When Letting Go Is A Political Act


Delete her number from your phone, hide/unsubscribe/unfriend her social media feeds, lick your wounds, grieve for what might have been, and throw yourself wholeheartedly into other connections and interests. Read books by women. Let time do its healing work (It will, I promise). Be a person who takes “no” for an answer.

Captain Awkward

I finally understood that his no meant no. Really, truly no. It took me nearly six months. I’m not the quickest learner, but I found my way there.

I didn’t like it one little bit. Couldn’t there be a different answer? A way to keep the door open? We’d been standing there at the threshold for so long — open, shut, open, shut. . . Open? Shut? — that I couldn’t quite believe he’d lodged the bolt for good.

What would change his mind? What might convince him to try again?

My disregard for his choice is glaring. I only see it now. My longing for him drowned out every other consideration. It didn’t help that memory laced geography. Every block, a block we walked. The path through the woods behind the library. The restaurant, the park, the gym. Memory turned to curiosity; curiosity to yearning. I was lugging around a Sears catalogue of questions never asked, not in the entirety of our four years. The questions dazzled. The desire to know him again, or perhaps know him anew, consumed me.

I wanted him.

I’d turned into every lovelorn sucker in every country song.

Continue reading “When Letting Go Is A Political Act”


Human Pyramid

Moki Green

In the photo, he grins up from the base of a human pyramid. He occupies the exact same spot I did in my last pyramid, which was, oddly enough, just a few weeks ago. Bug’s blonde surfer hair sticks to his flushed face as he balances another boy on his back. Eight kids, two counselors, and a big field of green.

His first day of camp, and Bug had already found his place in the pack.

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Making Way

flying bike

On bike, top of hill, foot down.  Red light.  It was green as I was climbing but turned yellow before I could get through.  It’s a quiet Saturday, holiday weekend.  A few cars cross in front of me, no one behind me.  The rotation complete, my turn next, I step on the pedals and inch out.  The light stays red, though.  It is red as oncoming traffic starts to enter and turn left.  Because no drivers had joined me on my side of the intersection, the signal never kicked to green.  I could wait here all day at a red light that stays red.  Instead, I press through.  The oncoming drivers pause for two extra beats to wait for me before turning left across the empty lane.

A man jams his body halfway out of his driver’s side window.  His head, arm, torso look like they’re about to climb out after me.  He screams across the road, “Why don’t you obey the law, you fucking idiot!”

I catch my breath and keep riding.

Through my head race all the answers I would say if his were a real question.  Louder than my imagined response is the clang clang clang of his fury: “You fucking idiot, you fucking idiot, you. . .”  For the next mile at least, I tense at every approaching engine, sure he’s whipped around to come after me.  Will my helmet work when he clips me and I flip onto the side of the road?  It’s a quiet, leafy neighborhood.  People are out.  Surely someone will see it and call 911.

You fucking idiot, you fucking. . . Continue reading “Making Way”

Press Through

cave woman

Downstairs is the Cave of Dudes.  It is where the free-weights line up in rows by the mirror, where contraptions pierced through with grimy iron bars and corsets of straps hunch in the corners and dare you to approach.  Someone has squeezed a couple of treadmills in at the back.  They are the wireless kind that run on human power instead of electricity.  The robot machines are quartered in the vast gallery upstairs, a whole army of them blinking out their perfectly calibrated, simulated tracks on LED screens.

Down in the cave, incline benches.  Pull-up bars.  Clangs and grunts.  Some days, most days, I’m the only gal down there.

The Cave of Dudes skews young.  They cluster in packs, spotting each other and counting off.  Their tattooed calves flex with effort.  When they finish a set, they pace, flushed and breathless.  They turn their arms just so to see the cut in the mirror.  They try to look like they’re not looking.

The few older men who dare to visit are made of sinew and focus.  They grip through fingerless gloves.  Intensity makes their neck veins pop.  Even though they lift less, they seem stronger.  Grounded.  The old dudes are more likely to end up on a mat doing the peacock pose.

I am a 42-year old woman with cellulite and stained sneakers.  It takes an enormous force of will to peel myself from the whirring breeze of the elliptical and descend into the Cave of Dudes.  It stinks of testosterone.  The man-juice is thick as brine and you’ve got to churn your way through the miasma to get to the dumbbells.

I go because I love the place.  It’s a playground, full of toys to mess around with.  Yet every time I start down, up drifts the bass dialogue and the metal bang.  With it, a clench of dismay.  Couldn’t it be silence?  This time, couldn’t the room be mine alone?  It never has been, not in all the years I’ve been going.  There’s no reason to believe it would be now.  Still.  Traveling has offered up enough deserted, junky hotel fitness rooms that I know what a blast it can be to bounce around by myself.

Better yet, how about a gaggle of gals?  If my girlfriends in their saggy capris and cheap Reeboks joined me, that would be a party.  We could shut off ESPN and crank Throwing Muses and Flogging Molly.  We could do all the wrong things with the iron maidens in the corner.  We could dance between sets.

But in the Cave of Dudes, antics are unwelcome.  Talking, unless it’s about muscles and stuff, is also rare.  Dancing?  Who would dare to try?

To will myself through the throatfuls of male musk, I’ve learned to man up.  Every gal has a store of Dude inside her.  She knows how to act remote and invulnerable.  How do you think she survives the subway, the office, the bar, the street?  When it’s necessary, she taps  the supply, adopting tunnel vision and shooting straight for the target.  No distractions.

Even when — especially when — those distractions are the echoes of ancient patterns learned by a girl surviving in a universe of threat.

I know rationally that the dudes in the cave have things more compelling than me to capture their attention.  They may notice the arrival of a female of the species, but what’s it to them if I’m clumsy or old or weak?  What do I care even if they do care (which they don’t)?   I’m safe here.

I know all this rationally, but still, the sense of intrusion, of outsider-ness, as I walk in almost overwhelms me.  Among the dudes, the racks and incline benches look as sinister as they do inviting.  My toys, in the company of dudes, look like mistakes waiting to happen.

Stepping across the room, I try not to glance at the bench press.  It’s my favorite piece of equipment.  I started on it a year or so ago with just the bar.  Eventually, the weights went on.  Week by week, they increased.

It’s a strange kind of thrill to climb of my own free will under that iron bar.  Lifting it off the stand exposes my girly chest parts and delicate neck to a grimy mass, one that’s entirely in my control.  It’s danger, it’s power.  Nothing beats finding out how much this body can do.

Despite all this love, I start to stride past it over to the relative safety of the dumbbells.  A trio dudes are all gathered up near my beloved bench.  One of them is doing some sort of big-cock-lunge-squats while the other two watch with their arms crossed.  It looks like a dare.  Or a hazing.

As I pass, a little voice whispers, I wish he were here.

Oh, you again.

The voice accompanies me everywhere, all the time.  But I hear it right here, at this almost imperceptible moment of choice.  The timing makes me pause.  That wish is whispering up right as I am about to abandon my very favorite exercise on account of the presence of men.

I stop.  I let that wish bob and dance like a soap bubble , the little voice a song inside it.  Yes, we always got such a kick out of sweating together, punching stuff and finishing the run with a wind sprint.  Yes, this was one of highs we climbed together.  And yes, if he were here, every piece of equipment in this place would be fair game.  We’d mess around with it together.

All this wishing.  Wishing to be alone, wishing for the company of women, wishing for My Mister.  Wishing to be younger and stronger.  Or older and more free.  Can I actually change any of these things?  For the ones I can change, do I want them enough to take the leap?

Or do I choose this?

Wishing without action is a destructive habit.  It’s biting nails and picking at scabs.  It’s holding the fact of the terrain up against an ink-stained map of Rivendell.  It’s falling from a cliff then cursing the earth that’s caught you.

He’s not here, Smirk.  It’s just you, your grit, and your capacity to make your own bliss.

Get to it.

I touch that bubble with the tip of my courage and let it pop.

Then I slide on right past the trio of dudes, grab two 10-pound weights, and rack up.

Image: “River in a Cave,” John Spies, Thailand


Injured and Alone

paredes 2

The injury aligns with the breakup, a window sash in its jamb.  One smooth slide to a perfect seal.  In stays the still air.  Out there, bees and dew and all the fecund detritus of summer.

This forced meditation is only welcome because it came in with its trunk and has evaded any attempt to pin down its schedule for moving on.  All I can do is make it feel at home.  I fold myself in beside it and listen to it breathe.

All familiar routines are out of commission.  Before this, any hint of stillness was a signal to go find a Zumba class or kick out the door in my running shoes.  With a busted knee, the simplest thing would be to sit back with Netflix and ride out the pain.

Before this, any internal chatter was a signal to pick up the phone and call my Mister.  Now he’s not mine anymore.  The social buzz whips around this empty living room like a downed power line.  It sparks, it pops.  Without a companion to ground and receive, the simplest thing would be to cut the juice.

The window is closed but outside sears right through.

Daylight has a way of complicating the simplest things.

This weeklong recuperative holiday from work is intended to let me heal from surgery on a torn meniscus.  It’s offered up a twin opportunity to grieve the end of a 3-year relationship.  Isolated in my house, work on hiatus, endorphins on strike, and Netflix as a numbing agent at best. . . this reads like the Idiot’s Guide to Letting Depression Win.

Creative character development is my saving grace.

Who can I be, if I can’t be the person I though I was?

Where does a single lady with a limp get her kicks?

In one script, injured and alone gets you starving slowly to death in the woods.  In this, a different story line emerges thanks to a series of small set changes:

  1. Surround the bed with books.  Literature, history, science fiction.  Books of surrealist art, books of essay, books of drawing tips.  Stack the bedside table with journals, sketch pads, jars of pencils and markers.  Cue up music.  Doodle, write, doodle, read, doodle, drift.  When the eyes are too bleary from painkillers to make sense of WEB Dubois, close the book and sketch instead his black-and-white portrait from the cover.
  2. Invite a friend to visit.  Ask for the curry, the berries, the small texture your tongue misses.  Answer the door in your pajamas.  Invite friends to come play board games.  When you’re feeling well enough to drive, ask friends to meet you at the farmer’s market.  Sit in the shade and gossip over gyros while the bluegrass band plucks and croons.
  3. Say yes to the invitation to attend a cookout at the acquaintance of a co-worker in a neighborhood you’ve never visited.  Even though only three people out of the 20 there know you and you have to hobble across the deck to shake hands, find a seat and ask all the questions.  Dance your way into conversation with the NPR journalist who teaches at Duke now, the retired Navy officer, the dude who lives half the year in Ukraine who’s personal friends with John McCain.
  4. Crash the neighbors’ cookout in your own back yard.  Yes, these are the same neighbors whose failure to invite you left you grumpy and hurt last year every time they gathered at the common picnic area right outside your door.  But this is a new summer, and this is the re-write of that tired script.  When your kiddo says “let’s go,” go.  Take your own tablecloth and bag full of the dinner you’d planned to eat inside.  Share your your baked beans, your sparkling water, your bug spray.  Let the kids careen around as a pack.  Notice that by the time the sun sets, everyone is at your table hooting and gabbing, and you’ve got playdates and new numbers programmed into your phone.
  5. Knock on the neighbor’s door and invite her to join you at the town’s Memorial Day festival.  Wander the booths with her, sampling Mary Kay makeup and gathering schwag from the local banks and dentists.  Weave your way through the hordes of kids sticky with cotton candy, parents waiting in line for the tilt-a-whirl.  Throw a blanket down on the grass and listen together to the band playing purple dinosaur songs while flushed little girls spin loopy circles under the midday sun.
  6. Go solo to the wacko sci-fi movie night on the rooftop of a local bar.  Help the organizer hang a bedsheet and get the projector humming.  Sketch in your journal and giggle along with the aging geeks and baby-faced engineers at the psychedelic freakiness of La Planete Sauvage.
  7. Go to the gym and lift weights.  Go to the gym and walk in the shallow end with the retirees. Water the plants on the balcony.  Hobble to the corner with the dog and stop to let her say hi to the kiddos on the corner.

When clouds roll in and a damp sky brings the weight of pain, limp back home.  Ice the knee, slide into the nest of books and pens and paper and music.

Float for a minute in the cool and loose feel of him.  Let his phantom thread its silver limbs around yours.  Long for him.  Thank him for showing you this art, this weirdness, this courage, this shiver.

Wish him rest, wish him flight.

Then slide that window closed again and turn towards the colors of your own page.

Write the story.  Flourish the edges with the scent of honeysuckle. This meditation is only a visitor, despite all evidence to the contrary.  Wrap your wound around her instead.  Ride the current of her breath up to your unfolding arc.

Image: “Le Jardin” by Cecilia Paredes