Fly, Blackbird, Fly

It’s not quite dawn and I’ve just finished leading a guided meditation which I do with a group of friends three times a week before the sun comes up. It’s never anything fancy, just fifteen or so minutes that we spend together trying to slow down and relax, utilizing the interwebs to connect digitally to share this time.

After the meditation, I pour a cup of coffee and sit for a while. Most mornings like these, Little Foot is still asleep and the donkeys haven’t brayed yet to let me know they’re ready to be let out into the pasture. The sun’s not peeked through the trees and the stillness in my living room is profound. I’ve written before about sitting with silence during this time (that post here) so I won’t go into that again. I do feel that silence and me are becoming more and more acquainted, though. It’s a welcome friendship.

I decide to go outside early—before the glow of the sun bounces off the dew in the grass. It’s damp and cool out this morning and hanging from the awning over my back patio, a black spider is wrapping something tightly on an arm of her snowflake-shaped web.

I shut the door behind me, a sound the donkeys can hear and they must be surprised by my early movement because Bunny brays, then Tink, then Tee and finally, my last adoptable donkey available, The Professor: a pre-dawn chorus. In their shed, I kneel down next to Tink to wrap his hoof and secure his boot before taking time to greet each donkey. They’re even more peaceful in the mornings which for donkeys, is saying a lot.

I’ve not much to say this morning. Several times over the past couple of weeks, I’ve started and then deleted many blog post drafts, none of which have become anything I’ve felt was worth a post. That’s not to say that nothing interesting is happening, in fact a lot is going on…large, life-changing events are happening within our family and to our ranch but because I’m an anxious mind with a tendency to be superstitious about things, I’ve refrained from revealing these changes in an effort to not jinx it all. What I will say has happened is that I’ve allowed myself to become consumed by and buried beneath task after time sensitive task and it’s forced me into reclusive mode.

Breathing deeply helps. Pulling in a long breath, holding it for a few seconds, and then sighing it out helps. Not losing sight of self-worth and refraining from placing self-value in the hands of others helps, too.

As I walk back towards the house, the sky just starting to turn purple, a flock of blackbirds soars overhead, their broad wings gliding effortlessly and I realize my skin is prickling. I close my eyes and draw in a long breath, all the way into the bottom of my lungs. The air is a bright light, swirling down my spine and spreading like spilled ink through my body. I hold it in, the light glowing brighter and brighter, my body relaxing in its warmth. I hold that alabaster peace with all I’ve got and then finally, I exhale and open my eyes.

A single blackbird squabbles in the sky. She is struggling to catch up to the rest of the flock, wings flapping frantically and clumsily, and I’m suddenly overtaken by fear that something’s going to happen to that bird. Why is she struggling so badly? Is she hurt? Eyes wide, I watch the straggler disappear over the trees and suddenly I’m panicking. I search the sky for any other birds but there are none. My heart races and my to do list tumbles down, across the ground in my mind’s eye—a ten-mile long scroll. Everything that’s hanging in the balance falls and shatters and the weight of the world itself lays down across my chest. Fly, blackbird, fly. Come on.

The donkeys are standing next to me now, calm and quiet, and so I take another long, deep breath. I hold it in, trying to visualize the movement of light again but my mind is racing so quickly that I can’t see a thing, just a blur of worry. I sigh and breathe deeply again. No light. My heart’s racing and my breath is shallow. One more time, I breathe deeply, hold it in, and finally sigh it out, cold and dark.

I scan the sky once more, but the blackbirds are gone. I lean on Bunny—it’s like she knows when I’m having a panic attack and knows that by being there, it helps. It does.

I think we’ve all been that blackbird. We’ve all fallen behind, despite how hard we’ve worked. We’ve all been alone, watching the rest move along with ease. I want so badly for that blackbird to catch up to her friends, to the rest, so she doesn’t feel so alone but then I realize that maybe she’s making her own path. Maybe being separated from the rest, misunderstood and a bit clumsy, is just who she is right now. And that’s okay because at least on this morning, she’s still moving forward.

I hug my sweet donkey, her breath steady and mine now too, and with my gray pajama pants tucked into the tops of my work boots which I slipped on without socks, I walk back towards the house where I’ll sit on my couch with a second cup of coffee for just a bit longer, waiting for the sun to come up.

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The Remington

Moments ago, I began writing a new blog post describing a late night scene from around midnight last night—moon high and air still—when I wondered why I go outside so late so often? Many of my posts have started off with something along the lines of, “It was hovering around midnight when…”

I thought on it for a bit and I think I figured out why I find myself out in the pasture with the donkeys most nights when the only sounds are crickets and distant coyotes:

It seems to me that when I finally settle into that sweet spot in bed where the blanket is tucked up under my neck with just the right amount of tension and my right, lower leg and foot are sticking out of the covers at just the right angle…when the height of the pillow is neither too high nor too low…when the temperature in the house has finally settled at that perfect 72 degrees…that’s where my ole’ pal anxiety wakes up.

“Psssst. Hey. Hey you. Did you lock the doors?
…I don’t think you turned off the stove top…
…Is Little Foot breathing?
…I bet you forgot to turn off the hose that was refilling the donkey’s trough earlier and now your entire property is flooded…
…What did so-and-so mean in that cryptic text message earlier?”

…and so on.

Fight as I might, reassuring myself that yes, I did and checked and figured out (or let go of) all of those things, anxiety just won’t sleep unless I check again. Even my anxiety is anxious. As such, most nights I wander out into the pasture in my jammies and my boots to do one last check on the hoses, the chickens, and the donkeys. The donkeys have come to expect my late night visits—their eager ears perked at their gates when I inevitably show up with a flashlight.

So last night, I stood outside for sometime in the company of my sweet donkeys three as I stared up into a clear sky. It was a half moon and I studied her perfect halfness until she began to look like a cream colored button poking out of a black sky. The stars wandered in and out of focus about her and after I cleaned the smudges from my glasses with my shirt, I spotted a wandering satellite gliding across the sky.

After some time, I bid my donkeys sweet dreams and came back into the house, my anxiety mostly satisfied with my having triple-checked.

Wide awake at this point, I decided to tinker with my new, 80-year old Remington typewriter that was so graciously gifted to me by King Ranch on my birthday over the weekend. It is a beaut, this typewriter: bright red with yellow keys that have years and years of stories stuck beneath them.

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I unlocked its case, set it on the kitchen table, slid in a piece of paper and began to press down what my mind had not yet finished seeing from the outside. I click-clacked over the keys, careful to line up the margins with every line break and to try to spell every word correctly the first time and sometime later, my mind had fully transferred her thoughts onto paper.

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I studied my new poem for a proud moment before placing the cover back on the Remington and heading back to bed. Once resettled, (blanket tucked, leg out, pillow perfect) all I could imagine was the way the keys felt beneath my fingers. Click-clack, click-clack, sliiiiide. Click-clack, click-clack, sliiiiide. The keys are surprisingly heavy, giving my fingertips a challenge. I love that the Remington isn’t sensitive; I’ve got enough fragility elsewhere in my life. The Remington is strong and steady, demanding of my awareness. 

I slept so well last night. I slept heavily and deeply: my dreams wandering down rivers and through trees and I seem to remember a blue backpack and wings.

I won’t jinx it, but perhaps my anxiety who has anxiety has found a new manager named Remington.

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Follow the Cardinal

It’s colder than Narnia out there, y’all.

I’m looking out the back window at the small patches of snow hiding in the shadows of my backyard when down from the bony trees, a bright, red cardinal descends. He lands in the damp leaves and hops about, cocking his head side to side. He bounces with authority—as if he knows precisely where he’s going on this cold day. I scramble to find my camera but manage only to snap a few, blurry photos of a red smudge. I wonder if he’s leading me to something like the robin leading Mary to her Secret Garden? I decide to bundle myself and go out to follow the bird.

Last week, I started re-reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett for the first time since I was in middle school. I remember, as a pre-teen, enjoying the book, although my memory did not retain many of the small, magical details and the deeply, profound metaphors for the essence of life that this time around, are grabbing at my soul. Taking risks, for example…making somethings out of nothings…the recognition of the good in the world no matter what and so much more. Perhaps it’s because life has a different meaning as an adult then it did when I was in middle school, but this time ‘round, I simply cannot keep from crying as I read it. In a peculiar way, I almost feel as if I have more wonder and curiosity about the world now than I did when I was a young girl.

This is on the coattails of something that happened while I was in Houston visiting my family for the holidays that’s been causing an itch in my head like poison ivy on the brain and this happening, coincidentally enough, also involved middle-school me.

My father found an old box of family videos and managed to get his hands on a working VCR so that all of us (as a family who is rarely together these days) could watch a few of them. Of the overflowing box, we picked at random and after rewinding the tape, we found ourselves watching a video of my family at some park when I was around the age of 11 or 12. It was spring and the bluebonnets were blooming which, as is tradition in many Texas households, sent our family on a roadtrip to the Texas hill country to take pictures in the rolling, blue flowers.

I’d not seen this video since it was filmed and to see myself on the poorly tracked tape literally took my breath away. I was taken aback because as most girls/women living in the times we do now, I was so heavily critical of my looks and abilities (and if you’ve kept up with my blogs, you know that I deal with a good amount of residual confidence issues as an adult). To my now, grown eyes, I was astonished with what a pretty, pretty girl I was back then with my long, wavy brown hair and wide, blue eyes. My legs were longer than most middle-schoolers and I frolicked through the tall grass with much more grace than I ever remembered having. I actually remember being self-conscious with how clumsy I thought I was and how masculine I felt being so tall and strong and being a girl with only two brothers.

I watched myself on the screen, smiling my crooked smile and wearing clothes that fit me awkwardly (like every preteen does) and I choked back tears because I remembered being that girl and hating myself so much. I never fit in with anyone or anything and quickly gave up on trying. I built walls and hid behind them, refusing to believe that any part of me was any good or worth any self-respect. I retreated to living in my own mind where I could ponder on things and imagine what things must feel like out there. From the chair in my folks’ living room watching her there, I wanted to jump through the screen and hug her neck and tell her that she is so beautiful and that there’s a blossoming world around her that is far greater and more powerful than any insecurities—it’s a world for everyone.

Like Colin in The Secret Garden, I had no idea of my own strength and abilities for so long, only it was because of my own insecurities, not a staff of enablers. I sat in my mind, scared and lonely and bitter in so many ways, and although I didn’t have a Mary to find me weeping in my room, I did eventually make it outside to see what was growing. I finally went outside as an adult which is why I suppose I find myself searching for magic and meaning and little cracks in the surface so much these days.

I was glad to watch the videos but also so surprised at what I saw. I’m not even sure what I’m getting at by typing all of this out except to say that whether it be going outside the house or going outside our own minds, it’s limitless what you’ll find out there. The world is a beautiful place of wonder and growing and kisses from the sun and we should go out there every day so that we may live forever and ever. That young, frolicking girl in the grainy video at my folk’s house had no idea how beautiful she was and no idea that the world was reaching for her and yearning for her touch. At the same time, she didn’t realize how much she missed the warmth of the sun by living behind her own walls. Now that she’s been out there though, the opportunities are endless and the ground is aching to be tilled so that its flowers may bloom.

The cardinal bounces around several feet away from me before flapping away into the trees. Instead of a buried key, perhaps this is exactly what he wanted me to find—the realization that age has no impact on your ability to wonder. Time has no impact on how you can love yourself. Walls can be broken. And that no matter how cold or seemingly dead the world is, there is magic happening beneath the soil. Time and TLC will help it grow.

Afterall, if you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.
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When Trees Talk

The new year, whose force of reflection and goal-setting is so proverbial, has caught me in its clutches as I sit, staring out the large window in my living room with tears streaming down my face. A cold front is pushing through as I type this—it’s lashing through the trees and sending my windchimes into resounding choruses while gray-slated clouds race each other across the sky. I watch as the leaves on the magnolia trees flicker in the wind—they flip and flop so quickly from waxy side to dull side that they’re twinkling. The bare branches of the pecan trees wave back and forth like long, skeletal fingers trying to get my attention as I’m struggling to scramble up the sides of this muddy-mind pit in which I’ve fallen.

I suspect I’m here because I don’t do well in the hype around new years: all of its pressure to start again and set goals and review where you’ve been and where you’re going. Not to mention that I loathe fireworks and much like my donkeys, feel like I spend several days after 12:00AM, January 1st trying to recover from the stress of the “celebratory” explosions. Why do we blow things up to welcome a new year, anyway?

I do advocate learning from the past and responsibly preparing for the future, but as a person living with anxiety, it’s easy for me to get lost in the mistakes of the past and in the uncertainties of the future to the point where I lose sight of what’s unfolding in front of me right now: what’s occurring in my present moment. I worry endlessly about all those things that I cannot, despite my efforts, control.

An anxious mind struggles to slow down: it’s not defaulted to normal speed. An anxious mind, as Doctor Who said once about the essence of time, is “…more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff…” only, instead of “time-y wimey,” it’s “what-iffy, but why-oh-why-ey” stuff. Further, the constant feed of resolutions and deals and changes everywhere buries the anxious mind in layers upon layers of memos in which I know I’ll never, EVER have a chance to respond.

My anxious mind can’t see which way is up or down right now so I’m staring and crying and now typing in hopes that I’ll land on some sort of an answer or epiphany as to how the heck one can calm down while they’re this deep in the ground as the mud is sliding down with more and more and more horsepower (or, more accurately, donkey power.)

The trees are still waving their bony branches. I’m watching intently and thinking of waving back when I realize that there’s something profound here. I’m remembering reading once from a Zen story, something about someone pointing at the moon and you looking at where they’re pointing is not actually the moon or the moon’s location, but it’s just you gazing past their finger to see the moon. So no matter how accurately someone else points at the moon, you’ll only ever see their finger hovering over it (or something like that). The point being that it is the practice and the patience of your own journey that will land you on the moon one day, and maybe that’s what my pecan trees are doing right now. They’re waving at me, encouraging me to slow the eff down and look at them. Right now, they’re dancing. By God, they’re dancing! Look at them go!

Before it gets too chilly out there, I’ll need to go out and visit with the donkeys. I’ll shuffle them into their shelters with fresh hay and water and give them each some snuggles. I do hope that all of you have a wonderful new year, but more importantly, I hope you’re all having a wonderful right now. At the end of it all, life is made of right now’s and so new year or not, you always have the opportunity to begin again. Every breath and every moment is new and not every breath or every moment needs fireworks to be meaningful.

…and if it were my world, fireworks would be left to the professionals always…not in neighborhoods to terrorize poor animals who don’t understand that the wild explosions aren’t the world ending around them. I really do hate fireworks.

When Trees Talk

Cold Coffee and Gray Skies: A Morning Meditation on Togetherness

I relaxed my back against the coolness of the wrought-iron chair in which I’d been sitting and leaning forward for the past half-hour while pulling my smudged glasses from my face. On the desk in front of me, I closed the large, three-ring binder that is packed full of printouts of guided meditations that I use in my yoga classes from time to time. I moved it to the floor and picked up my cup of coffee that no longer steamed.

The sun was only barely beginning to rise outside the small window to my left. It was a gray sunrise behind heavily hanging, weather-changing clouds that are bringing a cold-front our way. Bowie, our youngest rooster, crowed twice. I know his crow from the others—it’s softer and shorter. It’s not very confident compared to the others. I suppose he’s still trying to find his voice.

Also on my desk was our county’s newspaper that gets delivered to us weekly by mail, folded into quarters and the side that faced up had two advertisements on it. The first had a headline that read, “Choose to Change Lives” and the second, a headline that read, “Every Abused or Neglected Child Needs a Caring, Consistent Adult to Advocate for His or Her Well-Being.” I sipped my cool coffee.

The night before this, I’d gone out to remove our newest donkey, Tink’s, prosthetic boot and wrapped gauze. His wound is healing, but still needs time to air out at night when he’s less active. Oxygen, indeed, is the greatest healer. After I removed his boot and unwrapped the gauze, I sat down in the dirt next to him and rubbed his wounded leg. I pressed my thumbs firmly around his joints and ran my fingers up and down the muscles between them. When I do this, he softens his eyes and lowers his head: a signal to me that it feels pleasant. Oddly enough, that’s what my guided meditation was about this morning: equanimity between pleasantness, unpleasantness and neutrality. It spoke to the fact that we often cling to pleasantness, condemn unpleasantness, and space-out during neutrality and in that, we miss out. We let moments pass us by. We live based on experience and not based on the present.

Donkeys do this, too, I think. They can often seem to cling to experience to protect themselves.

The wind whipped around the sides of the shed last night as I sat, massaging TInk’s leg. I could see the black clouds unfolding and collapsing as my two remaining adoptable donkeys, Fireball and Fluff, cautiously wandered into the shed, their heads low. These two donkeys are very shy and although I have no concrete information, I get the sense there’s pain in their respective backgrounds. I continued to massage Tink’s swollen leg, humming my favorite James Taylor song (Close Your Eyes) when Fluff took two more steps closer to me. I continued to softly sing and he took one more step to where now, he could reach my face with his nose.

I turned my nose to his and he exhaled twice. So did I.

Behind him, Fireball stood timidly and with his eyes wide. Fluff took two more steps towards me, his neck and head above me now, and rested his chin on the top of my head. Under the pressure, I continued to hum.

Tink lowered his leg and leaned his weight into my side and I started to struggle beneath the weight of both Fluff and Tink but I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want them to snap back into experience. I wanted, so badly, for them to be in this moment with me experiencing trust.

Being at the bottom of a two-donkey pile, I hadn’t noticed that somewhere during this time, Fireball was no longer in my line of sight when suddenly, from behind me, I felt an exhale rush past my ear. I exhaled, too and he didn’t run away. Baby steps.

I placed my cool cup of coffee back down on the desk and looked at the headlines of our county newspaper again. I wondered what other people thought when they saw these headlines about changing lives and advocating for abused of neglected children. I wondered at all why someone would ever abuse or neglect a child. I began to feel very upset, thinking even of my own Little Foot and how I could never, ever imagine hurting him and as I did this, I pushed the newspaper away and looked back out the window.

But in that moment, I condemned and pushed away unpleasantness, just like the meditation said and I got to wondering, how different would our world be if instead of running away from the bad, we all worked together to “Choose to Change Lives”? To, instead of moving based on our experiences, moved in the present? Together?

I’ll admit, I don’t always trust or know what I believe. I simply think too much. But what I do know is that we all belong to one another—human and animal alike. It is our responsibility to care deeply for one another—to not push away the unpleasantness because we’re scared but to instead, pick each other up even when it hurts or the pressure is too high. It’s our responsibility to not turn a blind eye because we don’t like it or to space out because we don’t get it. We need each other. All of us.

All of this easier said than done, of course. But I think it’s worth trying…especially if it means that someone might feel safer or more loved.

The sun was up now, although the light trickling in was cool and gray. The few, remaining leaves in the trees twinkled in the wind and once more, Bowie crowed. I’d be heading out soon to re-wrap Tink’s little hoof and put his boot on and I’d probably brush him and the other two donkeys if they’d let me. I would go to the other paddock and spend time with Bunny and Tee who need to be reminded that I love them unconditionally, too. I’d come in after that and make breakfast for Little Foot and hold him in my lap while he drinks his milk. We’d probably read a book, too. I’d call King Ranch to tell him I love him and that I hope he has a good day at work and then I’d probably call my mom just to see how she’s doing.

We belong to each other. All of us, big and small, rich and poor, strong and weak. We can choose to change lives. We can advocate for one another. We should.

Fluff and fireball

A Whirlpool Around the Block: When Navigation Fails and Feelings Take the Wheel

This morning, I am writing because I’m looking for something.

Over and over within the past week, I’ve sat down in the squeaky, blue recliner in my living room, opened my laptop, and stared at a blank document on the computer screen. I would start to type and after a line or two, I’d hold down the backspace button until I returned to an empty page and lonely, blinking cursor. I’m searching for understanding….understanding in my own feelings and in the world around me because honestly, I’m just bloody confused.

It’s like the time I circled the same two blocks of downtown Houston 8,000 times looking for an unnamed, upstairs warehouse where I was having a photoshoot done by my dear friend, Jessica. I had secretly booked a boudoir session  with her where a team of experts would style my hair and professionally apply makeup and I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and explore the beauty and strength of my own femininity. Google maps barked at me through the speaker in my car telling me to turn right and your destination is on the left. I’d turn right and there was nothing to my left. I’d turn again and Google maps repeated that my destination was on the left.

I hadn’t the nerve to call my photographer because I knew that there were other ladies in there having similar photoshoots done and I didn’t want to disturb, be an inconvenience, or admit that I was just that bad at navigating. Houston, afterall, is my hometown and I felt silly for being so lost. I circled and circled and finally pulled off to the side of the road, retrieved my phone and drafted a text message to Jessica:

“I’m so sorry I can’t make it, something has come up. I hope we can reschedule.”

My thumb hovered over ‘send’ as tears of frustration started to flow down my cheeks which even further upset me because when I cry, I blotch and puff and snot all over. I was frustrated from the circling and the anticipation of being a big let down…to Jessica the photographer and to myself. I realized, in that moment of hesitation, that the guilt for backing out of the shoot last minute would be too much guilt for me to handle, so I deleted the text message and began to drive around again. After another several, loopy minutes, I finally found the small, wooden door tucked between two offices that would lead me upstairs to the warehouse and on to my photoshoot. Praise the almighty, I’d found it.

This week has been a circle around the same two blocks dozens of times where I’ve been tempted to just give up.

Between finding a perfect forever home for Simon and Beans (my last two remaining foster donkeys for whom I was *this close* to deciding to adopt myself), the screaming and angry election cycle that has just taken place here in the US, my anxieties over what Little Foot’s future looks like in a divided and scary world, and the cosmic shifts that I suspect we’re all feeling caused by that big ole’ supermoon…I feel ready to send that cop-out text that I’m done. Peace. Too many questions. Too many feels. It’s too loud and too fast and I swear to God if Google maps doesn’t quit telling me that my destination is on the left when there is nothing FREAKING there I am going to lose my sh*t.

And that’s just my own mind’s labyrinth: my own mind with it’s own, unique experiences, ignorances, sensitivities and expectations. I can barely hear beyond my own echo chamber of self-perpetuated fears over feelings I don’t understand how to handle to even know how to begin to relate to anyone else. I default to “be kind and be gentle” but even there, I feel slightly off the mark…like I’m missing something. I feel like I’m across the street looking in the wrong place for that photoshoot that I’ve been so excited to do because I’d feel pretty and confident and have on really cool makeup and false eye lashes and I just don’t ever get the chance to do that. So I don’t want to miss my destination but I am so exhausted in this never-ending not-so-lazy river where Jesus did that guy floating in the tube in front of me just piss in the water? Is this what it’s come down to?

I miss Simon and Beans  so much but I’m so pleased with the home they’ve found. My goodness, I don’t know that I’ve ever met a couple who was so kind and emitted love so profoundly simply in their being. They felt oddly like family to me after only briefly meeting with them and is it weird that I miss them, too? What is that? I hardly know them and I want to have them over for drinks.

Maybe it’s because they’ve taken in two creatures that I care so deeply for and for whom I’m fiercely protective. My mom told me yesterday that in a strangely, mild way, she thinks that feeling is what it felt like to her when her children got married….that these babies that she loves more than words can say have now been entrusted to the emotional care of someone else. That’s difficult. Letting go (in any sense) is never easy, I suppose.

When I returned home from delivering Simon and Beans, my ranch seemed so quiet. Bunny and Tee were confused. The pasture was a space of ghostly memories resetting itself into a space of anticipation because in only two short weeks, we’re getting seven new adoptable donkeys. Seven more little souls that I will protect with all my being until I find someone trustworthy and filled with visible loving-kindness who can take those reigns like the couple who just took Simon and Beans. The circle of foster-life. 

I’m slightly envious of the donkeys complete naiveté to what’s happening in the world right now. Despite the tectonically quaking plates of opposing sides and anger in our country, donkeys still need snuggling and are eager to share their affections if you let them. They still need saving and greener pastures and I just want to shift all of my free-time focus on that. But at the same time, I want to understand how to sort through all of these feelings of my own so that I can even attempt to understand the feelings of others because there’s nothing worse than feeling alone and misunderstood. I can’t quite seem to find that wooden door and until I do, I think I’ll just be frustrated and on the edge of deciding to not care. But I know myself well enough to know that if I throw in the towel, the guilt will be too much to handle and indeed, I’ll hate myself for it.

So on I’ll circle. The things I do know are as follows:

Peace is created within.
Other people’s happiness is not my responsibility.
We are all one.
Kindness is way cooler than bullying.
It takes work to understand one another and I think that’s an enjoyable effort because we’re stronger when we’re together.

I’m going to continue circling this block until I find that warehouse…puffy, red eyes and all. In the meantime, here’s me kissing a little ass.

Mini donkey kiss

Rolling Rocks and Hungry Donkeys: A Morning Ritual

“Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!” – Dr. Seuss

It was a golden morning—the kind where the sun sparkles in a million, broken pieces off the dew droplets covering absolutely everything. The cool air moved although it was hard to tell which direction and on the back of our property, the neighborhood roaming pack of guinea hens chattered in what sounded like a symphony of tiny kazoos. I held a mug of slightly steaming coffee in both hands, feeling its warmth against my palms and breathing in its fresh, donut shop smell.

In the pasture, the donkeys stepped slowly across the grass, grazing on the wet blades and softly flicking their tails when Bunny noticed me and raised her head. With her ears standing straight, she began to breathe heavily, widening her nostrils, which brought the attention of my presence to the other three donkeys, Tyrion, Simon and Beans. Starting with Bunny, they all began to bray as four sets of slightly damp hooves trotted my way.

Soon, I’d be replenishing the hay to their feeders and taking some time to pet and inspect each of them. I have this unrelenting fear that during the night, somehow, one of the donkeys will hurt themselves, so I ensure every morning that my fear is only that: a fear.  It’s a fear among many other unlikely fears such as the fear of my house burning down from my having left the stove top on, King Ranch being abducted by disgruntled workers who send a ransom note written with newspaper cutouts demanding $500,000,000 for his return OR ELSE, and Little Foot running away when he’s a teenager to join some international gang of assassins where of course he’ll change his whole identity and I’ll never see him again except for in my dreams.  I worry about diphtheria, brown recluses, real life witches that blend in with society, ghosts and spirits of the disturbed and angry kind and worlds of tiny people that might actually be living in the grass that I violently destroy with the mower. I just do.

Before going into the pasture, I used the back of my left hand to dust away dirt, chicken feathers, and leaves from the back patio table and then placed my coffee in the clearing as I sat down in a damp patio chair. I’d realized recently that not only was I an anxious person, but that I was anxious about the fact that I was anxious and I spend a lot of time worrying about how much I worried about things. Since realizing this, I’ve dedicated my early mornings to depriving the beast of food…or in other words, depriving my worry of more worry.

My deprivation tool is this:

My mind is a mountain full of rocks. When I have a thought, a boulder pops out of the top of the mountain and begins to roll down the very well-defined groove that almost every single boulder in my life has rolled down—what I refer to as the “Trench of Terror” (my anxiety). It’s slick, lined with skeletal remains, giant spiders, fire, and slimy, green ghouls and no one has yet to discover where it ends. Nothing has ever come back from the foggy mist in which the trench disappears although sometimes, there are faint cries and moans signaling that death isn’t at the bottom of it—just horror. Never ending, perpetual horror.

Now, however, in my attempted deprivation of enabling this behaviour, my consciousness (who oddly enough, I imagine as a small stick figure without a face and with small circles for hands and feet) stands just outside the thought hole and when a boulder of thought pops out, my stick figure consciousness pushes it the other direction….away from the dark and howling Trench of Terror and down the very unstable yet growing groove that I call “Reasonable River.” It’s bright on that side of the mountain with trees, birds, chalkboards with equations, and shelves of how-to books. Reasonable River is still a rocky route, but I can see the bottom of it: a blue lagoon with actual mermaids who take care of the smaller sea creatures and sing celtic folk music. There’s always a rainbow and the sun over there has a sweet, smiling face. I think there’s wine down there too but not so much that one would black-out. Just enough to take the edge off.

So…a thought pops up and heads towards Trench of Terror at an alarming speed. The green ghouls begin to laugh in anticipation and the fires rage but then consciousness catches it, pushes it back up the mountain and over to Reasonable River where it rolls down in a sensical and thoughtful way. Reason guides it all the way down into the warm waters of the lagoon where it stays happy and healthy and dealt with.

I watch the donkeys as I push myself through this exercise for two reasons: 1) watching donkeys grazing is peaceful and 2) I personally believe that most donkeys struggle with anxiety and I hope that in some universal, cosmic way, if I visualize vividly enough (my stick figure consciousnesses fighting with my thought rocks), that the donkeys may actually catch some of that scene in their satellites and feel just a little more at peace within their own minds. I have always had this feeling that animals communicate in mental wavelengths—like watching TV and the more real the thoughts are to us, the clearer the image they receive. Maybe? I don’t know. But I like to think that’s how it is. I make eye contact with every animal I can and I imagine beautiful things like embraces and laughs and sprinkled cake hoping that somehow, they’ll see those images, too.

Of course, I think being on an actual mountain pushing actual boulders around would be the far easier exercise because the number of flying boulders on that slippery mountain surface are a lot for that little stick person to handle. Rolling rocks still tumble down the Trench of Terror, but stick person does a good job of catching some of them and sending them the other way towards reason. Over time, Reasonable River will be defined too and perhaps it won’t be such a challenge.

I reached the bottom of my coffee mug which signals the end of my exercise. The dew had begun to evaporate making the yard far, less sparkly and far more humid. Over the fence, all four donkeys watched me expectantly, so with my rubber boots on, I walked towards the shed that holds their hay. Once more, the donkeys brayed although they were brays of excitement. Breakfast time.

I supposed I was hungry, too.

Morning ritual

Farewells, Feelings, News Crews and Two Remaining Donkeys

A tan, rattling horse trailer bumped down the road away from my house kicking gravel and dust as its rusty doors creaked and clanged in a travelling, metallic melody which is quite common in these rural areas. Inside those doors, which likely still dripped with the sweat from my hands, two sets of furry ears stood straight up and wobbled side to side: Ethel and Charlie (two more of my foster donkeys) were going home. They were going to their forever home.

The choppy waters of my insides were churning like a pot of stew—boiling bubbles popped and spat in a scene which was familiar—it having only been 10 days since Ali the donkey had been adopted by a couple from central Texas. The feeling was complex: it stretched as far as grief and heartache could before likely causing serious damage—like a stressed rubber band which, had I not let go into gratitude, would have snapped and slapped my innards which were already raw from having said goodbye once and now two and three times.

After the trailer attached to the truck turned off of our road and its rustic, tambourine encore faded away, I tipped up my hat and ran my forearm across the lines of sweat collecting in my brows. Grief was swelling in my throat: that tingly feeling that warms the insides of your cheeks (like the moment before you bite into something that you know will be sour) was causing me to salivate. Perhaps that’s where tears actually start…in the throat.

I gulped it all down: that damp, pin-prick feeling that had started to fizz into the backs of my eyes because I could not yet touch the grief. Not yet. Behind me, leaning on the open gate, was a journalist and photographer from the local news who had come to my house on that same morning to do a story on our donkey adoption facility and we had an interview to finish.

With the exception of many job interviews and once by a woman who runs a podcast which features motivational folks, I’ve not been interviewed and certainly not by any news crews. In hindsight, I honestly cannot tell you if I did well or not but I get the feeling I was difficult to follow in my answers. I stumbled and stuttered nervously because the news is exposure and exposure is the most crippling of conditions for those who have struggled helplessly  throughout their whole lives with anxiety. I almost declined the opportunity because the violent whirlpool of ‘what-ifs’ from the initial media query that popped into my inbox weeks ago was enough to suffocate me.

But then I thought of the donkeys. They could use the publicity. They could use a special interest story because if even one person who reads this soon-to-run story takes up an interest in the well-being of donkeys, then it would be a success.

Donkeys have an odd mixture of a reputation: stubborn, stupid, worthless, to start. It’s why they’re left behind and discarded at an alarming and heartbreaking rate. It’s why they’re roped for sport and tied to trees and whipped and overworked. People don’t take the time to understand the force to be reckoned with that is the donkey: a highly intelligent, loyal, deeply emotional and complex creature that is unmatched anywhere else in the animal kingdom…at least to me. When cared for, they’re affectionate and protective and loving almost to a fault.

So I agreed to do the story…heels in the sand and all, I agreed.

The journalist and the photographer assigned to this story handled the whole experience with the most tender of care and for that, I hope they know how grateful I am. They were kind and patient and truly interested in the welfare of donkeys. I suspect my donkeys felt that, too, as they put on a beautiful show of their own: braying and nudging and even trying to play. They will make for a great story, no doubt.

Once everyone left my house and the dust settled from the last leaving car, I grabbed a beer from the fridge and pulled a lawn chair into the pasture where my two remaining fosters paced curiously. They were clearly confused and concerned with heavy exhales and fast steps so as I sipped, I started to hum a nameless tune and after some time, both donkeys eventually positioned themselves in front of me. I scratched their noses, continued to hum and finally allowed the huge, webby, conglomerate of emotions that had been tumbling inside me like a heavy load of clothes in the dryer to pierce the surface of my control…and I cried. I hummed and I cried and hummed and cried in what felt like bursting levies until there was nothing left but a wobbly tone vibrating under my tongue.

It occurs to me now that this donkey fostering and adoption process is a metaphor for life: that we’re blessed with different opportunities every day and it’s up to us to seize them whether they’re temporary or not. It’s up to us to do good things and difficult things and to love so hard if it means making this world for someone…even a donkey…a better place. And then one day, this whole life will be over. Everything is temporary…so alarmingly temporary. But temporary doesn’t mean ‘not worth it.’ No, quite the opposite. Temporary means a more compact and intense time to pour your whole self into something good.

I don’t know for how much longer I’ll have these two remaining foster donkeys and as I sat there in that lawn chair, I studied their eyes knowing that one day, probably soon, I’ll be saying goodbye to them, too. Before going in, I replenished their hay and gave them each one more pat on the rump. They ignored the hay and followed me to the gate and watched me walk inside…ears on high alert.

Ethel and Charlie have gone to the best home with one of the loveliest women I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. I know that for them, good things are finally ahead and for my remaining two, I hope to say the same one day.

And when this news story runs in a few weeks, I hope that others will begin to see donkeys in a better way. Maybe more people will pause and reflect on how they’ve treated animals they’ve encountered. Maybe those which would normally ignore the problem or even contribute to it will stop and realize that really, they want to help. I do believe that most people really do just want this world to be a better place and donkeys have made my life better. So. Who knows.

I don’t know, but I’m hopeful.

Peace, Love and Donkeys

So…Why Donkeys?

For the first time in almost two months, small, struggling raindrops splat onto the dirty windshield of my truck as I traveled down the long, dark, two-lane spur that leads back to my town. Momentarily, I forgot which lever controlled the windshield wipers (probably due to lack of use) so after fumbling with the blinker and then the washer fluid, I finally got the wipers going—their blades spreading dirty dampness in rainbow shapes across the windshield.

Welcome as the rain was to our roasted lawns, this particular night was poorly timed because on this night, the peak showing of the Perseid meteor shower was happening with the possibility of seeing an impressive seven to eight falling stars per minute. King Ranch and I had been anxiously awaiting the opportunity to post up in our backyard, lean back in lawn chairs with potent beverages, and see who could spot the most streaks in the sky. But alas, the insulation of thick, gray clouds fully blocked the potential for even a fluke sighting. Maybe we would just settle in on the couch, turn on an episode of Louis C.K.’s show, Louie, and still indulge ourselves with a drink or three.

I was driving home later than I’d originally planned from an evening staff meeting at the studio where I teach yoga. As a group, we (the staff) took individual DiSC assessments to determine our personality traits, strengths and weaknesses in an attempt to more effectively carry out our studio’s mission and to better understand one another in an effort to maintain harmony among all the employees. The results of my assessment were not too far off from my predictions which was a bit disappointing because I’d hoped to be surprised. It was revealed that I am, in fact, a C/S—one who is calm and avoids conflict and generally prefers to avoid too many social engagements. When faced with stress, “…Cs/Sc’s will over-analyze or withdraw, and may even stop talking altogether. Their generally calm and rational approach to their work—coupled with their non-assertive style—makes them appear detached, or potentially passive aggressive.” (Crystal Project 2016).

Chuckling uncomfortably to myself, I realized that of all the people in attendance at the meeting, I was surely the only one still travelling home because I lived the farthest distance away and by far from the studio: I’ve geographically separated myself from others.

I suppose I like it this way—being far. I like the ability to detach when I need to recharge. I like being around people for a short while and then retreating to the safety of my acreage and donkeys. However, loneliness does creep up on me from time to time…usually once Little Foot is napping, King Ranch is at work, and the donkeys are feeling particularly anti-social. It’s as if I haven’t struck the right balance between detachment and engagement with others. I’m easily overwhelmed by interaction, but start to crave it pretty quickly when it’s gone.

As I entered my town, there wasn’t enough rain falling to wash away the dirty trails that my windshield wipers left across the glass which made it difficult to see the road, so I ran my washer fluid a few times to clear the view. Those drops which had been falling were now reduced to a mist that scattered around in the beams of my headlights like small, aimlessly darting gnats.

I thought of these confirmed traits of mine: overly analytical, withdrawing, non-assertive etc, as I arrived outside of my property and was feeling rather vulnerable about it. I knew these things about me but now, everyone else did. Is that a bad thing though? By the time I pulled up, the rain was no more than a thick, floating humidity that fogged the car windows as well as the lenses in my glasses. As a yoga instructor, I speak so often about the importance of connection with one’s self as well as the connection to others, yet, as a human wandering around out there in the world, I usually feel quite disconnected from everything, myself included. Maybe it’s the overly analytical part of my mind, but I feel like I am in constant search for connection—even if it’s just a connection to understanding. Is it normal to feel like I just don’t get it? It meaning anything?

I pulled the glasses off my face to clear the lenses of fog as I stepped out of the truck to open the gate. As I did so, Bunny and Tee lifted their heads from grazing in the front paddock, watching me intently with their ears pointed up and their jaws still slowly chewing. They really do watch everything. With the gate open, I climbed back into the truck, released the brake, and squeaked up the gravel driveway as dots of dew danced around in the beam of the headlights.

After turning off the engine, I stepped out of the truck and noticed that Bunny had hung her head over the fence that lines our driveway, so despite the dampness, I walked to her and placed my hand between her eyes. She lifted her soft nose up and down and laid her ears back. C/Ss are (according to a DiSC Insights blog I found online here) stable and friendly. They don’t handle change very well, or at least not quickly. They’re sympathetic, avoid conflict, and they fear loss of security. They should be handled with care and will likely recoil if met with aggression, strong tones or body language, or pushy personalities. That assessment, I thought, really pinpointed me.

I ran my hand up and down Bunny’s snout as I considered all of this in thought patterns that resembled a complicated roller coaster—the images of my traits running up and down and ’round and ’round, faster than I could hardly keep up with when it hit me that oh my goodness, donkeys are C/S personalities too.

The roller coaster ride in my mind stopped abruptly and I stared into Bunny’s big, brown eyes. In my shift, she widened her eyes and her ears shot straight back up. Her tail flicked and Tee came trotting  over from across the dark, damp paddock.

Donkeys are kind, sympathetic, overly analytical, slow to adjust to change, reliant, dependable, and typically avoid conflicts. They need to be handled with extreme care, especially those who have been through a lot. They are loyal to a fault but will shut down if threatened. Oh my goodness. They’re just like me. Overthinking, anxious, kind, thoughtful, self-conscious, non-assertive, people pleaser ME.

I was suddenly very anxious in this discovery—as if somehow, I’d just discovered the glowing and priceless key that unlocks the secrets to the entire universe. I scrambled around the garage to the gate which leads into the pasture and there, Bunny and Tee met me with warm exhales and wide, welcoming eyes.

I dropped to a knee and placed a hand on each of their jaws, pulling their noses in close to my face. I’m sure they wondered what on Earth was happening but they didn’t resist or recoil. They didn’t resist because in typical C/S fashion, “they enjoy people, but prefer individuals and groups that they trust and feel comfortable around.” (DiSC Insight Blog 2016). They were being kind and patient. I laughed out loud as I realized this and from the back parts of the property, two of my foster donkeys brayed loudly, causing Bunny and Tee to reciprocate by calling back. I leapt to my feet and by now, the rain was no more than a heavy dampness—like a warm washcloth wrapped around absolutely everything. I ran as fast as I could in my saturated converse tennis shoes to the gate that separates the foster donkeys from my own and there they all were waiting, ears pointed up towards the gray sky.

They all watched me wide-eyed and I know why: they felt my excitement and my vulnerability from feeling so seen because donkeys feel what those around them are feeling. They’re natural care-givers and highly intuitive. After patting Bunny and Tee on the nose (assuring them that they still are and will always be my favorite), I unlocked the gate to the paddock with the fosters and latched it behind me as all five of them circled around me. I could have sworn that they smiled—at least it felt like it. I know I was. Like a big dummy, I smiled.

I’d never felt so seen. I’d never felt so understood. I’d figured out the answer to that confusing and complex question that I’ve been asked by so many and in so many different ways and have never properly known how to answer…that question: “Why donkeys?”

Why donkeys? Why? I know now.

Because they get me…and I get them.

Why donkeys? We see the world and react to it in the very same way. Their thoughtfulness, sensitivity, need for space yet need for engagement, overly-analytical minds: I get it now.

Why donkeys? Because we are the very same.

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Strong Heart

I should note to my followers that this post is neither ranch nor donkey related. This is a piece I’ve written as a way to look for answers for myself. After all, writing is a tool to discover things. Although I do personally journal things that never make it to the public, this one, I wanted to share. 


 

Thick skin is an idiom used to describe a tool for survival. It’s something you’re told to have when someone insults your cooking or reveals that you didn’t make the cut for the dance team because well, you just weren’t good enough.

As a hyper-sensitive person who seems to be affected by almost everything, thick skin is both a foreign concept and a source of deep frustration for me. Thick skin has become this passing grade that most of my peers seem to have reached while I’m still shuffling through all my chicken-scratch notes trying to make sense of what the hell it even means and how can one create it if they’re not just born with it? It’s this idea that has turned into a solution for my sensitivity problems—if I can just cultivate thick skin, then life, as I have known it to unfold, will be so much easier. After all, my sensitivity, I’ve been told, makes people pretty uncomfortable sometimes. It’s a weakness I should work out.

It was 6:30 in the morning and in Texas during the summer, that means that it already approached 90 degrees outside. On my cell phone was a notification that I’d received an email from another publishing company to whom I’d recently submitted a short story. The subject of the email was too ambiguous to know its contents, but after many recent rejections, I decided to wait a while to open it. I didn’t want to risk starting off another day with a “no.”

These days, in addition to brushing my teeth and washing my face in the morning as the coffee is brewing, I also liberally apply SPF 50 all over my body knowing that any amount of time outside will result in a burn otherwise. I used to try to tan, but I’m a girl whose pink skin freckles. Tanning is a painful process that always ends in blisters that pop and peel. I also come from a long line of scarred, fair skinned relatives who warn me of the dangers of the sun. They ask if I can see their scars and do I know that they could have prevented it had they just worn sunscreen?

Of course, when you’re young, skin cancer is something that happens to people much older than you, so you don’t seriously consider the consequences. Two months ago, however, I noticed that one of the larger freckles on my right arm had grown and changed into a strange shape—more like a splat than a spot. And also, today, I turned 30.

I stood in front of the mirror in my bathroom topless and slid the sunscreen all over me. Despite my attempts at protecting my skin recently, I’ve still managed to form a farmer’s tan: a slightly more red than pink U-shape on my chest and fair caps on my shoulders. The farmer’s tan was inevitable living on a ranch because I spend most of my days working outside in the Texas sun.

In the middle of my chest, in this light, I can actually see my breast bone and the inside edges of my ribs. Skin is so thin there. Beneath the freckles are faint, blueish green lines pumping away in and out of my heart.

I think of my heart beating—blood rushing in and pulsing out. It’s been nearly 5-years since I had heart surgery. I’d developed an arrhythmia when I was 24 years old that the doctors said was probably a preexisting condition, although it was nothing I knew to run through my family. It had gotten out of hand for reasons that doctors could not figure out to the point where I’d pass out walking up stairs or if I got too hot. The morning I went in for the surgery was when I found out that I’d need to be awake for the procedure so that my heart would behave as “normally” as it had been—not affected at all by anesthesia.

It wasn’t open-heart surgery, luckily. Instead they’d go in through my femoral artery with a snake like tool and burn off the nerve endings in my heart that they found responsible for the arrhythmia.

I’ve been asked before if the surgery was painful and my response is always, shit yes, it was painful. It was beyond imaginable. I guessed that back in time, this was what it felt like to have a sword slide through your chest during a dual several times, only, I didn’t get the opportunity to protect myself. I just laid naked under stadium lights with 13 doctors and nurses around me as nerve endings in my heart were literally burned away. For days, my heart was swollen. I discovered that balling up pieces of bread into dense balls of dough and slowly swallowing them whole was a cheap and easy massage for the swollen walls of my heart.

I placed a hand over my chest, the sunscreen cool in my palm, and rubbed in circles. Since that surgery, I’ve kept an open dialogue with my heart. I have pep talks with her. I remind her what she’s been through when she’s down. After that procedure, heartbreak meant something completely different to us. I ask her sometimes if she’s doing alright. For the most part she is, but she worries.

For example, she worries about our kid and how we’re supposed to mother him in a way that sets him up for success. Her and I were bullied as children and we just took it. We didn’t like confrontation and I suppose we still don’t—us still avoiding it at almost any cost. Standing up to bullies or even telling grown ups about being bullied was a sure fire way to end up in a big confrontation. So we kept quiet and waited for the day to end when we could go home and play with our beagle and dig holes in the yard in search of dinosaur fossils.

She worries about men with guns because there are many days where that’s the only news story. She didn’t want to go to the movies to see the newly released Finding Dory with her husband and kid on father’s day because she just kept thinking about Pulse in Orlando—it having happened only a few days prior. She thought about Aurora. Sandy Hook. San Bernadino. She couldn’t shake the thought of it happening in the large theater in which they’d purchased tickets. She hurt for the young man who texted his mom right before he died. She used to hang out at clubs like Pulse with her friends. That was a safe spot to dance and drink and play and become lost in the sounds and light so that you could feel the pulse in your veins and beneath your feet as the music swallowed you.

She worries that things like mass shootings and bullying and distant wars are so common these days that we’re all becoming calloused to them and somehow, we’re supposed to raise a kid in all this. Thick skin, I suppose. Perhaps that’s the answer. But thick skin doesn’t take away the mother’s grief whose son texted her right before he was killed. Thick skin doesn’t feed and house and embrace the hundreds of thousands of people displaced from distant wars—wars that we could never, ever comprehend. But what, besides thick skin, can we do? What are Syrian parents doing for their children who don’t even know what home means? Bullying is the least of their worries. But then again, I’m sure it happens, still. And hurts, just as badly. All those hearts beating and beating.

I glided across the pale caps of my shoulders and down my biceps, which I flexed to remind myself that there was strength there. I avoided that little spot in the crook of my elbows where I can very clearly see my veins because for some reason, when I touch that spot, I feel a tickle deep down in my ears.

I don’t know how to make her, my heart, stop worrying. I don’t know how to grow thick skin. I’ve tried meditating. Medication. Therapy. Even prayer. But still, she worries, so I try my best to trust her strength and remind her of it when she’s lost sight of it. She has, after  all, survived torture under bright lights in that surgery. Good girl.

In the bedroom, my phone buzzed with some new notification and that reminded me of the email I hadn’t opened. Every single aspiring writer on the planet who wants to make anything of it is told that they have to have “thick skin” and that rejection is all a part of it. They’re told that even J.K. Rowling was rejected with Harry Potter over and over again and now, look at her success! They’re told that you just keep going. Buck up. Move on to the next. They’ve all been through it and so will you. We all need to have thick skin. It’s good for you.

In my reflection, I remind myself of this. Buck up, girl. You keep going. Thick skin. Think of that anonymous message you got on your blog telling you that your words touched this random person you’ve never met and that she loved the way the world looked through your eyes. Remember how you cried in that grocery store parking lot after reading this anonymous person’s message and you called your mom to tell her about it? That’s got to mean something.

That was the same parking lot that I called my husband from a week earlier because as I walked out of the grocery store with my toddler in the seat of the cart—paper bags tumbling over with bread and vegetables and milk—my eyes were drawn to the large muscular calf of a man in front of me. He wore red and orange plaid shorts and a gray shirt that fit his muscular build too tightly. On his left calf, wrapping around the entirety of it, was a red and black swastika. It growled from his leg, flexing with every step he took. My kid was facing me, luckily, not that he’d know what it was anyway. But there it was, oozing out of his leg like oil pouring from a leaking rig in the gulf. I realized then that I’d never seen a swastika outside of books or films.

I stopped, there on the ramp out in front of the grocery store, and watched the four-legged creature attached to the man in shorts march angrily out into the lot. The hair on my neck tingled at the roots. I looked around nervously to see if anyone else in the parking lot had noticed it too, but if they had, I couldn’t tell. It, along with its host, cut through a few aisles of cars and sank down into a white Mercedes Benz. A new, stark white Mercedes Benz with chrome rims and a tall ornament on the hood.  They drove away quicker than parking lots typically allow, the engine booming in my bones.

Into my squeaky, rusted truck I climbed—my kid in his rear-facing car seat. I called my husband and upon hearing his “hello?” I crumbled and cried heavy, heaving cries. It was painful to see—that sort of pain that makes you quiver under your rib cage. It makes the air heavy and that space where the base of your skull meets your neck tense. Then the nausea sets in. Then tears, when they feel safe to escape.

A real-life swastika on a real-life person. And he was displaying it. He wanted that tattoo to be seen. He wanted no confusion as to what his views on certain things were, so much so that he’d have it permanently illustrated on his body. And would then walk through a grocery store with it. And growl in his car with it.

In the bathroom, I tried to reach sunscreen as far down on the backs of my shoulders as my arms could reach. My rib cage lifted when I did this and I could see straight through it. Looking closely enough, I could see my pulse right above my collar bones—a tiny little bump, bump, bump.

The man with the swastika, from behind, seemed like a younger man. I’d guessed he couldn’t have been much older than me—today I am 30—and truly, I thought that that kind of hatred was dying out and that my generation was bringing love back into a torn apart world. I’d wanted to believe that so badly. My heart did, too. We were children after segregation. We were children who learned about the holocaust and about slavery and about how we’re all equal and how wrong humanity had gotten it before. We learned in school how power and money can corrupt world leaders and so it was our responsibility to do better. It was our obligation, as a human race, to love as hard as we could. Otherwise, we’d fail. That man in the parking lot made me feel like we were failing.

Done with my application, I pulled a shirt over my head, walked into my bedroom and glanced over at my phone—the green light in the corner calling me to come check the notifications. I thought about just getting it over with, but decided I wanted my coffee first.

Thick skin, remember? Just keep going.

But I don’t have thick skin. I can see right through it.

I sat on the velvet, purple couch in my living room that an old friend who no longer talks to me gave to me several years ago. The pillows match it and over the back of it, hangs a quilt that was made by a friend’s mom: another friend, to whom I no longer have a relationship. I sipped my coffee and watched hens peck for bugs in the yard. They scratched and nibbled and I wondered about those two, old friends: the purple couch and the mom quilt. Neither of those relationships ended well or mutually. Then again, when friendships are declared over by either party instead of naturally decaying with time like a browning banana, it’s usually not for peaceful reasons.

At the bottom of my cup of coffee, a few coffee grounds looked back up at me. I wondered how they’d gotten through the filter and felt bad that they seemed to be hanging on for dear life. They were so vulnerable there in the bottom of the cup. Damp. Cold. Confused. With the tip of my finger I wiped them from the bottom of the coffee mug and onto my shirt before heading back to the bedroom to check my phone.

I looked at my home screen momentarily—my phone’s background being a picture of my wide-eyed donkey named Bunny—as the email envelope in the corner called for my attention. Bunny, I’d decided, was smiling in this particular photo. On the other side of that picture was probably me dangling a carrot that she could already taste, although I can’t quite remember. So close.

I clicked the notification.

“Thank you for your submission, however, this piece is not for us…”

I stopped reading. I closed the email and looked at Bunny. I imagined she said, “It’s okay. Buck up. Be better. Be stronger. Keep going.” Tears stung my eyes, but quickly, they stopped, as the reel of “you already knew this would be the answer” ran through my mind. I did. I did know it was the answer. Buck up. Thick skin. 

From his nursery, Little Foot started to whimper, so I tossed my phone onto the bed and went to pull my kid from his crib. He smiled at me sleepily when I walked in, reaching his arms for mine. I picked him up and he rested his curly head on my shoulder. I still love his smell. It’s no longer new-born. But it’s Little Foot. Just caring for him sometimes makes me cry, although I couldn’t tell you why. He’s just so…so….gosh I don’t think there’s a word. He’s my son. A piece of me. The very best and most beautiful piece of me.

My heart reached for his, as she always does. Sometimes, I think they actually communicate through our chests. I carried him back into my room and stood over my phone. It no longer blinked green in the corner, but instead was black and blank. On my shoulder, Little Foot started to fall back asleep, so I laid on my bed, holding him against my chest. His breath moved quicker than mine, yet deeper. His breath moved all the way down to the bottom of his belly and I wondered at what point we, as adults, stop regularly belly-breathing? It’s just so shallow these days.

I forced my own breath down into my belly, allowing the heart to thump three full times before I’d start to exhale. She liked it after she got used to it. So did I.

I reached for my phone and opened the email again.

Thank you for your submission, however, the piece is not for us. Don’t feel bad, though; this is a reflection of our aesthetic, not your quality.”

I laid back then, tossing my phone to the side. It slid off the mattress and landed on the carpet with a soft thud. I laid there and I cried, although I wasn’t sad. It was just another no and one that I expected, anyway. But still, I cried, wishing I knew how to form thick skin to make the disappointment go away,or at least, not sting so much.

My heart played in the depth of my deep breath as Little Foot rose and fell on top of them. I do not have thick skin and I’m beginning to wonder if I ever will. I still don’t like confrontation and I am intimidated easily by things like hateful tattoos and guns.

I suppose I do have a strong heart, though. I know that because I can see right through my skin and into her. I can see all her scars from all those burns and she really does wear them proudly. They’re the strongest part of her. And I suspect, they’re the strongest part of me.

She worries, but she hasn’t stopped yet. And she hasn’t stopped enjoying things like deep breaths and donkeys and writing and hard work. And the things she loves, like Little Foot and King Ranch, she loves fiercely and infinitely. She keeps going. My god, sweet heart, am I grateful.

30 years, little heart. It’s you who’s brought me this far. It’s you who’s held onto the relationships that matter. It’s you who doesn’t lose hope even when we’re hurt, when we’re rejected, or when we’re intimidated. It’s you who reminds me that there are good people in the world and that fear is only what you allow. It’s you who is the strong one and who will continue to lead the way. I’ll follow wherever you go just as I always have.  

Little, strong heart, perhaps if I’ve got you then I can stop worrying so much over thick skin. Maybe we can rest softly in our sensitivity and be grateful for the depth in which we feel things there. At the very least, if we’re still around 30 years from now, we can revisit the topic and see what you’ve learned.

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