Mint Milkshakes

self-portrait

self-portrait

This journey (and, lord, how I have grown weary of that phrase and its haphazardous use), has been teaching me a lot of things and also strongly reinforcing things I’ve always believed. I am grateful for new perspectives. 

When I was a teenager and read the book She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb, the quote that burned itself into my brain was: “Accept what people have to offer. Drink their milkshakes. Take their love.” For the context, I highly recommend you read the book (all of Mr. Lamb’s work, for that matter). 

Excellent life advice in one succinct sentence. No one person can be everything you need them to be. There will be things that I deeply dislike or disagree with in a person, but then they show up with a milkshake. And it helps me to understand that people are composed of more layers than the crust of this planet and while some of them are sharp and hostile, others are smooth jade. 

Recently, a woman I had just met asked if she could pray over me. I said yes, because I will never be so ungrateful as to not accept someone’s good wishes for me no matter how they express them. It’s not always easy because I experienced religious abuse as a child and I don’t like reliving those feelings. 

As she prayed, she said the usual things. She asked God to heal me, to give me the strength I needed to fight. Then she added, “But, we will accept whatever you have planned because you are our God.” 

I physically bristled. My shoulders went rigid and I loosened my grip on her hand. Everything inside me was silently screaming, No. Fuck that. 

I sneaked a tiny glimpse at her face out of my closed eye. She had tears in her eyes and her voice was cracking. “But,” she added. “What we seek is full healing.” Her face right then looked like she wanted it just as much as I do. 

So, I drank her milkshake. 



There is another section in the aforementioned Lamb novel that has the main character being told that there is wild mint growing in her backyard, but she has never found any. One day, during one of the lowest places in her adolescent life, she finally sees it. The line is: “I had just found the mint.” 

I remember how I teared up when I read that. The mint, for me, became synonymous with not only unexpected pleasures, but also revelations. For the last 20 years, I have said to myself many times, “I have just found the mint.”

My advice to you from someone who has come face to face with mortality and has zero plans of giving in even an ounce: always take the milkshakes. Always look for the mint. You will be better for it, and so will the world around you.

wedding bells and memories

I was so delighted to be Maid of Honor in my best friend's wedding this past Sunday. It was such a beautifully perfect day and I could not love her husband and his family and her family more. Everyone is so unique, kind, and lovable. 

When I arrived at the venue, I had an odd feeling and I couldn't figure out why. I stepped outside and walked around and when I saw the gazebo, my heart stopped. We were at the same exact location where my best friend Amanda had gotten married, nineteen years ago. I was her Maid of Honor, as well, and nothing about the landscape had changed. I was instantly thrust back into my twenty-one year-old self, walking slowly down the same stone path to join her and thinking to myself how we were both way too young to be doing any of this. Her toddler son, my first nephew, Pierce, squirmed and squealed and grinned during the ceremony. 

The realization that I was Maid of Honor twice, to two best friends, nineteen years apart, in the exact same spot, hit me like a punch in the face. As most of you know I lost my Amanda in 2016 and not a day goes by that I don't talk to her, think about her, ache with missing her.

I managed to keep myself together and focus on my Kristie and the joy of the day. Since my diagnosis, I strive and work as hard as possible to live in the moment. It's as easy as it sounds, ha. 

I have a small altar in my sitting room, aka my zen room. On it is a tiny photo of my nana hugging Amanda at her wedding. I got Kristie and Deb into the exact same spot and made a close replica of that image.

 

mygirls.jpg

I didn't get it exactly, but it's close enough, and the spot where they are both standing is exactly the same. And now as I edit this I am just now noticing that Amanda wore a flower crown, and I too wore a flower crown for Kristie's wedding. I literally did not even put that together until typing this just now.

Believe in what you will. I believe my Amanda is with me always. I believe she was there with me giving me the strength to stand up in front of a large group and declare my love for my Kristie pie. 

Some friends and family members have asked me to give them a copy of the speech I wrote for the wedding (which is so humbling and amazing and I am glad they were touched), so I am including that here:

I met Kristie ten years ago when both of our sons, Dakota and Liam, went to Wise Owl Preschool. I would watch her walking every day with little Quinn in a stroller when she would drop off Liam. Our boys became friends over a fight for a toy truck. Kristie and I would make small talk at the school and I instantly liked her, but it wasn’t until our boys were in first grade that we really became friends.

Coincidentally enough, we both signed up for a program called Picture Person which involved us coming to our boys’ class (they were in the same first grade class) and talking to them about a specific artist and then doing a project with them in the style of that artist. When we both showed up at the same time, we joked about how we had chosen the same volunteer role and we were excited to work together with the kids. 

The first time I went to Kristie’s house, I couldn’t believe how alike we truly were.  Looking around, I saw my own style staring back at me.  We even had several of the exact same pillows, lamps, frames, and blankets, and this is something that would only grow stronger over the next ten years; we often find that we have purchased the same dress, or pottery, or even panties! We joked that we were almost like a singular unit, and that became our name for each other: Singular Unit, only we abbreviate to just SU or “Sue.” 

As our boys became best friends, so did we. Kristie and I are both empaths and we intuitively know when one of us needs the other. She is notorious for leaving love tokens on my porch; some freshly baked cookies, a candle, her famous homemade soup, sometimes even lip gloss and panties from Target. We give each other handmade cards, finish each other’s sentences, and raise our boys to know that we are family because the foundation of love that we share is the essence of all families. 

We have been a flicker of light for each other in our darkest moments. There are no secrets and no veils, only a sense of relief and joy that we have found one another to share our lives and our loves. We laugh until our abs ache, we can cry and wipe away each other’s snot and sadness, we can cuddle and giggle, jump up and down like happy children, make spontaneous trips to IKEA or flea markets, or just sit together in silence. 

Kristie is one of the most intelligent, capable, and driven women I’ve ever known. When life hands her something hard, she uses it to build something stronger. She parents her children with grace and ease, and I love that we are second mamas to our own flock. She never ceases to amaze me with how much she gives to her family and friends, her career, her dogs, and to the world as a whole.

Kristie is also the most supportive friend a woman could ever hope to have. I’m a photographer and one day years ago she took me to see a Herb Ritts (very prominent black and white film portrait artist) photo exhibit at the Cincy Art Museum. I was staring in awe at one of the black and white portraits when she came up next to me, laid her head on my shoulder and after several minutes, whispered, “You can do that.” I’ll never forget that moment. Her belief in me and her steadfast love keep my heart beating.

Hers was the last face I saw before I went into life-saving brain surgery. Her hand only left mine because they pulled my stretcher away and into the operating room.  She would spend days in my hospital bed with me, and we would color, and we would talk, and in those moments I felt a peace and a strong belief that I have way more to do in this life before I go.

One of my favorite movies reminds me so much of our friendship.  It’s called Frances Ha and I want to share a quote from it here that I have always associated with my girl, my Kristie pie, my SU.

“It’s that thing when you’re with someone, and you love them and they know it, and they love you and you know it, but it’s a party and you’re both talking to other people, and you’re laughing and shining and you look across the room and catch each other’s eyes…but not because you’re possessive, but because that is your person in this life. And it’s funny and sad, but only because this life will end, and it’s this secret world that exists right there in public, unnoticed, that no one else knows about. It’s sort of like how they say that other dimensions exist all around us, but we don’t have the ability to perceive them. That’s what I want out of a relationship. Or just life, I guess.”

That is what we have, and I am so, SO happy that Chris and his family are here and part of our family. I knew immediately when I met him that he would hold my girl’s heart with only the gentlest of hands. He has shown me and my family so much love and support in such a short time. I couldn’t imagine having anyone else as an SU-in-law. I know that their love will endure all struggles and challenges that life throws at them.

In closing, to my Kristie, a poem by e.e. cummings:

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in

my heart) i am never without it (anywhere

i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done

by only me is your doing, my darling)

                                  i fear

no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want

no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)

and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant

and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows

higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

 

Singular Unit | July 15, 2018

Singular Unit | July 15, 2018

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Peace for Paris

 


I imagine this might be what it looks like when we die, and how it might feel; like being pelted with prisms of light that carry the particles of everything we've ever loved. Maybe it's just science, maybe it's God, maybe it's whatever we choose to believe. Whatever makes it easier to stand back up, to open a slammed-shut heart.

Don't pray for peace. Be peace. It's not a wish or a request or someone's else job. It's in our hands.

 

image.jpg
 

gardening

 

And then she can breathe again, the fresh air of him plumping out her lungs, pillowing into her chest.  This is the only place where letting go is permissible to her, where she crashes into full surrender.  He pours his pulse down her throat; his tongue carves a tome between her thighs, and it’s the story of how this coming together is an orchid, blooming in aching night, forever free from daylight’s scrutiny.

 

52 weeks words + images | week seventeen

 

earth day

Nana used to say that she believed trees were people reincarnated, and you could tell what kind of person they had been by what kind of tree they were now.  The full, deeply green trees were mothers, their lush leaf curtains providing just the right amount of protection from a scorching sun.  Under these trees you could find respite, a mother’s cool hand against her child’s flushed forehead.

The ugly trees had been bad people.  Trees with branches that appear decayed, that have no hope of ever being kissed by spring; dry bark that peels and flakes.  These trees had not loved hard enough, given enough, and now they were damned to look on the outside the way they had looked on the inside.  

Every tree I see is a potential glimpse at my future.  My heart thumps down in these roots.

© Jennifer Summer | 2015

© Jennifer Summer | 2015

 

full body memory

 

This is a piece I wrote a year ago, but I have re-worked it here.

--

The body remembers.
 

It remembers every time Nana tucked a lock of hair behind my child ear; the prism of shattered glass that lodged itself in my temple, another car's reckless impact slamming my face into the steering wheel; the deeply fragrant coconut suntan lotion I'd slather across my limbs at the first suggestion of summer, days when you could almost taste the wildness of possibility on your lips; the beautiful poet's grip on my hips, moans swirling through thick air, offering my eyes his moonstone smile, nose crinkle-cut with laughter; Max's heavy forest of a paw reaching out to plant itself in my own palm.

It remembers the singular drag of a razor across my forearm, petrified that I was no one's daughter; the hours spent on the tips of my toes, happily trading pain for bliss; the meals skipped and the hollow cavern created inside; the tiny spirit I wasn't ready to love flowing out as an unrepentant river down my thighs; the too many uninvited hands.

A body strains under the weight of collected memory.  But it also forgives, perseveres and sustains.  I thank it by treating it gently, feeding it with life and motion. We're in this together.  We remember for each other.

image & text © Jennifer Summer | 2015

image & text © Jennifer Summer | 2015

 

52 weeks words + images | week fifteen

 

gardening

Life tells us to bloom where we are planted; essentially, to accept our fate and make the best of it, but the roots that we have are not like those that tether trees to soil.  Ours snake around the heart-line that we carry inside, intersecting with each curving memory, a bulky and tattered piece of luggage that we never put down.  This leaves our body free to roam.  If the sun stops shining its nutrients onto wherever we’ve pinned as home, we are able to move to the patch that is drenched in light.  The choice is always ours.  You are as fluid as the next whim after which you give chase.

 

© Jennifer Summer | 2015

© Jennifer Summer | 2015

 

52 weeks words + images | week fourteen

 

under seas

--

When I was a child, escape was crucial to survival. I would close the door to my bedroom and watch my entire reality fall away, the new one existing solely inside those four walls.  I took the stage, flexed up onto my toes, danced someone else’s life.  In hot Midwest summers I sank to the bottom of every pool, lungs full and taut, body curled in on itself, carving out a safe womb.  

Nana would dress me for these journeys; flaring skirts, sheer scarves to tie up my hair, long wisps of gauzy fabric that would flow behind me.  The carpet in my bedroom was a deep, turquoise blue and I imagined it was the ocean, my ocean.  I asked Nana for a mermaid tail and her skilled fingers delivered a dark orange one with a zipper up the side.  I layered her costume jewelry necklaces over my bare chest, leaned back on both arms, shook out my hair and whipped my tail.  The crash of my imaginary waves would drown the anger on the other side of the door, and I would let the tide pull me away to absolutely anywhere.

© Jennifer Summer | 2015

© Jennifer Summer | 2015

 

52 weeks words + images | week thirteen

 

closed windows

--

It can be a heady thing, thinking of all the other potential lives that lie just outside your own.  We wonder what would have become of us if we had said no, or yes, or jumped instead of retreated.  We try to calm our restless hearts by making our gratitude sing more loudly than our regret and usually it works.  But, no matter what we do, the tiniest desire to escape is always there, always fermenting.