Tales From The Mattress

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And there it was, through the struggle of the night, another long Goldilocks night where I’m too hot, I’m too cold, but oh, please, bring me just right….  I awoke in the middle of the night and remembered that story I used to tell myself when I was little.  Actually, I was telling my stuffed animals, for they were good listeners, but I am getting ahead of myself.

My brother and I went from cribs to bunk beds, nothing in between.  Brother got the bottom bunk which means I got the top.  It was so high up, though, and Mom was worried about me falling out of bed.  Dad had every Craftsman tool known to man (or at least it seemed that way to a little girl who liked following him around, wanting to help spackle or anything else he thought I was capable of doing.)  Dad brought home a ginormous piece of wood, longer than the bunk bed and thicker than a pizza box.  He drew lines and sawed the ends into curves, sanded, then he varnished the shit out of that thing which stunk to high heaven and set off my asthma, naturally.  When it was done, he fitted the smooth, dark wood piece over the edges of my bunk so that it would keep me from falling out during the night.

I accumulated stuffed animals over the years and I lined them up, just so, at the head of my bed.  They were my cabinet, my aides du camp, the only thing helping me through Godzilla / tornado dreams — or worse.  Mom used to read us bedtime stories like an orator on a stage, me high in the balcony.  I used to make up stories as I lay in the laps of my dear stuffed animals, and they listened.  And I remembered one of those stories last night.  You know.  It’s the one about the dragons.

My goal is to write the story today.  I don’t know what I will do with it when it’s done.  There are so many places I could hobble up to and beg they take my paltry thing and publish it.  But it all starts here. In my bed.  The place where I still sleep with dragons.

Sleeping, Unconservatively

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I peeled my sad, angry, frustrated clothes off and went to bed, though I still wore a layer of it on my face. It occupied some of my heart.  As I lay on my side and looked out the window I noted the orange sky.  That means weather. The kind that brings lightning. I can’t sleep when I know the lightning is coming, especially after that last storm that seemed to want to eat the Hampton roads. I was tempted to stay up all night so I could be prepared for the blast, no matter how long it would take for it to come, but I really wanted to sleep.  I chose to peel off my layers of anger, to turn over and breathe and meditate and pray and hope for relaxation to take over so I could sleep.  I chose to sleep, and I would deal with the storm, the adrenaline rush of fear that comes when a little girl sleeps in her bed and her parents crash the door… if and when it came.  Meanwhile, there’s nothing. i. can. do. about. it.  Any of it.

This morning I awoke, still wearing my angry face, sad to say.  I could feel it, stuck to me like a wet leaf but not so easily plucked off and cast aside.  Reading the news did not help.  Last night’s echoes still reverberate, that a politician assaulted a journalist who the hell knows why, and my fear that it’s only going to get worse.  More, I can’t stay quiet when I see a young woman who wants to graduate barred from the ceremony because she broke her “morality” pledge and got pregnant. I’m supposed to stay quiet when girls can’t wear braids in their hair or barred from a graduation ceremony because they’re pregnant.  Both schools have rules and mores, and both girls broke them.  The pregnant girl broke the contract she signed when she had sex outside of marriage and got pregnant. But the strength she showed in keeping her child and choosing to move forward with her life, to finish school and graduate shows a lot of backbone.  Or… maybe a lot of pressure from her parents and society?  Either way, she’s barred from graduation because she broke the morality rule, and all I can feel is sorrow for all of us.  I guess I should fall in line and feel solidarity for the rule, because if they allowed her to attend it would mean the school condones her behavior, and then cats and dogs living together.

I ruined my 5-star morality rating years ago, and I’m betting we all have some tarnish on our souls.  Here we stand punishing young people for an act as simple as wearing braids or as troubling as premarital sex which results in pregnancy.  I am an angry woman this morning because females should not be punished for wearing braids, or for carrying a child.  I am in no way a pro-life person, because, you know, I hate babies and life and I just want to sin and fuck and eat embryos with my grits.  But I am a pro-life person in that I can’t stand seeing injustice, even though they signed a contract.  The contracts and handbook rules that regulate dress code and morality are in place to keep young people in line, and boy do they need keeping in line, what with all the things they’re privy to on social media and lack of guidance from home.  I get it.  But the angry woman of me feels that black girls banned from wearing braids and pregnant girls cannot attend graduation that they earned crosses a line and really pisses me off.  I am sad for all of us as a society.

And don’t even get me started on the politician that body-slammed a journalist for asking a question.  I feel like we’re all just losing sight of things that should matter more than offensive t-shirts, weaves, and a young woman who chose life, which is ironically what conservatives want to preserve at all costs.

It’s almost noon, and I have to decide what my diet of the day will contain.  As I write, I am playing action movies in the background.  The angry woman of me needs to hear fire power and powerful soundtracks, a catharsis for me that elevates the idea of justice because I cannot be the iron hand to wield it.  I see justice and common sense diminishing in my country.  And there’s nothing.i.can.do.about.it.

Aw shit, what do I care.  If you sign a contract, you’re bound. You fuck up, you get punished. No graduation for you.  Just like a president, I guess….

May 22

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Yesterday’s morning bed looked a hot mess, all but the mattress pulled down onto the floor. Could’ve been hot sex or could’ve been another sleepless night, too hot in a t-shirt and a stuffy room.  I’ll leave it to you to decide which one was more likely.

This morning’s bed I left early, 4:30, awakened by voices outside, young men either headed to the gym or early call to work.   I knew there was no going back to any kind of rest or sleep, so I pulled on yesterday’s clothes and ventured outside.  The finches are strenuous early, morning doves and gulls silent. It’s a farther walk to where I can hear the water but it never quite drowns out the sound of birds singing in the dark.

I sat in the damp sand, water black but for little white wave crests that break just before the shore, that moment when they’re good and ready.  Sunrise in 48 minutes. I doubt I will be able to sit still that long.  A small container ship creeps across the bay, barely silhouetted by the town lights. Hampton bridge is busy, as always. I will not see the lights go out this morning.  Town lights behind me make the night sky glow pink and blue in the clouds.

Two buoys appear in the bay, inky things in the dark, but they are orange in daylight. My eyes say they weren’t there a minute ago, but of course they were.  When will the dolphins return?  I can see bird silhouettes flying now.  They weren’t there a minute ago, but of course they were.  Sunrise in 20 minutes.  I doubt I will be able to sit still that long.

Mostly I just breathe. I focus on the scent that arrives in me. There is a faint chemical smell in the air with a tint of the seaweed clumps that arrived during those hours I could not sleep.   I smooth the sand down that lies before my crossed knees but no words come. It’s just damp, cool sand with a side order of things I should not be thinking.  But why shouldn’t I? What better place to let the words come and then go in a place where there are no dogs yipping, the rain has not yet begun to fall?

I leave before the sun rises in a sky ready for rain. I need no proof the hours moved by seeing a glowing orb.  I take with me a different kind of beauty, when the eyes adjust to dim light and can see what wasn’t there but a moment ago.

 

Man v Wave

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Virginia got a federal grant to renew some of its beaches that have eroded over the years.  Funny thing, that ocean, how it hurricanes and nor’easters now and then, changing the landscape at will.  Some of my neighbors grumbled that the money could have been better spent, while most of us believe this project is important to protect our homes from worse-than-usual flooding.  I had no idea the huge change we were in for.

I took pictures of the process, and it’s not much to see but a lot of earth moving equipment, large pipes, and a “cage” that strained the water and sand-from-elsewhere for large debris before it was tamped down.  The Army Corps of Engineers worked 24/7 for weeks to complete the project.  They were a nice bunch of people, very forthcoming with information, always said hello or waved as we went by.  (Perhaps they knew that not everyone was happy that the excavator was shaking peoples homes in the middle of the night.)  20170513_040738.jpg

A few days ago I wandered out and the beach had a strange smell, a chemical smell, very faint, one that I could not identify but it sure wasn’t the scent of organic matter drying in the sun as we are used to.  This is a rock I found in situ. Not very exciting, but I thought it looked cool as hell in the newborn (and strange-smelling) mud of this beach.20170518_093212

I found this guy and tossed him back out into the ocean.20170518_093330

This morning I got up after sunrise and walked down to the beach. All the pipes and equipment is gone. All that remains are a few excavator tracks, and the youngsters footsteps as they partied late into the night.   It looks nothing like the way I found it on my first afternoon as the new kid on the Spit.  I’m so glad I took pictures and video to record those gentle dunes carved by time.

The sandbars are gone. Those were happy havens for mothers who wanted to share a beach day with their toddlers:  The sand was a perfect toy in just the right depth of water.  Seagulls and flounder hunted and left their delicate tracks. Sea skates got stranded there.  I wrote precious words on those damp lands at low tide. My feet tracked in stubborn bits of clam shell the size of a pencil point that stuck to my toes.  The water made music as it trickled in and converged between the breakwaters, rock “hedges” that were meant to keep out the most fearsome waves.  The beach is wet cappuccino now.  The weathered ivory sand grains and tiny pebbles destined to become grains are covered in a damp silt now. The neighbors seem to love that it feels smoother to walk on.  I hear that it will bleach under the sun and we’ll like it even more.  That remains to be seen.  The waterline is 100 extra feet away but that’s not what I’m thinking about today.

Capture the details. Memorize the curves, the scent, the grit between your toes because tomorrow it will look like cappuccino mud.   Yeah, the birds will eat and the dolphins will come back eventually. The incoming tide will make a new kind of music.   The sandbars might return with the next hurricane, who knows?  It’s all just proof that few things will be right there where you left it, and to treasure the time that is given.

ID Please.

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I heard about a high-school girl who will not be allowed to attend her prom and got kicked off her athletic teams because she refuses to cut off her braid extensions.  They’re nice, neat braids that no one would give a second thought to if you saw her at the mall, but the school says her hair is in dress code violation, as would be wearing nail polish.   I reached out on twitter to offer support for the young lady, and to agree it sure looked like discrimination. Another twitter person promptly told me that white women got no skin in this game, we’re not allowed to say what’s discriminatory against blacks. Only black people can do that. Well. That sure gave me something to think about. Maybe that’s true, but I think what she really wanted was to shut down my white voice on a black situation.

Well hey, I guess that takes me off the hook now!  I don’t have to think or say or do anything for anybody–EVER– unless it relates to being a white female, gravid-1.  All right!  Think of all the conversations I will never have to participate in because I can’t relate to the others. All the books and music I won’t have to listen to or read because they weren’t written by white females who have birthed at least once.  Rock-n-roll!

I’ll never have to be concerned with or feel the need to learn more about or certainly not develop an opinion and take a stand for men’s issues, criminal justice, female genital mutilation, holocaust denial, bullfighting, white nationalism, poverty, homelessness, discrimination, police brutality, drug addiction.  Nope, never happened to me, can’t be part of the conversation, and certainly in no place to level an opinion.

You know what?  Fuck you. I will speak when and where I please, and if it pisses you off that I’m speaking to a subject I can’t possibly relate to because my ancestors were the slaveholders instead of the enslaved, or that I can’t possibly speak against animal cruelty because it’s not my culture, or FGM because that’s not my culture either,  if I can’t speak up for people (ALL people) when they’re being discriminated against, abused, and overlooked because of my age, sex, skin color, or creed,  then I got no time for you. Can you imagine me saying, “Sorry Mr. Castillo, your death is a black, male, registered gun owner problem, it would be inappropriate for me to have an opinion about it or stand up for human rights. C-ya.”

Last I looked we were all Americans, and we need to talk to each other and HEAR each other now more than ever.  Keep turning away voices that want to lend support, you’re gonna find yourselves alone. The civil wars will return and this time it’ll be men v women, race v race, religious v non.  What a heartbreaking scenario. The poison will overtake the body with such stealth that everyone will wonder how it happened at all.

addendum: I’ve never been a fan of dress codes because I hated wearing my school uniform.  I know the codes are in place to help “prevent” bullying, gang identity, and so forth, but not letting a girl wear her hair in braids just crosses a public school line for me.  

 

I Belong To Me (While Spite Laughs in the Background)

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I pledge allegiance to

Not You.

I will not kneel.  I will not bow. Kiss the tip of your sword, your robe, or your ring and swear fealty.

Imagine the day that I did not murder my neighbor, refused to sacrifice her exalted body on the altar to feed the god with her hot, muscular heart… but the sun rose still, my hands clean.  Again. And again.

Imagine the day that I did not offer the best of my wheat, meat, and wine to the god in his tent so he would overlook my sins because my children were hungry and needed every piece of that lamb to survive the winter? The sin is to let my children starve, buddy.

Imagine the day that I took my worship away from you. I suppose I should confess it was because you are no longer the salt of my pleasure but salt in the wound. It burned, then cleansed, and helped me see that our gods dissolve and cloud the water.  I cannot drink that water for it would kill me. I still need you, but I no longer worship you.

And the sun rose still.  Again. And again.

Aweigh

Every time I want to speak or type a reply, lately, I close my lips and let the moment pass.  I am delving deeper into silence, and my instinct tells me I am right.

I am right, and see these anchors, now lilliputian.

Sitting still. Still sitting. Silent, or speaking softly only words that matter.  Reading words that matter.  Writing words that matter.

All the rest I keep for myself.  And I am right.

May 4 Dream

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She was walking alone, but perhaps not a long way. She was dressed in a sari, her long hair lightly covered, her sari the color of poppies.  There is nothing in the dream but her, walking.  She stops walking and she knows at last it is time.  She lies down and leans up against something, but I do not know what, it’s not shown in the dream. I only see this woman in poppy red, reclining, her knees are up and she is ready to give birth now.  The rest happens so quickly and silently.  They all spill out of her body, five small babies and so much blood pours out of her onto the ground like fish falling from the fisherman’s net onto the deck,  but they are all dead.

The dream changes dramatically. This is black ink on white paper, she is artistically rendered into a soft, curving line drawing. The woman opens her sari, her abdomen is one wide open womb, and she gathers all five of the babies into her arms and pulls them back into her body. She closes her legs, straightens her sari. She reclines on the ground on her right side, closes her eyes, and she smiles the most peaceful sleeping smile.

She smiles. It was the only expression she ever showed throughout the entire dream.

This was a tough one for me to write, and I’m not sure why.

Lightning Pounds Willoughby

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Weather and I have had a contentious relationship since I was a kid ranging from Godzilla/Tornado nightmares brought on by the usual suspects to blizzards that ruined birthdays and snowstorms that activated my asthma. I had a thunderstorm phobia for a very long time, but it lessened after I had been outside in them, my tender parts exposed to lash of the lightning, deafening thunder, but … it didn’t kill me.  It was time to let go of the terror.

I remember Mom Mom showing me the dryer lid, cratered and black like the mare of the moon, courtesy of ball lightning.  I remember one vicious storm when my son was a baby, still bottle feeding, its intensity was singular.  I sat in the middle of the living room, holding him, watching the lightning blind the world. One stroke was so bright and powerful I thought for sure it hit a tree outside, but no. Everything was okay. I recall a thunderstorm in Tennessee whose presence could only be the Stone Giants from Tolkiens’ Hobbit. There could be no other explanation for the gashing and cracking that would surely send our cabin into the ravine.

Living here on the Chesapeake bay I have learned that there are no buffers between us and the weather. No big buildings, no hills, trees or mountains to buffer the fury of the lightning and accompanying thunder. There were only a couple of mouthy lightning storms last year, so I learned how to deal with it: sleep on the couch with a light on.   Yesterday I heard we were going to get some rain around 4AM, okay, no biggie, but there was no severe weather predicted.   Right around 5:30 a thunderstorm rolled in. I could hear it through all the windows I keep open now that the temperature is mild. I watched the sky flash with heat lightning and didn’t think much of it, heard a thunder rumble, but I got up, got dressed, and went outside to survey anyway.  And then the real shit started.

I sat at the table near my windows and watched the lightning vary from silent flashing somersaults, cloud bling, to a little more aggressive light and a thunder reply.  Then the lightning decided to take victims, spears of anger, random, or not random, striking or not striking but blinding and angry nonetheless.  Thunder, lightning’s handmaid, tore everything, followed instantly or sometimes with a respectful pause. (No one steals lightning’s thunder, are you kidding?)  I stood in my bedroom doorway and watched the lightning seek ground for victims, all our ears in these buildings alert, at attention, and changing our morning routines because no one can sleep through this.  The wind became strong and the rain followed, but this is nothing.  This activity was more dangerous than a hurricane, and I managed through a hurricane which is a lot of heavy wind and drenching rain, but not lightning that’s stalking blinded, deafened victims.  I stood in a doorway away from the windows, phone in my pocket, because this was a fight club like I’d never seen before, and even my neighbors who’ve lived  here a decade said the same:  Sounds like somebody’s bombing the naval base.  I made my peace with god because I felt like this one was going to tear off the top of us, and that is saying something.  The storm was a procession of M80s in front of of us, on top of us, behind us, unannounced, blinding, and paving the way for a ripping thunder that claws its way from sky down below the foundations of this building, the floor shaking beneath my feet.  And it takes so long for the worst to pass.  One last grenade and it’s done. Wasn’t it? Then the birds started to tweet, the usual suspects at this half-dark time of morning, giving absolutely no f*cks that their tree was on the death star radar. Yeah.  Figures.  One last M80, like a final eff-you to the area, and all that was left was rain.

Movies, Journeys, And A Lump Of Coal

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And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. — Nietzsche

I saw my share of scary movies back in the day, but there were a limited few I refused to watch on principle. I believed some were touched by true evil, that if I looked into their celluloid eyes, the evil would surely look back into me and open me up to who knows what.  Superstitious tosh, you might say, certain and strong when the lights come on.  I guess my tender spirit just needed extra time to grow thick, comfortable, and confident enough to say “I got this.”  It must have, for I recently said to myself, “Come on now. Be a grown-up and watch the damned movies, they’re just movies for pete’s sake!” So I did.  I knew everything about them, alpha to omega and the minutiae in between, but never saw their scenes unspool in a dark, silent, living room.

“Rosemary’s Baby” turns out to be very good. It holds up for me as a “modern” viewer through a slightly-educated feminist filter.  In some ways, Rosemary had it all. (My friend suggests she was a fairy-tale princess.) She had a thoughtful, playful, loving husband, a fancy apartment, and the promise of starting a little family, all while getting to stay home and chat with the neighbors. What woman could want more? But from the moment she chose to take the step into motherhood it went from being a horror movie to watching a woman violated, stripped of personhood, all control taken away, from what to eat, what to wear, what to drink, what doctor to see, what not to read, not to think too much or worry, to disregard her instincts, and criticizing her dramatic haircut.  But she held on, she fought the gaslighting, fought for control of her body, her pregnancy, and her sanity right up until the end. I ask now what is more important? Having a quiet, happy, carefree life or being in charge of your body, en totale? Why not both?

“The Exorcist” was not as good as “Rosemary’s Baby.” After watching it in a silent, dark apartment with a taste of apprehension, I felt like I was missing something. Where was the horror? I guess I’ve seen “Constantine” so many times that my superstitious edges are dull. The story brought me a strong, successful, independent woman (Chris) struggling with her daughter’s failing health. Chris had it all: homes, fame, parties, friends, and a daughter she loved to the moon and back. What more could a woman want? But everything she earned was taken away when every man she encountered (doctors, priests, and the handyman) basically told her, “You don’t know what you’re seeing, what you’re hearing, and you don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re a hysterical woman that just needs to calm down.” She gave a simple order to her maintenance man: put rat traps in the attic. “There’s no rats up there,” he said. His statement implied that since he didn’t hear rats there aren’t any, so he’s not going to do what she asked.  I was furious! These movies were less about horror than about women having their voice, their personhood, beliefs, rights and authority taken away. And here’s a petty but fair question: Does anyone remember the name of the lady scientists in Jurassic Park?

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.  — Nietzsche

Taking a journey means every now and then you have to lift your head up and look back to see where you began.  With hard work and some luck, there will be some good distance between those points. I look back at my teenage and young adult years to recall the injustices and inequality I saw everywhere, the anger that rose up in me. I remember Thomas Covenant raping Lena at the start of a very famous fantasy series. (I tossed the books and refused to finish them.) Watching my parents fight, powerless to stop mom’s tears.  Radio DJs mocking Nicole Simpson’s 911 call with a Guns ‘N Roses song. (And what about that Guns ‘N Roses album cover.)  Reading about female genital mutilation. The years of being bullied at school. I built some tough walls for self-protection, found some good ways to channel my anger, but I never learned how to cope with the soft parts, the crying parts, the wounded woman parts. The parts that are waking up and shaking me while I watch old, scary movies.

Looking back for me is like looking through a spyglass, sometimes distant and blurry, sometimes sharp and in focus. Sadly in focus, for the anger, the outrage is still here, and the distance between my journey points aren’t as far apart as I’d hoped. I acknowledge that anger will always be with me because I am human, but I have chosen to use what I’m learning to make things better for young women as my goal instead of wanting to kill, vigilante-style, the perps who had it coming.

And that is the danger of looking into my abyss, to allow it to open so that I may see the softest, most broken, sad, angry, fearful parts while watching a movie, re-reading “The Handmaid’s Tale” or essays by Rebecca Solnit. The real evil I should be on guard against is the anger that rises up when I think of women silenced and their rights taken away, or the smaller indignities like getting patted on the head or being told to smile. It is anger that stitches closed the arteries that should be feeding my womanhood. Kindness, forgiveness, and peace choked off instead of flowing out into the world.  It would be so easy for me to fall into that abyss, close it off, and never give you a kind word or a smile again. (You had your chance, world, now piss off!) Or…I could put my anger into that shiny piece of coal I found on the beach, as often as I need. It will be a safe place to acknowledge that my dark feelings exist and will always be with me, but they’re quite small and manageable sitting on the windowsill.  I named that piece of coal Fury, and we are partners, now, in the next act of this woman’s journey.