Journals

Leaving Home: The Art of Losing Oneself

Pulse. Pulse. Pulse.

One hundred glittered faces, two hundred clapping hands in a light-scattered ballroom.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

One hundred sleepless roommates, two hundred restless parents dwelling on their goodbyes to our raging dancers.

Beat. Beat. Beat.

One thousand. No, one thousand eight hundred souls have been ceremoniously but abruptly thrown into a swirling vat of heartbreak. The saddest part: none of them can know that what they feel is forgivable, identifiable, and undeniably alive in their immediate surroundings. For now, all they can hear is each other’s temporary muting devices: their excitement. The thundering, deafening pulse. Boom. Beat.

***

The caution I had taken just a year before at this dance was dramatically more present than the little-if-any nerves I had just a few days ago, at the same production. The committee for the freshmen’s celebratory week of arrival had decided on an eighties theme this year, and —delighted at the idea of bursting through the double doors as veterans, meeting the eyes of our newcomers looking both awesome and ridiculous — a group of friends and I had piled in the back of a Sion to the nearest thrift store to nab the most gaudy and obnoxious sweatsuits, blazers, and two-pieces. When we arrived, we made a point of strutting theatrically down the entry in our garb and posing for a picture or five, and no, we are not going to just “side-step” with you tonight, thank you. We would rather do the disco. Nothing held us back from embarrassing ourselves.

At one point, I had flowed into a group of friends that had broken from the masses for a cup of water and a plate of mixed fruit at the back of the room. Surrounded by the hot and sweaty, the fan hadn’t been proving itself to be much of a help. At only an hour in, our polyester windbreakers were tied limply around our waists. Laughing, brushing dampened hair from our foreheads. Smiling as we nibbled at a sugar cookie.

Pulse. Pulse. Pulse.

My group was returning to the clump, playfully scrambling and squeezing through a maze of dancers, yet found myself staying at its edge. The faces, the unfamiliar that were there. How could I have forgotten? It was just that afternoon that one of them had stopped me. I had handed her a box of tissues.

Beat. Beat. Beat.

“I haven’t been feeling myself, here, y’know?” She had said. “I miss home, like, more than everyone else does. I just feel like everyone is having fun but me.”

“That is because you are only seeing them at their best.”

“Hmm?”

 “I know how you feel, and I am so sorry you are sad. I’ve been there. Here’s what I’ve learned from it, though: I was seeing the others only when they had forgotten to miss home, when they were caught up in the excitement. I didn’t see them when they went back to their rooms and couldn’t sleep.”  

The tears had stopped, but her eyes were still reddened.

“Listen, I can bet you that they are missing their loved ones back home, too, just as you are. What you are feeling is totally understandable, and very OK to feel.”

I saw her thinking as she looked at me.

“But,” she said. “I still don’t feel like myself now.”

Boom. Boom. Boom.

Two hundred hands, ghost-like, thrown up to touch the spotlights as they played about the ceiling like comets. It was true, I remembered what that girl had felt, so vividly. Especially as I had stood at the back of the room, singular, observing like I had a only year before, noting how crazed we — then, “the human race,” but now I would say “we” — could allow ourselves to be when we momentarily berid of the past, and grasp nothing but the present (Dance with me, while I am not thinking of anything else but the Now. How peaceful it is, to be away from the silence!). If, I imagined, any of them had felt as melancholic as I had at this same dance one year ago, I could imagine this moment, as I watched it, to be almost spiritual.

A bold, resounding, harmonious piano intro cut through the crowd. People cheered, met each other’s eyes and gaped in exhilaration. 

“JUST A SMALLTOWN GIRL!” 

Of course, DJ. I wouldn’t have been able to help it, either.

“LIVING IN A LONELY WOOOOORLD!”

Others might have said that they wish they could’ve started it all over, that first year, and relaxed a little bit. Perhaps in some cases I would agree, but, I believe that my biggest problem was not simply  that I wasn’t comfortable, but I had faked that I actually was. How at ease my peers seemed. Spirited, outbursting, cool. No, if I could relive those first few weeks, I wish that I would to come to grips with the fact that my unease was not a rare, uncouth disorder, but instead omnipresent, and in need of mutual support for healing.

“STREETLIGHT, PEOPLE!”

“LIVING JUST TO FIND EMOTION!”

That time of my life felt so vast, unending. If only I would have known how at home, untouchable I would feel, after only months. I dove into the crowd, joining in with my friends once again. My shouting was likely damaging to my vocal chords, but in the moment I wasn’t caring.

“HIDING!”

“SOMEWHERE IN THE NIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGHT!”

Then the guitar solo that we — lost but unified — knew every note of.

Pulse. Boom. Beat.

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Journals

The Reveries that Gather Among Threads

Clothing carries memories. I toss them to the side, let their luscious fabric rumple on the carpet as I search for an appropriate self-image for dinner with coworkers. I am in an unfamiliar space now, with furnishings that I’ve only recently trimmed the tags off of. Because of these alien surroundings, it has once again become easy for me to forget my origins, but it is the worn — the skirts, dresses, zippers that unwillingly struggle upwards and past my shoulder blades — that pull me back to where I came from, with their frays, the change in their pockets, their wafting, leftover perfumes.

I gaze at my options. A black romper with crimson blossoms and a daring neckline remind me of my first walk down Austin’s Sixth Street, of eating by lamplight and looking out the window to be amazed by the rush of thrill-seeking eclectics. A swishy dress in Maya blue, brings me to the night when I was asked not what I planned to do with my life, but what I liked to do. A grey, wrinkled shift brings me back to a church service, sitting on a green pew that will forever feel like home. As I let another outfit fall to the ground from dissatisfaction, from behind my closet’s curtain, a denim blouse whispers to me that she was once a favorite. Tempted, I pull it over my freshly-showered head and am suddenly struck cold by my unforgiving, full-length mirror. The darkened splotch of tea at my ribcage. That was a bad night, I thought. Plus, it is too hot out for something so heavy. I grabbed it by its trim, pulled upwards, and let its remains float to the floor amongst the others.

As I looked down at my scattered options, I realized that each of them were worn at least once, for a summer outing with my parents at their favorite local seafood place down the street. I was flooded with warm visions of evergreen carpet and dark wood, of deep, elegant wines with cherry blossoms on their creamy labels, of a dimly lit booth near the bar. The wait staff was always fond of my parents, smiling comfortably with them and stopping by our table simply to share a story about their weekend, never bothering to give us a menu because they were aware that we knew it as well as they did. Rustic, nautical decorum, a wall of mirrors to reflect the firelight, a glass-full of chocolate mints by the door. The place was like the dining room of an old friend; that of a grandfather that I never had.

My family has always been enchanted by evenings out, my parents especially, when the both of them had finally arrived home from work or errands or dropping someone off at some sporting practice. We would dress up for such occasions, my stunning mother in her wedges, pounding down the hallway while my sister and I finished curling the last strands of our hair.  It was at that restaurant specifically, in those clothes, that I remember the most cherished conversations with my family: lighthearted jokes, embarrassments (both the shuttering and hilarious), and looming heartaches. I can hear our laughs muffle off the wallpaper; see the tears puddle on the mahogany tabletop. We cherished the presence of each other.

Yes, it is the older things that remind me of who I am, where I came from. There are too many variables at a university, new influences, that cause my unfocused, wandering mind to fall into an entirely different universe of self. This may be ideal for one who wishes to escape, but for me, whose mind escapes involuntarily, it can be a trial to work through. Although the world is vast, I must never allow it pull me from my roots, for after all it was they that grew me out of the muck and soil.

I settle on a sleeved day dress with grey and white stripes, which I wore the day my little brother asked me why I was looking so nice to buy groceries.

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Journals

The Monotonous Habit of Burying Talents in the Sand

I want to begin by noting just how risky this topic is for me to publish. As a current student in preparation of entering the field of healthcare, it is considered completely ridiculous, foolish, that I would choose such a profession and did not grow up with an absolute passion for anatomy. I was not the kid who sawed maliciously at frogs and cats, digging through their flesh with oddly gifted precision, scavenging the brain, eyeball — lens, even — and causing the instructor to become secretly disgusted and concerned for my psych. No, I was not that student at all, and to admit this, though they may have already caught on, will reward me with disproval from my fellow students and unconcern from my advisors. Let it be known that I find it remarkable, miraculous, to be aware of the mechanics of my own body as it beats, ticks, whirrs, but, honestly, my demeanor in high school consisted of nothing less than your everyday, preppy lover of the arts.

***

It was my seventeenth birthday. It must have fell on a Tuesday or Wednesday, because the memory brings tones of exhaustion and boredom; of snooze buttons, throwing on a polo before the sun arose and sitting uncomfortably in a desk that I was outgrowing. Disappointed I was, too, that a day that should have felt festive I perceived as being frustratingly ordinary. I had doodled and scribbled through a category of calculus with a nulling cloud of headache swirling above my eyebrows (Goodness, I used to be incredibly moody. I guess I still can be, but I think the introduction of regular caffeine has lessened that from my system.). God bless, however, because right afterward was English III.

Literature was like walking aimlessly in the relentless summer heat for hours and misstepping into a swimming pool; creamy, pristine, complete with other-worldly sun rays striking through its surface. The relief struck me fast as I floated into the dimly-lit classroom, slinking to my desk, melting into my chair. Our teacher, who sat peacefully at her desk, rustled through her papers. The desks were arranged as she liked them, around the perimeter of the room, facing the middle. There, she had arranged the quaint, tranquil scene that was the source of my dazing: a glowing candle and a porcelain vase full of silk, blue roses.

We were studying The Glass Menagerie at the time, which when reading I remember interpreting to be quite the casual play, but, that day the atmosphere it radiated was nothing less than mystifying elegance. As we read aloud, we solemnly passed a miniature, glass unicorn, each pausing to hold it cautiously by its torso. We would raise it to the mid-morning light as it broke within the figurine and scattered playfully about our desks. When it was my turn to momentarily care for it, I wondered at its mild little face, enchanted by its purity. It must have had a chipped hoof or tail, because I remember our teacher quietly complaining about a careless past student, although the imperfection caused me to adore the figurine even more (“How beautiful it is and how easily it can be broken.”). I wanted to hide it, to slip it into a pocket and drift away with it, allowing its magic to be alive and with me wherever I went, forever.

Of course, I did not steal the unicorn that, now that I am looking back, eventually became a bit pagan amongst the class, but I did leave the room feeling uplifted, refreshed, joyous. Being immersed in a story had always been something that gave my spirit a rest.

***

My first year studying the sciences found a way to tire me. After hours of lectures over aerobic respiration, the complexity of a plant’s stem, and the Origin of the Universe, I would stumble out of my five-hour General Chemistry lab for a direct path to my bed and air conditioning. Some weekends I would return to my hometown carrying a bit of a tense presence, causing those who knew me best to worry about me. However, though some may argue strongly otherwise, I refuse to believe that I was worn because of the subject itself. No, what caused me to ache was not that I chose to study something that required discipline, it was because I had strategically neglected to continue enjoying what I was born to love. No longer was I sketching before bed, singing obnoxiously in the shower (or wherever I went, for that matter), or finding new angles to photograph a moth or a grasshopper. I was cold, shallow, playing the part without adding personal flair. The things that normally fueled me were not being practiced in fear that I would lose appreciation from those who surrounded me, and I was draining myself.

Whatever your employment, your study, there will always be a downfall: a colleague to disagree with, a lousy place to live, finances. Even if I had achieved my childhood dream of becoming a pop star, there would have been long, hot bus rides, a manager I didn’t like, a family far away from where I was. If you choose to make your lifelong dream your employment, please feel the power to do so. However, you must realize that it does not take a life-changing event to make yourself happy. If you love to read, carry a book for your bus-ride. If you love to draw, spend a few extra minutes to add character to a birthday card. If you love nature, take the long way home. If the excuse is that there is not enough time, than you have not made enough time. Verbal approval and paychecks are wonderful things, but they will never satisfy a starving soul. It will be up to you to create the moments that give you joy. Do not neglect those joys from yourself, either, because we need them like food, water, and air to breathe. Without them, we are lifeless.

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Journals

Darkest Dark: The Key to Sympathy

When I began taking art lessons in my early teenage years, one of the first things I was taught was the basics to proper shading. In the studio, surrounded by oils, brushes, textiles and glazes, the instructor began by handing me nothing but a charcoal pencil and a piece of thin, creamy paper. I was told to draw a horizontal rectangle, and begin with the most intense color possible at one of its ends, to the least amount at its other end, finishing with nearly a blank background.

“From your darkest dark, to your lightest light,” she would say.

The drawing advice was repeated enough to stick with me. As I mindlessly sketched away my secondary school years, on my folders, binders, birthday cards, I would find myself giving my figures lines that were aggressively, thrillingly opaque. A poppy with soft, inner petal and fierce edges; a balloon that could have burst from its own, piercing shadow. A half a decade later, I am a transitional adult, using cheap acrylics to add blackened, indigo fringes to my whimsical stark-white clouds. The phrase whirled long enough that it remained and eventually became metaphorical.

“…my darkest dark to my lightest light, my darkest dark to my lightest light… my Darkest Dark…”

***

I will never forget how sour I made myself in church, during my adolescence, listening to the prayer requests of my peers. How ridiculous their appeals seemed — the test on Friday, a cousin with a sprained ankle, a failing relationship — when I was losing sleep without my mother home, who was likely to be restlessly flipping through the same, dreadful magazine in the hospital, wearing a breathing mask that covered her lovely, saddened face; lying alone, behind bolted doors. It angered me, that others allowed themselves to be so troubled by such seemingly meaningless predicaments in comparison to my own. Eventually, I tired of being upset, so I taught myself a new coping method. After weeks of learning and adjusting, I developed a mindset for becoming more sympathetic.

Let us begin with a shading practice of our own. This rectangle represents the levels of human reaction to the painful and tragic. The more intense the color within, the more distressing the event, the larger the crack in a breaking heart.

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Here is where the variable comes in. Of course, you and I are different people, yes? Perhaps you have come across several calamities, God bless you. This time another boulder rolls upon your path, and it is greater than you have ever known before. Your rectangle widens, because the sorrows of your past are no longer your darkest. What most do not realize is that these rectangles vary infinitely in shape, depending on the number of sorrows one had to endure. The greater the length of the rectangle, the greater the understanding, the greater the tolerance.

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Your darkest dark, your Rock Bottom, was not the same event as another’s (and they will never know it like you do). However, that also means that whether or not theirs seem small in comparison to yours, they actually did experience one, like you did. Think of a child when he trips and scrapes his soft little knee, when he sobs hysterically and reaches out to you for comfort. Think of you, too. You have the life experiences to understand that there are greater tragedies than something that can be cured with a Band-Aid. If you had done the same to your own knee, it would have been painful, but you would not have been nearly as devastated as the child in front of you is. Despite this, you pick him up and hold him, because you realize that, for him, this truly is a terrible moment worth letting out tears. You might recall similar actions from yourself when you mourn: weeping, yearning for rescue. The child’s expanse in the understanding of pain, of hurting, is lesser than yours, but he is still validly emotional. His rectangle is shorter in length, and this, for now, is one of his darkest darks.

Dare I say that, that black moment, when you gnashed your teeth, pulled at your hair by its roots, collapsed to your knees, was something that I, too, felt deeply over an event, that to you might only have been worthy of a heather grey. In those times of waiting rooms, of trays with casseroles, hand sanitizers and impassive white walls, I would have been foolish to believe that the darkest my life had ever gotten was the darkest that one ever could be. There were the homeless, the deathly sick, notorious Kids in Africa to be sent money to. However, I should not have let myself be embarrassed to be wounded in comparison. Their trials were something that I had no capacity to comprehend. On the same note, those fellow church members my age were rightful in being upset about their trials. Those may not have been their worst times, but, what if they were? Who was I to assume that they were not distraught as I was, that they did not toss in their beds, forget to eat, hate the brutal Southern sun as it enraged an already burning headache?

If you are in affliction, reader, you must know to not be afraid to cry. Be more forgiving to yourself; realize that this is a darker dark. If you happen across another who aches, do not first judge for yourself whether or not your troubles are worse, for pain is perceptive. Grief is only known by one host, only gauged by one soul. Instead, be at haste to offer a kind word, a clap on the back, whatever appropriate, simple action for bringing a bit of peace. Because each of us are just of one mind, that is all we can do, yet how sweet a world would taste if it was seasoned, ceaselessly, with sympathy that is unhesitant.

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Journals

To Have a Home in a Memory

“What do you want to be when you grow up, little one?”

An incredibly unfair question this had been, really. No, of course I had not yet understood the coldness of searching for employment. Gritty newspapers, reddened eyes. Scrolling and scrolling and scrolling through job listings. For those mysterious, towering adults, their inquisitiveness had only been a form of small talk (what else do you discuss with a three-year-old?). However, to me, the topic was nothing less than a matter of My Life Purpose, something which, at the time, was born from a desire that I had spent plenty of past-bedtime hours fantasizing about, eventually convincing myself to be confident of its reality. Little known to them, I had already begun living with a permanent, crippling addiction to dreaming. What was even less known: how serious I had intended my answer to be.

“Famous,” I had said, clumsily wiping my nose with the back of a chubby hand.

“A famous singer.”

***

My parents and many of their friends can attest to the little shows that I would throw, watching me toddle wide-legged over to my pastel bedroom to dig through the treasure chest of dress-up clothes and return to the dinner table dressed-to-the-nines. I felt so, so complete, to be with my oversized lavender hat, bubblegum-pink feather boa, and gaudy, plastic jewelry to dazzle my neck and fingers. It was as if destiny itself was sewn throughout, woven between sequins, and it was satisfying, righteous.

To Mom and Dad, my enthusiasm for performing was adorable. How fearless I was! They would giggle, delighted that such a show-stopper had graced their presence to entertain them and their peasant guests.

“Alright, Leksi. Sing us a song!”

I would. Goodness, I would. It was horrific. My immature vocal chords could only struggle forth so many notes. This handicap, along with my dramatic will to impress my audience, resulted in a shallow, crazed monotone. What made it even more ridiculous was my faux pax refusal to choose pieces expected to be sung by my age group (“You Are My Sunshine,” “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” etc.) and instead singing original work by improvisation. My songs in themselves had the ability to cause cringes, with lyrics mostly consisting of the absolute epitomes of all magical, abstract things that I could come up with — moons, stars, and fairies — in repetition.

It must have looked like some kind of ritual, and I think that is why my parents would laugh, shake their heads in embarrassment, and say “How about you sing ‘I’m A Little Teapot’ or something?”

When I denied this request, the grown-ups would still politely pretend to enjoy it all, swaying their heads and clapping their hands.

***

This wish, goal, didn’t leave until I was fifteen. By that time, the powerful blaze that existed when I was younger had been well extinguished, but amongst the dead, ash-black ruin, a single faded spark still fluttered, blinking in and out, displaying a miniature sunset of its own. Like a doubting Christian searches for answers, I desperately pursued for a hope, scanning through talent agencies and sitcom tryouts in Dallas. At last, I settled upon entering to audition for one of those on-screen, reality TV talent shows that I had always secretly loved. It was there that a Californian, silver-headed producer licked his thumb and forefinger and, with mannered grace, put out that last flickering ember in one, sweeping pinch.

Despite all of this, few things have ever remained so maddeningly compelling to me than the greedy idea of being remembered. It is a drive that has become habitual: a tattered, embroidered aphorism that was never taken down from the front door. Yes, I have grown out the hall-of-fame aspirations, but I still find it romantic, fulfilling, to imagine a place for myself in someone else’s universe of thought. However, I would happily take the position of the old sofa in a quaint living room, when in my younger years, I would have accepted nothing less than the elegant, blasting flat-screen. I would rather be the handy pair of scissors in the drawer of the apartment kitchenette, the patch of fresh sage in the garden of a close friend’s heart. I wish for my name to bring a few moments of warmth when it is said aloud, thought of. Perhaps I am even delirious enough to envision that I might be appreciated when my name isn’t known at all: the door-holder, the small-talker, the girl at the bus stop who was familiar with your hometown, even the blurred image, who, when you were running late to work, stopped to help you pick up your spilled and chaotic files off of the pounding linoleum. It is selfish to think these things, I know, but sometimes I find it exhilarating to depict myself as the ghost of a good memory— among the heroic, who only dwell phantasmagorically.

 

There are moments, in reflection, that I recognize my current self in the personality of my younger self. Can you relate to this phenomenon? Do share in the comments.

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Journals

To the Babysitters of My Childhood: I Apologize

Once my lifeguard certification expired last May, it was understood that I needed to find a different form of work before my studies suck me in again come August. I have turned to what is most natural for this summer: agreeing to babysit for as many families as I have the opportunity to accept. Swimming pools replaced by trampolines, sunscreen by bug spray, whistle-blowing by time-outs. I love the children that I care for — the giggles, the unmatched genuineness, their exuberant, exaggerated personalities — but every time that a situation requires discipline, I cannot help but have a swelling ache of sympathy for the girls who used to watch over my siblings and me.

Of course, it was always after bedtime that these amusements came to our minds, after the sitter had taken the time to feed us, bathe us, and tuck us in (the poor thing, finally sitting in the love seat, pulling out a book, and taking in the first deep breathes she had experienced all night). There was an evil sneakiness that came with the lights switched off, and my sister and I, sharing a bedroom, were the ones to initiate the mission: signal baby brother next door and creep into the living room… without getting caught.

What feels like a test of authority to me now, as a caregiver, was simply a game to me as a child. An antagonist was needed for our main objective, and the sitter, regardless of who she was that night, always filled the part. There we would be, my sister and I, slinking across the carpet on hands and pajama-covered knees to peer past the doorframe. We thought we were incredibly stealthy: checking down the hall periodically, maintaining a steady breathing pattern through our mouths and using other techniques acquired through a seasoned history of hide-n-seek and its various editions.

More often than not, these adventures resulted in the sitter thundering down the hall, swooping us up to bring us back to our beds, and, through a heavy exhale, closing the door behind us. Unfortunately for her, however, just one attempt was never enough. Around our second or third capture we would receive the If You Get Up One More Time I’m Calling Your Mom spiel.

Rarely, our goal was accomplished, and even then the sole reward of an adrenaline dose eventually wore away. We found ourselves squeezed behind a couch, sleepy-eyed, and — with our youthful lack in the understanding of time — drearily concluding that we would be hiding there for the rest of our pitiful lives. During these extraordinary occasions, I was forced to make the executive decision to return back to base on our own. Finally.

It is memories such as these that are best replayed when I am kneeling in the opposite role with my fist to the floor, pretending to pick up a stray plastic toy when I truly just need a moment to bring myself out of shame for carrying little so-and-so back to his room for the third time. All in all, they’re just kids. Perhaps I am too young to understand whether or not their mischievousness is out of calculated trickery or innocent play (or, instead, perhaps I am too old), but in either case, I would like to believe that their small adventures are easing into their memories somehow, too, and that whatever faded image is left of me will be one to be proud of.

Have any stories of your own about babysitting experiences, or even about being babysat? Do share by clicking the “Leave a Comment” option above.

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