Prayers, pleasing, and protecting

This is the part I don’t want you to see.   It would be so much easier to stay invisible, and not set obscure questions I ponder sometimes out there in the breezy air to flutter around . . .

22276558_s

 

It’s my fault.  I’m sorry. 

These phrases course through my blood like cancer cells.
I feel like they’ve always been there.
That I was born with them inside me: it’s my fault.  I’m sorry.

As an intuitive person, one with more empathy than any one person should have, I’m always sensing, always alert to how others are in a situation and to the unspoken vibration of moments.  “It’s my fault/I’m sorry” is my go-to emotional response, when a moment feels charged, uneasy, subtly dangerous.

My stomach muscles tighten, and my mind scurries across the past several minutes, back and forth, scanning, scanning:  Why is she not smiling?  Why is he not talking?  What did I do wrong?  Why is he yelling? Why is he in that room with the door closed? What did I do wrong?

I remember my 3rd grade teacher once stopped in the middle of yelling at some other student and looked straight at me:  “Am I yelling at you, Colleen? No, I’m not yelling at you. You didn’t do anything wrong.”  To her, I must have looked slapped in the face or terrified or something, I don’t know, but she could visually see I was reacting to her anger, even though it wasn’t directed at me.

So I know these things about myself now.  I spend time consciously reeling back this initial and irrational response I feel I was born with.

It takes energy and focus, but I’m doing it.

One day at the page, I began to reflect about this and a series of questions unfurled from my pen . .

Do you think an unborn baby can sense its unwed mother’s secret thoughts and prayers? Her heartbreak, her shame her sadness?  (Go away, go away, dear God, make this go away . . . )

And then, do you think it’s possible for this same unborn baby to grow up into a girl and then into a woman, yearning to be seen but never to be too much of a bother?  To feel, at her core, that she shouldn’t take up too much space, be too big.  And that she must please and protect – like some unspoken penance for causing this shame and suffering, this derailment of her mother’s then-intended life?

How is it possible to discern the beginning? Where is it?  When does one’s story start?

***

Postscript:  I’m happy to take the blame for my parents’ marriage.  In October 2016, they will celebrate 50 years together.

Reflection by Colleen Nolan Armstrong, drafted in June 2012 and completed today.  #outofthebox

Sometimes I write

 

37953358_s

Sometimes I write because my heart is too full and the desire to set beauty on the page feels like a song rising up, unrehearsed.

Gratitude.

Last night, I stood among faces I knew from long ago, the ones that filled my high school classrooms, sifted through halls, this colorful blur of velour and Jordache jeans, standing tall, yet awkward, spinning combination locks right-left-right, hip-checking grey/green lockers closed, arms laden with textbooks, covered in brown paper, scribbled with hearts.

I remember you. You touched my life, whether or not you knew you did.

We were tumbled together like this haphazard mix of pretty aquarium stones – not because we chose one other, but because we lived in the same small town, for the same 4 years – the town with the pretty white church on the long triangle of lawn, where each June, all would gather to eat strawberries, this annual Festival marking the close of one school year and  the beginning of summer –  something delicious to mark time passing – so sweetly, juicily, stickily.

Yet, our town seemed split across by railway tracks, this jagged old scar, littered and gravelly, overgrown.  On one side, there were these white Quaker stones sitting low, almost invisible in the block-wide field where the town clock once stood and the giant Sycamore, shedding its papery brown/white bark.

These remembered lives.  This litter of Life passing.

It is gratitude I feel for having grown beside you  – during years I was not yet the woman I am now (and still becoming), but the seed of her, I’m guessing.

Thank you for nurturing me while also toughening and strengthening me, through times marked by struggle, mostly the hidden kind.  I didn’t know then, what I know now.  That none of us felt like we fit in.  Even the cheerleaders, even those who lived in wedding-cake mansions on Chester Avenue, even football players who scared us with big bellowing voices, even the field hockey beauties, in their black and gold skirts, and pony tails swinging – no one felt at ease, as though she belonged.

How I wish I knew that back then.  How I wish I did.

Yet, perhaps that is the way it must be.  Perhaps we aren’t to know those things, when we are young and not yet fully-grown. Perhaps the discomfort is necessary and crucial for our lives’ unfolding.

Honestly, I don’t know.

Yet tonight, having returned safely to my home, here in Chicago, my heart full – to have been welcomed back, embraced again, by those I knew growing up – to have danced and laughed and eaten cake with them – all that remains is gratitude – this overwhelming gratitude that unlocks my voice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home coming

4826689_s

One hour before my 30th high school reunion

When I let myself remember and feel the good, it brings up the not-so-good too.  To be here, back in the suburban Philadelphia town I grew up in, from 7th grade to 12th grade,  I am feeling is this sickly sense of dread, of why did I do this to myself, when I told myself I wouldn’t.  (“I’ll never go to my high school reunion. I mean, never. I’ll never go back”)

I am scared to be with people I knew 30 years ago, when I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t.  When I held feelings down and deep inside, this gurgling-green, invisibly waged  war I caused, this self-destroying, controlled battle – that is bulimia and perfectionism.

Coming home, I reluctantly greet that sad & broken girl again, and it unsettles me, but I am not that girl.

Tonight,  I hold that fearful girl I once was,  in loving arms.  And I let myself remember her.

 

 

 

 

Mostly afraid

11807765_s

You are mostly afraid.

What appears to be solid and trustworthy, just isn’t.  Again.

The world is adrift.  Kicked hard and off-balance,  trembling and reeling. The air shaky like summer heat on pavement,  the unseen static of fear.

“It will be all right.  It will be all right.”

You yearn for a mother’s arms.  To assure you that the nightmare you-can’t-quite-shake the-image-of, will go away soon.

Her  breath, soft above you.
Her skin, warm aside your cheek
Her blood thrumming a steady, strong seashell sound inside your ear

And you are comforted.   For a time.