Today I am forty years old.
One of my favorite authors, Joan Didion, explained her personal purpose for penning words: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
Most of my friends know me as a gregarious, bawdy, ridiculously unfiltered figure. Rules, in my world, exist on a sliding scale. I prefer to ask for forgiveness. I am the thrill-seeker, the comedian, the one who says all the things. Recently a colleague joked that no one would ever be able to “one up Marshall” because I don’t subscribe to a definable line in the sand. I own, entirely, my enjoyment of pushing boundaries and buttons, walking the tight-rope between what is acceptable and what is inappropriate. For better or worse, I’m that friend and colleague and I’d like to think everyone needs someone like this in their lives, if not for simply to add some color – but that may just be me rationalizing my, sometimes, less-than choice antics.
Friendships are very important to me; I rely on them heavily. For those whom I count as the inner circle, I am ferociously loyal and protective. If ever a moment has occurred where I feel I’ve made a misstep, I am wrecked. Not just sad or apologetic but riddled with anxiety until the air has been cleared of any transgressions. Beyond this, the friendships that I hold close are immensely fundamental to my life. I just got back from having spent three nights in New York with my local tribe and it was nothing short of fabulous. These women and their friendships are infinitely validating and what sustain me. They are the constant when other parts of my life have gone, or go, haywire.
At my core, I am hard-wired to be an athlete. Over the years, athletics have manifest in various iterations. At six, I began gymnastics. I was certain I was going to be the very next Mary Lou Retton, and cartwheels I turned, relentlessly on our front lawn. There was a brief stint on a swim team – breast stroke and freestyle were my jam. At thirteen I donned my first pair of soccer cleats, and I was hooked, riding the sport all the way into college on a partial scholarship to a Division I team.
I started on the field as a defender, made my way up to an offensive half-back, and just as my skills were becoming laser sharp, I tore my ACL. After recovering from surgery, I was put into the goal as a way to preserve my knee and as it turned out, the position came naturally to me. The acrobatic skills I’d acquired as a gymnast, served me well. And I was a bit of a kamikaze.
My senior year of high school, I blew out my knee, again, busted my ass to come back from that, and then months before graduating, I tore my shoulder on a dive. Because of the shoulder injury that required surgical intervention, I had to red-shirt my freshman year of college. By the time I made it back onto the field, my sophomore year, I was running on steam. In one of the hardest decisions of my life, at the end of my sophomore year of college, I chose to relinquish the scholarship, and turned in my jersey.
Never have I ever won an MVP award. Never. But – I’ve won, more times than I can count, “Most Inspirational.” In high school I became comfortable in my role as the underdog, always climbing my way back from some injury, some surgery – in fact, I got really good at it. No bigger was there a challenge than rehabbing reconstructed knees and shoulders. I love physical challenges, and it’s precisely why in the years that followed soccer retirement that I ran a marathon and competed in sprint triathlons. It’s why, today, I’m running consistently again, and lifting weights. I completed a half marathon in May, with, as it turned out, undiagnosed pneumonia. I thought I had a bad cold. My bad. It’s tempting to do another half, but I haven’t committed to it just yet; to keep things interesting, in September, I will be participating in a Tough Mudder. You know – for fun.
It is clear to me now, more than ever, that I have enjoyed the struggle – the climb. Making progress, and showing measurable advancements is incredibly motivating. I’ve never been a first-place finisher, and frankly, I’m not interested in winning races, but instead completion and working towards personal bests. I have nothing to prove to anyone but myself. If a mile takes me twelve minutes one day, and nine the next, so be it. At this point in my life, sustainability is the brass ring. Setting an example for my daughter as a woman who takes care of her body, who runs and lifts because it makes her feel good – that’s where I win.
When I began college, I thought I wanted to be a pediatrician. Several bombed math and science classes later, I realized that while I loved the idea of working with kids, I did not love the science behind medicine. There was a brief period where I reasoned that teaching elementary school would fit me best. Laughable, I know. Late in my sophomore year, I heard author John Edgar Wideman, speak. During the Q&A at the end, he said something that would change my life forever – he said, “If you want to do something easy, eat bananas. If you want to be a hero, teach high school.” Done. I declared myself a writing major with the intent to teach high school English. And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past fourteen years. Beyond teaching English though, I do plenty of the less academic: I’m in charge of our social committee, so when babies are born, vows are made, or someone must bury a loved one, it’s me who makes sure that gets recognized. I’m also in charge of putting on prom. It’s not a role for which I win Staff Member of the Month, but every single year, I put together a beautiful party for my seniors and juniors. It’s a gorgeous evening, and it happens because of me. But the best and most rewarding facet to my career is getting to know my students – their lives, and who they are beyond the essays they write for me. There’s payoff in these efforts, because long after they’ve graduated, a handful stay in touch. Some have even thanked me. I keep those letters they’ve written close at hand; they are treasures.
Motherhood: I have waxed poetic, pondered, scrutinized, and emoted all over the page with regards to being Lucy’s mama. As she grows, I grow too. It has become clear there is no finish line, and the ravines are oftentimes steep and dark. The mama I aim to be to this stardust little girl, is a mama who recognizes her missteps, can reflect on them, and do better next time. I want to be the mama to give her space to climb the tallest trees and allow her to fall – to not catch her (even when my hands compulsively want to reach out), so that she learns the value in overcoming the break. But make no mistake, I want to arm her. My history is inscribed with #metoo. The stories, yes plural— I don’t tell often, not out of shame, but more so because they don’t arise in typical pedestrian conversation. The gritty details are unnecessary, but these experiences most certainly inform how I parent my daughter and the conversations we have about consent. Much as I want to shield her from the ugliness lurking beyond the walls of our home, I know I cannot. What I can do is make sure she knows that no one, man or woman, will trespass the geography of her body without her explicit consent. She will also know what it means to be groomed, and when she’s more emotionally capably of understanding, I will tell her of the red flags I missed, and I will watch for those with her, always an ally. The horrifying reality is even in doing so, I know I still won’t be able to stop all the monsters. I can only hope that if the ugliness should reveal itself to her, she has the wherewithal to recognize the situation and save herself. It’s a lot to ask, I know.
She has been the mirror into which I see myself, every flaw and virtue. The brilliant in her, is a piece of the best in me. The dark in her, are the shadows in me. Love is too precise a word when it comes to my daughter. We are messy, a calamity, unbridled laughter and tears. We are both I’m sorry and I’m scared. We are try harder and I love you most. Together we are Wonder Women. I repeat to myself, constantly, that she does not belong to me. She belongs only to herself. She will have her own ideas, opinions and desires. I cannot get in her way. What I wish to foster within her, for as long as I have any kind of influence, is a stockpile of grit, empathy, and confidence. The rest is up to her. And if she talks about smashing the patriarchy in first grade, well then, we’ve added a cherry on top – nolite te bastardes carborundorum, my darling.
Big Red. I don’t speak of him often in this space because he largely likes to remain anonymous, and while our story together belongs to me, so too does it belong to him. What I can say about the past eighteen years with this man is that it’s been about learning, evolving, and adventure. Like every other couple on the face of the planet, we experience a range in delights and misfortunes. He pisses me off. I piss him off. He rolls his eyes at my political statement t-shirts in which I express my love and support for those on the fringes and he braces himself when I propose crazy ideas. He thinks I’m bananas for waking up at “four ass early” to go running and can’t for the life of him understand why I’d lay down $100 to run a muddy obstacle course with my friends. He doesn’t stop me from talking to our daughter of the importance of busting through the glass ceiling or ranting about the social constructs of bras. It’s cool. We’re two wildly different people. Listen, he may not bring me random gifts, or may falter with words of affirmation (my love language), but for eighteen years, even in our darkest hours, he’s never gotten in the way of me being me. He’s never once tried to change who I am. Never. He loves me in his own way, no flash, no pretense - and that’s not for nothing.
I have never jumped out of an airplane.
I have four tattoos (and an upcoming appointment for another, maybe two).
I have never been asked out on a date. Yes, really.
I love photography.
I want to be loved.
I want to be wanted.
I have a terrible temper, but a long fuse.
I have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
I love sushi and ice cream. Not together.
I do not embarrass easily.
My emotional side overrules my logical side, often.
I have no regrets, just lessons learned.
That has to be enough.
I am enough.
I am a walking dichotomy, more resolved than ever to be a strong and confident woman, feminist, mother, partner, and friend. Forty years has amounted to a series of moments that, collectively, create my wondrous life. Magic, really. I don’t know what it all means, so I’m just going to keep on, keep’n on. One foot in front of the other, face to the sun, learning, and living my best life.
I listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.