"Those were hard things for me to come by, and I offer them to you for what they may be worth." - Toby Wolff

Friday, July 10, 2015

Moraga is Sold

She looked so frail, hair unkempt and askew, clothes old and large, hanging off her boney shoulders. My brother is sad to be losing his childhood home. I don't feel anything. When I walk up the stairs of this house I shut down, each step a compartmentalization of feelings, fears, and desires. I'm glad it's sold. I'm relieved that I will no longer have to come here, to the decay that it's become, and the memory of what it had been.

There are boxes everywhere. There is barely a path for my father to get his walker through. The care-giver maneuvers him. My mother is packing too much stuff. We had outlined the size of the assisted living apartment for her last week and it seemed that spatial sense had found it's way into her consciousness, but in the end she couldn't really bear to leave anything behind, to lose anything more than her home and pride, so we are packing a 3,000 square foot home into a 600 square foot apartment.

My father is finally seated at the kitchen table where he spends eight hours like a job. His tasks are checked off one by one as if they are not simply the primal functions of living. "Have you had your bowel movement this morning?", my mother asks him. She does not look at him and has her fists resting on the kitchen counter, having barely the strength to support her weariness there. I wonder if the question embarrasses him. His BMs have never been discussed in font of his daughter before and I question my mother's sensitivity, but it is a rhetorical question. The sensitivity ship had sailed long ago. My father says yes, he has pooped...the ultimate relief to the aged. He is given water and orange juice. After a moment he says, "Is the coffee started?". I said it had not, and immediately set about perking things up. My mother comes to me and says loudly, "Every day. Everyday we go through the same thing. He knows he has to have several cups of fluid in the morning before he can have coffee. But every morning the first thing he asks is if the coffee is started."  I imagine all this fluid monitoring has something to do with his blood pressure, the cuff on his arm creaking into action periodically as a reminder of the many trips to the ER. What joy has he but his beloved coffee? His belongings are scattered about and he has no ability to pack what is important to him. He requests that a book be put in his bag. My mother rolls her eyes and shows me that his bag contains thick leather work gloves and ski gloves, as if he will once again do either. It makes me feel sad, this small bag of importance that has no ties to reality.

The same passivity with which he has dealt with her for years still prevails and he sits rather stoically and resigned...defeated. I am looking at my feeling word list as I type this, trying to climb out from my dissociation to write and get the ickiness I feel out of my body. I feel helpless, uneasy, apprehensive, awkward, nervous and concerned. Hmmmmm. My therapist says to remember that whatever word I land on is probably far milder than my actual feeling, so perhaps I am panicked, overwhelmed, terrified and vulnerable. I don't know. Annabelle says we feel "icky" and that works for me.

Soon, my father continues with his daily routine of questions, trying to understand what is going on, to be included, to have a say, to matter. He asks my mother about the telephone. "Are we taking the phone?". "Is service set up?". "Will we have the same phone number?". My mother is exasperated. Maybe she has answered these questions a million times since I was here last week. She tells him she did not get the same phone number. He asks why. She says the phone company said the number was already taken. He asks why. She throws up her proverbial hands and says he should call and ask them. And he does. And she freaks out. "DO NOT UNDO WHAT I HAVE DONE!" she yells, as loud as her weak voice can manage. Anyone who has ever called AT&T understands the time involved in getting anything accomplished. She had done the best she could and everything had finally been arranged. Check! She had crossed the item off her interminably long list of to-do's. Now it was unraveling. She is yelling "Hang up the phone,,,NOW!!!!!" and my father is saying "I'm sorry" to whomever is on the other end of the line. "I just want to keep my old phone number", and behind the statement is the fact that he has had this same number for over 60 years, he remembers it, and it is the only place that he can be found....at this table, near this phone, and now he will be nowhere. He will cease to exist.

The argument comes and goes all morning, like a horse fly that has found it's way into the house, intermittent flurries of noise that you'd like to swat out of existence. I think my dad finally got his phone number. Good for him. I was....(wait while I look at the neatly ordered list of feeling words)...RELIEVED that he was so DETERMINED, and SATISFIED with the result. Basically I had checked out. I remember that at 12:12 I opened a bottle of Chardonnay and poured myself a glass. I hid in the living room on the couch, so small again. My parents arguing, the fear of escalation. When will it end, how do I fix it, how can I make things peaceful again? I will be quiet, I will be un-found, I will be invisible, and when the storm passes I will be helpful, I will be perfect, I will be someone else. The care giver also evacuates the scene and I find her in the living room with me. I tell her to sit down. We will ride this out together. I am quickly shuttled back to some point in childhood where doors are slamming, voices are loud, and it is dark. My two younger brothers have found their way into my bedroom and I am comforting them as we huddle on the bed.

After awhile I hear my mother at the sink. She notices the bottle of wine and says "What's this?". I tell her it was me, I opened it. She said, "Oh. Were you scared?" "No" I lied.

After all the therapy, after all the years, my go-to place with my parents is still to numb out. I try to be understanding, I try to feel empathy for my mother. She is crying. I look at her and say, "This must be so overwhelming. I bet you really need a break from all this." After the slightest hesitation, she turns to me and says, "Do you dye your hair?" I say, "Yes." She asks me why, and I know it is because she does not like the new darker color. "Because I don't want to be gray" I answer. She just keeps looking at me and my hair, finally saying "oh" and I am dismissed. Is this a pattern that explains childhood, encapsulates all the pain? She can't cope with her feelings so she picks me apart, puts me down and belittles me? I am the deflection for everything that goes bump in the night. I cannot be perfect enough to avoid this, and apparently never will be. I touch my hair. My boyfriend said he liked it. Was he lying?

The Confusion of Trust

I think that we are made of the same stuff
heartache, confusion, distrust.

But you rebuff my allegiance,
and who the hell am I
to tell you otherwise.

We don't trust
we don't connect
and we don't rest.

And so you can't
in me.

It sucks being on the other side
of the plate I offer
to others.

No one is sated.
No one leaves the table full.
Everyone is looking over their shoulder
at the next

And yet
it is the next

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Politics of Peace

I found the one sunny spot
in a yard, long with gray.
Sitting here, the warmth envelops me
as if nature had the arms of a mother.

The fountain bubbles on
practically frothing with intel,
spouting tall tales of long fish
as the starving minnows gather
for tidbits and trivia, peddled as evening news.

Crows hold heated debates
that course through me in stereo
right ear, left ear, right, left, wing.
Politics was never really very clear
and I haven't the temperament to care
not with the sun...just so,
the air ripe with nurture and the lettuce pushing up
as proud and determined as any armed guard.

I leave you the city
if you'll just leave me the yard love!
Everything we built, all the structure
the inroads paved, the fortune...
the square footage, and our four high top bar stools.
Consider them bequeathed.

I've never really asked for a single thing
that came from the part of me that so needed to make requests,
but I'll give you everything that came with this nomination,
Your Honor.
Just leave me the garden.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

One-Two Punch

They say it's the old one-two punch.

THE JAB: Something horrible happens, or has been happening, or is about to happen. Maybe the dreadful-awful-very bad thing has been happening so long that you assumed it was just the way life happens for everyone...that it was "normal" to feel stuck and trapped and small...that the panic that lived under your first layer of skin was the very smallest part...and all the gory details and horror flick frames were actually lurking in deeper sub dermal layers, cloaked in some kind of anonymity that posed as faulty wiring. And then one day maybe you realized "normal" was anything but, or you reached the point where "normal" was gonna be the end of you so you might as well leap from the cliff and grasp at the rope swing. The miss and fall was always a possibility, but you never thought the rope would reach out and hang you.

THE CROSS: You decide to hope...a sliver beam of "if I tell, it will end" and this last possibility grows like a sunflower until it is tall and strong and facing only light. Maybe you ditch school and hop a bus. Maybe your fists are clenched so tight you can barely release the quarter. The sound it makes rattling down into the receptacle is so loud you flinch, thinking it will sound the alarm. "The" alarm. You notice that "the" alarm is always poised to strike. Flower to sun. Flower to sun. Flower to sun. Turn. The bus stops and you manage the longest most hopeful two steps taken since the first moon walk....at least it feels that way. With the heat at your back...the sun..the strength..you are propelled.

The building is imposing. The elevator smells oily. The secretary is startled, having seen your photo gaining height throughout the years but never expecting the image to open doors. You are ushered in.

Afterwards, as you lay on the floor, the wind knocked out of any sail that stupid sunflower had dared to unfurl, the boat begins to sink. The bitch of it is, that it really was easier before you thought there was a boat. Before hope...before the only person who might hold the magic power turned it against you. "You are at fault. Therefore, it is."

Only decades later did you realize the weakness of the power. It shrunk in the presence of evil, and evil was all there was back there. The only power available to you had been in re-writing the story...until you ran out of paper, or ink, or metaphor. Then evil catches up and the power has to come from your broken bones...reset....healed...stronger. Maybe it was the last time you went to your father for help, and rightfully so. You can get your punches elsewhere, much cheaper.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Labyrinth of the Blind (description of a depressive episode)

I am throwing peanut shells in the fire
like kindling
like gossip
the kind of dry, unsubstantiated fodder
that hungry flames feed on.

I'm getting tipsy on gin and limes,
the moon-shine of full agreement.
Clouds are forming a canopy of heavy blankets
woven with depressive fibers.
It's almost as if someone loving
is laying them across my shoulders
as if they were made for me
as if they were comforting.
But reality seems an ocean, black and bottomless.
The corners of my mouth are cement shoes
and this night is a potter's field.

If I occupy the darkness...
let loose my attachment to the illumination I can find,
I will be lost
and only a deity can find me there,
in the ink spot,
the labyrinth of the unseeing.