I walk alone down memory lane to the water’s edge. I let my tears fall, melting into the sea below, never to return to me. Alone in grief I remember – remember childhood, remember days I wish were forgotten… but to forget them is to forget you. And although the pain is unbearable (almost as unbearable as this grief), I ache to remember it all – the pain, the tears… because mixed in those moments of time were small moments of love… although twisted and strange – it was there. I grasp to hold on to those moments because I need to let go. It’s strange to imagine needing to hold on to something to let go… but it’s like our relationship always was – never quite normal or predictable. I know you must have loved me in your own way, but your love only hurt me, pushing me away. Now that you’re gone I sit in silent solace – left to dry my own tears, as I did so often while you were alive. I search for the closure I thought your passing would bring, but instead I’m left with a deepening hollow inside me that grows with every passing second. I’ll never understand you and I’ll never understand why, all I can do is wave my hand and say goodbye. Goodbye to my childhood, goodbye to the past, goodbye to the moments we never truly had. And now I must leave you down on memory lane… a path now dark and lonely, scattered with forgotten moments of a little girl’s dreams. I hope to find closure as I let you go… for this path I journey I cannot look back, for if I do, I may crack.
Let’s talk about boobies, shall we? I know, I know, it’s a delicate subject. You can try to push it down, stuff it down, or try to hide it. I’m talking about your feelings on the matter not your actual breasts, although some of us have tried to push, stuff, or hide them! I developed an unhealthy relationship with mine that started the day my innocent ten-year-old self stumbled upon a Playboy magazine lying on the ground in a spot in the woods. I was with my brother and a couple of his friends. They were all over that magazine. I heard them say things like, “Oh wow!” “Oooohhh, look at those!” “Let me see, your ugly head is in the way!” as they pushed each other around laughing like the idiots they were. I began to get curious. I wanted to take a peek, see what the fuss was about…. so I pushed my way in and took a peek. What I saw changed my life forever.
I never claimed to be the brightest child and after I tell you this story I’m sure you’ll agree. I used to watch beauty pageants with my mom. We did this as long as I can remember. We’d make some snacks and watch Miss America on the television in my parents’ bedroom. My dad and brother were downstairs – they wouldn’t be caught watching girly stuff. This was mommy and daughter time and I loved it. We would watch as all the pretty ladies floated around the stage in their beautiful gowns. I couldn’t help but notice their breasts – the way they came together in the middle. I didn’t know what cleavage was then. I thought when I grew up and got breasts they would grow together. As I got older I would try to push mine together wondering when they would start their journey inward and upward – like the girls in those pageants. Now here I was in the woods with a bunch of boys looking at this magazine with naked ladies. “They don’t grow together?!…… Oh, they don’t grow together!!!” In that moment I realized I knew nothing about the body I would soon develop. This newfound revelation only confused me more and the years to follow proved that.
I use to talk to my boobies when I was twelve. My logic was – if you can talk to plants and they grow than breasts must do the same. I came to realize my girls were deaf. I took it hard, really hard. After three solid weeks of talking to them nothing happened. No overnight miracle grow here. I tried to think of ways to get them to grow. My friend across the street already had a nice rack and here I was flat as a board. As we sat outside playing with barbies I asked her, “How did you get your breasts to grow?” She looked at me and shrugged her shoulders. “I eat a lot of peanut butter. Oh, and I sleep on my side.” “I sleep on my stomach,” I said, as I continued to fishtail “Totally Hair” barbie’s hair. Well, that’s it,” she said. “Sleep on your side.” “She was right,” I thought to myself. I was suffocating them. No wonder they wouldn’t grow. That night I started sleeping on my side. I was sure in a few weeks I would have glorious breasts. A few weeks passed and still no breasts. The frustrations mounted (no pun intended), why couldn’t I catch a breast… I mean break!
I had other issues at twelve. I still had baby fat and had not hit my growth spurt. I was an ugly duckling and in my mind having breasts would fix that. Oh, how little we knew at that age. When I was fifteen I was tall and thin. Turn me sideways and I was gone. I had a friend who would visit her dad in the summer and spend a lot of time at my house. She had the biggest breasts I had ever seen! She was proud of them too. When we went to youth functions she would flirt with all the boys telling them that if she flashed them they would faint. I would follow-up with, “If I flashed you guys you’d fall over too… from laughter.” I began to realize God was playing a sick joke on me by giving me friends with huge breasts just to annoy me. I was sure God had forgotten to pack my breasts in the suitcase of life I was given. I come from an Italian heritage and I was waiting on those Sophia Loren breasts. I wanted what was due to me – big Italian breasts. Wrap a bow around them and deliver them to my front doorstep please. As I started to outgrow my teen years I began to deal with it. They weren’t growing – end of story. I even started joking about it saying how I got my mom’s nose and my dad’s boobs. Soon all the drama of adolescence disappeared into everyday life. My breasts were no longer that big of a deal. Big or small, I was still me. My mom told me not to worry; they would grow, as I got older. She told me our bodies continually change as women. We get fuller, curvier. I rolled my eyes then, but she was right.
Now as I sit here typing this I realize I still think about my breasts a lot… but now for totally different reasons. My mother passed away from breast cancer in 2009. Suddenly all those years of wanting breasts disappeared. Suddenly, I hated my breasts and was scared of them at the same time. The very thing I wanted so badly is the exact thing that took my mom away. It took me years to become friends with my breasts and now they were my enemy. Somehow, that little black dress I was finally able to fill out meant nothing. I went through a lot of emotions when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was sure it couldn’t really kill her. I was in denial all the way up until the disease took her life. The following months and years since her death I still find myself constantly checking for lumps. My doctor told me my risk of getting breast cancer is only slightly higher, as there is no previous history of it in our family, and because my mom was over 50 when she was diagnosed (she was 52). My doctor still recommends I start getting mammograms at the age of 35 as a precautionary measure (I am 32). I am constantly giving myself breast exams and checking for lumps. Ironically, I’m one of those women who have lumpy breasts – the correct term would be fibrocystic breasts. Basically, it’s like I’m carrying a sack of marbles in each breast. Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but some days it feels like it! It makes it harder to do breast exams, but I just really have to know my breasts and pay attention to any changes that seem out of the normal scope for me. They told me cutting back on my caffeine intake would help with some of the lumpiness, but no matter what I just have lumpy breasts. Really? Well, if I am still going to have marble sack boobs whether or not I cut my caffeine intake then I guess I will have my triple latte thank you very much. In all seriousness though, I am now more concerned about my breast health than how they look in a swimsuit. After my mom’s diagnosis my outlook changed. All the trivial nonsense I had about my breasts in the past was now gone. I now carry myself with the confidence of a woman who knows who she is (the breasts just come along with the package). My breasts don’t define me; they don’t make me sexier. These breasts are mine and I have learned to love them. It was a long journey to get here, but I am no longer concerned with the vanity of it. We have become bosom buddies – my breasts and me. And one day when they start to sag or get lost somewhere behind my armpits, none of that will matter, as long as they’re healthy…. as long as I’m healthy and enjoying this amazing journey called life.
I consider myself a healthy person. I watch my sodium intake, fat intake, sugar intake, etc. I am one of the lucky ones who actually enjoy healthy food. I reach for fruit or vegetables over chips. I’d rather have a salad made with spinach, tomato, feta, cucumbers, kalamata olives and avocado than a slice of pizza. But try as I might I am just not athletic. I might even be the most athletically challenged person on the planet! Even as a child I was the one yelling, “Wait up!” because I couldn’t keep up with these speedy Gonazalez’s as they ran ahead of me to play at the playground. The playground in itself presented a challenge for me – the monkey bars. They were my Achilles heel (don’t get me started on my Achilles. I pulled that thing a good half a dozen times trying to run as fast as my little friends). Try as I may, I would grab on to that first bar….and that’s it – I would just hang there…Well, to everyone watching it would appear that way, but inside my head I was willing my arm to move to the next rung (it just wasn’t happening) and then I’d finally fall to the ground. This all occurred within thirty seconds. Thirty seconds of pure torture, but I was a determined little thing. At the time, I would have sworn to you I was hanging there for minutes, but I would have been lying. I’d rather you know the sad pathetic truth.
Just last week my friend Fife was telling me about this quick workout routine – You do five exercises (a set of 20 per exercise) 5x a week for the first week – then increasing each week 20 more until you reach 100. Now knowing me I was sure I would die before I could do 100, but I was sure I could do 20 each of 5 exercises. I mean, come on, that’s like a 5-minute workout! I could do this! Day one: I do my first exercise – 20 jumping jacks and I’m feeling good. Now on to the burpees – 1 burpee, 2 burpees, 3 burpees…….4 burpees…..ehhhh…..5 burpees…..good Lord……6 burpees…….help me, Jesus…..wait, how many am I up to now?…..9 burpees?….And I was down for the count, breathing so heavy I was sure my neighbors thought I was shooting a low budget porno in my apartment (hey, this is the valley and it’s conceivable). So, I’m lying there with my dog Kota peering over my heaving body until her cold nose touches my cheek – nudging it. Even she can’t believe how pathetic I am! Even she was trying to push me to get up! There must be a name for my condition – Patheticism? Wimpy Sad Sack Disorder?
I know you are reading this and thinking – “She must be exaggerating,” but I’m not and I’ll prove it to you. I like nature. I enjoy being outdoors, so I enjoy a hike at the Fryman (keeping in mind I try to walk fast/jog when I’m there). For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Fryman, you go up some very steep inclines at times and my body convulses at the mere thought of inclines. Level surfaces are my body’s friend, anything else my body rejects like poison. As I begin my hike I immediately start going uphill and it’s a steady incline for about half a mile or so. Within the first minute and a half I am trying to look chill as other people jog past me, or power walk with their tight little tushies…. By this time my heart is beating like a conga drum exploding into my ears. Now I am up to minute 4 of my hike and I have thrown out my pride as I let my shoulders slump and I begin to huff and puff loudly. Regardless, I am feeling good as I continue my climb. Inwardly I am congratulating myself – giving myself the “You are rocking this Christal,” speech when an older gentleman with a cane passes me. A man with a cane! True story. Talk about an ego deflator.
So try as I might I am destined to remain a mushy pool of jello, instead of a hardcore babe. I will continue to workout because I want to be fit and healthy. And to the average onlooker I will appear to be dedicated (like I’ve been working out for an hour when in actuality its only been 5 minutes). My problem is that I concentrate so hard on getting through the workout that I forget to breathe. This realization hits me when I start hearing myself breathing in my ears and I feel I’m about to pass out. This usually happens about 5-10 minutes into a workout and I have to tell myself, “Just breathe dammit!” Still, I refuse to be a wimpy sad sack. I will continue my slow uphill battle to become one of those sassy little tight tushy power walkers. I just have to learn to breathe…. And maybe one day I will be able to do all 20 burpees.
Reality. What exactly is reality? My reality, your reality, or the cosmic universe’s reality? When you grow up in a family where reality was a clouded perception of some mystical powers that controlled your every move – you wonder how you came to be who you are today – a sane individual trying hard to make her way in this crazy world. Mental illness is no joke. Being the only sane person in a family is demanding, exhausting, and at times too much to bare. Coming to the harsh reality that you are living with mentally ill people… Well, that revelation in itself is enough to make you want to jump off a bridge. Am I strong enough to handle this? The answer was – I don’t know. This so called reality I was growing up in had now crashed into pieces – itty bitty jagged pieces. How unfair was this? I was going through my own changes – boobs (or lack thereof), periods, boys, makeup, and now this? This was not what I signed up for. All this time I thought this weirdness was normal….well, at least manageable, and now here I am contemplating ending my own life to get away from these tortured souls I called my family. The screaming, breaking of chairs against the back door, the holes in the walls, the bruises on my backside – all these rages of anger fueled by nothing, yet somehow no matter what the circumstance surrounding the outrage, I was always the reason behind it. “The devil was working through me.” That’s what my father always said. The devil and I were somehow planning my father’s demise. Me and Satan were tight like that… No really, just ask my father, he will tell you. According to him I was the reason our family was poor and miserable, the reason my brother was stupid, the reason my mother was fat, and the reason he was always angry – I made him that way. I was an evil child with evil in my eyes.
How do you wake up each day when you know your life brings misery to everyone in your family? Day after day it’s drilled into your head – “You are too loud. Why can’t you be quiet? Don’t usurp my authority,” my father would scream at me. “You are a rebellious girl! You are going to end up sleeping around with every man you meet!” Never mind the fact we were standing in line at a grocery store and I was twelve years old. None of that mattered. It didn’t matter that there was no reason for the outrage – just standing there to buy bread was enough to have him pick me a part in front of the world. I was in constant hell. My brother had now lost touch with reality completely – spending his days living, breathing, and sleeping cartoons. He would go into rages when a Saturday morning cartoon didn’t go the way he wanted. He’d scream and cry, beating himself. I was the only one who could calm him – me, his baby sister. I would talk him off his ledge, following him into his disillusion and bringing him back to a calm state. I’d done it for years – following him into his disillusions and bringing him back from his madness. I had to be strong, but I was tired, so very tired. My mother stayed out of it most the time, but soon she was no better. She would swear I had snuck out my window in the middle of the night to meet boys, when truthfully, most nights it would take everything in me not to go to the bathroom and slit my wrists. I saw myself do it so many times in my head. I could finally be free from the accusations, the yelling, and the tears. I cried from so deep within that death would have been a welcome friend. How could I sneak out the window when that thought never occurred to me? I never thought to run away. I didn’t know there was an escape other than death. Somehow I found the strength to carry on, but secretly I wanted to die. I soon became anorexic. I needed to control something, to feel the high of accomplishing something. As I watched the numbers on the scale drop from triple digits to double digits, I smiled. This was something I could call mine. This was something no one could take from me. Even when my secret was out and my father started beating me with the belt yelling “I’ll beat that anorexic spirit out of you!” I still wouldn’t let him take this away from me. Anorexia was mine. I had control over some part of my life and he couldn’t stop me. Soon the control I had over my body spilled over into my life. I wanted something to call my own outside of the four walls of our home. Soon I was sneaking out, but to get a job. As crazy as that seems I wasn’t allowed to do anything until my older brother did them first. Remember, I always made him feel stupid, so getting a job before him would just make him feel bad. Never mind the fact my brother was always in a maniac rage and refused to socialize with anyone outside of our house. No, I had to wait, but I was tired of watching life pass me by. It was time for me to fix my own broken self and find a way out – to a brighter happier life.
I knew I had a problem with anorexia and started taking baby steps to fixing it. I found getting out – being a part of the world was my therapy. I was like a bird being freed from its cage when I socialized. I felt happy and healthy being around people. I was beginning to realize my family was my poison. If I was going to get better I had to break free. My father had held me down for too long. He had controlled every part of my life – even home schooling us after I finished fourth grade just so he could teach us the ways of God, not the ways of man. I made up my mind it was time to live life – truly live.
I know the ties that bind a family are strong. Whether it’s a dysfunctional family or not, the bonds of family are imprinted on your heart and soul. The feelings are deep – the connection strong. I knew when I decided to embrace a normal life I would leave behind a piece of me, a piece of me no one would ever know or understand. Who I was all those years, my childhood – it would all be left behind to die. I had to let it go, move forward, never look back. It was for the best, but once I made that decision to walk away it meant starting over and finding out who I was apart from the craziness. It wasn’t until I was nineteen years old that I finally “let go” and walked away. Physically I may have “let go” at nineteen, but it took years to “let go” emotionally. It’s an everyday journey to move forward and not look back – not even for a second. It’s not easy. Sometimes as hard as I try to not let it, something takes me back again and I’m swept away into a dark and cold place inside….
But the life I have now, the life I fought to have – it brings me back to the present reality, and I smile because I know what it took to get here.
It was another muggy summer night in the Midwest. The window was open, but for what reason she wasn’t sure. The air was sticky and humid, not the slightest bit of wind was coming through that screened in window. The loud hum from the box fan was always a welcome sound. Not sure what it was that comforted her. Maybe the sound helped lullaby her pain, to help her keep her mind on just that moment – the stickiness of her skin, her damp hair clinging to her face and neck, her little torn night gown with its faded pink hearts. At five years old she had so many burdens on her tiny little shoulders. She didn’t understand them; she didn’t know they were burdens. She never knew it was heartache she felt. All she knew is that it was hard to fall asleep most nights. It wasn’t just the heat that kept her awake. She never understood why she couldn’t fall asleep. She would lay there staring into the darkness until all she could see were hundreds of little red dots. It reminded her of a television channel on the old tv’s that had nothing playing on it, and all you saw was what her daddy called “snow.” She would close her eyes so tight hoping they’d disappear, but they were still there. They were always there. Why wouldn’t they go away? After awhile she got used to this happening and even tried making them change colors because red was getting boring. Anything to keep her tiny mind from wandering to more grown up things – like, if there was money to pay the electric bill that month.
When you are a child everything becomes a game. Somehow everything becomes less painful when you make believe. Imaginary places, imaginary things – these were the things that got her through. She had a brother only fourteen months older than her. Having someone so close in age made for some fun times, as well as some knock down drag out moments. Even though she was the younger sister, she was always the one who took care of her brother. He was never quite right. It wasn’t until a few years later that all the madness and insanity inside him began to take form. He was an odd boy – very shy, withdrawn, and talked out of the corner of his mouth – never making eye contact with anyone for more than a few moments, except for his family – he was always most comfortable around them, especially his baby sister. At 6 years old he had just finished kindergarten and despite social awkwardness he was moving on to the first grade that fall. His sister was quite opposite. She was talkative and outgoing. She was upset when he was going to kindergarten and she had to stay home. “Why can’t I go to school too, mommy?” she asked pouting and crossing her arms. “Because you can’t read yet,” her mommy said, hoping this would suffice her. Being the stubborn little girl she was she marched over to her little stack of golden books in the corner of the dining room and picked one up exclaiming, “Yes, I can read, mommy!” and she began to read aloud knowing very well she was making up words. Her mommy laughed. “Nice try, but you also need to know how to spell and write your full name, and you need to know your phone number and address by heart before you start kindergarten.” “Then teach me,” the little girl demanded. Her mother smiled and said, “Well, you also need to learn how to tie your shoes, so let’s start with that.” Her mother was gentle and sweet, but never had much self worth and married the first man that showed interest in her. The little girl’s father was a rare breed… he was crazy to be blunt. He believed he was a prophet of God called to speak to the masses. He was a dreamer. He believed one day God was going to raise him up. They would be millionaires, and as a family they would travel the world ministering the gospel. He sat around every day playing his guitar and singing his songs to God. The thing was – he was very talented. He wasted his talent chasing after a dream that would never come true. He spent hours playing his guitar, praying, or reading his bible. He ignored the fact he had a family to take care of. He wouldn’t allow his wife to work, so the little girl and her family lived off the government.
They lived in the projects, but the little girl just saw it as home. This is where she grew up. This was all she knew. To her standing in line at the soup kitchen every Wednesday was fun because at the end of the meal they would go to this big window were a lady would hand them two brown bags of groceries. You could always count on a brand name cereal like Lucky Charms or Trix. Plus, there was always a pack of bubble yum for the little girl and her brother. The little girl was never ashamed when on the middle of every month her mother would give her and her brother a one dollar food stamp each, sending them through the grocery line to buy a small piece of candy for twenty five cents, so she could get the change back to buy freezer bags or feminine products for herself, since they had no cash. And you most certainly can’t buy those things on food stamps. Sometimes she would send them through the line twice just to get enough change, if it was feminine products she needed. Back in those days you would get booklets of food stamp and you would receive back change if the total didn’t round up to the exact dollar, unlike now where you use a card and the amount is deducted. Since things were always tight they rarely ever had cash, so the little girl and her brother knew the drill and went through the line, handing their one dollar food stamp to the cashier. The cashier always gave one of two looks. The first was a look of compassion and the other look was disgust. It was a few years later, when the little girl began to grow up that she grasped the full understanding of the situation. To her at the time, it was normal. It was normal for mommy and daddy to stay at home and not have jobs. It was normal for daddy to stand over her bed in the middle of the night with a belt and spank her for not doing the dishes, or for not folding the laundry, or for grinding her teeth. It was normal to wonder if they would eat tomorrow, or what was in that can without a label that they were given from the shelter. Could it be peas or fruit cocktail, there was only one way to find out – open it. Powdered milk was milk, government cheese was the only kind of cheese, and spam was meat. This was normal. This was life.
So, as she lay there trying to find some comfort in the heat of that summer night, she thought about how she would be starting kindergarten that fall, and maybe she could make a friend. She so wanted friends. Her father was very strict and wouldn’t allow her to go to or have sleepovers. She wasn’t allowed to be a little girl. Being a girl seemed to be a sin to her father, and even worse, as the years went by it came to prove that turning into a woman was the ultimate sin, but that story is for another time. She wanted to see what was out there? Did everyone’s mommy and daddy act just like hers? To her, life as she knew it was normal. The burdens on her tiny shoulders were normal, but yet something inside her knew there was something more out there, and dare she imagine – better. As she lay there she heard the train whistle in the distance – even through the loud hum of the box fan, and she smiled as her eyelids began to droop. Life was beginning for her and it wouldn’t be an easy journey, but even at her young age of five, she was already strong enough to handle it.
It’s the littlest things that remind me of you, mom. Just walking through a store and seeing something as random as mini blueberry muffins and I’m instantly taken back to my childhood – my time with you. I smiled as I stood there in the aisle, with tears welling up in my eyes. I reached out and touched that box of mini muffins, as if touching that box would connect me to you somehow. I wanted to sit down with you over mini muffins and coffee and talk about life, love, and the mindless things like the weather. But I knew I couldn’t, and as I slowly pulled my hand away from that box of mini muffins realization settled back in. You are gone, though the memories are still so fresh in my mind. And as I left that aisle, as crazy as it seems, I felt I was leaving you behind…. only to be reminded of you in those bittersweet moments that creep up out of nowhere, like today. Don’t get me wrong, I think of you often, but these particular moments – those random don’t mean anything to anyone else moments, like mini blueberry muffins…well, those hurt much more. They stir something deeper inside me – that little girl who needs her mommy even though I’m a grown woman. Those moments make the world stop spinning for a brief time and I’m left in the silence of my own memories. I know I’m just rambling on, but I miss you. I miss you so very much. I guess I should let you go now. It felt so nice to talk with you again, even though it’s really just a one-sided conversation. It’s more to help my heart hurt a little less. Say hi to grandma for me. I miss her very much too.
Your little girl