Other Stuff

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Cheap Thrills

Maybe it's nostalgia,
but all the locker room talk
takes her back, way back
to junior high
and getting goosed
by a boy with a lisp
as her locker door swung open,
science book dropped on her toe.
No one saw the locker shocker
(thumbs up their asses!)
still she felt ashamed
as she knelt to the floor,
tail tucked and wary
to pick up the book,
her reflection in the waxed concrete
the only witness.

Her friend knows about
locker room talk, too.
She heard it in a cheap hotel after party
at 0200 hours
when a traveling soldier told her
how many ways he could kill a man,
or anyone, really.
"Tranquila, bonita,"
He laughed then,
using the words she taught him against her.
Fight or flight or fuck or die.
She made herself want to then,
folding like a paper swan
and pretended later the bruises were on purpose.

There's a lady whose mom knew it on sight.
She said,
(Get this!)
She said, "Boys will be boys,"
when her brother locker room talked her ear off one night.
She's fine now,
it was just talk, after all,
and talk is cheap,
cheaper than dirt,
cheaper than the razor she bought to erase the talk,
and the therapist she lived to tell about it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Going Home

If I went back, where would I start? How do you begin to unpack what you remember when memory is fleeting and untrustworthy? Is there value in the unpacking? Relief? Will I find answers in old photographs, journal entries, public record, in a trip to the courthouse, this time for research and not to ask my dad’s parole officer if he can get a day pass for my wedding? I want to go home, but I don’t know how. I don’t know if I’ll recognize it when I see it.

A lot of going home starts where you started. We go back to the time just before we were born. We think about our parents finding out about us. We wonder if they were happy, scared, inconvenienced.  We start with our parents because that’s where we start, but they never existed in a vacuum. Everything they are is etched into their blue print, some ancient, some ever-changing, all unique. They break off little pieces of themselves then, and use those pieces to bring us partial and haphazard beings into shared experience. Is that moment of creation home? When we leave the sanctuary of the womb we scream and reject the harsh, cold world. It is messy work, being born. It is the first act of violence visited upon us by our new environment. Is that sacred place home?

If I went back, I could start anywhere. Any of those places, tiny specks on a universal map, would find me home again. I ache for my home, my brethren. I want to know why I am me. What makes me me? Would my old grandmothers and aunts and sisters be proud of how I’ve used my heritage? Would they remember their dreams of legacy and be honored by the thin twine bridge I’m building to them? I want to show them I’m here, that I care about where I come from and who sent me. More than anything, I want someplace to belong.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Everyone I know

[TW: Rape, Suicide, Cancer]

Everyone I know has a story. We remember our first times, unless we are lucky enough to forget. Most of my friends have been sexually assaulted. They’ve been groped on subways, buses and trains. They’ve been verbally assaulted from passing cars. Shirtless men painting houses stop to stare as they walk by, the early morning sunlight the only witness to the ogling. Most of us report the first instances of street harassment by puberty, some even earlier. We’ve been forced, coerced, manipulated into "sex" with a person we didn’t want. Sometimes we think rape means a dark alley and a guy with a weapon grabbing us by our pony tails and pulling down our elastic-waisted running shorts, the only evidence a bleeding cut on our foreheads from the rough brick wall of the building he used as leverage while he violated us. Or we think rape happens in dirty bar restrooms when a silly woman drinks too much and maybe craves her father’s approval too much. It’s not really rape if she’s drunk, we say. She sent the wrong message with that crop top and those fishnet pantyhose. She’s dressed like someone who wants to fuck, right?

Most of my friends weren’t raped by strangers but friends, husbands of friends, uncles. Most of friends who have been raped didn’t know they were raped at first. When it was happening they said no, maybe not with enough force, maybe they were scared of what else the rapist would do. They made themselves small and went away when they realized they were having “sex” that moment whether they wanted to or not. Afterward, after the overpowering, the shushing, the “be a good girl” demands they came back to their bodies and hated them. Their filthy, worthless unlovable bodies became ghosts. They told themselves they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They said they shouldn’t have flirted or had those vodka shots or worn those pajama pants with donuts on them. He had no choice, they said, men can’t control their urges, they reasoned. So they swallowed their shame and guilt and stuffed it down the deepest hole they could find to forget what happened. Sometimes they might remember a moment, a color, a sound from the event. It hurts and they do whatever they can to stop the pain. Drinking, drugs, anonymous sex and self-loathing are all vehicles for forgetting. Those women, the women that learned how to forget, to erase for just a little while, are the lucky ones. Until they remember again and the pain redoubles its efforts pulling her down to the dark depths of disillusion.

And what of the unlucky ones? The ones who remember every second, every tear drop, every tear of soft tissue? What if it happens a million times, a million ways, real or remembered does it matter? It hurts the same. Our bodies are not our own. In those moments of recall, our minds are not our own either. We are held hostage by the knowledge of our violation that wasn’t. We are told we misunderstood the situation. We are told we misled, lied or changed our minds. Too late, we are not allowed to change our minds; they are not ours to change. Your mother will be disappointed in you, they say. It’s our little secret, they say and we know it’s true.

Some of my friends have post-traumatic stress disorder from their rapes, their "not rapes." Some of them are suicidal and think about driving their cars into a bridge, off a bridge, it would be so easy. Some of them buckle under the pressure and wrap belts around their necks, just to see what it would feel like. Do they think it will bring them a sense of control? Others still cut their arms, their legs in a ritualistic blood-letting they pray will bleed out the memories and pain. Maybe it works for a second. Maybe it works so well they bleed to death. 

One of my friends remembered one of her rapes. The one she was able to forget. She remembered after she developed a tumor on her left breast, above her heart. It was cancer. She’s a survivor; the cancer didn’t kill her, but the rape she didn’t remember almost did. She is one of the lucky ones that learned how to forget, to shove down, and to ignore the shame and guilt. She stored it far away in her inner dungeon where bad thoughts live and it calcified into a dagger of death. Her doctor extracted the tiny tumor and with it, her memories. She remembered and knew she had to deal with it at last. She had to deal with it or die trying.

She lived. She lived on purpose and with the air of someone freed after a long capture. It was hard, so hard, to face the fact that she let herself get raped, twice. Someone took pity and told her it wasn’t her fault. At first she didn’t believe it. After a while she thought she might be able to. She’s getting closer all the time. She’s so close to believing she didn’t deserve those rapes that she might not even let it happen again. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Women and Children First

My neighbor’s dog is barking. He is crying for attention. He’s just like any other creature in the world, needing love, needing acceptance. He is hot in summer, cold in winter. The sweetest personality and the most adoring brown eyes belie his inner turmoil of neglect. He has human people, a mother and a daughter. The mother doesn't understand what it means to have another living being depend on her. Outside the most basic needs for survival, food, water she is clueless. Sure, he won’t go hungry, not in his belly. His hunger pangs are far deeper. The body can survive having only its basic needs meet. The spirit cannot.

It doesn't leave a lot of hope for the emotional health of herself or her child. It is a mirror image. The little girl, five years old, needs love and acceptance, too. Like the dog, she acts out, digging holes in which to hide, drawing comfort from the earth. She paws under the fence, sniffing around for possible escape. Look! It is there, a crack in the gate, a tiny space of broken fence a body can fit through if it’s flexible, if it’s sole intention is getting out, getting away. Run to beat the devil. The dog gets out sometimes, most times. He barks and barks and paws and scratches and digs his way out, over, through the obstacles set before him. Once he is out he runs, not for the nearest tree or grassy field, but to the door of his person’s house, eager to get inside where he thinks he will find love. The little girl follows suit. She uses plastic pails and toy shovels to dig, always digging, digging for buried treasure, cool dirt under her fingernails and in her wild, curly hair, strawberry blond like her mother’s. What does she hope to find in the dark brown mud?

She screams at her mother. She hits her mother. Her mother doesn't know what to do, doesn't understand her daughter’s resentment. Isn't she doing everything she can? Isn't she doing everything she knows how? She has a job now. She doesn't have to have court ordered alcohol tests anymore, that’s something. She even has a couple of friends, she says. And a man who said she can move in with him, if she wants to, his wife won’t mind, bring your daughter! Is he real or another illusion of her own need to escape, to run away from the self-imposed ties that bind her?

Like her dog, like her daughter, like many unwilling mothers, she feels trapped. She doesn't have the tools to be a mother. She doesn't understand all the rules. She aches for her own lost childhood, her own absent-but-there mother. So she drinks. The little girl is too young for such an escape. She must face the ugly truth of her captivity every day, with sober eyes. Sometimes it is too much to bear and she misbehaves. She digs holes in the neighbor’s yard, my yard. She turns water hoses onto the neighbor’s porch, throws wet dirt on their door, leaving tiny muddy hand prints, cries for help. She shits in their bushes.

What becomes of the unmothered girls? They grow up and go out to become mothers, wives, co-workers. They drink coffee and wait in traffic. They walk among us. They are us. Some of them go to therapy and work out the pain of their childhoods. They go to workshops and read books. They cry into pillows and scream the primal alarm of tragic loss into a cold and crisp desert valley, echoes of a life not lived. Still others do none of this. They get pregnant without meaning to; they do drugs to drown the voice inside demanding more, more. They seek the same kind of relationships that never nurtured them. They only know the seeking, never the fulfillment.

They become like caged animals, like dogs confined to the back yard, the back burner, an ornament of a pastoral existence they can only dream of. They snarl and claw and bite if they have to, if they feel threatened, if anyone suggests they deserve more. Like the mother next door who gets defensive and angry when I offer to check on her dog for her. He seemed really thirsty the other day, I say. He’s fine, she says. I am happy to help, I say. I don’t need help, she says. I don’t believe it. I don’t think she believes it either. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

My Mother's Daughter

I am my mother’s daughter. I have her feet. They are a little long and skinny with the potential for bone spurs. Sometimes they ache after a long day of work. She never wore nail polish on her toes. I do. When it’s not there I don’t see my feet anymore. I see hers. Cracked skin in places and bones sticking out here and there. Even my body is shaped like hers. Our breasts are too big for our small frames. Our fair skin freckles in the sun and we have skinny little wrists that can’t hold a bracelet. I keep my extra weight in my belly, too, same as my mom. Hers has scars from bringing children into the world, first me, then my siblings.

I have her spirit, too. It resides in me as part of my DNA. Little clicks of proteins sticking together in just the right way like a plastic building block in a child’s playroom.  She gave me my name then she taught me who I was in her eyes. I was her baby girl and there was nothing in the world that could ever take that away from either of us. She was the first person to love me. When I got older and she told me she loved me with her whole heart I never doubted it. When my baby brother came into the world I worried that there wouldn't be enough love to go around. How silly. The bigger the need for love, the more love grows. I know that now.

Her wit was a force to be reckoned, let me tell you! She could make you laugh so hard your eyeballs bulged. Just hearing her unique laughter could send you spiraling toward a giggle fit. No one gets away with anything, no sir. She never missed a beat. If you zigged she would zag and unless you were sly enough to catch the twinkle in her bright blue eyes, you’d never know what was coming. She was loyal, too. She possessed a fierce, unbidden and non-negotiable loyalty. If you were part of her tribe by DNA or choice, you became a member for life. This is to say nothing of her unwavering acceptance and unconditional love for every person she ever met. If you were lucky enough to cross paths with my Mother, your life was forever changed. For one sparkling moment in time another human saw you, really saw you, and loved you anyway. That’s how it was to meet my mom.

I miss her so much. She is still here, in this world if not of it, but she doesn't want to be. She tries to kill herself a lot. She would deny this, but it’s true. I wish she would come back to the love and acceptance that she taught me. I wish she could see her own value. I wish she knew how wonderful she still is, no matter what choices she made in the past. It is true that love has the power to heal, but sometimes that love must come from with-in. I can give her my unconditional love. I can tell her over and over again that she is worthy and deserving of love. I can clean up her messes and keep her alive, until I can’t anymore.  There is always the chance that she is hearing me and one day she will wake up from this coma-like existence of her own creation and know that she is and always will be good enough. This is hope. I can’t have enough for both of us, but I have enough for me.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Rainy Day Meeting

I was babysitting my nephew, Orion, yesterday when sometime between a meal and a nap he became inconsolable. Thanks to my knowledge and application of the scientific method, and after a variety of failed attempts at vaudeville, to which he did not respond, my eyes beheld a magical contraption of wheeled machinery. After several moments of struggle and a few unsavory words a hidden button revealed itself which when pushed sprang open the device. Having never thought I would have to know such information as why babies are crying, when they need to eat or nap or even what games they like to play, you can imagine my surprise when a seat-like space opened before me. I intuited the baby went there, as there was a belting safety measure built-in to the contraption. It was by sheer force of will and a desperate attempt at entertaining Monsieur Orion that we soon found ourselves strolling along the promenade of Whispering Winds Apartments.

As it was raining we were obligated to stay within the covered walkways along the courtyard. I soon found myself in quiet meditation as the no-longer-crying baby cooed and oohed over the light rain and cool breeze, an unexpected delight for Texas summer. Ivy hanging from wrought-iron railings swayed and dripped with fresh rain. Fern leaves heavy with fat drops drooped down from pots along the narrow corridor, dripping on Orion's passing toes. For 45 minutes we strolled back and forth, to and fro, baby and Auntie content at last. When we reached areas with no overhead shelter, I ran and squealed thinking Orion would find it exciting. He registered his dismay by wiping at his wet face with a drool-covered hand.

Soon we met Marty. Marty was an older woman in her 70s with bright, pale green eyes. She had a little dog named Bubba whom she said is very good with babies. Bubba licked Orion's toes and Orion drooled on Bubba's ears. A fair trade, I thought. Marty and I talked and soon I learned about her life as a singer in a band. It was her husband’s band and they played back-up for the likes of George Jones, Conway Twitty and Willie Nelson. Her eyes lit up and she leaned in close when she whispered about how different Willie looked today than when he first started out. “That hair,” she said, and then louder, “He used to always wear a tie, too!”

Marty sang lead for the band and her husband played guitar. They traveled all over the United States, coast-to-coast, hitting every bar and honky tonk across the land. “Later on, when we became Christians, we took our music to the church and had a great time there!” Didn't make the same money, I reckoned. 

She told me about a woman she met at church who she recognized from a show 30 years ago in Houston. The woman was a child at the time and Marty recognized her face. I found that remarkable. Marty said, “Well it’s a face! How can you forget someone you see? I knew her father who had brought her to the show, but that was the first and last time I saw her. I just don’t understand why some people don’t remember faces.” 

After 15 minutes of chatting with Marty, Bubba and Orion grew bored with each other’s drool. We parted ways but not before Marty invited me over in a sing-song voice I could never say “no” to, “Well come on up and see me anytime, number 12. And bring the little one, Bubba will entertain him! I’m moving soon. I’m going to re-register for my Citizens on Patrol license and then I gotta get moving to Houston.” Her eyes were alive and dancing as she talked about her active and full life. “Marty,” I said, “If you promise to talk me about all the stuff you won’t talk about in church, I’ll be there.” She laughed with delight and said she’d pray about it. God, I hope you say yes.

Green Ribbon Auntie Lesson: Babies are a great way to meet new people.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Slowing Down Part II

The Tortoises and the Hare

Two friends went on a bicycle ride.  They rode through cobbled, brick streets in tree-lined neighborhoods and museums brimming with activity.  They meandered down to the river, pausing to watch the ducks and take a drink of water.  They talked about the river and the history of their city.  The setting sun reflected orange-red in the glass covered buildings downtown.  When it was time to head home, they put on their helmets and set off, this time climbing a big, steep hill.

One friend saw the hill and pushed forward with ease, never stopping to assess the hill or consider if she could reach the top.  One pedal in front of the other she climbed and climbed and talked while she did.  She never lost her breath.  She didn’t see the top of the hill.  She saw the next piece of road as her only obstacle.  Her strong legs carried her up and up until she felt she wasn’t working as hard.  She crested the hill without even realizing how steep or tall it was until she looked down at her friend.

Her friend chose a different path.  Upon seeing the big hill, she sighed and moaned and wondered aloud if there was a different way, maybe a less steep hill.  She decided the steep climb would be over more quickly than trying to circumvent the whole neighborhood.  This friend gathered her strength for the big push and sped ahead of her companion.  She pushed and pushed and panted and tried to reply to her friend’s conversation over her shoulder.  Her legs pumped the pedals and she tried to stand up into the climb.  (She was told this would help.) The hill was steep.  It was tall.  It seemed to go on forever.  Every time she looked up to the top it seemed farther and farther away.  She was almost at the very tip top, just a few more seconds of pushing and climbing and forcing her body to comply.  She was just about there when she gave up, exhausted from exerting so much energy in the beginning.  She hopped off the bike, knees buckling, and pushed it the rest of the way.

Both friends reached the top of the hill.  One friend took her time and enjoyed the view and relished in the exertion of her body.  The other friend was me. 

Over the years my friend Erika (whether she realizes it or not) has taught me so much about slowing down.  She is a beautiful, thoughtful, compassionate, kind and generous person.  She also takes her time about things.  She stops to smell the roses.  Or the coffee, or the perennials or the garden dirt or the onion and chive cheese she found at the market.  She takes her time about walking, talking, making decisions and giving advice.  Being the fast person that I am, sometimes my ego gets impatient.  I have been known to ask her out to a happy hour and get annoyed when I have to wait another 30 minutes.  (But I wanna go RIGHT NOW.)  She pushes the limits of restaurant closings, gym class starting times and just about any other appointment she makes.  While I’m standing around tapping my feet, she is enjoying each moment as it comes without fear of the future or what will happen if she’s late.  Nothing will happen.  Nothing ever happens.  How many times have I seen her show up late to a Pilates class only to get the best spot in the room?  Or arrive at a restaurant just as it closes forcing her to go somewhere else?  It seems the second place is always better anyway.  (Speaking of restaurants, she eats slowly, too.  I shovel it in at warp speed most of the time.  And not just because it takes so long to get to dinner like April would say.)  She goes to estate sales on the last day, half an hour before it ends and leaves with her car full of new stuff, all half-priced and perfect for her.  The rules I think exist don’t apply to her.  She chooses not to believe in them and that works.

Hiking with my slowing down guru.
Erika notices every beautiful thing.  We can be smack in the middle of the most exhausting hike over the biggest hills (I remember specifically Twin Knobs hill in the Ozarks on one blistery cold day in November) and she will stop us to point out a cobweb ten feet up the trunk of a tree behind some moss and under a squirrel.  How the hell..?  She will have to yell up to me, as I am already 30 feet away on the trail, going full steam ahead, forgetting that I am on a hike to enjoy nature, not just to finish a hike.  I will sigh, drop my shoulders and drag my feet over land I’ve already covered (I loathe going back.)  When I get there I will see the most wonderful spontaneous creation of nature shining in the sunlight, dewy and fragile, clinging to a tree through the gusts of winter. 

I am a stubborn, stubborn, dig-my-heels-in kind of person. I do not like this about myself.  I’m trying to let go of the need to hold on, which is all stubbornness is in reality.  It takes work.  It’s hard to slow down and let go.  Erika has been trying to teach me this for a while.  I don’t always get my messages as fast as I could (if I was paying better attention.)  No fear, the universe loves nothing more than helping us learn our lessons in any way it can.  After being friends with Erika for years and years and still struggling with slowing down, the universe cleverly decided to help me out some more. 

It gave me another Erika.  New Erika (actually, Erica) is also a beautiful, compassionate, kind and loving person.  She also takes her time about things.  She’s smart and passionate and generous.  And slow, slow, slow.  Her movements are slow.  Her reactions to events are slow.  As a very fast, over-reactive person, I find myself being forced into slowness yet again. 

I was in the middle of relaying a series of unfortunate events with some customers and my co-worker, Erica, when I heard myself say, “I was just ready to be done and she still had to put on her coat, clock out and….”  Whoa, April was getting really, really bitchy.  Was I complaining about waiting for someone to put on her coat when it was 30 degrees outside and she had to take a bus home? Yes, yes I was.  (Or rather, April was.  You know I wouldn’t do that.)  It made me laugh.  I finally saw what the universe was trying to tell me for the last ten years.  I understood all at once that until I learned how to slow down and be patient and enjoy the damn roses, I would get more and more Ericas with varying degrees of slowness tossed into my existence. 

I don’t know how they will feel about this.  I hope they don’t decide I’m not worth teaching any more lessons.  Maybe they’re always complaining about how fast I am and how impatient I am.  I don’t think so.  They don’t tend to complain much either.  I guess there isn’t anything to complain about when you take time to listen to the river or touch the bark of an ancient tree or wonder at life’s little miracles.  Food tastes better, too, when you actually chew it.  

Erika appreciating the bamboo in my yard I routinely bitch about.