Poetry: Worse

The anniversary of my attack is looming, a great maw snapping at the smiles and sunshine in my life. I’ve had an uptick in panic attacks, super hearing, and insomnia. I’m operating on caffeine and stubbornness today. It’s enough. This poem was inspired by me asking my significant other if he thinks I’ve gotten worse. Because for some demented reason, I have to know the truth; I have to pry it out like a rotten tooth.

Worse

“You’re getting worse.”
I wrap my arms around myself as far as they’ll go,
protecting my core like your words are hits.
But they don’t keep coming.

I wait for the conditional get-better-now, stop-panicking
receding footsteps.
But there was no or else.
No if-then.

You pulled me closer
as I apologized for more things I can’t help.
I might as well apologize for the rain, too.
And you stop my torrent
like a shut-off valve in the sky.

Poetry: Un-Days

I know that some of my readers are here because of our mutual love of poetry. And the Where Angels Can’t Follow blog tour is not going to speak to that. So, here’s a new poem I wrote yesterday, which was a hard day for me. I didn’t fall into the hole in my calendar, but I did keep busy with random chores, freezing meals to a ridiculous degree (who needs that much spinach lasagna?!), and finishing the day out with a drink. Odin, the German Shepherd who seems to know when my days are difficult, did not leave my side.

Un-Days

The days we used to celebrate

become holes in the calendar.

Stay-away-from-the-edge,

you-might-fall-in days.


Anniversaries that got crossed out–

absent champagne, flowers, and cards.

Birthdays that aren’t

for people that aren’t.

Days when the world stopped

and our lives fell

into a pit disguised as an ordinary day.


It’s a dubious privilege of aging–

learning how to span the shaky debris over those holes.

I’ll tell you my secret:

don’t look down.

Poetry: False Beliefs

When you begin trauma therapy, one of the first things you tackle is false beliefs–the ideas that somehow everything is your fault or that you deserve anything terrible that happened. (Survivor’s guilt, years of an abuser telling you that you deserve abuse: there are many kinds of trauma that instill those lies in us.) And as the false beliefs and guilt slide away, you learn to be happy again. To me, that alone was anxiety inducing–where is all of the pain I am used to drowning in? The terror I carry with me?

I was creating some of my own misery by not pursuing things I loved, like I was an afterthought who didn’t deserve consideration. I took on everything everyone else wanted and didn’t know how to say no for a long time. And as you can imagine, people don’t like it when you stop yielding. But no one else will say no for you.

Things have clicked into place for me during the isolation of the pandemic. And I’ve reclaimed my time to journal, my time to read, and time to travel and drink in beauty. Of course, that comes at the price of not doing everything everyone else in my life wanted–not doing laundry for my entire family all of the time, not having an immaculate house, not giving a damn what the neighborhood thinks of my yard, and not volunteering with every organization my kids want to be a part of. The pandemic shut everything down so that I got to see what I was adding back, and the answer is almost nothing that I had before. And I like it.

False Beliefs

I believed The Devil over time.

I believed the terrible things he said about me.

And I began to wonder how anyone wanted me.

I believed no one else would.

And if I was so awful,

then maybe I deserved him.

He punched the wall.

I deserved that.

He broke my lamps, doors, dishes.

I deserved that.

He broke me.

I deserved that.

I’ve served my penance in a hundred miserable ways.

I kept words trapped inside of me, un-writing.

I didn’t allow my eyes to roam over the beautiful words

that other broken wordsmiths wrote.

I didn’t let myself venture underground.

No sparkling speleothems to soak in.

I starved myself of beauty.

I deserved that.

And then the angel came along and wanted what’s best for me.

In every way.

He loves my freckles, my scars,

my hellbent-on-success, impossible goal lists,  

my damn-the-torpedoes approach to life.

And I get to put on a sequined shirt, a leather skirt, a hot pink jacket.

To open the books I’d hoarded for when I was good enough.

To write each day like it’s my last, and the ink is endless.

To linger at waterfalls, wildflowers, and gypsum.

To be happy.


I deserve that.

Poetry: Closet Chair

For eleven months now, I’ve had PTSD, following a violent attack, and my panic attacks are not really going away. It’s not a pretty thing that people want to know about or discuss. We’d all really rather I were normal–whatever that word means.

I really like hiding away in my closet when anxiety creeps in. It’s the quietest place in the house, it’s not so bright there either, and I feel safe in the smaller space. I know it’s odd. Just try to explain your habit of freaking out in your closet next to the impractical shoes to someone you might want to date. It makes you really popular, in case you’re wondering. It’s more of a fifth date confession.

My boyfriend really sees who I am in this closet, the good and the bad. And recently he did a beautiful thing; he put a giant beanbag in there for me.

Closet Chair

The beanbag’s overstuffed and too big for its spot–

a chair for you and a bed for me.

Beige microfiber, in full fluff just below the lowest hanger racks.

It cradles my whole body, hugging me when no one else will.

It’s one of the nicest things anyone’s done for me.

You didn’t try to drag me into the light, puffy-eyed and sniffling,

where you could pretend this isn’t happening.

You didn’t impose a timeline on my recovery,

never treating my panic like it’s fleeting.

You pulled up a chair and invited me to be comfortable

while in pain.

Like a spouse settling into a hospital chair to wait out the night,

you settled in like you’d stay.

In the beanbag for two in my closet.

Author Life: It’s Not What You Think

I video chatted with my daughter last night, and she was teary-eyed, seeming so much smaller than I know she is with her eyes wide and upset, taking up half the screen. She was blubbering because the battery was dying on a beloved Olaf stuffed animal. (Olaf is the snowman from Frozen.) That piqued my motherly intuition the moment I heard it. I didn’t even know she had an obsession with Olaf. And if I don’t even know about this stuffed animal, then it can’t be worth crying over.

I was already tired and had summoned every ounce of patience I had left. My bathtub pipe was leaking catastrophically after it was “fixed”. It had flooded through the ceiling over my kitchen table, making my kitchen a slosh-zone. My significant other and I’d had a disagreement. (I hate those.) My co-parent had already called me over because he didn’t know what to do with the diminishing morale about virtual school, and I’d brought donuts to get a few smiles. I didn’t get a job that I knew I’d nailed the interview for. (Authors need insurance, too.) And I had been afflicted with stomach cramps all evening. So, for context, I was done with the day.

I reassured my daughter that we would fix the stuffed animal. Then, she started wailing that it didn’t have a seam near the button for the sound. I asked her where the seams were, and she told me there was one in its head and one on its bottom. Before I knew it, I was agreeing to give a colonoscopy to a stuffed snowman to replace batteries that are probably non-standard and need to be ordered.

But I still knew that wouldn’t normally upset my cheerful girl. My daughter is a force of optimism and confidence. So, I asked her, “What else happened today? Was it a good day?” And then she launched into the real problems. My children were issued school laptops long after their peers and were behind in virtual school at a new school, and she was positively petrified about French and the “jibber-jabber” she couldn’t interpret. Launching into a new language three weeks behind everyone else would be enough to shake anyone, so we talked it through and made a plan. I had the perfect anecdote about a time that I thought I would fail Latin, and the tears abated.

I find myself upset sometimes, too, with seemingly minor triggers. But those are often only the last thing added to the mountain of stressors upsetting me. After I disconnected our chat, I was mulling over the hellish weeks I thought I would fail Latin when I was fifteen. And then I thought about the anxiety and PTSD that let me see she wasn’t crying over Olaf. Both the anxiety and the Latin class seemed impossible to me and without meaning or purpose when I endured them. As my tiny daughter asked me last night, “Why is life so hard?” I thought back to myself, panicking in the closet earlier in the day, asking my significant other, “What did I do to deserve this?”

And the challenges I overcame seemed to have meaning as I guided my daughter through her own fear and stress. If you do make it through hell, you’re a lot better at going back and guiding those you love out.

I’m raising a giant cup of coffee to all of you this morning. She’s going to conquer French, and I’m writing more on Iron Spirits. Let’s continue our march out of hell today.

Hell and High Water: Publication Day

IT’S HERE! Hell and High Water is now available as an ebook and in paperback! I am excited to share my lines with those who need them.

Ebook coverOne of my favorite quotes about art is from Cesar A. Cruz, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” And that’s what I’ve set out to do. Many of my lines will resonate with the abused and the disillusioned. And they might not be comfortable for anyone who hasn’t been through the hell of post traumatic stress disorder or its many symptoms. I published the volume anyway. Soothing those still navigating hell is more important than going along with unwritten social rules regarding mental health and trauma. I’m grinding taboos and mental health stigmas to dust, while utterly failing to hide the past plaguing me. Rather, I’ve opened my doors and invited the rest of the broken inside.

I’ve got the balm for abuse, heartbreak, recovering, and backsliding in verses, served with a pinch of what my Southern ancestors would’ve said. Thank you for joining me on the journey.

You can purchase your copy here.

Poetry: 1 in 8

1 in 8 girls who witness domestic violence grow up to experience it.

I saw the tsunami coming for my daughter when I read that.

And I was desperate.

Those are not her stars!

I threw the tea leaves back.

Braced against the shore, I wrapped myself around her.

I drew a circle,

summoning generations of women who endured

punches, burns, neglect, and misplaced blame.

Men made us invisible shields for their egos,

and now we hold the line.

We inscribed “Never Again” on her soul

and shared our grimoire.

Darling, here’s what we bled to learn.

Here’s when to run.

 

**Author’s Note: I read the statistic in my first line in a book that changed the way I fought PTSD, The Body Keeps the Score. And that statistic made me desperate to change my life, to heal, and to be stronger than anything else that came for us. Now, I like to think about the strong phoenix women who are raising even stronger women as we show them that we come back more formidable than before.

Poetry: Odin

While I have been quite vocal about my struggle with PTSD following a break-in and attack, I haven’t mentioned one of the most surprising changes in my life since last October. I have fur children now. They came with the boyfriend, and I was not at all sure about having dogs. I’m almost certainly destined to be a cat lady. I have a library. I like cardigans. I know how to knit. I’m their kind!

IMG_20200821_090701835But Odin, this giant German Shepherd who’s almost my height when he jumps up, began guarding me when he met me. I didn’t know that’s what he was doing, but he laid in front of the doors of the rooms I was in. And then he laid in front of the spots I sat down in. And he slept on my side of the room between me and the door. All of that was enough to endear him to me, whether or not I ever showed affection like normal dog people. You know who you are, baby-talking, pet-cuddling dog lovers.

My significant other knew I was a lost cause when he found me cuddled around Odin, using him for a giant pillow because he’d taken up post, guarding me again. What I didn’t know is that Odin had been alerting my boyfriend when I was having panic attacks. (I frequently hide away where I feel safe and where my children won’t see me falling apart.) And Odin nudges and yips at my boyfriend, shepherding him to where I am, when I have panic attacks. He’s not a medical dog. He’s not been trained. He’s just one smart, caring creature. And he’s making me feel safer and cared for, even though I was deeply skeptical. So, naturally, he got his own poem.

Odin

My reluctant, four-legged guardian watches over me,

my own foo dog at the steps of the temple.

He’s certain I’m terrible at protecting myself.

So, resigned,

he’s at my bedside,

then nosing me down the stairs,

shepherding me to the rest.

I can tell he thinks I don’t know how to belong to a pack.

And I didn’t ask for a guardian,

but I feel the weight of his judgment.

“Look, Odin, I only just had a pack choose me back.”

 

He chuffs, sure that my brain is broken,

because he doesn’t know about hearts.

But his presence is something I can bet on,

his waiting by the window is sure

…when I have gotten used to everyone leaving.

 

 

 

Iron Spirits: Silver Linings

I’ve begun writing Iron Spirits, the book following my debut novel, Iron Shards. I’m a little bit exhausted today and not sure I will meet my daily writing goal. (The photo is my half-filled coffee mug from my alma mater. Iced lattes are fueling these pages.) I’ve set a breakneck pace–3,000 words a day–to get the latest book out to you guys this fall. You’ve certainly waited long enough. Thanks for hanging in here with me.

Insomnia has not been kind to me these last ten months, and authors don’t actually live charmed lives. (Even if that’s the picture we’d like to paint.) If you’ve looked at my poetry or my posts regarding PTSD, then you’ll know that my struggle persists. Insomnia is a common PTSD symptom; my body thinks it’s always under attack, and that doesn’t do wonders for sleep. I also need a second surgery because my nasal passages are still partially blocked after my nose was broken. And for quite a few reasons, it’s currently on hold.

The silver lining to all of this is that I write amazing traumatized characters. I know the things people do when they’ve seen death, been attacked, gone through an accident. I know what they’ll do immediately after and a month later. So, I’m penning an authentic moody, traumatized teen. But, at times, I don’t even like him much, even if I am certain he’s behaving exactly like he should be. (Think Harry Potter Book 5.)

But he’s on a journey, too, and I’m looking forward to sharing bits of his story in Iron Spirits soon.

Poetry: Hyperacusis

I used to watch all of Marvel’s movies. They were a shut-up-and-take-my-money situation. And you could bet that I would read or watch most things involving super powers, mutations, or human evolution. I found it fascinating. I remember one show that depicted super hearing as part-super power, part-curse.

And I can confirm the part-curse bit. Since the break-in and attack last year, I can’t turn the world down. My therapists say it’s a PTSD symptom: hypervigilance, hyperacusis. And sometimes it’s hell. I don’t watch those movies anymore without my kids pleading to watch together, noise cancelling headphones, a drink in my hand, and subtitles. My kids pre-open their candy so that the plastic doesn’t crinkle next to me. We’ve all changed our lives in little ways to co-exist. I wear the headphones and run four miles a day, sometimes sequestering myself when the day has been a bit too loud. They tone it down when I cringe at something like cabinets closing in the kitchen. Today’s poem details living with this super-curse.

Hyperacusis

I think someone is hitting our counter.

And I ask you to check downstairs.

And I’m so sure I’m right.

I argue until you show me…

that the sound only happens when the dog breathes out.

 

YouTubers blaring that we should “smash that button”

make me want to smash my eardrums.

I can’t think around it.

 

I flinch when you hammer a stud into place.

And I’m back against a door with it splintering around me,

buying my family more time.

 

So, you find me now before you hammer, drill, nail, sew,

decibel warnings far below the prescribed level litter our days.

You hand me noise cancelling headphones

like a life ring for the drowning.

 

And I hold on.

 

I ask you each time, “Will it ever get better?”

And you always say yes.

I don’t care if it’s truth or a lie

or only what you believe.

It’s enough.