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Dread

silk.jpg

Photo credit here.

I wrote this on May 25th of this year but it felt too vulnerable for to me to share at the time. Today seems like a good day to post it. I’m sitting in my office with the luxurious gift of time, courtesy of Jonas and his aftermath….

It’s a holiday weekend, and I should feel relaxed. Instead, anxiety is gnawing at me; and I want to eat everything in sight.

This has been going on since yesterday. I thought that if I took care of some things I had been putting off, I would feel relief. This is how I usually manage my anxiety, and this is what I have taught our children since–sorry, girls–they have inherited some of my bits.

There are many necessary tasks I do not enjoy. I am good at my job but I am a poor housekeeper. I can bake all night long but I can think of a million reasons to avoid working in the yard.

One of my most dreaded tasks is my core exercises. These exercises are the same routine I have been enduring since my nanny days, and I am bored to tears. I begrudge the 20 or so minutes I need to do them properly. Add the extra exercises and stretches I have incorporated to to help offset all the sitting I do since I began counseling full time, and you have dread with a capital D. I tend to forget that without this discipline, I start stooping like a crone, and people start asking when I’m due. Should I be happy or alarmed that, being as I’m into my 50’s, the pregnancy question has tended to give way to inquiries about beer consumption?

I blame my father, by the way. I seem to have gotten his undiluted posture genes. I also inherited a flat chest and somebody’s tiny hips, which meant that my abs ripped further during each pregnancy and left me looking pregnant forevermore. Thank goodness, I got a decent butt and a pretty nice pair of legs out of the deal.

Feeling so anxious has had me trying to deduce which Dreaded Task I need to tackle to get the monkey off my back. I cleaned the master bathroom, dealt with the laundry, tidied the kitchen, did my exercises, walked the dog, and made sure all my agency paperwork was up to date.

Nope. Still anxious.

I had an eating disorder in the 80’s. I learned in 1987, when I decided to start being honest with myself, that I would keep eating until I figured out what was eating me. I made a rule for myself: When I get the urge to Eat, I have to immediately stop what I am doing and sit quietly until I figure out what it is I don’t want to feel. THEN I can eat–whatever I want and as much as I desire. Except, at that point, I no longer want to.

Since those early days of truth, I’ve used this strategy here and there when I’ve found it difficult to hit the off switch. I’m happy to report I have gotten out of practice.

It finally dawned on me that I needed to draw on old experience. I sat down alone with myself until one part of me spoke to the other and cleared up the mystery.

It was ridiculously simple.

I don’t want to go shopping.

Yes, really.

I don’t want to go shopping.

I have a wedding to go to next month. A Southern wedding, in fact. I think that ups the ante, and I think the itch on the back of my neck is a hive.

Knowing how much I dislike trying to make a silk purse out of this sow’s ear, I had given myself a deadline: One month before the event, I was to assess my wardrobe and shop for whatever clothing I would need. I knew to put this mandate in place because of wardrobe crises past. This weekend marked 4 weeks until the event.

I have not yet addressed the wardrobe problem, and I am prickling with anxiety.

My sister Gwen gets upset with me and tries to boost my self esteem. I get mad back and tell her I like myself just fine. This is mostly true. I feel like a million bucks sitting here in my flip flops and battered cargo shorts. I am sporting the oversized t-shirt our oldest daughter made me for Mother’s Day back in 1997. She finger painted a portrait of me and signed it with a handprint. I feel every inch the loved and desired woman. I am showered, shaven, and deodorized. My teeth are flossed and brushed. My clothes are clean. My body works fine. What else is required?

I have come to accept dressing for work. I stick to a uniform of bland pants and interchangeable tops and scarves so I can mix and match until kingdom come. This checks the box. I am not my clothes.

But a wedding? I feel faint. I am an outsider in the sisterhood of women. Some things I just don’t get: clothing, makeup, nail care, home decorating, and talking about home decorating. I feel like an alien.

The only way to get over this is to get through it.

I have made an appointment for advising and moral support with Claire, our 17-year-old daughter, for 6:30 tonight. She is going to accompany me on a shopping trip and talk me down when I go into fight or flight. I want to honor our niece at her wedding. I love her enough to speak the language of the normal. I’m going to play dress up. I am going to shut my mouth. I am going to like it.

I’m getting this out of my system now because once I commit, I am going to hold my head high and wear those threads like a princess at a ball.

Glass slippers in size 10, please.

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These Hands

Carolyn's hands 1These are no-nonsense hands. Tomboy hands.

These hands have climbed trees, caught bugs, whittled sticks, picked scabs, and shot bumbershoots*.

These hands used to blow noses, dry tears, and wipe bottoms. They used to spank those same bottoms. Sometimes these hands pointed fingers. Sometimes they still do. These hands have thumbed noses but have refrained from wiping smirks off faces. They have also stopped addressing drivers in traffic. This is because the Woman has domesticated them and (mostly) trained them to speak Love instead of Middle Finger. It may be (may!) that one hand rebelled once (once!) against etiquette and drilled into a nostril at a traffic light. But I’m sure that is only a rumor. Seriously–who would do that?

These hands stroke skin and braid hair. Sometimes they rub backs. They crochet animal hats and knit circle scarves. They garden without gloves because dirt feels good. These hands can scrape every last molecule of goodness out of the Nutella jar.

These hands fold clothes, scrub bathrooms, and bag groceries. They slice, dice, chop, mince, and grate. Curry and stir fry are some of their favorites. Black beans and rice too. Hey, don’t forget the soups! The hands bake as well, the show offs: Cheese cake; warm, yeasty rolls with cinnamon, caramel, and pecans; apple pie. Recipes are treasures passed from hand to hand in a generational relay. The pair displays its heritage with every bite: knife in the left hand; fork in the right.

These hands lead a double life. Sometimes they have to act their age. They tell themselves to rest quietly and listen while Clients speak to the Woman about all manner of pains and worries. They bend and sculpt themselves into Openness, Care, and Wisdom. They arrange themselves in nonjudgmental positions upon bland, nonjudgmental slacks. The hands tap out progress notes and dial calls to psychiatrists. Sometimes, if they are really naughty, they pinch each other to keep from daydreaming or dozing off.

These hands speak. Are you surprised? The wrinkles and spots tell of running in the sunshine. When you cluck at their dry skin, each tells you off in turn: Nothing to see here! Mind your own business! The ring finger says: Fine. Band me. The nails are starting to tap nervously. They think: We’re going to be in trouble at that Southern wedding next month. They whine and beg: Can’t we just go commando?

The left hand is still a little sad. Maybe even nursing a grudge. Leftie and Rightie used to match until a harried nurse forced saline through an IV port, ignoring Leftie’s cries of pain. The nurse burst all those lovely, plump veins. Some hands think veins are ugly, but their prominence made Leftie feel strong and able. She grieved as they paraded their farewell: black, blue, purple, brown, green, yellow, gone. Rightie restored Leftie’s dignity by entrusting her with Urgent Ideas Which Cannot Wait. See the smudge near Leftie’s thumb? Rightie scrawls ideas there, and Leftie remembers them for her. Leftie also gets to store things on her wrist: pony tail holders and the rubber bands which hold together the Woman’s Tupperware so the juice from her mango slices doesn’t leak into her work bag. Of course neither hand holds bracelets. What a bother!

These hands have faces made for radio, and they tell it like it is.

These are my hands.

Carolyn's hands 2*We pulled the long stems from these weeds and twisted them around on themselves so that when we yanked, the flower heads flew off. We called them “bumbershoots” and had little battles with them.

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