I Am the Master of My Fate

Things rarely go as planned for me. I’m in my third year of a two-year program at my college. I’m not even at the college I intended to go to. I’ve lost an astounding amount of friends in the past year, and Jon, my best friend from summer camp, lives an ocean away, and I haven’t seen him since high school, despite our haphazard efforts at arranging a reunion. Meanwhile, my body has ballooned instead of shrinking like I always wanted. I don’t grab a couple of drinks at Hamburger Mary’s with a couple of gal-pals like I always thought I would before I turned twenty-one.

These could all be construed as negatives, but it’s really just a matter of perception. Spending more time at Daytona State instead of a traditional college has given me more time to make sure my major is right for me. The main reason I am so far behind my peers in my education is because I was hospitalized almost every semester for mental health reasons. A community college like DSC gives me the flexibility to retake classes, withdraw late from courses I won’t be able to finish, and establish a rapport with my instructors so I can let them know what’s going on with me.

As for losing friends, well, I’ve drifted apart from the clubs I was once involved with at school, partly because of other commitments like work and synagogue (It seems like EVERY event is on a Friday night!), and partly because I’ve grown and changed a lot, and I just don’t vibe with some of the people who used to be my friends. It’s important for me to explore various types of friendships with a multitude of people so that I can determine what does and doesn’t work. Am I a little lonely at school? Yeah, sure. But this pushes me to get outside of my comfort zone, talk to the people in my classes, and it challenges me to be my authentic self, regardless of whether or not people like that.

Jon and I will always be best friends. He stood by me through anorexia hell, multiple rounds of treatment, and even the time I got unhealthily obsessed with a crush for a solid six months and drove him nuts asking questions  about the mystery of the male mind. We email each other all the time, just to share anecdotes about our lives and our plans for the future. Jon is one of those special friends who will always be in my life. He’ll be in my wedding, either as the groom or as my maid of honor. He’ll look so pretty in a dress!

My body? Forget weighing 98 pounds. I’d rather be able to keep up with my kindergarteners, walk across campus, and eat some freaking fries when I want to!

And as far as not going out for drinks with friends on the weekends? That’s my choice. I can decide to start drinking whenever I want to. I don’t know what would happen if I did, and that’s why I choose not to drink.

I went back to school towards the end of March, and I’m taking a very easy class called Managing Your Success. The intention of the class is to teach students how to thrive in college, how to manage time and money, etc. It’s really basic stuff, but sometimes it’s good to get back to basics. My professor recently included the quote, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul,” in one of his slides. Curious, I Googled the quote, and found the poem “Invictus” by William Earnest Henley.
invictusI realized I’d heard the poem before and scoffed at it, but my take on it was different this time. One of the key lessons I learned when I was in treatment at Magnolia Creek was that no one can “make” you feel anything; rather, your reactions are a choice.

I had trouble with this concept at first. I thought it was normal and natural to feel bad about being abused, for example. I thought that “bad” things happened to me, and I had a right to feel ashamed, dirty, depressed, and helpless. In short, I was being a victim. I wanted to feel that way. I thought my abuse “didn’t count” unless I tortured myself emotionally over it.

It’s not my job to decide if the things that happen to me are “good” or “bad.” I can perceive them however I want, but I am only human, thus I have a finite perception of the events and course of my life. Labeling things that happen to me is another example of the myriad ways I try to play God in my life. I’m pretty sure God has this whole “running the universe” thing covered. I don’t think He needs my help with that. I am probably not the literal “master of my fate.” I think that probably falls under God’s jurisdiction. However, I do believe that I have a choice when it comes to how I feel and what I do. No, it’s not my fault that I have anorexia. However, every time I engage in an eating disordered behavior, I’m making a conscious choice to act on that impulse, just as when I overcome a relapse or an ED thought, I’m taking charge of my own mind. If we are responsible for our successes in recovery, we are also responsible for our failures. I certainly don’t want to admit that it’s my fault when I weave an elaborate web of lies about why there are bloodstains on my sleeves and razors hidden in the bathroom. I don’t want to take responsibility when my breath smells like vomit after meals and I’m losing weight. However, I want all the credit when I pick up another milestone chip at AA, when I listen to my hunger cues and eat a snack even though it’s against anorexia’s rules, or when I end an unhealthy relationship.

After a traumatic event as recent as December, I resorted to purging to deal with my feelings of shame and depression. It was symbolic for me; kneeling in front of the toilet represented apologizing to God, the universe, or the person who hurt me for whatever I’d done to “deserve” what happened, while the act of vomiting represented “purging” the painful memories out of my mind. At first, I told myself I’d “just purge once.” Then it became purging once a day. Pretty soon, I was purging as often as I could and eating as little as possible in the meantime. I knew something was wrong when I found myself in the employee bathroom at work while I was supposed to be taking out the trash, heaving up whatever low-calorie morsels I’d had for dinner on my break. Mid-barf, I was being paged over the intercom because the front had gotten busy and my supervisor needed an extra cashier. I had no choice but to finish vomiting, clean myself up as quickly as I could, and drag my shaky, pale, embarrassed self to a register.

It’s not my fault that this is how my brain taught itself to deal with stress. It’s not my fault that I was the victim of a crime prior to this and it caused a great deal of stress in my life. However, it was my responsibility to be good to myself (and to fulfill a duty to my employer), to make healthy choices, and to my best to resist these self-destructive impulses. The ex-boyfriend who violated me was neither directly nor  indirectly responsible for what I did that night. Yes, his actions were inappropriate and wrong, but so were the ways I chose to react to them. He wasn’t “making” me purge. I was doing it to myself.

These days, I have faith in a God that has granted me an “unconquerable soul.” I will never say I am grateful for the abuse I went through. Many people, even a few therapists have told me that I should be grateful to be a victim of childhood sexual abuse, dating violence, and rape because it’s made me so much stronger, and I will be able to use these experiences to help other people going through the same thing. While I am grateful for the outcomes of the traumatic events I’ve experienced, I am not grateful for the road I had to take to get here. However, I am the captain of my soul, and I choose not to dwell on what brought me to this place. Rather, I will look forward and see what the future holds.

Some Poems

There is a very small local poetry club that I attend every Wednesday night. Because I now have an audience for my poetry, I’ve started writing it again. Here are a few of my recent ones. (And no, I don’t believe in line breaks.)

I watched our love turn your teeth yellow. I kissed your smoky mouth anyway, and my tongue momentarily stopped searching for messages in a bottle. I sat in the rooms and distanced myself from you, loving a God that you deny, loving Him more than I ever loved you–yes “loved” with a D because if love grows, then love dies, but I was too dope sick to go to the funeral. The clinical term is “substance abuse,” and after all the times the angels spit on my naked, nubile body, I swore I’d never hit anyone, but there were times I saw fear in your eyes, and I want to apologize for becoming a man in your bedroom, when I promised you sugar free kisses and instant coffee that wasn’t too weak. I always tried to put in a little extra for you. I wrote Sappho a Dear John letter, and I wept in our sisters’ arms, but I don’t remember a single tear, just a strand of faux pearls around my skinny wrist, and a man’s hand over my childish mouth. I never loved the way we did. You were my first real teacher, but I’ a truant at heart. I blew off your class for pills and bandages. A rib cage like guitar strings, but I never let you coax music out of me. For that I am sorry. I hope for you. I promise I will never pray for you, and I will no longer play with you–no more games where I make the rules. You deserve to win, and I hope someday, your blessed body crosses that finish line.

The bitch wriggles out of her collar when she feels she does not deserve to be owned. When the man brought me home from the puppy farm, I was just a little thing, made slight by misguided willpower. Black boots knock a young dog around, but oh, was she grateful for that silk and leather collar.

The bitch was treated fairly on the island. The prize pet–all the sirens and nymphs wanted to pet me behind the ears. But grow I did, and I became a mean dog. I bit the fishermen, barked at the, and tried to run them off. One of the carried a knife, and he carved his initials into my haunches.. And oh, I was grateful.

On the island, a siren picked the young, mean bitch to be her favorite. She gave me not a collar, but a chain with a silver clasp. The siren explained that it was a tie not a shackle. I learned what love was, and I rested at the foot of her bed. She fed me handsomely, and the bitch became a dog became a girl became a woman became an abuser became broken became heartbroken became closer to a whole piece of something bigger.

The bitch wriggles out of her collar when she feels she does not deserve to be owned.

I grew up in a noisy house, but it was a loving song of noise. Yiddish and Hebrew thrown around like olives in exotic dishes. Pretty dresses on little girls, and kippahs covering bald spots. The Torah. Behind the glorious ark in all her resplendent wonder with mysteries and wisdom to carry me through the ages. And carry me she did, through losses–Goodbye, Miss Lucille; Goodbye Mrs. Malka–and loving gains–Welcome to our family, David; Welcome to the world, Baby Ben. And all the steps in between. Rolled up in the Torah scrolls are generations of Hanukkahs and Purims, a thousand weddings and a thousand births. I grew up in a noisy house, and when I come to visit, my family sings with me.

A Peek Inside my Journal

I’ve kept a journal for the past eight years–since I was twelve, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. My journals have come in all shapes and sizes, and I’m currently using a black hardcover notebook with silver polka dots on the front. I like it because it’s small and fits in my purse easily. Here are some of my entries from the past week or so.

I made this one with some scraps from a well-deserved trip to Dunkin Donuts before a Survey of Biology exam, and some pictures I cut out of a fashion magazine.

I’ve been listening to one of my favorite bands from eighth grade, Three Days Grace. Thus, I have been writing eighth grade-quality poems. Enjoy. 

The left side reads, “I grew up in a noisy house, but it was a loving song of noise. Yiddish and Hebrew thrown around like olives in exotic dishes. Pretty dresses on little girls, and kippahs covering bald spots. The Torah. Behind the glorious ark in all her resplendent wonder with mysteries and wisdom to carry me through the ages. And carry me she did, through losses–Goodbye, Miss Lucille; Goodbye Mrs. Malka–and loving gains–Welcome to our family, David; Welcome to the world, Baby Ben. And all the steps in between. Rolled up in the Torah scrolls are generations of Hanukkahs and Purims, a thousand weddings and a thousand births. I grew up in a noisy house, and when I come to visit, my family sings with me.” The other side is about gender identity/presentation plus how much I wish I’d never started smoking.

I was sad when I made this. One of my very close friends always tells me that she’s praying for me, which I appreciate, but… The opposite side of the page makes me uncomfortable, and I was uncomfortable when I made it. It just makes me feel tense. 

I had a lot of fun making this page today, but it looks like the fashionable grandma is having more fun than I am. 

I Am.

This is not just a story. This is my story. This is relaxation, transcending discomfort and becoming one with the body, the vessel that will propel me towards my dreams, my goals, the only thing I will own all my life, that no man can ever take away from me no matter how hard he tries. This is violence and diamond-studded teeth sinking into jagged fingers. This is love and softness, holding hands on the beach and peach-blushed, sunburned skin skin. This is housekeeping, picking up trash on the floor of my heart and putting everything back in its place so that I can heal, and that the garden of my heart will flourish. This is admitting, accepting, embracing, and screaming that I am not broken, that I have always been as cratered and glowing as the moon herself. This is no bra and stiff sandals on the way love in home, all the way to body love and letting her in. This is amazement and feminine magic, hair out of place, and being seen, loved, and deemed beautiful without makeup. This is cheap lipstick and men’s deodorant, all the random beads I strung together the year it happened to me and all the little girls in the world, and how their discordance hummed and throbbed and glowed with all the magic of the first time I saw a firefly at summer camp. This is healing, and loving, and letting myself grow. This is admitting, accepting, enjoying, annd loving that I have a body and knowing that I am.

My journal 



I’ve shared a lot of my nonfiction here, but you may not know that I also write poetry and fiction. In the spirit of shameless self-promotion, I thought I’d share some of my other genres here.

This is a short story called “Shopping” that I wrote for my senior creative writing class when I was in high school. The assignment was relatively simple: write a 1-4 page short story about anything except suicide, drugs, or romance. These caveats existed because my teacher was tired of reading depressing, cliche stories. While my story has a romantic element, it met the parameters, and my teacher encouraged me to submit it for publication. It appeared in the print edition of Teen Ink, and won that month’s fiction contest. (Teen Ink is a great publication for young writers, however, be warned of their copyright guidelines. Taken from their submissions page:  All materials submitted become the property of Teen Ink. By submitting your work to us, you are giving Teen Ink and its partners, affiliates, and licensees the non-exclusive right to publish your work in any format, including print, electronic, and online media. However, all individual contributors to Teen Ink retain the right to submit their work for non-exclusive publication elsewhere, and you have our permission to do so. Teen Ink is copyrighted by the Young Authors Foundation, Inc.)

“Vacation” and “Change of Hands” also appeared in Teen Ink’s print edition. I wrote them during my sophomore and junior years of high school, respectively. Looking back on them, they seem a bit goofy, but they represent important parts in my life and my development as a writer. When I wrote “Vacation,” I had just picked up a copy of Charles Bukowski’s You Get So Alone at Times That it Just Makes Sense one of my favorite anthologies of all time. Bukowski had a big influence on my poetry, and my copies of his books are well-loved. “Change of Hands” was my first formal piece of writing that reflected how I was questioning my sexuality. At the time, I was confused and ashamed, but today I am happy to report that I am out and proud.

“Silent Mode” was the first piece of writing I ever had published. It appeared in Crashtest Magazine, a wonderful student-run online publication. I wrote this poem during the fall of my senior year of high school, which was a rough time. I had a soul-consuming crush on my friend and coworker, who shall remain nameless. (You know who you are.) I misinterpreted his friendship for flirtation, and spent a solid six months infatuated with him. The culmination of our non-relationship was this poem. The night I wrote it, I told him my true feelings for him–over text. I waited an agonizing four and a half hours for him to text me back and very kindly say he wasn’t interested. I was crushed, but eventually bounced back. A few months later, I received an email that this poem was being published, so I guess something good did come out of it in the end.

And finally, for your reading pleasure, here is an excerpt from a short story I wrote titled “Animals.” It’s based loosely on my experiences with Zach. I hope to have it published soon.

“Hey, little sister!” Connor called to me. My brother was still in the house making lemonade, so he wasn’t there to glare at Connor for including me in the conversation. I barely heard his voice anymore over the allure of his rippled body. His muscles were hardened and tanned, and his hair was lighter every day. There wasn’t a single part of his body I couldn’t admire. Even his teeth were beautiful.

On the other side of the pool sat a beautiful girl made of colors. Her hair was a color of red I’d never seen before, like the inside of an orange peel, strawberries, and a sunset. She wore a blue bikini, and her nails were a pearly pink. She looked like the kind of fruit that would be just the right thing to eat on a day as hot as this, but she was too pretty to devour. “Hey, Karli! I’m Carly!” Her lips were like dancers. She laughed.

“Hi, Carly,” I said.

“Karli, this is my girlfriend, Carly,” Connor said.

“Oh my God, there’s so many Carlys!” Carly laughed. She tipped her head back, and the water in her hair seemed to sparkle. I imaged the entire rainbow was contained in there. I could see colors radiating from her, and she wore them all perfectly. I saw her colors leaking into Connor’s fingertips, bleeding into his skin and staining him. They were beautiful together. I imagined them as the sun-catcher that hung in our kitchen window, filling the room with rainbows and light while I stood stupefied, wondering why I couldn’t feel such vivid shades.

“This is my girlfriend Carly.” I wanted to sink to the bottom of the pool.

Yesterday was my 19th birthday

A night full of smoke, my white Bic lighter was the frailest flame, flaring up for a few seconds, just in time to flicker out. (One time, a girl loaned me her gold lighter, and I didn’t know how to use it, and she laughed at me.) The night was heavy and still except for us stirring it around. We were lighters ourselves: tiny spots of light in a dark infinity, like all the glitter spilled on the carpet in my second grade classroom. (I used to crawl on the floor with tape on my hands and pick up the glitter. Looking back, I retrospectively imagine galaxies on my tiny, pink palms. Memories clutter my head like so much trash on the beach.)

The drugs were acrid.
The smoke was thin.
The pills were white as my virgin skin.

We staggered past our dorms where our friends were sleeping. We were awake like bad children. I didn’t know much about biology, and he drew a diagram for me in the window. I have more scars than my car, but just barely. He tried his best to consume me, but I was rotten on the inside. I am the only one allowed to know my souring parts, and I will scrape them out with a spoon and rearrange them into a balance that only makes sense to me. I dared him to hurt me knowing that I am the only one who’s mastered that art, and in the end, I will be the dominator, and I will demonstrate how to smoke my body like a cheap cigarette. We thought we were adults the moment we were old enough to buy tobacco, but all the clergy tell us we have never been younger. I let the numbers float away from me like the smoke that seeps into my fingers. I can’t completely rid myself of the scent. Maybe next year I will come clean.