The sky wasn’t pouring, but it was crying. I decided they were happy tears. Happy tears for our happy trails. The sky wasn’t black yet either. No black clouds were present, but it was loud. The storm will pass, I thought to myself as we marched, our eyes squinting at the rain drops, marching beside serpentine outcroppings lined with manzanita shrubs and pine trees.
My dad was telling me about the painter from Eureka who he had found dead on this trail a couple of years back, a woman, he told me. Of course I remembered the event. It had been him, Brandon, and Miran who had found her. Brandon and Miran had taken off when they’d found the body, practically running, to tell law enforcement. But my Dad kept on hiking. Later, Dad was briefly considered a suspect in the case but quickly dropped based on his reputation: harmless.
Now my dad hiked in front of me, in his efficient hiking-boots (one of the only luxuries he allowed himself) and his ancient exterior-framed backpack that he’d written Hare Krishna on with a thick black sharpie. As we hiked he told me the story again–deeper than he had the first time–which had initially been over a telephone conversation when I was in college in Arizona.
“Brandon found her first,” he said, “then we all saw her. The bugs had gotten to her. Her head was up here in the brush,” my dad pointed, “and her legs were over here, on the trail.”
We were standing looking down at the spot with our hiking boots turned toward where her body would have been.
“She wasn’t very old. But she wasn’t young either. I guess she hurt her leg and couldn’t make it back out. She might have starved to death,” he said.
We continued down the cream-colored trail, there were dark polka-dots where rain drops had hit. I’d traveled fifty miles today to go on this trip with my Dad to Doctor Rock.
We will reach Doctor Rock, rain or shine, I thought to myself and tried to shake the thought of a poor woman dying here all alone.
Eventually, the clouds lifted. We watched the sky turn blue upon blue. Jerry sang Jack-A-Roe in my mind as we watched the sky turn to blue. My dad was telling me about the rocks now, the same jade-colored serpetine rocks that I had to dodge while we drove up the “go-road” to reach the trailhead. My Chevy Cavalier had scraped the heads of those rocks one too many times. I wouldn’t be surprised if my oil-pan sprung a leak. Still, I wouldn’t change the day for anything. I shook it off, but it wasn’t easy.
We stopped at an overlook. We saw hill after hill after hill and valley after valley. We saw ridge after ridge, the fog hugging them loosely. The fog hung over the streams, providing a clue to a water source that would otherwise be overlooked. I felt like a Yurok Indian. Only because I knew it was a scene that more Yuroks viewed than any white man ever did. The white men liked town. We were white men, but we were different somehow. Dad made sure of that.
I was surprised to find the trail wasn’t as long as I’d expected. It only took us an hour and a half to hike in. Dad had been here plenty of times before, I never had but I’d expected it to be a long hike for some reason. Even though the hike wasn’t all that much of a challenge, I could see the appeal in coming here. Out here, the solitude was so great that Rock Creek, where I was raised, seemed like a bustling social center. We hiked at a fast pace, stopping only to drink water. We watched the shrubs and pine trees as they turned from green to scorched black. Shortly after the woman’s body had been found and the authorities had removed it, a fire ran through. And as we kept hiking, we saw that every tree was scorched. We were walking over ground that crunched.
“It’ll all be back in no time,” my dad said.
I nodded, already there were bushes sprouting up. Hope.
In no time, I thought as I pictured the shrubs growing three feet tall in thirty-seconds flat, sprouting hearty trunks and growing and climbing right before my eyes. I laughed inside—trippy.
Soon, the scorched ground gave way to a few hundred feet of rocky slope.
“Yeah, this up here aint a good spot for the handicap or elderly to be walkin’ on,” my dad said.
I didn’t bother to mention that the elderly most likely wouldn’t be out here hiking at all. I kept it to myself but was slightly irritated inside. I was twenty three years old. A college graduate. I had lived in and been to more cities and places than my dad ever had. In short, I was foolishly overrating myself. I knew nothing. I stretched to keep my mind open.
Then, when I thought about it more I remembered my dad saying that the Native elders liked to come out to Doctor Rock to meditate and practice rituals. I humbled myself. I watched my feet hit the path.
About that time we heard some noise coming from above us, coming from on top of a strait, granite slope. It sounded like a person jumping to their feet. We looked at each other. We’d both heard it. We looked up at the slope but couldn’t quite see to the top. We waited a few moments, shrugged at one another, then kept on going. I could see greenery up ahead, and a large outcropping of rock. My dad pointed at Doctor Rock. Then he pointed at Chimney Rock. They were rocks like you would see on the ocean, right off of the shore. They were giants, rugged, looking like two heads protruding from the miles and miles of bushy, coniferous forest.
“Tell me more about Doctor Rock,” I asked him.
“It’s sacred. The Yurok’s don’t like no one comin’ here but the Natives. No white man. But I know that the creator doesn’t discriminate against no one based on the color of their skin. It’s what’s in your heart that the creator sees–it’s what’s in your soul. He don’t even differentiate between who’s white and who isn’t. That’s a human concept there, and it aint right. But I know where their comin’ from wanting to keep the white man out. Some white men don’t belong here. I’ve had loggers tell me stories about them getting a bad feeling up here. A feeling like they’ve never had before. They must not be in-tuned, in-touch with the area.”
“Who made this trail?” I asked, ignoring the thought to mention that the woman from Eureka was white.
“They?” I asked.
“They, the Natives.” My dad said.
Soon we were upon patch after patch of morel mushrooms. There was an entire ravine filled with them. We stopped, put down our packs and picked about forty mushrooms, storing them in a plastic Safeway bag.
“Let’s pick more tomorrow Dad,” I whined, “I want to pick a bunch but I want them to be the best that they can be, the most fresh. Let’s pick them on our way out.”
The thunder started roaring in the east.
“We’re not far from the cabin,” my dad replied. His expression said my decision was fine with him.
Soon there was a clearing and the cabin. We stepped inside and ate some snacks. I etched my name on the wall, next to roughly fifty others. Outside the rain poured down, down, down. T. Van Dusen ’09. We ate trail mix and cheddar popcorn, listened to the rain fall, and watched the tin roof of the cabin leak. The rain let up soon enough.
“You wanna go to the Golden Staircase or Doctor Rock?” My dad asked.
I didn’t really know what the Golden Staircase was. He’d never mentioned it until now. My dad continued to tell me.
“Goes all the way down to the mouth of the Klamath.”
“A staircase made of what?” I asked him.
“Gold!” He told me with a toothless grin he couldn’t withhold. I knew he was kidding. I also knew I wasn’t going to walk all the way to the Klamath Glen tonight. That would mean hitchhiking back to my car which was way far out of anyone’s way. Either that or hike against the mountains tomorrow, up hill. Besides, we came for Doctor Rock.
“Doctor Rock,” I said to him.
“Alright,” he said, and we were on our way.
It wasn’t much further and we were there. We hiked through massive fallen, burnt cedars. We hiked through a meadow with pink, white and wine-colored blooms. It started raining again. We were at the base of the rock, facing its beautiful, moss carpeted body. Rain was running off the top of the rock like a woman going at some serious crying. We started scaling the boulders on the bottom. I immediately lost my footing on a slippery rock and smacked my face strait into the boulder in front of me–solid rock to my cheekbone. It would leave a bruise. We reached a clearing; the rain was coming down harder.
“Dad, we really shouldn’t even stand up at this clearing.”
I was thinking of the lightning, even though we hadn’t seen a bolt all day. He knew what I meant.
“Yeah, I agree,” he said. “See that moss over there?” He pointed to a ledge covered with heavy moss.
I gave him a nod.
“That’s where we climb up.”
“I don’t know Dad, it’s too slippery, don’t you think?”
The ledge was steep and very high. I knew that traditionally that’s where the Native’s would go–to the very top of Doctor Rock–but it really was very high and I wondered if there would be shelter for camping.
“Don’t you think it’s too slippery Dad?” I continued.
“Ohyeah,” My dad said, concurring that there was danger.
We made our way out of the clearing. We were at the base of Doctor Rock in a cocoon of rock and shrub-like trees. There wasn’t much wiggle-space, and it had started to rain harder.
“You wanna stay here while I find us a better spot? We’re not going to the top right now, and you don’t want to get your bag wet.”
He went on and I crouched under a rock overhang. Calmly, I sat down between our two backpacks. To the left of me was a rock crevasse, and a huge crack. I could see a clearing next to it. I knew if I did a little crawling I might find a grotto, where the crevasse and the clearing meet. I traveled a little ways, cautiously.
“Terah!” My dad’s voice echoed from inside the crevasse, from where I would have found the grotto. “I’ve found a much better spot!”
The spot was an elongated grotto, four to eight feet wide and over two stories high. Rain trickled down the walls, streaks of it. The streaks were so peculiar looking that I took off my damp mitten, touched the wall and licked my finger just to make sure it was what I thought it was.
The grotto was stocked with a pile of firewood, dead oak. That was nice of whomever, I thought to myself, very nice of them. There was a fire-pit. I built a fire using damp papers from my notebook. It was already late-afternoon, early evening and given the rain, we weren’t going anywhere. Might as well warm up by the fire, I was thinking. The smoke billowed right out the open roof of the crevasse, like a chimney, not once getting into my eyes. I am thankful, I thought to myself. Meanwhile, my dad was moving the firewood pile closer to the fire.
“Dad,” I said, slightly annoyed, “I’m sleeping there, remember?”
“Well, you’re not gonna take up this whole spot are ya? You’re not that big,” he said, joking as usual.
“No, but I don’t want to sleep right next to it,” I said, sounding like a kid again. I did not love this side of me. This side of me that struggled to connect with my father. This side of me who carried around annoyance and resentment from childhood. The rigid side of my otherwise free-spirit.
But I also didn’t want to attract spiders by spooning with a log.
“We’ll just get up and gather more wood from the pile as we need it,” I finished.
My dad raised his eyebrows and said, “Hey, you don’t wanna be walkin’ all the way to the wood pile when it gets dark in here. Interesting things happen out here. Scary things. Whhooo-oooo!” He howled.
This is why I like my dad, I remembered, because he knows that I like to be scared. I am his one and only child, and I am thankful. I am his world. Always have been. Always will be. It’s not every kid who can say that.
It took me an hour or two to get dry. Cave fires don’t get very large, pushed up against the wall like they are. I was happy to find something to occupy my time, if an odd source of entertainment. It was something and nothing all at once–getting dry.
Furthermore, I thought about Dad and I, driving out to these mountains, just to walk around. Hoping we don’t see a mountain lion, or rather that a mountain lion doesn’t see us. Building fires and warming our food. Sleeping with only the sound of the water dripping from the trees. Getting closer to God. That’s what I viewed it as–closer to nature is closer to God. Whatever God is. If God was anything like nature, well I could dig it.
My energy had been all wound up. Tight like a braid. I was here to unravel, to grow, to accept, to get closer to my soul. Seems selfish, doesn’t it? In a grotto, a cave which truly belongs to the Yurok Indians and here I was thinking of me, me, me. I needed to talk to God. I wrote in my journal, and this is what I said:
Dear lord, trust me when I say the journey was the sacrifice, the rain. Now I pray for many things. I am one of them, yes, but so are you. By coming here I have developed a story. It has to do with your gods and your world. I will share it and it will spread like a fire. People will read it, and remembering you, will forget about the material world for a moment, they will join me in your cave. And I will remember you, the land as it was, and the people as they were, before all the chaos and the cities. The essence of what it really is to be human, animal, or something in-between. And I will be thankful. Come to me in my dreams, dear lord, Be With Me Like Light. I will see you for what you are, so long as your gods are pure and good. I am on your side, Doctor.
The sun set at eight but it might as well have been at seven because that’s when the cave got dark. My clothing was dry, my dad and I had exchanged words and dinner but I was heading quickly to bed, if early. I retracted into my sleeping bag. I always like to go to sleep early back in childhood when my dad and I camped “under the stars.” Sleeping outside was my favorite place to sleep. Soon, I was in a dream…
“Dad, dad, I think someone was just in here.” I said to my dad (in my dream). He was a few feet away in his sleeping bag and I was mummified in mine. “Dad!” I said again, he was still sleeping. It seemed so real.
“Well, go and find out who it is,” he said back to me, which is exactly what he would’ve said in real life.
It was daylight out. I slowly scrambled out of my sleeping bag and started walking out of the crevasse, toward the paper-white sky. When I reached the outside I was up on top of Doctor Rock. There was a shallow bar of sand amidst the blackened rock. There was a set of child’s footprints in the cream-colored sand and the imprint of a ball. The child had been bouncing a ball. But the child was gone, and the ball was gone.
Suddenly there was a hard tapping on my forehead, on my third-eye. Three or four times it knocked. Bang-bang-bang. I was trying to pull myself out of my sleep. I was trying to pull my head out of my sleeping bag to see who it was–to face the spirit. I expected to find a deer’s hooves, a wooden peg-leg, or a medicine stick—that’s what it felt like was tapping my forehead.
When I finally awoke, when I was actually awake and my head was out of the sleeping bag, the thumping stopped. Once my eyes adjusted all I could see was the wall of the grotto and a single black centipede a few inches from my face.
“Dad. Dad.” I said, just like I had in my dream.
“What.” He said back, not very warmly—more of a statement than a question.
“I…I need you to put some wood on the fire,” I said frantically. The fire was still smoldering, but barely. I was cold, but most of all I was kind of scared. The dream had been so vivid and intense. “Please, just put some wood on the fire and don’t go back to sleep until I go to sleep, okay?” I asked him, clearly alarmed.
My dad knew that I had gotten scared over something, a dream likely, and he got up and did what I said.
“Not until I’m completely asleep again, okay?” I asked again. I could be such a child. But the ball, and the boy, and now this centipede was in front of my face who I knew had tapped my forehead and who I knew actually wasn’t a centipede at all but an Indian Medicine Man with his medicine stick who was waiting for me on top of Doctor Rock. And the only way I could see him would be to climb up there but I wasn’t about to do that. It was dark and cold and slippery and I’m not a grown woman at all, I’m still a child, I thought in my sleepy oblivion.
The Medicine Man knew I was a coward. He didn’t have to come down here to see me shiver in the presence of him. He could watch me from the translucent ball that sat on top of his medicine stick, the ball that—like a gypsy’s—told him the future or the way things were or the way things had been.
Only his were truer, and more ancient, more meaningful, deeper than the average gypsy’s crystal ball. He watched me through his crystal ball medicine stick and he didn’t see my ugly sleep encrusted eyes or the knots in my hair like an old-man’s beard. He didn’t see my frumpy clothes or my clumsy character. The Medicine Man saw my soul and that’s why he reached out to me as I lay in the cave. My soul was brave when I’d said that prayer earlier and he’s noticed a hint, just a hint of curiosity as I prayed, mentioning his God and his World. I asked for him and then he came, but then I got scared and ran away.
Awaken my third eye. That was the message I got. I can still feel the reverberating tap tap tap on my forehead as I write this. And the boy? I haven’t found out who he is yet, I don’t even know how I know he is a boy—but he is. I guess that’s what spirituality is. You know, but you can’t prove or explain it. For some of us, that is enough. That is something. It makes one thing ours and ours alone. Like our own unique journeys are. Explainable things are overrated sometimes. They hold no mystery or soul. Plus, there are one billion true things in this universe that cannot be seen—yet. My dad has always taught me to get out of my head and into my heart—only without ever saying that.
God Bless the woman who’d died here, I thought to myself as I lay down like a mummy in my sleeping bag, having just been visited by a Yurok spirit, clenching my eyes shut, holding myself tightly, and drifting back to sleep as my Dad generously stoked the fire.
I am not a grown woman at all, I thought, I am still just a child.
Foot note: Here is an alternate experience which I find deeply moving, written by the members of the Yurok Tribe near Klamath, California.
That’s what I told him in my latest attempt to avoid the possibility of heartache, like ever. It’s like, if I cut my own arm off it won’t hurt as bad. I will still be in control.
Everything is water and matter, water and matter. Work is matter, rest is water. He is matter, I am water. I am made of matter and water and my brains and my bones depend on its balance.
I run on land. I run away. But I am a water creature, a river rat, and a beach babe so I will make mistakes on land. My horoscope read water upon water upon water so watch out and before I even read part that I cried in the kitchen — more than usual, my tears hot in the soapy vat of dishwater. It was strange and not-common. I knew I was in the wrong because I couldn’t pinpoint, exactly, what was wrong. So I wished – slash – willed it away.
I went to the beach the following day. I thought of what I’d said, “all I know are new beginnings.” I’ll admit, I’ve known a lot of them…but I am water…and I am river…and I am a wave. Water is in a constant state of movement, whether it is flowing, seemingly stagnant, or percolating through the earth, through the matter. I am part of a whole as water. I need not run, because everywhere I go is with him. And everywhere I go is with you. Every new beginning is still part of the whole. Yin. Yang. Beginning. End. I come to understand this.
I didn’t grow up to be who I was supposed to be. I wasn’t supposed to have oily hair or a messy bun. But I’ve settled for it. I wasn’t supposed to have unemployment, compromised driving privileges, trust issues, or a dying cat – that’s some other woman.
I didn’t grow up to be tame-haired and golden. I didn’t grow up to be worshiped by a man, doted on, a traffic-stopper, a perfect-in-every-way kind of girl. I’ve never been that.
Not only have I been to therapy, but I’ve walked away from it (that’s worse, it means I haven’t been helped yet). But this story is full of half-truths. You know, maybe I did grow up to be who I was supposed to be (how could I not? I was in control the entire time) (even that’s a half-truth).
I was supposed to be a role-model, for one. All nice girls wish to be role models, that’s how you know you’re good. But I couldn’t even pull that off (half-truth). You know you’re fucking up when a child asks you, “Are you a kid too!?” Eye.
Things have gotten better since then. I feel in control (half-truth). I accept the messy bun. I let the teenage neighbor kids see my climbing-out-of-the-car-with-two-paper-bags-of-groceries-clumsiness. I wish sometimes the girl could look at me with that want-to-be-like-her-when-I-grow-up-awe. You know the awe. But I don’t think I am that woman. I’ve accidentally watered the flowers in a see-through gown, waving at the neighbors. I’ve fallen in a hole chasing after the dog. I am someone else, slightly off-set of that woman. The alternate. The sister story. The girl with the hair falling in her eyes, needing to be washed. The girl with the floor needing to be swept, scrubbed. The woman in the gray dented station-wagon. The woman with the budding, not blooming, flower garden. The woman with $4.50 in fines at the library. The woman who just signed up for the Adult Reading Program (because she hopes to win a tote-bag). The woman who used to work in retail and now works in manual labor. The woman with a college degree, who makes $11 an hour. The woman who would rather paint and write more than anything. The woman with a few pretty dresses that she never wears. The woman who has many friends over the age of fifty. The woman who is apprehensive of parties, but loves them once she gets there. The woman who thinks she knows herself so well (but has a lot to learn). The woman who writes personal stories on her porch in the sunshine. The woman who wishes for tan legs, but won’t pay for them, or sit still long enough for them. The woman who wishes for the luxury of travel, an open road, snacks, a band to follow, cold beer…a bunch of things that aren’t really her, but maybe…The woman who has a defrosted chicken for the crockpot. The woman whose man will be home soon. The woman with her dog barking and her cat purring. The woman with the messy bun, fresh face, bare feet, tall grass, summer sun. The woman, the actual woman, I was meant to become.
I work on a farm now, helping care for hundreds of chickens, plenty of pigs, a handful of sheep, a field of cows, and three goats that are up-for-grabs.
My boss, a young woman not much larger than I, is southern-girl-polite, patient with me as I learn the ropes, and incredibly tender with her livestock. She is teaching me how to use power tools, perform animal husbandry, and push a little past what I think I am physically capable of.
So much of what I thought I knew about the world is being called into question. Namely, what I am good for: sitting pretty? Moving things? Growing food? Personality traits and body parts have taken on a whole new meaning. I can’t fall back on pretty, no way, no how. I don’t even put on makeup before I start my day. (So, if you know me at all, you know that everything has changed.) The one thing I have going for me is that I don’t mind getting dirty.
What used to bother me so much about customer service was the shallowness, the trivialness. I have none of that now. My boss is stone-serious about what we do. Because what we do matters. Believe it or not, I’ve only had one or two jobs where that was the case (working for the National Park Service was one, working with incarcerated youth was another. My post office job, well that was somewhere on the border.)
I’m working harder than I have in years, but it’s a different kind of work. It isn’t so mentally exhausting (not nearly as mentally exhausting as writing!). I whip around on a four-wheeler all day from one task to another with nobody asking me to “smile more,” with nobody’s wonky energy to pick up and take home with me.
I’ve loved all my jobs (maybe that’s a stretch, I’ve had a lot of jobs) but I often regret that I haven’t stuck with one and, you know, Started Making The Big Bucks. But this job? This job is legitimately good for me. This job is wholesome. Educational. Amusing (those piglets!). Active. Empowering.
I kind of feel like farming found me. Although I did apply for this job, I also applied for about 10 different State Park jobs before getting turned down and, miraculously, getting a phone call from my new and lovely boss Jenni. And I’m glad I did get turned down by the parks because my exposure to nature at the farm is probably ten-fold what it would’ve been and I’m learning skill sets that will last a lifetime (I can’t believe I’ve made it to 31 without knowing some of these things!)
My values are being turned on their heads. Not all my values, but things like: what makes me a beautiful and valuable human being? What do I really contribute to this world? What does environmentalism really mean to me? And am I willing to act on those values? Where did that jerky come from? How was that animal treated? My former touching stones (shopping for clothes, getting dolled up, watching mindless movies) are eroding beneath me. It’s kind of scary, but exciting. This is just the start of something bigger, a drop in the bucket no doubt, but I am evolving and changing as a person and a woman and I am trying to get a foothold in this strange yet real new world.
The truth is: I still get depressed. “Still” being despite all the good things I have come to obtain–things I’d worked toward like a good paying part time job which affords me the “time to write”; and meeting my boyfriend who is hard working and kind and so wonderful that I often fear losing him. I sometimes think that if I give him away then I will not be losing him. This is untrue. Nevertheless I set little booby traps for the both of us, one little slip here and we’re done, a step too far that way and I’m out. Not even two years in things are so predictable. But I’d set out to do it different this time–to see it through and find out what happens when you do. And I have every reason to! But between you and me, I’ve been daydreaming.
I’ve been daydreaming about roadtripping across the country in an airstream trailer I will make payments on, painted on the back will read “Less is More”. I’ll wake up next to the sea shore, and camp in the parking lots of our National Parks. I’ll fry myself eggs (airstreams come with stovetops, right?) every morning, eat lots of that soft Taylor’s beef jerky, and live on black coffee with tons of sugar. I’ll give up smoking, for good, dammit. I’ll journal under the moon roof, under the stars. I’ll listen to public radio and really good books on tape. Hell, I’ll even write a book about the whole thing. Or at least an essay.
The only thing stopping me is fear of loneliness and regret. So say I give up my boyfriend and I give up all my new friends–the girls who invite me to their blessing ways and craft nights, the young men who cheers me after a hard days work, who run around with me to rock shows and barbecues, then what? I find new friends? Someone else to have sex with and the whole circle begins again?
See it’s not so much humans that I’m looking for. Being alone and being sad, it’s what I do. Starting over, it’s what I’m good at. It’s safe to say it’s all or nothing for me. It’s safe to say I am impatient. It’s safe to say I dream about pregnancy and motherhood and in vain cause….well, never mind. It’s safe to say I have chronic malcontent, I go after something, I get it, I fear losing it, I begin to fantasize about throwing it away, I throw it away. It’s safe to say there is something unresolved inside of me. This does not make me special. There is something rather unresolved within all of us. I always tell myself “don’t let on, don’t let on”. I’ve told myself that people who let on are weak. That we all have our problems but we shouldn’t just go on and on about them. That’s what separates the strong from the weak. But I don’t fully believe that either. You want to be strong enough to voice your opinions, to talk it out, and to make change. But there is some strength in keeping quiet too, not showing how much it hurts. People have enough problems without taking on yours too, and that’s a fucking fact.
So I quietly plot out my life:
Plan A. Stop sleeping so much. I fucking sleep right up until seven a.m., the latest possible hour for me to get to work on time, then when I get home I exhaust myself pondering what to do with all my spare time and I fall into an angsty, maddening sleep, the type that says “you should really be doing something else” or “Steve’ll be home soon and he’ll catch you sleeping”.
What is unresolved within me? What, in my daily life, am I running (i.e. sleeping) from? The uncertainty of it all? Is anyone else this hard on themselves, this hard on life? Are they just not letting on? Plan A. Keep on doing what I’m doing well, and fucking start enjoying it more. Take pride in the work I do. Push myself further. Yet allow for rest. Know when it’s time for what. Greet the day optimistically. Cook a good fucking dinner. Trust others. Do yoga (I don’t know, its recommended and it does fucking feel good). Be in nature. Play along if I have to.
Plan B. Pack up and move in the day, when everyone else is at work. Leave a letter note saying I’ll be back for the rest of my stuff eventually, so don’t worry about that. Cry all the way to the coast, all the way down the 101. Stop on the side of the road to vomit, likely. Remember all the other times that things weren’t “quite right” or “good enough” so I left, changed location, got a new job, replaced my boyfriend. Remember how time frantically erodes all the mystery anyways and that all the mystery and peace, it lives on the inside of me. So does the dissatisfaction and pessimism. I carry it all with me wherever I go.
Not a year ago I wrote a poem titled Staying Power. That’s what I wanted. Now I’m leaning more toward Runaway. But it’s all a mind fuck. I know this.
It’s safe to say when I am alone I am in control.
It’s safe to say I like being in control.
I feel I am at sea in my home, with my man. Okay so it’s better than ever. It works. But I don’t know which way we’re going, I don’t know how long I’ll be out here for. And it’s all so average, I don’t do average. Give me neat and tidy and I’ll muss it up and rebuild it to be my own version of neat and tidy.
It’s safe to say I am confused and at times sick with worry. Things are just-so and that really unnerves me. I want more. In this peaceful space–my brain builds catastrophes, spiderwebs of what-ifs and what-for’s delicately stitching together my present moment and existence–I tip toe through my mind, more afraid than ever of what I might find there.
I want to be a mother. Want to harness life inside of my own body. Want to validate and make use of this healthy hearty womanbody that I have. See I always thought I’d have that baby by now. But I’ve discarded two lives by the ingestion of two pills taken two hours apart. Two men and women weeped and then ate ice cream afterwards two bloody times. I let go of two children on the floors of two different college town apartments no longer than two months into two separate pregnancies. I wasn’t yet twenty-two. Judge me, go ahead. I don’t care. I did what I had to do. What I had the right to do. But that was way back then.
I want to do it right this time. And that’s OK. I can want that, can’t I? To do it right? My secret shames me. Or tries to. All the women ask me more more more about what I see, what I want. But the men turn their cheeks, their torsos, go silent, don’t know what to say. Most of em anyway. One of my friends though, he told me: I want the baby as I stifled a surprised laugh. The baby. I said I’d get back to him on that. Told him thanks, bra.
I’ve been on my own since fourteen, or seventeen depending on which angle. Point is, I’ve been on my own. I’ve packed and moved thirteen different times. I’ve hosted garage sales with a smiling beaming face all the while featuring the discarded stuff of lovers going their separate ways. I’ve patted the back of men I’ve dumped. I’ve sucked the dick of men I love, but never of men I didn’t. I’ve found my own truths through self-therapy, self-medicating, self-forgiving and self-love. I’ve had sex a million gazillion times and I’m still wandering through life unattached, not pregnant, working at a menial job, going to parties, “living it up”, paying rent, extending my youth. But I want to be a mother. Unapologetically.
I like to think I manage quite well our twenty-something household by cooking meals, watering plants, fluffing guests pillows before they arrive, and subtly controlling everything and everyone—including two twenty-something male roommates (one of whom is my boyfriend) who love to drink and debate and hoot and holler but will maneuver this way and that way to avoid my emotional pull and to please me in many a unique manner. But the men must know what I want. They must know I want a baby. We don’t go there. Sooner or later though, we must. Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to prove that I can handle a baby, like a kid would try to prove that he can handle a puppy. Thing is, I probably can’t. What I mean is: learning curve. What I mean is: everything changes. What I mean is: there really aren’t words for becoming a mother.
I dreamed last night that I was. That I was a mother. I was the mother of a small little girl, chubby faced and brunette. She had a smile. Oh she had a smile and we smiled all above and around her. Then there was this moment. This moment where I wanted to go to the other room, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t go in the other room, because I had to stay with Her at all times. It was bliss meeting burden, being a mother. I want to be a mother. Make use of this healthy hearty womanbody that I have. Make up for lost time; for lost bodies.
The kitchen, it’s my job. I want this role. I’ve earned this role. I wear aprons. If Steve did these things too it wouldn’t be my role. I might be demoted to just bathroom cleanup or worse, yard work. So I just shut up and say Bring it On, the dishes, the unbelievable messes Steve makes when doing anything in the kitchen but just sitting there on the counter. I mop up after the dog and Steve-boots multiple times on a good day. I wipe the coffee grinds from the counter top night and morning. I recycle the green and yellow sponge from dish sponge to chicken-egg sponge and I decide when we start a brand new one fresh from the threepack. I even get to feed and water the chickens, collect eggs, and harvest the fruit of nine apple trees. I have been blessed with a kitchen to call my own. And because Steve works on a farm, once a week he plops a dirty plastic tote up on the countertop and I smile warmly in return and start unpacking the goods. That plastic tote makes all the difference…our lives revolve around that tote, that kitchen.
I imagine I will dominate many more kitchens in my day. I have a dream to even design one. It will have a window above the sink, for gazing dumbly out onto while washing the dishes, an “island”, and one of those overhead hangy-things for pots and pans. Maybe I am asking too much. I probably am. Perhaps someday I will sit quietly in the kitchen of my daughter-in-law, watching her take control of the stove settings and the manner in which dinner is served all on her own, as I once did, eager to show her skills to her in-laws, eager to be grown up and woman and to have the gift of addressing each and every need of her guest. Water, tea, and fabric napkins. Beers, tops already popped.
I imagine I will die in a kitchen, upright, moving my hips and fingers to the beat of the radio…static, old classic country. I imagine the kitchen will be sunny, not gray or brown or fabric-y, a pot on the stove containing saucy stewing yummy things and the conversation always intimate and trying. I imagine I will die trying…to feed my family.
I had a boyfriend in college who barked at me for washing his fancy wine glasses, his most valued possessions, with soap. Frankly he was much more sophisticated than I was [in the kitchen] and knew things like to wash with only hot water (I still don’t get it?)…and how to actually cook duck (I once ruined some very expensive meat), how to really tell when a steak is done (or perfectly undone), to buy unsalted butter, to always salt water, how to season fish Cajun style…we shared a kitchen which he absolutely dominated and filled with all sorts of fancy things like meat tenderizers and food processors and a whole set of knives it was understood I could. not. touch. ever. I learned to fill a small porcelain saucer with salt for easy access, placing it near the cooking stove, something I still do today. I learned to defrost meat in warm water and how to make lemon vinaigrette in a processor. I couldn’t tell you what hung on the wall in the kitchen. Or what was on the fridge. I think the kitchen was a male.
My kitchen now didn’t always belong to me. Less than one year ago I was timidly tiptoeing around it, washing dishes quietly and obediently as my lover fell to sleep. Not wanting to boast my kitchen management skills, I cleaned the counters and the cooking pots in-between-time, quickly and nonchalantly. I picked things up off (bits of bark and mud from boots) the floor when no one was looking and I began grooming the kitchen to be mine, talking to her and showing her counters and cabinets Who Is Boss and where things belong.
In August, after I officially moved in with Steve, I painted the kitchen windowsills bright yellow and after dusting the kitchen head-to-toe I hung a large sun/moon artwork in the corner by the window, reorganized the spice rack, moved in my toaster oven (boyfriend loves), hung a colorful and funky coffee mug rack above the stovetop, put a simple beige rug underneath the sink where your barefeet go in the morning, and retrieved every mason jar I could for easy drinking, canning, and snack packing.
My boyfriend destroys the kitchen every single morning. Although he always always always unloads the dry dishes from the strainer and puts them away (it’s like a ritual) he also always always always always cracks three eggs, cuts one potato, dirties one chef’s knife, one plate, one fork, one coffeepot, two cups—and the egg yolk and dishes remain there on the counter until I get home from work in the afternoon. Then it’s: clean up the breakfast mess and start to make another mess for dinner. I tell my boyfriend, clean as you go, like I do. I try to demonstrate how perfect and polished the kitchen can remain even as you bake bread, pan-fry pork, handbrew a pot of coffee…if you just clean as you go! It’s brilliant! I chirp and hum along with the radio.
These are the kitchens of my past. Some of the kitchens were females and some were males. Some of them had dining tables and some did not. I remember the worst of the kitchens, the friends or neighbor’s kitchens in college—I was afraid to eat a thing strait from the waterlogged counter, there were hotpink Las Vegas shot glasses and sticky empty liquor bottles on their sides and who knows whose ass had been sitting up there. I remember the food bank finds, the cardboard microbrew beerbottle canisters with a banana inside, a serrated knife, and a days old spoon with yogurt-tongue markings still on it…a bag of Western Family wheat bread always almost out and wanting so badly to be the lucky roommate to eat the last sandwich, with cheese.
I cleaned kitchens in exchange for cigarettes for a woman I can’t remember the name of now but I can see her plain as day in front of a sepia television, blinds closed, sitting on her long black hair on a tan couch in a house down Modoc Lane. I was fourteen. She didn’t have a table in her kitchen. I used yellow Sun soap and an inefficient wide-pored plastic green scrubby from the dollarstore to wash dried Top Ramen noodles from indian boybowls on foggy, windy days, my kid-hands enjoying the hot soapy water and subsequent Marlboro 100’s plus four to go in the pocket of my jean jacket.
Kitchens with no power. A solar pushlamp dim as a candle. Kerosene lanterns and a generic plastic red and white checkered tablecloth my Dad picked up at Shop Smart. My Dad, just twenty-four but playing Mom with our square, aluminum-legged kitchen table, checkered cloth and candlelight, for both practical and spiritual purposes. Two dinner plates and forks. Papertowels folded in half for napkins. The days when things were real good for us both. A father, a daughter, and a kitchen. Propane gas stove and long-handled lighters—big boxes of matches my Dad would strike on his pants zipper if I asked him to. Matches that struck on the pavement of the platform outside our trailer, the concrete foundation that would be our home. A home that never really got to happen.
It was a small father-daughter kitchen, with one window above the sink which in the daytime looked out to a lush green lot, with rabbits in cages, wild doves in the Myrtlewood trees, and geese and ducks and things. The window fogged at night and I would write things on it to entertain myself, smiling faces, peace signs, my name, mad, antsy scribbles, spirals and hearts. There were no refrigerator magnets and the walls were bare. In the living room was a framed school photo of me that would eventually burn and in the bathroom, the Lord’s Prayer hanging on the wall, a wooden vintage piece: Our father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name... In the kitchen cupboards: white sheaths of premium saltine crackers, cans of “ABC” soup, a bag of popcorn kernals, white rice, apricot jam, and on the counter, carrots, potatoes, cumin and mint tea.
A boy cousin is over for dinner. We’d come by some sort of green squeaky toy—a frog—my dad requests that we bow our heads to pray before eating which I obediently do. My boy cousin squeaks the toy and giggles. Maybe he did this twice. My Dad says firmly (to us both, as to not even call my cousin out), “Humble yourselves.” My boy cousin squeaks the toy again and my Dad immediately smacks the toy from my boycousins hand, looking serious for once and shocking us both to the core as it was one of the few times we’d seen my Dad genuinely pissed. We both bowed our heads as my Dad gave a shaky, but always sincere prayer starting with Dear Heavenly Father and ending with the three of us saying Amen.
Nag champa incense and me knee-sitting on a simple wooden chair washing dishes, often my designated chore, with large yellow rubber gloves (you know the kind) complete the memory of my most cherished kitchen—the one dad and I shared in Rock Creek. Sometimes I would be asked to come play, but my Dad made me do dishes instead. However if the dishes got done, I could go play. But if they didn’t it was me in the kitchen crying and alone.