Tank Girl

This disease of depression is internal. It cannot be caught and it cannot be cured. Those afflicted by it must learn to cope. They must become warriors.

I haven’t written anything in a while, I just haven’t been able to. I feel like my life has become this thing I never imagined it would be. My older children are stretched across the country, turning into other people. I see them and I feel like I’ve missed oceans of time with them. I literally drown in the spaces between my visits with them. Other mothers ask me how I handle it. I don’t handle it. I’m forced to deal with it, like being in prison. I say fuck a lot about almost everything. I cry. I go outside and dig in the dirt and plant shit so something beautiful grows. I manage my hatred. I’m angry about it all the time. I’m sad about it all the time. When they ask me this question I want to answer how the fuck do you think I handle it!?! I try not to run people over in the parking lot!

My husband and I are weathering the storms that come with poverty, change, family drama and raising children. He likes to hold hands. I don’t. I can’t stand it when he tries to dance with me in the kitchen. I don’t know why I can’t, I just can’t. I don’t feel romantic lately. I feel more like tank girl, when someone touches me who isn’t my child I want to pull out my gun.

I know this has to do with what’s going on inside me. I’ve been bleeding for months. literally months. My doctor wants to take out my uterus because of it. The irony is I can’t have my pre-op pap smear and exam because my damn uterus won’t stop bleeding. My husband tells me how cute my ass is. I tell him if I took my jeans off he’d faint. It’s like world war III down there. And yet I keep going. I keep doing the laundry. vacuuming the carpets. Doing the shopping. Cooking the meals. Doing the dishes. It’s almost become normal this bleeding. I’m forgetting what it was like before I bled like a stuck pig. It’s funny what you can get used to.

My daughter has chosen my husband as her favored parent. Considering how the rest of my life is going it makes perfect sense. While her father was working twelve hour days or sleeping or spending all night at poker games, I was the one who sang to her, gave her baths, fed her, held her at night. But of course none of that seems to matter lately. Although when she’s hurt or scared or has a nightmare she still calls for mommy. In the mornings I often wake up to her hot little body on my side of the bed. Those are the mornings i just want to push the pause button. I just don’t want anything to move, to change. Oh please I think, can’t this last forever.

I love to cuddle my husband’s legs. He was a roller skater for years and I always tease him that he has two tree trunks for legs. Laying in bed I’m always cold and I suffer from chronic claustrophobia so being held is out of the question. So I wind my legs around his and it’s the best feeling in the world. Like being rooted to the earth. My anxiety vanishes. The best is when he’s sleeping and I wiggle my legs between his. That combined with his soft snores is better than any valium.

My oldest son is here. He’ll be here for a month. He’s almost seventeen and is one of my favorite people on the planet. I adore him. I love the way he thinks; his artistic sensibilities, his kindness, his intelligence. I love that he’s driven and musical. I love that he’s so much like me and yet different in all the ways I hoped he’d be. Part of what makes him so special is that he had to battle his inner demons of depression. He’s had to work hard to become the person he is today. I read a book called In the Jaws of the Black Dogs: A Memoir of Depression by John Bentley Mays. At the time I read it I was so naive  about mental illness I was almost scared by the content of the book, by the experiences Mays related. Now that I am almost twenty years older and have battled mental illness for much of my adult life I have greater compassion for this man, There is more to this story. My son battles depression. I think about this book and I think about my handsome, creative, intelligent and talented son and my heart bursts with the emotion of it. This disease of depression is internal. It cannot be caught and it cannot be cured. Those afflicted by it must learn to cope. They must become warriors. Many of them do yoga. Many run. Many stay busy with projects, constantly creating, refuting the ever present voice whispering you are no good no good no good. You are worthless and everything you do is and will always be worthless. you may as well just give up…My son creates. Music. Films. Art. He skateboards. He eats as healthy as he can. He doesn’t drink, smoke weed. He stays busy. He outruns the “jaws of the black dogs” and for that I am in awe. I couldn’t be prouder.

I pray he stays ahead of the black dogs of depression as an adult. I pray he stays an example for others battling depression. There was a time when he we almost lost him. But the world needed him. Dammit I needed him! Fuck you black dogs! You may think you can catch my son but what you don’t realize is I will always be right there behind him armed to the teeth. Let’s see how well you do against my tank.

 

 

June

My mouth opened and nothing came out
I guess it was too much, all those words, all that screaming
A reaction to the sickening politeness I’m surrounded by…
It’s enough to make even the steeliest ones of us vomit glittery frustration… and still I climb out to find you.
I don’t want to be nice to you I say quietly beneath my breath
I hate you I say even softer and I mean it
And yet love pours out from somewhere I didn’t know existed
As the hands on your watch tick I let you hold me…as jumpy as a cat for the moment I am calm.
This doesn’t mean I forgive you I say. Needing to say something.
It doesn’t have to mean anything you whisper over my head and I still hear you.
At least for the moment I am not angry.
I can feel the breeze from the half open window. It blows the scent of roses into the room.
In the June half light this could be a scene from a movie. I decide to kiss you and so we do. To the onlooker we are lovely
Here in the hazy late afternoon we can be them.
The lovers.
At least until the sun goes down.

Kimkoa 2018

Making the World Over

Raising children in this society parents are faced with the challenge of teaching their children to learn how to manage the delicate balance of individual expression with social acceptance.

The worst thing about makeover shows is that they focus so heavily on our innate fears about what other people think about us. The people on the shows are sometimes truly helped but at what cost? Losing their individuality? How much does it matter what the general public thinks about an individual? Sadly, it does matter, one might argue it matters greatly for the individual’s survival. Even if someone exists on the fringe and becomes successful for being a sort of antihero, feeding off the negativity of some and the praise of others, that praise keeps them afloat. However praise is earned it is necessary. There are those who remove themselves entirely from society and live “off the grid” subsisting solely in nature. This might be the only answer to the pressure of social norms the rest of us face, and not a thing possible or desirable for the great majority of us.

Raising children in this society parents are faced with the challenge of teaching their children to learn how to manage the delicate balance of individual expression with social acceptance. We have to teach our children how to create the kind of world they want to live in which does require challenging and changing social norms. However, it is not so easy changing things. My father used to tell me that if one wants to effect change, one must do it from the inside out rather than from the outside in. His mission was to change the way people viewed him and other black people by empowering disadvantaged youth of color through increasing their educational opportunities. He wanted the world to see that anyone could achieve with the right set of circumstances. He himself was something of an anomaly having suffered through a terrible childhood, yet he took the example set by his mother who died when he was very young and used it as his reason to achieve in life. Not everyone is able to push themselves in such a way. As an adult I can see the wisdom in his words and how they guided the way he lived his life. In the same way my father wanted to effect change from the inside out, focusing on working with children and educators, I find myself wanting to do the same.

Another lesson both my parents taught me is that it isn’t about the cards you are dealt but how you play the game. Like my father, my mother is a shining example of this, as someone who pushed herself forward to achieve despite personal hurdles, someone who has given me every reason to believe that it doesn’t matter what cards you are dealt, what matters is what you do with them. I have watched her teach this lesson over and over as her work has been with people struggling with addictions, mental and physical illnesses, disabilities and disadvantaged youth. She also worked with the criminal element of society and the same lessons apply. In her own way she is also changing the system from the inside out as my father did, showing the world that a woman can work successfully as a psychologist in various fields while at the same time raising a daughter and climbing mountains both literally and metaphorically. I myself am now climbing my own mountains, as I fight to change the stigma associated with mental illness in our society. I realize this is a thing one can only do when one has a foot in both worlds. You have to be able to get yourself heard by those in positions of power. Not everyone can do this. For those who are so profoundly affected by their mental illness, or who are for various reasons unable to speak for themselves about their mental illness, I feel a great sense of duty to speak out about mine in the hopes that someone powerful enough to change things will hear my soul’s cry.

Raising awareness about the struggles of managing mental illness in this society is a passion of mine since I was diagnosed with bipolar I with psychotic features. Before this diagnosis, before my bipolar had worsened to the degree where I found myself hospitalized, I lived with a sense of ignorance in a way. I was unaware of how difficult life really is for people battling mental illness. It’s not just the illness that profoundly affects one’s life but the social stigma that goes along with it. It’s a double whammy so to speak. I have written before about how so many of us are afraid to speak out about the struggles we face because of social pressure. This is a very real and legitimate concern because since I have “come out of the closet” so to speak about my illness, I have faced judgment from people who don’t understand and actually lost friendships. The process has been worth it though, because the friends who are still standing by my side are my true friends and I have no doubts that they love me. I’ve also had people reach out to me and tell me that their lives have been changed for the better by my activism and that is worth a thousand rejections from the ignorant masses.

Another factor when considering effecting change is that it be real and lasting. I often wonder when watching these makeover shows how many of the people go back to their lives and resume their old fashion habits. There is a new show on Netflix called “100% Hotter” and the makeovers are designed to bring people who make extreme fashion choices closer to the norm. I was watching it and one of the people getting “makeunders” received a haircut and color that I couldn’t imagine her maintaining after leaving the show without paying an arm and a leg. It seems cruel to create an ideal that is impossible for the person to achieve on their own without the assistance of the show. Likewise another girl’s makeup was done by an expert with expert techniques and expensive makeup that she likely would not be able to recreate or afford on her own.

Similar to the trouble with creating real and lasting change for someone on a superficial level, it is even more difficult to create that level of change on a deep and meaningful level. Change requires effort. You have to try. You have to move long stuck ideas from the back of your mind to make room for new ones. In my case, when I got sick I realized I had friends who could not accept me with an illness. It was a sobering and painful realization to experience. They could not make room in their lives for someone with bipolar even though that person was one of their closest friends. They had beliefs about people “like me” that they were either unable or unwilling to let go of. The difficulty is how to move those kind of people forward mentally. For me, it is less about them and more about empowering other people like me and educating those people who are willing to grow and change and accept new ideas that may challenge social norms. Once enough people who are able to embrace change do so and break down the old stigmas and barriers, creating a new social norm, the people who were so stuck will have no choice but to change or face being the social outcasts they once hated. Until then I will keep fighting the good fight. I will keep working to change one mind at a time and make the world over until it is a better place to be.

Wildflower

It pleases me to see her zest for learning, her desire to master her world. I think she will not be easily daunted by disappointment, rather it will simply drive her to try even harder.

My daughter has been asking me so many beautiful questions lately about being multiracial. She’s very vocal about it, much more so than her brothers were at her age. “I’m a mix of you and daddy right? I have cream skin like daddy but you are on my inside right?”

“Yep that’s right little one.” I smile because she is so confident with this. She does not yet want herself to change. I wonder how long this will last.

My daughter is a confident child. She is quick to point out her strengths and if there is something she cannot do she simply says she “hasn’t learned that yet.” She is my child who is always saying “let ME try, I can do it!” Sometimes it’s horribly inconvenient and I have to grit my teeth while the cookie dough splatters all over the kitchen or the macaroni and cheese takes twelve years to stir. But I know how important it is for this particular child to be allowed to “do it herself.”

Alice has a need to be able to physically manipulate her world the way adults do. She sees how we deftly open cans, pour glasses of milk, slice apples. For her this is fascinating. I see how kinesthetic she is in the way she will touch everything as she moves through life, her fingers brushing objects, picking them up and putting them down or just shifting them slightly. I wonder if I was this way. It pleases me to see her zest for learning, her desire to master her world. I think she will not be easily daunted by disappointment, rather it will simply drive her to try even harder.

For the past six months Alice has been asking for another Hello Kitty birthday party. Her fourth birthday had this theme and she has been quite clear and insistent that her fifth birthday also be Hello Kitty. Until this morning.

“I want a dinosaur birthday!” (I of course have already bought Hello Kitty balloons to be filled with helium later in anticipation of what I thought we had already figured out.) I hear her say this brightly to my husband, both of them downstairs as he is about to leave for work.

“You’re having a Hello Kitty birthday party.” My husband says this kindly and matter of factly expecting that a simple reminder will be enough to squash this deviation from the plan she had already set in motion, Of course with Alice nothing is ever that easy. She immediately starts crying.

“I want a dinosaur party! Whaaaa!!!” This is her whine-cry. the most annoying sound on the planet. I sometimes think this sound could be used as a torture device to elicit confessions from the most hardened criminals.

“Alice, you’ve been saying you wanted a Hello Kitty party for months and mommy already bought balloons!” My poor husband tries to rationalize with what once was a little girl and is now “The Beast.” 

“Daddy, you’re mean! Whaaa-aaaa-aaa!” She is inconsolable.

“Alice you have to talk to mommy about a dinosaur party. I love you very much, I have to go to work.” My husband has given up, he knows as well as I do that once The Beast has reared its ugly head, there can be no winning. He begins making his way out the door.

“I’m never gonna love you again!” Alice yells this as the door is closing. The door stops short of closing shut.

“Don’t say that, not as I’m leaving!” My husband is audibly agitated and hurt. Alice is already stomping up the stairs crying. My husband sighs. “I love you very much Alice.” He shuts the door. My daughter can be such an asshole. Ah, the effortless cruelty of children!

“Daddy is mean!” Alice is crying as reaches the top of the stairs.

“Daddy loves you, he’s not mean.” I’m firm with her, deciding how best to handle The Beast. I can tell how tired she is. I wonder why, she wasn’t up that late.

“Daddy says I can’t have a dinosaur birthday party!” I can’t tell if this is a passing desire of hers or if she’s actually serious. I do know someone with an awesome air powered tyrannosaurus rex costume.

“Daddy didn’t say that, you can have a dinosaur at your party. Now you need to eat your cheerios.” Still crying Alice shoves a bite of cheerios into her mouth. I quickly start Reading Rainbow on grandma’s laptop silently thanking God for technology and walk over to the counter to get my tea. I make a mental note to text my husband later and make sure he’s ok after this morning’s encounter with The Beast.

As I’m drinking my tea I notice the tulips on the dining room table. They are a mix of white, pink, and lavender, The white ones have opened fully, the pink are open but not as widely and the lavender are just beginning to open. They are poking out at different angles giving the impression of flowers leaping willy-nilly from the vase. This image makes me smile. I decide I love tulips and wonder how long the blooms will actually last. I look at Alice grumpily eating her cheerios. Her hair is as wild as the tulips. The thought makes me giggle. I head to the bathroom to get the brush. Alice starts to whine-cry as soon as she sees the brush. This has become routine for us. “Alice,  now I know it doesn’t hurt because I haven’t even touched you yet! Enough of that noise or I’m turing off Reading Rainbow!” This is something of an empty threat because we both love watching Levar Burton teach us about harvesting cranberries or mixing clay for native american pottery. Alice quiets down and lets me brush her hair into a bouncy ponytail. I think to myself how she has no idea how lucky she is. My hair took three times as long to do and hurt a hell of a lot more when I was her age. My mother had to learn how to deal with my unruly mass of curls. They have better products for mixed race hair now. My children are lucky.

After Alice and grandma left for school and work I was typing at the counter and looked back over to the table to get a glimpse of the cheerful tulips and noticed something Alice had left on the table. Then I remembered she had something clutched in her hand when she stomped up the steps and kept it with her through breakfast. Ironically, the entire time she was throwing a fit she was holding a hello kitty party hat from her fourth birthday. It’s the same little hat she has been carrying around with her talking about her Hello Kitty fifth birthday she is going to have since Christmas. I think about how perplexing that must have been for my husband. I wonder if any other moms have ever done a Hello Kitty dinosaur birthday party before. I realize I will have to check the internet for ideas. I decide my daughter is awesome. Perhaps it is fitting for my mixed race child to have a mixed character birthday party. It could be like subliminal messaging for the single race people who attend. Not that anyone is actually single race anyways and now it’s being argued that it’s merely a social construct but that’s a whole other post. I’m laughing now as I go back to typing on my laptop. I think about how my mother exclaimed yesterday that she hopes I don’t run out of things to write about. Oh no, I told her, there is always something, Especially when you’re raising one of Alaska’s purest wildflowers.

 

 

Garden of Memories

Every morning I check my clematis to see if it has grown. I see its tender green shoots and they seem frozen in time, although I know they are making their gentle way up and out, curving and winding around the trellis. I watch my peonies just now opening, the fat pink blooms ripe and fragrant.

Every morning I check my clematis to see if it has grown. I see its tender green shoots and they seem frozen in time, although I know they are making their gentle way up and out, curving and winding around the trellis. I watch my peonies just now opening, the fat pink blooms ripe and fragrant. These particular flowering plants are especially dear to me because at my old house in Anchorage I had loved these perennials to a place where I could count on a swath of pinkish purple flowers from my clematis covering the trellis up past my head and multiple fat pink peony blooms that I would cut and make into bouquets for my table.

I have beautiful yellow cala lilies surrounded by bright pink and orange celosia right outside my door which is downstairs of our house. They greet me as I step outside onto the deck. Our greenhouse brims with vegetable plants, which my mother is steadily planting in rows in our raised beds. We have five pots of roses, two of which I’m going to plant in front of the house. We chose ombre blooms this year. I’m filled with anticipation, imagining the gradient colored blooms in a marvelous display. The roses in front will be a gorgeous deep yellow in the center fading to a pale white. The other one is the only solid color, a deep blood red. A rose of love.

We have two lilac bushes out back and I just planted a lilac tree in the front. As a child I had a beautiful purple lilac tree in my yard and I’m excited for this to exist in Alice’s world. My husband just mowed the weeds and thick grasses at the edge of the deck (we have an acre of land) and put up Alice’s play-set. Watching her swing and go down the slide is wonderful. I watch her play among the flowers and behind this beautiful house surrounded by her family and I literally cry tears of joy. It’s by chance this all came together. It’s by love this all happened the way that it did.

When I was digging the plot for the clematis I had to dig out several boulders. There is nothing more satisfying than digging out boulders! You stand on your shovel. You jump up and down. You grab the spade and jab and stab all around it. You hop back up on your shovel. You think about giving up. You’re so tired. And then suddenly there’s a shift. And then another, and another. You’re suddenly filled with energy and you jump up and down on the edges of the shovel and pop! Out comes the boulder. Reaching down and lifting it out is exhilarating. It’s a fantastic feeling. There’s so much wonder in the act of gardening that you don’t realize until you try it. So many things that are actually exciting and difficult and complicated and beautiful.

When my mom first set the seedlings out on tables in the great room under grow lights, she asked me to repot them when they first poked their gentle green heads through the moist earth. I was definitely nervous. Here was new life and I was responsible for ensuring its continued existence. I gathered each tiny green sprout and surrounded it with soil, water and replaced it under the grow lights. They seemed so fragile. To think of them then in comparison to now, they don’t even seem like the same plants. Now they are strong, green and tall, bold. They remind me of children. They start out so fragile and they need so much care. Eventually they become strong and hardy. They still need you though, even if not as much.

As I wander along the deck looking at the flowers I think of my father and how he built the very deck I stand on. I dreamt of him last night. How he loved a good steak but at the end of his life he couldn’t have it, his remaining kidney was unable to process that much protein. In my dream he could have all the meat he wanted but instead he chose to spend time with us. One of my most cherished memories of him is sitting in our sunny living room with my daughter on his lap, reading to her. Now if you know my daughter you know that she doesn’t sit for anyone and especially not at two years old. But my dad had a way with her. She would curl up in his lap and he would read her story after story. Even I couldn’t get her to do that. On that particular afternoon my dad looked up at me while reading and smiled. He had these big white teeth and that smile just beamed. I’ll never forget it. Like the rarest of flowers that blooms for only a little while my daughter had her grandfather in her life before he, like all flowers must, passed away.

I think this is why I love perennials so much. You can keep them alive in your mind and heart until the growing season returns and they once again show their blooms. I have faith in my clematis and my peonies that they will return to me every spring as they did at the Anchorage house. I also keep my father alive as well. His blooms are in my memories of him, the lessons he taught me like how to turn burgers on a grill. The musicality of my children, the brilliant arrogance of my oldest son, the tenacity of my youngest son. And of course, my daughter’s love of books. Most especially Hop on Pop.