Patience is not a virtue when we consider how we judge ourselves. We spend so much time moving when we should be standing still. I know. Rushing into places that I had no business, way before I was ready; was a regular practice for me. I couldn’t wait. Right then and right there always looked better than tomorrow. I thought I could push and pull whatever I wanted from the ether because waiting was painful for me.
I remember getting into trouble once when I was about ten. I can’t remember what I did or what my punishment was, but I remember crying for hours to go home. It hurt so bad to be in that room, in that bed, crying. The worst part was that I was already home; in the small two-bedroom house I shared with my mother, my brother, and great-grandmother.
That night my Nana came to the steps that lead to our room and called up for me to come down. She slept in a hospital bed in a small room off our dining room. With rheumatoid arthritis, she could barely walk some days. She was bent at the waist, but she was still so tall. She stood six feet and one inch. Nana had a face native to America. She was more red than brown. Her eyes were slanted and prominent. Her cheekbones were sharp and high. She had the biggest hands I had ever seen on any woman. Flat light brown hair, and a full mouth she had given to all of us.
Thinking the heaviness in my chest must be what a million pounds feels like, I clunked down the stairs, and she steered me toward her room. It smelled like Bengay and peppermint in there. It made you sick and soothed you all at the same time. She asked me if I wanted some tea. I told her no, and that I didn’t want her to get it. She leaned forward to steady herself, turned and sat on her bed. She pulled me down next to her.
“You want to go home, huh?” She waited for me to say something.
“I just don’t want to be here, Nana. You remember when we saw that bird in the trash bin behind the supermarket? Remember how he picked at that dead mouse?
“Well, that’s how I feel; all picked at, ripped up. My skin doesn’t even fit me right.”
She just looked at me. I knew she must have thought I was foolish. She asked me to bring her pocketbook. When I returned, I just stood there, defeated. She reached for me. Her arms were long and opened wide, her hands, big and medicinal. She squeezed me tight, her head under my chin.
“It won’t always be so empty in there. It’s not empty now... just hold on, little girl. Sometimes,…” She moved over slowly to make room for me. “… all that fitting isn’t what’s best. Sometimes, fittin' is bindin’, in the worst way. Kinda like when you see ya mama putting that tight girdle on…” She gave me a little shove, and smiled wide, right in my face and put a peppermint to my lips. I couldn’t help but smile back and open my mouth.
“You just hold on like I said.” She patted the bed, close to the wall.
“Lie down and rest with me.”
I wanted to believe her. I was still screaming inside, and deeply conflicted. I wanted to roll up in a ball and squeeze myself into myself; just fill myself up with what I needed. At the same time, I wanted to stretch out as far as I could, till my bones burst through the ends of my fingers and toes. I wanted to shed my skin.
I would come to understand that doing just that can save lives. I fell asleep with her that night; face to face, breathing in Bengay and breathing out peppermint.