Sylvia’s Choosing

Sylvia: I’m saving some this time. Not the whole thing but the best part. The strongest part. The piece that will sustain me the next go-round.

Erma: I’ve told you time and again, Sylvia, that you wear your heart on your sleeve. You give away too much of yourself, so I’m thrilled to hear you are beginning to see the light. But I’m curious. What finally made you realize that you need to put yourself first, care for you– save something for yourself?

Sylvia: There was no sudden epiphany, Erma. Like everything as you frequently remind me, it’s been a process.

Although the more serious wreckage from winter has vanished, some remnants of the chaos remain. Towering trees uprooted by the last storm have finally disappeared. They’ve gone off to become firewood and kindling for the unexpected brisk summer evenings by the shore or mulch for the endless beds of hydrangea adorning most waterfront homes on the Cape. Light caramel-colored beaches that were nearly erased by rising waters and fierce battering are coming back to life as the tides recreate them. Mother Nature left more than a mark; she drew on her canvas with exactly those fixtures we thought were otherwise permanent. My, oh my, how misled we were! The not-so-old, abstract mural that was painted immediately following those winter storms has faded and is being replaced by a glorious new canvas erupting in greenery and color. In bloom, each day seems to leave the painting en plein air with additional brushstrokes of life. And with the burgeoning of Mother Nature’s new art, Sylvia contemplates a new canvas of her own.

Sylvia, reclined briefly and covered with the lap blanket that Erma gifted to her ages ago (it helps her think), has been caught between seasons. Although winter is long gone, spring has departed, and summer is at full throttle in shoreline vacation spots, Sylvia remains less than animated, not by the actual seasons and weather but by the emotional ones- caught between dormancy and vibrancy, lull and surge, complacency and action. The time between the dead of winter and the dog days of summer – not the weather, not the onset of warmer days, not the bluer skies or the sprouting blossoms- the intervening days have left Sylvia unsettled. Until now.

Erma: So Sylvia, tell me. Why the sudden change in disposition? I’m elated, of course, to witness this obvious upswing in mood, but I’d love to know what pulled you out of the doldrums. I feel as if these last few months I’ve been a spectator at the New York, New York roller coaster waiting for my friend to gain her footing and catch her breath after enduring the climbs and plunges of the rickety mainstay high above the Vegas strip. To a friend who knows how much those rides scare you, it’s been painful and uncomfortable to watch.

Sylvia: Wow, I’ve been that bad, Erma? Jesus, I’m so sorry. And somehow you have managed to put up with me. And as you are so often without even realizing, you’ve been instrumental in pulling me from the wreckage I’ve felt trapped in. You saw it as a roller coaster, Erma. Honestly, that might have been more fun. I guess if I had to equate how I’ve been feeling to a carnival ride though, it wouldn’t have been a roller coaster. A Ferris wheel more likely. Not my ride of choice but definitely the ride I’ve been on. The Ferris wheel when it stops at the top to be exact. Trouble is though I’ve been riding it with people who think it’s fun to rock it even though I repeatedly tell them to stop. Even though I have clearly told them that although the ride scares me to death, I’m willing to go because I trust them. Those sharing my gondola seem to almost delight in my fear and angst, and if not delight, then they simply don’t respect my feelings. Either way, it’s disrespect and I can’t tolerate it. I shouldn’t. And I know now, Erma. I know.

Erma: What’s that? What do you know?

Sylvia: I can avoid someone rocking my car if I ride alone. I don’t want to ride alone mind you, but I will if it means saving myself. I will if it helps me believe in myself again. Riding with people who create and feed my fears is just wrong. Going through life with people who can only feel strong by making me feel weak, inadequate, unloved, and less, that’s not living. That’s existing. That’s dying a slow, painful death. So, I’m getting off the ride and leaving the carnival. I don’t want to pay for rides that only others enjoy. And what I have decided is that I won’t return to any more shows, fairs, festivals, or spectacles with people who don’t respect me or how I feel. I’ll wait to share another carnival with someone who respects me, loves me, and wants to see me enjoying myself. So, for now, I’m choosing. I’m choosing me. I will sit in the middle, ride to the left, stand on the right- by myself- if that’s what it takes to free myself. While it scares me to death, the thought of being in the middle of the gondola with no one on either side to see me through to the end of the ride, I’d rather like the chance to control my own fear and save myself if need be. Fuck it. Maybe I’ll even choose to stay on the ground. At least for now.

Erma: Oh, and Sylvia, remember. You aren’t alone. Ever. I’m always up for the merry-go-round. That’s close to the ground, my friend.

Are you there, Sylvia? It’s me, Erma. Pick up.

Sylvia, Sylvia, for Christ’s sake, pick up the phone. Did you make it to your final destination? How was the layover in Charlotte? 

So, what do you think? Did she make it to her final destination?  Well, here’s the thing about going places. Each step that one takes, each stop along the way- no matter how big or small-each wrong turn or unexpected detour is by itself a destination. Part of one’s journey and perhaps even in the bigger picture part of one’s fate or destiny. So, yes, Sylvia made it. In fact, she made it to several destinations, o-ver and o-ver and o-ver again. 

Sylvia and Cam sat quietly at the bar, and as all of the extraneous noise dissipated around them and all of the onlookers, patrons, and passersby faded into the background, they remained there next to each other, fingertips now gently touching, gazing intensely and wantingly into one another’s eyes, and smiling so big that all that existed between them was warmth and desire. Heat. Pure heat. Palpable sexual tension. Tension if left leashed would surely suffocate them. 

Sylvia never realized that her fingertips were so sensitive, but with each gentle brushing of his against hers, a shiver traveled; her heart raced, and butterflies began to flutter. And just when the fingertip dance seemed as if it was waning, Cam laid his hand on the bar next to hers, palm up, all the while inviting her with his eyes to put her hand in his. In the very instant she obliged, their eyes met and then their lips. 

Her lips had not been kissed so fully, gently, and yearningly in forever. And although they had just met, their connection flowed naturally. No awkwardness. No apprehension. For the first time in a very long time, Sylvia thought of no one but herself.  Perhaps even thoughts of herself escaped her when Cam invited her into that instant. She wasn’t obsessing about anything or anyone. Her world, the one that Erma had encouraged her to take a break from, ceased to exist.  The only vision that Sylvia had was of that “steamy, hot cup of coffee” and at the moment, it was real. He was real. With the meeting of lips and seamless intertwining of tongues, Sylvia’s body and soul awakened. She and Cam were no longer sitting side by side, although exactly when their bodies had changed position she was not aware. They faced each other, and taking a momentary reprieve from the deliciousness of their soft, gentle kisses, they looked at one another and knew that something special-something so simply sensual and new yet inexplicably pleasing and familiar – was happening. 

Just as they stood hand in hand ready to set off and explore one another, the loud speaker beckoned, “American Airlines flight 136 to Chicago is now scheduled for departure. Anyone holding a boarding pass should proceed to Gate C15.” Sylvia,however, wasn’t hurrying for the flight. Intrigued by and eager to continue this adventure rather than what awaited her in Chicago, she made a bold move, one that was spontaneous and unlike her (or maybe this was the real Sylvia-champing at the bit to explore uncharted territory). As they held hands tightly and their energies fueled one another, she asked, “So, what’s your schedule?” His reply came quickly and unrehearsed, “I’m planning on taking a day or two to become well-acquainted with a new friend if she has the time.” Unable to resist the twinkle in his eye and the sincerity in his voice, Sylvia commented, “Perfect. Just perfect.” 

Flight 136 departed without Sylvia.  And in what seemed to be an instant, the layover in Charlotte became her destination. Their destination. 

“And if I didn’t think, I’d be much happier,” said Sylvia.* And lo and behold she was; and it was only the beginning. 

*The final quote in the above blog post is taken from Sylvia PlathThe Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

Hold It In or Roll with It

Apologies. Sylvia and I left you hanging for a bit. She’s on her layover in Charlotte, (a silly pun perhaps, or foreshadowing-either way, worth the wait, and I promise it won’t be long). Here’s what has me pausing at a time when Sylvia should just raise her glass, gulp it down bubbles and all, and let loose with wild abandon. I’m thinking, likely even over thinking (and those who know me well are saying, “Oh shit, not again”) because that’s one of my most prominent attributes or character flaws depending on whether you are female or male, an empathetic girlfriend, a commiserator, a partner-in-crime, or a guy who just wants to get on with “it” already. Sylvia has just rubbed arms with the delicious man from her daydream, and what’s on her mind? What would Erma advise? This is what I am thinking.  I am thinking, especially since I’m a slightly worn-in model of a woman who at nearly fifty-three still struggles with body image issues: “Spanx. Should I or shouldn’t I have worn mine today?” 

If you’ve been living on this planet and are at all in tune with the fashion trends of the millennium, then you are aware of and fairly well acquainted with this body-shaping, mind-blowing, literal and figurative take-your-breath-away invention created by a woman for women. It’s an undergarment and a magic trick rolled into one. It gives women self- confidence and severe stomach pain simultaneously. It allows you to wear the tightest, most form-fitting of garments without the worry of panty lines, bulges, or overhang. In other words, it creates an optical illusion and gives one the conflicting spandex-induced feeling of being both bridled and free. But hey, you’ll look good. And as every woman of post childbearing years knows, whether or not she’s used her parts to bring others into the world, that little pouch in front, though it’s been earned by mere virtue of being female, often keeps those of us who are vain and consumed with looking our best from wearing what we want. Spanx. It’s to the female body what wine and Prozac are to the menopausal mind. 

So, would Sylvia and Erma have considered Spanx? Well, in Sylvia’s case, late 20s early 30s, she probably wouldn’t have needed them. Plus, she was going away for “me” time, remember; she just wanted to get the hell out of the house as quickly as possible. Any woman who has ever tried on a pair of Spanx knows firsthand that you don’t seamlessly step into them. It takes planning and time. You need to prepare yourself emotionally and physically for the event. You can’t just step into Spanx, pull them up to your bra line if you are wearing SuperPower, and head out the door. You will need to cajole your body parts that move, get them to stay in place, wriggle and work them up onto your body one leg at a time, all the while holding your breath to keep your inners in place during the process. Once they are in place, you are golden! Sylvia never would have gone through such torture. She was tortured enough from within. She didn’t need any extra help from Spanx. Sylvia’s angst of that moment, the second she looked into Cam’s eyes and realized what might happen next, would have been about ensuing conversation. Was she interesting enough to make postcoital chitchat? 

Erma, on the other hand, would have seriously considered Spanx, if not for the fact that at her age she would have never knowingly risked having her circulation cut off on a flight of that length. Erma loves the look and idea of Spanx, but she is at that stage in life where she just doesn’t give a fuck. She’s been married forever. Her husband knows better than to say one word about any little bit of extra anything that might be appended to her body at this point.  An unwanted mole in the wrong place or a hemorrhoid can throw off her mood let alone the seamless look. Erma doesn’t care about panty lines because Erma wants everyone to know that she wears panties and not Depends.  Erma’s survived. She’s weathered so many storms that she’s become a beacon – she guides herself into port.

So, hold it in or roll with it? To Spanx or not to Spanx? It depends. Many days at this point in my life, when I’m walking the fine line between being me and becoming me, vacillating between sticking it out and running for the hills, I opt for the Spanx. It holds me in and makes me feel put together. I feel like I have the best body and the best kept secret. (Well, not now, y’all know now why I look so damn good most of the time!) Other days, and I’m gratefully finding them to be more frequently occurring, I say “no” to Spanx. On those days, I pleasantly surprise myself and look at ME- the face and eyes in the mirror- not the body, not the shell. I’m beginning to like what I see. And here’s what I’m learning: if I accept myself for who I am- a little bit Sylvia, a little bit Erma, but 100% me, others will too. And if they don’t, it’ll be their loss because I’m pretty damn fabulous most of time.  

So, on special occasions, I’ll wear the Spanx, but no matter what, I’m going to try and roll with it.