The Last Few Weeks In Photographs

Hello friends!

In order to sum up my last few weeks at school, I thought it best to use photographs to capture the work, the play, and everything in between.

While at the Vassar Library,

IMG_6890

someone snagged a photo of me doing homework.

IMG_6834

I learned  “we have no idea what we’re doing.”

IMG_6817

And that I might as well just be an alien.

IMG_6809

But I persevered and made beautiful displays at work.

I learned that sometimes, the most unexpected of friends are thinking of me.

FullSizeRender-37

In the face of disaster,

IMG_6906

I got a little spiritual,

IMG_6895

let life surprise me,

IMG_6896

It’s hard to make out in the photograph, but the wire sculpture is a unicorn. Naturally.

and surrendered to what will be.

IMG_68311910412_10154475892875898_4133247062392467923_n

Advertisements

Hearing My Dad’s Voice

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

Standing in my grandparent’s kitchen, scrounging the refrigerator, my feet suddenly start scurrying toward the back room without checking in with my brain.

“…six-eight-nine-four…I can’t get to the phone right now but please leave a message and I’ll get back to ya as soon as possible.”

I hunch over my grandpa, who is seated at his computer.

“That’s dad.” My ability to recognize his voice surprises even me, despite hearing it countless nights in my dreams over the last five years.

My grandpa replays the recording. It’s our old answering machine message. Nothing special, no secret meaning, but hearing his voice creates a vibration at the core of my body that travels to my extremities.

I feel my insides shaking, my organs, muscles, even the blood circulating in my vessels. I am swelling and contracting, caught between two worlds, two lives.

One where my dad lives, and one where he’s died.

DSCN0156

Kevin E. Gallagher May 2, 1955- July 13, 2010

I lay down. My forehead throbs and I try to take deep breaths. Even with my bedroom window open, blowing a forty degree breeze against my cheeks, I can’t cool or calm down. Tears rattle in my eyes but I refuse to let them fall.

It’s the way he says “ya” instead of “you.” It’s friendly and inviting. This subtle nuance of his speech has slipped my mind. He sounds healthy, not angry or frail. He is strong in this life, frozen in time.

My aunt calls and asks if I’d like to run some errands with her. And just like that, I slip into someone else’s life, disappearing from my own.

My Hair Politic

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

I cut my hair above my ears for the first time in 2012 at 19 years old. I had dreamed of this cut for years, but felt too afraid that my head would look strange without my curly locks framing it. Plus, I’d be the only girl in my grade with hair that short.

So I waited.

Sitting on the couch afterward, I rubbed the back of my head and shouted through the house. “I am never growing my hair again!!”

And I’ve kept that promise.

After each cut, I let it grow for a few months, thinking I’m growing my hair again. Long hair is so beAUtiFUL and I will look sOooOo sexy. 

And then my hair touches my ears or my cheeks and I run back to the salon, begging for a chop.

October 2014, I shaved my head with a #4. The day afterward was my favorite day of 2014, one of my favorite days of my life. I didn’t do anything special. I went shopping at a Target, read in a Starbucks, and came home and carved a pumpkin. But the feeling of cool air on my head and knowing that I had done something strictly for me, without caring what anyone thought of it–not worrying if my friends would like it, or if boys would be attracted to me–felt liberating.

 

Between October 2014 and April 2015, I shaved my head four more times, each time it had grown out.

 

Recently, my hair reached “tuck-behind-the-ears” status.

IMG_5920

November 2015

And while some will argue how beautiful it looks–ahem, Grandpa–it’s just not who I am. So I cut it at the end of December, the beginning of January, and just again today.

This morning, when I mentioned I was going for a trim my grandpa made sure I knew how he felt about it.

“Long?! What do you mean ‘long’? What are you gonna cut? Why do you wanna be a boy so bad? Stop cutting your hair and start acting like a woman!”

I bit my tongue in the moment, knowing that bursting with anger wouldn’t be effective.

While I made breakfast, he started talking about his morning at church, asking me questions about Jesus that he knew I didn’t have the answers to.

“I don’t know about that, but I do know that Jesus wouldn’t have judged people based on the length of their hair.”

This was cheap, I know, but I had to find some way in.

“But do you think any man is going to like it?”

My grandpa doesn’t know, but I exhale fire from my nose.

Not only are his comments heteronormative (assuming that I am straight and wanting to marry a man-which if I didn’t, why is that a big deal?), but they are also transphobic (assuming that because I like short hair I want to transition to a masculine gender and that would be a calamity-which if I did, why would that be so offensive?). Last time I checked, the length of my hair didn’t determine my feminine gender identity or my sexuality. The length of hair only determines…the length of my hair.

“I like my hair short. It is my head. I don’t cut my hair for anyone but me. I know you think my short hair will prevent me from meeting my future husband, but A) I’m not looking for a husband and B) if I were to meet someone I wanted to spend my life with, the length of my hair would not deter them.”

Silent minutes passed between us. I love my grandpa more than words can express (a cheesy cliché, but words have their limits). I don’t want this to sound like a crusade against him. But he hurt my feelings, and I wanted him to know that his opinion does matter to me. My grandpa is not a bad guy. He’s intelligent, kind, and has the biggest heart I know. But he grew up in a different era, where issues concerning gender, gender representation, and sexuality were not “issues” he was aware of because those that diverged from the norm were silenced in the mainstream.

“I understand that you grew up in a different era when women had to marry men in order to support themselves financially and while women still don’t make the same amount of money as men for the same work, I do not plan on depending on a man to support me.”

He agreed that he grew up in a different time period. He apologized for hurting my feelings. And I reminded him that I’m going to do exactly what I want with my hair regardless of his opinion. Not out of disrespect, but because it’s my hair, my body, and I get to do what I want with it.

IMG_6744

My hair today, as I write this post

Policing women’s bodies is not only hurtful and offensive, but it’s essentially wrong and entirely disrespectful. Although we are taught to assume that women’s bodies are there to be looked at and judged at all times, they are not. Ever.

I repeat. Women’s bodies do not exist for anyone’s approval. They do not exist to live under the male gaze.

Tonight, my grandpa said he needed a haircut. I mentioned that I have a buzzer at home and could do it for him because I’d done it on myself in the past.

“Hey, that’s not a bad idea. You did a really good job on yours last time.”

Me vs. Insensitive Boy

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Backed in the corner of the hall, I try not to accidentally knock the crimson fire extinguisher off the wall. It’s intentional, placing myself in corners these days. I sit in a corner desk in each of my classrooms, choose the corner seat at restaurants; I wake up each morning, back pressed against the wall, yearning for the upper corner where it meets the bed.

I’m not sure why I do this.

Maybe for the sense of feeling secure, surrounded by stationary walls instead of moving people. Or because it is easier to minimize sensory stimulation this way.

This morning, it may be a bit of both. The hall is swimming, so I focus on one sense.

Hearing.

My ear buds are inserted firmly in my ears like usual when I am on campus, walking alone. Ear buds or head phones in/on a person serve a specific purpose: to tell other people not to approach. This is why when I am most anxious about walking in public, I put them in my ears. Sometimes, I don’t even have music playing.

But this morning I am listening to my favorite album, the one that calms my anxiety most, the singer’s voice like a friend telling me it’ll be alright, keep going. Or, if not alright, it’ll at least go…time will pass, breaths will be breathed and you will be home sooner than you think. 

His face isn’t anything special. Nothing extraordinary or attention-grabbing. Fair skin, bushy eyebrows, messy light brown hair, average height amongst the students bustling past.

To put it simply, he’s no Harry Styles.

Unfortunately, he’s not wearing a neon jacket and he’s not followed by cartoon arrows pointing down at his head, with bubble-letters between reading, “WARNING,” like they always do when I imagine running into him.

But suddenly, hazel eyes catch mine; my field of vision expands and the rest of his face comes into view. Damn turnip nose.

It’s a look of recognition, mischievousness, and arrogance. Like someone inflated a balloon and stuck it up his butt and he’s just floating above all us peasants. I’m nauseated.

The first time I met this boy, we sat in a meditation room for three hours, talking. Those eyes stared at me unwavering, as he asked more and more personal questions and I answered them, desperate for closeness. Forgetting the consequences.

In the hall, the fluorescent lights reveal a sheen to his skin, like he forgot to shower or nervously ran out of class. But his face reveals no agitation, forehead, cheeks, and lips relaxed. His eyes, however, are not. They’re still probing.

“I still have your book,” he recites as though a line from a play we’ve been rehearsing.

“I know.” I play along; I know this act very well. I pull one ear bud out. “You have to read it.”

“I’m about halfway through.”

This is shocking. I leant him this book last week, the night before my first day of class. I was whimpering, crying about not wanting to go back to school, to have this life, to be alive in general, for missing him, for guilt about missing him. Because I know he is not good for me. I should have been better than that.

I wasn’t.

But today, I am.

He likes the book so far. Recognizes other Highly Sensitive People (of which I am one). He admits he is not.

I look him dead in the eye, unafraid. “I know.” Then I laugh, say, “Not in a bad way!” But we both know I am not kidding. We both know his insensitivity has caused me incredible pain.

“Well, I’ll give it back to you,” he pauses as he gets caught in the crowd, “…sometime.” And he’s gone.

This is also one of his tricks. Leaving a trail of mystery behind him. Or, to be blunt, leaving me in a place of powerlessness, while he determines the next move.

Power imbalance was what broke us last year. He wanted it all, and as much as I can stick up for myself and prove that I’m just as smart as him (perhaps smarter (definitely smarter)), power battles are not my expertise and I finally gave up, ending a relationship with a boy I just said I love you to two weeks before.

As I cross the hall and enter class, my chest struggles to expand and contract evenly. The elephant of anxiety is stomping on my rib cage. My eyelashes are losing a battle against my tears.

Four minutes before class starts, I walk to the bathroom. Both ear buds in. It takes three tries to find a sink that will actually run water, and it feels like pins on my cheeks. Two girls walk by, lock themselves in two vacant stalls. I keep splashing the water.

Back in class, my professor doesn’t acknowledge I’m late, instead says, “Hello, how are you?”

I smile. “Great!”

 

Progress Is Not Linear

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Yesterday was a day harder than others. I wish I knew why.

I wish I knew why getting ready to go on campus made it hard for me to breathe. Why I shook on the drive there. Or why my face crumpled and tears fell when I finally returned to the safe haven of my car.

But I don’t.

Sometimes, this is how anxiety and depression work. Even saying the word depression makes me uncomfortable because of the stigma attached to it. I worry that anyone reading this might now picture me crying spontaneously without reason, or tucked away in bed for days at a time, or refusing to talk to friends. I worry that these things may be true for me sometimes, and that because of that, you will think less of me.

Anxiety and depression are not choices. I didn’t wake up yesterday and say to myself, Today looks like a beautiful day to be sad. Today looks like just the kind of day to fight myself just to get out of my apartment. Today looks like the perfect day to give in to impulses and cut. 

Instead, I woke up feeling immediately unsettled. I did not wake up and experience a triggering event. I didn’t wake up, shower, stub my toe, get a bad phone call, realize I missed a homework assignment, remember today was the anniversary of a parent’s death or birthday.

I simply opened my eyes, and knew something felt wrong.

I journaled. I ate a healthy breakfast. And I distracted myself with mindless TV. But the itch refused to ease.

When it was time to leave my apartment to hand in paperwork on campus, I shook as I got dressed. Breaths shallow, tense. A shirt too uncomfortable, tossed aside. Socks fall down. Leggings too tight. Body all wrong. Fumbling with keys. Behind the wheel, the world shifts in and out of focus.

One deep inhale. I accelerate.

I accomplish 2 out of my 3 goals on campus, tell myself I’ll do the third tomorrow, it can wait and then promise myself I never have to return. I make this promise every morning. If I go to school today, I don’t have to come back tomorrow. And one day, this promise will be true.

By the end of the night, I’ve experienced a range of emotions from hopeless, to calm, to confused, and right back around to hopeless with an extra sprinkle of self-loathing to keep things interesting.

 

So while last week, I felt optimistic and hopeful about returning to school, yesterday I felt like I’d rather do anything else. What a stupid thing to be upset about, right?

Stop complaining. School is a privilege denied many. And here you are, crying on your bathroom floor about having to read books, attend lectures and have intellectual conversations.

But my aversion to school runs far deeper than simply not wanting to do homework or sit in a classroom. I explain my school avoidance more in-depth here, but its essence stems from the fact that school is the most life-affirming activity of my short twenty-two years. School gives me hope for the future, and for me, I still struggle with wanting a future in a world my parents don’t exist.

So by sitting in a classroom, I confirm my life and my parents’ deaths every minute. That I want to have a future. And that that future will not include them.

Not only does this feel like betrayal, it is torturous.

In order to “progress,” aspects of the past must be let go of. For instance, in the name of “progress” we invented the clock to tell time. Now how many of us can tell time by a sun dial? Or, for the sake of “progress,” we write e-mails. Hand-written letters are practiced by few.

If this is the case, then that means in order for me to “progress” in my life, I have to let certain things go that don’t serve me any longer. This is easier in certain cases.

Donate the clothes that don’t fit. Sell your car that’s a money pit. Break ties with the person you love.

But death is different.

Death defies all the rules. There is no logic. No understanding. You can’t just “move on” when the ones you love most die. Your relationship with them changes, this I know for sure.

But I am not willing to just “let go” of my parents, for the sake of “progress.”

 

Abbey Pie

Tags

, , , , , ,

Last week, one of my professor’s assigned my Transnational Literature class to create an “Identity Pie.”

I took this opportunity for some self-reflection and fun, creating a pie-chart of my identity as of January 25, 2016.

Because while many aspects of identity may remain relatively constant–such as my priorities of family, friends, writing, and music–my identity as a student is a new slice of the pie since I started the semester and will not be part of my identity once I graduate in May!

So here it is:

Abbey Pie

IMG_6702

It’s also interesting to notice aspects of myself that I left out, like grief and anxiety, which didn’t feel like aspects of my identity that needed to be highlighted. Which maybe is progress?

The Magic of Believing

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Back in December, I went out to dinner with my dear friend, Shannon. She was graduating and moving home at the end of the month so it was only right that we’d honor the occasion with Chinese Food.

IMG_6405
Shannon wearing the bow from my Christmas gift to her, 2015.

 

But being Shannon: Expert on All Things Queer and Radiant, and Abbey: Expert on the Morbid and Depressing, our conversation delved into some curious places.

By the end of the night, we began exploring ideas about religion, spirituality, and places of worship.

This got me thinking about my beliefs and what holds me together when all else fails.

Several years ago, I had the strange but mystical experience of encountering someone I had never met before, yet recognized deeply. I don’t want to share specifics for fear they’ll read this and know who they are (so I have to wait to be on the BestSeller’s list until the whole story can be revealed), but simply, this occasion led me to explore the possibilities of belief.

How so?

Well, without ever meeting this person, I felt a deep connection to them just from seeing them across a room. It was as though a lightning bolt had struck but no one else’s nervous system had been blasted but my own. Not only did I recognize this person’s physical features, but I felt I knew them as a person without having shared a word.

This instance has stayed with me every day since. Some may say I experienced love at first sight. Others may say I’m just a fangirl (sadly sexist definition here). I’m not sure how to explain it or why it struck me so deeply. What I do know is that it has instilled a belief in me, that there must be something more than the world in which we live. It has given me the belief that beautiful things can happen in this world. That there could be something more than meets the eye.

On my darkest days, I think about this person and thank them, not because they’re an attractive or talented human (even though they are), or because they allow room to share their flaws (which I think they do). I thank them because without their knowing, they represent belief for me.

Belief in recognition. In love. In devotion. In hope. In the possibility that there may be a time and place where I have lived another life or could, with those I love most. Belief that there is something worth living for, although I can’t always see what that something is.

Since my initial Universe Shifting Experience (a.k.a. watching this person across a room), we’ve met. They are just a regular human like you and me. A unique and flawed human who seems like one who has seen a thousand years of suffering, while still maintaining their child-like nature. It is like talking to someone I’ve known my whole life. We might not talk frequently, but knowing they are out there in the world, doing whatever it is they do, helps me believe that magic can occur in our daily lives.

And having belief in a time when science is so advanced and logic so powerful to poke holes through almost every argument in favor of belief is nothing short of miraculous.

Last First Days

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

IMG_6672

Me and Mom waiting at the bus stop for my very first day of school,  1998

 

Today was my last first day of my undergraduate career. Typically I think this way of categorizing milestones in life is a little silly, but hey, I needed an introduction and title.

I have not been looking forward to this day.

I’ve taken leave from academia for the last year to let my pelvis heal and to process some experiences that had happened the year prior. I thought I would be back at school in the fall, like many of my friends, but several nights beforehand I sat in my car crying about not only dreading the upcoming semester, but dreading my upcoming life.

It is a hard thing to articulate, but I think many of us who have lost the most significant people in our lives can relate. When my dad passed away it felt like I had died with him. And it took some serious therapy to make me feel comfortable with being alive again. But when Death knocked on my door again, taking my mom this time, I didn’t realize, but I once again felt like I had died. Maybe not at first, but slowly, slowly, I did.

It started once I broke my pelvis about six months after her death. Confined to sitting or laying down for eight weeks, I was isolated indoors except for occasional rides with friends around town, to dinner, or (closer to my “walking date”) a whole movie. It was a mental and physical vacation. Mostly alone, my friends became Laurelai and Rory Gilmore, microwave dinners, and sleep.

After I was able to walk, I took my time entering shared spaces. I avoided the gym at certain hours to minimize human sightings. I went back to school and became paralyzed with fear. Could I do the work? Why am I so afraid of these people?

What had happened to me?

I took a leave of absence and spent the next few months working on writing about my parents, interviewing their friends, and composing poetry at home. I started to meditate. Then quit. I stopped going to movies, seeing friends, and even backed out of a trip to visit my family in Florida. So when it was time to go back to school, I broke down. I didn’t want to continue.

I didn’t return.

Instead, I worked and spent time getting to know Meredith Grey and Derek Shepherd. I tried to mentally prepare myself for returning to school in January. These last few weeks I felt apprehensive, but didn’t dwell on it, hoping avoidance, denial, and flat-out ignoring would make it go away.

But last night, before classes today, the tears arrived once more. The fear overcame me and I couldn’t imagine returning to school. It wasn’t until I drafted an e-mail to a dear friend that I realized what the problem was.

For me, school has always been my ticket out.

My ticket to another world, one that my grandparents and mom didn’t have the opportunity to visit, where I could reach my First Grade dreams of becoming a teacher, a scientist, a counselor, a writer, a whoever, a somebody. It has been the most life-affirming aspect of my experiences, moving me forward in life toward a career. Toward a future. 

And this is exactly the problem because I am having trouble participating in any life-affirming activities because I still struggle with the idea of wanting to live in a world without my parents. I don’t want to do anything that confirms their deaths and my survival. The feeling of being-dead-and-alive-at-the-same-time has allowed me to feel happily invisible. To hide where I feel safe. To minimize risk. School challenges all of these creature comforts.

I’m not happy to be in school. I’m not happy to partake in life at this moment. But I’m hoping that if I can fake it for the next few months, that might change.

And today wasn’t so bad.

My Hopes

Tags

, , , ,

Hello readers!

I just wanted to write a small post about how I plan on utilizing this space as well as my hopes for it.

The biggest difference from my 2014 blog (This Is Life) is that this space will be less structured. I don’t have a set day of the week that pieces of writing will be shared or how frequently. I want this space to be more spontaneous with less pressure (and less chance of burnout) from my last time in the blogging community.

With that being said, I’ll be posting as frequently as I am inspired and I hope you enjoy what you find here.

I hope to create a tab to share the writing of others and their “squeaky wheel” stories, so if you would like to contribute, please send your piece (prose or poetry, experimental or formal!) as well as a mini bio (name, where you’re from, why you write etc.) to thesqueakywheels1@gmail.com.

Have a lovely day, night, wherever you may be.

With warmth,

Abbey 🙂