Tag Archives: Memoir

Water Signs

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Dad nearly drowned in the mouth of the river in Fort Bragg, California, but that was before I was born. He spent the rest of the summer in the hospital. That didn’t stop him from loving the ocean and water. You can’t trust it, he said. You can’t help but love it either.

Dad was in a coma for most of one month. When he came to he had to learn to talk again. He had to learn to walk again. He was just nine years old at the time. Somehow, though, Dad still knew how to swim. A photo of him and his parents posed alongside the doctor was published in the Fort Bragg newspaper. He was the boy whose life was almost taken by the river at Van Damme State Park. “Miracle Boy” the headline read.

I came thirteen years later. The daughter of Miracle Boy and Moonbeam.

When I was six years old and he was twenty-eight, Dad took us sea-kayaking off the coast of California. If I remember correctly he was trying to impress a woman who wasn’t my mother. We almost got pulled out to sea and I remember being frightened. Or maybe my memory doesn’t serve me right…maybe we did have fun. But the waves, they were so large and I was so little, how could I have? I just remember fearing for my life, I think the girlfriend did too.

I was around one years old when Moonbeam left us (I’m not looking for pity, those are just the facts). Some man I never learned the name of had lured Moonbeam away. I’ll never know the things he promised her. I’ll never know what tempted her. All I know is she took the Ford Pinto when she left. She didn’t go far—just down the road to Eureka. She wasn’t far, no, but she was gone.

Dad took to doing the dishes by hand, very slowly, with hot soapy water. But this wasn’t so strange because Dad did the dishes before she left too. I think he just liked being in the water.

As a toddler, I crawled around on the sticky linoleum floor. I remember looking up at Dad doing my mother’s job. He was in his work clothes and it was after dark. I saw a flash of myself in the kitchen sink before Moonbeam left. I could almost see her standing there washing my body—a dishwater blond with no face, just legs and shoes like the moms in those old cartoons. Comfort just for the fact that they were there. Dish-doers and diaper-changers and dinner-makers and ice-tray-fillers. An essential tool: missing.

Several years later I had my birthday party at the beach. I invited my entire sixth grade class and to my shock everybody showed up. Dad embarrassed me by bannering long streams of white toilet paper from the driftwood poles on the beach, a marker of where the party was. A store-bought stream of purple tissue paper had not been considered.

A couple of the mothers who dropped off their daughters off looked warily around for signs of my mother. But they found none. I just wanted them to go away. I did not even want them to stay because their judgement and misunderstanding was palpable. They finally left, not quite sure what to think. These are the ones who returned first for their daughters.

Dad warmed hot dogs on driftwood sticks over the campfire and we all ran around like we were still kids, which we were, but barely. My peers brought gifts, tons of gifts, each one of them. Dad bought me the expensive black and white Adidas jacket I had wanted so much. The ocean was lapping at the whole scene, father and daughter, fire and friends. The sun went down while we were still out running and playing up and down the beach. And even though I didn’t have a mother…well I thought life was just about perfect.

I had been so excited about my abundance of gifts but was so busy running and playing that I didn’t notice when tide came in and took my birthday booty— piece by piece into the setting sun. It was all gobbled up by the great inhale-exhale of the Pacific Ocean. And there would be no getting any of it back. It wasn’t far, no, but it was gone.

When Dad was a boy that same beach was at least 70 feet under water. The tsunami of 1964 picked up dive bars and fish n’ chip shacks and set them back down, upside down, right on top of Highway 101. To this day Crescent City, California is the only town in the continental United States where a tsunami has killed people. True story. Eleven people died. You can’t trust the ocean, Dad said. You can’t help but love it either.

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Water Signs is an essay from Earthside and Other Everyday Miracles which I am publishing through Groundwaters this spring. I will keep you updated on all the details here on my blog, and also over on my Instagram page! (See sidebar to follow me there.) Thank you, faithful readers!

Dear Aunt Dorothy,

Dear Aunt Dorothy,

Remember when you lived on that street I can’t remember the name of now—the one way on the outskirts of town, after you moved back to Crescent City for the second time? You were many years sober by then so our conversations happened around mugs of coffee, your second love. 

You had kitschy coffee mugs: Garfield, mugs with quotes about motherhood, one of the lady with the crazy hair, robe, and slippers. You weren’t a grandmother yet, which boggles me now since “Grandma” became your definitive role. Back then your mother-ness extended to me, your niece. 

Remember that night? We were jabbering, catching up. I was visiting from out-of-state and we only had so much time. There were lots of laughs. Cigarettes and ashtrays. If we ever watched television it was just the home videos you’d recorded of our childhood: Your boys reciting Jeff Foxworthy. Me doing cartwheels on the concrete pad outside the trailer on Olive Street. Crystal, who was just a baby then. 

Without having planned it, WHAM, I dropped the bombshell. The bombshell that would blow up your whole world: your present, past, and future. Probably you mentioned his name. My face must have shadowed. And then your openness, your vessel for others pain and suffering, allowed to me tell you—to tell anyone—what had happened to me right there inside our family. It happened in-between recordings, on set, hidden behind the inescapable patriarchy that permeated our culture and society.  

I was seventeen and had never told anyone before. 

I saw the lightbulb go on behind your eyes. This is the moment you that stubbed out your cigarette. Wait, what? 

I saw the quick well of anger and heartbreak rise inside of you. 

Disbelief. 

Guilt. 

Wonder. 

In a dark corner of your mind, I’m sure you were reaching for a gin. 

It was late. Your house was so small. As if turning on my heel, my laughter quickly turned to painful sobs. The burning-apple-in-your-throat-kind of sobs. My racking sobs filled your entire home, probably shook the coffee mugs in your cupboard as you held space for me. 

You didn’t call it that: holding space. Poor, white people don’t have vocabulary for our experiences. But other people do. We live through the tragedies, other people label them. People with food in their bellies and books on their bed stands, free from the everyday challenges we’d faced, free to think things through, I guess. 

Did you know that by now whole fields of study have been dedicated to our resurgence? There are probably university students somewhere right now discussing the phenomenon of the crashing white, rural American class. You would have hated that sentence I know. It made you crawly when I used words like phenomenon because it put you on the spot. You were an Army girl, a farm girl, and to no fault of your own you were never a scholar. We didn’t have the language to get to the bottom of what happened to me–the scary thing that I told you–so we just cussed a lot that night. Fucking sicko. Rot in hell. 

You probably had to go to work at the casino in the morning, but you held space for me. You always did that for others. You always gave more than you had. In the end, I believe, that’s what killed you.  

Cousin John, one year younger than me, must have heard everything that through the thin bedroom wall. In fact I know he did. He told me as much years later. Said he’d pressed his ear up against the wall listening to every word I’d said, welling up with anger, maybe tears. Cousin John is one of those sensitive men—men with single mothers tend to be. Yet another gift that women like you give.

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Do you remember the day you died? What was it like? Was it sunny? Cold? Did you argue with people that day? Hold space? Both? Did you start the day out watching FOX news? Looking at old photographs in your albums? How many cups of coffee did you have? Did you eat breakfast? What did you eat? I want to know. I want to hold space for you. Come back from the dead and tell me.

Years later you admitted that my “telling you” had a hand in your decision (if you can even call it that—the swift, perplexing fall from grace) to drink again. It was a single poke that sent you closer to the edge, eventually to fall from maybe ten years sober. At least over five. (I need to get my facts straight with the family.) 

I myself never felt guilty for that. I can’t take that on. I know there were others things, too. Men, maybe, who drank. You thought you could “be around them.” You couldn’t. No one could. You thought you could walk down the wine isle at the grocery store. You couldn’t. No one could. “And what are we drinking with the steak?” A waiter asked you with a wink, mentioning a wine pairing. You couldn’t. No one could. The billboard with a cold, sweaty beer on a hot, Sacramento day. (You didn’t even look at the billboard but your brain saw it and stored the information.) You couldn’t. No one could. A career waitress at a casino, you served drinks day in and day out. You couldn’t. No one could. 

It was your genes, expressing themselves. You couldn’t. No one could. I myself was never a drinker, but I have my “things.” 

Do you remember the day you died? Was it a pleasant day? Did you catch the sunset? Call your boys? It was springtime, I know that. Cousin John called me, it was two, maybe three, a.m. 

It must have been warm in Oregon because I stepped out on the back porch to take the call, having been alerted from sleep and knowing John wasn’t calling to casually chat.

“She’s gone,” he managed to get out. 

“Hello? John? What?” 

One never says the right things in these moments.

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We spread your ashes up on the hill above the farm. Your baby sister and her husband handled all the arrangements. Rented the town hall down by the river. Sprinkled photographs of you on the tables and designated a childhood friend to make the centerpieces. They managed to serve one hundred people pulled pork, potato salad and fruit. I don’t know if it was pork. I didn’t eat. I was juggling the newborn baby and rubbing John’s back, trying to be a friend to him. Suddenly he was hard to get through to. 

You meant a lot to a lot of people, so a lot of people were there. Later, in photographs taken above the farm on the hill, someone said the plume of your ashes looked just like an angel when the boys blasted it into the air.

It was the kind of thing you anchor to in times like this.

I didn’t know what to believe. I was reeling—angry—from your fall from grace to death at 61. Alcohol poisoning, the coroners report stated. I was thinking: one little sip—one little slip—then blip, you’re done. You were getting sober again. You were always getting sober. News would travel through the family grapevine: Dort hasn’t been drinking, 3 months now. Dort hasn’t been drinking, 1 ½ weeks now. Dort hasn’t been drinking, 5 months now! Honestly I stopped keeping count. There were so many starts and stops. But that, dear one, is what made you beautiful. Most alcoholics I know don’t even try. 

This was not your legacy. Don’t get me wrong. I am using your lessons to guide my voice. There is a point I we are getting at. I promise. Hang tight. 

You were always transparent about your alcoholism. You were almost curious. You talked to me about AA. How they make you have a sponsor. That they wanted you to pray. You struggled with both of those things. You weren’t vulnerable by nature. Not open with those who you weren’t close to. You just wanted it to be done and dealt with but you lived with a drinker, your second husband, and that, I believe was your biggest downfall…not leaving him to save yourself. 

Vodka in the freezer, you told me. You couldn’t. No one could.

You always gave more of yourself than was even there. Leaving ghosts of yourself behind for others to feed off of. Always wanting to give more, more, more. A pleaser, left thirsty.

I am using your lessons to guide me.

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Man. 

I was so distanced from all of this at the memorial. And now that I’ve said that about your second husband everyone’s going to hate me. At the memorial for me it was just this: one foot in front of the other. Don’t slip like she did. Your message to me seemed loud and clear: Keep your head up, don’t look down. But everyone else was crying and carrying on, while I was in some state of blissed out focus. How was I going to explain this? What was going on with me? 

Back in Oregon it took me many months to come around to how I really felt about your death. I saw posts on Facebook, “I think about her every day. I am so sad. It just makes me want to cry every time I think of her.” 

Why didn’t I want to cry? I did think of you. I looked through the scrapbook you sent me, your script written in black Sharpie: Love you always, sweetie niece, it read. 

I thought of how much you had going for you. I thought, don’t slip. I thought, dead at 61. I thought of you, as a girl, going off to Germany with the Army. Your glory days. You went from California to Connecticut to Germany. You made good friends—eased the awkwardness of socializing by drinking. Most of us do. For you it was different.

You had a boyfriend out there in Connecticut. I wonder if he was as different from you as the Connecticut boyfriend I had was from me. We looked the same: white, young, scrawny. We partied together and all of that. They thought we were “pretty.” They could never know the rural swamp from whence we came. We never knew the dollar amount of the steak on our plate. That the cost of that plate amounted to our weekly grocery allowance. 

I remembered that night you held space for me. How when you ran your hand up your forehead—holding the bangs out of your eyes briefly—I saw we had matching widow peaks and dark, thick hair. I saw we had the same oily, pocky skin. I could have been your daughter. 

I did think of you. Fact I walked out on the porch one day and said your name out loud. It was a rough day for me. I was weighing this and that. I was torn between saying “fuck it” and staying on the strait and narrow. I was grappling with my “things” like we all do. 

Exasperated, I asked you for a sign. I toy with spirituality, having given some of it up with I paired up with an atheist. 

“Just, anything,” I told you, in a way I hoped was sincere. 

I held my coffee mug in both hands. The one that reads “Mom is just Wow upside down.” I latched on to the wisdom that you taught me–dare I say telepathically–with your death: Relationships matter. Don’t do what I did. Don’t throw it away for the brief, frequent explosion of addiction and harm. Turn to the light. Every time. Walk away, completely, utterly committed, from the things that threaten you. Physically. Emotionally. Walk away completely. Don’t look back. 

I was open to receiving it. That’s what I was doing at the memorial, when I couldn’t stare down a gin and cry. Actually, I was honoring you. Head up, focused on the future.

It’s what you wanted me–what you want all of us–to do. Perhaps others have experienced this phenomenon. 

Maybe it was because I was looking for a sign so hard that it actually happened, but just then the wind picked up out on the porch. It was a warm wind on an otherwise calm day. I couldn’t fucking believe it, but I wasn’t going to look away as the breeze carried to one single tree out in the yard. Just one tree. Of all of the trees. And it was the tree that was closest to me, a five leaf maple. The wind blew my hair back just a little, and I closed my eyes, gripping my coffee mug in silence. It was late summer, early autumn, and the leaves had turned but were yet to fall from the trees. When I opened my eyes that breeze—your breeze—was whipping around that maple tree like a whirling dervish or Tasmanian devil from the old Looney Tunes cartoon. I mean it was really whipping. 

I even thought to run get my phone to capture the odd, rare event but of course I didn’t. You don’t fuck with something that sacred. You don’t exploit messages from the great beyond.  

I watched as that narrow, focused breeze stripped a previously full tree of most of its orange autumn leaves. It was a clear enough message that I thanked you, looking out to see the one bare tree among the others full of leaves. I breathed in, I breathed out. I felt validated and whole again. 

I didn’t care what anyone thought. I only cared that I was around to see my grandkids, should I have them someday. So I was willing to latch on to anything, even this crystal clear sign from the no-longer-living. I only cared that I was downloading the accurate message that you wanted me to have all along: Do not mourn me outright in the traditional way. Please just walk away completely from the things that threaten your health. Walk away and don’t look back. 

And in-between the lines: Spread the message. Relationships matter. Turn to the light, every time. And this: you are worth it. 

Remember that night? You were many years sober. You lived on the outskirts of town on a street I don’t remember the name of. It was your Demi Moore days: short, cropped dark hair. I was visiting from out-of-state. You were a fulltime mom to two teenage boys. You didn’t want them to come home to an empty house anymore, so you were there waiting with your recipe books and kitschy coffee mugs when they got out of school. Even when drinking though, you were a good mom. Excellent even. Clean sheets on the bed and all of that. You threw Thanksgiving together for the family year after year. I remember the time you had us cousins over to make gingerbread cookies during Christmastime at the house on A Street. You set up your camcorder and had the radio on. Bette Midler sang “Wind Beneath My Wings,” which may have been a new song then:

It must have been cold there in my shadow,
to never have sunlight on your face,
you were content to let me shine, that’s your way,
you always walked a step behind.
Thank you, thank you,
thank god for you the
wind beneath my wings. 

 

Love, 

Your niece,

Terah

 

Out of my Head and Into My Heart: A Journey to Doctor Rock

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Siskiyou Mountains, Northern California.

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 did.”

“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.

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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.

Oh yeah,” 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!”

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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.
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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.

 

 

Half-Truths or The Actual Woman

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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.

Mantra for the Sane

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In writing I worry
I have said too much,
too little
I capitalize on
the funny parts
the sick parts
the sad parts
the parts
half worth
anything
to anyone
(likely not)
I leave out how
my Dad religiously
kissed my forehead every
morning before school
or that friends
parents often
said “we can’t afford
to keep  feeding her”
which only made
my hungrier
my cousins
called me
“oinker”
I leave out
the parts where
I was a happy, jolly
normal kid playing
make-believe and house
I leave out the parts where
I do not go hungry
But I remember
the good times
when I do the dishes,
the innocent times
when I sweep the floor,
the carefree times
when I call for the dog,
“I wanted this”
I recall
“This is all I ever
wanted”
I write my past
I plot my future
“I’ll be the husband
and you’ll be the wife”
I remember saying
“I’ll go to the store now
to get the groceries”
It will be so much fun
It is all I ever wanted
It will be so much fun
I recall, hand swirling
in a vat of dishwater,
igniting the suds
It will be so much fun
to be grown
It is all I ever wanted

This becomes a mantra
for the sane

It will be so much fun
to be grown
It is all I ever wanted
I’ll go to the store now
to get the groceries
It will be so much fun

Farm Her: New Job, New Life

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.)

Sure, I’m working a million-gazillion times harder than I ever did before (except for my time cutting down trees with CREC, whadddup!) 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. And don’t even get me started on Do You Know Where Your Food Comes From? (I’ll just say: whatever you’re paying for chicken, you’re not paying enough.)

I’ve been feeling like “farming found me” because 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, brave, and REAL new world.

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Literally me. A photo Jenni snuck of me on one of my first days at work. She posted it on the farm’s Instagram account and titled it “Chicks putting out chicks” #farmher

A Rainbow for Moonbeam

It’s easy for me to be mad at a mother who isn’t around. But she is out there. I do have a mother and I always have. She’s always been a living, breathing human on the other end of my string, with a paper cup of her own, listening in as I send messages of love/hate/love/hate. It’s certainly not indifference that I offer. Not these days. And I am here to say: I do not hate her. I possibly never have.

Today, I am reaching within the well of myself to find compassion for my mother. I do not have to reach very far. Her face pops up on my computer screen at 10:33 a.m. “Happy to be back at work!” her digital post reads. My heart bulges. She tags me and fourteen other people, coworkers and my siblings. She is beaming. I cannot ignore it, nor do I want to, because just this morning I was stalking my mother’s Facebook page. I noted that she no longer listed her old job at McDonalds (a job she left, oh, maybe a year ago). I narcissistically wondered if that was because I live with an organic farmer and sometimes talk shit about McDonalds, possibly online. Was she ashamed?

Now, here she is in her work uniform saying “Just got off work n home from my first day back! Had so much fun!” and her friends—work friends— are all saying “We’re happy to have you back!” and “Yay Darlene!” and there is a name tag on her black polo Darlene and she has rainbow, a daisy, and a button that reads I Heart Port Huron on her visor. She is a person, my mother. She lives and breathes and decorates her hat. It almost surprises me.

“Feels good doesn’t it? Nice bling! heart heart” I tell her. I use two hearts for emphasis. I do not know how to make the hearts colorful. But I am proud. Four heart proud, but I don’t say it. We do not communicate any other way but Facebook. I must text my grandmother now and tell her the good news.

Every now and then my mother will post an image of a casserole dish.  Inside will be chicken enchiladas or a noodle mystery dish. I do not salivate. I do not yearn for my mother’s cooking. But I do feel envious—of the enchiladas themselves. I am always shocked in childish way that she had time to make enchiladas but not time for me? I am thirty one now. It’s time to get a grip. As a child, I likely internalized the intense emotions I felt when noting, for example, that my mother made long, dangling hippie earrings—several different sets of them. Colorful things that took so many hours of focus and dedication. These pretty colorful things had taken so much of her attention. She could focus on one thing—it could happen.

Now I’m the asshole who, about 2 weeks ago, likely when she was interviewing for her old job, posted a sob story about having no mother. Real actual mother meanwhile sitting down to a Pepsi and a cigarette (that is my memory of her but PEOPLE CAN CHANGE so maybe she was drinking a cup of tea) and seeing her hurt daughter yet again going on and on and on about her. She feels ashamed. She wonders if her friends from McDonalds—other mothers, no doubt, some with upset children, some without—will see what I have written and judge her.

She does not deserve that. Nobody does.

Since I posted The Thing That Revealed So Much, I got to thinking: (a) my mother did some things right and maybe I should write about those things more and (b) my hating her for leaving me is so anti-feminist.

I got to thinking:

My mother has a great personality—I mean she’s fun to be around. People agree on that.

My father loved her, and she loved him. And I have the coauthored diary entry to prove it.

My mother is well respected by her coworkers. She should feel good about that.

My mother is super human. That sounds like a super hero—and maybe it is. Maybe she’s just yet to really unveil herself and fly. Maybe I am super human, being her daughter. I know that I am.

My mother has overcome a lot. I mean she’s still here and kickin’.

My mother had a lot of pressure on her as a child. She was raised by a strong Southern woman, my grandmother, who has always asked me to call her by her first name instead of Grandma.

My mother maybe didn’t get the help she needed when she needed it. Instead she got babies. That is super anti-feminist. Women struggle sometimes.

My mother has very pretty eyes.

My mother never really got any help from the men in her life, it seemed.

I am an adult now, and I see clearly the struggles in life. How one moment we can be totally on-point, the other moment, well: Not. Just really fucking not.

I got to thinking:

I am unemployed. Now is the opportunity to learn something from my mother. “I had so much fun!” she said of her first day back at work. I really need that kind of enthusiasm.

I got to thinking:

My mother was sick, in the hospital. That was why she left her job in the first place. Did I send a card? I should have.

I got to thinking:

There is nothing more miserable than being sick, ill, or in pain. Being of healthy-body, I sometimes forget that. I should not. I really, really should not. I have a lot to learn.

I got to thinking:

My mother moved to one of the poorest economy’s in America a few years before the recession. She is a goddess for finding a job there. I should raise my mother to the level of goddess. She deserves it. We all do.

I got to thinking:

I really overdo it sometimes.

I got to thinking:

I made people cry (even men) at my last poetry event when reading about my mother and our relationship. It was really pathetic. And I brought it all upon myself. I vowed to let some of that go. And it did—it kind of up and flew away right there in the room.

I got to thinking:

I am obsessed with my mother, but it is really just an avalanche of repressed wants and desires from childhood (and especially) adolescence. I can viscerally remember pushing these feelings/wants “away” from me, little did I know they stuck around, like a monkey on my back. Like a backpack of feelings I just couldn’t leave anywhere.

I got to thinking:

I am still unloading the backpack, piece by piece. And I am So Sorry Not Sorry for the witnesses.

I got to thinking:

I would seriously like for my parents to know the deep well of love I hold for them both. If something were to happen to either of them tomorrow—well I would wreck myself with the knowledge of those last few things I said to them. And that is just not fair. I want to make this right. I am going to make this right.

I got to thinking:

The intention of my working through these things in writing is to avoid the subtle self-destruction that our mommy/daddy issues can have on us in life. My parents both have these issues. I mean they could both fill books with the things their parents did and did not do. They could do the same thing that I am doing. My intention is to fill books with words and not myself with toxic substances and people and thoughts. There is a reason I do this: I am sitting and writing instead of smoking and fucking.

I got to thinking:

I got to thinking so many things I started writing them down on post it notes and the backs of business cards. I started collecting notebooks, oh about ten years ago, and now have so many, both blank and filled, that I feel slightly disorganized and certainly a little overwhelmed almost all of the time. But I feel rich in words.

I got to thinking:

I started writing this essay at 10:33 and now it’s 11:44 so really one hour of cutting my heart open and letting it bleed is really not so bad. It’s certainly fucking weird that this is “what I do.”

I got to thinking:

There really is a lot of time in this world. And no time at all, it seems. Time to make amends. Time to make change. Time to waste. Time is relative. Are you in a prison or playing volleyball on a sunny beach? If you are in a prison, time will be slow. If you are on a sunny beach, time will be fast.

I got to thinking:

I dreamed I was in prison the other night. Or in jail, or whatever. It was utterly, absolutely the worst feeling ever. I hated it. I had NEVER FELT THAT WAY. I thought I knew but I DID NOT KNOW. I have been in jail before but WITH FRIENDS. I really had no idea: I think most people don’t. It was a sickening feeling. The fact of being guilty, well that is beside the point. It was inhumane. In prison, time is torture.

I got to thinking:

If I could, I would free my mother from this imprisonment and shame. She does not deserve that, nobody does: it is inhumane. I would, in a heartbeat, pass her the key. Out, out, out! I would insist. Do not let me, or anybody else, imprison you. In essence, I forgive you. I’ve just been trying to make sense of it: for me. For wholly selfish reasons. I neglected your feelings along the way, and I am sorry. Not cool.

I got to thinking:

Of an article I read many years ago (I’ll pull it up now for good measure). “Missing Mom” it read “found in Florida, taken into custody.” Wait what? Running away is illegal? Wait, no now, that aint right. A mom can leave. Dads do it all the time. This woman, once “a perfect mom” was considered dead after leaving her family. A runaway mom is a taboo in our culture. My heart swelled for this woman. I could be her. This is a feminist issue. I almost want to applaud my mother now for leaving.

I got to thinking:

My brothers got the best of her. And the worst of her: this human being.

I got to thinking:

I am far too hard on others (my mother, my father, my boyfriend). I need to soften. I vow to soften. Soften or die.

I got to thinking:

How many more hours am I going to spend in self therapy?

I got to thinking:

How many dollars have I spent on traditional therapy? Zero.

I got to thinking:

I can make it all better through my writing. I have that tool. I am not scribbling anymore, tearing the page with the point of my pen like when I was a teenager. These words that I write have meaning. These black lines and curves can heal.

I got to thinking:

There is only now. There is certainly not yesterday. There is a hint of tomorrow, but not a promise.

I got to thinking:

And staring at my mother’s photo. Her smile speaks loudly. Somebody, somewhere took it for granted at some point. First, I suppose, it was the mother who adopted her out. That kind of leaves this deep gash in a person, I believe. Whether folks like to admit that or not: it’s a thing. I think the gash was passed on when somebody possibly took my mother’s mothers smile for granted, too. And her smile spoke so loudly, so that just aint right.

I got to thinking:

We are all equally important. We of different colors and intellects. We of different degrees of guilt and shame. We of different opportunities.

I got to thinking:

The only way to heal is to treat people good now. With the knowledge that people get hurt and the hurt makes things worse and the pain and violence in turn get bigger. Me, as an adult for example, need to watch the things I do and say with children. They are watching. They will blame me, someday, for not being a better example. As I have blamed (I’m erasing that blame now and replacing it with understanding) those who were supposed to be older and wiser than me. We are all learning. We are all on a spectrum.

I got to thinking:

And staring at my mother’s photo again. My little brothers know her. They “get her.” They’ve lived in the shadow of her shame due to me all their lives. Me, her first born. Her perfect daughter. Blech. Even I know she doesn’t think I’m perfect. But close. Because I’m so mysterious. I’m like that out-of-reach lover. I’m like the grass is always greener. I’m like: enough. Enough already. Swipe the slate clean, mom. I step down from the pedestal. If I could say one thing it would be this: I might’ve done the same thing as you. And, I love you. 

I got to thinking:

Have I said enough already?

I got to thinking:

I need to stretch.

I got to thinking:

Of myself. Like we all do. Like we all should.

I got to thinking:

A rainbow for Moonbeam. Hope.

I got to thinking:

Say something that will let her close that door and move on.

I got to thinking:

Say something that will let you close that door and move on.

I got to thinking:

Say something, anything, to make it better.

I got to thinking:

Stop writing and start working.

I got to thinking:

Stop working and start writing.

I got to thinking:

Do whatever it takes to make it work and make it right.

I got to thinking:

Today is a brand new day. Make it even brand newer.

I got to thinking:

Hope. Hope’s just a word that maybe you’ve said and maybe you’ve heard but that’s what you need man and you need it bad. –Bob Dylan, Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie

I got to thinking:

The end.

I got to thinking:

The beginning.

Love is I Don’t Know

Love is you feeling me up under my shirt like you’re a school boy and it’s our second date but really we’re a year in and it’s a Tuesday night or a Monday night and we both have stew breath.

Love is me moving into your house alittle–okaymaybeway–toosoon. Love is me making a scrapbook of photos from your recent cheesy family cruise and pasting concert stubs in there too from the Dave Rawlings Machine and Gillian Welch and that time we saw The Wolf of Wallstreet and pasting in there the notes you’ve left me like “Squash in the oven for lunch” and “Be home around five, love you” and “Had to go to farm real quick, love you.”

Love is you saying I love you even though we both wonder What is Love? and Why can’t it be more like lust? and is he gonna get me off forever and is she gonna turn me on forever and those sad little thoughts like we’re losing red and we’re losing it fast and we’re going on and on, plummeting forward as our sex becomes less and our friendship and caretaking one another grows like a tumor. We think yeah we might have a thing that could last forever–if we live really short lives–and maybe I’m just speaking for myself here but I would maybe take a really short life so I could say yeah we loved each other forever. And it was easy, because then we died.

Next Best Move

They say you
can’t be helped if
you can’t help yourself

So I wet a rag and wipe
the dust from my long
wooden desk

I am alone

I wipe it with
a dry cloth too–
watermarks make
me nervous

I water the jade plant
and consider re-potting it
but the plant only makes it as far
as the foot of the screen door–
a low priority on my
list of things that
“help” my “self”

I pour a hot cup of coffee
but on a warm day it’s
somehow less satisfying

I glare a disgusted look
at my laptop, smeary
fingerprints on its
black hood

“Traitor”, I think..
I know your shtick and
you’re not as glamorous
as you think you are
you’re convoluted
too full, yet empty
will just make my
shoulders hunch over
and my jaw go slack
as I search search search
for spacenuggets of wisdom
and the sun struts across
the sky outside
and the moon prepares to
rise and all the while you’re
sputtering out slacktavism
and maybe a
good song
for me

I won’t waste my hours,
not today, too short
today I need more than
that so I choke you out,
shut you off,
think of how the Internet
has turned Art into a
popularity contest–
a snapping of the fingers
a dusting by with the eyes

Maybe I get sad cause I
never was too good at those
–popularity contests
too self-conscious, too bitter,
too insecure for contrived
showing-offs
not quite so carefree and
pretty as to be popular
But still

Do I try at becoming an
online sensation?
“Rub shoulders” with
the literary stars and musicians?
Start up an Instagram and
filter my life so pretty?
Arnt ya so pretty still?
Remind me.
Arnt ya still eating well?
Show me.
Shit, I aint got
time for that!

I think today I’ll just sit
at my kitchen table and
read the paper
write a book
blue ink and white sheets
you hold in your fingers
scribbles and all
visceral

Discoveries I find in
the quiet quilt of my
own mind
reflecting on the fact
that I am certainly not an image,
not my supposed doings
not my desperation
or just my smile
but feelings
and thoughts
and blood,
so much blood.
I am just white paper
and black or blue words,
and what is more mysterious
than that??

I’ve still got it
I’ve still got it
shit, I’ve still got it

Still bitter

Nobody likes to hear that shit

I believe I am
how I make
people
feel

Whether or not
I am saying
the exact
right
thing

Yeah.

I am responsible for
helping myself

You can’t be helped
if you can’t help
yourself

I am unattached to
your validation
(ahh! refreshing!)

Part II

On my drive to work
I turned down the
radio to say a prayer
it might have sounded
petty but it wasn’t,
it came strait from
my worn and hopeful
heart

“Lord…just be with me
…in general,” I sighed,
defeated

I sit at my kitchen table now
and work at shedding negative
energy from my shoulders to
my hip bones–always popping and distraught
to my bare feet and out through my toes
I sweep it all up from the floor
and I beg for solitude
for even when I am all alone
I sometimes feel crowded,
maybe it’s the internet thing
or the cohabiting thing or
the responsibility thing

Don’t let anyone preach to you,
including me
But ask yourself, what makes
you angry?
Now throw something at it.
Trash things you once thought
valuable
Hang onto things but
do not crowd them
If you smile too much, frown
you’re faking it
If you frown too much
take vitamin D and
think like Buddha

Don’t worry about stories
that go from a to b to c
Read a book that’s so good
you almost don’t get it
but don’ t think too hard
and you will get it
Make lists.
Make a meal for someone
then ask them to leave you
the shit alone
Instead of napping,
sleepwalk through your
house pondering your
father
your brothers
your boyfriend
your friends
and what they
really mean to you

Burn old bad poems
you wrote
smile at the flames
hands clasped in your
lap, eyes closed
release your short comings
and accept yourself

Don’t let anyone preach
to you
Including me
but turn off your computer
and do something awesome
Don’t tell anyone about it,
just make yourself proud

Mind Fuck

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.