Total body stretch

Alexa and I stretched today.
She laid out a blanket on the floor
in her room.

Her room is blue.

It’s covered in photographic memories,
discolored thrift finds
worn by use and age
and someone else’s hands
that handled these finds
from time to time,
in coming and going.

We grew up a little in this room

and stretched alongside a woman
on a screen.
She wore tube socks
that covered her entire calves
and grazed her thighs.

When she pulled her limbs,
we pulled ours.
When she rolled her head,
we rolled ours.

Before sleep

Where’s the depth, baby
oh, there it is
we fucked a hole in
the bedspread.

I’m not even mad.

face to face
on pillows.
on separate islands.
I asked what you dreamed
as a kid

you don’t remember.

can we play hooky
can we go camping
can we screw some holes
in the time it takes to grow old?

can we wear each other’s faces?

It’s been a long time
since you shaved
your beard
but today you did
because you accidentally
trimmed too far.

I can’t stop touching
your childhood.
you made plumbing
out of sticks
to assist the ants.
oh, and one time
in Boy Scouts
you saw innards
of a deer draped
like red scarves over a tree.

I asked if the bits scared you
and shook your bank for more.

I feel like a memory grubber.

Before sleep, you let me
play with unexplored
parts of you.
your earlobes
are trampolines,
your nose
is a sturdy bridge.

Maybe I’m asking
wrong questions

like if I teach you
how to dream,
will you teach me how
to sleep soundly?

TGIF

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Fridays are holy days for Alexa and me. I’ve never written about our Fridays. My guess is that I can’t paint them just right. I’ll smudge em up too much. Or maybe there’s something untouchable about them, something that’s reserved for us only. But lately we’re all about being brave and sharing what is most important to us — and that includes each other.

This Friday we went rollerblading through Busse Woods. Though it was a fairly mild winter, we still couldn’t help but seize the first spring-ish day. Alexa didn’t have work, and I was released into the wild early. We hopped into my little red Mazada, which desperately needs a car wash. We parked and feverishly laced up our blades. Alexa wobbled on her feet, asking, “I’m stable, are you stable?”

The pathway was mostly ours. Our muscles remembered the zigzag movement, the loud breeze blasting in our ears. Busse Lake was calm and stretching out in the sun. The trees protruded their nakedness. As soon as we began sweat clung to the middles of our backs.

Alexa and I talked about our plans. She told me how she wanted to be more spontaneous with her workouts, instead of stuffing them into a strict regimen. I told her I wanted to pick up running again, since this time of year is my favorite time to run. We talked about writing. She told me about her blog’s new look and setup, that she wants to work on a new challenge. Her last challenge was not to eat out in order to save money, and she rocked it. I told her about a recent blog I wrote about Trump that wasn’t very good, just something I needed to get off my chest, and also about this book of poems I’ve been putting together that I’d like her help in organizing.

We trucked through the eight-mile trail. We barreled up hills, rounded sharp corners, forgoing the treacherous sticks and patches of tar on the pavement. There was a point where Alexa was trying “too hard to be cool” and almost fell backwards. My heart skipped a beat as she flapped her arms like a crazed bird. We laughed at the close call, and she reminded me of the time last summer we went rollerblading, and I almost ate shit. I had instinctively reached for her arm. “So you want to take me down with you, huh?” she had asked.

We spotted a few of the famous elk lazing around in the grass. It’s amazing how the enchantment of seeing them in a town we’ve lived in most of our lives hasn’t worn off yet.

At the end of the trail, we both sighed our contentment. Even though the blades were off, it felt like they were on. It’s weird how certain movements imprint themselves into your limbs, how they stay with your body for a while afterward.

Before going to Alexa’s, we stopped at the Tensuke Market and picked up some plum wine and seaweed wraps for the sushi we were to make for dinner. I was distracted by all the adorable dishware to eat sushi from. I made a mental note to explore this store on my own, as I never had before. The young man who checked us out bowed each time he received and returned our money, which took us both aback.

Alexa showed me how to assemble sushi. You lay out the wrap, slap some sticky rice on the paper, line up the vegetables, wet the end of the wrap, and roll it nice and tight. The end product awkwardly enough feels like an erect penis. How adult of us to notice this. Anyway, then you slice the log into individual rolls. I think Alexa might have cut more rolls than me because I was talking a lot. I can’t exactly remember everything I said, but I do remember talking and talking. Poor Alexa. That shit has to get exhausting. I get really close to her face when I talk, a pesky habit of mine, which I think used to make her kind of wary. Hopefully by now she’s gotten over my bubble-popping invasiveness.

Her dog Bubba was licking his beautiful, big chops, waiting for us to drop food on the floor in the kitchen. Alexa caved into his demands, giving him a meatball for rolling over. Gale was in the living room, focusing on this new sketch she’s working on of a German Shepherd. She was precise, using a ruler to measure out the face’s dimensions. She showed me the sketch of a friend’s backyard that she had been working on. It’s as inviting as the real thing. The koi fish, the grass, the knick-knacks, Stanley the cat’s tail flickering around the shed. Gale has a way of capturing real life and then some. In my room is a framed sketch that she drew of me. It’s so beautiful I was intimidated to put it up when I first received it. It was like she tapped into something that I sometimes have difficulty seeing and believing myself.

Alexa and I went into her room. We wolfed down our sushi rolls and sipped the plum wine. We scrolled through social media, and read about the Bernie rally that some of our friends had attended. And then it suddenly occurred to us: why didn’t we go?

It dawned on both of us that it would have been really something to be a part of the history we were watching before our very eyes. There was Sanders in his element and glowing, waving his conductor hands, hitting on all the big ones — healthcare, college loans, Wall Street, women’s rights, the lead-poisoned residents in Flint, and the U.S.’s dwindling infrastructure, etc. People of all colors, ages, genders, and ethnicities cheered behind and around him, armed with their “A Future to Believe in” signs. Muse’s Uprising began to play. “They will not control us… We will be victorious…”

Here is a man who has dedicated his whole life to people’s rights, who flies down escalators, who talks with his hands. At 74, he’s awakening a tired and angry America looking for more long-term change. Sanders represents all of them. And he represents Alexa and me. We could have been there, standing shoulder to shoulder with all the others.

In any case, I was happy that I was watching the rally with Alexa. When she got up to go to the kitchen for some more sushi, I gave her hug. I told her, “Man I can’t believe we’re alive right now.”

This was also the same night that Chicago protestors shut down the Trump rally. UIC, one of the most diverse campuses in a melting pot city. This had to have been planned? A publicity stunt. But in any case, the protestors had the place surrounded. They shut. it. down. I’m proud of their efforts, but I’m anxious to learn about the next city to replicate the maneuver — next time with people getting seriously hurt. The truth is I’m scared about the chaos, just like a lot of people I know. The Nazi incitements, the violent Trump rallies, the amount of blatant hatred being tossed about the streets in large hoards of people, which is nothing new, exactly.

I mean everyone seems to be calling this a revolution, and the thing about revolutions if I can remember right from the textbooks and people who are alive to talk about living through one, is that it goes beyond the breaches of electing a president. This is something that needs to be system-wide, population-wide. And I feel we still have miles to go if we want this to happen.

Here’s what I know about organized chaos, since I’ve been somewhat versed in it on a micro level — right now is a chance for great opportunity for those who want to help. During this very alarming time in our country my gut tells me that now is the time to start showing extra strength and kindness. Now is the time for the ones who care to start thinking outside the box to finally get outside the box. I don’t know what that means for me just yet, but I’m willing to be open about it and find out.

I petted the extra soft parts on Bubba’s paws, between the pads. I tried to move him so I could have more room on Alexa’s bed, but failed. He’s such a large animal. His humans keep him safe and happy. And he spends the majority of his day just loving people.

***Alexa and I challenged each other to write about this Friday together. Check out hers here! http://alexawynne.com/2016/03/14/the-politics-of-rollerblading/

 

Sitting in my car

I do this thing where I sit in my car in the winter. Sometimes I read the last bit of something. Sometimes I let the lastest song on repeat fill me. Sometimes I do nothing except let the day’s unresolved extraness leak from my skin and settle into my seat.

I wait until all the heat leaves my car, until my toes are numb from the cold. When I can’t take it anymore I go inside to my warm home that I am lucky to have, even if its ceilings are stained in the blood of dead flies, and it’s on the third floor.

I don’t really know when I started doing this. But I killed my battery doing it the other day. I left my lights on. Sean helped me jumpstart my car.

I’m sitting in my car right now. I can see Sean in the window. It took me a while to figure out what he was doing. My eyes aren’t the best in the dark, but I think I figured it out. He’s holding two ends of a Christmas tree in his hands.

He probably wants to surprise me. I’m surprised alright. Why does he continue to choose me? That’s a legitimate question. Not for him, but for me. It’s my song on repeat.

I snap pictures of him with my eyes. I add more to his living eulogy I’ve been writing inside my head for over a third of my life and go inside.

Inside, Sean smiles and strings lights.

Spike, the badass flower

Titan Arum

He has name. His name is Spike. I saw him with my own two eyes, and he is a massive, glorious beast. Spike is the name of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s goliath “corpse flower,” or the Titan Arum. It took 12 years for this flower, which is actually a collection of flowers, to reach the height 68’’. Let me just say, it’s simply humbling when you realize that one of those dainty flower things can be taller, wider, heavier — not to mention smarter — than a human being.

One Friday, my sister, friend, and I stumbled upon the idea of going to the Chicago Botanic Garden. We weren’t even aware of the hype, or Godzilla-like specimen that awaited us. Once we arrived, it was clear though, the people had come for Spike. His ribbed, purple face was plastered all over the gift shop. He was on shirts and bags. On cooking aprons and postcards. He was the star of the show. Little kids were tugging on sleeves and whining, “Mom, I want to smell the stink.”

What stink? We wanted to smell the stink, too.

Then, there he was. In the center of the Semitropical Greenhouse, reaching toward the glassed in heavens. People were crowding around him, snapping selfies with the monster.

My sister, friend, and I stood with our mouths agape, taking in the near six foot “corpse flower.” The Titan Arum, native to Indonesia, has a rotting flesh smell that attracts pollinators. And not cute little bees, butterflies, or hummingbirds. No, this flower with its nightmare bloom has its heart set on dung beetles and flies. The tall center part of the bloom, the spadix, heats up to help disperse the odor far distances. The spadix heats up to 98F, the same temperature as the human body. Since the flower’s natural habitat is the rainforest, the greenhouse had to be kept to humid temperatures of 75 to 90 percent saturation at all times.

The time of our visit was important. The flower was set to bloom any night (it blooms at night), possibly the evening of our visit. Once we got our fill, we wandered over to the other botanic displays, all lovely and presentable in their own right. But our thoughts lingered on Spike. We stayed until closing. Though the rest of the grounds were hard for us to scope out, the lights were still on Spike when we returned. We took one last whiff and crept to my car in the darkness.

Over the next week, my sister alerted me that there was a Kardashian-like cam on Spike at all times. “Still hasn’t bloomed,” my sister informed me at the end of each day. Then on August 24, Spike stopped working overtime.

When the botanists were asked why the flower did not bloom, they responded, “We’re not entirely sure. In nature, plants have the choice of reproducing or surviving. Spike ‘chose’ to survive, having run out of energy to complete reproduction.”

The botanists talk about plants as if they have actual “choices” to make, and this by far sticks with me beyond anything. Maybe there’s something inside me that is still cheering Spike on; that is grateful Spike ‘chose’ to save his energy for himself rather than relinquish his true power in front of the cameras and hungry people eager to see him perform — to emit a smell so foul that eyes would water, grandmothers would dry heave. “Summon the flies!” we all cheered.

“Nah,” said Spike, and then he fucking quit.

When botanists learned that Spike would not bloom, they opened him up. They tried their best to harvest the pollen, or perform in front of viewers “the delicate procedure of removing the spathe by cutting around the base of the flower just above where it attaches to the stalk of the plant.” (This sounds to me like performing an autopsy on the still living, but what do I know? Apparently, there is a slight risk to the procedure, but it’s not entirely harmful to the plant.)

Gardens typically divvy up pollen so that other plants may thrive. It turns out Spike had very little pollen to offer. And his female flowers weren’t ready to receive pollen. And guess what: there was no rotting meat smell. Instead, a “slight smell” only if you held it up very close to your nose.

The Botanic Garden was simply floored that people, 75,000 to be exact, would come from miles around just to see Spike bloom in person and from their computers and phones. My sister and I were among the many texting each other updates on the flower’s progress. Spike is a natural born conversation starter.

Spike would have been the first Titan Arum to bloom in Chicagoland, but he didn’t. And it’s a crying shame because he raked in a lot of attention. Can you see where this is going?

The garden has seven other flowers just like Spike. “Spike, who?” read the Chicago Tribune headline on September 29. Now, in comes Alice, who debuts today at 7 p.m. The extremely rare sibling of Spike is now powdering up and getting ready for her big show.

These flowers are entirely unpredictable. In nature they only flower once in 1000 days, and the bloom only lasts for three days. Very few people have ever seen them flower. There is fairly little research on them though they were officially discovered in 1878 by the Italian natural scientist Odoardo Beccari. I think one was featured in a Simpson’s episode.

Spike in the meantime, lies dormant in a freezer, ready to bloom another day (or not). To which I say, that’s okay Spike, you do what you gotta do.

Sources:

chicagobotanic.org/titan/spike_titan_arum

bioscigreenhouse.osu.edu/titan-arum-faqs

nbcchicago.com/news/local/Why-Chicago-Botanic-Gardens-Corpse-Flower-Didnt-Bloom-323375051.html

chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/home/ct-titan-arum-corpse-flower-blooming-botanic-garden-20150929-story.html

bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Titan_arum#p004gx80

I need tampons: A true list of things

Ready, set, being productive on my lunch break. Yeah!

•My eyebrows were officially touching in the middle, so I decided to throw in the towel and get them waxed so my boss doesn’t stare at them when she addresses me anymore.

•Coffee. Dunkin Donuts. Duh. Sarah lives on Dunkin. Not Starbucks. Starbucks can be quiet now.

•Call Sean. Complain about how fun it is to ask people direct questions and not receive answers. Oh who knows? People in business don’t want to admit when they don’t know things or they don’t care to know things. It’s unprofessional, so let’s keep everyone guessing and questioning themselves.

It’s like that game… where the fuck is Waldo? Waldo’s not here. Waldo is on vacation (again). Can I transfer you to Waldo’s voicemail?

Sean’s wiring a water purification trailer that will be shipped off to an oil field in Nebraska, or wherever this one is going. His job is monotonous and draining, but he’s doing okay today. Most days, he has this gift of mental separation when he works. I’m envious. I need like 10 Ted Talks to even get me moving in the morning. Okay, 10 is a little obscene. TED Talks are good, but they can feel a little like organized religion if you consume too many at once.

I tell Sean there’s this delicious melon that I cut up and put into the fridge. I can’t remember the name of the melon. But if cantaloupe and honeydew had sex, this melon would be its baby. Sean’s excited to taste. I’m excited he’s excited to taste.

Whoever gets home first is making the Tilapia tonight. I hope it’s Sean. He’s a better cook, and I can’t follow basic instructions. I stick metal forks into toasters. Not always, but sometimes.

•Box of tampons from Jewel. And why yes, as a matter of a fact, I will take two. What a delightful little sale. Even though how expensive tampons are makes me die a little inside whenever I’m forced to purchase them. If it was up to me I would bleed all over the place. Women’s rights? Too soon?

Get up to the counter and the two boxes go flying in opposite directions. The guy wearing dark sunglasses in front of me hands me a box. The cashier snorts into her shoulder. I basically threw the other one at her. I apologize and tell her that I go all Hulk on my period sometimes. She says she does too. I chortle. The sunglasses guy laughs nervously to amuse us, and then he stops. He looks out the window like he has somewhere to be. I feel like giving him a nudge in the ribs. Some guys are afraid to get in on period humor.

Last night I told Sean that he better cuddle with me or I would slit his throat. See? Hilarious. Or at least I remember him laughing.

Friday night

Friday = a half glass of some cheap red blend that I keep losing.

I read somewhere on one of those annoying listicles that one of the unspoken rules is not to be on social media while intoxicated.

Pssssh. Well, I’m not.

I will say some listicles are better than others. Just like how some horoscopes seem to fit.

I can hear Sean playing Mortal Kombat through the walls. FINISH HIM. Some bloody maneuver. A severed head, a spine cracked in two.

I’m writing. I’ve got about a half page. It’s shitty shit, but I suppose I’ll keep going just in case it’s not tomorrow.

Carrying my own weight in TRX

Every Saturday morning around 8:15 I roll out of bed like a greasy, hot sausage. My body don’t give no damn if it’s hung over. It don’t give no damn if it’s ragged from a long work week either.

My vision is still foggy while I snap on a sports bra, a pair of spandex, and a long time broken in t-shirt with pit stains or a neon orange razor back that’s eternal brightness covers up the would-be pit stains. I tend to rotate the same workout clothes, because let’s face it, they’re expensive. I lace up the sneakers that were made for me, the ones I researched for a week to find – light and designed for quick shifts and lateral movement. I brush my teeth and wipe off yesterday’s makeup so I don’t walk out of the house looking like The Grudge. Maybe I shove a handful of nuts in a bag so I can wolf down some protein on my ride to the fitness center not even 10 miles away from my home. Oh yeah, water. Can’t forget water. I do this all on tip-toe; I’m careful not to disturb my boyfriend who sleeps with his mouth wide open. When his snore cracks in his throat, this is an indication that he has been disturbed.

Saturday morning is a sacred time reserved for TRX, a weekly ritual I’ve been performing for close to two years. TRX, or Suspension Training, is a fitness tool that uses gravity and a person’s body weight to exercise. Think of a swing set with two long, dangling straps that can be adjusted according to specific exercises.

Before you continue reading, let me clarify: this is not a marketing piece on behalf of TRX. I don’t care if you purchase a TRX pass from your gym or not. In the end, it’s not the specific exercise that counts. It is whatever you like that does.

I’m writing about my exercise routine because it makes ME happy. It satisfies the parts of me that want to be pushed to their limits and explored. It’s the part of my day where I ask, hey there body, what can you do today?

This is also not a before and after picture depicting a triumphant, life-altering tale of weight loss. Actually, the last I checked I’m still carting around the holiday ham.

Let me clarify that I struggle with cultural body norms just as much as the next person. For one, I don’t have a perfect body. I’m pretty average sized, and my body does normal body things without clothes. My boobs frown when they’re out of a bra. I have ripples on the back of my thighs – the same thighs that rub each other raw in the summer after walking for 30 minutes. Stretch marks that look like bear claw tracks up and down my hips. Pretty standard things. I wish I was above noticing them.

Yes, I pay attention to numbers, and I wish I was above that, too. I’m 5’3, and I totter anywhere between 125 and 132 all year round. Some days I like what I look like, many days I scoff at my kangaroo pouch stomach in the mirror. I like food, and large portions of it. Let’s be honest, I come from an Italian, bread-eating family. And yes, like many women think, I think I could always be a little smaller. But I try to remind myself on a daily basis that I do actually enjoy exercise (because I do), and taking up the smallest amount of physical space possible as a living, breathing human being is kind of a weird goal to have in my opinion.

I’m no titanium woman by even the most modest means, but the second I hold my body up by a mere two straps, I feel so deliciously strong and in control. The beauty of TRX is that it’s entirely customizable; you choose the pressure you put on your body. Apparently, it was designed for Navy Seals, which is pretty cool to be able to say.

I know I said this isn’t a before and after photo of a fitness story, but let me provide you with some relevant background. I’ve been going to the same gym in the town I graduated high school for seven years. I got a work out pass on my 18th birthday. On that very day I was the heaviest I’ve ever been. 180 pounds at 5’3, which was 10 pounds more than my 6’1 boyfriend. It irked me, even though I was in love with someone who saw past my fleshy layers and loved me back.

Here was the problem: up until this point, I was the girl who walked. ONLY WALKED. And since P.E. wasn’t weighted into my precious grade point average, I pretty much cackled at my gym teachers whenever they told me to hustle. Finally, since I have never been on any sports teams in my entire life, the concepts of teamwork, dedication, commitment, etc were sometimes beyond my stubby reach and concern.

So, when I scored my new work out pass, I made a deal with myself. The elliptical. Just go on the elliptical four days a week, 1 hour at time. Listen to the tunes. Hell, bring a book. Yeah, a book. Now that was an idea. Since I had never read the Harry Potter series (I know what the fuck was wrong with me?), I decided to read them. And I did. Book by book, I pumped my stretch marked arms along to the tune of the boy who lived. Yes, folks, I lost 40 pounds reading Harry Potter.

It took at least two years for me to put down the books and gather the courage to pop my head into a group classroom.

Zumba was one of the first classes I tried on for size. It’s basically cardio that combines various Latino dances, hip-hop, etc. It involves a lot of hips and shoulders, which can feel uncomfortable at first. But bodies remember dance. They’re made for it. This is where I first truly learned how to harness the secrets of my body. I was like a heavy-footed Eve biting into the goddamn juicy apple of knowledge on that dance floor. I’ve been going to the same Zumba class twice a week for five years.

This is also where I met Cheryl and Kevin, the power couple who even coordinate matching clothing. Cheryl and Kevin are married big kids who have worked together alongside sweaty people for a great chunk of their lives. Needless to say, Cheryl and Kevin have become an emblem of positivity in my life. It doesn’t matter what kind of day I’m having, all I have to do is watch Cheryl’s magic feet light up in the mirrors. Cheryl has charisma, and she laughs at her own jokes a lot. I like this about her. Kevin wears t-shirts that say things along the lines of “my wife is hot and strong.” I like this about him. He also doesn’t have any cartilage in his knees, which I hear makes exercise painful sometimes, but giving up coaching people, his passion, is not an option for him. I really like this about him.

Last summer, I did the Tough Mudder with Kevin and Cheryl. It was one of the most invigorating experiences of my life. I’m thankful for them. I don’t forget what these two continue do to help me discover about my body and its abilities that I never knew I had.

Since joining Zumba I’ve attended some of Cheryl’s and Kevin’s others classes. Weight training. R.I.P.P.E.D. Kevin usually barks orders at me. “Sarah, what are you doing? I know you can handle another ten pounds.” “Sarah, make that squat deeper.”

Kevin is the one who convinced me to join TRX. His classes usually include four rounds of various movements – combination exercises and cardio bursts. He usually includes dumbbells, risers, BOSU balls, ropes – all and any devices of torture he can squeeze into an hour long class. Each exercise is generally 30 seconds to 45 seconds long. We rotate station by station, and you have to keep up. Sometimes I space out, and have to ask what’s next. Each exercise entails a combination of movement. Lunge, dumb bell press. Throw ball down, then complete burpee. Jumping jacks while lifting heavy battle ropes overhead. The bursts of cardio include the rowing machine, the skiing machine, shuffling across the floor while throwing a weighted ball against a wall, etc. Basically it’s like an obstacle course, which I’m realizing is my kind of workout.

Usually, there are four rounds in total. If you’re busting your ass, you tend to be out of breath and dripping by round two.

Something came over me one class. Maybe it was the adrenaline, I’m not sure. All I know is belched out that I was deciding to blog about TRX and asked if I could take pictures. There was no turning back. Most of the photos I took turned out blurry. This is my fault for trying complete the exercises while taking photos. Silly Sarah. Here are two better ones.

2015-02-08 18.08.58 (1)2015-02-08 18.07.08 (1)

I guess I woke up that morning and realized that this Saturday morning class is one of the highlights of my week because I’m a part of a cohesive team. I know people on a first name basis, and I don’t feel weird leaving sweaty handprints on the floor right next to their faces. This is good news.

It’s a good mix of people. Brandon and Semra, the TRX king and queen, compete with each other, and it’s quite entertaining. They trash talk each other, and everyone seems to enjoy it. Brandon really admires his own biceps, a tendency I used to scoff at, but realize, that many bros are self-aware of their own self-worship and know how to poke fun at themselves. Ashlee and Brigitte are mother and daughter duo, both runners, who look small, but move at rabbit speed. Speaking of rabbits, I learned that like myself, 3 other women who attend the same TRX class own rabbits. Maybe it was meant to be. Nancy, is also a writer like myself… another interesting similarity. Bryan, who is the oldest of our group, is definitely the youngest in spirit. He knows how to throw around a good workout pun.

There are others of course. Overall, everyone who comes back for another ass kicking, tends take on the mentality, that in TRX, we carry our own weight, and we acknowledge each other for that accomplishment.

To know oneself

Ahh, to know oneself
said every Shakespeare play ever.
I remember reading lines
with my mouth agape,
maybe drooling like in cartoons,
nodding astutely along with my classmates.
 
Yes, we know, we know what it’s all about.
We have lived. We know.
We know everything.
We knew before you began.
We know ourselves, honest.
 
Lecture’s over now, and I have to face
that the classroom was my storm cellar,
and my teachers were my brave best friends
who told me I was going to be one of the okay ones.
 
It’s my job to plant little poppies, clear weeds and such.
But I have these horror film vines sharpening their claws.
They dare me to laugh, and graze my throat, ever so subtle.
This is work that wears on the brain’s lower back.
The soul chatters its teeth in the world’s cold.
 
I have these scattergories of big thoughts
shoving their way to be next in line.
In my young adult life, I hop around on hind legs,
always late to understanding.
 
No, wait! I’m here. I’m present.
I will pay attention this time.
 
The mother I’ve created in my mind sighs.
She asks me, what are we going to do with you?
She pats me on the rear and tells me to set down
the fishing pole for a while and go for a nice swim.
 
But I know a thing or two.
Or at least I believe in a few.
 
I believe dancing your ass off in living rooms will set you free;
in scribbling lines, in making creations with our bodies.
That the watercolor jargon of kindergarten should never leave you.
 
A baby can mean anything. We each have our own versions of flesh.
 
I believe in care for strangers.
The woman behind the Dunkin Donuts counter
frowns when you tell her you’re not Assyrian,
that you’re not her family, that you never will be,
but you can understand her in ways her family can’t.
 
You pick and choose the sound of your good intentions.
You smile your biggest and thank her from the bottom of your heart for the donut.
 
The snarling man standing outside his car, staring,
isn’t judging you,
he needs help carrying his groceries to his front door,
and he’s ashamed of his walking cane.
 
And, hey, everyone’s ashamed of something. I believe in that too.
 
And it’s a good thing our smart phones don’t know our deepest secrets,
that smooth, pink rawness of our insides.
 
I believe that’s it brave to turn on the coffee maker in the morning,
to see that little morning light of your life.
 
I believe it’s brave to keep asking yourself questions no one knows the answers to.

The office, my office

The real test came to me after my obsessive vulturing over my inbox; the half-crazed pep talks in my car and bathroom mirror. It came after the interviews that were like gut punches no matter how prepared I felt.

The real test actually came after I sealed my first fulltime job – when one of my co-workers spared me the paranoid silence and cut right to the chase with an ultimate warrior question of initiation.

Still somewhat fresh off the hot plate of university, I had the irrational belief that my answer to his question would be crucial to my longevity at my workplace and any chance of a relationship with my peers.

People sometimes forget that the smell of Easy Mac mixed with the almost desperate need to have answers and be liked still cling to graduates’ clothes months after graduation. This quasi delirium/confidence is said to be what one needs to obtain a job.

So, here’s how the test goes.

My new co-worker, Mark, clears his throat and adjusts his glasses before he asks his question. I can feel my armpits moisten. I might as well have my hand hovering over a red buzzer. Mark wears a buttoned up plaid shirt and khaki shorts, which I learn soon enough is an all year round ensemble. He shifts his weight from side to side in a pair of long socks and black Vans.

My eyes catch what appears to be a shaded gun with a ribbon of wording wrapped around it. I read the words “Han Shot First” on Mark’s wrist. Its positioning and curling blackness reminds me of the Dark Mark Death Eaters use to summon Lord Voldemort.

“My one and only question is: what are your thoughts on Star Wars?”

Another co-worker, Jim, pokes his head from his office at the sound of Mark’s question, and the rest of him emerges. Jim also sports glasses and plaid, but has a distinctive swoop in the front of his hair, like a classier version of Ace Ventura’s. He wears a grin that’s hard to pinpoint – halfway past amused, not quite cynical.  Jim and Mark both stare at me, their eyes the unfilled bubbles on a Scantron.

I unclench my shoulder blades and let them sink back into place. But I don’t relax entirely. I still believe this is some version of a moment of truth.

I know the answer because I believe it, but I don’t answer too hastily. I play it cool. I might as well be a high schooler flicking a cigarette. “Well, here’s the thing. I’m not so much into the episode business. The old school stuff is pretty awesome, though.”

The guys look at each other for confirmation. Mark pauses for effect, then he says deadpan: “I think you’ll fit in just fine here.”

And that’s how my first day went.

For the rest of the week, I studied the hand drawn floor chart with everyone’s name that Sadie, the blue-eyed office guru gave me. Eight people. There was a lot to learn. Sadie only laughed a little when I read the chart upside down.

Up until this point, I’ve never worked in a small office before. But I can tell you one thing: if you’re like me, and you generally like to be surrounded by constant interaction and stimulation, by people of all kinds, you’d find this lack of numbers slightly unsettling at first. But then you’d get over it and take what you can get. You would bounce from office to office, trying to learn the ins and outs of the few faces you see eight hours every week day.

In a small office, you notice your co-workers. You notice the tear drop engagement ring or the roughly five pound weight loss. When they’re wearing their hair in a high bun instead of long curls that day. The bike helmet and the sound their leather chaps make when they walk past your desk. The crumbly pineapple upside down cake not just calling your name, but seducing your name, in the break room. When they blaze through the front door on a cellphone or with a downcast stare. When they’re pacing back and forth, checking to see if the mail has come in yet. You notice the niceties over the phone. You realize “have a great day” can mean so many different things.

You notice when they’re there, but you notice when they’re gone even more.

I noticed when Sadie, our office assistant, left and moved to Florida. Except I didn’t know her as the office assistant. I know her as the skinny girl who eats a piece of pie for every meal and hoards Sour Patch Kids in the top drawer of her desk. I know her as someone who laughs only when she means it and who makes F bombs look classy. I also know her as someone who adores her family, likes to shop at Target, cleans obsessively, and who has two pit bulls who sit in your lap when you visit.

Just recently, I and everyone else, noticed when Jim left for Colorado. Jim has a voice that doesn’t apologize for being loud. Despite his large voice and presence, he doesn’t have a pompous bone in his body. And I know this because I went beyond noticing Jim. I listened to him closely and liked what I heard.

One portion of a seminar I attended for work focused on finding mentors and how worthwhile that is for one’s career. Though I’m sure there’s a million definitions of “mentor” sitting around on countless Powerpoint slides that cover corporate leadership, what I gathered is that a mentor should be someone who does what you do jobwise, is someone you trust, and who would give you plenty of feedback and encouragement.

One day, I waltzed into his office. I looked from his monstrous piles of papers to his half-full bottles of Sriracha sauce, to his imploring face, and threw the role of SARAH’S MENTOR at his feet. He had no choice.

I basically said something like, “Hey Jim, sooooo… you’re kind of my mentor. I’ve decided. I hope this isn’t a problem. Okay, great, bye.”

I was hoping Jim would be a woman. The seminar I went to was focused on women in a male-dominated industry flocking to each other for growth and encouragement.

But Jim’s not a woman, and I’m okay with that. I guess I like that Jim is a hard worker and thorough editor, and is pretty knowledgeable about his industry and media contacts.

But if I were to be completely honest, it’s more interesting to me that he can strike up a hearty conversation on what makes a good Marvel movie. I will miss his start to every morning—the unfiltered, logical yet still passionate discussions he and Mark would have on Doctor Who and Star Wars. Sometimes I joined it, like after we all saw Guardians of the Galaxy, and couldn’t wait to get to work to tell each other our own versions of getting to be a kid in a movie theater again.

If I were to admit that I’m also a little sad that Jim’s leaving, I would. Maybe I even cried in the bathroom when I found out he was leaving and had to compose myself before going back to my desk. Maybe. You see, Jim listens to me. He has the ear of a 20 something, and the experiences of 40 year old. He remembers what it’s like to experience life as a scared shitless and suddenly self-aware human. He tells me to give myself credit, and tells me I’m very put together for a young person. He’s helped me in so many ways stomach my first “real” job.

If I were to tell the whole truth, I’d say he’s a mentor because he can openly say what he cares about. He loves his wife. He loves his Westie. He loves his Packers. He loves his baby daughter, who has the mug of a Muppet and a lot of things to say that she’s just beginning to put into words for the first time. You can tell he loves her more than anything else. Jim’s move will hopefully allow him more time to spend with his family.

Though being a Packers fan or any sports fan for that matter, is something I would generally leave out of any story, it serves a purpose in this one.

Jim is the first man I have ever met who can give a real probing, intimate reason why he loves sports so much. Being more of a film and Marvel junkie growing up, he didn’t play them or really get into sports until his adulthood. But now he can have quite the conversation. It turns out Jim is one of those unwavering fans, meaning he goes down with his Packers’ ship or he barrels through the storm with them. The kind who invites the same people to his house every big game in the privacy of his own home. Not the kind who sits in bars and wages drunken wars. Not the kind who cowardly hides behind his Facebook, attacking other fans when his team wins or loses.

What got me was Jim’s story about seeing Aaron Rodgers play. Since I associate sports talk with small talk in elevators, my instinct is to tune Jim out. But I don’t because he’s Jim, and as I’ve learned, he attaches meaning to most things in his life.

Obviously, I didn’t know anything about Aaron Rodgers. I didn’t know he was the kind of scrawny, unremarkable guy with good grades and who didn’t receive much attention from the football gods until much later in his career. Apparently, he’s a little weird too. Jim tells me he quotes Princess Bride and laughs at his own jokes when his teammates don’t understand his references. Jim says he is the player who people said couldn’t, but who did anyway.

Jim told me he was at a game when he saw with his own eyes Aaron Rodgers getting mocked by players from the opposing team. One player acted like Aaron Rodgers, dressed like him and exaggerated his scrawniness. The opposing team’s mascot was beating up the fake Aaron Rodgers. A clever joke. Jim watched Aaron Rodgers’ reaction. He says he’ll never forget it. Rodgers just stared and stood in the middle of the field. Then he plowed through his next plays like the beast the Packers fans know. They won the game.

It’s not unlikely for sports fans to have heroes. Hero worship is often a critique of sports sociology. And maybe the critics are right. Maybe Jim idealizes Aaron Rodgers a little bit. But so what. Jim can’t help but be inspired by Aaron Rodgers, care about his wins and losses, see him as a quirky, relatable dude with a tremendous spirit that affects his entire team and a screaming mass of people cheering him on.

In the end, I’ve learned that co-workers tend to move on. Sometimes, they send you Christmas cards, grab a drink with you once in a while. But they leave impressions whether they know it or not. In most cases they don’t. It’s my belief that we should tell them.

I wish Jim the best because he is one of the best.