seventeen

Pungent, dirty brass
The wholly forgotten smell
Of childhood bangles.


I cannot count the times I’ve sorted through my jewelry. When I was a kid, I kept it in a pretty glass and wooden box. Since college, my storage has devolved into a small plastic container with drawers that I now cover in a nice scarf because it’s too shameful to look upon as a twenty-five year old. I’ve purged my collection dramatically over the years, sending bags of bracelets, earrings, and necklaces to young girls from church who would appreciate them more than I, if not use them more. Beaded things, homemade things, wire and gem and silver and plastic.

 

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A practical storage solution: Necklaces on top, bracelets in the middle, and stamps on the bottom.

I am proud to say I greatly reduced my collection during college. Every time I went home, I would discard half a dozen items or so. Every time I moved, I would go through my box again and get rid of more.

I went through it again today, but I no longer set the pieces aside to give to others, and this is why: I once saved a cheap fake gold chain for probably close to fifteen years just because some teenage girl I admired had gifted it to me, even though I broke it within days of receiving it. That’s right. I saved an irreparably broken necklace for over a decade. I decided I don’t want to subject other young minds to the difficulty of parting with my useless junk down the road. It is cruel to them and a cop-out on my part, as if I somehow delay the inevitable destruction of my possessions by giving them to new owners, rather than throwing them out myself. I have been a coward.

So today I simply tossed them. Bracelets from my travels. Beach jewelry. Gifts from sisters (sorry). Somehow a necklace that was given to me for my fifth grade graduation still made the cut, and even as I sit here writing I feel both horrified by and justified in keeping it. It’s a lovely little frame with tiny pink pressed flowers behind clear resin. I haven’t worn it in years. Many years.

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Received when I was eleven. Haven’t worn since maybe fifteen. Can. Not. Part. With. It.

I threw out several things (including the last two bottles of my high school perfume!), but still kept more than I use, or will use, probably ever. I do like jewelry. I enjoy receiving it and looking at it and coveting it. But my body tends to get uncomfortable very quickly, so in reality I only wear standard 316L stainless steel rings in my various piercings, plugs in my ears (all new since adulthood), an engagement ring (new since February) and occasionally a necklace with a single pearl. In September I will add a plain titanium band.

And yet after going through my hideous box, here I am, sitting on the couch, with not one but two old anklets around my foot, and I have no intention of throwing them out today, despite this being the last time they will likely ever be worn.

When will she learn? The truth is, she is still learning.

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Just hangin’ out in my Correct Toes, wearin’ anklets. The bottom one just reeks of cheap brass.

horseweed

We all know the old saying. Money doesn’t grow on trees. But when my sister and I were kids, money grew on weeds.

In the summers, on the border of our neighbors’ yard and ours, past the swing set, behind the willow tree, and between Threepinederoga and my mom’s garden, tall, bright green weeds grew. The stalks were covered radially with three- or four-inch oblong leaves that were slightly fuzzy, somewhat floppy, and perfect specimens for make-believe currency.

I never knew what they were called; I never cared until I wanted to blog about it. A cursory web search has suggested the terms “marestail” and “horseweed” and Conyza canadensis, although I can’t verify this with my diminishing visual memory of the plant.

What I do remember distinctly about the moneyplant is the smell it would give off when you tore bills from that primitive ATM. The smell was earthy, sharp, and very, very green. It was so delightfully pungent that I used to rip the leaves up after I was done “paying” with them just so I could smell it again.

In case you were wondering, yes, I did regularly tear up different leaves from around the yard to investigate their odor. The moneyplant is just one of many whose properties I discovered. For example, there was a small, feathery weed you could find low in the grass that smelled minty (but wasn’t mint). Did you know that the shredded leaf of a checkerberry plant smells exactly like its berries taste? You’d be surprised at what you find when you dabble in botany.

But I completely forgot about the scent of the moneyplant until I started cooking for myself a few years ago.

It happened when I was chopping parsley. Olfactory memory is strange because you almost never can identify the origin of the nostalgia at first. This is just normal fresh parsley, so why have I been transported to a childhood summer? After wracking my brain I finally remembered the moneyplant. If that weed really was C. canadensis, I can find no indication that it’s related to parsley (although American Indians did use it as an herb and apparently when dried it tastes like tarragon). However, the memory is reawakened every single time I chop parsley, so I figure there might be something to it. I can’t think of another olfactory trigger that affects me like this does or that conjures as specific and unadulterated a memory.

The money of my childhood and the money of my adulthood bear only a few similarities. For one, I used to keep a stash of moneyplant bills, and I still hoard my money today. (What are banks but professionally-tended hoards of money?) The bills are still green, but I wouldn’t recommend tearing them up and huffing the pieces anymore. Adult money’s harder to come by, but worth more. It can make you more comfortable but not more happy. The memory of the moneyplant’s aroma, on the other hand, offers no material comfort whatsoever, but every time I chop parsley, I smile. Money doesn’t grow on trees, but as it turns out, happiness just might.

bloggiversary

I was always warned that time would speed up as I got older. Yes, the college years flew by (maybe in retrospect only?), but now that I’ve been done with school for a while, I notice the speedy passage of time…

…by my bi-monthly paychecks. Is it already pay day again?! (I’m not complaining.)

…by the weekly bathroom cleaning schedule at work. (“My” week is not for another twelve weeks? I’m cool with that. Oh wait, it’s already been three months? Well damn.) (I am complaining.)

…by the number of days until my wedding. (Started at 228, and now we’re already down to 156. Mixed feelings about this.)

…by HOW IS IT ALREADY TIME TO GO GROCERY SHOPPING AGAIN?!! (Despite having [allegedly] learned to read by sounding out the aisle signs at grocery stores, I have a complicated and not very stable relationship with them.)

…by my baby nephew turning five tomorrow! (Forever tiny and squishy in my heart.)

*       *       *

But today I have noticed the passage of time by my blog turning one! Thanks to all my faithful and sporadic readers for clicking and glancing at my amateur haiku, photography, and memoirs!

-Leslie

list

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a hard time entertaining myself. This is not for lack of creativity – I could spend hours on a project once I started one – but the actual initiation of an activity always came as a difficulty to me.

Thankfully, my sister, who is three years my senior and the queen of self-entertainment, was usually kind enough to let me glom onto her activities. When I was really little, I would follow her around and copy everything she did (to her vexation); but even as we got older, I did most of the things she did. When she got to go to school and I had to stay home, I begged my mother to be the source of my activities.

I am, of course, ashamed of this; and I’m also ashamed to say that this struggle has not much worn off with time. I often get out of work three or four hours before my partner does and rarely have anything to show for it. Although my productive days are very productive, they are few and far between.

The worst part is that I know the solution to my problem. If I write down a list – a physical list – of everything I want to do after work, I will accomplish 90% of it. If I do not write down a physical list of the things I want to accomplish, I will not accomplish anything at all. I will sit on my ass and scroll through my phone for several hours.

Writing a daily list is so simple, and yet I hardly ever do it. And I’m not just talking about tasks. I’m pretty good about making a task list and checking those things off (wedding lists abound right now). I’m really talking about a list of things that I would like to do. Places I’ve been meaning to check out. Activities for my mental health and to get me out of the work-home-work-home routine. So, today I wrote such a list.

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Contrary to the above evidence, I am not a huge shopper, but I had a couple things I was looking for (which I ended up either not finding or not buying) and copious time to kill after work. As you can see, I also included a few small tasks into the mix as well as the cryptic word “vanilla”; and yes, I have been known to be idle enough not to shave unless it is written in ink. I even still had plenty of time to sit on my ass and scroll on my phone! But the point is that I got myself to do activities, ungoaded and unaccompanied, something which I am learning is necessary for a thriving adulthood. Even as I write this I am fulfilling “yoga” (which for me just means gentle stretches), but entirely because I wrote it down.

I feel really stupid admitting that I struggle with something most six year olds have a firm grasp on. I am especially aware of this shortcoming now as I prepare to make vows of eternal companionship, in spite of which I am sure I will oftentimes find myself alone and in need of diversion. I thought that if I made myself face such a disgraceful flaw in writing, in public, that I might work harder to fight against the lethargy and dependence that for some reason has been encumbering me since childhood.

analog

On my parents’ living room wall hangs a large clock made from the highly polished, stained, and glazed cross-section of a cypress tree. The outline of its spidery figure never looked like a tree to me, and it was a very long time before I even knew that’s what it was. Instead, I always thought it was deliberately made to be in the shape of a very squat chef wearing a chef’s hat and oven mitt. I perhaps even experienced some confusion over why the clock’s home was the living room instead of the kitchen.

But there was another layer to what I saw with my child’s eyes – something that my mom to this day can’t really see, but I, on the other hand, cannot unsee.  Inside the clock, where the tree’s rings and clock hands are, lives a dancing Arab man.

Disney’s Aladdin came out the year I was born. I imagine my young life was much influenced by this movie, not least of all because of Robin Williams’s undeniable talent. One of my most beloved piano books was the reduced score of this instant Disney classic, and I played and sang “A Whole New World” (both voice parts, of course!) multiple times, daily, for probably several years. My piano was situated next to the wall with the clock with the dancing Arab man.

He wears a white robe and a white turban that has a long, white feather sticking out the top. His beard is long, dark, and pointed. He appears to be dancing a jig, and far in the background a lady attendant stands, a white scarf draped over her head.

When I was growing up, I thought this curious scene was intentionally put there by the clock maker. That’s how conspicuous the picture was (and is) to my eyes. Even looking at him now, I still have a hard time admitting to myself that the dancing Arab man is naturally occurring, or at the very most brought forward by the wood stain.

For a long time, the clock as a functional timepiece was not very useful to me, as it only has small hashes for most of the hours and Roman numerals for the rest, so when I looked at it I hardly saw a clock at all, although I knew it was one. What I did see was a strange little chef and a strange little Arab man, and I don’t even remember questioning why the two were paired. They just belonged together, living in joyful unity above the piano, listening to the repetitive serenades of a ten-year-old.

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The chef and the dancing Arab

eleven

Sharp scissors scraping
Endlessly to make blazing
Christmas ribbon curls


Christmas at my grandmother’s house was an over-the-top, magical miracle for us grandkids (my adult family would perhaps agree with only the first descriptor). You cannot even dream of the number of Christmas-themed stuffed animals and nutcrackers that littered the house. I have yet to see as many presents addressed to me sitting under a tree as I did for many years as a child, nor have I helped wrap as many.

You see, Nanny loved to cook and decorate and shop for her family, securing a line of brilliant hostesses behind her, but she tended to take on more than she could carry. So, she would employ her young granddaughters in the wrapping of all the gifts she hadn’t quite gotten to by the time Christmas night rolled around. We would sit together on the big bed in the Red Bedroom (so called after the solid scarlet hue of the 70s-style full carpeting in those quarters), surrounded by gifts, paper, and ribbons, and we would get to work.

It occurs to me now that this must have been a thought-through strategy. I’m pretty sure she always wrapped our presents first, so that when she ran out of time for wrapping, only the boys’ gifts were left, and we could finish the job without spoiling our own surprises.

Nanny’s big claim to fame is ribbon curls. Each present had dozens and dozens of ribbon curls, and there were dozens and dozens of presents, so you do the math. She taught us at a very early age how to do it, carefully tying many ribbon pieces of different colors in a crisscross pattern, and then one-by-one sliding the blade of a pair of scissors along the bottom of each piece, until you were left with an explosion of shiny, colorful curlicues – often dwarfing the present underneath.

With so many beautifully wrapped presents (and, let’s be honest, some badly wrapped ones done by a few eight year olds), perhaps the most striking thing about the whole event was not the sheer number of packages, but the love, beauty, and detail put into the wrapping itself.

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A present for me, beautifully wrapped by my father – although, according to Nanny’s standards, still lacking in the bow department?

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.