Dreamer

Perusing a dusty Post Card Row fixer upper I could never afford, she arrived first and sat in a chair across from me, looking around expectantly. As my iPad told me the story of 714 Steiner in fifty-seven pictures on realtor.com, she kept checking her phone, sitting on the front of her chair, head craned.

Within half-hour he was there and they’d hit it off. Period ceiling medallions got almost a million over asking,…I’m scrolling through pics at Alchemy Coffee in Salt Lake City, the three of us separate/together, the six low-seated upholstered chairs surrounding a communal coffee table, and they laugh at first in tentative agreement—retaining their personal space—then succumb, leaning in, voices getting lower, private, secluded.

And I sold all my tools but 3.5 million dollars of dusty floors built in 1900 calls seductively, and my iPad flips dreams while their fingers touch, slowly outlining the hand of the other. Pointer poised, up his finger, and back down, and he moves over to whisper something into her ear, and there’s a soft laugh. Some of the molding is original, but thrashed, painted purple and red, and in spots, mold has taken over walls and bathrooms, mirrored tiles from the 1970’s reflecting only haze, and they speak sex into the air between us with quivering coffee shop etiquette.

And a song I haltingly-recognize makes words alive again, and I pause.

Take a dream on a Sunday, Take a life, take a holiday,

Take a lie, take a dreamer

Dream, dream, dream, dream, dream along

Dreamer, by Supertramp.

***And the antique stove sits on buckled linoleum floors, and in another section, hardwoods stretch East to west, edged by bay windows and Alamo Square Park, calling into the afternoon sun about long days and smudged architectural sketches, and Fingers. Fingers to the knee, up the thigh, fingers tiptoeing, flipping, scrolling, 2D digital pics coming to make a life inside me, on this Mid-February (2020) day, across from this coffee date not remembering why I myself ever gave them up (my fingers onto buttons, brushing lips to necks, faces flushed, trousers on the floor of bedrooms…)

And when the couple get up to go, my eyes follow, and I rally for us dreamers, calling out to the belligerence of desiring something out of this world.

Then as the door closes behind them, I go about my own business, and sitting cross-legged in the western sun of a fixer, trace myself slowly, up and down, into the magical history of dusty floors.

Non-optimal viscosity

Twelve years ago, I caught a cold that wouldn’t go away. The runny nose left me dehydrated and exhausted and was accompanied by sneezes so powerful my eyes would explode in volcanos of mascara’ed saltiness sending twin rivers of black gook oozing down my face.

“Are you okay, Miss Amy?” the concerned kindergarten students I worked with would ask, confusing (perhaps) my red, runny eyes and smeared makeup for the tears of emotions. And I would pat their arm, and tell them, “Yes; I’m alright,” even as we both knew I must be lying because all they had to do was look at me.

Things obv weren’t alright.

Then it got worse.

The congestion—in what I initially thought was it’s big finish—clogged up my sinuses to the point that I became unable to hear their 5 and 6 year old voices. They would ask me for help with their math or sounding out a word, and I’d have to turn their head to face me so I could read their lips as they repeated their question. The snot had made me hearing-impaired. My cold was a disability.

One week later, I saw a doctor who was so professional she managed to leave the “omfg you dipshit” off of “You don’t have a cold; you have allergies,” and—within two weeks—I’d beaten back the mucous invasion courtesy of Big Pharma.

For some weird reason, these allergies had gestated for 40 years–never once making an appearance—but now every year hence arrive with a ground swell requiring tsunami sirens.

***********

My mom lived with year-round allergy symptoms courtesy of an exceptionally sensitive nose.

She always had a tissue with her—always; usually near her wrist tucked up inside her sleeve —and in typical humor, classified these tissues according to their level of degradation.

Stage 1: new

Stage 2: used once; no rips, barely crumpled

Stage 3: used more than once; ripped, starting to shred

Stage 4: intact only because of the glue-like properties of snot

Her tissues would often engage my gag reflex, and watching her blow her nose into a Stage 4 was like looking into the shit-abyss of a Port-O-John.

Inevitably, Mom’s intimate experience with allergies led to a desensitization about the etiquette of mucous management, to the point where her public persona often involved honking into her tissue using an uncompromising dual-alternating-nostrils-at-full-force technique akin to trumpeting the arrival of the snot queen. The volume involved in this expulsion indicated base tones of an underlying “fuck this fucking fucking shit” and when she’d reach into her sleeve to pull out a Kleenex, I would restrain the impulse to walk off—loyal as I was—while viscous nasal belongings were gathered up into a decaying tissue right across the table from me at Taco Bell.

**************

11/3/2020. They’re back. I haven’t had allergies for several years—don’t know why they’re even back in November of all months—but the volcanoes, mascara rivers, itchy nose, clear snot (eyes that suddenly burst open with tears, along with the continuous urge to sneeze—while not actually sneezing, requiring me to blow my noise just to have some sense of a climax) are all back. How tf can I board the Trump Train looking like this? I can’t. I just can’t. I’m very devastated.

And today is Election Day. And I don’t know who needs to hear this but you’re stronger than you believe and are much much more than the sum of “all this”. Our brains are masterful creators—seamlessly making stories both real and not—but our body/breath can medicate it when it gets too frantic. Thoughts and worries aren’t themselves real; thoughts/worries are “over there” rather than “here,” we just convince ourselves otherwise. I once read that if the sun were to explode none of us would even know for 8 whole minutes because that’s how long it takes for the sun’s light to reach us on the surface of our planet. We’d go on living our lives not knowing anything had happened since everything we see in front of us right this second is actually via the light from the past sun. Over there vs here.

I had a dream about my mom last night. I never dream about my mom but this was something I was supposed to remember and write down. In the dream, I’d been doing some errand and Just finished and came into a large kind of crowded room, making a beeline for my mom, believing she’d be happy to see me. But she wasn’t. She was angry at me, cold—wouldn’t look at or speak to me—and in the dream I knew that there wasn’t any reason for it except for her own pain and trauma yet I knew it was bullshit for me not to say “this is bullshit.” So I spoke up really loudly to this crowd of people I didn’t know and made a speech thanking them for being the America I needed to rise above such redirected aggression and when I finished everyone clapped, some people clapping loudly for a long time.

Anyways, take care, whatever the day/week brings make sure to breathe yourself back to life and thank you for being the America I needed.

(Artistic representation of misery and allergies courtesy of my recent accidental purchase of Prisma).

9/20/20

Trying to find my last clean pair of no-show socks on my bed this morning and my cat Yuki—trying to sleep on the bed—lifts her head as I upend the covers around her.

I currently only have five pairs of socks—two pair I moved into the apartment, three I’ve purchased since—which is an intentional life choice she obviously doesn’t understand the beauty and simplicity of because she stares straight in my face while I’m searching as if wanting to be as clear as possible when she asks, “Do you fucking mind?” Neither of us were that surprised when I eventually find the socks inside a pair of shoes over on the loveseat. I like to live deeply into “Whoops”; feel its the least I can do to promote humanity’s reputation.

One of the two pair of socks I moved is 30+ years old. Once adorned the feet of “that” ex-boyfriend—who wore them with this pair of bowling shoes he stole—and since Steve, they’ve moved to Clayton(CA) and Santa Rosa(CA), Kensington(MD), Citrus Heights(CA), Back to Davis(CA), Burke(VA) and in 2000, Sandy(UT) then Salt Lake City (Garfield Avenue, Kensington Avenue, Logan Avenue, Paradise Lane), and now finally Bountiful(UT). I never wear them, just move them around the country like they’re doing research for their novel.

Meanwhile, Kiki ran inside from his outdoor enclosure—pushing the door open with his paws to get in (which yesterday yielded the apartment 15 flies and one mosquito)—to “check in.” Runs in, meows, finds someone, meows again; wants to be picked up. Kiki is a Siberian cat—we didn’t know this when he was our foster kitten— which means he’s a puppy who’s litter-box trained, and as soon as I pick him up, and chat “with” him in the bathroom, he runs back to the now-closed back door to start pawing at it. When I tell him he has to be inside now because I’m leaving for work, he paws harder.

“Kiki, I need to go to work now so that we can keep existing.”

He doesn’t care. Never asked to exist in the first place. Says ‘Jesus. Just open the door, SoMuchDrama’ with a little meow.

When I’d let the cats out at 5:30 this morning, there was an all-black cat eating from the bowl we put out for “Peaches”—the orange neighborhood cat we’ve been feeding—and it didn’t run off. Looked at me, curious and listening as I talked to it—which is totally a black cat thing*—then slowly slipped out of the yard. We haven’t fostered in a while—and miss Henry and Mac from our old place (neither of whom were homeless, just grifters who did death battles in our yard)—so the outdoor cat bowls fill the need in ourselves to care for the things who might not feel cared for by anyone else. It’s our way of being the protagonist.

And I started writing this this morning at 7 but whatever needed to be written wasn’t done happening until the homeless guy knocked on my car window at the light on 13th So/State Street. I debated the safety of rolling down my window—knowing I wouldn’t give him any money even though I had some; I was eating a nectarine and it’s juice was all over my hand—but rolled my passenger window down anyways and lied to him (“I can’t”) and he said “please” and I lied again (“don’t have any”), and he walked to the car in back of mine then to the side of the road when the light turned green.

And I drove away conflicted (should I have given him money? Am I turning into one of those people fixated with hoarding it?) but it’s a victory to be stamped by such experiences. To be a brand new world every day because you’ve stashed away the salience of life in the sock drawer for permanent pondering.

And tonight I returned home to fill the outdoor cats’ bowls and pick up Kiki, and say hi to Bitty. Yuki again jumping up on my bed, offering me one more chance. And as I tried to relax, Kiki wants out, parades about the house mewing—my custom reply guy —running around, pushing things off my dresser and jumping on Yuki. So I briefly began to join him in questioning “existing” but instead, got up, went to open the door to his enclosure and let him outside. Then, before heading to my room to relax, locked the door behind him.

Epilogue: I accidentally fell asleep after locking the door and when I woke up to the alarm I’d set to wake me for a late pet sit was greeted to Kiki relaxing on my bed and Livy saying, “did you know you locked him outside? I couldn’t find him but the door to the enclosure was locked so I knew he wasn’t out there.” It didn’t seem fair to instruct Livy on the complexities of life via telling her you locked her baby outside to keep him from making you lose your shit. So I nod but don’t verbally commit then quickly head out to my sit

Contrast

[Pic of myself on the Empire State Building, 12/1999]

Nineteen years ago to the day, my ex-h, James, and I were in Reno. We’d driven the 8 hours with our then-2 year and 10 month old daughters, Julia and Livy, to combine James’ business trip with a visit with my mom, who’d driven from California to meet us. Courtesy of my sleepless daughters, we were awake early that morning in our Nugget hotel room with the TV on, and when the South Tower started crumbling it looked—at first–like an innocent puff of dust from one small area high-up. And I can remember thinking the very same thing that Katie Couric(?) was saying: What is that?

“What is that?”

And by the end of that day, America knew what it was and we huddled around collective vulnerabilities, humbled by a shared trauma we couldn’t escape. Enduring together the aftermath of acts of warfare, the pre- and post-9/11 American Story revealing precious naïveté and the injection into our most austere monuments of ingenuity—the tallest buildings, the freedom to feel safe—the visceral understanding that we’re hated enough to die for..

That day in Reno my daughters played at a park that had well-tended equipment placed in a garden setting with those little animals on springs that go back and forth and that spinny thing where you sit on a platform and hold onto bars to revolve into sickness. And while my daughters smiled and laughed, mom and I straddled the two incompatible worlds of children squealing from idyllic fun and Grandpa Bob not dying at the Pentagon by only the most coincidental of reasons. Wondering in clear sublime weather if the death count was in the ten thousands, my daughters unrelenting peals spinning on the same platform as crying mothers strapped into doomed airplane seats. And as coworkers holding hands while jumping to their deaths, their thuds marking a nation’s skin on the inside of her wrists.

Could I ever share with my daughters the reality of this world? Would it break them to know?

And when we returned home to Salt Lake City the next day, I held 10 month old Livy in the calm of night, crying quietly as I rocked in an easy chair from the grief of understanding that being honest about the complexity of humanity is the deep wound we hope to never inflict.

Yet no event ever stops it’s act of becoming. For held within the static nature of a single tragedy is beheld the dynamic experience of myriad humans answering the call to the service of empathy.

And out of box cutters and screams and casually head-down “Falling Man”—[identity still unknown; possible suggestion takes him as an asthmatic sound engineer working at Windows on the World]—were people dying that day comforting each other.

From “What is that?” were Firefighters running up endless stairs they couldn’t see to save the lives of strangers. From frantic voicemails messages were Human beings perishing in a field in PA because they offered their own life to keep others from harm. From rabid murder was the innocence (and tragedy) of American soldiers offering to make right the actions of a foe that had no interest at all in avoiding their own death.

And living always into the fullness of Life is the choice to grow large enough in heart to shelter one another, taking the singularity and solidity of emotion and processing it within the light-magic prism of ourselves.

For the arc of every single story is the growth of Humanity itself.

And into Time bears the witnesses of those so rich in their love for others that their life weaves a connection so strong it evolves to become our universal shield for despair.

[James’ and I had moved to Salt Lake City in mid-2000, and sold our Burke, VA townhome to Stephen Neil Hyland who on 9/11 was killed at The Pentagon; James’ dad, Bob, also worked at The Pentagon in the very section that was destroyed but part of the section had undergone remodeling and was finished but the furniture and equipment hadn’t all been moved back so Bobs normal office was vacant when the plane hit.

James and I divorced in 2007 and when his brother Steve was deployed to Iraq that same year, the girls and I placed our American flag on the middle pillar of our front porch of 1531 Garfield Avenue in Salt Lake City, and it remained there for the duration of his deployment—becoming weathered and tattered and faded; a hole developing on the bottom, front corner (as even the slightest wind had made it catch on the thorny bushes that edged our lawn)—and when Steve returned home, the girls and I took the flag down, folded the frayed fabric as best we could, and gave it to James to give to his brother].

Aimless

[1985 (Chapter 2?)] A high school teacher—in 1985—called me “Aimless,” in the midst of my AP Economics class, and hit an emotional target that I’ve been dodging ever since. “Aimless”—a play on Amy—made him titter gleefully at his own cleverness, and cemented in my mind the suspicion I’d always had that other people knew more about me than I did.

At Aptos High, young for my grade and in all Advanced Placement courses, I knew I looked good on paper. But “paper” didn’t follow me around my new high school, cheerleading me through my insecurities. And looking good on paper certainly couldn’t argue with the fact that my new moniker, “Aimless”—created by a bespectacled man in position of authority at my new school–was an authentic riff on my name—clever, even–and perhaps an accurate psychological assessment for someone who—in her final year of high school—was sitting amongst beautiful, confident overachievers in a state of complete emotional isolation.

I didn’t belong there, in this my third high school in as many years. And I knew it. Because I didn’t belong anywhere. And I was missing the veil of adolescent bravado that could rail against accepting my teacher’s assessment of me.
Aimless? Yep. That’s me.

Good one, Mr. Rosen.

**********************

Somehow, our journey had landed us in Santa Cruz. Which was the final leg on our journey as an intact family.

Powered by my mom’s inner homelessness, our family of five spent our entire life propelling through people and towns and addresses and neighbors and loyalties, in the hopes that she could somehow outrun her childhood demons. Dad, too, was wounded, by a mother who beat him for imagined slights and locked him out of the house for reasons that either made no sense or she chose not to share. The last time he arrived home was to a locked door she wouldn’t open, all of his belongings already packed and in bags on her porch, in what was perhaps a merciful end to a relationship with someone with such a maternal instinct.

Once out of their childhood homes, my parents busied themselves with putting as much time, space, and random, new people between themselves and the experiences they were trying to escape, and we roamed Northern California together looking for that ever-elusive feeling of family. They had two accidental kids (my brother and sister, “surprises”; I was an accident from her first marriage), drank some booze, smoked some pot, and moved seven times. For me that was five elementary schools, three high schools, and an entire lifetime worth of “Goodbyes” crammed into 15 years.

We had our longest run of stability in Oakdale, CA, the town we lived in just before our move to Santa Cruz.

Mom had moved us back to California’s central valley because she was in a “forgive and forget” phase with her nearby family. She found a fixer-upper on over an acre of land, and the horse-lover in her had high hopes. So high, in fact, that she moved us to Oakdale, CA—“The Cowboy Capital of the World”—even though cowboys and their bravado-schtick made her twitch; the first time I heard the word “dumbfuck” was out of her mouth when we were driving behind a cowboy hat-wearing guy who’d purposely left his tailgate down so we could see the doe-eyes of his recently-killed deer. As viewed from our Saab, the situation was nearly a stroke-inducing event for Mom, leading to a rant that made it clear to us kids that all cowboys were egotistical, saddle-humping deviants. Ten years later, she’d go on to marry one. But that’s another story.

For 7 years, we did our best to integrate into our community, joined 4-H and Little League; Mom coached soccer, and we made friends with the neighbors. We got invited to barn dances, where the beer would flow, and the hosts hired live bands with fiddle players.

And I wasn’t a horse person, or a bravado person, but got with the program–excelling at my rural farm school, Valley Home Elementary–until my freshman year at Oakdale High School, when I attracted the attention of the scariest form of hatred I’d ever seen—Mickie Diaz.  She threatened me daily with violence—often by phone after I’d gotten home—and none of my childhood friends would even risk talking to me anymore. So—sophomore year, 1983–I willingly transferred to the high school in the next town, and by Fall of ’84, I’d managed to shed the bullying PTSD and started to go out of my comfort zone. Tried out for cheerleader—which my mother hated—and traveled to football and basketball games.  And made good friends, and danced, and drank liquor bought by their older brothers.  And was nominated to the Honors Writing Society.

Then, in March of my junior year—7 years in Oakdale, 1985—my parents told us we were moving.

In retrospect, it’s not that I felt that living in Oakdale was right for me, or that my true essence was completely encapsulated by my cheerleading and my friends and the high school in the next town.  But I had worked so hard at belonging, and emotional commitments had been made in defiance of precedence.  And it felt triumphant. And just wasn’t convinced that saying goodbye this time would be worth it, and that it would be better in the new town, at the new school. But none of that mattered. 

So, by the end of April, we’d moved to Aptos, and by Fall I was sitting in the AP Economics class. Starting over. And accepting the wisdom of a new nickname, since—agreed, Mr. Rosen—it actually is pretty hard to have a sense of direction and purpose when you have no idea where you might be living the following year.

Salt Air

I found my Hendrix CDs in the clutches of a torn, dirty box, and sliding one into the player, the notes of “Are You Experienced?” made my chest tingle.

Because there are sections of your life when the change within yourself is so big you can’t see it properly but your body holds it inside, where—like a hummingbird—it flutters soundlessly until your own noise subsides.

And so it was that 1988-1990 imprinted it’s experiences into me. Holding steady for me over all these years, like a truth whispering itself into being slowly over time. Like Jimi in the player 5/2020 rising out of speakers as something bigger than sound. Rising as a tingling in my breasts while staring out the window of my Honda, my body unearthing 1990 and the emotional archeology of a different life.

And the initial stage for the scene had been set when my family moved to Santa Cruz, CA in 1985. Suddenly—inexplicably—I started to feel truly alive. Even now when I smell the salty air wafting from the Great Salt Lake, I pause to just be still, breathing in and out, closing my eyes to come again into those moments of awakening. For we don’t see ourselves without the benefit of others, and in that spiritual infancy of my own life, the yin and yang being born needed S.C.’s freak flags and the opportunity to be quiet and watch. To be inside the creative force that is open to all things.

And from the vastness of time, I steeped for two years at the local junior college, then exited in 1988 from the meander of Hazel Dell Road (and my family dynamics) with the seeds of a remembering of self, my car packed, headed to UC Davis. My cassette tape companions not playing just music but rather the beginning beats of my entry into humanity’s inexhaustible march towards nirvana.

And during those moments, I hadn’t lived long enough to hear the fullness of what I’d set out upon. But from the vantage of the same song all these moments later, I hear it now.

For I was alone, and floating, not in abyss but in primordial beginnings.

And from the awakening in that salt air, came the sliver of sense that, for this life, I’d willingly navigate the deep lows so to avoid the larger-unfulfillment of not growing and being bored.

And processed now over the energy of eons of discovery—AKA, 30-ish years–my body holds the potency of the lows, of being pushed by self or other out of every known anchoring, and the bittersweet acceptance that that is what being fully alive looks like.

Because nestling inside a girl of 21—alive in 1990, singing to herself about holding hands and watching the sun rise from the bottom of the sea—is the growing, and the salt air, and the losses that are actually never gone, as she drives a plain white Subaru hatchback dubbed “Wallflower” down California’s Highway 37.

On this day’s sun

Stella this morning looking towards the sun, her position concealing the large open, untreatable tumor on her face that is the reason she is currently in hospice care.

Stella’s human is enduring a personal emergency and was called away from her girl but Stella is a cat that gets twice daily insulin, pain meds shot down her throat and painful cleaning/dressing her face wound then mere seconds after these insults, pulls herself back to center.  Sitting then with me on the slope of their driveway, watching squirrels perform their life on the roof across the street.    The silver lining to Stella’s pain is her very own self.

As she and I watched this morning, one of the squirrels parkour’d down from the roof of the tan building on the left and ran to the yard next door.  Then, standing up and looking around casually, surveyed the scene as if having decided that the vibes were real good.

******************************************************

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A few years ago, I had an experience with a kitty named Melman where I leaned down to him to tell him that I loved him, and he (uncharacteristically) started rolling around affectionately on his cat tree as if he knew exactly what I was saying.   So I added, to keep this thing going, “Do you know what love means?” intending to breezily describe to him–with a mini-channeling of melodic words–the answer.  For this is what I do for my life:   I love creatures for a living.  I come into their homes and listen to what they need to feel loved and safe.   I read the room, and vary my words and my vibe until I nail it.   But all at once, right there near Melman’s cat tree, I stood up and was speechless, unable to verbalize what I wanted to say.  What did “love” mean for me and for Melman?   How does the word or the vibes combine inside the body of an anxious orange introvert on a cat tree to where he rolls around in pleasure and I immediately want him to keep feeling that?  What makes that happen?

And I had nothing–could say nothing/said nothing–suddenly understood that “love” isn’t something words can make truth from.  And that “love” is so much bigger than me I can’t encapsulate what it is from within the limitations of myself.

So I left it alone, intending to just rest with the concept of it as it existed inside me until perhaps some day, from the brew of experiences—with self, daughters, animals, sunrises—I might have another go.

And for several years, I’ve done that.

This morning, as I looked up the driveway at Stella—her shadow reaching back towards me—the sunshine was like this Navajo folklore (pic).

My initial worry that her mom wouldn’t get back to see her before Stella’s end time has faded out from our visits together because animals aren’t like that. They don’t live where we do in that way.   They live in the sunshine of the Navajo, where each day it rises to be the most beautiful sun there ever was.  Where those squirrels jumping around in the gutters on the house across the street are the most entertaining thing she’s ever seen.

And as I made to leave her house after our visit, I walked up the street a bit towards my car and looked back to make sure she wasn’t following me.  And she was.  So I turned back, and sat with her again, in her sun.  

Then when I got to my car, the music from my speakers was saying “… it’s the same old story, all love and glory, it’s a pantomime; looking for love in a looking glass world is pretty hard to do.”  Mother of Pearl by Roxy Music.

And 2020 has been a year of potential disaster, and the trip wires were all set for me.  Financially starting back at square one; trying to find my way to other opportunities but doing so unwillingly, with a bank account to match.  And for a while this year, it felt personal.  As if all that work—all the struggle, all the sacrifices—was going to start over, and repeat.  Carving out a path of “this shit again?”, with all the players dancing around in convergence of a targeted apocalypse.

But the bigger truth about struggle is that the trauma can change you.  It can crack you open to where you know you have nothing to fucking lose but to start seeing yourself and the world you’ve created differently.

Because, in sitting with “what is love?” I’ve come to understand that love is everything.  Love is all of these words; it’s the struggle; the opportunity to see ourselves, to become, to reach around outside the barrenness so as to rise.  

And had these days not arrived, again, I wouldn’t have believed this to be true.

Yet from this shift of worlds, with no idea of my next step, I drove home from Stella’s house living inside a moment where the sun is only alive for one day.   For Love is growing and experiencing itself constantly from within us, and is a story we’ll never stop writing, nor would we want to.

Stella‘s mom got back several months later— it got really rough for Stella before she did—and said goodbye to Stella in the way we’re sometimes called to do.
This is Stella before her tumor. Stella, means star, like the sun.