Monday, June 27, 2016

Cancer rising

Last week on June 21st we entered the astrological sign of Cancer, and don’t I know it.  Ever since then I’ve been overly-emotional, a bit withdrawn, and constantly want to be in the water.  I was born a Virgo, but my rising sign is in Cancer, as are my moon and Jupiter, so it comes pretty naturally I suppose.  My best friend from college is a Cancer.  So is my first yoga instructor, my first real love, and a host of colleagues and little ones I adore.  It’s time to celebrate, and yet whenever late-June/early July rolls around, I remind myself to go with the flow.   To let my emotions rise and fall with the moon. 
To know that, like all things, this too shall pass. 
Here’s an excerpt from my memoir for all the Cancers in my life…and for everyone who knows the miracle of letting go of the life they have planned in order to embrace the beautiful life that’s here right now.


“Cancer Rising”

I’m thirty-one years old as I sit by myself on the exam table, dressed in a paper gown, waiting for the gynecologist who is twenty minutes late.  The nurse has already taken my medical history.  She glances through the notes faxed from my doctor’s office and asks me the obligatory questions.  “How long since your last period?”  “Do you suffer from painful PMS?”  Then she asks, “Are you currently sexually active?”  
Do I give her the socially acceptable answer which is, “I’m still a virgin.” But I’m not a virgin and I can never be one again, no matter how much therapy I sit through, how many tree poses or seated meditations I practice.  No matter what anyone says, it was stolen from me long before I can remember. 
I clear my throat and calmly tell the nurse, “I was assaulted a long time ago and haven't been sexually active since then.”
Her face registers no change as she makes a notation in my chart.  “The doctor will be here in a moment.  Lie back and relax.”
When I’m alone, I lie down on the paper-covered exam table.  The stirrups are hidden beneath it, but I know all too well what’s coming.  I’m here for a uterine biopsy.  My periods were always sporadic.  In the last year or so, they've been uncharacteristically heavy, a red sea in the midst of my personal exodus from everything I thought was true about my history.  With a heavy heart I've discovered there is no Moses to lead me to the promised land of a husband and children. 
Now...finally...here comes the doctor, her eyes scanning my chart.  “So, your GP says you’re here because you want to figure out what’s going on with your periods?”
I nod. 
“Are you on the pill?”
“No.”
“On any kind of medications?”
I think, "Read the chart, dumb ass, I’ve already told the nurse all of this.”  Instead I say, “No…just ibuprofen for headaches sometimes.”
Once the biopsy is over, I sit up and refuse the pain pill she offers for later.  She doesn’t need to know that since I began living a healthier lifestyle, I no longer drink coffee or take the over-the-counter speed I used to ingest in order to stay awake at school after long, sleepless nights.  I don’t want to take any medication that’s not absolutely necessary.
“What were you doing during the procedure?” the nurse asks.
“Yoga,” I tell her.  “Relaxation.”
“We could all use a little of that,” Dr. Willamont says.  “Now go home and get some rest.  You may feel crampy for the next few days.”
“When will you have the results?” I ask, pulling the paper gown over my legs.
“Next week,” she replies.  “We’ll give you a call.”
As I leave the office, I’m careful to divert my eyes away from the women in the waiting room who are in various stages of pregnancy.  I don’t want to be reminded of what I so desperately want and am no closer to having.

Ten days later, on a Tuesday afternoon, the phone rings.  It’s been a long day at school and I’m vegging on the couch watching television. 
“Hello?”
“This is Jackie from Dr. Willamont’s office,” the woman says.  “We have your test results, but I can’t give them to you over the phone.  You’ll have to come in for a consult with the doctor.”
Why?” I ask, sitting up.
“Um…I can’t answer that,” Jackie says.  “You’ll have to talk with the doctor.  We’d like to get you in as soon as possible.”
I schedule an appointment for later in the week and spend the next few days scared out of my mind.  What if I have cancer?  What if they have to take my uterus? What if I can never have children of my own?
What if…what if…what if.
By the time I meet with Dr. Willamont on Thursday, I’m a basket case.  She sits across from me at her messy desk littered with files and pamphlets and tablets with pharmaceutical names printed on them.  Glancing at my test results she says nonchalantly, “You have a precancerous condition and I’d like to do a D and C to make sure we clean you out.”
“A what?” I ask, leaning forward.  She makes me sound like a dirty refrigerator.
“A D and C…it’s a pretty straightforward procedure.  You’ll be outpatient.”
“What kind of cancer do I have?”
Dr. Willamont shakes her head.  “You don’t have cancer…you have a precancerous condition.  When I do the D and C, we may find some cancer cells which is why we want to do this now before they have a chance to grow.”
I wrinkle my brow.  “Can you give me some more information?”
The doctor digs in one of her drawers and pulls out a small pamphlet.  “Here…read this and I’ll talk to you in pre-op.”  She gets up to leave.  I feel like I’ve been an inconvenience to her.  An interruption in her overly busy day.  “See my receptionist on the way out to schedule the surgery.  I’ll see you at the hospital.”
When the door closes, I sit there for a moment in silence.  Terrified that I might really be sick, I finally rise and walk on shaky legs toward the receptionist.  As I search through my purse for a pen, I notice the waiting room is once again full of women, all sitting with their hands propped on their round tummies, some with a newborn in tow blissfully sleeping in a car seat next to them.  I can barely schedule the surgery without crying.  Then I hurry to my car where I sit and sob for what seems like an hour. 
I don’t remember the drive home or the phone call to my mother.  I don’t recall anything that happens for the next two weeks except for enduring the overwhelming fear of what my future may hold. 
The night before the surgery, I lie in bed and make myself a promise.  If I do have cancer, I’ll stay in the classroom.  I’ll need the salary, the benefits and the support of my friends who have become like family.  If I don’t, I’ll save money and prepare to quit teaching at the end of the following school year.  In fourteen days I’ll know whether I have to endure a long, painful illness, or make plans to set myself free.  Either way, I’m on the road to a completely new way of being.

Two weeks later I’m sitting in an exam room at Dr. Willamont’s office.  I’ve been waiting for nearly half an hour.  She breezes in barefoot and swiftly examines my cervix for signs of healing.
“Everything looks good,” she says.  “We got it all.  You should have normal periods for the rest of your life.”  And with that, she closes the file and walks out of the room. 
I notice the bottoms of her feet are filthy.  I feel my skin crawl and can't wait to get the hell out of her office.
 In 1999 I leave the classroom.
Three years go by. 
I get massages, Rolfing, and reflexology treatments.  I hope that one of the modalities will give me the normal periods I've longed for since my second puberty at sixteen.  Still, my body can’t find its rhythm and I wonder if I ruined my ovaries when I was anorexic.  If there’s no hope for me.
Finally, I try homeopathic remedies and after three months, they work.   For the next thirteen years, my periods will be like clockwork even during intense periods of stress and transition.  For those one hundred and fifty-six cycles, I bleed every month…right on time.  But there will never be a baby growing inside of me.  I will never hold a child of my own.  I don’t know how I am ever going to be able to reconcile this reality with myself -- with the part of me that longs to be a mother.
My arms ache with emptiness and I wonder if I'll always carry this heavy stone of sorrow.

*****

My friends’ children call me Aunt Katie and I’ve been present at some of their births and many of their birthday parties.  I’ve witnessed lost teeth and skinned knees, chocolate covered cheeks and chins, and have delighted in watching them learn how to read.  I’ve knitted countless toys they love to play with, as well as numerous sweaters, hats, and mittens.  The back of my car is equipped with a booster seat and a basket of books, journals, pens, and dry erase boards.  The kids love to see which Beanie Babies I’ve tossed in for good measure.
Yes, I’m a great aunt. 
And I imagine I would have been a great mother as well. 
I was born a Virgo.  My mother is a Virgo, as was her mother.  My little sister, Greta, and many of my dear friends are Virgos.  My Granddaddy was a Virgo as well.  However, my father and sister, Patricia, are Cancers.  So are most of the men I’ve loved over the years, as well as a few significant women in my life. 
Around the time of my surgery, I began to notice the patterns of people coming in and out of my life.  Virgos and Cancers.  Cancers and Virgos.  While visiting a friend who is a professional astrologer, I discovered that half of the planets in my natal chart are in the sign of Virgo.  My moon and Jupiter are in Cancer and Cancer was also on the horizon the moment I took my first breath…so I have Cancer rising.  
So what does all of that mean? I wondered.   
Sue explained that my true nature is Virgo:  chatty, organized, and able to bring clarity out of chaos.  But the way I appear to the world is more like a Cancer:  loving, nurturing, home-centered, and mothering.  With a Cancer rising sign, I have a propensity to be focused on creating a family of my own. 
No wonder my home is welcoming and peaceful.  No wonder the gardens are lush and well maintained.  No wonder that, for most of my life, in some capacity, I’ve taken care of children.  No wonder I’ve had to learn some pretty harsh lessons in reframing the fulfillment of my hopes and wishes. 

The decision to leave teaching was not an easy one.  After eleven years in the classroom, my body was a complicated roadmap of the stress and tension endured while working in a high pressure job for less pay than my older sister had earned during her first year out of college.  I needed to make some serious changes or risk further illness and disease.    
Exceptionally heavy periods had dogged me for over a year.  Dr. Willamont’s cavalier attitude, both before and after the D and C, made it that much worse.  She acted as if I was another cow in the long cattle drive of her patients.  While she was impeccable as a surgeon, her professionalism in the office left much to be desired, so I never went back.  Twelve months later, I walked out of Greenwood and never went back there either.
In the summer of 1999, time passed slowly with no real prospects for work.  Nevertheless, I decided to take September off and for the first time since I was four, reveled in the joys of not having to go back to school.  On my birthday I drove to the park and hopped on one of the swings, gleefully gliding back and forth.  I wondered what my friends were doing at school.  How the new first grade teacher was faring.  How long it would take until I found work that would allow me enough money to live, as well as enough time to finish writing the novel I had set aside so many years ago.
“Show me what You want me to do,” I kept praying.  “Show me and I’ll do it.”    
I finished my yoga certification in October of that year, and not long after was approached by one of my neighbors.  “Would you consider teaching yoga out of your house?” she asked.
“Where would I teach?” I asked her.
“In the basement or upstairs,” Karole replied.
“I hadn’t really thought about it,” I told her honestly.  “But I've been trying to find some classes to teach on the side.”
“Well, if you do decide you want to teach here at home, let me know,” Karole said.  “I know another neighbor who’d like to join us.”
And so, three weeks later, I taught my first adult class in the dormer.  For the past seventeen years, I have opened my home to students from all over the Toledo area.  Never needing to advertise, classes seem to fill magically via word of mouth.  My house has been a haven for a host of people who have blessed me with their presence while I share with them my love of yoga during our weekly sessions.  I only enroll five or six students at a time, so every class is different, every session personally tailored to their needs. 
Like the rest of my house, the yoga studio has undergone several renovations.  First it was white with multi-colored spirals stamped on the walls.  Then it was a soft pink with hand-painted tendrils of violets curling along the chair rail.  Now it is a warm, comforting brown with accents of green.  My dear friend, Barb, calls it “the womb room” where she can relax and feel reborn after every class.  I often enter the comfort of this sacred space, this room that I had once hoped would be my own children's bedroom, to find my center of peace, hope, and tranquility.  From now on, wherever I might live, I will always create another “womb room” to celebrate the joy of yoga and to embrace the serenity of silence.

Of course, I would have welcomed, nurtured, and loved a child of my own.  But it has been a comfort to appreciate and utilize the energy of my natal Cancer rising in other ways.  Not only have I been able to heal myself through the re-creation and transformation of my home, I have also provided a place where everyone who enters can feel welcomed, nurtured, and loved for who they are. 
As I enter the second half of my life, I am joyfully embracing all the children along my path.  The ones who call me Aunt Katie.  The ones who join me for yoga.  And even the little girls who walk by while I sit on the front porch swing and write these words.
“Hello, nice lady,” they say to me, grinning and waving.
I love them all.  For in many ways, they are my children for that moment in time…and I am blessed.   



Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Belle of the Midwest

When I was a kid, I used to say, “I speak two languages:  English and Hillbilly.”  That cracked my mother up, especially when I mimicked Loretta Lynn singing Coal Miner’s Daughter better than Sissy Spacek.  My parents are from the south, so I suppose it comes naturally.  Even though my sisters and I were born and raised in Toledo, I didn’t really notice that my parents spoke with an accent…not until the neighborhood kids brought it to my attention.
“Why does your mom talk like that?” one of them asked while we were outside playing Red Light, Green Light.
I cocked my head.  “Like what?”
“Like a hick,” he smiled.  “You don’t talk like one.”
“What’s a hick?”
“Someone from the south.”
I shrugged.  “Well, I guess ‘cause she’s from West Virginia, she must be a hick.”  Little did I know that wasn’t such a nice thing to say…unless you were spawned south of the Mason/Dixon line and used that euphemism to define people from your own culture. 
In our family, it was more acceptable to call someone a “Hillbilly”, which is why I had no problem dressing up as one for Halloween, complete with a corncob pipe, black beard, and bare feet.  When the kids in my class asked what I was supposed to be, I twanged, “Cain’t you tell?”  After spending the entire afternoon in character, I won “Most Original Costume” in the sixth grade…and got a staple stuck in my heel to boot. 
Ah, the price of victory.

Every summer, my family traveled through Kentucky and Tennessee, across North and South Carolina until we reached a barrier island outside of Charleston where we spent a glorious week by the sea.  Throughout my childhood I learned the subtle differences between a twang and a drawl, between the “uppity” and “mountain folk” accents.  By the time I was in high school, I could imitate any inflection, any intonation of any person I met in the south.  In fact, once I was having a conversation with a store clerk when I easily slipped into the regional southern dialect.
“What neighborhood y’all from?” she asked.  “I haven’t seen ya ‘round here, honey.”
“Oh, I’m from Ohio,” I twanged, sliding her a few dollar bills. 
“Ya are?” she laughed.  “Well, I’ll be darned.”
“My parents are from the south,” I explained.  “Accents aren’t that hard for me to pick up, ‘specially when I’m hangin’ out with my cousins.”
“Darlin’, ya got ours spot on,” she smiled, handing me some change.  “Y’all come back again and we’ll chat some more.”
I’ve always had a soft spot for sweet, southern ladies, for they're the ones who taught me how to enthusiastically start a conversation with a complete stranger.  When I drove back to Toledo from Big Sur, my heart lightened just a bit when I stopped at a Cracker Barrel in Missouri to pick up some chocolate and coffee in the general store.  Walking past the jars of stick candy, I saw two women behind the counter, both eagerly smiling at me.
“How ya doin’, darlin’?!” one of them exclaimed.  “So nice to see ya!  Where’re y'all from?”
Tears beaded in my eyes when I instantly recognized their kindness and friendly nature, for there’s nothing quite like southern hospitality.  I should know…I was raised by a woman who knew how to entertain with the best of them.

My family was always proud of its southern heritage.  My mom had a Marshall University sweatshirt that she proudly wore until it was worn out; then, unwilling to toss it, she donned it to paint our bedrooms, hang wallpaper, and do other odd jobs.  Mom routinely cooked hush puppies and grits and mush.  Every year on my little sister’s birthday, Greta asked for homemade chicken and dumplings, and my father annually requested a butter cake just like his cousin used to bake.
My older sister had a Scarlett O’Hara doll proudly displayed in her room and often said things like, “Oh, fiddle dee dee,” and “Tomorrow is another day” just to get my goat.  In return, I used to mercilessly tease Patricia that she dated a bunch of guys who reminded me of Ashley Wilkes, but what she really needed was a Rhett Butler to put her in her place.  As you might imagine, I had nothing in common with the movie’s heroine, except for her first name
As a matter of fact, my favorite scene from “Gone with the Wind” is when Mammy harshly chides Scarlett, saying, “You jest get in trouble in Atlanta.  I’s talkin’ ‘bout Mr. Ashley Wilkes.  He’ll be comin’ to Atlanta when he gets his leave, and you set there waitin’ for him jest like a spider.”  When Greta and I created a parody of the film called “In With the Breeze”, I lobbied to play Mammy, the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-understanding character, and reveled in the fact that I could parrot the incomparable Hattie McDaniel to a “T”.
Last week I was asked to speak at a local book club whose members had read The Lace Makers.  In the middle of the conversation, one of the women asked, “How in the world did you write Sapphire’s dialect?”
“I heard her voice so clearly,” I replied.  “She'd say a few lines of exposition, then tell me to ‘write it down.’  So I did…and even though I’ve never written in a dialect before, it was nearly effortless.”  Now I clearly understand that Sapphire’s character was greatly influenced by Mammy’s, and perhaps she’s the younger version of that wise, wonderful woman who says it like it is.

I’ve never lived in the south, yet have connections there even today.  Two cousins live in Texas.  One aunt still resides in Huntington, West Virginia, while the other in southern Ohio, right across the river.  My uncle spent most of his adult life in the south, but now resides in the Chicago area.  Every time we talk on the phone, it’s a joy to hear the soft lilt in his voice. 
Last Friday, a friend from high school stopped by on her way home to Georgia.  Angelia and her husband, Greg, had been to Niagara Falls and made their way through the horrors of northern Ohio road construction to have a home cooked dinner here with me.  Alas, hush puppies and grits weren’t on the menu, but they seemed to enjoy the vegan Patra and mixed green salad, complements of my backyard garden.  We sat on the porch enjoying the evening breeze and a bowl of avocado mousse with strawberries, laughing as the fireflies came out and the nearly-full moon rose over the tree line. 
Angelia calls me “Katie Belle”, and I have to laugh, for I’d never consider myself to be a southern charmer.  Sassy and brassy and smart-mouthed to boot, I’m much more salty than sweet...not that I'd want to be anything else.  As a kid, when I saw Carol Burnett dressed up in a pair of natty drapes, complete with a brass curtain rod balanced precariously across her shoulders, I thought, Yeah, that’s my kind of Scarlett!   

Growing older, I’ve found I can embody the best of both worlds – the one my parents grew up in and the one in which I was born.  I can be the “hostess with the mostess”, offering a plethora of baked gluten-free goodies or a vegan meal that will hopefully expand my guests’ palate.  I can make anyone feel at home simply by telling them to rest their feet on the furniture or offering a cup of chai or chamomile tea.  No one leaves without taking something with them, be it some dark chocolate, a bag of fresh, organic spinach from the garden, or a little bit of peace that comes from knowing they’ve been seen and heard and loved. 
I’m proud to be a Belle of the Midwest, happy to welcome people to my place for a yoga class, a cup of something warm and wonderful, or an unconventional conversation.  Over the years, I've learned that a house becomes a home when laughter and love are shared with friends, when the joy of being who we are is as effortless as slipping into a southern dialect.
So the next time you're passin' through my neighborhood, y'all stop by and set a spell...ya hear?



Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Unfolding

There is an unfolding in our lives that reaffirms 
the value of fulfilling our life's purpose.
Kate Siner

Over the years I’ve been asked if I have a favorite character from one of my novels.  As I feel they were all lent to me during the writing process, it’s been difficult to hone my selection to a single person.  Still, I used to say that Michael Schreiber (Surfacing, A Tapestry of Truth) was my consummate chosen one, not only because he typifies the brother I wish I had, but also because he’s become an indelible part of who I am.  Since last September, Sapphire Settler (The Lace Makers) has captured my heart through her childlike curiosity and gregarious sense of humor.  In fact, I had planned to write the sequel this summer, but decided to leave well enough alone and allow Sapphire to be forever eight-years-old.
Last week while editing Common Threads in preparation for its second edition, I remembered the melancholy summer of 2012 when I wrote the first draft.  It had been four years post-Esalen and I was finally able to write a fictionalized version of the life I had lived in Big Sur, even though I now realize much of it hadn’t been integrated at the time.  Since then, I’m no longer tucked inside a chrysalis, slowly transforming from pith and pulp into something undefined. 
       Thank God.
Writing Common Threads was a necessary first step in creating a new life back here in Ohio.  Throughout the writing process, I’d often tell my friends, “Brynn Williams is the woman I hope to be someday.”  On Sunday, as I edited my way to the end of the last chapter, I realized that this past winter-into-spring, I’ve finally come to embody much of Brynn’s inner strength and resilience.  Elements of her story are uncannily similar to things I’ve lived through in the past several years…right up to several weeks ago.  Many of the characters are amalgamations of people I’ve met in the meantime between 2012 and now.  It’s as if my spirit wanted me to take a look at the upcoming events that would simultaneously be previews and reruns of what I’d already experienced so that I could rewrite my life on my own terms.
What a gift and a blessing to have already created the passageway that led to the light at the end of a very long tunnel.

This summer, I’m writing the sequel to Common Threads, tentatively entitled Moondance.  I have the first scene in mind - and the last, but am not at all certain where the in-between spaces will lead me.  I used to outline my novels before I wrote them, but found that the process of actually creating the stories always guided me away from what I had planned, toward something more authentic and unpredictable.  So now, at the genesis of any project, I always tack this quote by Robert Frost to my computer screen:  No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.  No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.
I’m willing to let Moondance unfold as it will, just as I’m finally able to stand in the middle of the new life I’ve created, cherishing the peace that comes with the acceptance that I cannot know all the answers.  After all the years of sifting and sorting, of trial and error, of waiting and wondering when I’d finally be ready for the next stage of my life, I’ve come to realize that it’s been here all along.  Each awareness along the way, every novel and book and blog I've written have been steps closer to realizing that even when I falter, I’m still moving forward.
As summer dawns, I find myself wondering how it will all work out.  And yet, like a butterfly's wings, Brynn's story and the story of my life will unfold when they are destined to...and not a moment sooner.  What a joy and a wonder to be able to embrace the mystery of it all.


Click here to purchase Common Threads for KINDLE and in paperback from Amazon.com
Moondance will be released sometime in 2017.



Monday, June 13, 2016

Double take

Last Friday I went to the eye doctor for a long-overdue checkup.  While registering at the reception desk, I was asked to fill out a few forms, including one for HIPPA.  Writing my full, legal name, I glanced at the question to the right of the line and thought it read “Middle Child  ­­­___ yes   ___ no”. 
Squinting, I laughed.  “Oh, that says minor child, not middle child.  Had to do a double take there.  Man, I really need a new contact prescription!”
“Good thing you’re here, then,” the receptionist cheerfully replied.
 Nodding, I said, “I was wondering why in the world you’d need to know that yes, indeed I am a middle child…or can’t you tell by our brief conversation?”
An hour or so later, I walked out with some pretty amazing new contacts and a pair of glasses on order.  I was delighted that the doctor spared me the dilation process for a couple of weeks as Satish and Danta’s oldest sister, Leena, was graduating from high school that night and I didn’t want to miss the ceremony.  I’m always overly sensitive to light after dilation, and since the graduation was being held outside, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to see anything behind my dark, Jackie Onassis sunglasses. 
Later that evening as I listened to the high school orchestra playing a few selections while guests arrived, I had to look twice at the conductor.  Checking the program, I realized that he was one of my former yoga kids.  Right before the ceremony began I walked over to speak with him.
“Do you recognize me?” I asked, taking off my sunglasses. 
Poom cocked his head, narrowing his eyes.  A long moment passed before he brightened.  “Yoga…?  Right?”  Then he burst into laughter.  “Oh, my gosh!  Katie!”  Hugging me close he said, “It’s great to see you!  How long has it been?”
“Too long,” I replied. 
Moments later the graduates filed in and as I stood near the aisle, I was able to see each one clearly as they passed by.  A lovely young woman looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place her.  Once we were all seated, I glanced at the program, scanning the names of the students.  Once I saw Alafair’s name, I was instantly taken back more than a dozen years to my early days teaching yoga at West Side Montessori.  I had Alafair’s older brother first, then she joined us when she was three.  Now eighteen-years-old, Alafair still has the same gorgeous blue eyes and inquisitive smile…two reasons I lent her uniquely elegant name to a minor character in A Tapestry of Truth
During the ceremony, I was surprised that the keynote speaker, an English and history teacher at Leena’s school, was a former yoga student of mine in the early 2000’s.  Instantly recognizing Tom’s voice, I knew we were in for a real treat, and I wasn’t disappointed.  
After briefly listing the quintessential quotes that appear in most commencement speeches, Tom followed up with, “Here’s the most important thing to remember about life:  it’s not all about you.”  Then he went on to humorously, yet clearly define what he meant.  “Want to know the best way to experience life?  Put your phones down.  The danger of technology is that it makes you think you’re the center of it all…and you’re not.  All that time you spend checking to see how many likes you’ve gotten on a Facebook post or an Instagram picture isn’t what life it about.  Even the word ‘selfie’ reeks of self-centeredness.”
Pulling a flip phone from his pocket, Tom declared, “In my whole life, I’ve probably only sent ten text messages on this thing.”
Ah, a kindred spirit, I thought.
“Want to know who you really are?” he asked the Seniors.  “Live for others.  Find out who others are in order to find out who you are.”

Tom shared another gem, which I’ll write about in a blog later this month, but it was the belief that we should live for others which struck me as incredibly significant.  That…and Tom’s admonition that the Seniors should look back on their academic lives to give high praise and thanks to their early childhood teachers who taught them how to read, write, and tie their shoes. 
I spent most of my twenties and early thirties with first graders, teaching them how to count and color in the lines and clean up after themselves.  Then, in my early forties, I spent some time as a preschool and kindergarten teacher.  Of course I focused on the assigned curriculum, but it was equally important that I impart lessons about how to be a good friend, to take responsibility for their actions, and to be trustworthy.  It was my intention to offer pathways of learning to the whole child, not just their intellect, but their hearts and spirits as well.
These days when I run into a former student, one who is now ten, twelve, or even twenty, they often have to do a double take or have their parent remind them, “This is Yoga Katie”, or “This was your preschool teacher.”
Their eyes light up as they smile in recognition, then they usually say something like, “Remember when you taught me how to breathe like a bunny?” or “Remember when you fell off that stool and just kept right on teaching?  That was so funny!” or “Remember that monkey puppet that taught us handwriting?  It was so cool that he was left-handed just like me!” 
I truly love it when they remember something I taught them, something that’s stuck in their psyche and is now second nature like how to write their name in cursive…or castle their king when playing chess…or say “Good morning” in German.  For it was the tiny moments, the day-to-day experiences that had a culminating effect on each one of them…and me.  They remember sitting in my lap while I dried their eyes.  Laughing until they nearly fell over while I read a hilarious chapter from a Junie B. Jones book.  Sprinting like the wind while I cheered them on at the Pumpkin Run.
I spent what seems like another lifetime living for my students, and in turn, was able to more deeply understand who I am. 

Now that I’m out of the classroom, the only kids I consistently spend time with are Satish and Danta.  The other night while pitching them a few balls, Danta mercilessly teased me as I routinely missed home plate by a mile.
“Aw, Ka-tie!” he shouted while swinging the bat.  “Do over!”
“Yeah, yeah,” I laughed.  “Give me a break…it’s hard to pitch in flip flops.”
“Don’t we have a cubby for you where you keep another pair of shoes?” Satish asked. (We don’t wear shoes in the Sharma’s house, so there’s a wonderful cubby shelf in the garage that stores a host of sneakers, sandals, and the like.)
“Nope,” I replied.  “I mean, yes, there’s a cubby for me, but I only have slippers in there.” 
“Oh well,” Satish shrugged.  “You’re doing the best you can.”
“Yeah!” I smiled.  “You hear that, Danta?  I’m doing the best I can!”
Danta giggled.  “I know, I know…but I still get a do over!”
“Of course!” I said, throwing one in the strike zone. 
Danta swung and smacked it high over Satish’s head.  Then, taking an abbreviated route around some imaginary bases, Danta ran back to “home” and did a little happy dance.
Tossing me the ball, Satish shook his head.  “He always does that.”
“We’re not keeping score, are we?” I asked.
“Nah,” he said, shaking his head.  “We’re just having fun.”
Glancing over my shoulder I had to look twice, for Satish has grown a few inches since last fall.  His face is slowly changing shape and I know in a few short years his voice will deepen.
“I was just thinking how I met you six years ago,” I told him.  “And in six years from now, you’ll be starting your Senior year in high school.”  Then I looked at Danta.  “And you’ll be a Freshman!”
Danta beamed.  “Oh, yeah!”
“Okay, then it’s time for you to stop growing up,” I winked, teasing them.  “I’d love for you to stay little forever.”
“I know, but we can’t,” Danta smiled. 
“Yeah, but we’ll still always have a lot of fun, won’t we?” I replied, gently knocking his shoulder.
“Yep!” he shouted, heading back to home base.
As twilight fell, we played until it was time for me to go home.  Driving back to my little house in the Heartland, I thought once more about how much Danta is like the child I used to be and Satish is like the person I hope to become someday.  So maybe in more ways than one, I am a middle child, happily sandwiched in-between two boys who have shown me how wonderful it is to live for the moments when we can be together...and to know more clearly who I am through their eyes.


With one of my little ones in 2011.

Friday, June 10, 2016

She speaks for me

I’ve been on my knees a lot lately, and not only because I’m planting in the garden.  Actually, I kneel often throughout the day, folding into child’s pose, surrendering whatever is happening in the moment…whatever I’m feeling or thinking or trying to push away.  This spring it’s been challenging to move forward all the while being reminded of past events I thought I had dealt with long ago.  Still, I’ve come to appreciate the fact that the more slowly I move through something, the more quickly I’ll heal, for I won’t move so fast that I miss a step, an awareness, a necessary lesson.
This week there’s been a lot of news coverage about the Stanford rape case and its outcome.  I read the complete statement the victim made to the assailant in court and was brought to tears by her courage, clarity, and uncompromising ability to tell the truth of what had happened, regardless of how much the defense tried to twist her testimony during the trial.  Regardless of the light sentence the assailant received.  Regardless of his father’s horrendous reframing of his son’s choices.  If I had been only a year or so into the healing process, I would have been terrified.
She was triumphant.
When asked why she prefers to remain anonymous, she has been quoted as saying, “For now, I am every woman.”
For now, she speaks for me.
It’s been more than twenty years since I first remembered being sexually assaulted.  More than fifteen since I’ve finally felt at home in my body after a lifetime of eating disorders, addictions, and other retroflective behaviors because I unconsciously blamed myself for what had happened.  It's been almost six years since I finally made peace with my tumultuous past.  Yet I find that the long road of recovery brings me around again to one lesson I hadn’t fully learned.
Until now.

In its entirely, this healing journey has led me out of pain and into a more peaceful acceptance of events I cannot change.  Now more than ever, I’m taking incredible care of my heath, my body, mind, and spirit.  I have friends who love me.  Work that is deeply fulfilling.  Creative outlets galore. Even so, no matter how much I heal in other areas, no matter how much I have my life together personally and professionally, I’ve had nothing but painful experiences when it comes to my relationships with men.  
In junior high and high school, I was sloppy seconds for someone when my older sister wasn’t interested in him.  This lasted until she went to college, but by then I figured I was worth nothing more than a diversion for some guy on his way to someone else.  Four years at Miami University yielded a few benign first dates, but after the person I took to my first formal dance hooked up with someone else in the middle of the night, I knew I was done.  
For ten years I put a moratorium on dating…until I met Marshall in my late twenties who gave me mixed messages, telling me were just friends, then putting his hands all over me whenever he wanted.  At the time, even though a part of me was attracted to him, it still felt dirty, yet I couldn’t find the courage to stop him.  But when Marshall invited me on a cross-country trip, one that would end with us meeting another one of his women at the other end of the country, I finally stood up for myself.  
Not that it did any good. 
“There’s no chance of commitment with you,” Marshall sneered.  “That’s why I touch you the way that I do.”
Simultaneously, I was being stalked and when I called the police to report the man after he tried to accost me at home, the officers pointedly questioned me.  “This is just an old boyfriend you want to get rid of, right?” one of the men asked.
No!” I retorted.
“Well, if he hasn’t harmed you or threatened you, we can’t really do anything,” the other officer said.
“Give me your badge numbers then,” I snapped.  “Because when he does beat the crap out of me or rape me, I’ll call you first.”  
Fortunately, a restraining order kept the stalker at bay even though for years, not a day went by that I wasn’t hyper vigilant, always on the lookout for him.
The first guy I slept with got what he wanted, then moments later humiliated me by talking about another woman saying, “I don’t know if I can be monogamous…you’re beautiful, but I don’t want a relationship with you.”  
When I lived at Esalen, I was solicited for casual sex by men who didn't know much about me beyond my name.  During the Basin Ridge Fire when most of the residents had been evacuated and women were more scarce, one man in particular made physically aggressive advances toward me. 
Pushing him away, I said, “I don’t want to get involved with you."  
“This is just about sex,” he snarked.  “You’ve got an edge I don’t want to deal with.”
“I have that edge because you and a lot of men think I’m something to play with when you’re bored,” I said coolly.  “I’ve learned the hard way who loses in that game.”
In 2010, along came Elliot, a man I had met at Esalen, who traveled to Ohio to stay with me for a while.  For the first few days it was wonderful, but then he changed dramatically.  After degrading me in my own home and embarrassing me in front of a group of friends with sexually graphic language, I was infinitely thankful I had kept my feelings in check and was never intimate with him.  Several times a day, Elliot tried to bait me into a fight or asked highly inappropriate questions.  When I wouldn’t fall for it, he simply disappeared while I was at work.  No phone call.  No email.  No apology.  Not that the experience was anything new.  No man from my past ever bothered to tell me they were sorry for how badly they treated me.
For five years, I kept myself protected.  There was no one, and after a lot of soul searching, I thought, Maybe I’m not meant to be with anyone in this lifetime.

Then I met someone this past winter.
It was difficult to gather enough courage to venture into that world again, to risk possible intimacy, but after our first date, I knew it was completely worth it.  Believe it or not, Trey was the first man to ever be honest about his attraction to me.  The first man to hold my hands at dinner, to hug me good-bye without making a pass.  The first man to call just to say how much he enjoyed spending time with me.  From that night on, I looked forward to taking things slowly, to getting to know Trey one moment at a time, and if we were compatible, spending more time together.  I thought to myself, Finally, I’ve healed enough to allow something good in my life.
So it was a shock when Trey stood me up for our second date.  He later admitted he had been reconnecting with a girlfriend from whom he had recently separated, but wanted to be friends with me to “see where things might lead”.  The following morning via email Trey wrote that he was also interested in a strictly physical relationship, insisting that he wasn’t like all of the men from my past, that he was just being honest. 
I wanted to hammer him by writing back: You might be honest, but what you want hurts like hell.  You can't be respectful enough to show up for a date, but I’m sure you’d make the time to bang.  Instead, I took a deep breath and replied with a polite email asking for more clarity. 
Which he ignored. 
The next day I wrote again, clearly explaining why I couldn’t be casual, why the whole scenario made me feel uncomfortable. 
Which he also ignored.
Over time, I forgave him and let it go, not that it was easy.  Perhaps that's what I was meant to learn by the whole experience.  Still, through forgiving Trey, I created more space inside of myself -- space to heal, to rediscover my ability to be compassionate under pressure, and to soften and open my heart that much more.
Recently, I thought Trey had changed for the better when he asked if we could spend some time alone together.  But before we had even set a date, the cycle repeated itself again and he went back to another ex-girlfriend without telling me, even though he had many opportunities to do so.  When I found out after-the-fact, I wasn't really all that surprised.
The first time around, even though I consciously knew better, there was still a lingering conviction that I must have done something wrong, that I wasn’t attractive enough or smart enough or whatever enough to hold Trey’s attention.  Then I thought, Maybe my past is still dictating my present.
This time, I see things very differently.  Now I fully and viscerally comprehend that Trey’s behavior…and the behavior of all the hurtful men from my past has absolutely nothing to do with me or my worth as a woman or anything else I may have projected onto the situation.  It has everything to do with them and their inability to see me as more than a pretty face or a piece of ass.  

There aren’t many authentic heroes in our culture anymore.  Too often the glamorous, the rich, the famous are touted for being more than what they represent.  For me, real heroes are the individuals who dare to stand up and speak when the powers that be would rather they sit down and shut up.  They are the people who dare to confront the uncomfortable truths in our society and shine a light for all to see.  They are people like the brave woman who stood in court this past week and refused to be a victim any longer, who showed me that forgiveness is an act of power.
She courageously speaks for every woman who never had the opportunity to confront their attacker.  For everyone who is enduring the hell of the aftermath of what may take a lifetime to overcome.  For everyone who cannot find their voice, either because they are too ashamed or too scared to do so.  I pass no judgement as I have been, and in many ways, still am one of those women. 
But now more than ever…I know I am not alone.