It’s late June 2017 and I’m standing at a kitchen sink in Antioch, California cutting mangoes. It’s dark and cool in our rented Airbnb, but outside it’s dry and bright and pushing 100 degrees. Much hotter and drier than our hometown of Portland, Oregon nearly ever gets. Our curtains are drawn, the AC is on, and my twin teenage sons are sweaty puddles on the floor, vegging out after 3 days and 900 miles on the road. Our family road trip – easily the best, happiest time we’ve ever spent together.
We’ve just settled into our new digs, having first checked in, unloaded, then run to the nearby grocery store for supplies. Fruit was on sale, so I bought as much as was reasonable, plus a little. An entire array of delicious, fresh fruits: mangoes, bananas, grapes, and oranges. A welcomed change from the heavy, nutrient-poor road food we’ve been eating. We got the groceries inside, then my sons tapped out, stripped down to their skivvies, and positioned themselves over AC vents on the floor. They’re not used to this heat. But I am.
I’m running a sharp knife over the soft green and yellow skin of the mango in my hand, gently peeling it away to reveal the bright orange meat underneath. The sticky juice runs slightly between my fingers as I peel. Suddenly, I’m hungry for this mango in a way that surprises me. Then, I remember. I remember the hunger for mangoes.
“There are two things children should get from their parents: roots and wings.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
They don’t let me write publicly about them anymore. Not by name, anyway.
They captain their own ship now. Except, of course, when they’re steering toward rocky cliffs or when the sea is too stormy, then I get the helm. Or maybe they are the stormy sea, and I’m the boat. Or vice versa. Or maybe I’m a particularly powerful head wind, slowing their course, and try as they might they can’t steer out of it.
Or maybe I don’t yet know what metaphor to use for this time in our lives – a time when our intertangled selves, which has been one whole thing for so long, are disentangling into three separate beings. (But whatever the metaphor is, it involves being yelled at for “all my rules” in the same thirty minute period that I have to remind them – yet again – not to leave trash, dirty socks, and a pile of papers strewn over the living room floor.)
All of which is to say: they’re teenagers now. Continue reading
G-mom: a woman, four days from her 41st birthday, who is just finishing her work week and her week on as a single-parent of her 15-year-old twins she shares custody of. It’s been stressful, which is normal, but the amount of stress she faced in the last 7 days was extensive. Her period is imminent. She’s tired and has cleared all of her previously scheduled plans for the weekend, with the exception of the sleepover with her two oldest grandsons, the seven-year-old and the four-year-old. Today is the seven-year-old’s birthday, which is the primary reason she’s gone ahead with the sleepover. Her adrenals are pretty much fried, which she’s pretty sure is not an actual thing actually proven by evidence-based science, but she uses it anyway.
The seven-year-old: G-mom’s oldest of her three grandsons, who was born to his mom, G-mom’s daughter, when she was 17. The seven-year-old is a red-haired, blue-eyed, smart, headstrong first grader who lives with his dad, his dad’s girlfriend, his four-year-old brother, his dad’s girlfriend’s two school-age children, and two small dogs, Zelda and Marcy, in a two bedroom apartment. The seven-year-old has been struggling for quite sometime with toileting, and he often has a stomach ache. Today is his 7th birthday.
The four-year-old: G-mom’s middle grandson, but the youngest of the two born to G-mom’s daughter and the dad of the seven- and four-year-old. He’s also the youngest child in the household. He’ll be five in June, and so will start kindergarten in the fall. The four-year-old is a red-haired, blue-eyed, slight boy, who G-mom used to think was the cutest child to ever be born on the planet. Then he started whining – about everything – and crying when he doesn’t get his way. Now G-mom thinks he’s the cutest child on the planet only when he is sleeping. Continue reading
According to the guy on the radio this morning, Tori Amos’s album Little Earthquakes debuted in the US on this date in 1992. I was 15 and pregnant with my first child when a friend first introduced me to the album. Only a handful of months earlier, I’d moved to Roswell, New Mexico from Guthrie, Oklahoma and had effectively completed one phase of my life. One horrible, abuse-ridden, trauma-filled, shitty, shitty phase. And though I didn’t know it yet, I was about to start another phase that would last into my early 20s. A phase worse in immeasurable ways than anything that had come before. I was a rage-filled, hormone-filled, impulsive, fiery 15-year-old. Basically, I was ripe for Little Earthquakes.
The album was a point of deviation for me musically. My sister didn’t get it. It wasn’t popular and didn’t produce a single radio hit. But it was mine. This album was MINE. I really wanted people I loved to love it and it hurt my feelings when they didn’t, but I made no apologies. It was their loss, in my opinion. My closest family and friends not liking the album was my reason to retreat further away from the before life and into something else. The else being a thing it would take me a full decade to figure out. This album was often my only torch in the long slog through the darkness toward the light. Does that sound dramatic? Well, I was 15 when the album landed in my life. 15-year-olds are nothing if not dramatic. Nonetheless, it’s still true. Even now, as I write this from the light. Continue reading
It’s been a long while since I’ve posted a blog – basically since I returned to a burgled home in October. I posted the Roger Gillespie piece, but it had been written for a long time, and I shared it only because there’s nowhere for it to go. But I’m fond of it – not only as a piece of writing, but as a memory. It’s so real for me; but no one remembers Roger. I’ve asked around. I’m head injured, have PTSD from multiple and varied traumas, and spent too many years of my life dissociated from my experiences, so I sometimes wonder if anything I remembered was real. Try walking around with that kind of relationship with reality. Or, I don’t know…maybe you do, but for your own reasons. Reality is hard. Right? Still, I know this: Roger was real and the scene with the cigarette happened.
The urgency to synchronize my experiences with some kind of objective reality is, in fact, one of the primary reasons I write. Arguably, I could write in a journal and keep it to myself, which I did for a long time. I’ve been a writer for years, but focused on fiction through my 20s. Years ago, in college, I was given a nonfiction writing assignment involving memory. This was the first time I worked with my personal history in a creative way. The response was surprising. I got an A+ on my homework and my teacher called me aside to tell me to write more. To not stop there. That I had important things to say and that I should hone my craft and keep saying it. It would be quite a while more before I heeded this advice, but I never forgot it.
Important things to say. What does that even mean? I’m just some lady, right? Who the hell cares?
Turns out, people care. Continue reading
The memoir is clipping along slower than pitch dripping. I’m finally close to figuring out what to include in the final manuscript. (For those of you stalking my writing to see if you’re there, in the end, you’ll probably discover you’re not.) However, I’m much clearer on what will not be included. There are scenes, like the one below, that I’m fond of, but that don’t belong at all. One-off scenes like this one don’t lend themselves to the narrative, so they have to be abandoned. And, in this case specifically, it seems no one remembers Roger Gillespie but me. Was he even real? Was any of it? If you’re a memoirist, maybe you can relate to this tension.
Roger, if you do exist (and I believe you do), I hope you’re well.
I sat at Roger Gillespie’s patio table picking glass out of my face as I waited for him to come outside. When he came out, we made nervous conversation. I chain smoked cigarettes the whole time, no matter the fact I was recovering from a pneumothorax. Each time I put a cigarette out, I would use the soiled filter to clean a section of the enormous and filthy leaded glass ashtray to gleaming.
“Do you have a trashcan?” I interrupted Roger, looking up.
“Yeah, over there.” He pointed.
I got up, dumped the ashtray, returned to my seat, and lit up another cigarette. I had half the ashtray clean and I felt an overwhelming compulsion to clean the other half. It didn’t even occur to me that I could ask for a wet washcloth or a paper towel. It wouldn’t have been half as satisfying anyway.
At 17, I wasn’t even legally old enough to smoke. But after the accident, after everything, I didn’t feel beholden to most of the rules. Those were for people who were meant to be kept safe. It was too late for me. Besides, who was around to tell me no? Continue reading
I took my 14-year-old twin boys to see Swiss Army Man last night. Maybe you’ve never heard of the movie, but it’s kind of an art film (what designates a thing an art film?) and follows a narrative arc that is very much not found in a traditional Hollywood vehicle. It has Paul Dano (who I love – from Little Miss Sunshine to There Will Be Blood and beyond) and Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter, yes, but also a fine actor in his own right – and in this film he plays a freakin’ corpse! How exciting!) as the two leads and it’s about a stranded castaway who saves his own life by utilizing a flatulent corpse as a human multi-tool.
Anyway, I took the boys.
Because Harry Potter. And because farts. And because I’ve paid to see dozens of first run movies, usually animated, that follow the hero’s journey narrative and everyone wins in the end and I’m BORED of it and by god, you’re going to see a mom movie with me! I was so excited to see a story that was brand new, and I was excited to observe the boys’ reactions to doing the same.
Because I am a hope-filled fool.
Because sometimes in wanting a thing bad enough, I can ignore certain warning signs. Continue reading