a-woo

She tells me she loves me with the lights on. While she is changing into my sweats. Pulling an old hoodie over her full moon breasts. I tell her I love her too. Look at the nature of her face and the curves under her clothes. Dig my fingers into the edge of my bed. Bite my tongue to keep from howling. I think, my, how I love looking at the moon.

She tells me she loves me with the lights off. While she is burying her face in the valley between my thighs. Pulling the sheets over her head like stars. I tell her I love her too. Look at the nature of her closed eyes and the curves she is making with her tongue. Dig my fingers into my bed. Open my mouth and let out a howl. I think, my, how good it feels to be so wild.

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tomorrow

Nearly half a year ago, I wrote a blog post on how I realized I could not call myself a master at loving. Not today, but maybe tomorrow.

In two months my lover and I will celebrate our two-year anniversary.

The love we have shared over the past twenty-two months is incredibly humbling. On my drives home I think about how it quieted me to extremes. How it makes me bow my head like a student being told she has only just begun her journey to knowledge. How it has me taking notes endlessly, ever so endlessly, to the point where my five-subject notebook has notes written on the insides of the covers and all over the dividers.

On some days I look at my lover through my phone screen and she is dressing herself. Throwing clothes hastily over the curves I’ve touched with my bare hands and still moving like a gazelle in my eyes. I think, I love this human being so much. I cannot possibly love her more than I do now.

The day after, I fall asleep to my lover watching Jane the Virgin with her knees tucked up to her chin and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s in her hands. Her eyes watching her television screen and, in the words of ee cummings, they look like big love-crumbs. I think, I thought I loved her to the fullest yesterday. But I love her even more now.

As the days go by I realize that I can never call myself a master of loving. Not today, not tomorrow.

Because I am always learning from love and about love. It continues to surprise me with each day that I spend basking in it. Bathing in it. Immersing myself in it, drowning in it, reaching new depths in it. It humbles me to no end.

I have only ever heard the word “everlasting” referenced to when speaking about the kingdom of God and His love for us all. There the word is, though: love. Even saying it aloud humbles me. It’s why I whisper my I love you‘s instead of shout them from the rooftops. It’s why I say to my lover when she is in the middle of sleep and wake, you continue to blow me away.

It is humbling how it is everlasting. How I am always learning. Always writing in my notebooks, always taking in her lavender smell like I’m taking it in for the first and last time, always looking to the heavens and opening my arms and saying, I never thought I could love this much and it humbles me, always taking on the tone of surprise when it comes at me in the earliest of mornings or in the latest of nights and I say: You never fail to go above and beyond my expectations of you, breaking them with each step we take together, building new ones like skyscrapers, making me see what is beyond my line of sight.

All this in two years. The thought of what is to come in our everlasting humbles me to no end. I think, I am running out of space in this five-subject notebook full of notes and I have begun writing in between the lines and in between words. I think, it is time to buy a new notebook. Do they sell ten-subject ones? And I cannot possibly love her more than I do now, but I know I will tomorrow. And the next tomorrow.

Always tomorrow.

on proverbs

“I hope I get it. It’d mean so much to me.”

I’ve never taken time out to read the Bible thoroughly. I’ve read bits and pieces here and there, and I keep telling myself to get around to reading its entirety, but my arguments with myself always end with the saying one day minus today.

I do remember, clearly, a line from the book of Proverbs 31: She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.

I cuddle up deeper into you. Wrap my legs around yours like I’m hugging a cross. Press my lips against your temple and taste something holy.

“You will get it. You know who you are. You know how much you are worth.”

You are falling into me now because we surpassed the “for” stage years and years ago. Sleep comes easy to us now that we sleep together. Always together.

“I think you tend to forget how strong you are sometimes.” I think, I could say a prayer on how much love I feel for you. “Don’t worry about the future too much, okay? You will get it.”

“I hope I do. I know how much other people want it, but I don’t think they want it as much as I do. I just hope I get it.”

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. I think, the Bible should modify this and add: She forgets, sometimes, how wonderfully made she is. But that makes her all the more wonderful.

for the both of you

I guess you can say I have attachment issues.

Ask my girlfriend. She’ll tell you all of it.

Anyway.

The first week of summer, I applied for a camp counselor position. One of my major education advisors had sent out an email a few weeks prior, describing the camp’s need for an educational counselor and the position’s description. At the time, I wasn’t entirely sure whether I wanted to be an educator, so I thought, hey, maybe this experience will help me decide. After several days of mulling my cover letter layout over and over in my head, I finally sat down to draft my application. I submitted my resume with little to no confidence, believing that I stood no chance against the pool of applicants due to my lack of educator background.

Two interviews, a swim assessment, and a few weeks later, I received a letter of acceptance in the mail. I wondered, truthfully, if they had made a mistake – and if I had, too. I sat there, rereading the letter over and over, feeling the heavy weight of reality settle in. I was so sure I wouldn’t get the job that I didn’t think to thoroughly study the responsibilities that came with it. Could I really work with kids for five whole weeks?

The first week came and went smoothly. I went home each day with not many stories worth telling my girlfriend (my number one confidant). It wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t too great either. I figured it was just me having to adjust significantly – not just to camp counselor life, but to camp life in general, as I had never attended any form of camp myself. I didn’t know whether I liked it or not.

Turns out I was right. After spending a few weeks outdoors, I learned to embrace camp life and my experiences as a counselor.

But little did I know that my attachment issues would come into play.

The second week of the camp session with little kids, a little girl named Angela came up to me and said, “You remind me a lot of my older sister.” She then introduced me to her older brother, Vincent, and told me that it was their first time joining a summer camp. I told her it was mine too.

As the days went by, I found myself looking forward to seeing Angela and Vincent. Oddly (for me, as I have never done this with kids before), I took on the “mother hen” attitude and began to pay closer attention to their needs. Did they pack lunch? Did they want a change of clothes? Did they want to play in the sun or did they prefer the shade? I stopped eating lunch with my coworkers and started eating lunch with them, listening to their stories about where they went over the weekend, learning about Angela’s love for stuffed animals and Vincent’s love for superheroes. I enjoyed teaching them what I know, telling them about my passions. Encouraging them to find their own.

I started to feel like the camp was way too short. I hated how I was only allowed five days with these kids, and as Friday drew closer, the uneasy feeling in my stomach grew and grew. I didn’t want to see them part from me; it wasn’t enough time.

Like all last days of camp sessions, the last day of this session was held at the Visitor’s Center, which was connected to a gift shop. Angela and Vincent came early that day, and as I was walking around the gift shop with them, Angela turned to me and said, “I really don’t want this to end. I want to remember you by something, even though I won’t forget you.”

I told myself I wouldn’t cry.

“How about this?” I asked, taking a stuffed shark off the racks and handing it to her. “You can name this shark after me.”

“I only have six dollars.”

“That’s okay. I can get it for you.”

“No, it’s okay. I will ask my momma to get it when she picks me up.”

I put the stuffed shark back on the racks and escorted the two of them into the room.

The rest of the day flew by quickly. I knew, without a doubt, that Angela would win the Rockin’ Ranger award, which was only awarded to the “best” member. I admit it: I cried, watching her walk on stage to receive her gifts. She won a stuffed crab – something to add to her stuffed animal collection. Her mom and Vincent looked so proud. I was, too.

During pick-up, Angela and Vincent’s mom approached me. She told me that they had told her a lot about me, and she was taking this moment (as she was away from them) to tell me how much it meant to her, the way I looked out for her kids. She then went on to tell me that they weren’t hers biologically – that she had adopted them several years back and saved them from a home of alcoholics – something that I had a hunch about.

“You don’t know,” she said, with tears in her eyes, “how good it feels when they tell me they’ve had a good day. They deserve good days, all the rest of their days. Thank you for contributing to that. They said they learned so much from you.”

And she brought out a stuffed shark from her gift bag and told me that she had gotten it for Angela without her knowing.

Angela and Vincent came up to us, then, as if on cue – right on time.

“I’ll be back next year,” Angela said, and gave me a long, tight hug. I told her I didn’t know if I’d be here next year, but she and Vincent made me hope so.

“I got you this!” their mom said, handing Angela the stuffed shark. The look on her face was one of complete, genuine joy. I’ll never forget it. “Do you want to name it?”

“Christen!”

“I got you this, too,” Vincent said, handing me a necklace. It was a metal one, with the Marine Corps eagle, globe, and anchor. As if he knew my girlfriend was a Marine. I slung the necklace over my heart as a double reminder – of them and of my lover. It was perfect.

“You have made a huge impact on them,” their mom said, smiling. “Thank you, Christen. It means a lot.” And then they were gone.

Today, I woke up and decided that to be an educator in this world would mean having opportunities like these left and right – to change a child’s life and to have them change yours, to inspire and to be inspired. I’ve always been on the receiving end – having my life changed by my educators, such as Cristina Mantanona and Meta Sarmiento – but these past few weeks have given me the chance to be on the other end.

So here I am. I think I’m finally decided. This is a start.

Angela and Vincent, I will carry you both with me on my journey always. If I ever, ever forget the blessings that come with being an educator – I’ll look down and remember the way you both made me feel.

And thank you for getting me so attached. I’ll never forget you.

on writing (vol. christen, no. 1)

I.

Kindergarten was one of the best years of my life for the following reasons:

  1. Anthony, my first crush, tied my shoes for me after I tripped and landed on my elbow in the playground (oh and the way he looked at me after double-knotting my laces – as if he was staring at a chocolate cake a la mode!),
  2. Every time I’d tell my teacher I wasn’t feeling too well, I’d get sent straight to the nurse’s office without questions, and my dad would be in front of the school in ten minutes to take me out of class and buy me a vanilla Frosty from Wendy’s, and
  3. At the end of the school year, my kindergarten teacher handed me the Harry Potter books 1-4 boxed set before I left her classroom and said, “Christen, I’m only giving this to you because you are one of the best readers I’ve had in my career. Put that to good use.”

I remember walking into my dad’s arms at the pick-up section and him going, “What are you holding? Where’d you get that?” and replying, “Big books, from my teacher!”

At the time, I was upset because I thought she had given them to me for summer reading, that she would test me on them the day I got back. Little did I know that I wasn’t returning to that school at all – I was bumped up to elementary school, the school a block away, the bigger kids school, and there was no such thing as post-summer reading tests.

I sat down one night, opened up Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and read the first few sentences. “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of Number Four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much…” I noticed that a lot of the words used in the book were hard for me to understand, so I resorted to asking my mom to read the rest of the first chapter to me before I went to bed. Then the next chapter, then the next chapter, then the next chapter – until we had reached chapter seven. Now, I remember this chapter being the very first chapter I read on my own because it covered Harry’s Sorting, which was a huge step for him in the book. After finishing this chapter, I realized that I could finish the rest of the book on my own, and so I did.

It wasn’t long until I had reached Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and I was completely immersed in the Harry Potter world. I loved how the books brought me to a different dimension – and I loved how I felt like I was living in it, and all I had to do was turn the pages.

When school started, I was placed in a fifth grade reading class with my friend and soon-to-be rival, Seanne (who played a significant role in my reading drive, even to this day!), because of how well we did on our reading placements (thank you, Harry Potter). The first day of reading class went a little like this: the teacher placed the two of us in the back of the classroom, dropped us each a copy of Where the Red Fern Grows on our desks, stood at the front and said, “I can’t believe we have two second graders in our class. Be nice to them. They’re on your level.”

I developed a lot of friends in that class, and together we rode through The Cay, The Clay Marble, Old Yeller, A Wrinkle in Time, and a bunch of other small books that I can’t remember the titles of. Every single book was an adventure – I learned that from Harry Potter (and I finished Goblet of Fire halfway through my second grade year). I learned to appreciate every story because of the magic Harry Potter brought me – I longed to see this same magic in everything else I read.

At the time I didn’t think anything of my reading level or what I was capable of. All I wanted to do was beat Seanne by completing our readings faster than he could.

Until one day, at the end of my second grade year, Seanne turned to me and said, “What will happen to us in fifth grade when we’ve already beat the reading system? I think we should write books of our own!”

Being my competitive self, I replied: “I’ll write one better than you ever could.”

Seanne never wrote a book. Instead, he resorted to drawing comics. The genius that he is – he blew my mind with the kinds of comics he came up with. But he never told me that he never got to writing. Only when I came up to him with my first-ever short story entitled “The Journey to Outer Space” did he say, “You took me seriously? Maybe you should keep writing stories and I’ll illustrate them. That way we can have lots of things to read when we beat the education system.”

And so it began.

letters to my daughter, a series: pt. 1, “on loss”

My dearest Valerie,

You know my favorite books like the backs of your hands. Don’t you, baby? I’ve read them to you, we’ve finished some together. All the nights we’ve spent sharing words and taking turns before you asked me to leave the nightlight on so you could close your eyes without having to face your fear of the dark? And all the nights you spent telling Momma about them when I was downstairs grading papers and meeting deadlines, losing sleep with my tired eyes? You would talk about them with Momma all the time when I was away: And then Mommy read to me, she told me about Liesel and Rudy, how they raced down Himmel Street and Rudy asked her to give him a kiss, and then Mommy read to me, she told me about the Little Prince and his rose, how he traveled from planet to planet because he loved her, and then Mommy read to me, she told me about Harry and Ron and Her-my-knee, how they beat What’s-His-Name, oh, Momma, Mommy never says his name…

You’re only four, but you carry stories in your fists and words slip through your fingers when you open your hands. You were born with a word in each palm, and as you grow and your Momma and I read you our love and our blessings and our favorite books you find it harder to close your fists. When you reach the age of reason and understanding you’ll find that the stories in your palms weigh like they did when you were four but a thousandfold, because then you’ll have started to really feel, then you’ll have started to really understand, then you’ll have started to see how each of these words work together to create something worth giving to a beautiful little dove like your Momma and I to you.

You see, the stories seem light now, but when you read this, they’ll be heavy. The Book Thief, you’ll see, is not just about Liesel and Rudy and Himmel Street but about the deaths they’ll meet when they come knocking at their doors, and The Little Prince, you’ll see, is not just about a little prince and his rose and how he loves her but about him trying to prevent her from dying alone, and Harry Potter, you’ll see, is not just about three friends trying to beat Lord Voldemort but about Harry losing his parents and seeing that what comes about from this is something bigger than he’ll ever understand.

I laid awake in bed with Momma once while she slept away, probably dreaming about breakfast the next morning (baby, you know how Momma looks forward to breakfast every single day!), and I cried silently to myself because I feared losing her. We were twenty years old, and we were living separately across a few oceans, and she was right next to me but I still felt so afraid, the kind of afraid you feel when I forget to turn on your nightlight and you wake up in the middle of the night and have to face your fear of the dark until I come running in – like that, but a hundredfold.

But it’s been years and years and I haven’t lost her, not in any sense of the word, and there are many senses of the word, so tonight, as you are four, allow me to drop loss into your little palm for you to carry with you wherever you go until it becomes too heavy for you to bear because of what you’ll come to experience.

But until then, let me tell you about this word: loss is something that is light to me but something that is heavy to your Momma.

So many have experienced loss in much heavier ways than I have.

I’ve not experienced loss the way that Momma has. Not in the way that a little girl, no older than you, baby girl, and her mother have when they’ve just seen their father shot seven times in the name of injustice by a police officer who doesn’t deserve to see the light of day the way he still does. Not in the way that siblings have when their father is taken away from them for the rest of their lives because of a misunderstanding. Not in the way that two parents grieve when they’ve nothing left of their daughter except a tombstone and a note. Not in those ways.

And when you think about it, Liesel and Rudy and the little prince and Harry and Ron and Hermione and all of the other characters I’ll give to you when I place new stories into your palms experienced loss in ways similar to those of the real world. You’ll see, baby, you have these stories in your fists and your eyes are bright and your Momma and I love you more than anything in this world and we’re going to be there when you come to us with your hands heavier because of the word loss. We’re not going anywhere.

And as much as I wish I could erase that word, speak it out of existence, I can’t. I can only give it to you when you are four through these stories until you are ready to really understand.

Now, baby, tonight we start The Kite Runner.

If you listen closely, you’ll see where this word will start to come in.

Love,
Mommy