The Killer In Me

Twelve years and some months ago, I knelt on the concrete steps that bisected my terraced garden and, in one of my very first efforts at gardening, tore weeds out at their roots from cracks in the stone. As it is even when I kill a fly or an ant, it wasn’t lost on me that I was ending a life form. The parallel was particularly poignant, as I had just come through a hellish year in which I endured three unplanned pregnancies, all of which ended in either a spontaneous or induced abortion.

In a moment of strange philosophical lucidity, I found myself thinking almost wordlessly about how I was killing something to make room for something better. I was tearing the weeds out so that I could grow flowers and plants that heal; I had killed the life in my womb in order to improve my own. It was a sentiment that many will find horrific, others cold, and many pragmatic, and it was a moment that has stayed with me – every time I rip a weed from its roots, and at other apropos times, as well.

A year later, back in Ireland, I told my ex-husband’s therapist that ‘leaving him was like cutting off my hand to save my arm,’ and in the weeks and months following my return to California, I felt as if I were walking around with a layer of skin burned off, shedding in strips, revealing the tender new growth beneath.

I’ve gotten good, at times, at this killing thing. Today, 7/7/13 (whether you’re using the American or European system), I killed again – but this time I didn’t just kill. I put a knife in a nearly-seven-year-long odyssey that has taken me to the depths of hell and to the darkest corners of my soul, I shot three arrows into the heart of a dead dream and then I threw that shit in a deep grave and kicked dirt all over it. And I didn’t leave a nice tombstone or even a fucking flower, just footprints on fresh soil and tracks out of the cemetery gates.

I didn’t do this cavalierly, or with glee or venom or even indifference, though anyone who loves me will probably tell you that I should have. I did it with a heart heavy as lead, with tears and resignation, but also with love for the killer in me. I love this murderer that lives in the corner of my soul, hovering with knives and guns and poisons and an ever-watchful eye, this stone-cold killer wiling to cut the throat of anyone or anything that would threaten my self-actualization, that would choke my beautiful flowers.

And this is something they don’t teach little girls: being a woman doesn’t just mean giving or nurturing life. There is an equally important duty to destroy when one must, a homologous obligation to be willing to tear apart with weapons or one’s bare hands that which would seek to usurp our autonomy, overgrow our garden, suffocate us where we sleep. To be whole, one must be as willing to take up arms as to open them and to attack until our target is six feet under the black dirt.

In this moment I feel the whispers of a bad sunburn around my edges – I want to take a cold shower and wash off the red marks of betrayal, disappointment, years that have disappeared like fog moving in off the coast – but I can’t, because burns don’t wash off – they heal. And so will I – with my pen and my friends, my medicine and my flowers, my knives and my three flaming arrows.

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Ain’t Where You Was

Ain’t Where You Was

5/8/13

 

“You might not be where you want to be, but you got to be glad you ain’t where you was.” – unknown


I’m not yet where I want to be (back in the Sunset, gazing out at the fog and the grey ocean from my large picture window), but I am damn glad I ain’t where I was. I have more of what I want than I once did: a home of my own, a patch of earth, a job that, while still full of its petty indignities and irritations, pays the bills decently and allows me to buy fancy cheese on impulse. And I earned it: I’ve been working since I was 15 years old; hustling, climbing, clawing, earning, learning, mastering, and mustering up whatever it took to put in another day.

 

My gay husband (and best friend of 22 years) and I had a three-hour conversation the other night and he pressed me to remember all the mornings of getting up at dawn to take the 21 Hayes bus downtown to make $9 an hour taking messages in a security brokerage or putting in 11-hour days at a dotcom for none of the payoff promised; all the cleavage I flashed and booty I shook when working in the nighttime trades; the endless cheap sandwiches from Lee’s eaten at ugly desks in windowless offices; all the freezing, endless waits at Muni stops and the profanity and creepy come-ons and space invasions thrown my way once I rushed into the warmth of the train; all the sexist requests to order cookies for meetings the men never cleaned up after; the narcissistic bosses and duplicitous coworkers; all the sighers, toe-tappers, loud eaters, pursed lips, raised eyebrows, and people who just can’t do their fuckin’ job without having their hand held or ego stroked. And don’t even get me started on the ninth circle of hell that is the copy machine.

 

I lived in a flat with two girls for five years and the other (sleepless) night, I counted how many jobs I had in the those five years. The answer? Ten (and that’s lumping all the freelance production assistant jobs as one): a bank, a veterinarian’s office, a trophy wife’s Pacific Heights estate, the brokerage, a law office, a university, various freelance production jobs, a music marketing company, a porn website, and a dotcom.

 

He also sharply reminded me to recall all the sacrifices I made in my accommodations in San Francisco, the most expensive city in the US outside New York (and I think that’s debatable now); all the crazy, thieving housemates, the psychotic, manipulative landlords, the janky cheap fixes, the basement studios, the hauling my dirty drawers on my back several city blocks to the laundromat, the outrageous ‘security deposits’ that landlords considered signing bonuses and never returned, the refrigerator shelves and kitchen cabinets each designated to a housemate, the guests and crazy lovers and exes of said housemates, the disgusting carpets and the cave rooms with no light.

 

I know what it is to grind. I know what it is to pay my dues, to accept less than I want or deserve, and I recognize that half of success is just getting the fuck up, putting one’s shoes on, and getting on bus or in the commuter lane. I am proud to look around at my succulent garden, my bottlebrush tree, my house with rooms I don’t even use, my four plump little dogs, my swelling shoe collection, and feel something in me almost collapse and the tears rise up as I remember those endless cold mornings at the bus stop, on the bridge, in the gridlock, in the grey soulless glow of the Xerox machine, the unkind fluorescent lights, year after year after year, a girl alone in the world, just showing up, just grinding, just believing that someday I’d have something better to wake up to, to go to, to be proud of.

 

I’m still that girl. Now the trip to work is too hot rather than too cold – a result of both age and geography – and rather than shivering at a bus stop I dash through a scorching parking lot. I have a home bigger than I need and I spread my things throughout it and it’s mine, though I look out the window at the green lawn and long for sand and sea instead and I tell myself, someday. 

Payback

Dear Breeder Friends,
Remember those to-die-for handmade organic booties I brought to your baby shower that cost more than my own shoes? I do.

And do you recall how I suffered with a smile through the hours of The Diaper Game (for the uninitiated, this is where interesting varieties of baby food, from apples and pears to chicken and beef, and deposited into the ground-zero area of a baby diaper and passed around so that guests can stick their noses into it and take a stab at that substance they’re smelling)? I know I’ll never forget.

You will, of course, bring to mind all the cute, clever, and fabulous gifts that I, the ‘cool auntie,’ have produced for your children’s Big Days – birthdays, baptisms, Bar Mitzvahs, Christmases, kindergarten graduations – year after year. After year.

And you know you’ve gotten off light – you’ve never had to pony up for a Petunia Picklebottom diaper bag or Peg Perego stroller for my baby shower because, well, I chose not to have kids and somehow new rescue dogs just don’t engender the same womanly insanity and retail orgy that a howling, furless, helpless infants do. But that’s OK. I love you, and I love your children, and I love finding just the right gift, so it’s all good.

But there’s something you should know – the jig is up.

Sure, I gave your kid all that amazing stuff out of goodness of my heart, but not without an agenda, and here it is.

The day your child turns 13, and I mean before the confetti from the Bat Mitzvah is vacuumed up, said child will be farmed out to me, by you, to solve all of my software and technology problems.
Remember the hand-made lace Christening booties from Ireland? That warrants a software upgrade and file backup.

The awesome Red Flyer wagon? Now we’re talking iPhone setup and optimization.

And you’ll recall, I’m sure, how your little sprite begged and pleaded for an iPad and I came up with one? That’s worth a home theater setup, no doubt.

Right this very moment you probably have a surly teenager taking up space in your house and polluting the atmosphere of your home with her stomping, moping, and bleatings of boredom. It’s time to put that child to good use, and remember, those Baby Einstein gyms didn’t come cheap, sister, so pack up that bundle of emotional fraughtness and drop her off at my house.
I’ll have her back by dinner. It takes a village.

Love, Auntie Fahrenheit

The Shore of Ireland

A month in Ireland and I would never feel dry, the entire time. It was the wettest summer on record and the water was coming from everywhere – the sky, the ground, the sea, my eyes, my very heart.

The second day I was there he walked me through his silent village, the river a black ribbon and us under a bell jar, walking in molasses, sticky and slow. He took me to the abandoned train station, overgrown with reeds and foxgloves and the loneliest place I’d ever been and there on the platform my face broke open and turned to water, my nose my mouth my hands, and I keened my sorrow into the green. Inside I admitted what I’d known the moment I’d put my arms around him at the Dublin airport and felt the birdlike bones in his back – he was mine no longer, I mean he was mine for the taking but I knew he wasn’t made for me or me for him; it was out of order, disordered, it didn’t fit, but I put on my weak American smile and soldiered on for a day or two until we sat on the platform and I knew it was gone.

The next night he disappeared into the smoke of the bars in town my insides scraped raw and for the next four weeks we tried, we pretended, we rode from one end of the country to the other and we kept at it. Solstice rainbow on Malin Head, as far north as you can go, the silent treatment on Clare Island, him out of his mind in the green muck of Belmullet, and all the while me letting the love die, coiling out of me and left there in the soil of his country and nearly mine, a place with her fingers so deep into me that to this day I weep like an exile. I emptied myself of the dream, the life I could have had all of it, I still can’t tell you why, my best friend says it would have been ‘too small’ for me, but I can tell you that although I answered the call of my truth and that’s the best thing you can do in many ways it broke me and I have never been the same since. I never believed after that and I am now only so many grains of salt – I know better now and I will never break on the shore of Ireland again.

The Night Is Long

‘The night is long, but our dream is longer.’ – Haitian proverb

 

I was just telling my best friend today that I want this tattooed on the backs of my shoulders. When people ask me why, I will say there are so many meanings.

 

One of which is: when I feel so low that I cannot see my way out of it, when I am lying at the bottom of the river and I contemplate never coming up, of letting myself be washed out to sea, I remember that I am needed

 

by my best friend

by my four dogs

by my circle of loved ones

 

but these are all ‘of courses’ and I also remember that I am needed

 

by the voiceless

by the hopeless

by the beaten down

to 

fight the good fight

to tell those thrown out like trash (people dogs teenagers especially the gay ones) that they are beautiful

and can and will be loved

to help teach the little girls in my life how to be a woman and a decent human being

to speak, shout, scream, drop science

to be counted

 

to remember

 

to light the spark

 

to dream the dream that will outlast the night

A Room Of One’s Own

Every girl needs a crow’s nest – a perch from which to watch the world go by, reflect, and generate new ideas. At my prize beach flat in the Sunset, my crow’s nest was magnificent – a second-story wraparound window two blocks from the ocean that, while often hazy from sand, gave me a plum spot from which to think, dream, and create.

And then it all went pear-shaped. Between my cray-cray landlord and a new job in Marin, I had to pack it all in and head north, where I spent three and a half years in purgatory, a town otherwise known as Novato and in which the coveted crow’s nest remained elusive. None of the dwellings in which I lived had the space for perch in which to stretch my mind or creativity, and my blogging suffered. I did, however, pick up a crafting habit, and drove my Special Man Friend (SMF) insane by alternately making a cork nativity scene, painted onesies, and stuffed monster dolls on the patio table, coffee table, dining table/dog perch/office/sewing table, or any available surface I could find.

Now I’ve moved into a house where I can dedicate a whole room (squee!) to my creative endeavors – monster dolls! luminarias! blogs! nichos! writing a book! – and which has all the makings of a good crow’s next – okay, it’s on the ground floor, but it’s still got a big sky to contemplate and a respectable amount of people watching, not to mention birds.

I’m up early because today SMF and I are planning to get into the car and drive across the bay to Ikea (and I can’t begin to express how much SMF hates: being the car together for long periods, shopping, and giant places like Ikea) to procure items needed for my office, and he’ll spend the rest of the day alternately pounding things together, swearing and scowling. Even so, it was clear that resurrecting my crow’s nest was important to him, and not just to get my felt and paint off the coffee table. He knows that my nest is my soul, my creative engine, and that without one there’s just always a little something missing. He was the one who told me to put in an extra bookcase – a suggestion I think he’s sorry he made now. It’s been very touching to see how important ‘building me an office’ has become to him, and that’s the sort of thing that shows you that no matter how tempestuous your relationship is with someone, that at the end of the day, they really see you and understand what you need to be whole.

I am so excited about this office that I can hardly contain myself. It will have my Grandmother’s office shelves – all 8′ long boards of them, a pine bookcase my Dad pawned off on me twenty years ago that he stained black in a fit of 80s bachelorism that SMF has miraculously managed, through two days of aggressive planing (sanding did bupkis) and another two days of priming and painting, to turn white. It will also have a tall, slender bookcase with equally unique history that was passed from an old friend to an old housemate to me and also got the white-paint treatment. And the CD case I’ve had since my early 20s. And then the fresh, brand-new desks and Ikea bookcases. It will a place where I can pay my bills, hone my writing, and continue learning to sew.

When I was in college, my study desk was first in my room and then in a cramped half-room under some stairs with a window that looked out on a wall. It was a cell, really, and I did my time in there. I’ve written at cafe tables, on my coffee table, on my office computer, and occasionally at whatever awkward desk I’ve tried unsuccessfully to set up, but none of it has really felt right. But today, because someone special can see through the madness of my curtain and drawer organizer agonizing to my true and authentic need for a crow’s nest and love me enough to go through the hell that is building Ikea furniture, I’ll have a real room of my own. Thank you, Special Man Friend, for the vision, the muscle, and the love.

Notes From A White Girl

Sixth grade. Berkeley. In the middle of one of the most horrible years of my life – the year I was eleven – I transferred back to Franklin Elementary, a shabby gulag of public education on the fringes of West Berkeley (read: ‘the ghetto,’ and not the Gourmet variety).

 

Franklin had several bilingual classes and I was assigned to the Spanish-English classroom of Mrs. Mock, a Panamanian matron some might describe as a benevolent matriarch but who showed me a very different side.

 

Like I said, it was a bad year. My attendance was spotty, my state of mind stressed, and my behavior probably subpar. So one day, she kept me after class, and that’s when she dropped the bomb on me I’ll never forget.

 

She started by saying to me, ‘You know, I work very hard for my students of color. They have a lot problems and they really need the help. But you – you’re white and your father drives a Mercedes. What kind of problems do you have?’

 

She couldn’t know. She probably couldn’t even conceive of my suffering – the absentee parents, the empty cupboards, the subcultural hippie trash that seemed to wash up on my Dad’s couch with regularity. She couldn’t know about the loneliness, the hunger, the confusion, and the dirty laundry with no way to wash it.

 

All she saw was my face, and it’s color or lack thereof. She judged me, the way white people have judged those with darker faces for hundreds of years, the way people have judged other people somehow different from them since time immemorial. But here’s the difference – she was an adult, while I was a child. Not only that, she was an educator, and I use the term with copious irony considering what it was that she taught me that day. 

Emotionally Slutty

suddendepMy own capacity for emotional sluttiness frightens me. The historic ease with which I have given passion and devotion, and the perhaps even more sobering ease with which I have withdrawn it, leaves even me (to say nothing of my past loves) puzzled and reeling and not a little ashamed of myself.

A few years ago, with some amused clicks of the mouse, I found that OK Cupid pegged my ‘dating persona’ as ‘The Sudden Departure,’ and while at first glance it was funny, I found a lot of ugly truth in it: when I finally fall for someone, the connection is so visceral as to border on the animal; it gets deep and primal in a way that would frighten most mortals (but will be well understood by Scorpios, wink wink), but just as quickly it can plunge into Arctic temperatures and tundric emptiness, triggered perhaps by something as innocuous as the wrong shoes, a slight tic, an offhand confession that reveals their vulnerability and lack of human perfection (the nerve!) and when that happens, I’m out, as remote and unreachable as I was once present and involved.

Sometimes the division isn’t so simple; there have been times when The Sudden Departure has been supplanted by The Irish Goodbye (this comes from the nickname I once gave the way the Irish wind it up at last call, which is to say, slowly, painfully, and with reluctance) and the exercise at couplehood goes on much longer than it ever should have, as does the associated emotional turmoil.

I remember sitting in a small, tidy room in County Donegal nine summers ago, talking to my then-husband’s therapist while he sat next to me. I was asked to describe what it felt like to send him back to Ireland while I remained in the States and I told her ‘it was like cutting off my hand to save my arm,’ and burst into unexpected tears. The last time I saw him was in the Dublin airport on July 10, 2002, beneath the ironically titled ‘Departures’ sign. I hid my puffy eyes behind huge Bono sunglasses and wondered when, or if, I’d ever see him again (and I never have, in case you were wondering). I had loved him with all the fierceness and depth I had, which is to say, copiously and without reservation. Our love affair scaled heights and reached very dark depths and burned a layer off my skin and changed who I am permanently. When I left him, the pain was so intense it felt like drowning, or being unable to get air. I thought I’d never be the same again.

But I was. Well, maybe not the same, exactly, but just fine any way you slice it. The sun came up and it went down again and life went on, and now when I think of him I feel only a small, benign affection and a sense of puzzlement and having been so enmeshed in anyone or anything. I look at pictures on Facebook of him and his long-term girlfriend (adorable) and his daughter, now four, and I realize I don’t know him at all – at this point I feel that I know his girlfriend better than I do him, and I wish nothing but great things for all of them, but honestly, after all that Sturm und Drang, I can’t see what I was so worked up about and I sense a little egg on my face.

And it’s not just him; it’s every boy (or girl, or cause or situation) I ever felt quite so heated (positively or negatively) about – it’s all faded into the fabric of my experience and isn’t even cause for the batting of an eyelash any longer. This is not to say I forget – I’m Irish, after all, and thus can hold a grudge for decades – but I have learned that no matter how poignant or wrenching a given relationship feels, usually once the initial agony of leaving/being left is over, it’s pretty much a cakewalk and I feel embarrassed at having been so bothered about the whole thing.

This is not to say it’s okay to pour it on and then bail because hey, time heals all wounds and it’s all good in the end anyway. There’s a larger lesson than here, one about remaining mindful of the currents of emotion and how swiftly and deeply they can sweep us along into dangerous waters if we aren’t firmly anchored in the richness of our experience and self-knowledge. I have learned about myself that (like God!) what I giveth I also sometimes quickly taketh away, and that I have the capacity for making myself look and feel like an ass and making other people cry while I’m at it. I’ve also learned that no matter how acute the angst or how desperate it all feels while in the thick of it, with time it will end up as nothing more than a chapter in my textbook, so to speak.

I have made promises I can’t keep, and told others I was someone I wasn’t – and those weren’t lies, they were just misrepresentations originating from a lack of self-awareness. My intention is to move forward at a more reasonable pace and depth and with the knowledge of self that I can be little loose with my emotions and the need to check that tendency. I see how I’ve wasted so much energy that could have been better directed elsewhere, and I want to remember to hold steady and feel the earth beneath my feet, even as my head gets lost in the clouds.

The Smell Of Rich Hippie

lavBack in my salad days as a scrappy, bespectacled, sex-positive feminist Mills College undergrad, I dated an older man I call Mr. Big. During the week he was a Hollywood music-business attorney baller-about-town, but every other weekend he flew up north to fulfull his most important role – that of doting single Dad in pastoral Marin County. We shared LA nights eating steak at Morton’s in LA, me in party clothes made of synthetic fabric (and not much of it) and him in nice suits, and sunny summer days barbecuing halibut for fish tacos next to the pool in the bucolic burg of Fairfax, me in my then-ubiquitous 90s-rave/grunge  overalls and him in the Tevas and Dead t-shirts that belied his Bay Area Boomer roots. We drank wheatgrass shots at the Newsroom and scotch at the Redwood Room. They were the best of times.

I once sneered to him about ‘Kiehl’s-wearing’ yuppies, unaware of the fact that I, too, would eventually succumb to the deceptively seductive, plain black-and-white packaging of the almost-clinical looking skin care line. I was by turns fascinated and slightly intimidated when he took me into Bristol Farms, the quaint precursor to Whole Foods which sits elegantly and unobtrustively on Sunset and Fairfax (no relation to the town of Fairfax) in West Hollywood. Accustomed to the flourescent hells of Safeway and Canned Foods (now reincarnated as Grocery Outlet) in dense urban neighborhoods, looking back I think it was the soft lighting that induced cognitive dissoance. Since Mr. Big was paying for my broke student ass, I was saved the sticker shock that always accompanies these charming, incandescently-lit bastions of all that is organic.

And some months later, as I stood in the clawfoot tub of his newly rented flat in Sausalito, showering beneath the sloped ceiling and its clever skylight, I dipped into his supply of toiletries and decided right then and there that lavender was the Official Smell of Rich Hippies. Sure, they may have all doused themselves with patchouli when young, unwashed, and skint, but as soon as they got a bit of a portfolio or a postage stamp of real estate, in comes the lavender, to stay. Now, I have been living in Marin County for nearly three years, and visiting it for much longer than that, so I know of what I speak. Southern Marin is the capital of Rich Hippies, the apex of anti-consumerist consumerism, the mecca of self-conscious conspicuous consumption, and the bastion of all that is organic, local, natural, and otherwise worthy of a tribe that, while largely rejecting such obvious excesses as Hummers and blood diamonds, still likes nice shit. Enter a cascade of ideologically pure, environmentally-friendly bath, body, and food products that will enrapture your senses and decimate your wallet.

And now that I’m two years older than Mr. Big was when he was dating me, I’ll be goddamned if I didn’t stop by Whole Foods last night for fresh bucatini and greens and if the aromatherapy spray on my office desk isn’t……….lavender.

When You Leave

This time I wasn’t deep into The Ugly Cry before I even hit the freeway onramp out of the airport – I managed to save that until I was safely behind locked doors. This time there were just a couple of pretty tears as I piloted my car through the British fog that enveloped San Francisco, foot to the floor, aiming towards the deep heat of Marin. I kept it all at bay as I went shopping at World Market to cheer myself up – a few new votive holders, a bag of interesting-looking pasta, drawer liners. Anything to keep me from thinking of how you’re gone now.

 

When you leave, the earth tilts beneath my feet and there’s no compass here, no way to know which way is up. North, south, our eternal question (now that east and west has been solved). Straight forward or ass-backwards, it’s hard to say. The fountain you set up this morning is gurgling away in a lovely melody, but all I hear is your absence. The rancho, this petite little treehouse in the middle of a place we’d never otherwise come if time and circumstance hadn’t dropped me here on my head, is too big. The Arabic-looking bedspread is gone, stripped and sent to a better room, one with more life.

 

In these hours after you go back to your real life and I to mine, it’s always the same. The quiet – not the kind I like and strive so hard for – the trail of pretty things you always leave, too much food in the fridge we didn’t end up eating. Your bottled water on the counter, the ghost of Egyptian musk that will dissipate within hours.

 

Thank God for the dogs. They bark, bringing life to the house, and they require me to be present, to not slip into the miasma of  self-pity and ennui that always follow your departure, to leave the tequila and the medicine cabinet alone.  I’ll go through the motions – feed them, water the garden, wash the dishes, get things ready for work tomorrow – all the while walking around with a ragged hole blown through me, since the other half of my soul has landed four hundred long miles away, alone in its own house, but not yet at home.  

Deep, with Shallow Moments