Monday, January 31, 2011


So I know a poem needs to be edited when I become fixated on it. I was fixated on this one for days. I fixed it. And now I'm updating this post to erase the old, crappy version. Hopefully now I can put these words to rest.


Breathe in.
After 5 hours of staring
the blank page she once saw as
unmapped potential becomes part of her
hollow emptiness. The
jagged breathing from the
screaming curses of her heart
keeps time with the blinking cursor
but the words don’t come.
Breathe out.
His words settled like iron snowflakes on her tongue
charmed their way into her mouth like love letters
dropped like falling bombs and
entered her bloodstream before she had a chance to scream.
Breathe in
the million stars she believed in
the daisies that grew where her words were laid
the ideas like light bulbs that lit her heart
burned out.

Breathe in.
People who care ask where
her smile is.
A bad day, she tells them
just a bad day
she doesn’t dare say
her story tells itself again
with each rising breath.
Breathe out
the story begins
sure as she rides one breath to the next
the next line hits
till she’s full of memories
like the dumpster that bore witness in the frozen alley
she knows she must wait
to be emptied.

Breathe in.
She can’t fit herself into pretty skirts
polished nails
pretty tales of fairy princesses, no this
is evil
living in her skin.
Breathe out
the burning simmers in her chest till
she’s certain she must house Medusa but
she’s not angry she’s
sad, she’s not sad, she’s
glad what happened wasn’t bad because
her friend says
nothing happened,
it wasn’t bad,
she sleeps
feeling him on her skin, the wind
is the only thing that takes his scent away
but she’s scared to go outside.
The story grows
it ebbs and flows,
her body aches
with the hatred she breathes into her every pore.
Her mother wants to know what it was she wore
how many drinks she had
the daughter locks the hurt inside with lies of
it’s fine, I’m fine
wanting someone to remind her it’s not
wanting someone to be her Medusa
and fill the angry spot
gratitude and forgiveness try to fill.
“Pretend it didn’t happen,
please dear god don’t tell your sister
like Medusa this pain is a myth
how dare you scare me
get to the point
I don’t need to know what he did
just as long as you’re fine
the rest will heal
with forgiveness
and time.”

Breathe in.
Her mother’s tears
bring the hope of anger till
“at least,” her mother says
“at least you weren’t...”
the final word never leaves her lips
too terrible to be spoken, but this
wasn’t that,
wasn’t bad, it’s sad but she’s fine
she’ll soon forget
just as long as she’s not
Breathe out.
Her daddy
doesn’t meet her eyes for two days
says no words of comfort or blame just
silence, so it becomes
The secrets mount.
She swallows them
like fish hooks, hoping they’ll catch
the truth in her bloodstream, hoping
the barbed hooks
will give her reason to scream.
Breathe in
the story should be fading by the day,
they say
time heals all wounds and
forgiveness will set you free
so she’s not angry because
it wasn’t bad
it wasn’t bad
it wasn’t what it could have been
it was just an “almost,”
and almost
never counts.

Breathe in
the aspirated hatred in her lungs becomes
the need for perfection
unattainable SuperWoman schemes
anything to fill
the place anger tries to live
anything to hide
the moments when she cries
breathe in
hold the breath
keep going
don’t stop
who knows how long she can wait
to exhale.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

On the complexities of meeting dogs

I love my dog. There is no other way to put it: my dog is the best possible thing that could have happened to me right now. Knowing that I have him to come home to, being able to cuddle with him, walk with him, talk to him makes all the difference in my life. He is, truly, my best friend.

One of the aspects of dog ownership I didn’t entirely think about was the fact that having a dog helps you to meet people. Walking with a dog seems to invite people to come up and talk to you, whereas walking alone barely warrants a nod or a hello. I have a hard time knowing what to say to people sometimes, particularly people I don’t know, so having a dog has allowed me to meet many of my neighbors—particularly neighbors with dogs.

There is a certain etiquette to meeting dogs that Marshall and I seem to struggle with. I’m not entirely sure if it’s me or my neighbors that make it awkward, but I have learned this: meeting dogs is complex business.

First, the dogs have to check each other out. We all know what this means, and really, as a dog owner, who doesn’t think it’s awkward to stand next to someone you don’t know while your dogs smell each others’ butts? Then, there is the matter of dominance, and it comes down to this: my dog is the wussy dog. Always. He is the dog that sees a dog, smells his butt, and rolls over on the ground, showing his belly and looking up at you with the whites of his eyes showing. He grew up with 5 Chihuahuas and, even though he was bigger by far, I think it gave him some sort of “complex” in addition to his sensitive and gentle temperament.

There is also the issue of meeting people. Marshall would rather meet people than other dogs—I think he might think he’s part human and, in all honesty, who am I to say he’s not? The submissiveness carries over a bit to meeting people in that Marshall is also “that dog” that I swore I would never have. He is…another Buster.

When I was a kid, my sisters and I would go over to my neighbor’s house to play. We had a driveway that was about half a mile long, and these neighbors lived down the street and up the hill, so it was quite a hike to get there. Upon arriving at their home, we would ring the doorbell, take off our shoes on the porch, and be invited inside, where we would say hello to our neighbors, their parents, and Buster. Buster, a golden retriever, was always VERY excited to see us. So excited, in fact, that he always—and I mean always—peed on our socks. My neighbors would yell to their mother: “Moooooooooooooooom! Buster christened Laura’s socks!” Every single time, they would act surprised and so apologetic, and insist that I go upstairs to the bathroom and wash my feet in the bathtub. We always went home with our socks in a bag. It was a long , cold walk home in the winter when you were carrying your socks.

Marshall is smaller, so he doesn’t QUITE get people’s socks, but he is still a Buster. I like to think he just gets SO EXCITED he can’t contain himself…but when little kids look at me with disgust because he peed on their hopscotch board, I don’t quite know what to say.

Then there is the breed issue. Plain and simple, Marshall is a mutt. A gorgeous, lovable, smart and sensitive mutt. He’s been mistaken for many things: a poodle, a lahsa apso, a yorkie and, most recently, a shih-tzu.

“Ohhhhh!” said the man who lives next to me as he walked down the stairs. He is a very sweet man, but he’s pretty awkward, and one of those people you kind of hope you don’t run into in the morning, as you know he’ll make you late for work. “It’s a little shih-tzu!” Except, he didn’t say shih-tzu. He used that really awkward pronunciation of shih-tzu which places entirely too much emphasis on the “shit” part, before reaching the “zoo.” “I used to have a little shit zoo! I loved my little shit zoo.” He scratched Marshall’s ears as Marshall squatted and peed on the pavement. Luckily, my neighbor didn’t notice. “I had my little shit zoo for 17 years! Awww, I loved my little shit zoo SO much. They’re such good little dogs…I miss my shit zoo more than I miss my wife, that’s how good he was.” He doesn’t laugh. I don’t either. “Where’d you get your little shit zoo from?”

I pause. Do I tell him Marshall is not a shih-tzu? Doesn’t even look like a shih-tzu? I decide not to, and just glide over it. “I got him from a friend who had to get rid of him,” I say, smiling.

“Oh, well I just love little shit zoo’s.” He thumped Marshall’s head, which made him roll over and expose his belly. “What a good little shit zoo,” he says, smiling. I smile. Now, every time I see him, he asks me how my little shit-zoo is doing. I always smile and say, “he’s just fine, Mr. Edwards. How are you doing, today?”

There is also the issue of gender and names. There is no good way to avoid the pronoun issue when asking the dog’s name. You’ve got a 50/50 shot and, while that seems like good odds, it really isn’t. At least not for me. Marshall and I were walking past the retirement community down the street a few weeks ago, and saw one of the residents walking down the street with her dog. A little brown thing with a pushed in nose and curly fur, half the size of Marshall, the dog had blue bows in the fur above its ears. Bows = girl, I figured. The dog yipped and yipped and yipped at Marshall, while Marshall smelled her butt and then rolled on the ground.

“What’s her name?” I asked the woman.

“Huh?” she asked, unable to hear me over the yipping.

“What’s her name?” I asked, louder.

“Heh?” she said, again, distracted by the butt smelling going on in front of us.

“What’s her name?” I asked, very loudly.

The woman looked at me, indignant. “HIS name is Prince!” she said, huffily.

“Oh,” I say. “What a nice name. He’s a cute little guy!”

She looked at my dog, lying on the pavement, gave Prince’s leash a tug, and walked away without saying goodbye. “Take care,” I said, calling after her.

There is also the fact that Marshall has a purple collar. Now, I know our society is deeply entrenched in the pink-is-for-girls/blue-is-for-boys concept, but didn’t fully realize that this extends to dogs. (Says she who assumed that just because the dog had bows he was female….but still). I like purple and, honestly, I just didn’t think that long about it when I bought the collar. My dad consistently called Marshall “she,” until he finally said “your poor dog has a purple collar. He’s a man! He needs a manly color to build up his confidence. No wonder he’s a wussy dog.”

“I wanted to raise a dog who is free to explore his gender identity,” I said, not skipping a beat. “I didn’t want him to feel trapped into the gender binaries of pink and blue. Besides,” I said, “you wear purple.”

“Woah,” he said. “You thought about that a little too much.” I’m pretty sure he wondered what I will be like when I have children.

Names are just awkward in general, apparently. A few months ago, Marshall and I met a woman who lives in the complex somewhere. Her dog ran up to us, but was clearly more interested in me than Marshall. “Well hi there,” I said, scratching his ears. I looked up at the owner and said hello. She said nothing. “You’re a good dog, aren’t you?” I said, returning to the dog as the owner was unresponsive. “Yeah, I can tell you’re a lover, aren’t you, buddy.” I looked back up at Owner, to ask the dreaded name question, but she was looking at me, eyes narrowed and suspicious.

“How did you know his name was Buddy?” she asked, as if she was almost scared to know the answer. I stared at her for a moment, thoroughly confused.

“Oh,” I said, “his name is Buddy? I didn’t know, I…”

“But you called him Buddy,” she said, eyes squinted

“I…well…I think I just call dogs buddy…I think it’s something I just say.” I pretended to be distracted by Marshall. “Okay, Marshall, we’re going,” I said. “Bye Buddy!” I sang, probably too cheerily. “Have a good day,” I said to her.

What was really embarrassing was when I saw them two months later, didn’t recognize them as Buddy and Owner, and asked his name again. She looked at me like I must surely have some sort of problem as she said, “his name is Buddy.” Oops.

Finally, there is the issue of weird dog owners. There are lots of weird dog owners. I might be one of them. However, there is one woman in my neighborhood who is a snotty weird dog owner, and they seem to be the worst. She has two identical looking dogs that are some special rare breed I have never heard of, and a miserable looking kid. I am of the opinion that the kid is miserable because mom spends all her time with the dogs, but this is just a guess. This woman clearly is of the “my dog is better than your dog” mentality. Plus, her dogs get a sick pleasure out of growling and lunging at Marshall and making him run and hide behind me, or lay down in the ultimate submissive position WHILE peeing on the pavement. It’s awful. I don’t like her or her dogs (although her miserable kid might be okay).

Her dogs are fat. Very fat. And, since October, they have been wearing sweaters. I’m not fundamentally opposed to dogs wearing sweaters, but I am opposed to HER dogs wearing sweaters. The sweaters are so tight, they look like they must have been knitted around the dogs. I have no idea how else she could possibly get the dogs into them. Her dogs are not friendly, but she acts like they are, and like they are “so excited” to see “their friend” (i.e. Marshall). The second time we ran into them, the dogs lunged and barked and growled at Marshall, who rolled over and wouldn’t get up. When we were done talking, I pulled his leash to try to get him to stand, and Marshall looked at me and flattened himself to the pavement.

The woman looked at me, with something that might have been pity in her eyes. “What’s wrong with your dog?” she asked.

I looked at my dog, rolling on the pavement, and then at her fat, sweatered dogs breathing heavily from the effort of scaring Marshall.

“I think,” I said, looking back up at her and trying not to laugh, “he might just be jealous of their sweaters.”

She looked at me with a sort of confused amusement, and then looked back at the dogs. “Yes,” she said, with finality. “I think that must be it.”

Okay…so yes, I might be one of the weird dog owners. Regardless, I thank whatever higher power is above for sending this dog into my life and hope that, one day, Marshall and I will both master the art of meeting other dogs.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Write a poem that scares you?

I think I read somewhere that you should try to write a poem that scares you. Well, I did something more frightening than that. I sat down to write one poem and ended up writing a poem that scares the you-know-what out of me. If you know why...just let me know, k?

The Assault on Divinity

If I had died yesterday
I would have died a nobody.
A 20-something with
too much education and
a head full of words that don’t matter:
500 ways of naming crazy,
labeling broken,
fixing it all back to a normal that was never loved,
but my heart
was made for loving.
Filled to the breaking point
my heart loves the silent places that speak
and the monologues that don’t,
the feet that tiptoe
and the boots that stomp,
the small, crayon-filled hands coloring rainbows
and the big, dirty ones wielding guns,
my heart
was made for loving
but love
is never enough.

If I had died today
I would still have been no one.
A 20-something with
too much education
a voice that was made for speaking words no one will hear
reading phrases in a language my own
I have always been
at a loss for words.
I let passion slip through my fingers,
seep into the world
like the butterfly no human ever saw
born in the country where only god lives
she lived 72 hours
flapped her wings sixteen billion times
making hurricanes and perhaps
pollinating flowers, till
she fell to the ground, so unknown
she couldn’t even be

If I died tomorrow
I would leave dissonance in the wake of my life.
The vague discord of a soul that never fit
a triangular or octagonal soul in a round world
people would walk through me in
a quantum leap of time and space
a surge of intensity
a pause where doubt is suspended in
an elixir of cotton candy dreams, bubble bath,
baby laughs
more beautiful than I ever was—
but remember,
is never enough.
We all carry bruised hearts and
too many stories of hope turned sour
refusing to release them because hope
is our only connection to god
and regardless of faith
we refuse to discard

The other day I saw a boy
knocking on the door of a little play house
like his god might live inside.
The door was painted on, without a knob,
the windows were tacked on pieces of plywood but
he knocked as if hope alone
might make his god come out and play,
as if persistence was all he needed
for his make-believe life
to come true.
I stopped and watched, thinking for a moment that maybe
he was right
I peered to see
if god would answer.
No one came,
but I knew god must just be out because
when the boy smiled
I saw my sisters in his eyes
my grandmother in his laugh
the faces of strangers in his smile
people who had hurt me in his hands.
I knew I had to rewind because
we all carry bruised hearts
too many stories of hope turned sour
we refuse to release them: hope
is our only connection to god
and yet,
hearts only bruise
when our divinity
is trashed.

For now, I keep living
for the bullets that fall
naming the ways we bruise one another
feeling the blows in my magnetized heart
watching the bullets slide, pooling
in the deepest point where they hide,
masquerading as smiles and belief
in a bright day dawning, nothing
but hope
urges me forward
reminds me to connect to my god in the belief
that today
we will be restored to divinity,
I am knocking on the doors of righteousness
peering into tacked on windows
face frozen in a smile I can’t own
wondering how justice can be won
when everyone fights

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A rant.

You know, people joke a lot about eating disorders.  People laugh about the girl they knew in high school who ate only ketchup and water for lunch.  They laugh about how skinny the celebrities are on TV, and how they look, like, anorexic or something.  When I talk about my sister having an eating disorder, people will often crack jokes.  Jokes about how they could be anorexic too if they didn't eat so much.  Or how I should send my sister to live with them, because they eat all the time.  Or how they'll just force-feed her and solve the problem.  Want to be let in on the real joke about eating disorders?  Want to have a laugh?

I have spent the past 6 years? 7 years? 8 years?... (how long has it been now?)...worried about my sister, and it's not what you think. It's not that they "just don't eat." It's not about food. It's not that they "just want to be skinny." It's not about wanting to be the next great cheerleader or teen idol or model. It's not even about wanting to get the latest cool size 0 jeans from the latest coolest store.

For me, anorexia has meant watching my 16 year old sister, who is taller than I am, wear children's clothing in a size 10 or size 12. It means hearing how frustrating it is to find clothes without a Disney character on the front--about arm sleeves and pant legs being too short, when everything else fits. It means general frustration over clothes not fitting, analyzing costumes for plays and singing performances, and never hearing the end about how "ugly" she looks in any particular outfit.
Anorexia has meant having my sister have things taken away from her--like dancing--that she loved, because she wasn't at a safe weight to continue the exercise once a week. It has meant her giving that up completely because she wasn't willing to gain the 4 pounds that would have made it safe.

Anorexia means screaming matches. It means having food thrown at me. It means watching my father have food thrown at him. It means watching my father carry my 14 year old sister to her room because she was completely out of control. It means having my sister inpatient for weeks and weeks, and my father restraining her to keep her inside the hospital. It means leaving her in a locked ward and only being able to see her when she eats. It means not being able to see her.

It means seeing women who are at home in the locked ward. Women who look like skeletons. Women with nasogastric tubes so they can be force-fed. Anorexia means seeing a skeleton of a teenager sobbing that she doesn't want to die. It means knowing that young woman disappeared from the inpatient unit, going to the hospital, and knowing that she did not return. It means hearing that someone on the ward has told my sister that she is going to die. It means being 19 years old and sitting and holding your 13 year old sister who is terrified of dying. It means holding her, and being in so much pain, you don't even realize you are crying.

Anorexia means osteopenia at age 14 and osteoporosis at 16. It means weight checks and blood tests and bone scans. It means being 18 and not having your period. It means having no hips and a flat chest. Anorexia means urine tests--proof that she is burning muscle because she has no fat in her body to burn. It means a broken ankle that shouldn't have broken if her bones were strong. It means dehydration. It means looking at her hip bones and her spine. It means no butt or thighs.

Anorexia is dropping my sister off at the door of the supermarket because we don't want her burning the calories to walk across the parking lot. It means telling her to stop shaking her leg, to stop bouncing, to stop trying to burn more calories.

It means medications: anti-anxiety, anti-depressants, anti-psychotics. It means failed medication treatments because she didn't weigh enough for them to work. It means non-compliance with medication treatments.
Anorexia means watching her eat the same foods every day for years. It means watching those foods dwindle further and further until they include only a few items, eaten only from a paper towel and a select small bowl. It means watching foods picked apart, mashed, pushed, stirred, swirled, tossed, flipped, ripped, and chopped. It means disaster if we don't have the right type of bread in the house. It means she won't eat anything she hasn't made. It means never eating out. It means watching my sister refuse invitations to birthday parties and get-togethers with her friends. It means having her refuse to invite people over. Anorexia means never eating at holidays. It means watching her cry before holiday meals because she doesn't even want to get a plate to pretend to eat.

Anorexia is relatives and friends saying "but she looks good!" because skinny is good. It means needing to stop myself from yelling at them, explaining that it's not about how she looks. It’s being 18 and turning my back on relatives, walking away, because I know if I open my mouth I will either cry or yell. It means needing to find the words to explain that burning muscle isn't healthy. It's listening to the same relatives and friends tell her she looks good anyway. It's feeling physically ill as you watch her face glow at that compliment.

It means control. Anorexia controls my entire family.

Anorexia means watching her face light up every time she loses another ounce.

Anorexia means being 18 years old and looking into my sister's bedroom before I go to bed, just to make sure she is still breathing.

Anorexia is knowing that the mortality rate is 5-10%.

Anorexia is knowing that she will likely be hospitalized again.

Anorexia is knowing that she will struggle with this for most, if not all, of her life.

Anorexia is not being able to do anything about it. It means watching someone you love hurt themselves. It means standing by helplessly, knowing she is the only one who can do anything to change it. It means knowing that she is the only one who doesn't want to change.

Being a sister to someone with anorexia means no one caring about your college graduation, because they're too busy running from the graduation to the inpatient unit to see her. It means feeling your stomach clench in fear every time your friend says "these jeans make me look fat..." because you're terrified you'll have to watch someone else you love fade into near nothingness. It means talking for hours to parents about what choices to make, offering perspective, telling them they are doing the best they can, and assuring your mother that she IS a good mother. It's holding your other sister in the fear that both of you share, and needing to comfort her anyway. It's missing final exams because your mother is having a "break down" and needs someone to talk to, needs someone to go with her to buy a toothbrush for your newly hospitalized sister. It means never being able to fully explain just how much it hurts to hold your baby sister as she sobs, uncontrollably, and has no words to tell you why.

Anorexia is praying for a light at the end of the tunnel. Praying for a way out. Praying that one day, this will all make sense to her and she will be able to help herself. It means praying that she will take her medications. It means praying that the medications will help. It means praying that today, she will eat. It means praying that she will have enough energy to make it through the day. It means praying that she won't throw another can of tuna fish or gallon of milk or apple or box of cereal at someone. Anorexia is praying for a cure, and knowing there isn't one.

Anorexia is an enormous battle I witness but cannot fight.

Anyone want to laugh now?