Self-care is survival but self-love is sacred.

There are no wrong decisions.

Somehow I’ve managed to get to my 22nd year in this life and no one ever told me this.

There are no wrong decisions after your tears have blended with the water in the shower as your head is flooded with thoughts between the alternatives, your knees are as raw as your eyelids from falling on the floor and begging God – or the universe, whoever responds first – for an answer, when you’ve typed and printed and dated your resignation letter and hung it on your fridge so you can see it everyday.

When you’ve reached that point, there are no wrong decisions.

Of all the things my mother taught me how to do, taking care of myself was never one of them.  I never realized how important it was to actually love the body where your soul resides. And now, as I tilt my head and listen to the muscle knots crunch over each other, I wonder how long it would take for the neglect to catch up with me if I hadn’t noticed the decay when I did.  The bags under my eyelids are not designer, my friends. But I can remember the last time I felt well-rested!

Tuesday. Two short days ago when I had a day off work.  It was the first morning I can remember when I told my husband good morning before coffee.

I’ve never done that before.

I also notice the pain in my fingertips as a type from nails whittled down to nibs, ripped cuticles wearing drops of blood like ruby necklaces, and the flaking, onion-like layers of the nail itself floating across the keys.

If it were anyone else, I’d scoop them up and wrap like a burrito in a blanket, hand them a cup of homemade hot chocolate (made using my tiramisu truffles from Italy – what else?) and stroke their hair as I convinced them to quit their job – or anything else that made them so dreadfully unhappy.

And knowing that, I have to ask:

Why can’t I do that for myself?

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Sometimes you find what you’re supposed to do by doing what you’re not supposed to do.

In twos, shouldering burdens fifty times our weight, I marched next to you
as the teeming crowd lumped us into boxes, our bright futures
fated as our cardboard crowns perched precariously on our heads –
further evidence that our participation-trophy-childhoods hadn’t lost
its steeled grip on the helm that directed our prescribed paths
while we gulped anti-anxiety pills down with the rest of our choices.

Of all the decisions made to sit here -in row 27, seat C – how many were my own choices?
Hundreds of parents leering, like the oncoming boot to crush the ant, to congratulate us,
to mechanically applaud your first (last?) step on a path
that looks too much like theirs for us to be satisfied with the future
ahead. And based on the number of trembling lips and the listless lost
atmosphere lingering over the graduates, it’s not all in my head.

Tassels swing like the gallows as we twist back-and-forth, our heads
unconsciously refusing to accept this ceremony and wondering if we chose
to play along in the first place. But here we stand – and then sit – and then stand again – in a game already lost.
I wish I could roll the dice again because I keep landing on Boardwalk and you
swallow my pink paper money as if that could guarantee your own future.
There are no shortcuts on that path.

But I say that as if my path
was any different, too innocent to cause heads
to roll. Each generation thinks itself better than the last, but the future
contradicts the intentions of the past. I wonder if my own choices
be as devastating – from the ones who could only afford Mediterranean Avenue, to you
who have invested everything you own to never lose.

But if you play the game like that, I think you’ve already lost.
Truth be told, there is nothing I can do to prevent any backlash, no path
so smooth. I just wish that would’ve been in the parenting manual you
read when I was the size of a grape, an apple, when my powdery bald head
fit in one hand. Did you regret any of your choices
when you contemplated this little future?

What relative term – because here we stand, in that imagined “future,”
in the millisecond before it lingers in the present and tumbles into the past. I lose
you in the crowd. I’m on my own now. And so, I make the first of many choices
and hesitate on the stage, my outstretched hand reaching for the paper to start my path.
Thoughts pound, insistent knocking on the door, in my head
and I turn, eyes scanning the crowd, peering for you.

Because on graduation day, you’re old enough to finally realize
that the only path you care to take
is the one that heads home.

If a woman is not Cleopatra, who owns Egypt?

On March 21, 2009, a sweet old hag of a good girl whispered goodbye to su hijo in the East Los Angeles apartment that echoed as hollow as the heartbeat that stopped right when she wanted it to, regardless of whether or not she knew it was what she wanted.

She wrote a poetry chapbook and published in 2002.  Alane Rollings helped her edit it and so was gifted a signed copy – could anyone give a more personal gift?  (Did not J.K. Rowling have the same idea when she turned a book into a piece of a soul?)

Alane was the second wife of writer Richard Stern – not that anyone outside of academics would know who he was since he basked in the shadows of his fellow friends and writers (he said after all, that he didn’t need to write, only that he wanted to do so). But Richard too died and Alane survived him, although she moved out of the house that reminded her of him.

And she left all her books.  Once the writer was gone, the writing never mean anything to her either.

And so it came, that a poetry chapbook by the name of Good Girl was given to Wilson. Wilson owned an antiquarian bookstore in Chesterton, Indiana.  And like a good girl, it sat quietly on the shelf, gathering dust but holding back the sneeze.

Until one very normal August Saturday morning, when I nodded to the accordion player at the European Market and ducked in the bookshop to avoid the piercing glare of the sun AND and the florist who heard me say that buying bouquets of sunflowers were a waste of money.

And finally, such a chapbook finds a home on my own bookshelf, awaiting the day when I can read it to my baby girl.  Because she needs to know that womanhood is ugly and that some people add mascara and blush to the title of “mother” to disguise the pain that comes with it – the heartbreak that I’m sure that same baby girl will inflict upon me before too much time passes.  Because all decent human beings need to know who Lee McCarthy is.

And just to give you a tease, here’s a stanza from a poem called “Conrad’s Mother”:

A woman who lives alone

will go out at nine o’clock at night

to buy ranch dip for the carrots, cappuccino

truffle chocolates for the office, and yoghurt

even though they’ve taken the h out.