The Drive

The air felt cool and crisp on her naked glowing skin as she drove along the I-5 South toward Oregon. Johnny Cash strummed his raspy melody on her ancient 1998 stereo in her blue Grand Cherokee. Her thumbs pounded along to the beat. She breathed in the rare appearance of the sun on this Sunday morning she had off of work from the restaurant. Taylor felt tempted to go off-roading, but obediently stuck to the route.

She had removed her dirty jean jacket and rolled her window down, allowing her strong biceps to tan in the warm light. Her long cascades of true brunette falling into artificial mossy green tips tickled her pale shoulders. Her hazel eyes hid behind aviator sunglasses. She glimpsed toward the towering pine trees that lined the road.

Seattle had recently been hit with a snow storm that cut off half of the power in some neighborhoods. Luckily, Tacoma hadn’t been affected; they just received slosh and less business at the restaurant.  

Taylor wasn’t ready for this trip. Unlike any other 25-year-old girl, she couldn’t wait for her Spring Break to be over. She hated leaving the restaurant behind to manage itself. But even more, she felt no remorse for the death of her stepmother.

When she found out the woman had cancer a year ago, Taylor felt only guilt for her father who would care for her and pay the medical bills. It was bad enough he practically did everything for that woman.

Taylor didn’t care to go to Roberta’s funeral, but she was making the trip for her father. She knew he was in pain, but learning of her illness reaffirmed Taylor’s decision to move up north and start a new life for herself after high school.

The cancer wasn’t caused by genetics or bad luck. It had spread from the years of drug use.

Before she showed signs of addiction, Roberta was a successful businesswoman. She owned four car dealerships, one in the state of Oregon, two in California and one in Nevada. Roberta was sweet in the early days before the marriage. Taylor had just turned ten.

A year later, Roberta and Taylor’s father were married. They were the happiest trio anyone had ever seen in Salem. They went on hiking trips together, cooked together, and sometimes even fell asleep together on the couch watching episodes of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

Taylor noticed that Roberta was gone on business trips more frequently. When she came home temporarily, she brought other guys over to the house. Taylor thought they were just friends, always having parties. She was thankful that her father was happy again, but Taylor didn’t understand why Roberta would have parties and not invite her.

“I love your spirit, child,” Roberta said with her perspiring glass of scotch in hand, shoving Taylor into her bedroom. “But you’re still too young for these kind of adult things.”   

In 2008, Roberta lost two of her stores to the recession. A year later, another one closed down. Her job, along with hundreds of others, dwindled. She spent less time with Taylor, and more time seeking comfort from her husband and other men.      

Taylor was reaching her senior year of high school. Her grades were above average, but she didn’t plan on going to college. She had no direction.  

Her father never mentioned her birth mother, or any other family member for that matter. If Taylor ever asked where she went or who she was, especially in Roberta’s presence, her father’s lips grew into a tight, straight line. His voice fell low and his sea green eyes became stern, sending warning shots to let it go.

No one else seemed to matter in his life during this time, except Roberta. He was focused on two primary things: doing well at his job and taking care of his wife. He knew that Taylor was a good, responsible kid and could handle herself. Although he took her out for ice cream on occasion and went to the movies with her, he spent less time bonding with her.      

Taylor compensated from the neglect in relationship with fighting. She took up boxing at a private, local gym. She had a trainer and met him three times a week. As graduation day approached and Roberta spent more time at home, Taylor took the bus to the gym every day.

She loved the independence. No one could hurt her, or push her away. And if they did, she could push them right back even harder.

On this drive down the freeway, she adored the final few hours she had on her own before meeting her father at her childhood home and reopening old wounds. Taylor cranked up a new song. Cash was getting a little too dull.

James Brown’s “This is a Man’s World” came on. She let it play, even though she didn’t know all of the words.

The song struck something deep in her chest, something burning and aching that she never felt before. It stung, and it lingered. Pain shot deep into her belly, and it crawled lower between her legs to a darker, intimate place. Tears spilled over her eyelids. Goopy mascara and eyeliner stained a perfect line down each cheek.

Man made electric light to take us out of the dark

Man made the boat for the water, like Noah made the ark

She felt his weight pinned against her. His grip on her hair, pressing her face onto the kitchen table, the other hand clutching onto her skirt.

“Relax,” Roberta’s friend moaned into her ear. Taylor wiggled and moaned as his fingers dug into her. “Stop fighting it, girl.”  

Whenever the nightmare haunted her, she would usually reach for a glass of wine from her cabinet to relax. Sometimes, she didn’t know what was a reliable source to help her decipher between dreams and reality. That was when she would turn to a punching bag or jump rope to sweat out the idea of her stepmother drugging her and allowing one of her guy friends to touch her.

When she finally beat every breath out of that imaginary woman on the punching bag, Taylor recalled that moment vividly.

The smell on Roberta’s breath was incredibly potent. Taylor’s innocent eyes glanced back and forth between the bag of needles and powdery mixtures, and her stepmother’s hungry eyes. She remembered that shove against the front door and feeling completely powerless against this woman she trusted and once admired. Taylor felt the incision of the needle in her forearm.

“Don’t worry,” Roberta growled. “This’ll only hurt for a second.”

The woman entered Taylor’s life and exited it with a suddenness that she could never explain, but just accept.  

She wiped her face with the back of her hand and shook off the memory of the drug hitting her hard, the way it made her muscles contract, her veins explode, her stomach ache. She remembered hanging her head over the toilet bowl the next morning and Roberta holding her hair out of the way.

“You poor thing,” she said. “I told you that you shouldn’t be messing with mommy’s things.”

Taylor felt a shiver down her spine and changed the song once again. Nina Simone woke her from the sickening trance.

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me,

And I’m feelin’ good

She still wasn’t ready to face her father’s pain, but she was ready to see him without her. Without the woman who corrupted their relationship and brought a tornado of disaster into their lives.

She’s gone, Taylor told herself. She’s really gone. 

Taylor was ready to begin again now that she was older. Now that she was stronger. Now that she and her father were finally free.  

She sighed a breath of relief as she continued to drive down I-5 South and let go.

  

 

   

Published in LA YOGA

 

Amanda Ridder Paratrooper Yoga

Breathe through Fear: Yoga for the Courage to Jump from a Plane

“The thunderous roar of the C-130 engines filled the inside of the huge aircraft that was in flight at an altitude 1,200 feet above ground. I stood with shaking legs behind three other jumpers. Every muscle in my body quivered in anticipation. What allowed me to stand strong in this moment was the clarity and focus I found in my ability to breathe through fear because of yoga….”

Read more of my story by clicking the link above in LA YOGA Magazine!

Trigger

The clock ticked painfully slowly in the classroom. I willed it to speed up before my palms grew sweatier and tears spilled over my eyelids.

We were learning about trauma in Professor Luck’s Undergraduate Studies of the American Gothic. It was my favorite English class during that winter in 2014.

I sat at the front and contributed whenever I felt like I had something worth voicing, which was more often in that course than any other.

This particular lecture, however, changed me forever.

The professor was writing on the whiteboard and speaking of memory in one of the works of fiction we were reading. He was saying how the psyche was sensitive to stimuli after a traumatic event occurred to someone.

The students contributed to the lecture, but their words grew muffled. I couldn’t hear them anymore, yet their voices pierced my ears.

Every stroke of his marker on the board felt like an electric shock to my bones. My jaw clenched so tightly, that I thought my teeth would break.

How was I going to survive another 20 minutes without anyone noticing?

He addressed the class and looked towards my direction, possibly thinking that I would have something to say.

I immediately looked down at my shaking, interlaced fingers, too embarrassed that he might’ve seen me suffering silently.

Class was almost over. If I excused myself to the restroom, I thought that I would’ve appeared too rude to hear the end of his lesson.

Professor Luck wrapped up his final point and looked towards the clock which finally read 6 p.m. He uttered words of homework and tomorrow’s agenda. Students closed their books, and I threw mine in my backpack.

I was the first out the door.

The cold San Bernardino air dried my eyes as I power-walked down the stairs to the parking lot to my 2008 Toyota Yaris. I was thankful that it was dark outside. Classmates that I befriended couldn’t see my wet, frightened face.

In my car, I wept. I hadn’t cried – I hadn’t sobbed – so hard in years.

I called my mom and told her that I was going to wait to drive home.

“I think it’s finally happening,” I wept over the phone.

What’s happening?” she asked worriedly.

“The robbery,” I responded.

She knew exactly what I was talking about, and urged me to take my time getting back on the freeway.

When I made it home safely, we talked about the incident that occurred two years before when another Starbucks barista and I were robbed at gunpoint.

It sounded stupid to say that I had PTSD, because the event didn’t sound as traumatic as it could’ve been. No one was hurt. The robber was caught. I simply walked away shaken up with a stiff neck after he had hit me over the head with his weapon.

My mom listened to me as I told her about the irony of studying trauma while possibly experiencing it.

I tucked the assault away in the back of my subconscious, and allowed the stimuli to haunt me in the most unexpected way, in the most unexpected place.

That class unveiled the scar that I didn’t know that I had.

It was a trigger that had finally been pulled.

 

 

 

 

The Brick Room

My room in the barracks is a small space furnished with a few pieces of fake dark wooden tables with drawers, a desk, a very stiff bed, a fridge, microwave, red leather chair, and two massive closets.

This is the room I was given to live in, and it is an old room built of dull brick dating back to Vietnam.

Since I am only an E-4 and single, it would be difficult to get a waiver to live off post and rent a room in a house. Also, I would rather not spend the money to put a roof over my head when I really need to spend money on getting a car first to get on and off post efficiently.

It’s not the worst place in the world to live in, but it certainly is a huge change from the Doll Room in Colorado, and it’s pretty mind-dulling to be cooped up in here.

Regardless, I realize how ideal this spot is for writing. No roommates, no television, no pets…. just me and my laptop.

Just me and my thoughts.

Time to dig deep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Whistle to Home

The sun casts a warm glow through my grandmother’s Doll Room lace window curtain as it rises to meet me in the house in Pueblo, Colorado. Bacon is sizzling from the kitchen as my uncle cooks breakfast and spreads the delicious scent across the house.

I am here in the Doll Room, clinging on to this last bit of home before I return to the arms of the military at Lewis-McChord in the rainy gloom of Washington. Aside from the festivities, I have learned more of the Ridder history and how our family lives out here in the country now.

It was Christmas Eve. My mother and I drove 20 miles to a yoga studio downtown in the morning per my request to fit in a nice stretch during the holiday weekend. Out my passenger seat window, I saw homes spread far apart from each other with prairies and dry, golden fields in between; so different from the Southern California too-close-for-comfort homes and buildings that I am used to.

Following the class, we drove by the grand and historic Pueblo Steel Mills. My father told me this was the place where my great-grandfather worked. When my father was a boy, he visited Pueblo from California. He spoke of how he recalled hearing the “whistling sounds” that signaled the beginning of the work day, lunch, and ending of the day, on those visits in the late ’60s and early ’70s when he was a young boy.

These stories connected me to my family lineage as I gazed upon the majestic factory. Built in the 1880’s, later I had learned, the mill was the catalyst for fuel and steel production in Colorado and provided work to so many families. My mother had said how amazing it was to know that my great-grandfather was apart of “building the city.”

We returned to my grandma’s house to shower and get ready for my grandfather’s memorial. My grandfather passed away October 23rd while I was in AIT, but my grandmother wanted to have the service in December when everyone could fly out.

I wore a locket with a vile of my grandfather’s ashes stored inside, and held it closely during the service. Family from across the states stood in a horseshoe around the altar at the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a small venue that hosts memorials, receptions, and casual good times with a cozy bar and billiards room.

We were lead in prayer, and listened to sweet country songs played from a CD stereo, and laughed as we told stories of him fishing, teaching my dad how to drive shift, and the times he spent in Vietnam. I was too shy to tell my story about how the last conversations I had with him really encouraged me on my enlistment. I told this story to a few people there, anyway, and felt that it was good enough.

Christmas Eve carried over into the highlight of gift-exchange and Santa-outfit quartets. Christmas morning swooped in with the roaring wind beating against my windows, reminding me that it was time to welcome the day.

My mom and I drank coffee together while I read a book, slowly waking up to Christmas. We made plans to see a movie in the afternoon, but before we did that, my father wanted to see the home my grandmother lived in, the one he had visited when he was boy. We drove to Pine Avenue and stopped by the house he knew as a child. My mother and father took flowers to the home, knocked on the door, and smiled as the head of the household, so it seemed as I sat observing from the car, opened the door. The resident kindly accepted the flowers and listened generously as my parents, these random folk, told him the story of how my grandmother used to live there years ago. Although he welcomed my parents inside while his children ran around on the porch with toys, my parents graciously declined and said that we were on our way to a movie.

The day flew by as we caught a matinee of “Passengers,” followed by a tour of my cousin’s home. (For the record, I knew I came from a pretty cool lineage before this trip to Colorado and moreover, my cousin’s home. But I had no idea my family was so bad ass until this very tour.)

They showed us their spacious backyard for their dogs to run around in and the chicken coop that housed the eggs their hens laid, the ones they collected every few days to wash off and put in cartons to later enjoy. I was amazed by their self-sufficiency with this, recalling my consumer behavior of buying eggs from the grocery store. They had guns and rifles secured throughout their home, locked and loaded. In their basement, they had large tubs of food supplies in case of emergencies or natural disasters.

Whatever they were prepping for, my cousins’ home would be my go-to during a zombie apocalypse or alien invasion.

There is so much more to discover with the steel mill and its past. History is here and it is so quiet that I almost miss the echoing whistles. I almost miss the grunts of the workers banging on machinery to construct the foundation of this city. I almost missed their sighs as they  looked out upon their hard day’s work, that whispered in my grandfather’s ears as he gazed upon the rising sun with his steaming cup of black coffee and cigarette, wondering what he was going to build or repair that day. It was a whisper that drifted on the dolls my grandmother collected from yard sales as she carried them into the Doll Room that I played in as a child.

I almost missed my past through the wind still rumbling outside my window, but I think I caught the tail end of it. I’m clutching onto it, waiting patiently for time to allow me the gift of whispering it to my children one day.

 

 

 

 

 

Stolen

Shane felt the moment in waves of slow motion, as if time itself ceased ticking. His ears were still ringing from the explosion.

He had been led down the stairs to the outside of his home where his street was lined with firetrucks, police cars and ambulances.

He looked around, frozen in his tracks. Policemen were asking him questions of names, birthdays, and other pieces of information that didn’t belong to him anymore. 

Glancing into his home, he saw the firefighters carrying his parents’ bodies on stretchers down the stairs, white blankets outlining their figures. 

She’s going to be so happy, his mother said to him yesterday when he showed her the ring for the third time.

Dad doesn’t care. He thinks we’re too young, Shane said hanging his head low.

Don’t worry about what he thinks, she said laughing. We had you when we were your age.   

Shane promised he would always take care of Jasmine.

The gold caldera diamond ring was tucked safely in the front pocket of his torn jeans. His feet moved in time with her heartbeat.

Jasmine. Please still be alive.

Shane sprinted across the yard towards her home, one block down. His black Converse sneakers pounded the jagged pavement as he moved through the obstacles of his neighbors who were crowding behind fallen trees and burning gardens.

Please be okay…

Sweat dripped from his brow as he reached the side gate of her house. The gate had been completely blown off and was barely hanging on its hinge. He stumbled over the gate and shoved over the back door of the house. Massive holes had ripped through the building. Her home had been hit harder than his.

“Jasmine!” He called for her, shoving fallen wooden beams aside. He paused a moment to listen, and steady his breath. A stirring came from the kitchen behind him.

“Jasmine? Can you hear me?”

“Shane,” she cried.

“I’m here,” he called. “I’m coming!”

He clumsily fell over a dining room chair before glancing into the wreckage of the kitchen. Shane heard more scraping and shifting noises, like fingernails scratching across a chalkboard. Finding her buried beneath a pile of steel pots, glass and debris felt like a blend of relief and agony. She was digging through the kitchen floor, trying to pull herself out. He quickly tore through the barrier.

“Are you hurt?” He asked.

“I – don’t – know,” Jasmine coughed.

Her sapphire eyes smudged with eyeliner and mascara squinted in pain. Shane gently took hold of her thin bruised arms and stole her from the heap.

“I got you,” he said, scooping her up into his arms. “Let’s get you out of here.”

“I can’t -” she winced.

“Yes, you can,” he persisted.   

“No, no,” Jasmine said shaking her head. “It’s just – my magic. Something has happened, I can feel it…it’s…. Growing…”

Jasmine clutched onto her belly as a loud cry escaped her mouth. The sharp pain pierced her internal organs, zipping through her veins. Her finger tips, numb and icy.  

“Jaz?” he frowned.

He watched as her skin turned from pale grey to a gleaming tan. The dust from the blast washed from her face, and the creases of her forehead melted away. She felt the tugging paradox of excruciating pain and warm rush of life coursing in and out of every capillary.   

“Your skin… it’s glowing,” he said.

Before he could move, screeching sirens, gunfire and screams outside the house beckoned his attention.    

“Get down! Down on the ground!” shouted Captain Tackler. “Everybody move out of the way!”

Shane frowned, hating himself for even considering stripping her of her memories. Of him. But he would keep her safe.

“I’ll find you,” he whispered. “I promise.”

He kissed her softly on the forehead, a tear falling down his face. She stared into his wet eyes knowing well what he was about to do, too paralyzed to object.  

He held her gaze as steady and strong as he could, unlocking every ounce of energy he possessed. He latched onto her recollections like a leech, draining every ounce of each scene playing out before him like a movie.

He felt her mother’s hands hold hers as they walked across the street to school. He heard her shoes slap the wet New England pavement. He breathed in her mother’s perfume and fought to hold onto it. She was resisting in silence, but he was stronger.  

The senses filled his mind. They flooded his cerebral cortex and rested there, like a stolen and engraved snapshot.    

Jasmine’s glow pulsed light a dying light bulb. Her eyelids dropped and her arms fell limp in exhaustion. Shane felt the familiar buzzing sensation and vibration of voices, emotions, and visions below the surface of his mind.    

Before he could escape, two gloved hands grasped onto his arms and secured them behind his back.

“You’re under the command of GOFA as suspect of withholding classified information,” ordered a masked Control.

“What? Take your hands off me!” he resisted. “I don’t know what you’re talking about! I’m a registered citizen! You can’t do this!” 

“Sir, which section does he belong?” asked the masked Control. “Hold still, you.”

“Get him out of here,” Tackler barked. “Put him in with the Laborers.”

Shane wiggled and thrashed trying to break free. Another Control pressed an electric taser against Shane’s ribs. He howled and shook until his knees buckled. The squad dragged him by his limbs to the van.