Hell 2007


I close my eyes to breathe your love, it looks like wavy clouds.
Why oh why do I sit so still, I should be standing proud.

Somewhere close I hear my name, it’s writ in sands of blue.
Your voice rings true then whispers lies, ‘I’m still in love with you.’

Now you’re gone and here I sit, an island lost at sea.
I can not bear another day, just me alone with me.

My insides hurt from here to there, of rhythms I can’t spell.
I hope you’ll come and settle me before I fly to hell.


All that Matters

all that matters

The smell of Indian food wafts through my apartment, pungent and sharp and almost unbearable at 7 am. My newest neighbor, a plump but pretty 23 year old, has her family visiting from India. A mother, father, sister she hasn’t seen in two years. I assume the food is Indian although I’ve never asked her exactly where she’s from and would probably have to Google it anyway because I’m so bad with geography and it’s a part of the world I’ve never seen, although I’ve seen many other parts.

When I was young and didn’t know where some unknown, unpronounceable country or city or capital was, my father sent me to the globe that sat on his huge wooden desk in the library. I’d twirl it around, let my finger glide smoothly along its fancy paper colored in handsome muted hues, hoping it would stop on someplace wonderful so I could dream of going there and not coming back. Then I’d remember I was there to find the unknown place and report back to my father so I scanned the tiny words smaller than a bobby pin or needle. If the unknown place was so unknown I didn’t even know where to start, I looked it up first, in the encyclopedia, for a clue or breadcrumb before I returned to the globe. But usually I could guess and stubbornly stood there until eventually I found it and ran downstairs to my father where he sat reading the newspaper and I told him of the trip I took. My moment.

But back to Indian food. The family arrived late last night. I know this because I awoke at 12:30 am to the sound of their chatter and the clatter of dishes in the kitchen sink. My neighbor had told me their flight, the total trip took them about 24 hours so I hoped they might arrive and want to sleep. But after two years of not being in the same room, I guess they needed to talk. I got up to use the bathroom, turned on my fan to drown out the noise, and tried to sleep. Instead I lay there astounded that four of them, and they are not small people (I know this because this morning I peeked out my kitchen window and watched them returning from the grocery store, all four of them in tow and smiling and carrying bags and bottles of water and toilet paper) — Four of them are staying in that very small apartment for a week. I’d rather sleep outside, in the middle of Sunset Blvd.

My family of four, we sometimes shared a hotel room, many years ago when Kevin and I were small and we went places. Family vacations of the historic variety, to monuments and famous towns that people should see and learn about. We shared a bed, my brother and I, when we were still young enough it didn’t matter and wasn’t weird, and then my mother and I shared which I hated because she got angry at how I slept. I still sleep that way, moving about, changing positions until comfort comes, the perfect place where my limbs remain calm and lose the urgent need to move. Quit moving, hold still. Each time you move I wake up! she’d say in frustration. So I stopped, forced myself to lay there still and frozen, my bones in agony, my limbs screaming inside me for freedom, until I heard my mother’s faint and rhythmic breathing. Then I still didn’t move or sleep until morning came and I could get up.

But this isn’t about me, I realize at 1:30 am when I’m writing a text to my neighbor that I don’t send, and this morning am so thankful I didn’t. I decide I can practice tolerance and allow this family of intimate, close relations I can’t fathom or harness or understand, to cook and eat and chatter and thump or clatter or bang to their hearts’ content. I can turn on my fan to drown out the noise. And while all this is happening, I can also wonder at the amount of love and acceptance and respect they must have for each other. It must be huge I imagine, in order to live on top of themselves without space or privacy. Or am I just selfish and all families do this in peace and harmony? I don’t know.

What I do know is this —  For one week I can watch and listen to a family of four be together. I can gleam some sort of love from how they do it, because that’s all it is, all they seek, all they are, all that matters anyway. Love.

image via fanpop.com

So You Think You Can Dance


I took private salsa lessons a few years ago. I’m not necessarily a dancer, although my salsa teacher would beg to differ. She told me day after day that I was born to do it. I was meant to dance like my hips and legs and life depended on it. Like every last cell in my being was holding its breath waiting for the day I would let loose and sway to the rhythm of the music.

During those months of sexy swaying, I came to a stunning conclusion about myself, well, more like two conclusions. (1) I like to dance. I think I’ve wanted to dance like that for years, and (2) I didn’t dance, or do a lot of other stuff, because I suffer from something called the clamp down syndrome. Yes, I diagnosed myself. And no, you won’t find it in your shrink’s big red medical book of terms, but I’m sure I have it. As sure as the hills are rolling and the moon rules the waves.

How does a girl who loves to dance spend 40 years not dancing? Why couldn’t she just…do it? Frozen stuck immobilized clamped down is why. I’ve been holding my breath for far too long, waiting for something to happen so I felt safe…and then I was going to step forward and dance. No wonder my face is bright blue from lack of air.

I haven’t done a lot of things I’ve always wanted to do, gone places I needed to go, been who I was born to become. I know this like a deep knowing of warm water washing over skin. I haven’t known how to live, how to have fun, how to let loose and enjoy. As a child, joy was not in my vocabulary. Dancing salsa was a far off thought. No, it wasn’t a thought at all. I had no thoughts of dancing. Period.

Sometimes I’m still afraid and hold my breath, but much less so than I used to which was 24 hours a day all week every week of the year. I was afraid of people, new things, speaking up, admitting my truths out loud or on paper. I couldn’t write because there was nothing in me but space, vast empty dark space. I didn’t come out of the womb this way but suffice it to say, life and the people in it quickly scared the shit out of me. So I created coping mechanisms. I shut down my urges to run wild. I spent most of my days numb. There isn’t time for joy when you’re fighting for your life and killing yourself slowly to the beat of a drum lost in your head.

Now that I’m no longer killing myself slowly…now that I’ve stopped fighting and drinking and eating and starving and fucking anyone who would, I know that it’s okay to start dancing. I know this intellectually. But the clamp down syndrome is so engrained, so a part of how I walk the earth… It has proven difficult, scratch that, it’s harder than a mother fucker, to unravel and resist it.

But I am and I do. I’m unraveling the clamp down so there are moments of being, bright colorful breath-taking moments when I inhale the world gluttonously, ravenously, selfishly and realize…I’m living. This is what it feels like to live.

image: my flickr

Cool moon breezes


I read a story in my writing workshop today, about the time a mean girl ignored me at school and rounded up all the other girls in our fifth grade class so they would ignore me too. And how the ache was so violent and alive that I flew home and into our kitchen, running from the carpool car and into my mother’s arms. How I had to push out and away from her smokey chest hug after only a few moments, like my life depended on it because I couldn’t breathe, not from the smoke but from the depth of her graspy long fingers perfectly manicured and wrapped snug around my neck. There’s more, but I’ll get to my point…

When I finished the story, sat raw and waiting for feedback, silence erupted for a step too long until I thought I might scream. Then a cat meowed for food, it was dinner time or he wanted to go outside. A woman, a comrade in my workshop, finally spoke, broke the silence. She leaned forward in her seat, glanced down at her notes and up into my eyes before reminding me what I never knew but forgot to remember. She said,

“This chapter is amazing, what it makes me feel is how judgmental the narrator was, or had to be, even at 10 years old, but not to be mean, she was just observing, hyper-aware of everything, everyone around her, taking it all in, judging her surroundings 24/7. As a sort of survival mechanism. It was as if she decided I will find out who you are before you can find out about me, as a way to keep people away. To protect herself. So she wouldn’t get hurt. Do you know what I mean?”

Do I know what you mean? Yes, I know. I was that girl. Cover her up, clean her out like a vacuum cleaner bag too full or the lint screen from a dryer. She’s coughing, choking on herself.

After she finished speaking I stared at her, this woman and her feedback. I stared until my eyes cut through her and out the large window behind the sofa where she sat. I focused on that 10 year old girl, afraid of everything even herself, trying harder than life to be strong and loved, but of course not wanting love because jesus, look around you, if this is what love looks like, and feels like cracking inside my bones, well then give me a road map, I’m heading the other opposite direction and not stopping until I’m far past the equator. Which still won’t be far enough.

After she spoke my so-called life, in something like a foreign language but pure truth, I realized she knew me after hearing my simple fifth grade story about mean girls at school, and an ache or need for a mother sticking in her daughter’s throat. She knew my truth from a story I wrote, one scene and small part of a bigger book, a memoir growing from scratch. She knew but I hadn’t specifically meant to tell her. Is that what happens when a girl like me decides to write?

I don’t have the answers to much of anything, and I’m comfortable with that. But what I do know…I know a cool moon breeze blows up my skirt and frees me to go farther each time someone sees me, the me I am no matter what ugly pretty parts exist. It tastes better than any drug or sex or cherry pie I ever confiscated and devoured, and trust me, those things sustained me for a very long time. But now, now I nourish myself on cool moon breezes and with each inhale I become a tiny bit more free and open and alive.

Father Reading


If I had to own a pure memory of my father, one that still smells and warms my insides like hot spiced tea in the winter, it’s the image of him reading. With his face in a book, the familiar furrow in his brow disappeared and the tightness around him dissipated. He sat in his brown and orange plaid recliner and his right forefinger loosely ran across the page, left to right then back and again. Softly in a consistent rhythm of speed reading words he learned in law school. Then the crisp crackle of the page turning, followed by the smooth sliding of fingers again.

He was a voracious reader. He kept hundreds of books in the den that we called a library because of the floor to ceiling bookshelves. They were lined with a little of everything, the yellow spines of his National Geographics, dozens of paperbacks from his days as an English major at UCLA, two sets of Encyclopedia Britannica’s. He read biographies of presidents and the history of this and that. To me, he was the smartest person on the planet. He knew something about everything.

I spent a lot of time in the library, usually when no one was home to bother me. It was a cozy space with shelves stained the color of dark chocolate Hershey kisses, and an overhead lamp dampened by a heavy cloth shade that ensured a mysterious, moody tone. There was a bright light next to the rocking chair or burnt orange sofa, that if you weren’t using, my mother would march in, hands on hips, and proclaim “You’re going to ruin your eyes if you read in the dark.” But I liked the darkness, the shades closed while I slumbered on the sofa and thumbed through book after book. In a way it was overwhelming, so many options and distractions, I couldn’t choose one and often had a bunch spread out all around me.

My father read to us, my brother and me. Not little kid books like Dr. Seuss, although we had plenty of those lined up in the library too. My father read us the classics like Alice in Wonderland and Huckleberry Finn, leather-bound books from his collection. I loved their smell, the leather books with gold paper edges and embossed covers. All three of us squeezed somehow, into that brown and orange plaid recliner. His voice went deep and consistent then gained fluctuations and speed with each change of character in the story. He read one chapter a night, no more no less.

It was a special time, the only time I felt close and calm with my father. It didn’t matter that he’d had a few drinks, or if he stopped mid chapter to fix another. It was Kevin’s and my time with our father, the reader, the thinker. It was safe. And I’m certain it set the stage for my love of reading, my passion for words and sentences and my need to tell stories.

image via flickr