that photo you once hated

2017

My husband took this photo of me when we were out at a cafe last summer which is a rare feat. Not the cafe, which is a regular feature of our weekends now that the kids are aging out of our lives, but the photo. He rarely thinks of photography and so we have albums filled with family photos relatively absent of my existence, except for the annual  shot of me lighting the birthday cake for one of my boys.

“You look so pretty today,” he said, “Can I have your phone?”

I always believe him, but then I look in the mirror or at a photo and it’s just me. Nothing special. Or more often worse than I imagined or hoped for, like this one.

I really didn’t like this photo, and I still don’t like it, but you know what, I don’t mind it now like I did before, and it’s only been a year.

I take this as a good sign because typically it’s like a decade before I appreciate a photo that I really didn’t like at first.

Soon I may like myself almost right away.

Which brings me to this letter that I wrote as part of a writing assignment with the women who journey through the chakras with me. We had to write directly to ourselves which turns out is kind of hard…

Dear Kelly, 

(Boy, it’s hard to begin that way.)

Dear Kelly,

(So much more at stake.)

Dear Kelly,

(No place to hide.)

Dear Kelly,
Dear Kelly,
Dear Kelly,

For all the times that name was used as a curse,   
I am so sorry.
Let it go.

For all the times you’ve found yourself occupying the ugliness of another’s version of you,
I am so sorry.
Let it go.

For all the times you assumed that ugliness as a safe haven from feeling the deeper pain of loss and separation,
I am so sorry.
Let it go.

Let it go, Kelly,
Not because it doesn’t matter,
But because you do.

Precious.
Always.
Now.

~Kelly

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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.

 

Love, Part IV: The 2018 GREAT SpRiNg LOVE TOUR.

Three days. Three states. Three traveling companions.

300 miles one way.

30+ relatives, ages 3 to 91 (plus 3 four-legged friends) in 2 dozen+ towns.

3 breweries. 2 pizza parlors. 1 steak sandwich shop. 1 Wawas. 2 best friends. Tons of traffic. Some snow. Lots of rain. Rare appearances of the sun. 6 to 8 foot swells.

A choppy ferry crossing. 2 cemeteries. 2 beaches. 2 public gardens. 1 open mic. 1 family yoga class. A handful of laser tag games. A sunset-walk around the lake.

Several car-ride karaokes. A handful of Turkish words, particularly the one for “junk food,” which despite countless repetition, I can’t remember, but definitely feel–in my belly.

2 recitations & one application of Frost’s, The Road Not Taken.

1 eventually successful attempt to locate the wooded 38-acre parcel on Long Neck Point that once belonged to my family and is almost unrecognizably (and thus, achingly) over-developed, but still bears the family name and looks out over the Indian River Bay which was my foundational experience of silence.

Love, Part I. Making the Return Sacred


Although our dream to move to the mountains took shape 25 years ago this spring (after we lost the baby), we continue to return to the sea at least once a year, and back in those early years–almost every season.

And although these Green Mountains are where we belong, the return is always a homecoming, not only to the place where our love took root more than 3 decades ago, but to his people, and especially my people, because there are so many of us, and because we go back so many generationsto– to the sea and the sand and the land itself.

With so many touchstones beckoning, each visit is like a putting together a thousand-piece puzzle, and over time, I’ve begun to play with it ahead of the return so that I might be more present once there, particularly as our time there continues to shrink while our family there continues to expand.

And so it is that this week brings the maddening/thrilling algebraic acrobatics of making connections and plans with 6 different siblings & their kids (some grown and on their own) and with what remains of 3 sets of parents, and also a stepgrandmother & her fiance, a great aunt & her son, dozens of cousins, aunts & uncles, a friend or two, and once in blue moon if we’re especially lucky–a beloved colleague.

Sometimes I forget an entire branch of our lives.

Sometimes I get so aborbed by balancing the equation that I miss the sweetness of the faces and the sea and the memory space of home.

Increasingly so, I take time apart from it all, simply to steep in place–alone–and instead of telling myself that I am not enough, that the time we spend is not enough, that the visit is too cumbersome, too far, too much, I let another voice in… The one that says that the Return is Sacred, and that as such–things will fall into place (like running into a cousin’s family at the ice cream parlor, or old friends at a distant relative’s funeral), while simultaneously letting so. much. go. like we once did, 25 years ago, heartbroken, leaving the sea to make a new home in the mountains of our own.

an infatuation or a love affair?

I’m in love. Or at least completely infatuated.

You know those movie scripts, the ones where there’s this colleague or neighbor, and the main character dismisses her, forever, and then something happens, say some kind of crisis, and she steps in, and he finally sees her, and then little by little, she begins to color in his days, until he wakes one morning and realizes he’s head over heels with her?

–With that musty girl that he never liked much.

That’s how it is for me, and Rose.

At first, it was just a framed print. I bought it as a present for myself when I graduated from Yoga Teacher training. I wasn’t sure what it was about the photograph –the way she gave herself to opening, I suspect–and although I dismissed her again and again, she kept tugging at me, and so I surrendered.

That was the year I would turn 50, and now, in the past 5 years, little by little–first the livingroom, now my bedroom—repainted; and then into my closet–a scarf, a sweater, a bag; and into the bathroom: new towels, a basket, a shower cap. And then in my toiletries, and in the soap in the soap for the downstairs bathroom, deodorant; and in the essential oils for the woodstove.

Have I forgotten anything?

She’s everywhere.

And yet this morning, I woke wondering how I could get even closer to her, so that when I fell back to sleep, I dreamt of eating her, not just the petals (and not the stem or thorns of course) but the leaves, dried and crumbling on my tongue.

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.