Sunday, November 20, 2016

From Lithe Jungle Princess to Gutter Rat (100 to Zero Real Quick)

Sweating profusely from what had to be every single pore, I squinted against the thick soup-like darkness trying to pick out Sierra’s neon bikini bottoms. I was relieved to find that if I strained my eyes hard enough I could faintly track the thin piece of material’s somewhat shadowed silhouette bobbing up and down rhythmically as my friend slowly crawled several feet in front of me.  
Worst case scenario we stop, find level ground, press together and all hold hands till morning comes. You aren’t going to die. I reminded myself for the hundredth time that night. Unless a rather hungry boar decides to pay a visit to the three half naked girls dragging themselves blindly through the jungle, you crawl off of a cliff, step on a poisonous centipede, or oh I don’t know, piss off a particularly violent Hawaiian spirit. With that cheerful thought I started laughing frantically, but then promptly shut up as I realized laughter might attract said ravenous pig, or if only I were to be so lucky-- enrage any near by spirits. So instead I focused on digging one palm and knee after the other into the thick substance which I hoped to be mud, and as I did this I thought back on how I had gone from what I liked to imagine lithe wiry jungle princess to an actual guttural sewer rat all in the span of three hours.
It had all started earlier that week during my spontaneous trip to Hawaii when I befriended two other girls dangerously alike to myself: stubborn, adventurous, fiercely optimistic--it was a risky combination. 
But what separated today from earlier that week was our more sensible friends had opted out for the day. That, and it was raining. Hard. Like we’re talking cutting, nearly blowing horizontally, completely unpredictable in all aspects--except for being unbearably sticky--Oahu rain.
Despite the conditions everything had gone uncharacteristically well that morning. Perhaps that was why we were riding a false sense of confidence as dusk began to descend around the rolling green mountains. It was the false high and surge of confidence inspired from the day’s accomplishments that sparked our downfall. Icarus fell by flying too high, the great Achilles crumbled because he failed to protect his one weak spot, and Sahalie Donaldson? Doomed by her own pride. Hubris would be proud.
It was McKenna, the boldest, and not coincidently the only one of us who actually lived in Hawaii, who suggested we get in one more hike before driving back to the North Shore. Not wanting to disappoint our fearless friend Sierra and I hastily agreed.
Pulling up at the thickly jungled trailhead my friends and I shrugged off our clothes so we were standing barefoot in nothing but our swimsuits. It was somewhat dark, but naively I assumed this was because of the rain clouds, not because of the impending night.
            It was a thin, twisted path that snaked narrowly through the jungle. Most notable was the sinking mud that disguised the many sharp rocks that juxtaposed in various directions throughout the trail. Roots jutted out onto the path and the ground would randomly slope upwards or suddenly drop several feet without warning. Initially I was able to avoid these obstacles thanks to the feeble light heroically pressing through the clouds and furrowed branches above me, but after about an hour of this that I began to get nervous.
 Okay, there’s no way this is going to end well. There’s no way I’m the only one getting worried. As if she heard my thoughts McKenna slowly turned back to us, her smile barely masking the concern written across her face, “so if I’m being completely honest I don’t recognize anything yet.”
            “What. The entire time we’ve been walking, or only just barely??” I balked. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I cursed silently, but I couldn’t be mad at her, I cursed myself for not voicing my concerns say 55 minutes earlier. You have no one to blame, but yourself. And I was right. I had no one to blame but my own pride.
            “The entire time,” she admitted reluctantly.
            Sierra and I exchanged a meaningful glance.
            “Well. I say we keep going a couple more minutes and if we don’t start hearing the waterfall, we turn back.” I spoke hesitantly. I wasn’t particularly keen on the idea of retracing our steps and I could tell no one else loved the idea either, but at this point it was getting increasingly difficult to see the ground and if we had wandered off the right path, as was likely, there was no way we would be able to find our way back in complete darkness.
            They nodded and we kept walking, only this time we were silent, straining for any sound that resembled the rushing of water, but a couple of minutes rolled tortuously into fifteen.
            “Okay, guys stop. I think we need to turn back.”  We had wandered out of the thickest part of trees into a clearing, but this only made me more disturbed by the lack of light.
            Sierra looked at me in relief, “I agree. If we go back now we’ll be fine.”
            Probably true, but this wasn’t going to be enjoyable in the slightest and we all know it.
            At this point I noticed guiltily that McKenna’s lip twisted downwards, but she still nodded. “Okay.”
            “It’ll be fun.” I forced the corners of my mouth upwards.
            We all laughed darkly and pivoted heading the opposite direction back into the darkened trees.  And that is how I had come to find myself in this uncompromising situation. It hadn’t taken longer then five minutes for our surroundings to blacken into utter oblivion. It was so shadowed I couldn’t even see my own feet, and after slipping blindly and bashing my knees against rocks several times, I promptly stopped trusting my legs to carry me out.
            So there I was crawlingly blindly through shrubbery, over boulders and branches, slipping and sliding in slick mud. Every once in a while my snarled hair would get snagged on something as it dragged across the ground, and each time I reached out to yank it free my fingers closed around the strands dreaded together with what I assumed to be caked mud. Like a particularly shaggy sheepdog. I almost smiled at the image. “You know guys I think this actually has to be a low point for me.”
            “I think the feeling is mutual.” Sierra’s voice groaned from somewhere in the oblivion. McKenna just laughed loudly again, and I flinched at the sound mentally preparing for a wild boar to come barreling into me as smoke billowed from its nostrils.
            “So what’s the worst case scenario?” Sierra asked quietly. We all stopped to think about that for a moment.
            “Well.” I finally said. “Worst case scenario we don’t find our way out, so we have to spend the night.”
            “It’ll be really cold and miserable, but at the end of the day it’ll be a pretty good story.”  I nodded in agreement then stopped, feeling foolish when I realized no one could see.
            “Oh.” Sierra said. “So I guess nothing too bad.” 
            “Nothing too bad at all...”
            And off we went again. Crawling and face planting and snagging and unsnagging and praying all the while. Every time we came to a turn off in the path McKenna would unwaveringly shine her small watch light an inch from the forest floor to find our footprints from earlier glistening glassy in the murky sky. After a span of time that felt like forever we emerged out of the mud into a thicker clearing. Based on the slight light that managed to bleed through the branches and clouds above I noticed there were narrow outcroppings spiking out all around the clearing.
But they only lead to other trails like the one we just escaped. I wanted to cry. There was no more mud to track our footprints. By all accounts we were completely, utterly, lost.
            It was at that moment that McKenna reached out for my shoulder (accidently grabbing my neck instead, thanks darkness) and gave me a small push. “Look.”
            My heart started beating quickly. A slanted beam of light, so small I might have missed it, was pushing bleakly through the trees. If I adjusted my head even slightly to the right it would disappear completely blocked out by a knarled branch.
            “Civilization?” I croaked. What have I become? I thought annoyed, a freaking Bear Grylls survivor?
Wordlessly I lurched towards the thick uncompromising wall of trees. I shut my eyes tightly not wanting to be blinded in the process and began bush walking. There was no telling if the light was 100 feet away or several miles, but I wasn’t about to let that dissuade me. My eyes were on the mirage in the desert, and I was following that light straight back home.
            McKenna pushed past me and took the lead while Sierra clenched my hand tightly from behind. I could feel my skin punctured and torn in several hundred different places, but I didn’t care.
            I kept pushing right into the looming backyard that suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Crying and laughing I dragged myself out of the trees on all fours. The branches and roots tried to claw me back, but I pushed past them face planting into the grass. I breathed in the crisp air and sheer elation coursed through my body like electricity setting every nerve on fire. We must have been quite the sight. Three girls in partially shredded bathing suits practically unrecognizable from all of the mud. But I don’t even care about that. A wry smile twisted across my lips. I had left my pride somewhere back in the jungle. I wasn’t a lithe jungle princess at all—I was a regular old human girl, and that meant I had a responsibility to think things through before acting. Even if you pride has other ideas. I tucked a dreadlock behind my ear, carefully scanned for a way out of the backyard, and began surging towards it with purpose.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Vendi Vidi Amavi (I came, I saw, I loved)

Dear Human who has the patience to sit through one 18 year olds perplexed opinion on love:

The sweeping romantic films have it all wrong. Love isn't this shiny, pretty, perfect, thing.  You didn't come to earth to find this flawless little patch of heaven with a bright eyed boy or girl who's very smile gives off morning light that scatters the dark and makes every day itself worth living. (Although I do believe that type of connection must exist, and is out there somewhere, and mostly I hope you find it someday.)

You came here to find personal love. Self love. Soulmate love- and maybe not necessarily in a romantic sense, I'm talking about that spark that could happen with anyone at anytime. Hurting love. Healing love. Universal love. Adventurous love. Invigorating love. Friendship love. Love infused with every single bit of divinity found in the heavens and endures long after that initial spark has dulled out.

You didn't come here to be anything other then gorgeously human. A little bit flawed, and completely beautiful because of it. So why would love be any different? Love is showing up. Trying to be better. A whole lot of stumbling, but then rising back up with an even greater deal of grace because you both have the dignity to see that fighting for the good parts are worth it.

But those photos of seemingly perfect little families captioned relationship goals- stop telling that story. That is their story, not yours. There are all kinds of love in the world, and every kind is beautiful, but there has never been the same type twice. So instead of holding that person's photo as the standard of happiness, consider that love in actuality, doesn't require modifiers, filters or the illusive condition of "perfection".

It is simply that you learn and be curious, be passionate and don't have to apologize for it, fail and succeed, laugh and cry, shine and fly, but mostly be completely unalterably unapologetically REAL. Because anything less I just can't see being worth it.

Disclaimer: If I'm being absolutely honest my first stirrings of romantic feelings were for a prehistoric sloth. Sid the Sloth, from Ice Age. Maybe it was those comically wide spread eyes, or more likely the endearing kicked to the side underdog persona- either way there was just something about him that made eight year old me go crazy. Plus I've never actually been in love, and 9/10 times will probably laugh in a moment that is supposed to be romantic. So maybe you shouldn't listen to a word I have to say. But I can say this. Like so many others I've experienced  people giving up on one another and that love turns into something ugly, and because of that toxicity it's sometimes easy to have this distorted view on marriage and relationships. But I've also seen how different it is when that connection is there, and I know that all of those love songs and pieces of art had to have been shaped with meaning. And that meaning has got to be worth it.

Until I figure it all out I'll be happy holding on tight to the people that I do have. :)

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Aftermath of What Was and What Should Have Been: A Short Story

            I was fifteen years old when I learned how to not feel. It was autumn. I remember that. The leaves were a speckled array of tender yellows, dark inky reds, and vibrant pulsing oranges. Even the air seemed to tremble with life, it was crisp and it swept the scent of spices wherever it went as it caressed the bright leaves from the browned branches. I also remember that fall used to be my favorite season. Used to, being the key part there.
            My brother had just killed himself and actually had the audacity to leave a note behind. His name was Bryan and he wanted to be a doctor. Had wanted. And it was so very “Bryan” of him to write a bunch of pretty things down on a piece of paper so he could have closure while the rest of use were left wrenched in tumultuous mess, a punched out Bryan shaped hole knocked straight through our lungs.
            This isn’t your fault, its mine.”
            Wrong Bryan. We are your family and we didn’t even see the signs, of course it’s our fault.
            Please don’t be sad Mom.”
            Her firstborn child just did himself in, how the hell do you think she’s going to feel?
           “This is the best thing for everyone.”
            No. No it’s really not.
            “I’m so sorry.
            I’m sorry too.
            “I love you Grace, please be happy.”
            I hate you Bryan for doing this to us.
            Pretty words don’t patch up ugly things. There is nothing remotely touching or beautiful about what happened to my brother. The confident brown eyed boy who’s teachers had smiled and said he had lots of promise, was supposed to pick up his little sister from school for an ice cream date and he never showed up. He just left the girl waiting there for him as the hours ticked by, sitting cross-legged at the battered bus stop. Actually, I think she’s still waiting there. I lost that girl the second I got the frantic phone call from my mother later on that day. And that was it.
That was the end of Bryan Brady Seacrest. His heart had pulsed and pounded for 6939.6 days in a marvelous intricate struggle to keep him alive, he’d endured thirteen years of schooling, an alcoholic father who never showed up for anything, and one day I guess that heart woke up and decided it couldn’t go on any further and gave up. I had always imagined it said something like this- “I the heart of Bryan Brady Seacrest hereby do give up on life, my sister Grace is simply not enough, so I might as well go out with an awe-inducing bang.”
            Sometimes I try to remember the last thing I said to Bryan. I wish I could say it was something grand and sweeping like a resonating declaration about the power of love, or even a promise that it gets better.
Maybe that could have saved him.
I don’t know. Instead the last thing I ever said to him was in the form of a text message with the camel and banana emoji (*He hated both things). Just that. The two emoji’s plopped side by side awkwardly in a row. Of all of the things I could have said to Bryan, I didn’t actually even say anything, I just punched in two cartoonish symbols suspended on a glassy screen and now here I am left wondering could I have saved him with something else.
            But back to the not feeling part. Bryan’s funeral was huge. So big in fact they had to open up the foyers and even then faces were piled up against one another in the back of the room. I know this because I spent the entire funeral staring determinedly at it. The thin spindly woman who ran the home came up to me after and said that “Never before has the state of Virginia Funeral Home seen such a large meeting of people gathered to honor the life of a single soul. Your brother must have been a very special person.”
            Yes. Yes he was. I wanted to say, but the tears were stinging my eyes and my heart was pulsing heavy and painful in my chest again so I just nodded politely and looked at a black stain stretched across the wall over the woman’s bony shoulder. Wash your walls Virginia Funeral Home I thought bitterly and smiled sweetly through gritted teeth.
            My mom and I piled into the dark blue land rover, a black hurse was too depressing, she had said a couple days earlier as the tears rolled down her significantly sallowed cheeks, and drove off towards the stretch of grass that my brothers corpse would soon decompose in. I remember the long train of cars stretched out behind us for miles, the thundering metal machinery was all blurred into one darkish smear, a stark contrast between the pinkish horizon and the pulsing colors of the leaves, and I remember that it all just hurt so damn much.
            I hated feeling this way. I hated it. And I hated Bryan for doing this to us. And mostly I hated myself for doing this to Bryan.  So as the ebony casket was lowered slowly into the dark chasm like earth, I didn’t cry. I stared forward stock straight and focused on something in the distance. I tuned out the shaky sobs, the mumbled pleas, and the frantic beating of my mother’s heart as she watched all traces of her son vanish forever. I am stone. I am stone. Impassive and immovable. And in that moment it clicked, I didn’t feel and it no longer hurt.
            “Grace, don’t you want to say goodbye to your brother?” My mother’s voice had come out in strange high-pitched gasps that chipped away at my stone meticulously, but not enough to break through.
            “No. He did that all on his own.” I kicked off my spindly heels and stalked away through the grass back to the safety of the car the second the ceremony ended. I looked over my shoulder later and saw her slender figure uncharacteristically heavy as she bowed over the chasm and knew I should feel horrible, but I didn't. I just felt sort of empty.
            The next couple of years flew by in a similar fashion. I flung myself into an array of activities and kept myself busy. I navigated the halls of high school like a fighter in a ring, skirting the edges and plowing down anyone who dared to cross my path. I was pretty though. Small features, mysterious, careless blonde hair cascading around my face, damaged, but I was good, I spun it in an enticing tantalizing way. I broke boys hearts like other girls broke nails. There were no consequences though, because anytime someone would get frustrated and want to toss me out of their life for good they’d remember Bryan, because I was the girl with the brother who killed himself, I would always be that girl. So it became a sort of game to see how badly I could dance around and break people and break things and still escape unscathed. Grace – 23, rest of the world – 0. I was a champion of isolation and I reined my school with a frozen perfectly manicured fist.
            I was 19 and alone in my dorm room on a cool rainy night when I realized I hadn’t talked to my Mom for the past month and I came to the conclusion that not feeling anything was a completely terrible way to live.
All of the emotions my stony wall had kept at bay for the past three and a half years flooded me suddenly and knocked me to my knees as the granite was shattered into hundreds of piercing shards. Suddenly I was fifteen again and I cried the rest of the night huddled under the blankets as the rain beat a torrential beat against the panes.
            The next morning I drove all the way home and my Mom and I went and visited Bryan’s grave. The grass had covered the brown scar completely, and I could almost imagine my brother cheering the foliage on from somewhere nearby as the greenery healed the flaws of the earth. It was pretty and perfect, just the way he liked things.

            I’m 23 now and it’s autumn. I always get especially sad during this time of the year. Every single day, I think about Bryan my brother, who wanted to be a doctor, who hated bananas and camels, who used to take me on ice cream dates, who yelled at me when I crept into his room and snuggled against his blankets and breathed in his comforting scent, my brother who violently yanked himself out of my life leaving everything in ruins, who taught me how to turn it all off when things get tough, who weathered my beautiful mother well beyond her years. You see, in the grand scheme of things I don’t know if Bryan was a good guy or a bad guy, but I do know that he was my brother. And I sure do miss him a lot.