Rejected! #1

~~I submitted this years ago to three different publications I think. Only one responded and then they never replied again after numerous attempts at contact. Ive not laid eyes on this since then. Rereading after so many years I can see why some might not take it–especially towards the end where I introduce the ‘man in orange.’ If I submitted this anywhere today, I’d take the ‘man in orange’ out or edit the hell out of him.

Walking to Liberation

There is a mythology of walking in the US. A mythology of moving. A mythology that says walking and moving are good. Something to engage in. Even admirable.  The stories of Walden Pond, the Oregon Trail, and even Columbus liter our children’s education. An entire generation rested their identity on the movement into space, and the heroes of Manifest Destiny, better known as ‘walking for colonialism,’ Meriweather Lewis and William Clark, have taken their places on our coins and in our history books. My home state (and perpetual owner of the “fattest” population in the US title) of Michigan even rolled out the 10,000 steps program a few years back in an effort to contain the citizenry’s ever expanding belt size. If all us Michiganders just made an effort to take 10,000 steps every day, we’d all be fitter and healthier and happier.


Environmentalist’s answers to pollution and degradation often depend on movement in the outdoors–if we can’t stretch and move and find our humanity in clean air and quiet forests, where on earth will we ever find it? A long walk in the woods is where our souls are saved. John Muir sat in a tree just to see what it felt like to be a tree, for heaven’s sake. We need the outdoors so we can remember who we are.


But what happens when this mythology is proven to be exactly what it is? A mythology? A story? A lie even? A violent lie used to control and abuse a population of human beings whose bodies do not easily conform to or carry the labels of “citizen” or “hero” or even “fat person with a desire to be “healthy”? What happens when nature and walking and movement are used as a way to deny a person’s humanity rather than a way to figure it out? And what happens when it turns out the only way to “heal” from the violence of “walking” is walking?

I am walking down a long dusty trail. My feet are throbbing and my skin is sunburned. There are blueberries everywhere. So many left, even after all these weeks of picking. The setting sun sits warm and mellow on the top of the bushes and quiet Spanish sifts around the air as we all walk the mile back to the cars. There are younger and older children than me in the group. Even as we all are so tired it is hard to continue taking steps, a few of us still manage to push and poke at siblings or friends. One younger girl swings a bucket at an older brother. Parents scold and the brother laughs because not only is she getting yelled at, but she missed too. The day is almost over. We can hear crows in the distance. Soon, we’ll have a warm dinner and a soft bed.

It’s a nice time of the day.

In 2008, a fellow media justice activist and organizer, Jess Hoffmann, and I decided to begin a collaboration together. I had just come out of a really rough year of organizing and knew that any project I took up from that point on had to center on my health. Eventually, after much talking, we agreed we would each take walks in our own cities (Jess in Los Angeles, me in Ypsilanti, Michigan) and then post about what these walks brought up in us online. We would do it under the guiding principle of (re)thinking walking. Reconsidering what walking was, what it had become through the centuries, what it meant to each of us. We would put the project of walking itself under a lens.

Was walking really all it was cracked up to be? Was health as it was connected to walking? Was the popular goal of so many activists–to heal and be “healthy”–really what our goal should be? As organizers? as activists? What really were the politics of walking?

Watching the movie, Into the Wild. It’s dark and I’m alone. A rare and beautiful thing for me, mamí of two and life partner to one. The young white boy on the screen is naive. Beautifully so. Believes in people. Believes in women. Knows things can change. Knows nature has the answers. And yet, when he dies at the end, I don’t see beauty or feel horror or even sympathy. The beautiful white kid was stupid. He thought a few books could get him through Alaska. Could help him survive the reality of life.


I want to scream at the stupid boy; even Thoreau knew not to go running off into the woods by himself. He stayed within walking distance of town and was visited regularly at his cabin. He was experimenting with capitalism. Do you really need to buy what you are told to buy?

This kid, this stupid naive beautiful kid, was experimenting with aloneness. Do you really need a community in order to survive? Or can books suffice?

Only a wealthy white kid could possibly even think that these were questions that needed to be asked.


The first post I wrote was about Sacagawea, the native woman who was with Lewis and Meriweather on their explorations through the US. Walking that week had been a painful experience for me. Undiagnosed illness and normal working class stress on the body usually made it that way for me. I felt deep compassion for this woman, whose body probably hurt more often than it didn’t while she worked. Sacagawea almost died from pregnancy complications on the trip and suffered from a life long undiagnosed painful inflammation of her reproductive organs. Her pain was often so great it made it into the journals: “if She dies it will be the fault of her husband as I am now convinced.”

But as much compassion as I felt for her, I felt only frustration with myself. Why couldn’t I get up when I told my body to? Why was it getting so hard to force my body to do what I wanted it to do?

I began the (re)thinking walking series at a time when I was the most profoundly unhealthy I’d ever been in my life. And yet, I’d spent most of my life, since I was a small kid of nine or ten, moving. Physical labor. Picking blueberries, flipping burgers, waiting tables, delivering newspapers. This is the life of a working class Chicana and her family.

It was only after I moved into the still emotionally stressful but hardly physical world of academia that I figured out the everybody else didn’t start working at nine years old. That everybody else hadn’t been out in the fields or flipping burgers instead of hanging out with friends or studying for the next exam since they were kids.

And now, as an adult in academia, while others were out drinking and having a good time after classes, I was in my car, driving around for hours. Wondering. What on earth was I doing to myself? What had I been doing to myself? Who was I moving for? Who decided that I would be the one working for over a decade before these other people got their first job?

And why did taking a walk to “lose weight” stir up the same feelings of resentment that the realization that other people hadn’t been working their childhoods away did?

Soon, after putting an online invitation, another woman of color joined Jess and I on our ‘walk.’ She was a dancer and a woman with a disability–and she challenged us: why is there such an emphasis in so many of these walks on the pain? Does walking always hurt? Is it always painful? Is there never any beauty in moving differently? Is there nothing beautiful at all in difference? Or in learning to do things in a way that is different than what you expected?

At her questioning, I started to realize why it was often so hard for me to do much more than sit when I was supposed to be walking. Movement, or space (because I was finding they were both essentially the same thing,) is not our own. The right to not move is what makes moving important. And the right to not move is a right that many of us, especially those of us in the working class, rarely have.

Before I could ‘move’ in the name of health (and what was this ‘health’ thing anyway?), I needed to spend some time consciously and purposefully not moving. Reclaiming my body from the machine that had been feeding on it for so long, it was normal now. And by ‘not moving,’ I didn’t mean, “passed out on the couch after a 15 hour work day.” But rather instead, intentionally acknowledging what it feels like to not move at all. Paying attention to the stiffness that seeps into muscles and hips after long periods of no movement. Watching the world move when my presence was not a part of it. Imagining different ways to move. Wondering why the thought of beauty connected to my own movement was such an impossible thing to imagine.


He sits at the stretch of land between “claimed” and “wild” every Saturday morning with his gun and a mug of coffee. He wears his orange hunting coat and his steel-toed work boots. He has sun glasses that he never wears clipped to his coat pocket and sips his coffee with his gun cradled in the crook of his arm. He meets his fellow Patriots at the local gas station before they drive together to the outpost constructed to help with the “hunt.”


This man hunts “illegals.” Or, as I know them, my friends. My neighbors. My loved ones. He hunts them because his government has such a poor immigration policy and the US/Mexico border is like a sieve. And he needs the companionship his fellow Patriots offer and the desert is beautiful in the early morning hours.

As I’ve learned to be comfortable with different types of walking, I’ve come to realize how much of my moving depends on me facing down that man in orange. My existence as a US citizen is defined by the space neither of us have ever really been allowed to access, not really. My existence as a human being with the right to move in ways that I need to with joy and glory are defined by that space–just as his is.


I have never met the man in orange. I’ve never actually even seen him. But the people of my community are terrified of him. They know he doesn’t bother calling the police when he sees them, his finger goes straight for the cold curve of the trigger on his gun. Women take birth control for months before they cross over because they know this man rapes and there is nothing they can do to stop it. Men contemplate, will they fight or run when this man and his buddies see the group of Mexicans resting from the desert heat?


I feel sorry for this man in many ways. He is broken. Maybe in a different way than I am or the people of my community are–but broken nonetheless. And I know what that feels like, to feel incomplete. To ache for something more but not be sure what that elusive “more” really is. And he knows what I know. The secret: movement is what builds. New worlds, new communities, new life. Movement is where life is. Walking is what gives birth to movement.


But we sit on opposite sides of the desert and glare at each other because we both know the truth. Mythology makes us believe that our walking in the US is an act of freedom. An act of defiance and individualism. A heroic act. But in reality, walking, moving, taking up space, are all dangerous acts. Acts that can invoke such fear, they are carefully controlled by the nation/state. If movement is what brings life, movement must be controlled at the deepest most individual level. It must be something done to “lose weight,” or “find yourself,” or even “to ‘settle’ new lands.”


I am a US citizen, as are both of my parents. And yet, what does that mean, really? There is no other way to describe my father other than immigrant. While born in the US, he moved back and forth between the US/Mexico border in a way that is common and familiar to most people in my community. He knows two communities well enough to call both of them home. He is one of the people who has managed to cross that stretch of fiercely contested land and come out alive. He knows what sweat on the body smells like in the middle of desert heat.

It is a smell neither I nor the man in orange understand or have ever experienced. And yet, it is something that both he and I obsess over. It is a strong smell, pungent and wet, filled with knowledge. Knowledge about what happens in that space between two communities.


In spite of it all.

Control is intimately connected to movement. And because the outdoors–nature–is where control of movement happens, an environment based liberatory praxis can only begin to be built by looking towards and making leaders out of those whose control of public space in the US is the least secure: border crossers, homeless people, day contractors, sex workers, those with non-gender conforming bodies, disabled people, young people and even the fat people that are bullied and guilt tripped out of ever going outside ever. The people whose relationship to the land is not built on mythology or “finding oneself,” but on practicality and necessity. On human survival. Because what else is land there for? What other thing in the world could possibly be more urgent than survival?

I haven’t lost one pound since I began walking. Not one. And I don’t really think I found myself, not yet at least. But I do know that the existence of a poor fat brown girl is necessary.

And her movement–revolutionary.



the sound of water is everywhere.

it starts in my abdomen, the soft whir of incoming waves building until it crashes into my ears.

my hands go to my body and I try to pay attention, try to see the sun from under the waves,

but my body relaxes

and i sink…


i went to california recently. and saw the pacific ocean for the first time in my life. as i hiked toward it on that first day in california, i kept hearing a sound–like traffic. like the roar of the freeways that you can’t escape in southeast michigan. semi-trucks crashing across lanes, car tires slapping concrete, the relentless sound digs into your ears, even when you’re inside.

anger shifts into rage as i walk closer to the ocean. i am staying at a former army barracks converted into a national park and just this once, i need to see nature, feel nature, hear nature, without the taint of roaring freeways in the background.

but then i break through the forest i am hiking through and see for it for first time. the huge endless ocean. that’s when i realize that the roar was not coming from the freeways–but from the ocean.

thick rolls of sound crashing into rocks.

on that day…slow. a comfortable rhythm.

my feet easily shift from angry freeway rumble to the relaxed roll of the water.

i don’t stop walking until i am on a large cliff overlooking the entire ocean. i  see nothing but water. no land, no people walking on the beach, no military barracks. just me and the ocean.

the sound is everywhere

and i sink…


it’s been years since i was suicidal.

but in michigan, things haven’t been going well. i was driving to work the other day, on that freeway that i have a relationship with. i see death almost everyday on this freeway, in the form of animals mostly, but every once in a while, people too. usually you know something horrible happened not because you see it, but because the freeway is backed up for hours. that usually means that whatever accident happened is deemed too grisly for the average person’s eyes and they shut down the freeway entirely until it’s cleaned.

sometimes, though, you see it. maybe the cops/ambulances aren’t on the scene yet. maybe it isn’t quite bad enough to shut everything down. traffic creeps along slowly enough that you can see the traumatized people’s faces as they stand next to obliterated cars, only aware enough to be grateful that they are not the person in the ambulance. you spend the rest of the slow ride into work thinking about things. thinking about life.

i try not to think about my time on the freeway much anymore. i try to respond to fear with sensible responses. leave two hours early so you can go slow. travel in the middle lane so you don’t have to deal with merging cars on the right or out of control trucks on the left. kitty litter in the trunk in case you get stuck. phone charged.

go slow.

one day, as i was driving down the middle lane, i’m in control, i’m in control, i’m in control…

a car coming in the opposite direction flew into the median, flipped completely around from the impact of landing, rolled up the small hill of the median and crashed into the wire fencing on my side of the road.  it all moved in slow motion, i could see exactly what was going to happen even as it was happening. it was as the other car crashed into the wire fencing that i was just starting to see that there was no way i could escape the collision, even by going slower.

if it wasn’t for the fence, i would’ve collided head first with the other car. but the fence was there. the fence was there.

once i realized i had escaped, i didn’t pull over, i didn’t call 911 to report the accident. i kept going my “safe’ pace down the middle lane of the freeway. breathing. in. out. in. out.



i am in control

of nothing.


it’s been years since i was suicidal. and yet,

as i sink, the water fills me, suffocates me,

i don’t fight.


i’m going to be 40 this year. it’s a momentous year, one that can point to my achievements, allow me to take inventory, and make the commitment to live the next 40 years as i haven’t lived the past 40 years, with intentionality.

but my boss started the year off with that talk. the “there is never any easy way to say this….this organization needs to make some changes….” talk. i knew it was coming. i had known for awhile. in a way that somebody always expects things to go wrong knows. i got the email from my boss on a friday, asking if we could meet the upcoming tuesday. i replied sure, and asked “why?” i never got a response.

so i knew. i knew what was going to happen before it happened. i almost hyperventilated as i waited for my turn to get fired (there were three other people fired on that day). i tried to text mr. toast for support–but my fingers were shaking too much. after almost dropping my phone, i gave up. took a deep breath. and walked into a room to face down a table full of board members and bosses.

“there is never any easy way to say this….”

can you be chicana and not have a job?  a chicana getting a job is testament to the world that you are no longer a child, no matter how young you are. if you could bring home a paycheck, if you could help provide, you were grown. i’ve had a job since i was 11 years old.

what am i if i don’t have a job? what am i if i was fucking FIRED from my job? who am i allowed to be?

who am i?


i suffered for years from severe gallbladder issues. horrible attacks that completely immobilized me, drained me so much that i couldn’t get out of bed for days. after years of suffering, my body suddenly revolted and things got even worse. for three months i threw up everything i ate, had severe attacks constantly, and was mostly unable to get out of bed, even to work.

i finally convinced a doctor to take the damn thing out. i never felt more right about a decision–and yet, as the day drew closer and closer, i felt more and more backed into a corner. i’d be in bed, trying to doze, doing my best to quite my body, only to be awakened by dreams of people choking me, using my blankets to smother me. one day, the dreams were so bad, i finally forced myself out of bed and wandered around the house aimlessly, looking for something, anything, to distract me.

i found mr. toast working out in the garden.

he said hey as i walked to him and kept working.

i stood in front of him and made him stop.

suddenly, everything came hurling out. i just need to tell you in case i die from this surgery that i love you that i really love you and that i’ve loved you all these years even though i never really thought i did but i do and i need you to know that, to really KNOW that in case i die. i love you. i mean, i really really love you. i’ve never loved anybody else. just you.

he stood there for a minute and then smiled. i know you love me.

but i stopped him. no, i mean i REALLY love you. i’m not just saying it.

he paused. amused. so you mean you’ve just been saying it all these years?

yes, that’s what i mean. but i didn’t realize that i wasn’t actually just saying it, that i actually MEANT it. i really do love you. and i need you to know this. in case i die.

he laughed. and pulled me into his chest. his warm sweaty chest, that has held our crying babies for hours at a time, that i can perfectly snuggle my body into when he hugs me, my head resting in the curve of his neck, my body wrapped completely by his arms.

i know you’ve always loved me, bfp.

i needed you to know. in case i die.

he is kissing my face, my hair, my lips. you’re not going to die. and i love you too. i’ve always loved you.

the sky is blue. the warm air twists around us, holding us together.

i love you.

there is nothing like potential death to make a person brave.


the water floods my chest, i can’t breath.

i don’t fight it.


i don’t want to die. i’ve never wanted to die. even when i was suicidal.

but what is the alternative? it is near impossible to live life without love, without having been loved. i read this book by dr. gabor mate where he gave a case description of a man who doctors found had a serious illness. life threatening, but the guy definitely had a good chance. the guy, however, didn’t have a strong support team, didn’t feel like he was worth fighting for. so even after church members talked to him and his doctors talked to him and everybody talked to him and told him he had a really good chance of survival–the guy just shook his head. refused to fight, and eventually died. mate was using this story to talk about support systems and how having them can really help improve your chances of getting through a serious illness.

i took it as a testimonio. one that i could’ve written. what is the use of fighting, when there’s nothing to fight for?

i was that guy, and i didn’t even know it. a tale of two city’s unloved sydney carton. the lonely drunkard who was smart enough (hurt enough?) to know that it just didn’t make sense that the pure innocent lucie could love him. it didn’t make sense that anybody could love him. so he switches himself with a man about to be killed by a mob. sydney will be killed in his stead. the man sydney saves is the man who could be loved. the man who was dearly loved. who was not taking up space.

sydney does not send himself off to die from a sense of martyrdom (i will die so others can live!), but because there’s no reason to live. how could you be arrogant enough to take up space when you could never possibly be loved?

as a small child, i’d play make-believe and i was a beautiful and kind hearted girl who could see the good in sydney. so i loved him. and i’d plead with him to live, to please please live. eventually he’d be energized by my love, and i’d help him escape and we’d live happily ever after.

at some point, as i got older, i couldn’t manage to convince sydney that i loved him, even in my imagination. he’d look up at me sadly, shake his head, and turn away. eventually, i just stopped playing make believe. even my imagination couldn’t overcome reality.


water is flooding into my mouth, filling my chest. i can only see watery darkness.

i am safe.


i don’t want to die. i never wanted to die, even when i was suicidal.

and that’s why when i read that case study in that book that i can’t even remember the title of, i did not look away from the mirror. i studied what i saw for hours. shocked, not at the willingness to die, but at the comfort. the utter ease of drowning. the way i moved in it, as if with an old friend. no need to talk, no need to explain. understanding each other.

all these years, i thought the ease of my relationship with death came from a buddhist sense of resignation: death is inevitable. or maybe it was acceptance of my depression. depressed people are ok with dying. depressed people don’t want to die, but they can’t help themselves. they just have to one day, when it becomes too much.

as it turns out, i did not really have a relationship with death at all. lack of value was who i had formed the real relationship with. it made sense that nobody would want me in this world, that i wouldn’t want myself in this world. i stopped noticing how much sense it made, and it just became the norm. hegemony played out in my own body. complete and utter submission to “valueless.”

valueless wrapped itself around me, comforted me when things got hard. it makes sense that i messed that all up, i’m a fucked up worthless piece of shit, right? it makes sense that i don’t get recognition for work done, other people who work harder/are better than me deserve it more. who am i? and why should it matter that i get nothing? why *should*  i get something?

i looked long and hard at all those thoughts. and i started to realize something.  so much of my writing up until that point had actually verbalized all those thoughts and tried to reconcile, conquer, own, destroy, evaporate, make friends with, and control those thoughts– practically everything i had ever written in the past 10 years, if i was honest with myself.

and the more and more i thought about it, even when i moved outside of my blogging and into my school essays or my short stories or the letters i used to handwrite as a child–it was all the same thing. the invisible relationship that i thought i had never really noticed was actually a life long battle that i have been trying to detangle myself from since i was a small child.

somewhere in me, there was somebody who was actually fighting. somebody who kept pushing. somebody who was inside the prison, not sitting next to me, but sitting IN me. somebody who wouldn’t let go. somebody who, even in the worst of times, kept whispering–

but…but…where did you get the idea that worthless people don’t deserve life?

but…why does screwing that one thing up mean you’re worthless?

but…who decided you were worthless anyway?

but…why do you have to believe it?

somewhere in me (buddhists tell me it is my true self, the inner buddha that is in all of us), there was somebody who always knew better. and fought back through writing. i didn’t really understand that there was a fight going on. i couldn’t see it. maybe it was that i didn’t want to. because then i would have to take sides.

i never wanted to die, even when i was suicidal.

what i never knew was that i was actually suicidal because i never wanted to die.

and i thought that was the only choice i had.

reading the story of the man who thought his only choice was to die, because he was alone, worthless, valueless, i saw clearly that he was wrong. i saw this, because for the first time, somebody who had no vested interest in my own battle pointed it out. i believed dr. mate, because he never claimed to love what i knew to be unloveable. that’s the cruel irony of it all. those of us fighting this life long battle with “valueless”? we would never in a million years think anybody else didn’t have the right to live. we would never talk to anybody else the way we talk to ourselves. we would adamently stand up for the person being assaulted by the words and judgement that we inflict on ourselves. i have gotten into physical fights with men who treat women the way that i treated myself. i would destroy any human being who talked to my children the way i talked to myself.

so it makes sense that the time i finally paused, stopped, sat down and studied the mirror up in my face was the time when a person was pointing out my own actions in somebody else. when the person who was pointing out my own actions never claimed to love what i knew to be unloveable.

i still think about the man from dr. mate’s book. i am very defensive of him. i don’t want anybody to think that he was “stupid” for just “letting” himself die. that this about needing to “get a more positive attitude.” or “if you just believe in yourself.” or “if you would get out of the house more.” or any of the crap people who don’t know what is going on try to “help” with. i don’t know if what he (i) have is depression. i could make a strong case that it’s actually a bad case of oppression. but whatever it is, whatever this battle is about, “being more positive” or “believing in yourself” is not going to win it.

but because of him, i am not hopeless. something will win this battle, because now i know what is going on. for the first time, i believe this truth more than i believe the logic of “valueless.”

something will win this war.

and i will be there to see it done.


my dreams are shifting. i no longer want to be fearless or even brave. because now i know that they aren’t really the point. i want what others know, without question. without even noticing it. hegemony taking over their bodies. they are loved. of *course* they are loved. it is natural and makes SENSE that somebody loves them. hegemonic love. it’s ok to try new things and go new places and not be perfect and face down life with or without fear–because you are loved.

it’s ok to be happy, it’s ok to put your fists down, it’s ok to lay next to your life long loving partner who has been with you through all the war years, and not worry that he’s just faking it or there because of some mistake.

it’s ok to just relax. rest your hand on his alive beating heart, breath deep.

maybe it’s even ok to start itching back around that idea that formed so many years ago, that faulty logic. maybe it’s possible to love somebody like me. maybe loving somebody like me isn’t such an impossible concept. maybe…maybe.

“maybe” holds all the possibilities i have never imagined before.


in california, i read some of my writing out loud for the first time. i spent the whole time in california feeling awkward and alone and too afraid to say much of anything to anybody. i was still struggling with my health issues and i felt ill most of the time. so old and out of place among a group of young brilliant activists. it’s hard to be an introvert surrounded by extroverts–it’s near impossible to deal with social anxiety around people who all want to do “get to know you” activities into the middle of the night.

but on one night–the night where they did “open mic,” i decided to read something i had written. something about dancing.

that night after my kids got home, we started watching the opera Carmen. It’s a catchy opera that is a lot more accessible than other operas are, but even so, they both went upstairs after a while. I was ok with that, because as soon as they went upstairs, i got up—and at first just paced around for a while—but eventually, that evil little monkey thief took over. and i started to dance. i swirled and twirled and practiced holding my arms just so while looking in the mirror. i thought i was being quiet—but in that way that kids always do, within about 6 minutes they were back downstairs asking incessantly, what are you doing, what was that noise, why are you doing that, what is going on, i thought i heard something, what are you doing?

i stopped at first, and started to tell them to mind their own business—but then my body took over. that body that is the universe. that universe that i am learning to trust. and next thing you know, i was dancing.

when i was done, people stood and cheered for me. women surrounded me and hugged me. there were tears and love and laughter. it wasn’t that i was exceptionally moving, a writer above all others. it was that kind people knew i didn’t like being the center of attention and were genuinely rooting for me. it was that in that place, for once in my life, i decided i didn’t need to have both fists up worrying about what could happen. i didn’t need to worry about if i was taking up space i didn’t deserve to be in.

i deserve to be here.

my fists go down.

and i am alive.


i am standing at the top of a small cliff at the end of the world. the silvery grey ocean flutters in front of me, the sun dips into the water. the waves roll into me, roll into my abdomen, my ears, my cells. i spread my arms and allow myself to fall from the hill into the water, into the sun.

the universe i am learning to trust.

this body that is the universe.

my face breaks through the water,

i say hello

to the seagull that floats

next to me.


i am back from california and i am in his arms. i breathe in the smell of his chest, savor the heat radiating from his alive body. i am on top of him and waves are crashing. i have never seen him before this moment, never noticed so much about him. the way his face softens with (could it be?) love when he watches me, the way his calloused worker hands that have changed diapers and cleaned up my vomit hold me, won’t let me go. the rhythm rocks in my ears, flows through my body. i have never seen him before. in all these years, i never knew that he loved me. i never knew.

he is in me and through me and he knows how comfortable it feels to me to drown. but he pulls me up anyway. rubs the muscles in my chest, opens my lungs. so i can breath.

there are warm blue kisses and our breath in the sun and mr. toast whispering.

you’re not going to die. and i love you too.

i breathe.


when i was a child, a group of adults made me show them the hair on my back and how far my arms hung down my legs. they marveled at the dark hair that swirled across my neck and back, took eye measurements of my hands to leg ratio. then after discussing it amongst themselves, they informed me that my hairiness and long arms indicated my close relationship to the apes. i was different, unusual, apelike, because i had two parents of different races. and when two people of different races fuck, they make little animal babies that are a sin against god.

on a different occasion, an adult informed me that i couldn’t be a dancer because i was fat, which was bad enough. but also because dancers have lovely long necks—swan necks. swan necks highlight a dancer’s gracefulness and beauty and make others feel happy when they look at them. this adult then looked at me and with those measuring analytical eyes, said, you don’t have that.

i don’t have that. i don’t have the long swan neck that makes others feel happy just to look at—i have a fat hairy ape neck. i have the neck that proves why race mixing is bad. 

that i am a sin against god doesn’t bother me much, as god and i have never really been all that close anyway. but that i can’t dance? that nearly destroys me. i’ve always danced anyway. i’ve always cranked up music and after carefully composing my own choreography, twisted and turned and swung my way to a standing ovation from an audience of adoring fans. but always in basements. always behind closed and locked doors. even my dear partner, Mr. Toast, has only seen me dance my imagination dance once or twice—and just quick glimpses. i know i don’t have a right to be dancing. i am a thief, not a dancer. a thief stealing a few moments from the swan necked goddesses who dancing belongs to.

i’ve always known the link between emotions and body. but as i’ve gotten older, i’ve learned that it’s not just “emotions” and “body”—it’s far more specific than that. it’s repressed violence and illness. your liver and gallbladder are intimately linked in much of non-western medicine; when you don’t have boundaries or can’t protect the ones you do have, the gallbladder falls apart, and the liver gets angry. when you can’t tell adults to leave you alone, when you cant see any other choice but to believe you are an ape-like sin against god, your body becomes the only way you can say no. the only way you can be angry, and then say no. 

unfortunately, nobody but you can hear your body saying no. and when it is so normal to hear ‘no’ you stop listening after awhile. and then you find yourself like i was. twisted up from the constant spasm of my gallbladder and poisoned by my broken liver. unable to get out of bed most days, never dancing, not even in private. 

the ape-child was trained as well as the swan necked dancer. stop stealing what was never yours. and shut up about it. even if it hurts. shut up. 

eventually the pain gets so bad, i begin to understand that the deal i’ve made is not just to ‘be quiet.’ but to not exist. i read those words, ‘we were never meant to survive,’ and it puts the deal i’ve made out on the table, out in the open for the first time. i poke and prod at the deal, wonder if what it threatens could possibly be true. i feel the oozing burn in my stomach, the twisting claw around my liver. i remember that i suffered thru the agony of yet another gallbladder attack, silent, on the couch, so sleeping family aren’t bothered. and i realize the threats are actually true. threats no more.

and i just can’t accept that deal. i reject it. not forcefully, or even happily. at least not at first.

but i do start working with my body, working to unlock it. i go to healing sessions (acupuncture, reiki, limpias, never ‘The Doctor’), and i can feel my body working to push my brain to the side. my brain, the tyrannical prison guard that took over for those adults, kept me in line even better than they did.  as my body frees itself from the death grip control of my brain, my body begins to recalibrate. in little ways at first.

a little way:  mr. toast tries to talk to me while i’m working, i usually stop everything and listen. today i snap at him without even thinking—i’m WORKING. do I bother YOU at work? 

a little way: the kids demanding food food food WE’RE SO HUNGRY! but i am sick. usually i get up to make them something anyway. this time i tell them there is cereal and milk or bread for sandwiches. make something.

the guilt creeps in—and my body revolts. but this time, not against itself. the kids make their own food, then ask me if i want something. mr. toast asks if i am busy the next time he sees me at my work table. it’s ok to say no. i relax. take a nap. and keep adjusting.

in big ways: I listen to a live broadcast episode of This American Life—it features a story of a man who, because of different operations to deal with his cancer, has lost the use of one of his arms. he talks of being gay and getting old and having cancer and being a person who used to dance. how much he loved dancing. how much he misses it, even though he was never any good at it. even though. he starts dancing on stage while ira glass softly describes his movements to listeners. he is old, gay and has an arm that doesn’t work. and he dances. so he is a dancer.

of course I cry. and am glad that nobody is home, because the tears quickly turn into The Ugly Cry. the stretched open mouth, the deep wrenching throat gasps, the snot leaking down the face like melting ice cream. The Ugly Cry for the little girl that just accepted without a fight that she was not human. The Ugly Cry for the grown woman with a tummy full of poison and no way to spit it out.

you reach a certain age, and you just know that there are some dreams that will never happen—you’ll never be a rocket scientist. you’ll never fuck somebody famous. you’ll never play the guitar in front of stadiums filled with screaming fans. you reach a certain age—and you just let those dreams go and it’s a bit sad—but it’s ok.

except i reached that age—and it wasn’t even that i decided to let go of the dream of dancing—it was that I never allowed myself to dream at all. i had let go of dreaming, erased it off my bucket list under the methodical eyes of adults that supposedly loved me. and then spent a lifetime apologizing for even daring to have “dream” on the list to begin with.

i cry so hard i almost throw up. out comes the poison, out comes the outrage, out comes the decades of no no no no…except i see the ‘nos’ now for what they are. the answer i was never allowed to have. and then the answer i learned to never give.

the dog walks over from his pillow, sits with his head on my lap. the cat moves to the back of the couch, so his body wraps around my head. i trust that the universe is letting me know it is ok to live life. that it is ok to live.

i decide that it is time to trust the universe.

that night after my kids get home, we watch the opera Carmen. It’s a catchy opera that is a lot more accessible than other operas are, but even so, it’s still an opera and both kids sneak upstairs after a while. I am ok with them leaving, because as soon as they leave, i stand up. first i just pace in front of the radio. but soon, the music wraps around me, lifts my arms, and i dance. i swirl and twirl and practice angling my fingers with delicate precision. i think i am being quiet—but kids have bat-like hearing, especially when they think their parents are enjoying themselves. almost immediately, they are downstairs doing that kid thing… what are you doing, what was that noise, why are you doing that, what is going on, i thought i heard something, can i do it too?

i stop at first, and start to tell them to mind their own business. but then my body takes over. 

that body that is the universe. 

that universe that i trust. 

and then i am dancing. right in front of them. they’ve never seen me dance, except to slow dance with mr. toast. they are stunned for a minute, sharing astonished glances with each other. I turn up the opera and twirl a tight pirouette. then one kid laughs and dives under me. rolls around on the ground and finishes with a brilliant head toss, hair flying everywhere. the other child laughs and sort of tackles the first one, but elegantly. they both get up and kick their legs and hop around to the beat of the music. they are dancing. they are dancing because I am dancing. they are dancing with me.

i am a dancer who has changed the world.

i am a dancer.