Stairs. Babies. And Dust Shaking.

When your 67-year-old mother falls down all eleven steps in your stairwell at 5AM while she’s visiting your new house for the first time and because she is trying to be nice and not disturb anyone by keeping the lights off, let me tell you it gives you a whole new perspective on your relationship with her, her mortality, and your strange premonitions. Well, it gives you all those things if you are me, which you aren’t, but you get the point.

I was startled and horrified when I heard the soft bumping that was more than a cat descending the eleven steps that lead down to the first floor and right into our double front doors, which are entirely made of glass, but I knew exactly what was happening, because I’d been seeing it from inside whoever was falling down the stairs since I moved into this house in July. I’d say at least twice a week I’d have what I’ll call a vision or a premonition where I seemed to be inside someone falling down the long flight of stairs. The person would miss the top step and then slide, tumble, bump to the bottom, so when at 5AM, I heard a noise that resembled someone falling down the stairs, I realized my premonition had some true, and somehow instantly I knew it was my mom.

When I heard the ruckus, I jumped out of bed, got dressed, and ran out into the hallway to find my mom at the bottom of the stairs in her nightgown. She was just sitting there. Silent. But sitting. We picked her up and dusted her off. Luckily she only hurt her shoulder, her hip, and one hand, and they were just bruised. Every possible scenario ran through my mind that morning, the things that could have happened but didn’t. And I learned a few things from it, things similar to what I learned about my dad and posted here (seven years ago, wow, I’ve been writing here for seven years).

1) She is my mom, and while I see her as sort of a force that will always be in my life, she is mortal. The fall could’ve been much worse, but it wasn’t this time. However, it did make me think about how she’s 67, which is still young, but how we are all aging and it only seems as if we are getting older faster these days. I know time is relative, but, man, how I wish we could go back to when the summer lasted forever and I couldn’t wait for school to start again. Some of my best memories were playing softball while my parents watched, or helping my mom set up her classroom for a new school year, then dropping into Hardee’s to see my dad for lunch after we’d been outside all morning swimming in the pond. Yeah, so we’re all aging and time is going faster, and one day my parents will be gone, and one day I’ll be on my own in this world. All of those things went through my head as I celebrated my banged up and bruised mother that day.

2) I’ve always been a strange duck when it comes to intuition. I’ve been reading more about it lately and I’ve been more open about this facet of my life lately, and I find that I am not alone, that there are lots of us who sense things deeply, who can feel others feelings, who carry heavy burdens for things that don’t belong to us, and who can see things. Anyway, since July when I moved into this house, I’ve had what I like to call a vision or premonition of someone falling down the stairs. As I mentioned above, this one was weird, though, because it was like I was inside the person as they were slowly tumbling down the steps. I couldn’t tell if this was something that I was being allowed to see from the past, or something that might happen in the future. (I’m not really very good at deciphering these things yet, even at 40, and they’ve happened all my life.) For some of you who’ve known me for a while, this may come as a surprise, but I’ve had visions/premonitions/dreams since I was about 2 or 3 or as far back as I can remember, and I can see things (you might call them ghosts) pretty consistently. I may write more about this later, but my point is that when I heard my mom start to fall, I almost instantly knew it was her, and I could almost feel her path inside me, because I am pretty sure it was the one I’d been seeing since we moved in. The visions of falling down the stairs have ended now, so I know I was intuiting her fall. And I’m not surprised by all of this, but I wish I could become better at really understanding what all of it means before it happens.

3) Finally, I think this helped me understand that for far too long, I’ve been carrying a grudge against my mom for how she handled my coming out to her. I wrote a whole nonfiction/memoirish piece about it when I was in graduate school (writing class is excellent therapy, just an fyi), and I won’t rehash all of that here, but I wanted my family to be one those families that just embraced who I was and then we would move forward. While my parents tried to do that, I just happened to come out in the midst of the AIDS crisis to parents who were just a bit more conservative than I thought. While they were always very kind to any girlfriend I may have had, my mom also spent time copying scriptures about homosexuality from her bible and passing them to me during church, my dad didn’t say much one way or another, and it was apparent to me that all their hopes and dreams for me, for a normal life with a big white wedding and 2.4 children were dashed on the rocks below them. There were choice things said about my sexuality in times of great stress that I won’t repeat here, because we finally are past all that. But I realized when I saw my mom at the bottom of the stairs, I’d been just angry at her for so long, I wasn’t sure how to recover from it. One of my friends said over the summer, “You give everyone else grace, but not your mom. That’s my observation about your grace.” She was right. I had been holding an almost 20-year-old response to my coming out against my parents. Dumb. Unkind. The opposite of grace. So with me at the age of 40, after my mom fell down a flight of stairs, I forgave her, finally and completely, like I should have years ago. I do love my family a great deal. I’ve been wrong. And callous. And I’m done with it.

Shortly after my parents left, like a couple of hours after they walked out the door, two of our grandchildren came to spend the week with us. I love all four of them to the moon and back (I’m that grandma, the one with the pictures and the stories), but for some reason I feel a very special bond with Simon, the youngest one. I would assume it’s because I’ve been around more while he’s been younger, or maybe it’s because whenever we watch them while their parents are out, I put him to bed and I get to rock him to sleep while he drinks his bottle. Whatever the reason, I feel a kinship with this almost 9-month-old kid. I can say the experience of caring for the two boys for the weekend taught me a bit more about life. Since I have no children of my own (three amazing grown men and their beautiful significant others don’t really count in this example), I’d never experienced waking up when a 3-year-old has night terrors and is screaming outside our bedroom door. Though I was so tired, I was also moved to compassion, since I, too, have suffered from nightmares from a very young age. When Bec got up to be with him, I told her I’d handle the next crisis in the night, so at 4AM when I heard little cries coming from the room next door, I got up with Simon. He’d been sick for a few days with some stomach issues, diarrhea mostly. Aside from a summer of having baby foster siblings, I have relatively little experience with babies, so I mostly just guessed why he might be crying. Diaper? Changed (and gross! colossal blow out) and pajamas changed, too. Too hot? Too cold? Found another little blanket. Hungry? Read the back of the formula canister at 4:23AM and fumbled my way through that. Snuggles? Oh, yes.

What I learned from this is much akin to what I learned when my mom fell: outside of each other, humans have nothing tangible that really matters. At many different points in our lives, we solely rely on each other for love. We need each other in ways that I hadn’t even considered before. We must rely on each other. And because I have faith in God, I’d say that we were created to see the image of God in each other. We were created to complete each other.

Basically, October 14-18 was a huge learning curve for me. I’m 40. I’m tired of learning lessons like these.

Here’s the last bit of this post, which I think is related to the rest, though maybe only tangentially. I’m not really sure what I want to say about this poem, and I may have posted it before, but having recently moved and knowing the usual connotation of the phrase “shake the dust” from your feet, I love Anis Mojgani’s reappropriation of the phrase in this poem. Shaking the dust is not about leaving something behind because it didn’t please you or you didn’t please it; shaking the dust is about repositioning yourself in relation to your surroundings, so that others may somehow see you the way you see yourself and not inside the little, tiny, constricting box they’ve put you in. This poem really is beautiful.

A Buggy Little Adventure

This day was supposed to be awesome. Bec planned an excellent all day date with her sister Ann and me. Bec and I would start by going to church, then meet up with Ann, head to St. Croix State Park, have a picnic lunch, then hike a 5-mile loop by the river.

Here is how the day really went.

Bec and I got up early, and did what the morning wants people to do. Drink some coffee. Take a shower. Walk the dogs. Not necessarily in that order, but you get it. Then we made the 20-25 minute drive to St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in St. Paul. Some folks would take what happened next as an omen of some sort. We, however, did not. We made it before the service started, so that’s a bonus, but as we were getting out of the car we were greeted by this little gem in the car next to ours:

ZombieBaby

We met up with Ann at around 10AM and headed about 2 hours north, northeast to St. Croix State Park. The foliage was gorgeous pretty much the whole way up Interstate 35, with bright yellow, rustic oranges, loud reds, and sumac turning a dark crimson along the sides of the road. Basically, there was all kinds of beauty everywhere I looked. When we got to the park, we had a picnic on an overlook with this view of the river:

River2

And this view of my delicious Summit Porter:

Porter

But, sadly, that is all we were able to do at this state park, because we were being eaten alive (I mean almost carried away like an alien abduction) by mosquitoes. We got quickly into the car and drove through the rest of the park, like good little lazy Americans, using fossil fuels to see nature’s beauty. We did stop at two other places in the park. One was an overlook where the river looked like this:

River1

I also saw a loon after we heard it diving and splashing around in the weeds by the edge of the shore, because the last place we stopped looked a bit like this:

Marsh

So we drove, sadly, back toward the Cities with only a picnic under our belts. But then Ann had a wonderful and brilliant idea: Fort Snelling State Park! We all agreed that would be a fine time. And it could have been with cool stuff like this memorial for the Dakota Indians who were imprisoned during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862:

Memorial

Or this cool historical marker (I’m a sucker for historical markers):

HistoricalMarker

Or the fine company: HarrisButts

Or the natural beauty of a river island (Pike Island): Clearing

I could have had a good time pretending I was Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn or Becky Thatcher (if she ever got to do anything cool, besides have the hots for Tom), but there were also lots of these little bastards:

So as I said at the beginning today was supposed to be awesome, and it was. I had so much fun picnicking, hiking, and being abducted by mosquitoes… oh, wait… I learned something today: ALWAYS WEAR MOSQUITO REPELLENT WHEN HIKING IN MINNESOTA. ALWAYS. DOUBLE ALWAYS. AND TRIPLE. I kept saying, as we were walking, “This is what hell is probably like. You are with people you love, doing something that’s supposed to be super fun, but there’s one thing really horrible about it. You think all the while, oh, this isn’t bad, but then there are the mosquitoes. These mosquitoes are Satan’s minions, torturing us.” I think I just thought the last sentence of that and didn’t ever say it out loud, but now I am saying it, because it is true.

But I really did have a great time with two fantastic women. In fact, it was one of the most fun days I’ve had in a long, long time. I’m re-learning flexibility. But I’m also learning to WEAR BUG REPELLENT!

Unique by Corby Jaye Roberson

While I was moving things, I found one of my most prized possessions, a poem I wrote when I was in seventh grade. I’m posting it here for the simple fact that if I lose the written copy, I’ll still have this cyber copy. I love how much and how little I’ve changed in 27 years.

Here is the title page:

Unique
by: Corby Jaye
Roberson

Hartford City Junior High
7th grade
April 8th, 1987

Here is the poem:

The world looks down on people like me,
The ones that want to do or be different.
I don’t think that just because I’m different,
That I should be looked down upon, lower
Than people that do the same old thing day after day.

But I don’t really care if the people do look down on me,
Because if I’m what I want to be,
That’s my choice not the world’s.

If everybody did or was the same,
The world would be very dull and boring,
And maybe then people would want to do or be different,
Not the same!

So I’ll just me, because that’s all I can be,
And I don’t care what the world thinks.

Here is the story behind this poem: I totally forgot that it was the last day to submit anything for Young Author’s, so I faked sick during P.E. and went to the nurse’s office. Then I laid on the cot and wrote the poem you have before you. I made the cover during lunch and then turned it in to Mrs. Warner, my English teacher, just after last period. I was as shocked as anyone else when I won the competition at our school and had my poem submitted for the Indiana Young Author’s Anthology, which I never received. I was pretty proud of this poem, and I wasn’t the least embarrassed that I wrote it at the last minute, because it had been rolling around inside of me, since about, oh, kindergarten. Growing up I always felt a bit out of step with everyone else, and I didn’t really care about how out of step I was until the next year, during the same month, when I had a life-altering event happen to me. I don’t really want to divulge that here, now, but I will say that I spent a good portion of the next 25 years trying to get back in step with everyone else. And, well, now I am done with that. So there.

The Toothpaste Won’t Go Back in the Tube

I’ve been in Minnesota for about seven weeks now, and I can say that I am growing to love it here. I have a great job at Cairbou (or the ‘Bou, as they call it here) that provides me little stress (except financial stress, since I only make $8 an hour), and I have free time to run, bike, and spend time with Bec doing things we love. I start swimming on next Monday night at 8, and I am mostly relaxed. The past seven weeks hasn’t been easy—make no mistake—but I have learned a lot about who I am and where I am going. Yesterday I received a care package from a friend. In it was a map that said YOU CAN GO YOUR OWN WAY in big letters. Another little reminder that this move has been good for me. Don’t get me wrong; I still miss my friends and family very much, but I feel hopeful right now that I am becoming someone I can live with for the rest of my life.

One of my big goals for moving here was to be able to get in touch with the me I used to love and respect, and to shed like a used up exoskeleton the me I had become, the bitter, sad, angry, short-tempered, and otherwise not very gracious me. I would say for the most part, I have rediscovered the person I want to be, but there are moments where the old me rears her ugly head. I got very angry with a poor unsuspecting woman at the license branch, this morning I got into a fight with Bec over some utility bill envelopes, and I’ve argued with a couple of friends over really petty and stupid shit. These moments wouldn’t have even phased me six months ago, because I sort of lived my life in combat mode, almost living my life for the argument, or to prove my rightness in every situation. Ridiculous. Embarrassing. Wrong.

I look back, and I wonder how I even had any friends with the way I acted most of the time. Maybe I am hyper-critical of myself and my actions, but I desire to be a person who ushers peace and grace and love into this world, and I certainly wasn’t doing much of that. In these “old me” moments—though they are few and far between in the past month or so—when I see myself acting short, or being an asshole, I am embarrassed about my present actions, and I am saddened by the fact that I had become a person whose first response was fault finding or misplaced anger.

I’ve started trying to stop making excuses and start making amends. It’s almost like I am in attitude AA, and I am trying to find those people I’ve wronged and try to apologize or at least let folks know that I am aware of how I was, and sadly occasionally still can be, because I’m finding that this is just like any other sinful (I hate that word sin but I don’t have a better word for it) behavior, in that, I can’t just make it go away.

When I think about how our personal conduct affects others, I am always transported back to a children’s sermon, one of the better ones, that someone gave at Grace UMC when I was in high school or college. I think the person giving it was Shelly Neal, but I can’t be sure. Anyway, in the process of the children’s sermon, the person speaking squeezed an entire tube of toothpaste out onto a paper plate. She then said, “Okay, kids, now put it back in the tube.” They tried various methods, but to no avail. She said, “Um, yeah, it doesn’t work.” If you’ve ever tried to put toothpaste back in the tube, because you squirted out too much, you already know this. If you follow the children’s sermon illustration, you’ll understand that what we say and do is like the toothpaste. Once it’s out there, it can’t be put back in the tube. Basically, I am trying really hard to be a person who doesn’t squeeze the tube unless what is going to come out of the tube is true, kind, necessary, or helpful (Bernard Meltzer). If what I am about to say or do isn’t one of those things, I am trying to avoid saying or doing it. Living this way, for me, is a struggle.

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In the fitness realm: I was doing really well with running, but my hours bumped up, so I had to readjust. On Monday, I start a Whole 30 for the month of September, and I start swimming on Monday and Wednesday night, as I said above, so I plan to get back to the running and biking more regularly as well. I’ve lost 15 pounds since July 11 when I moved here, and I mostly attribute it to reduced stress and better eating. I’m looking forward to Muncie 70.3 for next summer, and I know it will be fabulous.

EDIT: I am not doing a Whole 30. I don’t want to. :)

A Reason to Drive to Minnesota to Throat Punch Me: Fitness

If you needed a reason to come to MN to throat punch me, here it is, and I even give you permission, rather the encouragement, to do it. Please, please, please, if I ever say I am going to quit swimming, biking, or running, or if I say I am just going to take a short break from it, get in your car, drive to Newport, Minnesota, and kick my ass. I’ll even give you gas money. If come to throat punch me for some other reason, you’re on your own with the gas money.

That being said, I’ve started running again, very slowly and methodically, but running none the less. I’ve just finished the second week, the second day, of the Couch Potato to 5K program, and it was glorious. I’m hoping to only have to use the guided program for a couple more weeks before my body is just back in the groove of this thing I love. I’m doing most of my running on this trail, The River Bottoms Trail, parts of which are contained in Fort Snelling State Park. The section I am using right now is the part that starts in Mendota, and it’s flat as a pancake, beautiful along the river, and packed dirt so it’s very forgiving, not like concrete or asphalt. As I get better and faster again at running, I’ll explore some of the other parts of the trail, too, but they seem more technical and I don’t want to risk injuring my knee again, so I want to be good and strong before being too adventurous. The waiting is torture. My favorite part of running is careening down hills and skittering back up the other side. It’s a beautiful childlike feeling, but for now I’ll be a 40-year-old who’s afraid to get reinjured.

To begin preparing to train for the Muncie 70.3 next July, I have decided to run three times a week, bike twice a week, and swim twice a week. I’ve already covered my running plan, so I’ll talk about biking. I’m hoping to rope Bec into my biking program next spring, but we’ll see how that goes. We love going for long rides together, so hopefully it’ll mean spending some quality time together once a week for a long ride. Mostly for now, I’m going to ride a couple of short rides each week, then settle into winter. I hate riding in cold weather, so I’ll be spending some time in the garage on the trainer, which I hate almost as much. Maybe I need to get a cheap TV to put out there to make the time pass more quickly. Such is life in Minnesota as a biker in the winter, but there is always spring.

Finally, I just sent for my community lap swim card. Talk about a super-cool, super-weird deal: the schools in our district open their pools for lap swim for anyone in the community. It costs $65 A YEAR to join the community lap swim program. $65 A YEAR! The pools are open four nights a week, and the one closest to my house is open on Monday and Wednesday from 8PM to 9PM, which is perfect. I can get in a nice swim two nights a week, just before bed. I had registered for Big Shoulders this year, but since I haven’t been swimming, I’m going to forgo my participation and watch my friend Teresa do Ironman Wisconsin. I’ll try for Big Shoulders again next year when I’ve been in the pool more.

Here is what I hope my weeks to come will look like:

Day

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Activity Swim Run Swim Run Bike LongRun Bike
Time 8-9PM Whenever 8-9PM Whenever Whenever Whenever

Afternoon

Getting back into this type of training is much more difficult than just sticking with it could ever be, so please, please, please, heed my offer. If I ever, ever, ever, mention quitting or taking a break, make the drive and throat punch me. I won’t be surprised about it, and I’ll pay for your gas.

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On a totally unrelated note, people who have very long acrylic fingernails should not be allowed to type in public. Isn’t that so the late 1990s early 2000s anyway? The clicking reminds me of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Bells.” The clicking is maddening. In fact, I think my work is finished here. I’m going to go home and shower, then find a place to get my newest tattoo. Happy Birthday to me.