me. Unexpectedly it’s not awkward or uncomfortable. Instead as she angles her body toward me, I feel a little happy at our closeness. As she talks, her hair falls in front of her face. The light glints off her glasses. Her smile is like green tea in the summer. It strikes me how much we’ve both changed since we were younger. When we were younger our relationship was filled with competitive glances and ambitious plans. Our plans have grown with our age, but now instead of a stubborn compatibility we exchange soft smiles. She’s less headstrong, less inconsiderate. I’m more tolerant and understanding of the world and much less likely to pick a fight.

She’s grown up beautifully, and I hate that I notice. I hate that I know that she fits my type perfectly: bookish and interested in learning, ambitious and with an old soul. She’s politically active. She’s passionate with a love for people and a drive to change the world. Even in appearance she fits my type: from her round glasses to her short mousy brown hair. I always have had an attraction to the type of artsy person who wears scarves and Mom jeans, and she is no exception. I find myself averting my eyes more than usual, not just out of nervousness but also out of a sense of self consciousness. She’s my friend, and I definitely shouldn’t be thinking about what it would be like if we were together. 

It feels odd because childhood me definitely was not into childhood her. I was very different then, and so was she. But suddenly the petals of memory feel wilted. Every hug, every time sharing a bed, everything done in the most innocent of intentions now makes me feel odd and unsettled.

I think of what my Mom would think if in some alternate universe we ended up dating. I’m not out to my Mom, and I don’t think she would be okay with it initially, but if I came home with my friend who my Mom considers an extension of the family; if I came home with a girl that she holds in such high esteem, I don’t see how she couldn’t come to respect it expediently. But it’s an inane thought anyhow. As far as I know, she’s straight or at least thinks she’s straight, so it’s not even a possibility. And I don’t have feelings for her. I just feel like if I met her now, and I was a tad bit bolder, I might have asked her out for a cup of coffee. But as it is, we have too much history. 

The thing is, she’s the only person who could actually find this blog post if she looked. I worry a little bit that she might. But this is who I am. And if she finds this blog I have a bit more to worry about than this post.

Strawberries and the Sky: a mother-daughter story

There’s a story my mom recounts to me whenever I happen upon a new ambition. When I was younger, my family went monthly to a local art therapy studio with the goal of helping my autistic brother to socialize. This particular day we were instructed to paint a picture using leaf prints. After drawing some branches and printing some fall leaves, I went to grab a pallete of blue paint. When I came back I started to draw.

 “What are you doing?!” My mom exclaimed. “Just trust me alright! I know what I’m doing,” I replied in the aggravated tone that only comes with a youthful arrogance. The instructor shot me a disapproving look from the corner where she stood. I painted on. When I was finished, there was a blue sky framing my Autumn scene. My Mom looked on in baffled awe. When we got home, she hung it on the basement wall.

While at college I send her pictures of sunrises because I know how much she likes them. “You always teach me to appreciate the beauty in life,” she says. I smile. I like that she sees me like that.

We’re very different people, but I think we’re the same in a lot of ways too.

Today we are picking strawberries under the heat of the sun. Our hands part a sea of leaves searching for the ripest fruit. It occurs to me that I should have brought my sun hat. Children’s voices provide a warm ambiance that I haven’t felt in a while. My mom confesses that she probably stifled my creativity too much as a child. I apologized for avoiding responsibilities when I was younger.

Our relationship has improved a lot since I’ve headed off to college. Her overbearing nature that made me feel stifled and spiteful in high school has softened. And my emotional turbulence has steadied into a mature acknowledgement of imperfection. Now that I’m older I recognize just how much my parents’ financial support of my passions has shaped my life. 

No mother-daughter relationship is perfect: she still can be judgemental, and I still wait too long to complete tasks she asks me to do, but as we sit in the straw picking strawberries in the morning heat, I can’t help but think I like what I’ve got.

The shoot that pierces the heart and grows

I don’t remember meeting you. I remember dropping papers in front of you and embarrassment at your kindness as you picked them up. I remember playing cards and walking in the woods. I remember you.

I remember us. I remember you telling me you liked me at 3 a.m. over text. I remember feeling so complete, a tightening in my heart and a smile grazing my face even though I was alone in the room.

It didn’t last long. I wasn’t mature enough, and to be fair, neither were you. I ended whatever we had 3 months in. I don’t like uncertainty. I remember giving you the letter, the nervous feeling that you would open it before I bolted. I didn’t want to write a letter. But I really didn’t have the time to talk. I was off being a person, learning and growing. But I never knew what you felt during the whole ordeal. After a brief time we settled back into the easy pattern of friendship we had before.

Years later I questioned that it had even happened. We’d remained quite good friends. And I still had feelings for you. But I never knew how you felt.

I’m more assertive now. “I’ve been curious, ” I start. My mind is calm and clear. “Are you aromantic?” I pause for the answer. “Yes.”

A strange calm fills me. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about moving forward and moving backwards. It’s never been clearer that the way to go is forward.

It’s not that I’m not hurt to know that he never liked me the way I liked him. A part of me mourns the years I’ve spent considering a possibility that was never a possibility. A part of me feels like a comfortable loving future has been ripped from me. He made me question if I felt love. He made me feel like I could. I pictured us discussing politics over the morning paper and watching movies under the light of the fireplace. I pictured a life where I wasn’t alone. My future now feels uncertain. I may be forever alone.

But another part of me is blossoming, shoots growing through my heart. A growth of clarity, of direction. I’m no longer bound by a future. His words watered my roots giving me room to grow. I’m limitless.

(From February 2017)

Under the microscope: my fear of failure

Under the microscope, the Scud organism looks somewhat calm. Still for the past 30 seconds of observation, curled up tight, it’s tail arching towards its head. Calm. Still. In a moment the Scud stirs and darts along the edge of the Petri dish, curling and uncurling frantically. A deep strain of familiarity settles beneath my bones, somewhere intercostal and limitless.

What does a debilitating fear of failure look like? 

Is it 7 p.m. when I’m pacing rapidly, hands flying, jerky movements, shaking, clawing? 

Or the moments in between, curled up as tightly as the Scud, lights off, sensory input rejected as I lie in a state of calm cold panic.

It’s an honors college paragraph this time: literary analysis, a prompt that has always served me well in affirmation. But I can’t focus. My mind is cluttered with ideas of maximizing my success. If I can’t write my best, what’s the point?

A ringing in my breastbone sends me out of my chair in a moment, feet guiding me towards the silence of the chapel where, if I’m quiet enough, I can pace, gesticulate, tear, and scratch to my heart’s content without bothering another soul. 

Not enough rings by and by, a fluttery weight in the veins of my arms. Blood feels heavy and slow to glide along the tips of my fingers. There is time for work yet, but my mind has forsaken it, clothed in uncertainty and self doubt. In picking up the sword of the written word, I have dropped it straightaway as if the sword in the stone, when pulled from the rock, held too much weight to jab and swing and dived back into the mud, a rejection of your call to authority. Instead I carve my words into the mud, knowing their effect is so easily washed away, while my enemy lays unslain, the danger of a low grade marching toward my horizon. 

What is a fear of failure? 

Is it fearing a lack of accountability to the standards of others, or are you your own prison guard, glaring at yourself through prison bars, pulling yourself up before you have the constitution to stand? 

Words are comfort

Words are comfort, at times flooding in my brain, at times freezing like ice. At times the words leave my fingers softly and leave my mouth not at all: a catatonic state metered by inspiration and textually derived comfort. Words, my lucid and tractable form of control, a way of voicing my pains without a known audience, a hope of reaching someone, a fear of the known and concrete. 

I live in dreams, wandering around the interconnected network of ideas known as human thought, creativity blossoming along neural connections, flowers along vines of practicality and a priori knowledge, as well as the darker branches of personal experience, more murky, blurred and ever changing. Words are a comfort.

Anxiety is not. Shaking hands over a thriving heart, each pulse feeling like a rib drum against your chest. My hands flutter and weaken. My grip loosens. My body is a betrayal. My mind is a garden.

Scene: a woman steps off an elevator with two men. Each have a hand on her back. She stumbles forward, laughing. They guide her down the hallway. Exchanged looks solid in concern, uneasiness settles between my friends and I. Heart corroding, feet unfeeling, I leave the comfort of the Commons to find the girl. The guys are still with, supporting her as she stands in front of the sink, assumably holding back the bile in her throat. My friends and I agree that I go get the RA. My hands are rattling, my words jumble. Sense was not the order of my words, but my message was enough. She agreed to check it out. Walking back to my friends, one says, “you did what you can do.” My shoulders tense. I hate that phrase with a conviction of soul. If I were in that situation I would want someone to do more, to stand by until the men leave, someone to stay close by and make sure I’m medically okay. I would want more. I think we excuse ourselves too easily. We’re complacent, self-forgiving. I hate it. I don’t subscribe to the belief that there is a limit to what we could do. 

The men walk back and leave my floor. My friend assures me that the situation is now solved. The RA comes back and gives me the thumbs up, but still my head is ringing. She isn’t stable. She couldn’t seem to stand by herself. How do I know she has someone to watch out for her. I don’t speak. I respond in nods. My vision blurs. I hold my phone in my hands, scrolling through social media, but my feed ends quickly. Empathy is pain. I want to help more. I want to do more.

But instead all I can do is pen everything I am feeling and hope it is somehow enough.

The consummation of aloneness

Sadness runs along my skin like water. Alone, I lay, hair spilling out over the ground. Thoughts, slow to me, chase my feelings. Reasonable or unreasonable, I choose to not question this depth, the darkest swirling blue beyond the reach of sun’s tendrils. Shadows enter the stillness of my mind in a way that is warm and welcoming. I’m not fond of the founts of unrest springing below my breastbone, but with the sadness comes a deep calm sometimes, drawing me into inky sentiments and shady warmth. 

Sadness doesn’t always run cold. Yet my arms are electric, longing for the mere stabilizing touch of a caring entity. The warmth of my soul is no less longing than the cold of it. In wanting of the calm, my mind departs from the physical and leaves the electric to decay my body, transcending the physical to escape into the pained calm of aloneness. 

Aloneness. A biting feeling. Yet calm as the sensation of watching the surface from the depths of the pool, as oxygen flows out of you like a life force. Bitter. Yet I love it. Some days it runs along my spine like a playful wind urging me into a wanderlust. Today it merely assets itself in the touch of ink and the calming sensation of oxygen leaving the body.

I don’t want to be alone. But aloneness greets me with the kindness of an old friend. And to its credit I greet it as warmly. Because the feeling of consummation in the subtle hand of loneliness is more winsome than the emptiness of human contact every time.

They lied when they said we were gifted

When I was young I used to take IQ tests as part of a study. They were fun to do, challenging in a way that allowed me to hyperfocus. I’ve always liked finding patterns. It’s calming. It’s nice to find some order in the universe. It was a nice deal. I got to sit for an hour and challenge myself and earn 20 dollars in the process. That is-it was nice-until my brother and I got kicked out of the study for being outliers.

When I was younger I got put in the gifted program. I was two years ahead in math. I got test scores in the top 97th percentile. I was probably one of the top 20 students in my class of 600, and trust me, my school is one of the most competitive public schools in the country.

And yet here I am in front of a computer screen, yanking on my hair, anxiety thrumming through my veins as I try and find a transfer school that I can afford and that has a proper disability support.

I’ve never been enough. Top test scores and a top notch brain. I found out that I have an IQ of around 140. Not enough. Never enough.

12th in state in the 200 meter dash. Not enough.

2 year conference champion in the 200 meter dash. Not enough.

Golds at ISSMA. Not enough.

Writer of several research papers. Not enough.

Prominent member of several clubs. Not enough.

My poetry wins a contest. Not enough.

A poem gets published. Not enough.

Reserve champions in 4-H. Not enough.

I design a club t shirt. Not enough.

I’m asked to paint a mural for a club sponsored event. Not enough.

I help write an entire play. Not enough.

I co-compose one of the scores. Not enough.

I could be so much more. If I didn’t have asthma or depression or ADD or anxiety. If I didn’t struggle to get out of bed each day. If the thought of being responsible for other people didn’t make my heart pound. If my homework didn’t blend together and make no sense. If I knew how to ask for help. If I even knew what I was asking.

I have so many ideas-ideas that could change things if I could just get out of bed. If I wasn’t so afraid.

I’m not enough for these colleges. I don’t know how anyone is. But I’m not enough for colleges. I’m not enough for scholarships. I’m not enough. And my bank account unfortunately…

Not enough.