I choose a particular stall in the woman’s rest room at Holmes Student Center, where I take those few private minutes to relieve myself. When students stand me up or we finish early, I walk away from the table, get my blood moving.
It is a weary task, a good task to sit down with student papers and show them how they can make them better. Lately I’ve checked off sentences that don’t work so well and ask students to find out why and to fix it. Is the run on a complete thought? I’m finding this works.
One woman whose thoughts were not clear, who ran sentences together like so many bumper cars, whose verbs didn’t alway agree, is working hard. Her voice is coming through her sentences. Her last paper, her last paper, well she made it sing with her voice, her authority and her sentences began and ended where they needed to.
But there are others who don’t come, who allow me this precious break, who want me to give them a good grade just because. They show me videos of their friends fighting each other and I wonder if this is a warning that they are tough and I’d better accept their paper, give them that A or B. What I see on You Tube are the quiet men breaking them up and I laugh saying I’ve broken up twelve hundred pound mares fighting hip to hip. I don’t even see that the videos might be a threat until a whole day later because I’ve laughed at the students’ nickname for me, “Katie Got Banz” and said I don’t have rhythm or dance, not like you.
I enter the stall and sit down, looking at the used tampon box, the message, “Don’t forget your beautiful” written on the top. A gentle message. A quiet message, no janitor has scrubbed off. I think of Kelli Woodford showing her children her belly button because they asked to see and they saw her with love and respect. Kelli knew how she responded was just as important as what they saw because a mom can teach nearly everything to their child about how to sit, seat in their bodies, how to honor their own beauty, the goodness of being a body that can sense the world.
I remember my mom and dad, seeing them naked when I was a toddler because my mother didn’t want us covered up like she’d been growing up. I remember my mother’s round belly and floppy breasts and I hate to admit, I did not find comfort in them. I hated her smoking. She smelled stale. I judged her, already our culture saying a beautiful woman was flat as a board. In fifth grade I stopped eating lunch and my mother those years tried the first Weight Watchers and drank Metrocal.
I ran to the woods crying to be held, mourning her dying years before she died. That mourning did not sop up the mourning I did after she died. No it did not. I prayed to lose weight because it was the body sin I could fight, when the preachers were warning against sex and I was just nine, ten, eleven. When the cancer ate her up, my mother said she was glad, finally for the weight loss.
I remember going to the most beautiful place on earth, Wales, and lying flat on the ground, feeling my jeans tight around my thighs, praying that God would make me as beautiful as the rolling green hills and sheep and cloud shadows. I felt the energy rising from the ground, but stayed rumpy until a few years later when I joined Weight Watchers for the first time and learned all the good things I can eat.
(I’d be in and out of that program through the years until finally I didn’t like how I looked on my horse and went back to lighten the load, hers and mine. My friends posted pictures of my riding Tessie and all I saw was a Buddha belly and old smile and green leaves shimmering around us. Tessie’s ears splayed out like she enjoyed the walk. I returned to Weight Watchers because I was happier when I was keeping track of my eating, when sweets became treats again instead of something I grabbed out of the cupboard when I wanted them.)
Don’t forget you’re beautiful. My husband sometimes stands me before the mirror, his eyes full of love, his hands on my belly trying to get me to see how beautiful I am. But I don’t see it and close my eyes. But his hands pursue me, say over and over, you’re beautiful even though I stumble over insecurities and grumping at him to tell me, please tell me what he’s thinking, when he already is by how his body moves.
It’s easy for me to slip out of my body into my head, and my body misses me. My horses stand at the gate, neighing when I walk out, inviting me to come back, come back to them, to finding quiet while working with them. Bruce takes me in his arms and we hold hard, body to body, not like my parents who held themselves away from each other, though that strikes me now as a modesty held over from their time. Sometimes I come back, other times my mind is galloping, tripping over itself so much I don’t.
I think how it will be the ultimate grief when we leave our bodies in death, our bodies that have taken care of us, that have helped us see, hear, taste, touch, smell the world. But also the ultimate comfort. As a girl I wept at the words, in the woods, when I mourned my mother, the words describing heaven, how Jesus would take us up and wipe away our tears, this same Jesus who dropped into a man’s body, and called it good, yet again and who knew that ultimate grief himself, would dry those tears, comfort our losses. Don’t forget you’re beautiful.