Train five times a week. Drink less. Get out of debt. Become an early riser. My list was made after a visit to the library for a pile of books on detoxes, financial advice and memoirs about recovering alcoholics. Truth is, I don’t need to lose weight, I know how to budget and I don’t drink too much. Maybe I should write a book on how to accomplish the real list of what I’d like to change. Stop worrying about hot bodies on Instagram, land a husband and have a baby before my eggs get too frigid. We need more books like these.
Falling asleep alone surrounded by books.
Waking up next to a lover who I love.
Feeling the lover’s moist skin and breath as I let him sleep.
Picking up a memoir and reading in bed.
Having a dog nose nestle in my shoulder to tell me it’s time for breakfast.
Drinking the first cup of coffee.
Walking along the Puget Sound.
Swimming laps under the sun.
Looking out into the horizon.
Reminding myself that my vagabond past is a place I can always go back to.
Drinking a Malbec and eating steak.
Listening to Billie Holiday’s voice sing that she, too, is lonely.
Dreaming about having children someday, or alternately, traveling and taking on lovers.
Turning into a grown ass woman.
Writing from the home that I’ve built for myself.
The green and red leotard fit perfectly, making it easier to watch teenage girls stretching and training like I wish I had in my early 20′s. It was September when I bought myself the leotard and began to learn how to climb a rope secured to a warehouse ceiling in one of Seattle’s few remaining industrial neighborhoods. Officially unemployed after a summer of fucking around, I signed up for a 12-week aerial circus class, spending my dwindling savings, with the hopes that I that I’d find a new job and make my 35-year-old body stronger. When I wore it to my first class, I reminded myself of what a girlfriend who also does circus said when I told her I bought a leotard, “I’m sure it looks great on your swimmer’s body.” When you’re unmarried and approaching your mid-thirties, you’ve got to hold onto all compliments.
Starting a hobby in the fall fills has always filled me with a sense of determination similar to returning to a new school year – high aspirations of getting good grades and fast progress. I found out that climbing a rope was hard. And hanging from the fabric was even harder. They require upper body strength, a solid core and sometimes the willingness to feel pain. However, my strength is something I’ve rarely found myself able to embrace. In grade school, I never thought that I was flexible enough for gymnastics or coordinated enough for ballet. Instead, I read a lot and belittled my little sister. Doubting my physical strength continued into my 20′s and 30′s when I lived in Argentina and I stayed in a co-dependent relationship for too long.
Leaving Buenos Aires and the relationship to move to Seattle for a job, I thought would help me achieve independence. I imagined making the transition where I would cook roasts for dates in my hardwood floored apartment, put money into my savings account and make friends at my labor movement job. Despite my hopes, for three years, I struggled to move on from my ex, served roasted meats to men who had no interest in anything other than my bed, and barely survived my labor movement job.
This year, I learned that there are two types of people in life, “pullers and pushers,” according to a fitness coach. The tattooed coach didn’t say that to me, but to another student who excels at squatting and jumping onto boxes. Maybe pulling is the solution, not jumping, I asked myself as I tried a Russian climb during my Wednesday class. It wasn’t until I lost my job or left my job, I can’t tell which one, that began to trust myself as a grown-woman. I would still doubt my ability when my hands got tired or I’d get some type of rope burn. However, my hands developed callouses, my feet became more dexterous and my belly a little tighter. At the same time, I began to enjoy eating my cooking alone, found a new job, moved onto a healthy relationship, told myself that I’m done with bullshit from men, stopped listening to my father and did a pull-up.
Upwards, I went. It only took me learning how to climb a rope to discover that I’m a puller not a pusher.
On a whim, I decided to stop at Salumi, an Italian sandwich shop close to my work for an early lunch. While waiting in line, I discovered that it was gnocchi day, which I should have known by the grey haired woman in the storefront window rolling out the concave shapes on a wooden ridged slab. I did indeed order “gnocchi to go,” for $9. I was talked into taking a seat at one of the crowded vinyl topped tables in the back. It also helped that the dark haired waiter said, “doll, you can take a seat in the back, if you like.” My dish of gnocchi arrived, and it was beautiful. With each bite, I remembered how my Great Aunt Anne would make gnocchi by hand at the kitchen dinette set built in the 50′s. I loved watching the process while sitting on a red vinyl covered chrome chair. Often, she would snap, “not so big,” the few times I tried to help her. She wasn’t a good teacher, and I suspect that she didn’t like me because I was skinny and that I resented my father for dragging us to Johnstown so often to visit her gigantic house with no yard to play in and a million antique plates that I sometimes broke. As she got older, she became meaner and I began avoiding talking with her. Even still, I dream of her food often and when every Sunday we would gather around a table in South Western Pennsylvania. I regret not having asked her for recipes for her crusty white bread or ragu that was always too sweet for me. By the time I finished my plate on gnocchi day, I thought to myself that the gnocchi was a lot fluffier and not as chewy as my aunt’s but the sauce at Salumi could have been a little spicier like my grandma’s. On Tuesday, the little hole in the wall artisan cured meat shop met every need that hasn’t been met since the death of my Aunt and Grandma over a decade ago, someone to comfort me with a steaming bowl of homemade pasta with red sauce. Even though I was surrounded by Seattle hipster foodies on their lunch breaks, I was at home. I’ve found a place where I could get fed, and where my dark hair and Sicilian features matter, especially when the waiter asks, “how was it?” He was thrilled when I said,“delicious, but not as good as my Aunt’s.” From now on, gnocchi day is my favorite day to go out to lunch.
Growing scales was an accident. Unlike many aquatic creatures, my scales have appeared on the under-surface of the dermis, evolving with the dysfunctional decisions I’ve made in relationships. Scales to slip away. Scales to protect me from shabby treatment. Scales to keep the lonely and cold out.
The patterns with which my scales evolved were also accidents. No one plans to get cheated on, deceived or trampled upon. My scales protected me from a lot of permanent damage, providing me with a sheath of resilience and false confidence. A few times, I even used my protective outer surface to slice through the few good men who’ve turned up in my life.
Scales differ and can serve as a method to classify. The majority of bony fish have overlapping cycloid scales, their classification of outer dermis. The word cycloid comes from the Greek word cyclo, meaning circle. Vicious patterns also come in circular waves, and are difficult to break. However, we can grow and break cycles. The size of scales can determine a fish’s age. As fish grow, their scales also grow.
As I grow, my scales become uncomfortable, suffocating opportunities to love. What I thought made me strong make has weakened my senses and skills to open myself to a loving relationships. Women, unless a mermaid, can breathe better through skin that hasn’t developed an under dermis layer.
For a long time, I thought that I needed a fisherman to pull me out of the water and scale me like a fish. However, the water soothes me and I don’t want to get gutted. Tired of waiting to get caught, I read Pablo Neruda in the tub using a stiff bristled brush to try and scrub off the scales. I read the line in The Captain’s Verses, “in love you loosened yourself like sea water.” I live by the Sound. Next time I dive in, I’ll let the water loosen my love and hope to find a captain with whom I can swim to safety.