Change, Writing

Carry On


Poor as sin, a bottle of wet, two friends dead. A man outside her window. Wallet on the car floor, wheels spitting asphalt, WaWa bathroom, brown tile walls. Lady pushes her girl into the stall, “You go even if you don’t have to.”

First book with chapters: Sweet Valley High. Which one, all the same. Skin dry, skin slick, so pretty before but realized it too late, that’s always the story. She borrows makeup from a friend, color off. Friend is a generous term. They had been small enough to fit on the same block.  Once.  Adults now, those girls, dulled but also steady.  Selective memory to fill gaps.

New shoes she didn’t buy. Two quarters and a dime, a pack of gum gone soft, the name of the baby they took or she gave, who remembers. The recipe for making him stay, the back of a stained receipt, a language she learned to whisper but never to speak. Paycheck stub, proof of value, plastic troll with hair, once blue.

Continue reading “Carry On”

Change, Determination, Purpose, Uncategorized

Making Way

flying bike

On bike, top of hill, foot down.  Red light.  It was green as I was climbing but turned yellow before I could get through.  It’s a quiet Saturday, holiday weekend.  A few cars cross in front of me, no one behind me.  The rotation complete, my turn next, I step on the pedals and inch out.  The light stays red, though.  It is red as oncoming traffic starts to enter and turn left.  Because no drivers had joined me on my side of the intersection, the signal never kicked to green.  I could wait here all day at a red light that stays red.  Instead, I press through.  The oncoming drivers pause for two extra beats to wait for me before turning left across the empty lane.

A man jams his body halfway out of his driver’s side window.  His head, arm, torso look like they’re about to climb out after me.  He screams across the road, “Why don’t you obey the law, you fucking idiot!”

I catch my breath and keep riding.

Through my head race all the answers I would say if his were a real question.  Louder than my imagined response is the clang clang clang of his fury: “You fucking idiot, you fucking idiot, you. . .”  For the next mile at least, I tense at every approaching engine, sure he’s whipped around to come after me.  Will my helmet work when he clips me and I flip onto the side of the road?  It’s a quiet, leafy neighborhood.  People are out.  Surely someone will see it and call 911.

You fucking idiot, you fucking. . . Continue reading “Making Way”

Brain, Determination, Writing

Fear, Being Anticipatory, is Always Without Knowledge

It is the same path she’s always followed. It’s grown so familiar she can walk it in her sleep. Most days, she does.

Then one December day, slipping into the groove is more of a stumble. Cold seeps under her cuffs. With the sun so far, the chill has no escape, not up or out, so it stays. The fall turns her neck. Looking up now, she sees how deep the trench, how far the sky.

She remembers the open place up there. Unmapped, daunting, the choices had radiated out in all directions. Wearing this furrow into the uneven terrain had seemed the most reasonable way to proceed.

No doubt someone told her then that ambiguity’s promise eclipses certainty’s price. Only now can she grasp what was lost in the exchange.

With damp walls at her hands and back, she presses in. She begins the climb.

It’s a strange thing about the human mind that, despite its capacity and its abundant freedom, its default is to function in a repeating pattern. It watches the moon and the planets, the days and seasons, the cycle of life and death all going around in an endless loop, and unconsciously, believing itself to be nature, the mind echoes these cycles. Its thoughts go in loops, repeating patterns established so long ago we often can’t remember their origin, or why they ever made sense to us. And even when these loops fail over and over again to bring us to a desirable place, even while they entrap us, and make us feel anciently tired of ourselves, and we sense that sticking to their well-worn path means we’ll miss contact with the truth every single time, we still find it nearly impossible to resist them. We call these patterns of thought our “nature” and resign ourselves to being governed by them as if they are the result of a force outside of us, the way that the seas are governed — rather absurdly, when one thinks about it — by a distant and otherwise irrelevant moon.

And yet it is unquestionably within our power to break the loop; to “violate” what presents itself as our nature by choosing to think — and to see, and act — in a different way. It may require enormous effort and focus. And yet for the most part it isn’t laziness that stops us from breaking these loops, it’s fear. In a sense, one could say that fear is the otherwise irrelevant moon that we allow to govern the far larger nature of our minds.

 Novelist Nicole Krauss responding to Vincent van Gogh’s 1884 letter to his brother.


Happy 100 Days: 82

We are driving home in the almost dark and Bug drifts off to sleep. He stretches awake when I pull into the driveway, and I ask him again whether he wants pizza toast or eggs for dinner. He does not answer. When I gave him the same choices at Chicken School, he’d answered, “Lasagne and Thai food.”
“What’s it going to be, Buddy?” I ask as he slouches out of the car and yawns his way into the house.
“Mom, can’t we just sit on the couch and talk about it?”
This decision is clearly too much to tackle. I drop our bags in the doorway and follow him into the piano room. Granddaddy is in the den eating a sandwich and watching a show, no doubt gearing up for the vice presidential debates. I fold myself around Bug and he presses into me, resting his head against my chest. We do not talk for a while. I kiss his forehead over and over, just because it is so close. Finally, I ask again about dinner.
“Okay,” he sighs. “Eggs, I guess.”
Bug’s grandma is in Germany, so she is not here to help me figure this out. Also, I did not have the foresight to prep a meal. Such flashes of organization never strike twice in one week. I rise to go into the kitchen.
“Mommy, can you play something with me?”
“Can’t, Buddy. It’s time to make dinner.”
I start washing out the containers from Bug’s lunch. He follows me in, bringing the new science kit his aunt sent from Germany as a birthday gift. He opens it and digs through all the tubing and rubber gloves and strange pictures.
“What do I do with it, Mommy?”
I dry my hands and come over. The instruction booklet is long, and I tell him I cannot help him with it. “This weekend, baby. We’ll have lots of time.”
He sighs again and puts everything away. I have him set the table and wash his hands. He is still exhausted, still wandering around and looking for something to do. I remind him of his “H” collage for school. I set a magazine and some scissors on the table, but he can barely hold his head up.
Finally, dinner. We eat our spinach eggs, share the bacon, nibble at the cinnamon toast. We look together through the Kid’s Post and Highlights for words with “H” in them. Hockey, High Five, Third, Hidden. We find a picture of a hug. I help him cut and he glues the scraps into his journal.
Then it is time to clean up and get ready for bath. Bug finds a book sitting on the kitchen table. It is one of his new favorites, The Witch’s Supermarket.
“Mommy, can we read this book?”
I look at the pile of dishes, the unfinished laundry, the snacks still needing to be packed for tomorrow. I haven’t started the bath. If I don’t iron something tonight, I’ll be wearing yoga pants to work in the morning. Even with Giovanni watching the dog for the week, even with someone else paying the mortgage, all I can manage is another “no.”
And so I finally know this: loneliness is nowhere near the worst part of being alone.
“I really need to clean up. You could help me, and we would be done faster so I could read to you.”
I see my boy deflate. Even the book seems to droop in his hands.
“I really like this story,” he says. He is so tired.
“Sorry, baby, I can’t read it right now. I’ll read it to you at bedtime. If you are done helping, you can go look at it by yourself until I’m finished here.”
“Okay.” He trudges away.
Some days, I would give anything not to be a single mom. Okay, maybe not anything, but in certain low moments, the devil could show up with a contract and a fountain pen, and he’d walk away a soul richer.
I start the dishes. Then I stop.
How stuck in our ways are we? Really, how blind do patterns make us to their existence?
And how willing are we to come un-stuck?
We are not alone in this house.
Yet somehow, we keep giving that truth so wide a berth, we can’t even discern its edges.
“Hey, kiddo. Let’s go ask your granddaddy. Remember that guy?”
We walk into the living room. Bug pauses, transfixed by Gary Oldman’s giant face on the screen. We chat for a moment with my father about Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and then we ask if he would be willing to read Bug this book while I finish preparing for bath and bedtime.
“Why, sure!” He turns off the TV. “Get on up here, big boy!”
Piece of cake.
Bug ooches up onto the couch, pressing his insatiable body into his granddaddy’s frame. The old man takes the book. “Let’s see what we have here. Uh oh. Witches!”
And they begin.
As I putter and pack and start the washing machine, I overhear my father taking his sweet time. He puts on a cackling voice and even reads through all the disgusting signs at the Witch’s meat counter. “Eyes of newt, lizard’s gizzards. . . ” This catalog of dark magic gives me a few extra breaths which I offer up to Carolyn Hax and the other guilty pleasures of the Style section. This is my moment of nothing. A booming racket and a fit of giggles burst from the living room, and I hitch a ride on it, free and easy.
Imagine that.


Walking Away

The absence of complaints has their husbands believing that things have improved; they’re out of the dog house.
– Michele Weiner-Davis, “The Walk-away Wife Syndrome”


It has taken two years of thrift store shopping and beans and rice, but Hal and Wendy finally save enough nickels for ten days at all-inclusive resort in Cozumel. As soon as they arrive, they order margaritas and dance holes in their shoes. They stumble back to the room and sink into the soft belly of the bed. They are drifting off, blissed out and hoping to wake up early enough to catch the snorkeling cruise.
Drip Drip Drip.
Wendy: “What’s that?”

Hal: “What?”

Wendy: “That drip? I can’t sleep with that.”
Grumbling, Hal rises and fumbles with the shower. He comes back to bed.
Hal: “I tightened it.”
Wendy: “Thank you.”
Drip Drip Drip
Wendy: “I really can’t sleep with that.” She gets up and shuts the bathroom door.
Hal conks out. The dripping goes on, fracturing Wendy’s night. On the snorkeling boat the next morning, she is grumpy and dark-eyed. Back on land, the pair finds a pharmacy. Earplugs. Just in case. Wendy elbows Hal into talking to the front desk. A maintenance guy shows up, speaking in rapid Spanish and noodling with the fixtures above and the pipes below.
That night: Drip Drip Drip.
Hal sleeps. Wendy tenses. The earplugs are useless. She gets up. She stuffs a towel on the shower floor to muffle the noise. It works until she is ju-u-ust about under, then:
Drip Drip Drip
The next morning, knowing she has not slept, Hal slips down and gathers fresh mango and Wendy’s favorite omelet, carrying them up on a tray. She picks at the food then hints hard that maybe another room would be better. He sighs and heads off to go talk to the front desk. He comes back and shrugs.

Hal: “No rooms. Booked all the way through next month. Sorry, babe.”
Hal gets dressed to head out on the jungle excursion. He finds Wendy stretched by the pool with a paperback. “Aren’t you coming? You love things like this.”
Wendy: “Too tired. I’m just going to chill.”
She drags herself to the front desk while Hal is gone. The hotel will not reimburse them if they want to re-book at another establishment. The part for the shower is somewhere else. The receptionists are sweet and entirely evasive. They offer free drink tickets for four cocktails as compensation. That night, Wendy is not interested in the marimba show. They go to bed early. Hal falls asleep.
Drip Drip Drip.
The fourth day, Wendy is by the pool with her paperback again.
Hal: “How’s the book?”


Hal: “You’re really into it.”

Wendy: “Yep. It’s good.”

Hal: “I paid for a 90-minute massage at the spa for you. They have openings at 11 and 3 today.”

Wendy: “Cool. Thanks. But I’m really fine just reading.”

Hal: “You’re not going to go? All you need to do is make the appointment.”

Wendy: “I might. I don’t know. Thanks. Have fun on the water.”
Hal rarely sees his whirling dervish of a wife relax. That’s good enough for him. He heads off for a swim.
Sometime in the wee hours of that night, Hal wakes up when he hears shuffling and banging in the room. Wendy, in the dim light, fully dressed, and with a face like a fist. Not aimed at him, but still.
Hal: “What’s going on?”

Wendy: “I’m leaving.”

Hal: “What? Where are you going?”

“The cab is waiting. I’m going back to the airport and I’m going home.”

Hal: “What the hell? You’re leaving? Over what?”

Wendy: “You know exactly what. I can’t stay here one more minute. This trip was the biggest mistake we ever made.”

She grabs her bag and is gone.


A post on DivorcedAndAngry last week led me back around to the Weiner-Davis article. The theory goes like this: When Husband and Wife* are giving attention and feeling supported with some degree of balance, the relationship thrives. Eventually, though, faucets leak and trouble comes knocking. If the partners put their heads together to resolve the issues, the relationship still thrives. When communication fails to bring about resolution, the result is division and decay.
Husband pads the rough edges with gifts or compliments. He thinks he has done his best. Wife needles and nags, barely acknowledging his misguided offerings. Because trying to coddle a shrew neither appeals nor satisfies, he withdraws. She battens down the hatches and begins planning her escape. Whether her retreat is emotional (“Screw him. I can take care of myself”) or practical (squirreling money, meeting with a lawyer), the upshot is the same: she has already turned her back on the marriage at a time when the marriage most needs her attention. Meanwhile, Husband has not heard Wife moaning about the leaky faucet for a while, so he figures the problem has gone away. All is well in his world. Until the night she drops the bomb.

Wendy: “I’m leaving.”

Hal: “What? Where are you going?”

Wendy: “I’ve signed a lease on a place across town.”

Hal: “What the hell? You’re leaving? Over what?”

“You know exactly what. We’ve talked about it a thousand times, and nothing has changed. I can’t stay with you another minute. This marriage was the biggest mistake of my life.”


It is chilling to see Tee’s and my story reflected with such perfect clarity in some social worker’s theory. I assumed for years Tee knew what I needed but was simply unwilling to make the changes. The tired saw about old dogs haunted me. “You can’t make a man change, and trying is a losing game.” My choice, it seemed, was to endure the leaks or jump ship. Tee tells me now, in slack-jawed wonder, that he had no idea there was a problem. He thought everything was fine.
If someone had suggested to me that I was Wendy, I wonder if I would I have worked harder to attend to the marriage. It’s impossible to know. So many years of walking away emotionally wore a deep chasm into the terrain of our marriage. I may not have had the courage or energy to try to bridge it, even if someone had forced a mirror in front of me.
I do know this, however. I hear the drip drip drip in my relationship with the fine and attentive Don Giovanni.  I can even pinpoint the precise weakness in the seal that joins us. I am not interested in repeating design errors. Setting my jaw and building my resentments have never worked, and they will not work now. Talking with honest frankness about the fractures terrifies me, but what choice do I have? Like Tee, Giovanni may do nothing. Or, he may do all the lovely things that come naturally to him to make me smile, while still not attending to the leak. As some of his predecessors have done, he may even decide I am a judgmental bitch and a bottomless pit of need, and do the walking himself.
I have heard it all before, endured it all before. I tell you this: none of it compares to the agony of living with the drip drip drip.
It is worth considering that a successful adjustment and even creative resolution might result from caring conversation. I am damned sure that nothing good will come of eggshells and avoidance.
So, perhaps this: Whatever man chooses to place his bets on me is going to hear about that leak. He does not need to be a plumber because I am pretty handy with tools myself, but he had better believe there won’t be any sleeping on the job. We’ll be up and at it together, or we won’t be a We at all.

* Please forgive my assumptions about gender and orientation. While the pattern is most understood in the context of heterosexual marriage, other configurations do not confer immunity. Indeed, any partner in any partnership can play these roles all too well.



Self Afflicted

For Aron Ralston

At first it was the rock
pinning him down.
To rage and chip
at the obstinate thing
was the best he could do.
It took time to work up to the idea
that his own fixed self
would kill him in the end.
Then, just gritted teeth
and a dull blade
to saw through his own
tendon and bone.
Up and out,
leaving behind in its mausoleum
a scrap
once as much him
as the man who climbed to the surface
and lived.

We are each one of us
trapped where we landed
by way of foolish missteps
and a distracted gaze.
It is not the weight of boulders
we swear we can feel
holding us in place.
It is the delineation of a cave
we believe the dwelling place
of our whole.

When we finally concede
that freedom is sweeter
than the precious fragment,
we toughen up
and amputate.