rubbing eyes

Constantly confused, I feel like I don’t know how to mold words together anymore. My thumbs were too small for pottery, but I took two semesters, and I don’t know where I lost that kind of dedication and will to get better, but I did.

The doctor’s office was small. The sheet of paper lined the bed for me to sit on, but I chose the chair next to the window, where I looked out above the traffic and chewed on a hangnail that I forced off my thumb. When the doctor walked in, I was sucking the blood out, hoping it would stop because I needed to free my lips for talking. I always need to talk. I feel like rooms are empty and my depression is filling them if I don’t talk, so I always talk.

A cross hung around her neck. I knew she was Catholic. I’m Catholic, too. Baptized, born, and raised, I tell her. But God abandoned me or I abandoned Him and that’s why I was sitting in her office. Because I felt like killing myself again, because my anxiety almost kept me in the car, because I hadn’t been able to focus on a task in almost ten years. And so I talked and I told her.

Suicide is considered a sin. But I don’t think a person is herself when she commits suicide. I believe in demons. Sometimes they’re inside us. Sometimes they are brain chemicals that do somersaults and pull tricks and leave us when we’re already battered and bruised. And it is the sin of that demon; not the human. The human suffered, the demon – the brain chemicals or lack thereof – pulled the trigger or kicked the chair or took the pills. It was always pills for my demon. For one of our family friends, it was a gun. A bullet to the stomach. I was 9 and thought it was cancer because my mom told me it was cancer, but it was a demon with a gun who put a bullet in the stomach of someone I loved so much.

In the doctor’s office, my words spilled out, dripping off my tongue and rolling onto the floor. The tears were held back but the hangnail kept bleeding.

I left with a prescription filled and orange bottles began to line my bathroom sink. I had never cut myself before, but I imagined if I had now, that my blood would only spill the colors of every pill I am supposed to take daily.

And for a short while I thought I was getting better. And for a short while I thought I was getting worse. And now I’m confused and trying to make sense of something I’ve never been able to make sense of, remembering the girl whose thumbs were too small for pottery but she insisted on taking two semesters and getting better.

And I haven’t written in a long time because I didn’t feel hurt enough to write, having a staring contest with every sheet of paper, waiting for my eyes to burn as they had before.  Maybe then, after blinking, I could make the paper pant, watch my hand bleed words of whatever pain I endured. And maybe let the world know that it isn’t so alone. I, too, have my demons. I want to get better.

kikkan randall wins gold

The commentator was almost enough to turn it off. His screaming spilled through the screen, crashing over the voice of the other commentator: this moment was HUGE. After a 42 year drought, the United States wins gold in cross-country skiing. A mere .19 seconds separated Jessie Diggins from the Swedish team following in second behind her. Diggins’ teammate, Kikkan Randall, wins her first gold medal ever – this being her fifth appearance in the Olympic Winter Games and the last event of her last appearance.

Kikkan Randall and I grew up in the same town, which upon watching her teammate sprint to the finish line, gives me goosebumps. Hardly running in the same circles or even the same sides of town, I’ve only met her once – when I was 11. She visited my elementary school to campaign for a now-defunct health program my school district had once implemented. We, as fifth graders, had to work out with Olympian Kikkan Randall. And it sucked ass.

Now, years later, the woman who once put me through the worst workout of my life is an Olympic Gold Medalist. An Olympic Gold Medalist at 35. An Olympic Gold Medalist as a mother. Through her previous four appearances in the Olympic games, she was always favored as a gold medal favorite, despite ever accomplishing that feat… until now.

For the past two weeks, the news of the world has bogged me down. Even in my own little world of modeling, I am constantly angry and hardly ever surprised. To be honest, I met Kikkan’s event with the same pessimism. The United States has been overwhelmingly disappointing in the winter games and I kind of assumed that she wouldn’t place. The odds were stacked against her. But she did. And I watched as my skin constricted, making my hair stand on end, and my eyes well up with tears, reminding me that there is a place in this world for the positively unbelievable – for Kikkan Randall – for, after years of digging, gold.

Growing up in Alaska is not for the faint of heart. It is a place that is underserved, ignored, and somewhat misunderstood. Even though the state I call home has declined in many ways, I still call it home and do so for the reason that Alaskans make me proud. The odds are rarely in our favor, yet there is success. Success following years and years of perseverance, but still success.

I’ve been uninspired. Looking around, I see the frustrations of the world manifesting in ways that are the ugliest. These uglies scare me into a depression, rendering me motionless as I find my only state to be a curled up ball of fear. And I think that’s enough of that. Because Kikkan Randall, the 35 year old mother who, when she was 22, told me to keep pushing myself, just won her first goddamn gold medal in the Olympics. Now, 13 years later, I can see why.

Thanks, Kikkan. Keep kickin’. I will, too.

airport benches.

Last month, I nestled into seat 1A from Anchorage to Seattle, pulled my gray knit beanie over my eyes, and fell asleep to the muffled sound of airplane blocked by my headphones that play nothing. On Tuesday, I will do it again.

Before I took off in January, I wrote this:

This used to be thrilling. The burn in my eyes from the midnight oil, the perusing of security lines, the gleaming anticipation of a trip. My eyes still burn, begging for sleep. I got TSA pre-check last year. And anticipation has become dread: I know where I’m going and what I’m doing and the thrill is gone. My body is here in absentia for my bliss – things lost along the way, though my bags always seem to make it.

Still, I enjoy the warmer parts of empty life: first class upgrades, free luggage, mileage and mileage. I know someday I will miss them. The whirr of recycled air reminds me I’m home. When my nose dries up at cruising altitude, I will crank my neck into a window I will not look out of, finding comfort in the space between myself and the earth below. On the ground, things are much more complicated.

I count my blessings. I know others would kill for this life. And I would kill for theirs. Because while 1A is comfy and my legs can stretch their length, it’s as lonely as both its number and letter.

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shitbags we aren’t dealing with in 2018

The other day, I mistakenly stumbled upon a comment that BOGGED ME TF DOWN. Not going to lie, I was upset for a couple days. Now, I’m a firm believer in the whole idea of “what people think about you is none of your business” but with all the channels for slack jaws and assholes to express themselves these days (when they used to just talk shit behind your back or yell at a TV screen while downing beers), its hard not to run into some negative commentary. But its 2018, baby, the year of US, and I want nothing but the best for us, so I’ve compiled a list of people we aren’t dealing with. Behold…

THE SHITBAGS WE AREN’T DEALING WITH IN 2018

1. Internet Trolls

These grody, internally upset humans always seem to find a way to sneak in and ruin your day. I’ll pray for y’all but catch this block. I don’t need to scroll through Instagram or Facebook and feel shitty about my existence (I CAN DO THAT WITHOUT THE HELP OF A SOCIAL NETWORK, THX) nor do I need to read the awful, nasty things people who do not care about me think. I’m the most sensitive person alive and I come three inches from quitting my job when I’m subjected to the trauma-inducing shit people say online. MMM, BYE! (And if you hate me and my existence SO MUCH, why don’t you block me first?)

2. High School Reunioners 

I haven’t reached the milestone to where a high school reunion would be necessary (and with social media now – WILL I EVER?! I HOPE NOT.), so when I run into these people at the grocery store or mall or whatever hole I find myself in when I painstakingly have to spend days or weeks in my hometown, there is nothing I want to do more than literally melt into the floor and slither away. Memory Lane is closed. I’m not about to reminisce about the stupid shit I did in high school or the one time I cried over a boy in the hallway or how I once period bled all over a chair in Alaska Studies. I don’t owe you a conversation just because we LEGALLY had to spend 6.5 hours a day together in the same building five times a week. LOL, FELLOW SCHOOLMATE, I HAVE WRINKLES NOW, PLEASE GET AWAY. See you at the 10 year. (Psyche. I’m not going.)

3. Politicians

Local or federal. They’re all liars. And gross. Except Elizabeth Warren. I love you.

4. Self-Proclaimed Dietitians

Look, you can only tell me what my diet should consist of if you’re my physician and one of the many blessings of not having health insurance (thanks, America!) is that I DON’T HAVE A PHYSICIAN, so I know you’re definitely not her! Never again do I want to hear, “should you be eating that?” when I put the sweet nectar of nacho cheese against my lips nor do I want to hear that the kombucha at Whole Foods is really good and I’m just not cultured or whatever. Life is short. Mind your business. Let people eat what they want because the consequence is theirs. If you like kale chips and acai harvested from Jillian Michaels’ asshole, that’s your life! Leave people alone. We don’t need that shit.

5. Sizer Uppers

I’m done answering questions that do not need answers. No one likes being sized up and fielding questions as to who you’re dating, what you’re doing, where you went for undergrad IS FUCKING EXHAUSTING. You’ve already made up your mind to not respect me by degrading me with these wack questions in the first place. If you’re not talking from a place of concern, get up out my grill, homie. I don’t need to be where you think I should be!

6. ANYONE WHO MAKES YOU FEEL LESS THAN THE GREATNESS THAT YOU ARE

Life is hard, ok? Life is very hard. And none of us asked for it. We were just born into it and have to deal with it.

I realize that detouring away from anyone who makes you feel less than the greatness you are is a difficult and daunting task because ALL OF US have to deal with shitbags IRL, but lets try to avoid them where we can. This means, but is not limited to: dudes who make you feel guilty for rejecting them, anyone who has anything to say about your weight, and that cousin who wears a “Make America Great Again” hat and tries (but FAILS) to make you look stupid in front of your family. CUT ‘EM OFF. HEAD NOD AND DIP OUT.

It’s 2018. We don’t need that shit. LIVE YOUR BEST LIFE, BABY, AND CUT OUT THE REST.

14.

There were six shot glasses of raspberry Russian vodka. They were small – smaller than I was, lined up in front of me like a dare. They felt inconsequential as their contents slid down my throat; fed to me by someone who knew better.

The Packers lost to the Giants that day. My family went to my cousin’s house. He died in 2013 and that was the last time I saw him. He made roast and I ate it. Later, I scrubbed pieces of it in my vomit off the Berber carpet of a junior boy’s home.

There were two boys there. Three years older than I was, they barely had hairs on their still baby fat faces. One berated the other for being so irresponsible with me.

“She’s only like, 100 pounds,” I remember him saying.

He was wrong.

I was 96 pounds. And 5 foot 8. And my only experience with alcohol was Communion and the one time I took a sip of my mom’s diet Pepsi and learned it was NOT diet Pepsi.

Blackout.

My eyes opened to a dark room. My mouth tasted like puke. It was stuffy. I could feel my body pooled in sweat. The smell of a diffuser made me gag. And there were someone’s fingers inside me.

“You said I could.”
I was silent until it was over.

Still drunk, I stumbled to the bathroom. Vomiting had streaked the mascara I had only worn for the third time in my life. In the mirror, my eyes focused in on themselves, trying to make the walls solidify behind me. The pants I was wearing weren’t mine and they slid off my hip bones while my trembling fingers tried to dial my mom’s phone number on my already dead Motorola Razr.

Drunk as I was, I knew the two boys were concerned as to why I was in there so long. Was I drowning in the bathtub? Did I asphyxiate myself? How my heart wished for either of those possibilities to be true.

I opened the door, pulled bravery from the depths of my violated soul, and asked to go home. They gave me a Listerine strip for my breath.

I remember heaving when I smelled the Calvin Klein One perfume I would spray on my bed. I spent the day laying on my bedroom floor – no scents were there – trying to piece together the night before, investigating what little evidence and recollection I had.

My innocence had been stolen from me a decade earlier, something only my mom knew, but I couldn’t bear to tell her what happened that night (had I not learned anything from my childhood?). I called my best friend. We shared a locker and first period English, but now she’d share the inner workings of my damage, the deep afflictions bestowed onto me by 11th graders.

“Do you think God hates me?” I asked.

And she assured me that God did not. And that things would be ok. And I believed her.

On Monday morning, she called me a slut.
And I skipped first period English for the next two weeks, sleeping in my older brother’s Ford Bronco until the bell rang.

The lesson I missed was the “hero’s journey”, so I had to watch Star Wars at home, making up some lie as to why I had missed so much school.

The only time I felt brave enough to ask for help was when the counselor came into class and told us to write an accomplishment or secret on the back of red tickets – an exercise in reflection, something that would be given back to us when we graduated. They would only be seen by her. I looked at her intently, my eyes pleading for the help my voice could not ask for.

And nothing.

Now, ten years later, I still fucking hate Star Wars, and Listerine strips, and Calvin Klein One, and diffusers.

And if I so much as get a whiff of raspberry Russian vodka, I’m transported back to the blur of a night when I learned that the abuses I faced in childhood would never cease to rear their heads in different places with different hands.

Holly would be raped in February. Samantha’s unconscious body would be violated by April. And the stories would circulate the halls until we left them for good.

And some part of it felt normal, even though I know it wasn’t. And some part of it feels like my fault, even though I know it wasn’t.
These experiences find me now, with men I loved or could love, their intimacy blocked by the hurt that bangs on the door, reminding me its still here when a hand grazes me wrong or lingers on my thigh. And I cry and apologize because part of it feels like my fault, even though I know it isn’t.

Pivots

Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 4.27.34 AM
Above: Excerpt from “The Girl in the Cabinet (I Read What You Wrote and I Hate You)” by Melissa Chadburn

Colleen checked me in at the desk. She could tell I had been crying. We were on nodding terms, exchanging decencies and small conversation every time I scanned my card into the Elmhurst YMCA, but she was one of my only friends in that town and I say we were friends because if she wasn’t there, I was concerned and I told her and if I wasn’t there, she was concerned and she told me.

I was on a sigh month. A flight landed me in the greater Chicago area to lose the weight I wasn’t disciplined enough to lose at home (hence the YMCA) but the spark had been tamped out. There was no kindle. I was lost. Again and again and again. I felt like I was exhausting everyone around me. In my possessions was a chest cold that would not quit and an agent who used a measuring tape like my dad used a belt, threatening the consequences of poor choices. Though my dad would never, my agent showed no mercy.

I told Colleen the wind was unforgiving on my walk over, that I was fine, and work was going well. All three were lies. There was a part of her that envied my life. She was a girl out of California, a single mom with a son she had young; she hadn’t left Illinois in years. I was the model from Alaska, the girl who walked to the gym in combat boots, my life burst with freedom. I wasn’t going to break her heart, even if the pieces of mine rattled in my chest cavity as I slugged my way into her workplace.

Over the years of shrinking myself, many hours have been spent on the belt of a treadmill, looking down, watching the black whirr under my feet, disappear and appear again. Its lonely. Its uninspiring. Its monotonous. I would’ve run outside but this was Illinois in February. Fuck that. The only break in the monotony was the pair of matte headphones I wrap over my ears, drowning out the humming belt, the grunts of the lifters, and anyone offering me a towel while sweat beads pool at my chin. On this particular day, I was listening to Ted Talks.

I overdose on Tony Robbins. His low, clogged voice is like a hallelujah chorus to my ears, making my dopamine receptors fire off in short bursts of motivation. But I wasn’t feeling him. What the fuck do you know about my life, Tony Robbins? I can’t afford your retreats. Al Gore is in the front row of your talk, for Christ’s sake. I’m not Al Gore. What the fuck am I doing? Why am I running? I hate this life, I hate this life, I hate this life. The beads of sweat mixed in with beads of tears. Why am I crying again? Should I go tell Colleen? Hit the red button. Fuck, I wish there was a red button for life. You’re going to fall, Jasmine. Hit the red button.

I hit the red button.

Grabbing my phone, I opened up Tony Robbins, his voice still booming through my headphones. My fingers clicked out. I had a full-blown panic attack in the middle of a YMCA. There are worse and deeper places to fall down, but that felt like my Marianas.
My legs were shaking as I took off to the locker room, careful to avoid anyone who would feel compelled enough to inquire. The wooden benches didn’t care what I was going through and they stared at me as I wiped my face off with those shitty brown paper towels that are half sand paper, half elementary school.

I was spent.

But my headphones were still on. And a song played. And it calmed me down. And I went back to the cardio room. And I sat on a stationary bike, knowing if I didn’t lose the weight, I would lose my job. And I pedaled.
I went back to the Ted Talks. This time, I hit ‘random’. And a woman who looked like my high school English teacher was on my 4 inch screen.

Lidia Yuknavitch. The beauty of being a misfit.

While she spoke on her own experience of never quite feeling like she fit into wherever she was, I couldn’t help but think of my own feelings of not belonging. How I was on this stationary bike, trying to fit into a mold.

There has never been a time in my life where I felt like I was allowed in the room. Every journal I’ve ever owned has been filled to the edges with sentences laden with my poor self-esteem.

She finished her talk:
“You can be a drunk, you can be a survivor of abuse, you can be an ex-con, you can be a homeless person, you can lose all your money or your job or your husband or your wife, or the worst thing of all, a child. You can even lose your marbles. You can be standing dead center in the middle of your failure and still, I’m only here to tell you, you are so beautiful. Your story deserves to be heard, because you, you rare and phenomenal misfit, you new species, are the only one in the room who can tell the story the way only you would. And I’d be listening.”

I got off the bike. I said goodbye to Colleen. I walked home. And I wrote.

The next month, I lost my contract. I said goodbye to Chicago. I flew home. And I was heartbroken, so I read.

Literacy; communication that is thousands of years old: my safe haven.

I can’t tell you how many years I’ve been the “girl in the cabinet” searching, meandering the world for some sort of belonging; some answer to if I was all alone. It was an early exposure to Kim Rich then Emily Bronte and then Joan Didion. Friends for nights when I didn’t have any, friends for nights when friends are exhausting and I can’t fight the fact that Costco overwhelms me and I’d rather wait in the car. Older sisters for mornings I’d wake up with an aching heart, mothers for when he didn’t pick me up from the airport, or the bar, or the mall. Therapists because being poor means no health insurance. Teachers because you can learn from others’ mistakes. This is where I find my comfort, where my parts fit into the parts of others and I feel both relief and sadness because I went through that, too, but then, so did you. And we both didn’t deserve it. And sometimes we both didn’t know any better. And herein I belong and I cry because I found that place over and over in the pages of a book. And I crawl out of the cabinet, no razor in hand.

I’m done shrinking myself. I’m tired of being lost. I’m ready to be found again “dead center in the middle of my failure” with pages of writing. This time, my own.

Are you listening?

projections

I couldn’t remember. It was a vellum fog. How could I misplace two years of my life? How could I lose two years of my recent life?

I moved back from Oregon, defeated by a school and lifestyle I thought I was too good for. My room was in a new house with new walls, foreign memories made by someone else, and a future I did not, have not, will not want.

And I still don’t remember those two years. I remember the flights out, the flights in; the tears rolling down my face during both. I remember bed and sleep and bed and sleep and the maybe I can make it out today coffee, which I would drink half of, leave next to my feet and slip back into a dream I did not want to wake up from.

I’ve read that depression is a good friend, that it makes everything about you. But when I see her at the end of the hall, walking towards me as she does, I shake. I don’t want you anymore. Why can’t you leave me alone? And she tosses off her shoes and tells me she will be around for a while and it will be all about me.

The books are stacked high on my desk, dust settles where I should be turning pages. I haven’t had a sheet on my bed in three weeks, but cups of half drank coffee outline the foot. I’m getting bad again. She is here.

I don’t want this time in my life to slip away. I don’t want to open the photos on my computer to this day and realize I did not know who I was, that I could not see my actions or inactions or the sunlight without feeling the burden of life.

I want to live.