six

A cup of black tea,
casserole, and open door –
at long last, Autumn.


Last Thursday marked another autumnal equinox. The weather we usually associate with fall doesn’t always correspond with the official beginning of the season; often the intensity of the summer persists despite the shortened days and lengthened nights. This year, however, the two lined up very nicely where I live, and I like to think I have embraced all the benefits that cooler weather brings with a grateful and opportunistic heart.

I wore a light jacket, walked to work, turned off the AC, and ate an in-season apple. I planned my Halloween costume (loosely, Bulma from Dragon Ball, in honor of having just finished the series on Hulu. Please, no spoilers for Dragon Ball Z, as we have not seen past the first ten episodes!). I drank a celebratory glass of Booker’s, which is one of the closest approximations of what autumn tastes like that I know of.

Autumn is the most elusive, the most skittish of the seasons. If you blink it will escape you altogether. If you’re fortunate enough to be outside, breathe deeply and pick up a bright leaf. If you must be indoors, throw open the windows. If you have no windows, bake a pie. If you have no oven, drink some Booker’s. If you don’t drink bourbon, brew yourself a nice cup of tea. Whatever you do, don’t let the fleeting season pass you by unnoticed this year.

img_5933
Ginkgo
img_5935-1
Maples in the park
Advertisements

overcome

Today’s guest post is by the most motivated, most resilient, most inspiring person that I have the honor of calling friend. From an early age, she has shone brightly in her own life and in the lives of everyone around her, despite the unfair darkness of life’s circumstances.

-Leslie

My entire life has been a fight for survival. I have never had anything come easy to me except being nice and caring for others. I was taught at a young age to respect others and treat them as I wanted to be treated, and it always boggled me that others didn’t know the Golden Rule, or if they did, that they did not abide by it.

My early childhood years were amazing. I guess the best part about being a kid is that even when everything is going wrong, all you notice is the good. When I think back to it now, there were a lot of clues around me that would have led me to learning about my family sooner, but I ignored them. At the young age of seven, I remember noticing that something was wrong. I went from being an oblivious child to seeing dysfunction and tuning in to the arguments around me. From that moment forward, I had to grow up quickly and learn how to act and react depending on whoever was near me at the time.

For the next few years I struggled with my family, and we made an unexpected move out of state. It seemed at first as though things were getting better, but the move had not fixed the problem. The problem was that my mom still struggled with substance abuse and, despite the move, wasn’t doing any better. This caused my parents to fight a lot. My mom decided to take us back home.

We were forced to live with my grandparents, who weren’t good people. If I slipped up even once I was doomed and I knew it. But protecting myself was the least of my worries, as I had a sister and brother to think of. I would quickly take the blame for mistakes that they did and carry the punishment. Unlike most punishments for wrongdoing, my grandparents reminded you of your mistake until you made another, making life absolutely draining.

Being kids, we misbehaved and made mistakes quite often, but even when we were being good it wasn’t enough. We were constantly the target of verbal and mental abuse. My brother was targeted a lot more than my sister and I were. He was called names like “faggot” and “twinkle toes” because he walked on his toes. I would get so angry and tell them to stop, which only made them turn their abuse towards me. I didn’t care at that point. I didn’t even want to be alive anymore. I remember writing a note to God saying I would rather die and go to Hell than spend eternity with them. Stupid me actually wrote that on a piece of paper and hid it in my drawer, only for it to be found later. I never lived that one down.

We moved into a new house with central air conditioning about a year later. It was set on a timer from the previous owners to click on and off. This made my grandparents furious and they blamed be every single time it happened. I would get screamed at and pushed back into my room as they threatened me even more. One day, I looked into it and noticed it was set on auto. I wish I would have done that sooner, but by now you should know that that would have been too easy.

Without going into more detail, which could be as lengthy as a novel, the point is I was struggling. I struggled every day to protect my siblings from harm and to fight within myself to stay alive. I have met a lot of low points in my life, but I have always managed to fight them. This particular situation was fixed by contacting the authorities and being removed from my grandparents’ care and placed instead with my loving aunt and uncle.

Years passed and I thought I was finally in the clear. I kept going and I kept my goals in the forefront. I graduated high school in the top 10 of my class and was accepted to the college of my choice. There I felt like I had a break. I was finally “on my own” and only had to be around people I wanted to be around. I had my family at home supporting me and my new and old friends by my side. Things changed for the worse when, in my sophomore year of college, I decided to date a boy and get myself into my first relationship. I was naive and should have ended it about a week in. Instead, I fought for his love and acceptance every day. Nothing I did was ever good enough, but I found myself staying anyways. I ruined a lot of friendships and relationships by staying with him and secluding myself from others. Thankfully, the ones who loved me forgave me when I finally moved on. It took me physically moving to a new state to get my head right. I struggled with myself that whole entire relationship and thought everything I did was wrong and that’s why he was so mean, but I survived. I learned not to put myself in that position ever again. I learned to love myself and better my life.

It’s been three years since I moved, but I still struggle mentally. Everything I try to do still fights against me and becomes more difficult than it really needs to be, but I continue to fight back. A year ago on this date I played in my first rugby game since college and it ended very quickly. This was the beginning of my darkest struggle since I have moved. I was injured in a breakdown and I knew I was done. This injury threw me into a downward spiral of depression that led to drinking too much and wondering what the point of life was. I was gaining back the weight I had lost and losing the confidence I had previously gained. Every single day for three months was a fight for my life.

When thinking about this time, I don’t really understand why I was so depressed. I had come so far in life just to let a stupid injury affect me. I have reflected on this a couple of times, but it wasn’t until today that I can see the bright side of that injury. It’s been 9 months of healing. I have lost the weight I gained during that injury, I have stuck with eating healthier even if I slip up more than I would like to admit, and I’m becoming the me I want to be. I am stronger, healthier, and happier. I have been able to get back into rugby, and what turned into a way to make new friends has blossomed into so much more. I continue to work out even on the days I want to stay home and cry. Playing rugby and working out are my antidepressants of choice, and they help me to never give up on myself. I have thought about it so many times and even still think about it: I am strong because of my past, and if I could survive that without any serious issues, I can survive anything the world throws at me. I thank God for my friends and my family, because without their support I would be lost. I’m letting you in on my struggles because I want every single person to know that it will get better. You can survive and you will be okay. There is no disgrace in being a survivor of abuse; the only disgrace is if you allow your past to drag you down instead of push you forward. And there’s no problem with having a mental illness; the only problem is if you ignore it.

bottle

Wishing a very happy birthday to my big sister. Love you, always. Thanks for paving the way.

-Leslie

img_5895

A small child with very fine, white-blonde hair climbed the stairs to the second storey of her house. At the top, a small landing. To her right, the master bedroom. Straight ahead, the door to the eves. To her left, another bedroom, forbidden in all the ways a teenage sister’s bedroom can be to her baby sister. A round hole above the doorknob, remnant of a removed deadbolt, was tightly packed with an old white sock to keep the room safe from prying, spying little eyes.

I only remember being inside my oldest sister’s room a few times during my childhood. More than ten years my senior, and with an autumn birthday to boot, she went away to college at the tender age of seventeen, leaving just as I was about to enter the second grade. Throughout adolescence, she was very involved in her school’s drama and band departments; and, although I just made her sound like a giant dork, I don’t believe she ever was (much unlike my other sister and me). Instead, she was refined. And beautiful. In fact, she always has been and remains in my mind a standard of beauty and refinement, which I have sometimes aimed to achieve by wearing her clothing, sometimes (usually inadvertently) by imitating her mannerisms.

I liked to pretend to be fifteen. It was a mature and sophisticated age, filled with friends and responsibilities and maybe even a job. I assume this fascination began when I was five and she, fifteen. After she left for college, I would pretend to be in college, too, with loads of important projects to do, a car, and an apartment. My dad’s full Funk & Wagnall’s Encyclopedia set was my make-believe college library. But for the longest time, I would imagine that I was ten-and-in-fifth-grade. I was very adamant about this specific of the Game and have often wondered why. Writing this now, it’s glaringly obvious: it was the age my sister was when I entered her world.

The child hesitates outside the door on the left. “Mimi?” She pushes herself up against the door and hangs hard on the faux crystal doorknob, which is at eye-level. “Mimiii, can I come in?”

If I got lucky, she would let me come into her room and play with her stuff. Since I wasn’t allowed in her room most of the time – and certainly never alone – the place had an air of mystery. She had a lot of dolls, all precariously balanced on a small wicker chair in the corner, but I was most interested in what was on the shelf, far out of my reach. She collected glass bottles of all sizes, and she had them lined up on the shelf, from biggest to smallest. There were dozens. Some were clear, some green. Most were old Coke bottles. The smallest bottle she had was of particular interest to me, as I too was the smallest. It was very tiny, and she would sometimes let me hold it.

A teenage girl opens the door and lets the child in. Knowing exactly what she wants, the child walks over to a single shelf that’s screwed into the wall. She cranes her neck to see the contents of the shelf above, but she’s much too short to see. The teenage girl takes something off the shelf and, crouching down to the child’s level, hands her a small glass bottle. “Be very careful.”

Today, that tiny bottle sits on the kitchen windowsill in my sister’s home. I eye it every time I visit, but so far have restrained myself from picking it up. Today, a tiny bottle sits on my own kitchen windowsill, reminding me of that mysterious room full of glass and oversized dolls and a generous sister, ever a decade wiser.

the lane

winterlane
The Lane, Winter 2014

A small, badly paved road crossed through a forest, east to west, connecting the fields on either side. Its double yellow lines were single or dashed at best and invisible at worst, but in front of my driveway a small patch of cracked double lines remained. In the summers, I would stand in the middle of the road, one bare foot on each line, and see how long I could let the asphalt burn the soles of my feet. No cars would go by, so I could stand there as long as I could stand it.

The city had slapped patch on top of patch of asphalt over the inevitable potholes from winters of frost heaves and damage done from oversized plow trucks roaring down the narrow Lane. I would see signs – not on my road, but on others – construction orange signs with the words “FROST HEAVES” marked out in big black letters. One time, as we sped by, I asked why the signs said “forest heavens”. When I discovered my error, I was less interested in the explanation.

The Lane rarely gets repaved completely. The second to last time it happened was in the late ’80s. The most recent time was this spring.

img_5852
The Lane, Summer 2016, repaved. Photo credit goes to a good neighbor with a great sense of humor.

There are obvious reasons to like this change and obvious reasons to dislike it. For one, the road looks a little strange to me now. I haven’t been back since they repaved, and I can’t imagine driving down the Lane without having to drastically slow down halfway, where there was always (or, for twenty years or more) a large, broken patch threatening to bottom out the car.

Practically speaking, these things don’t affect me anymore. I no longer live in my childhood house, but if I did (at risk of dating myself), I would absolutely buy a new Razor scooter to zoom across the unbroken asphalt. Growing up I could, of course, only ride unhindered on the short new patches they would sometimes add to our patchwork Lane.

The winters with their frost heaves and plows will return, and soon enough the little Lane will go back to its old self again – a rustic forest heaven among glitzy highways.