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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

This I Believe #4

Assignment: Post your fourth This I Believe Essay. Due by noon on Friday.

12 comments:

  1. Age 7, I tell my mom the only activity I’ll participate in is figure skating. My plan back fires. Even though it’s California and it’s hot, she finds a rink.

    Age 8, I slice my leg figure skating and finally switch to what I really love: swimming.

    Ages 9-10, I spend these years learning the ins and outs of competitive swimming. I am way behind my peers. I learn to flip, to dive, and to relay. My body begins adapting to the strokes. Swimming starts to feel more natural than walking.

    Age 11, My family moves to Washington State right as I am about to level up. I join a new team. It is a 30 60 minute round trip commute to and from the pool. I spend more time alone with my mom than any other point of my life. We bond and for the first and last time ever I learn the words to all the popular songs on the radio.

    Age12-13, I begin to train as a distance swimmer. First I tackle the 500 yard freestyle.

    Age 14, My family moves to Kentucky. I join the first and last top notch swim team I’ll ever be a part of: The Clippers. I begin practicing four hours a day. Two hours before school and two hours after with hour long dry land practices twice a week. My mom is a saint for taking me to and from four a.m. practices three times a week.

    Age 15, I swim the mile for the first time. I love it. Sixty-six laps of pure joy. I push myself harder than ever at practice. Three weeks after I competitively swim the mile for the first time I am diagnosed with tendinitis in both shoulders. I cry harder than I have before or since. Eight months later I learn my first doctor was wrong and I have a tear in my rotator cuff. I cry some more. It takes another month to orchestrate the surgery. One year after the mile, I am still in physical therapy recovering.

    Age 16, I go to school, then walk to physical therapy, then go back to school for speech and debate team practice. I start to give up on swimming. I eat and refuse to exercise. I throw myself into speech practice and become a top rated debater and extemporaneous speaker. I try swimming club in the summer. It feels wrong. I quit.

    Age 17, I join the High School swim team. It feels wrong. I quit. I eat some more and go back to the speech and debate team.

    Age 18, I give up completely on swimming and eat. I graduate High School and go to college.

    Today, seven years after the tear I am still recovering emotionally and physically. I am finally able to begin working off the seventy pounds I gained from my tendency to emotionally eat and my stubbornness about participating in non-swimming activities. I am on a path towards recovery. No event in my few years was more devastating than that tear. I believe that I am on the upswing of my recovery. I believe the taking a year off will be good for this recovery and that eventually the water will feel more natural than walking again. I can hear the counts in my head and I am ready to do what it takes to get back in the pool again…. Stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe, stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe, stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe, stroke, flip, push, one, sixty five to go, stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe….

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  2. This I Believe; Food Analogies and Races

    I believe “…Life [is] like a box of chocolates.”

    Or perhaps it’s more like an ice cream cone. You’d better eat it up while you have it, or else it will drip away leaving you with nothing but a soggy, weak, and shapeless shell, to be discarded on the sidewalk and devoured greedily by animals just begging for the fat of the land to fall from some spoiled child’s fingers.

    We only have this life for so long and whether it’s our only shot or not shouldn’t matter. Waste not, want not. A penny saved is a penny earned. Eat your ice cream, or else you will only have dreams to feed you. Do you want to endlessly tumble down rabbit holes after dreams? A dream is not reality, but something far sweeter than your ice cream-life. A dream can make the ground solid when nothing else seems right. But a dream will not keep you cold when it counts, Alice.

    We are all on the same roundabout path, living, winning, losing, and dying. Whether the rabbit or the greyhound, the end of the line is always the same and the only ones on top are the bookies. But a bookie doesn’t dream. A bookie knows, counts, gives and takes. A bookie never wants for ice cream, but a bookie can never rest easily because a bookie always deals with the greedy. To be greedy is to want more and it is the need to keep what you have. And a bookie has much ice cream, while the poor man does not. All the poor man has are his dreams. With or without ice cream, that’s something you can’t take away.

    I believe dreams are wealth.

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  3. I believe in the devastation guilt has caused in my mother’s life, and it pains me every time I see this guilt surface. My mother is a good person. She loves her family and does more for us than we often deserve. She is funny and awkward and sometimes a pervert. She and I often joke about things that I would rather not discuss in class, and often have a good laugh at my dad and brother’s expense. The older I become, the more she becomes my best friend. This has not always been true for us, and a lot of that past animosity stems from my mother’s guilt.
    When mom was seventeen, she dropped out of high school and went to work with her dad as a professional painter. Together, they painted homes and apartment complexes. They were a father-daughter team. But one day my mom didn’t feel like going to work, so like the teenager she was, she played sick and her dad went to paint an apartment by himself. That day, he had a heart attack. He lay in that apartment all day until he died a slow suffering death. My mom had to handle the arrangements because my grandmother was too distraught to function. At some point, someone said to my mother that if someone—anyone—had been there to call for help; her dad would likely have lived. This effectively destroyed her, and at seventeen, my mom took on the responsibility of her father’s death and the guilt that has plagued her ever since.
    From the time of her father’s death until the death of her mother in 2008 (some 30 years later) there was not a single day that my mother did not see or speak to her mother. My entire childhood was composed of going to grandma’s to help her make lunch or after school visits. As my grandma’s health declined, the visits became more frequent and lasted longer. When my grandma had her first stroke in 1999, my mom moved into her apartment with her to care for her full time. This was very hard on my dad, brother, and myself. Mom had two families at this point, and she was the primary caregiver of both. As a child, I did not know about my mother’s guilt—what had happened to her dad and how she blamed herself for his death. I loved my grandma very much, but I was also incredibly jealous because my mom’s fear of losing her mother kept her from having a life of her own. She missed a lot of important moments in mine and my brother’s lives as well. And now that my grandma is gone and I am old enough to understand, I feel my mother’s guilt. I feel guilt at the jealousy towards my grandma and the anger towards my mom. And I suffer knowing the pain inside my mother’s heart, wishing that things could have been different and better for her. And I worry that the guilt I now feel will destroy parts of my life, just as it destroyed hers.

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  4. This I Believe #4
    Paul Brown
    CETA

    I believe in revolving doors. I believe in keeping things moving, and helping each other along, and keeping the heat in. I believe in doing one quarter of the work between four people, one third between three, one half between two, and doing it all by your lonesome if nobody wants to go your way. If help’s there, I say ask for it. If help’s needed, I say give it.
    I believe in smiling at people you’ve seen for the first time and never expecting to see them again. I believe in awkward glances in response to that beam of light coming from between your lips. I believe in moments shared between complete strangers. I believe in eating in new places, and sneaking into bars, and petty thievery.
    I believe in being bad and doing good. I believe in mischief and childhood. I believe in smoking when you think it looks good, and drinking when you think it feels good, and dancing when you think it sounds good.
    I believe in growing up when it’s time. I believe in abandoning beliefs to discover why you believe them. I believe in testing yourself, and I believe in failing.
    I don’t believe in settling. I don’t believe in one night stands. I don’t believe in game shows, but I do believe in mortgages and house pets.
    I believe in wrinkles. I believe in ear hair. I believe on sitting on knees and being forced to kiss cheeks. I believe in sickness. I believe in regrets. I believe in Alzheimer’s and I believe in death, and the beds that house it.
    I believe in life cycles. I believe in discovery. I believe in uncertainty, and circles, and futures, and pasts. I believe in experiences. I believe in revolving doors.

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  5. I believe in the
    _______________tick
    _______tick
    tick
    of a metronome.


    Consistent,
    predictable,
    reliably
    the same
    time after time.
    _______tick.
    Communicating: guiding
    horse hair over taught sheep intestine.
    _______tick.
    Comfortably wound tight
    with a music-box turnkey
    unwinding,
    again.
    _______tick.
    Shark bites,
    freezing rain,
    small children,
    stuck drains, and
    curiosity twisting a screwdriver.
    _______tick.
    Warrantees voided.


    Set aside mid-repair, cherished possessions collect dust and disdain, while eyes weakened from looking within too long lose track of the slightest parts.


    Phantom memories
    of a driving rhythm
    _______(tick)
    embolden anxious
    fingers numbed
    by the pressure of silence.


    I believe in removing covers, peeling warning stickers away, and pulling out deeply recessed screws to reveal the workings within. Hands too thick to paint fingers of children are aided by patience, tweezers, and magnets.
    _______tick.


    I believe in fixing
    things
    broken,
    before they become hazardous.
    _______tick.


    I believe in keeping time.

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  6. When I was seventeen my mother took my face in her hands, both cheeks and wet hair under her palms, while I sat cross-legged on the kitchen counter. She told me I looked different. The night before had been my first. I could not tell her, but I said her dress was pretty and I went to my room to watch the mirror. She knew what I did not understand. How you change, the ways people alter, a connection symbolizing birth, symbolizing our future our world, entirety.

    My mother understands. She tells me about the red-haired boy she was engaged to in college. Once, when he was too young to remember, my little brother talked about his red-haired father. When he was angry at my parents, his red-haired father took him to the zoo, they played in parks and on top of buildings. I laughed, but I imagine my mother's eyes grew large. The connection was real. I am sure in these moments she remembered his body next to hers, his smile sparked by her beauty, something only a pair can ever share. We are all filled with such tiny moments, sparks lighting each other in thin blue flames, cupped between two hands and blown out with the whispers of end. But the burn remains and I think forever there is a scar. I am still too naive to the idea that loyalties change.

    A friend told me that her church made her adolescence cut out a red, construction-paper heart. Each piece that she ripped off constituted each man she shared a bed with. Every time she lost a bit of her heart, a bit of herself. What would she give her husband, they asked, something torn? You'll be shriveled, bitter, an old maid.

    Sometimes when I feel breath in my ear, warm and close in the dark, I imagine this heart. In low moments I have doubts, but when I think about my mother, I know that we are not these cut-outs. As women, we share gifts. We are stubborn, academic, ambitious, open, and loving. Women are whole in other ways. Perhaps at times we give too much by receiving too little, but our spirits are circles. The heart is to share, but the essence is within and through this my mother taught me strength.

    When I was seventeen, perhaps my mother noticed a twitch in my left eye, a new freckle above my nose, a dimple that grew out of joy. But it was still my face. As women, we can suffer our hearts but we do not neglect the self. My mother cups my heart and heals it. We understand what is eternal. We believe in womanhood.

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  7. I imagine this their way to caress rose bushes exploding with late-summer blossoms without facing the questions of strangers: thick fingers hold slender handles besides painted lilies, daisies, and fern. Two fingers hold the sweet nothings of younger years when Remember Me and I Am Yours served as fine closing sentiments on delicate stationery. Two fingers raise a cup—Always Yours—of hot linden tea.

    I imagine sipping tea from such cups relieved secret desire for the necklaces, bracelets and ear-rings flaunted by their wives, daughters, and sisters. While women flashed, sparkled, and shimmered, the men brushed lips against the laced edges of glazed clay. They inhaled sweet vapors of hot rosemary tea—Think of Me. They remembered cravings never forgotten.

    I imagine them tickled by the thin ledges holding up their waxed hair: shivers of mirth sent down starched shirts and pressed trousers into black shoes used to hushed living rooms. I imagine laughter growing big on the inside, threatening to flood the routines of quiet afternoons, weeks, and lives passed gently.

    I imagine this the only time the men knew warm, waxed dye would not paint their chins with thick streaks of color. I imagine that, knowing this, they fingered the curves of the tea cups with soft care—Yours Forever—they had not felt in years.

    I would like to believe that as they faced one another over gilded porcelain rims, the men wondered why they had ever done anything besides sip tea out of cups made for them—Affections Offering—tickling and shining and sparkling in the glow of late afternoons.

    I believe in mustache cups.

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  10. I believe in trying to remember the little things in my life and others that make for a better day. The earliest I remember doing this was in high school. I like to listen to my friends and family partake in casual conversation and I take mental notes on things that they say. I believe that by doing this, you create a stronger bond with those you care about. Little things such as a favorite movie, a fun fact, a weird habit, a dream, a desire, anything. By remembering these little things, I feel closer and more connected with that person. I have learned that by remembering the little details about things, people are generally surprised and appreciative that you took that much interest in their life. I don’t mean this is a creepy way at all. Remembering these things come a second nature to me. I consider myself a listener and observer. I do not talk much about myself because I always much more interested in what others do and think. I believe that remembering the little things about people makes me realize how different each individual is. I have three sisters and we are all incredibly different. I used to think we were more similar then we actual are but by observing, we are quite different. I have discovered over the years of living, talking, and growing up with them that each of us has little things that make our own worlds turn. I believe this has strengthened our relationships throughout the years. I believe that by remembering the little things about each of them, I able to communicate better and build a stronger relationship with each of them.

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  11. This additional essay is in reponse to the general feeling I get from this set of writing:

    This I Believe; Hard Smiles

    I believe smiles are purgatory. Somewhere between the hell and the bliss that reality can offer, the moments between death and life, we smile. We smile to relieve ourselves of the burdens that come with depression and happiness. We smile to lie to others, cooling the heat from a rapturous sensation or to warm the chilly fingers crushing our hearts. The façade that is a smile is so complex with contradictions. When nervous, we smile. When angry, we smile. We smile for joy, hatred, pain, and pleasure. The truth of the self is concealed by the truth found in presentation. And so to smile captures us between whom we are and who we seem to be. It eases the mind to believe that our misery or our sinful happiness is kept inside and away from eyes that may judge so harshly, behind that awful smile.

    Such smiles bring no easy or comfort, save the honor of suffering alone. It affords us the power to purge our horrors or to ride our bliss to its conclusion without the judgment of others. In that solitude, purity can be found. It is the purity we receive as reward for our suffering. The purity of pink flesh under blistered skin, so tender, soft and alive a mere whisper of air can bring the agony that is the proof of our existence.

    To be alone so we can be with others; that is the power of the smile. That hard wall made from bricks of deception is all that keeps us sane. It’s all that keeps this world glued together.

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  12. The Lost and Found Orangecrate

    Katelynn E. Austin

    The Great Depression was a thief. The plantations and Southern farms of my roots dried up and soil once black with the promises of prosperity to the point that everyone knew money did not grow on trees but in the boll of a cotton plant, in the stalk of sugar cane, and in a single grain of rice. The air was filled with dust and the wind ran with the money. My family ran out of money, ran out of hope, and ran to California with nothing but an upholstery bag holding a bible, a photograph, and a few provisions. Pride did not make the journey out West, but grit did.
    Once in California, my newly-wedded great-grandparents worked the orange orchards. Home was a green tent with a shared cot. My grandmother Lucille, however, was a Southern lady of hospitality. As they made friends, a modge-podge of Italian and Chinese immigrants, hobos, outlaws, and orphans, she insisted on furniture. An orangecrate became the humble throne of hospitality, their only piece of furniture. It was a place of warm and late night conversations, a swapping of tall tales, and the boasting of recipes that once nourished families instead of lard and rotten soup kitchens. Eventually, enough was saved and the couple bought a small plot of land in Missouri to farm, so far away from everyone else in their families, but cheap is cheap. Grandpa built a cozy home, a family, and a farm that would thrive until the next round of tough times.
    As a small girl sipping lemonade with Grandma Lucille she told me of California always mentioning the people they met and how she had welcomed them with a warm heart and an orangecrate. I asked her why she didn’t bring it back. She told me she had but that it ended up getting lost along the way. I didn’t think much about it, just praised God the Italian woman’s ravioli recipe made it to Missouri and into the stomachs of the large Austin family each Christmas.
    Sometimes at night I dream of this orangecrate. I have no idea why, but I do. I hunt for it along a road I do not know stretching from California to Missouri. And in the day, I see that I am searching for it to. I search for it as I walk the halls of Forrer, meet homeless on the road, volunteer at a school, embroider a quilt, and look someone in the eye hopefully telling them they are loved, respected, and worthy. Every time I am able to offer hospitality, I take out a seemingly lost orangecrate and with it find community.

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