Note: Bellyscars

I have been delinquent; not wanting to show up here. I have been writing in my journal, jotting down inspiration and fears. I went for a ride last Sunday that I have yet to post. I even wrote it all out before bed one night, just not on the computer. If open my laptop before bed I find myself awake still at three in the morning. The words wait in my journal ready to be transcribed but I am not going to do that now.

An element of this exercise is the search for my voice. I had one once, I think, back in the day, when I would get stoned and channel the grit and hum of Los Angeles. It was a youthful, fatally cool identity. But now I struggle, even after 17 years of recovery. I am aging, I am a mother, a wife, I have survived near-death, and have experienced the pure joy of living in the moment and my son’s laughter. I have been thinking about how to be more authentic and tell a little more about me. Maybe this isn’t the place. Maybe this should be just a series of sweet vignettes of riding down country roads. That is much of what my life is like now except for the financial issues, the continued struggle of organizing our house, and concerns about the political and social climate of the U.S.

I have decided to repost the intro to my last blog. The one I never let anyone know I was writing. I don’t know if anyone has clicked the link on my About page and that site will go away at some point. There is not much there, I only posted a handful of times. I thought I was going to try my hand at NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), but instead was motivated to rearrange my house to give myself a better writing space.

So, here it is, slightly edited:

belly scars

I have three scars on my belly, well, four if you count the dime-sized mark where a drainage tube passed out of my body. The first is the sexy scar; the one I don’t mind being seen. It is cut just below my ribcage on the right side. Starting at my midline, it slopes down and widens a bit under the bottom rib like an arch-less eyebrow or an exclamation point without the dot (or with the dot at the wide end as the aforementioned mark was given at this time). This was from my first abdominal surgery, a choledochojejunostomy, before anyone knew my full diagnosis. I had a stricture of the bile duct due to pancreatitis, which was the preliminary. The endoscopically placed stents (attempted twice) immediately clogged and I went yellow. A more permanent solution was needed.  Unfortunately, my gall bladder was a casualty of the bypass; it was seen as extraneous and was removed.

The next scar is the ugly one, a ravine that divides my belly in half giving it the appearance of a cleft peach. I was told I was lucky that the surgeon left my belly button intact. Given to me when my colon tried to burst, the tale of this scar is more difficult to tell, a life-altering moment with many lessons in acceptance, humility, and powerlessness. I was busy making plans and my body sent me a big message to slow down. Working, going back to school, being pregnant, trying to buy a house…it was all too much: my bowels gave out. I also had a stroke while hanging out in a maternity hospital as they were trying to hydrate me and figure out what was wrong. I was finally sent away to a more equipped hospital and right after meeting the surgeon, I was put under. Toxic Megacolon. I woke up with a huge incision up my belly, a bag attached to my right side, and the pregnancy terminated. I had been given an ileostomy, like something was given, not taken. My entire colon had been removed and I would now have to learn to live with this changed anatomy. It wasn’t until after the surgery that I received the diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease, originally thought to be Ulcerative Colitis. I recovered from the stroke during my two-month stay in the hospital, though the incision got infected and the staples were pulled out early. I believe this is why the scar is so cleaving. That and excess belly flesh.

Funny thing is, I always liked my belly. Never minded that it was not flat or washboard, even liked the soft fullness. This was not the part of my body that I would try to hide. Now, anything too fitted reveals the unevenness its two hemispheres: how it protrudes just a bit more on the right, even when the bag is empty.

The last scar is the hidden scar, tucked in so nicely under my paunch. It is barely noticeable even when the skin is pulled taut. This is the blessing scar, the opening from which my son was birthed. After such a severe Crohn’s flare during pregnancy, I was advised not to get pregnant again for fear of a repeat episode. I was so traumatized by the event I took that advice to heart. Then, soon after my 40th birthday, I found out I was pregnant. My first thought was, “I’m gonna die.” Then I did some research. The illness had been in remission for a while and was being controlled by medication (Remicade). I began to feel cautiously optimistic. The nine months passed fairly easily as far as pregnancies go. With my history, a caesarian was likely though I was hopeful for a vaginal delivery. In the end, it didn’t really matter how my son came into the world, just that he arrived.

To Market

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Not much to report and no photo. I took a quick ride to the store because I needed to get out of my head: parental worries and financial fear. Earlier, I had locked my keys in the car when I dropped Ike off at farm camp. Hurray for AAA. Would love to be able to ride Ike to camp as it is not too far, but there is a hill I need to conquer. The route is on the highway and I don’t think Ike is ready for that yet so I would need to use the tagalong, which I haven’t even tried to pull myself yet. It won’t happen this week, but maybe by September when he starts kindergarten at the same location.

Synchronicity

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I hate when I don’t write when the inspiration hits. Usually it is due to lack of opportunity. On Saturday, my mom came over to watch Ike (Josh was working) and I was able to ride to the 9:00 a.m. meeting at the hall. That was just the beginning a very active, fun-filled day. Already, what I was going to write about is slipping away as it the inspiration becomes more of a memory than a call to action.

The topic of the For Today reading was facing one’s fears. I was struck with the synchronicity of my bicycle journey and the journey of recovery. Biking forces me to confront many of my fears and ride through them: fear of looking good; fear of someone stealing my stuff; fear of falling, being hit by car, of getting hurt. Every time, I get on the saddle, I take action to move through my fear.

The meeting hall is in the basement of a building and is accessible in the back at the bottom of a kinda steep hill paved with gravel. In these two months that I have been riding, I have walked my bike down the hill. Too afraid of my brakes skidding and causing me to fall. When I was 10 years-old and first relearned how to ride a bike (if I ever really did know how when I was 5, maybe I always had training wheels), I ate it pretty hard on gravel, skinning my right elbow and knee. I still have faint scars. On Saturday, before reading this passage, I finally felt confidant to ride down it. I trusted myself and my bike to make it down unscathed.

Late

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So you can see I lost momentum. I was trying to write the logs on the same day as the ride as a low-pressure way of regular posting. But, life got busy with other projects and events and I barely had time to ride let alone write about it. So here I am, trying to catch up.

The library has become the primary biking destination, especially as our local holds amazing kid events. Last Friday was Boffer Club. We have been anticipating this event for the past month because the kids were going to make their own foam swords. I knew it was going to be crowded and had every intention of arriving early. But, the gods conspired and there were interruptions in my planned flow of the day such as needing to go jump-start my mother’s car and making lunch. At ten minutes ‘til, we were racing to find our shoes and hop on our bikes. We hurried down the road as fast as a 5-year old can pedal.

It was a warm day and the conference room was packed with boys of all ages, a smattering of girls, a fairly equal number of dads and moms who needed to stay with the under 9 set plus a few who just wanted to hang out. There was a scent of sweaty impatience and fear of not having enough. It was just the right setting for a meltdown. But, something about riding the bikes there helped me remain calm and Ike held it pretty together as well. We waited for our materials and then instructions and were able to use the duck tape of choice (black with yellow flames for the “blade” and red for the hilt). It seemed to take forever but when we were done, there was still over an hour left to spar and battle. Ike made a new friend; I chatted with the mom. Both boys were made King for a mock battle. Ike was having a blast and I felt so relaxed, no gnawing urge to get somewhere. The world just seems to slow down a little when travelling by bike.

Momentum

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It rained the past two days and I didn’t get out on the bike. Yesterday, we had a much-needed stay-at-home day after a busy week. One of the nice things about living around here, you can depend on rain coming to give you an excuse to remain indoors. I paid bills and placed some orders while Isaac built Lego spaceships and cyborgs. Today, the sun came out and I regretted not going to see Brave last night instead the planned matinée of today. But, we went anyway figuring the sun would still be shining after.

I am much more interested in the bikes I see around now that I am riding too. I find myself looking for the old roadsters, the fixies, the mixtes, and cargo bikes. The weather was so fine that there were lots of folks on bikes in town.  We were in the car, however, as town is about 12 miles from where we live (I don’t usually call the area we live as a “town” though we have some necessary establishments: market, post office, library, a couple of restaurants, and a farmer’s market on Sundays). We stopped at the Food Co-op on the way home and that nagging, critic voice asked me what right I had writing a blog about biking. I am not some long-time biking activist or some touring enthusiast. But that’s just it. I am not really writing about bikes, but about the experience. I am discovering the joy of riding. I am exploring my world in a new way and feeling a little more a part of. I am basically having a change in consciousness, and I am trying to express it somehow. It is also about practice. Practice in how to keep pedaling through fear, inertia, and doubt whether on the bike, in my life, or on the page.

We came home from the movies and Josh was not feeling well. I don’t want to lose momentum nor enthusiasm. It is too easy to think, “I will go out tomorrow…tomorrow I will go on a long ride.” Ike and I jumped on the bikes. We returned a few books and a DVD to the library then took a long way home. At first, I thought it might rain again but the sun broke through the clouds and I took off my sweater. I don’t need to remind Ike to stay to the right as often and he is able to take the hills a little a better. I enjoyed the sun on my face, the sights of summer flowers, and the clicking of my bicycle chain. I feel my body move; I relax my grip on the handle bars, which I sometimes find myself holding too tightly; I watch my son pedaling in front of me and coasting down the hills. I did not experience childhood on a bike in Los Angeles. I didn’t really start to ride until I was 10 and even then, not very consistently. I feel like I am learning with him and am so grateful that he gave this gift to me.


In Three Parts

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1. Solo Ride
I was really afraid I wasn’t going to bike yet another day. While thinking over dinner plans for the week, I realized a forgot a couple items when I was in town at the co-op. So, I left Ike with his dad and jumped on my bike to go to the local market. Ike wanted to go with me, but I wanted to scope out the ride before I let him wheel down there. There are no real safe approaches to the market and the parking lot is always crowded. There used to be a great path to the back of the store that you could enter from a side street, but they put up a fence when the gas station was built. It is a semi-rural area with no sidewalks except by the main intersection, but that is not much of an issue. Most of our local establishments (library, market, bank, etc.) are built for approach by car. They don’t have any sort of path for pedestrians or bikes or children of either persuasion from the street. The entrances are via the driveway and through the parking lot. Oh wait, if you take the path to the primary school and go around the fence, you can enter the library without going down the driveway into the parking lot…that’s about as good as it gets.

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2. Pas de deux
Ike was a little upset about not going to the store with me so the two of us went out when I came home. I thought we would just go on a jaunt around the long block, by he wanted to take a longer route. We rode a loop through a quiet residential development that I used to follow when I was trying to be a runner. I tried to take some pictures of the trees that eclipse the sky in parts and some bright fuchsia flowers growing in a pot in someone’s front yard but Ike kept pedaling ahead and I had to keep up.

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3. And then there were three…
While we were out, Josh hooked up the Trail-a-Bike we just scored for $50 off Craig’s List. Ike has been really excited to try it out. I thought it was just going to be the two of them going out, but I tagged along at the last minute. Ike had a blast going faster than he ever has on a bike and I had fun just trying to keep up. Unfortunately, another photo failure as I did not snap a picture of the two of them on the pseudo-tandem, but I did take one of the bike itself before the ride.

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Far from the fear of no ride, circumstances sprung me into action. Could it be that bike riding might help me be a little more spontaneous? That I might be more prone to seizing opportunities as they come up instead of letting them pass me by as I try to pursue my own plans? Haven’t I learned that lesson? Maybe I have found a solution, or at least a vehicle for change. Where has your ride taken you today?

Morning Meeting

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Left the boys sleeping and took a quick ride to the hall. Nice way to wake up, pedaling throughout he gray morning then connecting with others about recovery. Talked about obsession, fear of failure, and perfection. Willingness to change is different from wanting to change; it is possible to be willing without really wanting. Grateful for the tools today. Took the long way home and would have stayed out longer if I wasn’t hungry for breakfast.

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