The Struggle With An After Baby Body

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By Elise Boutin

The following was actually written in July, seven months post-partum. Eight months later and one comment sparked the same feeling and thoughts. It reminded me of this piece and that maybe it was time to share it. I’ve updated it and hesitantly hit “post”…

I’m going to be a little vulnerable in an effort for connectivity. 

This is not for compliments, but for camaraderie. It’s for the woman who is breastfeeding at 3 a.m. scrolling through Facebook desperate to hear adult conversation. It’s for the mom who had to go back to work and doesn’t feel like herself. It’s for the woman who has had multiple children and has fully embraced motherhood and her feminine essence.

I’m talking about what it feels like in your own skin after you have had a baby.

I’ve just had my fourth child in under five years. I say just, but he made a year in January. I have had three c-sections where my tummy acquired a thin, discreet, horizontal line. For my fourth, however, it involved a vertical line straight through my belly button that connected to my previous scars. It looks like an anchor, pulling me into motherhood.

The difference with this anchor is that organs came out as well as my baby. At 33 years old I had a full hysterectomy to prevent me from bleeding out after birth because my placenta was attached to my uterus.

I am reminded of this fact sporadically during my reality. It’s strange how our brain copes with major issues. But that’s an entry for another time.

In July, I had a friend’s wedding to attend. I felt radiant when I left my house. I had been swimming daily and I no longer had the bedridden pasty look. I fit into an old special dress and I knew it was the best I had looked in a year. I received compliments all night, but there was the one unintentional, “So, is this your fifth baby?” I laughed it off and explained that I just had a baby. And added a little somberly that I can no longer have children.

I know it was a completely innocent comment, but no matter how exquisite I felt, I still looked pregnant. And it’s a hard thing to carry around sometimes. Some days I am empowered by the strength it takes to have four children. Other days I’m more conscious of my soft tummy.

It’s not the first time I’ve been body aware. During my freshman year of college I gained 40 pounds of Jim Beam and Taco Bell. After years of unhealthy choices, I returned to an athletic life style. It took a year to lose 50 pounds. Never once was I asked if I was pregnant during my heavier phase.

I’ve been asked for up to a year after having a child if I was still pregnant. A week after birthing my 11 pound 10 ounce first child, my youngest sister (who was 19 at the time) asked me why my stomach wasn’t flat yet. Uummmm. Because I’m 29 and life’s natural processes aren’t instant? I have to admit, I did wonder the same question. Five years and three more children later, I now understand that your body changes with each child and that your shape is never quite the same.

The expectation to have it all appear perfect is so ridiculous. Not only am I supposed to keep this child alive, but I’m also supposed to feed them Pinterest worthy snacks, have a home that Joanna Gaines could have designed (I love you, Joanna), and also rock a bod that could be on the cover of Self magazine…all while having a full-time job, too. This makes my brain hurt so much that my only logical response is to quote Cher from Clueless, “OH, As if!”

My body is finally starting to feel like my skin is sinking back to its original form. Even though I’ve lost 30 pounds, my belly still looks like I could be expecting.

After the mortality scare, I shouldn’t care about such superficiality, but here I am squaring off with the most trivial human inadequacies. Maybe it’s what distracts me from contemplating my loss of a uterus. Even though I know it was the right plan, there is a strange emptiness that exists within me. It’s not sad, just different. Slightly empowering, yet equally as weird. My body won’t be doing something it was designed to do. No periods each month. No more babies. At least the no period thing isn’t that bad.

There are no perfect words to describe the swirling vortex of emotions and thoughts that occur after you’ve had a child. Whether it’s your first or fourth, there is always something new to adapt to. Our bodies are how we interact with the world. Whether it’s the internal thoughts and pains that lend to spiritual growth or the outward shape that constantly changes, the body is a miraculous creation.

I just want to offer the reminder to work with it and respect its pace.

When that well intentioned, “When are you due?” pops up, remind yourself that you are a goddess. You grew another human being. You created life! You are strong and powerful and will celebrate your divine opportunities. Let it allow you to feel connected to your creator and your child.

Then take a cue from William’s character on This Is Us. Roll down your windows. Turn up your favorite song. And let it go. Because You, sister, are a rock star.

“You’re pregnant, again?!”

“You two need to get cable.”

“You know what causes that, right?”

“What are you going to do?!”

And then sometimes you really do get the sincerely genuine, “Congratulations! Children are such a blessing!”

But most of the time it’s a comment accompanied with a look of pity. It probably has to do with the look of exhaustion I wear daily—it doesn’t really blend well with the Mac concealer.

Yes. I am pregnant with baby number four. Now that I’m etching past the 12 week mark and the first trimester of exhaustion and nausea, the reality of what I am about to embark upon is overwhelming. It wasn’t “supposed” to happen for another year. I needed to finish grad school. My oldest is just entering pre-k and is not even four years old yet. I thought I’d have more time to prepare…as best as one prepares for four small children.

It seems like the female reproductive system is such a commonly discussed topic among media outlets and politicians. I’ve read so many blogs that talk about what we should and should not talk about with one another. But as more people discover our news, I feel like I have to have some type of stance as to why I am choosing to be so open to life. I may not seem very convincing in person because I am just so tired. 

This week I had my new students read my short story, “The Liver Philosophy”. The moral of the story is to do what is right for you, even if no one else gets it. I had my students write a summary of what they felt it meant and quite a few of them wrote about some of their own choices that they are willing to be a “Liver” for. It was both insightful and inspiring. What moved me more is that I had forgotten to live out the very words I had once wrote!

I know that having a large family is not what everyone desires. I know that being open to “God’s will” is very open to interpretation. I also know that I am not one to judge other people’s choices, as long as they can respect mine.

I don’t know what I am going to do. My motto is that I tend to take life 50 minutes at a time. It’s the teacher in me. Every time the bell rings, a new class begins and anything and everything can change. It carries over into my home life. A meltdown one moment can lead to giggles the next.

Having my children so close together is hard. I’m really finally admitting it out loud. Maybe that’s one of the reasons you have to be open to God to have bigger families. You have to pray a lot for your sanity and you also have to admit that you need other people. It’s a hard thing to do when you have a lot of pride and you were once so independent, but then you look around and you see that you have a real family and real friends who live and celebrate this one life with you.

I sometimes question if I’m making the right choice, but then today happens. After a chaotic day, my three boys will be so sweet. And we do something random like “chase the sun”, which involves driving down an open highway to watch the gorgeous sunset while listening to The Postal Service. And they talk to one another like brothers do and say in an almost synchronized, rehearsed manner, “Good night, Sun,” to the melody of how we read, “Good Night Moon.” And I think, Yes. I can have another. I will survive thrive.

See you in February Baby Bou:)

A toast

As a writer, I’ve come to understand the reality of cliches. As a writer, you try to stay away from them. However, there’s a reason situations become a cliche–there’s some truth to them. That’s how I felt the week before my wedding. One. Big. Cliche. I was a stressed-out-bridezilla.

There are so many meticulous details that require your attention. I am grateful that by the time I made it to the rehearsal dinner everything seemed to slow back to a normal pace. The night before the rehearsal, I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking about how much my life had changed over the past year. I guess falling in love will do that to you. I realized as I was tossing and turning that I would have one moment to commemorate my feelings about Jon to our families. So after a tear-jerking speech from my maid of honor, this is what I came up with.

“There are different ways I have tried to describe Jon and I’s relationship. What I love about our dynamic is that I wasn’t a damsel in distress and he didn’t have to be a knight in shining armor. It’s more like a Wizard of Oz scenario. I’m Dorothy and he’s my Scarecrow, Tinman, and Lion all rolled into one. We only needed to find one another to find our way home. But please don’t look at it from the other way. Then I’d be lost and he would have no brain, no heart, and no courage. That’s absolutely not true because we are here today.

On a serious note, I’d like to point out how incredible this moment is. Some people never get to experience this–being surrounded by family and friends. Life is short and these are the moments that matter. We try to define life: understand it and label it the best we can. I’ve tried to label myself as a few things: a writer, a teacher, a liver…But there is always one thing I have strived to be and that is, faithful. As of tomorrow I will be putting my faith into Jon and I and to this family. Because I think there is one thing we can all agree on and that is, ‘There is no place like home.'”

Now the toast was in the moment, so it probably came out a tad differently. Regardless, I wanted to remember a fraction of what I said because as I learned during the reception, the months of planning become a complete blur of six hours. All I know is that the next phase is sure to keep me guessing. It really will be domesticated training wheels…Cheers!!!

The preamble to proposal

This was something I wrote a few months ago when Jon and I first returned from Oregon. It’s remarkable how things grow:)

MARRIAGE TALK

We have now talked about marrying one another more so than I have with any other suiter….combined.

This morning we discussed what weddings meant to both of us while nibbling on an egg and cheese omelet that he overcooked in one of my great grandma’s thirty-year-old pots. The subject first came up during our drive back from Oregon. We were rounding a curve outside of Astoria when he mentioned that his stepfather asked if I were the last girlfriend he was ever going to bring home. He said he replied that he, “hoped so.”

That was an emotional first for me. I respected the fact that he pointed out that we don’t know what the future brings, but that it would be a cruel joke of the universe if we weren’t to work out. However, I’ve never really had anyone say that they wanted to spend their life with me. Any doubt I had prior to that moment seemed to disappear and the hopefulness has yet to wear off.

Most of my doubts were caused by initial fear of our differences. But as I allowed myself to not necessarily be “right” and I remained as nonjudgmental as possible, he grew to be something I never expected.

Both of us have been exposed to  fast-paced marriage traditions. His mother met his stepfather online and then he moved from Germany after several meetings to marry her. Not only did I just witness the whirl wind romance with my sister Meggan, but it turns out my father’s parents met and wed fairly quick as well.

The kicker: the couple who introduced us only dated for a few months and then were married. Seven years later, they are still such a strong model of love that lasts. I know that he and I both take the commitment pretty seriously and I can’t even believe that the discussion resurfaced again as we cooked for the first time in my home.

While cooking turkey fajitas, he told me that my father had stopped by the shop that afternoon to pick something up. Ronnie, his uncle,  told him later that his “father-in-law” had stopped by. At first Jon was confused, but then once the connection was made, he laughed.

I reveled silently, as to not make any assumptions. Hmmm. Most guys would not even retell that story due to it’s nature. He could easily have not told me at all, but part of him wanted me to know that they joke on that level. I was about to tip my head to overanalyzation, when he made the comment that the thought of marrying me wasn’t scary.

What?

I knew the thought was mutual for me. I mean who wouldn’t want to marry me? Turns out, quite a few. But could it be that there is someone actually really right for me? Or was I just starting to like the idea that he felt that way?

Stop overanalyzing.

When I listen to my heart, and more than just the accelerated beating pace when he touches me with his any part of his being, I feel a sense of security that I have longed for. He has seen my whole family, my whole history, my whole self, and yet he embraces the future.

Maybe we just both wanted to find one another. He had once said over the phone, “could this be it?”.

I was starting to reflect the possibility with each passing day. I felt more vibrant, yet I no longer had this drive. Most people would say the drive is what was to make me. But what they never saw behind closed doors was that same force drove me to self destruction.

With him, I face my insecurities and welcome the challenges in a much more peaceful manner. And I say to myself that as long as we can move forward through a few phases of our life, then maybe this can lead to our mystery ceremony.

Tradition versus Elise.

I am open-minded and accepting, but I am still a Cajun. And a Cancer at that! Home and family is a big part of me. So when it comes to ceremonies, I still want to be a part of what everyone else has done. But then there is a part of me that says “Change it up!”

While I sat in St. Joseph’s church (which is now just two blocks away from my house) for Meggan’s wedding rehearsal, my father made the comment that he wouldn’t have to worry about this hoo-rah for me, because I would probably have everyone outside, barefoot in a field somewhere.

I laughed because I saw its plausibility, but then told him I couldn’t specifically say because I did not know who my groom would be. He replied that he would, “probably be some moon martian just like you.”

Moon martian. Great.

So maybe I should embark upon something out of this world. It’s funny that finding something steadily comfortable is what will take me to such great heights.

But I wouldn’t make any bets yet. It’s still the honeymoon. And we’re still just talking jibberish over omelets. I would be lying though, if I said I wouldn’t be terribly hurt if these thoughts ever got scrambled.

Faith, my dear. Faith.

God speaks through a wasp

I sat on this random pew in the hallway near the receptionist’s office at the Jesuit Spirituality Center. I was here on a women’s day retreat with my mother and aunt. The first lecture talked about acceptance and how to cultivate happiness. I had just finished my first week of teaching curriculum and some of the presenter’s questions were really hitting home.

Do I let other people take away my happiness? Because I think happiness comes from outside situations based on my own agenda? Do I react with anger based on my own  fear and insecurity?

Hmmmm. When I yelled at my kids this week because they weren’t paying attention, was it really because I was scared shitless that I would not be able to teach them the material?

YES!

So after the first presentation, we were instructed to walk throughout the campus grounds silently. No talking to Mom or Carla. I walked to the cafeteria to get a cup of coffee then I strolled through the library. Out of all of the literature there, I was attracted to “Living Catholic, the Catechism.” For 10 years I have studies almost every other religion except for the one I lived the first 18 years of my life. Based upon my current set of situations, now more than ever I felt I had to explore this religion through a matured pair of eyes.

I carried the book to that pew. I read through the first few chapters, when suddenly I heard this loud buzzing sound. I looked up to the front door, which was surrounded by large, uncovered windows, to see see a huge yellow jacket wasp flying repeatedly into the window. I thought it was on the outside of the window and was just a distraction from the moment, so I started to read again.

A few sentences later and the buzzing seemed to get louder and louder–demanding my attention. So I started to watch the wasp and realized he was actually on the inside of the window and he was trying to escape I watched him jump from pane to pane. Scratching. Buzzing. Trying to escape.

I felt I could do something to help out this little fellow. I got up and opened the door. I thought maybe he would feel the breeze and follow the wind to his escape. But he just kept flying into the glass.

Other retreaters were entering the door I was holding open-they just thought I was being nice. I was just patiently waiting to see if the wasp would get my gesture. He didn’t.

I went back to my pew while the wasp stayed in the same place. It made me wonder, how often when I wanted to escape was God holding the door open and I refused to follow the breeze? How often did I just bang myself against the glass? Like the wasp, maybe I just wasn’t ready for the escape at the moment.

I walked back to the retreat room with the sound of the buzzing in my ear. He may not be ready for the wind, but I think I’m ready for the current.

Saintly Faith

I wrote a few entries ago about how I’m trying to understand my own version of faith. There are a few recent situations that have caused maturation in this process.

The first occurred on December 7, 2009 when my second niece, Catherine Grace Marcotte, was born.

My sister Meggan was diagnosed on October 10 (our deceased grandmother’s birthday) with the news that she was a high-risk pregnancy case. She had very little–if not, zero—ambiotic fluid in her womb. She would have to be on extreme bed rest and if she reached 24 weeks, she would be admitted into the hospital for monitoring.

Well she did make it to 24 weeks. In fact she made it all the way to 27 weeks before she went into labor.

Catherine was born around sunrise on the morning of our great-grandmother’s 94th birthday. The 2.5 pound miracle was  immediately admitted to the NICU.

During Meggan’s recovery, her high-risk doctor told us just how miraculous Catherine’s birth was. She said she had never been so impressed with a little baby. With how little fluid Meggan had, the fact that Catherine came out so strong and healthy was amazing.

I still have yet to see Catherine. She is still in the NICU and now weighs 4.1 pounds. She was taken off of the oxygen tube just two days ago. At this rate, she will be home in a month.

I know these kinds of births happen often. But when you witness the preciousness of life first-hand, it makes you wonder just how delicate things are pieced together. It really wowed me as to how so many people from Rayne prayed for Meggan and supported them through this difficult phase.  It was a beauty to witness.

On an almost completely different plane, the New Orleans Saints have proven the longevity of the fruition process of faith.

After 40 years, they have finally won an NFC Championship and are headed to their first Super Bowl.

The fans have formed such a bond of unity during this season. I work at a restaurant on Sunday mornings and the vibe was so energetic. To see elderly ladies pulling for the Black & Gold gridiron was a spectacular site.

For the past few months, all you hear is “Who DAT!”. And I live in Lafayette, two hours from the Crescent City.

But Saints fans have existed through all 40 years of shotty seasons, yet they are still ever present and faithful to their patrons.

I feel this is a movement for Louisiana. After devastating hurricanes (Katrina and RITA), we are still here. Happy. Prospering. Even if the rest of the nation can’t see it.

Don’t you think it’s interesting that Yahoo.com released a poll on the happiest states and Louisiana ranked #1?

The media likes to play out devastation, and yes they did highlight the humanitarian acts of people going on air boats to help victims in the 9th Ward, but how much have they focused on the aspect of rebuilding?

George Clooney commented on the Haiti telethon yesterday that we should still donate money over the next few months to help rebuild the country. I totally agree, but what I want to know is how much coverage will still be allotted to the effort? How long before even that is old news?

The point is that many people still focused on all of the negative aspects from the levees breaking. What the media failed to emphasize was that a few weeks later, Hurricane Rita wreaked more havoc on the other side of our state. My sister who just gave birth lived in a FEMA trailer for months while she attended McNeese State University because she lost everything in her apartment in Lake Charles.

That wasn’t shown. It doesn’t really matter to the people here. We just rebuild and have faith that we will make it through. And have a great time while we do it.

I’m starting to see that whatever you have faith in, comes to fruition. It may take 40 years, but it happens. It happens faster in numbers, too.

Maybe we should take notice of what people really put their faith into. It could be an interesting outcome.

Drifting through memories

I have sat in a cubicle for four months. Like the song “Little Boxes” on “Weeds,” I feel like I’m made of ticky-tacky and we all look just the same.

I have drafts for three children’s books. I have more ideas than time to make any of them happen.

And somewhere in the Internet, I am drifting to Eugene.  I am somewhere on I-5 awaiting an epic party, still reveling my time in Portland.

I have had so much trouble finishing the tales of my road trip through the west. I have issues accepting when certain phases are over. But somehow, I have managed to bring Portland to me.

I feel I am ready to complete the first portion of my blog. I didn’t make it to Canada. Instead, I chose security, which defeats the concept of a path unknown.

While I stand at the copy machine, I am at war with my inner conscience. I feel like a sellout, however, the responsible side knows this is what I had to do to pay the bills for a little while. This is not forever.

By finishing this adventure online, it will be time to embark upon a new one here in Louisiana.

I never thought I would have an unknown path at home, but alas, I do. It is a trail I have yet to explore.

I plan to share it here. No longer will I drift nowhere. My current has a purpose, even if I don’t know what it means yet.

That’s the new concept for me; faith.  I don’t know how to explain it exactly, but that’s where the journey comes in. Through my stories, I hope to grasp and share the understanding. I just know for the first time in my life I absolutely know in my heart I am exactly where I need to be. It is not where I expected. It rarely ever is.

So now, it’s onward to Eugene. Who’s coming with me?

Vegas. Day 2

SO I woke up and tried to remove the stick from my derriere and thought to myself, “I’m in Vegas, let’s have some fun.”

Fun turned into us eating breakfast at McDonald’s because that was the cheapest place in our hotel. For $3 I got coffee, a parfait and apples. Not too bad.

We didn’t wake until after noon, so we showered and decided to go meet Nick’s uncle Edgar at the Gold Coast. Casinos really do crack me up. These people just sit there and pull handles or poke at buttons while these multi-colored bright lights shine on their faces and all you hear are clanks and bells and bad karaoke. You smell stale cigarettes, desperation and bulky buffets.

Oh yeah, didn’t I say I was supposed to remove the stick?

Well, we walked through the casino to one of the little bars where this jazz band was playing. They were actually pretty good. Of course there were Sinatra covers followed by salsa music. Uncle Edgar stuck out from the crowd, his white hair and regal demeanor commanding attention.

Nick and I watched him guide his dance partner–we assumed it to be Clara–around the wood-grain floor. He looked so happy. They all did.

It made me wonder about retirement. So many of the couples here seemed to be celebrating the end of their life in style. Edgar had told us about how the majority of them meet once a week for dancing and most of them frequent the shows and casinos around town. I’m used to elderly people in South Louisiana who retire with their grandkids. It was refreshing to see older people push it until the end.

Me, Nick, Edgar and his partner, who did in fact turn out to be Clara, went to the Cortez Room for dinner right at 5 p.m. I thought it was going to be one of those buffet lines, but it turned out to be a very hoity-toity spot.

We started with wine and bread. Nick ordered a 22 oz. Prime Rib and I the pistachio-crusted salmon. The food was exquisite but the company was better.

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Clara and I talked about her time when she was younger and she lived in Germany for two months. She was originally from Tyler, Texas, but had moved to California. She had been all over the world. We talked about hopes and dreams and the future. For some reason, I was spot-on with my jokes and quick wit. We couldn’t stop laughing. She ended up introducing me to her friends and I took her number down so I could call her if I was ever in Vegas again.

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We all hugged at the end of the meal and sadly parted ways. Nick and I headed back to the Excalibur to wait for Derek to get in. I played video poker while Nick watched a soccer game in one of the bars. There were actually very talented singers performing classic karaoke favorites as the background music.

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Finally Derek arrived. We hugged and he looked around with a hint of disdain on his face. I empathized his expression and we laughed about the irony of us both being there. The three of us decided to stroll through the Strip, but not before getting those annoyingly big daquiris from Dick’s.

So for anyone who has never been to a Dick’s Last Resort, it’s a restaurant where the servers get paid to be complete assholes. The guy who checked our id’s made a comment about Louisiana being white trash. We laughed about it, but thought of how many people from home would have probably hit him, which made it even funnier.

We wandered around looking for something to do. Nick’s goal was to see the dealertainers at the Emperial Palace. The blackjack dealers are impersonators and transition from singing to dealing.

We found our way there, paid $11 for a pack of Camel lights and watched Nick lose $40 to Toby Keith. The Tina Turner-a-like was actually damn good. It was pretty dealertaining.

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We then walked to this other Irish casino where more karaoke prevailed. The first girl we hear was from Louisiana and singing my anthem, “Bobby Mcgee”. She turned out to be from Marksville but now lives in Vegas.

We then walked to the Bellagio to wait for the fountain display. This was by far the nicest casino we went to. The colors were soothing and it seemed so classy. I tried to put $10 in a machine that I thought was the one that was going to help me make it rich, but it turned out to be broken and I had to get a clerk to give me my $10 back. We walked through the lobby that had the most amazing glass artwork, and then made it outside for the infamous fountain show.

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My stomach started to hurt, probably from the mixture of salmon, Jack Daniels, and 190. Derek wasn’t feeling the Strip either, so we got some water and cheez its from Walgreens and went back to hotel room.

I really can’t capture the essence of the conversation that took place between the three of us, but I will say the discussion was our whole purpose of going to Vegas.

Derek and I have devised a plan to put together a documentary geared towards third graders through middle schoolers that presents both the history of Cajun culture and current day youth who still live it. When kids think of history, they think of really old people who dance at Randoll’s (a local Cajun restaurant in Lafayette). But there is a whole generation of young Cajuns who live out the culture everyday.

We are now working on a proposal to find funds to go to Canada to do some research and also document some of these college students who are participating in pertinent events to Cajun culture, such as the Festival d’été de Val-d’Or in Quebec City and Congres Mondial Acadien in New Brunswick.

We will have to work fast, but I haven’t been so motivated in quite some time. This is the perfect project for both of us and we are both needing something of this caliber in our lives…appropriately devised at the Excalibur.

We finally all feel asleep after 3a.m. and Derek was headed to Yosemite by 7a.m. Nick and I were going to get massages before we left, but opted to head straight to California. Our time was up in Vegas. We didn’t win money to cover the trip like we had hoped, but the information exchanged at this site will bring us the ingenuity to fund our lives. Or so I hope.

Vegas wasn’t what I expected, but it was what I needed. And so it follows the theme of the trip.

The Grand Canyon…or the Glorious Conversion

We woke up like it was any other day How was I supposed to know I would be changed today?

The drive was an hour and a half to the Grand Canyon. We drove through mountains of lush pine trees and entered the south end of the park. I was really surprised to see so many mainstream tourist spots, such as McDonalds and other fast-food joints.

It was $25 to get into the park. Thank God we had some cash. I didn’t realize you had to pay to get into National parks. Silly Elise. I should really research some of these things before I venture into it; but then it wouldn’t be unknown. At least I’ve been prepared so far.

What I was not prepared for was the sensation that encompassed me at the first view of the canyon. It’s somewhat a shame that a certain four letter word was the only thing that escaped my mouth.

There really are no words that can describe what one may feel at this wonder. It is so vast. No lens can capture a clear picture. Even to the naked eye, there is a mist over the distant canyon. You feel the infinite of life and the spec of time you actually exist all at once.

Mr. Robert had told us while we were in Fort Sumner that it doesn’t seem like this majestic site can exist in the U.S. I wish we were known for more spots like this rather than ignorant idealists.

Nick and I just sat in silence for a moment in awe.

We then walked to another lookout point where there were a few more people. There was a family praying, a Japanese family talking in foreign tongues and a young emo-couple–the guy was actually nose to nose with a squirrel.

As we walked up the path to another lookout point, I noticed how many different languages I heard. When we arrived to the tourist spot, there were translations in over six dialects. It was impressive to feel a part of such an amalgamated space.

We decided to find a shuttle bus to another part of the park in order to broaden our view. As we drove to the pickup spot we noticed a tourist center. We thought it would have information, but what it had was the biggest tourist-trap store ever. Did you know there is a Chase bank in the Grand Canyon?

You can buy Northface products and granola and raunchy paperback books.

My stomach turned. To me there is a place for city and a place for natural environment. I was so turned off that I almost just left, but Nick talked me into taking the shuttle for one more view.

Yet again, thank God for second chances.

We got off the bus and saw tour buses, one which read “Freedom Tour” over the dash. It made me feel a little better. We hiked over a small hill and walked through a cabin-like hotel to see the most glorious vision. We took a right and tried to get away from the hotel as fast as possible. Not too far off the path was a cliff that called my name.

It was quiet and I couldn’t hear anyone else. Nick had found his own cliff parallel to mine. I sat Indian style and slowly exhaled. I then inhaled and closed my eyes. I felt so balanced. I knew there was nothing in front of me except a drop of hundreds of feet. I had no fear. I had no thoughts. I just felt everything. I felt free. I felt like ME.

I opened my eyes to see a rolling canyon, but in the center was a greater crack that looked like a spinal cord that opened into a “V” at the very end of it. I was aligned in the middle and it almost looked like a person lying straight with their legs open to the world. Or maybe that’s just what I saw.

Regardless, I felt open to the universe. I have no reason to hold anything back anymore. I have survived poverty, college, heartbreak and loss…just like most people.

But for some reason, I have been fortunate enough to be placed in a perfect position. I literally can do whatever I want. I do not have any children or a spouse yet. I have all of these big dreams and I can choose one and go with it. I can move or stay at home and I would be completely satisfied. I feel so blessed that I almost feel guilty. But I also know that I have made different kinds of sacrifices along the way that many don’t choose.

It’s the LIVER philosophy. Doing what is right for you, regardless if it works for others. When you do that, you live. And when you live, you become a LIVER. A wise uncle of mine taught that to me two summers ago. It’s a process, but the refining stage has been incredible.

I feel like I have been living wholey since graduation because everyday has been completely new and completely different. I have not done one thing the same or mundane. I know that stage may happen again, but it won’t be for a while.

These were some of the clarifying thoughts that went through my brain on the top of that  cliff. I stood up, stretched my arms to the sun and then stood in mountain pose.

I looked over and saw Nick sitting on his rock with his legs dangling into the oblivion. Our mother’s would be freaking out if they saw this.

We walked the trail back to the car, took a rock for Mooney’s third-graders and then drove off. I know. It’s kind of bad karma to have a spiritual experience and then take something. But it’s for a class! Nick even drew a comic strip on the way back to Flagstaff depicting how we would get arrested for taking a chunk of the canyon. It ended with two guys in a cell, one saying he was in for murder, when Nick responded saying he took a rock from the Grand Canyon, the slayer replied with “You Bastard”.

Ironically, we ate lunch at McDonalds. Two American novelties: Big Macs and the Grand Canyon. I hadn’t eaten there in ages, but for a few bucks I got a side salad, yogurt parfait and a grilled snack wrap. Not too bad for fast food.

We made it back to Flagstaff to walk through downtown again. We decided to postpone Vegas in order to take in the city one last time. I bought some “Maverick” shades at a boutique, along with some purple tights and several bumper stickers.

One of Nick’s fraternity brothers had picked up his sister in L.A. and they stopped to have some coffee with us before they headed to Tuscon. Oddly enough, his sister turned out to be one of my former Sigma sisters.

We started chatting and both realized that Austin, Texas may be in our near futures. Funny how things work out.

Nick and I made it back to Marcus and Eva’s in time for a grilled feast. We drank a Flat Tire beer and called it a night. I can’t wait for those two to move to Lafayette. It’s such a blessing to find such wonderful people who you get along with. Plus, I really hope I can return the hospitality that was shared.

OKC Memorial

When I said I was in Oklahoma City, almost everyone I talked to asked if I had visited the memorial. Honestly, I had completely forgot about the bombing of April 19, 1995. I was really in the capital to visit Kayla. She had never been to the site either, so we decided our last day in the city should be scoping out the monument and a few museums.

We parked downtown and the first thing to catch my eyes was the St. Joseph church on the corner of Harvey and 4th. I didn’t realize it was linked to the memorial until we turned the corner. It captured my attention because I associated it with the church of my hometown.

As we walked down Harvey Street, I saw a fence lined with memorabila to my right. To my left emerged a few large stone crosses with a 20-foot statue of Jesus crying-his back turned to memorial. A sign stood underneath him with the caption “And Jesus Wept.”

I found out during the tour that a large portion of the church was destroyed during the explosion, and the diocese chose to rebuild the statue and benches as a commemoration to the families and friends affected by the act of terrorism.

As we crossed the street, a giant black tower with a small doorway greeted us. Above the doorway was etched “9:03”. Once through the doorway, an open reflection pool the size of a football field was revealed. Across the first tower is another tower with “9:01” mirroring the symbolism.

To the right are 168 different brass and glass chairs representing the fatalities; there is a name on each chair. To the left of the dark pool is a semi circle around an American Elm tree, with the phrase, “The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us.” The tree survived the blast and a few major ice storms in OKC.

In front of the entrance to the museum are children’s handprints and drawings sent from kids around the country. Most of them have sentimental sayings like “Heartbreak in the Heartland”.

The memorial itself is a self-guided tour, but the exhibit is so interactive that the senses will be stimulated for two hours. When you step out of the elevator, you see a wall-size picture of children from the day care and the saying “It started out like any other day.”

There are templates explaining the time table of a standard morning and the history of the Murrah building. To the left there is a small room dedicated to explaining the definition of terrorism, which before the Oklahoma bombing, was unclear to many Americans. It is described as an action thats purpose is to instill fear in people.

The end of the second floor has a layout of the 16-block radius to show what the area looked like at 9:01 a.m. There is a clock stopped at this time. Across from the layout, is a wall-sized picture of the Ryder truck parked across the street from the Federal building. It was captured by a hotel across the street.

Wooden double doors open and you are taken into a small room that is set up like an old courthouse. A tape recording starts. It is the actual reading from the courthouse at the time of the bombing. A clerk is reading names and then BOOM. You hear an explosion, people screaming, and someone yelling to evacuate. The lights go out and then another set of double doors open to reveal rubble and newscasts playing.

There are so many items that were confiscated from the site. Shoes, staplers, folders, etc. There is a big screen television playing a tape from survivors relaying their experience of being buried under debris, losing their family members and co-workers, and sharing the sheer fear they experienced that morning.

You round the corners and there are more newscasts from across the globe. President Clinton is giving a speech. Local people are staying up around the clock to help their neighbors.

The whole experience is sense-overload. There are so many different televisions on at once; the sound comes from the ceiling and you hear the different newscasts and radio transmissions.

The emphasis starts on how so many people volunteered their time to help. There are letters and postcards from around the country expressing their grief and hope.

The final part on the second floor, displays how the police found Timothy McVeigh, then Terry Nichols.

The opening of the top floor covers the trial and evidence that ended up convicting the two.

Then the room opens into a place of complete hope. There were golden origami doves hanging and huge bay-size windows that overlook the outside memorial.

There was also a shrine of every person who died that day; some with little knick-knacks that displayed their personality.

I had tears streaming down my face for two hours. I had no idea how much this was going to impact me. Neither Nick or I had enough will to visit any other museum that day. Instead we went to the library to write and reflect. I was so emotionally drained.

But what I found most interesting of the whole experience, is how much I left with a sense of hope. This event was a complete travesty, and the city could have focused on the negative aspects of McVeigh and Nichols, yet the primary concept was how many citizens and Americans united throughout the years after the devastation. It’s a shame that we have to let things like this happen before we work together, but it is nice to know that people do ultimately care.

I would recommend every American to visit this memorial. You can tell the volunteers and workers feel they have purpose and understand the importance of this commemoratory. Plus, it never hurts to be filled with hope.

This was probably the hardest thing I have had to write yet. In fact, that’s part of the reason most of my blogs are so far behind. I couldn’t find the words to capture how truly moving this experience really was for me. I hope you can walk away with something too.