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.
Why the shampoos
with promising poems “You’ve really got it now”
“Not your mommas hair-do”
“Beautiful, luscious, supremely clean” Why all the claims and things
in the ads we see
I know some who
can take it
or leave it—
and why I ever accept it,
I don’t know
I was beaten with it
as a girl
see: media and magazines
images of youthful
(concealing whatever doesn’t fit
with the current trend)
see: glowing women or matte
depending on the season
submissive yet dominant
bronzed and flirtatious
You hear confidence is
everything but I don’t believe
that to be true
(I pride humility)
I cannot blame myself
here, and neither should you
Some days I am bland
Some days I am sexy
Some days I’m just decent
but all these days
I am taken with
What I Should Be
My eyes aren’t large enough
My hair won’t lay strait
My clothes just don’t look
that good on my back
Not nearly as good
as they looked strung
up on the rack
I contort myself
with belts and jeans
I pinch, prod and shave
I bend over backwards
trying to achieve
a standard that someone
somehow made me believe
I didn’t feel
today, it’s true.
I wanted to grab every
woman and ask
“Do you feel this way too??”
I wanted to know
that deep down we
are all just the same
and that on the outside
none of us are ever
what they claim
on the backs of the
bottles of $16 gunk
those are just words and wishes
amounting to junk
intended to make a buck
The daisies are browning
Soon they’ll be dead from here
to the coast and summer will close.
Golden were the trees lining
the country roads today
I drove hundreds of miles
’round bends and over creeks
and never the way they told me
was the quickest. I took a wrong turn
and it lead to the heavens
I found my way back down again.
I took both hands off the wheel and
stuck them high over my head when
my car and the road were good and
steady. I sang Somewhere Over the
Rainbow with Tori Amos and I thought
of death and I thought of you.
I feel it my duty to portrait this new beginning in my life. For me, new beginnings tend to be commonplace. Just today, while driving the 30-minutes it now takes to get home from work, I resonated with the song Run, Baby, Run by Sheryl Crow. I often press the reset button on my life–choosing new jobs, towns, and boyfriends. As well as new hobbies and even friends. My constants are family, close, dear friends, and the west coast. In the past year I have embraced single hood, a new position at work, a pet freshwater snail, personal refection and self-help (that’s when the therapist didn’t work out), writing connections and discipline (huge, and still need a lot of work in this area), as well as a new living space, on a lake, in the woods. So, actually I don’t think of it so much as running away, but rather chasing a dream. Sometimes Always, when you are chasing a dream, something gets sacrificed along the way. Leaving my boyfriend was a sacrifice. But I have more self work to do. There wasn’t room for him. Sometimes, I think, to find sustainable happiness, or Joy if you will, a person must isolate, and face their mind, and quiet the many distractions of the world.
I fully understand that in one year or four months or, helk, maybe even four weeks I may come to realize that true joy is found in community. That my true path to bliss might have been better accomplished by letting love in. By allowing my, very loving, boyfriend to dote on me and secure me into his loving, healthy family. But my intuition tells me not. My intuition tells me I hold the key.
I told my most cherished co-worker one day, I said, “Mark my words, in six-months I’ll be living out in the country.” I was fed up. I needed a change. I’ve always regarded Nature as my mother. Living in town was just not working. Six weeks later I am sitting by Lake Moonglade, pointing out the reflection of the north star on the water to my new neighbor (and I suspect, friend) Ember, who lives down the creek and through the trees, just barely out of view in her quaint but charming, fifth-wheel trailer. As we sit on boulders by the lake at dusk we watch the north star in all her glory bathing in the sunset. We talk about the joys of solitude, the pains of relationships, we talk about addiction and revelation, politics, children, gardening, simple living, and nature, and for twenty minutes the north star remains lonesome in the sky, having arrived early to work, so-to-speak, like I like to do, to simply enjoy fifteen more minutes of solitude and clarity before the colorful energy of other people crash into me like a wave. And to ring in a new beginning with special blessings, perhaps.
Ember describes to me a trail she built down the gravel lane and up a brook, toward the south hills. She says she loves exploring, which I already knew as I’ve seen her walking the many paths that traverse our land, a rehabilitated logging site known as Star Camp. When she says she’s afraid of mountain lion, I suggest the old “mask trick”, something I’ve never actually tried (maybe I will here) where you wear a Halloween mask backwards to prevent a mountain lion from stalking you. Ember’s face lights up at the suggestion. I realize I’ve met a woman perhaps as passionate, curious, and strange as I am. We sit in silence for a few moments, staring out at Lake Moonglade. Three bats dance over the surface of the water, eating mosquito. A couple of birds (species I do not know yet) finish their supper (of bugs as well) and head back to their tree nests for the night. The multiple species of dragonfly have tuckered out for the night, but in the day they are abundant, showering the land with luck. Behind me a chipmunk scurries across the path, Ember points to it, then upon closer inspection corrects herself–it’s a field mouse, not a chipmunk. A frog hops into the lake. A band of bull frogs make deep, bass-like sounds from the edges of the lake. Discovering that neither of us like snakes, Ember shows me the rocky places where the big ones like to hang out in the day. Thank you, I tell her sincerely.
As the sun all but vanishes and the ombre sky lights up with stars, my new neighbor and I both daydream of picnics together in the grass, or tromping halfway to Walton on the many trails that intersect the hills and logging roads, machete’s in hand–all the while being secretly thankful that there’s enough room on this land for the both of us.
you say we
get out of here?
Let’s take this
run with it
We’ll go beyond
the city limits,
as far west and
north as we can go
idyllic place, that feeling
other in the sand,
Swim the first
swim of summer
in a warm creek
by the beach
as the sun
winks the day
We will dine
a salty kiss
on the street
first glance, but
past life lovers
We all remember
the running and playing
how we cursed darkness
and dinner bells,
tumbling in at
before the sky winks the
catching your breath
closed cabin door
Johnny, an unassuming boy
hollering have a good night! hands-sapped,
We all remember
our hair stuck
to our foreheads
or long streams of sweat
dripping down, traveling the
length of our nose,
We remember our
parents saying I wish I could bottle
that energy and sell it! before ashing in their
Five years later my dad and I find ourselves in the Siskiyou wilderness on a mini backpacking trip with a man named Rick who claimed to be our cousin (boy I hoped not) and his girlfriend whom I cannot recall the name of now, our goat Sugar, my first or second or third period, but I still didn’t know what the hell was going on, some beans, saltines, swimsuits and for the couple–a cardboard jar of rolling tobacco, which Sugar later ate, which didn’t end up well for anyone as you can imagine.
We were oh, two miles down the trail and six miles from where we were going. We each have our backpacks and my dad has a sauce pan tied to his. Sugar has a rope leash but its dragging on the ground cause he stays with us anyway.
I’m on my period so I’m not talking just sad just teenage just in between whimsical-childhood and dependent-on-everything-adulthood. There wasn’t too much of an in between for me (childhoodadulthood) but if there was–this was it. I still looked to my father for entertainment. I was at the age just before I would be stealing cigarettes from Rick and whatsherface. I’d tried cigarettes but not enough that I owned them yet. You know what I mean. That smallnarrowstage.
We were walking along over a strawberry-blond single-track trail of serpentine soil and I’m admiring the irises because its summer time again and I think I hear the creek and I hope it’s the creek and I’m so bloated and I’m going to secretly wash my crotch and thighs in the creek in a corner under a fallen log or behind a boulder. I’m going to go underwater and open my eyes cause that’s my favorite thing to do and oh I’m going to be clean and fresh.
I see my Dad smack himself in the face. Now granted my dad sometimes did funny things–smacking himself on the face wasn’t exactly one of them. Whack. He did it again.
“Bees!!!” He yells from the front of the line.
I too feel a small flying creature swoosh past my face, my ear, and we all start runnin’.
Run run run down the trail–the goat too.
Run run run until we finally outrun the bees and the two smokers are red in the face and panting.
Just as we stopped however Sugar leapt about a foot into the air on all fours–spooked by something just like a human would be–wide goat eyes and then we heard it: the steady movement of a rattle tail.
Run!!! Someone yells and we all start runnin’ again, Sugar in the lead.
Around a bend or two and we’re sure we’ve outrun the bees and the snake and we stumble into a large opening in the forest and see about four naked hippies sitting around a fire.
Bees, rattlers and now this?
My dad perks up as he naturally does with new people, especially hippies, and he gives them his warm smile which gets us an invite into the hippie circle.
We all sit down to catch our breath and I bleed my period blood onto a makeshift leaf pad in my shorts, having outrun a hundred bees and a rattlesnake but not my womanhood.
I’ve seen long fat ones and I’ve seen little ones.
Me and Jessica Philpott on the absolute hottest day of the summer–it feels like that in my memory anyway–a not-a-cloud-in-the-sky Rock Creek day. A boulders-are-so-hot-you-actually-need-shoes kind of day.
Jessica and me sitting in my dad’s little red Sprint–one of our early, decent cars–listening to Great White or Mike and the Mechanics or Tom Petty. I won’t back down. I stand my ground. Jessica said you should ask your dad if you can spend the night. (Despite my dad being an unconventional parent, he still always, up until my last day with him and Lisa on A street, insisted that I ask permission and that he knows where I am and who I’m with). I sang Okay and leapt out of the passenger’s seat (Jessica was the kind of friend who would get the front seat in my daddy’s car).
To paint a picture–the Sprint was parked in the dirt yard right in front of our cabin nearly in the garden. It wasn’t always parked there, and I don’t know what it was doing there on that day, maybe we’d been unloading seaweed from the trunk and dumping it in the garden like we sometimes did.
Anyways, so I jumped out of the car and with Jessica still in the passenger’s seat ran/skip/hopped onto the front porch which was raised up about four inches from the ground and as soon as my leading foot, my right foot landed I heard a thick rattle. I’d heard enough warnings in my life to know what it was and it was true boy howdy when I looked down right there under the porch was a fat silver rattler.
“Daddd!!” I hollered through the open cabin door, “Rattler!!”
I don’t know if my left foot even made it to the porch cause as soon as I saw that snake it was leading the way right back to that little red Sprint.
Snake! Rattler! I yelled to Jessica. Quick, on top of the car!
Sitting on the hood of the little red Sprint I said “Ohh noo I hope my dad doesn’t come out the front door!”
But my pa was quicker than that. He’d somehow detected sincerity in my voice as I’d hollered despite the many times I’d played jokes and cried wolf.
He leapt out the window of the cabin into the goose coop and hollered to us that he was going to get Fabian’s gun.
Jess and I looked at each other with horror, we hadn’t intended to get anything killed.
My dad returned with Fabian and his gun and more of the neighborhood of course.
My dad didn’t kill things. And if anyone was gonna kill anything with Fabian’s gun it was going to be Fabian. Of course.
The boys–John and Butch were so excited they were jumping up and down. Jess and I remained in our front row seats on the hood of the car.
The boys and men slowly approached the rattler under the porch.
I made a secret plea that the snake had found itself elsewhere.
The loud ramble of its rattler as the boys and men tip-toed near it told me it hadn’t.
Without a countdown or a warning Fabian fired his rifle and got the fat boy on his first shot.
Then he took the ol’ boy home and the William’s ate him for dinner.
This piece I wrote in Lidia Yuknavitch’s writer’s workshop. The prompt was: write about the “peak” of an event, from someoneelse’s perspective. The narrator in this piece is my aunt Dorothy, the year was 1970, and if you don’t know by now–Robby is my father and a major character in my memoir.
“Where’s Robby?” I heard mom’s voice. She turned around and looked directly at me.
Her drunken gaze was unusually fixed, “Where’s Robby?”
I couldn’t respond before she said it again, “Where’s Robby?”
I looked out at the water and there was just a woman and a toddler sitting in the shallow water on the shore, a scuba diver gearing up and an older man in a bucket hat rowing a boat. The last I’d seen Robby he was swimming over by the big rock pile people liked to jump off of. But he wasn’t there anymore.
“I dunno where he is!” I told her, annoyed. She acted like I was the goddamn second mom. I was the oldest but I was only fourteen. If she thought I was gonna go looking for Robby she was wrong. She was the mom and she needed to remember it.
Mom started panicking and walking up and down the riverbank. She was asking other families if they’d seen her little boy, he was wearing a mask, she told them.
“Was he wearing a snorkel?”
“No, we haven’t seen him. Not since earlier, not since lunch.”
Fifteen minutes went by. Fifteen minutes.
I watched mom look. She searched the parking lot. Robby wasn’t a parking lot kind of boy. She scanned the bushes, the tree trunks, the fields, she scanned the opposite side of the river—the wild side. No Robby. I started to get a sicky feeling in my stomach. Marie didn’t know what was going on. Robby’d gone missing before, but this just felt different, ya know? Mom felt it too. She was yelling Robby, Robby! I started yelling too. Robbbbbbyyyyyy! Mom approached the scuba diver who was a few feet from the shore. She waved her arms and he wattled over on his flippers through the shallow green water. “Can you look for my son? In the water?” She asked him.
Ten minutes went by. Ten minutes. I saw the flick of a blue flipper make a splash on the calm surface of the water and then I saw the scuba diver’s head followed by my brother Robby’s head in front of him. He was carrying my brother Robby and he’d brought him up from way down in the water. Robby’s head was limp at the neck and there was a mask around his head still, it looked like it was weighing him down. It was my daddy’s mask. The first thing I thought was: Robby’s dead.