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*

A Summer of Roses

You cannot breathe in and out without accepting death hides in every corner. It follows us on the wind whispering our name.

Roses make sense to me. Beautiful; all the colors of the rainbow. They smell heavenly. Try to pick one however and you’ll end up with fingers full of thorns. I love that. It’s as if they say you may look…but never touch.

I feel like the stem of a rose lately. I don’t want someone’s hand on my back. I avoid affection. It’s not a good feeling, being covered in thorns, but I relish my sharpness. I embrace being off-putting for once. For the first time I’m completely aware of what everyone wants from me. I just don’t care.

I spent half my life hanging in midair, waiting to be told what to do, where to go, how to feel. I smiled on command. I pleased people. I’m just not that girl anymore. I’m not interested in meeting other people’s needs. I need to soar unencumbered by the pressures of fitting in.

I have few friends. I think this is on purpose. Most people don’t understand me. I’m unusually kind, generous and fun to be around. So when they cross a line, when they hurt me, my kids or just piss me off in general by being inconsiderate, selfish or (my favorite) racist, and I tear into them mercilessly, they are genuinely shocked. How can she say those things? they ask themselves. I of course have an easy answer: Because they’re true and someone had to let you know eventually. You can’t just walk around being an asshole for the rest of your life and not have anyone call you on it.

Everything about the world is changing. That’s really the only constant. You never know what you’ll wake up to. It’s unsettling. However that is life. To live is to be unsettled. You cannot breathe in and out without accepting death hides in every corner. It follows us on the wind whispering our name. We none of us know when the clock strikes zero. This makes for a very strange and macabre existence. We dance on the tip of a blade in this life. Eventually we all stumble and fall.

My sons ask me questions I truly have to think about the answers to. Sometimes I feel pressure from them to be better than I am. But it never lasts. I give them my best answers and for the most part discuss with them what they think the answer is. I never forget they are old enough to alter the course of history. I remember being their age and full of questions. Full of hope. Excited about new developments, theories, discoveries. Adolescence is a magical time when truly anything seems possible. I miss that feeling.

There’s no hiding from a teenager. They see everything you think you’ve concealed so carefully. There’s no use protecting them from your pain. They just feel lied to. Most of the time I feel like I have my hands tied behind my back when it comes to my sons. They spend the school year with their father in Oregon and the brief time I have with them during holidays and part of the summer is almost a slap in the face. It’s not even enough time to feel like they’re wholly mine. That they haven’t chosen some other different, less colorful family to latch onto. Another mother to replace me with. An entirely different life I’m only allowed to see the edges of. Like a child standing on tiptoe desperate to see through the tear in the tent. The lions leaping through flaming hoops. The trapeze girls. The giant elephants with their daintily swinging tails.

This loss of so many moments of my sons’ lives will always be one my greatest sorrows. There are days when the pain is so great I try to swallow and it feels like knives in my throat. Those are the days I don’t talk to anyone. I give one word answers and make no attempt at conversation. Those are the days I feel hollowed out, so broken inside that it is as if all of my feelings have trickled through the cracks in my heart and made a crimson arc on the floor beneath my feet. I leave my feelings there, wet and sad. I want them to show, not me.

My daughter of course forces me to seal up the cracks in my broken heart. She has no patience for grief. She is too young to have lost profoundly. She makes me laugh when I think it least possible. She is not the least bit uncomfortable when I cry. She remains ready with kisses and little fingers that wipe away tears and with them my self doubt. Her belief in me is astonishing. I want to tell her how terribly flawed I am except she’d never believe me.

This summer had some beautiful moments. I breathed them in as deeply as I could. I swallowed them whole. There is no substitute for all of my children together laughing, smiling and being free. It’s a rarity now that I never take for granted. Each time I wonder if it will be the last. I think one day I’ll realize all I have are the memories and I’ll retreat into my thorny stem. Like the rose I’ll bloom for my children no matter how old they get. But no matter how beautiful my flower, once my children go their own ways my thorns will drive the world away without hesitation or remorse.

Planetary solitude and the power of individual expression

My words are mine. My feelings are mine. My expression is mine. I will wear what I want. I will say what I think. I will write what I feel.
My stories are not literal blocks of concrete meant to be carried around on one’s back. Rather they are pictures of emotions wrapped in my poetic language.
Do not censor my voice. Do not bind my fingers with your fear and misunderstanding. Your need to control. Allow me my freedom. My freedom to say what I want, when I want, how I want.
If you cannot understand metaphor. If you cannot understand the power of writing to release that which binds up inside and its ability to soothe the soul than say nothing to me. Because we exist on different planets and to bring us closer would take an act of God.

Kimkoa 2018

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.