Muscle Memory

Emptying the dishwasher this morning, I was lost in thought about yesterday’s post. I was thinking of yesterday’s events which had spurred the memories which had put me in a writing mood. Dishwasher nearly empty, I glanced at my cabinet and was startled to find I had been placing all my glasses upside down. I chuckled then sighed, shook my head and reached up to change their orientation. 

Growing up in the country there were spiders. Spiders like to crawl into things. One way not to inadvertently drink a spider is to turn your cups upside down. One way to not get screamed at is to put the cups away right the first time. There was a logical reason for his way. There usually was, at least at first. I can justify and explain most household rules in ways that would spur one on to continue them for generations to come. I can not justify the intensity of moral rightness associated with following such household rules. Some day I’ll make a list of random things to which moral obligation was associated in my house, such things as to cut or smash fried eggs, and morning vs evening showers. It’s hilarious some days, horrifying others. Always and forever absurd. 

I buy my cups by design. They draw me to them, I buy them $0.69 at a time at Goodwill, and I display them– upright– in all their cuteness. I’ve done this for years. I love it. I smile when I open my cabinets and see them smiling back. But today, lost in thought about the “Good old days” my body behaved the safest way it knew, and obediently placed the cups in spider-proof position. Muscle effin’ memory, man. 

I love knowing where I come from. I love understanding how I tick. Or why I twitch. I love having examined and reexamined, traced origins and understood changes. I love the empowerment that comes with being able to say “because this.” Since it can never have not happened, I embrace that I am who I am because of it all. But the flip side is tracing every muscle twitch and knowing this is another of those moments where the past swallows the present and the trained overtakes the intentional. I am fascinated sometimes, like today, when I am well and happy and yet even the mental image of days gone by puts me in obedience mode. Other days I am angry I’ve discovered another landmine.  

I’m going to go fold towels now. And you know what? I roll my towels. They fit better in my space that way. That special 1/4 then 1/3 fold that had to be just so for perfect stacking, with all the smooth edges facing out and the raw edges hidden? It doesn’t work for me any more. 

Advertisements

Promise Ring (Purity Pt. 1.5)

It’s very hot in July in Illinois, but I suffer it happily. Music festivals are meant to be miserable. I’m wandering the merch tents with my oldest sister, Saturn, taking in all the urging banners and band T-shirts, deep in thought. Deep in mourning, just one layer below the surface. It’s taking a lot of intentionality to be present and collected.  It’s been just a few short weeks since Mom left my Dad, and she’s still sleeping in a shelter while she looks for an apartment. Yet here I am, at a music festival. I haven’t been able to see her, nor my littlest brother and sister, Pewter and Rose– our house would be the first place he’d look, of course, and she wouldn’t do that to us.

My fingers trail along a tray of silver jewelry. Rings with crosses and fish, roses and trinity knots. Then the next tray– wide, solid bands with Hebrew engraving. I see one translated “Trust In Me.” My eye darts to my left ring finger. I grab the gold band and tug it off. My fingers are hot and swollen and the ring has been nestled against my skin for ten years. It doesn’t want to come off, but I want it off more than anything. I am wearing a promise I made to a man who didn’t keep his, a promise I don’t have the strength nor energy to keep. Who am I to make promises? Who is he to be the keeper of my promise? The ring comes off at last and I shove it in my pocket. My finger is aching and scratched and naked. I take a deep breath and try not to cry in front of strangers.

Saturn wanders over to see what’s caught my eye. “I think we should buy this ring. I want one. I think Mom needs one. This ring is receiving a promise. It isn’t making one. It isn’t saying I’m stronger than I am. It isn’t making rules. This ring says we can relax. It reminds us the only One making trustworthy promises is the only One who can absolutely keep them. We’re all losing rings right now. We need new ones.” She nods. She understands.

I slip my new ring onto my thumb. I like thumb rings the best. Who decided which finger should hold rings? Screw them.

I slip my new promise onto my thumb. A promise received, not given, not taken. A promise as simple as “I Am.” A promise of non-specifics. I have no idea what’s next, where life is going, what to do. I don’t know who I’ll love or who will love me, what state they’ll find me in if they ever do. I don’t know if I can ever get married or trust or love. But I do know I can Trust in One. I feel my body relax. I look at my beautiful naked finger and my beautiful embraced thumb. I squeeze the new ring in my pocket for my Mom. I’ll be seeing her at my place at the end of the week. We’ll watch fireworks together and I’ll hug my sister and brother and see that they’re okay. And I’ll offer my mom the only thing I can: A chance to find a little peace in ceasing to give and relaxing to receive.

Purity Pt. 1

*This story is not implying nor leading up to any instance of molestation. I was not touched. Any damage done was as described overtly in these snippets. 

“Daddy, why can we wear shorts that are above the knee, but skirts have to be to the knee?”

It was a day away with Dad, a long drive in a big white van to deliver or collect something work related. Details didn’t matter, and my sense of direction was so lacking I didn’t even bother with what state we were in. Road trips were fun. Dad was silly, he liked his music loud, and we always drove with the windows down, wind making rats’ nests of my hair. The Midwest is a breathtaking place for road trips.

“Does it make you uncomfortable to wear shorts?”

“No, I just thought that if seeing my knees in skirts was bothersome, why is it okay in shorts? Wouldn’t it be the same?”

I think my parents’ philosophy was that if I was old enough to wonder I was old enough to know. Mom was always more reticent and subtle, but Dad was all about answers. Thorough answers.

Forty-five minutes later we pulled into a gas station and for a moment we sat parked next to the pump while he finished his response. “In the end it’s just because that’s the way a man’s brain works. He’s always going to start at the hem and follow it as far as he can. He’s going to wonder what’s underneath. Skirts have a different effect then shorts. It just is. But if you don’t want to wear shorts you don’t have to.”

I shook my head vehemently. In no way did I want to lose my favorite shorts. I was absolutely not asking for more modesty in my life. I may have even been hoping the hem length rule would be lifted once the silliness of it was pointed out. I hadn’t quite learned that a rule challenged due to inconsistency was a rule tightened. Dad was one for tidying up hypocrisy in those earlier years.

“I’m not uncomfortable, I just wondered.”

Dad climbed out of the van and pumped the gas, then disappeared into the station to pay. I sat in the tall, tall passenger bucket seat, pointed toes not touching the floor. I thought of what he’d told me. Forty-five minutes covers a lot of ground. I kept wanting to say “I don’t want to know all of this.” I even practiced the phrase “I’m not ready to know this,” but I hadn’t quite articulated it. I felt so grown up being trusted with such details. I also felt stupid for not realizing that my question would ruin our day. The answer was too long. Too full. I replayed what I’d been told.

I thought of breasts and cleavage and my own tiny little nubs. I thought of hemlines and thighs and men’s eyes. I thought of curiosity and “lust.” I thought of farm animals mounting each other and that’s where babies come from for people too. I thought of all the men I knew at church and wondered what they thought when they looked at skirts and shirts and breasts. I looked out the window, across the parking lot– a man leaning on a wall was looking our way. I crossed my arms over my chest and sunk lower in my seat.

I was 7 and my body was no longer safe.

**************************

“Let’s go for a drive.” On a typical day that would be ominous, as Dad sought company mostly in his darkest moods these days. But I knew what this was about: purity ring time. I was 13.

The car pulled onto the rocky river beach a mile from home. This was our favorite family go-to for swimming, picnics, a break from home and farm and work. It was a sweet setting, I thought, but I also thought all the ceremony was silly since I’d known this was coming for the last 5 years, since Saturn had turned 13.

“Do you know why we’re here?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Um… my ring?” I flushed. Had I misread? What if I was actually in trouble after all? Dad laughed a little. He enjoyed these set ups. He enjoyed the look of worry that he could then dispel by not being harsh. “Yes, your ring. Do you have any questions you’d like to ask me about sex, or anything related?” This time I laughed. “I’m pretty sure I’ve asked everything I know to ask at this point.” My mind returned to the exhaustive lectures I’d received on my body and men’s lust. I wasn’t about to ask him any more questions. I saved those for Saturn, who knew how much information I actually needed.

“Alright. Do you want to promise to save yourself for your husband? To wait until you’re married?” I tried not to look at him like he was crazy. “Of course,”  I said with a quirked brow. What did he take me for?

The ring caught on my awkward, bony knuckle, then slid into place on my left ring finger. It felt funny against my skin.

*****************************************

I roll over and rest my hand against his chest. I love the color of my skin against his dark chest hair, my slim fingers against his broad frame. The gold ring on my left ring finger shines an inorganic contrast in the moment. I look at it quietly. Should I take it off? We didn’t have sex, by any means, but… No, I decide. I love what we’ve done together. I love the choices I’ve made. And I love my ring. I don’t feel impure. I feel more beautiful. I feel amazing. I touch myself– my breasts, my hip, then his chest again. He opens his eyes and looks at me. 

“Hello.”

“Hello back.” 

This is pure. This is beautiful. This is exactly where I want to be.