Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Girl- by Definiton

Hi, guys! This is my final essay as an undergraduate student! I wanted to share for a couple of reasons - this is a blog and that's the point, right? ;) Also- this was a long, long, loooong process of examination and study and reflection. I don't think I've ever put so much of myself into a piece or writing, fiction or non-fiction.
I hope you all enjoy this and I hope, in some way, it may help some of you.

Lots of love -
Stephi D.

A Girl – by Definition
by Stephani Duff

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer . . . It is potentially dangerous because it can invade nearby tissues and spread to the lung, liver, bone, or brain. Often the first sign of melanoma is a change in the shape, color, size, or feel of an existing mole.

It was a clear, warm day outside and I was at my usual spot on the swings at Miami East South Elementary playground. I was sitting stationary next to a blonde haired girl I was becoming friends with.
“What’s that on your leg?”
            I felt my breath catch in my throat and I quickly tried to come up with an acceptable answer. “It’s, uh, well it’s my birthmark. You have one, too.”
            “That’s not a birthmark. It’s too round – see? Look at mine compared to yours. That’s not a birthmark, so, what is it?”
I had been caught; it wasn’t a birthmark, at all. I actually don’t have a birthmark. It was a mole in the center of the side of my right thigh and it plagued me.
It’s still there, that mole. But now I don’t wear shorts and rarely do I wear short skirts so people don’t get to see it. I suppose in my embarrassment of, what I’ve come to realize in my age, a relatively small, harmless mole, I decided to say it was a birthmark because somehow that would make it easier to deal with and more acceptable to others who saw it. In hindsight I often wonder what the big issue was about this small mole on my thigh; it is not oddly shaped or oddly colored. It is, in fact, quite normal and inoffensive as far as moles go. And what’s more, it was on a location of my body that was easily hidden. I find myself thinking of that conversation often, of that girl with whom I no longer have contact, and the shame that I felt at a piece of my body I had been born with. That mole doesn’t bring me disdain like it used to; no, as I’ve grown older I have left behind that mole on my thigh and brought my focus to other body parts, brought my self-loathing to new and unparalleled heights. That mole would never bring me fame or fortune like Cindy Crawford, but it wouldn’t hold me back much longer, either.

Many illnesses, contaminants, and injuries can be water, sanitation, or hygiene-related. Waterborne diseases are caused by organisms that are directly spread through water. Water-related illnesses can be acquired due to a lack of water for good hygiene, lack of sanitation, or increasing insect populations that breed in water and then spread disease.

When I look back at pictures of myself before anxiety gripped at my insides like hooks in a fish’s mouth, before my hair became a daily issue, before I realized what a gift it was to act, speak, and live without abandon, I find myself saddened at the loss of that child. I swipe stray tears from the corners of my eyes at the loss of the olive skinned little girl who would sing “You Make Me Feel Like a Magical Woman” into the handles of her mom’s Nordic Trak, at the loss of the little girl who thought her daddy had all the answers, at the loss of the little girl who thought she would always have forever to play lion tamer with her two cousins and her brother.
There is a picture of me at around three; I am in an unbelievably tiny swimsuit standing next to those blue “kiddie” pools that define every farm-raised kid’s childhood with the garden hose held up to my mouth for a cool drink. My hair is in pigtails; my mom often remarks on how that was a day I kept the pigtails in for a particularly long time. At twenty-four I look at the picture and think of all the ways I have removed myself from that young girl; I would never, in a thousand years, be caught drinking out of a garden hose. Water is something I must make myself drink nowadays and it is always bottled – when you’re raised in a farm county and your well is likely to include small, cut off legs of insects that end up in your glass of water, you learn that bottled water is your best friend. I’m rarely seen in a swimsuit by the eyes of anyone not related to me, let alone allowing myself to be photographed in one for historical purposes, and although I have tried it recently, pig tails just no longer suit me as I have hit puberty. Where along the way did I lose my carefree ways? When did I go from being free to being restrained by my own dislike? When did that mole become more important than the freedom to show my imperfections and tell people to take me as I am? At what point did I loosen my fast grip on my childhood? Just when did I let that final string linking me to childhood break?

Puberty, usually occurring during adolescence, is when kids develop physically and emotionally into young men and women. Usually, this starts to happen no earlier than about 7 to 8 years of age for girls and 9 years of age for boys (the average age is about 10 for girls and 12 for boys). But what if a younger child — for example, a 5-year-old girl — begins showing the signs of puberty? How would it affect her? Precocious puberty — the onset of signs of puberty before age 7 or 8 in girls and age 9 in boys — can be physically and emotionally difficult for kids and can sometimes be the sign of an underlying health problem.

At the young age of six I was diagnosed with Precocious Puberty, which is essentially a fancy way to say that my hormones were growing at a speed of light rate and they were pressuring my body to develop much before the “due date.” As a result of this, in the second grade I was the only young girl required to wear a sports bra to hide the odd voluptuousness of my breasts. While the mole on my thigh still pained me, my chest became the forefront of my obsession. I recall asking my mom if I could wear two sports bras so that I might appear to be the same size as the rest of the girls in my class.
Once I went to a friend’s house and she showed me the new “bras” her mom had bought her; they were elegant and girly and impossibly feminine with pink rosebuds and cream colored lace on the edges. I distinctly remember her look of disgust when I showed her my bras – there was nothing dainty about my Champion undergarments. I went home from that weekend getaway hideously devastated and feeling entirely “un-girl.”
My boobs continued to be problematic throughout my adolescence; girls never did really “catch up” with me as far as cup sizes go and my chest is often the butt of jokes in bars now. At this time in my life, though, I am happy to say I am a busty woman who has come to terms with her two best “girls.”

Approximately 7 million girls and women struggle with eating disorder. The average American woman is 5'4" tall and weighs 140 pounds. The average American model is 5'11" tall and weighs 117 pounds. Most fashion models are thinner than 98% of American women. 42% of elementary school students between the 1st and 3rd grades want to be thinner. 80% of children who are ten years old are afraid of being fat.80% of women are dissatisfied with their appearance. 51% of 9 and 10 year old girls feel better about themselves if they are on a diet.

There have been many conversations in which my mom has begged me to tell her when the severe self-consciousness I harbor all began; the sad thing is, I don’t know that I have an answer. I suppose I could blame it on a handsome boy from my painfully awkward “pre-teen” years; he loved me, or so he said so – and I believed him. But what I’ve come to find is that there is nothing within the confines of a defined love that includes hateful words, demeaning names, and sexual pressure. There’s a chance these body image issues began in a second grade classroom when I was the only one in a bra and my particular bras weren’t ‘nice’ enough. I am sure that self image issues are a common feat to overcome for many adolescent females – I recall sitting across from a new girl in my sixth grade classroom; we were allowed to bring in bottles of water at the end of the school year because of how hot our classrooms go. Many of the boys in the class would bring in cans of soda, but wrap them in foil so the teacher didn’t know. One day the no longer new, new girl came in with a can wrapped in foil; we all assumed it was soda, but she revealed her secret to me at recess later that day. It was Slim Fast. We were in sixth grade and this very thin girl was consuming Slim Fast. I was not, am not, alone in this battle against my own head, but somehow I still feel like the only girl in the room, in the bar, on the campus that is consistently tugging at her shirt to cover the small pooch of her stomach, doing neck stretches so she doesn’t get more of a double chin, and going to the bathroom obsessively to check her hair. It would appear my self-loathing was sewn in a pocket of my soul from birth and I’ve slowly untethered those laces and stitches with alarming precision.
The average cost of a haircut in the 1960s was $5.00. The average cost for a haircut and color in 2012 is between $30.00 and $50.00.

At a young age my eldest cousin learned how to French braid her own hair; I still don’t know how to do this and I distinctly remember Jenna having trouble braiding my hair because of how thick and heavy my hair was. There were many nights I would sob on my mom’s shoulder, “I just want thin, wispy hair like Jenna.” To this day, Jenna can curl her hair into perfection, zap some hairspray onto it and be set for the day; my hair has to be teased, whipped, curled, and bobby-pinned into submission and then at least ¾ of a can of hairspray is required for me to make it to lunch time. Many mornings I wake up, take a shower, eat breakfast, brush my teeth, do my make-up and then stand in front of the mirror fretting. I slowly remove the towel from my just washed hair and slowly comb out the tangles that seem to always be appearing and reappearing. Once I have it to a smooth consistency I pull out the blow dryer – this is when the true devastation begins. Many mornings I wake up and think that today will be the day I will  brush my hair a certain way or blow dry it a different way and BAM! It will be everything I’ve always wanted it to be. Many mornings I wake up with wishful thinking and leave for school thinking – this is just gonna have to work. Many mornings I wake up and realize my hair is bullshit only to be complimented on its thickness, its color, the neon extensions I have in them. Every day of my life I’m underestimating what might be worthy of compliment and the mop I carry on my head is at the top of the list.

Baby ducks will need their mothers for up to four weeks after birth, for heat. After those initial weeks, the family may very well break up and disperse.

It was a dark night; we were going to visit Uncle Mike. He was a man that was not an actual uncle to Zack and me, but a close enough friend that he earned that title. A couple weeks prior my mom had received enveloped coupons and in with the coupons was a Gerber magnet. I remember it being cream colored, with the Gerber in a nice, light, pastel blue. Beneath the brand name were baby ducks in the warmest, most pleasant sunshine yellow imaginable. I carried that magnet with me everywhere – I realize, in my adulthood, how ridiculous this sounds. I had plenty of stuffed animals, but it was that small magnet I needed with me at all times. On our way to Uncle Mike’s house I held that magnet tightly in my dainty hands, but somewhere along the six minute drive from our home to his, I lost it. I recall arriving at his house, the dome light in our maroon GMC Jimmy coming on and I found the magnet to have disappeared. At twenty- four I still think about that night, about that magnet – it was never found.
The mole, my breasts, and the God forsaken thickness of my hair – they seem to all be representing things I must have some magnetic obsession with. Did this seed of panic develop at the loss of that Gerber baby magnet? Did the dwindling of that final thread linking me to the wildly carefree girl begin with the loss of this magnet? It was a dark night – perhaps far darker than I could have ever imagined.
Long-term exposure to stress can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can raise blood pressure, suppress the immune system, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, contribute to infertility, and speed up the aging process. Long-term stress can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.

In a moment of weakness I will admit to you I enjoyed the movie Knocked Up featuring Seth Rogan and Katherine Heigl. I enjoy its raunchy, inappropriate humor, but what has stayed with me from that movie is not raunchy or inappropriate at all; Katherine’s character has gone into labor, her sister is out of town, and she can’t reach her doctor. Seth’s character arrives at the house to find her in a warm bath, with candles lit and soft music playing in the background. She quietly mentions something along the lines of “I must stay calm. If a baby is born into a stressful situation, they are wired for stress for the rest of their life.” No words can ring truer for my brother and my’s entrances into the world.
My mom often reminisces about my birth; she hadn’t felt me kick or move for about twelve hours so she called her doctor; she was instructed to come in so they could examine the situation at hand. As it turns out, I had gone number two inside my dear mother; I also had a blood clot an inch from my umbilical cord. Mom and I were sent into an emergency C-section. This sounds like a stressful situation to me; does it you? My beloved brother took a nice, easy 28 hours to come into the world. In a situation in which plans are trying to be made or times of arrival are being worked out I closely resemble a gerbil on one of those toy wheels – ever running my ass off to never really reach the end of that forsaken 360 degrees. My brother would resemble the happy turtle – merrily taking his time from point A to point B and furiously pissing off the hare living its entire life in a hurry. From birth my brother has been taking his fucking time with life. If a baby is born into a stressful situation, they are wired for stress for the rest of their life; all too true, Ms. Heigl - all too true.
The average age that an American moves out of their parents’ home is seventeen to nineteen years of age.
            Whenever questioned about my anxious tendencies and their birth, I was quick to pinpoint them to the end of high school and the beginning of college. I realize, now, how completely wrong I’ve been all along. My fourth grade year was relatively uneventful as far as school years go, but I recall being deeply terrified at the idea of having to leave the building I had been educated in for five years to move to a different one. Many a night in those final weeks of summer between fourth and fifth grade were spent crying on my mom’s shoulder. Questions, ever prevalent in the course of my life, whirl pooled in the air and in my head – what if the teachers didn’t like me? What if I got lost going from the classroom to the cafeteria? Were they going to let me keep library books out as long as they did in elementary? Always the patient, understanding woman, my Mom was quick to reassure me I would find my way, I would find friendships, and I would find a friendly librarian just as I had in the K-4 building I was leaving behind. She was right. She was right between fourth and fifth grade, between sixth and seventh grade, between eight and ninth grade, and between senior year and freshman year.
And here I am, on the precipice of finishing an entire life of education and stepping off into the world of professionalism and attempted publication and my knees shake and knock like loose, crisp leaves in the autumn night; just this morning I was discussing moving out of my childhood home with my mom.
            “No one is kicking you out, Steph.”
So many conversations have began and ended just this way – and I know no one is kicking me out, but there will come a time in my life when saying “I still live with my parents” will no longer be acceptable and will begin to be creepy, unbecoming, disapprovable. And what will become of me then? That mole, this hair, the boobs? Miniscule in comparison with the big move. How might I ever have a sleep-over with a man if I am still living with Mommy and Daddy? The horror of bringing a man here and having to decide if sex is an option just about does me in. There will be no sex – because there will be no childhood bedroom at my new place. Oh, a new place – that distant, far off dream. But who will cook my meals? Will I gain weight due to my culinary capabilities being confined to Mac-n-cheese and grilled cheese? What curd of cheese will my cellulite begin to resemble after such meals? No one is kicking you out, Steph.
Every two minutes in American, someone is sexually assaulted. One out of six American women have been victims of attempted or completed rape. 80% of rape victims are under thirty years of age.

            Twenty-one found me fresh out of a four year relationship, never having dated a 20-something-year old guy, and terrified at the “college experience” lying before me. Unlike many of my female confidantes, twenty-one did not bring me to points of drunken oblivion, twenty-one did not find me dancing in the closest club in town, and twenty-one did not see me out, anywhere, period, at all. Twenty-one found me making every excuse possible to not leave my home.
I was convinced that if I went out and there were people I didn’t know at whatever location I was, I would be abducted, raped, and left for death. It froze me in my tracks, it prevented me from experiencing a couple of years that are, I suppose, geared as rites of passage in a young woman’s life. As I type this out, I realize how terribly morbid I must have sounded when I braved voicing this fear aloud – what kind of vibrant, young woman thought this way? It is with painful certainty I answer you – one whom, long ago, lost grip on the little girl she should have been grasping to with clingy desperation.
Night-time no longer finds me inside my home, living, and barely breathing, in fear, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t always finishing my drinks before setting them down, stepping forward from strange men that come too near, waiting with bated breath.
Panic disorder is different from the normal fear and anxiety reactions to stressful events in our lives. Panic disorder is a serious condition that strikes without reason or warning. Symptoms of panic disorder include sudden attacks of fear and nervousness, as well as physical symptoms such as sweating and a racing heart. During a panic attack, the fear response is out of proportion for the situation, which often is not threatening. Over time, a person with panic disorder develops a constant fear of having another panic attack, which can affect daily functioning and general quality of life.

            Recently I have convinced my parents it’s time to seek medical attention for the recurring panic attacks I’ve been succumbing to. I went to a doctor recommended by my boss; I sat waiting nervously in her office – the tension of the wait was quickly increasing as I had been waiting for approximately thirty minutes. She finally came in. She was attractive, older, and had long, graying hair. She was a young, hippie girl’s dream, as far as doctor’s go. I was asked to describe my attacks to her, asked about my medical history, asked what medications I was currently taking for my disorder. “None,” I answered. She stops mid-word on the page she’s filling out. “None?” she questioned. “How have you handled this without medication?” I glanced up, shrugged my shoulders, and let a stray tear escape the corner of my eye. As I type this I realize I left the doctor’s office feeling gratification at the fact that I had not been imagining pain and symptoms for most of my life; I do, in fact, have a panic disorder. I am riddled with a disorder of panic.
            As I type this I realize that the idea of losing my anxiety, having it lessened by some degree, or not waking, walking, and sleeping with it every day is, in fact, giving me a great amount of anxiety. In her essay “One Nation, Under the Weather” Lauren Slater talks about her illness memoir: “My illness memoir has now become ill itself.” Never has someone put into words what I am feeling over losing my anxiety as Slater does in this quick moment. As I see it, my life has been very much about dealing with having larger breasts than every other girl in the room, about dealing with not really having much control over my hair, about dealing with having a mole and being shamed by it. As I see it, my life has been about obsessive tendencies – only drinking water from bottles, needing a magnet in my hand, crying on Mom’s shoulder over any big change. As I see it, I am a busty woman with a mole carrying around an anxiety disorder that has unnatural attachments with a magnet.
            And what of the magnet? It is still in that maroon GMC Jimmy? Did it fall in the ditch next to my home? Does it miss me? Has it lost its magnetic nature? Like this missing magnet I find myself lost, in the bottom of a ditch, perhaps having been cultivated by large, green, combines in the cornfield across the road from my bedroom window. I hear roots tearing when I think about no longer waking with the anxiety that has come to define me over the last twenty odd years. If I am no longer anxious, if I no longer live with the possibility of panic being on the cusp of my existence, if I don’t have roots any longer to this facet of my life – who have I let myself become? I look at the green eyed little girl with her hair in pigtails, drinking out of that water hose; she is still within me, still breathing and dancing and singing. Granted she no longer sings into the Nordic Trak handles and she realizes that it is a “Natural Woman” that Aretha sings about being, not a “Magical Woman” – she’s still there.
            The mole, these boobs, this hair? They’re with me in the quiet spaces of writing and they’re with me in the agitation that follows the panic. No one is kicking you out, Steph . . . this anxiety over not having anxiety may remain long after the anxiety itself has left the building. Maybe then I’ll reacquaint myself with that olive skinned little girl.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Something New . . .

Hey, all :) This is a short story I just completed and it's very new for me; it's the shortest piece I've ever written and it's also a point of view I've never done before. I would love comments!

Also- four more classes until I'm officially a WSU graduate :D *dances*

-Stephi D.

By Stephani Duff

            Lydia looked at her reflection in the small mirror on her vanity. She couldn’t quite believe he’d done it again. She brushed her finger lightly over the tender, purple skin under her eye; he’d never hit her in the face before.
            It had started shortly after their honeymoon – a firm grasp of her wrist, a harsh look of warning, and then it quickly escalated. Stinging slaps and hard shoves left her skin feeling the cold heat of his rage and muscles feeling the fatigue of a nonexistent work out. The triggers were not easily pinned and his mood changed swiftly; from a calm breeze to a tornado-like force. Today it had been due to dinner not being on the table when he arrived; it was almost finished, but he never gave her the opportunity to say so. Now she was here, reviewing his handiwork and he was gone – leaving as quickly as his fury came and went.
            She slid her large, Jackie O sunglasses delicately over her nose as she heard his cell phone ding with the familiar sound of an incoming text. She was surprised he had left without his precious lifeline. She walked gently down the stairs and picked up his Blackberry.
            Hey, you. Tonight – 6 o’clock?
            She glanced up at the name on the incoming text. Lola. She didn’t know of any associates of his with the name of Lola. Another text came in while she stared down at the screen.
            Let’s meet for dinner at La Piazza first . . .
            She took a deep breath and typed quickly before she lost her nerve.
            Yeah – 6 sounds great. See you then.
            She was done being a punching bag.
            Lola was pretty; she was young, she was put together, she wasn’t bruised. Lydia took a deep breath as she walked towards the table the hostess had pointed out. She took her glasses off and cleared her throat as she approached the table; Lola looked up at her with a confused, but polite, smile on her face. She pulled out a chair and sat down; she was going to need to be comfortable when she informed her husband’s mistress that he was a liar, a cheat, and an abuser. She needed to be comfortable when she informed her husband’s mistress what a monster he actually was.
            It was a beautiful, clear day. The sun was shining warmly and the wind was blowing lightly enough to keep her from sweating but not so windy to mess up her hair once it was perfectly curled. She stood in front of the mirror of her bathroom, wiping the steam left over from her shower off with her hand. She stepped back and examined her damp, naked body in front of the full length mirror; the bruise under her eye had faded to a light green that was easily covered with concealer and her arms and legs were free of the marks of his hands. It occurred to her how long it had been since her skin looked this flawless, this untouched.
            She stood in front of her closet and ran her hand along the sleeves and various fabrics of all her clothing. She flipped the light on within the closet and glanced over at the side that once belonged to him. All his finely pressed white dress shirts were gone, his leather loafers were no longer lined up on the floor, and his expensive, black suit was no longer hanging in the far right corner in its zip up bag.
            She selected a black, V-neck dress that was snug, with three quarter length sleeves; she had purchased it years ago - the tags were still attached. He would have never allowed her to wear this out for anyone to see her in it. Good thing she didn’t have to worry about that anymore. She clipped the tags off quickly and hung the dress from the molding above her bathroom door. She carefully put on black panties and a matching black bra; she couldn’t remember the last time she had taken such care in getting ready for a day. After slipping the slimming dress over her head she stepped in front of the mirror and got out her best make-up products.
            After applying thick coats of mascara and brushing blush over her cheekbones she thought back to how he was before he revealed who he really was. He had loved her cheekbones; made continual comments about how impossibly high and lovely they were. On their honeymoon he had been insistent about applying sunscreen to her face and freckled shoulders – preventative measures, he had called them.
She snorted as she pulled out her favorite red lipstick and applied it to her puckered lips. She finished curling her hair and ran her fingers through it to loosen the curls before pinning the delicate black veil in front of her green eyes. He had loved her eyes too; always talking about those exotic green eyes.
            As she stood in front of the full length mirror one last time she heard a honk from outside. She grabbed her small, black clutch and walked out, locking the door behind her. The black Cadillac shone sparkling in the sun as the driver held open the back door for her. Once they were both inside, the driver turned the car around and headed toward the outside of town.
            She saw the small green tent before she could see the line of cars parked around the headstones. A line of shiny, black, expensive cars were parked in the gravel lane as men in well pressed suits and women in well made dresses formed around the small tent. As she got out of the car the quiet whispers ceased and an associate of Michael’s escorted her to the front row seat set up for the new widower.
            As she carefully crossed her legs the horse drawn carriage came up the gravel path with the deceased man within it. She clasped her hands together and adjusted the sunglasses on her face as the pastor made his way to the front of the crowd. She spotted the woman to the right of her and quickly looked away.
            The pastor spoke of all the hard work Michael had done in his short amount of years. He mentioned the numerous foundations he and his brother had set up and helped to become successful. She was mentioned, briefly, in the pastor’s speech – how she was a loving and devoted wife and that the Lord would be the one to see her through this tough time. Shortly after, his brother stood up to speak; he spoke of their friendship, their childhood memories, their business plans and dreams that would now be unfinished. He talked about Michael in a way that led to enshrinement; he got choked up and gave Lydia a quick hug before taking his seat again.
            As the pastor led the group in a prayer she stood up slowly and tossed a rose down on the dark wood of the casket and stood there for a quiet moment. As the line of mourners wormed their way around the casket, lightly touching her shoulder, her back, whispering condolences - she lowered her head and took a deep breath. Everyone around her quickly wiped stray tears from their eyes; quietly blew their noses into soft, white tissues.
            The crowd thinned until it was just Lydia, the pastor, Michael’s family, and another woman in a tight, black dress. His brother came over to her, whispering his apologies, telling her to call if she needed anything, questioning whether she should stay alone that night or not. She didn’t speak, only shook her head and smiled politely. The man driving the shiny, black Cadillac came to her and escorted her to the car; as she went to lower herself into it she looked up and saw the woman one last time.
            Lola was standing just across the gravel path from where she stood; her thick auburn hair fell around her shoulders and her dark sunglasses hid her eyes from Lydia. Her pale skin looked creamy against the form fitting black dress and her thin, red lips stayed in a straight line. To any onlooker they were merely two different women who knew the same man. Lola began to walk away when Lydia lowered her sunglasses slightly on the bridge of her nose. Lola mirrored her action and the two women each shared a silent moment, eyebrows raised.
            Each woman got in her respective black Cadillac. The sun was setting over the quiet cemetery as each car pulled out – one turned right, the other left.    

Monday, May 7, 2012


Ever in my new obsession with my non fiction writing I am going to share my second essay . . . I hope ya'll are enjoying reading these pieces as I am writing them. This essay took a lot of internal analyzation on my part and I am happy to say I came out of it relatively unscathed. Thoughts are welcome.

Love, love, love.
-Stephi D.


By Stephani Duff

                In a recent round of questions and answers with a new guy I’m getting to know, affection came to be the topic du jour. I recall it being pretty early on in our friendship and I brought it up: Are you an affectionate person? His response was quick: Yes, I am. At least I think I am. A slight fear gripped at my throat; what exactly does he mean he “thinks” he is?

The conversation continued by each of us defining what “affection” meant to us and how we each go about being this way. I remember saying goodnight to him later in the evening and feeling a great sent of “ahhhh” at meeting someone who made me laugh, enjoyed my conversation, and was also my “ideal” level of affectionate.   

            As someone who is very controlled, or likes to think she is, in every area of her life, I made it clear to him I did not want to be called on the phone at the beginning of our friendship; texting was easier and better done at school and work compared with phone calls, and I could hand awkward silences much better via text. But what I’m actually saying underneath all these excuses is that I’m a scared little girl who still gets nervous around boys. After about two weeks of unheard of amounts of texts I asked him why he’d not asked me to meet him for dinner or anything. His response? Because I’ve not talked to you on the phone and I guess I’m old fashioned that way. I remember quite vividly almost pissing my pants because it occurred to me I was going to have to speak to this man if I wanted to ever see his face. I informed him he could call me, but not to let me know when he was going to do it. Take me by surprise, ya know? His next text came quick: Okay. Well what are your plans Thursday? I was thinking dinner. My reply: Wait, did you just ask me out over text after telling me you would only ask me after we talked on the phone? His response was what made me realize that making me laugh needed to become a top criterion for what a guy should be able to do: Don’t worry – at dinner we won’t talk, we’ll just text. That way you won’t get too nervous ;).

            As a sort of confessional moment I will admit to you I am a monogamous person. I’ve had four serious relationships that have been a minimum of eight months long, with the longest, and most recent, being four years. And while I loved each of these guys relatively deeply for my age, there was never an instance in which I’ve not had red flags. In no certain order these red flags went something like this: he wanted complete and utter control of every aspect of my life, he was physically abusive, he had a strong lack of maturity, he was just plain wrong for me.

Although I am not a highly feminine female, I’ve always been a girl who looked forward to a formal dance. My Senior Homecoming was quickly approaching and “Matt” and I were talking about colors and flowers, you know the important things in life, and he threw a fast, unexpected curveball at me.

            “You know the Feast of the Beast is that same weekend. I’d rather do that.”

            “Well, I’m not going to Homecoming without my boyfriend.”

            “Then don’t go to Homecoming and come with me.”

This – was a red flag.

Another guy I recently met, but never had anything serious with, was very interested in talking about faith; I won’t lie – I was into it. And then he informed me he was a Pentacostel and had been known to speak in tongues.

This – was a red flag.

The new guy who makes me laugh, is affectionate, and enjoys my conversation has given me NO red flags.

This – both thrills me and scares the shit out of me.

            I left for work the other morning; I had hit snooze too many times on my alarm and was running very late. It is a real pet peeve of mine to arrive at the diner with tables waiting on me so I was irritated with myself. Instead of walking to my mom’s room and gently waking her to say bye I stuck my head in the door and hollered a quick, “Bye, Ma. Love you!” Later that morning she texted me a blunt question: What’s the matter? I stared at my screen in confusion and typed back quickly: Nothing, I’m at work. Why? Her response was immediate: You didn’t kiss me goodbye this morning. Twenty-four years of kissing this blessed woman and her feelings still get hurt when she doesn’t get a kiss from her “baby.”

I was raised in a highly affection family. Mom still kisses Zack and me; we are all huggers, and I love to cuddle. There was a time when I kissed my dad, too, but I’m not sure when that stopped. I recall many a night sitting at our wooden, kitchen table and being urged to finish my meal so that I could belong to the Clean Plate Club. In hindsight I realize what often stood between my membership to the Clean Plate Club and me were veggies. My green-eyed, stocky dad would turn his head to me and say, “Stephi, if you don’t eat your vegetables, your hair won’t curl like mine!” My dad has been balding my entire life.

            On a cold night in January my family lost a son, brother, cousin, nephew, and grandson; it turned into one of the most difficult years of my life and still remains a quiet void that we all seem to dance around. Among other things, this accident has pushed me even further into my need for affection; tell the people you love that you love them, you’ll never know if it’s your last chance. How many times have we all heard this? In less than three hours on a back, country road this “saying” went from a simple thought to a cold, hard truth. Tell the people you love that it’s so; to mom, dad, Zack, cousins, etcetera, etcetera; I love you, I love you, I love you. Give me a hug.

            Being raised in an affectionate family has turned me into the sort of girl who asks early on if a man will be affectionate with me; if you do not intend to hold my hand in public, this will likely not work, but if you intend to walk with your arm slung about my body . . . well, that will not work, either. Remember that note of control I mentioned? Yeah, I’ve got this finely tuned. That is to say, I’ve got this tightly wound.

            Physical touch is not the only form of affection, in my book. It’s not always defined by kissing or continual, physical contact; that is not to say personal touch isn’t my favorite form of affection. As a nanny to a beautiful four year old, I cannot seem to quit reaching for his sweet face. I want him sitting in my lap as often as possible, I love kissing his still chubby, baby cheeks, and I live for when he asks me to “sthnuggle” with him. Most of the time he is happy to oblige his twenty-four year old nanny, but don’t you ever call him my boyfriend; our age difference is more than he can handle.

One day, while sitting at the kitchen table with me, he props his precious face on his tiny hand and whispers, “I could just look at you allll day.” My heart exploded inside my chest and I felt I had accomplished the feat of instilling in this tiny man how to talk to a lady and make her heart melt. Braden and I truly have a sacred relationship – he is beyond special to me and in the short year I’ve been with his family I have gone from employee to friend to family. This little blue-eyed man is quick to hug and whisper ‘I love you’s,’ but it is his beautiful, sprite of a sister that knows how to get right to my heart. Belle is not so quick to hug or let you k now she needs you. When I get a hug from the lovely Isabelle or she reaches for my hand on her own, my heart tends to swell uncomfortably; knowing her love for me is the same as Braden’s often becomes like a sort of revelation. Belle and Braden will forever be the most perfect versions of six and four I will ever know.

            Napolean Bonaparte wrote to Josephine de Beauharnais in December of 1795:

            I wake filled with thoughts of you . . . Until then, mio dolce amor, a thousand kisses; but give me none in return, for they set my blood on fire.

            Words can do far more for me than any amounts of flowers can; at the green age of twelve my “boyfriend” wrote me the first love poem of my life. Its title was “Sweet Nothings” and it turned me into a blubbering mess. I’m still not quite sure he actually wrote it, but I feel as if, upon receiving that poem, every man in my future was fucked because no sweeter words have ever been written solely for my eyes.

In reflection of this lone love poem and love letters by great men I realize that my main life goal, at twenty-four, has become two part; I want to become a well-known writer that touches others lives and I want to find a man who still values chivalric acts and might write a love letter from time to time.

            Through my admittance of wanting to leave a sort of record behind of having touched a life it has occurred to me that if affection is far more than physical touch, then it’s not simply a record of myself to be remembered that I wish to leave behind – I want to leave affection to the world – I want to be remembered through affection.

The written word is a history. Phone calls make me nervous, but more than that, text messages, e-mails, long-hand written letters – this is history. They are save-able; at any moment I can pull up an old e-mail, a text from two days ago, a letter from three years ago, and I will know what was said, feelings that were evident, the evidence is all in front of me. My memory is not required to go into over-drive; it can be at ease with the physical history in my hands.

            Over the summer I discovered John Green and am still left with a specific quote from Looking for Alaska: So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane. This made my heart skip a beat, my breath caught in my throat, and I knew that this sort of thought is what I wanted to instill in someone: I want to be someone’s hurricane.  And isn’t that affection?

            After their marriage, Robert Browning wrote to his wife Elizabeth:

            Words can never tell you, however, form them, transform them anyway, how perfectly dear you are to me, perfectly dear to my heart and soul.

            Twenty-four finds me still going to those chick flicks, you know the ones, where love comes quick and easy and explodes with passion in the stall of a bathroom, the backseat of a car, the seductively painted bedroom.

I sit in a front row seat in a darkened theater with a bag of delicious buttered popcorn propped in my lap. I listen as the breathing of the two beautiful actors on the screen before me quickens, then slows, and speeds up again. I find myself watching for the slip of a tongue into a mouth, for the slow graze of a fingernail across naked skin, for the delicate undressing that I’m not entirely sure exists.

I sit in a front row seat in a darkened theater and I feel my pulse quicken as clothes come off and hair is pulled and I realize how silly I’m being; I’m not the one being tantalized by Jake Gyllenhal on the big screen. I sit there, calm myself down, and glance at my girlfriend that came with me to see this romantic comedy and realize she can go home and re-enact this very sex scene with her husband, if she so chooses. I audibly sigh.

            My female relationships are key to my existence; they are the tear wipers, laugh inducers, and soft spots on which I land. Most of my friends are married, planning weddings, or seriously considering heading toward veil-town. And I’m happy for them, I love the men they’ve chosen to spend their lives with, and I’m very lucky to have them all as friends, but it’s still hard sometimes. Affection is certainly not something I expect solely from a man that may be in my life. It has become a driving force in my female friendships and an intricate factor in the familial relationships I’ve formed outside of my biological family.

I tell my girlfriends I love them regularly, I hand out hugs like candy, and I’m a closed mouth kisser with some of my close girlfriends, too. In the process of becoming close with a new friend I am quick to let them know they matter to me, they are loved, and that they are important to my sanity.

 As I’ve become more like a friend and family member to the people I nanny for, conversations have easily gone from how the kids were on a particular day to an “I’m gonna call you when I’m upset” sort of relationship. Just the other night Angela, Belle and Braden’s mom, texted me to tell me she needed me at 5:30 AM; when I didn’t answer she said she was joking; when I responded with a clipped ‘OK’ she immediately asked what was wrong and then she called me. See, this is affection; a simple answer, a silent look, an attempted quiet sigh will result in a phone call to check in, a long text making sure I know I’m being thought of, a tight hug of comfort.

            My girlfriends, as I’ve gotten older, have gone from a group of people I go out with on the weekends, to people I talk to daily, to those that come to my side whenever I need them, whether I call for them or not.

Recently I was out with a group of friends and I received a really upsetting phone call. Once I walked back inside I guess it was obvious that I had been crying because Ashley approached me quickly and asked what was wrong. Once I was able to speak without choking up I told her what was wrong and then I noticed she had tears in her eyes. “What’s wrong with you now?” She shook her head and answered quietly, amidst the bumping bass surrounding us, “Steph, you’re my best friend; when you’re upset my heart hurts.” Affection.

            I recall in Junior High going to a friend’s house and her mom was, yet again, redecorating. She had just hung a sign above the fire place that was a green, crackle painted, country looking decoration; its simple message was “Always Kiss Me Goodnight.” I remember, at the ripe young age of twelve, thinking how terribly romantic this was. If only I could be a grown woman, redecorating a room, with a husband to kiss me goodnight instead of twelve, perpetually chesty, and dealing with acne. What more did one need than this blatantly displayed display of affection?

“Give me a kiss!” “Always kiss me goodnight.” These are mantras I have found to dominate the relationship portion of my life. It is as if I stand with a clipboard in my hand in front of a long line of eligible suitors.

“Are you affectionate?”

“Were you kissed as a child?”

“Will you hold me in the night?”

Check marks will be administered for those that answer “yes” to all three and those candidates will be moved to a screening room. I would look down over the rims of my glasses at all those that didn’t make the cut and purr, “Thanks for coming out, sirs. Better luck next time.”

            Beethoven wrote to an unnamed woman on some morning of some July 7th:

            . . . My thoughts go out to you, my Immortal beloved . . . I can live only wholly with you or not at all . . . Be calm, only by a calm consideration of our existence, can we achieve our purpose to live together . . . Oh continue to love me – never misjudge the most faithful heart of your beloved.

            Ever thine

            Ever mine

            Ever ours.

Sweet nothings, immortal beloveds, and ever belonging to someone . . . I’m not sure it gets much more affection based than that. The control dial inside me, surely right next to my heart, spins wildly at the suggestion that men might still be made this way; at the suggestion that if my twenty-one year old brother will kiss his mother in front of his friends then there is hope for my mate and me yet.

            Twelve years old found me glancing at the antique looking sign above a fire place dreaming of a day in which I would have a man to always kiss me goodnight; sixteen years old found headstrong and unwilling to see the wrongness of a boyfriend in my life; twenty found me yearning for affection more than ever before.

            Twenty-four finds me grasping that lever on my control dial – desperately searching for that man that will desire my affection as I desire his, finding children more irresistible than ever for their uncomplicated giving of love, defining and redefining what affection means to me, what is says about me, what it means for my future.

Twenty-four finds me in a hallway staring up at a ticking clock; twenty-four years in my life, twenty-four hours in a day – is this what I am so scared of? Affection has been a dominant part of my life for as long as I can remember and I am surely one of those women that feels as if certain things must be accomplished by a certain age; why do we do this to ourselves, as a female demographic? We pick an age and then make a laundry list of occupations we must have worked through, relationships we must have tackled, diapers we must have changed; twenty-five is quickly looming around the corner . . . three months and then twenty-four will no longer find me anywhere. Twenty-five will find me, most likely, looking back on my twenty-four year old self staring up at that clock, counting the hours in a day, and wondering when that relationship might happen, when that dream book will finally find itself a home in a publishing house, when all this talk of affection will finally live up to its potential.

            Who knows what will become of the end of my year as a twenty-four year old and who knows what will become of my twenty-fifth year. For now, twenty-four finds me falling asleep at night, cold pillow against my face, whispering prayers to my Father that He is gently preparing the heart of the man He’s picked for me. And whether I’ve never seen his face before or he’s in my life already, I am sure the introduction will go something like this: My name is Stephani Duff and I’m an affection addict. Wanna hug?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Hey, guys. I have been pretty lazy about posting lately and I apologize for that; school is taking most of my writing energy, but I promise once I'm a college graduate I will post more :)

I don't really have a specific topic today other than I wanted to share some poems and words of others that really inspire me; I've been thinking a lot about inspiration and what causes it for me, what pushes me the most when it comes to my writing, and I'm curious about what inspires all of you. These are mostly words created by others that leave me breathless or make me want to write. . . I hope you all enjoy them and please feel free to share what gets  your heart pumping.

-Stephi D.

the spring has been exquisite and the
summer may be beautiful. But,
tell me with eyes quiteshut
did you love me,will you love me

and perfectly so forth;i see,
kissing you--only kissing
you(it is still spring
and summer may be beautiful)shall we

say years? O let us say it,girl
to boy smiling while the moments kill
us gently and infinitely.

And believe(do not believe)there'll
be a time when even these leaves will

crawl expensively away. My lady.

- e.e. cummings

“since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;

wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are a far better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don't cry
--the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids' flutter which says

we are for eachother: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis”
E.E. Cummings

“So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.”
John Green, Looking for Alaska

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”
Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.”
William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

My family.
My friends.
Love, laughter, memories that mold me as a person.
Photographs, music, my faith.