Stretch Marks

I’m covered in scars, mostly up and down my legs, but truthfully, I’m covered in scars everywhere. I wasn’t the most coordinated child or adolescent and I frequently walked into windows or caught my knees on sharp nails sticking out of terribly designed classroom tables. I clearly remember catching the same spot above my right knee three times in one week on the same nail. Or that one time I felt so joyful, an uncharacteristic emotion for my 8-year-old self, that I decided to twirl through the long hallway in my favorite childhood home and slashed my left elbow on a window pane. Somehow, my brain and arms miscommunicated when I was supposed to be reaching up to catch a key thrown in my direction, and it landed right in the center of my forehead and knocked me out. The scar’s so tiny now, but I could point it out to you within a few minutes.

Oh, and the chicken pox. I mean, I was pretty responsible and didn’t go to town on my face or any other typically visible parts. But the parts that offered me reprieve have a multitude of scars to tell the story. And then there are the trillions of mosquito bites that I simply couldn’t resist inflicting equal torment on, some of them leading to malaria, most of them filed under the “Annoying Bug Bite” category. I learned the banana peel trick, and gained some self-control eventually, but I am certain that my blood type is especially attractive to mosquitoes.

Then there was the appendectomy when I was 14 and the tiny little gash it left on the right side of my abdomen, a constant reminder that I am without an appendix. And there’s the tiny scar above my left eyebrow from when I rolled a 4-wheeler on a little farm in Kansas and had to go to the ER. And the odd scar on my left hip from slipping on a sheet of ice and scraping my side while trying to hurry into the hot tub. I still got into the hot tub, bloody wound and all. Yikes.

And that’s not nearly all of them. I’m a walking museum of stories and scars, and it took a million trips and falls and oddly-placed nails for me to get to this place I’m at. This place where I fondly reminisce about each story and laugh about the strange child I was. It’s not a perfect body by any means, but it has so much character and depth because of all it’s been through. And I love it so much more because I know of the stories it carries, of its pains externally and internally inflicted.

And then I think about my heart, and the scars it has collected. Its elasticity and durability constantly surprise me, and with each passing year, I fall in love with my heart a little more. These days, I have become increasingly more hopeful about the concept of successful, happy marriages. Thanks to grad school, I’m learning a lot about relationships and how they work, and the more I learn, the more I think, “Maybe I can actually do this.”

To me, marriage is an expansion of the soul. There is a stretching, a widening, a creation of room for another to live in what used to be your space. It isn’t always comfortable or easy, but the work it does within you is incredibly beautiful and lasting. You don’t believe you can stretch any wider or love any deeper, and then your soul expands just a tiny bit more and you – and the world – are better for it.

I’m finally excited for that process of enlargement, after spending my whole life terrified of it. In the same way the scars on my body are a treasure map to all my stories and secrets, I want the stretch marks on my heart to tell the stories of the times I let my life be less about me and more about other people. Or the times when I danced for joy with someone I love even when the very thing we were celebrating had the potential to make me cry. Or the times when I saw the higher road and took it. I don’t want just a few stretch marks, spread out and easy to miss. In the words of Andrea Gibson, “In the end I want my heart to be covered in stretch marks.” I guess these days I’m just feeling especially honored and grateful for the opportunity I might one day be given to rearrange the furniture within my sacred internal space, in order to make room for someone else to stay.

Stinky Poop & True Love: A Different Kind of Fairytale

Is it just me or has the process of getting older and wiser become synonymous with a slight aversion to marriage and kids? When I was at the incredibly mature age of fifteen, I made a life map for myself that included me being married and pregnant at twenty-four. I mean, I understand that twenty-four seems like a lifetime away to a fifteen-year-old, but dear heavens, no. That life map also included me becoming a self-made millionaire by thirty and retiring by forty. I’m failing my fifteen-year-old self hardcore.

I’ll be twenty-four in less than two months, and while everywhere I look there’s a newly engaged or newly married couple, I don’t find myself wanting what they have right now. I’m not the bitter friend who has to pretend she’s happy for her friends who are finding the loves of their lives. I really am genuinely happy for the people I love, and I feel lucky to have a front row seat to witness selfless, sometimes messy, mostly beautiful, love. I love the sanctity of the marriage covenant, and all it symbolizes. Marriage is beautiful, weddings are beautiful, and I – like many other women – have daydreamed about my own special day.

But do I want to be planning a wedding anytime soon? Listen, I like my space. I like sprawling out in my bed without concern for someone else’s sleep cycle. I like eating when I’m hungry (which is all day, most days), and not at some appointed hour that works for two people. I thoroughly enjoy talking to myself alone in my apartment. I like the fact that my apartment has a “Clothing is optional” policy, and I’d love to keep it that way. I like making decisions on my own. I also really like knowing that when I feel like I’m triple my size and begin to wonder if there’s a karate club renting a meeting space inside my uterus, it’ll all be over in a mere five days – instead of a consistent, gradual, explosion fondly referred to as pregnancy. And those cute little buggers who are just so stinkin’ adorable even as they suck all the nutrients and sleep and normalcy from your life? Man, I just really like the fact that they don’t exist in my world quite yet. So no, I don’t want to be planning a wedding anytime soon.

The problem is that I feel weird admitting that, like I’m committing a sin against the twenty-somethings of my generation. Most of us want to be romanced and we want it now. Although, I’ve noticed that the numerous conversations about wanting to find the right guy and settle down are no longer as frequent or as earnest as they used to be a few years ago. Maybe I’m not the only one feeling this way? I’m all for finding the right guy, and then dating him for a good, loooong while.

Maybe it’s because I’m less of an idealist than I used to be. Wanting a husband and kids was easy when the picture in my head was of marrying the epitome of perfection complete with a year-round beard, and sassy little geniuses who came out of the womb potty trained and already hard at work on their next children’s book series. Who wouldn’t want to be married and pregnant given that scenario?

But the thing I’ve come to realize is this: I’m going to spend the rest of my life living with just a regular guy. He’ll have stinky poop, and will leave traces of toothpaste in the sink, and will get mad at me for very good reasons, and won’t always say the right thing, and won’t always let me warm my cold feet with his body heat, and won’t always be gracious or patient, and may forget my birthday, and won’t always think my body’s the most beautiful he’s ever seen (especially after what those future babies will do to it), and won’t always know when to hold me and when to give me space. His love won’t fix me – I’ll still be me in all my annoying quirks and flaws. Except all my flaws will be right there in the center of our living room, up for debate. I won’t suddenly become perfect as soon as I say, “I do”. In fact, I’ve heard it said that marriage doesn’t exist to make you happy as much as it exists to help you grow. And growth is a beautifully difficult process.

I grew up dreaming about a guy who would always know what I was thinking, and would know just what to say and how to say it. But in reality, I’ll probably have to tell him what I’m thinking. And sometimes, I’ll have to ask him to hold me. And that’s okay, because he’s just a regular guy. Besides, that takes more courage than living in la-la-land where everything is handed to you and you never have to find the guts to ask for what you really want.

Picture two messy people who love each other like their lives depended on it, but who are also unequivocally human. It’s like being regular roommates on crack – the crack being sex (and hopefully lots of it), and making every.single.decision together, and eventually, little tots in diapers. Forgive me, but I’d like to spend a few more years reveling in the beauty of my autonomy, the glory of first dates, and my clean bathroom sink.