Monday, June 11, 2012
“Life is the dancer and you are the dance.”
- Eckhart Tolle
Cassandra Shore of Jawaahir Dance Company.
I talked about the impact of belly dance in my blog "The Impossible" that I posted last Thursday. This art proved to be life-changing for me and was the gateway to everything I now do fitness-wise. Belly dance provided the first glimpse of the person I was meant to become. I have been out of practice for the past few years, although sometimes I turn on music and just dance. Sometimes I shimmy across the room. Belly dance has remained with me. I will be returning to classes this week for the first time on about 4 years.
Last Sunday, I kicked off this week with a class with the fabulous dancer Cassandra Shore. Minneapolis is fortunate to be home to this world-famous dancer who has deeply influenced the art of belly dance. She started dancing professionally in the 70s and is the head of Jawaahir Dance Company. Cassandra is one of those women who exudes joy and beauty. All of the teachers at the school are great, but I am fortunate this time that Cassandra herself is teaching my level and I will get to take some classes with her. I am so looking forward to reconnecting with the art if belly dance and learning from one of the best in the world.
One thing that is so wonderful about belly dance is that there is no "best" body type. All you have to do is be a woman (sorry, guys!). Women of all shapes and sizes (really!) go to classes. They all look beautiful. If you feel self-conscious about your body, then get over it and get your ass to a dance studio pronto. If I am pouring my soul into the movement, then I am as beautiful as I can get.
To get myself off on the right foot, I bought some new belly dance pants. I was surprised to find that I fit into a Large; I thought I was going to be squeezing into 3XLs. The pants really accentuate curves, but they accentuate everything. That's okay; I am who I am, and the pants will look cool while dancing. I can either battle myself or I can work with myself. I choose to love myself, including my tummy. Stretch marks, spare tire, and all.
New belly dance pants!
The truth is, I feel better about myself now than I did when I had lost 95 pounds on WeightWatchers. I feel more beautiful now than I ever have before. I never would have considered getting real dance clothes a few years ago. I now know that beauty is all in my head. Cassandra's dance school provided the first glimpses of the woman I have become.
This past week has been a bit stressful. My mother had knee replacement surgery last Monday. To add to the mix, it was incidentally found that she has pulmonary hypertension. I don't know a lot about what is going on because she won't talk about the complications and she won't discuss any work-up for the pulmonary hypertension. She was cleared to go home last Thursday. Actually, since she lives alone and needs a month of intense therapies every day, she should have gone to a rehab facility. I have been doing my best to help her and spent every free moment with her this past week, but on Friday, she made a snide remark to her best friend about what a great daughter she had and how she was so lucky that she had a daughter who "knew just what to do for her." Even my aunt looked a bit shocked. Then my mother was in my face screaming about her dog and then tried to make me look like an a-hole in front of her best friend and my aunt. Because I am 33 and I don't allow anyone--including my mother--to scream at me, I left. My poor aunt tried to diffuse the situation and seemed confused as to why my mother was acting this way. The truth is, my mother has always been a bit volatile towards me and I have always had to walk on eggshells. I can see how parental relationships become strained. She makes me out to be selfish, when the truth is, I stayed within a couple of miles of her so I could be there for her. She demands my help and then refuses it, or tells me after the fact that she had needed something, but not to worry, she found someone else (usually my brother) to help her with it. I want to be helpful, but I'm not a psychic.
In any case, I came home and needed to get ready for work. I only had 10 minutes before I had to log on, and there I was, crying. Luckily, my awesome SparkFriends jumped in with some love, and that helped greatly. After work, my boyfriend hugged me while patiently listening to me blather on about the day and about the insulting things my mom has said to me over the years. I felt much better afterwards. Before anyone comments that mother has done a lot for me throughout the years and how I should be grateful--I know that, and I am grateful for her. I know she has been to hell and back for her children. But I am also starting to see the ways she has undermined and manipulated me, and I am not going to be someone's verbal punching bag. It is one of those things that needs to be addressed to make the relationship work. I have always felt like I was inadequate as a daughter, but I now know that is not the problem. If she can't work on it with me, then I am concerned that our relationship will become truly strained.
I gave up some of my workout time this week to help my mother, and my body and mind could feel it. While I don't have trouble missing a day or two every once in a while (other than my day or two of rest), having my stress relief taken away from me while I'm trying to deal with a difficult situation was not good. I still got in a few good Jiu Jitsu sessions, but nothing else (other than the short belly dance class with Cassandra last Sunday). I am getting ready for a grappling competition on the 30th; this will be my first martial arts competition. The fights on the 16th were cancelled, so I would not have had a fight anyways. I would prefer to do a grappling competition than a Muay Thai kickboxing fight; grappling is a safer way to compete without getting seriously injured.
I lost 3 pounds this week. My eating was decent enough and I was diligent about tracking. I need to make sure I have more time to grocery shop, as I really skimped on produce on several days. This week was unusual, though; I usually have plenty of healthy foods stocked up. I was able to get to the grocery store and now have lots of freggies. I almost feel panicky when I run low! Fortunately, my garden is starting to yield some edibles, so I won't have to worry about running low over the next few months at least.
As I was writing this blog post, I got an e-mail that I am a SparkPeople Motivator! I am stoked that others have found meaning in my journey. I hope I have touched people the same way they have touched me. My "weight loss" journey has been far from perfect, but I would not have done a lot differently. Nothing teaches us more about ourselves than the struggles. The victories just taste that much sweeter.
There was a lot of crap last week. But I made it through and even accentuated the positives. This week, I am going to move in the most joyous way I know. Whether it be dance or something else, I hope you move through this week with joy, too.
"I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing."
Thursday, June 07, 2012
Image from http://weheartit.com/animelover118
When I started using the SparkPeople website, I had a goal of losing 136 pounds. I wanted to improve my relationship with food in that process, learning to make better choices and to "fight" my constant hunger. I haven't been surprised that I have been willing to push myself with exercise (martial arts, weight lifting, running, etc.), but I kind of expected that I would always have a constant struggle with food. I thought having a normal and reasonable relationship with food was outside of the realm of possibilities.
This is one of the hugest blogs I have written. This blog is as exciting to me as posting a really major weight milestone. Now, there was not some finish line I crossed, or some exciting number on the scale I saw, or some new clothing size I can fit into. Rather, this blog is about the culmination of all of the small changes over the past 2 years on this SparkJourney that have added up to make me a new person. The weight will continue to come off, but truly changing my relationship with myself and with food were unexpected surprises. I did not realize how deeply I was changing. My good pal MUSICALLYMINDED said this, which rang so true: "Weight doesn't change your attitude, maybe your change in attitude is what causes you to lose weight." I could not have said it better myself. The past 2 years or so have been the ground work for leading a lifestyle that is permanently healthy. My weight has gone down by about 50 pounds, but I have gotten more than I could have hoped from the process of losing those pounds. My body and mind now know the difference between honest hunger and urges to eat. Better yet, my body and mind know the difference without me having to think about it. I never (literally--never) thought I would reach that point.
A couple of weeks ago, the moment I didn't even realize I was waiting for happened. It was a Thursday night, I logged off of work, padded to my living room, and watched "The Muppets" (thought of Bren!). After the movie, I went to brush my teeth. I realized that I hadn't eaten my last snack for the day. I actually forgot all about it. Normally, I spend the last couple of hours of my shift thinking about popcorn and chocolate (my nightly snack) and then eat right after I'm done. I would eat my evening snack even if I weren't all that hungry (although, oddly enough, I started skipping the chocolate more often if I didn't care too much about it). I have never forgotten about food before. Now, I am not advocating skipping meals; if I had been hungry, I would have eaten something. I had eaten enough that day, too. But to get to the point of actually not caring about eating to the point of forgetting is huge for me. Dare I say, I would have said it was impossible.
The impact of this event took a while to sink in. It was subtle--I mean, I wasn't TRYING to forget to eat. I never specifically set that goal (actually, I am still a big fan of food!). But when I was walking to my bedroom to go to bed and I realized I had forgotten to eat, but that was okay because I had eaten enough that day and wasn't hungry, I had the same reaction as seeing a milestone number on the scale. First I laughed, then I stopped and stood there...stunned. I double-checked my brain to make sure it actually felt this way, and it did.
Ever since, when the thought of food crosses my mind, my brain either immediately answers, "Yep, hungry, eat!" or "Naw, we're good," and I move on without any emotions about it. I have mostly eaten healthy for several years, but the urge to slip into overeating has been the natural tendency. If I started a pattern of overeating and/or eating junk, it was a struggle to get back to healthy eating. Now, healthy eating feels normal to my body and my body rejects overeating and junk food. Don't get me wrong, I have had streaks of eating too much over the course of several days, but my brain scream at me: "Erin! Seriously! Let's get some carrots and flaxseed oil up in here!" I realized that I have had a lot of moments of naturally choosing to eat or not eat based on honest hunger, but forgetting about food on that Thursday night was what made me really, truly know that my brain is different now.
I know a lot of SparkPeople members understand the significance of reaching this point, but I am not sure I would be able to describe the event to most of the people I know without sounding nutty. So, I am sharing with you what has lead up to me finally reaching this point. The point of no return, where I am so deeply changed that I am the person I have been striving for.
"Impossible is not a fact. It's an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It's a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing."
I have bitten by a creativity bug in a serious way (see blog from last Saturday). I have always been creatively-inclined, but my mind feels much more clear now. I think part of the reason is that I am not totally preoccupied with food. I was always thinking about food, whether I was hungry or not, whether I was doing something that had anything to do with food or not...always. My dysfunctional relationship with food started when I was 5 years old. I have written about it before, but my family was in a car accident that killed my older brother and maimed my mother and younger brother. Other than some windshield glass in my skin, I did not sustain any major physical injuries.
I started sneak binge-eating after the accident. It was not my mother's fault. I would steal food from wherever I could. I would sneak to the kitchen late at night and eat cereal or other easy snacks. She did not realize for many years that I was doing this. I was in counseling for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, but I don't think anyone realized how much I was eating. I was drugging myself. My deep-seated hatred for myself started after the accident. I always felt very misunderstood. Of course, it ended up that no one misunderstood me more than myself. I used to hate myself so much that I was depressed most of the time, to the point of not functioning very well day-to-day. I had spent years in counseling. I was bullied at school for my weight and for being "weird." I was fat, hideous, and unlovable, at least in my head. After years of thinking of ways to end my life, I had 2 suicide attempts (one when I was 16 and one when I was 23). My family and friends tried desperately to show me that I was important and loved, but I thought it was a facade. I felt I was a burden and that everyone would honestly be better of without me. Thoughts of suicide became more prevalent in my late teens and early twenties. I was actually preoccupied with wanting to be dead, to disconnect my disgusting body from my chaotic mind. Deep down, I did not really want to die, so I continued to seek counseling. I tried talk therapies and different medications. Turned out I needed to stop talking and actually get moving.
My saving grace was exercise. I cannot emphasize enough that exercise literally saved my life. Movement has taught me how my body connects to my mind. I have learned what I am really capable of by being willing to pursue physical challenges. And of course, the physiological changes that come with exercise (increased blood flow to the brain, better energy utilization, etc.) have paved the way to be able to eat better. I believe that exercise is what is managing any depressive tendencies I have had in the past. Without exaggeration, I am fairly sure I would have killed myself by now. This story of transformation actually starts about 8 years ago, when I nervously signed up for my first belly dance class. As a kid, my mom would take us to Middle Eastern restaurants and we frequently saw belly dancers perform. They were mesmerizing. They flowed through the room with grace, moving their muscles in magical ways. I really wanted to try it, but as the girl who was constantly teased about her weight, belly dance was outside the realm of possibility.
I haven't talked a whole lot about belly dance because I have been out of practice for the past couple of years. However, belly dance was the first significant influence on my mental and physical health transformation. My first belly dance class was the first group exercise-type class I had ever willingly taken. I pictured it being much like the gym classes of my grade school years: pointing and snickering, jokes about my weight, being excluded. Having always been overweight and never really having thought about how my body moves, I was sure I would fail. Something inside me let go of my trepidation enough to show up, though. I think I was at a breaking point where I thought, "What do I have to lose? How much worse could a bad experience at a dance class compare to the rest of my life?"
The first day of class, I showed up in baggy sweatpants and a t-shirt. I walked into the dance studio, which had floor-to ceiling mirrors. The hair on the back of my neck went up immediately. There were some women in real dance gear and some women dressed like me. When I walked in the room, a group of women turned to me and smiled. The teacher turned and came over to me. "Welcome!" She ushered me into the room and asked me some questions. No one seemed disgusted with me. No one behaved like I did not belong, although I still felt terribly out of place.
Class started with some breathing exercises. She asked us to close our eyes and take a deep breath while having our hands on our abdomen. I had done some breathing exercises in therapy before, as well as with playing the saxophone, but I remember this made me uncomfortable because I had never touched my body in the context of movement. I hated my stomach and felt gross touching it, feeling it move with my breathing. I didn't like the idea that it was a part of me. I followed her instructions and got through the class. I wasn't totally sure how I felt about dance yet. I felt fat and awkward, even though there were other larger women in the class, and I thought they looked great dancing. I did not want to give up, though, so I kept going.
After a few weeks of dance, I started to watch myself and the way my body moved in the mirrors. For the first time in my entire life--literally--I thought, "Maybe my body isn't so grotesque--and maybe I am not so despicable after all." I kept going to class and even started wearing a jingle belt. I started to pick up on the moves, feeling almost sexy while dancing. I still struggled intensely with depression, but dancing was the first time I saw a glimmer of hope for the future.
I realize that I am very fortunate to be one of those people who naturally enjoys exercise and that my body and mind took to physical activity immediately. I have exercised very consistently over the past 7 years. Belly dance was the gateway to giving some serious thought to losing weight. I had lost 95 pounds with WeightWatchers about 5 years ago. I learned a lot about myself and started to become more athletic. I started doing triathlons. On the other hand, I was very neurotic about both food and exercise. I would be furious at myself for overeating, I would avoid social activities to get in my workouts. I had simply traded one neurosis for another. With the weight loss, people started treating me differently...with respect...without that look of disgust in the back of their eyes. Being treated with respect for the first time in my life really pissed me off. I actually became a much more angry person. I thought I would be so happy and feel so beautiful to be at a more normal weight. Instead I felt more confused than ever before.
Although I continued to exercise and retained some of the healthy eating habits I had learned doing WeightWatchers, I was not ready to be in that body. That body was not my own. I still had serious disconnect between my body and mind. I stopped going to meetings, then stopped tracking my food. The weight crept back on, and then some. Despite the weight gain, I continued to exercise, including continuing to do Muay Thai, which I had been doing for about a year before I started gaining weight again. I sporadically did Muay Thai or kickboxing over the next few years, but I was not truly engaged in any particular physical activity. I would work out just to get in exercise, but some of the disconnect between my body and mind had returned.
Enter SparkPeople in 2009, when my friend KVARNLOV told me about it. I signed up at the time, took a look around, but wasn't active. Actually, I don't think I logged back on for nearly a year. In the summer of 2010, I looked around the site more and became better acquainted with using it. I set up my SparkPage and started to connect with others. I started tracking my food, then my exercise. I wrote my first blog entry in January 2011. It was a gradual process to become active on SparkPeople, but I am glad I gave it some time. Building up slowly on SparkPeople was the first time I learned to forgive myself for not eating or exercising "perfectly," and I have the SparkPeople community and another group of supportive online friends to thank for that. My friends and family have always been wonderful and nonjudgmental, but I have been able to pour my heart out in ways that I would not have been able to express to them.
I have been thoroughly enjoying that my good eating has been very natural. Sure, there has been some overeating, but I enjoyed that, too. When it wasn't enjoyable, my body immediately demanded better, and I obliged. I accept that I will never conquer emotional eating or avoiding all overeating. Sometimes I will have a bad day and eat comfort food. Sometimes something will just be THAT damn good that I eat it, and I will not feel guilty. Both events are perfectly natural. The difference is that my brain is no longer in food crisis mode at all times. I would go as far as to say that always expecting to eat "perfectly" can be just as dysfunctional as overeating all of the time. If the expectation to eat perfectly actually worked, then we would not be thrown into a tailspin when we get slightly off-track. I had to let go of my ideas of perfection and recognize that it is normal to overeat sometimes. I have tried not to exercise willpower against food, but rather finding the will to find myself. In getting to know myself and my body better, I learned more about what I truly need. I had always been so obsessed with food, yet I had no idea how to enjoy it. Food used to be the most important thing to me. Now I am the most important thing. What once seemed impossible is actually happening. I couldn't ask for more than that, regardless of what the scale says. I always said that I have been struggling with my weight for most of my life. In retrospect, I now know that I was really struggling with myself. The extra weight has been my alter ego for so long, I didn't know how to live without it. Now I don't just survive in my body, I thrive in it.
I am now in a good groove. My life is definitely not free of stress, but the way I approach it is very different. The woman who nervously walked into her first belly dance class never would have guessed that she would be a decent martial artist within a few years. Make that a martial artist who rolls around on the ground with sweaty guys in Jiu Jitsu, with them touching all over. That former woman did not like to put her hands on herself, let alone let others touch her. That other woman would never have guessed that she would finish a degree in exercise science and give workout advice to super-fit pro fighters. I am very thankful, though, that she got over her fears and stepped into that dance studio years ago so that I could be here today. I will be walking together back into the dance studio next Saturday, returning to my first exercise love, belly dance. The other woman was about 250 pounds, as I am now. I know something that she did not know, though, that the number on the scale means nothing. She will be with me, but she is no longer afraid.
My life, finally, is mine. It is not ruled by food. It is not ruled by trying to please or impress others. I am, for the first time, really, truly...me. The essence of my true self has always been there, but it took a lot of exploring, a lot of trial-and-error, a lot of creativity, a lot of forgiveness. But here I am, incorporating my past learning experiences, watching the sun rise on the rest of my beautiful life. I love myself. I am allowing another to really love me, another first. I'm possible, and so are you.
"So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable."
Sunday, June 03, 2012
I got caught up in a lot of other things last week and didn't post a "Week in Review" blog. I've been gardening, writing, working out, and spending time with my boyfriend. My brain is all over the place. Overall, I am in a pretty contented place.
The month of May was decent enough. I had the leg injury that took me out of hard workouts for a couple of weeks, but should be better now (more below). I have backed out of the Muay Thai fight I was scheduled for on June 16th because I wasn't able to train because of the leg injury. It is just as well, because they haven't found me an opponent, and I am not going to show up the day of the fight unsure of whether I have a suitable opponent or not. If nothing else, signing up for the fight got me working out hard. I only had a net loss of about 1 pound in May, but I lost several inches from my waist, hips, and arms. I can probably thank weightlifting and martial arts for that.
I got a lot of gardening done in May and my yard is looking pretty good. I have a pretty wild yard. I have no lawn, it is all garden. My yard has been a major project since I bought my house 7 years ago. I would not have arranged the garden the way the previous owner had, and I have been battling the invasive plants she chose for the yard over the years. My garden is organic, so of course controlling unwanted plants has been a slower process. Finally, this year, it appears that the garden is my own. The plants I have planted (like roses and irises) are able to thrive because I have the invasive species under control a bit more.
My veggie garden patch was easy to get ready to plant thanks to the work I've done over the past few years. I simplified the plantings this year and just have soybeans and carrots in there, instead of a larger variety with smaller yields from each type. My blueberry bushes, planted last year, look pretty good. I also expanded my little strawberry patch. Now I have cherries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries in my yard--yum!
I tried for several years to grow a lot of roses, but most of these fickle plants died despite my efforts. Of the 20-something roses I have tried to plant, I have about 10 survivors. The most spectacular rose I have in my garden is "Neptune," it's silvery-lavender radiance gracing my garden all summer. The flowers have a refreshing citrus scent. The plant has been hardy and a prolific bloomer. The thing is, I planted "Neptune" when I did not know as much about planting zones. I bought "Neptune" without realizing that it should not be able to survive in Minneapolis (USDA Zone 4). "Neptune" is a Zone 6 or higher rose. I expected that I would not see "Neptune" again after the first year, but it is the first rose to show signs of life in the spring and has lived happily in my garden for the past 4 years. I guess that sometimes things will thrive when they are completely outside of their element.
Place to sit under the cherry tree.
So wish they lasted longer...
Peppers, tomatoes, herbs, and potatoes (in the green growing bag) on the patio.
Mmmmm, fresh greens...
Soybeans and carrots--or at least there will be soon...
Strawberries and blueberries.
I have not been working out as much as usual because of the large hematoma on my right leg. It is significantly better now. My mother, who is a nurse, suggested massaging gently to help break up the hematoma. When she massaged it last Sunday, I felt an immediate release of pressure in the lower leg. I continued to ice it regularly. My boyfriend Greg has massaged it a couple more times. It bruised up slightly again, but that is not surprising since the hematoma was breaking up. My lower leg is finally not painful again.
I have held off on doing any intense workouts. I have done a couple of lower leg workouts, some boxing, and I did a run a couple of days ago. This week I should be able to return to most of my regular workouts, although I am going to take it easy on the martial arts so I don't take any blows to my lower leg. I have missed my workout routine.
My eating has been not been great on a lot of days, but I have tracked everything. Despite overeating pretty consistently for about 2 weeks, I did not gain weight. This is probably because the consistent tracking has stopped me from going totally overboard. I have been pretty good about cooking and having healthy meals ready, like one of my favorites, tofu fried rice.
Homemade tofu fried rice.
If you saw yesterday's blog, I have been doing a lot of writing recently. I have had 2 books rolling around in my head and now feel ready to really sit down and write them. Yesterday was one of those "Cancel everything!" days, and I wrote for many hours. I did peel myself away to go have dinner with my boyfriend, some of his friends, and my brother. Today my project is this blog, and I am also working on a post titled "The Impossible," which will talk about my changed relationship with food and with myself. Should be posted in the next day or 2. "The Impossible" has required a lot of thought, but I have been picking away at it.
I have also had the urge to start belly dancing again. I will talk more about belly dance in "The Impossible," but dance is what really started my mental transformation a few years ago. I was looking into when classes start for the summer at my old dance school, and they start next week. It also turns out that the school just moved to a much more convenient location about a mile from my house. Actually, there is an open house there this afternoon that I will be heading to momentarily. I am excited to have dance in my life again.
My last "Week in Review" blog was about my vacation week and the trip I took with my boyfriend Greg. Ever since the trip, we have been spending more time together. When we were at the lake, we had more opportunity to talk about some things and became closer. I am a happy lady.
Greg snuggling my dog Dugan.
Overall, May was a pretty good month. Although the stupid injury I got caused an inconvenience and landed me in the emergency room, it also gave me a chance to see how adorable Greg is when he's worried. He rushed right over to go to the emergency room with me (see "The Lake House" blog for further details). Not a great month for weight loss, but it was a decent month for fitness until my leg got injured. June will bring much running in the sunshine, Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, and last but not least, DANCE! I am off to my school's open house, ready to reunite with my first exercise love. Happy June, all!
A moment for healthy living...
"I seldom end up where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be."
Saturday, June 02, 2012
I'm not sure why, but I have been seriously bitten by the writing bug recently. It has been a while since I have done writing other than my blogs. I have been working more on my sci-fi novel, which is about the discovery of a second co-existing species of humans. My sci-fi novel has mostly been a brainstorm for the past couple of years. I have been jotting down ideas and writing bits and pieces of the 3-part series, but it has not been until the past week or so that I have had a clearer picture in my head of the flow of the story. The characters have started to come to life and I have been able to better shape them on paper (or on word processor, as it were).
Actually, I have been bitten by the creativity bug in general recently. I have also had serious urges to dance again, and will be starting up with belly dance lessons again. Conveniently, my dance school just moved to about a mile from my house, making it excuse-free to get to classes. Over the past week or so, I have turned on music and done informal belly dance sessions throughout the day. I have missed this outlet of creativity and the way dance expresses my feelings. It seems to unleash my emotions like nothing else because I don't think or concentrate while I dance. I just do it, allowing my body to move as it pleases. I feel more coordinated than I have in the past. I am looking forward to dancing more and taking classes again.
I am excited today because I finally have a coherent idea for another book. For several years, I have had another idea for a book rolling around in my head about the relationship between a brother and sister. "Based on true events," part of the idea was that exercise brings the brother and sister closer together. I have also wanted to write an autobiography, but I don't want to write a "This happened, and then that happened, and then this happened after that..." account of my life. The most significant event of my life was the car accident that happened when I was 5 years old. My older brother Brian was killed, my younger brother John sustained a serious head injury, and my mother was injured and struggled for much of my childhood as a single mother. I have wanted to write something that serves as a tribute to my brother Brian, as well as expressing how much my mother means to me. I have also wished that my younger brother and I were closer, and have been wanting to write a story in which I am closer to him. The only way my brother John and I truly relate is through exercise.
I suddenly had the idea yesterday to combine the idea of the the brother and sister coming closer together, as well as the autobiographical account of the car accident and the aftermath, and how it shaped me and my family. In a somewhat "It's a Wonderful Life"-inspired way, there are 2 realities, one in which the car accident occurs and one where the accident does not occur. The main character becomes 2 different people depending on whether the accident occurs or not.
In the story where the car accident occurs and the girl's older brother dies, she goes on to have depression and be bullied because she becomes overweight. This girl becomes very caring and understands the preciousness of life. She has a rough relationship with her younger brother, but they become closer as adults thanks to running and kickboxing. The girl's father, who had essentially abandoned his children after getting divorced from the girl's mother, becomes a better man after realizing that his children are the most important thing in his life. This part is, of course, "based on true events."
In the alternate reality where the family narrowly misses having the car accident, the girl becomes a completely different person. Despite the efforts of her kind mother, the girl goes on to become beautiful and popular. She becomes self-absorbed and goes on to have a highly successful career. She is not an awful person, but she is not deeply caring and is not particularly close to her family. Although she becomes successful, her life is a bit shallow. The girl in this version is somewhat based on many of my family members. I love my family a lot, but many of them seem to drift a bit through life and not really understand the special meaning that comes with waking up every day and feeling thankful to be here, thankful for what we have.
Now, I am NOT saying I am glad the car accident happened. However, it is undeniable how such an event shaped me; it is probably the most significant event of my life (and hopefully the only time I ever experience a tragedy on that level). The fact is, I am who I am today because of that day on June 20th, 1984. The best I can make of the car accident and my brother Brian's death is that the event and aftermath made me into the caring and empathetic person I am today. In reflecting on the event, I have often wondered if I would have turned out the same way had the accident never happened.
The following is a short story I wrote a couple of years ago while I was in a literary non-fiction class. It is an autobiographical account of the car accident. I actually posted it in a blog last June on my brother Brian's death anniversary, if it looks familiar. This is going to be the opening of the book, which I have decided, at least for now, will also be called "Blond Brothers." At the very beginning of the story, a moment occurs between the brother and sister while reflecting on a photo taken when they were young children. The brother never died. I have always wanted to expand on that idea, but it was not until now that I had a better idea of how to do it. The short story is bittersweet, as the book will be. The reality is, most lives are bittersweet and it takes some digging to find that the difference between getting through a left turn arrow or not can shape who we are forever. Here is the short story "Blond Brother," which will be slightly edited to be the opening of the book.
"Brian!" my mother yells. "Stop bothering your sister!" She shoots the picture as I triumphantly yank the yellow balloon away, my golden blond pigtails bouncing as I skip away. Brian has the same blond hair, a short boy's haircut, although the slight curls make his hair unruly. His pants never fit right, always hanging off of his skinny waist to reveal half of his butt, even though he could tighten his brown leather belt to hold them up. He knows that I started it. I always do. I win only because he lets me and he adores me.
The photograph shows an average moment between siblings, a typical memory: A gangly eight-year-old boy holding a prized possession, a twerpy little sister wanting it only because she knows she can win. Brother and sister thumb through a photo album, come across this picture, shaking their heads and giggling.
"Do you remember how much you used to piss me off?" one says to the other.
"Whatever, you always started it!" the other retorts. They laugh together and are so glad they have outgrown such childish ways.
I ask Brian in my head, "Do you remember how much you used to piss me off?" The only response is the call of a tall waterbird in the lake near his grave. I will never know if we outgrow our childish ways. I don't want the damn yellow balloon anymore. I want more fights with my brother. I want to let him win for once. My hand absently rises to my forehead, the round bumpy scar one of many reminders. I accept the tranquility of my brother's grave, the turtle carved into the flat gray granite headstone posed just like the turtles basking in the sun by the lake.
Our baby brother John is contentedly gazing out the back window of the car. He has never had a hair cut, his straw-blond baby hair in rambunctious curls around his cherub face. I watch him watching the cars going by from the safety of his car seat; he doesn't know how often I watch him watching things. It is a warm and sunny summer day and Brian and I are excited to go to McDonalds for ice cream. I was dragged to Brian's doctor appointment and I know I deserve a treat. Today we are not squabbling. My mother pulls the car into the left turn lane at the stop light and we wait patiently for our turn. She turns and smiles at me, her five-year-old daughter sitting next to her, and eight-year-old and two-year-old sons in the back.
Brian picks at my hair and tells me it is like spun gold. He takes off his seat belt and leans over the to the front seat, wrapping his arms around me. I don't resist. I pick fights with him, but secretly I covet his ability to catch turtles and to recite most of the lines from Star Wars. He hugs me every chance he gets, when I'm not being such a brat to make it impossible.
I turn to look at him. The truck is the biggest and fastest thing I have ever seen as it barrels toward the intersection where my mother pulled out after our light turned green. My scream comes too late to warn my mother.
The impact makes no sound.
The car is spinning forever. The sky and ground outside the car melt into a whirl of blue and brown. I turn around during the slow-motion moment to look at my brothers.
Brian's arms are not around me anymore. John's eyes are closed, blood trickling from his ear, his mouth slightly open, his head tilted back as though he is napping. My mother is asleep and her head is pointed at the ceiling.
The car stops after an eternity in the grass median. I clamber to open the door, to go where, I don't know. A tall blond-haired man whisks me up and runs with me through the grass, despite my confused protests. He lays me down on my back and I turn on my side to see the sky blue Chevy sitting gracelessly in the grass, crumpled like a used newspaper. The grass is too high for me to see my mother or brothers. Even though I can walk, I cannot move from where I am. Sirens wail from a distance, a chorus of them gets louder, then stops.
A paramedic comes and gingerly picks me up. I can say nothing, only scream. He puts me in the ambulance. John's tiny body is surrounded by people, counting out loud as they press on him and squeeze a balloon-looking plastic bag over his mouth. They stop and start to busily poke at him and put a plastic mask over his mouth. All of the equipment seems too big for him.
Outside I see police officers talking to the blond man who took me from our car. The doors close and the sirens blast again as the ambulance starts to move. The ride only lasts a second. We are bustled into the hospital and I am taken by a nurse to a bed surrounded by cloth curtains. My bare feet dangle over the bed. I ask where my shoes are and the nurse tells me they were lost in the crash. The nurse has tweezers and a metal bowl on a table next to the bed. She tells me she needs to remove the "windshield" from my skin.
The first chunk of glass plops into the metal bowl with a staccato Plink. The nurse tells me I'm doing a good job. She finds another piece of windshield glass and digs slightly to pull it from my forearm. Plink. I tell the nurse I want to see my mother, and she says I can in a little bit.
"Where's John?" I ask. The nurse pulls back the curtain next to us to reveal my baby brother nestled amongst beeping machines. Plastic tubes are sticking out everywhere. He is napping and does not look uncomfortable.
The nurse turns back to her task. She sees a sliver of glass on my chest and gingerly tugs at it with the tweezers. Plink. I look at the nurse, who is looking closely at my arm.
"I'm sorry, he's dead." Plink.
I don't feel any more glass under my skin, each Plink into the bowl sounding more distant, the beeps from machines rushing away.
My Aunt Theresa is walking towards me, smiling with a trembling lip. Her eyes are puffy and wet. The nurse does not stop picking at me as my aunt approaches. Plink. Aunt Theresa sits down next to me and holds my hand. I say again that I want to see my mother. Aunt Theresa squeezes my hand more tightly. Dozens of Plinks later, the nurse stops, and then washes my skin.
Aunt Theresa takes me down the hall, my bare feet almost squeaking on the white linoleum. My father is sitting next to my mother's bed and is holding her hand. He is sad. I have never seen him sad, only mad. That is why we don't live with him anymore. He turns to look at me. We have nothing to say to each other right now.
I cautiously approach the bed where my mother is laying. A machine with squiggly lines on a screen beeps rhythmically next to her bed. She looks beautiful and flawless, but now her eyes are empty.
My mother is staring straight at me, but is not looking at me. Aunt Theresa tells me my mother broke her back and hurts a lot right now. My mother normally has all the answers, so I don't know what to say to her. I place my hand on hers, and she squeezes her eyes shut, tears leaking from her tightly-closed eyelids. My mother says nothing. I study her gorgeous face, her brunette hair cascading on her pillow. My father and Aunt Theresa are talking about the "drunk" man and "running the red light." Then something about John being in a "coma." Something about Brian "going through the windshield."
Aunt Theresa puts her hand on my shoulder and tells me that it's time to go and buy new shoes.
The flowers my dad left are fresh in the vase by Brian's grave. Hours ago my dad stood over my brother's grave, a different man than the one who received the call twenty-five years ago that his oldest son was dead, the rest of his family in shambles. He became a real father that day. Today I am my father's daughter, my dark blond hair, gray eyes, large figure, and smart mouth are all from him. The anger is long forgotten.
John's hair is no longer blond, but brunette like my mother's, no longer curly, but coarse and chopped close to his head. He does not remember the day of the accident, but knows very well that it shaped him forever. Standing six feet tall, he is handsome and his lean body shows that he frequently runs marathons. He looks at other graves, at the lake, at the sky, at the car. Anywhere but straight down at the granite slab with the turtle and the engraving "...each seed is each seed's child."
John squirms from one foot to the other as he stands with my mother and me. My mother looks up from Brian's grave and grabs my hand. "What do you remember the most about Brian?" she asks.
I pause awkwardly. "His death," I answer honestly. She gazes with hope for more answers from my face, and nods. The wounds continue for my mother all these years later, although she now knows it was not her fault. The tall blond man who had taken me from the wrecked Chevy, the same man who took my older brother's life, had said he was not sorry. She forgave him anyway.
I can remember Brian if I think hard, in thoughts, and in pictures. But the silver truck grill is always bearing down on us in the one second that changes our lives. My mother gazes at the lake, remembering her eldest son, thankful for John and me. "Have I told you how proud I am of you?" she asks me, beaming.
"Yes, earlier today."
She takes John's hand. "I love you so much," she says, squeezing and shaking his hand. He rolls his eyes with slight indignation. "Yeah, I know. I love you, too," he mutters, even though he means it.
My brothers, my mother, and I are together as a family.
Thanks for reading. I wrote this blog partially because I am excited to be feeling so creative again. I also wanted to jot these ideas down, so I figured I may well do a blog to keep the ideas easily accessible.
Thanks again for reading.
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
"A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in."
View from the porch at my family's lake house.
I was at the end of my rope by Friday of last week. I had a crappy training week due to a dumb injury, and that dumb injury landed me in the emergency room (don't worry, it is fine now). Then Friday was an extremely rough night at work that involved our phone system crashing. I was hoping to already be in "vacation mode" by the time Saturday morning rolled around and my boyfriend and I were going to my family's lake house near La Crosse, Wisconsin. Needless to say, I was such a stress ball that I had half a mind to cancel the whole thing. I am very glad I did not cancel it.
I was looking forward to an excellent training week last Monday. Then, 5 minutes into Jiu Jitsu class, my partner accidentally landed his knee on my right shin during a warm-up drill. I have a pretty high pain tolerance, but it made me double over. It started to bruise within a few seconds. Being as stubborn as I am, I pressed on. I even did kicks with that leg. Then, it started to hurt too much to make contact with that shin, so I just did upper body stuff. After a couple of hours, it was impressive football-sized bruise. I didn't think much of it because I get nicked up all the time in practice and nothing really ever comes of the bruises. I did my best to elevate the leg when I could, take some Epsom salt baths, and iced it several times a day.
By Wednesday it actually hurt to walk on that leg. I went to the gym, but I only did upper body weights. On Thursday, while I was working, I noticed my foot was bruising up and figured that the blood from the bruise was just pooling a bit. Then it started to really hurt, sudden deep stabbing pain. Then my lower leg and foot went numb. It continued like this for several hours. I was working, so I couldn't elevate it. I was concerned that there was swelling that was compromising my circulation. I started to contemplate going to the emergency room. I almost never go to the doctor and haven't been to an emergency room in at least 10 years, but I didn't want to overreact. I finally called my health insurance's nurse line, and she thought it was best that I was seen. I had been wishing that it wasn't so late so I could have called my mom (former emergency room nurse and current phone triage nurse). I texted my boyfriend that I was going to the emergency room and he zoomed right over, which I thought was incredibly sweet. He went with me when I finished my shift. The doctor examined it and did not believe that circulation was compromised, but that it was just a very deep and painful bruise. I felt better after talking to my mom today, who told me she would have advised me to be seen, but that the numbness was not very unusual for a deep bruise on the shin.
In any case, my leg is getting better, but I am going to lay off of kicking with that shin or doing and sparring for a while. I will probably not be doing Jiu Jitsu for a few weeks, either. I will see how it goes, but I may not be able to get in enough training for the fight on June 16th. Even if the leg is completely better by then, I can't have repeated blows to that leg right now because I know it will just aggravate it.
I also helped my dad euthanize his cat, Alex, on Thursday. The cat was very sick and had kidney and liver failure. My dad had a vet come to the house for the euthanasia, and as far as having to put a pet to sleep goes, it was as pleasant as possible. I'm glad I was there, both for the cat and for my dad and stepmom. Alex was about 15 years old and I lived with him for a while, so he was kind of a childhood cat. He will be missed.
I'm not even sure what other aggravating crap happened last week because it apparently all got erased with my trip over the weekend. My family jointly owns a house on a lake near La Crosse, Wisconsin. It is in the Mississippi River Valley, so the drive is scenic and our view of the lake is awesome. I was admittedly nervous about spending 3 days with my boyfriend, Greg. I have never traveled with a boyfriend before and I was worried we would drive each other nuts or that we would get sick of each other, or whatever else could go wrong. I am glad I was able to relax, because we had a great time. We had no real plans for when we got there; it was meant to be pure relaxation.
We drove down Saturday afternoon. It is only a 3 hour drive from Minneapolis along a very beautiful route, so we had a good time. My boyfriend loves to drive, so I let him drive my car. I also brought my dog Dugan with me; I had never traveled with him. We got there and the second Greg caught one look at the view from the porch and we parked it there for a while. My dog was a little wild at first, but then settled down. I took him for a good walk through town, which wore him out a little more. Then I made homemade risotto with lots of veggies for dinner that night. I had some tofu with it, but Greg made bratwurst for himself. It was a gorgeous evening (if not a bit muggy), so we sat on the porch and sipped scotch and each had a cigar. I know, not the healthiest thing, but I did enjoy it and may have them on rare occasions (I had never had one before).
On Sunday morning, we made scrambled eggs and some potatoes for breakfast. There was more relaxing and chatting on the porch. It kept threatening to rain, so we did not get out the canoe or do any outdoor stuff (it never did rain). I made homemade vegetable lasagna for lunch, which turned out pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. Afterwards, we did sneak in a walk through the park in town, which weaves through bluffs on the edge of a large creek, with water pouring out of the rocks. Then we met one of Greg's friends for dinner in a nearby town. That is a meal where I really overdid it with food, but that is a rare occurrence nowadays. That evening was more chilly, so we snuggled up on the couch and I read while he wrote.
Monday was an impeccable day weather-wise, so we got out the canoe and went for a quick ride. My mother told me we had kayaks there, so I took one out for a spin. I had never done it before and I loved it! I look forward to doing more. We got the house cleaned up and headed home in the early evening. I was worried about getting sick of being with Greg; instead, I kind of missed him right after I dropped him off.
Overall, the weekend about as perfect as I could have hoped.
Greg and my dog Dugan enjoying the view.
A swallowtail butterfly visitor.
My dog all tuckered out.
Early morning mist over the lake.
Another shot of the mist.
Me out on a kayak.
Bluffs along the Mississippi River Valley on the way back.
Mississippi River near Pepin, Wisconsin.
Sunset over the Mississippi River Valley.
***CAUTION*** GRATUITOUS FOOD PORN AHEAD!
Homemade risotto (arborio rice, turmeric, lemon, basil, onion, garlic, asparagus, bell pepper, carrots, peas, and Parmesan cheese). Also had some tofu with it.
Homemade vegetable lasagna (lasagna noodles, tomato sauce, ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, onion, garlic, spinach, carrots, and bell pepper)
I did write down my food over the weekend (although I wasn't paying terribly close attention to overall calorie count or anything) and entered all of it into my tracker yesterday. I didn't do too bad considering I was traveling. I still had lots of water, fruits, and vegetables. Sure, there was a major splurge, but sometimes a meal can be an event. I am glad I cooked so we had some wholesome foods, although I had more wheat and dairy than I would normally have now.
I am very glad we took this trip, because any doubts I had about Greg are gone. Of course, most of the doubts were my own insecurities, but I have a terrible track record with guys. I was just sitting there waiting to get screwed over. But any guy who rushes over at midnight to sit in an emergency room with me for 3 hours and then goes on a trip with me, doing everything possible to make sure I am taken care of, is clearly not looking to screw me over. I had never really seen the value in having a partner before, but Greg complements the parts of me that need balance, and I think I do the same for him. I like where it is going.
Now I have the rest of the week off and no major plans. I will be getting to the gym on my regular training days, but as I said, will be avoiding contact with my right shin. I'll probably stick with upper body weights and punches. I'll be catching up with some friends, too. I do need to get gardening and yard work done. Unfortunately, it looks like the weather will not be cooperating for a majority of the time. I won't lie, I don't mind having some more spacing out time, even if I don't have a lake view. The television has its place, too.
"There's never enough time to do all the nothing you want. "
-Bill Watterson, "Calvin and Hobbes"
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