I have the ideal life
please don’t mess with it
the bow is straight
the self centered
after years, decades,
almost a lifetime of
uncertainty and whim,
certainly the train is rolling now,
the one I’ve been engineering for
some time, piece-by-piece, move-by-move,
lesson-by-lesson, man-by-man, through peaks
and valleys I Am Here now
Course I fear car accidents
and fire and, worse than that,
untapped demons and fury
but then again maybe things can be OK,
the one where children
get driven to their bus stops
warm in their mittens
lunches in their bags smiles on their faces (!!)
This love, no longer longing but
This home, no longer empty but
This body, no longer just mine but
part of something bigger,
him or her?
October or September?
Can you love her enough
to not fuck it up?
This ideal life,
I command you to stay
the opposite of
a blessing, a gift
Mother wasn’t there
when I bled in the JR high bathroom
I looked at the gray stall wall for reassurance
I found none
Mother wasn’t there
Mother wasn’t there
when I needed feeding
in the beginning, in the middle, nor in the end
Mother wasn’t there
Mother wasn’t there
when I was felt up under my red primary school dress
Mother wasn’t there so it happened again
and again and again
As it will happen, inevitably,
when a Mother isn’t there
Mother wasn’t there
when I cut my own hair
Mother wasn’t there so
“cut it like Dads” I told the barber,
uncertain of my role in the world,
girl of boy or boy of boy
cause Mother wasn’t there
Mother wasn’t there
but when she was there she covered me
in slobbery, 9-years-over-due kisses
They smelt like smoker’s saliva and
how I hated them and how she always
showed up just under one decade
At 30, that makes it three times mother showed up,
only the third time it didn’t happen
Mother wasn’t there
Mother isn’t there
I regret that someone I so despise personally
can leave a love wound this big within me
like a boy who never, ever deserved it
only not, because this is like the Grand Canyon,
(if I am being honest)
and the boys just leave a rivet in the sand
some laughable could-have-been
I regret the biological yearn for mother, father, whole
I regret, I regret, when Mother wasn’t there
I capitalize her name, the sick parts the sad parts,
she imparted to me insatiable love and passion
and now I can’t get no satisfaction
I am free child, free woman, wild baby, always have been
I built a shelter in my heart, for refuge from the wind
I learned to withstand life’s letdowns on a whim
I laugh in the face of pain, but I still fear it so
Mother wasn’t there when learning
all there is to know
Proof of what a procrastinator I am. Or not. Notice how the bar graph spikes once I learn that can rewrite 10,000 words in a day, instead of just 1-2,000. Plus, pressure. Plus, full days off. Plus, momentum and flow. Plus, I didn’t think I’d be saying it, but I did it!
Sure. Writing a book is hard. Writing a book is hard whether it’s over the course of 2 and a half years or the course of one month. Over the course of a lifetime or a weekend. What’s difficult about it isn’t the number of words. I’d bet there could be a compelling masterpiece that was only 50 pages long. What’s truly difficult about it is the emotional terrain one covers.
I suppose I can only speak for memoirists in these regards; only no, I am certain writing horror stories is draining in it’s own way. All the closing of the blinds, the paranoia, the bumps in the night. When you are writing you are in that place–you are in childhood or jail or both.
As you can see I barely reached my goal today. I ended at 50, 817 words but three days ago I was way down at 27,000. I cannot explain it but: magic. And those other things I mentioned above and the fact that, yeah, I’m not a quitter. I am not bragging but when things matter to me, they matter to me. If they matter enough to me they will happen. Years ago, I am unsure if I would have accomplished this. Not out of lack of talent or drive but out of FEAR. This time, FEAR almost stopped me dead in my tracks too. Save the fact that I have learned that FEAR has a bigger bark than bite. Little by little, bit by bit, bird by bird–that’s how I navigated the first 28 days of NaNoWriMo. Then I panicked, was provided the luxury of two days off of work, and busted the shit out.
It may sound difficult but I basically kicked it into high gear seeing that I wasn’t going to make my deadline on time at the rate that I was going.
Wanting to be a WINNER I rolled up my sleeves and dug in deeper. This determination, paired with the grace of my story loosening its grip on my heart (the material was highly emotional in the first part of my memoir, then lessened as I got closer to my 50,000 word goal) gave me the boost I needed to reach my goal today.
Fact: my memoir is a lot longer than 50,000 words, so my work is not over.
Fact: because of NaNoWriMo, I have a kick-ass third draft of my memoir (well, almost).
Now that #metoo happened and Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey are going down. And that one comedian is going down too, and even he admits it…I mean, where to start?
9/10 women I know have been assaulted. 1/10 men I know, at least. When I worked in the social field I was required to report whenever an individual brought up a case of sexual abuse, and I did, only to be told on one occasion, “Oh yeah, she always says that but she’s lying.”
Is she? I mean why would she lie about something like that? The girl was so psychologically traumatized by the event she couldn’t escape it. She punched mirrors, and then was reprimanded for it. She spent hours in the bathroom crying. “She’s just trying to get attention,” my superiors told me.
Well for fuck’s sake, let’s give it to her.
What I didn’t say was: I punched mirrors too.
What I didn’t say was: you keep crying. You let it all out. It’s totally, 100% okay to be sad, and angry. It’s normal and healthy to feel that way and I’m glad your dealing with it. Oh yeah, and, FUCCCK HIMMM.
Regardless, the girl was hard to get through to. But I believed her. Why the hell not? What is the goddamn harm? Something’s hurting her, it’s clear. What really angered me was the way the counselors shut her down–no matter what did or didn’t happen. You don’t do that. YOU don’t KNOW that.
Uma Thurman, just this morning, was quoted on NPR. Angry, she said.
She had always been afraid of revealing her anger and rage toward men. Those were her primary emotions.
Uma Thurman, coincidentally, is the actress who stars in Kill Bill and assumes revenge on a team of assassins, wielding a sword.
I have three essays on the topic that NPR is keeping, gracefully and rightfully, in the forefront. One essay I submitted two or three months ago, before #metoo, but it was declined. “Too short,” the editor told me. “It felt like it needed more of an ending,” she said.
I have read enough stories about publishing to know by now that I could potentially resubmit the same essay, new ending or not, and it would be more likely to be published. Timing. It’s half, or more, about the timing.
But I was smoking in the essay and I’m not smoking now so if I use that essay I would have to make that clear (take it out) and if I were already doing that, well I might as well change the ending.
But boy was I angry in that story.
Another story is called Stench. I wrote it in an attempt to just State The Facts and not skirt around the issue like I do in my poetry and in a good portion of my other writings. Sadly, the essay is far too revealing for my tastes.
I’d only publish it if someone paid me for it. Not much. Candy even.
In the final essay I braid one of my experiences with the experience of a girlfriend who was assaulted while travelling abroad and staying in a hostel. I also want to add to the story of another friend of mine who was flat out assaulted when some “friends” of hers drove around the block again and again refusing to drop her off until she performed a sexual act on one of them.
These were stories mentioned to me in passing. Nobody called me up and said “You’re not going to believe what happened to me!” No. Ha. That’s not the kind of world we live in. These stories are commonplace. Not that they should be. They are eventually told over tea and whispered in coffee shops and are rarely mentioned when men are in the house.
And they are just these sad little stories that took us women farther and farther from our bodies in a world where these very bodies are used against us in nearly every mainstream advertisement. “He won’t want to abuse you if you don’t look like this,” the world seems to tell us. Not fair. Not fair all around.
And they are not just sad little stories.
No, they are LARGE and ANGERED stories. Sword wielding stories, if we were to act like like barbaric men in the matter. But we only do that while playing dress-up and acting. Because for the lot of history, we women have been civil.
And they are not just sad little stories just like Weinstein and Trump (!!) are not just dirty old men.
That’s what I was always told growing up: “Oh he’s just a dirty old man.”
I think we can all agree, it’s time to take “just” out of the sentence.
We woke on a Monday to news of our nation’s
largest mass shooting in recent history
The numbers towering that of Pulse nightclub
and that one kindergarten class.
You know the one.
Blood on children’s books. Teachers diving to
save lives. Sick, twisted, white. He fell between the
cracks and rose up, armed and angry.
It took multiple people
and all of their fingers
and all of their toes
to measure the fatalities.
It took the fluid communication of
dozens of doctors and nurses,
from their sleep
to confirm the heads
of the dead–all innocent people.
All reaching for enlightenment
in the way of music and rhythm
and bright lights in rocking and rolling
Las Vegas, Nevada.
Crimson blood on bouncing curls.
Women’s fancy hair-do’s, upright.
Women’s country-strong bodies, horizontal.
Else running, confused, mind-churning.
Women and children, elders and men,
dancing, swaying, shielding, ducking.
Mouths open in terror
Eyes going in all directions
The realization of the
of those you love.
I love you’s.
I don’t understand’s.
I do cherish you’s.
I’m thankful I was spared’s.
Trauma. Blood. Boots.
A glittering TRUMP emblazoned
in the background.
A name synonymous with
dollar signs. And one million
other things by this point,
depending precisely on who you ask.
In other news: a rock star died.
In my opinion: it matters little compared
with the loss of 59 lives, 500 wounded.
October 1, 17
The day 59 rock stars perished
before they really had the chance
First, she started peeing on the mat outside the litter box. Next, on my boyfriend’s pillow. Then she stopped sleeping in the bed with me. For three months or so, she “yowled” at night. Then, shortly after we got a puppy, she stopped doing that. We thought she was improving–but maybe she just didn’t have it in her to yowl anymore.
Fast forward to today. At 8 a.m., I drove to the new veterinary clinic in town, health record of Minnie the Mooch, DOB 2000, Breed Siamese, Sex F, Markings Blue Eyes, tucked into my purse; Minnie in her carrier–blue eyes glazing over, orifices excreting foul odor and liquids. Before we left the house, I told her “this is your home, baby girl, we love you so much. We love you so, so much.”
A beam of light was gathering on the hardwood floor, possibly her favorite thing ever, so I put the carrier there, opened it up, she lifted her face to the sun, and I cried. She looked at me concerned, not for her but for me. Because she was like that. Because that’s exactly what she was like.
At the vet, after we (the vet, Katie, and I) decided that euthanization was the appropriate route to take, I tried to give her a treat I had brought, a greenie, but she wouldn’t take it. That affirmed how bad it had gotten. Just one week ago, I’d say “treat” and Minnie and the puppy would both come sit and receive their treat. Minnie got two treats, because I knew she was dying.
I set the greenie aside and rubbed behind her ears. I noticed all the blinds were closed in the clinic and I opened them up, the room was facing the east and sunlight filled the crematorium. Minnie lifted her head once again. She purred, if lightly.
“I love you Minnie, I love you Princess.”
By now, I was waiting on the form to sign which authorized Katie to euthanize my cat.
Katie came in.
Minnie and I had spent the last hour together, so I felt that it was time. Plus, she was suffering–which was the whole point of the euthanization. Another gal, Jill, arrived too, to help hold her down.
“You don’t have to witness this if you don’t want to,” Katie told me.
“No, no. I want to be here. I want to give her lovin’.”
Katie and Jill nodded.
I stood in front of Minnie, got down at eye-level.
“I love you so much. I love you so so much.”
I’d tried giving her one more greenie a few minutes earlier, while we were waiting, and she’d eaten it. I didn’t manage to get the steamed milk from the pull-up coffee shop. Now that we were here, I just wanted it to be done with. Minnie had been shivering all morning, which was unlike her. It was eighty degrees out. Her body ran a gamut of issues, none of which I could afford to treat, if I am being honest.
One hundred and sixteen dollars later, I was escorted out a side door. Jill carried Minnie’s body in a white cardboard box. White boxes are reserved for animals with the purest of souls, I imagined.
In the summer of 1993 I was eight years old.
Our second favorite thing to do (second to swimming in the Smith River) was going to the Drive-In movies. Our second cousins ran the Drive-In, but we still popped our own popcorn, storing it in brown paper grocery sacks. Dad would buy us cokes and Red Vines when we got there. A lot of the time, he’d take as many kids as could fit in the camper of our pick-up truck. I was an only child, but the neighborhood kids, some of whom had 5 or 6 brothers and sisters, adopted me as a sibling and my Dad as a fill-in Dad. We never knew when we were going to the Drive-In and we rarely knew what was playing, but it didn’t matter. As soon as Dad said “Drive-In” we’d all be putting our long pants on, begging for popcorn, and gathering as many neighborhood kids as we could find.
One evening, I’d been helping the Philpott’s get their Drive-In supplies together–blankets, pillows, ninja-turtles. Sleeping bags were a thing and every kid owned one. I’d hoisted a sleeping bag up over my shoulder, like I’d seen my dad do with hay bales and bags of dog food. We needed to be at the Drive-In by dark, and the sun was already escaping behind the mountains.
I walked through the Philpott’s sliding glass door, perpetually dirty with handprints of boys; I couldn’t see as the sleeping bag was smothering my head. I just needed to make it down the few short steps off of the porch and into the bed of the truck.
Something crunched beneath my foot. I lifted my heel, I lifted the soft, but heavy, sleeping bag, craned my neck, and peeked behind me.
Beneath my heel lay an orange tabby kitten, writhing with pain.
The Philpott’s Mom was upon me immediately, not angry, just concerned.
“Go get your dad. Go get your dad. Go get your dad,” she told me.
The cat convulsed, its head seemed to be glued to the porch, while its small, bony body tried to get away but couldn’t.
I am standing behind the trunk of a tree. My fingers are in my mouth–a nervous gesture–and I am horrified. The kitten is on a tree stump used as a chopping block, and my father is raising an ax to the sky. It’s been so little time since I stepped on the kitten that it isn’t even dark yet. I do not remember now if I “got my Dad” like Francine had asked me, or if somebody else did. One of the boys probably beat me to it, because that’s what boys are good for. They come in handy in times like this.
My first love was a kitten named after our property manager, Kitty Rose. My father brought her home not long after my mother left. To fill the void.
Dad taught me how to hold the cat, by cradling her bottom, not by holding her under her armpits. He told me that cats don’t like to be petted when they’re eating. We kept her food and water by the garage door. This was when we still lived in town, before we moved to the mountains.
By the time we moved up-the-hill, Kitty Rose was my confidant. Kitty Rose is my best friend, I wrote in my dairy. Kitty Rose was also full grown and not spayed. It wasn’t long before she became pregnant.
“Your cats a slut,” one of my older, more in-the-know friends told me. “I saw her over at our house, and then I saw her at the neighbors house across the street.”
“No she’s not,” I defended her.
But from then on I kind of thought that she was. Kitty Rose was very pretty, with her full white collar and striped fur, and with the limited knowledge that I possessed, well I thought slut and pretty were synonymous. Or at least closely related.
I tried to push it out of my mind when, after Kitty Rose prematurely gave birth to a litter of kittens behind the tool shed, Dad told me he thought she’d eaten a couple of them.
Did not, did not, I told myself. I stored it with the very few things down in the basement of my mind which I just could not, would not accept about the world. I moved on. I kept my cat calendar fixed to the month with the cat that looked just like Kitty Rose. It was my birthday month, and the kitten sat in a pumpkin patch.
At least one of Kitty Rose’s kittens survived. Dad named him “Junior Rose”. I was kind of peeved that Dad named the cat without me, but I had to give it to him–he always picked good names. Junior Rose had identical markings as Kitty Rose, but he was short-haired. He wasn’t nearly as sweet. He was a “wild cat,” Dad said, and he only came around to eat and when he did he wouldn’t let you pet him, just scampered off into the trees.
I tried not to think too hard on why Kitty Rose didn’t run around with him or lick him or care for him. He was still young, though pretty big. Everyday Junior Rose got stronger and more independent until eventually we rarely saw him at all. Hardened as he was, physically and emotionally, we didn’t even think to bring him when we moved back to town. Junior Rose was his own thing. His mother’s abandonment had made sure of that. Though I truly believe she’d done her best. It was a narrative I knew well.
The family was splitting up. Dad was going one way and I was going another. We weren’t sure who to blame it on but I blamed the pastor of his new church. I toilet papered the pastor’s house in protest. In retrospect, the pastor actually had a whole lot to do with it. “Let her find her own way,” the pastor had said. I was just fourteen years old. So my dad left town.
Kitty Rose was stuck in the middle. I was a teenager, and she was no longer my best friend. My boyfriend was, because I was stupid. Stupid in that young kind of way. Not surprisingly, my boyfriend had no interest in hanging out with my cat, who lived at my Aunt Julie’s house–a neutral location. Someone will come for her, Dad and I decided, when things get sorted out.
Things did not get sorted out. In my absence, Kitty Rose wandered off into the woods behind the house and never returned again.
I guess I figured Minnie would do the same. Abandon me for a better life. Retire. Expire. You hear of people who say their cat slept under the porch or in the closet for a few days and then just died. In their sleep or while you were at work. Nice and easy. No ax.
I assumed that would be me. I was wrong. Never assume, how could I forget? It’s one of my favorite tenets.
Things got busy. She got worse. She is still eating and drinking, I kept saying. But then I noticed her food dish remaining fuller and fuller. Her water dish too. She stopped coming in to eat as much. She stopped coming in at all. She slept outside for 2 nights, but she didn’t die. She didn’t whimper either. Very quiet. Very still.
“I don’t know how to do this,” crept into my mind but I quickly stowed it down in the basement. I put my work boots on, kissed Minnie’s head, said she’ll either be fine or she’ll die when I’m gone. Nice and easy.
Bad got to worse in a matter of a weekend. By the time I recognized her agony, it was too late. It was then I realized, being the fighter that she is, she wasn’t going anywhere easy.
“Baby girl,” I told her, “I love you so much. I love you so so much.”
More than words, I touched her. I petted her like I haven’t done in years. Maybe like that time she licked my tears away and I felt like I had a soul-companion. I held her close and stroked her, amazed.
Minnie, do you remember when you first came to my house? You were so curious, round, and loving.
And then there was when we lived on the outskirts of town, near where you lived with your family before me. You knew all the streets still, and you’d go and visit the neighbors. “Minnie! Minnie!” I would call and you’d come galloping down the road like a dog, the bell around your neck ringing, signaling your return. You were in your prime then.
Next we moved to Oregon. It was the biggest move of our life together, a huge shift for me. We whittled our belongings down to fit in one 2-door sports car–and we traveled for one month in California. Every house we stayed at, you were The Nice Cat. You didn’t pick fights, you located the litter box, and when we stayed in hotels you peed in the bathtub drains.
In the redwoods you stalked a snake, but I picked you up before you could pounce.
When we got to the ocean, I took you out to the sand. You didn’t love it, but I did. We didn’t stay long.
Everywhere you went you were loved. Everywhere you went you were love. You. Were. Love.
Minnie the Mooch
Markings Blue Eyes
My last love.
It hurts, it hurts. I want to tell someone.
It hurts, it hurts. She wanted to tell me.
Does anyone feel that the sky is falling? Some parts of the world are burning, other parts of the world are drowning. We are all turning to steam. A cat dies, a baby is born. You make a buck, you spend a buck. You get it together, you fall apart. You anchor to hope. “Hope’s just a word that maybe you said and maybe you heard, but that’s what you need man and you need it bad.” You quote Bob Dylan. You call a friend. You make something new when destruction surrounds you. You bury a pet and try to unearth her essence.
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.