My body, the battlefield

In 2005, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. While the treatment was difficult and the time was trying for both me and my then-husband (and our families & friends), the scars and the side effects were all internal. To the naked eye, one would have thought I was fine–that I never had cancer. That I had it all together. To the naked eye, most would have thought my marriage was fine and that we had just weathered a storm. Perhaps a hurricane. While I had lost my ability to bear children and I suffered from an immense amount of scar tissue buildup inside my most precious female organs, I simply looked like a woman who had gained a bit of weight. While I suffered from crippling depression and anxiety, most people thought it was just a side effect from my troubling past, from previously existing traumas.

I carried around the semblance of normalcy until 2015, when I was again diagnosed with cervical cancer. This time, though, I was not as lucky as before. I needed more treatment, invasive and exhausting treatment, that caused visible symptoms. I lost 40 pounds. I lost my hair, everywhere. I gained a skin condition that permanently discolored my body. I lost a labia, and then a surgeon crafted a new one. Medication provided after treatment ended bloated me, giving me a “muffin top”. Vaginal reconstruction weakened my core. My teeth eroded from chemotherapy. My groin dotted with tattoos I needed for radiation.

My body, and my relationship with it, has changed in so many ways. Some days, I look in the mirror and remember that woman I once was, seeing her in my eyes or in my crooked smile. Others, I try to think that this moment, where my body feels and looks weathered, is when I am bursting from my cocoon. Messy but necessary to get to my final destination–a butterfly. But most of the time, I sit with angst, in despair about what others think when they see me. About what I think when I see me. To what expectations people compare the reality in front of them. Many days, I just see the cancer, even after it’s moved on to ravage someone else. My body, the battlefield.

I have a sordid history with my vagina. Much of my past trauma comes from unwanted sexual advances, assaults, and the aftermath those experiences caused. I have been trying to determine what a healthy relationship would look like with that part of my body for as long as I can remember–I never did have a healthy sexual experience before having unhealthy ones. I have sought the assistance of counselors, trauma therapists, sex therapists, and body workers to help connect me with The Sacred Feminine. I work to connect to Her on a regular basis.

But things just aren’t that easy.

In some ways, I find my post-cancer approach to my body to be more respectful than it once was. In college and after my divorce, I often gave my body freely to anyone willing to give theirs to me, without giving a second thought to who should have rite to entry. I did so soberly and consensually. Even after several sexual assaults in adulthood, I attempted to “stay normal” by continuing this practice, like nothing had happened. Like it didn’t matter that I had been violated. If I just kept up appearances, then maybe, just maybe, those violations would matter less. Now, after undergoing vaginal and labial reconstruction, I am more careful about whom I grant entry. It’s not that I don’t condone these practices–they’re great!–but I was never doing them for the right reasons. I was never a free spirit. I wanted control over the past–and I never gained it. Now, I am discerning. I respect this body that weathered the storms life threw its way. I expect that people touching or enjoying it also respect it. Because it IS The Sacred Feminine. And it is mine. I have a lot less sex (with others), but the quality is much higher. And, most of the time, I don’t shrink with shame afterwards.

Some days, especially when the body shame and self-doubt creeps in, when I’m meeting someone new from whom I’d like physical adoration, I gaze longingly over my shoulder. I compare myself to the “cool girls” and free spirits, and I wonder why I have become the prude. But it only takes a moment for me to run my fingers along the scars lining my edges to remember that, in place of someone trendy, stands a warrior for truth. Stands a woman reclaiming her leg hair and body hair. Learning to receive pleasure from herself, to give clear boundaries to others. Stands the captain of her destiny and a dreamer of dreams.

A survivor stands where a girl once did.

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Graveside

19 years ago today, I watched dirt pile over my best friend’s casket. I watched as what was left of her was lowered into the ground, inch by inch, the physical space between us mounting. I loved her, I did. 

Since that time, I’ve visited her grave often. I talk to her. I smile at her. I cry with her. I’ve moved away and still I sit with her when I’m home. Sometimes, people ask me if I still have friends or family in my hometown, and I want to say that’s she’s there. I want to raise her from the dead, keep her going. 

Last year, for the first time, I heard her whispering to me. I felt her presence. I experienced the games she still played on me. Now, you may not believe any of these experiences, you may think that dead is dead, but I know it in my core. I know she’s always around, wreaking havoc. Kokopelli girl. 

Today, as I was sitting in the sun at her grave, and I saw 2 blue dragonflies fly around us, finally landing on her headstone. Dragonflies are the sign of my spirit animal, my patronus. They mean I’m on the right track, where I need to be. That I’m doing the right thing. I had my angel sitting on the headstone at the same time, and I felt watched, guarded, protected, loved. I looked at her headstone and said, “i release you.” And she was no longer lingering, but the love and protection were still there. Peaceful girl. 

And always, I carry her heart. I carry it in my heart.

Heart Games

I dreamt of you last night

Your eyes so piercing.

The way they softened 

As you bumped into me

Unexpectedly.

It was like your whole body sighed,

A deep, soulful exhale,

Like you’d been carrying a weight

That’s miraculously free.

We were at a game convention

You were startled by why I’d be there

 I wanted to play munchkin

And try RPGs, with new dice.

That I had so much fun 

when I’d gone before.

With you.

We’d been fighting.

An awful memory for you, I suppose.

I saw your mind wander to that time.
Your friend, he used to be mine too,

Standing next to you, greeted me.

We were comforted by familiarity.

As you stood and stared, 

He asked me to lunch, and I agreed.

We updated one another, reminisced.

Laughed, reflected, congratulated.

Familiarity and repose.
You were messaging him.

Interrupting the conversation.

Disrupting the flow, with your interest.

Then you came by.

(Y)our friend told you to kiss me.

And you did, reluctantly at first,

Then diving in.

Swirling with my energy, consumed.

You asked where I was staying.

I told you, you followed me.

We connected again, 

passionate embraces,

Longing kisses.

Then I had to go, to play.

And I left you,

With a room key,

Alone.
Only to return to devour,

Mind, body, soul.

My best friend returning to me.

My penguin.

You are the game master,

But I won the game.

Path of Totality

I looked up at the sky today, in the path of totality, and I thought of you. I saw the way the moon fit perfectly inside the sun and I thought of you. I felt the shivering cold on my bare arms, and I thought of you. 

You called me star and we used to call our future children moons, those moons fitting perfectly inside of me. We were a supernova. 

I remember you once told me that if you got a tattoo, it’d be a nebula. I remember loving listening to you talk sci-fi to me. I remember your love for Starcraft and Star Trek and Star Wars. Being another star in your galaxy made me feel at home. Now, we’re interstellar, that nebula between us.

I remember watching the moonrise with you at night as we walked around the neighborhood, when we were connecting over difficult things, when we argued. I remember watching the sunset with you looking out at the valley from your parents’ place. Watching the sunrise when we’d stayed up all night giggling and kissing and talking. 
Standing there, looking up, feeling the goosebumps and the time stop and the wind calm, I thought of you. I lingered on the warmth coming from your skin when your arms hovered around me, enveloping me with your abundance. I squinted, dreaming of the radiance of your smile and eyes when you shined your love down on me. Mesmerized by the brilliance of our union. 

I looked up at the sky today, as the embrace between Star and Moon began to unravel, and I thought of you. I thought of the growth, the beautiful flora and fauna around my feet and thought of your selfless manner. For a moment, you gave me perfect totality. You allowed the world to see the dream of a moon inside a star, to drink in the possibility of a miracle, if only for a moment. 

I long for our paths to cross again. I’d travel anywhere to see it happen. The fit—perfection.

Shiver

There used to be days when I was convinced he was out of my mind. That I’d moved on. That, there I was, lying beside someone else, it had to mean I was over it. Even now, even unpacking that sentence, I cannot quite pinpoint to what “it” was referring. Our breakup? Our relationship? Our deep affections toward one another? Why would I ever want that to be over?

There were times when I knew I’d moved on. Perhaps that’s more like the truth. I’d moved on–I had seen what it was like with others, I had tested the waters of affection and flirtation and compromise and sex. Since moving on, I’ve had great conversation but terrible sex, great sex but terrible conversation, something platonic I’ve tried to force, charming guys I’ve both given into and not, horribly judgmental, free spirited, it’s run the gamut. I even thought I’d fallen in love a couple times, only to be reminded that I just wanted love. I’ve tried. I’ve failed some, succeeded less. But I succeeded at moving on. 

You know those times when you forget a sweater and the breeze blows? When you say, “i’m never forgetting a sweater ever again. I’ll always be prepared.” And then you go some time, always donning just the right sweater to keep you toasty, only to be lulled into a false sense of security. And then, on a sunny day without a sweater, the breeze blows yet again. And then you remember what it felt like?

I used to be convinced i had exhausted that thought of us being right for one another. I mean, it’s been 3 years since it all fell apart. No, that’s not accurate. It never fell apart. We’re just no longer lovers. We keep our distance, physically, but nothing has unraveled. 

A part of me wants to find any reason to reach out, but I catch myself because he taught me there was never any need to be manipulative. He taught me not to lie to myself or others. I fall down sometimes when it comes to that, but I can’t with him. He’s like an animal that can smell fear. He knows, every time, when I’m not being authentic. 

So I sit here, knowing the love I found was true, pure, real. Knowing that I can move on. Knowing that I would rather not. Knowing that he raised the bar. 

I can’t just go put on any sweater, now that I know what cashmere feels like. I’d rather shiver, gathering goosebumps from the cold wind’s blow. 

Longing, aching, but no longer settling. 

Sunny days

It all started with
The cave by the beach,

Just south of home,

Carved into the cliff,

Where I used to bring my secrets,

Where I grieved in secret,

Loved in secret.

The safest, most painful place.

I wish you could have been my secret there.

These places have accumulated over time.

The grass below the rose garden 

Where we’d lay on our backs and watch the summer clouds.

The meditation garden in the grotto,

Where I witnessed God within my heart.

And then there’s your home.

My safest place I never knew.

The strength of the red rim, nestling the town below in its expansive arms.

Sitting in the water of the stream, kissing your face, while the dragonflies buzz about.

Soaking up the hot summer sun on our bare chests and backs and legs.

The beading drops of cool water refreshing us under the heat of a sunny day, running off us.

Light glinting from our blue-green eyes, consuming one another’s souls.

The silence of the gravesite, where my best friend lies.

Where just the memory of your presence there soothes me, just knowing you met him in your home towns, including me.

Surrounded by succulents and lizards.

Surrounded by birds and dragonflies.

The family cat and its rodent prey.

Surrounded by your loving family, sitting in your family home, watching the sunset.

Smiling. Home. Safe. Loved. 

Summer gods on sunny days.