Author of Breasts Don't Lie

Posts tagged ‘fear’

Fear as the Dark Mother of Moving

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Yes, I am moving to Texas – the land of big hair and blue eyeshadow. I know, I know. But it’s my fear after spending ten of my formative years in Alabama feeling under made-up and under poufy-haired.

I keep thinking about fear, fear of moving, fear of my friends forgetting me, fear of loneliness from a general incompetence in making new friends, fear of the heat in Texas, fear that I am throwing out something important. The list goes on and on.

So, I went for a walk last night around Five Points late in the evening when the scraggly trees blend with the night sky. Total patches of the earth are black and vision-proof. I kept wandering the streets, shuffling my way along pavements occasionally stubbing a toe or tripping, bouncing off tree branches, feeling the spiders from said branches land in my hair, and working my way into a panic attack.

Like most Scots, when I’m worried, I walk and walk for a while, late at night, regulating my breath so the fear coalesces, snaking back into the dark edges to lay in waiting for the next time that it can grab me.

I can’t remember ever being freaked out about walking at night. I’ve walked this area for almost 20 years. I’ve survived the night of Dropping Spiders (one April evening I found three had dropped down crowning me with 24 legs – still makes me shiver). I have listened to the trains go past with the chug-a-lug sound, never changing in these two decades, and wondered about where I was going in life. I’ve sat on the swings in the park, surrounded by the toys of happily innocent kids and speculated if the wisdom gained is worth the innocence lost. In the dark, I have admitted my failures, where I’ve been mean or thoughtless, ignored then stared in the face my aging with the creeping vista of finitude, death. I’ve cursed and cried, laughed and said “I love you” where no one can hear me.

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I’ve met Kali, the dark mother, twice in one weekend walking these streets. During yoga teacher training, I walked my beagle-dachshund mix, PooPet, at 11:30 one Friday night. My doggie loved the darks holes, where the light had disappeared with the dipping sun and would scamper into places that looked fit for Moray Eels or Jack the Ripper. Nothing stopped her thirty pounds of courageous canine, but that night, we tromped along, meandering an uneven sidewalk when a silhouette stepped into the road. In a long robe, features obliterated, with a croak she whispered, “Don’t be afraid.” I remember opening my eyes wide, struggling to remain upright as PooPet jerked the chain to run behind my legs. When I gained my balance, the street was dark, leaves slithered in the breeze, and we were alone in the darkness. I didn’t think too much of it beyond, “Holy moly, we have weird ass people in this neighborhood.” But then the next night, walking the dog, another woman stepped into the light in the middle of the road. Even backlit I could tell that she was not the same woman. She lifted her arms toward the trees, and PooPet let out a bark that morphed into a whimper. The air stopped moving. I couldn’t breathe. Now I was seriously freaked out. PooPet was still, and for a moment, I could feel my blood move through my body, like I was being watered from the inside.

This Kali was formal, “There is no need to be frightened.” I think I said, “Uh, yeah, Okay.” At that point I was scared as fuck, running down that road to the safety of my townhouse. It didn’t stop me from returning to the training class the next day, but I was really, really, very alert between yoga poses.

Maybe that’s the way this is supposed to be. I am aware, actually frightened, that things could go wrong in a big way. But. I’m still going to move to Texas. My friends, come along for the ride but hold on. This will shake us up! Anyone up for a walk?

Om Kali Ma

 

A Fable: Ugliness in Raleighwood

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Once upon a time, in the Shire of Raleighwood, lived a confused, sad, and alcoholic smurf named Jennifurlee. She had not started her life as evil but was born to the bad wart-faced witch, Shirfurlee. This devious witch had promised the small, deformed smurf great power if she only destroyed the Good Fairy. The Good Fairy had been living in Raleighwood for a long time doing kind things for the people and animals of this area but Jennifurlee, under the spell of Shirfurlee, could not bear for anyone to have anything she did not own. In a fit of spite, she abandoned her cats and kept her dogs in cages.

Jennifurlee promised to destroy the Good Fairy. She started by calling her names to other people. The Sheriff rode in on his white horse. He said to the Good Fairy, “Avoid putting energy into this fight because Jennifurlee is unhappy and under the influence of the bad witch. She knows not what she does.” The Good Fairy, having many friends in the legal profession, some prestige in the community, and a mostly forgiving nature shook off the irritation and went about doing her good deeds.

But Shirfurlee whispered to Jennifurlee awful things to spur on her daughter’s craziness. With each act of stalking, vandalism, and trespassing, Jennifurlee became uglier like a bloated, purulent skinned toad.

With the act of smearing feces, Jennifurlee developed a clump of warts on her nose. Everyone wanted to know – did Jennifurlee save her poop or was she running around snatching poop from other inhabitants? Eeoough.

Wanting to give Jennifurlee another chance, the Good Fairy sent a missive to the cranky smurf. Jennifurlee, misguided soul, full of pus, ignored it.

With the act of scraping her key down the side of the Good Fairy’s carriage, Jennifurlee’s chest broke out in a pustulent rash of pimples!

With the act of letting the air out of the Good Fairy’s tires, Jennifurlee’s name was reported to the dungeon keepers of the shire. Also, detailed missives were sent out to the neighborhood watch about her carriage, her deformed appearance, and the carriage and appearance of her accomplice, DICK.

Each act of STALKING, VANDALISM, TRESPASSING, and COMMUNICATING THREATS made Jennifurlee increasingly deformed in body and spirit until she was recognized everywhere she went. One sad day, the Sheriff of the Shire exiled Jennifurlee to live with the crazy old witch mother, Shirfurlee in the barren place called Mary’s Land for Misfit Smurfs. Meanwhile, her accomplice, DICK, was called before the head bean counter and held accountable for his collusion in the criminal deeds.

 

This fable is the ugliest thing I have written. Ever. I loathe writing about the bad behavior of a woman, but I am being stalked. She’s covered my car with feces multiple times, let the air out of my tires, stolen porch ornaments, harassed me by telephone and text, threatened my safety and property by text, keyed my car, smeared feces on my front porch and door, does drive-bys, covered my car with condoms. She’s promised to be especially mean this week. REALLY? What the hell?

Women are having a difficult enough time in the world at present. We don’t need to be fighting each other.

Boys to Men

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“Boys will be boys.” This primitive rationalization is reactivating long stored, sometimes barely remembered wounds in women and men.

When I was a teenager, my family didn’t have much money. Mom was a single parent to three expensive kids. As a teenager, I wasn’t very forgiving nor understanding of my mother’s struggles to keep me in clothes, clothes that my friends were wearing, and clothes for special events. So when I had an opportunity to go to a winter formal fraternity, I wanted a new dress. I had applied to this university; in my mind, it was important to make a good impression. So I pestered Mom.

She bought a dress for me. It was soft gray with a slight Japanese-flavored print of a bird on a limb floating across the long skirt. The top was gathered into a modest vee-neck. Why do I feel the need to defend the neckline? I have a vague memory of standing before Mom, twirling around with my hands spread. Both of us were smiling. I felt beautiful in the dress. The dress was carefully packed and I tootled off with friends to the university. The car ride moved along highways flanked with bare trees but nothing dampened my excitement.

Saturday night, I put on the dress and went with my assigned escort to the winter formal. My long hair was pulled up to show off another gift from my mother, a pair of dangling pearl earrings from my namesake aunt Trudi. The night was cool and I draped a swirl of ruffled material around my shoulders.

This is where the memories become strobe-like. I remember drinking with my escort. He seemed nice and quite gentlemanly. We danced – I loved to dance and he was willing to have fun. We laughed at nothing in particular. When the formal party was finishing, he said he would take me back to the dorm where I was staying with my friends but did I want to stop by an after-party? Sure. We walked into the frat house. The room was silent but filled with a group of boys, men from eighteen to their early twenties. I watched my date look at a man a few years older than him sitting in a chair. I had an urge to throw up. I remember feeling so small in my long party dress. My escort turned to me, reached to touch me, and I punched him. He went down and stayed down.

(The summer before, an older friend taught me how to lift weights and how to throw a punch. I will always thank him for those lessons. I wonder if he knew.)

Trying not to wretch, I looked at each boy, young man in turn. “Anyone else want to try this?” I asked. The boy, young man in the chair got up and left. The others followed him. To this day, I have no idea how I had the strength to do this.

Somewhat drunk on alcohol and high on adrenaline, I ran back to my dorm. My beautiful dress and my aunt’s earrings stuck to my body with sweat, I banged on the doors to have someone let me in. I don’t remember who let me in.

Before getting in the backseat for the drive home on that Sunday, I told a friend what had happened. He asked, “Are you sure? He seems like such a nice guy.” Continuing to stare at him, he said, “Boys will be boys.”

I didn’t say another word for the six-hour drive home. Grabbing my bag, I burst into my home, dropped my bag by the stairs, and looked for my Mom. I was proud of myself, terrified of what I had escaped, and confused by my friend’s response. I have a distinct memory of saying, “Mom, I punched a guy. Knocked him out.” Mom looked at me with her mouth open as I demonstrated my fighting stance.

“What are you doing?”

With that question, I picked up my bag and stumbled up the stairs to my room. Unpacking, I threw the dress in the corner.

At school on Monday, I kept my mouth shut afraid if I opened it that I would start screaming or throw up. After school but before anyone else got home, I took a pair of scissors to the dress. I sliced it into pieces so small that no one could have told what it had been. I ripped apart every seam. I shredded every bird. It took hours. The room was dark when I finished. The earrings were locked in my jewelry box.

A couple of years later, the disbelieving friend asked me out. The memory of that dress flooded in and I stood him up. I’m not proud of my behavior. I wish I had told him why I couldn’t go out with him.

“Boys will be boys.” No. This statement infantilizes males. This statement scares women into evasion and collusion. For thirty years, I have been a therapist helping people heal horrific experiences. Then things, people, events occur reactivating the traumas. The 2016 political campaigns have opened old wounds, wounds that we thought had healed. Wounds like mine.

Not A Trivial Pursuit

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I cried three weeks ago. It was the anniversary of my wedding to Rod and it has taken me three weeks to get up the courage to write about it. It’s been twenty years since he died and I thought it wouldn’t sadden me to write about it. But I was wrong. It is bittersweet.

I was terrified of getting married again. My first, starter, marriage had been a disaster on about every level. Coming out of it left me stranded in a town I disliked, with no money, in the middle of graduate school, and deeply scared of men. Most men. (My first husband has deeper issues, he told people I had died.)

Luckily Rod was not most men. He was a gentle giant who would call me on my shit and own up to his own pile of crap. We were very good at living together. So good I managed to avoid thinking too much about the future.

When the topic of marriage first came up – pretty early on he brought it up – I refused to marry him until he was twenty-five. “Your brain changes so much between now and 25. No way.” I was a tad older. Rod kept bringing up the subject. I would say, “No, no, no. You’re not twenty-five.” And I would throw him a bone – get another dog, wax the floors (really, no euphemism here), scrape paint off the old house we lived in with a heat gun at one in the morning. Our neighbors thought we were weird but … it worked for us. Our friends thought we were weird. We just smiled at them and carried on living our lives. Rod worked in a corporate setting and kept the pack of dogs we had accumulated. I finished my graduate degrees while doing some esoteric artwork on tubs, walls, and fireplaces.

 

All around us friends and colleagues were getting married. We went to the weddings, toasted them, got toasted, and went home to our lovely coupleness. I was happy.

I thought all was well until the night we were sitting at a bar drinking tequila and dark beer. We were in the middle of a highly competitive game of Trivial Pursuit when he pulled the plug.

“Do you want to get married or go to Greece?”

I downed a shot of tequila. “Greece,” I said wracking my brain for a song lyric.

“I’m twenty-five in three months and I want to get married.” He said the words slowly. The noise in the bar receded until I could hear the sounds of my ass shifting on the stool.

I knew I wasn’t ready. “Can we do both?”

I heard Rod put down his beer. “No.” His fingers drummed the varnished wood.

I looked up from worrying about my next piece on the game board. “Why not?”

“We don’t have the money for both.”

Looking into his eyes, I saw how much was riding on my answer. I had a weird realization of ‘this is it. He will leave me if I don’t ante up.’ I gulped. My brain flooded with panic. The thought, ‘I have time,’ barreled into my love for this man. My moment of truth with myself and him. Did I love this man more than my fear? That sounds so clichéd.

“Okay.” The thought of losing him was more frightening than the thought of facing my commitment fears.

 

That’s how we came to be engaged.

In my counseling office, people tell stories of their romantic lives; how they met each other, their shining moments, and the times they howl with wounds inflicted by the relationship. Coupling is never easy, and people want easy relationships. Immediately. I commiserate then I push the lesson.

I learned two important things during the night of the engagement. First off, a good relationship is full of pain from growth. Relationships are lovely in some moments and terrifying in other moments. Second, you are never really ready. But I would not have missed or changed our relationship for the world.

Travel by Dali

All this talk about airports has fired up my neurons. Many of my memories ping pong around the surreal experiences I have had traveling.

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Like being stuck at Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris. Munching on my third super croissant. Flaky, buttery, quintessentially French. Slightly panicked by the blaring French announcement possibly saying, “Trudi, this is your last chance to leave, your plane is closing its doors, you’ll be stuck here forever, we’ve lost your luggage – again, and …  we’ll only give you 50 francs for clean undies.” Or something like that. Panic needs carbohydrates hence the croissants. Then my attention was diverted by a group of travelers speaking in heavily accented English. They were describing the importance of their carry-on luggage to airport security personnel. Focusing over the croissant, thinking I might need a coffee and searching my mind for the correct French pronunciation, the argument became heated between the family of travelers and the personnel. Looking around, I spotted the luggage. They wanted to take their dining room table and six chairs as carry-on luggage. Huh. So that’s why there’s never room in the overhead bins.

In air travel’s good time, I made my way across the Atlantic. I have no idea what happened to the family and dining set. But that was not my strangest adventure traveling.

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This is not for the faint of heart but maybe with all the craziness of canceled flights and endless lines at airport kiosks, it is does put things in perspective.

In my early twenties, back in the Middle Ages of airplane travel, I putzed around the Caribbean. I was young enough to feel invincible, traveled with an overnight bag, and had an American passport when that counted for something.

I was sitting in the airport bar, waiting for an alternative to my canceled flight when I noticed people standing up and clapping. With enthusiasm which was quite a feat in the sweltering humidity of the tropics. Even the stoic bartender stopped polishing the not so clean glasses to smile. After more outbreaks of applause, my curiosity was piqued.

“Uh, what’s happening?” I asked.

“A plane landed,” the bartender said not missing a beat.

“Do they do that every time?”

“Every time a plane’s successful,” said without emotion.

“Can I have another?”

“Good idea,” he said already pouring.

Guess that was the usual response among travelers. Better to be plotched when I plummeted to the earth like a lawn dart.

Finally, my plane was called, I stumbled to the tarmac and squinted. That could not possibly be my plane. My mother’s pinto, the exploding car, was bigger.

“That’s your puddle hopper,” said the ticket taker. “Better hold onto your luggage.”

Like a good sheep, I got into the plane, boosted by another passenger from the rolling stairs through the door (or exit). We, the passengers, sat sweating in a cabin barely six feet wide. Sardine-like, five rows, two in each row, a center aisle walkable if you were anorexic and scuttled crab-like. Strapping myself in, I looked out at the cracked, tiny window, mouth opening at the sight of duct tape wrapped tourniquet tight around the wing.

The man across from me started praying with his rosary. Occasional moans drifted my way. The man catty corner across from me opened a bottle of rum, drank, and passed it to another passenger. When the bottle made its way to me, I took a swig. What a way to go!

The mood lightened and darkened depending on where you were sitting until the pilot stepped into the plane. He grinned at everyone. I could swear I had seen him at the bar earlier. He was wearing cargo shorts and a starched white shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in one sleeve. With a “Gooday folks. We’ll be taking off soon,” he disappeared into the cockpit. More praying and drinking.

Did I say the cabin was tight? It was tight. Before take-off, the pilot, he had introduced himself as Dickie over the PA, opened the cockpit door with some energy. He hit the man sitting in the front seat, knocked him out, “Oh damn, not again,” and the plane was delayed until EMS carried him off the plane.

After stewing for an hour in my own sweat, the plane took off. We flew low, I thought perilously low, to the waves. I watched the white caps cresting the ocean and dark shadows just below the water’s surface – sharks following the plane for the entire flight. If I were a shark, I might think of the plane as a package of easy snack foods.

 

Air travel is the miracle of careening through the air in a tin can. Fast, often efficient, and highly surreal. It boggles the mind.

Airport Nightmares

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I will admit to being scared – I am acutely frightened these days of my status as an immigrant but in truth, I have felt this way since childhood.

When I was six, my mother took her two daughters from our home in Scotland to meet our ship captain father in Alabama. We flew into a New York airport with our British passports and went through customs/immigration screenings with everyone else but this time we were pulled out of the lineup. We were made to follow two people down a hallway into a larger room with a curtained off area on one side. I remember looking at my mother who had gone pale under her tan. We had made this transatlantic trip a few times to meet my father in the US without having to undergo this process. She nodded to me. “Take that baby’s hand,” she said. Like the good daughter I was brought up to be, I grabbed my four-year old sister’s hand. Mother and children were separated into two cubicles.

“Strip to your underpants,” a man said to us.

I remember helping my sister off with her dress. She was too small to undo the buttons.  Her hair snagged on a button causing her to cry when I tried to pull the dress over her head. She kept crying as I took off her shoes and socks. She looked tiny huddled into the corner of the shelf acting as a seat even to my almost as tiny six-year old self. I pulled off my tartan trousers and my top, unbuttoned my school shoes, to sit next to her. Eventually, I cried too.

There was a shuffling sound so I peeked through the curtain into the room. More people had entered, mainly men.

“Mrs. Young, come out here,” a man called out.

My mother came out of her cubicle.

Vicky, my sister, called out, “Mama? Mama?”

Mom turned around. Her face was paler still. She motioned for me to pull Vicky back into the cubicle. She was wearing her bra and panties. Under the bright lights before a group sitting in chairs. I heard them laughing. Settling my sister, I sneaked back to look through the curtains.

“Take everything off,” said the man. I watched my mother strip in front of these men and women, probably US Customs and Immigration agents. I do not know what other indignities my mother had to endure. Vicky was screaming at this point and I was so scared I wondered if I was going to die. At the time, I didn’t understand what was happening and who these people were but I knew mean when I saw it.

Clutching my sister to me, I heard a man say, “Get the kids.” Mom came into the cubicle and one at a time she paraded us in front of the people. She was still naked. Vicky pulled against Mom’s hand trying to escape, I guess, until Mom picked her up. There was a defiance in my mother’s gesture. I pushed her hand away, wiping my face clean with my top, to walk out on my own. My brain has a snapshot of the group sitting, uninterested, talking among themselves, oblivious to my terror.

Shaking and crying, the three of us were allowed to dress and leave the airport.

We never talked about this. Nightmares of being naked in a confined cage surrounded by giants plagued me into my thirties and have restarted.

When I was 18, I applied for American citizenship. To accept a scholarship to college and to never have to go through this again.

I have written this as I remember the event, devoid of most emotion and description. Because a part of my six-year old self did die that day. I hate New York and I hate airports, and I hope no other six or four or thirty-three-year old ever has to go through this.

Good Enough

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I’ve had many opportunities to think about perfectionism lately. Being from a family of overachievers, I struggled with it from toddlerhood. I keep thinking I have it in the bag but … not so true.

I remember mimicking other teenagers when I first immigrated to America. The stress to fit in was so great, I would cry walking home from high school. Maybe if I was perfect, I would get invited to sleepovers. Instead, I got a red nose and pimples from the stress and sleep deprivation.

I remember the time I said to my first husband, Numero Uno perfectionist art director, “I’m not a size 4. I’m a size 8. Get over it. I have.” There was a wonderful freedom in that statement. He wasn’t so sure. “You could eat less,” was his response. Spaghetti Carbonara or perfection? Not a difficult decision. My stranglehold on perfection slipped.

I remember the interview for admissions to an educational program. They asked, “What do you want to get out of the program?” I said, “I want to be a B student.” Their mouths fell open. They looked kind of dumbfounded.  I had gone through graduate school with a 4.0 GPA and just didn’t want to waste energy making As in everything. I had a pinkie finger hold on perfectionism.

In my counseling practice, my yoga classes, and teaching positions, I emphasized the thoughtful use of energy. Along the lines of, “You have 100 units of energy in a day, a week, a month, year, or lifetime, and you decide how you allocate your resources.” Most people would look at me with a blank face but some people would get it – start prioritizing what they were doing, how they were using their time and energy.

Then this year, some of my favorite celebrities died. Alan Rickman. David Bowie. Some friends and clients died or developed major health setbacks. An epiphany slapped me in the face. “Damn, this life is finite. I really don’t have time for perfectionism.”

That’s not saying I’m a slacker. Well not most days. I still like taking a day out of each vacation and spending it in my pajamas. I can plop down in front of the SCIFY channel for a good six plus hours with a bag of chips. I am proud of myself for letting myself enjoy those times without judgment. At some point, I get up, stretch, and do something productive. But I’m not exhausted with the continuing judgment of Being The Perfect Whatever (you fill in the blank).  Most things in life are not perfect and don’t need to be perfect.

I think I wanted to be perfect because I was afraid. Being me wasn’t enough. If I picked up a new career, friend, lover, hobby, I had to be perfect at it right away. Immigrant, curvy, bad hair, dyslexic me is ImPerfect. Seeing that on the screen makes me cringe. Now I want to be Good Enough.

Last holiday time, I gave a reading from my book and it was awful. Really awful. I stuttered. I stammered. I lost my place. I forgot my own story. When I finished, the packed bazaar was silent. Good bloody grief. Perfectionism triggered flop sweat. I wiped it off and joined the other authors in a dance lesson around the bazaar. It was okay. No one died. I didn’t sell any books but next time …

Life will go on. And life will be easier and more productive if I am not using my energy on the impossible goal of perfectionism.

Do you struggle with perfectionism?

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