Commas from the Universe (aka: Forced Pauses)

Commas exist for a reason. They give us a way to separate ideas, or to list multiple items without miscommunication. They also tend to spark wild debates over the use of the Oxford Comma (the “gif” vs. “jif” argument of the literary world). But love commas or hate them, we can all agree that written language simply could not get along with them.

The thing about commas is, they allow us to pause. Take a beat. Which can be a real lifesaver, apparently.

I tend to be the opposite of lazy most of the time. Go go go, from before the sun rises to long after it sets. I have a full-time career. I’m a full-time mom to teens. I cook most of our family meals, and write novels and short stories in my spare time. I also workout nearly every day, and run at least 15-20 miles per week. A routine like this takes a lot of organization and a lot of energy. Which thankfully, I have. Most of the time.

But once in a while, the universe decides it’s tired of watching me run around in a blur, juggling my very active lifestyle. So what does it do? It inserts a comma in my life.

Pause.

Next thing you know, I’m stuck in bed with a cold. Any active person can tell you — we can’t stand getting sick. It keeps us from our runs and workouts and Very Important Business Meetings. Who has time for commas, when we are driven to GoGoGo?

Eventually, the pause ends, and I can get back to the business of busyness.

A couple of weeks ago, the universe inserted another pause into my life. I was out for one of my usual Saturday long runs. Since I’m not in training for anything right now, I was only planning to run for 8 miles along one of my favorite trails. I ran four miles out, and was on the run back when my knee began to complain. At first, it was just a twinge, so I continued pounding the pavement. But by five miles, the pain was excruciating. Youch! By six miles, I was walking. No, limping. So much for a good long run.

But as I limped along the trail, no longer in a hurry, I began to notice my surroundings. It was such a lovely, cold autumn day. The sky was a brilliant shade of blue, and a huge flock of hawks circled overhead, stalking their prey. The sun was just beginning to set, casting a deep golden glow on the river. Someone had stopped by this way, I saw, and stacked river stones into a tower. The leaves had finished their fiery show and had mostly taken their bows, drifting to the earth.

Rock tower

I met a stranger along the path, who was also walking, and helped her identify a weird fungus-looking plant (using iNaturalist — a great app for nature-lovers). By the time I returned to my car, I was no longer frustrated by being temporarily handicapped by a bum knee.

I slowed down for a few days, then tried to ease back into running. But this past weekend, the awful pain appeared again after running 6 miles. So it was back to walking, and observing, and listening to audiobooks instead of high-energy running music. Today, I feel great, and every inch of me is screaming to get out on the trail and run again soon, but I figure I’d better, well, pause, and go get that knee examined, before I aggravate the injury. Sometimes, it sucks to slow down. But just like you have to know when to throw in a comma to keep everything flowing well, you also have to know when to take a pause in some part of your life. Everything looks different when you slow down for a moment and look around. You may not be moving forward as quickly as you’d planned. But the views can be breathtaking.

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The Price She Paid (a poem)

With a Yes, she married him

young bride in virginal white

starry-eyed lovers, high expectations

spawned from biblical promises

then…

Honeymoon tinged with blood

dripping with cold, wet shock of disappointment

while he writhed in ecstasy, head thrown back

high on new pleasure

she shrank beneath him

cringing at the sharp pain and burn

deep shame

falling short

eyes wide open at his kiss.

“You’re beautiful,” he told her. “My sexy wife.”

His own words spurring his hunger

while her stomach turned to gravel

bile filling her mouth.

Months stretched to years, a decade come and gone

while he filled himself

and she gave, and gave, and gave

an obedient faucet

succumbing to the painful act

his touch turning riverbeds dry

green grass shriveled, trampled underfoot.

She curled alone on her side of the bed

far from his gaze and wandering hands that always sought more.

“What do you want?” he asked

eager for her to know how to fix herself

(but not willing to slow his advance).

A wife must submit.

Her body belonged to him

the Bible said so, see?

What she wanted was to make it all disappear

to give him back his ring

to admit that it was all a mistake

to stop being beautiful. Hide her sexiness in sweatshirts and

dark rooms

but the more she said no, turned away, begged

the more his insistence mounted

determined to subdue his opponent

at any cost.

The word No came with steep price tag

Insults, accusations, financial withdraw

surveillance, imprisonment at home

“You have to,” he told her. “God says so.”

“Then fuck your god,” she snarled, finding her voice

and his fists pummeled her like angry rain.

The price increased.

He strayed

seeking out other females

paying for services

blaming her, taunting her

always her fault

because she said No.

If she had known

that marriage meant she would be his marionette

dancing on short strings of lust

CONSENT tattooed in blood on her forehead

even though his touch ripped her insides

and made her feel like less than dirt

made her hate being called “beautiful”

(which also came at a cost)

Then No

would have been her first word

her loudest word

long before his knee ever dropped to the ground.