A handful of silver hairs has shown up like long overdue party guests. The crows feet radiating from the corners of my eyes. The inch long scar on my left hand. The criss cross of lattice shaped creases working their way from finger tips to wrists. The well worn balls of my feet. My stretch marks. Faint but there. Striations creasing the no mans land below my belly button. The vertical scrapes below my hip bones. The way the skin of my belly hangs when I bend over. Stretched like an overworked rubber band while I carried my son.
This body has worked. And it shows.
Feminism is the radical belief that women are people too.
This is my great grandmother:
The baby she is holding is me. I am 2 months old in this picture.
My Granny Walker was the second or third youngest of thirteen children. She married at 18. When she was 19 (in 1930) she had her first child– my Grandma Frances. Over the next few years she had two more children during the depths of the Great Depression. My great grandparents were poor. My great grandfather was a farmer, in Oklahoma. He was illiterate but good with sums. Reading wasn’t important but not being cheated in business was. My granny was an amazing seamstress. She had a treadle machine and could fashion a pattern from newspaper by looking at a picture of a garment.
My Granny was an energetic and loving woman who did her best to care for her family during desperate times. When she couldn’t buy fabric, she made clothes for her children from flour sacks. When her family was on the edge of starvation she picked cotton by hand. When my mother needed it, Granny took her in.
My Granny did what was necessary to take care of her family and I have to do the same. As a single mom to an elementary aged boy I still have to make breakfast, pack a lunch, and get him to school. As a professional with obligations to my clients I need to go to work. But I will do what I can today. I will not spend money. I will wear red.
I will make my own choices. Shape my own life. Take care of my responsibilities. I will live this day, as I do every day, in the belief that I am a person.
I did something yesterday that I’ve never done before. Something that made me want to crawl under a table and hide until it was over. Something that continues to scare me every time I think about it.
I bought a new car. A brand new car. By myself. At the dealership.
Let me list the reasons this makes my heart pound out of my chest:
1. Money. So much money.
2. What if I break it? Crash it? What if it’s stolen? I don’t own it yet. Not even close.
3. I don’t like to drive. Driving is a huge source of anxiety for me. I was incredibly comfortable in my old car, and changing cars is incredibly uncomfortable for me.
Those are the things that still scare me about buying a new car. Going into the buying process I had to really talk myself into going into the dealership. I had been pre-approved for financing. I transferred the money for my down payment at lunch. I knew what I wanted and about how much it was going to cost. But I was scared. Scared of the obligation. Scared that I might choose the wrong car. Scared that I might get pressured into buying something I really didn’t want.
None of that happened. I walked into the Subaru dealership in downtown Spokane and was treated very kindly. The salesman was patient. Not pushy. Informative (his name is Ethen.)
And this is the best thing: I did it. By myself. To quote Carrie Fisher “Stay afraid. But do it anyway.”
At the end of the first season of True Detective, as the two main characters leave the hospital they look up at the sky and and see the stars punching through the black of the night sky. Seeing this, one says to the other that the light is winning. This time of year, when the days are short and cold and I live mostly in the dark I wonder too which side is winning– the light or the dark.
December is hard. It’s hard for me and it’s hard for my son. December is a time when schedules change. School lets out for 2 weeks. My son spends more time with his dad. There is the excitement of the Christmas tree and the presents underneath, but also anxiety surrounding the unknown, the un-usual. December is like a land mine laying dormant until the end of the year. This year, I hope I can contain the damage and prevent it from leaking into the new year.
That is what my life is. I have a full time job, I’m a single mom and I run 25-35 miles per week on average, and I craft and cook too. I get up by 5:30 during the week, and at 6 on the weekends. write in the morning before my son gets up, and do chores, and make lunches. And breakfast. After he gets up, I eat, do my morning workout, and get myself ready. When the sun comes up I take pictures of my crafts. Then he and I leave the house and walk/run/bike to his school. Most mornings, after I drop him off, I run.
In the evenings, I pick up my son, go to the grocery store if needed, then come home and make dinner. After dinner is usually the time for more chores, baking, homework and then bedtime. After my son is in bed I spend the rest of my evening crafting– and right now that means knitting and jewelry making. I’m almost finished with all of the handmade gifts that I intend to give this year for Christmas (but then there are several January birthdays.) Once Christmas is done I will be able to return to knitting on my Glasgow Sweater.
People ask me where I find the time to do all of these things. I don’t. I don’t find the time. I just never stop moving and doing. My hands and my brain are never still, unless I’m sleeping. And sometimes not even then. And some days, like today, I feel it down to my bones.
To me, family is a fluid concept. There is the family that I was born into– my mom, dad and sister. There is the family that I married into– my ex-husband’s parents, his sister, brothers, niece, nephews and sisters and brother in law. When I got divorced I didn’t know who would remain in my life and who wouldn’t. I am incredibly lucky that two of the people that remained in my life are my ex-husband’s parents. They made it clear that they would be there for Owen and I and they have more than fulfilled that promise. They are caring, generous people that have chosen to be stable, loving grandparents to Owen and loving to me as well. They are unwavering in their support of Owen and I. When I need help I can always call them.
And then there is the family of friends that stood by me during the roughest time in my life. The people who showed up, trucks ready, to move my stuff out of the house I shared with my ex into the second story apartment with a narrow, rotting, staircase and no elevator. And the same people that showed up to move my stuff back down that staircase five months later and into my new house. The people that have bolstered me up when I was brought low. That answered my sobbing phone calls. That listened to the same recitation of pain over and over again. Yesterday I didn’t make the drive to my parents’ house for thanksgiving. Instead I spent it with Owen’s grandparents. Like I have almost every year since my divorce. And I will spend Christmas Day with them as well.
The first Christmas after my divorce I remember waiting until almost the last minute to buy a fake tree on sale at Fred Meyer. I had been vascillating between going to a tree lot and buying a tree or not having one at all. Finally, I saw a tree on sale and bought it. And put it up. Even those simple things seems monumentally difficult at that time. It was like I had forgotten how to brush my teeth. Or replace the batteries in the clock. The small but necessary practicalities of life seemed like mountains that needed to be scaled. But slowly, over time, I have figured out that none of them are insurmountable. I am capable. I can do these things. And I think, maybe, that is the most valuable lesson I’ve learned in the last 3 years. I can do this.
I am not safe.
You are not safe.
Take a moment to digest that. None of us are ever impervious– safe– from harm. There is no shield to protect us from danger. We each take risks every day. Some of them big. Every time you get in your car and drive you engage in a behavior that is fraught with potential danger. And small ones. Walking across the street. Running on cracked sidewalks. Running. Running alone. Running in the road where cars also drive. Running on trails where you could be surprised.
I am a woman and I run alone. I rarely tell anyone when, where or how long I plan to run. Mostly this is a function of my life. I don’t live with another adult. But it is also because running is mine in a way that few other things are. I own it. I do it for myself. And I relish the time it affords me to be alone in my own mind, in my own body. I have no intention of giving that up.
Since I started running many people, all of them well meaning, have suggested to me that I shouldn’t run alone. That I should avoid certain routes or times. Vary my schedule. Only run in the daytime. Only when the roads are clear. As if there exists some talisman that will keep me safe. But this safety, this talisman, is an illusion. Because I am not safe. You are not safe. The best we can all do is keep our eyes and ears open and hope we can see the danger coming before it catches us.