Warrior for a gentle world

I was kept up all night by Julia’s new dog whining and feel spit out so when the young man at Jiffy Lube in the greasy jacket with no nametag gazes up at the TV while casually sipping coffee and says “Kelly Ripa looks so good for her age. What is she, like, 50?”, my irritation is a toxic brew of exhaustion and 50 year old defensiveness. Like, what exactly qualifies you, Mr. 20 Year Old Ballsac Express, to opine on the pleasing nuances of feminine aging when obviously I usually look better than this. Obviously. I was just, like, kept up all night and don’t even want to be here but my oil’s overdue and I’ve never even had a personal trainer/dietitian.

And I haven’t dreamt about mom and her husband in a long time but last night I found myself in a recurring one. In this particular one, I’m in a house with my girls and our pets and we’re moving and–standing around this almost-empty house–I suddenly knew my stepdad was coming. And like my previous recurrences of this dream, realizing he was coming brought on panic and fear, for in all iterations of this recurring dream, I’m grabbing my kids and my pets (and sometimes our foster kittens) to get out of wherever we are because my stepdad is coming there to hurt us. And in these unconscious spheres, it’s a horrible, helpless feeling, a feeling of being hunted by a foe large in size and rage, where I’m thrust into battle and being called to save from viciousness all the things I love most in this world.

And, as dreams usually work, the fear in this recurring one is based on reality. Mom got with my stepdad in ‘90–not fully divorced from dad–and not too long after (‘92) I was told I could either accept him or stop being part of her life. And during that time, I thought he was a chaotic post-divorce event as she rebuilt herself; he was an ex-con (sex offender), didnt have a job, a decorated cowboy on the rodeo circuit—a 180 from my dad who she’d been with for 20 years—so I thought he was her experimentation of self after my parents called it quits. But this was not the case and in the intervening decades, there’d been rages, screaming, silent anger– which if it wasn’t acknowledged would turn 2/…very dark–and a drastic moodiness covered up by pandering to keep him stable leading to events a la “I pushed him too far and that’s why he choked me,” punches to horses faces, convincing mom shooting my two dachshunds–and her dog Malone, among others–was an appropriate way to end their lives, etc.

And across my life cycle, I accepted, swallowed, became the powerless observer until blending together across time was the nonchalant creation of cruelty it was implied I’d just ignore. A cruelty which—after I became a single mother—loomed like PTSD to become—last night—the theatrical version. The version wherein he isn’t just coming for my mom, and me, and our former pets; he’s coming for my kids, the cat that purred on my lap this morning, and the neurologically impaired kitten I took care of yesterday. The version Wherein—in all iterations and settings of this dream— I’m doing all I can to escape but I can’t, and right up until I accept this unfortunate fact, I feel helpless and trapped then in the very next second, I’m calm and strategic and looking for the weapon I’ll use to kill him.

And at Jiffy Lube, waiting for my car—exhausted, old, and reliving— I can only just vaguely see the real emotion behind my nightscapes. The devastation and the tears I felt and shed are memories, and shadowy things I’ve since left behind to better embody love as a force for proactive helping and healing. Bad things do happen and people hurt vulnerable and precious things but I can’t live there; I live my days loving and protecting those same things.

Yet sitting under the TV, surrounded by greasy clothes, I relive shooting my stepdad in the chest, gasping as his flesh and bone exploded and splattered my face. And last night, finding an ax and strategizing how best to wield its weight so as to kill him with one strike.

What does it mean that erupting out of the spaces of my heartsickness has come not healing or love but the accepted solemnity of extreme violence?


A couple of years ago a friend sent me an mp3 file containing the testimony of a former gang member and ex-con. The young-ish man had gone before a panel of Utah politicians to try to inform them of how his life became that of a criminal, to dissect the trajectory so as to prevent other young men from following suit.

During his testimony, he talked about how he’d grown up in a violent home. His stepdad was psychologically wired to exact abuse of maximum potency and the young man detailed that this meant his stepdad learned not to spend the effort at beating the young man but rather to spend it torturing the things yge young man loved. So he’d make the boy listen while he beat the boy’s dog. Bringing the dog close enough to ensure the boy could hear, then abuse it, forcing the boy to listen as the dog yelped and cried and whimpered in fear and pain.

We start off in this world tender; as hearts that want to love and be loved, and which trust implicitly that the world wants the same. We aren’t born knowing what to do with cruelty and violence; aren’t emotionally inclined to the skill set of adapting to someone clearly lost inside themselves. So we spin events into alt-facts and create a means of empowerment to protect ourselves so that it doesn’t hurt us anymore.

We ourselves place on the menu a way to make peace with our helplessness.


That very first dream (circa 2010-2011?) is the one where I shot him in the chest. In it, my step dad wasn’t just coming for me and my girls and my animals: he was also coming for my mom. In waking life, I wanted her to get out of her situation but so many years and events had gone by that I didn’t have much hope. I’d learned you can’t make someone leave. You can’t make someone stop being cruel, you can’t make someone stop beating a helpless dog; you can’t take the rage inside someone else and nullify it without their permission.

And he was at least 7 or 8 feet away from me when I shot him. But his tissues exploded and—whether from the force of them landing on my face or from my shock and attempt to keep it from hitting me (I don’t remember)—my head was pushed backward as my mouth vocalized the gasp. I hadn’t wanted to shoot him but he’d left me no choice; and I had to kill him with the first shot because if I just hurt him he’d get up and we’d be in more danger. Sometimes when I’m alone, in my car, thinking about it, I reenact the gasp and my head flinging back. I wish I could reproduce for you what it felt like.

And this morning, in and out of my exhaustion—head resting into a Jiffy Lube window—I fell again into that dream, not fully knowing why I had it.

I stood—and stand, in all these dreams—to kill something because I want to. I create dreams in which I give myself permission to do so. And while I don’t necessarily know why and may never know, as I sat there, eyes closed, I gave all vulnerable and precious things the opportunity to feel safe and loved, slaying cruelty with an ax while waiting for my car and coming to terms with my place in the order of a gentle world.

Baby Blue Dresser

On October 17, 1989, I was riding my bike home from my Clinical Psychology class at UC Davis, looking forward to watching the Bay Bridge World Series Game 3—San Francisco Giants vs. Oakland A’s—on TV with my boyfriend, when the earthquake struck. The Loma Prieta earthquake. I didn’t even feel it.
 
The 5:35 game hadn’t started when the quake hit at 5:04, and so the many TV cameras recording pre-game excitement at Candlestick Park actually televised the earthquake to millions of people. It would, in fact, become the first large earthquake ever to be broadcast live.
 
Right after the shaking some fans assembled at Candlestick let out a cheer believing it was a sign that the series battle between two teams from the same metropolitan area was now christened by unseen forces but when power went out, murmurs of confusion rippled and within minutes, players were gathering their family from the stands as people were told to leave the park. Only about half the fans were in their seats at the time of the quake and had there been any more seated, their weight on the structure would have made the concrete less able to retain its integrity.
 
The earthquake hadn’t been centered in San Francisco though. It had been centered in the Santa Cruz mountains, where our home was. Or where our home HAD been, before my parents’ separation a few months before. During my first year at college—‘88-‘89–things had somehow crumbled and I’d come home on weekends over the course of the year to see dad crying in the living room and intervened on his behalf only to be informed that I wasn’t welcome to come home if I couldn’t support my mom’s decision to divorce. Then that summer—of ‘89, months before the quake—dad moved out, and my mom went a bit bananas—obsessively making my 13 year old sister do the Ouija board— until one day, shit exploded and my sister ran off to the neighbors house where dad came to get her from and we didn’t see or talk to her again for almost a year. In the interim, mom moved out of the dome on Hazel Dell Road—the last place we’d all live as an intact family—and I moved my stuff to Davis to live with Steve, while Dad and my sister (and brother, who was in and out) were living in the Hazel Dell dome.
 
When the 6.9 magnitude quake hit, my sister was in the house but my dad was up the road, at the well which was over a hill and not visible from the house. The earthquake rocked our geodesic dome so violently that it slid off it’s foundation and made the deck which encircled the entire span of the home’s exterior break away from the house. Once it was over, dad ran towards the house and screamed at seeing it, knowing my sister was inside but in trying to get in to find her, discovered he couldn’t because the back door we always went through wouldn’t open anymore. Everything had shifted, and was twisted in different directions, so the door was still a rectangle, but the door frame was a rhomboid, and wouldn’t budge. My sister was fine having found a doorway to get into but stuff was everywhere, windows broken, the house cracked and a complete wreck. Dad and Alex left—having to obv move out—and Jeff squatted near the dome for a few days but left to go somewhere and after that the house sat there alone, dark, broken and eerie.
 
The divorce wasn’t yet final so one weekend soon after the quake, my mom, my moms friend Mary, myself and my boyfriend Steve went to see it and retrieve things of ours that might have been left behind, one example of which was our family pictures and baby books, which were still in the ruined house inside the drawer they’d always been in when we lived together.
 
The smell of the house is what I would remember most for years after. The refrigerator had been slammed forward, and tipped and door open, was laying on the counter. The food that had been inside had been flung out of the fridge and lay rotting. The odor of this rotten food was mixed with the smell of my sister’s smashed fish tank—gravel, broken glass, Angel fish on the floor of her bedroom—and her broken bottles of perfume, creating an aroma of rot, and fish, and perfume that bled into the carpet and the walls.
 
The floors were sloping and rising, and almost spongey—clearly not on solid ground—and the house groaned and creaked.
 
One surreal thing I saw that day besides the physical destruction of a home I’d loved was a baby blue chest of drawers that my parents had put under the deck of the house to store. It had been my younger brother’s changing table and then his dresser but put under the deck of the house when it wasn’t needed anymore. The shifting of the house had caused the deck (still mostly attached to the house) to land on top of the dresser, and when I took a picture, one ten inch deck joist is visible and denotes just how heavy the entire deck itself was even while this baby blue dresser held steady as if in a strength beyond rationality. I’ve forgotten much of the intense/scarring feelings from that time but am glad I listened to the feelings that day because now I have this picture as both an emblem of our family history as well as evidence of the surprising resilience of forgotten ordinariness.
 
In the end, the insurance company (my parents somehow had earthquake insurance) eventually decided to lift the existing damaged structure back up and onto the foundation rather than demolish and rebuild. Geodesic domes are known for being earthquake resistant and in some ways, that was accurate. The home is still there—visible on Google—but they named the driveway/road something specific and when they did the address of the house changed too.
 
[On a side note, after the house was fixed and my dad and sister were moving back in, a tow truck driver bringing my dad‘s beloved ‘57 Chevy (that didn’t run but was his dream project that we’d moved around to all our various cities for 20 years) up the hill to the dome, ended up somehow not setting his emergency brake(?) and after he got to the top of the hill, the truck started rolling backwards with the Chevy still on it and flipping over in the field, destroying the Chevy.
 
I ended up with those family pictures, and still have them. Mom had them for many years after the day we saw the dome but when I moved to Virginia and James and I bought 6348 Tisbury Drive, she asked if I would take them because I was at that point pretty geographically settled and she wasn’t. Fast forward multiple decades—about three—and I’d (accidentally) find out that some came to believe I had the pictures for Different reasons which I won’t detail here but which is indicative of the misunderstandings that often accompany broken families. I’m certainly not hoarding these pictures; much of that life honestly feels like it didn’t even happen. It’s now just bits and pieces, enmeshed in a larger much-more complex experience]

Some tears for the Ocean

I’ve never cried so hard as that day in 2007 when James drove his moving truck down the street.

He was moving from Utah to live with his office assistant/girlfriend and her son 2000 miles away just a few weeks after we’d told the girls we were divorcing.  A divorce which blindsided the girls and I; I didn’t even get a lawyer.  James and Sarah probably began their relationship during summer 2006 when we dug out our basement and I unknowingly insisted he stay with Sarah and her husband Ryan in Blacksburg, Virginia (location of the main office) rather than come home to the unpleasantness of our Utah bungalow.  “Just stay with Sarah and Ryan; its so gross here.”  Naturally, he didn’t reveal she and Ryan had separated.

But on that day he moved, James’ dad was here from Virginia, trying to right the error of James moving.  I said right there in front of Bob, “James, don’t move out there to her and come visit your girls; stay here and go visit her.”   I needed him here and so did the girls.   But he wasn’t listening, didn’t want to; Bob and I talking to him was like trying to reason with a sinking ship.

That very day, Livy lost her first tooth in a bowl of popcorn.   It landed in the large steel bowl then sunk to the bottom and Grandpa Bob and the girls and I searched for it but hanging out down there like a groupie with the whitish crumbs of popcorn, we could barely tell the difference between food and tooth.  But we finally did, celebrating then the victory of finding a lost treasure, in one of those moments that stands there like a trophy.  A stop-action moment More than the sum of its individual parts.

And when he and Grandpa drove off in James’ UHaul, I wasn’t ready.  I didn’t want to see what was going to happen.  Wanted to cover my eyes like in a scary movie, so that my brain didn’t invite in through my eyes what I didn’t want to become part of me.  Both girls chased the truck down the street.  Down Garfield Avenue, where they’d grown up.  Where we’d gotten our first puppy.  Where Livy’d come Home from the hospital, where they’d played with the neighbor kids, and started school.  Where they’d donned costumes in the cold of Utah Autumn to go get the big candy bars from Chuck and Dave’s house next door; where they’d bathed in the safety of familial surety.  And James noticed them running, and slowed his truck and pulled over at the end of our street—next to the orange house he’d eventually move into after the break up with Sarah—and got out of the drivers side to walk around the back of the truck to where Julia and Livy waited like angels on the sidewalk.

And as I was watching this play out from the slight distance of looking outside of myself and my children, there was this moment like at the end of a movie.   Where written into the story is a single epiphanic scene that makes everything pivot to where suddenly something in a character clicks.  To where inside James something about his tender dad looking for Livys tooth has shifted him to the core of his being and he “UNDERSTANDS” and gets out of the truck to hug his girls and decides he doesn’t want to ever stop.   

I’m watching this scene of my own family from my own porch, knowing that the arc of this story would then be to forgive him this fucking shitshow of lying/ dissociation if only he would hug his daughters and not get back in that truck and drive off.  He’d walk back to where I am and tell me he’s not moving, he can’t do that to them, he’ll live here, and fly back and forth to see Sarah.  I saw it all in a flash of “please, god.  Please.” Because that’s what “not being ready” does to you.  It makes you stand on your porch and, in Grief and desperation, make deals like a grifter.

But he didn’t.   James hugged them both quickly then walked back around the truck, got in and drove off.

And that night I cried with the force of a heartbreak I can’t describe, as if something in my body was already living the sense of rejection my girls would feel, and the way they’d blame themselves.  As if I could feel my 9 and 6 year old babies archetypal pain and simultaneously their potential idolization of Sarah—younger, thinner; flashy, uncomplicated, the unburdened “winner”.   

I Could feel that I’d have to let my young, vulnerable babies integrate into the lives of people who didn’t care about hurting them.   

I was living inside the normalization of cruelty.  And rolling myself into the fetal position on my bed that night, I convulsed from the grief and the unrecoverable knowledge that my most beloved connection to both this earth and my own soul might never be whole again.  And that maybe neither would I.

********

[Sometimes I don’t know why I write things.  Writing is therapeutic but I don’t reside with this specific grief anymore and I’ve got other fires to put out.   

But the other day, the six year old girl who lost her tooth the day her dad left sent me the writings attached to this post.   A heart-centered, emotional child from the beginning there have been many moments where I did not think it would be possible for her to remain on this planet.  Yet she now writes with a voice that is both herself and her heartache.  She writes with a voice that is both the ethereal and also the days she wanted to die.

So when I say I don’t know why I write, I think maybe it’s because I’m standing on my porch looking down the street, and not yet understanding that the grief I felt inside and consumed by was actually love patiently waiting for this very day]

*********

I’ve said goodbye to many things in my lifetime; many versions of myself and what I thought I needed to be and have in order to feel happy.

And of course I never wanted that day he moved to happen.   For many years, I felt stuck with memories and reverberations of it to where I even begged God to make the pain go away.  For the foes were real:  How can I bring up my girls to be caring and whole in a world where I’m normalizing cruelty?   In a world in which the immediate pain of rejection is their family?  Because events scar us, and we never feel healed.   That isn’t exaggeration; just look around.

But waiting on the porch with me that day was the wisdom of a universe.  A universe telling me that love won’t always look like a dad doing the right thing; sometimes love will look like a grandpa looking for a lost tooth or two sisters running after a truck together.  It’ll look like a mom in the fetal position and—as years pass—like an older sister letting her sleepless, anxious younger one sleep in her bed and like that same younger sister writing words that make their mom weep.

Because on that day I didn’t know that the stronger and most-loving version of our selves is a stranger until that’s who’s comforting us into sleep.  For the truth of all of this—of humanity; of the deep reckonings that emanate—is that we actually have no idea how fucking beautiful we even are until we’ve had to fight for one another.

 

And yes, there was still pain after that day, and will be again.  The world will pose as both farce and cruelty and people will not be what we want them to be.  But on that day, the universe told me that “ready” isn’t a point in time, it’s a state of being.  For things are not linear when placed inside the heart, and from agony comes caring to where we can’t truly see one without the other.  Because in the end, our tears baptize us into the love we are and have, and inside the heart, what looks like a sinking ship is merely one arc in a story about the ocean. 

Many Different Leaves

And it’s morning, and I’m walking Kora in downtown Salt Lake City, close to the big temple. It’s the last two days I’m sitting for her family because they’re moving to Park City so I am feeling that—saying goodbye to Kora as well as their cats, Twix and Breezy—and confronting the dynamic nature of life and the beauty inherent in the savoring of something knowing in advance that it isn’t going to last.

And the trees are half-in and half-out of Fall—some with green foliage attached— and the leaves that are on the ground are not yet soggy. Their many hours in the dark of night being just a pause, the weather too warm for dew, too temperate for frost. The leaves–not yet raked and bagged–are thick and fluffy, falling every minute now onto ground from trees preparing to sleep it off for a few months.

And people are always friendly down here near the big temple. Just west of the conference center, there is a building where the out-of-town missionaries stay for their service work, and as they walk to their placements, they often exit the building wearing a solemnity that makes me not want to laugh until they catch sight of me. And then they’re jovial and extroverted, often saying “morning! cute dog!” as we pass.

And today, as I walk Kora, a couple emerge who are holding hands stiffly; in suit and dress and long, wool coats, with nametags, they pass by in unwavering focus and say nothing. No hearty good morning to a stranger. No unofficial proselytizing. Nothing off script. Just a business-like devotion to God; just the padded existence of a religion where nothing else exists except the seriousness of the quest. Or–my mind whirs–maybe, alternatively, a marriage so bad they have nothing left except stiff hands and Elder and Sister Smith nametags. Maybe just sadness, and role play; rayon dresses and averted eyes walking towards their promised salvation like paper dolls astride silence and vulnerable emotional spaces masked by small talk.

And as I walk Kora behind this couple, Kora sniffs while I delve inside what it looks like to be them. Are they in love? Is that what 30 years gets you? Stiff hands and seriousness all part of the package they drove off the lot with. They don’t even know to be dissatisfied? Or maybe their marriage is fine and this visage is what they were told finding God should be like. That it would appear as a piousness so serious their reverie marks them even to strangers walking Husky mixes (kicked out of day care for aggression) on a beautiful fall morning in Salt Lake City.

And inside my reflective mental space this morning I bounce around inside this few minutes sharing this couple’s life. And as I walk beside this sterile couple searching for an experience of God, I feel graced to on the outside wondering; feel graced with a deeper experience of what I am and what I value, as if watching them be who they are has helped me appreciate my self and my life. My easy laugh, my curiosity, that Kora sniffed that same rock yesterday (why?), and how the morning seems to be offering the experience of fall as if an off-Broadway production.

, as if there is no other way I could have been more content in my life at this moment without being able to witness this couple being something else. For just as summer gives itself constantly to Autumn, we journey through the seasons of humanity bearing leaves of different growth, marking the time with . That these religious people and my self and Kora are living a unified whole, helping each other . Fornot yet thick making a dent from their many hours spent in the dark and cold, and it’s almost as if the night too is still trying to hang on to summer.

Are they supposed to act so serious? Is that what finding God looks like to them? When do you know you’ve experienced God, or is walking together as a long-married couple in a nametag towards the temple to do their required service work enough?

And on this morning of balancing between seasons–as the leaves pull aside summer with such grace it becomes a seduction–we part, and it’s just Kora and I, and the awareness once again that it’s one of our last jaunts. Me snapping pics to remember her by; her looking proudly at the camera knowing that I was, while everything rests into an early morning inside a synchronicity in which we’re all just fragments of a larger creation breathing one another into being.

Remember the love

Today this group is headed to the Best Friends Adoption Center.

We ended up naming them Salzburg, Linz, Wels, Vienna and Austria.  Picked up on May 8th, from Best Friends–described as “5 shy-ish kittens”–one of them got so upset on our way home, they pooped in the carrier.  We never have any real idea when we get a group what it’ll be like.  What their history in the world and with people is, how feral they are.  But typically, even if they’re “shy-ish,” hissing and pooping the first day, by the second or third in the kitten room–with the furniture and the boxes and the quiet– they’ve decided they’re safe enough.  Maybe will flee during transitions, loud noises, our movements, and toss a few side-eyes after quietly and slowly slinking up to the new canned food we’ve plopped down  but will give noticeable evidence that they are relaxing and curious.  Will gather excitedly when toys come out, skitter now and then just to remind themselves of their past, but dive back in soon after.

But not this group.  The five kittens in this group were all petrified.  And, for three of them, it actually got worse as the weeks wore on.   In spite of our efforts to elicit trust and offer them an optimal environment, it got to where Julia confessed a few weeks into it that she’d feel so depressed by the sight of kittens still in such fear of people who’ve spent weeks hoping to help them feel safe that she’d often have a difficult time going in their room to see them. It was discouraging to confront the reality that for three of these kittens, the tricks that had always worked weren’t, and that the absolute purity of calm, and love and devotion wasn’t enough to overcome whatever embedded trauma and fear they had already established in their little bodies.  When Julia admitted that, I confessed that I too had been surprised.  Best outcomes is they get back to the Best Friends Adoption Center when they’re still little–and more adoptable–in case there is a kitten surplus and they have to wait there for weeks before their family finally finds them.  Those outcomes are usually doable pretty easily but this group we just weren’t sure.

And I had a long work day in front of me–and was already exhausted from previous long days–so when I held formerly-fearful Linz to give her our pre-farewell “blessing of the fosters”—“we love you; if you need us, tell the universe to help you find us; may our love always serve to comfort you”—my tears started to flow.

Because in the short interim span between Julia’s confession and this morning came about the improbable growth that meant these kittens were ready for their new life.  That they themselves were reshaped, reformed, and anew.  And how does that happen?  I don’t really know.   I’m in this room saying goodbye and giving my blessing to kittens who a week before I knew at least three of them would be hiding behind the furniture at the adoption center to keep from being seen by potential adopters.

And last night, I’d spent some time falling into the experience of the 2018 Tony Awards.  The students of Parkland high school performed “Seasons of Love” from Rent, just a few months after the Valentine’s Day massacre at their high school.

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes…

How do you measure a year in a life?

How about love?

Measure in love.

Remember the love.

And in the room with me were the kids of this tragedy, together on a stage, bursting the hearts of those around them with this symbolic gesture of hope and harmony.  Linz’s downy hair, and solid strong body relaxing into the trust we’ve built as I pick her up, and tenderly cradle her, telling me there is healing even when the world hurts us.  Even when we are vulnerable and wronged–traumatized and justifiably hopeless–there can still exist the part of our story in which we find our way into an arc of redemptive luminescence.  As if the universe sends us our very selves as a message of perseverance.  Compelling us to join our fellow injured on a stage and in unison make a different world together inside melodies speaking of love.

And my eyes were dripping, from love and tears and I crawl slowly over to Wels. A fluffy little man–once most frightened of all of them, in almost constant terror for many weeks–who’d somehow, suddenly, one random day, got his light switched on. Trekked across the kitten room to Julia and rubbed his head against her fingers in affection. And I raise him slowly, and kiss him slowly, closing my eyes, as I give the blessing.  I want him to know the singing.

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes…

How do you measure a year in a life?

I want him to know that things are often hard, and moments filled with external love and safety will pass.  Want him to know (want myself to know) that when the kitten room is empty and their little ghosts run around in my memories, that though the math adds up to all of us passing at some point again into trauma, fear, and darkness, we can never unsing this beautiful moment.  Right this second is one we will always have when in the future dark times gather to make us doubt if that love was even real; when the singing to heal isn’t something we can muster, we can still never unhear being told how loved we are, or relaxing into the hands of a lady we came to trust for the quiet ways of patience, effort, concern and blessings.

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes…

How do you measure a year in a life?

How about love?

Measure in love.

Remember the love.

And I finish, and close the door to head out for my workday, leaving the babies in their room for one last day. But with me–singing quietly to myself–I take the softness of their hair and the feeling of their relaxed bodies being held against mine, and the mysteries of healing, and the arc of an improbable story I have personally just been part of.

In flight (redux)

(Written In memoriam to 2020 and All Time)
 
9/17/19: The dream was that [Someone I greatly respect and admire] and I were sitting at a rectangle outdoor table in a small private garden. A tree was to his left and he was across from me—sitting at the head of the table—and the sun was shining and everything was in bloom.
 
And as he sat there, he was kind of mumbling (or speaking in a language I couldn’t understand) almost as if talking to himself but I knew the gist of what he was saying and felt respectful but uncomfortable and embarrassed. Because what he was doing was describing—as if in the omniscience of “The Great Other”(God)— the things he knew I’d said and done over my earthly existence and tears were running down his cheeks for the joy and admiration of what he’d seen.
 
And I said nothing—was mortified/do not like praise at all in waking life—and he was in a zone where it didn’t matter anyways as he was overcome with emotion, red face, tears collecting in eyes and slowly streaming down.
 
And from either letting him live in the moment of his emotion or perhaps in deflection of/embarrassment of what was happening, I got distracted and looked down at the table to see little bits of light collecting right on the tabletop in front of me.
 
The lights were moving as in the manner of sun moving through leaves but suddenly I could see that the bits of light were actually teeny fish moving in a school that was part of the surface of the table. They were swimming in the solid surface of this table like the table was becoming water and as I was looking at them swim they began swaying in a collective wave of a school of fish swimming in unison. Moving together in varying patterns and shapes, back and forth and up and down across the table, like showing me with their light-bodies what liquidity can look like. Then suddenly the school of fish darted as one to the right edge of the table, and instead of turning back around to keep swimming on the table, they leapt off the tabletop of “water” and flew like a flock into the sky because each little fish had transformed to become a bird.
 
And I gasped in wonder. Was so alive in the magic of it all I wasn’t even self-conscious it might be disrespectful not to be actively listening to […….]—for I knew he’d feel the same way as I did—so just watched as out the edge of the table and around my chair, these tiny light birds took flight, twisting in my chair to marvel with body and words what had just occurred.
 
And in some part of my awareness, I wondered to myself if I’d actually made the fish turn into a flock of light birds. Did I do that? Can I do that?
 
Then I tilted a bit into wondering whether this magical world I’d just witnessed as observer was something that’s always right “there”, forever waiting for the ideal moment of a human’s soul to reveal the 100% potential of ourselves. Waiting for every condition to be met—waiting for the point where human sight has been appropriately unchained—before pulling off the disguise of normal consciousness to utter aloud the supernatural ways of the profound other world that’s always right here. The other world that acts as observer to one another before swimming in unison and heeding the call to transform and all together take to the air in flight.
 
**************
 
1/5/2020
 
On January 5th of this year, I woke up early to meditate.
 
I’ve been meditating with widely-varying dedication for 30 years and that morning in the predawn—legs crossed, earplugs in, making an event out of breathing—I attempted again to carve from “normalcy” the profound truth of the supernatural ways.
 
The last few weeks of 2019 into 2020 had ignited the tinder within me—the personalized points of insecurity; the places of archetypal inner gnawing; all the different ways I’ve disappointed myself and my kids; the separation I feel to humanity, who take frivolity very seriously as the world starves and burns—and I wanted to connect with the me who could look at those feelings. It was a slow work day—in a very slow January—and slow work days always bring on my darkness and the Jaws music called “lack.”
 
And typically in the random selection of thoughts/visions that meet me in such meditations is the sense of the blade. A sense of the events, the eruptions, the causes of my purposeful endeavor at finding calm. But not that morning.
 
That morning in my minds eye—amid what I assumed was all my worry and feeling—I saw a bird which right in front of my face, hovered as if in the flirtatious delight of its capabilities before suddenly jetting away, wings dramatically tilting as if it was showing off. And I giggled.
 
The sun was due to come up in Salt Lake City at 7:52 a.m. so at 7:30, I made tea and parked myself in the chair overlooking our backyard bird feeder. The first bird appeared at 8:06—its friends arriving soon after—and as my cat sat nearby and offered her little cackling mix of outrage and derangement, I realized that
the funny thing about life is that the same worry-themes will occur again and again, year upon year—shaking our combustibles—but then one day, one year—somehow, understood clearly during meditation—we’ll have changed. As if the tinder that we thought was still inside us waiting to burn had actually been tiptoeing around flipping lights on, patiently waiting for the sun to rise within ourselves.
 
And so as the birds stayed aloft—daring gravity to protest—reverberations of self replayed in muscles that just a short time before had giggled from joy. And in the simplicity of quiet, I watched animals not bound to earth flirt with the air as if in deference to my shift in perception.
 
*************
 
 
 
 
 
 
4/2020:  Pandemic.
 
I’m Walking. East to Canal, south to 5600, west to Redwood, then north and back around to 1601 Paradise—the last place I’d live with both of my girls; where I’ve lost my livelihood yet trying to keep hold of my mind—walking in the bleakness of April 2020 in a modified meditation. Terrain is flat, my hood is up, headphones in but not on; I focus on a point ahead and breathe. Processing the huge changes, wanting to hold on to what I know—not wanting to be destitute, not wanting to move, not wanting Julia to move out—yet also understanding that as an emotional being, this is how humans change. This is how things move us out of position so we can come to see things. For the only reality is growth and that growth is often first and foremost pain so unbearable you don’t want to go on. And Thirty years ago, I didn’t know the self I walked with—and certainly wouldn’t have aspired to the events that created her—yet as I walked, I felt being called to wake and be alive. To breathe into discomfort and unknowing and be okay.
 
So I walked. Breathing.
 
Late March, early April, late April. Walking. Observing the teetering. My worries of early January dialed up in decibels.
 
Walked/walking—every day, sometimes twice—breathing. And later under baseball cap and sunglasses, I’d drink a Bloody Mary sitting in those stadium chairs Laura gave me before she moved back to Chicago, and as classic rock boomed from the neighbors house, I’d sing the songs and cry on the back deck of 1601 Paradise in the afternoon sun of early spring.
 
**************
 
12/16/2020
 
I woke at 5:24 to meditate.
 
I could hear the guy peeing in the upstairs apartment (sounds like a heathy guy) because I moved in July. Again. That makes four moves in five years (all necessary; I didn’t want to) which is a special blend of crazy. Four moves in five years has made my girls and I the singular justification for why you always—ALWAYS. Okay, Julia?—tape the bottom of the goddammed cardboard box. (Don’t just close the flaps on themselves, man. Come on. That’s rookie moves; its all our shit in there).
 
And this particular move deserves an Oscar. Moving from a large abode to a tiny one in the middle of a pandemic will forever make this move the one where Scarlett O’ Hara is stepping over the bodies in the streets of Atlanta trying to get help only to get to the hospital just in time to hear the screams of a guy getting his leg sawed off. The girls and I Looking around going, “excuse me? I’m pretty and do not want to deal with this shit” while smelly, gangrened soldiers try to grab us and we motion in protest to No One Cares about the audacity of this unbelievable nightmare.
 
But chaos and I are old friends. We stroll side by side holding hands—as equals—and fall in love while the world goes to shit.
 
We meditate together in the stillness of an early morning and while the guy puts out a fire in his toilet microphone, she and I breathe as one.
 
And we’re now in the last few weeks of a year we’ll forever talk about. During which some of us had no choice but to look at our shadow because the only thing we could even afford was “growth.” So we walked—and walked and walked—and breathed, and gave space to what it is we were becoming.
 
And I’m still breathing, giving space; observing. My oldest bird has now flown; my income’s in half, every little thing is still uncertain; I’m yielding my moments to the Zen of someone’s leg getting sawed off.
Yet in delving into breath, quiet, (time, space, consciousness, love, pain, chaos, gangrene,…), I know I’m the creator of this dream. For one day, I sat down to face my worry and instead saw a covetous bird, as if Time itself had sent it for the longing to hear me giggle.
 
And from rising each morning solely with the goal to come meet my better self, I open the door to discover the infinity of Life inside me. Where the fish become birds and hover before me, telling me what I am and who I can be. Where I breathlessly ask [my most admired person……………], ‘what makes something real?’ before I fly off a table and into the air of every possible thing.
 
And to quiet the noise to witness the inner knowings, we begin to wonder ‘what does “perfect” feel like?’ Will I know it when it arrives? Will it make me giggle? And in longing to make sense of the stars inside us, we don’t always see that we’ve moved to the homes of our (as yet) most awake selves. But when the world spins violently, we can better understand the truth of what we are and, in discovering the life nestling within, can look around in admiration, gasping ever anew from the wonder of what we’ve seen.

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.

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

IMG_3247

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.