Searching for my Former Self in the Southwest

06.6.11

Bronze Sculpture

Twenty years ago while I was a student in Colorado I heard that a local sculptor was was looking for nude models. He was an established bronze artist looking for women who wouldn’t mind being cast in plaster for $100 an hour. In a town where a two bedroom apartment rented out at $425 a month this was an incredible opportunity. I called him, gave him my measurements and was delighted when he gave me instructions and hired me for a few hours.

The sculptor was David Dirrim, and his workspace was a huge warehouse in the wrong part of town (as warehouses tend to be). I showed up and was surprised by David, he looked more like a welder than an artist. The artists I knew were thin but fit men who wore mismatched socks and crumpled shirts. Dave was tall and strong and, perhaps because of the locale, looked decidedly blue collar.

I was to pose with a twist in my torso so Dave had built a place for me to stand where I could grip a bar above my head. I’d be covered in plaster for as long as it took for it to dry, the room was warm so hopefully the plaster would dry quickly.

I felt less naked in that artist’s warehouse than I did in a bikini on the beach. We found the perfect position for the bronze, marked where my hands and feet needed to be and he proceeded to cover the front of me in plaster from chin to knee. Standing still, breathing shallowly and holding a pose was more difficult than I’d imagined. Although there was ample heat I felt a chill go through me just before the plaster hardened and began to separate from my body. We breathe through our skin more than we could ever imagine.

I rested a few moments while he made sure that the cast would work, took some sips of water and prepared for the back. Dave explained to me that our spines release a lot of heat and that sometimes people don’t feel well with their entire back covered. He asked me to let him know if I thought I might pass out. I assured him I would let him know if I felt weak.

The plaster on my back felt heavier and hotter than the plaster on my front. It went on wet and cold and almost immediately began to warm but not harden. Dave stood behind me and we talked about the process, about his work and about standing absolutely still even when my arms tingled and shook. I felt cold again and then a wave of nausea, I opened my mouth to speak so I could tell Dave that I was worried about fainting and I could hear the words in my head but they didn’t leave my lips.

Strong arms were holding me ever so gently and peeling the cast from my shoulders. I slipped to the ground and lost consciousness but there wasn’t a single crack in the plaster. Both Dave and I were pleased.

Many months later Dave called to let me know he’d cast me in bronze and if I wanted to see it I should feel free to stop by the studio. I remember walking in the doors that day and looking at my bronze. I was bigger and smaller than I’d thought I was. I touched the torso and wondered aloud if it was really me. He explained that it was and I felt strange. I had no real sense of my own size and I didn’t realize that I was beautiful. I knew I was sexy in the way that every young woman is, but I didn’t know that my body was actually beautiful.

I felt like a thief for taking Dave’s money. He’d given me what a thousand hours of therapy could offer no one. He allowed me to see myself as the world sees me. Kindly.

This weekend as I lay in bed with my stomach gurgling as food poisoning stole my day I thought of just one thing. Get on the scale so you can see how much weight you lose. Which is not okay. The reality is that 20 years and a full lifetime later I’m close to the same size. True my breasts require a sturdier bra and there is a small but definite crease on my bottom that hadn’t been there before. It’s unlikely that my stomach will ever be as flat as a board, but it wasn’t flat when I was 22. It was firm, but not flat, because that’s simply not the body I was meant to have. I wasn’t fat, in the absence of illness or pregnancy I’ve never been truly fat. I’ve just been a woman.

I’m searching for that bronze. Five of them were made and sold in the Southwest and I’m determined to find one and own it.

 

Colorado Ski Vacation: Where I Finally Ski

01.9.09

As the antibiotics kick in and Alexander’s fever subsides we start having a little fun. The kids disappear into the snow and build forts. We caution them to stick together, but there is no lecture about the homeless guy on Ventura or the speed of cars. Instead we worry about boots falling off or spats between children.

The kids go to daycare ski school for a few hours and Robert and I take a few runs together. It’s fun, but it’s pretty tame and I’m needing just a little more.

I stand at the top of Outhouse and my brain clicks off. I haven’t a thought in my head other than can I do this? Has it been too long? I cannot think about Robert, the kids, pediatricians, Kasey. I can’t think of anything as I’m planning my route.

At some strange moment before my brain catches up to my gut, I’m headed downhill and carving a path between the bumps. I know it’s stupid, I know I promised Robert I wouldn’t do anything dumb, like ski double diamonds, but I’ve got one life and I’m capable.

Halfway down the run I stop for breath.

Let me tell you the number one rule of skiing the small tight bumps? Don’t stop. Restarting part way down a steep pitch is near impossible, now my arms are flapping like chicken wings and I’m the asshole in pink pants that should’ve stayed in Los Angeles.

And then it comes together. Miraculously, I’m back in control. My hips are swivels, my legs are charged, my arms glide effortlessly and my head is three bumps ahead of my body.

It’s why I ski. Any amount of travel is worth one perfect run.

The afternoons were peppered with physical challenges on the top of the mountain, the mornings came with parenting challenges and the evening alternated between perfect family fun, healing hugs and overwhelming sadness. It was a good trip. It was the right trip to take.

In the midst of it all, the reason I needed to be there was Kasey. There wasn’t a moment that we forgot him. Not even on the bumps.

After a Loss I’ve Learned My Lesson

08.28.08

Skiing in Colorado this December.

Why?

Because sometimes people you love just don’t live long enough, and I’m not about to fuck up and miss time with them.

That and the fact that I’m a really great skiier…

Denver: Rocky Mountain Lows

08.10.08

The plane lands in Denver after what feels like 24 hours in the sky and I know that Kasey is dead, no one has explained why and I don’t dare ask. All I know is that I have to get into a rental car and in order to do so I”ll need to talk to people. Nicely. Impossible as it sounds I find my way to Hertz.

It’s a 20 minute shuttle from airport to car rental and I’m assaulted by the air conditioning and scent of unwashed travelers. The line is long and strange. Taking a moment, I pause and examine the line, Secret Service men and Nuns.

Fucktastic. Who could make this up?

At the front of the line of two dozen or so is the largest man I’ve seen in days, he’s a wall of a human in an off the rack suit with a curlicue of clear plastic feeding information into his ear. The Democrats are in town. With red and watery eyes I decide that he’s my target.

“Um, excuse me.” I say, looking up at him as I gently touch his massive right arm, “I really don’t think I can explain to you why, just right now, but I need to cut this line.”

Clearly confused, the Wall Of Secret Service looked down at me slowly and as his lips began to form words I continued, “Honestly, I’m about to cry so much snot may come out of my nose and I’m pretty sure you don’t want a middle aged housewife sobbing here in front of you.”

He may or may not have actually spoken, but at that moment he waved me forward in the most deferential of all gestures. I may have thanked him, I hope I did, but suspect I forgot.

After hopping into my Toyota I jumped onto I 25 taking the familiar route to The Black Forest. The day was beautiful, the Rockies on my right and the great plains to my left with forest for as far as the eye could see. Furious, I wished the weather would be as dreary as we all felt and within a mile of Kelly’s house there were storms. I needed the skies as sad as I.

As I finally pulled up to my destination the skies turned an angry black and erupted in hostile waves of rain and wind. How wonderful that Mother Nature was also pissed.

Kelly ran out to the car and we sobbed and held each other, I’m unsure whose body was capable of standing and it will never matter. We stood in the cold angry rain, two women, two mothers, crying and rocking and wishing the nightmare would end. We knew it wouldn’t, and neither one of us was capable of standing alone.

The afternoon was chores, buying funeral clothes, fortifying ourselves with food and drink, and finally packing the family for a long sad trek to Iowa. We pored through twenty eight years of family photos and when we came to the pictures of Kasey with his dog, I lost it. Completely. How had the little boy with the dog for a best friend died?

Insufferably Cruel

08.9.08

I’m packed and ready, off to surprise my friend Kelly on her 40th birthday. I have no children, no schedule, one overnight bag and limitless energy. She’s 40 today and we will celebrate. Her husband and I are emailing our plans, his emails always include the phrase, “I am so excited”.

I’m up early at 6am because I want to have a lovely morning, I want to get my kids to camp and prepare everyone for my quick trip. I’m leaving nothing to chance. It’s ten AM and I sit down the dark and dirty airport bar with my breakfast burrito and diet coke, I glance at my iPhone and see that Larry has called. He’s so excited about this. I smile, thinking, “gosh, that man loves his wife”.

Instead there’s a very calm message. Too calm, measured even, “Hi Jess, it’s Kelly, I don’t have all the details but Kasey is in the hospital on life support. I heard you’re on your way out. I don’t know what you want to do.”

Stunned. I sit in silence and decide what this means. I cannot absorb a single bit of the data offered to me. Kasey is in his twenties. Kasey is a newlywed. In my mind, Kasey is the 13 year old at our college graduation, he’s the baby. Babies don’t end up on life support.

Slowly gathering my strength and with incredible denial I touch the screen and call Kelly back. I cannot recognize anyone’s voice, they’re all shrill. Larry is sobbing, Kelly is screaming and it’s eerie that I don’t hear a child in the background.

Kasey has died.

They’re going to Iowa, I’m coming to Colorado. I have no idea what it is I’m supposed to do but I can’t turn around and go home now. Maybe I’ll give her a hug as they’re pulling out of the driveway to bury her brother on the family farm. Perhaps they’ll stay a day, although I hope they don’t. Is today her actual birthday? Please lord let it not be today.

The kids, who is watching the kids? What do you tell them? There are more questions than answers. I haven’t a clue how Kasey died or if my legs will support my own weight when this plane finally lands.

I want desperately to scream, “shut the fuck up” at the mother in front of me who keeps hushing her 3 year old twins. Let them talk. Pray to all that is holy that you’ll never have to bury one of them.

This is one fucktastic plane ride.

I could stay at Kelly and Larry’s house when they leave. I could knock on Emily and Brian’s door which is very close to the airport. With Emily’s recent loss I’m unsure if it’s all just too much for me, for her, for everyone. So I’m renting a car and I’ll likely end up in Pueblo, with the potters. I’ll slip unnoticed into the dusty apartment that looks out onto the train tracks, nestled at the foothills of the Great Rocky Mountains. I’ll hear the hiss and roar of the kiln as they fire their pots and glass and by then, I do believe I’ll know what hideous monster took Kasey from us all.