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.)

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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

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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.

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

-Leslie

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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

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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.

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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.