Letter to 13 year old me

I want you to know that you were right before you felt the need to be right.

The dog in the picture that sits inside your arms is different now. She’s a longer, daintier half breed. People stop you on the sidewalk to tell you how pretty she is. A beagle on stilts.

But you don’t forget the now deceased animal of your past. Small with soft ears too big for his head. You once sat up all night cleaning the worms he vomited onto the couch. He was one of those puppy mill puppies that was broken when you got him, but you were prepared to love him anyway.

You were fiercely jealous when he curled up next to your brother at night. Once you snuck him out of your brother’s room, but he stumbled his way back.

The dimly lit space behind you was too snug for him. The neighbors complained about his howls through thin apartment walls. And your mom didn’t feel well enough to chase him around. So another family loved him instead.

You were a clash of color. A smorgasbord of thrift store finds. Musty, knitted sweater. Yellow beanie. Yellow like sunshine. Yellow like madness. You put every single one of those rings on in the morning as armor. You knew you belonged here.

Why do I keep coming back to you?

What is left for me to forgive? To criticize? What is there to learn from you that I haven’t already internalized?

Today you match everything except for your socks, because you can never find the partners. You wear an engagement ring on your middle finger. Your grandma’s watch on your left wrist. It has since stopped ticking. You remember the day it stopped ticking and felt a little more alone, until the next meaningful conversation rolled around, and you stopped paying attention to time.

It’s raining. There’s a spider outside your window. You left it there because you admired the amount of work and time it put into its web. Your dog is asleep on the couch. Your man is washing the dishes you filled with dinner. You had a good day. People see you. This is the present. This is the love you surround yourself with. It loves you back.

You were right before you felt the need to be right. Thank you for allowing yourself to be huge by nurturing the most fragile parts.

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The loudest way to survive

So you didn’t get the knobby
shoulders you needed.
That’s a lot of us,
and I sympathize with relativity.
But let me let you
lean in on my secret:

my big-mouthery is
my own, but it’s also
cavewoman survival.

I did what I could
with sticks and stones.
But tried my best not
to break any bones
because I recognized
their malnourishment.

Children who have been
pushed down rivers
in baskets please
cry, cry, cry
as loud as you can.

Your cries will give way
to words, which you will use
as an armor of testament,
of existence, of proclamation
that you belong here,
that we’ve not yet
occupied Mars.

Don’t press so much on
the bruises, which
are designed or not
designed, depending
on how you look at it,
to fascinate and distract
you from what tickles
your insides and makes
you sneeze at the flower
raised in front of your face.

And if you can see it
don’t pluck the petals
just yet. Love me nots
are not yet in your equation.

This is your cliche to own.
These are your metaphors
to mix and match.

So lasso love.

Sling what you
did not receive.

When you pull it
from the earth,
rock it back and forth.

Then put it back
in the river you
remember floating
down so clearly.

Feed what will cleanse you.

Still spinning

A little girl spins
in broken figure eights.

A clean diaper,
bare feet kind of free.

Around and around.
She dances on little toes
pink as a newborn’s.

Fantasia on television.
A fish with eyelashes
dances; its tailfin a veil
sheer as curtains.
Around and around.

The fish whirls and blurs.

The TV’s is on mute.
Crescendos blaring
from her father’s stereo.

He hits black and white.
His keyboard setting:
organs laugh and cry.

She twirls in the living room.

Her father scoops her up
into his arms, headphones
dangling around his neck.

She’s still spinning in his arms.

Cymbols, cymbols, cymbols.

Basset hound

My grandfather’s soul is a shape shifter.
It knows where to go –
the chasm between two sleeping bodies
huddled in their own respective corners
on a queen size mattress,
leaving body imprints on memory foam.

In this life, my grandfather is a basset hound.
I know it’s him.
The man always had a thing for long ears
that can hear their way through the saddest cracks.

When he walks, he trips.
And we call it entertainment.
He doesn’t mind the laughter.

It helps when entertainers are aware
of how much they’re loved.

There are no holes in his droopy, slobbery love.

Oh how my grandfather yodels and cries
when we leave the house.
He can’t stand it and leaves oily trails
of snot on the sliding glass window.

He doesn’t care about the neighbors
who pound their broomsticks on the walls.
His howls don’t embarrass him.
He knows what he’s missing,
can describe vividly the pain and where it hurts.

I named my hound, Elvis,
which was my grandfather’s nickname.
He was a dirty martini kind of guy,
the version they couldn’t show on T.V.
He was graceless with olive breath
and spaghetti sauce stains on his sweaters.
But he knew how to dance, and all of the ladies
at the local library where I worked were smitten
whenever he tap danced their names in his words.

My grandfather hated going to the doctor.
He was stubborn and silent in sickness
until it boiled over and the toxic fluid
flooded his lungs and around his heart.
When they drained him, he was flat as cardboard.

Elvis and I cut through the park on our walks.
I think he likes the woodchips underneath his paws.
His large jowls flap in the crisp spring breeze,
and he jumps and takes chomps at wayward bugs,
and I’m grateful because I think they aim for me.

Sometimes at night, I take Elvis to the pond to feed ducks.
His fur is the same color as the reeds along the shore.
His watery, brown eyes look up at me, lathering my thoughts.
He breathes in deep a grass-scented silence.
I can tell he understands,
that he doesn’t know what comes next,
but it’s getting late, and he’s hungry,
and our favorite spots on the couch are cold.

A series of mini epiphanies (and other unintended resolutions)

I’m having a conscious overload today.

I’ve tried to convey my feelings aloud about it, but the feeling was not always mutual. You can see that you’ve lost your listener’s attention in two glazed donut holes for eyes.

I think in stories. Sometimes this bogs down or blurs human interaction for me. So when I talk about things, experiences, and especially people, I want the moment to be felt, the people to be heard and understood.

But somewhere along the line a listener gets lost in her own spider web of connections, her own learning. And this is completely valid. Every person has his own history, his own backlog of fatty life details to bring to a story or scenario that someone else creates. This is why no two stories are completely the same or entirely original – that kind of frustrating paradox.

Paradoxes are frustrating because there’s no real way around them. Should there be? I’m asking, and not rhetorically.

I can’t fight the New Year mentality no matter how hard I try. I realize my body is following through on resolutions I did not openly make. I refused a cigarette today. I didn’t even want to smell it. I left the room. I didn’t know where that came from.

This damn unconscious pull of the culturized new year never truly leaves you. It’s just as fake, but-too-late it’s-internalized as that clock that’s always ticking on some wall behind your head.
You say things like
“Meet me at 3:00 sharp,”
“In bed by 8,” and
“Shh, there’s someone coming. 12:00. No don’t look just yet.”
You use time to indicate direction.

Denying myself resolutions has left me in a smorgasbord of perceptions. They are covered in mud. The tracks are on my carpet.

So I’m calling my conscious overload a series of mini epiphanies. “Mini” because how pertinent can several realizations at once each be on their own?

I barrel through realizations like a bear swatting a fish.

Mini Epiphanies

Vow of silence

I don’t think I can ever take a vow of silence. My best friend says I would die after 6 hours. She asked, “what would you do with yourself, if you had to just stand at the cash register and nod politely at the cashier?”

It’s true. She knows me. I don’t mix well with silence.
But sometimes I wish I said more on paper than I do in person.

Dig a hole. Bury the old versus young mentality.

Speaking of cashiers, there was this woman the other day who was pressing herself against a counter. Not the cashier; it was a customer who was cutting her sharp hip into the half wall behind the register, the part where customers shouldn’t go.

She was a customer ignoring the unwritten rules of grocery store lines. We know these people. They’re everywhere. Sometimes we’re these customers.

She had already paid and left but turned around once she realized something was wrong. She pivoted and cut off the cashier in mid-sentence who was asking me if Old-Fashioned Donut was a good flavor of coffee. I never got to tell her that, yes, it’s scrumptious, and it can compete with actual, live donuts.

The customer insisted her transaction was flawed. The grave(yard) error was on the store’s end. Their fault. Always. Right. Of course.

It’s the customer who asks me my age as the cashier scans my ID for the wine on the belt in front of me. The cashier is an Indian woman with a delicate name that I feel like an ignorant asshole for not remembering. The customer waves her receipt in front of the cashier’s face impatiently, so the cashier stops the belt.

“How old are you?” The customer asks me, her eyes narrowing. She has a pale, sunken in face.

I can’t remember what she was wearing, but I’m picturing her in a bathrobe. I remember she looked tired like we all do, but her bags dug deeper.

I tell her I’m 24 because I already forget I turned 25 two days ago.

“Are you sure you’re 24? You look 20 to me.”

And I want to ask who the fuck cares. But I tell her uhh thank you instead.

“You look young. You’re good.”

And I want to tell her that I’ve been smoking cigarettes since I was in the womb. I want to tell her I love and am afraid of grown men who encourage me. I want to tell her I need other people to hear my stories because they’re about me. I need to fill their ears and eyes with me. And then maybe they’ll break me off a little piece of them.

I get so close to core of people. Sometimes I get too close and wear my body down. I catch colds. I sneeze my brains out.

But I have a feeling this woman means well. If not for me, for herself. Some older people think that all young people are okay. They need them to be okay. They need to believe that there was once a time when they themselves were okay. This is the mutiny of some parenthood. But the folk don’t realize that it robs young people of real doubts, fears, and insecurities that they need to admit are there before transitioning effectively into various stages of adulthood.

I’m writing. Who’s listening?

What if I just write for me? Is the answer that I could be lost on deaf ears?

What the hell is an audience? Some people say it’s one ideal person, and I guess I can see what they mean because I have one. A real one. She exists.

But then there’s the other question: do people even read?

I once had a manager who told me to write everything in 50 words or less. I panicked. I gave him more than he ever asked for. He looked bored when I handed him my articles and popped in a wad of gum, chewing anxiously.

Everything I write is like a long sigh or a game of poorly played ping-pong where the players have to keep fetching the ball that flies over the table.

Home is where the heart of the mess is.

I had a friend help me clean my kitchen about a month ago. God bless her soul. She insisted when she saw the mold on my sink. She crawled on top of the counters and helped me rearrange the content clawing its way out of my cabinets. She told me where everything was now and encouraged me to keep it that way. We lamented the inconvenient way my cramped kitchen was built. Some drawers don’t open. Some give the illusion that they’re bigger and more functional than they actually are.

Everything in my apartment belongs to a designated pile. It’s all there in a pile somewhere near you.

My co-worker made me feel a little better when he quoted Erma Bombeck. I’m claiming the quote like peed-on territory. “House work when done right will kill you.”

I like kids, but not because I want my own.

I like kids for the same reason everyone likes kids. Kids make us feel like kids. It’s just that simple. And I’m fascinated by childhood. Even the beautiful-but-broken-in-two-places ones.

I started tutoring in the city. Once a week I help one kid muddle through Hop on Pop. Every week he reads faster. I can tell his teacher is taking her time on him. It makes me appreciate elementary school teachers more than I ever have before. His first language is Spanish. He tells me that Spanish makes him feel stupid, and he’s been trying to forget it.

He also tells me he wishes he was rich so he can buy all the legos in the world. And also all the food in the world.

I can’t tell if I like to watch him read more or play with legos more. It’s a tough call.

He’s the kind of kid who is big for his age. He has a haircut like Sonic the Hedgehog. It just grows that way. His ferrety friend Frankie put it best, “You look like one of those big, dumb bullies that are in movies. But you’re actually not a bully or dumb, you’re really nice, and you’re my friend.”

Kids are masters of disjointed compliments.

Despite my best intentions, I like kids for more selfish reasons than unselfish reasons right now. I’m looking for holes, which makes me feel less genuine and a little fucked up.

My childhood is a hot topic right now. It burns when I touch it. I find my mother on beaches. I find my father in storage lockers. I listen to the words in my brother’s scream. I find a way back to the bunk bed I slept on with my sister underneath me for years. I remember I was afraid the top bunk would crush her, but I never offered to switch beds. I worry that 25 is too old to be coming to grips with my past. But I have a feeling reconciliation is the only way to go.

On losing my mind

I’m learning that the older I get the more I see the distinction between feeling crazy and being crazy. But then the harder I think about the concept, the more the two blur into one. I have a fear that I will be crazy.

We all are crazy to some degree and especially at certain points of our lives, but most people isolate themselves in their own crazy, enhancing it. Sometimes I sit at my desk at work and feel like I’m going to collapse, like I’m going to forget my name.

I do understand distinguishing the madness and hypocrisy of the day-to-day versus deeply rooted insanity that we drag with us from our past versus clinical disorders.

I worry about transitioning, crossing over and getting stuck in the most convoluted version of myself.

Will I float away?

I’m realizing I don’t have answers for most things. I feel as wayward as a kite in the sky, but when I look closer, it turns out I never made it off the ground.

“Even the experts don’t have all the answers,” assures my best friend.

I wish she was in my pocket most days, except for the days I have no pockets. And I wonder if I should try putting things in my bra. At one point, when my boobs were larger I lost quarters down my shirts and found engravings of past presidents on my nipples. Maybe I should stop talking about the prospect of shoving my best friend into my bra and potentially be stamped against my nipple.

Psh, a vow of silence. Me? Not I? What about all-about-myself-and-how-much-of-the-world-I-need-to-fill-up-with-me?

More unintended New Year pursuits…

The rest of these are screws and buttons I found on the ground and shoved into my purse for safe keeping. I want to come back to them. I just don’t know what they’re for, or what they fit into just yet.

I want to treat myself better, believe that I’m a good person who makes human mistakes. It sounds so simple like blowing out the candles on a cake after it’s just been iced and lit on fire.

But deep down I know I try. I know my attachments to other people, my ability to trust people after being given so many reasons not to, may just as well be my saving grace in the end.

I can’t help but love people. They give me so much reason to live. Their stories dull the tediousness of it all.

Somewhere inside me there’s a drain that has teeth to destroy everything that gets dropped down the sink. Even money. Even though money, the idea of it really, is hard to destroy. How can you not think about it? Now I’m really asking.

If you have the answer to anything please provide me with one. It doesn’t have to be a perfect answer, but one that takes into account a few shades of gray. Hell, I’ll accept shades of orange.

I’m realizing that I’m going to have to go ovaries deep into my writing if I want to become the woman I want to become.

You see, this is a bowl of soup filled to the brim with frothy questions. I’m getting sweaty. At what point do I stop? At what point do I start making solid judgment calls?

Breakfast with Mom’s Beatles

Your good days surprised us
with sunshine’s warm waves
wandering over a dusty dash.
We barely ate; it was early.
Our stomachs weren’t ready
for the morning’s full flavor
and your throat’s off-key tune,
but we sank our baby teeth
into Breakfast with the Beatles.

You introduced us to Eleanor,
Rocky, Bill, and Polythene Pam.
A whole lineup of characters—
lonely lovers and wanderers,
walruses and birds that sing,
stream stories through stereos,
and bypass dog-eared books.

Winding our long way to church,
I put aside Sunday school verse.
I believed in the drive to and from
and smiling skies, no marmalade
ones with mallows or diamonds,
instead sleepy blues, gray blots,
and sneek peeks of goldish light.

“Shh, you can hear a toilet flush
in the background of this one,”
you whispered, and we giggled,
tilting our ears to the car radio.
You’d lean, breathe a sigh into
the window. “Paul wrote Martha
my Dear for his silly sheepdog
or maybe a shy girl he loved.”

I got this idea to stretch out long
on our carpet, write songs for you.
“Writing the words of a sermon
that no one will hear,” I’d think.
You told me to continue my lines,
smiled secrets because you knew
you were my muse and inspiration.

After church, I’d add flesh to you
so even lovely Rita and sexy Sadie
would phrase their admiration.
I’d remember the bells braided
into your hair, a silver chorus
jingling behind feather earrings,
a trail of l’air du temps perfume.
I’d call the song by your full name.

Sundays weren’t tired of meaning.
They weren’t spent sick in bed—
your body a rolling pin pressing
pain into a mattress like unbaked
bread—nor alone in a white room,
no windows gleaming sun or song.

Your favorites, I Wanna Hold your
Hand and Girl, wore fragile wings
simply like waving hello goodbye
to familiar strangers in passing cars.

The seeds of screams

The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893

The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893

“One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream.”

http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/exhibitions/Munch/resource/171

“This is where it picks up,” my brother says,
strumming his pant leg with long fingernails
lined in the dirt he’s been digging up for years.
He glances at me to see if I’m still watching
then peers at the lyrics he’s scribbled down—
four lines at a time about rising from ashes.

It’s anti-climactic when my brother screams.
To him, screaming is song and second language,
and as he teaches me I marvel at his proficiency.
The guttural sound erupts from a bubbling pit
in the diaphragm, rising from the gut quick as bile.
The acidity sits in the back of the throat, not burning,
but patiently waiting, stalking, until the mouth opens.

When he screams, his flesh remains the same pale
with a hint of peach. There is no crimson waterfall,
soft bleeding of pinks, or plum purple in his cheeks,
I see no pulsating veins bursting like fresh bruises.
His face does not contort into rage, disfigured hate.
He could be blowing candles out on a birthday cake.

Women of horror used to be called scream queens,
and I wonder what kind of primal cue it’d take for me
to emit a sharpness as blood-curdling and skin-liquefying.
Somewhere there’s a scientist with a lock box of screams
and an outdated psychologist who tells patients to relive
their pasts, rehash a few lashings in order to purge pain.

The same people who brought you into the world began
with a scream – a concoction of pleasure, pain, and relief.
And when a baby’s head protrudes from the womb, it’s harsh
and sweet. You break your mother, and she transcends sound,
feeling to reach infinite barriers, beyond pain of femininity.

Once when I was a kid, I was playing before I trapped myself
underneath a door that was yet to be attached to its doorway.
I squirmed in my winter coat, and the weight on top of me
stifled the cry of terror in my lungs; it was barely a whisper.
My mother had pulled the heavy mass off and showered me
in comfort, soothing coos to calm to my close-call tears.

Now the only time I attempt to scream is in dreaming.
I kick like a dog who can’t catch her unconscious assailant.
I wake up and my throat is hoarse, but there’s no memory.

“Before you scream, don’t just throw it out there, focus it,”
my brother tells me. “Then let it flow, give it room to breathe.”

So I gulp air, cradling my own wind close to me before I scream,
and when I do, I call out to all my silences and shake them
like branches of trees laundering seeds ready to be born.

Green pain

When I was a kid I never noticed things like sunflowers pointing toward the sun. I realize now it’s a little creepy – like they have a soul or something. Maybe there was once a time when I sat for long periods and was okay with being myself on some random stump, or rock, or hill.

I used to watch my mom writhe in bed, wriggle like a worm set on fire. There was a music to it. Professionals couldn’t agree on the tune. It meant something different to each white coat. A leech, maybe. Wires switched around or exposed? Suppose there was something swimming around in the abyss of her DNA. They all murmured something different. I used my imagination to color in her pain. I wore it like a new summer hat. I closed my eyes tight, imagining electric shocks pricking my vertebrae or icy cold fingers wrapped tight around my spine. I imagined what it was like to see nothing coming. To feel NOTHING knock me off my feet, or turn off gravity.

My dad’s pain was just as tough to wrestle. I imagined playing hide and seek with him and never finding him. Though it’s been 15 years, he still suffers for the dents in the furniture, the empty cans in the storage locker. I can see it in his face just before he changes the subject or cracks a joke, when he forgets birthdays. Sometimes when I take swigs of drinks, I imagine it’s like kissing him on an open sore on his mouth.

There’s so much noise out there. I contribute to it. I’m just one mechanical wave in an auditory ocean made of vibrating waves. There’s so much noise. People yell over roaring engines, explosions, over a soundless cyberspace that’s just as loud as everything else. The internet’s echo is loud enough to wake me from a sound sleep. But pain is still the loudest of all. And yet, I wear it in the winter, wrap it around my neck like a scarf to keep me warm.

I want to feel the pain, so when that crinkle in the face we call a smile happens, I’m there to see it. Not take ownership of it, just see it. Like a solar eclipse or the sighting of a humpback whale. There’s something insanely beautiful about smiles poking holes through sadness.

When I was a kid I used to spin around in circles and just see a blur of grass. Everywhere, it was green. I was dizzy with green. Maybe I would have realized that if I stopped spinning for one second, I could notice the calmness of things. I could pick out individual blades of green.