Last Sunday, while Mike and I cleaned up the breakfast dishes, I heard yelling outside. Just beyond our patio, a woman sat crying on the sidewalk next to a van. The shouts triggered fear and my learned response to anger: freezing like a deer in headlights. I wanted to close the door and the shades and my ears and eyes.
I took a deep breath and asked myself, if you walk away, will you regret it later?
The answer was clear. Yes.
Plus, I had backup. I knew Mike was right there. That helped.
I inhaled again, stepped outside, and asked the woman, “Are you all right?” Maybe a dumb question, since it was obvious that she wasn’t.
She turned. “He took my keys, and I can’t go anywhere.” Her voice trembled.
“Do you want me to call the police?” I asked.
The he in question stepped out of the van. “She just gets crazy like this,” he said, calm as can be, apologetic. “Sorry for the disturbance.”
“No problem,” I said, but I couldn’t stop looking at her, the one who wasn’t hiding anything, who couldn’t if she tried. The one with her heart inside out. There was obviously a problem, and someone not him bore the brunt of it.
He got back into the van.
“Do you want me to call the police?” I repeated.
She said, “Yes.”
I went to get my phone and heard her yell, “She’s going to call the police,” which of course got him out of the van at lightning speed.
Back on the patio, 911 at the ready on my phone, I saw him walk away, down the street, and asked if she still needed me to call. She didn’t. She had her keys.
She walked up to my patio, a plastic Coke bottle in one hand and a flimsy bag of what looked like ashes or oatmeal in the other. A bat tattoo spanned her chest. Tiny bats along both arms. Mother wings and baby wings. Her nails were bitten halfway down. She tucked the bottle under one arm and passed the bag hand to hand.
Red eyes cast down, she said, “No one’s ever stood up for me before.” Along with her voice, her hands shook, and as she talked, the ashmeal dumped out a little at a time.
My heart broke a little more with each stream of dust.
Mike stood behind me with a hand on my shoulder. My backup. Standing up for me. Bless him.
“See, that’s what I need,” she said, “someone who’s supportive.”
What grace to have backup. Gratitude splashed into the heartbreak, and some guilt. How can I stand here, with him, in front of her?
“I’m in an abusive relationship,” she said. She rambled out a list of all that she had done and tried to do, to no avail. She defended herself, but she didn’t need to.
I could feel how hard she was trying. I could hear her desperation. I could taste the salt in her tears, the dehydration of them. I was thirsty for her. I knew how it felt to be slayed by words, to be made to feel like I was crazy in contrast to a calm façade. Mostly, I listened.
More words and ashmeal spilled out of her, onto the corner of our patio, onto the dirt outside it.
I asked Mike to get her a bag.
She nodded. “I just need a bag for this cat litter,” she said.
Not ashes or oats, death or food. Cat litter. Something to catch all of the crap. Someone else’s crap. Right.
Mike went for the bag.
I want to make a glorious end to this story. I want to say I hooked her up with some amazing resource or that I even offered some helpful words, which is the best a writer can do.
But the short version is that while she talked to me, he came back once more, she said, “Now I’m going to get it,” they had one more verbal fight with Mike and I on standby, he left again, and she drove away.
All I said was something lame like, “I hope you take care of yourself.”
I didn’t think until later that day to tell her that she had bat power all over her, which meant she could see and fly in the dark.
Instead, I thought it to her—Bat Woman—and hoped she could hear it.
Bat Woman, a big name I hope you hear without any snark and with the tenderness and reverence I feel writing it.
So all I gave Bat Woman was a plastic bag and my voice. She felt like I stood up for her, which, I know from having that experience myself, is no small potatoes. When Mike stood at my back, with just a hand on my shoulder, I sensed a legion of support behind me, heartening me.
The question I’d been chewing on for a month resurfaced:
How can I stand when all the women are falling down?
In different ways than Bat Woman, the women close to me have also had a rough go of it this past year, knocked down by pain and rejection, the healing of old hurts, diagnoses, deaths of mothers, losses of pride and mobility and hope and jobs.
But look, I don’t want to become the news industry—only focusing on The Grim and the Terrible (that’s my bad soap opera idea).
The women in my life have also been rocking it this year—taking creative projects to the next extraordinary level, finding and seizing the kind of love they’ve waited lifetimes for, getting honest in relationships and reaping the rewards, becoming mothers of babies and books.
I count myself among these brave women, roughing it and rocking it and needing lots of extra support to keep going.
Speaking of which, for six weeks, I’ve savored the gift of private Feldenkrais lessons with Kim Cottrell, and thank goddess for that and for her. Kim is one of the most tuned in and ultra present beings I’ve encountered, courageously facing and engaging with plenty of her own rough stuff. I have no doubt that because of my work with her, I was able to move forward and stand up for Bat Woman.
Although I’m a novice at it, Feldenkrais seems to be all about distribution of effort, how our bodies work as a whole. These lessons have given me a window into my own patterns of letting parts of myself carry more than their share, and a reminder that they don’t have to if I remember it’s a team effort.
A month ago, during our most intense session, as Kim worked around my left heel—a painful spot for me—I shared my heart heaviness at the struggles of the women in my circle and beyond.
Kim asked, “Can you stand when all of the women are falling down?”
It was one of those questions, you know, the kind that immediately called out tears from my eyes. I let them answer the call.
Following her beautiful intuition, Kim actually held up my heel and whispered into it the answer I was afraid to give, “Yes.”
Kim had me stand, rotating around the bottoms of my feet, distributing weight, distributing me, finding where it was hard to go, backing off, circling around again.
When the circling became challenging, Kim asked, “Why don’t you try the infinity symbol instead?”
So I stood there, looping into infinity.
I thought about distributing my heel pain, realizing how hard I land on my heels when I walk, giving them more than their share of effort.
As the session continued, of course we worked our way around to where my bodywork sessions always go—my hips, the lost baggage claim of my body, where all of the fifty pound suitcases and awkwardly shaped parcels which belong in cities far from there, go to sit and pile up.
Kim mentioned the idea of taking the pain from a particular area, say my hips, dipping into it like it was paint, and spreading it over the rest of my body, distributing it. I envisioned juicy paint wells in my hips.
During some EMDR therapy the week before (I mentioned that I’m getting lots of support, right?), I had been working to vanquish one last bit of a charged and painful memory. Eventually I realized I didn’t need to vanquish it; it no longer had power over me. I had power through it, through surviving and healing from haunting verbal abuse and a traumatic experience. Remembering the tough stuff I’m made of, the part that could not be broken, I saw a truth:
I walk in the power of my wounds.
Now with Kim, I got the message again: I didn’t have to run from my wounds. I could use them.
I imagined taking that paint and decorating my face and arms and legs and feet and hands like I was going into battle. I told Kim, “It feels like my warpaint.”
When I left that session, she hugged me. “Remember,” she said, “you have war paint. You have infinity.” She smiled. “An unbearable lightness of being.”
I felt like I emerged from the magical healer’s hut. Because I had.
After our session, I had an answer to the question Kim asked and answered with me—yes, I could stand.
So it reworked itself into a new version: “How can you stand when all of the women are falling down?” Because, you know, I’m a process gal.
I’ve been asking it for the whole month since.
Of course I found the answers as I wrote them down, and I wanted to share them with you.
- Stay present. Tune into what you’re feeling in this moment. Let that lead you to what you need or someone else needs. Ask for it. Get it. Offer it.
- Walk lightly.
- Draw from your pain wells and make your own war paint.
- Distribute your effort through an infinity loop. For instance, when I stand, I can let the toes and the front of my feet take on more weight than they have been. So, experiment. You have INFINITY, after all.
Your FHP activity for the week? Pick one of these, and practice. Notice what happens.
As much as I’m a process gal, I’m also a meaning maven, and all of this begs one more question:
Why stand when all the women are falling down?
Because the more of us who rise, the more of us who rise.
Because collapse in response to collapse doesn’t move life forward. Because Kim and Mike and so many others have stood for me when I couldn’t. Because I trust that Bat Woman will stand for some other woman.
Because contrary to popular belief, being a fallen woman does not mean being a reprehensible and graceless woman. It means being a woman we all have been or are or will be, one who ran so hard and fast into the speed of life that she probably needs to rest for a while and let others hold the front.