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*

Be Your Own Superhero

Doctors forget that these are our lives. That even a single memory is a priceless thing and to spin the roulette wheel with our minds is a cruel practice.

Tonight is one of those sleepless nights. Those toss and turn, mind racing and won’t turn off, husband snoring kind of nights. I don’t mind it for some reason. I just want to write anyways. I’ve been talking with my son. And not just talking. I’ve been listening. He is the type of child with a lot to say. At first you might think all he wants to do is talk the paint off the walls. But if you really listen to him, really listen, you realize he wants to be part of the conversation. The greater conversation. The one the adults are having about the world. About the way things are changing. About the political scene. He doesn’t want to just sit back and listen to rap music and eat hot pockets. Well, sometimes he does. But he also wants to listen to Ted Talks and podcasts about scientific experimental treatments for PTSD and Opioid addiction. He wants to learn about political systems and how they affect the way we live. Why the world’s government’s don’t work. He’s vocal and opinionated and not always right but it’s better isn’t it? That he cares? That he’s learning? Isn’t that what we want from children? To challenge us? To force us from the complacency of sameness with the wild and wonderful phrase “What if?”

What if that which we have always thought to be true was false? And it took a young, free-thinking mind to ask the necessary question “What if?”

He was talking tonight about experimental treatments with MDMA and Ecstasy and the success they are having treating anxiety conditions, OCD and PTSD. He was saying it’s groundbreaking. Like any parent my first response was to convince him that was hype for drug users and nothing worth his time but the more I talked to him the more I realized how informed he was and that he did know what he was talking about. “Mom.” He said. “This isn’t about going to a concert and getting some soda laced with God knows what. That shit can kill you and in fact it is killing kids, because that isn’t pure MDMA or ecstasy. It’s low grade nightmare shit with whatever inside it and it’s really sad because kids have no idea.” I’m talking about actual clinical scientific trials with pure substances used in a controlled environment on subjects who are experiencing relief for the first time in their lives. Mom I’m telling you if you want good drugs, go to the scientists.” I had to laugh at that one because he was right.

My son knows my struggle with medications. He knows I feel like a fat guinea pig they just stuff one pill after another down my throat. He knows I feel like Alice in Wonderland never knowing what my body will do next, one pill will make me grow fatter. Another will make me pace around the room. This pill will take away my appetite but my hair will fall out. Still another will make everything taste faintly of metal. And the treatment of all treatments is they could attach electrodes to my brain and send currents of electricity through my grey matter as a last ditch effort (yes, actually electrocute my mind) in the hopes that my thoughts would be shocked into compliance. Of course there is that pesky little side effect of memory loss. Memories like the scent of my first born child’s head when they placed him in my arms for the first time. The sound of my mother frying bacon on Sunday mornings as a little girl. The feeling of holding my father’s hands as he walked to the liquor store. I always got to pick out a lollipop. My daughter’s middle name. How as a baby she would cry incessantly unless I played Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine over and over and over while I wore her in a sling. The first time my husband held my hand, kissed me.

I’ll never forget sitting there reading about how sometimes you lose your memories for a time but they come back. However in many cases they don’t. My doctor was so confident my memory loss would be minimal. But what does that mean? Which memory isn’t worth keeping? My mother’s genuine loving smile at my first piano recital when I hid behind the garbage cans? My oldest son deciding to take a bath in the middle of his fifth birthday, ignoring all of his friends? My youngest son carrying around a red velvet notebook he got from his teacher at Butterfly daycare center writing little notes and pictures long before kindergarten? That he was born with blue eyes?

Doctors forget that these are our lives. That even a single memory is a priceless thing and to spin the roulette wheel with our minds is a cruel practice. I have had enough of being a plaything for the ignorant. My body is not a toy. I am not a lab rat. I am done swelling up like a sad balloon, I am done being too exhausted to play with my daughter and I am done swallowing pill after pill after pill. By the way these pills are prescribed only 30 at a time at all different times with no refills from a doctor who works only one day a week from an office that takes up to a week to refill them and she has to sign off on each one through insurance that won’t pay until two days before they are due so that I’m constantly on the phone with either the doctor’s office, the pharmacy or the insurance company and I’m constantly getting lectured about running out or trying to refill too soon or any number of stupid and demeaning things they like to say to me on a regular basis, every single month of my life. I literally can’t take it anymore. And it makes me so angry because this is how patients fall through the cracks. It’s not the patients its the goddamn overmedicating doctors who just stop paying attention.

You know when I feel happiest? When I run my fingers over flowers that have just bloomed in my garden. When I clip my basil and put it in the sauce I’m making for my family. When I discover the first rose of the season and clip it and put it in a mug and it smells like heaven. When I make my son and I chocolate mint tea from leaves I grew. When I am surrounded by the quiet harmony of the life my mother and I created from seeds we started on folding tables in the great room of the house.

Do I still have bipolar? Yes. Do I take a medication called lithium? Yes? However I asked for it specifically because it’s an ancient natural remedy. People have been bathing in lithium waters for centuries to help find balance. It’s a salt. I do feel sometimes all this other shit I’m taking is not helping me at all. However I remember that I am bipolar and bipolar people hate taking their medication. Let me say that again. Bipolar people HATE taking their medication! The sad fact is that many of us do need those meds to keep from flying off into truly frightening states of mind. I have been there. I cannot deny that. This being said my opinion does matter. How I feel and what is happening to my body is important. My doctor and I must work together. My healthcare is truly a joint venture, not just one individual’s responsibility. It is possible to take less medication but that means it needs to be under my doctor’s supervision and with her consent. In addition I need to do my part here at home. I need to eat well. I need to sleep enough and consistently. I need to make sure my environment is peaceful, positive, stress-free. I need to go to therapy and talk about my feelings even when I’d rather hide under the bed with my cat.

When I’m in my doctor’s office and she’s asking me how I’m doing and prescribing me these pills I hate, if I don’t use my voice, if I don’t share my pain then I have no one to blame but myself. One of the many things I have learned from my son is that when something is not working he is NOT quiet about it. And as a result he gets his needs met. I need to take a page out of his book. Wishin’ and hopin’ and prayin’ and dreamin’ isn’t getting me very far. The time has come to be my own hero. It’s what I’d tell my daughter to do. Sometimes no one comes to rescue you and you have to pull up your boot straps and rescue yourself.

 

 

 

Problem Child

At forty-one I don’t bend myself into weird positions just to get people to like me anymore. I’m just over it. My daughter doesn’t bend herself for others either. You can choose to follow her lead or get the hell out of her way.  

So my daughter has become a “problem child” at preschool. She started out her preschool career as an “angel.” In the beginning I would go to pick her up and her teacher Miss Cheryl would tell me her days would be perfect if the class were made up of little Alices. Needless to say she does not say this anymore. After talking with her this morning and hearing about Alice’s behavior in school my heart sank. Of course I came up with a million and one reasons why this was my fault and after ruminating and coming up with a million and one reasons mentally why my daughter was failing preschool on the way home from dropping her off, I pulled into the driveway, ran up the stairs and talked to my mother who luckily happened to be home sick from work. (Let me tell you, having a mother with a doctorate in psychology who used to teach preschool can really come in handy.) After relating the troubles Alice and a friend of hers who is the same age is having in the classroom to my psychologist mother she listened intently and simply said- “she’s bored.”

“Bored?” I said, not having considered this as a possibility but instantly agreeing with the idea.

“Of course. She’ll be five in less than a month. She’s going to school with three year olds. She’s bored out of her mind! She should be in the school-age room. She starts kindergarten at the end of August. It’s June.”

“Ohhhhhh.” Duh. Why did I not think of this before? When her well-meaning but over-worked teacher was telling me how she won’t stay on her cot at nap time. Well, yeah. Because she’s outgrown it.

“You need to call them and tell them to put her in the school-age room. Especially if she’s having problems. She’s only got a month left and she’s going to give them hell. The other day I was there watching her trying to color and a little girl who must have been about 3 years old kept stealing her markers and Alice finally had enough and pushed her. Her teacher said ‘Now Alice we talked about this, she’s never been in school before.’ I was like, Oh my god, no wonder she’s running out of patience. She’s going to school with babies!’ “ My mom had an excellent point. No kid is going to stay bored for long. They’ll entertain themselves one way or another. Jesus, I thought. Why don’t they move them at four and a half at least? My daughter reads. She can do simple math. She paints her nails. She swears. (You want to judge me about that, guess how much of a shit I give) She has fashion sense. She wears lip gloss. She is well beyond a room full of three year olds. Again I really don’t care if you think there’s a problem with that. I think you know what you can do with your opinion.

Of course I’ve long given up on the structure of this particular daycare. They put more energy into their appearance than they do into their actual program. And of course it’s the staff working with the kids that suffer. They don’t get they support they need, it’s like a revolving door for workers and for the ones who have been there consistently and are depended on it truly isn’t fair, they really get overworked. The admin staff sure wants parents to think they’re dropping their kids off into some kind of preschool/kindergarten hybrid, but its just a daycare. A daycare. Oh they want you to think it’s a real school. They spin you a yarn about curriculum and training and certification. They have a lot of stupid I repeat STUPID policies to make you think it’s a school. But truthfully, It’s a daycare just like any other daycare where the kids run around and smack each other with barbies and toy cars and eat orange slices and fill their pockets with rocks on the playground that then end up on the floor of your car. Sure they memorize a word or two in Spanish and practice counting to 20 and glue cotton balls and felt to construction paper, so you feel like your money is spent on something more than just glorified babysitting, but truthfully it’s not. What you’re really paying for is socialization and the ability to do things without your child. Honestly your child won’t emerge anymore of an Einstein than the child who stayed home with their parents until kindergarten. And depending on the parents that other child who stayed home just might be farther ahead. Like way farther ahead.

So anyways I have no illusions about my daughter’s daycare. She’s there because she loves being around other kids, she’s easily bored and I need time to get things done during the day that don’t involve her. Things like writing and gardening. And sitting on the couch for longer than ten minutes without hearing “Mommy play with me!”

This is not to say there aren’t excellent preschools that don’t have fancy curriculums with detailed, well-thought out programs that are designed to enhance the development of the preschool brain at each level and my daughter has actually had the benefit of participating in one such program. But it lasted only a few hours a day, it was extremely expensive, and every kid in there came from such a wealthy and un-relatable family she didn’t end up making a single friend. She just didn’t fit in with such a demographically homogenous group which is a fancy way of saying “all rich white kids” and I definitely did not fit in with their rich stay-at-home mothers. Nor did I feel like trying. At forty-one I don’t bend myself into weird positions just to get people to like me anymore. I’m just over it. My daughter doesn’t bend herself for others either. You can choose to follow her lead or get the hell out of her way.

Anyways she’s got until the end of August and then she’ll be in kindergarten, raising hell and challenging her teachers with her wild and witty wonderful way of learning, understanding, becoming, experimenting, leading, being fierce, being beautiful, excelling, exceeding, paving the way for the rest of the ones who love her and follow in her footsteps. She’ll be creating new avenues her teachers never thought of and they can fight her or embrace her just like every problem child that ever was.

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

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.

My Life Is My Own

I suppose, in a way, she has the ideal exposure because the person who birthed her, loves her unconditionally, is raising her, caring for her and teaching her is a person of color.

So I live in Wasilla, which is basically 99% white. I don’t love this, I wish my daughter could grow up with more diversity. She’s at the perfect age to really fall in love with all different cultures and we are living in such a homogenous part of Alaska it’s depressing. Her only regular exposure to someone of color is me. I have to wonder what does this mean? I suppose, in a way, she has the ideal exposure because the person who birthed her, loves her unconditionally, is raising her, caring for her and teaching her is a person of color. I am this multiracial, multicultural human who is definitively unique, artistic and compassionate towards those who are different. I’m an advocate for persons with mental  illness and am committed to fighting the stigma. So who cares if she is surrounded by the same white faces on a daily basis. Her home is not that way and never will be. Her brothers, especially her oldest brother, don’t look white at all so summers spent with them enhance her world view and round out this homogenous little world we’re raising her in.

My last blog was intense. I dug deep and talked about some pretty tough subjects. I’m glad I did, there are so many women who have been through the same things and are ashamed to admit they were abused. They just hold it inside and it literally tears them apart. I need to share something that happened to me after I posted my blog. My ex-girlfriend contacted me and tried to manipulate exactly the way she used to. She accused me of lying and airing her dirty laundry which is a contradiction in terms and interspersed it with compliments about my daughter and my advocacy work. She tried to rope me into a dialogue which I resisted and accused me of cyberbullying her by telling my story, while at the same time apologizing for traumatizing me all those years ago. She then started bullying me the way she always did, telling me what I could and could not write about in my blog- basically I could not write about her. Honestly my first reaction was fear. All these years have passed and I still reacted like a terrified child. Then I was angry at myself for feeling afraid and agreeing not to write about her, because it’s not my fault she was abusive. It’s not my fault she’s as sick as she is and refuses to take responsibility for it. I know plenty of borderlines who admit they are skilled manipulators. That they often find themselves doing it without even trying. I know borderlines who are actively seeking help even though success rates are low, they are there, trying. Fighting their illness. Taking ownership.

Was I perfect in that relationship?  No…but I don’t even call it a “relationship.” She used to make me lay there with my legs spread and conduct what she called “examinations” to make sure everything was “ok down there.” You’re probably wondering how in the hell did I let someone do that to me? Well I had just come from a sheltered cultish belief system and I was only a child when I joined it so I was an easy target. I tried to get away from her in so many ways. I mentioned the first time my poor oldest son from whom I kept all of this loved her and didn’t want me to leave and so I stayed for him. I also knew in my heart I needed a man. In the way a gay person is born that way and cannot change, so is a straight person, so is a bisexual and so on. I needed a husband. I would tell her this and she would tell me over and over I was wrong, I was a lesbian, I didn’t know what I was talking about. At the end I would literally have dreams about men, about being the straight woman with bisexual leanings that I was and how badly I needed my man. I thought maybe if I slept with a man I would know for sure and it would be enough for her to finally leave me alone. So I did just that and it confirmed it for me. So I immediately told Janine exactly what I did hoping she’d understand and finally let me go, but not only did it not work she told me she realized she was transgendered and wanted to get a sex change operation and would I stay with her until she had the sexual reassignment surgery and then we could be a traditional couple which was what I said I needed. My God. I thought. She’ll never let me go. I mentioned in my last post that she threw a bicycle at me. That was her last act of violence towards me and the most obviously violent act. That was the turning point. As soon as the bike hit my legs my mind snapped. I knew things would go in only one direction. It was then that I finally called my parents and told them the truth about what was going on. They had suspected but had no idea how bad things had gotten. I was so desperate to legitimize this nightmare I went through a commitment ceremony with her. Somehow I thought this would make things better. The ceremony itself was beautiful. The truth behind it was tragic.

The reason I’m sharing all of this is for all of the women who have been through this. Who have made these same seemingly crazy choices. When you are in an abusive relationship you forget who you were before your abuser began filling your mind with negativity. Before your abuser began stealing your independence of mind. You forget you once stood on your own two feet. You forget you were noble, beautiful and worthy of love all in your own right. I was so paralyzed by my own victimization that after leaving her I tried to go back to her. I thought I could not live without her. I had forgotten how. Thank God she only wanted to sleep with me. Thank God I was only temporarily under the delusion I needed to keep being abused. Thank God she found someone else to debase. I was forced to heal and heal I did. Day by day. Week by week. Month by Month. A Year passed. Then a miracle. I was working, going to school, running several days a week and I started to fall in love with my life. I started to fall in love with myself. I was staying with my parents when I had my sons, with a girlfriend I had known since we were nine years old so basically my sister when my boys were with Ian and I was having fun. Living the life I never got to live in my twenties. It was one particularly beautiful day and I was running along the coastal trail and I decided to message a guy I worked with at a television station as an intern. KTVA. His name was Nick. And he became my husband.

Of course there’s MUCH more to that story, but the most important part is that he also helped me heal. The parts of me I didn’t realize were still broken. Anyways, before we had gotten married, when our daughter was almost a year old. I invited my ex-husband over to the house to help the boys with their homework. It was a landmark moment. I reached across the divide that was our fighting and extended an olive branch. That was the beginning of what can only be described as a miracle. Now his new wife is my sister and he is my brother. I’ll be taking my daughter to stay with them next summer so I can spend time with my sons and Jaden can work a summer job. If you consider where we began, and where we are now it’s almost unbelievable. This entire story deserves its own post but I’ll at least say, it’s due in no small part to my husband and his wife. Nick and Nicole.

I’ll end this post by saying it doesn’t matter how lonely, crazy, stupid or hopeless you think your situation is you are not alone. Someone else is going through the very same thing. Listen to your friends when they tell you to get out. Let them help you…and above all, love yourself. My daughter may be living in one of the whitest, typical, homogenous cities in America but her family is anything but white, typical or homogenous. Of this I am proud.

Queen

I looked for you in the darkest of places
Where the people had the whitest of faces
Your hands were in the dirt
Your back was bent
I couldn’t see you clearly
But you smelled like victory
You didn’t notice me
I thought
But in truth I stopped your heart
A year later we were running from the grotesque, swords in our hands
Dripping animal blood
Our daughter ferocious asking when can we stop and fight
When can we destroy them?
Soon love. Soon.
I could see their hulking beast-like shoulders just over the hill and above them the white faces of their soulless guides
I suddenly saw heaven:
The entire world was in your pale blue eyes
The warmth of your Scottish beard
Against my cheek reminded me of grace
Our hands tightly wound. My dark one with your light one.
Our middling princess with her fire hair and all the power of heaven and earth at her feet.
I found the last white man who was not a ghost.
And you gave me back my royalty.

Kimkoa 2018