The Painted Heart, part II

You see it there in the window, all glossy cherry red and plump to bursting. In your hand, it fits like it was made to go there and oh the weight of it! You just know you could feel that forever – no forgetting it was in your pocket, not ever.

The paint is hard and shiny, and layered on coat after coat. The most recent application hides the imperfections of the last – dings, nicks and scratches all easily filled in with another coat of paint. There’s a flaw in the side – a place where the material is malformed, but it’s hardly noticeable, you see. And the overall effect is so very lovely. You just have to have it.

You slip it in your pocket. It pulls your jacket just a tad off center. You were right – you never forget the weight of it. Not once.

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The Painted Heart, part I

When I was younger, a breaking heart felt like a rend in the universe. I could feel my heart cracking down the middle like a great boulder, the echoes like thunder in the wind.

Now, though, a breaking heart feels more like an old abandoned barn. Peeling and crackled paint flaking off and falling, silent, into soft, loamy earth. The creak and whine of withered boards straining against rusty nails, struggling to maintain a shape as outdated and antiquated as anything from the last century. Lonely and bleak, a skeleton of a frame waiting for the next storm to blow it down.

Boots

From time to time, I might post old pieces that I want to keep track of, or that I think are worth revisiting. This was originally written 27 August, 2012.


A decade ago, the word “boots” would have meant ankle-height, black leather with a low, chunky heel. Something stylish and comfortable that I could stand in at work for eight or more hours. And that would be the end of this piece. Okay, if I’m being totally honest, it might have included a brief fantasy about knee-high, laced up, stiletto-heeled, these-boots-are-made-for-sexin’ footwear.

Now, though, I see a pair of tan, size 13, authorized ACU boots.

I see long laces of 550 cord pulled tight and clasped with the little spring-loaded gizmo I don’t know the name for and the excess hidden in the top. Or I see the laces ends come out of hiding, and the clasp move to the end while fingers pull slack into each section. If there is such a thing as ceremony in this house, it might be this twice-daily ritual of lacing and unlacing the tan, rough-side-out cattle hide leather, side-vented regulation army boots. They go on last at the feet, but they signify an invisible mantle that settles over the head of the wearer – the attitude of the professional soldier. At home in the evening, they come off first and it’s like everybody relaxes at the same time – not a Soldier now, just Dad and Husband.

I love to see them sit neatly side by side at the door, brushed clean and softly slouched at the top. It means the feet that go in them are home, propped up bare on the couch or getting exceptionally stinky as they sweat in tennis shoes behind the lawn mower. Maybe they’re tapping against the bottom rung of the stool, in time to the music that plays over the work bench. The boots are relaxed and so am I.

Sometimes I see row after row of them, lined up, stiff and straight. They’re clean, of course, but also worn and tired, scuffed smooth by a year of  desert sand. I hear the sound they make, dozens clapping the ground in unison, a staccato rhythm of discipline and business. I see them in formation and it comforts me, those pylons in an upside-down sea of digital camouflage, marking individual pillars of soldiers. It scares me a little, too. They all look the same, but I know they are different.

I know a woman with boots in her house that will never be worn again. She leaves them by the door anyway because she can’t bear to put them away. That strikes me as both ridiculously self-indulgent and unutterably sad. I can’t seem to reconcile my need for pragmatic sensibility with the feeling that there is an encyclopedic wealth of subtext contained within a pair of boots.

I’m fearful of the day when the boots get put away for good. They’re our link to a way of life that defines our existence and a vernacular that has fused with our consciousness. What happens when those small daily ceremonies no longer bookend our day? What happens to old boots that have lost their purpose? Where to Army boots go to retire?

And will I ever think of “boots” again without first seeing my spouse, my partner in uniform? I hope not.

On Worth

What am I worth?

I’m asking this question again as I look for more work to supplement our dwindling finances.

It’s a place of immense privilege to even ask the question, I know this. I have to carefully consider my audience when I talk about how I turned down a minimum wage job offer because the commute and hours were heinous enough to nullify the $125 a week in take-home pay. Not to mention the work promised to be mind-numbingly boring. Those jobs are a good fit for someone, but I don’t think they are good for me.

I took a job last year based on the attitude that any work was worthy and that I shouldn’t value myself beyond my ability to just get a job. The job, when there was work, was stultifying and when there wasn’t (i.e., no customers) I had to pretend I was busy. It was monotonous and tedious and I hated every second I was there. Then I would come home and hate myself some more for not having a better job. Then I would retroactively hate myself for not going to college. Then I would proactively hate future-me for taking another minimum wage and/or stagnate job because I can’t escape the guilt of not being grateful. Because ultimately, my worth seems to be defined by how deeply I can ingratiate myself to anyone willing to hire me.

I’m stuck in a constant argument loop with myself: I don’t deserve interesting or intelligent job opportunities because I didn’t go to college (never mind the fact that many of my college-educated peers are just as under-employed as I am). This sparsely populated, rural area is an employment desert – no one can be expected to create opportunities in a place where most of the population lives below the poverty line. (Economics at its finest – no one can buy your product if they have no money to spend.) If I was smarter/more educated/worked harder I could create opportunities no matter where I was. Well, here I am, at the culmination of my life choices and I can just lie in this bed that I made until my flesh fuses to the sheets.

Every time I email a polished and professional resume to a local listing it is accompanied by a fear and shame so acute as to be nearly debilitating, and is utterly unique to employment searches. I don’t deserve this, no one will notice me, I am a pitiful contestant in this modern game where I don’t know the rules.

Worthless.

It’s not just being frustrated by the lack of choices. It is being certain of rejection. It’s having other people define my worth – not just in an hourly wage but in the kind of tasks they want from me. It is knowing, deep down, that they’re right.

The worst part is having to explain myself to well-meaning onlookers in my life. Explaining to people who are so far removed from privilege that they can’t understand why I’m so “picky”, or those that are so immersed in privilege that they can’t understand why I just don’t start my own business doing something at which I’m embarrassingly incompetent. I’ve been on the receiving end of platitudes, sympathy, even (strangely) political anger and all have been equally unhelpful or even hurtful. They don’t address the core issue – What am I worth?

I just don’t know. And the guilt of not knowing, the shame of suspecting it isn’t much, the defiance of anyone who would try to define it for me is eating me alive. Trying to monetize all of that seems like a horribly vulgar way to determine my worth. And yet, it’s the only way that matters.