Sunday, February 26, 2017

Microscope


We all pick ourselves apart. Whether out loud with friends or at home, alone, staring at ourselves in front of the mirror, it's a terrible habit that most of us can't quit. I certainly have a problem doing it. Granted, ever since having Claire, I'm much more conscious of what I say aloud. I'm doing it in my head all of the time though.

I'm extremely confident in most areas of my life. In my work. In my writing. In my friendships and relationships with my family. In little things too like being able to put together the perfect outfit for any occasion or holding my own in conversation. I'm really good at making most people giggle. But when it comes to love, my self-esteem is at an all time low. I've obviously pinpointed the culprit. I know where this comes from. You know where this comes from. In fact, there are some details that are still coming out as to why I feel certain ways when it comes to intimacy or just my physical appearance. I feel like I shouldn't be blamed for it though. I was in a decade-long relationship with someone that knew everything about me and decided I wasn't worth very much. And I know there are so many women and men that can relate to that feeling. It trickles down to every part of ourselves. And frankly, it fucking sucks. Even when a thought pops up that I know is completely irrational or nonsensical, it doesn't stop it from being very, very real for me.

I put myself under a microscope a lot. I find myself almost warning people who show interest in me of my flaws. It's like a subconscious form of self-sabotage that I've constructed. I don't do this to all of them though. It's only the ones that could be real. It's not the fun ones or the ones playing games. I spoon feed myself to those, knowing what the end result will be and allowing myself to get hurt by it. That's so dumb and, this too, is a habit so many of us have. We are too smart for that behavior.

I'm very in tune with my flaws. I can list them out for you quite quickly but that doesn't make me any less great. That doesn't mean someone who wants to take me out will be disappointed. I have to rewire myself. I don't want to find that confidence and base it on someone else's validation though. It's nice to have but I've got to hold strong to how I feel when I look at myself in the mirror. And, most days, I'm pretty amazed at myself too. Why do I constantly make men, men who want to date me in particular, question that? I don't know but I know that I have to be more aware of it. Having a sense of humor and making self-deprecating remarks within my writing that people can relate to is one thing, but assuming that a first date will end badly because of me is a terrible feeling. I know I'm not the only one either.

I like looking inward at myself though and putting down on paper what I see. Sometimes I learn more about myself. Sometimes I walk away liking myself a bit more. So I did it again. I put myself under a microscope but this time it wasn't with an attitude of disdain or hatred. Instead, it was just the facts.

I started with the easier of the two: the physical.

I stood in front of my mirror earlier in black panties and a black bralette. The back band cuts a bit into my sides but it keeps the girls high and it's far more comfortable than an actual bra to which I have a severe dislike for. I've been curvy since puberty hit. And by curvy I mean curvy with actual curves. I've been chubby and thin and all in between too but I've had curves through it all. Even more so now that I've birthed a child and am nearing 30. I started my period one morning when I was 12-years-old. I was in London, because why wouldn't Grace "becoming a woman" happen in a less dramatic way, with my family on our big, two-week European adventure when I woke up and screamed. I knew what it was, obviously. But I was also really pissed. I had to sit on a double-decker tour bus in the heat with a pad that was more like an actual, size 4 diaper than a "woman's napkin." It sucked. But I digress, since then my hips have been rather ... hippy. I like my hips though, no matter if I'm twenty pounds more or less they're rounded and look rather sexy in long, tight dresses which I frequent. I've got to remember that when I'm complaining about my legs.

I don't have the best legs. I never have. Even when they were cellulite-free, I always made the joke that when I stood up my knees would disappear. So, I don't wear shorts. Instead, I wear a lot of tight pants so the eyes can be on my hips and my not knee-less gams. My feet are thin. They can fit into any shoe and most of the time they don't even look like they belong to my body. I like them though, ya know, because I really love having the option to wear any shoe I want. The same goes with my hands. Long, thin fingers gave me the ability to throw an extra screwy screwball, so I like them too. And when I get around to painting my nails and wearing a few rings, they're not bad to look at either.

My hair is golden. Now I mean that in both a literal and metaphorical way. It's a strange, blonde shade that I've never dyed before because it's ever-changing all on its own. It's big and bouncy and if there's one thing about myself I can always count on it's that my hair will always do its job. When I smile there are small divots near my jawline that I've never loved. Although, I love them more now because my dad has them too.

I'm always really tense. So even the softest parts of my body always feel a bit hard. My shoulders are broad but they give me a bigger presence. I like that. Although, I do wish I could relax them more. I think I may get a tattoo back there one day. But so far I've marked myself in three places: my neck, my chest and my forearm. I love all three of those spots. Next up, I'll be tattooing my stomach, on the left, quite high up.

Inheriting wrinkles is funny. It's like a curse and a kiss from your family all at once. I don't have many wrinkles but the few I do have sit all in the same spot; above my nose, in between my eyes. I'm starting to get the same two that my mom has developed over the years, which come from her father. Did you know my grandfather looks like George Clooney? Yes, he sure does. And then the one directly above my nose that is subtly getting more and more apparent, that's from my dad. I've got to stop squinting.

I'm such a walking conundrum though. As I sit here writing all of this out, I'm completely confident in myself. I rarely get embarrassed. I'm goofy and a bit offbeat and rather awkward in tons of scenarios. But I'm also composed when I need to be. I'm confident enough to let anyone willing to look, read all of my most intimate thoughts, moments and memories. But when it comes to dating, I question myself. I question the men who are interested in me. Are you sure? Are you sure you want to take me out? That's such a dumb question though, because I'm great. Even the squishiest parts are great.

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

On the Highlight Reel

If someone was to ask you what's on your highlight reel, what would it include? 

That first home run that flew over right field would be on mine. My first kiss with someone that I'd kiss again today even though the first time was a bit rough. Reading the personalized letter from Dr. Sachsman and the chills his words gave me after receiving a 100% on my senior thesis final. The moment I found out I was having a little girl. The heartbreak I experienced in 2016. Sprinting through the Chicago airport missing my flight home by three minutes. The highs and lows and a few in betweens would all be sprinkled throughout. 

What feels so good about my highlight reel is that it just got so much more colorful.

I've been needing to finish up this project of mine for a while. But it never felt finished. It didn't have an outline that I was completely confident in yet. Now it does. It loops around from February 5th to February 5th and in a perfect, Grace-filled dream world it stays that way all the way through my hypothetical publication. You'll read about the day. You'll read about the 9 years before but you'll finish with that run to gate F9 when I realized that the puzzle pieces to my life were meant to be put inside a book. These things are just too coincidental. I flew across the globe and met people who connected with my story. I sat next to a woman on an airplane from a completely different country and within the first hour of chatting realized that she is in the same position I was a year ago. That couldn't be just mere irony. That's fate. That's a kick in the ass to get this book done and take the leap.

Here's a few snippets inside the trip that ended it all.

***

Finally my bag came around the carousel. I grabbed it, unhooked the handle and quickly realized that one of the wheels had broken. I wasn't surprised. In fact I would have been more surprised if everything had gone smoothly from start to finish. 

I swung my camera bag back over my shoulder and then awkwardly tried to pull all the pieces of my hair out from under my strap. I lost a few as Christine, my middle seat buddy for the 14-hour flight, giggled at me and said goodbye. Once situated, I waddled over to customs, turned in my paper and went through the exit gate.

It was louder in there and if I didn't watch the floor too carefully I would tumble down the incline. But I was scanning the crowd trying to find her. Thankfully, she's tall. It wasn't her height that I noticed first though. It was that big, goofy grin. Then I noticed the sign, "Fleming. AKA Carrie Bradshaw. Welcome to Australia," she had scribbled inside a notebook last minute.

This was the same mysterious girl that commented on my crimped hair in middle school. We had never eaten lunch together. We had never had a class together. It wasn't until high school did we even become friends. It wasn't until I was 23 that we became best friends. But this woman, she grew up in the same small town with me, around the same people and the same ideas and the same societal norms pounded into our heads for as long as we could remember. And now we were together, living seventeen hours in the future from our families and over nine thousand miles away from our homes. It was a bizarre reflection. It was exciting.

She was bouncing up and down a bit but she couldn't go over the barrier. I hustled over to her. Once I passed the red line, we hugged and my emotions and sleepy eyes collapsed. She grabbed my bag and scooted me over to the coffee bar nearby. The sandwiches and pastries looked delicious. French breads stuffed with savory meat and cheeses. Cheesecake bites with all of the trimmings, everything looked artistic and yummy. But my stomach was still reeling from the salt-infused breakfast potatoes and odd omelet they had just served me on the plane. I skipped the treats and went with a bottle of water. She snagged me a butter croissant though, eventually I'd down that on the train ride home.

***

Our first mistake was eating a full breakfast before arriving at tea time. I had never had eggs benedict before so I decided to try it, making sure they made the bacon extra crispy. We both cleaned our plates and sipped on coffee and jungle juice - freshly pressed watermelon, date, pear and berry fruits. We didn't expect to be served three-tiers of desserts and lunch options directly after though. We were in it for the sparkling Australian wine and peach tea. But when in Rome ... or, Australia.

We were causing a scene. Everyone was poised and talking calmly in the corners of The Palace Tea Room. But the hostess decided to stick the two Americans in the center of it all with our cackling laughs and cheesy smiles. We tried nearly thirty times and with two different waiters to get good photos of us cheering to a clean slate and a new year. The angles were bad, the dresses were insulting our decent (yet distended from all of the food) figures and we were starting to sweat from all of the stares.


***

By the end of the afternoon I had shed a few tears over our wine and pastries. We had both gotten to hear out thoughts and worries the other one didn't necessarily want to have said out loud. But that conversation was something we needed. It also solidified our friendship even more, if me flying across the entire planet to see her didn't prove that then this moment definitely did. We can talk about the tough stuff. We can be honest with each other and know the other one isn't going to leave. There's security in our relationship and we walked to the movie theatre with a bubbling stomachache and an even stronger bond.

While I was living my worst nightmare in the very public, unisex bathroom at Events Cinema, she was in line grabbing us popcorn. Because continuously eating for six hours straight was on both of our bucket lists.

***

I stepped on something sharp. But all I could imagine was Claire yelling, "Mommy," from afar and just how quickly I wanted to have those little arms of hers wrap around my neck. I was going to make it. I didn't want to be stranded here smelling like an airplane toilet with a hole in my underwear for 180 more minutes. I was creeping up to 30 hours of travel at this point and I'd had enough. And now my throat was hurting because I couldn't run and breathe at the same time. Instead I was gasping for air at every turn yelling, "Excuse me," to all of nthe couples holding hands in front of me and blocking my way.  

I eventually found F9 only to be greeted with a Detroit departure. The gate they told me was wrong. But the plane pulling out of the F11 terminal was leaving. And Nashville was flashing on the gate's screen. I grabbed a man that looked like he may be working. He seemed professional enough. There was a logo or something on his black jacket.

"How do I get on that plane," I asked completely winded.

"You can't. It's as good as gone miss," he replied and promptly walked away.

I poured myself into a seat by a very large man that smelled like pipe tobacco and sobbed. I was overly emotional because I was overly tired. I allowed myself five minutes of tears before I marched to the restroom to brush my hair, brush my teeth and slap on some lipstick. I'd walk past the security guards defeated, even after their cheers, but at least looking a bit more put together. The blonde one was rather handsome.
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Monday, February 13, 2017

The 4th One

I rounded the corner and ran right into him. My head was down so I didn't see him coming. I hadn't seen him in around seven years. His hair was blacker than I remembered. And his eyes had a few more wrinkles around them when he smiled. He was brighter than before. He was warmer. And he was just as surprised to see me. Being confronted with those royal blues all over again made me a bit nervous. Everything makes me nervous.

We immediately hugged. It was an involuntary reaction that we both had. He smelled the same. He was probably still wearing the Armani cologne that I had suggested to him back in college. After he splurged on a bottle, I realized that he always carried a hint of spice on his sweaters. It was quite sexy actually.

"You're still wearing that cologne," I blurted. 

"Well damn Gracie," he responded a bit impressed.

Then he went in for another hug. This time it was a little tighter. I had nothing witty to say back. His embrace was bringing on emotion that I had been suppressing for a while. My nerves were revving up again, because I could feel it. He knew. 

He sighed, "So, how are things?" 

His hands held the sides of my arms and he stood back to take a good look at me. I titled my head up to meet his gaze although I could feel the heat rising in my cheeks. I wanted to hide it. I wanted to hide that look I give off when I'm uneasy or unsure. I didn't want to talk about this with him. It's embarrassing. 

"I'm good," I replied with confidence. 

Squinting he said, "Are you sure?"

"Yes, I promise."

***

After our quick catch-up we swapped numbers and went our separate ways. He must have went right to checkout though because I received a text just ten minutes after we parted.

I think of you whenever I buy a new bottle.

I didn't respond right away. I couldn't sort my feelings. I was embarrassed still. The last time we spoke we had a huge fight about the relationship I was currently in and where it was going. He was convinced it wouldn't last. He was convinced that I would never be truly fulfilled. But he was wrong, or at least that's what I had argued.

When I did muster up the courage to say something back, I noticed that I had another message from him.

Let's go out.

My stomach sank a bit more. What did he want? I didn't think I could sit and look at his face for longer than a few minutes without the weight of my wrong choice circling around. I didn't want that feeling to be planted firmly on my chest mid-conversation. But then I remembered I was different now. I was braver. I texted back.

When?

***

We were sitting on the floor and the papers I had printed out were all over our legs, covering up the carpet and crunching under our feet when we'd get up to grab our drinks off of the counter. I couldn't believe I was sharing all of this with him. I couldn't believe how comfortable I had become throughout the night. And it wasn't even the wine. I was still nursing the same glass he poured when he first knocked on the door. I could tell he sprayed a bit more of his cologne for the evening too. I didn't mind.

I, on the other hand, had no clue what I was supposed to wear for the occasion. Jeans at home seem too stiff. Sweatpants were too casual, like I didn't care at all. So I just went with my go-to, a tight maxi, an oversized cardigan and my hair running wild.

"This all happened Gracie," he asked.

"Yes, every bit of it."

It's not that he didn't believe my words. I think he was just genuinely surprised. My story was quite the pile of coincidence and irony and made-for-TV moments. He went through every page recounting my emotion and what it was stirring up inside of him. He'd laugh. He'd get angry. He'd question some sentences or make me explain some memories that I hadn't quite finished yet.

Once he was done reading, I started piling up everything I had printed off. It didn't matter whether they were in order or not, I'd eventually shred them and get back on the computer to complete the work. He could tell I was hiding my face and feeling self conscious. He slid his arm under my sweater and pulled me closer.

"Stop," he demanded.

I was silent. I still didn't know how to approach this subject. I could tell he wanted to talk about it but I wasn't comfortable enough or confident enough to take it on just yet.

"You don't smell like cotton candy anymore," he teased.

I giggled, "Yeah, I eventually got over wanting to smell like dessert."

He laughed quietly and started rubbing my back. The room fell silent and I stayed focused on getting my pages stacked.

"You were completely over me right?"

His question startled me. I looked up at him and saw it in his face too. He was uneasy and unsure. He wasn't completely confident in this exchange but he also seemed eager too. Maybe this was the point all along, to finally know.

"What do you mean," I asked.

He sighed," I broke up with her for you, in high school. And then nothing happened."

"This is about high school?"

"No, but that's where it started. Every time I was with someone else that's when you would promise me things. I'd be free and you'd leave," he replied.

"I was with him for years when you came back in the picture though."

I noticed that he was clenching his jaw, "But that's why we fought. I could see it. I didn't think this would be the outcome, I honestly thought you'd end up leaving him."

Laughing I responded, "Yeah, that seems to be the general consensus nowadays."

"You're okay though," he questioned again.

I nodded yes.

That's when he did it. He kissed me. I hadn't kissed him since I was 16-years-old and I immediately started wondering why I did that to myself. Why had I kept him at an arm's length for so long? This was the fourth man I had kissed since I was a wife and this is the one that mattered.
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