heal thyself

I refuse to become a seeker for cures.
Everything that has ever
helped me has come through what already
lay stored in me. Old things, diffuse, unnamed, lie
across my heart.
                          This is from where
my strength comes, even when I miss my strength,
even when it turns on me
like a violent master.

— “Sources” (II), Adrienne Rich

I have missed my strength. When it returns from its absences, it is as unrecognizable as if I’d picked it up out of a Lost and Found box. It’s here now, puny and new and weird again. But it knows all my stories and treats me like an old friend. I hold myself back from trusting such an inconstant thing like I do with most other instant intimacies.

Most of what has happened lately—really, most of what has gone on with me since late last summer, since I first felt that I was willing to crack apart my entire world and the world, in response, broke out the duct tape—is not for public consumption. I look back and I see that these things are not my stories to tell. It’s hard to keep your mouth shut and fingers quiet when instinct tells you to write them out so that they can make sense. Instead, I have written around these stories and packed the blog with grilled cheese and happier things. (Are there happier things than grilled cheese? Maybe not.) I did not do what I should have done, which was to pick apart the story until I found the parts that were just mine, and then to realize that there were no such parts, that all stories are intertwined. That me alone is just scene, not story.

Right now I am alone, in fact. Myron is far away at his new job out west, and it’s up to me to prepare the house for sale and pack. I think about that Adrienne Rich poem while I debate what comes to the new house and what will go. Everything that has ever helped me has come through what already lay stored in me. No cardboard box could make this claim. It helps to know that the old things that matter are the ones that lie strong across my heart, which thumped its way through everyone else’s stories. It does not help that I put out enough trash bags every week to make people suspicious. What’s left is strong. It shines in the sunlight and sounds like steel if you smack it hard enough. It’ll get me where I’m going. I know I can write along the way instead of choosing silence.

There is a lightness now that has been missing. There is less sentiment. There are so many reasons to look forward, and then within. Who needs a cure when there’s nothing to fix? I fucked up a lot in the past year and was forgiven, and I forgave the ones who fucked up against me, and I am loved beyond measure, and nothing—nothing that matters—is broken.

it's a sin that somehow light is changing to shadow: #scintilla, day 3

After a day off from the project yesterday, I am back with Day 3’s post “Talk about a memory triggered by a particular song.” I wrote this post in 2004, during my time on a short-lived blogging site called scribblejournal, and I’m reusing it because I want to spend more time reading others than writing here today. It is a little purple at times, but other than that, I am sentimentally attached to it, which is quite an accomplishment for eight-year-old writing. It was in response to this prompt: something you finished too late. I almost never write about this topic, and never have in this depth under my real name. And maybe it was not finished too late at all.

Those were days when I traded and hoarded mix tapes that were made for me. By now they’ve all gone thin and snapped, except a few. An older brother of an older friend had made a tape for me that fall, complete with artwork on the liner and with all the solemnity that comes from a thirty-year-old man making a tape for a girl who’s nineteen and professes to love Pink Floyd. The tape was laden with the obscure songs I hadn’t heard on my midnight drives home on DVE, when I’d stay out later than I even wanted just so that I could come home with the Floyd Fix.

At the time I thought I’d go to culinary school or commit suicide. The previous twelve months I had destroyed almost everything I touched. Things were coming for me in just a few months, but I didn’t know it then, and I spent my days selling 4x8 sheets of plywood and wet red bricks that smell like something you don’t talk about to your little brother. I preferred my silence and my Tanqueray Sterling for those days, and you were still a little boy with a crush on Danielle Fishel.

The car was a little slip of a thing, made for a girl; it didn’t drive fast enough to make my mother nervous about me taking you around in it. The night I bought it, my first brand-new car, I drove you around in it, through our hometown, playing music and talking to you as though you were someone my own age. Almost ten years younger than me, you weren’t yet old enough to be the asshole you would pretend to be later, and you were one of the few things in my life that I didn’t treat with detached coolness. Your eyes were better than any other eyes in our house; they looked like a green and gold glass vase that had been shattered on topsoil after a thunderstorm. I couldn’t look at you without seeing a wonder who called all his friends by their first and last names, as though I couldn’t keep track of them, as if knowing that someday you’d have too many for anyone to tally. I learned how children learned to pronounce things by watching you; I learned the way people learned to think. I learned how new words got stuck in your head and I learned the lyrics to “Just Me and My Dad.” I wanted to give you something, to be that sister.

Along the road to Victory Hill through the township, I pointed out where my friends lived and I played you the mix tape. Amid all those obscure never-on-DVE songs he’d thrown in “On the Turning Away.” It was quiet in the car, and the silence behind that voice brought us to silence ourselves. “It’s sad,” you said. “It gets less sad,” I said. Could you have understood those lyrics back then, so small I put the seat belt on you myself, never ever thinking that a seat belt would have saved your life six years later? A fucking seat belt. Fabric. It would have kept you here, maybe having momentary twinges when you heard Pink Floyd, remembering your sister driving you around. After that one, I played “Wish You Were Here.” You couldn’t pick up the words to that one. Years later our brother would play it for me on his guitar, slowly and precisely, and it would echo in his tiny apartment. It was a too-on-the-nose moment, looking back, but when your heart pours out from you there is no such thing as too-on-the-nose.

I never finished with you. You never finished anything, except winning seasons and probation terms. Even your destruction isn’t finished; I know its waves can be detected from New Mexico and Georgia and the damn Crab Nebula. We took you once to the hill by the cemetery, and the three of us talked like friends instead of siblings, but I never got to tell you anything important, not ever. I waited for you to get older, thinking what we would become when you got your teens out of your way, when you wanted to hear someone else. Instead I would never see those greengoldbrown eyes again; I search for their liquid light in photographs of you, but it is never there. I didn’t know that you weren’t getting any older than you were that day on the hill, that we would bring you to the cemetery soon after carried on the shoulders of your teammates, and that the only thing I’d finish, because the grieving doesn’t stop, would be the story about the day we cruised through the Valley and we played Pink Floyd.

rites of passage: #scintilla, day 1

They tell you not to overload your work with backstory. Nobody needs it! No1curr! But I will tell you that in the days before this story I was in Kona and Honolulu with friends and crush-objects and all that wind and sand and water and a million million t-shirt shacks. I browned in the sun for hours and grew up in ways I could never have expected. The day I came home, I slept for almost an entire day, and when I woke up my mother handed me a very official envelope that had come in the mail while I was gone.

Inside that envelope was The Card. You took the card to The Office and stood on a piece of tape on the floor, and when it was all over and done with, you had your driver’s license. It was 1990 and I was sixteen.

It took me a long time to get up the nerve to drive. My mother and stepfather both scared me for years about getting into wrecks… not so much for the damage I could do to my person, but for the expense, the humiliation, the idea that I would never be allowed to drive again if I did any damage to their cars. We had even been in a pretty bad family car accident once when I was a tween; a young woman went through a stop sign and destroyed our old Celebrity. So if they weren’t afraid of being hurt in a wreck, I was. I knew what happened when people weren’t careful.

By the time I was fifteen, though, both of my parents were ready to stop driving a carful of teenagers everywhere we wanted to go. Neither of them trusted me with their cars, so they paid for private driving lessons, during which a bored older gentleman taught me the three-point turn in a parking lot. For six weeks, I overcame the fear, driving slowly through a wealthy neighborhood with curvy, wide roads. I learned that sometimes, you hit the bunny rabbit to avoid hitting another car, and that you never forget what that sounds like. I turned sixteen in August, but I didn’t pass my test until March of the following year. I was in no rush.

When I woke up after that jet-lag coma to find The Card in its very important envelope, I pulled on a black t-shirt that I’d picked up from a tourist trap in Kona. My mother grimaced. “Don’t you want to dress up?” Her driver’s license pictures were glam, silky tops with ruffles around the collar, a blazer, liquid rouge and eyeliner and eyeshadow and earrings and tall tall permed curls. But I could still feel the ocean in my muscles and the salt in my hair. I still felt like I was in Hawaii. To appease her, I consented to a quick round with the curling iron on my bangs. (I say it again: It was 1990 and I was sixteen.)

I took the keys and drove a few towns away to The Office. It was the first time I had driven alone in my life, but no one wanted to go with me, and I’d passed my test weeks ago. I turned on the radio, used my turn signals and mirrors, melded with the flow of traffic. I felt tanned and capable and well-traveled and adult.

It was a weekday, a workday, and the street in front of The Office was a one-way with metered parking on each side. A block or so away from The Office was a parking lot, but a space opened up right in front of the building. Of course I can do parallel parking. It was on the test. I smoothly pulled up next to the car in front of me, backed into the space with grace, put the car into drive, and stepped on the gas too hard, smashing into the car in front of me.

If you have never hit another car, you are amazing. For the rest of us, we know the cold flood of panic, the way that everything stops until you’re sure of what’s damaged and what’s fine. I said “Oh God Oh God Oh God” a few hundred times. The pertinent facts filtered in: Not only had I caused financial expense, I hadn’t even gotten hurt enough to elicit sympathy and fear in my parents.

Screwed. I would never drive again.

An older woman tapped on my window. “I think you hit my car.”

Oh God Oh God Oh God.

That woman was a peach. She patted my shaking hand and then examined her scratched and dented rear bumper. “It’s not that bad, honey. We probably won’t even need the insurance company.”

I said, “I can’t give you my license because I don’t even have it yet!”

“You’re underage?”

“Oh. No. I just—” I waved at The Office and wailed. “I was supposed to go get my picture taken!”

She handed me a piece of paper with her information. “Give that to your mother.” She walked to her car and opened her door.

“Wait!” She turned around. “We have to wait for the police! We can’t leave the scene of an accident without the police!”

I wish I could remember her name, but I was still trembling so hard and all I could remember was her kindness and her patience. “We don’t need the police for a little old thing like this. Just give that paper to your mother and tell her to give me a call. Go get your picture.”

She drove away and I walked to The Office. When I looked back at the car, its plastic front bumper barely scratched, I could see that I was still parked about eight or ten inches away from the curb. And then I went inside, and a few minutes later I stood at the tape line and smiled.

I am still this bad at parallel parking, even today, although I manage to get closer to the sidewalk these days. Every single time I have to do it, I flash back to that lurching feeling as I stepped on the gas and felt a car—an expensive death machine—going out of control. But look at me. Just look at me. Even then, I knew that you could be scared out of your wits, your body refusing to listen to your mind, and still put a smile on my face.

Scintilla Project, Day 1 (prompt b): Life is a series of firsts. Talk about one of your most important firsts. What did you learn? Was it something you incorporated into your life as a result?


This is what it was like.

That year, Myron’s job sent him on a continuing ed course during the week of Valentine’s Day. I pouted. I was still newlywed enough to be upset by this. I had forgotten what there is in life to be upset about.

I don’t remember anymore which day it was, the fourteenth or the fifteenth. I spent it with a local friend, writing at her table during the day while she did work of her own. We ate dinner and saw Pan’s Labyrinth. She and her husband brought me home and I called Myron in his hotel room. Said things like I miss you. Busied myself with something insignificant until my brother called and asked me, confusingly, “What do you know?”

I knew nothing. But that morning my mother had collapsed and had been flown to a hospital. She had not regained consciousness. It appeared she had been sicker than she told anyone. For weeks we consulted with doctors, stood at her bedside, waited to see some response. We had difficult conversations. We tried not to think about it. We failed. And then it was over, on a gently snowing day, while I drew hearts on her hand with my fingertip.

The time in between Valentine’s and the anniversary of her death is a strange island in my year, surrounded on all sides by dread. Knowledgeable People will tell you that everyone’s grief is different, and that is true, but once you have grieved you can thresh the grief of others and wind up with grains of common experience. Yesterday I saw this post from Christine at flutter and felt the truth of her loss in my spine: I think I chose you from high above, when I was deciding where I would walk in life. I think I chose you for the things I saw in you. And I think: Yes. I know this. That is what it was like.

The rest of the year, when I am not navigating the shoals of my winter archipelago, I might let a statement like Christine’s float on by, maybe repeat it to myself to appreciate the fancy before I let it go. Right now, though, it is easy to believe that I was nothing but fiction once, both author and character like a good PoMo writer ought to be. I chose my people, put them together for the “best sentence and most solas,” let them bounce off each other. I forgot what there was to be upset about, but the story didn’t leave me hanging.

soul, I hear you calling

Part of me wants to try to tell you everything.

The filthy angel and his ownership of the stage, the way he modulated his voice, saving his falsetto for when we could not do without it, the way I cheered for him when he let it fly. Four rows of people separated me from his eyes and his voice and his strut. Twice I saw him in tears himself, which made my own feel at home. It was impossible to believe that anything was too big for him.

The magician in the red hat who hid behind a giant gargoyle but came out from time to time, bearing a guitar—and once a pair of scissors to cut the lost boy out of his lace-up leather vest. I have another picture of him looking at “the singer” and beaming with incredible pride and fondness.

We used to sing to Erasure in a red Ford Probe, on our way to dance and on our way back home. If I could talk to the girls we were back then, I would tell them that, in the moments when he’s not singing, Andy Bell dances around the stage with primal, audacious vigor, his arms wide and embracing all of us, his eyes open and defiant. That he is like a spool set free and spinning, that he is orderly entropy and black light and living joy. That he dances like we danced.