Muh Earl

Some pics belie the tenderness behind them. Because when I met introverted Earl–whose history included the passing of his former owner, the relatives for whom did not find new homes for his cats and Earl was put on the street–his eyes seemed almost too sad to overcome the emotional hesitation.
 
And as a pet sitter, everything is always temporary and short-term. For a few days, I come in, feed, stay for a bit, leave and don’t see them sometimes for a long while between their families trips. And because of this, good connections with sensitive animals who’ve experienced abandonment are challenging to manifest. Since animals become world-weary just like humans, and know better than to get attached. For although circumstances change, once we experience such a loss as Earl had the fear usually settles into even our muscles, so Earl had made his whole body part of keeping distance, revealing his skepticism and hurt as he’d let the other house cats crowd before walking off as if giving up.
 
But I understood Earl. Knew his grief. And in the justified sadness of a sweet cat someone shooed outside as if they were sweeping the floor, I was called to act. So I made time to find him each visit, to sit with him, to specifically bring him into the circle of my attention (even with his extroverted sibs crowding around) because I wanted him to know he was important to me. Wanted to make an event out of “Earl”. Came into the house hollering the refrain “Where’s muh Earl?” so that he knew right away I hadn’t forgotten between trips that he was that tender guy I wanted to see.
 
Because we’ve all looked out upon the world with sad Earl eyes, many of us coming to exist within the immovable sense of not feeling safe enough to trust the world won’t hurt us, for, in fact the world has—Purposefully, Unashamedly—until sometimes we want to even flee from this life. And while these are harsh realities I can’t erase out of existence, I didn’t want to accept that that’s all there is. And Earl didn’t either.
 
For sometimes sadness and grief seem solid as if anchoring us permanently into them. Yet from mutual loss flows a compassion and nurturance for our fellow humans and creatures until somehow, one day, we’re sitting on the couch and old man Earl suddenly climbs into our lap and nuzzles his face in our hair.
 
And there are yet mysteries to solve, but events often become bits of truth constantly discovering itself, and when sweet Earl jumped up that first day—cat hair like love floating delicately around—I think it seasoned us both in what to do with this Life. In how to stand inside the new love we weave into existence as we survive this world more powerfully within togetherness.

Abstracted clarity

Part 1 (2016): That moment when you’re exhausted—on your 17 hour workdays stretching out for weeks—but must run in to buy your catholes their Soulistic at Petco in Sugar House and they open a new register with “I can help the next customer in line over here on 3” and even though you are that next customer in line and the employees can see that you’re making a move to get over there, they still let someone else who wasn’t even in line snake your spot, and now you’re forced to wait for the moron who just bought a min-Pin puppy from some abusive factory farm (probably) and is letting the poor angel baby literally shake in fear in the middle of the checkout counter–not touching it/talking to it or comforting it at all; like its feelings are that of an irrelevant object rather than a baby newly away from its mom—while he signs up for a Petco Pals card; and in the process of this sight, you become triggered because nearly the EXACT SAME THING HAPPENED TO YOU AT THIS SAME SPOT NOT EVEN THREE DAYS AGO making you think “Why is my vibe making the world feel it can misunderstand and what THE HELL can I do to make it not do this?”

So as the Petco line forms behind you, you realize you’ve got no other choice but to go full Passive-Aggressive Zen Master, and rather than hurriedly placing your items on the counter while you’re waiting for sweet baby Min-Pins owner, you strategically use your cart to hold back the impatient lady behind you (who as she watched you, most likely assessed you’re the dumbest asshole ever), and wait until owner physically leaves the counter before–in slow motion–you calmly start placing your thirty small cans of cat food one

by

one

in tidy little coordinated stacks onto the counter.

Because, Petco, you little bitch: don’t tell me my worth by ignoring me. Don’t

communicate to me I should be okay with things taking forever and then expect me to hurry to get out of the way. We’re either okay with things taking forever or we’re not. So I hope you learned a valuable lesson today. Do NOT f*cking mess with my spot in line.

Part 2: I didn’t used to be that person slowly putting cans from my cart to the counter.

I used to be someone who almost-nearly defined myself by the “greater good”. For I was that person—listening, authentically caring; a helper—who knew the outer world was loud and impatient, of which it was important it become less so and in offering what I had to give—patience, unconditional kindness and understanding—I lived into an ideal where it wasn’t a personal sacrifice to be a maxed out, exhausted single parent being ignored by those privileged with doing whatever they want. It wasn’t a sacrifice because in not making waves, I was creating a more gentle world.

But the growth of the soul doesn’t ever look just one way. And to see my passive-aggressive Zen master at Petco as “who I am” neglects the journey which almost killed me I had to endure to get there.

For from gentleness, sometimes warriors must rise to demand that the world be gentle and this evolution to my healthier self began on a cold Fall morning in 2007. James (my kids dad)—had moved away from our girls to live in Virginia with his mistress, Sarah, and—excited to start being a stepmom—she came to Utah with him. Livy was petrified to go to school and Julia was so angry she was punching holes in the doors but James and Sarah were in love (at least for another year or so); I’d had to drop out of Westminster teaching program, was heartbroken for my babies—dealing with James’ “why can’t the girls just be happy for me?”—and asked James to please not bring her to pick up our traumatized kids at the house just 10 months before we’d all had a Christmas in but they were in love.

And on that day in 2007, Sarah got out of their rental car, moved around my driveway, and started climbing my front porch steps to ostensibly retrieve my two daughters—who she didn’t even know—for their first day together, as if we were all old friends.

And I remember so clearly.

For I gasped. I stood there in my house watching her, not knowing what to do.

Because on that cold morning the kids were still devastated as was I, and I was shocked. So shocked. At her big balls that I wasn’t prepared to deal with; she had also been married, had met me; she and James began their thing—I only found out because he was using our joint account to give her money—and she said she wouldn’t be with him unless he moved away from his little girls to be with her.

And now she’d done nothing to feel embarrassed by. Now, she grabbed the emotional falsity of the moment as if there was no amount of gentleness and no human feeling at all—including those of my precious babies—that could ever stand in the way of what she wanted.

And I wanted to flee; to run from this awful situation with this monster walking up my driveway. Next to my Chrysler Pacifica with The Little Mermaid in the CD player; upon concrete my girls learned to ride bikes in; that one step up towards the porch that was slightly taller.

But the truth of life is that it tells you who you are. It offers you things and within the deep fear and barrenness inside you, strikes your woundedness until you can do nothing else but look at it. And Sarah was showing me that you can be in despair, right at the edge of the cliff, asking “why not?” and there will be people behind you mindlessly saying “oh my god you’re so stupid.” For whether of heart or heart-less, the world is filled with the noise of its own self, and on some days—when you feel least prepared—coming up your steps, will be your Sarah.

For she was the world—not listening, not having to—behind me on the edge of the cliff saying “maybe you should”, and for a second that day, I gasped and wasn’t sure. Should I? What can I even do with this level of fucked up? Where do I go to feel safe from this cruelty?

And on that day she (and many others) taught me how to make space for my self—how to be okay with standing in line at Petco, micro-slowly putting cans on the counter in full irritation of all— for as she put her foot on the bottom step of my home—where I raised my babies, who were enduring unnecessary grief—I found something inside me that could answer those questions. And as if I’d always known, I ran across my living room, flew out the front door and stood, arms crossed over my chest at the top of the steps, looking down at Sarah in challenge as if my life depended on not letting her take one more step.

And suddenly the world was listening.

Part 3: My youngest daughter, Livy, is much like I used to be. Kind, always thinking of others, doing so automatically because their well-being is essentially her well-being. And I’m cognizant of it but she has her own journey and I want to give her the freedom to navigate into the spaces her soul needs without micro-managing. So we disagreed on the philosophy of putting the cans up slowly; she says you should always choose kindness because you never know what someone’s going through. And I hear that; I lived that; I get what she’s saying.

But that just can’t be it. It can’t be. Because people kill themselves because of the unkindness of the world and if I can speak up, if I can inform the world it’s not being gentle enough, shouldn’t I do that for those people? Who else is tasked with telling the world it needs to do better and show up for the ‘quiet kindness not making waves’?

But just the other day, I rushed into Petco during my (repeat of) horrible work stretch of 17 hour days and there I am again: waiting on a Petco Pal’s card. And as I’m waiting, I’m like “are you kidding me?” Because it’s like a comedy sketch now and it’s all so lovely and beautiful to be unconditionally kind when you’ve gotten a full nights sleep and don’t have a nail in your tire. But not all of us are hobby Petco consumerists; some of us are very tired people spending $700 on tires who haven’t washed their hair.

Yet as I stepped up briskly—still in adrenaline mode; wanting Petco to know I needed to hurry—I paused, and looked at the checker. She was young with dark hair; it might’ve been her first job; maybe she was even nervous, and I softened.

Because in that moment, suddenly I had the thought “who else but me?” and felt that right then, I was the world. I was the one tasked with listening. And in that moment, it was no longer enough to be heard without also showing up for whomever else of gentleness might be passing through. For there will be Sarah’s; they will walk up and push.

But there are also Livys, and Julia’s–my daughters–who painfully navigated that time to arrive as adults more caring and compassionate than they probably would’ve been otherwise.

And in the arc of a souls growth, so do we meet our selves again and again.

For at the end of “finding yourself” is the realization you can’t actually see who you are without the benefit of another’s vision, and as I left the store, I texted Livy to thank her, and teared up before pulling away in the fullness of understanding.

The beautiful complexity of algae

And it was a time of great vulnerability.  But I didn’t know it then.

Because at age 20, away at college, and in love with the future, I couldn’t yet see anything except through the embedded resilience of youth and the dream that I knew myself well enough to be able to navigate hardship.

So we danced into experiences—he and I—becoming family in the rental in Davis, walking my dogs, brewing fancy coffee, drinking Bailey’s—becoming grown-ups—setting up the Scrabble game to Led Zeppelin; laying in on the weekends, lazy Saturdays spent with the SF Giants on AM radio, Steve tinkering under the hood of his 1967 Mercury Cougar in homemade t-shirts satirizing society (“I DON’T work out at Golds’ Gym” or “I’m High On Crack”).

Us both making a world for ourselves, living a love story we were writing every day.

And we were so tender, he and I; had lived inside lives unbecoming our gentle hearts–his as love for a sweet father who seemed to know deep grief, mine as the oldest of a family who exploded into divorce the second I’d stepped off for college—and we were perfectly-timed, growing towards one another as we lived within a protected sweetness our families hadn’t always modeled. Removing selves from the life we didn’t want to see, reflecting back to one another the safety of kindness and humor and gentle days, Fool in the Rain playing as letter tiles were chosen, him leaving funny poems on my pillow in the morning (“your eyes are the color of pond algae”), me writing my first name alongside his last in my Cognitive Psychology notebook.

But October 17, 1989 came, and the Loma Prieta earthquake stirred all I’d been pushing away, until in mere moments the entire trajectory of my broken family burned inside me. Dad crying in the armchair, mom telling me I wasn’t welcome to come home, dad moving out, mom unstable—making my younger sister Alex do the Ouija board—then that summer ‘89 day Alex ran away from the house (which in just two months she’d be inside when it shook into its death) with me following, trying to fix the world I didn’t want to end, petrified of what would happen to mom if I let her go. Me wanting to save us all from brokenness and still not being able to, for even the earth knew it was too late, and tossed the house down the hill, making everything cockeyed and wobbly, and smelling of the remnants of a dead family. Rotting food from the tipped fridge, moldy water, smashed perfume bottles, and the beloved Angel fish lying dead on the floor.

And it was suddenly too much.  I’d seen too many broken hearts—had lost too much—for dreams to still come true, and pushed Steve away in the disbelief that good could even exist. And in the breakups aftermath, he cried—tears on the lashes of lovely hazel-blue eyes—and asked me “why?”, believing I guess that I would actually have an answer even though I didn’t know anything, and wouldn’t. Not for so many years.

But, as if we both needed an answer, he stayed with me.  For during my lifetime since, I could not stop thoughts of him, and did not want to, and shuffled around a feeling of grief for what I’d done and turned from—dreaming of him at night; 30 years worth–struggling with bewilderment at the feeling that I was irrevocably chained to an ever-distant past, existing in my marriage to James in subconscious reverie for the intimate connection Steve and I had shared huddled all those years ago in college in Davis, warmth and humor and hope and respite from a damaged world. And I could not shirk it no matter how painful it was to remember, and did not know why.

Yet life is mysterious until the wisdom of one single moment calls, and here as I stand in the shadow of all these years, I am every day a new person able to see it now for what it offered me.

For it was magic. That time.

I loved him and I knew he loved me— the “me” that I was at my most deepest and significant self—and in reflecting goodness back to one another, we walked together through the shadows of grief, loving with open hearts against all probability, and nurturing a sweetness so seductive that even at 50 years of age I can still taste and smell the impossible magic that it was.

And for so long, it was a loss—a regret, hurting this sweet man, creating a hole inside me of unknown depth—but even in the remnants of 30 years and the passing of a million lifetimes, I know that he was and always will be a gift to me.

Because he changed me forever—danced upon my soul–beckoning me to emerge towards the safety of himself, and in bearing witness to his powerful love for me, I became stationary within a beautiful moment, and existed in perpetuity as witness to joy and happiness and the affirmation that I could be loved.   And it was an impossible gift that I will carry with me forever.

So on this, his birthday—February 28, 2019, his 51st–I just wanted to say:

Happy Birthday, Steve. You were a safe place in a terrible storm. Thank you—my dearest friend–for showing me how to love myself.

[2/28/2019; I write and revise this every year, and have until this year called this neverending evolution of self “Closure” but I woke up this morning, said “Happy Birthday, Steve,” knowing that you can never achieve closure from something that changed you forever. And so it will be that I will always grow with it and merely hope he’s found his way as the sweet person he always was, and continue to satirize society with humor-filled letters sent in lavender envelopes]

Making space (for pollen and grifters)

Things to be grateful for today:

That my puffy eyes from allergies haven’t totally sealed themselves shut. I have the gift of sight.

That I caught the drip of watery-snot before it hit my mouth when I bent over to retrieve my sunglasses from the street.

That I didn’t step on said sunglasses and kill them like I did in January to my eyeglasses and that now I know I can go 5 months wearing lopsided, broken eyeglasses because Time is a meaningless invention most especially since each spring I become gainfully employed with “Impairment” and making an extra effort to tell everyone “it’s allergies” and that I’m not just stupid, high or hungover.

That it’s Sunday and parents can use me as a teaching moment for their kids because “the lady with the misshapen face can’t help it and Jesus wants you to be nice to things like her and whatever she is.”

That Mr Baby’s house is only my second pet sit of 19 today and I’m already so behind but that my exhaustion is actually impeding my ability to be stressed about it (or to remember my own name although honestly, I could make some good guesses plus it’s also on my drivers license so I’ll be okay)

That my hair is dirty because now my 50 psi eyes match my gnarly, filthy head. It’s a look now; I’m the total package.

And…

That the cat in the picture who was making a horrible racket in the bushes under Mr. Baby’s house wasn’t actually a homeless pregnant female in labor but rather a pissed off grifter locked out of his house working me over for treats.

That I was already planning how I’d fit it in my schedule to meet my girls back at Mr. Baby’s house to catch what I thought was a pregnant female and transport her to Best Friends for care and eventual spaying.

That I’m not too world-weary to fall for the feline grift. That I actually AM a nice “whatever it is.” That i can see the humor in puffy eyes. That life isn’t perfect so I don’t have to be either.

That I can walk, have a home, have food, can breathe air populated with oxygen courtesy of trees and their selfless offerings, that I have my life, abilities and opportunities, my girls, Ellen, a chance to bitch then to stfu and make my day be it’s own inspiration for perseverance.

Happy Sunday.

[4/29/2018]

[2/26/2019: I can already feel the allergies starting for this year. They truly are debilitating at times–even while on allergy meds–but the show must go on and when you feel about it, things could always be worse. Happy Tuesday]

Benny

Dear Benny,

I cannot explain my species.

Can’t encapsulate for you their darkness; have no idea why your entry into this world saw you endure cruelty to where even now that you’re safe, with a new family, you panicked when you saw me—shaking, cowering, running—like you have no hope.

I cannot help with this. I cannot do that for you.

For that there is cruelty calls us to a pain within which we might always sit yet never understand.

But, Benny, there’s something.

For that it is from the same heart which quaked from trauma—fleeing from me in instinctual fear; eyes huge, shaking, growling—that a path could be illuminated to seeing your furry mouth licking my fingers in affection bares the secrecy of our magical world.

Because I can’t tell you the answer to cruelty. Because I don’t know.

But I can tell you about the sunrise. About how the water dances in the air when the star arrives near the mountains. I can tell you about greeting the day to a baby breathing beside you that still smells of heaven, and about songs and words that heal scars, waking broken hearts into new days.

I can tell you about the great darkness from which somehow you find a stronger self, and about the dawn of a day in which you discover that the most beautiful thing in your life is actually you.

And I can tell you about the magic of gentleness and the healing that lives inside showing up for a tender world, and about the tears I shed when you licked my hand, as I rose up to a hope that our world was already better.

For the breath of love anoints us both when we rise to the call to be there for one another.

So, Benny, keep fighting the good fight and I promise you, so will I.

All my best, always.

Amy

(As a just-born puppy, Benny spent a year with his mama, locked in a yard outside even over a frigid Idaho winter and I didn’t know him except for a few days [they were moving to Idaho permanently when they got back from their trip] but the difference in him by the end of the week was palpable and on our last visit, I really did tell him to keep fighting the good fight. We’re all in this together).

An interesting species

Steve and I at UC Davis, circa 1989

I’ve been thinking about my college boyfriend Steve so much lately. In August, I reached out to him impulsively—knowing that he probably wouldn’t even get the email; I was drafting his address from my malfunctioning memory— because it felt like what I had to say needed to be expressed and in just a few words I told him that even after almost 30 years of not seeing him, I continue to be grateful that he’s in this world and that I even got to know him for a short time.

And the breakup itself in 1990, at 3317 Biscayne Bay Place, Davis, CA—non-Steve losses having made my heart shutter like it was out of business—started a landslide of searching for life outside our experience, and each year on his birthday was an ode to the “closure” of that chapter because I was new to grief and in my mistaken belief that any such thing could be finite, I thought that’s what was healthy.

I thought “closure” was what healthy people did; I thought that psychological theory and brain space spoke the biggest truth and that “moving on” could heal the loss and make me whole.

But such was not the truest way and thus do I reflect that I’ve spent the better part of my life beating to the rhythm of that era as if it was the legend by which to gauge my growth until finally—when the full sight of grief was faced—I came to know that “loss” is actually a malleable entity.

Because even in the barren land of logic, thought was never meant to eclipse feeling, and that there is darkness in life that claws at us forever so also should something of heart be allowed the space to nurture us in equal measure.

For both over grief and Time, something of heart never really can be finite, because the love and the joy and the connection never stops existing, and in fact, it’s the exact opposite: the love and the joy and the connection speaks to us forever and acts as guide through life lighting the way in our quest of those same feelings even as it simultaneously makes all the other things that happen more bearable.

Knowing Steve nestled inside my soul to heal me in ways my logical mind can’t even speak to and for that it was not a loss and never could be. It was actually a gift that I’ve spent the rest of my life receiving.

[My most authentic heart space and deepest condolences to the mother/teacher who lost their child to suicide this week; I do not know you except through the words of my child which surround you in veritable halo but I do know that darkness comes to the kindest people and that I wish with all my soul that it were not so. I’ve been suicidal, courtesy of a succession of overwhelming life events to include my own daughter being suicidal as well as an onslaught of unkind people, and know that besides my children, the one thing that kept me going is one night coming to understand that the love I give this world—love free of obligation and ego; for the tenderness and the vulnerability that exists—is actually the most healing experience for my own darkness I could ever receive. And I know that some people can’t do that —some people go to cynicism or hedonism—but I believe that you can, and I have faith that your own love will protect you in these times when it is obvious that your heart will never be as it was before].

[This blog occurred because the other day when I found out about her child, I was standing in the kitchen, texting my youngest daughter about it, wanting but unable to help this suffering mother, then remembered a dream I had the night before about Steve—had been thinking of him the day before in an epiphanic moment—and suddenly a Carl Sagan quote came into my head. Carl Sagan, from Contact: “You’re an interesting species. An interesting mix. You’re capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other.”

We are our heroes and in some way large or small, we can all make our own emptiness bearable. Thank you for reading and much love to you for doing so in non-judgment].

God/Us

A few years ago, my daughter Livy was surprised when I told her I believed in God. She was 16 (I think) and didn’t know because I don’t tout God or observe religion unless it’s imminently relevant because for me God/source is such a big truth it doesn’t need to be spoken of. Since: of course there is a larger experience than human for all energy in existence; of course there’s an energetic presence of benevolence who we’re all as yet aspiring to. Speaking of it doesn’t make it more special; it just adds the “flawed myopic human overdub” to an experience best left to quiet.

And that religion has been bastardized—god pivoted around so as to basically become ourselves—I know that three letter word up there might stick in the craw so feel free to zero point and replace it with a word of your choice.

Because we live in times of deep grief for which We will all have to find a love that’s bigger; for the suffering of others isn’t for anyone/anything else to step up to. It’s for us to step up to.

And that’s a shortened version of what I intended to write because I haven’t even had my damned coffee. So: Happy 11/11/11(2018) and large, shot-in-the-dark, come on over here, baby.

[Someone shared that saying on Facebook a few days ago and I wanted to offer it here in addition to FB and IG because it was so powerful for me when I saw it that I lost breath for a second. And even today, looking at it again—thinking about what it means from even a deeper place–I felt gratitude for its truth. For that I’m still emotionally-available enough to hear the vulnerable is a gift I won’t squander because yes, when you make yourself emotionally available to hear suffering, you face the grief of the world but in not hearing it–or in actively accepting the turning of blind eye–you’re living a lie in which you forfeit your opportunity to become powerful through offering your own self. Be the change].

Her baby

December 17, 2016

As I was driving to a pet sit this morning–in the frigid air–I passed a bus stop on 5th East and saw a woman of smaller stature all bundled up with backpack holding a plastic doll the size of a real baby.

While waiting for my light, I stared at her–at first, just trying to figure out if it was a real baby, then after realizing it wasn’t, wanting to join her experience for a moment, to see if she was okay; if she was hopeful or despairing; what the story was; just to be with her for a minute before I had to drive off–and as I did, I saw her look at the baby adoringly, and snuggle it to her, then watched as she gave it quick little playful kisses under its purple, fleece, hooded onesie, as if she was trying to distract it from how cold and boring it was to be waiting out there in the air for the bus.

I just…..This world. Sweet and beautiful and amazing, and filled with surprises, because I didn’t feel sorry for her. The only thing I could think of was “Good for her.” Look at her loving that thing. Look at her unashamed and coping.

I don’t know.

Because in a life filled with trauma and a bevy of unhealthy behaviors–a world where people with mental issues can’t get help and heroin use often begins as self-medication–holding a baby doll at a bus stop and giving it loving kisses in full sight of a judgmental world seems infinitely more functional than trying to appear like you’re perfectly “normal”, nothings ever wrong, then going home to binge on shame, anger, and heroin.

Anyways, my prayers go to all those suffering with trauma and mental health issues who are unable to get help and find effective coping skills; my prayers also go to the rest of us, that we can help be a source for healing where it’s possible to do so, even if that means not pointing and scoffing at the older lady standing in the cold kissing the face of her plastic baby doll.

[This was so intense when it happened last year and seemed like I’d always remember it and yet I didn’t; it popped up on the memories on my old FB profile and I had to read it all the way through to even get the mental image of where exactly I’d seen her and what that moment looked like. Brrr. It was so cold that day, I stepped right back into that part of it, then she came in and the baby, which I don’t emphasize enough the size of but the proportions were interesting because the woman was so petite and the baby doll the size of an actual few month old baby. I originally posted it with that Circa video of the Mannequin Challenge for a heroin overdose which is so powerful but left it off this because I think they compete rather than complement.]

The journey to “Amy Brook”

 

Pic: My younger brother Jeff and I circa 1971; I was about 3.

According to the birth certificate tucked inside my baby book, I was born October 1, 1968 at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View California and my name was “Amy Brook Palleson”. I don’t remember any of the other fluff on it—height, weight, etc.—just that the birth certificate paper was black with white printing and hard to read and that the book itself was a mess of white out and scratch outs and corrections.

We can fast forward now, through memory lane, through years, through the solidification of who I was—Rose and Martin Palleson (dads parents; “grandma and grandpa”), Leeroyce and Deck Hogin (moms parents; gammie and gampie); through aunts and uncles and cousins; through my brother Jeff born in early ‘71, my sister Alex in ‘75, and Clancy and Cindy, my father and mother—Fast forward all the way to the couch in gammies living room where I lay quietly crying at age 13 (or 12? I can’t even remember) because solidity is often invented, and my real dad was dying, asking to see me and only knew me as “Sophie”.

In the way of regret and guilt, I’ve often been to that place where I must explain my choice, that day I learned Clancy wasn’t my dad and that the real one I never knew about was dying. For that was the year I was mercilessly bullied—had started high school, young for my grade; afraid to turn corners; lost all my elementary friends—and would the next year change schools because of it so I was mixed up and scared and insecure and didn’t have much to hold onto right then.

But the bigger truth is that children know what’s expected of them, and that secret was supposed to be kept. That’s why when I was one year old and she left him, Mom had changed my name, that’s why she crossed it all out in my baby book; changed my birth certificate, had Rose and Martin/my dad‘s parents officially adopt me and never mentioned anything. Because that was the new life she’d wanted and I loved her and was supposed to let her live this life. So in a heart bigger than my self, I knew she’d feel betrayed if I went to see him and I never wanted to hurt her—lived my life to protect her—even if that meant hurting someone else (and myself) instead.

And of course he died, and so then did his only memories of his daughter, Sophie Stuckey, the name under the white out.

And there are times when I’ve looked upon that day with judgment of myself for not going to see him. Because it is not like me to extend myself into such seeming-cruelty. To deny a man about to exit this life the chance to see what he had offered this world; deny him a chance to experience closure for a chapter which may have haunted him through health and illness, happiness and hardship.

But when my own child turned 13, I met my world from a different place.

For I didn’t know until then that one choice always speaks many languages. And that the guilt and regret of a young girl who didn’t know what to do was actually the wisdom of a human being caring for another. The wisdom of a human who wanted more for her mom than for her own self, who in so acting, would let her mom then live always inside the world where she doesn’t have to confront anything but the memory of her one year old baby with a new name and their brand new life together.

_

Sometimes in saying my own name— ‘Amy Brook’—I can hear my mother defining that new life, and the new hope she had for her and myself.

For that name means ‘beloved by the stream’ and in iterations of selves both past and yet to come, I believe that much of me has lived to bear out the truth of such a name. Beginning in earnest that day on the couch as a 13 year old girl.

********

Post script: In yet another facet of this, I have realized in these later years that I was also afraid she wouldn’t love me anymore if I went to see him. Because in the years after I found out Clancy wasn’t my dad—long after Harvey Stuckey had passed—mom would say things like “you’re just like your father!” when we’d argue. Of course I’d never met him so had no idea if what she said was even true but that she was talking about someone I never knew who was dead and who she had left when I was one it was messed up. I think mom had a lot of abandonment issues and that after I knew about my dad, I never really felt like I was just hers anymore, and it made her vulnerable.

Anyways, Please don’t do that to your kids. Say things like “you’re just like your father!” when your kid knows how much you despise their dad. Even if they ARE acting just like the other parent and it’s egregious, give them the space to self-correct and remove the language of shame so that they don’t struggle with the feeling that they aren’t loved or lovable.

Everything looks different

img_3415

Last night my girls, Ellen, and I watched Thelma and Louise together. And because I’d forgotten how long the movie was, the event lasted into the early hours of the next day, at which point my youngest–who’d been hesitant to even watch it at all for the last scene she’d heard so much about–excitedly chatted to me through my bleary-eyedness, saying that along with Donnie Darko, it was now one of her two favorite movies.

None of them had ever seen it, and Livy asked me in one of the first scenes when Thelma’s husband Daryl was being an asshole to Thelma, “Is that just the way it was back then?” The movie was made in 1991.

No, baby; Daryl’s just a dick.

In the midst of girl power and Thelma and Louise gunning it to their chosen end, Ellen held my left hand still and, as I watched the movie, drew upon my skin the pattern you see in the picture above; somehow, in the warm living room after the hot summer solstice day of 2017, she accessed an internal well of artistry from within a near-meditative state, and–moving henna tube into curves and points–created this freehand design, reaching over while the first section was drying to grab my hand again and add more detail before moving on to make entirely different designs upon her own skin.

When I finally saw the finished product upon my hand, my mouth was open in surprise because I could not formulate a connection to the type of mind that could so effortlessly create such a vision. I couldn’t “get to” where a human being could so confidently embrace hovering over flesh with a tube of dye and still be able to funnel the experience down into a work of art.

Because that’s just not me. I’m never going to be able to zen out and manifest this kind of thing on someone’s arm.

And I used to think that in order to live fearless, I couldn’t say such things to myself. That in order to stand within my own power, I had to self-talk myself with “You can be/do/have anything you set your mind to!”

Which is where I’d cue up the time a few years ago when I snorkeled in Hawaii with my sister, thus supposedly pacifying my panic-inducing fear of the ocean when in reality, my logical mind was saying “good for you!” while my emotional mind was saying “now look what you’ve done! You’re IN the fucking ocean???!” because logical mind only gets you so far then you’re stuck in the open ocean, hyperventilating with your feet dangling in Jaws music.

But I’ll never be able to “you can do it!”/Pep rally myself into–voila—I’m now Renoir, and being no good at something shouldn’t always bring out the self-esteem protection squad.

Because mind over matter is bullshit and invalidates the natural sense we have of who we are and what choices are right for us. And, unless you’re hurting someone else, it’s perfectly okay to let yourself be who you are. It’s perfectly acceptable to say “I’m no good at this,” and not feel like it somehow means you’re giving up on yourself.

At the end of the movie, Livy and I discussed what our favorite parts were.

Livy’s favorite part is when Thelma calls Daryl to see if the police have been asking questions and almost instantaneously hangs up, knowing their phones are tapped and that the police are listening based solely on how uncharacteristically nice Daryl is to her. It’s pretty classic. Even for 1991.

My favorite part is when Thelma, events skewed against her having created a transformation in herself to where she finally feels in control of her own destiny, sits in the passenger seat of their convertible watching the rising of early morning, and says, “I feel awake. Wide awake. I don’t remember ever feeling this awake.

Everything looks different.”

As though for a moment she’d fallen asleep in her life then with sudden implosion of all she knew had suddenly realized all she could be.

Then wind whipping her hair, they take off on the road, coursing together as fugitives through the waking world of clarity and red rocks.