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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Sparrows and Silver Linings

In our living room, I’m perched on the couch with a mug of early-afternoon, re-heated coffee in hand. My elbows are resting on the back of the couch and I’m knelt down into the sinking cushions, staring out the front window. Moments ago, I heard a sparrow chirp on the porch and discovered that the small bird was calling to his companion—he’d discovered a house.

For mother’s day earlier this year, King Ranch, Little Foot and I built and painted a birdhouse and since, it’s hung colorfully yet vacantly on our front porch. I realize now that I’ve been sitting here for about a half an hour watching the sparrow couple take turns flying away and returning with twigs and leaves for their new home and with each return of a carefully-picked supply for their nest, I’m tickled a bit more.

Sweet Sparrow

It was only an hour ago or so that the new, adoptive parents of Sue and Maybell (two of my foster donkeys) drove away, the ladies in safe and secure tow, and I’ve spent the better part of that hour both grateful and gloomy. I’d grown attached to those two donkeys, both of them having been in my care since mid-March. No matter how lovely the new home is, (and major shout out to Joel & Anne who will be caring for these two now because y’all are just the kind of loving and enthusiastic home we hope to find for our sweet donkeys) it’s always tough to say goodbye to those who you’ve poured your heart into.

But melancholy as I could continue to be right now, there’s something profound about our newly arrived, feathery neighbors that’s setting my heart at ease—a sort of “two gone, two arrived” situation. Goodbye but then again, hello.

I’ve not much else to say at present except the admittance of struggling with my own self-worth. I’m not trying to be maudlin, but instead trying to be honest and admitting to my weakness as a way to acknowledge it and hopefully work on remedying the negativity that’s gaining momentum in my anxious mind. As a writer, I feel like I’m reaching my fill of letters, both composed and automated, that respond to my queries saying rarely more than what seems like, “Sorry, you’re just not good enough for us.” Sigh.

Here’s the silver lining that I’m trying to remind myself:

Every person who’s tried to become an author has gone through this, so maybe this is just the initiation to buff up that proverbial “thick skin” everyone talks about. Although as I’m typing this, I seem to remember a blog that I wrote a little over a year ago where I was actively trying to understand how someone who struggles so gravely with anxiety like I do could ever, ever be brave in the face of repetitive rejection…

Silver lining continued:

When I was submitting stuff last year and spending way too much time curled in a fetal position asking myself why I can’t just grow up and go back to my old days in a corporate job (how was I more mature in my 20’s than I am now?), it was for a different project and that project did indeed get picked up by Flash Fiction Magazine online and that was awesome. It was worth every rejection to then get the, “Wow, we’re totally into this really weird story” response. [Here’s that story if you’re curious: Behind the Clouds, There are Stars]

What I’m working on now is completely different and a seemingly much loftier goal. So, buck up, right? I’m trying. Really, I am.

Silver lining finalized:

As cliché as it sounds, timing really is everything. When it happens that I find the right person / company to represent my work, it will have been worth the wait to end up in the right hands just as it was worth the wait to have Maybell and Sue for as long as I did until the perfect parents came along to adopt them. Anyone sooner wouldn’t have been right.

Here’s what I do know and I promise, I’m not trying to sound preachy:

Your self-worth and value is not at the hands of anyone or anything else. No one. Nothing. Have I gone on my soapbox in my blog yet about how much it irks me when people refer to their partners as their “better/other halves?” Well, if I have, I’m sorry, but you should never be half of anything. You are whole. Wholly guacamole, you are. And if you’re not? Don’t lean on anyone or anything (not that acceptance letter, not the loss of that 15lbs you’re worried about, not that raise that your dumb boss is keeping from you, not that unfitted or even thriving relationship or whatever) to fill what you think is missing about you. You are whole. You are. Or at least you can be from your inside out, so go exploring internally. No other purchase necessary. Please know that. I think the poem I posted on here the other day, Steady, Steady, Sweet Soul, was me trying to show myself that very concept. 

The sparrows are still building a nest in my little birdhouse out front and it’s ridiculous how much time I’ve sat here watching them when I have so many other things I should be doing. It’s really cool to watch their new beginning, though. Will they have a family in there? Will baby sparrows learn to fly off that perch? I hope so. 

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I do my best thinking with coffee in hand.

Steady, Steady, Sweet Soul

Above soaring, jagged rocks
The world’s weight tugging
Heavily on your bones;
Her mouth open wide and
Ready for an easy meal…

Wind whipping and howling
With voices from deep underground,
Voices that you swore were buried
Beneath stone and time,
Their smokey doubts swirling about…

Above bird songs where
Clouds roll with secrets;
Air streaming thinly through
Your rising and falling lungs
Quickening with the thump thump thump of your heart…

There, plant tightly your tired feet,
Steady your scattered soul,
Reach deep into your gut, raw and rank
And realize the horizon-reaching,
Broader and more complex view within.

Realize that you are riddled with rolling secrets, too
And with beauty beyond written words
With often old voices shaping your moves.
Realize that the universe within you
Is worth beholding, worth admiring,

Worth travelling far and taking risks
To see and feel and inhale deeply into.
Realize that and
You, my love,
You, my friend,
You, my stranger,
You,

Will set your sweet soul free.

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Wide-Eyed and Waggy-Tailed

The sun’s just come up on an already warm Monday morning, although it’s not been up long enough to burn the dew off of the un-mowed grass that’s slopping against my rubber boots. I’ve got the remainder of a roll of gauze in my hand, a disinfectant spray, and a small, black boot that was specially designed for Tink, my sweet mini donkey whose hoof (or rather, what remains of a hoof) is deformed due to profound mistreatment by his previous owner. Luckily, he was rescued by the organization in which I volunteer, Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, and in time, I became his over-the-moon adoptive mother.

Tink the mini donkey
Sportin’ his handsome boot.

As I walk across the backyard towards the gate that leads into the donkey’s pasture, I hear several long exhales that I know to belong to Bunny, my standard-sized donkey, who’s revving up for a bray because it’s been three days since I’ve seen her.

Late last night, I arrived back home from an exhilarating couple of days in Houston. Y’all know by now that Houston is my hometown—my folks still live there as do many of my dearest friends—and so really, any visit there is a treat…but this one was especially exciting. More on that later.

I open the gate and Bunny is running across the pasture in a full-on bray now—her nostrils are flared and ears are laying back and so as quickly as I can, I set the boot, the spray, and the gauze on the ground just in time to open my arms and catch her before she tackles me to the ground. She hits me hard, her large neck against my chest and her snout over my shoulder. Her tail is wagging furiously and as I wrap my arms behind her large head, she starts nipping at my hair.

Bunny and Me
Although this isn’t the greeting of THIS morning, this is how I’m so blissfully greeted everytime I go outside. My girl.

Home.

I scratch her ears and run my hands down all her legs to check for ticks or mites as Tee and Tink make their way towards us. They may not greet me with the enthusiasm that Bunny does, but their wide eyes and wagging tails are more than enough to pull at my bleeding-heart’s strings.

As I’m dressing Tink’s hoof, my three remaining adoptable donkeys wander up to the fence, their ears perked up in curiosity, and I remember just then that in only a few days, I’ll be saying goodbye to two of them, Maybell and Sue (a mother/daughter pair whose new family will be picking them up later this week.) Oof. Being swept up in the excitement of the weekend, I’d briefly forgotten that I’m within days of saying good bye, and so after I finish up with Tink, I go to them.

I’ve had Maybell and Sue since mid-March which has been just enough time to really grow attached to them. I rub their faces and let them lean on me and it’s then that I realize I’m grappling (and even struggling) with the concept of impermanence. It’s a growing weight that I try to mentally avoid but, hoo boy, here it comes.

In just a few, short days, I’ll say goodbye to Maybell and Sue and in all likelihood, will never see them again. These two who I’ve cared for so deeply—I’ve cleaned their hooves and brushed their hair and fed them and given them medicine when they’ve needed it. Now that will be someone else’s job. As one who fosters rescue donkeys, this is part of it and I know that. It’s not easy, though. Never is. 

It’s daunting, isn’t it? When you really stop to think about how temporary everything—all of this—really is? How quickly winter turns to spring, turns to summer, and your infant son is somehow already two years old and speaking in sentences and you’ve found a lone-wolf, gray hair right, smack-dab in the middle of your hairline. Your spring garden has burnt to a crisp under the Texas sun and geeze-louise, my dumb birthday’s looking right at me again with mocking eyes. Weren’t you just here?

I give Maybell and Sue each a pat on the nose before heading back towards the house. Little Foot will still be asleep in his toddler bed, likely above the covers and holding onto his orange, stuffed lion and also in the house (and as a cherry on top to my most excellent weekend in Houston), I brought back up north with me to visit for a few days, The Unicorn. Remember her? If not, here’s her story. She’ll still be sleeping too, I imagine. We had a late night last night and I want to have coffee made before she wakes.

Temporariness. Oof.

On our drive yesterday, The Unicorn and I were reveling in the years that have passed since we met which lucky for us, we know the exact date: January 5, 2010. I kid you not, we shook hands for the first time that day and static-shocked each other and since, we’ve been the closest of friends. Seven years, in fact. In a lifetime, that probably isn’t much, but I can remember that day we met like it was just moments ago. And it’s been a fruitful seven years.

It’s so fast. It’s all just so fast.

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This is the Unicorn and me at Houston’s Pride Festival, June 2012.

The coffee’s brewing now in the kitchen, trickling and beginning to smell wonderful and outside the front window, our rooster, Bowie, is crowing. I’ve decided it’s a myth that roosters crow only in the morning—Bowie crows all day every day. Tucker, our dog, has curled up at my feet and I’m picking away at the red nail polish that’s chipping from the ends of my fingernails. I rarely paint my nails but I decided to while in Houston this weekend because, well, it was one of the coolest weekends imaginable.

About that: I had a VIP ticket to An Evening with Neil Gaiman that would be performed at the Brown Theater and with said ticket, I’d get a chance to meet Neil himself. And I did. So I’d painted my nails.

That was some major temporariness…my VIP ticket-holding status…though I liked that I held something that considered me a “Very Important Person.” I don’t think I’ve ever been a VIP to anything before. Perhaps my wedding, once upon a time. The bride, I suppose, is one of the wedding’s VIPs.

Thrilling and unbelievably meaningful as it was to me to get to meet one of my very favorite authors, it was over before I realized what sort of anxious nonsense was pouring out of my mouth like a busted dam in a hurricane during my brief opportunity to speak with him. *Facepalm.* I was just as wide-eyed and waggy-tailed as my donkeys that night. Although, even in normal conversation with people for whom I’m very close, I tend to babble and tangent off to strange places, usually about how much I love donkeys and yoga and pizza and bluegrass bands, so at least it was genuine. 

Whether or not I made as ass out of myself (hey, in my world, y’all know being an ass is a compliment *badum tiss*) is not what I’m concerned with…it’s how quickly that one, extremely gravitational moment that I know I’ll remember for the rest of my life was over like that. Neil Gaiman is one of the people who has shaped who I am and really, still striving to become, and I had the pleasure of being able to meet him and try in my most awkward way possible to tell him that. Then like the bubbles that Little Foot and I play with in the yard, it popped and that moment was gone and now I’m chipping the paint from my nails. That’s really, really difficult for me swallow.

But isn’t all of it hard to swallow? The fleetingness of everything? Of growing up and saying goodbye and being able to spend  what seem like finger-snaps of time with people who mean the world to you? The seasons and storms and sunrises and every little moment where your heart beats so heavily that you can’t really hear anything else? It’s so difficult for me to comprehend the vacuum that’s left once it’s ended.

I guess that’s a place we can all connect, though. There’s that silver lining. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’ve come from, you’ve had to say goodbye to someone. You’ve had to grow up (in one way or another). You’ve hurt and you’ve thrived and you’ve tripped and you’ve soared. You’ve been scared and been brave and when you come to, you only see it in your rearview bouncing around with all the other colors and shapes of your past.

I think the coffee is finished brewing and just now, Little Foot has started to chat in his room, probably with the same stuffed lion that he usually holds onto at night, and so in a moment, I’ll go retrieve him and his curly, little head. He’ll soon not talk to his stuffed animals, so I don’t want to interrupt.

In the meantime, I guess all of this to say that intimidating and downright terrifying as temporariness can be, it can also be very sweet and heart-tugging to recall events in our memories. Like, when I look at photos of Little Foot as an infant, I choke up and remember how the top of his head smelled like toast for the longest time. When I go into my saved voicemails and replay the birthday message my late grandfather left me five years ago, I can see his aging yet perfect smile in my mind’s eye. I remember mine and the Unicorn’s spark when we shook hands. I remember King Ranch’s brown eyes flooding over in tears when I told him I was pregnant. I’ll never forget how trusting Maybell and Sue have become of me and every time Bunny nearly tackles me with excitement, my heart grows a bit. I’ll never forget having the privilege of meeting Neil Gaiman and even though I didn’t remotely articulate my gratitude to him, I hope that he got the sense that he means a whole lot to me.

The Unicorn and I are planning to take Little Foot to the library today. We’ll nuzzle into the same corner that Little Foot and I do every week with a stack of books only this time, I’ll get to watch my friend read him a story. I’ll get to hold onto that image for a very long time and I’m sure that it’ll be just as sweet every time I recall it.

Temporariness isn’t that bad when you think about it like that, I suppose…when you think about it as the decorations in your memory. The art hanging on your mind’s walls. It means you’ve got room to fill your present with just about anything you want and you know you can look back and see how the rest of it has brought you to where you are now. And right now, I’m gonna get some coffee, go peek at my chatting kid, and try to memorize the sound of his little, perfect voice. That would be a painting I’d hang right in the middle of it all.

Wide-Eyed and Waggy-Tailed
Me deciding that temporariness isn’t that bad. Wide-Eyed and Waggy-Tailed, indeed.

We’re Back!

Greetings, friends! We are happy to announce that we are BACK! After taking a month-ish leave from here and our social media accounts, we have returned and are refreshed…ready for anew!

If you’ve been following this here little Donkumentary, then you’ll remember that I took leave to focus on a “big project” and, indeed, that project has been worked on and is finally nearing completion. So here’s what it is:

It starts with a tiny seed that’s been quivering and twisting in my mind since, well, as far back as I can really remember. For as long as my brain has started building upon a memorable and conscious foundation, I’ve loved poetry. It began, I believe, with Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” a collection of poems and illustrations that my folks and later, grade school teachers would read to us when we were young. That collection taught us to see the world in wacky, weird ways—to smell the wind and to wonder about the color of things and what it all means. Then there was Dr. Seuss who, when the right words didn’t quite exist to illustrate his visions, simply made up his own and taught us all that we could wriggle and stretch out our own imaginations to places undiscovered by anyone. I loved the world through the words of those books and well, I’ve always had this dream that one day I’d have a book of my very own weird way of seeing the world so that I could share it with others. I’ve forever imagined that I’d have my own book of poetry.

I am so pleased to announce that this little seedling of a dream of mine has finally sprouted: I’ve completed a small collection of ranch-scene poetry. The editing process is not quite finished, but the bones, I believe, are sturdy and healthy and ready to have layers placed atop them. Soon, King Ranch and I will be releasing a collection of poetry and photography from our little donkey ranch! Just typing this out brings tears to my eyes. Y’all, I have been dreaming of this and chasing this for so long and I’m so excited to share it all with you. I’ll keep y’all posted as this project tiptoes closer to final completion—whatever that looks like. I’m thrilled. Also, shoutout to my talented partner, King Ranch, who’s collaborating on this with me. It’s been a treat to have a creative project to share.

It’s terrifying too, if I’m being completely honest, to put my heart and soul onto a platter to be sliced into by anyone who chooses to read this soon-to-be book. Have you ever cooked for a large crowd? Not everyone will enjoy your style and, being an overly sensitive person, I’m nervous to put myself out there. But, more importantly, I want to share this with y’all. This ranch life has been such a magical ride for my family and me and in a world moving so quickly and often chaotically, I want to spread a little bit of this fairy dust around in hopes that it can bring calmness or connection or even just a break to those who choose to read it. Plus, donkeys are cute.

I think it was Ray Bradbury who said something about jumping off a cliff and learning how to make wings on the way down and so well, here goes nothin’. *gulp*

Other than that, it’s been business as usual, here at the ranch. Bunny, Tee and Tink have all lost their winter coats as the brutality of Texas summer is upon us. I have three donkeys left of the 10 I received in March that are still available for adoption. Little Foot is growing in mind and body every day, surprising us with his knowledge and wisdom. The zucchini and squash plants in our garden are blooming fabulously…although this year, our tomatoes and cucumbers are struggling. It’s just the way of things, I suppose.

I’m glad to be back and even more excited to share stories with y’all again. I don’t think I’ve told y’all about the white rabbit, yet. Stay tuned for that story. I feel like it’s an omen or something. I’ve got stories about storms and wind and guinea hens. Stories about spiders and struggles and travel. But for now, I just want to say hi and that our hiatus has ended…although, the digital detox was refreshing. If it’s been awhile since you’ve been sans-screen, you should take a break. See the world again through your own eyeballs…smell the air and ponder about the colors of the stars.

Much love.

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Lub-Dub, Lub-Dub

It’s a cold, damp morning and I’ve just come in from spending time with the donkeys. As I’m here, warming my hands around my coffee mug, I’m thinking of things like Tink’s hoof, what Little Foot and I are going to do today, and the yoga class I’ll teach this evening and I’m having trouble navigating through my mind-chatter.

I’ve not written a new blog post in some time, although I’ve started many entries without success. Draft after untitled draft sit sadly and incomplete in the folder open on my desktop because I’ve had a difficult time sorting through the thoughts in my head enough to make any readable sense out of them. I suspect it’s because my confidence and esteem are struggling under the weight of endless rejections both in my efforts to make any kind of career out my my writing and out of seeing any sort of structure in my future as an aspiring author at all.

Lub-dub, lub-dub, my heart chugs along in my chest. I started this blog shortly after we moved to the ranch as a way to keep in touch with my friends and family back home because I was the unknowing city-girl moving to a small farm up north and shenanigans were surely in store—although it’s morphed over time. Most of my readers are no longer from back home, but are people I’ve connected with along the way through the power of social media (and for those connections, I am truly grateful!). It’s been a way of connecting that I didn’t anticipate and it’s exciting to think of how far it’s come. Yet still, I find myself struggling. Not that there’s been a lack of material in which to document—there’s been the sporadic sighting of the bizarre white rabbit. There’s been stoking of new friendships and plans for a luscious garden. There have been storms, full moons, farrier visits, camping trips and holidays but still, my drafts remain incomplete.

I think this is a perfect time to remind myself that happiness and wholeness does not lie in other things or other people: they come from within. Rejections by others of my evolving craft do not define the limitations in which I’m allowed to write. Rejections by others of the style in which I lead a yoga class do not define the limitations in which I need to teach. I consider criticisms when they’re constructive and self-reflect when pieces don’t fit properly….but I’ve gotten into an epically bad habit of placing my self-worth in the hands of others and that is the best way to feel worthless. Perhaps that’s what’s so wrong with our broken world right now—that we’re trying to desperately seek peace outside without stopping to consider that there might not be peace within ourselves. How can we expect love around us or for us when we don’t know how to love ourselves?

Lub-dub, lub-dub…if you can feel your heart beating, then you’re alive and you’ve got the opportunity to do something. Rejection and feeling exposed means that you’re pushing your boundaries and it’s outside of our comfort zones that growth happens.

It’ll be spring soon enough…that’s when life really starts to grow. In the meantime, here are some cute donkeys.

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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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