Friday, April 25, 2014

What you don't see….

The early morning light creeps through the slats in the blinds. Tinged petal pink and innocent, it reflects nothing of the darkness it endured in the hours prior. My body is awash with relief that another night has passed and another day is underway. I can see the sleeping form of my oldest, still breathing steadily in slumber under mounds of covers and pillows. I smile at our night curled next to each other, lending comfort back and forth like a brush to comb out our emotional tangles.

I stretch quietly beside her and marvel at the refreshment having her weight on her father's side of the bed lent me. As I watch the light creep into my room, stretching its yellowing fingers along the ceiling, bringing brightness and energy, I am reminded that there is so much that no one sees in my life.

Padding to the kitchen, rinsing the coffee pot in ritualistic steps, I realize much of my life is hidden, sheltered, isolated. No one sees the long nights, the television playing well into the morning hours to drown out strange sounds, the sudden way I can awaken and sit bolt upright in bed. No one sees the kink in my neck, the knot in my hip, the drag in my gait because I cannot sleep when he is gone. No one sees the tears of frustration I have dropped off the end of my nose because timing was off and there was no momentary break to hear his voice, read his words, feel his love.

I sip at my mug and recall the thank-yous, the compliments of my support, and I smirk to myself. I return those honest and genuine sentiments with a forced smile and an easy "of course," but in my heart I am jealous, envious, seething. I want to scream at them, "Do not thank me!" I want to cry, "I get no choice…" But I don't, I only smile and nod. It is vastly inappropriate to be so territorial, I tell myself. I shouldn't covet, I chide, but therein lies the rub.

Like a child learning to socialize and share their toys, I must continually give more, not just of myself, but of him also. Like that same toddler, I peer sideways as they take him off, reveling in his talents and his gifts and I want desperately to yank him back. I want to tell them, no - I changed my mind… I will give you anything else, but not him. I know it isn't possible. I know it isn't fair.

I realize in my thoughts I have drained my mug and I wander back to the pot, once more. The ebony liquid swirls against the cream and crystalline sugar and becomes a shade of warm caramel. It's transformation sparks me…From black and bitter, adding the milk and the sugar I create something I can enjoy. If I want to stand beside a man with so many dreams and desires, I have to be willing to drink my cup without resentment. I don't like black coffee, so I add sweetness and light to make it more palatable. My life is the same. I cannot live in a world of isolation and bitter loneliness, so I add to it the sweetness of friends, the bright light of social interactions. It is a constant battle to push outside my comfort zone into the illuminated world around me, to resist the pull of my own darkened heart waiting sullenly for his return.

So much of me is hidden, deep in the folds of sleepless nights and broken hearts, and like the moon I will shine forth the face I want seen, but she is there, that jealous one. She is there slinking in the darkness and only by adding the tiny flicker of a friendly candle can I keep her at bay. Always, always, she is there…in what you don't see.
Photo credit Creative Commons

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Photo used with permission from Antonio Ysursa
The bus rocked and tipped along the narrow dirt road, crammed to the rafters with the small brown people she had lived among the past year. Even from the concealing folds of the modest hijab she wore, she felt conspicuous; a lumpy pearl among shining, dark amber. What the hell was she trying to prove anyway? She didn't belong here, she didn't have any business inserting herself into this culture, and yet going home seemed like failure.

She peered from the headdress and bowed stance to gaze at the occupants packed with her into the rickety, creaking auto bus. There were young girls in plaid school uniforms, old men reading crumpled day-old papers, women coming from market with bamboo encapsulated chickens and ducks. It was a cacophony of sounds and menagerie of color; bright saris and drapes, the crisp white of the men's tunics, all against the exotic mochas and deep chocolates of shiny brown skin.

No one looked twice at her, despite her towering height of five foot nine. She was just another traveler on this dusty road, bumping along, grabbing for any purchase as the driver slung the top heavy bus around narrow corners and swerved to miss oncoming traffic. She was nothing to them. She was an outsider, a European, a White.

She sighed as she returned her gaze to her lap. The fringe on the edge of her wrap had drug on the ground as she had run for the teetering bus and it now lay caked in mud from the gutter. She picked at the small dried clods with her fingers and reached into her bag for a bottle of water. Using a few precious drops, she cleaned the bright pink and red silk. She turned back to replace the bottle to safety and that was when she saw her.

She was the only person on the bus who didn't seem to ignore her, with her giant stance, her pale skin and her auburn hair. It took just a moment to recognize that the child's skin was freckled, pale like hers and her eyes were blue, glinting steely from the slate blue head covering. Her heart stopped and she was reticent to draw breath. Where was the child from? The woman sitting next to her had nodded off, being elderly with her craggy brown face bobbing about as they swayed and dipped along the road. Her mind whirred with mystery and she looked up and down the crowded aisle of the bus, searching for anyone who might lay claim to this porcelain skinned youngster. The girl just continued to stare, unblinking, unbending… Unnerving.

She tried a smile but those eyes bore into her; accusatory, excavating her insecurities and exposing her fears. Those eyes were not youthful eyes, but weary with mistrust and brimming with hatred. The gaze of a child so filled with contempt was startling to her, but the look itself - it was familiar.

It was a stare that she had become so acquainted with, matched with cat calls because she was white. Of course she would be a whore, she had been counseled before her trip: she was American, her hair was red, she was labeled with all of her un-Indian-ness a devil. She had no business being there, despite the humanitarian organization she worked for, she would never, ever fit in. While this had been drummed into her, she had naively pressed on in her insistence that she was perfect for the work, that her heart would overcome, that surely it couldn't be that bad.

Despite the open antagonistic nature of the people among whom she lived and ultimately served, the mission statement of the organization held her fast. The compassion she had for Hindu women and the deep longing she held for rescuing those ensnared in the sex trade quelled her desire to leave. She could take the stares and the vile propositions launched at her in broken English. What she couldn't take was the horribly calloused way she had seen Indian women, women of their own hue, beaten, raped, slashed and tossed away like garbage. It was heartbreaking.

The bus hissed and screeched slowly to a stop at a small town, dusty and rural. The old woman, opened her eyes as if by clockwork and grabbed roughly at the child's hand, dragging her toward the exit, pushing slowly through the close press of bodies. As the girl reached her seat she whispered in Hindi, her eyes mean slits in that angelic face, "Go back. You don't belong. We hate you!"

She sucked in breath at the vehemence of the statement. Even as the old woman tugged at her hand, those eyes accused her, looking back, staring through her to some unseen threat, coated in loathing and contempt. She lowered her gaze as the tears began to sting her eyes. It was a confirmation of all things she had taken for granted, the simplest act of friendship slapped away in a hail of racist abhorrence. She realized then that just because she looked the same, because their skin was the color of milk and not coffee, she was still recognized as outside the norm. It ran deeper.

Racism ran chasms into any culture, no matter the origin, and here… Well, here she stood out like a beacon ablaze with enticing neon light. But could she quit? That was the question that kept at her. That was the meat of the matter, as her grandmother would say. If she did quit, what did that say about her convictions? What did it say about her heart and her determination? It was always going to be hard. It was always going to have someone telling her she couldn't do it, she wouldn't fit, she would fail. Failure meant so many would go without, some would perish, many would starve disfigured and alone, and why? Because her feelings got hurt? Because some nasty little man asked her to perform fellatio in the streets of Mumbai? So what.

She took another breath and waited as the bus refilled with faces that didn't match hers, with women who tsked and whispered and pointed, with men who leered. She adjusted her wrap and sat a little straighter in her seat. No one had said it would be easy. In fact, most had told her she would fail, she would be home inside a month. Well, she had been here a year. She was by no means a super star, but what she was doing, what she awoke each morning to accomplish, it was her dream. It was a terrifyingly difficult task and she may never see success, but what would she see if she quit? Nothing. And if only one woman was saved, if only one girl was plucked from the sex trade, still intact and unscarred, then maybe she could say it was worth it. It would be so worth it...

Sunday, April 6, 2014


Photo Credit:
Maybe it was desperate. Maybe not. There was something about the moment that needed touch, as if tactile affirmation could somehow coalesce into the forgiveness she was seeking. It was an olive branch of sorts, a white flag not of surrender, but of comprehension, understanding… Acceptance.

It was the recognition that although it was nothing she had ever comprehended could be, it was amendable to her. She would accept it, assimilate it, absorb it into her being and allow it to become a part of her. Like tendrils of wild ivy, she would reach out and touch him, pull him closer, wrap him safely in her grasp and cement him to her, the softness of her touch deceptively strong in its persistence. 

There was only a moment in time marked by the tender caress of her fingertips, trailing soft and gentle over his bared forearm, only seconds to convey the warmth that had been missing from them that morning. Only briefly did she touch his skin, but the magnitude of it, the sincerity - they swelled and cascaded over him like the waves on the beach of their honeymoon, making love in the sand. In that one gesture, that one sacrificial motion, there was tranquility.

She need not look at him, his eyes forward on the road as it unfurled before them, to determine the effect of it. She felt it in his exhale, in his shoulders dropping, in his thighs relaxing into the seat. It was all that she needed. To know there would be peace, even at the expense of her desires, was more important for now. To be right, righteous, confirmed - it was hollow victory to being happy.

Something inside her shattered and it was a revelation to her heart. Sacrifice was no longer about an exchange, one giving now to get later on, but about the joy that was created in the extermination of one's ego. Suddenly and without warning she understood what it was to be married and the comprehension filled her with quiet triumph, stretching beneath her skin slowly, languidly. The lesson permeated her with its quiet surety, parts of it looming with the painful reality, parts of it lulling her into a sleepy welcome.

There would be more of it; more sacrifice for him, more disappointments and exposition of her fairy tale misconceptions. There would be more taking than giving and more misunderstandings. That was the nature of this life. In this moment, however, right here in the warm sunshine on the road to celebration and cacophony, there was peace and acceptance and it felt like a gift to herself as much as a bestowal on him.

She inhaled deeply of it and allowed her hand to fall from his warmth, ready to return it to her lap and the hum of the asphalt before them. Before she could move herself away, return to her own bubble of isolation, he grasped her hand in his and squeezed, holding her fast to him. His answer to her touch was one of firmness, of steady solidarity, it was his declaration without saying a word.

Yes, marriage is about sacrifice, about loss of oneself into the joining of the two, but it is also about union of mind. Marriage is about the welcoming of one lover's selfishness and enfolding it into our undeserved caress with the realization that they too have released expectations in order to return our love. Marriage in surrounded in inequality, in unrequited desires, in shattered dreams. It can only be successful if we lose the desire to keep score and in that moment, with less hesitation than she could have imagined, she erased the board and slung her chalk along the shoulder of the road.

It was only a touch, briefly delivered in the moment of a morning, but it was a lasting declaration of the rest of their lives.