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Thursday, March 25, 2010

This I Believe #9

Please post your "This I Believe" essay by noon on Friday, March 26.

9 comments:

  1. I am sitting on a plane praying to Archangel Michael for protection. The flight attendant's cheery recommendation “to tighten our seat belts if we haven't already done so” has failed to reassure me...
    Up and Down, Dips to the Left and Right, a real-life foreshadowing of the next week of my life.

    My grandmother pulls up the curb looking exhausted and overwhelmed. My grandfather is not doing well, again. When I see him the next morning for the first time in a year I am shocked. His skin is pale and paper thin, he is bundled in his winter coat and still in his pajamas. Reclining in his chair he shivers uncontrollably beneath a fleece blanket. I have never seen someone so sick. The good news is that his cancer is gone. The bad news is that the biopsy that proved this has infected his lung, giving him pneumonia.

    I leave, alone, to do the family trek around Jersey. Two days later I return.

    I do not see the sick man who lies in bed upstairs. I distract my grandmother and try not to cry as tears drip down her cheeks.

    I continue the family trek up to an aunt in Boston, this time with my cousin Corey in tow. The hostility is overwhelming. I try to answer questions that target my parent's relationship and my own major/career path. I try not to cringe as the words, “I wish I had never had kids” are repeatedly stated in front of my young cousins. As I sip my wine I find that I am actually relieved. The negative energy surrounding my aunt is no longer turned inward. Instead it is being released. I accept my temporary role as its target.

    Two days later I head back to Jersey, this time alone. I stop at my Aunt Doreen's. My Grandmother is also there, having decided my Grandfather has improved enough for her to leave for one night. We sit in the kitchen with another cousin. Drinking wine, we talk and share family stories. We read angel cards and after dark sit around a fire outside. For the first time all break I relax. In a place I have never lived, I am happy to be home. I do not regret one minute of my break.

    I believe in family.

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  2. Pink Glitter
    Katelynn Austin
    I believe in the existence of a world of judged deceit. It comes at the audience all at once going virtually unnoticed except for its glory every four years. Perhaps it is the glittering leotards or the inability to see past what the television screen displays. The world is put under a magical trance of grace, strength, discipline, and beauty as they watch gymnastics.
    I entered this world as a favor for my mother’s friend who had signed up her daughter in the next town over just for summer recreation. She needed help driving and convinced my mother it was the perfect way for me to provide an outlet for “a girl with too much spirit.” Mom agreed seeing it as the equivalent to swimming lessons Fearless and thriving on any challenge I quickly progressed through the levels. One summer turned into a year that turned into advanced classes which turned into more advanced classes which turned into an obsession and a lifestyle only understood by the few insiders that protect as their own secret society. The world is deceived by an entire culture that cannot be encompassed by the flashing of a score between one and ten.
    I entered the competitive circuit young and was even accepted into the inner circles of Russian gymnastics. It was strictly business. Spending two summers away after much pleading, I would make the trip to train in Houston, Texas under their watchful eyes. It was not unusual for us to work out up to forty-nine hours a week. Out on the floor, the seventeen-year-olds were indistinguishable from the ten-year-olds, bodies that had been stunted by constant impact and vertebrae tissue compacted as tightly as each muscle in their bodies. Splits were held for hours, conditioning was never ending, and my blood was smeared into the wooden bars and beam. Failure was not tolerated but the ripping open of the palms of our hands, the bruises covering our skin under a layer a white chalk, and the cries of girls who just couldn’t take it were. I couldn’t be broken. I was one of the chosen ones. I thrived on the abuse and the thought that every time I walked into the gym, a slip, a bobble, or a lapse in concentration could end everything. Still the smiles, a pony-tail, and glittery leotards.
    I loved it, every minute. At the age of fourteen I understood an abusive relationship and I protected it with everything I had. I became a monster, a monster of grace, strength, and discipline. I had deceived everyone and myself. Who was this machine and what happened to Katelynn? It would take years to get her back, the girl who danced so freely and grew up in the fields, sitting on a front porch listening to a fiddle and banjo, carelessly playing dress-up in the woods, working the land, hunting and flyfishing, and feasting on Southern comfort, freedom, and love. Emotionally, mentally, and psychologically unstable, my coach walked out before a major competition. The keys to my past and my future were handed to me, with the echoing footsteps and sound of an engine leaving me with nothing. I ended the pledge to a secret society and made one to myself: I no longer had to believe in perfection but only in myself, my roots, my family, and my heart. I believe that it takes very little to deceive the world, but not me.

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  3. “Can you bring down my horse?”

    A question repeated three times gets answered just as many with the same result.

    No

    No

    No

    “Please?”


    No.


    Short disappointed legs trudge slowly through the living room, determined to feel the calm of a horseback ride on a Sunday afternoon. Stairs stretch towards the sky, darkened by curtains. The climb is long, but the young adventurer goes forth with the fortitude of Sir Hillary. However, going up is the easy part. The summit is reached and an infant head turns to admire the view. One turn, one closet, and one horse retrieval later he is back at the top of the mountain preparing for his descent.

    This would be the turning point. No one would expect what is about to happen to be done, especially by a child whose arms are as thin as pencils, and who can’t quite see over the bank counter. They doubted him. Didn’t have time to help his cause, and now he is about to show them why he was named for a man who would be killed for what he wanted.
    He mounts his trusty steed, says farewell to the curtain-blocked sky, and being checking over his meager will in his head.

    1. Horse goes to nobody, he is to be buried with the rider in the event of his demise.
    2. Crayons go to J.P. Stovall. He can be found across the street, most likely in his basement playing with Legos.
    3. In fact, go ahead and give him the Legos too.

    Three pats on the head of the horse for luck.

    1. 2. 3.


    Bump. Bump. Bump. Bump. Bump.BumpumpBumpumBpmpmpmpBumBAM.

    “Holy shit, was that Paul?”

    And there he sat, rocking on a Sunday afternoon.

    Yes Mom, yes it was.

    I believe in independence.

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  4. I wake up to the sound of voices, faint yet clearly menacing by the tone of the incomprehensible words. They grow louder and clearer as I come to. They are speaking about death, a need to kill to be precise. These voices are speaking to me, making suggestions about effective ways to “deal” with misbehaved pets, complaining about the smell and the noise. The aggressor is gravelly and demonic, and I immediately identify this as the voice of Satan, seeming to emanate from the washing machine in the laundry room connected to my bedroom.
    The cats chase one another violently around the room, jumping from rabbit cage to dresser to computer desk—their behavior startles the bunny and she stomps nervously about her cage. The other voice seems to come from above—the attic. There is no God to counteract the Devil in the dark recesses of my laundry room; there is no God in this dark place. No windows in my room. No light save for the bloody red numbers of the digital clock face, an angry 7am reminds me that I am already alone for the day.
    I lay paralyzed in my bed, anxious and uncertain. My lamp is close, but not close enough as a new round of commands emanates from those voices. A cat runs across my chest, and I begin panic. I know I will be safe if I can turn on the light. Light is a safe haven and I struggle to move. I hesitate and turn my head gazing into the even darker offshoot of my bedroom, hoping the blackness conceals anything I’d rather not see. I come out of it just enough to switch on the lamp; the voices grow fainter and as I regain my senses I wonder what has just happened. In a moment I will be completely recovered. I try to stay awake, but medication pulls me back into the abyss.
    My sleep is fitful and I tune in and out. Dali-esque dreams of melting landscapes and surreal creatures taunt me now and all the hostility of the disembodied voices has vanished.
    My childhood was plagued by waking dreams which later came to be called sleep paralysis. For me, certain precursors trigger the content of such dreams—a zombie movie, a rough day at school, sickness, loss. The dreams had stopped for several years following my transition into college but now they are occurring again with even greater frequency thanks to a medication for the treatment of neuropathic pain. The medication also makes it harder to snap out of the waking dream state and back into reality, making the paralysis that much more terrifying. I am always sleepy, but growing more and more nervous about sleep.
    I believe in the horrors of a medicated dream state.

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  5. One-story homes capped with tri-tab black asphalt shingles press tight against the tracks. Ringed with chain link and dripping with Christmas décor days before thanksgiving, the homes hide behind pickup trucks and panel vans stored on the street. This is Kenwick.*

    Kenwick Elementary opened in 1909, guided
    by Julia Rice Ewan. Thirty-nine years the
    principle, Ewan founded a free-meal program
    for poor children and established a
    community garden at the school. Today,
    seventeen percent of Kenwick residents hold
    college degrees. The city-wide percentage
    is thirty-five. Julia Rice Ewan Elementary
    is a hollow shell, gutted of children.

    Two-story homes with cultured blue-slate roofs advance on Ashland—once the home of Henry Clay, famed for bringing Gingko trees to Lexington. Ringed with chemically enriched lawns and blooms refreshed weeks before wilting, the homes—air-tight with three-pane glass—sport lawn signs advertising renovationists working inside. This is Kenwick, the first block.

    Paper-thin slices of cucumber, garnished
    with fresh dill, are served on home-made
    rye in houses run by liberated single
    women: a quarter of Kenwick. One-third of
    them are single mothers more familiar with
    peanut butter than tea parties.

    Bungalows fade into balloon construction. Gables punch windows into half stories atop firsts. Gardens crop up with fruit trees and porch swings. Morning doors spill runners and dog-walkers onto a street removed from front porches: pulled back to let the sun in. Kenwick, too, this is the second block, or, depending on your disposition, the democratic block. Neither a barrier nor a suture, it sits between two worlds that never meet.

    Historically rich, this established
    community has over nine-hundred homes:
    only eighteen built since 1960. The same
    number of homes, eighteen, are owned by
    African-Americans.

    Somewhere between blue-slate and chain link lives Connor: hair draping his face and falling onto a polyester shirt. Moving with grace and the silence of stones below a buffalo jump**, Connor plays a drumset. His music is the soundtrack for a block that grows tomatoes: perfect for serving with cucumbers or slicing and eating off paper towels with peanut butter and jelly.

    I believe in life lived consciously on the margins, and I believe in tomatoes.


    footnotes:
    *. The first-block of Kenwick is always referred to as such. The second only sometimes. No one ever says that they live in the third block of Kenwick. They simply say Kenwick. This paragraph describes the third block.
    **. A buffalo jump is a cliff formation which North American Indians historically used in mass killings of plains bison. Hunters herded the bison and drove them over the cliff.

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  6. We heed to the cautions of our 75-year-old neighbor two doors down. “You look like white trash,” she says, nodding at our Christmas lights still strung two weeks after our first Christmas here. We remove tiny bulbs sparkling at each corner of our house when she offers to do so herself.

    Across the tracks rusted cars sag into front yards. One time I counted six at the white house on the corner. I hear the number goes up to seven when the cousins move in.

    On this side mothers push infants in double strollers: nuclear families that mirror the national average. Larger families travel in minivans, equipped to absorb shocks, bumps, and jerks. When they need to move on, they hire two men and a truck.

    Across the tracks Mexican girls chase unruly cats in crawl spaces. “Have you seen my pussy?” the girls ask. Seeing my shock, they decide I can’t help them and dart away.

    On this side college professors split wood for fireplaces that set the stage. After Navajo stew, we talk about Coetzee’s Disgrace. Some believe its allegorical approach ties too many loose ends and smothers the narrative. I serve tiramisu.

    Over the tracks the girls swap stories about a grandfather who disappeared at night, an uncle who lost his way crossing over, the cousins who wait tables in San Francisco. Some suspect the girls’ father might be illegal, but they know to mind their own messy business.

    On this side of the tracks I believe in diversity. I believe in peeling paint, wild cats, and cars that melt into front yards. I believe in dreams that grow against odds. And I serve dessert.

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  7. When I come home from school, my dad will make excuses to come into my room. He’ll enter with a question, but end up walking around the space as a new creation. He has been there hundreds of times, but he touches the pictures, finds a new piece of literature, an activist sticker, asks me about my day. Often I’m reading on my bed, cocooned in the privacy of home. I hate my short, quiet answers. Thief, I steal whatever his hope happens to be. Perhaps for us to be closer, perhaps all he needs to know is that I am still happy, still safe, still motivated. That I am still his daughter, that I haven’t lost my pigment.

    His hands have lost pigment with age, a condition that creates blooms of white along the ridge of his knuckles, a watercolor he forgot to wipe off. We share the same creased fingers, using them to mark the length of trail for hiking. For two years we lived in Maryville, Tennessee. My dad took us camping whenever he had the weekend off, and at eight, I promised that one day we would hike the Appalachian Trail together, a dream we discussed even after I began choosing friends over the forest. He woke up earliest on our trips to start a fire and pour hot water into porridge, washing the cups with sand. He made us bundle up for day in layers - he believed in warm, simple clothes, material that lasted. The only company he approves purchases from is Patagonia.

    I sat beside him on the porch, wrapped in his blue Patagonia vest. At our lighthouse, my cousin and I slept on the slope of lawn leading to slabs of rock to hear water splashing and see only stars. In the middle of the night, my dad rustled the tent, whispering to watch the Northern Lights. He explained the electric cold while curtains rippled mystery of green gold purple against black sky; his waves of wonder. In summers, my dad and I would lay our sleeping bags below the fog of mosquito hum and watch the pure light of Milky Way between the north channel’s unpopulated islands. He taught me constellations and we woke up covered in dew. He taught me to paddle a canoe in silence so the loons would not be disturbed, he showed me poison ivy and the tracks of deer. He let us cover leeches in salt and feed a frog to a snake and held me afterwards when I cried. He liked to share meals on the long table with his family and wrote in medical script in our Log Book before we left.

    My dad and I left for a road trip my senior year. He drove me to over eight different colleges, from Florida to Wisconsin, knowing only one could be home. The pride he has in our accomplishments overshadows our mistakes. In offering more freedom than my mother, he allows me to find the balance between my youth and adulthood. Eventually, he thinks, my good intentions will prevail over temptation. To keep me, he helps to free me.

    I believe I am still my father’s daughter.

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  8. It was summer and we were growing weary of playing in the hot tent we had set up in the yard the previous night. Luckily, my cunning older sister was already conjuring the next activity. Little did I know that it would be at my expense.
    “Casey you should get naked. I’ll walk in front of you…no one will even see.”
    With six years of life-experience under my belt I thoroughly questioned her motives, until she assured me that she meant no harm. With persistent persuasion and the rising sun pouring heat into the tent, it took all of 50 seconds to coax six-year-old Casey into stripping down and stepping out of the tent.
    “You promise no one will see?” I asked innocently.
    “I’ll walk in front of you the whole time” she replied.
    All was going smoothly as we walked down our long driveway towards that backyard and fort. About halfway down the driveway, however, Whitney leaped aside, baring me to the world and yelled to our new next-door neighbor:
    “Hey mister, look.”
    She fled, and I, not knowing what to do with my naked self, simply turned and sat facing away from the neighbor, leaving no private parts to be seen butt my little baby butt crack.

    I believe in the influence older siblings have, good or bad.

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  9. This I Believe; Turpentine and Burnt Hair

    These days I often find myself in a sour mood. I don’t feel right, or good about life. Everything is irritating and I have a scornful remark ready to throw at any little thing, exploding in my mind like a little grenade in a foxhole. The source of my stagnation may be born from the stress of my daily life, not knowing if I’ll be able to meet the demands of engagements I’ve made with others. Perhaps it comes from a transcendent understanding of my place in existence, a sort of Heideggerian anxiety about the illusions of the world.

    Such an occasion occur a few weeks ago. I was grinding my teeth especially hard, the sky was dull, and my feet felt magnetized to an iron-coated world, making every step a burden. With all the responsibilities on my plate, I had to endure the pressure to keep up, so I went on with my daily tasks, which included soaking myself in turpentine while working on a painting and tending a kiln outside the ceramics studio.

    Working with Zoe, I was able to learn how to operate the kilns, and while we were checking in on my sculpture, I leaned in toward a hole on the side to peer into the kiln. Not thinking about the 1300 degree air licking the outside of the bricks, I caught my hair caught on fire.

    It was quick, and only burned a little from the front. Everything happened so fast, I didn’t know anything had happened at all, until Zoe noticed. Being is such a bad mood before, it seems strange that this didn’t precipitate some kind of anger, but for some reason, it lifted the dark clouds that rained on me. I felt somewhat euphoric, perhaps humbled by the humility of embarrassment. The rest of my week was quite pleasant and of lighter mood.

    I believe the small things in life make all the difference.

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