A Reminder

In September of 2016 I spoke to my friend Kelly, a Chinese linguist who had been in Military Intelligence for years, and asked him about the symbol lì.  Kelly explained:

“Lì is the character for “power” or “physical force”. Lì is added to some characters to mean the type of strength. Tì is the character for “body”. So “Tì Lì” means physical strength or power. So, there is no one word for strength, but many based on the type of strength being described. It also is general enough to mean “power” in its many forms. There is also something very beautiful in the fact that such a basic two stroke character can represent so strong a concept, literally.”

On that day, I carved a mental image of it onto my wrist. Something no one would ever notice, unless it was in a, “wow, have you guys noticed Beth is kind of fixated on her arm? It’s weird, right? I mean, we were talking, and suddenly her eyes just went to that spot again. Is that a thing? Is there some kind of wrist chakra? Like you stare and it’s activated? Or maybe she’s hinting that something is on MY wrist, but is too polite. Hey, would you mind looking at my wrist? Is there something there? I’m calling my doctor. It could be malignant.”

Whenever I felt I needed to be reminded that I was strong, I’d just glance down at my wrist.

For a while now people have insisted I am “strong,” even “courageous” at times. I’m to be “admired” for these qualities. I’m never quite sure if they genuinely believe that, or if it’s more in hope that the words will prop me up enough so that I can get up and persevere a bit more. Sure, there are days I feel strong. Days I greet with a mighty roar, but there are days I want to sit in the dark coolness of my bedroom and not be bothered for minutes on end. (Well, that idea always sounds great, and about 30 minutes in, I start getting bored especially when I haven’t settled on a decent movie to watch, and my only TV choice involves a Kardashian performing a keg stand. Which by the way, why? Does beer taste better that way? Are you joining a beer circus? What is up with that?)

On Monday, July 9th, the anniversary of Jay’s death, my friend April texted and asked if I wanted to finally get a tattoo – the thing I’d been talking about for two years. Over the last two years she and several friends had heard me carry on about various tattoo parlors, and a favorite artist I’d selected. They listened as the symbol morphed from a simple character to one where it appeared as if it had been torn from my skin, to a tribal phoenix, to a water colored phoenix, to the phrase, “I am the storm,” and then back to a simple character. No wonder I couldn’t commit.

My knee-jerk reaction was, “no, nope, I’m good, thanks!” Then the more I thought about it, the more I thought, “y’know, why not today? Today on the anniversary. A day where it would have the most meaning,” and I said, “yes.”

A friend once said, “you know in your heart that you are strong, why do you need a tattoo?” (That’s paraphrased a bit, but that’s how I understood them.) And my answer is simple: I don’t always see myself the way you do. I know. I’m not unique in this belief. Don’t we all see more in our friends and family than they’re sometimes able to see? We see their raw beauty, their own simple elegance, and just how truly awe-inspiring they are with their wings outstretched, and you wish that for a minute they could understand themselves the way you understand them – see themselves the way you do.  So, this tattoo serves as a tangible reminder when they’re not around that I am strong, and it’s there for the days I feel I’ve lost my way – a silent calligraphy sentinel.

As to the question, “how did you choose your wrist?” Well, its always been there. The only thing that changed is now you can see it, too.

And I can see it when I can’t.

PS Thank you to DeAnne and April who chose to also get tattoos to honor those they’ve lost, which included Jay. I cannot begin to properly express how touching I found those gestures.

Happy Anniversary

“Happy Anniversary” Jay’s whisper floated through the haze of my dreams every year on this day – spoken as he went to bed late in the night. “Happy Anniversary,” my groggy reply. “I love you.”

Today is the second year I woke up after midnight and whispered into the air that wish to an empty room. “Happy Anniversary,” spoken to the empty side of my bed – no longer our bed.

Someone told me I was strong today – for no particular reason, they just mentioned it. They had no idea that today was any different than any other day, and I suppose it’s not – not any more. It’s just a day whose lost its meaning.

I went to a quilt show once. Of all the random stories you get to hear about that now. At this quilt show hung a beautiful work of art that read, “My Son is Dead”. The card next to it explained that this is the invisible sign the artist wears every day. A sign no one sees, but that she now shouted out to the world with the creation of this quilt. And I get that.

I talk. I laugh. I tell stories. And all of that is part of who I am, but the invisible sign I wear every single day screams out, “My husband is dead” with the subtext “My favorite person is dead.” “His beautiful face.”  Some days it’s painted in bright angry colors, others are softer/more blurred, but it’s never not worn.

Over the next several weeks, I’m going to talk about suicide and the aftermath. I haven’t chosen my direction, but I need you to be prepared. This may not be your topic. That’s ok. You don’t have to read or bear witness. I just have things to say, and they may not be beautiful or perfect or particularly meaningful, and that’s ok for me, too. But if you get to say I’m strong, then I get to show you all the cracks and imperfections that are also a huge part of who I am and my experience.

Stronger Than You Think

I know, I know, this still isn’t about the cruise. I promise I’ll get right on it. Right now I need to prep the photos I want to share, and figure out what I want to write about. Cruise – check, but what’s the story angle? Basically, I need a weekend to get it all together. Excuses! Now those are clearly well-prepped.

You’re probably wondering why I’m posting, since really what’s the point? No cruise story? Do I think I can really string you all along? Force you to sit through another, “this one time at the gym” story? Yes. Yes, I do.  But I blame Jenn, you know Jenn, who on Tuesday said something akin to, “I’m surprised you never put that story in your blog” followed by some possibly hurtful words about how I may not have let some particular gym incident go. Pfft. I’m totally forgiving if by “forgiving” you mean “great at holding grudges.” Then by definition I’d easily be the most forgiving person you may personally know. Oh, that’s not what that means? Weird. Blame Texas public schools. This conversation just got a bit awkward.

In my defense, let me start with some mitigating circumstances. First, when I go to the gym, I’m there by around 5am-ish (an actual time). Second, I’m not a morning person. I’m a person who gets up early in the morning. There’s a difference – namely, my sunny disposition doesn’t start shining until about 9am. At 5am, there’s still four hours where my ability to ratchet up a crank-fest is on a hair trigger unless I’m left alone in my quiet bubble. That means I get to claim exactly 1/4 of the gym based on where I’m standing, and you can find something else to do somewhere else – like the elliptical or maybe the stair master or go do an early spin class. I’m magnanimous like that. File this under early morning generosity. You’re welcome. Jenn would point out here that I’m mostly cranky in my head, and that I do not and will not speak the horrible things that dance across my thought bubble. In fact, if you saw me at the gym you would likely say, “oh, that nice lady with the fluff layer seems to have a crush on the rower.” (I love you rower. If I ever win at the Oscars, I’m thanking you first.)

But here’s the thing about me – I’m stronger than I look. This is to not say I’m strong, I’m just stronger than people think I am, and that can lead to trouble especially at 5am-ish when I’m vaguely cranky. So, here’s the story – for Jenn:

Before the infamous tank with its gears (are you kidding me? gears? it’s not bad enough you have not one but TWO spots to add weights to, but gears? What kind of Machiavellian torture device… c’mon!!!) joined us at the gym there was our beloved sled with its wonky messed up carpet. On sled days, I’d add 90 lbs to the thing, then shove it up and down the basketball court (careful to not scratch the floor lest Andrew lose his mind – we once had a chat about it that basically went, “if you’re saying I can’t push the sled, I’m happy to not do that, but YOU tell Jenn you told me that.” Unfortunately, Jenn scared him way more than me scarring the floor, which never happened. Right! I digress again!) So sled, push push. That day some impossibly cute girl, the kind that doesn’t sweat, who has matching everything, came bouncing into the basketball court, and grabbed the sled from from me. Rude. Plus, I think she broke some kind of “can I work-in” etiquette/code before attempting to run the sled down the court. I watched as the wonkiness and the weight wore her down, and by mid court she was in rough shape. She clearly thought it was going to be an easy task. “I mean, the fluffy girl can do it, and I’m way stronger. Easy pease. Plus, my clothes-matching game is strong, y’all!” By the time she got it back, she was barely able to push it to the wall. I smiled on the inside. I’m stronger than you think I am. Also, I nearly high-fived the sled like some how we were in it together. Who’s my sleddy? You are. Yes, you are!

This story bubbled back up again, because yesterday I was pushing the tank (must try out spike strip idea), and discovering that there were gears. Again, gears? Are you kidding me? And another gal came over to move it (though, this one actually asked). I had been having to really dig-in in order to shove it around, and she reached out with one little hand clearly thinking she could just gently move it away. I mean it has wheels. I’m not sure if she thought I was struggling pushing the equivalent of an empty grocery cart or what, but she quickly had to give up on her initial one-handed-half-hearted maneuver, and she was forced to actually grab it with both hands and engage her legs.

I’m stronger than you think I am.

And it all reminds me of one time where I was picking up a package and having to walk it to another building. I’d asked the delivery people how heavy it was, and it was something I knew I could manage. I was fine. I mean, it wasn’t great, but completely doable. A chivalrous colleague asked if he could help. Sure! I passed it over. He made an audible “oof” sound as he accepted the weight, and then for the next half block I got to hear about how heavy it was. I had carried it further and up a slight incline, and you’re the one carrying on? Again I’m not saying I’m strong – just stronger than you think. I don’t want to get into a thumb wrestling match with most people at my gym, much less try to out bench, curl, pull, press, stare or really anything against them. But that said, it does please me when the light goes off and a person realizes “oh… that’s kind of heavy – the fluffy girl wasn’t messing around.”

I can row two hours without stopping. I climbed Mayan ruins without getting winded. I can get on a stair master and nearly stand upright for whole minutes.

See, I’m stronger than you thought I was, too.

A Half Marathon

Rehab after I ruptured my ACL and MCL just sucked. I tried to think of a nicer adjective, but truthfully “sucked” is the best, and it goes straight downhill from there. I couldn’t bend my knee. I couldn’t sit on the ground (if I expected to get up). I couldn’t get easily into most cars without wincing.  The couldn’ts were just icing on the “never” cake. I can never run again. I can never play basketball. I can never play tennis. That’s what the doctor told me, because I guess that’s what people want to do. He forgot to say: I can never roller skate. I can never horse around in a bouncy house, and the worst… I can probably never dance… not really.

At the gym I was limited to the hand bike. That awful thing I used to joke that I wanted to try – well here I was, and it was all I could do. It seemed like gym life was a sea of that and lateral pull downs, and every day I started off by rocking my leg back and forth on the recumbent bike – unable to make a complete turn. And I needed Jay; I just needed him to be home.

When I think about the gym, there are only a handful of things I love: strength training, dead lifts, and rowing. Ok fine, I also love anything that involves a med ball or a slam ball. Ok, I may have a pet name for one med ball, “Fat Dyna.” Ok, I may be almost embarrassed to admit that. Rowing and dead lifts were out of the question, and I couldn’t get near Fat Dyna. So, I did what I could do, and I got gradually stronger, but the victories were small.

I’d stare at the rower while trying to complete a circle with the pedal on the bike – back and forth and back and forth – day after day, week after week…

I remember asking if I could use the rower. No, your knee isn’t strong enough, yet.

Then one day I didn’t ask. I got on the rower, and I rowed, and then I cried. Such a simple thing. Such a small thing.

Today, on Christmas Eve, I rowed a half marathon – 21,120 meters in under two hours.

How do I feel? Let me tell you without mincing words.

I am a bad ass mother fucker. I am strong. I am a force of nature. I am unstoppable. I am the storm. And hands down, I have the world’s best trainer with whom I couldn’t have done this without.

Half Marathon 2017
Half Marathon 2017