I struggled with what to blog about this week. If you’ve been paying attention to the news, the past two weeks in this country have been full of darkness. Between the Stanford rape case and the shooting in Orlando, there’s a lot I could write about: anger about a minimal sentence for a horrific sexual assault, frustration that rape victims are so often second-guessed and blamed, sadness at the loss of 49 lives in yet another mass shooting, fury at those who use religion as an excuse to harm LGBTQ people (and I’m not thinking about Islam here as much as I’m thinking about some of the comments I’ve seen from fellow Christians). I’ve cried for people I don’t even know. I’ve felt hope seeing people come together to show love and compassion to those who are hurting and to demand change so these terrible things don’t happen again.
I started to write about these things in depth, in an attempt to make sense of the evil in our world, to somehow express the emotional turmoil I’ve felt. Then I took a walk.
Today was the last day of school, and to celebrate, my twelve-year-old twin boys invited over three friends. The six of us walked to a local lake–the five of them, chatting happily about all the things kids that age talk about, and me, tagging behind just a little bit, watching them, marveling at how untouched by darkness they still are. How they joke and laugh and scream with delight when they jump into a cold lake. How they splash each other and play catch and see how high they can swing when they finally get out of the water to warm up in the sun. How they get excited over seeing a fish swimming next to them.
I need this sometimes, this silliness and joy. To witness all the life in these kids—pure and full and beautiful. I need this so I remember how much light there is, even when there’s so much darkness.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016
When I was twelve I thought I was cool because I learned how to ride a motorcycle. My uncle Dan, who is a few years older than me and has always been more of a cousin than an uncle, taught me. He was cool because he was in high school and had his driver’s license. Me, not so much. I was just a skinny kid with holes in the knees of her jeans and a fondness for climbing trees and building forts.
One time when I was staying at my grandparents’ house, my uncle took me for a ride on the back of his dirt bike. We went off road, to this cattle pond at the bottom of a pit. It hadn’t rained for a long time, so there wasn’t any water and the mud had dried out, leaving the surface fractured like puzzle pieces. With the engine idling on the edge of the pit, Dan asked me if I wanted to go down there. I looked at the steep incline we’d have to drive down and said no. “Okay,” he said, ignoring my protests, “Hold on.” I wrapped my arms tight around his waist and off we went. It was a whole lot of fun until we got to the middle of the pond. It wasn’t quite as dry as we thought. The first two inches were a dirt crust, and below that was a foot of mud. The bike sank, and we had to wade out, walking the bike.
We got back to solid land, hopped on the bike, and sped off toward home. The problem was the bike didn’t have fenders, so all that mud spinning off the back tire flew up at me. By the time we got to the house, my back was covered with mud, my hair plastered in filth. Grandma was mad. “How did she get so dirty?” she yelled at my uncle. I thought it was hilarious.
My grandpa let me ride the bike on my own. The only real warnings he gave me were to watch out for the tailpipe, so I didn’t burn my leg on it (I did, and one time was all it took for me to avoid it from then on) and to use the brake. Once, I panicked when the bike got going too fast and I forgot where the brake was, so I just put my feet down and let the bike go. That was a bad idea, but better than crashing. My legs got scraped up, but my head was okay. I think someone, probably my mom or dad, told me to wear a helmet. I remember putting one on, and having a hard time seeing because it was too big. I don’t think I wore it after that.
What I did wear were my grandpa’s aviators and his black, rubber irrigation boots (like galoshes but for farmers). Paired with cutoff jeans and my favorite pink shirt* (which read, Girls can do anything boys can do—better!), I made quite a picture, I’m sure. I wore the boots (several sizes too large) because the bike bled motor oil, and I wasn’t supposed to get the sneakers I wore to school oily. Instead, my chicken legs got splattered as the oil ran down into the boots. Still, there was nothing like feeling my hair flowing in the wind, growing more tangled and stringy every time I circled my grandparents’ house at a thrilling pace of 15 miles per hour.
I imagined I was a real biker, even though the dirt bike didn’t look or sound like a respectable motorcycle. Instead of a thunderous roar, the engine whined. Less Bhah—VROOM! and more Vreee, vree, vreeeeeeeee!
I think all this posturing on my part was meant to impress a cute older boy who lived down the road from Grandma’s. Tragically, I don’t think the he ever noticed. He was too busy doing whatever it is cute older boys do.
*With three brothers, two male cousins, and an uncle who was basically a cousin, I became a feminist at an early age.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016
I don’t bruise easily. That’s not bravado talking—I’m really not a bleeder. It’s a problem because when I go to get my blood drawn every six months, it’s a real pain in the rear. Every time, I have this talk with the phlebotomist about how my veins like to play hide-and-seek (mostly hide), and how the best bet is to just take it from the top of my hand. Usually the person gives me a skeptical look and says, “That will hurt more.” I assure them it’s fine. If I’m lucky, the person listens to me and goes for it. If I’m not, the phlebotomist takes it as a personal challenge to hunt for a vein in my arm and I get poked three or four times before he finally gives up and settles for my hand. Even then, my veins are stingy and the blood flows so slowly I’m warned I might have to come in for a second draw.
This last time the phlebotomist was concerned about my hands being too cold and had me use a hand warmer to get the vein to rise to the surface. “You’re so cold!” she said, rubbing both my hands, looking for possible candidates. “Yeah. Sorry,” I replied. “I guess you can tell people you drew blood from a zombie.” She gave me a courtesy smile and inserted the needle, trying to get my vein to cooperate. (At which point I decided if I ever am undead, I should simply tell the truth rather than hide my identity. No one will believe me anyway.) “Did you drink any water today?” she asked, as my blood slowly dripped into the tube. “Tons,” I told her, nodding at my nearly empty water bottle, the fourth I’d drank that morning. “All I’ve been doing since I woke up is drink and drink and drink.”
The silver lining to not bleeding easily is it is super-duper helpful when you’re as accident-prone as I am. I am forever bumping into the edges of kitchen counters and tables, and never have anything to show for it. One time though, the husband and I decided it would be awesome to take our canoe on a creek that twisted and turned every twenty feet or so. We were kneeling in the boat, paddling like crazy, trying to navigate the curves. Then we hit some rapids and really got going. Problem was, we had too much momentum to make the last turn and ended up slamming into the shore. He was all right, and the boat was all right, but I went flying. My thigh hit the bench in the middle of the canoe. I got the giggles and couldn’t stop laughing, even though I had a bruise the size of a fist on my leg. I don’t know how fast we were going when we ran aground, but our collision had to be pretty darn forceful to leave a mark like that. I wore the bruise as a badge of honor.
Another time I went hiking during Christmas vacation with one of my best friends and his brother, and wore boots without treads. I guess I chose fashion over function, or maybe I didn’t know where exactly we were headed and how treacherous the terrain would be. I quickly recognized I’d made a mistake. My friend wanted to hike down this canyon that had been rubbed smooth by the flow of water. It was a gorgeous place, with pools of water about three feet deep, descending all the way down the canyon to a larger pool at the bottom. I took a few steps and realized the soles of my boots were too smooth to get traction against the polished rocks. Figuring I’d slip and break my tailbone if I tried to walk across a narrow section of rock, I sat down on my rear, intending to scoot along until I could stand without fear of falling. A sensible idea, until I started to slide with no way to stop myself. Next thing I knew, I was standing waist-deep in freezing water. That was the end of that adventure. The guys had to drive me back to where my vehicle was waiting, and I was too stubborn to tell them to turn on the heater. Instead, annoyed at myself, I shivered until I got to my own car, and then cranked up the heat. I refused to let on how cold I actually was during the thirty-minute drive to where I had parked, which I suppose is a good way to die of hypothermia. I survived, mostly unscathed except for my pride. We still laugh about the incident. My friend jokes that it wasn’t an adventure if I didn’t come back soaked or injured. That’s okay. We had a lot of fun on those excursions.
This Memorial Day, I had another mishap. My family and I drove to Vernonia to go hiking. There are fossil beds where you can spot seashells and there is also an abandoned railroad trestle. It’s not the safest thing to walk on because it’s a good 80 feet high, towering over the trees. After taking photos of the trestle from above, I decided to climb down a steep hill to get some shots from below.
I got down okay, but as I balanced myself at an awkward angle in the loose dirt, I felt pain in my ankle. I ignored the straining sensation in favor of snapping more photos, and then climbed back up the hill. My ankle hurt a little on the hike back to the car, but I didn’t think much of it. I even walked around a bunch the next day, running errands. By the time I was done though, my ankle was achy and swollen. I iced it that night, but it was tender on Wednesday, and I was forced to bind it so I could go to work. I looked pretty pathetic limping around, my ankle wrapped like a mummy’s. Not to worry though—I’ve been babying it since then, and I’m sure it will be better by the weekend. Just in time for my next misadventure.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016