I first went to Nicaragua when I was ten in search of belonging. I met my ancestors. I walked down cemetery stone steps into my family’s crypt and felt a wall of names whisper me onward. I stood in my grandfather’s courtyard, deep purple flowers weaving into stone walls. The German Shepherd I was told to stay away from bared his teeth and charged me, barking, a deep growl rattling my bones. I trembled, frozen, as if waiting would camouflage me, allow me to weave into the stone wall. A woman appeared, pushed me away from the dog and into the house, and disappeared. I was enthralled by the rage, the love, in the dog’s eyes as I dared claim that home as mine.
When I was eleven, a woman outside the Multnomah Central Library thought I was homeless. That year I started at a school downtown, with kids who didn’t care to know where Nicaragua was. I became someone who didn’t trust her own words, her own history, who spoke with eyes cast down and apologized for taking up space. At home, my mother insisted I was Latina; I should be proud. At school I learned about ancient civilizations of the Americas. My peers saw caricatures, mute primitive peoples. I saw myself, my ancestors. I trembled at their whispers.
After school, I’d wait on the stone steps of the library until my mom got off work. I shrank into the current of people, seeking belonging in camouflage. One evening, a woman approached me with a pamphlet for a homeless youth center. She asked if I was okay, if I needed somewhere to stay for the night. Over rumbling streetcars and pigeons, I’m not sure she heard or believed me when I said I was waiting to go home.
I think of her often, and of the nameless woman who pushed me out of the courtyard. They saw a frozen girl, waiting, weaving and camouflaging into stone, desiring belonging. I remember that girl: eyes downcast, searching, shrinking, and silent. Now, I no longer search for one place to belong. I find home in all parts of me—this history, these words. I’m proud. My ancestors’ whispers push me onward, homeward. I don’t wait. The rage, the love, both now shine in my eyes. Words are my teeth. Feel my growl. I am here. I am home.
—Aliera Dulcinea Zeledon-morasch, Portland
Birth Story: 1983
No drugs. That was a promise I made to myself when I started envisioning the birth. I also imagined squatting to deliver. My husband, Jon, was fond of telling me that when her time came, O-Lan in Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth squatted in the field, pushed out her baby, strapped it to her back, and kept on working. That riled me, being pushed toward an ideal I couldn’t achieve, like I didn’t measure up. When my doctor told me I’d tear badly if I squatted, I dropped the idea. Even so, I aimed for a natural birth.
My water broke just before midnight, gushing out in one quick flood. We headed to the hospital, contractions coming hard and fast. A brief wait in the ER until a room opened, then a nurse settled me into a bed under low lights. Jon pushed play on our tape recorder, coaching my breathing while Mother Earth’s Melody aired.
My full-throated screams caught the nurse’s attention. She pushed open our door, asked me, “Do you want anything for pain?”
No painkillers, I’d written in my birth plan, yet when push came to shove, I caved on the first offer, falling well short of O-Lan’s example.
I’d gone through Lamaze training with Jon and thought we were prepared. Me, anyway. But this pain was unlike anything I’d experienced before, my pelvis pushed apart, bone cracking open. You know what I mean if you’ve been there.
Drugged on the opiate Stadol, when even laughing gas pushes me past my limits, I entertained visions from Disney’s Dumbo, giggling between muted waves of pain. I watched a stork deliver babies to circus animals, pink elephants floating on clouds. I’d long since pushed Jon away, told him to leave me alone, the nurse taking over.
My doctor arrived, found me in a state of drugged splendor, exhausted and moaning, but happy. He settled in front of my vagina and became the new coach. “Push,” he said. By now my feet were in stirrups. I gripped the handholds behind my head and pushed with all the strength I could muster.
I pushed until the portal opened. I pushed until the head crowned. One final mighty push and there she was, born into the center field of my life. I strapped her across my heart for six months, moved her to a stroller, and kept on pushing. I’m her mother. I continue to push.
—Alice Evans, Eugene
Tug of War
I don’t consider myself an argumentative person, and yet I cannot see or speak to my father without arguing. College made me aware of the harmful undercurrents of his worldviews. Because of this, our relationship has become a perpetual tug-of-war, a beating against each other’s walls. He argues because he grieves for what has been; I argue because I hope for what could be.
My father is pro-life except when a man doesn’t want to be a parent, says he supports men forcing women to abort. My father quotes outdated movies to make jokes about domestic violence, says nostalgically, “You can’t say things like that now.” It’s not the joke but the belly-deep laughter that echoes in my memories. Does he see that my mom doesn’t laugh either? Does he care? My father has compared my clothing to that of a prostitute. He has also said that women who dress like whores get what they’re asking for. He has criticized me for speaking my mind, has told me since I was little that I “talk too much,” and that “men don’t like that.” The line between slut and bitch is, apparently, so narrow as to be indecipherable. My father has condemned my decision to pursue an English degree, said it was making a college education out of hobbies and that I should study for a “real” degree.
He antagonizes habitually, pokes at what he derogatorily calls my sensitivities to assert his superiority. I retaliate, refuse to laugh, question his logical fallacies, his closed-mindedness. I cannot exist inside a facade of peace. It isn’t really peace when one is silent because the other uses anger as a weapon. It would be easier to let him poke at the things I believe, reduce me to insignificance; I am an easy target for the bitterness that burns behind his skin. But every time I don’t speak up when I know I should is a betrayal of myself, of my strength and self-respect.
So I retaliate. I resist. I respond to his antagonism and I make more waves in the already storm-churned waters of our relationship. I do so because I am more than what he reduces me to, because the damage he has caused is real, and because the only way to shift the current of our relationship is to make myself big enough to push back.
—Janel Brubaker, Molalla
Standing My Ground
I am walking downtown in Portland on a busy sidewalk alongside many bustling people. I see a man walking towards me and decide I will not be the one to move aside. You see, I am just simply tired. Correction, women are tired. We are just so damn drained from all the moving aside, adjusting, backing off, politely accommodating, premising, and apologizing on our end. This time, I decide to stand my ground and maintain my pace. I look ahead and push forward as the distance between us shrinks. It’s clear there will not be enough room for both of us to pass. One of us will have to make the choice to shift for the other to avoid contact. I decide with my best feminist attitude that he should be forced to step aside, not me. Yet, neither of us shifts positions, so we collide, his left shoulder swiftly bumping mine. I take this blow in stride and keep moving.
Perhaps this is only an example of inconsiderate habits between humans. Or it’s simply a silly accident with no malice or ill intentions attached. Maybe this serves as an example of rushed behaviors in a world too anxious to slow down for anything. Yet I cannot deny from where I sit that I constantly see these interactions. Men do not have to adjust, move, and alter their actions in quite the same way as women do. And when they are called out for it, they appear surprised, confused, and a bit angry.
I mean, what did I really expect, plowing ahead with no plans to move? Am I asking the world to accommodate me? That everyone should be ready when I dig my heels in? That they should just move out of my stubborn way? Maybe. Perhaps I am asking too much from a world not quite ready for the shift I need. I am here to stay, and I am not backing down. I am bracing for the impact of change knowing the ride will be bumpy. I will take it because I am sick of stepping out of the way to avoid being pushed.
—Monica Manewal, Portland
Remembering My “Why”
Outside my window, an onlooker greets my motioning hand by waving in return. They don’t know that my hand isn’t signaling to them. Rather, I’m trying to trip the energy-saving light back on to my “office,” which is a storeroom in the back of the elementary school library. The light turns off every fifteen minutes. This room was the only available space to put me, the new therapist seeing kids in the school who are on Oregon Medicaid. It’s a new position and space is limited, so it will have to do.
I recall being up for a challenge when I took the position. Fresh out of grad school, I was interested in working with kids who might slip through the cracks in their schools and at home. I knew that working at a nonprofit, the pay would be a far cry from what other therapists made. I knew that documentation would be more rigorous, and I quickly realized that Medicaid documentation would have me always feeling like I was drowning—the other therapists said I would get used to it. Ethically speaking, I digested that, in order for the state to pay for services, I needed to get comfortable diagnosing a child with a disorder in approximately an hour and medically justify it.
Out of necessity, I have begun practicing my own meditations to provide a sense of acceptance and peace. I find myself taking audible mindfulness breaths alone in my office or performing playful animal yoga poses like the flamingo and giraffe. And in a more regulated state, I am reminded why I’m here. I feel viscerally the contact made with a kiddo sitting in the healing orb of the unknown that is therapy, and I see the light in a child’s eyes when they are truly seen. These moments transcend the challenges of my job and they don’t require a fancy office.
The light trips on. There’s an email notification from my agency’s billing department. I am to terminate services immediately with one of the students that I worked so hard to establish care with. I email back asking about the agency policy allowing therapists four sessions outside insurance coverage to support continuity of care. I am informed that that the policy doesn’t apply to children in the schools on Medicaid. I stretch out my arms and take a deep grounding breath.
—Crystal Muñoz, Talent
Time to Reflect
Quite often, as I sit at the bedside with a dying patient, a family member will ask if there is anything I can do to help the process along, maybe give their loved one a little push over the edge, some little shove to facilitate their passage into the next realm. Maybe administer a few more doses of morphine?
I say no.
Partly because administering morphine with that intent is illegal; that’s euthanasia, essentially. I decline, though many a compassionate physician and hospice nurse will agree, and, with a wink and a nod, give more morphine under the guise of providing comfort.
Partly I say no because giving extra morphine probably won’t accelerate the end in the way the family desires, and the compassionate practitioner assumes. The nationwide epidemic of overdose deaths notwithstanding, opioids are not that reliable in hastening death. (For this reason, Oregon Death with Dignity Act patients receive a prescription for a barbiturate sedative, not morphine.)
There is ample mythology surrounding morphine and dying. This is understandable. Dying patients are given morphine, and then they die. Hence the obvious assumption that one caused the other. This happens not to be true. The dying trajectory is generally unchanged whether morphine is administered or not. I choose not to perpetuate that myth so that dying patients who are suffering are not deprived of morphine out of unfounded fears of hastening death.
But mostly I refuse because I believe that there is a time to push, and a time to sit and reflect. The moments a family spends around a deathbed can be pregnant with emotion. Deathbed emotions run the gamut from grief to relief, anger to joy, sadness to gratitude. Often contradictory emotions will manifest sequentially, even simultaneously. I believe that emotions, any and all emotions, are sources of transcendence and healing. Emotions are to be embraced, sat with, contemplated, valued, treasured—not pushed down, not hastened away.
Some families, uncomfortable with emotion, fill their time wondering whether the dying process should be different, sped up, wished away. My wish is that families spend those moments creating meaning, composing their own story of the death, not the false story that morphine accelerated the passing.
And so, when asked to provide a little push, though it might appear lacking in compassion, I say no.
—Paul Bascom, Portland
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