Real. With Most of Her Hair Loved Off

I’m sitting in a big upholstered chair at The Book Cellar, a stack of children’s books in my lap. Tears streaming down my cheeks – red from the warmth inside.

There is a discussion panel about the Arab Spring just a few feet away from me.  Every seat is filled – except for mine, tucked away at the end of the stacks.  A couple of people are standing.

friendsI’m supposed to be choosing a gift for my friend Clover’s yet-to-be-born baby.  Her friends are throwing her a shower this weekend.  And she and Andy have asked guests to bring a book for the baby’s library.  I’m pretty sure I’ve chosen hers – Friends, by Eric Carle’s.  The words are simple, the illustrations lush.  I think about our friendship.  That my wish for her child is to have a friendship like ours.

On the inside back cover is a photograph of Carle and his friend.  They are three-years old.  The month it is taken is written in German, by his mother.  Carle never saw his friend again.  “I often wonder what happened to him,” he writes.

Tears.

I think about people leaving and having no say in the matter.  Powerless.  My adoption shit is all stirred up.

I am reading The Velveteen Rabbit.  I sort of know the story – my friend Rachel used to reference it, talking about being real and having all the fur loved off of you.  But I don’t think I ever actually read it.  Or had it read to me.  Until now.

“ ‘What is REAL?’ asked the Rabbit one day…’Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?’ “

I smirk.

“ ‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. (Named for his bald brown coat and missing hairs of his tail.)   ‘It’s a thing that happens to you.  When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

Loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with…I let the words wash over me.

“ ‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.”

Yes, I whisper, to no one in particular.

Illustrations, William Nicholson
Illustrations, William Nicholson

“ ‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.  ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’ “

Bullshit.

“ ‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’ ”

All at once.  Wound up.  That is my history – mostly.  All in love.  Insanely inside one another’s skin.  Until now.   I’ve been getting to know some new someones, bit by bit.  It is new.

“ ‘It doesn’t happen all at once…You become.  It takes a long time.’ “

Amen.

“ ‘That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.

So we don’t all become real?

Do I break easily?  Because I cry easily.  Because I hurt easily.  I decide that it is not the same thing.  Although pieces have certainly chipped off in transit.  I am soft, at times ridiculously so, free of sharp edges.  And despite my seemingly fragile nature, I do not have to be carefully kept.

“ ‘Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.  But these things don’t matter at all because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.

“…but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again.  It lasts for always.’ ”

Yes.  I think so.

Except for when I am not.  Not Real.  Twisting myself inside out to be who I think you want me to be so that you will love me.  It is more infrequent now.  Subtle.  But it still happens.  Awful.

The way I make myself small, without even knowing it, so you won’t feel overwhelmed by me.  My desires.  My needs.  My emotions.  I found myself doing it today.  Unconscious.   Until I wasn’t.

“How sick to be small and to sit by and wait until you can accept more of me,” I wrote in my notebook.

The Skin Horse tells his story.  Illustrations, William Nicholson.
Skin Horse tells his story. Illustrations, William Nicholson.

“The Rabbit sighed.  He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him.  He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad.  He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.”

Me too.  But so far, these “uncomfortable things” have been the wellspring of change in my life.

I remember once saying to my girlfriend Julie, having again gained back all of the weight I had lost and then some, that if someone could wave a wand and make me a healthy weight, I was certain this time I would maintain it.

I doubt it.

The Rabbit does become Real.  Not just to the child who plays with him, but to everyone.  Real with real hind legs – no longer made from just a single piece of fabric – the kind that allow him to jump without the boy tossing him in the air.

And one day, when Autumn became Winter became Spring, the Rabbit saw the boy again – playing in the woods.

“ ‘Why, he looks just like my old Bunny that was lost when I had scarlet fever!’

But he never knew that it really was his own Bunny, come back to look at the child who had first helped him to be Real.”

Come back to look at the child…yes, sometimes they come back.  High-school friends I never really knew.  Birth parents.  And old boyfriends – 18-plus years later – just to say they are sorry.

Sometimes.

I pick up both books and take them to the register.  I have one gift wrapped for Clover’s baby.  The other I keep for me – the one with most of her hair loved off.

Getting Right Sized

Up until now I have shied away from online dating.

It didn’t fit my sensibility, how I imagined meeting someone.  The magic, romance and serendipity of a chance encounter whacking me over the head and shaking me to my core.  Entirely unexpected and gorgeous.

My body today...moving and joyful in Africa.
My body today…moving and joyful in Africa.

I recently changed my mind, thinking it might be helpful to, at the very least, see who is out there.

I’d been noodling on the idea for a little while.  Then I found myself sitting across the table from my divorce buddy – the man who walked side-by-side with me through the dissolution of both of our marriages – and thought, “I could grow old with you.”

I’ve been here before with him.  He didn’t share the sentiment.

At that moment I realized I had been fishing in a barrel – albeit unknowingly.  If I wanted different I had to do different.   Beginning with looking for someone who, at the very least, appears to be available.  (Unlike my most recent, fast, woefully unavailable, flirtation.  Core shaking and lovely, but impossible.)

Last night I began an online dating profile.  I didn’t get very far – stymied on the first screen.

Question: What is your body type?

Answer: I don’t know.

Several I could rule out: Big and Beautiful, Full Figured, Heavyset, A Few Extra Pounds, Stocky.  What about “About Average?”  At risk of sounding, hm…not right sized…I don’t think of myself as “About Average.”  At all.  Period.

(When I mentioned to the aforementioned divorce buddy that I needed to shave my head before leaving on our cross-country drive from Seattle to Chicago, he asked that I consider not – instead letting my stubble grow.  “I find it best to blend in when in Montana and the Dakotas.”  “I have never blended in,” I responded.  “I know.”)

That left me with Slender, Athletic and Toned, and Curvy.

I picked Curvy, filled out a couple of more screens – offering up that I am a liberal, Libra, entrepreneur who would selfishly treat myself to something special should I be blessed with a financial windfall – and went to bed.

I told my friend Kendall about the experience this morning.  When I told her I chose Curvy, she told me I chose wrong.

My body (and my relationship status) as it once was.
My body (and my relationship status) as it once was.

But what about my hips?  My breasts?

Curvy implies extra weight, Rubenesque, she explained.  “You are not.”  When one of our regular Weight Watchers members walked through the door, she posed the question to him.  “Definitely not Curvy.”

This was news to me.  For most of my life I would have chosen,  A Few Extra Pounds, Full-Figured or, at best, Curvy.  I forget that was more than 12 years ago.  Thirty-five pounds ago.  A breast reduction ago.

Seems my brain is still busy trying to catch up with my body.  This isn’t the first time.

A couple of weeks ago I bought a new pair of winter boots.  Like a kid, I wore them right out of the store – tromping home through the snow, giddy.  When I arrived at my apartment 20 minutes later, I had blisters on both ankles.  They were too big.

I cursed myself for being 44 and not knowing what size shoe I wear.

I went back the next day, head dipped, shoe box in hand, to see what, if anything, the store could do for me.  They began by measuring my feet.

Six.  A little less than six actually.  But the boots were a six and one-half.  And sometimes, I’ve been known to buy a seven.  (These shoes usually ended up in a friend’s closet or at GoodWill.  Now I know why.)

The right-size boots.
The right-size boots.

They didn’t have my boots in a smaller size, so I purchased a different pair – red leather and suede, treated for winter, with a lug sole.  The salesman gave me $50 off for the “inconvenience” of having gotten the wrong size.

I always think I am bigger than I am.  Even when I was bigger.

Like the time I picked a fight with a guy a foot taller than me at a bar.  Drunk and messy, he swung his girlfriend around the dance floor, continually knocking her or himself into someone else.  Often me.  Next I knew, I watched myself running into him, full force, slamming him into the wall.

He spun around, ready to fight.  He looked around, and then down.  When he saw me, he appeared confused.

He grabbed my wrists in one paw, and held a fist with the other, while his girlfriend screamed and I shrieked, “Get a bouncer.”  I hadn’t counted on this.

He got kicked out of the bar that night.  I was lucky.  I think about my brother telling me to not start something with my mouth that I couldn’t back up with my body.  I had forgotten.

So I changed the body type on my profile to Slender.  But that is all.  I’m still not certain about all of this.

In the meantime, I’m working on getting “right sized” – physically, emotionally and spiritually.  Seeing myself as I truly am – good and bad. Neither better than or less than.  One of the pack.  Perhaps even, “About Average.”