topless

the author, fifty years ago

After walking the dirt half-mile from the highway, he arrives in the house, drops his backpack and removes his shirt, saying that the temperature was higher today than it was supposed to be. (In the chill of the early June morning, he chose to wear a long sleeve shirt to school.)

“Lately, I resent men going topless,” I say.

“Do you want me to put it back on,” he asks.

I don’t.

I remember my mother’s scoldings as a girl: “Put a shirt on!”

And later, about the age my son is now: “Put a bra on!”

The accumulation of shame.

As the temperatures rise in these Green Mountains, I feel anger rise in me when I see men walking the road–aged men and young men like my son–each one topless–as if all the space in the world is theirs, without a care for who might rape them.

the author, 30 years ago
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Possum

I’m afraid of easy,
Suspicious of effortless,
Terrified of sudden.

I like to earn it.
With struggle.
Suffering.
Angst.

Even the simplest things.

Otherwise,
it’s not fair.

Otherwise,
I’m apart
instead of among.

Otherwise
I’m at risk.

Which is to say,
I’m happiest,
In retrospect.

The safest way to play.

The past is past.
Preserved.
Protected.
Untouchable.
Unseen.

~

(“happiest in retrospect” line from: TODAY WILL BE DIFFERENT by Maria Semple.)

On Turning 55

Michael McGurk

If 50 was raising the timber frame; 55 was me climbing the timbers & tacking an evergreen branch to its peak. (That happened. There was no photo.)

“50 is the old age of youth,” it is said, “And the youth of old age.”

And it’s true. The fifties are all that.

Or is it just me?

I lost Lila at 55. She had more than a dozen grandbabies by then. But with time’s passing, it seems impossibly young to have been taken.

My older sister died last summer at 55 too and just a few years before her—my aunt.

My mother had 2 years on the 2 of them, alive until 57.

Which is to say—While the sun is shining, I’m making hay.

My Mother’s Cameo

From time to time, I wear the cameo that Mrs. Upperman left my father.

She also left him a rocking chair and a large tin of pistachios–red, tan & unshelled.

Unshelled?
(Unheard of.)

At 16, I was surprised to find that my passion for pistachios was eclipsed rather than enhanced without the effort of finding just the right one to crack open.

(And who had ever seen tan pistachios?)

But maybe I’ve remembered it wrong.

Probably Mrs. Upperman didn’t “leave” the pistachios to my father along with the cameo and the rocking chair (and the furs!), but sent the large tin over at Christmas or Thanksgiving, or maybe the pistachios, like the many other arrivals, were from another patient altogether.

It was easy to adore a man who saved you, particularly if he was tall and handsome and young.

And if you were such a man, it was increasingly difficult to spend much time at home where despite your male birthright, your societal status, and your dashing good looks–you were not the star of the show–not with your teenage daughters, not with your wife who was turning the hormonal corner from sacrifice to self (even as she continued producing your babies), and not with the endless tasks to be done that came and went with any pistachios or applause.

My mother left the cameo in her jewelry box, and so I borrowed it from time to time, until one day I didn’t put it back.

I don’t think she would have worn it anyway. She never touched the furs either. Unlike my father whose family presided over one the largest homes on the avenue, my mother came from “the other side of town,” off a pot-holed side street, where 8 children crowded into a house that leaned up against a motel and shared its backyard fence with a bar.

“Your mother was the prettiest girl in the high school,” my father said.

“I had a single dress all through school,” my mother told me, but she wasn’t complaining; she rarely complained.

Bonnie, aka. Loretta Cecilia Kelly, was without expectations, which made her the perfect fit for a man who was accustomed to snapping his fingers for a pen, and expecting a hot dinner on the table no matter the hour of his return  home, and who regularly brought operating room nurses to tears as they tripped over his every command (which was just the right place to harvest his replacement wife after my mother, at age 40, had the audacity to want more than a cameo role in her own life, and so without voice, offered a scandalous resignation instead.)

“That’s not the Philips!” he would shout, and I never knew which one was, no matter how many times he showed me.

I still don’t want to know, and apparently neither did my five younger sisters, which was something I discovered when I returned home for a visit and came across a fierce and familiar scolding in the garage with one of my youngest siblings.

I still prefer my pistachios in the shell, but now without the color red.

my mother, just after the affair, in her new/smaller house, with her dark-brown hair dyed blonde

 

the legacy of shame

solar-sisters tumblr

Shame. Disappointment. Burden.

With SpRiNg comes renewed attention to my insides as I recommit to what I want on the outside.

I’m curious about your relationship with disappointment.

In a New Year chakra clearing, I gained some clarity around the way I linger with and lay  disappointment onto the men in my home.

It was a painful visual, but it also leads me into compassion for the disappointment I must carry inside. My sense of my father’s almost constant disappointment in me. The weight of disappointment that my mother and grandmothers carried.

I’m no longer willing to be the legacy bearer for that burden.

This sweetly complements my intention to cultivate satisfaction–inside–with a moment to moment practice of saying “Yes,” to what ever arises–on my path, or in my psyche–as an invitation instead of a problem, as something I greet without abandoning, rejecting or shaming myself as “wrong.”

I suspect the practice will be a daily one for the rest of my days.

 

on belonging

One of the hardest parts of being born female is this matter of belonging.

As a girl, I saw that my mother–for good or for bad–belonged to her tribe of sisters; and to all of us children; and most demandingly of all–to my father.

HE, on the other hand, (like all he’s) seemed to belong to himself, to his work in the world.

And so, I set my sights on his horizon, only to discover, ever so slowly, that his choice wasn’t available to me…

At 15, I fell in love, and at 16, I offered up the gift of my body, and then it became my lover’s, increasingly so, demandingly so, guiltingly so, not only sexually, but also with regard to appearance, just as my father had evaluated my mother’s appearance and mine until the very last remark I can recall, just after I became a mother myself, the second time:

“You look good babe, but you need to lose some weight and get some sun.”

We were standing outside the hospital where he worked.
My mother, his ex, lay riddled with cancer inside.
The baby in my arms was 3 weeks old.
I was still bleeding.
I smiled.

I so wanted to “look good” to my father, but I felt pulled to surrender my body to these babies, this fleshy/messy/earthy life of womanhood, and so I did, until one day, my husband asked, when I passed him on the path to the outside shower:

“Would you mind shaving there?”

He explained his awkward request, recalling the sight of a much older cousin at the beach with hair poking out of her bikini bottom and down her legs when he had been a teen.

At thirty-five, he still recoiled at the memory.

I said: No.

If not for the pimples and the pain and how quickly the hair grew back and rubbed between my legs, I might have accommodated his discomfort.

It’s a risk this saying, No, isn’t it? At home. In the office. On a date. Among sisters.And specifically in a romantic relationship.

It’s always risk this being less beautiful than you are able, less attractive than those around you, less willing, less accommodating…

The threat of rejection is woven into our landscape, unspoken.

“Never let yourself go,” my father told me as a young woman. “When your husband arrives home from work, you want to look good.”

“…And don’t be too smart, or too demanding, or too (fill-in-the-blank)…”

And so, I was afraid.
I am still afraid
Only the voice of belonging to self grows louder and louder, overiding the other voices, the ones who still shout:

You are mine.

“Aren’t you afraid he’ll have an affair?” a friend asks when I admit how many weeks we’ve gone without sex.

Like winter into spring, the hormonal changes rock back and forth, so that sometimes it’s less painful and more pleasurable, and I could be sure to “keep” my husband, until the crescendo of Menopause, when the pain became unbearable like it had that first time–at 16–my head arched back, biting my lip, so that I might be desirable first and foremost.

It’s been more than 2 months now, and not without desire, but desire doused with fear. Not fear of pain. I was a home birther. Fear of despair, of no longer being… what?… I’m not sure…

I could take hormones, fool my body into thinking I was younger, like those who dye away the gray, but just like labor and menstrual cramps, I want to be present to what it is to be me in each moment, even aging, and isn’t this physical separation from the man I love and long for offering me something too?

I was never much for foreplay. I preferred it hard and fast, but as I’ve aged, I’ve opened myself up to more and more surrender, less forcing, more delight and awakening and slower unfoldings—in every part of my life.

He is exceedingly patient and kind and without demands, like those I once tolerated from him, back when I was nursing babies all night long, afraid of being left alone, afraid of being one of those wives.

In this new space between us, I am afraid that we will dissolve, and yet I am also finding something precious, recovering something precious, claiming something precious.

Belonging.

To myself.

When I listen and tend, my body is such a friend.

He draws me a bath afterward to soak my tender tissues.

I soften in the water, less anxious about the changes wreaking havoc in me; and when the water drains, I look down to see my pubic hair, full and bushy with the humidity, a dark crescent moon, smiling over creamy fleshy rising toward my belly.

“Remember when you asked me to shave?”

He shakes his heads, disappointed in the man he once was.

“I think it looks so pretty now,” I say, mostly to myself, remembering how I once took scissors to the hair between my legs because it wasn’t supposed to be there. Even men do it now I hear. (I should feel vindicated; Instead, I’m sad.)

After a week of vacation, I am softening into his arms again, but I am also pulling back, uncertain if I was ready to share my body.

When his fingers graze the side of my breast with the permission renewed after love-making, I see myself flip him over and press both my hands around his throat.

I am shocked by this violent vision, and curious too, and even amused–I am half his size.

I’m not sure if it’s Menopause or #45 or #metoo or Climate Change that has unearthed so much anger inside, not only for all the ways my body was claimed by others but for all the ways the body feminine–including Earth Mother–is raped, pillaged, sold, purchased, scorned.

It will be some time before he can touch me so freely again, maybe after these wild bodily transformations have subsided, or maybe never again, unless I have explicitly invited him in, an access pass which must be renewed, and is always, in all ways, worth the wait because a woman sovereign is desirable beyond praise.

We Lost Her

The Women’s March, the inauguration of a misogynist and the death of a dear friend who supported his candidacy are woven into the fabric of this weekend for me.

My husband joined the march in Montpelier last year, alone, too consumed was I in grief to leave our home.

The irony is that this friend died the night before her President was inaugurated.

We fought about him intensely on Facebook, while in private messages we connected around her health and our sons, and in person we doted on one another with love.

On the day after the election, Laura was so present to my grief that despite her joy, she ached with compassion, messaging me encouragement about how #45 might give rise to even greater women’s empowerment.

Laura loved animals and was fierce in protection of them. She was a strong woman. Outspoken. Big-hearted. Even when we were girls.

Although we came of age in the same shore towns and danced at each other’s weddings, we both moved away, and the distance between us was magnified by the all-consuming responsibility of parenthood until a funeral brought us together, and she said, “Let’s don’t wait so long,” and we didn’t.

We were together at the shore on her last birthday and in the mountains on my 50th, and we had plans to be together outside Philly on the weekend before the inauguration, but Laura ended up in the hospital again where she remained until I received these words from our mutual bestie: