landlocked

bleaker country

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so tired of defending these borders alone
scaring intruders away with rusted farm tools
grabbing whatever has a long handle when i’m caught off guard
and i don’t understand
there’s nothing here
i even left a sign out front:
‘No food, no water,
silverware has already been stolen, staying until i die naturally’
it’s getting heavy
this yoke
and i don’t know what to do
nothing in the yard is sharp enough
my biceps have atrophied
trying to pull it off
God, show me what i’ve done
how have i invited this burden
and if it’s my fate to suffer it
show me the clearest path
but please
keep me from succumbing to starvation
don’t let me be drowned by this fluid in my lungs
have mercy on me
bring me matches to light the hearth
if i am to die on the cold, damp floor
because i surrender
i completely surrender
it’s too much
take it all, I can’t carry it anymore
i can barely lift a pen to write a new sign

(photo credit northcoastjournal.com)

TMJ

the before of another long December

There was a boy. Sorry to start off so cliche. But during my first year of college, even though I had a boyfriend at home, there was a boy in my class.

He was just like all the other boys in my class, and completely unlike them, as they all are.

This boy had something I was drawn to that went beyond appearance. I felt an animalistic pull toward him and I could not explain why.

That was the year my jaw started to hurt.

We never spoke. Not really. We would say hello if the occasion came up. We were polite. We may have opened doors for each other, eaten food in the caf at the same time at different tables.

And I was a good girl. I was such a good girl. First year of college, only the second time away from home, my boyfriend miles away living with his parents and not able to see who I was talking to and when.

I didn’t flirt. I stayed with my girlfriends on pub nights. I went home to spend time with the boy I was committed to almost every weekend. Well, when he came to pick me up, which turned out to be every weekend.

Despite that, this pull continued. I looked at him whenever I walked into a room that he was already in. I always knew where he was in proximity to me in each class.

The pain in my jaw got worse and worse. It became a constant in my life. Some days it was so breathtakingly strong, I thought the dentist would have to eventually pin my mouth shut after surgery to treat TMJ.

It kind of scared me, feeling a hunger that intense. I’d never been that overwhelmed by a draw to a boy before. It left me dizzy at first. Until I got used to it.

I made sure we were never alone in a classroom together working late on projects. Just in case that animal feeling consumed me and I turned into someone I didn’t recognize, someone who would give into a moment of passion and cheat.

During one of those weekends home, I went to see a dental surgeon. I became convinced that the unbearable pain was coming from shifting, almost erupting wisdom teeth.

The surgeon looked in my mouth. He took a series of x-rays. He told me that none of my wisdom teeth were impacted. He said my molars were tucked nicely in my gums, not even close to the surface. He threw his hands up in the air when I asked him why my jaw hurt so much.

I was weary. I was desperate. I hadn’t remembered ever experiencing a pain that intense, consistent and intrusive before. It stirred up an anxiety that I couldn’t recognize.

I asked the surgeon if he thought pulling all my wisdom teeth would do anything to fix the pain.

He told me, again, that my teeth weren’t the cause.

Pain makes people a bit crazy sometimes, when it’s bad enough.

I insisted that he rip all of my teeth out, just in case it helped.

He shrugged, but agreed. It was my mouth. The appointment was set for spring break.

Back at school, the pain made me feel sullen.

I did not notice that the pain eased when I was in class. I was able to focus on my profs’ lectures and on the assignments.

There was no discernible pattern to this pain. Not one that I could understand. It was brutal. Relentless. No matter how often it would temporarily ease, it always came back, sometimes more fierce than ever.

I continued to stay in groups, leaving no possibility of giving into this ever-present draw to the boy in my program.

There was a feeling of dread deep, deep beneath the overwhelming draw. Somehow, I knew that giving in would lead to something bad, but I didn’t know what. It was the not knowing what that kept me on the road of making good choices.

That feeling like a threat deep inside me. A threat that one wrong move could change my entire life in a horrible way. But how, I didn’t know.

Spring break came and I got my wisdom teeth pulled. I spent a weekend on my boyfriend’s parents’ couch, trying to eat enough soup to keep the Tylenol 3 from making me sick, though I wasn’t hungry.

When the fog of anaesthesia and pain killers and weakness subsided two days later, to my intense disappointment, I realized that the pain in my jaw was still present.

It devastated me. I felt resigned to being in pain for my entire life.

After that, somehow, part of me found a tiny, one-time, no strings attached slip more acceptable.

In the way that a betrothed twists a last fling into something that would be helpful to keeping the coming marriage from exploding like a boiled over pot and then falling apart.

Something in me knew without a doubt that I was going to be kissing one boy for the rest of my life.

And that made things real.

There I was, first year of college, not really experiencing my first year of college.

I began to feel a little ripped off. I began to worry that I would look back on my life and regret not allowing myself one tiny moment of human connection with a boy who I was clearly drawn to in a way that I had never felt before.

What kind of person laments a life having never, not once, given in to passion? What kind of life was I living?

That thought worked its way to the surface of my brain and blossomed like a sunflower.

When I checked in on that thought, and the feelings that went with it, the flower would look up at the sun I brought to it.

And then I heard there was a party on the last weekend of school, that he would be there.

How perfect. It seemed fated. I have a weakness, a soft place in my guarded heart, for fated happenings.

Things were set. Of course, at any point I could have decided I wouldn’t go. But I chose to go. I wanted to go. I was suddenly so fucking sick of being proper, even though I never attended any tea parties.

By the end of that year, I had gained weight. I was rounder, but the pull still existed. Somehow, my jaw pain eased ever so slightly. It pulled back a bit. Sometimes.

At the party, I drank too much. I was nervous. Things I didn’t know about this man were revealed to me.

In that space, he was more open about his desire for me. He didn’t hold back. But I was nervous. I had misunderstood.

It startled me to discover that he wanted to have sex.

I’m sure that sounds odd. What 20 year old female who felt an intense pull toward a 20 year male wouldn’t know that?

But I didn’t see it. My belief in the illicitness of a passionate kiss overrode anything that may have been out there.

And because I didn’t see it, I didn’t believe it was his intention.

Face to face, though, it was clear. I didn’t know what to do. I was terrified. Believing I had opened a box that couldn’t be closed, a path I didn’t want to walk, I began to think about all possible exit strategies.

I confessed to having a boyfriend, thinking this would cool things down. Nope.

The intense pull was relentless. I broke away from it, but it was still there. And I didn’t know what to do.

Still, there was a nagging at me that this would be my last chance ever to kiss a boy for the first time.

We kissed. And then I ran away. I slipped into the crowd and hailed a cab.

I never saw him again.

Years later, when my boyfriend and I were sharing our second apartment in a new town, I had dreams that he had cheated.

I was devastated. I felt angry, but more humiliated than anything. And I needed to know the truth.

When I asked him, he denied it. Never, he said. He had never done anything with anyone else, even while I was away.

I started to feel a terrible guilt deep in my belly. It started to spread. I wasn’t sure that I could handle it.

I confessed to kissing a boy in college. He forced me to tell him every detail. But I know he still didn’t believe me.

Then he told me he had cheated. He didn’t want to give any details. I was just sad. We talked about it for a week.

Part of me resigned to a life like that. One where my boyfriend would cheat and I would never leave.

I didn’t believe that anyone else would ever love me. I felt like I was too fat, too ugly, too dorky to ever be loved by anyone. Else.

Because my boyfriend loved me. He must have. Why else would he be with me?

And we lived happily ever after. Except not really.

On my death bed, I won’t be able to say that I wasn’t adventurous enough. Or desired. Or chosen. Because there was that one time in college. And I didn’t run. Not right away.

for my angels on my birthday 

in spiritual truth, i’ve lost nothing

They linked arms and surrounded me. Naive in their belief that they could go unnoticed to others in the house.

The light was blinding. The warmth was more than I’d known in years.

In this way I experienced God again, naive in my belief that light could only come from outside, and only be cold.

I guess I didn’t understand the text. The ancient language half-forgotten as something I had mumbled to myself to keep myself company during a long, dry walk.

When others pilgrimage they do it with, they do it for, there is a beginning and an end that has been clearly set down by many who have come before.

In this way, I’ve been alone for a very long time. And I can’t lie anymore. It’s been hell. Absolute hell.

But up in that room, I was reconnected to God (not that we were ever truly disconnected, just that on this physical plane we forget) and it tripped a lever inside of me.

It’s time. It’s time. It’s time.

I began to sing. Loudly. Without shame. I began to hold myself the way that Maya Angelou had taught me to hold myself.

I cried without fear in that circle. Much unlike the way I cried in the very first circle into which I was plunged so many years before.

That first circle, on the floor, my eyesight in line with feet. Big meaty feet, slender soft feet, dainty feet, hairy bony feet. And several in between.

There I cried like a snivelling brat. In that circle my tears were halted. And told, “That’s enough.”

Irony is when the words that your guardian angels want you to speak come out through the mouth of another.

The first person I French kissed was Jody.

And every person since then has been leading me forward in a way that only made sense to that terrified young girl.

The same girl who spent a lifetime walking behind me on my pilgrimages.

And even when that lever within was pressed in the only way it could have been, the nativity of those who set it off was such that God had been confused with higher self.

They believed they had seen my best self, that they had somehow unlocked me from my cell.

But they did not believe they had unlocked anything within themselves when they reflected the smallest bit of my best self.

In this way I wasn’t naive. In this way I had lost my faith.

Reflecting emptiness for years has a way of convincing you that you are empty and that only emptiness exists in the world.

But that was the loop. The trick. The well played long con drawn out over periods of time and experience I wasn’t able to stay with.

My light was never broken. I had been swallowed.

And in this way, I walked toward them after being freed.

They had no way of knowing that I couldn’t walk. They had no way of knowing how long I’d been imprisoned or how or by whom or how many and from how long ago.

In my sudden freedom, gulping air like I didn’t care if the pressure would burst my lungs, I followed them.

I chased them, mistaking them for angels. They laugh. But to me, they were.

Because up until that point no person had been able to get through and stand up for me in that way, to even show me that freedom was possible.

Because up until that point, no person had tried in a way that I could recognize or understand or believe.

Many have walked me through my mind without realizing that my monsters sat in the chair beside me or understanding how that affected me. Or how to help me through. 

Others have sent off rounds on the front lines. Still fewer have held my hand as I learned to walk. One has held me as I cried.

But giving humans angelic qualities can confuse a girl like me. One who has spent too much time in constructed rooms with light that filters without appearing man made.

And I felt lonely after experiencing the great gulf close only to go back.

And I felt like maybe it was their fault in the same way that I knew it was someone’s fault. In the way fault was out there trying to close in on someone without ever being allowed to get too cosy.

Today, for my birthday, I saw a woman being taken care of in a way that made me smile. She had a broken foot. Her friend gave her a piggyback from the cafe to the car to keep her cast free of slush.

I smiled like wow that’s amazing, and then I cried in the bathroom.

because in my life, even when I did share a house with a man I once loved, when my arm was broken and I couldn’t do up my bra, I had to beg him for help. And some days begging made it worse.

I smile at other’s joy because this is God telling me that it exists. It is real. And this is where I’m heading.

I smile because God is telling me that I’m on the right path. And I’m learning to believe, the way that they are learning to believe, that life is more magical and beautiful than we, in our human egos, can imagine.

Even a girl like me, who some days gets strength from the words, “Even broken crayons can color,” has a right to hope that one day a mirror will walk toward me.

One day the right mirror will reflect not only my best self, but also set a lever off in my atoms as our molecules spin faster.

One day, “It’s time, it’s time, it’s time” won’t be a practice drill.

And despite the hells I’ve walked through since I found my legs, I have not lost my faith. I have not succumbed to the cynical belief that humans are inherently inept and incapable of love, no matter what my past wishes I would believe.

Despite what would make it easier for my past, I will sit quietly in sometimes reticent rebellion against that fear-serving belief. But rebellion just the same.

I know that I deserve love. Real love. And I know, based on the laws of metaphysics, that if I believe it, it is already true, and therefore only a matter of time before manifesting in the physical plane.

In spiritual truth, I am loved by all. And for now, in this way, I am not lonely.