The sun is different in California. I said this to JC last year, and he didn't believe me. "The sun's the sun," he said. But when he and Alex visited and the morning light roused them, he reconsidered. Other non-Californians have said the same thing: the light is softer somehow.
While walking around in the mornings, I like seeing how the light bounces off buildings. I enjoy watching pigeon shadows soar over sidewalks, and I love the days when the fog rolls in elsewhere but I'm standing in sunshine.
This week has brought happy news from friends: a pregnancy, an engagement, a new job. These things made me smile, choke up a little in the good way, find a moment of quiet pride for them. "There is magic out there in the world," one commented.
There is, and during my morning and evening walks I usually look for a little of it. Sometimes I literally stop and smell flowers, which is so maudlin, but since my dad died, I try to appreciate things like that more. And I am trying to shift my viewpoints overall. Lately I'm trying to find different perspectives by radically redecorating my room, finding new routes to familiar places, and looking at the city as though I were a visitor. I keep going back to an Einstein quote that Toby sent me a few weeks ago:
"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."
Monty, I'll take door number two. 2.
Labels: emo spice
Slowly, though, I allowed doubts to chip away at my confidence. I didn't get a part in the high school play, so I never tried out for one again. Instead, I worked as an usher and watched other students belt out Julie Andrews tunes. In college, I wanted to try again, and I even spent 10 minutes looking at a sign-up sheet for tryouts before deciding that I'd probably embarrass myself. Looking back, I wish I'd just gone for it, because it is better to try and fail than to not try at all. Sometimes you even try and succeed.
The older I get, the more I try to learn from my failures, particularly the most spectacular ones (of which there are many). Part of this involves looking at my own behaviors and how they contributed to the success or failure of any given event. This isn't about flogging myself; it's about recognizing habits that are causing the same kinds of trouble over and over. Essentially, I feel the need to take responsibility for my action (or inaction) instead of being all woe-is-me. Don't get me wrong, sometimes me is woe. But if I don't identify my part in allowing said woe to develop, it will keep happening until I learn my lesson.
One thing I regret is all the time I wasted on people who do not give a rat's ass about me. Call it crapathy: a blend of lousy behavior and indifference. While it's not my fault that I initially got served that sort of shit sandwich, it is my fault that I kept asking for more, treating the crapathetic person like a Old Country Buffet of jerkiness. I need to learn how to send the sandwich back immediately and say, "Waiter? This is not what I ordered, and I will not be having it." (I know buffet places don't have waiters, but let me have my buffet joke.)
It is easy to spot obvious assclowns, which is why they don't wriggle into my life in the first place. The task is to become an expert at spotting stealth assclowns. New rule: Stealth assclowns don't get a pass, even if they don't mean to be awful. Because the end result is still me feeling bad because of their crapathy, and that makes them no better than obvious assclowns. Maybe it even makes them worse, because they don't even see what they're doing. My life is hereby declared an assclown-free zone. No exceptions! Now I just need to enforce that decree, which I'm sure will be just as simple as typing those words was.
I am able to reach acceptance, but there's no triumph in that accomplishment. It is a sad place. It isn't a place I really want to be, so I slip back into denial. Then I have to plunge into the icy water of reality, mentally replay the loss, and sit with the absence for a while. It's lonely.
I am not yet used to how different things are now, and I have to frequently remind myself to create new behaviors and responses to replace long-established habits. For instance: When I travel, I instinctively look for a postcard to send to Dad. It is OK to think of him, of course, but it still takes me a few seconds to remember that I can't really send him a card. Or if I did, it would never reach him, because he is gone.
I haven't slept well in months, and this is doubly frustrating because dreams are the only place where my mind can regress beyond denial and temporarily bask in an extinct existence. I can dream about the life I used to know, without the internal scold whipping me into looking at the cold, sad facts. I know the happiness is not real, but the escape is still welcome whenever it comes. Dream-Dad comforts me as he would if he were still here, and things feel better.
Sometimes, if the air and light are just right, I let myself forget while I'm awake, too. Just for a minute. The last time I did it, I was walking down 21st Street on a quiet morning. For a city block, I allowed myself to pretend. The sun on my back felt like being loved, and I slowed my pace to feel less alone for a little bit longer. Eventually, I had to turn left on Mission, where buildings were blocking the light. I returned to accepting the unwelcome truth, but for a tiny sliver of time, I got away from it.
I don't know if this coping mechanism is normal. I'm not sure it's completely healthy, but it’s not like I do it often or stay stuck in that reverie. Occasionally it is what I need to do just to get through the day, because sometimes the absence is overwhelming. I know things will get easier as time passes, and that I will be able to think of my father without feeling so sad, but right now it is still difficult. I need him, he isn't here, and so the cycle begins anew.
When you are in love, you want to tell the whole world about the person you adore. It's like you've stumbled upon some amazing secret that everybody needs to know, and you are the messenger. So I asked Redacted about his special ladyfriend.
Their story is a good one, but it is not my story to share. I will share this, though. I asked him to tell me about her, and this is what has me smiling hours later. "She has the most beautiful laugh," he said. "I could listen to her laugh for the rest of my life."
Redacted had better be careful when he goes back to Hollywood, because some dodgy scriptwriter is going to lift that line for a movie. Then it will join the ranks of "You had me at hello," a phrase that can never feel genuine because it's been used in a Tom Cruise movie. For now, though, Redacted is safe from thieves of sentiment. Redacted is sincere with his words. Redacted is in love, and that makes me very happy.
Labels: emo spice
Coffee isn't Mr. Coffee's real last name, of course, but that's how our conversations always start. It is one of those small parts of our friendship that always feel comfortingly familiar. I remember the night we met; it was six years ago, maybe even to the month. I’d been invited to do a reading at a coffee shop on Roscoe, and he liked my story. He asked me what my favorite book was, and Nabokov sent our friendship on its way.
We talk every few months, send each other tiny notes in the mail, that sort of thing. (We've e-mailed each other maybe three or four times, oddly.) What our conversations lack in frequency, they make up for in meaning. We just get each other, and during the gaps in communication, our lives frequently run parallel. When we talk, we laugh at the coincidences. May: I'm going to France, he's going the week afterward. August: He's in love with a girl in Prague, I'm in love with a boy in Portland. Now: He's nursing a bruised heart, I'm doing the same. It is good to be able to ask each other, "Do you know what I mean?" and have "yes" be the truth.
"You should come out to SF," I said last night. "We'll paint the town red and you can get away from the gray weather." (I am tricking him. Fog is gray. Shh.)
It's not the first time we've talked about such a visit, but so far we haven't made it happen. And maybe that's part of how our friendship works, too. We don't need to see or even talk with each other all the time to stay connected. We just are. When it's time to hang up, one of us always tells the other one how much our friendship means. I love that, but I love that it goes without saying even more.
Before any aspiring matchmakers get any ideas... Yes, we tried dating when we first met. We tried really hard to convince ourselves that we should be a couple before realizing that a good friendship is better than a lot of people's romantic relationships are.
My mind went to 2007, when I considered heading to California. I was ready to leave Chicago, but I was also scared of making such a large and literal move. I spent a lot of time going over what-if scenarios — what if I don't like it, what if I don't make friends, etc. Eventually I thought, "Well, if that happens, then I can always move back." Fear — at least the worry we dream up for ourselves, anyway — is actually an easy demon to slay.
Anyway, when the furniture was sold and the Chicago days were dwindling, I specifically remember thinking, "I will always remember this time as a point when I knew my life was going to change in a big way." I love those moments. Like when Jesse and I stared upward on a summer night, I knew I'd remember that as one of the best scenes of our friendship.
Sometimes you can identify your life's turning points as they happen: graduation, first job, moving to a new city, having children. Other times, it takes time to look back and realize how some of the most meaningful things start out unassumingly. I think of listening to Fifteen records (actual records!) with Trevor in 1996, for instance, and how it was impossible back then to know what a close friend he'd become.
Today I'm again at a fork in the road, and I am dropping the compass in the dirt. It is scary and exciting at the same time. (Two roads diverge! Captain of my soul! Choose your own adventure! Other highfalutin literary allusions!) But for now, it's time to lace up my orthopedic dancing shoes.
Labels: emo spice
First, the background. My then-boyfriend Evan was taking the LSAT, and to celebrate, I thought a goldfish was in order. Yeah, I don't know why, either. Apparently nothing says "I love you, future lawyer" like carp. Anyway, I took the bus to Meijer, bought the fish, and set up the fish's bowl in Evan's apartment. "What a lovely surprise this will be," I thought, smug in my creative gifting. Unfortunately, I was not well-versed in the art of fish maintenance, and I didn't know that tap water can kill fish. Poor Evan trudged home after finishing the test, only to be greeted by a lifeless fish floating belly-up, its tiny fins suspended in its watery grave.
Evan was nice about the whole thing; if I recall, he even took care of the toilet "funeral." I felt terrible, of course. Just awful. I decided to atone for my fishslaughter by buying him a new fish, which I'd planned to gently place in purified water. Ichthyic salvation!
You can read what happened, but the gist is that fish la deuxieme met its death in a sewer. It's funny on a can't-win-for-losing level, and part of me still laughs at how my attempts to be romantic frequently end in disaster. So it's not like I fail to see the dark humor in the fish debacle.
Even still, the death of Fishy 2 remains one of my biggest small horrors. I can almost feel the warm rain of that day. The scene plays through like a movie. I can see the fish hurled out of its bag, and I feel the panic of trying to grab it, trying to capture it, trying to keep it from dying. There is something acutely upsetting about seeing fish out of water. Their frenzied jumping and gasping, faster and faster, makes me panic and feel their helplessness. Maybe it's because even though their little fish-brains cannot philosophize, they fight death just as fervently as you or I would.
(This is why, after years of fishing with my father, child-me began to toss worms and cheese into the water instead of baiting a hook; that way, I could enjoy my dad's company and could see fish up close without guiltily watching them thrash about. A harbinger of my vegetarianism?)
Nothing more to say, really, except that I still feel bad when I think about the whole thing. It's not like I need to talk it out in therapy or anything, but my heart aches when I remember that flopping fish being pulled into the sewer. I tried so hard to save it. Is it ridiculous to have piscine empathy? Maybe. Probably. I mean, millions of people eat fish every day and they don't think twice about sending them to the sewer. Like I said, I don't know what spurred the return of this memory, but maybe tomorrow I will go feed some koi to balance things out.
Also, I tried to resist, but I love bad puns so much that I had to add that this story is totally off the hook. (Groan.)
"Kids give you more energy," he said.
I laughed. "That's not what I've heard," I replied, thinking of Amber and Maysan and all my other mommy friends who gaze wistfully when I speak of uninterrupted Sunday afternoon naps.
"Have I told you my theory of dynamic range?" Brian asked. No, he hadn't. So he grabbed some paper and a pen, and as he drew a sine wave, he explained his philosophy. In music, dynamic range is the ratio between the quietest and loudest volumes. The concept, he said, isn't limited to sound.
"So you know the first time you fall in love," he continued, "and you feel all of these things you've never felt before?"
"Well, that expands your dynamic range, and now you're way up here" — he pointed to the peak of a wave — "but then you break up and it just feels awful and you think you'll never love again. But you do, and maybe it's even better than that first time. So your dynamic range grows again, but it grows in both directions so you have more risk. More to lose, but more to love. It works for all kinds of things in life, and that's why being a father brings me more energy than I had before."
It was more eloquent when he explained it. Trust me on that. And again, I insist this isn't becoming a Morrissey-themed website, but how can you not hum Sing Your Life when you think of this concept? Or maybe that's just me.
Fast forward a bit, and there's this:
Obviously I'm biased because Seddu is an old friend, but really, if this doesn't touch your heart, it must be made made of granite. Some people cry on Valentine's Day because they don't have this, or any, kind of love. But I smile just knowing that love like this exists.
Yesterday morning, an elderly man was about ten steps in front of me. He was about six feet tall with trimmed gray hair peeking out from a tweed flat cap. He wore brown leather shoes, tan trousers that were a mite too large, a navy twill jacket. His ears stuck out a little. From behind, he looked almost exactly like my father.
Rationally I knew that this wasn't my father, but he shuffled his feet so similarly that my heart instinctively hurled itself toward him anyway. I wanted to know what he looked like. If only I could see his face, I'd see that he'd look nothing like Dad. Even if some bizarre twist of fate gave him an identical face, it wasn't Dad. I knew this, and yet I felt simultaneous urges to run away and run toward this stranger.
His gait was slow, so I tried to catch up to him. No matter how much I stretched to see his lightly whiskered face, I couldn't see any of it. I'd get closer, and just as I found the right angle to steal a sideways glance, he'd shift his path. When he disappeared into the news and candy shop, it was too late.
I tried to keep it together by looking up at the tops of buildings. Gravity kept the tears from brimming over at first, then my preference to never cry at work did. Hours later, upon crossing the apartment threshold: release.
This morning, I retraced my steps from train to street. I looked around. Not-Dad, of course, wasn't there — it's a big city with lots of people and patterns, and paths sometimes cross only once. The truth is that the man I'm looking for will never be there, at least not physically. I'm still wildly unused to living without my father. The grieving moves forward in sine-wave formations. But at least it's moving forward.
I was up before dawn again and called my mom. She made me feel better. Before work I stopped by Walgreens to buy a Valentine's Day card for her. It's her first v-day without my father in more than 35 years, so I hoped to make it feel a little less alone.
Hallmark — oh yes, I do care enough to send the very best — had a dorky selection. The flowery "For you, Mother" cards were mawkish. The music-playing cards were gimmicky. I considered a greeting from the Chipmunks, but she hates rodents. In the end, I went for a card whose theme truly captures the sentiment and depth of our relationship. I think it'll show her how much she means to me. Let's hope she likes the Jonas Brothers.
One of the pleasant things about acupuncture sessions is the quiet time. You just lay there in dark silence and space out. In theory, I could do this at home, but my bedroom is never dark enough, and there's always some clutter that needs straightening, et cetera.
Today I used the time to do a few things. First, I accidentally banged my needled hand, which was painful. Then I thought about all of the things I needed to do today, which was daunting. Finally, I shifted perspective, which was helpful. I'd had a difficult morning and had been fighting off the mopes; after a little time alone in the treatment room, I realized that it was better to laugh at the problem than waste another second ruminating on it.
So, who knows. Maybe going to another state, another country, or just another part of San Francisco is the way to un-stick my thinking. I'm willing to wager money that going to New York will do even more of that. And on that note, I need to get back to that "all of the things I needed to do today" list. Still daunting.
Labels: emo spice
The proprietor didn't look overly thrilled to have a guest to feed, but she cooked anyway. She made one hell of a mushroom omelet with eggs plucked from the chickens clucking just outside the screen door. I was eating when a man, maybe late 50s, walked up toward the building. He squinted at me through the screened-in windows, then stared as though he recognized me, then entered. The woman’s husband. He had a gentle but intense air about him.
While they talked, I kept eating my omelet and homemade bread. The woman had to leave for an appointment, so her husband took over and walked toward the table. “Ça va aujourd’hui?” he asked.
"J’vais bien," I responded. I don’t know how he knew that I spoke crappy French.
We began a discussion of Quebeçois vs French French, which somehow bled into me asking if he thought I really needed to take the oral antibiotics prescribed by the health clinic. "For a foot injury?" he said. "I wouldn’t, personally."
I agreed and explained how I was clumsy and accident-prone. And this turned into the kind of medical confessional favored mostly by the elderly. I told him about the broken foot and the lumpy breast.
He gave me another intense stare. "Were all of these on your left side?" he asked.
Yes. As was the slice-and-diced toe.
"Interesting," he said. A beat, a tentative glance, then: "Have you lost a man in your life recently?"
Cue the waterworks. I managed to refrain from full-blown sobbing, but I wasn't expecting the question, and so I held my breath and blinked back tears. I filled him in. Then he talked about the Mayan calendar and how the transformational leadup to 2012 is already happening. How we’re supposed to go to a higher spiritual plane. He said that those of us who haven't already started evolving are too late. "You're going to be happy," he said. “You just have to weather the storm first."
Outside, the rain had slowed to a drizzle. My eggs were gone. The wife was back. I paid and pedaled down muddy streets.
All of this happened a little over a week ago, during which time I also injured my left hand. I'm not one to go for mysticism, and I don’t believe that this guy has secret psychic powers or anything. I will say that I went in expecting nothing more than a late lunch and left with a lot to think about. Like I said before, it was a woo-woo new agey place.
But for some reason, I've been gripped with loneliness during the past couple of days. It became more severe yesterday. For work, I had a super-swank hot stone massage. Tough job, someone's got to do it, etc. It was luxurious and wonderful, but it was also the first time I'd been touched in weeks. Months? It felt so good, so human, and I wanted to cry because I suddenly felt like a wee monkey clinging to a terrycloth mother. You don't realize how lonely you are until it's pointed out to you.
I woke before dawn, as I usually do these days. I pushed open the blinds and peered through the rain that pelted my hotel-room window. The ocean was churning through the storm, kicking up white waves that briefly flashed in the darkness. While eating breakfast, I watched the rest of the water reveal itself to an overcast sky. Tonight, I will go home and pack a suitcase for one. Preparing for a solo trip has never bothered me before, and maybe it's just a temporary blue spell, but I really need a hug and I don't know why.
Labels: emo spice
As she and Julie continued their friendship, my mom got more glimpses into her life. Julie was hilarious, smart, and kind, but she never talked about going on dates. She was in her late 30s and had a roommate. My parents and I were eating chicken breasts and broccoli one night, when my mom said that she thought Julie might be a lesbian. "I wouldn't say anything to her unless she brought it up," she said. She didn't want to make her feel uncomfortable, judged, or any of the dozens of other things that closeted gay Michiganders might have to feel.
Not long thereafter, my mom came home and said that after work, Julie had asked if they could talk. "Val isn't just my roommate," she'd said to my mom. And in one of the moments that makes me proudest, my mother had given Julie a hug and said that she'd love to meet Val sometime. She meant it.
From then on, my mom became friends with both Julie and Val. They came out to our house for wine on summer nights; our whole family went to Julie's birthday party and celebrated. I liked both women very much, and their partnership seemed completely natural. I don't think my parents were trying to teach me a lesson on how to treat people, but they led by example, never talking about Julie or Val's relationship as being any less valuable than a straight one.
I'd like to wrap up this story in a pretty lavender bow. I wish there were photos of their wedding to share, or maybe a tale of an adopted baby and a nontraditional family. Instead, there is this: Everyone loved Julie but Julie. She'd suffered from depression on and off for most of her life, and her deepening gray thoughts convinced her that Val — and everybody else — would be better off without her. One day, she called in sick to work, drove 50 miles north, checked into a hotel, unpacked a pistol, and fired a bullet into her head.
My mother was shocked. "I knew Julie was having a hard time," she'd said, "but I didn't understand how hopeless she felt." She reviewed the preceding days, weeks, and months to look for signs she must have missed. I think there was a funeral; I didn't go, but I don't remember the reason. Maybe it was because funerals present undeniable finality. Nobody really knew how to talk with one another after Julie died. Val stopped returning my mom's letters, presumably out of grief; we also fell out of touch with Julie's family. She was our commonality, and she was gone.
Every now and then, my mom will get quiet and say, "I still miss Julie." So do I. Even understanding the bleak self-loathing of depression, I wish she'd lived to be able to legally marry. (In some places, anyway.) I wish she'd known how many people loved her, and how our lives have all been dimmer since she left. And I wish I were able to call her and tell her how grateful I was to have known her and Val. Their love and bravery helped shape the way I see the world. I wish I could thank her. Instead, I can only remember her and wish for an alternate, impossible history.
Labels: emo spice
When Betty came to visit, she gave me a single paperwhite bulb. I didn't have a proper container to force it, so I jury-rigged one out of a votive holder and some tin. Within a few days of being given water, the roots began to reach down and a tiny green shoot began to work its way out. This week, the flowers bloomed, and looking at them brings me peace. The plant is so fragile just floating there, but so pretty, too.
After taking this photo, I deleted some recent shots to make more room on the memory card. Other photos have remained on the card for months, to stay indefinitely. Even though they've been downloaded and saved online, I worry that those copies might somehow get lost in a hard drive crash or a data outage. I cannot bring myself to remove the files from my camera, because it feels like I'd be erasing the people in them, too. How can I look at the last photograph of my father and press delete?
I like — perhaps need — to collect tiny pieces of people. That makes me sound like a serial killer, but you know what I mean. I have a box of souvenirs: photo booth strips, emptied matchbooks, a scrap of my grandfather's tie, a gelato wrapper, a thread from a wool dress, an expired RATP ticket, an origami crane, a drawing on a post-it, lakes cut out from a topographic map, a pressed maple leaf from the day my father died. I feel compelled to pour the importance of a moment into something small and tangible, so I can hold it and prove to myself that it existed.
When it comes to our autobiographies, we are all unreliable narrators. Our minds translate personal fictions into personal truth. So this is why, when I click the camera's wheel backward and spin backward into time, I linger on those photographs. They are evidence, they are a link to the past, and in some cases they're all I have left.
A little over a year ago, I had lunch with a Frenchman. He is one of the most respected people in his field, so I tried to not screw up my French too badly. (When meeting someone like him, it just seems rude to start off in English.) So he politely let me stumble over clumsy French for a few minutes, and then he asked who my favorite French writer was. Camus, bien sûr.
His eyes lit up. "Ah," he said. "I knew Camus."
"Really," I said. I was all cool exterior, but inside, it was holyshitholyshitholyshit. His parents had been friendly with Camus, but because he was a teenager, he didn't realize how big that was. Hearing his stories was a privilege because they revealed pieces of Camus the man, not Camus the symbol.
More than a few people have said that Camus is depressing, which makes me wonder how we can possibly be reading the same words. He is one of the more hopeful writers I've read. I'm not a Camus scholar or anything, but I've always admired the idea of knowing that you're going to lose — as we all do eventually — but fighting the good fight until you do. Pushing the rock up the mountain.
My favorite of his quotes used to be taped on my wall:
In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.
This is the deepest winter of my life so far. I don't know if I have ever felt this broken before. Not just broken-hearted but mentally and emotionally Frankensteined. Sometimes there's nothing I want to do more than nothing. Just slither under the covers and close the curtains and give up. But I make myself move through the world because I have to. What else can you do, quit? Hide?
I'd like to say that this attitude has led me to feel better. I can't. It doesn't change anything or erase my sadness. I still go to bed most nights trying to find answers to unanswerable questions. Things are not better now, but they will be eventually, because they must. And to quote another, less eloquent philosopher: At least I'm fucking trying. What the fuck have you done?
This is super corny, even moreso than MacKaye-quoting, but the last scene of Angel has always felt Camusian to me. To summarize: Angel and the gang are faced with a terrifyingly huge army of demons (told you this is corny). Wesley's dead, Gunn's almost there, and it's obvious that there's absolutely no way they'll win or even make a dent against their opponent. Evil's going to win. Then Angel, fully knowing the futility of it all, picks up his sword and says, "Let's go to work."
I think about this scene whenever I feel like giving up, and it helps. (Stop laughing at me.) If I keep pushing, even and especially when it seems like I'm getting nowhere, one of these days, things will get better — or at least I'll get a Dark Horse comic-book spinoff like Angel. Not sure how I got from Camus to Minor Threat to the Whedonverse, but there you have it.
For instance: Once, while having a scintillating discussion about TRAP laws at a Vietnamese restaurant, JC said that I talked about politics too much. "Fine," I said. "I'll never talk about politics around you again." Even then I knew I was being immature and bratty, and I wouldn't handle the situation the same way now. But guess how many political conversations we've had since that night almost four years ago? Zero.
I'm not especially proud of that brand of unreasonable inflexibility, but (again with the defending!) obstinacy can also be helpful. Really, isn't will power just a more positive spin on stubbornness? Nobody looks at a smoker who's trying to quit and says, "Wow, you really should be less stubborn about staying away from cigarettes." So I'm not convinced that sticking to a given decision, as long as you're not hurting anybody, is a bad thing. Then again, being stubborn as a mule might just make me an ass. Not sure yet.
Labels: emo spice
The collective "they" are right in saying that the holidays are hell for the bereaved. Months ago, when my father's death was fresh, people asked how I was doing. "I think things will be harder in a few months, when it all settles in and feels real," I'd say. Well, guess who's a regular Miss Cleo. I wish I'd been wrong like you wouldn't believe.
In late August, we found out that he had eight to 12 weeks to live. Or was it six to eight? I can't remember, and it doesn't matter because the doctor overestimated his time anyway. I knew what my mother was going to say before she said it; I read the news in her eyes. "Does he know?" I asked.
If Dad had been Dad, we would have given him the bad news. But he was Dad only in pieces. During his last months, he often became confused and forgetful. You could tell him something simple and he'd forget it in five minutes. Then again, he might surprise you by remembering the minutiae of a conversation you'd had months earlier. For instance, in the same hour, he confused me with a nurse but remembered the name of a friend's dog who he'd never met. We had no way of knowing what information would remain lodged in the folds of his brain. What we did know was that he wouldn't feel his body slow down; it would be a painless death.
The doctor gave the prognosis to my mother, not to my father. We talked about what to tell him. If we gave him the news, we wondered, would it sink in? Would he remember the terrible reality or would it slip in and out of his understanding? I imagined him going in and out of full lucidity, re-remembering that he was going to die over and over again. Learning that death is close is painful enough; learning it for the first time more than once is just cruel. Or if he did remember the fact that death was coming, wouldn't it torture him? I imagined him going to sleep each night, feeling alone and wondering if he'd wake up in the morning. There was nothing anyone could do to stop the inevitable, and since we knew it would terrify him to know how little time he had left, we settled upon a merciful lie.
We tried to make his last weeks as happy as possible. He laughed with his children, all five of us. He enjoyed chicken fingers and chocolate ice cream and all of the other dietary disasters normally forbidden. I took him outside on a warm day and helped him paint his last painting. On the way inside, he began telling me about his youngest daughter, who lived in San Francisco and just came back from Spain and has two beautiful cats.
During a nursing-home visit, my mom went outside for a smoke or something, leaving my dad and me sitting on his bed. "I want to talk with you," he said. Serious face. "Now, I don't want you worrying about that hospital visit. Doc says I have a good ticker and I'm going to be around a long time."
I tried to smile, but instead I burst into tears. "I'm sorry, it's just that I miss you so much," I told him. "I wish we got to see each other more." I buried my face into his shoulder and he put his hand on top of mine. That was one of the most difficult moments of my life.
Some of my friends judged us for making the decision we did. They said it wasn't fair to hide the news from my father. "Wouldn't you want to know you were dying?" they asked. With the mind I have now, yes. With the mind my father had in his last months, no. No, because emotions get stripped to their rawest state when the mind can't handle complexities. Between the fearful knowledge of certain death and the simple love of family, I would prefer to spend my last days surrounded by the latter. Which is strange, because generally I'd rather deal with cold, brutal truth than a pretty falsehood.
Sometimes I wonder if we should have told him everything. Then I imagine what he would have thought if he were able to fully understand what it all meant. He would have felt small and scared and helpless. I couldn't do that to him. So I think we made the kindest decision possible, given the circumstances.
When Bernice the hamster died, I sobbed and worried about whether her death had been painful. To comfort me, my father said that she probably went to sleep and died without feeling a thing. I believed him because I needed to. This year, he believed me because I needed him to. I'm not sure if I needed him to believe me for his benefit or mine. Maybe both. Whatever the reason, it doesn't change the fact that I acutely feel his absence today. I miss him so much, fiercely and ineloquently.
Tonight, as Sabrina and I covered the southern edge of the park, we remarked on the unusually beautiful moon hung over the city. It had the soft golden glow of yellowed vellum. Decades after my childhood, a good moon will still conjure thoughts of the faraway friends who I miss and love. Even if their eyes might be looking downward, even if they're on different continents where they see sun while I see moon, my heart swells a little to think of our connection. The resulting warmth is a persuasive argument for nocturnality if one ever existed.
I still have problems breaking out of patterns. For instance, at a Thai restaurant, I order the same thing every single time: pad kee mao with tofu. One time, I ordered a different dish at Sticky Rice at Western and Irving, and hey — it was delicious! So then I wound up ordering pad kee mao everywhere else, and at Sticky Rice, I'd order those little Thai pancakes. Clearly, I have much to learn about diversification.
Anyway, in an attempt to resuscitate the whole "do something different each day" idea, last night I watched the sky darken around the moon before taking a roundabout way home. The trip took longer, and I was paranoid that a crazy bus rider would steal my teeth, but the change of scenery was refreshing. Since it was early, I decided to go out for happy hour after work. Wielding my trusty fake Moleskine, I curled up at a table and blathered on for a few pages. Sitting in the curved corner of a booth felt just like it did when I used to do it in Chicago. (See here for embarrassing example of loner-style writing times, including yet another Buffy mention.) After arriving home, I roasted some zucchini and cleaned the dishes as I cooked. Newness all around.
So I'm thinking that maybe as we make more changes in our routines, it becomes easier for other changes to follow. Doing one tiny thing differently is a gentle way to step out of patterns, and — for me, at least — then making bigger shifts seems natural. (Of course, I could be wrong, but it wouldn't be the first time.) Baby steps can lead to bigger leaps.
After my father died, I realized how little time we have to live. Yeah, you hear people say that life is short, but it wasn't until September that I actually felt what that means. Decades from now, I don't want to be an old lady sitting on a pile of regrets. There will have been mistakes, of course, but I want to look back and see a full and varied life. I think imagining ourselves in old age can be a great motivator to do more with our days; nobody ever fondly recalls the years spent entering numbers in an Excel spreadsheet, you know? On that note, um, it's time to make the doughnuts, and I'm already so late.
Labels: emo spice
On Monday I was thinking about Trevor a lot, and like the psychic wonder twin he is, today he called from Michigan. He sounded good; I wish we could see each other more than a couple times a year. I tried not to let my breathing give me away, but I cried a little bit because I am so grateful for him. How many times have we carried each other? How solid our friendship is, and how easy it is to talk with him. After 13 years, he already knows my greatest fear. Time and time again, he promises me it is baseless. Sometimes I even believe him.
After having my leg wrapped up for six weeks, I wanted to treat myself to some sort of sitting-in-water activity. My initial plan was to rent a car and head to Calistoga for a sybaritic weekend of hot tubs and mud baths, but it was too expensive. Remembering how Josh once raved about his time in a sensory deprivation tank, I thought, "Enh, why not?" and signed myself up for an hour in a float tank.
If you've never heard of the idea, it's pretty simple: A windowless plastic tank is filled with half a ton (literally) of epsom salt in about 10 inches of water. You float on your back in complete silence and darkness. The theory is that after about 40 minutes, your brain shifts into theta waves, and you have all kinds of clarity and creativity and breakthroughs, etc. I didn't go in expecting any of that to happen; I was curious about the experience of being completely alone, fetus-style. So here's how it went. (It is going to seem very woo-woo. Sorry. Blame California.)
If it sounds terrifying to step into an enclosed space, close a hatch, and be surrounded by darkness, that's because it is. For the first minute or two, my heart was racing and my claustrophobic ass wanted out. I thought of Buffy's resurrection and then thought, "You are not in a coffin, and you can leave if you really want to, and season six was a difficult but ultimately transformative time for Buffy anyway." That calmed me, and I focused on breathing slowly while my body slowly drifted around the tank.
Because the water is heated to 98 degrees, it's easy to lose sense of your body's boundaries. In theory, anyway. The first thing I will say is possibly TMI, but I put it out here for all the ladies who may consider floating: The salt water will sting your lady parts in ways you did not think possible. It burns, burns, burns, that ring of fire. "Oh my god," I thought. "This is what syphilis must feel like." (When I later mentioned this to the proprietor, Mr. Floaty, he gave me a sheepish look. He said that it was because ladyparts are acidic, and the water is alkaline, and the two don't get along well. He added that not all women experience the sensation, but it's actually a good thing because it means that I'm healthy. And then we both decided to stop talking about my lady parts.)
So! After my delicate bits acclimated to the water, I then felt the tension in my shoulders and the distress of my foot. "This is not comfortable," I thought, wondering if maybe I should have just gone for a massage instead. But after a few minutes, the pain left, and I had nothing physical to focus on.
I knew my body was there, of course but I couldn't tell where it ended and the water began. (At one point, I thought the tips of my fingers were in the water, but they were actually in the air.) It was like being nothing but brain — kind of like Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
"Sensory deprivation tank" isn't the right word for these things, because my senses sharpened after only a few minutes. The absence of sound amplified my breath, and for the first time, I could hear subtleties in exhalation. So quiet. And then, in a bizarre moment, I thought, "What is that sound?" It wasn't coming from the outside, and then realized that I could hear my eyelids as they blinked.
You know that feeling right before falling asleep, when you close your eyes and can sort of see squiggles and flashes against black? Being in the tank was like that, but more intense. With my eyes open, I saw mostly black, but out of the corner of my right eye I felt a white glow like a flashlight shining into a dark night. I looked straight ahead and saw twisting shapes, mostly yellow-white and electric. They became jagged lines and fell into diagonal patterns that came rushing down toward me. It was scary, but I felt like I had to look. So I did, and they kept coming, and tears started sliding into the water. I wasn't thinking about anything, not even my dad, but something about the visuals made me cry.
Then a Jawbreaker song popped into my head (big surprise there) and I was back into my normal rapid-fire mind. Mr. Floaty had told me that as my mind relaxed into nothingness, it would try to snap itself back into focus. It was the mental equivalent of being at a party, having some socially awkward thing happen, and then babbling about nothing to fill up the silence. Again I focused on breathing, and my thoughts drifted away.
I know I didn't fall asleep, but I don't remember anything about being awake, either. It was like disappearing and being somewhere else, but not knowing where that place is. Right before my time was up, I drifted back into consciousness and thought, "It's probably almost over." Immediately I heard the gentle tap-tap of Mr. Floaty's hands on the outside of the tank.
I showered, paid, and decided that doing drugs must be something like that. The outside world felt different, almost dreamlike. At home, I managed to stay awake for only 30 minutes before falling into a deep afternoon nap. Later, Chris and I went out for cocoa. "You seem different," he said.
"I don't know," he said. "Just different."
Maybe, maybe not. It's not as though I had some Mulderiffic breakthrough that delivered copious amounts of insight or creativity. And I wouldn't say the experience was completely relaxing. It was so intense that I'm only beginning to process it a day later. (I am also completely aware of how oddball the whole thing must seem.) Still, it was a new and unusual experience, so I'm glad I tried it. Even if it sounds bizarre, and especially because it inadvertently inspired a Sunday filled with Johnny Cash songs.
It turns out that hobbling in a temporary cast draws people to you just as much as a regular one does, which made me fairly popular. I didn't care. I didn't even notice when I was being chatted up, and even then, any responses I gave were out of politeness and propriety rather than interest. I must not have been very good at it, because all of the people who approached me either went outside for oxygen (so they said) or were left behind after I realized the whole thing was pointless. I could see a thousand faces and think of only one.
I talked with a girl from Peru. She grew up in Lima, moved here a few years ago. Do you know the Wong supermarkets, I asked her. She did. I told her about Cecilia, whose family owns the markets. After a moment of recognition, there was nothing else to talk about. She asked my age, and I was too lazy to make her guess 31. She said I looked 25; I correctly guessed she was 24. When she found out my age, I silently laughed, because at 25, 31-year-olds seemed so much older and more mature to me. I'm not convinced that it's so. I wanted to tell her that I don't have the answers. It's nice to think that maturity comes with age, but it doesn't always. Or maybe it does, because you think about what you can and can't do, and you choose the more difficult road. I can't say. I don't want to be alone, but I want to be left alone, if that makes any sense.
I managed to get myself home by following the vertical lines of sidewalk. I feel terrible like I haven't in years, but there's something about it that feels like the right thing. Like I have to go through all of this so I can look back at it and smile and think, "Oh, those were low days." It's my first night of walking, and I made the most of it. Which is about all you can hope for right now. You settle not for second best, for fourth or fifth best because you can't have what you want. That is perfectly understandable; it is acceptable and maybe forgivable. We'll see tomorrow, when I sink myself into sensory deprivation. I will float in salted water, push my sight into darkness, hear nothing but silence, and sleep with my eyes open. (This is, of course, assuming that I wake up on time and make it to the floaty tanks in time.) As for now, I feel sick and it's all my own fault.
Labels: emo spice
I know I'm not making much sense; I'm really just rambling while ruminating. But having spent a decent amount of time among the dying this year, I can't help but think that "carpe diem" is a better credo. Not only is it more succinct, its meaning is slightly different. It's more positive, like blooming into life — whereas living like it's your last day implies that you're running from death. I keep thinking about hope and fear as motivators. Both have propelled me into action, but the decisions I have made out of fear have been the ones I've regretted. I regret the things I didn't do more than the things I did.
Three things happened this year that radically changed my perspective on the way I want to live. First, I traveled through Spain with a man I barely knew. It was a crazy idea, but instead of being typically safe and saying no to it, I said yes. And I'm so lucky that I did, because in doing what I wanted instead of what I thought would be safer, I wound up falling in love. It doesn't matter that the relationship ended. Well, it matters, but you know what I mean — I don't regret the decision. Decades from now, when spots cloud my vision and my bones are tired, I will still be glad that I took the risk, Katherine Mansfield style.
Number two! Breast lump. The moment I felt it wobble under my fingers, I knew that it definitely did not belong there. I was scared but somewhat calm about the whole thing. It's not like I could worry myself out of cancer if I'd had it. Because the lump is benign, the doctor said we'd monitor it rather than remove it. In a weird way, I'm glad it's still there, because it's a physical reminder to appreciate simply being healthy. I know that sounds corny, but it's true.
(Number 2a: Closely related to Lumpwatch 2009 is the lesson of the broken foot, which is that sometimes you have to realize you sometimes can't change a single thing about a situation. Sometimes you have to accept your fate, ask for the help you need, and get through the shit the best you can. Preferably without crutch fetishists tracking down your photos.)
Finally, the third. My father's death has had the most impact of these three things, but it is the most difficult to articulate. One thing I do know is that — oh god, this is so hippie-ish, forgive me — life is brief, and death is very real, and I want to live more courageously until my time comes. I know that sounds like some new agey shit, and maybe it is, but after he died, I felt more urgency to become a better person. No more rinky-dink procrastinating, no more excuses, no more holding myself back from fear of failure. I want to share more, to love more, to write more, to be more giving. I want to have a remarkable life and to create stronger connections, or at least die trying.
I don't have life figured out. I don't think anybody ever does. But I think this year will stand out as a turning point. I don't want this to come off as some sort of pretentious, know-it-all "Oh, I'm going through a MAGICAL SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION" thing. I readily admit that if I were a Transformer, my name would be Megaflawed, and I would clumsily shift into an Edsel or a unicycle. Still, it feels like something is happening. I feel acutely alive, and that is a very good place to be.
(I am so sorry for all of the boring me-me-me blather lately, but I am mostly stuck at home and I'm trying to attack this emotional stuff rather than bury it, and it's my website anyway. When I can walk again, expect thrilling tales of public-transit weirdos and the return of Assclown of the Week.)
I know that you enjoy talking loudly about things such as your friend who "went to the swap meet wearing those tiny, shiny capri pants." I also know that you think Catholics don't just become Buddhists overnight. I know that you enjoy starting home improvement projects by hammering into your wall at five in the morning. I know all of these things because you guys are kind of loud.
It's OK, though. I am willing to ignore all of these things because your quirks are generally entertaining. I really do get a kick out of them, and I appreciate your good taste in cats. (That "beautiful ginger cat" is named Minou, by the way.) In general, you are the good kind of loud neighbors.
Except tonight we have a problem: You have the stereo cranked up so loud that I can hear every oom-pah of the polka compilation you're enjoying. Which would be funny, except I'm trying to have a big cry up here! It feels incongruous to sniffle and create a Kleenex mountain while some tuba is ending a song with a flatulent C-sharp. And because I try to ration my bouts of full-blown sobbing to only a few times per week, this emotional-purge time is valuable. It feels better after I let it all out. "The Beer Barrel Polka" will not do.
I would be happy to compile a mix of songs that would be suitable for your musical needs and my catharsis. (We both like New Order, so we can find a track or two that works for everyone.) Please let me know if you would be interested in my services.
Your neighbor, who is mostly joking, but really does wish you'd turn the volume down
Thank you for being nice about turning the music down when I hobbled to your apartment and knocked on your door at 2am.
Even I did not believe him.
After a few art fairs, he could predict the question by seeing the look on someone's face, and I think he grew tired of delivering the same answer. It wasn't that he was an artiste who wanted people to interpret the 2 on their own. (He loathed purple-prose artists' statements and the like.) He just didn't like unspooling the same old story. If there was indeed a lofty meaning, he hid it pretty well. Either that, or it was a long-running poop joke.
He eventually told me, and then others, what the 2 was about. He'd been honest in describing it as a visual device; as a former commercial artist, he could look at the world and know how to correct imbalance or introduce something new — at least with acrylics on masonite, anyway. When he was working on a painting and it had too much white space, or had subject matter weighing it to one side, he'd paint a 2.
But why two? Why not eight or three or any other digit? "Two is a stable number," he explained. This made no sense until he walked me through it, and this is the best I can do to remember and paraphrase his logic. It will help to look at the numerals and imagine them as though they were sitting on a line:
And now we examine each. Zero is too similar to a circle, and it rolls over anyway. One is stark and thin, and half the time it just looks like a plain vertical line. Three, five, six, eight, and nine can't stay standing on their own. Four is top-heavy and teeters; seven tips to the right and lands with a thud.
Two, though! Two is solid. It curves and bends, yet remains anchored by a steady base. Maybe its shape really is the only reason he chose to put 2 on so many paintings, but I have my doubts. I like to think that he was quietly highlighting the human quest for connection, that basic and near-universal wish to find someone who helps to keep us grounded as we live our messy lives. For who among us would not want to believe in that possibility, to hope that two is indeed the most stable of numbers?
While writing a prescription on Wednesday, the podiatrist asked for my full name. After I told her, she said, "That's a beautiful name." It is, but it has always felt too regal for me. Besides, the meaning of Anne is grace, and I'm quite clumsy. If there were a name that meant "competent for the most part," my parents should have chosen that one. But they didn't.
Earlier this year, after going through considerable tumult, JC said that he didn't just want to get better; he wanted to reach a state of grace. For him, that quest has involved (among other things) devoting more time to painting and going on obscenely long runs along Lake Michigan. That made me think about the beauty of feeling completely present in a moment. When I played soccer in high school, there were times when I just knew the ball was going to come my way, and I was going to handle it beautifully. I could visualize it all before it happened. And when it did, it felt as though there'd been no other possibility. It all happened as naturally as breathing. My mind would clear, my fingertips would feel electric, and I would move fluidly — as though guided into a near future that was waiting for me to catch up to it.
That's what grace means to me: Not just knowing in your head, but having every nerve in your body feel that where you are is exactly where you need to be. Over the years, I have spent so much time struggling to change the immutable, or wallowing in pools of perceived helplessness. I look back and realize how much it would have helped to surrender. To shift my perspective and accept a given situation rather than try to produce an impossible alternative. Few regrets, but, you know, I was a dumbass from time to time.
Words fail me when I try to describe how difficult the past two months have been. (The autumn of my discontent?) In a surprising way, though, it all feels right. I mean, yes, I'd much rather be able to walk on two legs to my father and tell him stories about Spain. But that's impossible. This mourning has to happen, and it will hurt. I don't want to bury the pain; I don't want to run away from it or sneak around it. I want to walk straight into it to get through it. And I'll do all of this on crutches, because, to steal from Eleanor Roosevelt, you must do the thing you think you cannot do.
The Jayce wrote this to me yesterday:
Pain, unfortunately, is an excellent catalyst for growth and change, the same way fires are essential to the long-term health of the forest as a whole.
That, too, is grace. So it's time to try to live up to the name my parents gave me. Set the ground ablaze. Let flames lick every tree. Fall into the embers, inhale the ashes. And then wait for the first green shoot that will inevitably push its way through dirt to reach the sun.
Labels: emo spice
The other night, Miles said something that, like so many of the things he's said over the years, was direct and true. I'm too nice, he said. Initially I protested, and I whipped out a few tales that proved him wrong, but in a lot of ways he's right. I genuinely want to believe the best about people, to trust in the truth of their words and to find goodness in their hearts. It isn't my nature to assume the best — one of the things I first think when I see a man alone at night is, "If this guy forces himself on me, where do I run?*" — but I have a deep and desperate desire to have faith in people nonetheless.
The problem, and the part that incorporates Miles' comment, is that I often can't believe it when someone's being a royal shit. It just doesn't make sense to me, and because of my stupid empathy, it's easy to understand why that person is that way. It's not that I excuse horrible behavior, but I often can tell where it's coming from. So it's easier to not take it personally, though I still wind up holding residual hurt. (With great emo power comes great emo, um, emoness.)
By the way, I'm not trying to make it seem like I'm some superbly well-adjusted individual who never hurts anybody's feelings. My faults are numerous and my words sometimes come out as jagged daggers. The point is, I've always been particularly sensitive — to light, sound, scent, and yes, to emotion.
Anyway. I have often chosen to believe in the good because I so much wanted something glimmering and beautiful to be there, rather than noticing that that shiny thing was actually mercury. So I'm saving my "nice" for only those who deserve it. On the surface, this sounds like a bitter defeat, but it's actually a positive step. It means simultaneously smiling and staring someone down, hoping for kindness and truth but not falling for a mirage of those things. For some reason, this shift feels like the beginning of being better to the right people. It feels good, like stretching after a long plane ride. (Remind me of this perspective if it all blows up in my face.)
* This is, I'm embarrassed to admit, the reason that I do not leave the house at night alone these days. With only one good leg, I feel vulnerable, and not in the way my therapist encourages me to be. (Unless she's hoping I get mugged or assaulted, which I seriously doubt.)
(PS) I just realized this looks awful on Safari. Sorry. I use Firefox and write shit code.
Labels: emo spice
High Fidelity captured the record-nerd archetype perfectly, and it was so Chicago. Charlie's apartment was a few blocks south of my last one, the Music Box was beautiful, and once, Karinsa and I were rewarded at Simon's with unexpected movie fun. Our bartender was the guy who had a couple of lines in High Fidelity. Karinsa and I got such a kick out of Beta Band Bartender, as we called him, largely because we are Nick Hornby fans. At the time, I was still crushed out on John Cusack, too. (Much later, I'd meet him and deem his pompous posturing a huge turnoff.)
When I watched the film this weekend, I viewed it with a different perspective. And I thought about how certain songs are stitched into not just memory, but the way I experience an emotion. Today, without planning to, I jumped back a decade or two by pawing through some classics (End on End) and guilty pleasures (grim chuckle when iTunes queued up "Young Loud and Scotty"). It made me think back on this year, on photo booths in Chicago, and on summer nights driving down dusty roads in Michigan. I know I'm dancing about architecture here, but I'm not sure I would feel as thoroughly in silence.
Since I feel supremely dorky about this self-helpy plan, I've written the signs not in a soothingly Oprah-ish voice but in that of a benevolent drill sergeant. Instead of happy affirmations like Take each day at a time, you lovely flower! I have notes that gently flagellate with an overabundance of exclamation points: Clean your room or you'll feel like a slob! No hopping -- use the crutches! Don't be lazy, work from the couch! No pity parties!" It's like having a bitchy cheerleader as a life coach.
Messages have a way of setting in when you hear them repeated loudly and long enough, so my hope is that these signs will push me into positive action. The problem is that in trying to steer myself, I sometimes need a compass. But all I have are pens on paper and goofy signs on my wall.
Labels: emo spice
The last time I saw Evan was at the Empty Bottle. He was leaning against a brick wall, and I saw him before he saw me. When I greeted him, he looked at me with absolute horror. I introduced him to Phil, and at my apartment after the show, I broke down sobbing in the bathroom. "Ibs dot dat I still lubbim," I sniffled. "I jubst miss our frehdship, you doh? We were bedst frehds and dow dere's nod-dinggggg." Poor Phil looked confused. Fast forward a few months, when I log into Friendster to see that Evan has de-friended me. I wonder what I have done wrong, so after a few weeks I call him to congratulate him on his engagement. "I'm so happy for you and Ann," I tell him, because I am. But he does not sound happy to hear from me, and when I ask what I've done, he says he does not know what I'm talking about. The conversation is awkward and sad and short, and I realize that there has been an irreparable schism.
Months after the Empty Bottle meeting, I'd wind up crying because of Phil. For a couple of weeks, my adrenaline surged whenever I saw a black-haired indie boy on a bicycle; I worried that I'd find him living it up while I was evaluating the merits of getting out of bed each day. Everywhere I went, I'd first check to make sure that he wasn't there, and when that constant process proved exhausting, I just stopped going east of Western. I spent the summer morosely skating around Smith Park, halfheartedly putting food into my mouth at new restaurants, bicycling through empty neighborhoods at night, wandering around museums by myself. I had not felt that alone and abandoned since my grandfather died.
The strange thing is that I think about these two people every day. It's involuntary. I made a heeeeelarious Matlock joke the other day and thought, "Oh, Evan would get a kick out of that." Sometimes I'll see shadows hit the ground a certain way, and I know that if Phil were there, he'd pull out his camera and shoot from a few different angles. And that's where the questions above come in, and how they remain unanswered today.
Labels: emo spice
Lately I've just wanted to read a lot. I have loved to read since I was a toddler, and as an adult I find that my interest in books only increases over time. I love the feeling of identifying with a writer, of reading a truth you already knew somewhere in your soul but didn't know how to describe. I love diving into a noir novel or learning about the history of cocaine or imagining what Baudelaire's Paris was like. Maybe it's not healthy to spend so much time escaping into words, but it makes me happy, so I do it anyway. Someday I will be a white-haired woman with creaky joints and muddy eyes, and with my books I will think that not very much has changed over time.
I let him sleep, slipped into a sundress, and walked to the market at Chicago and Western to buy groceries. The sun was everywhere. When I returned home, I kissed him gently on the forehead before preparing little breakfast tostadas in the kitchen. He woke up, groggily hugged me while I scrambled some eggs, and then we ate on the couch while Mikan rested on his purple cat bed.
If you had told me that my heart was responsible for the city's warmth that morning, I would not have argued with you. But we are now not far from winter, and I do not have Sunday mornings like that anymore. Some of the aspects are still present, others are easy to add, and others remain an implausibility in my mind, like 90-degree mornings burning up the soft Chicago spring.
Labels: emo spice
These were the days of the first Bush's recession, and my father had lost his job as a commercial artist — or what graphic designers were called back in the day. To boost the family's income, my mother took a job at a bank while my father assembled a collection of small jobs: bartender, Shell station attendant, rent-a-guard, Wal-Mart sporting goods "associate," and so on. It is both awkward and accurate to say that we didn't have very much money. We ate a lot of Tuna Helper and frozen fried chicken.
My parents argued a lot, but other times they didn't say anything at all. Their battles were fought with hissed sighs, purposefully angry clanks of coffee mugs, forceful door slams. We didn't eat dinner together as much as we used to, in part because my father worked late or went to the bar down the road. I hated that bar and the slurring men who complimented my father on "the way I was turning out." At the same time, I greedily liked it when he'd return with a snack of chicken strips or cheese sticks for me.
My father used to take me swimming at the lake, and sometimes he'd sip a beer while I splashed around (again, keeping a vigilant eye out for water snakes). I don't remember when it happened, but he started bringing two, three, four with him, and soon thereafter he stopped watching my jumps and dives. I identified the attention-stealing culprit as the cheap Schaefer cans, and I was so jealous that I once "accidentally" knocked them into the deep water off the dock. Another time, to punish my father for falling asleep with his beer, I swam as far out as I could and pretended to drown. Certainly, he would have to wake up and realize the importance of his youngest child, I believed. But my little faked yelps didn't puncture his slumber, and all that came out of my botched guilt trip was one very tired and grumpy 12-year-old.
You could hear the sputtered roar of my father's rusty Bronco from a mile away. I hated that truck not only because it was embarrassingly clunky, but also because it rattled with empty cans dribbling out stale beer. I was frozen in the passenger seat whenever my father would drive down dusty gravel roads, veering close to the shoulder.
I spent a few years like this, learning to unlove my father. I developed a near-violent hatred of alcohol, because I saw it as the thief who took our relationship and ruined it. A man who broke into our house one summer night was fall-down drunk, and so I further associated drunkenness with fear and helplessness. I cried a lot. I mutated from a cheerful child into a dark-minded pre-adolescent. I begged and pleaded for my father to stop drinking, even accusing him of loving his beer more than he loved his family. And that's how it looked, of course.
To this day, I don't really know why my father stopped drinking. All I know is that one day, the six-pack he lifted out of the grocery bag was fake beer — the kind that has .05 percent alcohol content. "I'm going to give this a try," he said. He hasn't had a drink since then.
I do love my father and I'm not trying to vilify him by writing any of this. We are all imperfect, perhaps more broken than we are whole. As an adult, I'm now beginning to understand the situation from a more mature perspective; I'm able to look back at it and see myself not as myself but as a child. That makes some memories easier and others harder, but this shifted perspective has ultimately helped me understand our family, my father, and myself.
Soon: yet another long tale about why I do imbibe now and then, since you asked. Expect thrilling anecdotes like Being Carried Home By My Boyfriend After A Wine Tasting; I Think I Could Totally Take Mr. Corduroy In A Fight; and I Guess Since The Boss Offered Me Chardonnay, I'd Better Have Some If I Want To Keep My Job.
During a heated argument with a friend (we'll call him Tex), I suggested that his making dinner for a first date was a bigger deal than going out for dinner is. You might think otherwise, but it's more meaningful to make food than to buy it. Plus, you're showing off your cooking talents (or lack thereof) to a potential lovebird. When I realized that he had trekked to the fancy supermarket to buy strawberries, that sealed the deal. "You know what that was?" I yelped to Tex. "That was a sex dinner!"
In other words, it was a meal that was meant to show that this was not merely hanging out with a friend, but that it was a date. Tex seemed offended at my nomenclature, but isn't "sex dinner" an amusing phrase? You can use it if you'd like. The night does not have to culminate in activities worthy of Barry White's endorsement, by the way.
(Oh god, my brothers and mom are probably reading this. They probably think I invite people over for sex dinners all the time. This is not the truth! I do enjoy making appley treats and cookies and the occasional stir-fry for suitors, but never have I traveled to the fancy supermarket for food. I won't lie to you; I've invited people over for dinner, but with only the purest culinary intentions. )
I keep dreaming about my grandfather. At night, he's still alive and healthy, eyes bright blue behind his rosy glasses. This year's Christmas will be the first without him, and it looks like our celebration will be only me and my parents. We've done that once or twice before, but it was always because of inclement weather. He used to do the cutest things during the holidays. When I was a baby, he dressed up as Santa Claus, which confused me. He knew that I loved Hershey's Kisses, and so when my mother left a toddler-me under his care, he fed me a whole bag. That's the kind of grandfather he was. He used to own a small house on Fletcher, and the building still stands. An apartment was up for rental shortly after my grandfather died, and I desperately wanted to live there. I couldn't afford the rent, but I looked inside the apartment anyway. I was amazed by how small it was, how four people had lived there. I hope to never stop seeing him in my dreams.
Labels: emo spice