a hero turns 97 today

I had a few treasured moments with my grandpa over the course of my short visit home for my precious grandmother’s memorial service in September. I was overtaken with a warm wash of nostalgia upon entry to the small room they shared – the same room in which she had passed only two days before. Nestled in the center of a nursing home, sterility and coldness couldn’t possibly survive the air of their warmth. Gazing around in awe, I realized that their “home” had hardly changed in all my 38 years, though it had moved from a house, to two apartments, and finally to this tiny space they knew would be their last. They still had the same two modest recliners and furnishings. African violets dressed the windowsill. As always, a basket of embroidery squares sat neatly next to grandma’s chair, and 100+ angels (she collected these small ceramic onlookers) adorned the walls. Even the bedspread she had made them years before was the same one I always remembered draped across their small double bed.

In the midst of it all, my grandpa sat in HER chair... attempting to fill the vacancy that echoed in her absence. He sat sifting through pages of her scribbled writing. He didn’t rise to greet me when I entered, he simply looked up with sorrow and love in his eyes, shaking his head in disbelief...

“So many memories.”

As I settled in next to him, I continued to take in the room and I noticed some papers folded and worn. Drawn to them, I opened and found something I had written years back when I first began my blog, fueled by my dream of one day authoring a memoir.
Grandpa’s Girl, this post was entitled. Little did I know, my mom had printed the pages and delivered it to him years back. Turns out he had read them countless times, and when I dug them out he asked if he could read them again. And he did, right there before my eyes.

Watching him gaze at my words humbled me. It made my heart sing that he would use two solitary pages so frequently to connect to me... even though I had been so far away, so self absorbed for all these years. Me, too big for my roots, west coast hungry and in denial of the magnificence of the simple world that I was lucky enough to be shaped by.

I resolved then and there that I would share more. I would write their story as I saw it and make sure it was delivered to him. I told him later in our simple way, “If you like those pages Grandpa, I will write you more of them.” As another blanket of tears rose to coat those wondrous eyes of his, he nodded, “Yes. Write. Write a lot.”

Yes, Grandpa. Here it is. I write this for you.
And I share it with the world because you are my hero.
Through and through.

Bob and Margaret Hogue were married for 67 years.
They met at drug store where she worked. Their first date was on July 4th; he took her to the county fair. While he would never use such a word to describe himself, he was immediately smitten. His only further comment on the matter?: “I don’t remember much about the fair.”

From that day forward, he only had eyes for her. They married and raised five children.

After 67 years of marriage, they still held hands under the table at dinner. I learned that each night before bed, while she readied herself in the washroom, he would crawl into her side of the bed to warm it. As she got older, her circulation compromised by heart issues, he warmed her feet every night with his own. In her words only days before her passing, “...and he never complained.”

He was the driver... she was the navigator.
He manned the remote... she answered the telephone.
They rested into marriage, and took pride in their union.

At her memorial service, my grandpa insisted upon the singing of her two favorite hymns. Rock of Ages... and Blessed Assurance. Now I have no conscious memory of this second song whatsoever; yet as soon as I heard the chorus I knew it was my grandma’s song. I wept deep and true as the congregation sung the words: “This is my story, this is my song...”

At one point during the viewing, my grandfather sat alone in the front row. I literally felt as though my heart was a satellite of his on this day... so naturally, I was drawn to be near him. I slid into the pew beside him and slid my arm over his shoulder. His two words, thank you, made me want to squeeze him tighter than ever. I so longed to use my body like a sponge, soaking all of the pain from his body into my own.

And I wanted to thank him for all he had given me over the course of my life. I wanted to beg that he tell me every last bit of his life story so I could lock it in a vault in my heart and anchor it on these pages.

Most of all I wanted to tell him that everything good in me... everything right and virtuous and honest and real... I owe these best parts of me to him, and to her.

But instead, I gave him a small squeeze and a tender smile... and held space for his love and for his pain. We sat somberly before the vessel that once was his great love. I found that the best way I could honor all they instilled in me was to put my needs aside and meditate in silence alongside him.

People did come and go as we sat, peering warmly at my grandma’s remains and offering their condolences. Most words that were spoken couldn’t be heard by his aging ears... but each time he was present to receive the kindness in their eyes and their touch. He thanked all those who threw love his way with a tenderness and sincerity that melted my heart so profoundly it had to reform itself anew, each time etched deeper within was my family tree. I had never felt so honored to be exactly who I was sitting exactly where I was, blood of a man and a woman of a simple town. It is my rightful place of origin; this is an honor and a gift that I will no longer run from.

At one point, my sweet mother checked in, offering him a gesture of love while straightening his tie. “There. Now you’re perfect,” she sweetly offered. He turn to half-smile at me as she walked away. I winked and attempted to keep a tiny thread of humor alive: “well, Grandpa, I suppose you outta be perfect by now, you’ve been working on it for awhile now.” He chuckled somberly then gave my leg a subdued squeeze. “I reckon I must be. But sometimes perfect ain’t so good.”

He’d always had a way of stunning me into silence with his simple truths.

We said our goodbyes at end of the weekend, not knowing if it might be the last. Our eyes locked. Now, in my work, I encourage vulnerability and acceptance of our emotionality as the rawest power available to us. Yet there, in the deepest blue of my grandfather’s eyes, buried beneath 96 years of lines lived, I saw that I had only scratched the surface of this epic truth. The power of a heart breaking open stared back at me, more poignantly than ever before.

“I love you, Grandpa.” I said. As I had so many times in my adult life.
And then, the first (and therefore most precious) man to own space in my heart when no one else was there to… whose heart was cracked wide open with grief at the loss of his one precious love, lip quivering, stared into my eyes.

“I love you... so much. So much.”

At her memorial service, at the age of 96, he insisted upon taking the stairs versus the lift into the church. His approach may be slow and deliberate, but the fire of his gaze carries him ever upward.

My grandfather perseveres... not for the sake of himself, but because he is wired that way. For my grandfather, a life well lived is a collection of seemingly small acts, that together built character and serve to make others breathe easier.

So much more to say... but for now I share this with the world, in honor of my hero:
Robert Hogue… on his 97th birthday.


thirty-six and single

I am thirty-six and single.

Age is surreal to me. I have no fear or resentment of aging. The fact that my life has perpetually gotten better and better over time has made it easy to appreciate the arrival of each new year. Never have I felt a desire to conceal my age, and I don’t resent the aging process itself. Blessed with a healthy appetite for dance, I am fortunate to be moving through life with more vitality than ever. Yet as I am halfway through my thirty-sixth year, a voice within echoes from time-to-time...

I am thirty-six and single.

As it rings from within, I wonder who it belongs to. Is it a future-me, reaching for a dream of matrimony? Or is it a byproduct of a collective cultural spell nestled deep within my psyche? Given this division within, my typical reaction to this redundant and obvious news report is neutral. “So what?,” I answer back with indifference. I am proud of the fact that the lofty desires of my heart have never settled. I have been in my share of long-term relationships. I have lived with boyfriends, shared pets and promises, and even been to therapy to deal with my daddy issues. I have cried myself to sleep alone in heartbreak and loss... I have soared high on the winds of love and been tangled in the arms of a lover in the aftermath of a heart cracked open through lovemaking. I know the twists and turns of the heart. I have been shaped by genuine connection with those who cherished me, and spent far too much energy on those who did not. I am no stranger to commitment, its joys and its losses. Yet today I sit single at thirty-six, pondering it all. Why?

I could pretend it’s because of the biological pressures of the late-thirties, but that’s not really it. While I don’t deny my clock is ticking, I’m not even sure motherhood is for me. And if it were, I find the idea of adoption wildly appealing as an alternative that suits my emotional ambitions and sensibilities. Thus, the pressure of time is an illusion.

I know why this voice echoes within. It is because of loss. It is because my heart completely rearranged itself when Tony died, and I will never be the same. I am not ready to write about that, as it is complicated and still too tender to touch. Forgive me the vague reference; suffice it to say that someone can be your anchor and soulmate on this earth, even if they are not in your everyday. I’m not sure of much of anything these days, but I am as sure as sunrise that he was one person who I could bare it all to, even if I could do it no longer in his final years on this earth. Unlike other men in my life, I never needed him for anything. Our relationship was pure. I loved him because of him. Plain and simple. Even though we were somewhat emotionally estranged prior to his death, I miss just knowing he is here. His presence on this earth gave me hope and faith in the power of loving someone for all the right reasons. So it is no wonder there is a void that speaks to me from time to time, giving meaning to a number that simple represents days and hours I’ve spent on this earth in denial of a desire for a love that anchors me.

That’s all I have to say about that.
For now at least.

My life as it is, is good. My days light up with reasons to feel gratitude. I am self-sufficient and confident in my ability to care for myself. I have great health; balanced in body and mind, thanks to my appetite for dance and change. My friendships are rich and satisfying; my alone time is precious and full of creative expressions. I am successful in so many ways. I have grown into a person that I am proud to be, independent but not isolated. Employed and making a difference. I have my dark moments. Yet I face my inner demons head-on and transmute their power into medicine that I can apply to my life and business, helping others each and every day. I can take a feeling and translate it into movement that entertains, delights, and brings a room of bodies to life. I can listen to a challenge, reframe it, and offer someone a new approach to an old problem. I love being a free-spirit. I appreciate the life that I have created for myself. Because I have not refused to settle for less than my bliss, I get paid to do what I love. Because I gravitate toward what fulfills me, I live exactly where I want to be (and I’ve done the legwork!) in a picture perfect city-town that suits my sensibilities surrounded by a culture of people that appreciate my gifts. And because I have focused so singularly on my own personal development, it is no wonder that the voice echoes from within...

I am thirty-six and single.

Browsing through Facebook, I see profiles of old classmates and long-lost friends. Themes bounced off of the pages again and again. Archetypes and experiences that still feel foreign to me. Mostly images and musings of marriage and motherhood. I work with mothers a lot in my business practices. I watch them attempt to juggle dance classes and coaching sessions with childcare. Intimate coaching encounters reveal to me the paradox of motherhood... the immeasurable joys that their children offer and the countless sacrifices necessary to be present for the development of another human in body, heart, and mind. I am fascinated by the stark differences in our worlds. And, I am left wondering what I want.

I have never really taken a conventional approach to much of anything, since I discovered early on that I didn’t have to. While I have always been somewhat mentally and spiritually mature for my age - perhaps a function of a solitary existence in a nomadic family - I was a late bloomer in matters of the heart and self-expression. I have spent much of my adult life playing catch up with who I knew I could be if I stopped shying away from conflict and commitment. My tumultuous family life left me with a lukewarm feeling toward marriage. Given my models, I perceived it a loss of freedom - too high a price to pay. I grew up fearful, not of being alone, but of being consumed by need of another for security, permission, or anything really. It is of course no wonder why I became ambitiously independent, shying away from commitment and the dysfunction I mistakenly called love.

But now I get all that. I think what the voice is saying to me is that I feel ready for something more. Something that may not fit the definitions of my age or my culture, but that suits MY heart, rebuilt and ready to love. I do not yearn, but I am open. I do not seek, but I will find. I do not know, but I am certain that is it okay that...

I am thirty-six and single.
Happy. Whole. And ready for more.

grandpa's girl

When I was 2-years old, I absolutely loved the Cookie Monster. In fact, I regularly wore a blue dress featuring him frantically devouring a cookie. When kind folks would ask me “Candi, who is that pictured on the front of your dress?”, I would gladly respond up with characteristic delight. Lifting my dress high (so I could see him clearly), I would flash our friends and neighbors and joyfully declare, “Cookie Monster!!!” The giggles of delight at my silliness were foreshadowing a future where my innate zeal would become less tempered by innocence. In later years, similar acts of transparency would create a mixed reaction – leaving traces of smiles from some, confusion from others.

My hometown for the first four years of my life is a minute pinprick in the center of the nation. Eskridge, Kansas is a web of about 600 people, most of whom have lived in Wabansee County and its surrounding farmlands for at least three generations. It was (until recently) the center of my grandparents’ universe after over 60 years of marriage.

of my early childhood bring with images of dusty brick roads and fresh cherry pies. Flashes of my childhood in those early years are in my grandparents’ home, later to become a haven of constancy I would return to on holidays and weekend visits. In the nomadic reality that would characterize my youth, it was the one stable ground I remember beneath my feet throughout my formative years. There was the basement cellar with rows and rows of fresh homemade preserves. The sewing room containing a closet of quilting blocks and fabric remnants that overflowed in a steady trail onto the tiny guest bed. The kitchen was my favorite destination, the source of my grandmother’s famous pies and elaborately decorated wedding cakes. More important in my small world was the byproduct of her talents – so many bowls to lick clean and a freezer full of colorful frostings that I could dip my tiny fingers into when I felt the dizzy urge of orneriness. And everywhere, there was life - green and abundant. My grandparents – former farmers who lost their small kingdom to a tornado years back – were avid gardeners. Not the type of gardeners that you see featured in Home & Garden Magazine, but the practical type. Theirs was a humble domain in the realm of material, yet in the earthly it was lavish. It included a garden of fresh fruits and vegetables outdoors tended seasonally – only as the harsh Kansas climate would allow. The outdoor plentitude was echoed in an indoor wonderland of plant life carefully tended by my grandmother’s patient hands. The women of her lineage have a magic touch. Still to this day, I have never seen a more vibrant indoor garden than the one my grandmother has been able to create through her lifetime. Her personal artistry was evidenced throughout my childhood, only to be appreciated now – vast greenery, ornately embroidered pillows and quilts, and handcrafted cakes that would leave the plastic bride and groom blushing, perched amidst a sugar-soaked paradise of her creation.

The dining room table was my grandpa’s domain. It was where we would eat our meals of meat and potatoes with a green vegetable – sometimes canned, sometimes fresh – thrown in almost as an afterthought. My grandfather always said grace before we could dig in. It was a barely audible prayer that year-after-year we all followed up with an “amen” more in faith to him than any understanding of its content and meaning. He would always keep a loaf of white bread near his feet at the table, should we need it. I have since wondered what security this must have offered him, a man that lived through everything from the Great Depression to losing everything six mouths to feed. How reassuring it must have felt to know that he could offer us each a slice of nourishment with a flick of the wrist. After dinner, while my grandma cleaned up in the kitchen, he would sit at the table with his transistor radio and a deck of cards. Solataire was his game, the running baseball score a backdrop to his nightly ritual.

My grandmother’s vast doll collection reserved an entire room in their modest home. Walking in their midst was like entering a dream world all my own. I can still smell the musty odor that made my heart quicken each time I stepped into the room. Ever the sensitive and impressionable child, to me they were so much more than dolls. They were a sea of faces that came to life upon my entry. Some I cradled as my own. Others I feared and fought hard to ignore, their incessant stares frightening to me. I specifically remember the regal, porcelain-faced princesses. I was both intimidated and resentful of their elaborate dresses and corsets, like some part of me tapping into the ancient sorrow of another time. Without understanding why, I longed to tear their clothes off and free them of the shackles of their beauty.

My grandmother’s doll collection was rivaled only by what was known as “Grandpa’s Pencil Collection.” The capitalization is intentional, as it was proudly displayed in the town café at one point, if I recall correctly. It was like a living map of the world. Whenever anyone would travel any distance, one knew to “pick up a pen or pencil for Bob.” From the most mundane to the absurd, you name it. I remember souvenir pens with commercial etchings, such as: “Graceland, Memphis” to odd-shaped contraptions that had to be investigated in order to confirm that, “yes, in fact, it was a writing instrument. How clever indeed!” I think that the small trace of ink that could soak a page was enough adventure for my grandfather. In his own simple way, he possessed evidence of a much larger world. Later in life, he and my grandmother would take modest adventures to visit family members, yet they never seemed to have the itch to travel that characterizes so many of us. In some ways I envy the contentment they had in their small, isolated world of simple pleasures.

I was, and still am, “Grandpa’s Girl.” It is possibly one of the titles that I am most blessed to have received. Nevermind that each of my female cousins was also granted the title; it always felt special just the same. Each time he lifted me up with his calloused hands and unique brand of enthusiasm, I felt like an angel rising to meet her maker.

My grandfather is driven by service. His life was spent in service to his family, his neighbors, and his town. Eskridge is his pride and joy. Like a farmer surveying his land, he can see his hard work and commitment reflected in the most minute details – the café he ran, the lawns he cut, and the people he offered a hand or a word to in a time in need. And like the fertile legacy of soil overturned again and again, he witnessed new birth each time families would collide in the bonds of love. Each generation was a promise of his home, his community, living on.

ode to bullies

It was 1987 when my mom, stepdad, and I moved to Tucson, Arizona. At the age of 11, I had already attended six different schools. My stepdad was a union pipe fitter. We moved wherever there was work, and when the job was done - typically after 9-12 months - we moved on. With our 20-foot trailer in tow, we had made the trek through various small towns in Kansas, through California, and now to the desert of Arizona.

I vividly remember sitting in the admissions office on my first day at Tortollita Junior High, awaiting registration. It was mid-year and the first day back from Christmas Break. I need not be reminded of this, because the school had that particular mid-year climate of comfort to which I was the lone alien. I knew from experience that the school year had been worn in without me in the fall term, only to leave me feeling more isolated being a new arrival. I was an only child, solitude did not scare me. And my nomadic upbringing made me no stranger to newness. However, entering adolescence had me stirring with new sensations - suddenly lonely, insecure, and out of place in my own skin. I sat next to my mother in those cold, sterile chairs feeling an oddly unfamiliar cocktail of emotions. I had always been somewhat nervous starting at a new school. Yet something more powerful was brewing within. I was ping-ponging back and forth between terror and embarrassment. It was as though in that moment I could feel my independence staging a revolution. On one had, I was experiencing the first really pangs of what would soon become chronic teenage angst. I was irritated and embarrassed at having my mother present at all. Yet an equally powerful part of me - the fading child within - was utterly terrified at the thought of her leaving me behind. As I looked around that office, I knew this move would be different... harder somehow. Had I known then how much harder, I would have busted a Candice-shaped hole in the wall of that shiny new building.

Something in me sensed a cataclysmic change on the horizon. It was the usual anxiety of a new environment made exponentially more difficult by a number of confounding variables. I was overwhelmed by the sprawling campus - the school was nearly triple the size of my last, and a vast maze of hallways filled with more strangers than I had ever imagined. Not only was it huge, it was fully loaded! I looked around at a sea of affluence that shook every fiber of my K-mart clad being. The school still had a newness about it... new carpet smells, perfectly polished floors and a sprawling landscape. It was manicured in a manner that echoed its bountiful resources. And everywhere I looked were shiny new cars, glowing white sneakers, perfect perms, and labels... Keds, Guess, the Gap. Labels that might as well have been Gucci and Armani, they felt that out of reach to this trailer park girl. I felt a churning in my stomach realizing that, though I pretended for the sake of our humble means, these were names that suddenly mattered in my fragile adolescence. To make matters worst, it was junior high... and I was a sixth-grader. I was a lower class man of a lower class... and on top of it all, I was the new girl. On the totem pole of coolness, I was the lowest of the low. In a season where all that mattered was belonging, I was feeling like I had every card in the deck stacked against me.

The principal came over the loudspeaker to welcome everyone back with some unexpected and sorrowful news. A solemn hush came over the room as he announced that a sixth grade student had died over the break. It was an unfortunate accident, and would we all join him in a moment of silent remembrance. As I bowed my head, I felt my heart pounding my ears. It was as if this ghost of a boy had come to warn me of my own fate in some distant time. It was so poignant, I still remember his name. At that moment, the pressure of the moment left an imprint that cast a shadow over my first couple of months in this new world. I would learn later that this young boy took his own life in an unfortunate game of invincibility - russian roulette with a hand gun. I remember still feeling shaken as I walked into my first class.

Yet it wasn’t until third period - ironically, in Home Economics class - that I was initiated into the hell that would set the tone of terror that would permeate the next few months of my life. Her name was Alena. She was older, edgy, and completely and totally alien to me in her propensity for aggression. As a new girl, I had been bullied before. Or at least I thought I had. I had been teased for a variety of reasons, been threatened by jealous girlfriends, and taunted for my white-ness (my last school was primarily hispanic). But nothing, nothing had prepared me for Alena.

Allow me to digress. By nature, I am a social extrovert - friendly, talkative, and eager to connect. Nevertheless, by the time I entered the sixth grade, a false and fabricated version of me had begun to develop. Moving from place to place with such frequency, I had never experienced the true benefit of lasting friendship - that deep intimacy that allows you to be perfectly and transparently you. Instead, I did the only thing I knew to do... I considered my brief friendships (most lasting less than a year) a social experiment of sorts. I tried on different parts of me, noticed the results, and tweaked my approach upon moving. My approach to making friends was simply a survival mechanism that grew from years of being the new girl - and, more importantly, the all-consuming fear of not being enough, and thus, being more alone than I already was. I had learned to walk a fine line between the real me, and the me that would assure me alliance with inclusion and safety.

I have always been extremely observant and empathic, and so I stayed safe by playing it safe. I was in tune to those around me. I noticed when kids were dancing dangerously outside of the lines, making themselves targets by being too much of this or that. In fact, I had tested as “gifted” at my last school, but declined entry into the program. To my parents credit - or perhaps due to their guilt at our annual bounces around the country - they saw my social development as important and equal to my academic achievements. They truly wanted me to be happy first and foremost, so they gave me license to make my own choice. I spent two days in the class with the other “smart kids”, whom in my mind also carried the distinction of “weirdos” and immediately declined entry into the program. While I continued to be an over-achiever, I chose my battles wisely. I excelled in my school work but participated moderately, observing how speaking up in class was rarely worth the stigma. Smart was cute and endearing when I was in elementary school, but after about the age of ten, I learned that needed to play coy to win hearts and avoid scrutiny. I am not proud of this direction my ego development took, but I do understand that it was essential to my survival moving from school to school. I needed more than an education; I needed relationships to survive all this change. My focus was on being average and likable... being a stand-out success would only draw too much attention.

So on that day in 1987, when I entered my second period Home Economics class for the first time, more than anything I longed for acceptance. I was twelve years old and, above all else, I wanted a place in this foreign and frightening world that had suddenly sprung up all around me.

Unfortunately, I had a date with a devil. Alena was two years older than me. She wore an armor of anger, accented by eyes lined heavily with black eyeliner. She was unrelenting from the first moment she laid those lazor eyes on me. I felt her cold stare like an arctic breeze as soon as I entered the room. It took only a few minutes of sullen observation to acertaine that she was the alpha dog in any pack with which she might engage. This group was no exception. Her look suggested a dangerous blend of style meets street... immediately letting me know that her popularity was due to her powers of intimidation.

She made it immediately clear that I was the enemy - for reasons that I couldn’t possibly understand. I did my best to ignore her, then all but ran from that class to my next. My relief was short-lived. I was devastated to learn that I shared another class with her after lunch - 5th period English. It was in this class, many days later that I finally discovered that the source of her anger towards me was built entirely upon a delusion.

The class was led by a dynamic young teacher, whose name now escapes my recollection. However, I remember liking her very much. She was big on reading, discussion, and interactive class debates... all things I normally felt completely charged by, at least when not paralyzed with fear. We shall call her Mrs. Kindheart, for she was a fixture of hope in a trying time. Mrs. K had the class set up in a u-shaped formation within which our seats were assigned. I was placed in a desk just to her right, near the front. Alena and her crew were seated towards the center of the u-formation... which proved to be a real pain in my neck. Literally.

I had learned in the days leading up to this one that Alena was not to be ignored. She taunted me with her cruel stares, biting comments, and mostly through her intimidation of anyone who gave hints that they might be friendly towards me. On that fateful day, Alena approached me before Mrs. K arrived for class. I was sitting in my desk, doing my best to ignore her. She walked right up in front of me, leaning forward to stare me in the eye. Her anger and clear hatred of me was too much for me to take in. I looked away.

She picked up the front of my desk and slammed it down with a force that stopped my heart.
“Stop looking at my boyfriend, bitch.”
I think I managed to mumble something resembling words... “Er, um, what do you mean?”
“I said stop looking at my boyfriend!”
“Um, Alena... I um... I don’t even know who your boyfriend is.”
“Yes, you do. He is right over there, and I see you looking at him. If you even so much as turn your head in that direction again, I will kick your ass. Do you understand me?”

I still had no idea who this boy was that she was speaking of, but at this point my voice seemed inaccessible to me and I sensed that the best response was to nod my head in agreement. I would have agreed to anything just to get her away from me... just to be able to breathe again. I nodded.

She left, and I exhaled deeply for what might have been the last time. In my naivete, I hoped that this contract would free me from her wrath. Unfortunately, it only made things worse. Over the course of the next few weeks, I existed in a perpetual state of terror. Alena had used her power of influence and intimidation to turn all the popular upperclassmen against me, doing her best to convince them that I was stuck-up and out to get them. As a result, I felt isolated and misunderstood. If it weren’t for a group of brave, young girls taking me into their clique and under their wings, I don’t know what I might have done. Sarah, Cassie, and Brandi were my saving grace those first few months. In order to survive the discomfort and fear I was feeling, whenever possible I stuck to them with a co-dependent krazy glue.

The more soft-spoken among the group, Brandi, road the same bus as Alena. She would often be solicited by Alena, as she made her case against me. I will never forget the terror I felt on the day that Alena showed Brandi the knife that she planned to use against me. It was as I sensed, her mad threats were steeped in a realness that I could feel like that blade to my throat. It was only a matter of time. I felt certain that death was my fate.

After that sobering day, my terror escalated to new heights. I stopped eating breakfast. I couldn’t concentrate in class. I started getting physically ill before going to school. Naturally, my parents were concerned; but I never felt it safe to let on what had me tied up in knots.

A few weeks into the quarter, I was startled when I was summoned to the guidance counselor’s office. Apparently, Mrs. K had noticed the tension between Alena and I. It was hard not to... she sent torturous glares in my direction throughout fifth period, and in the event that I was forced to speak and draw attention to myself during class, she would cackle with a venomous glee at what she considered my pathetic sentiments. I remember the mixture of terror and relief I felt walking into that office. However, the calm was short-lived when I saw Alena sitting at the table. She immediately cast me a look of warning before the intervention began. I felt like a mind-reader... “I will kill you if you say a fucking word.” The trouble was, I believed her. So, I sucked it up, and through tears - and in spite of the continual probing of the counselor - I insisted that there was “no problem.” I think I secretly hoped that this would buy me some of Alena’s respect. I recall rationalizing the moment... “I may be a weakling, but I am not a snitch.” While I was indeed afraid of retaliation, and while I felt extremely doubtful that the school could keep me safe from her wrath, there was something deeper at work within me that stopped me from admitting to my pain. I didn’t want to be that weak. I didn’t want to admit that someone had the power to control my life the way that Alena so obviously did. I didn’t want to be saved; I wanted to be strong enough to save myself. And when I failed miserably - which at that point I had no doubt that I would - I would only have myself to blame.

In the end, my denial may have saved me. Alena continued to torment me for another month or so but, to her credit, it was to a lesser degree. Then suddenly, one day her attention was redirected. A “friend” of hers, let’s call her Anna, “disrespected” her in some way, and suddenly I was off the hook. She was unrelentingly in pursuit of a new prey. The relief I felt was potent, but a bit guarded, as I could easily become a target again. Then Alena’s fate stepped in. Apparently, her new outlet wasn’t as passive and docile as me. Anna got lippy and called Alena out on her erratic ways. Humiliated and angered, Alena retaliated. One day while Anna was casually dining with her clique of popular pals in the cafeteria, Alena walked up behind her and looped a blue bandana around her neck. She began twisting the ends around one another with a force that guaranteed no air would pass through to her lungs. Thankfully, I was not there to witness the struggle; it took five people to pull her off. Just in time. I still remember seeing Anna shaken and white with shock. Alena was immediately expelled, and I never saw her again.

My life dramatically improved from that day forward. Tucson became home to me for three years - an event unparalleled in my childhood at that point.

Although Alena was no longer in my life, it would take me another decade to truly learn how to stand tall before those who seek to bully me. For years I allowed my step-dad, an insecure peer, or a power-hungry boss push me around. I am grateful to Alena now... she was the first to initiate me. Through each of these people I found a way to merge compassionate understanding with zero tolerance. Sometimes in order to find strength, we need something to push against.

getting ready to get raw

It is Sunday... and today, I spent the day with my best friend. Now, please note, I’m not a fan of throwing around jargon that dates back to my days of acid-washed jeans and mall bangs... however, I must insist upon the fact that Sylvia is, indeed, my BFF. As a 35-year old single woman, I have few anchors in this world. I am fortunate to have a family of friends in and around Portland; and I have great many to be thankful for. Nevertheless, Sylvia is my touchstone. As men come and go in my life, as family is complicated by death, distance, and the passage of time... from day-to-day, Sylvia is the one who sees me through it all.

What makes her so fucking fantabulous?... why is she the ultimate friend? She gets me; I mean she REALLY gets me. She has seen me change again and again, and has seen and celebrated me through every season. She has watched me win big, lose big, and completely lose my shit on both counts. She has seen me make decisions that were sure to lead to regret, disappointment, and even devastation; yet, she never even considered judging me. Truly. I have never in my life met anyone so capable of unconditional love; she has seen all shades of me and loves me through and through. And as far as I am concerned, there is no greater gift in a friend. Through example, she has taught me how to offer the same in return. As a result, there are no parts we hide from one another. Anything is fair game, and honest self-expression is the fabric of our connection.

And so, today, blessed with an entire day of warmth and sunshine in Portland (for the first time in what feels like about a million years), we spent the day eating, laughing, drinking, soaking up the sun, and generally shooting the shit. We talked about a great many things - both listening and sharing. But, as is per my usual, I ended up in one of my open-ended monologues (I know where I got that gene... thanks, Dad ;). And she sat back silently, per her usual, taking it all in with remarkable willingness - like a sponge perfectly suited to my bubbling, jubilant madness. I was basking in freedom and honesty, sharing my vulnerabilities as I bantered about the major overhaul I have been making on my business and my life, to make it more reflective of where I am now. As I spoke of how it was all about being freed... busting out of boxes... I felt myself nearly rising out of my chair with passion and I gestured emphatically to give vehicle to the enthusiasm I was feeling. I voiced my desire to feel as free and uncontained as I felt in that moment in ALL that I do... how I taste it when I create a new dance or have fabulous sex... how a poem unleashes parts of it, one word at a time... and how, in general, I wanted my writing to be more reckless than ever. She encouraged me with her gaze and when I finally paused to let it all sink in... she nods her head and remarks (with typical brevity and potency): “You have come so far; I am proud of you. And when I read your words - only because I know you so well - I can feel that you are still holding so much back. Sometimes you don’t even know something is holding you back until you let go of it.”

And so thanks to Sylvia, I am letting go... and birthing this space in my blog.
Raw. Uncut. Writing. No agenda. No moral to the story.

It’s not quite that simple, at least it won’t be at first. I was an English major before I moved into Psychology... I would have stayed the course, but I became continually aggravated by the parameters forced upon my writing. In the end, I was a wild horse that had been broken of its spirit... and I just couldn’t go on to finish the race. I changed my major to a secondary passion - psychology - and I quickly closeted my writing (in journals) and only made public what was polished and pointed toward a purpose. Later on in my ever-changing career paths, I found that I needed to... no, ached to write... so, I edited and perfected the projects of others. But in every instance, everything that I wrote always had an audience in mind. Thus, I spent years perfecting the art of finding the right words.

This is a profoundly limiting habit to have developed as a writer. While it might be a useful skill to possess if one hopes to become a copywriter, ghost writer, or editor. But I’ve been there... done that... and it is not where my future beckons me. I want to write from a place of such honesty, a place of such deep authenticity that it changes me (first and foremost) and wouldn’t it be great if also changed anyone else who reads it. I don’t care if it is agreeable, as long as it is real... and it is my deepest hope that my truth sparks something inside those who come in contact with it. Yet I cannot create my art from a place of restraint or adherence to practiced virtue... I must reestablish the balance between my voice and my medium.

Thus, this section of my blog will be a process of un-doing. The simple act of taking my voice back for the sake of itself. I am not writing to make a point, to get a grade, or to seek validation. I will eventually learn not to give a damn about perfect grammar or spelling, or about what everyone might think. I will curse, say the things you’re just not supposed to say, and will likely share stories and opinions that might offend some and piss off others. But so be it. I actually hope some people do get pissed off. It may drive them to attack me, but I hope they don’t... for they’d be missing the point of anger - to spur them into action. Either way, at least I have done my part by being myself.

I know I have to do this if I am going to be the writer that I was born to be. Genius isn’t born out of pragmatics and limitation... it is born of unfettered authenticity, and that can never be achieved with an eye on “the other.”

It’s gonna take practice; the kind of recklessness I am after this post doesn’t even come close to unveiling it. This level of raw visibility scares the shit outta me; which is EXACTLY why I have to do it...