Come see me, Sophie

Come see me, Sophie, as you’re walking the blue twilight between worlds.

Come see me, in that dream land, when the pain disappears and the body absorbs into stars, and we can behold the sun as it rises on this first new day.

Come see me,
From your world beyond breath, when the boldness of your heart finds itself again, and in the unburdening from flesh you can see the magic of who you are.

Come see me, Sophie, watching the tears of a Sophie-less morning,
Then scamper off to the world you now belong to,
catching joy like butterflies,
looking back to see me (one more time)
Quietly calm in the salty stream
Daring the world to make me forget

For as on the lawn that day with my hand stretched out was forever and when you reached back to me, you painted me into wholeness, your eyes holding the wonder of the blue sky and the deep green, making Time stand still and Life splashed in colors while the clouds watched and danced across the sun.

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Sophie was an old girl I cared for for several years. She’d had been adopted as a senior dog—when I met her dad and his three dogs—from a post off a FB rescue page, joining sled dogs Greta and Tala. And I don’t know if she just liked me, or was like this with everyone, but she was old, and naughty, and demanding, and mesmerizing and charming and made me laugh so much even as she started slowing down. It was always something with that dog; every moment with her was a guaranteed memory. On one walk, they’d all been sniffing for a bit as dogs do, and Greta and Tala were ready to get going so I looked back to see if Sophie needed some extra recovery time–she was clearly limping from bad hips at that point–and when I do I see a “rope” hanging out of Sophie’s mouth. What the…? Well I walked closer to discover the “rope” was a rat tail attached very confidently to a large dead rat that I could only get her to drop by walking so fast she finally had to decide between dropping the rat or breathing. I’m sure she wrestled with the choice for as long as she could then opened her mouth to take a deep breath, and dropped the rat.

Sophie went downhill very suddenly when I was caring for her in July 2017. She wouldn’t eat the pre-cooked steaks or chicken her family had left—she was in decline but they thought it was okay to go on a hasty honeymoon to Montana—and though I cradled her back end with my sweatshirt and steadied her front with her leash to get her out to sit in the side yard even this long-favorite activity made her stare into space in impenetrable sadness. On 7/11/2017, on the evening visit–her parents were rushing back from their trip; driving all night—I sat with Sophie on the dirty concrete, stroking her head, tears dripping down and said goodbye, telling her to come see me from the place where she was going to which I couldn’t yet follow. And I left for my own home and her parents got back in the middle of the night to send her off and that morning, before I even knew they’d gotten back, I was woken up “saying” the first lines of this poem. Which I wrote down and fell back to sleep. And cried when I found out it had indeed happened.

A few months passed, and I was asked to come sit for Greta and Tala; and I’m not woowoo enough to tell Sophie to “come see me” and be expectant. But I know the unexplainable happens. While positing that a spirit realm is “real” comes with folks saying it’s all just grief and brain chemicals and unprovable notions to be scoffed at, it can’t be argued that even the skeptics exist in the largest almost-nearly completely unprovable series of concepts known as observable time and space (what’s at the bottom of the ocean? Why didn’t anti-matter and matter annihilate each other? What is the universe made of? Why does our DNA make us human? etc. ) and so I’m openminded. And it was during that first trip without Sophie that, after our walk, it was dark and Greta and Tala were hanging in the side yard–Sophie’s favorite place–and I wasn’t looking for her at all but suddenly for a split second something caught my eye at the far side of the yard, scaring me and making me gasp. But then I looked harder and there was nothing. After that trip, it only happened one more time. Was it brain chemicals, grief, wishful thinking? Maybe. But why is that any less of a valid human experience than any of the myriad other things we have no absolutely no understanding of. Folks denigrating placebos as if there was ever any way to separate the influence of the mind/consciousness from the experience of a person.

Thanks for stopping by, Sophie, if that was you.

And thanks for being here with us. You changed the world and that’s true even if science isn’t yet mature enough to prove it.

 

Sitars and Wood

And somehow in the ins and outs of synchronicity, the day before Livy’s birthday—November 30th—I somehow begin melding with The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood.” Again.
 
Year after year, sometime before the last day of November, returning to the ballad where John sings that he once had that girl but wait, no: she’s the one who had him. 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017,….my space becoming the quiet solitude of an evening around the warmth of a fire and a girl who just landed in my life.
 
And I remember that day of holding Livy. Knowing in an instant (instinct) that gathered into my arms was now the potential for every single bit of love and agony possible to have within one life.
 
For I’d even worried I wouldn’t love her as I did Julia; that was a real thing for me. Julia was early, born 7 weeks before she was ready then hooked to IVs—“she might die; be blind, deaf; have disabilities”—and before I left the hospital, I’d managed to move the mountain called “should I let my heart fully know her lest she die?” Because that’s what people do; they stand guard over their potential devastation, trying to sweet talk it. Yet I’d found it in me to love her with a passion that conquered the saddest parts of myself and floated through sterile, hushed corridors like magic, with air under my feet like a fairy. Like a rainbow. Like an angel.
 
Julia was to love beyond words and platitudes, in a way I couldn’t see what I’d even been before. Julia was a Now moment of revelation, my best self, my biggest heart. I didn’t see a “me” capable of being better.
But Life moves us into the more beautiful homes of ourselves. Sitting in rooms of rugs and warmth is the uncertainty of it all, ever pushing us to surrender to vulnerability in order to write melodies with sitars and wood.
 
And on November 30th, 2000, Olivia Grace Plimpton was born at LDS Hospital. Three weeks early. My mom and 2 year old Julia at the hospital for the entire labor—Julia carrying her stuffed Cat in the Hat, me coloring with her through the pain—and James rushing in from a business trip seconds before Livy’s birth. The hospital staff having told him to park in the loading zone and run upstairs or he’d miss it.
 
And I held her, my baby, my second girl, and like the song’s first line, she had me.
 
For of course, I loved her—them—in full knowledge at that point of the attempted deceit of my own heart. And at the core of my self discovered that they were not mine but rather I was theirs, with a certainty that had already invited doubt to have a seat in a warm room belonging to a bird that would fly away.


Sunset on an old self

I’m in my car, sweaty after a day of working hard, and surrounded by a bunch of shit like a mobile hoarder with a windshield so cracked it’s a Rorschach blot. And it’s the night I start reclaiming my ankles from the bloat shit-eating (from lack of time) has attacked me with so I’m headed to some fruits and veggies to begin the process.

And as I pull into the Sugar House Whole Foods shopping center, Led Zeppelin talks to me of sex and texting that guy later and navigating my car around the corner of the parking lot, I see a family outside of Jamba Juice. Mom, dad, two kids, at a table, drinking their frozen juice together as the sun sets.

And I’m 13 years out from my divorce—my kids can’t even imagine I was ever married to their dad—yet while the two little Jamba Juice kids float around dad in his white shirt and crossed legs, leaning back in the chair as if owning all things, there we are. James and I. Taking part in this ritual of “quality time.” Going to Costco on the weekend, buying stuff we didn’t need, pretending we weren’t pretending, making every stupid little thing an event like we were just killing time. Enforcing planned interactions as if we’d forgotten how to be alive and normalizing incremental toxicity‘s—me sympathetically listening, wearing kid snot and no sleep, as he complains about his business dinner in France, etcetc—until I’m overweight and crying in the living room at 1 a.m., giving everything to smother emotional holes for the sake of some labels. “Husband”, “wife”, “married.” For the sake of a romantic dream some boring asshole made up as if it’s a holy symbol of stability to commit to 60 fucking years of trying to be the same.

And when you’re handed a bunch of shit from parents and magazines and TV, your loneliness feels like a personal flaw. Your fear is you not being brave enough.” Every unfulfilled need you speak up about is you being “too sensitive.” And blonde-haired blue-eyed good looks in white shirts have this world to themselves; charming the outside world because they know that shit sells. A dad as coiffed and overconfident as the patriarchy—unapologetically sucking oxygen out of a universe he doesn’t have to share—while mom long-steeped in her gender role as pacifist revolves around him like a planet dressed in clothes and calling him “honey.”

Thirteen years. Not long enough to forget that Mr. Coiffed then goes home to criticize every little thing that disturbs the sanctity of himself. Which ends up being the fish almondine I make for dinner and the girls’ happy squeals which are apparently way too loud for him to hear his Xbox.

And as I pass this family outside Jamba Juice, I see the past. I see the pain, the effort, how I never would’ve walked away and am so thankful he cheated and left.
For you don’t know life’s set up for salesmanship and brutality until you’re outside of what you bought. Until your stable family life, income, and sense of self-worth no longer rests upon making excuses for cruelty and narcissism.

Because marriage itself isn’t the sanctity of anything; the sanctity rests with the ideal to be better, more alive people because of it.

And as I sit in my car making my list, the sun looks like it’s resting. Like having Journeyed across our lives its holding position for one last look. Catching sight as it does of a 52 year old women who works too hard and sleeps too little—whose self-care is akin to a shot of whiskey while crying softly in a bathroom—in a filthy car with bloated ankles, blasting Led Zeppelin and 100% Life, and Panning out from a Jamba Juice scene to view a former self with a search light of the soul.

Realizing as she does that marriage doesn’t always make you more alive while you’re inside it; sometimes it makes you more alive in the parking lot of Whole Foods on a June evening long after. 

Rainbows

Last night at the theater watching Mamma Mia again, my youngest, Livy, reached over the seat in a poignant part to grab my hand and in the dark I looked to her and her mouth moved in words of gratitude, telling me that, as a mother, I’d always been there for her. And as the screen splashed fiction, we sat there and held hands, sharing our real story, and her eyes were misty and so were mine.

It hasn’t always been wonderful for my girls. One of the most painful memories from my life is after my divorce in 2007. Their dad had moved to VA (to live with Sarah and her young son) and the sudden revocation made both girls insane with anxiety—petrified that I’d somehow just vanish into thin air—until at one point Livy, then 6, wasn’t able to go to school without sobbing for me until she was gagging.

So I started sitting outside her classes to help her ease into stability and she was starting to feel more confident until, one random day, her first grade class were playing a game for P.E. when suddenly Livy broke off from the group, ran over to me—falling into my arms—and in the broken gasps of uncontrollable feelings, barely got out through her hyperventilating, “I (sob)…miss…my (sob)…daddy.” And in the seconds after, her little body convulsed with all the grief I’d lived to protect her from and somehow became embedded in my own, as if forcing me to learn about pain in a way I couldn’t ever understand otherwise.

And some moments stay with you forever. Are designed to. For at that time, on that day, in that gym, patting my baby’s back, telling her “I know you do baby. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry”—my own heart broken—I would have done anything to deliver her from that pain. Because I know the doubts that creep in to hurt us when the lights are out and my heart that day descended with her into all those nights. Into The Great Loss, where we become bound to an event simply because our hearts are too injured to allow expectance of anything better. Into the experiences which don’t leave, even when you ask them nicely, and are a good and “perfect” little girl. When fear shines like a search light, Discovering all the little pockets of emptiness, all the wounds, and tells that story over and over of running to mama because we can’t do this; there’s too much pain.

But There are secrets to life that the intervening years told the truth about.

Because that same child sat next to me in the theater last night, whole, intact, emotionally available— even at only 18 years old—and feeling and expressing realizations and resolutions, while not wasting any time living her authentic self and the consistent nurturance she has for this world. And that these two memories exist within the same life experience—within the same 12 year span—reveals that there are stories which resonate more deeply than The Great Loss.

For in the shadows of heartbreak, doubt, abandonment and running to mama, there lives “help me” and someone rubbing your back, until the colors of this existence are shades of rainbows and fall leaves that in the contrast creates the entire more-beautiful experience. Where Life waves at us as if from the shore and we calibrate to protect ourselves until blindly against rocks we’re hurled and from the chaos—stretching out and towards our love for one another—we get to rise Into and then out of the great loss into another story.

And I did not know that then but it’s been a magical unveiling I can see the irony of once wanting freedom from.

For from spontaneous unwritten moments and the shine of a movie screen, pain and heartbreak now can illuminate the story of deep love and empathy. The story where Livy and I hold hands in the potency of misty-eyed remembrance then, after, normal life continues, and as we drive home, we hum the same song in the breath of a summers night.

 

From my “Me” page

I once read that “Om” is the sound that was made at the inception of the universe. That when the entirety of all things was somehow formed out of a void, Om was the vibrational emanation that erupted when the energy transferred from one state to another.

And “Om” is deceptive, for when said clearly, it’s actually three sounds, “A”, “U” and “M” and it’s in our haste to utter it as a cohesive unit that it often comes out–incorrectly–as only two.

And of course, to believe the universe made a sound at it’s “birth” is a story right there. The “big bang” is the current working theory explaining the universe’s known physical properties and it’s hard to imagine such a bang not making a sound but because the emptiness of space doesn’t carry “sound” (current science: except for gravitational waves) we would actually have to redefine sound in order to understand it. What can something say if it can’t be heard? Begging the question of the deep existential unknowings, asking who is the observer in this? Who is the one who hears? Is there a consciousness humans don’t have that experiences energy and light as it explodes into being? Questions which probe our growth, bringing us back to “Om” and the communion of heart. Where cross-legged on the floor we make space for the quiet, and in so doing, come to chant those three emanations from our voice box which no matter what the science or philosophy reveals is actually and truly the universe creating the sounds of itself.

The site title “Aimless” is a moniker I received from my AP Economics teacher Mr. Rosen at Aptos High School (CA) in front of a class of my peers–who didn’t know me except as the shy, new girl whose face turned red when she had to speak. The moniker which hit an emotional target that’s taken me over 30 years to fully understand. Because I was someone born looking for the deeper meaning. I read spiritual books at an early age, took religious studies courses as my “fun classes”, and purposely-geared my University of California, Davis psychology degree into the “pseudo-science” of what consciousness was, simply because I respected science enough to see that the full arc of its story is that science is ALWAYS in its infancy. So the description of being “Aimless” was not only an insult but a fear. For to be “Aimless” was like saying I’d never find the enlightenment the Buddha described, or walk the earth in love with humanity like Jesus. “Aimless” was someone ambling purposelessly along a road of meaninglessness, the glancing blows of love and experience barely reaching into the deepest significance of who I was and what I thought was possible. But now at 52 years old, I see things more clearly.

Because over the course of my life, I did feel aimless. I’ve lived in four states–moved in and out of towns and cities, and relationships. Became a single parent in 2007 after a savage divorce, went back to school for a masters degree in teaching and started a pet sitting business to supplement my income then graduated in 2011 into Life’s cosmic sense of humor where I didn’t get a job, experienced unemployment, financial hardship, the traumas of my beloved daughters, irreparable rifts with the unkind judgment of those I thought were family, and all the other full catastrophes (grief, fear, isolation, desperation) until I began to question the validity of a life which could deliver such experiences. Who cares about deeper meaning when things are so hard and why do I even want to be here for this cruel social experiment known as “humanity”?

But one night while sitting on the stairs of my former home–the wreckage of my life hitting with an incomparable loneliness–I somehow reached a stillness. And from that stillness I rose knowing that within the external circumstances of my life—within the hardship I was still actively engaged in— rests the opportunity to see the profound purity of the love I’ve offered this world. And that it is in fact the ego-less love any of us offer this world that is our only true possession–the only thing we ever get to keep– and is what turns back to speak to us on the carpeted back stairs of 1531 Garfield Avenue during the depths of our dark night of the soul.

And it wasn’t magic. It wasn’t some voice from the sky. It was my self, and my muscles, and one moment free of ego, showing me/us that love is bigger than Amy and her family, and her goals and her loneliness.

I currently live in Salt Lake City, UT (no; I’m not Mormon), was 52 on 10/1/2020, am a single parent of two girls (Julia, 22 and Livy, 20), a business owner/pet sitter, an animal lover, a teacher, a writer finding her voice, a devoted believer in the emotional freedom that comes with complete authenticity, and an aimless soul intent on expanding into the ever-changing self of a single second.

Because the search for a deeper meaning to life is actually an unsolvable logic puzzle unless we can find a way to not “be” anything. For you can’t be anything or go anywhere or see any truth until you find a way to be alive inside the peace and unity of just one moment. For that is the only meaning we ever truly are.

And such it is that all these years later, I bow to the wisdom of Mr. Rosen, the painful clarity of emotional targets, and the dark nights of the soul that forced me to explore the deeper significance of no thing and no self.

Beyond this site, I’m scattered around and nowhere. But here’s some more pics of my life. Thanks for coming by.

Aimless/Amy Palleson. (Permanently: TBD).

Yellowstone

And it was a shapeless voyage. Underplanned; underfunded. Like that time in my twenties when my boyfriend and I camped up and down the California coast. Freezing our asses off, we were whipped into submission by the frigid ocean wind, and—guided by no plan— moved east, north, then back toward the coast in a zig zag of unrepentant spontaneity. Landing once in a campground a few miles off I-5 that was so dusty it’s dirt never heard of rain and still yet was such a small fare to pay Life in order to feel free and unencumbered.

And the original Yellowstone vacation had to be scrapped because of a June blizzard, but somehow the girls, mom and I are there and it’s morning—June 15 2008 (Fathers Day)—when we’re stopped at the side of the road watching the grizzly bear eat the baby elk. The snow had melted into the pasture and the bears grey fur blew in imperceptible breeze, and as the tiny carcass (certainly still warm) became the backdrop for our first trip after daddy moved, Livy cried softly—“I bet the mommy elk is looking for her baby right now!”—in the tender, knowing way that would become her trademark.

Because on that day, my daughters and I bore the mark of unresolved grief. Where their dad cheated then moved to the opposite coast to live with his girlfriend and her young son, leaving myself, our two daughters, our pets, our life, threatening with lawyers if I contested our decree then bringing his girlfriend back to town a few months later—to hotel rooms they’d share with our girls—asking them, “why can’t you stop being selfish and just be happy for me?” They were 9 and 6. But he had his new family and the urgent need to justify his actions.

And I’d withstood the tears of my self and my girls from rejection that cuts the soul and had come face to face with truths we weren’t ready to handle, and watching that field, my little girls and I felt rooted to those truths. Stuck by the still-knife of temporal events which repeatedly wound us until we remain inside them, as if walking beside the ghost shadow of ourselves.

So on that day—on that slight hill, next to at least a hundred other spectators—I briefly joined Livy in wondering about that mama elk. About the world that Mama and I live in. Wondering how she can see and carry this. Wondering about the inherent indifference of it all and how we can find the strength to survive this world.

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[One of the great mysteries of existence rests with the moment of the “big bang.” If that event had obeyed the currently-accepted laws of our physical universe, the Big Bang would have created matter and anti-matter in equal amounts, a circumstance which should’ve been so condensed that matter and anti-matter would have annihilated one another, leaving only energy. But that’s not what happened.

And given enough time, it’s hard not to make everything the domain of the bittersweet. Impossible, really. I was walking through the grocery store writing this, thinking about how the struggle for my girls didn’t stop after that Yellowstone day or for years after yet ours is still such a beautiful story, now making the seemingly-disparate aspects of it connected as two conjoined truths.

For that there are tangible experiences of predation—bears eating babies, daddies creating emotional wounds—is the easy-reader version of a story. But the stars we look upon glow as matter conceived via a known improbability, and in so doing, pass on to us legends about who we are and the poignancy resting inside every tangible experience, as one aspect of truth forever looking for its other].

*********

The 1988 fires of Yellowstone twenty years before had made scars that settled into the landscape. In that 1988 summer, thirty-six percent of the park had burned, and trees fell like sticks on each other, resting now in 2008 as in permanent homage to the dignity of their past.

That fire year, new aspen groves—waning in the park before the fires—sprouted up miles from their burnt foremothers. The seeds for the shoots had been carried on wind and water and popped up only days after the fires, so to now—on our hasty sojourn through Yellowstone—they could grow proudly beside their ancestors like a lesson. As if Time is a benevolent gift which purposely withholds wisdom for a reason.

Standing near me, my mom—a pragmatist—lifted Julia in her arms to look at the bear. In 2000, the year Livy was born she’d told me that God never gives us more than we can handle. Julia—born in ‘98–had been challenging; hadn’t slept longer than two hours in her life, was colicky, every arriving tooth making her wail and sleepless, and James was constantly gone either physically or mentally, and I feared for what the second child could bring. Mom isn’t religious and neither am I, but in those simple times, “God never gives you more than you can handle” was enough. Yet now I stood with the knowing that it wasn’t enough, and never had been. Such words are inert— placeholders passing for lore–and shaped by hope into a feeling just good enough to persevere.

The park rangers were directing traffic overlooking the meadow, and I held Livy in my arms. I wanted everything for my babies. To feel loved and safe. Free, unencumbered. Wanted them whipped by ocean winds daring it to make them cold. Wanted their only miseries to be courtesy of choice and adventure.

And the 1988 aspen groves that had burned were direct clones of groves mammoths and camels had probably grazed on, And it reminded me of something I once read: that the pull of gravity from the sun is precisely what’s needed to keep our planet from flinging itself into the abyss. That for billions of years beyond placeholders, the sun has anchored us to the safety of our Earth as we eternally balance, falling always into the sun but forever missing.

And in the bright sunshine of a June day in 2008 that bear’s fur blew in the breeze, floating in air I didn’t even know was moving. Perhaps whispering to me about mysteries of Nature as Julia comforted Livy—“Maybe that bear also has babies it needs to feed”—among RVs and tripods and foreign languages.

And maybe there are moments that stand still on one point, as if Time can pivot and catch. When you’re standing on the earth in the sunshine with your daughters and also falling into the sun and forever missing.

Because in the absence of a deeper knowing, the power of our love must be taken on faith but when we shield one another from the emotional brutality of our darkest truths, we bear witness to pain as an infinite-love seeking the comfort of itself.

And so it was that my soft-hearted seven-year-old child–Livy, her eyes red from love for that elk family—was in my arms comforting her stuffed panda, and her older sister—Julia, then ten, surveying the adventure, calling us back into stronger selves —comforted us both.

And inside a tangible scene, we welcomed ourselves home to the surety of our deepest safety, growing from and into each other—free and unencumbered in our devotion—our love filling in the incompleteness of a burned landscape with groves of trees now in full bloom.

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.

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.