Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Tarmac blog 1.

On American Airlines now, flight I don’t know. I should arrive 2:45 in New York, and then I’m going to pass the fuck out. It’s been such an incredible, unstoppable trip= this one to Chicago- my hometown. I feel like I have to tell you all about it.

First off, though- have to say that I’m listening to Tegan and Sara. Sara read the book and offered a sentence or two so we could put it on the back, and also offered to do an e-mail blast on the book to her myspace friends. You guys don’t need to know this- the exact details of this, but it’s important for a certain reason. It’s important because she’s an incredible artist who offered her time up and her resources to do something she felt would be helpful to other women. In fact, all of the authors, and even myself, basically worked our asses off for a laughable amount of money for this book. Really, a pittance. If I told you, you wouldn’t believe it. And all of the women in this book opened some of the most private chapters of their lives, some of the most difficult experiences tey’ve survived- they’ve truly exposed themselves only for the desire to reach out to you. To help. To hope that it helps. If you don’t call that love, I don’t know what is. So even though sometimes you might feel all alone and you might feel all like you just bought something else. . .know that the reservoir of power and love that the women that came together to put this book out is for you. For you specifically. Don’t be afraid to take it. And don’t be afraid to find it in yourself.

I want to tell you guys about my plane trip to Chicago, because it was really incredible. Well, in fact- it was not. It was a normal flight, where we ended up waiting on the plane for two hours and then finally taking off. But what transpired between the woman who sat next to me on the plane and I was incredible.

As I approached 25A, I already started looking for my seatmate. And from far away, I saw her. She was a larger woman, and she, in fact- did have to raise the armrest between us to sit down, and I could tell- even from far away- she was scared as hell at who her seatmate would be. Would they be an asshole and bitch her out about her weight in front of everyone. Would they possibly be large themselves and then both would have to endure a physically uncomfortable ride? I could feel she was tense, and nervous, and so I smiled as I pointed out that I would be sitting next to her.

As I settled into my seat- I gave her another quick smile, and then turned to my magazine. I didn’t feel like talking. She opened a SELF magazine- one of those magazines that tell you 35 WAYS TO LOSE THOSE WINTER POUNDS!! SHED THAT FLABBY ASS, 5 WOMEN TELL YOU HOW TO STICK TO YOUR DIET!! One of those magazines. I remembered when I read those magazines. When I read them endlessly. They were delicious, and safe, and they proved to me that I was already taking care of myself just by buying them. That’s capitalism, folks. You feel you need to buy something to prove to yourself you’re doing something. External change. (This from someone who’s pushing a book. I should shut up.) But the things about those magazines is that make you feel like you’re not doing enough. You know you SHOULD drink carrot juice, but then you need a juicer. You read stories about women who’ve lost a trillion pounds, and you think- I can’t even lose five, how can I be so weak? The comparisons between your real life and what is a heavily edited and forcibly happy story is never good.

Anyhoo- she’s reading SELF. I’m reading some other trashy mag, I’m sure, and here we are- total strangers, our thighs touching. We don’t pull away from the gate, and the minutes walk on by and my seatmate puts her magazine away and falls asleep. A half an hour passes. Another. Then another. I call my dad to tell him we’ll be late. The phone call wakes her up and she realizes she’s been sleeping over an hour and we’re still at the gate. I get off the phone and start speaking towards the window, scrutinizing the long line of planes that haven’t moved in a long time.

“I haven’t seen a plane take off in awhile.” I said.

“Didn’t the pilot say that there were over 30 planes before us that needed to take off?”

“Yup- and not-a-one has gone.”

We settled into the communal silence brought by our mutual scrutiny of the tarmak. Nada. A slow, conversation began. The type that you have with a stranger. You begin with the external. The wind, the weather, the rain, and the next thing you know, you’re talking about your lives, your struggles and the dreams you never fulfilled. The things you’ll say to a stranger are often things you would not tell someone you love, sometimes they’re things you almost never even admit to yourself.

It moved to the personal as she asked why I was going to Chicago. I mentioned that I was visiting my family, but also told her about the book. She asked more about it, and so I pulled the book out- the wonderful copy I have where I’m collecting the signatures from all the contributors as I go and meet them in our readings. She flipped through the art work, stunned, like most by Fly’s piece. Quietly intrigued by Beth and Annie’s piece. We turned to ‘Weight Watcher’ by Stephanie Howell. A shift occurred in her body as I started speaking about it. About Stephanie’s struggle, about Stephanie’s amazing reversal of shame into power. About weight as a whole.

“As you can tell,” she said, a bit shyly, “I have my own problems with weight.” She was almost embarrassed about it. She held up her copy of SELF, I’m really trying, I know I should get a handle on it.

I don’t remember how we talked through to the next point, but the next point was that she had recently lost her sister to a seven year battle with cancer. She worked in Chicago, and her sister lived three and a half hours away, and every other weekend, she would go and take care of her. From far away, she took count and hold of her prescriptions, her medications. Towards the end, she cut her toe-nails. She stayed with her when she vomited green bile. At one point, her sister said- ‘Listen, I haven’t been able to trim down there in awhile and it’s growing like a jungle’, so in the spirit of sisterhood, she helped trim her pubes. “That’s about as close as I ever would want to get with anyone. You see, I’ve had weight problems all my life, but when I was taking care of my sister, it got worse. She died this past December and it was horrible!! Awful!! I put twenty pounds on in December alone. Can you believe that? Twenty Pounds in ONE Month. And I know I should really get a handle on it, so I’m trying.”

And here is where I had to stop her.

“Are you fucking KIDDING me? Your sister just died- fairly recently. That is a horrible thing. That is a hard thing! Of course you put on twenty pounds. Fuck, if you had to put on a hundred to deal with what you had to deal with, that would have been fine. You did that to deal with a terrible situation. you have all the right in the world to that weight- and you don’t need to have a handle on it!! You have just gone through something very hard, and you do whatever the fuck you need to get through it. So what if you put on a thousand pounds. I don’t think I could have ever done what you’ve done!!”

And that’s the thing. I can’t detail her experience with her sister, how hard it was- how, in fact- beyond hard it was. My mother has lymphoma, and ever since she’s been diagnosed I’ve been dealing with the ramifications of having cancer in the family, because- besides the basic sickness of cancer, it is a mental fuck as well. The family dynamic that shifts in the face of a cancer diagnosis can, at times, be as equally traumatic as the actual sickness. And here she was, the only person in her family out of seven children that was dealing with it. That was with her sister at the doctors. That held down a full-time job while acting as a nurse, a friend, and a support system. And she is saying she can’t get a handle over her weight? Fuck everyone. Your sister just died. You do whatever the fuck you want.

This is what kills me, absolutely kills me about women. We can go through the most traumatic experience, and still be expected to put heels on. To wipe the mascara from my face. And when we don’t, we think we’re being ‘weak’. We can’t ‘control’ ourselves. We are mother, lover, wage earner, nurse, diva, siren, goddess and bitch, and we think we need to be ‘handled better’. Fuck that.

This woman and I (not going to mention her name) spoke throughout the entire flight, about drugs and alcohol (which she’d also had a problem with), weight, cancer, and then once we bonded over that- went on to talk about race, gentrification, the American dollar, the state of ‘things’. A dialogue. A dialogue started. From how the plane wasn’t moving. A conversation about the weather, about air controllers, tarmacs, flight plans. Then we went on to our greatest hearts, and then we took on the world. That’s how it happens, folks.

And that’s why it was an incredible flight. Because of our incredible connection, our incredible conversation. But when you get down to it, it was just two women talking- something seen as not too incredible at all. But it is.


erin said...

wow! that sounds like an amazing and painful flight. thanks for having this blog. i just found it.

MQM said...

Sabrina - a wonderful post. I see that this was posted many months back - it was good to meet you last weekend here in March of 2010. Keep going.