Banana Milkshakes

I will read you every word so you will know I’m smart like you are will you stay with us I won’t be loud I need you even though you have to go

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Banana Milkshakes

Foam the milk with fruit it’s not as sweet as I was hoping can we add some ice-cream please I had a dream that you were gone don’t ever leave us pink and red I wore the shirt I know you like and maybe if I watch you closely I can stop the clock from ticking I will read you every word so you will know I’m smart like you are will you stay with us I won’t be loud I need you even though you have to go I’m still not ready it’s ok I know you love us give me reasons to accept the way it is and has to be I need a hug don’t change or grow I love you mom I love you mom I love you
just
the
way
you
are.
Kimkoa 2010

Sing It Loud, Say It Proud

I don’t do this for myself. I do it for my children. For my daughter who will have her own children one day and may suffer as I did.

You never know what will happen when you reach out to someone. Not everyone is ready for a true friend. It’s taken me a long time to realize this. I still don’t understand it and take it personally more often than not.

I’m a transparent person. I have hurdles I have to overcome, battles I need to fight and I am an imperfect person something I don’t try to hide. I worry sometimes I come across as a toddler yelling “I make mistakes!” with a wide sunny grin as though it were a gift. Perhaps I do come across that way sometimes however I don’t think that’s something to apologize for. One thing about making mistakes is at least you know you’ve tried to DO something. You’ve tried to make a thing happen even if you bungled the entire operation from start to finish. Some mistakes are worse than others obviously. Still we learn from them, however hard the lesson.

My continual need to reach out to other people and share my story with them and hear theirs is just part of me, it’s who I am because of how my life has been. The joy I’ve experienced when I share what I’ve been through and someone else shares what they’ve been through with me and we each accept, forgive and love each other despite those scars is nameless. It literally cannot be touched. Because of this however, when I see an opportunity for that level of happiness and my attempts are met with a firmly closed door, or worse a mere dismissal as if my olive branch never existed I am so crushed, I feel so rejected that it’s hard to LET IT GO. I can’t MOVE ON. I want to know why I couldn’t reach them. Why they wouldn’t let me in.

The truth is, it isn’t about me. It isn’t about me at all. There are a million and one reasons why someone keeps the doors of their life closed and the shades of their heart drawn even against the brightest, most beautiful days. It’s their right to take solace behind a locked door. Just because I want them to feel the sun with me doesn’t mean they have to and it doesn’t mean that sunlight is any less beautiful. It’s just the way of things. It’s the way people are. For someone who is used to hiding, used to pretending to be “perfect” my openness and consequent awareness is off-putting. What? They say. How do you know me so well? Only because I am you I think. Only because I used to try to hide too.

This is how it is battling bipolar disorder. Battling anxiety, depression, self doubt. Battling any mental illness really. Once you accept that you need help and you ask for that help and you receive it, you want to share it with everyone else. And you become adept at spotting the same illnesses, the same broken pieces in others. You want to help them too. Even when they don’t want anything you have to give. Because part of the struggle is learning to break open that rusty lock and connect with others who feel the way you do.

I’m on a journey. I used to take a multitude of pills just to stay stable. Things are different now. It’s important to note I have been working with medical professionals and no one should ever EVER just stop taking their medication. I just happen to have a big mouth and a refusal to accept a regimen that isn’t working for me (restless legs, 50 lb weight gain, the inability to write, etc) So I used my big mouth and about a thousand phone calls and I now take one pill for my bipolar (lithium), one (will likely become two) pill for my raging ADHD (vyvanse), two for the anxiety brought on by OCD (gabapentin & klonopin) and one for sleep (lunesta). I actually tried ambien and had a psychotic reaction to it so if this has happened to you you’re not alone. I took the pill and 30 minutes later I told my husband- “The eye told me you have bodies buried in the yard.” Needless to say I never took it again.

Sleep is so elusive but my God it’s so vital especially when you’re battling mental illness. But who can sleep when there’s so much to do, so much to think about and everything whirls around in my head like a carnival ride you can’t get off of. It’s important to note that sleeping pills are EXTREMELY dangerous. The wrong one can change you into a psychotic mess. And if you’re extremely depressed, in large doses they will kill you.

I wrote in a past blog about how lucky I was and how much I loved my doctor. Well as usual nothing lasts. This is what we as people who suffer these illnesses go through. I put my entire trust in her and our last appointment she told me that although she was reducing her case load she would never drop me as a client. A week later I got a phone call from her office saying she would no longer be seeing me, I was referred to a new doctor and the earliest appointment would be in three months. I thought well of course that happened. So for the last two and a half months I have become best friends with the certified medical assistants who have been my bridge over this doctor-less sea of side effects and dosage problems. Insurance issues and complete frustration and loss of faith. If you ever see a CMA give them a hug. I don’t know what I would have done without them.

All is not lost however. I found out that this new doctor is an osteopath who specializes in treating people with psychiatric conditions using a combination of traditional western medicine and alternative natural remedies. Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! I may have hit the jackpot! I have been praying for this since I got sick. Because there are not just these diagnoses that hang over me like a witch’s cloak. I have polycystic ovarian syndrome. At the time I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1 I was suffering extreme postpartum psychosis, WHICH can last UP TO THREE YEARS. I also have uterine prolapse so I only ever go two to three days maximum without bleeding like a stuck pig. I also have cysts all over my thyroid so prominent you can see one of them sticking out of the side of my throat! Hmmm. How many conditions could the side effects of what I am going through mimic? How many doctors would want to throw pill after pill at me clueless as to why they don’t work? I’m not saying I’m not bipolar. I really don’t know where I fall on the spectrum of mood and mental disorders. I’ve learned that a pregnancy can shift a mild case of bipolar 2 into a severe case of bipolar 1. I do have many of the symptoms. I also have many of the symptoms of the other conditions I’m suffering. So who knows and really I HATE labels. We’re all humans dealing with different levels of hardship and whatever you call yourself, judgment and stigma must be erased from our vocabularies.

What I’m trying to say is that there may be more ways of treating your condition whatever it may be, beyond just pills. On top of pills. On top of pills.

I know I’m not alone. That’s why I’m speaking out. In the Netherlands their schizophrenic people remain integrated into society. People treat them with kindness. The reorient them into reality as a whole, as a group, rather than locking them away. Studies show they get better! They regain their grip on who they are and what is real. Now I can’t say that would work for everyone. It would be amazing but this society is so diversified and disconnected I have a hard time believing what works in a homogeneous social system would work here in the melting pot that is America. But the lesson is in their lack of judgment. The person is sick. Not evil, not gross, not to be shunned and avoided. Just sick. That’s all. It’s so simple.

When I was hospitalized I went on social media and asked for visitors. I asked for flowers. I let everyone know where I was and that I was lonely for companionship. One loving couple came to see me with flowers and a balloon. My aunt Nycki and Uncle Tom. They brought a card for Alice. Do you know why they came? Because their son suffers from a mental illness and they were not afraid of the behavioral health ward. Which by the way is calm, clean, full of loving nurses and good people. People who are ill just like anyone else. There are children and husbands who come and spend time with their mothers. They bring games and cookies. They bring the freedom of the outside. Their are girlfriends who come to see their boyfriends with paper bags full of sweatshirts, headphones, love letters. They hug each other. Long embraces. Everyone looks away as the tears roll down their cheeks. Usually one of the older female patients will bring tissues. Sometimes a tiny carton of juice. Of course there are the patients who sit in their rooms during visiting hours. Because no one is coming. That was never me. Even though none of my friends came, my aunt and uncle did. And my family was there for every visitation. I even had a birthday cake with real candles in my room surrounded by them. Another Aunt and Uncle sent flowers. A dear friend from high school sent flowers. He was in Hawaii and unable to visit. But he made sure to let me know he cared. But none of my friends came. Most of them ignored my obvious distress. I thought to myself here I am in the hospital, having been diagnosed with a disease deadlier than cancer and hardly anyone seems to care. But that’s how it is. People hear the word bipolar and they want to get as far away from you as possible. Women hide their postpartum conditions out of the very real fear of judgment. And then they end up in the hospital crying over why it has to be this way while their visiting babies fill up the ward with their sounds of new life.

For all of these reasons I sing out my story. I tell anyone who will listen about what I’ve been through, what I’m going through and what I have yet to overcome. I don’t do this for myself. I do it for my children. For my daughter who will have her own children one day and may suffer as I did. I do it for all the other people struggling under the weight of their diagnoses, their medications, doctors who don’t listen, friends who don’t care. I will never be quiet. And maybe just maybe things will change.

Gone but only for a while

I tell myself I should be grateful. That even though I have to say goodbye, at least I’ll get to say hello again.

My middle son Elliott boards a plane tomorrow. To the sound of breaking hearts everywhere. Every day I wake up and wish his father hadn’t moved across the country. But some things can’t be helped.

I tell myself I should be grateful. That even though I have to say goodbye, at least I’ll get to say hello again. I wish that logic worked. All I feel is an empty place that only he can fill. We went to the trampoline park yesterday. It was the most fun I’ve had in I don’t know how long. It was as if we both forgot he was leaving for these few precious hours and just let go. Sailing from square to square, bouncing like kangaroos, playing virtual video games, running all over the park like little kids…it doesn’t get better than that. Later we watched Brooklyn 99 and I twisted his hair. We stayed up until two in the morning. Laughing, talking, doing his hair, making memories.

Of course nothing lasts forever. Every time my roses bloom I clip them faithfully, making fragrant and colorful bouquets. They’re beautiful. Until they’re not. Until their petals begin to fall. Until they curl and brown at the edges. Nothing lasts forever so we must make each moment count. I remember when Elliott was a baby, soft and fat and gorgeous. Big blue eyes, a wide engaging grin…the easiest baby you could ever ask for. It’s hard to believe he’s as a tall as I am now. That he can’t seem to eat enough tacos. That he broke my heart by going to Oregon and never coming home.

It’s been a hell of a summer. My daughter is operating on all cylinders, my mother took off for a month in Spain, I have a hysterectomy scheduled in early September because I can’t stop bleeding. Luckily yesterday it was mild enough that I could forget about my pain. At least for a little while. My oldest son was here for a month and barely made it that long. He says he’ll visit when he’s older. Unless I move I don’t see that happening. He hates Alaska with a passion. I am forced to watch him grow up on Instagram and Facebook. It’s about as painful a thing as you can imagine. All I can think is he’s my son. He’s my son. How is it I don’t get to raise him? How is it that I missed straightening his tie for his first homecoming dance? That I’ve never seen a concert or a play he’s been in? That I have to beg and plead for recordings and videos that never come? That he and his brother didn’t even send me a card for mother’s day and FaceTimed me with horrible reception while working on their stepmother’s mother’s house as though I mattered as much as a pebble on the ground? My head echos with these truths unceasingly. I have to remind myself that life is a lot of things but fair is not one of them.

I feel angry. I feel hurt. Most of all I feel lost. I feel lost when I hear mothers talk about taking their teenagers to football practice or guitar lessons. When they complain about their messy rooms. When they snap pictures of them with their girlfriends. I can’t relate to these women. My sons were ripped from my life and I’ll never know those moments. I don’t get that time. They’re growing up without me, being raised by another woman. In another state. And I am powerless to change it.

It hurts most when I think of my daughter. She can be moody as hell but she loves her brothers fiercely and when they are gone all she does is talk about when they’re coming back. I never wanted it this way. They live with their stepsisters and often it feels like they forget their blood sister even exists. They’ve never even gotten her a present. Not even a card. They don’t call her. They don’t realize what it’s like to be a little sister who’s brothers were there one day and gone the next.

I’ve felt like throwing up every day for the  past week. I’m not pregnant. My husband thinks I’m just heartbroken. The body has funny was of dealing with pain and stress.  And mine apparently chooses for me to feel like I’m going to throw up on the floor.

However time marches on. I wanted to work on music with my son. It never happened. He just wasn’t here long enough. He had overnights with friends, parties here, parties there, a little sister to play with and everything else that gets in the way of everything you try to do. Maybe one day.

My consolation in all of this is that despite the distance I know my sons love me. They may be forgetful and even selfish as most teenage boys are but the love is there, the bond remains unbroken. I like to imagine one day playing with my grandchildren, the pain of the past a distant memory. My sons seem to be growing and thriving which on one hand hurts because I selfishly want them to need me more, but on the other hand and the most important point is that they are well, happy and cared for. I would never interfere with a son’s need to be near his father. That relationship will shape the men they will become.

As I said before I clip and prune my roses when they have bloomed fat and fragrant. The hardest part is waiting for the new blooms to open and cover the bush with beauty. It’s the same way with my sons. They come to me full of blooms and I gather them up and breathe them in, every last bit of them. They leave their blossoms all over my heart. All over their sister’s heart. And then when they have given all they can and the clock strikes the time of leaving I watch them go, still strong, green leaves and branches with the tender buds I sowed that will grow over the long months until I see them again full of new life. Until then I can only love them, miss them and wonder what color their roses will be next.

The Other Side of Beautiful continued

Her mother stayed home with her, hating every minute of it. Everything about her was cold and disapproving. Everything but her food.

The graceless way her life had developed was not novel. It was not even unusual. Her world seemed to the onlooker like a once delicate, yet slightly tragic garden overgrown and marked by neglect. She thought about how she saw pain and loss in each direction she looked. Her failures sprung up all around her, as the only flowers left in her sad little garden. The petals were colorless and with twisted stems, choked by weeds and sorrow.

Her mother wanted little to do with her, Her father even less. Often as a child she felt like there was some kind of clear partition between she and them. At the dinner table they would sit there, her father reading any one of a number of articles on corporate finance, the rise and fall of whatever company, international trade. Her mother would smoke cigarette after cigarette, her mouth a thin angry line. Sometimes the line would open. “Eat your peas.” Her mother would eye the pile of green orbs she kept piling on top of one another and letting roll back onto the plate. Her mother was an excellent cook. But Arabella was lonely. A battle over peas was better than nothing.

“I don’t like peas.” She would answer defiantly craving the attention an argument would bring. Unfortunately even that was beyond what her parents were willing to give.

“I didn’t ask if you liked them. I told you to eat them.” Later, after dinner was cleared, the kitchen cleaned and her parents watching television in the next room she would kick the table leg rhythmically with the tip of her shoe watching the peas bounce against each other. She would take her fork and smash them into the plate, their sides splitting and green flesh spilling out. “Eat the peas Arabella or they’ll be waiting for you in the morning!” The edges of her mother’s voice sailing through the doorway over the muffled sounds of the television set felt like tiny knives up and down her arms. She pushed the plate forward and laid her head on the table in silent protest, knowing exactly what the cold peas would taste like gulped down with water the next morning and not caring.

Her father ran a consulting firm. He had a head for numbers and a firm grasp on the market. He was well-respected and his firm had netted their clients millions of dollars in revenue from their well-placed changes. He was proud of his work. It was essentially all he cared about. He was not an emotional man. He was sparing with his words, his advice, his affection. Her mother stayed home with her, hating every minute of it. Everything about her was cold and disapproving. Everything but her food. Yes, she was an excellent cook. She made Arabella oatmeal and blueberries in the mornings with a sprinkle of sugar on the top. Sometimes she made pancakes or french toast on weekends, the dough always gold and fragrant under the swirls of melted butter and caramel syrup. A cascade of soups- tomato bisque, cream of chicken, southwest chili- appeared on the table at lunchtime always with a side of four buttered crackers. Her dinners were flawless; tender slices of beef paired with roasted carrots and potatoes steamed from china plates. Bowls of clam chowder beckoned. Crisply fried chicken dripped deliciously onto neatly folded paper towels. It was as if her mother put all of the love she had into the food she cooked. There was none leftover for Arabella. Truthfully she had no need to smile. Her cherry pie smiled for her. She would stare angrily out the window, smoking her cigarettes. Almost as though she were waiting for something or someone to come and rescue her.

When Arabella became pregnant with Luke her mother sniffed and said to her father without looking at him “Well I could have told you that would happen.” Arabella stared at her mother, clutching her abdomen.

“My baby is not a mistake.” Tears slid from the corners of her eyes and tumbled over her quivering cheeks.

“Tell that to the rest of the world.” Her mother spit the sentence at her before getting up to clear the breakfast dishes.

Her father looked at his watch and then back at his article.

“You have always been a liability, Arabella. Twenty-four with no college degree, no job and now pregnant by a man who’d as soon slap you as look at you.”

“He’s rich and smart and he’ll marry me, you watch! I don’t need your judgment or your ridiculous pity! He loves me! He said so! I’ll never come back to you for anything ever again!” She yelled these words even as she herself did not quite believe them. He was rich alright and he’d probably marry her. But Love? That was a whole different story. She doubted he could truly love any woman. Not after the life he’d had. But she loved him. And in the back of her mind she swore she could make him love her back if a thing were even possible. She knew she was THE ONE. It just might take all she had to prove it to him.

*to be continued

Shattered Glass, Mended Hearts

My daughter is a force of nature. Wild and at times reckless, crashing through life boldly and without fear or restraint. She is intrinsically joyful. She doesn’t walk, she bounds.

Alice broke a cut glass bowl that belonged to my mother’s grandmother today. It was early this morning before my coffee had a chance to fully wake up my brain.

I was downstairs getting my robe on when I heard a crash that I knew was glass breaking. Oh no, I thought what broke? 

That bowl had been sitting on my mother’s counter for as long as I can remember. As a child I used to marvel at the edges and how the light was refracted through each one creating a kalaidescopic effect. Tiny rainbows in sunlight. I’d run my finger along those edges imagining how each one was cut by hand. “They’re slightly uneven do you see that? That’s how you know it was made my hand and not machine. It was my grandmother’s bowl. I’ve always loved it. One day it will be yours to pass down to your daughter.” My mother’s words were wistful and seemed full of purpose. I felt important holding that bowl. I would never have let it break.

My daughter is a force of nature. Wild and at times reckless, crashing through life boldly and without fear or restraint. She is intrinsically joyful. She doesn’t walk, she bounds. Because of this I have lost treasures. Others have been broken and had to be repaired. A snow globe with Cinderella and her prince that played the theme from the movie was shattered. Dolls my father gave me as child of 6 and 7 have lost fingers and toes. Sometimes entire limbs. A winged angel my mother gave me for my 20th birthday has one wing glued back on. Several books I’d saved that were favorites of her brothers were torn apart or scribbled in. But she’s never touched the cut glass bowl.

Never having raised a child like this (her brothers were not this way) I kept having to adjust the location of anything and everything that she could possibly destroy. Pictures were moved higher and higher on the fridge. Anything fragile found higher and higher homes as she would scale the shelves, counters and anything else climbable like a tiny monkey. We called her curious Georgina. We learned to grab her paintings and drawings from her before she had a chance to tear them to pieces. We learned to laugh at the destruction she’d leave in the wake of her play. We turned ourselves inside out teaching her to care for the things around her. That she didn’t need to break everything open just to see inside.

Lately she’d been good about breaking things. Too good perhaps. Yes there was the occasional climb on top of the refrigerator to steal candy or the endless glasses of water tipped on their side, but she had gotten to a place of understanding how to love her things while they remained in one piece.

The shattered bowl was an accident. Ironically what she was doing when she knocked it over was destructive on purpose. Trying to pull the leaves off my African violets that were given to me by my Aunt and Uncle when I was in the hospital. My mother told her to stop and she pulled her hand back sending the bowl careening to the floor where it shattered into bits of glass edges and dust. It would no longer make its tiny rainbows. No other child would marvel at its edges. “Go downstairs I cannot even look at you right now!” My mother could not bear the full realization of the loss in that moment. After hearing the glass break I was on my way up the stairs when Alice was on her way down. By the look on her face I knew.

”What did you do, what did you break?” She didn’t answer me and ran for her room. I reached the top of the stairs and my mother was sweeping up the remnants of the bowl. Her expression unreadable.

“Alice broke my cut glass bowl. It was my grandmother’s.” I couldn’t speak at first. “It’s just a thing and she didn’t mean to but I just had to send her downstairs I didn’t want to say something I’d regret.” She began tearing up.

You see there’s more to this story than a wildly curious little girl and a cut glass bowl. My mother’s sister is dying. It’s only a matter of time. After years of estrangement they’d finally begun talking.  My mother’s childhood memories are all around her right now, including her grandmother and the glass bowl.

In addition this is Alice’s first day home from preschool since her father and I pulled her out after we were unsuccessful in getting her school to do anything about an older girl that was bullying her mercilessly. Doing things like telling her spiders will bite her and turn her into a wolf, giving her nightmares. Convincing her to bring her toys to school, stealing them from her and lying about it. Teaching her to say butthole repeatedly. Sending her home with paper fold outs saying things like poop your pants and sit in your poop and cut your pants and many other gross and stupid things. Telling her Santa Claus isn’t real. My husband and I had actually gone to the school together and talked to the teacher after his talk with the front desk did nothing. She assured us they would be kept separated since this child was years older than Alice, in foster care and already a source of problems. I found this little girl and got down on my knees and I told her to stop stealing my daughter’s toys, telling her to poop her pants and swear, lying to her and bullying her or she’d have to deal with me personally. The look she gave me confirmed everything I suspected. My Alice was not her first target and would not be her last. I walked over to the teacher and I said this is the fifth time we have come to you guys about this girl and how she’s bullying our daughter. I’m so angry right now I’m holding my breath so I don’t say something I’ll regret. But you need to follow through on supervision and age appropriate groups. (This school shuffles their preschool children back and forth between rooms of practically toddlers and kids as old as 8 and 9 because they have inconsistent staffing, poor organisation and a whole host of other problems I will outline in a another post called BRIGHT MINDS IN WASILLA IS A SHITTY FOR PROFIT PATHETIC EXCUSE FOR A SCHOOL. No I won’t write that post but you get the idea: massive late fees if your child is not there exactly on time despite the fact that you’ve already paid almost $700 that month for her slot whether she’s there or not. Why is this you might ask? Because if your child is sick, even though they’ve already been paid for that day, they will take a drop in for more money. So if you show up late you screw up their ability to charge two families for one slot. And that’s just the tip of the horrible preschool iceberg. And guess what? If you’re late they won’t even let you in the building.

Needless to say Alice starts kindergarten in a month during which I will be repairing the damage done to her by this awful school. Having to re-potty train her. Sorting out behavioral problems. And now teaching her about bullies.

She had a timeout for what she did this morning. More importantly she made her grandmother a picture to show she was sorry. I even had her trace the words. When my mother stopped back home after a meeting to drop off the vegetables I asked her to get she saw the painting and she and Alice shared a hug. The bowl would remain forever broken. But at least their bond was strong. Their bond is forever.

More than just the cut glass bowl has been broken today. My daughter’s trust in an older girl she thought was her friend. My trust in the school system of this rough town, with its massive meth and opioid addiction problem running rampant throughout the community and its non-existent budget for quality public schooling. For profit preschool is one story. Public elementary school is another. I was viciously bullied for years in a school that I fear could be very much like the one my daughter will be attending. You’d better believe I’ll be volunteering in her classroom, keeping a close eye on her progress and making sure she’s not held down by the throat on the playground like I was. God help the child that even tries to to do that to my daughter.

Sometimes the things we pass down to our children are not the things we choose. Instead of passing down a cut glass bowl I will instead be passing down my experience in fending off bullies. How to hold your head high after someone lies to you. How to never forget that sometimes glass breaks. But unlike glass, a broken heart can always be mended.

Yours To Keep

Crack in your heart
Crack in your head
Little lies creep in
And you can’t help it you broken girl
Star-shaped dreams keep you awake at night
A lover with a heavy gaze and fingertips like feathers
Who makes you forget yourself
Who makes the earth fall away
And the sky open
Who éclipses the labels they’ve given you
Can you imagine this?
A world of stars and the absence of the need for reality
Dreams with beating hearts.
All they are…are dreams after all
Lovely at night
Stupid in the light of day.
But yours after all. And isn’t that the point?

Kimkoa 2018

Sent from my iPhone

The Other Side of Beautiful

She watched them head down the hallway and wondered what things would be like if Michael hadn’t left them. She wondered if Maisie even remembered the way things used to be.

This was an ugly time for her. The laundry lay in a messy pile, the sink was full of dishes. Her teenage son slept lankily on the couch, his limbs hanging off the edges. She cursed the tiny one bedroom but it was all she could afford. In fact she’d be lucky to make rent this month. She ran her fingers through her curly hair, grey at the roots, dark brown at the edges. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been to the salon. She looked at her hands, her bitten fingernails. She sighed and decided there were more important things to worry about. Like yesterday when she saw her son squeezing his feet into his shoes, wincing slightly. She’d have to come up with the money for new shoes and soon. She wondered if her boss would give her an advance on her paycheck. They could eat ramen and hotdogs for a month if they had to but he needed new shoes now.

She shuffled over to the coffee pot and pushed the button. The familiar gurgle gave her some reassurance she could make it through another day working the checkout line. She never thought she’d be scanning other people’s groceries at forty-one but life happens and she found herself with few if any other options. The coffee pot was full enough to pour a cup so she grabbed her favorite mug from the shelf and filled it with the hot liquid. After adding the milk she put it back in the fridge. The coffee was hot and perfect. If only she could stay there in her slippers and threadbare robe with the hole in the side drinking coffee at the tiny kitchen table. If only she didn’t have to change into the formless black polo and slacks, affix her name tag and drive her old, blue camry to greet the line of impatient shoppers.

”Mommy! I peed!” Her daughter’s voice rang out through the silent apartment.

“Did you pee in the potty Maisie?” She prayed for a yes.

”Yep and I wiped front to back!” Maisie’s pride in her accomplishment was palpable.

“Good job baby! Now go start getting dressed!” She looked over at her son on the couch starting to show signs of life.

“Luke! Maisie is up, she’s getting dressed. I need you to get her breakfast. Remember you’re on duty today. I have to work.” Luke groaned and reached for his cell phone.

”Jesus mom it’s Saturday.” He scrolled his Instagram, his eyes half closed. “Are they ever going to give you a fucking weekend off?” His voice was annoyed yet protective.

“Luke don’t swear! And I know what you mean. We’re short people right now you know that. There’s nothing I can do.”

”What about Dad why doesn’t he ever take her? It isn’t fair.” He threw his phone down on the couch in disgust.

”It’s complicated baby you know that.” Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment and anger. Life was a lot of things but fair was not one of them.

”I love you!” Maisie bounded down the hallway and jumped into her brother’s lap.

”I love you too Maisie girl.” Luke smiled at his sister. “Are you my supergirl?”

“Yeah!!” Maisie began jumping up and down on the couch. “Pow, bang!” Luke started laughing. “Supergirls need clothes Maisie! Not just underwear! Gross go get dressed!” He lifted her off the couch and led her down the hall to the bedroom she shared with his mother. “Go find a shirt supergirl!” She watched them head down the hallway and wondered what things would be like if Michael hadn’t left them. She wondered if Maisie even remembered the way things used to be.

The way things used to be. She almost laughed. She knew exactly how they used to be. She could forget a lot of things but never the afternoon she’d come home early from the caterer. She could never forget hearing the barely audible sighs and whispers from her bedroom as she made her way up the spiral staircase to the carelessly half open door. She could never forget opening the door the rest of the way to witness the rise and fall of a pale, freckled back in a swath of turkish bedclothes. Bedclothes she’d picked out; pale grey sheets and a deeper grey duvet cover with tiny, yellow flowers.  She could never forget that image, that moment. The slender, white back that wasn’t hers stretching and curving with an unfamiliar passion her bed had never known. She watched with morbid curiosity as her husband’s dark familiar hands held the girl’s hips gently, guiding them. They were oddly quiet, serious almost. Passionless but for the occasional sigh. Followed by a hushed reassurance as though they were both complicit in their lie. Their shared pretense that their orgasms held no consequences.

She closed the door gently and made her way back down the stairs. She set her single package on the counter and then her forehead, the cool stone stilling the the fury of betrayal thundering through her mind. Hadn’t she seen this coming? Could she truly say she cared? Their marriage had been dead long before this latest betrayal and she knew her husband cared even less about this woman- not even a woman- than she did. The thought brought her some comfort, but not enough to override the humiliation. She felt broken. It was only a month before that the IRS had started looking into their finances. She had seen the notices on the counter, by his bedside table. “Is everything okay?” She asked, knowing nothing was okay.

“Of course babe, they audit everyone eventually. I got this.” He had it or so he said. She had to admit she knew he’d had nothing. But she didn’t care. She knew that the car, the house…even the endless parade of women was merely a front. She knew he couldn’t let them see that barefoot boy he used to be and still was with his tightly curled afro and overalls two sizes too small getting knocked to the floor by his angry drunk of a father, glasses shattering on the dirty floor. “Get up and clean that shit up, you good-for-nothing excuse for a son!” White foam grew at the corners of his father’s mouth. “You heard me! I said get the fuck up and clean up this mess!” Through a swollen eye he watched his father loosen his belt and head towards the bedroom where he could hear his mother softly crying. He knew she’d be screaming soon after each whip of the belt. He cut his fingers on the broken glass on purpose each time she cried out. It was his penance for being born.

*To be continued*

The Purity of Love

When we are seen out together our family is a box of crayons. A rainbow. An astonishing example of the rare combination of purity and love.

Love is never what they show you in movies. It’s raw, exhausting, unforgiving and also the purest thing you’ll ever know. These days people confuse purity with beauty. They confuse it with intellectual prowess. They confuse it with youth. But purity and youth don’t go hand in hand as any parent of a tantrum throwing, toy destroying, wall-kicking child will tell you. No. Purity is its own entity separate from any other reality. It exists in the pupil of the eye just as a tear falls. It wafts through an evening Christmas party past the clinking of glasses and the low hum of small talk. It rests on the surface of water and on the fragile, fragrant petal of a rose. It is always alive inside the heart of the truly in love.

Love can humble the grandest egos or lift the meekest souls. Love means your first teenage kiss. The gentle breeze over the grass, the moon half full, the porch light just about to turn on. Love also means empty shoes at the edge of the bed. A suit laid out. A bouquet of flowers wilting on the dining room table next to a yellow pad with a eulogy written in cursive, several lines crossed out.

For those lucky ones of us, we are surrounded by the many, happy versions of love. We are at ease in our lives. At peace with our surroundings. Truly it is a fortunate existence. But for many of us we are not so lucky. We must placate our greedy hearts with the sanitized pretend-love of the silver screen. A fake-love designed especially for the lonely consumer. For the loveless fan desperate to fill the cavernous space meant to hold their passion and desire.

My husband is Scottish. He even has a red beard. His eyes are the color of a cloudless sky and he’s tall enough to touch the ceiling. His voice rumbles when he talks and his gentle snoring calms my worst nightmares. I’m at least 60 nationalities probably more, but for the ease of description I’m multi-racial. You could call me bi-racial but you’d be incorrect. Not that people who aren’t of mixed racial backgrounds care about that kind of thing, still it is true. You could call my skin color butterscotch or caramel. Toffee works, coffee with cream.  You could be racist and call me high-yellow. I’ve heard it before. Mulatto too. (Just a note white people. Don’t call us mulatto.) My kids are absolutely beautiful and every combination you can imagine. I have two boys from my first marriage and one little girl who was my husband’s gift to me. My oldest son has my skin color and dark eyes, with thick wavy hair. My middle child who was born with straight blonde hair and blue eyes now has hazel eyes and curls that excitedly leap from his head. My daughter who is only five and still finding her place in the kaleidoscope of images has dark blonde ringlets and copper colored eyes. Her eyes were a perfect metallic grey when she was born. She fascinated the nurses.

When we are seen out together our family is a box of crayons. A rainbow. An astonishing example of the rare combination of purity and love. Of course not everyone sees us this way. My husband’s family is a prime example. His parents are in town. They’ll be leaving soon. They’ve decided not to visit their beautiful granddaughter who has been talking about seeing them ever since she found out they were coming. Yes, it’s horrible and they’re horrible. They’re in town for my husband’s sister’s wedding. They didn’t go to ours. Yes it’s gross and sad and everything else you can think of.

It’s these moments I have to stop and think about what to tell my daughter. because of course I went through the same thing. I remember my mother asking her father if she could give me her dollhouse that he made her. I remember him looking over at me with disgust and saying no, not for her. I remember watching my cousins unwrapping their christmas presents at age seven while my grandmother coldly handed me a check and said I don’t know what girls like her want. I felt like part of the floor that day. I knew my father wasn’t allowed in the house. I don’t remember getting a present. Just that stiff paper check and that feeling of “less than they are.”

I had that same feeling when my husband’s mother banned me from her house and my husband would take our daughter to visit without me. I suppose this was before my daughter grew old enough to shine her multiracial light. I watched them drive away and felt that same awful feeling of “less than they are.” I felt it every time he did it. The worst feeling in the world. The opposite of love.

Once I took my sons to my husband’s parents’ house. I was pregnant at the time. We were invited for his sister’s graduation dinner. It took his mother 45 minutes to acknowledge we’d walked in the room. My sons inched closer and closer to me at the table the longer the silence went on. You see my husband’s mother and sister were busy playing with the children of my husband’s ex-girlfriend. So busy I guess they didn’t notice us. Perhaps we weren’t white enough to be noticeable. My husband’s ex-girlfriend is basically vanilla pudding. A pile of snow. As white as it gets. They have wood walls so apparently we blended in. Needless to say I was furious. As I would be every time I saw them. Because not only had they made me feel “less than they are” they did it to my children and I found that unforgivable.

They continued to do awful things and we continued to love each other despite them and the details are less important than the toll it has taken on us, to have such close contact with the opposite of love. I still haven’t recovered and now that they’ve lied to my daughter about seeing her and are continuing their campaign of making myself and my children feel “less than they are” there’s no way I can risk allowing them to poison her life more than they already have. They’ve also hurt my husband terribly although I warned him this is what happens when you marry outside your race, class, parental expectation. He thought his family was different. I knew they were just like all the rest.

So where do we go from here? How do we move on? I already know what I’ll do. I’ll tell my daughter the truth. The same truth I’ve told her since she understood my words. I promised her I’d never lie to her and I never will. I found out the whole ugly truth about my racist grandparents when I was fourteen and I was so angry I never spoke to them again. I would rather have known right from the start who I was dealing with. I’m not letting my daughter go through what I went through. She’s not going to feel “less than they are.” She’s going to feel loved, cared for and never, ever lied to. There’s another special place purity can be found. In the clear reflection of honesty. I’m going to tell my daughter the truth and the fragrance of purity will swirl around us, delighting our senses and building my daughter’s trust in me. Ultimately filling both our hearts with that rare mixture of purity, trust and love.

And as for my husband’s sister who still lives here I suggest she stays far, far away.

 

Venom

You mother in law you
The cars go by and I hear you talking
He’s MY son I think
As the rain falls.
You dirty rat
Nothing equates us
Except a shared lifetime of pain like a mournful rainbow arching across a quiet sky
A sad note
A good son
Stop trying to stand in front of me,
Just because you knocked it over doesn’t mean you get to watch the pieces crumble.
I dreamt this already
And at the end you kneel.

Kimkoa 2018

Sent from my iPhone