Holiday Spirit

September 26, 2015 § Leave a comment

On Thanksgiving morning, my mother makes mimosas. She says it’s to help create the holiday spirit.

“The holiday spirit? I thought that was Christmas.”

“Don’t be difficult.”

She’s pouring herself another while slicking the turkey with oil and butter. It’s a skill, really, one she’s improved over time. One hand holds the champagne bottle vertical while the oil brush moves horizontal, bathing the dead, headless bird in a dressing that’s all fat. I remind myself to pull the skin off later.

“Well, drink up.”

My mother stands apart from my friends’ mothers, even if she tries to blend in with a Toyota Camry and a bob haircut and a seasonally appropriate wreath on the door. She can’t hide the thick inner-city Boston accent that rings clear in every Stahp-N-Shop grocery aisle and booms in every town hall meeting about higher property taxes. “I’m sorry,” she’ll say from the back, nails beating against the school desks that serve as seats. “But I might as well pay a thousand dollahs on aih fahes and send my kids to Gehmany for school.”

When I was fifteen, I saw Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix with a boy who tried to shove his tongue down my throat. My mother rolled her eyes as I brushed my teeth. “Being a prude won’t be fun, fahever, sweethawht.”

She’ll say something similar on days like this, when she shoves a glass of champagne or wine in my hand and I sip it slowly as she moves on to glass number two and then three. She raises her eyebrows at me now from beside the sink. “Well, you must be a blahst at pahties.”

“It’s 10:30 in the morning.”

“And it’s Thanksgiving. Be grateful and drink up.”

She’s a good cook, though. As the amount of champagne decreases the smells of buttered rolls and rosemary stuffing and glazed carrots drift from the kitchen. She sings Alanis Morissette and my sister and I wait in the dining room. My father sneezes on the couch while he watches the game. He’s allergic to rosemary.

“Allergies are for pansies,” my mother will say every year as she sets the stuffing on the table.

My father will say nothing.

This is the routine. My mother wobbles her way to her seat; my father sneezes; my sister and I pass around first the turkey and then the mashed potatoes and next the rolls. My father will tell my mother it’s delicious before he takes his first bite, and my sister or I will bring out the bottle from beside the stove. My mother will make a speech about how being a housewife is the same thing as being a slave, and no one will say anything, and then she’ll sit back in her chair with her glass and tell my father to do the dishes.

Somewhere my relatives are gathered without us. There is more space for everyone, and less leftovers. My grandmother does not need to add the board to the dining room table to make it longer.

My mother refills her glass.

“We should say what we’re thankful for.” It’s my sister. She’s young and hopeful, maybe fourteen. My mother and father look up, and I return to my food. It’s the best my mother’s ever done. The turkey is moist, the potatoes are lump-free, the carrots don’t crunch but aren’t too soft. It’s perfect. I start refilling my plate.

“I’m thankful I’m getting good grades this year,” my sister persists. She looks at my father.

“Well, I’m thankful for another great year at the firm, I suppose.” He doesn’t meet my mother’s eyes. She’s staring him down from the opposite end of the table, eyes as glazed as the carrots. Wax is drying in a pool around the candles. My mother’s eyes shift to me.

I watch the wax slide off and harden.

“I’m thankful for the food,” I say. “It’s great, really great.”

“And I,” my mother says, raising her glass in a toast, “am glad we weren’t invited to a goddamn boring fool event at my mothah’s house.”

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One Rainy Day with my Ex-Lover

June 6, 2015 § Leave a comment

I found this piece today in my computer, and while I don’t particularly remember writing it five years ago, I remembered the feeling of it as I read it today. It’s funny how writing can do that…bring someone who’s been through five more years worth of moments back to just one. And make them feel it all over again, and so powerfully.

She’s small and standing there in her blue shoes, the soft felt ones that get so wet in weather like this. The puddles are seeping into tiny holes near the bottom, and he’s thinking about how those shoes will squish, squish, squish all her way home, all the way home alone. And she’s standing there in the stupid wet shoes, pushing them harder into the road as if she can break through the concrete, and her green eyes are sliding all along the face of the apartment. Her eyes are wise and unseeing and beautiful, so beautiful, but they are not looking at him, they are looking at the apartment. And he is standing there and his lips are smiling but his eyes are something else. They are unlike her eyes, and not because they are brown, but because they are seeing, and they are seeing her. They are seeing the soft whiteness of her skin, not white like a freshly printed manuscript but off-white like a well-loved book resting comfortably on a mahogany table. They are seeing the way her fingers twirl around each other, dancing playfully and then they are in her hair, smoothing the brown strands, brown like the mahogany table. But mostly his eyes are searching for hers, and he finds them, finds them in a way. And his eyes look at her eyes and her eyes look back at his eyes and then their bodies are hugging each other but she is walking away and he is standing on the wet road and her shoes are going squish, squish, squish.

“What ever possessed me to do that?” prompt

May 7, 2015 § Leave a comment

“What ever possessed me to do that?”

“He seemed nice.”

“Did he?”

It’s five AM and I’m waiting with a woman I don’t know at a Metro stop somewhere in Southeast. The night is slowly changing from fake, hazy streetlamp light to the natural glow of the sun. It’s somewhere, but not here exactly. Felt, but not seen. The street lamps dim.

“It was silly.” She’s lit a cigarette now, and she spends a long time inhaling, inhaling, and I watch her cheeks bulge, bulge, bulge, and then deflate with a cough. “Silly.”

I say nothing. I feel nervous that it’s 5 am now. I like the Twilight Zone time in the city, when the young people have finally dragged themselves to bed and the old people have yet to rise. When there’s only a few beat-down strangers still roaming, searching for something the others aren’t, or at least have put off looking for until tomorrow. That dimension is fading now, fading like the street lamps. The day is coming, and that distant glow of the sun feels mocking. Not so much to me, but to the regretful woman next to me on the cold stone bench.

“Men,” the woman says now, but it feels like a wasted word, one you let tumble out and quietly die, one you only said to say something, and we both sit awkwardly in that tension for a moment.

“Man,” she corrects herself with more assurance. I nod.

“He seemed nice,” I say again. He did, I think. He really did.

“Everyone seems nice then,” she says, and I nod again. They do, I think, they really do.

Because earlier, in the Twilight Zone hours, when I was sitting quietly next to this woman on the cold stone bench, it didn’t feel as cold. The vodka felt warm, and so everything felt warm. The woman humming next to me on the bench, bobbing her leg and so bobbing her little fur booty and the little brown tassle that hung from it, the early morning wind that rustled litter in the street, the man in the long trench coat with very little hair that asked us to dance. And everything felt closer, too. The stars were not years away, but maybe just a week. They were well within our reach, and they shone on us like stage lights while the man twirled us around until we fell in lovely confusion. “Upsey daisy,” he said in a way that was both light and gruff, and he was so close, and so warm, as he scooped us up, tickling us with the very little hair he had above his lip. Time and space were upsey daisy, with the stars close enough to singe my hair and the man’s lips close enough to touch.

The sun was coming out.

We had missed the train.

“There’ll be another one soon,” I say. More awkward words that tumble out and stare at you in reproach till you look away in shame.

“Fifteen minutes,” she says. She nods towards the board mounted on the wall across the tracks.

The neon number 15 burns my eyes.

“And it will be here,” I say, and I think to myself, if a train says fifteen minutes, it won’t be here in thirteen. It won’t be here in twenty. It will be here in fifteen, and that’s that.

The neon number burns 14 now. It is all that has changed.

We sit. The woman sighs. She tosses the cigarette in the tracks. We watch the embers glow and die. 14.

The day dawns.

Spain

October 31, 2014 § Leave a comment

In Spain, they eat lunch in mid-afternoon, not right at twelve. They eat for a long while, and then nap a little while longer. Then they might return to work, or they might not. They might instead play made-up games with their children on the living room rug, or go for a walk past the butchery and the park and the bread shop.

I like Spain.

I thought I wouldn’t be able to stand being an outsider, the way I felt in Dublin. In Dublin I could walk down the streets with a sense of purpose, look forward knowingly, shake my red hair in the rain and know that no one suspected my other-ness. Unless I spoke. And then all that belonginess faded away. You’re not from here, the bartender would say as he poured me my Guinness. Words that defined me, that seemed to send me back to my home even though I still sat on a stool in just another city center bar.

But in Spain, I stumble over the language. I walk while staring up and around. I bump into people and quickly say Sorry rather than Perdon. People smile at my efforts. Of course I’m not from here. But they appreciate that I try to do the simple things in their country, buy groceries and ask directions. They tell me how brave I am to live so far away, so far out of my comfort zone, away from my parents and with no one but my Spanish-speaking teenager roommates. Valiente, they call me. Tan valiente.

Valiente, I think. I like to do the things that scare me, I tell them. And when they don’t scare me anymore, I try to do something else.

I don’t know how to say all of that in Spanish, so I say it in English. And so they just smile and nod.

Valiente.

But as I sit on a bench in my new city, one bench down from the homeless man who waits for enough spare change to buy a beer, and then waits for enough to buy another, a bench underneath a chestnut tree that rains down on the calle below, I think, that means you’re always running. If you conquer the fear, and then conquer the next, you’re never in the same place. You’re on the move. And is running to conquer fear after fear just another form of being afraid?

The question confuses me. I watch the homeless man hustle into the bar across the street, his hands full of different colored coins.

I like the idea of meeting people once and never again, of perpetual movement, of being a certain girl for a certain period of time, an untainted memory. Stay long enough and the humanity of everything and everyone starts setting in.

And that, more than anything, is uncomfortable.

Eventually, someone in my head tells me, you’ll have to stand still. Something will force you to halt.

Death, I say back to it.

The homeless man is back with a Mahou. I can’t describe how unbelievably happy he looks. I wish earnestly it could stay with him forever. It hurts me, how much I want his happiness to stay.

But soon, too soon, his can will be empty. Por favor, puede Usted ayudarme? Algo para comer, para comer.

Hello,

August 26, 2014 § Leave a comment

 hello-goodbye-mat

I thought you’d say goodbye.

I just thought you would, assumed you would, in the way, I guess, Hume, was it Hume?, said we expect to see the sun rise, day after day after day, because we saw it set, once, or twice, and expect, without proof, without sound evidence, without any deductive reasoning at all, that it will come round again.

Hume had no respect for hope.

I thought, assumed, hoped that every hand graze met another, that every side glance saw a quiet smile, that every sunset viewing from the roof of your old elementary school ending in making love.

That every hello became a goodbye.

You fooled me well, Hume would have been proud, because all my other expectations really did become reality, because we really did make love in orange light with soot-stained backs as day became night. But then night did not become day again.

Still air, a black sheet, and one glistening star.

I sat there like a fool waiting for the sun.

A Candid Look at Depression, Anxiety, and Recovery

December 19, 2013 § 1 Comment

Here is the battle.

When I first sought therapy and was diagnosed with PTSD, I was relieved. I had spent years running until I collapsed in exhaustion, and then someone how lifted me up again and gave me the tools to continue on my way. It’s okay, they said. It’s fixable, they said. It’ll be alright.

I really did feel reborn, in the sense that I felt like Life was a thing that maybe I could actually do, that maybe was manageable, even full of possibilities. Before, there had always been a quiet (and sometimes very loud) voice at the back of my mind: Life Is Possible For Everyone Else, But Not You. You Have No Choice. Eventually You’ll Have To Pull The Plug, You Know. Enough With The Charade.

But with therapy and CBT strategies, I was armed with knowledge. I called out Anxiety for what it was and it slinked away. My Depression ebbed. For the first time, truly, in my entire life, I felt in control of myself and my happiness. There is no way to describe that feeling, especially when you had believed to the core of your being that no such feeling was possible.

Gradually, I came to learn a painful truth, however: I couldn’t just emerge from the battle, shaken but unscathed, wipe my hands off the thing, and re-join the throng. I’ve kept a “mental health journal” since my journey started a few years ago, and while it often helps to realize just how far I’ve come, within it I can also trace a series of highs and lows. Getting help, feeling better, knowing my illness and treating it did not mean I was free of my demons. I just recognized them for what they were now; I managed them, didn’t banish them. I still have Depression. I still have Anxiety. And every once in a while when a bad day swings around, it’s like a slap in the face. I’m Still Here, it says. Did You Really Think You’d Gotten Rid Of Me?

There’ve been good periods and bad periods, and for me, that can mean a good day followed by a bad couple months. I try to look at it the same: the good will come again, no matter when or how long it ends up staying; it will come again.

I think it is taken for granted in our society that once you’re brave enough to seek help, that’s the end of the road. You go to therapy and take some meds and your family looks the other way and then breathe when it’s all over. They say implicitly to you as they pass the rolls at Thanksgiving, Don’t Worry, We Won’t Bring Up That Incident, One Time Thing, We Get It, It’s In the Past.

Perhaps not for all, but for many, Depression is a lifelong game, and so is Recovery. True bravery and courage comes from recognizing this; Depression is by no means all of myself, but it is a part, and it is something I will cope with now and when I’m 55. I was so afraid of falling again after that first tumble. When I finally got back on my feet, I made a tenuous promise to myself: Let’s Get This All Cleared Up So Whatever The Hell THAT Was Never Happens Again.

But it’s a promise begging to be broken. I have fallen many time since that first fall. The beauty is that every time I stand up, no matter what Depression told me while I was down, I marvel at myself standing on my feet.

Voice

July 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

Image

Image credit: technorati.com

“Good movement, strong voice.” These were some of the remarks a creative writing professor had written on some of the pieces I found shoved in my nightstand this morning. Bent staples, old CDs, some leftover Euros, my high school yearbook, and close to a hundred pages of writing spanning 5th grade to last year. I struggled to open the drawer.

“Strong voice.”

I thought this comment over while I counted the Euros. It felt like a higher compliment than “good movement,” somehow. A superior achievement to making a good transition. But what did it mean, anyhow? My “voice” was strong? What did it mean to have a weak voice? Every author has a voice. They’re speaking on paper, from beginning to end, right? Or do they? Can a poor author write an entire manuscript and not have said a word? Be voiceless?

Or is it that so much writing feels like one big voice, with the same intonations, the same emphasis, perhaps even the same words? You read one thriller novel by John somebody and another by Kate somebody and you say ah, yes, I know this voice, I’ve heard it before, I trust it, I’ll follow it to the end to find out he’s multiple personality and really did commit all those murders.

So then, maybe a strong voice means breaking through. Everybody’s chanting at the some volume in the same rhythm and suddenly someone starts whispering to a different beat. You pick up a new book and it shocks your senses. Something you haven’t heard before.

This is perhaps the greatest challenge for any artist. Breaking through. It’s more than just being different, being unique. We are all unique. Not all of us have a “strong voice.” You must not only break through the clutter of everyone else, but of yourself. A strong voice comes from an authentic place, a real, truthful feeling. Think of it as a little light trapped under layers of sand. You’ve got to dig, past the defense mechanisms and the impatience and all the modern world distractions to get there. It ain’t easy, but you’ll be rewarded.

It should be mentioned that a “strong voice” is not an eternal state of being. God, no. Just thinking it makes me feel exhausted. If I’m lucky enough to break through to that place and stay there and write, write, write, once I’m done the sand fills back in the hole again in a rush, and I fall back and let it. You don’t win the battle every time. I get frustrated when I write something that’s crap, nothing special, and jealous when others can seem to turn out “strong voice” pieces like it’s nothing. I’m struggling to stutter, and they’re singing in the shower.

But here’s the beauty of it: If you’ve tapped into it before, you can get there again. The young hipster woman with too-large black glasses thought I had spoken with a “strong voice” in that one childhood memory piece. I thought I had too. I had felt it rise within me as I wrote, asserting itself, saying I’m here, I’m here, let me speak. And I felt the exhaustion and closing back up when I finished.

Some people don’t even know that little speck of light is hiding under there, or don’t care enough to do the work to get there. They’re content to stay up above. Digging is messy. It’s time-consuming. Who’s to say you’ll find anything?

Here’s what I find, though: Breaking through to that voice, letting it yell, uninhibited, into the world, and resonate, and reverberate off the walls and ring in your ears-this is how we assert ourselves, make our presence be know. Tell the layers of clutter they ain’t got nothing on us. Really speaking-it gives me hope.

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