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

 

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.