Exiting the roundabout, I crane my neck.
I have to see the horse, traffic be damned.
He stands there in his meadow-like pasture, outwardly indifferent to the traffic.
Selectively nibbling on the verdant grasses and sweet-smelling flowers, he’s alive.
The horse is alright.
How do I know the horse is a he?
He’s strong, muscular, virile, powerful, secure in his solitude.
Those are masculine traits.
Another long day, another fretful drive “home.”
Please let him be there.
I only need to see that
The horse is alright.
Exiting the roundabout, I hold my breath.
Craning my neck, I scan the field.
I risk another look.
Fuck it; if he’s not alright, I’m not alright.
The horse is not alright.
I can’t find him.
Has he given up?
Frustrated and empty from his solitary jaunts,
Today, he doesn’t leave his stall.
His handlers cajole and prod, first sweet talking, now scolding.
You need to get outside, horse. It isn’t good for you us to see you holed up inside all day.
Keeping to yourself.
Why don’t you go outside, seek new grasses and flowers.
And pretend you aren’t still keeping to yourself.
The horse is not alright.
I enter the roundabout with trepidation.
If he’s not there today…
If the horse is not alright…
Exiting the roundabout, my arms tremble on the steering wheel as I turn to look.
He’s there. He’s there.
I exhale a breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding,
Dash away tears I didn’t realize I’d been shedding.
And I breathe a sigh of relief,
Of grateful reassurance, because
Humanity i love you
because you would rather black the boots of
success than inquire whose soul dangles from his
watch-chain which would be embarrassing for both
parties and because you
unflinchingly applaud all
songs containing the words country home and
mother when sung at the old howard
Humanity i love you because
when you’re hard up you pawn your
intelligence to buy a drink and when
you’re flush pride keeps
you from the pawn shop and
because you are continually committing
nuisances but more
especially in your own house
Humanity i love you because you
are perpetually putting the secret of
life in your pants and forgetting
it’s there and sitting down
and because you are
forever making poems in the lap
i hate you
I love e e cummings, and I love the pure irony and sarcasm of this one. One could say it’s quite timely as well, but when hasn’t it been? Truly, has there ever been a time in which the ideas presented here haven’t been true? I am quite the cynic and am myself disgusted by the state of humanity.
I also struggle to force myself to trust. To stick my neck out and believe that perhaps it isn’t quite so terrible as it seems. Or rather, that one perhaps shouldn’t disregard the exceptions to the rule simply because there is a rule.
It’s a lonely way to go about life. I know this to be true, firsthand. Still, we should at least be cautious and informed.
Look at me blathering on. I meant to drop the poem and go, allowing it to stand alone. And here I am. Alas, I’ve run out of things to say.
Perhaps more later. Perhaps even about a party to which I’ve been invited. Ah. But humanity.
I am in the process of preparing my house to put on the market. This is finally the year that I put myself first, no matter how difficult that is for me – because it is completely out of character. And this is going to involve some major changes and upheaval. I always put others first, even (usually) to my own detriment, almost without exception. I have been this way my entire life.
This change wasn’t some lameass resolution for me. I don’t do resolutions, at least not in the way most do. Life changes and extensive shifts in perspective don’t suddenly and miraculously happen simply because the clock ticked over to a new year. Time as we know it is a man made construct anyway, but I’m seriously digressing here.
The point of bringing this up was to mention I’m working on getting my house ready to sell. And this means days and weeks of meticulous sifting through thirty-five years of accumulated stuff. Some of that stuff is meaningful; some of that stuff is being donated; some of that stuff is being sold; some of that stuff is outright garbage and has been hauled straight to the bin and to the side of the road where people pick it up (you know what they say – one man’s trash is another man’s treasure), but some of that stuff is meaningful to me in some way or other and cannot simply be tossed out. Like the box of letters from my paternal mamaw. She was my penpal for a good two decades. Or my diplomas and commendations. Or my report cards and IEPs from elementary school, and the notes from teachers and little awards I received. Or the stacks of photos and photo albums. There have been lots of laughs, lots of tears, some raging and ripping up photos of that man who ruined my childhood and so much of my life and my outlook and behaviors, some quiet reminiscing, some shock; you get the idea.
One thing I came across was surprising to me. I didn’t even know I had it. A simple piece of paper brought on a flood of memories. Unpleasant ones at that. I was in 11th grade, I think, which puts me somewhere between 16 and 17. I was depressed and miserable and hated high school with all that I had. Not long after this period, I experienced some of the best years of my life until the bottom fell out of that, too. But for now, I was fucking miserable. I experienced suicidal ideation. I never cut myself, but I’ve always had this problem with picking and digging and tearing at my skin. So I’d wear long sleeves almost exclusively, in order to hide my arms.
I had changed schools that year, which is what seriously ramped up my depression and self-loathing. Those last two years of high school did a lot of damage to me, but the others did as well. Before I changed schools, I never had what you would call friends. There was simply a group of outcasts who would gather together during lunch. Some of them hung out together after school, but mostly we just clung to each other on the sidelines of life. It was our own little depressed group of grunge kids on this life raft we created to weather the storm of cheerleaders and jocks and geniuses and rich kids and bullies. It raged around us, splashing us with its venom and vitriol. The bullying had gotten so bad that I perfected this death to you glare and assumed anyone and I do mean anyone who looked at me meant me harm. I struggle with that still. And so we gathered together in this little corner at lunch. Playing hacky sack. Sneaking to the bathroom to smoke a roach. Talking about The Doors and Pink Floyd and Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Wearing the tie-dye Grateful Dead shirt I bought at a yard sale. Long sleeved of course. And that silly “Elvis is Dead. Deal with it.” t-shirt I wore all the fucking time. Mostly because it was black. And I was in a black wearing, flannel over-shirt phase. Close friends and confidantes we were not. But we needed each other. Or at least, I needed them.
So when I changed schools, I lost that. I no longer had a shield or raft to cling to against the raging tide of bullies. Especially the preps. They were the worst. Those were the ones that made my life hell all through high school. And now I had no protection. I had no wall of outcasts surrounding me to buffer me from the storm of bullying and back-stabbing. Which leads to the piece of paper I found last night.
I had an AP English class, which I would have loved (because English. Yay. My favorite subject for years.). Except there were about a dozen cheerleaders in that one class. They chose it on purpose because the teacher was the mother of one of them. I had no idea, or I would have scheduled a different class or requested a change. Such as it was, I was stuck in a very special hell of torment and glares and snickers and cruel jokes at my expense. Me, the poor girl in hand-me-downs, thrift store clothes, high-water pants and shoes held together with duct tape I’d taken a black Sharpie to on the black parts and White-Out on the white parts so the tape wouldn’t stand out so much.
At some point during the year, we had an assignment. We were instructed to write an original poem and then select one from our textbook that went along with the same theme. Then we had to buy white t-shirts and somehow paint our original poem on the front and the textbook poem on the back, then wear them to school on the day they were due and recite our poems from memory. This terrified me. I didn’t learn how to be able to do public speaking until college in my twenties. I can do it now, but I was terrified back then. Like vomiting over it a couple of times leading up to it the week it was due.
I couldn’t persuade my father to buy a new white t-shirt for me. “I don’t have the money for some fucking school poem bullshit. Use one of my old undershirts.” No, of course he didn’t have the money. He’d spent it on the twice weekly sacks of pot and pain meds from his 19 year old dealer. The shirt he gave me had the inevitable pinhole burns in it and huge deeply yellowed pit stains. I stole change off of his dresser to buy this glittery green puff paint to get the poems on the shirt. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. But I knew I would be humiliated, and I was. But this time, it was mostly in my head.
It was time. The teacher called my name. My stomach flipped and then flopped, and I felt dizzy and off-balance as I left my back-corner desk and walked to the front of the classroom. Voice shaking, I began:
You think that you are better than me
From your clothes, to your style and your hair
You think that you are better than me
But I have ceased to care
You smile and pretend that you are my friend
But I am not here for your pity
You smile and pretend that you are my friend
But I will have nothing to do with your sympathy
In your eyes, I am nobody because I don’t measure up to your standards
But I am not the one who tries to be something I am not
So before you judge me again, take a look at yourself
And face the reality that you are no better than me
And as time marches on
And your shine is all gone
For all of your glitter, you have nothing to show
Now you are nobody, and I am somebody
And you will never be better than me
To their credit, after the snickering subsided, the room got dead quiet. Not even the usual whispers and note-passing that happens during things like this. And the looks on their faces were a mixture of confusion, disgust, surprise, shame. This quiet, wallflower, grungy, nerdy weakling was speaking words of condemnation. To them. This was directed at them, and they knew it.
And then I read the poem I had selected from the textbook, and their shame and confusion turned to shock and fear. I could see it in their eyes, because I had finally worked up the nerve to make eye contact. And so I began:
by Edwin Arlington Robinson
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good morning,” and he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich-yes, richer than a king-
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
I somehow got through to some of them. But not in a way that made them nicer to me, more in a way to make them lean away, look away and leave me completely and utterly alone. Which was a relief and respite from the bullying, at least in that class. I think they were afraid of me. Nervous. Fine. Yes. Great. This I can use. And so my death to you glares increased. I rarely spoke, but I could shoot daggers. And I did. And I relished them shifting in their seats and looking away. I felt guilty for a lot of this later, in some ways still do. But at the time, I finally felt relief and used my anger as my new wall of protection, my new life raft.
I read the paper. I re-folded it and sat there in this reverent silence. Then I opened it and read it again, finally re-folding it and tucking it away among the things I’ve decided to keep. At least for now. As a reminder of what I was, and what I’m working so hard to leave behind. The anger, the fear, the skittishness, the guilt, the distrust, the anxiety, the self-loathing, etc.
Here’s to my year of change. It will happen slowly and then all at once. And I can’t fucking wait.
Here goes. Y’all ready for my final quotes for the challenge? I hope so. And I equally hope you’re ready to share more with me!
This one is quite special to me. I’ve always loved the poem – look, I know poems aren’t exactly what is meant by “quote.” But fuck it, just look at it as an extra-long quote that’s kinda sorta like a poem. Cuz it’s a fuckin’ poem! – but it became even more special to me in college. One of the best professors in the world would read it – and cry – at least once in every course he taught. For decades. The world is a sadder place with his absence. I hope I can live up to the dream he had for all of his students…to Carry the Message to Garcia (oooo another post idea) and to take the road less traveled by.
The Road Not Taken ~Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
That last part always choked him up, my professor. And he always ended with silent tears weaving down the crevices of his age-worn face. He was so dear to me and to so many others. He certainly took the road less traveled by, and I hope that I will in the end as well.
And last, but certainly not least. I know I’ll take the road less traveled by, because: