Talking to Strangers

When you’re a kid, they tell you not to talk to strangers.

It seems like these days I do exactly the opposite of that. I talk to strangers. I go out, drive long distances by myself at night, and then dance with strangers.

Recently I went on a blues event on a cruise ship and I roomed with a stranger. We slept in the same room having only just met that day.

I took an acro-yoga class from a stranger. I then joined a group led by this same stranger to go wander around a strange country for the first time. On that excursion, I had lunch sitting beside that stranger. I ate the organs of a strange animal (I don’t speak Spanish, the natives tried to warn me, it smelled good, it was good, I ate it) on a taco.

I went to a tequila shop and a bar, and I drank a good quantity of liquor with that same stranger. When we kept accidentally uttering the same phrases as each other or finishing the other’s sentences; I stopped speaking my thoughts out loud because it was eerie.

That stranger asked me to dance that night (if you’re not familiar, I do Blues dancing, it wasn’t some seedy cruise ship club grind) and then spent a good amount of time sitting and talking with me in a dimly lit corner. We danced again.

And again.

And the last song.

It was the last night of the cruise and we took a “survivors photo” of everyone who made it to the end of late night dancing at nearly 5 am. The stranger tucked me in next to him and smiled.

I didn’t want the night to end.

Neither did he.

We had to be out of our rooms in 3 hours for checkout.

The stranger asked if I’d be up for roaming the ship instead of sleeping.

The stranger’s hair was purple, blue, teal, just a touch pink, and tied away from his face in a long unicorn tail down his back. His coat was gold brocade. His smile was soft and warm and I wanted to wrap myself in it. He didn’t feel so strange.

I said yes.

He followed me to my room so I could get a jacket. My dress was short, and thin, black linen with delicate puffed sleeves in lace.

I tucked my hands into the pockets of my hoodie and followed him back up the winding stairs. We glided along the empty, silent hallways of the ship together. For once there was no ambient noise. No frat boys falling off of deck chairs. No one smoking. No music.

We found our way into the balcony of the theater. There was large high-backed, circular booths overlooking a stage hung in gaudy glittering gold curtains that blazed appallingly in full light, but in the quiet hours, under the dimmed chandeliers, merely twinkled softly. We slipped into a center booth and sat side by side.

He tucked me under an arm and I leaned in, comfortable, tired, eyes still aglow. The day had been so full and lovely. I peeked at his face and our eyes met. There was no pressure in his gaze. Everything was soft, neutral.

I knew from our conversation at that dance that we had a good amount in common. I also knew this was the last night of a cruise in an event that drew people from all over the country and while he lives in the same state I do, he’s pretty far away. If he was looking for something in me, logic dictates that it probably wasn’t the start of something serious.

When I looked in his face, I saw no expectation but I also knew he was going to kiss me at some point. I looked away quickly and said something vague. I felt like the situation should scare me. I felt like I should distance myself. I felt like I should feel something other than the utter calm and peace I felt sitting so close to him.

He’s a stranger. He was a stranger.

I have a good amount of guilt in me. It follows me. It dictates a lot of what I do. For some reason, I felt like I should feel guilty or ashamed. I felt like I should feel that I was doing something wrong.

For the life of me, though, I couldn’t muster the guilt.

He read my palm.

This may seem like nothing to some people. Or hokey. Or occult. To me, it felt like home.

My childhood best friend used to read my palm. The library of our Junior High had a selection of nonfiction on fortune telling. We read palms and tarot. She bought me my first set of tarot cards and used to swear “Goddess!” instead of “God!”

As readings go, the one that took place in the theatre wasn’t anything to write home about, but when he finished with the love line and the markings of old loves that he said on my palm were thin and “fading away” (and indeed they are), I realized I wanted him to kiss me, just like I’d wanted him to ask me to dance,  and that if he didn’t do it soon, I was going to kiss him.

I just wanted a kiss. It didn’t have to mean anything.

I liked him, and I wanted to kiss him.

There’s this dumb quote I had on a piece of “room decor” in college which I secretly hold a firm belief in- the soul can be seen through the eyes and felt with a kiss.

I wanted to sip ever so slightly from his soul.

If we’re being honest, at this point in the night, I knew I wanted to know more about him. He’s too fascinating and too similar to me not to draw me in. The more we talked the less “strange” he became to me.

He did kiss me.

He leaned in slowly. That same soft, smile on his face. No expectation. No force. His movements were very clearly defined and so, so very slow. He gave me every opportunity to move away, give him my cheek for the friendly Europeanesque greeting that had become so commonplace on the ship among the dancers that weekend, or otherwise decline the advance.

I leaned in ever so slightly and my eyes drifted shut just as his lips touched mine for perhaps (not exaggerating) the softest, lightest kiss I’ve ever had. It was just a soft, drawn out, lingering brush of lips. Think of how you’d kiss something incredibly valuable but made of spun sugar.

I caught my breath and he backed up just enough to give me space to initiate the next kiss. When I leaned in, his hand came up and tangled in my hair.

We kissed for a while and traced each other’s hands. He traced the line of my cheek with his nose and traded me Eskimo kisses. It was peculiar and perfect.

The rest of the night (wee hours of the morning as it were) is a blur of talking, kissing, joking, lips brushing throats, laughing, kissing, his nails trailing over my calves, watching the light play through the ocean of colors in his hair, and kiss after kiss after kiss.

We were interrupted when the staff started walking in through the doors downstairs on their way to other parts of the ship. Music came back on through the speakers. We ducked lower in our booth and listened to the ship coming back to life.

We eventually decided we should leave the theater. It wasn’t that we weren’t supposed to be there, but it also wasn’t that we were allowed to be there. “American Pie” came on over the speakers and he offered me a hand to dance. We did until another staff member burst through a door and we guiltily broke apart giggling and ran for the doors.

I’m almost certain we weren’t supposed to be in the room overnight because only one of about 10 doors was unlocked. We’d been sealed in and hadn’t noticed.

The magic was over. If ever I understood how Cinderella felt at midnight it was that night. We walked apart from each other and I felt the distance. There had been enough talking and laughing through the night that I didn’t want it to be all there was.

I began steeling myself for it being a “cruise fling”.

He kissed me quite passionately in the elevator but stopped when the doors opened.

He said “see you at breakfast” and I agreed but only half believed it.

Oddly (and nerve-wrackingly) enough, I was wrong.

When the ship officially came into port and the wifi came back on, I was seated across from the man we’re now going to refer to as The Unicorn because (spoilers) he is very much not a stranger to me any longer. Our shoes were tucked under our seats and we each had a foot resting on the other’s thigh.

He watched me sleepily push scrambled eggs around my plate and winked or blew me a kiss each time I met his eyes.

He eventually made a friend of his switch him places so he could sit with an arm around me in the booth.

Six of us napped in the booth, waiting to disembark. There are a couple photos of me sleeping tucked under his arm, head cradled on his chest.

He added me on Facebook.

His last name is my first name.

When we disembarked, I wanted to cry.

We didn’t find a moment alone for a goodbye kiss between the booth and customs and when we tried to kiss each other on the cheek at the same moment at breakfast resulted in an accidental and public peck on the lips, I didn’t think he’d kiss me goodbye in the group outside the port. In front of people.

He did.

Hugged me, then pulled my face close and kissed me soundly.

Smiled and said we should keep in touch.

Yesterday, I bought the plane ticket for my second trip out to see him. [The first trip is a fairy tale for another time]

We have 2-hour conversations about food and 6-8 hour conversations about everything into the wee hours of the morning. He still reads my mind, and I still accidentally finish his sentences.

It’s still a bit early to say, as it could still all go to Hell in a handbasket, but at this point, it’s looking like talking to strangers is something I could stand to do more often.

Occasionally you might find a Unicorn.

 

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Dogs do it…

I’m very nervous this week. I’m going on a trip to spend time getting to know someone I don’t know well but like so far and while I’ve got a week and a day or two to go before I actually see him, so about a week before I should really be nervous, I am already working myself up into a nauseous ball of anxiety jusssssst about every morning.

And then a good 6-11 times throughout the day after that.

My parents (who I’m living with temporarily) have this rescue dog that was abused as a puppy and then turned out on the street. He was wild and absolutely TERRIFIED of people. As it turns out, that’s a horrible combo and he drove them nearly insane for the first year and a half or so of owning him.

He’s still difficult.

But he doesn’t cower when we pass strangers on the street anymore.

My mom doesn’t like walking him because he pulls, but I love running him around the block. He likes to stretch his legs and I like feeling safe in going outside with him by my side. We make a good team.

He wags his tail now. He never used to.

He’s also more receptive to my anxiety than any other animal I’ve every met.

Even when I’m outwardly perfectly fine. Even before the heart starts racing, and things start to feel off-kilter, he will come running and just delicately, like he’s afraid to touch me or doesn’t want to scare me off, leans in and sniffs my skin: in the bend of my arm, my wrist, behind my ears, along my hairline.

Then he’ll gently lick my face.

This is the only time this dog is slow or gentle about anything. He’s usually just a careening ball of energy.

Today I was starting to feel the nerves and he did this. When he licked my face I burst into tears (which he then licked up too).

He let me hug his neck for a bit (again, it’s rare to get him to hold still for a second, we can’t keep ANY weight on him at all).

He wagged his tail.

Without thinking I said, “How do you do it?”

And he looked at me because he doesn’t speak Human, and then ran to get his tennis ball.

I don’t understand. He had such a hard life before he came to live with us. His skull was fractured and he had stitches and scars when they adopted him.

Yet he wags his tail and loves on me and trusts me not to hurt him. I can’t do that.

I can’t do that.

I WANT that kind of starry-eyed cheer. I want to be able to look forward to spending time with someone great without automatically wondering how I’ll mess things up, or if they’ll hurt me.  Worrying I might be wasting time or doing something wrong.

My mom likes to watch The Dog Whisperer and after a bit, I remembered a segment of him saying that “dogs live in the now.”

That explains how Crazy (who I call Froedrick, or Frisky, or Friendly, or Dog-Dog because I find the name just a touch sad and offensive) lives the way he does.

I guess by that logic, he’s not living in the days his skull was fractured. He’s not worried about being on the street and finding food for himself. He’s not thinking about the man that hurt him whenever I pet his ears.

He’s thinking about the tennis ball in the yard waiting for him, how nice the sunshine feels at nap time on the porch, what I smell like and how it sounds when I say nice things to him.

I guess if I want to be like him, I need to stop dwelling on what could happen and what did happen and think about what is happening.

Which is really NOT going to help me when I get on a plane next week, but for the time being I guess I can think of the now instead of hyperventilating about “the next Friday.”

Return to Port

I am not happy with my life.

I haven’t touched this blog in ages. It seemed wrong to put the negativity and utter loneliness that’s been weighing me down these past months into these pages and out into the world. I may touch on it later, and catch any hangers on up to speed, but safe to say I have been living a life of quiet, alarming, desperation and it has been stamping out each breath of creativity that has managed to rise to the surface.

But despite exactly how bad THINGS got, somehow I didn’t realize that I, all-caps-I, I wasn’t happy until this morning, driving home from a weekend cruise and thinking about fast food.

I didn’t sleep much on the cruise. Maybe a few hours a night Thursday through Sunday. It was something like a dance exchange for Blues, so with activities in the day and dancing at night there just wasn’t time.

Last night after the dancing stopped and everyone started going back to their cabins to pack and cram in a few hours of shuteye, I was aglow with the bliss of a perfect evening and excellent dances. I didn’t want the night to end, so when a new friend asked if I wanted to just stay up the 2-3 hours until we needed to start vacating our rooms I dragged a hoodie on over my dress and together we wandered the empty corridors of the ship.

Finally, we tucked ourselves away in a balcony booth in the empty theatre. In the warm silence, dimmed chandeliers made the heavy gold curtain on the stage twinkle softly and he read my palm.

As readings go it was vague but entertaining, and his hand on mine was warm and heavy and pleasant in the wee hours of the morning. It wasn’t the palmistry that pierced me, but the plain questions he asked of me as we continued talking.

We’d spent a good deal of the day together in a group, wandering the streets of Ensenada. I’d never been out of the country and the day couldn’t have been better. He led us away from the tourist traps and into a restaurant where weathered working men stood at the counter for a quick comida on their midday break. He brought us into a shop where the owners recognized him from years past and poured us samples of a more fantastic variety of tequila than you could imagine. We sat in a closet of a dive bar, discussed and sampled sweet bread from vendors in the street and wandered in to giggle at “SEX BOUTIQUE” like the adults we are. We had a good amount of information on each other but other than a few minutes alone at breakfast the morning before, and a chain of exquisitely slow and close and intricate dances at the end of the night, we hadn’t spent much time one on one.

He asked “If work goes wherever you go, why don’t you travel?”

I couldn’t answer. It hadn’t occurred to me to just up and do something like that. I’ll work from a friend’s house so I can hang out with them, but hadn’t thought to go to any of the places I want to visit.

He asked what my goals are for my dancing and again, I had to give serious thought.

Driving home once we got into port I turned off the radio and drove home rolling over the trip. It was light and happy. I felt good, more pondering than dwelling.

I hadn’t slept and my vision was getting a bit fuzzy as I drove. I was also hungry, since I’d only picked at my breakfast between a growing hangover and preferring to doze in a booth with about six other dancers in something of a “cuddle puddle”.

Traffic was bad and I started considering the onramps coming up to grab something to eat. After 3-4 days of just going, grabbing and eating quality food, perfectly ripe fruit, and piping hot coffee, nothing sounded good. All my go-tos also happen to be “mexican food” chains and after the handmade tortillas, rich organ meat, sweet molé, and the cold, sugary cola of Ensenada, there was no way a “classic Del Taco” was going to pass my lips. I passed exit after exit and didn’t pull off. I thought of getting sushi (always my favorite) and couldn’t bring myself to.

The magic had rubbed off of the edges. The trip had been everything I’d hoped for and more. I was so caught up in what I was doing and seeing and tasting and feeling that I only took about 60 photos all told.

I think it was in trying to console myself or find something to look forward to that I had the realization: I am not happy with my life.

Again, though it wasn’t a negative thought, despite the fact that it came from my day to day being so hollow that I couldn’t find something to keep me going. It was freeing in a way.

I keep turning the theatre over in my head: my legs in the lap of a man I’d really only just started getting to know, his hand on my knee, my head on his shoulder under the low shimmer of the gold curtain, talking about learning to say yes to things. It should have been as far out of my comfort zone as I could possible get, but somehow it was just like the warm comfort of resting with an old friend. It was what I wanted. I remember the moment I decided that my goal for the cruise was to dance with him. I remember the moment I knew he would kiss me, and the moment I decided I wanted him to. I got to that moment by saying yes to the experiences I wanted and not worrying that my friends didn’t want to do what I wanted to do, or that I might have to talk to strangers. I felt fulfilled.

I’m not happy with my life. I am very lucky in a lot of ways, I know that. I have my needs met and have time for leisure, surplus for luxuries, and it’s steady. I am very careful to count my blessings and I think that somewhere along the way that morphed into some fabricated love of my job, and my routine, and what I’m doing and creating (or not creating) and putting out in the world.

I’m not happy with it, though. I’m not fulfilled. I am thankful, but not happy.

I can fix it, though. The things that I want from life I can take. I am not helpless in this. One of the characteristics of depression is feelings of hopelessness or helplessness. There are similar triggers for my agoraphobia and anxiety. The awareness that for once I can fix what’s wrong has been not just the silver lining, but the ray of hot, hopeful sun breaking through the cloud.

I want to write so I opened this blog again to talk about my life. I will give that novel outline a new look, rework my characters. I want to create. I will write a song about the beautiful man I met at sea with blue hair and mischief in his eyes. I will move that harmonica out of the top drawer, and play with it now and again. I will start covering the songs I like again on guitar. I will choreograph dances, and learn those routines that make me feel something when I see them online.

I want to express through my dancing as easily as I breathe; that’s the goal. So I’ll keep working. I’ll go to exchanges. I won’t skip weekends. I’ll go to venues I don’t like. I’ll dance with strangers.

I want to travel and eat and see. I want to ride horses and do acro yoga and keep getting stronger and watch the muscles ripple and glide no matter what other people think it looks like. So I will keep up my new program and work another one after. Work on pull ups. Keep working on floating my handstands.

I’m tired of complicated relationships with men who can’t commit or are missing something. I want someone I can be passionate about. Who has time for me. Who wants to adventure. I don’t want to get so caught up in finding SOMEONE that I take ANYONE. I see friends doing this and I don’t want that. I’d rather wait for someone who takes my breath away.

My job is nothing close to what I want or have planned for myself. While I’m not going to run out and start looking for something new immediately, I will start to take a more active part in my professional development. Our company is innovative and I know that if I put in the effort I can at least change what I’m able to contribute and create through work.

 

Productive therapy. I’m going to DO something about this. I deserve to be happy.

 

This all seems cliché in a very “Eat, Pray, Love” kind of way, but it’s how it happened. I’ve always wanted to travel and this trip reminded me that while I am afraid of a lot of things, I am also an independent person, and capable, and I think I may have forgotten until I made some decisions purely for myself.

It was also just a lovely adventure and I’ll probably be talking more about that later, and maybe playing catchup. I have missed this.

I hope someone reads this. I hope this puts something good out for others to consume. THAT is the hope perching just inside my ribs and I can finally hear it singing clearly.

Morning is Broken

{I was searching for the sketch I did of the nightmare I recalled in my last post when I came across some assignments I saved from college. This one was supposed to be recounting part of a normal day in the minutiaist style of James Joyce’s  Ulysses. It gave me the most powerful flashback to the morning I recounted that I thought I’d share it here.}

The mirror bids me good morning as usual. Nightshirt off. Panties on. Good morning to the closet of a bedroom and ugly white walls covered in black and white photos of other people kissing. Good morning to the spots on my face, too small breasts, too wide hips. And now a head of hair that’s about eight colors because I can’t leave it alone. Idiot.

     …ugly. Say it, say you’re not good enough. 

     I’m not good enough. 

     That’s right. You’re lucky, aren’t you? So lucky I keep you. 

Stop it. Stop.

A shake of the head. Hands ball into fists far too late to act as any real defense.

     Don’t think of him. 

A sigh. Stomach flat. Edge of a hip. Okay. Better. A turn. Cellulite.

…not good enough….not good enough….not good-STOP! 

Debating breakfast. I run hands over the straight lines of my collarbones, down arms, almost skinny enough. Grip breasts. Fuck it. Shower.

After the shower, it’s quiet. Anna is asleep still. Elyssa gone. Dance probably. Theatre major. Daisy… probably upstairs in her boyfriend’s bed.

Lonely. Still and lonely.

There’s a tiny patch of sunlight that hits the corner of the living room. It glints off the edge of a bit of fingernail clipping, caught in the buzzcut carpet. Silver polish. Not mine. Should vacuum. Swear I’m the only one that cleans. But that’s all right.

I don’t mind. Keeps my mind busy.

     You’re everyone’s mum then. 

     Not really. 

     You are. But it’s endearing. 

THERE’S a happy thought. Daniel. Lips. Hair. Eyes. Voice. Accent. Hair on his chest. Man. Man. Love. Eyes. So new.

     They’re hazel. That’s what you were wondering. I saw it. 

Movie theater. Valentines Day. Walking home. Hollywood after dark. Down those streets a thousand times but not with him. Hands, laced in the dark. Lips. Chest. The curl of brown hair, chest, stomach, lower. God, how I love…

   …the way “Robo-Cop” sounds with an English accent. 

I sit in the patch of sun. Wedge in next to the sliding glass door, press my back against the wall, heartened by the feeling of my vertebrae pricking my skin from the inside against the plaster and at the same time hating that the feeling cheers me up slightly. I brush my hair, eyes closed. Copper tipped bristles scrape my scalp. The sun’s glowing warmth hits a shoulder and a hip first. Spreads from the points. It’s the wrong angle to be hot, just the sensation of being touched by light. A hum starts in my throat.

No one’s around to hear. Lonely and still. Quiet, so quiet. It’s not that bad.

Two sips of whisky in the flash but I’m not gonna drink it

Swear I’ll make it last til we’re

Drinking out of the same glass again

The rythm of my brushing keeps time to Passenger tunes.

Ahhh Passenger. 

Daniel, Daniel. Where’s my phone? Eyes open. Done with the brush. I stretch in the sun. Curl my toes like tender leaves of grass in a breeze.

My legs are skinny at least, thought they look sickly and pale in the direct sunlight. I can see every tiny blue vein through the vellum I’m made of. Blue. Wormlike. No one will love you. My skin is so easily broken. I’m made of tissue paper.

I’m still in my towel. And I’m sure I should getting off to somewhere. Class perhaps.

Who am I kidding, of course class. I’ve missed far too many days already.

Dress. Leggings. Shoes. Eyeliner. Halfassed and smudged. Powder. Nothing else. I might have a date tonight and that calls for the full nine. Though I get the impression that this one wouldn’t mind if I skipped the makeup. Simplify simplify. Maybe that’s why I l-ike being around him.

Though the sand may be washed by the sea.

The old may be lost in the new

Four will not wait for three

I like my voice at least. Soft, husky, good ear for pitch.

Class. Too hot. Took the stairs and am out of breath. Sitting against the wall, my own misshapen citadel, I fan myself  with the yellow legal pad I keep with me for my lists. And the letters.

Daniel: I miss you. Is that selfish? Very well then, it’s selfish. You’ll never read this. 

     You’ll never know…

     I love him, I love him. It’s pointless. He’ll just go back to England. But I love him. 

Check the ipod, finally. I have to wait. Can’t just check it constantly. Have to have some boundaries. Inbox. Empty. Refreshrefreshrefresh. One message. Not him. Leave it. Glance up. Professor’s chatting. Down again, reach for the watch I left on the bathroom countrer. Stupid. I crane at the clock and feel hideously rude. Two minutes left.

Refreshrefreshrefresh.

Nothing.

     Three never waited for two. 

     Though you will not wait for me

Scratching a heart on the corner of one yellow sheet in pencil. Graphite smudged on my fingertips. Scratching it out again.

     I’ll wait for you. 

Stomach growls. I pretend it’s upset. It is, but for the lack of foord, rather than what sort. Tap my foot, tap the tip of my pencil against the desk. Tap the toes inside my shoe. The usual anxiety building. I should focus on something else.

     I can’t take this deep slow panic. 

     Teach me, teach me not to dream

     Dream deeply

Tap in time to the shift in soundtrack.

Professor. Erin. I call her Erin. Even when I’m not in class. Hands me something. Journal. Never know if I’m doing these right. Wish I could compare with other people. But I don’t talk to them.

What? My hair. I touch it.

It doesn’t look bad.

A grin.

Thanks. Thankyouthankyouthankyou.

I cling to the wall. I needed that. Shouldn’t have dyed it. Shouldn’t mess with it. Why do I bother trying to be pretty? Why. But she was kind.

She’s always kind. I wonder if she knows.

Orientation. 3? 4 years? English advising. Saw the tattoo on her wrist. Her smile the first that didn’t make me want to hide under a table. Or run. No more school. Please no more people.

I sat to her right. Or left? So long ago. Only her face left, her wrist. It’s the little things that stick. Most important.

Maybe I won’t be weird here. Maybe… 

She’s my favorite. Role model. Something. Has been since day one. Never told. How would I even go about doing that? So infinitely awkward. I don’t keep my mouth shut enough as is. Maybe at graduation.

You kept me here. 

     I just wanted to be like you. 

Erin, green gem of the silver sea, or at least hope for a place where I’d be comfortable in my skin.

One minute to class time. Attendance poll. The routine.

Blergh

I like class. What I don’t like is leaving my closet of a room. The bathtub, no water, knees to chest, huddled. It’ll be okay. It’s okay. I’m okay. Class is great. Rooms are too big. The walk there too open. Too many people. Like cattle lowing and ambling from one pen to another.

Let the day begin.

Refresh the inbox one last time. One message. Him. Wrong him.

Subject: YOU

Body: need to get back to me. You don’t get to do this. YOU are MINE. Call me. NOW.

-M

And this routine’s back.

 No one else will want you, say it, say it. 

Don’t think of him. Don’t. Don’t. Ipod away. Hiding. Routine. Fear. Loathing. Also routine.

Face in hands. Phone lights up.

New message from: Daniel

Temptation. Class has technically started. But I need this. I need this.

I can resist anything but temptation. Just a peek.

Morning angel. Walk with me tonight? It might rain : ) xx

Worth it. I do love walking in the rain. So does he. And his umbrella’s a perfect fit for two.

Nobody else will want you, say it, say it SAY IT you are MINE….

Morning angel…

I’m nobody who are you? Are you nobody too? Well there’s a pair of us, don’t tell…

Phone away. NOW the day can start.

Nightmare

When I was a kid, I used to have this recurring dream that, at the time, scared me more than anything. I had the dream so often that I stopped disturbing my parents when I entered their room for comfort and would just stand alone in the dark, listening to the pair of them breathe, shivering in the cool air until I was calm enough to return to my own bed and the warmth of my blankets.

In the nightmare, I was alone in what I can only describe as a vast endless bayou or swamp. There was dark water all around me, murky, sweating into the air, humid and fetid, heavy. There were marshland trees far away, their roots coming out of the mud and into the water. Their branches were surely draped with grey moss.

I stood on a muddy sandbar of sorts out in the open: a protrusion of soft, wet, mushy ground that oozed under my bare feet. I was dressed in a yellow bathing suit, cut simply and polka dotted in white, a child’s boxy one-piece. I was not muddy when I dreamed this as a child, except for my feet. There were other protrusions like the one I stood on all across the water, not a far swim and they probably stretched to the shore, but there were gators in the swamp, under the surface, invisible to me but a danger nonetheless. I was trapped and frightened and clammy on my muddy little pedestal.

The worst part was the speedboat. It was red and so far off that I would always hear it before I saw it. Tiny and fast, zipping about, close to the trees along the shoreline. I knew it would save me if I could just get its attention. But I never could.

Eventually, I would decide to get in the water and swim from sand(mud)bar to sandbar and this is where the dream varied.

Sometimes I would wake just as soon as the massive reptilian jaws rose from the water before me, too close to paddle backwards away from. Sometimes hands or claws would wrap around my feet or ankles from under the murk. Sometimes the water was shallow and sludgy and I would begin to trudge across the ground before inevitable piercing my feet on hidden harpoons jutting from the mire.

A few times the speedboat turned just as I reached the midpoint between two perches and ran me down. Once I grew heavier with each kick or pull with an arm until I could no longer tread water and I sank beneath the surface. I’m sure there were more variations on how I met my doom but there was never a time I survived.

I had that nightmare from before I was in school, so approximately the age of 4 all the way up until I was about 16 years old. It recurred most frequently when I was a very young child, but I did have it at least twice in junior high and once in high school. My senior year of high school, I sketched the scene for an AP Psychology project and I still have the sketch somewhere.

There’s a certain significance placed on recurring dreams, particularly nightmares. They’re supposed to reflect the inner workings of your subconscious and are supposed to reveal hidden fears. I wonder what I could possibly have been afraid of, or convinced of, or so subconsciously fixated on as a child of four that I then gradually let go of over time.

Was it symbolic of my growth? My fear of being mired in the stresses of adulthood? Once I reached high school I no longer feared the adult world?

That doesn’t quite fit. I stayed pretty sheltered until I was at least 18.

Did I feel trapped?

That doesn’t fit either, as the only thing I’ve ever really felt trapped by during that period was the expectations of others and that didn’t kick in until I was at least 8 and by then the dream was less frequent.

Is it something else? Something I’ve missed? Has the nightmare really ended? Or is it lurking there beneath the placid surface of my current dream pool, like some scaled, jagged toothed reptile, waiting for me to paddle back into its jaws. Will I find myself in that swamp once more, a grown woman, breasts pressed high and hips squeezed by the now ill-fitting swim costume? Will the harpoons pierce the monarch butterfly tattoo on my foot? Will my flesh still be sweet to the gator’s tongue?

Have I perhaps grown too bitter to eat? Am I too wise to slink into the water willingly? Might I now devise a way to flag down the boat?

Is the nightmare even so awful now?

I think perhaps its become some sort of bittersweet dream. If I could slip back into it I might reclaim that effortless suspension of disbelief and in being trapped once more in a distant swamp, find myself free of the mundane bonds of my adult mind..

It’s the mosquitoes I should worry about.

Dehydration.

Starvation.

Who’s driving that boat and do I really want to flag them down, especially in the tiny yellow swim suit?

There are a thousand worse dangers than murky waters and alligators.

So perhaps the nightmare isn’t quite a nightmare after all.

 

{Written in response to The Daily Post’s Nightmare Prompt}

Civic Duty

I had Jury Duty this week.

I wasn’t really too upset about it because my work pays for a few days of it and I’ve never seen the inside of a courtroom outside of binge watching SVU. I got there and was selected for the jury pool for a case. We went in and the judge made a speech about how this is important and why jury duty is what it is and how if you think that the courts let cases off easy then you should WANT to be there making sure things are done justly. The buzzwords were citizenship, duty, fellow man, justice, community, service etc.

It was a remarkable and moving speech.

Then we went on lunch break and I went downstairs to the cafeteria and ordered a salad and some honeydew melon which came in crisp plastic packaging. I ate across from a handsome lawyer who asked if I minded before joining me. We sat and read together, me a novel, him some sort of ledger or file, in comfortable air-conditioned peace.

Then I went back upstairs and seated myself on a bench by the window outside the courtroom’s double doors to wait for role call, and court’s resumption.

I opened my book again (Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend, highly recommend btw) but I’d read well over 100 pages that day already, so I looked out the window instead of reading. Behind the courthouse, there was something going on on the ground. I couldn’t tell at first what I was looking at. It seemed like some sort of farmers market or something, which for my location wasn’t unheard of. The city the courthouse is located in is full of art walks, markets, craft fairs, etc. From 9 stories up, it just looked like a group of tarps.

The more I looked, though, the more clear the picture became and eventually I realized I was looking at a makeshift shanty town of tents and tarps. Homeless people trying to get out of the California heat any way they could. It was like a small city of downtrodden individuals right behind the courthouse in plain view.

The judge’s words about how being here was important came back to me. How giving up a workday, or our normal routine was so important. We had covered the case by that point and it was basically two men arguing over the terms of a contract and whether a fineable breach was made by one party.

Looking at that shanty town, and then turning to watch one of the two hard-faced businessmen stride back into the courtroom with his lawyer, in suits so clearly expensive that the cuff links could have fed all the people below me for a WEEK, I felt a roll of guilt and indignation in my stomach.

How can someone say that deciding if there was a breach in a business contract that didn’t result in losses significant enough to alter the course of a business, or anyone’s day to day wages or way of life be CIVIC DUTY and a SERVICE TO YOUR COMMUNITY while addressing starving citizens WITHIN EYESIGHT isn’t even on the table.

Don’t talk to me about civic duty when in plain view of city officials, lawyers, politicians, judges, POWERFUL men and women, every day people struggle just to avoid exposure to the elements and nothing has been done. In view of people who could ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING about it, people IN OUR COMMUNITY have suffered. They’ve suffered long enough that there’s a veritable VILLAGE of them grown up behind the building.

Like with a lot of my posts lately, there is no good answer. I have no silver lining. This is just an angry cry that something needs to be done, and a comment and observation of just how skewed our priorities are in this country.

Two Voices

I was on Facebook looking at my “On This Day” memories and came across a video I’d posted of me playing guitar and singing 3 or 4 years ago. This was at a time in my life when I was very VERY unhealthy but also skinny.

As I watched the video I noticed things I’d never noticed before. My arms were skinny, probably the best they’ve ever looked, my shoulders were cut and defined, my collarbones stood out like razorblades erupting from my flesh and my cheeks were sunken in harsh squares, a clean right angle from jaw to chin.

There are two voices in my head watching this video.

The first was horrified. Initially she’d admired the arms and shoulders, but the face so startled her that she drew back in the realization that she’d been admiring careful starvation. The video was in what I’d always thought of as my “recovery period” but I was so painfully underweight that, today, I’m thinking I may have overestimated my recovery. Or maybe, I just had a long way to come back.

The first voice wants to know how I had DONE that to myself. She wants to know how I could have missed the lank hair, the pallid face, the painful angles my skeletal structure made protruding against my skin. She remembers all the hours spent at the gym and wonders how I had “worked out” when I so lacked muscle, when I was skin and bone and not much else.

The second voice reminds me that fifteen more pounds and I’d be nearly in that range again and fifteen pounds is easy. A couple weeks of nothing but juice and an occasional handful of almonds and that face in the video could be mine again. My abs look like the after photos in BeachBody ads and yet I have this second voice telling me I could starve my way back to a thigh-gap.

This is the reality of eating disorders. They never go away. Even if you’re eating normally, and you feel in control. Even if you’re happy with the way you look. There is something in you that CRAVES starvation, purging, overexercising. The desire to punish yourself, mold yourself, shrink until you disappear never goes away. You just learn to ignore it.

I learned to get angry at it.

Probably not the most healthy reaction but finally I think I’m at a place where I can yell at that second voice to shut up. I can tell it it’s stupid and I’m fine as is, and that I do still have a couple pounds I’d like to lose, but that like the other 60 I lost, I’m going to do it the right way, so it stays off. So I can maintain. So I can eat cake on my mom’s birthday and sushi on a mini-vacay with Jo and not feel bad.

This is what being in control really feels like. I don’t know how I mistook hurting myself for control, but I did. Over and over again I took a backseat to my disorder.

I won’t do it again.

But this is today. There is always the chance of backsliding. The second voice doesn’t leave. It is patient. It waits for moments of weakness.

This is why we need to be kind to each other.

This is why media giants like Cosmo need to avoid posting unrealistic beauty goals like back and shoulder contouring.

This is why we need to remind our friends and family of the ways they are beautiful.

In hopes that it will help save others from this confusing pull in two directions over something that should be shallow and unimportant.

No one should have to choose between health and image.