You are all those little things that are shoved by the splinterful into your skin, but then you are also other things…like your mother.
I am like my mother. We have the same physical shape, notably our noses and thighs and brown eyes although hers are lighter and mine are closer to the shade of dung (nobody’s perfect. Not even me. I’m just as shocked as you are).
We both love music from the 70’s because she was raised in the 70’s and because I was brainwashed by a child of the 70’s.
The definition of camping, for us, is an extended stay at a five star Hilton.
Drinking is not a game for us. It’s a hard won skill that takes concentration, agility and an outright distaste for the concept of “last call.”
We have small feet (hers are smaller), we are short (she is shorter), and neither of us are defined by our smallness.
We probably love animals more than people. Fine. Nix the “probably.”
We are sensitive to the unseen. Interpret that any way you like. Fine, I’ll help you: ghosts.
We both fell in love with men who protect the smallness we’re not defined by and who make us feel larger than the burning yolk of the sun.
We both breathe. Routinely so.
There are a number of points in my life when that breathing came into question. Not our noses and thighs or the size of our feet or the men in our lives or the ghosts, but the breathing.
My mother is one of those people who has chronic illness, Crohn’s disease, and what is splintered deeper than our love for a good margarita or a love for a living room full of animals is the raw truth of knowing you’ve never known your mother to be healthy.
And how unhealthy has absolutely nothing to do with strength.
I know she’s had the God moments. Those ones when you look up at the bubble of sky above your head and scream, “ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS????” because who could live in that bubble above your head, flanked by an army of angels and saints, and grant HIS (or HER, or ITS or ZEBRA…no wait, scratch that last one) child a lifetime of immeasurable pain. Pain that is physically planted, but germinates out to all other planes until you can’t say your own name without wanting to die.
But she didn’t die. She refused that part. There have been tests, poking and prodding and surgeries and medications and flights from one part of the country to the other and days, entire days spent within the confines of a bathroom and there has been her daughter, clothed and loved and taken to sleepovers and dance classes and volleyball games even though the pain grew and flourished and tentacled through bone and vein and the tissuey parts of the heart.
There were weddings and parites and vacations all chronicled by different shades of bathroom paint, and in all the pictures she’s smiling. Because she refused to give up.
I’ll tell you a secret: giving up is part of my essential nature. When something gets hard or uncomfortable, I want to just say “Okay, so long” and shut the door on whatever that might be. Even people. It’s an easy thing to do for a person who suffers from depression. It’s easy to let all the ways you could leave this earth magnetize and ladder up to a place that’s far better than the one you’re currently enduring. It’s easy to think about a thing like death.
But then there’s my mother, with her nose and thighs and beautiful brown eyes and the love she keeps offering the world even when it seems like the world isn’t taking notice.
And I think about breathing, her breathing. and how I’m a lot like her.
We often talk about how powerful it can be to speak your mind, to say something, to talk it out.
And while there is no denying the importance of being able to adequately verbalize how you’re feeling, to appropriately articulate your side of an argument, or to be the voice for someone who has lost theirs, we often forget about how imperative it is to not to do any of those things, and just listen.
To listen to the opposing viewpoint, listen to life going on around you; listen, because maybe if we’re not talking, someone else will finally get the chance to say something.
Because when we take the time to shut our mouths and open our ears, we are allowing our minds to become sponges. We are able to absorb sights, sounds, and opinions. We are letting the person or people with which we are choosing to spend time know that their words are important, their feelings are worthy, and their time is valued.
Rather than wasting breath and polluting the world with meaningless advice and ill-researched content, we should strive to listen to the opinions of others, and give them the respect they deserve by not telling them what they want to hear, but what they need to hear.
And all they need to hear is that you listened. You heard what they had to say.
As a society, and unfortunately, as humans, we are so quick to judge, to speak upon things that we don’t really know about, instead of just listening. Because if we listened, we may understand what the person is going through, knowing that all he or she is doing is a work in progress, and prematurely speaking will just discourage the completion of that product.
Not all of what is written down is positive, good, or worthy of reading. But we have to read the bad, the negative, and the worthless to fully develop our own ideals. One cannot fully shape his or her own beliefs without considering the works and opinions of others.
Which is why we have to listen.
Regardless how new, how rough, or how polished the content is, take the time to read through it, comment, and give feedback. As a community of writers, we all understand the struggles of perfecting a piece. It’s important to generate discussion, propel conversations, and raise questions.
We’re all perfecting a final product. We may not even know what that product is yet. But if we all take the time to lend our ears and open our minds to one another, we can do a lot better than the world outside in getting each other to where we want to go.
Because regardless of how polished, how new, or old, or rough our content is, it is valuable. It means something to us. And whether we admit it or not, putting it on display for the entire internet to read is scarier than living next door to your mother-in-law.
So take the time and listen, be thoughtful, be aware. Know that by leaving a comment, you are validating what that person has said, you are making a product, however incomplete it may be, worth it. You are giving the author supplemental, outside knowledge to improve their piece in a way that they just cannot do on their own. You are creating the discussion they hoped to provoke. You are connecting with them on the most difficult, most emotional, or inspirational piece that maybe took years to publish.
And every time I admit that out loud it seems as though the person I am confessing to has also experienced some form of sexual abuse. As much as it helps to know that I am not alone it hurts to know just how many people out there have had to go through the same thing. I don’t wish this pain on anyone. The guilt. The uncertainty. The shame.
My mind blocked the memory. I drowned it in years of rum, in pain killers, in boys with fancy toys. I drowned it in lies.
But truth as we know, is the strongest of all things.
So the memory was uncovered, years later, exposed like a compound fracture—bone and blood and ichor poking through the skin. It was like I was reliving the trauma all over again. PTSD set in. I was on high alert, agitated, quick on the draw. Untrusting. Unworthy. Victimized. I experienced flashbacks. Nightmares. I continued to lie. To tell myself and everyone around me that I was ok.
Writing would draw out the final truth, for even in fiction, for even in the most fantastical of fantasy novels, lies the depths of human emotion. Writing would expose and explore the darkness I kept inside. I wouldn’t explain myself, not in so many words, not for a few years. I wouldn’t be brave enough, until finally, verse caught a hold in my heart once more. Poetry. I would confess it all in poetry.
I would find my voice as not a victim anymore but rather as a survivor.
You think of me, and maybe you think of glitter and cats and a husband who thinks talking is his American right. But there are deeper levels and layers as there are to any human being, and I can’t keep on pretending I’m nothing more than a good time. Although I am, considering I can literally shoot vodka without blinking, and I’m no longer allowed to be within five hundred feet of McKinney Street in Dallas, but that’s of no concern right now.
Here’s what is:
My soul is fighting something dark.
My definition of “writer” is changing.
I went to Mass today for the first time in a long time.
If your heart is skipping a beat, and you’re concerned that I’m going to start preaching to you, let me calm your fears. I am not the preaching type. I’m the “start crying while smoking after shooting too much vodka and not blinking on a random street in Dallas” type. I’m a good time, remember? But I need to talk about a few things until they termite up my insides, and I drift away like so much dust.
First: the night terrors. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of these things, but they go beyond your usual run-of-the-mill, shit-your-pants nightmare. Your body is literally (the old school version of “literally,” foks) paralyzed, it’s like being both present in your current state while also inhabiting a higher level of consciousness. In these dreams, I can move things with my mind. I see ghosts. I’ve seen demons.
I’ve had sleep issues since I was a child. I’ve also been highly sensitive to paranormal activity. Hence, the vodka shooting. Kidding. But this is like a culmination of all those things. It’s your face in a mirror with your eyes sucked out.
Sure, this stuff has been great fodder for the writer in me, but as the living, breathing being who would like to keep her soul in tact, it’s been scary as hell.
So now my brain is changing, at least the way my brain thinks. As a born and raised Catholic, sometimes you get to that “give me a break” level of reasoning that makes you cut off ties with your religion and faith all in one go. People would try and convince me that I needed God, but see, I’ve always known I’ve never needed anything or anyone other than my laptop and a cup of coffee. So when people would talk about faith and religion and all that gooey goodness that made my writer’s heart want to shrivel up and die, I’d shut my ears off and inwardly laugh at how wrong they’d gotten it.
And let’s take a quick second to point something out: some people do have things all wrong. Some people drink up religion and leave faith scattered in the bottom of their cup like lemon seeds. Some people have turned love into hate and stick a religious sticker on it. I am NOT talking about these particular people.
I am talking about people who love through action and have their inward eye on something I’ve sometimes had trouble seeing. I think about Ferguson and suicide and local little terrors, and I smirk at the thought of God. I’m a writer. I don’t need God, and let’s face it, the whole world seems devoid of a higher power.
But then the dreams come, and I’m a vacuous bag of skin, no bones, and something dark fills me up, breathes into my balloon.
I’m a writer. And I need God. Hard.
You see, my definition of what it means to be a writer is changing, and granted it’s a personal change. But it’s a change that’s severing into my dark, it’s releasing a hot and quiet light. I’m moved by God, by goodness, by a whole and honest heart. I’m moved by the grit and grime of life and a shot glass full of vodka. I’m moved by the higher, the lower and everything in between. But above all, I’m moved by peace, by love, and the knowledge that change doesn’t have to be a dirty word.
I hunch my back and waggle my fingers over the pitcher.
“It’s my own blend of magical herbs and bit of eye of newt.”
“Don’t drink all my tea,” Mother says. She does not look up from her sweepstakes entry forms.
“What are you doing, Ms. Dotty?” My little charge asks.
“Securing my family’s financial future,” Mother replies, “I’m finally on a winning-streak. I’ve won a television set, several free vacations, some gift cards, and a camper. It won’t be long before They show up here with a giant check.”
The child has finished her tea and is done listening. She slams her cup down and runs out the back door, pushing past my father as she does.
“Excuse me,” she says.
My Father does not notice her politeness. His eyes are wet.
“What’s wrong with you?” My Mother asks.
I move to the window to keep an eye on the play structure in the yard.
“Accountant called about our taxes,” my Father says, “we owe.”
“We usually get a refund.”
“Not this year.”
“He says we owe ’cause of your winnings.”
“So, we’ll pay it.”
“Dotty, it’s two thousand dollars.”
There is a pause. The girl is on the swing. I can barely make out the sound of her singing voice.
“Where are we supposed to get that kind of money?” My Mother finally asks.
“I don’t know,” my Dad replies, “maybe we can sell the camper.”
Congratulations to J.R.Hershbergerfor winning this week’s Prompted challenge. If you’d like the chance to have to have your short story published on Tipsy Lit, you can learn how here.