upside down / inside out, & round & round

Two weeks ago pulled the carpet out of my basement studio, with aims to steam clean it and sun-dry it. It never made it back in the house, and was instead sold on Facebook. Now my studio is agreeably cool in the hot summer days, if a little less posh-looking. I try not to think about the winter, when I’ll bundle up in lots of layers in order to sew. My husband wants to “finish” the basement fully but I am not wild about the idea; we have enough debt and I don’t think he quite understands how expensive an undertaking will be.

Today I sit at the kitchen table and queue up 1958’s The Fly while re-applying lace to a wedding dress, by hand; my oldest child washes dishes and cooks up a tofu scramble, stepping into the dining room to join me for our favorite parts of the film. We laugh when scientist Andre Delambre – played by the very handsome David Hedison who at ninety today is still a fox – discovers the misprint on his “heirloom” ashtray; we cringe minutes later at the reveal of the poor man’s hideous new visage and his creepy, monstrous claw. The doting Vincent Price, caring for his distraught sister-in-law so tenderly. “This movie altered my life,” Phoenix tells me ruefully. It’s still a thrill to watch – all these viewings later.

In the afternoon I sit the children down and let them know they are joining me out at a restaurant on the beach, for lunch. They are to wash their faces and get dressed and not in pajamas. Then, with two of my best girlfriend, the five of us travel in style in a new car, along lonesome back roads green as ever; these roadways will stay fecund and lush through even the driest of summer weather. Along the beach route: lonely trailer parks, half-hazard tourist diversions, produce stands, llama farms and makeshift fireworks stands. As is often the case, the heat in town dissipates as the fog. “Ocean Shores always smells good to me,” Nels says, as we leave the restaurant to find a coffee. I realize every little choice I’ve made has led my children to this life here in this little corner of the world. Who knows where they will venture later? But for now, this is home.

When Ralph gets home I have put my studio back to rights; I have opened the delivered parcel of sumptuous bamboo french terry, and pulled out a sample card for zippertape colors. The earlier wedding dress project is packed into a garment bag and carefully secured in my sewing closet downstairs. I put aside my work for the evening; yoga practice, a shower, and some quiet television with my husband before bed.

watching the stars

New Year 2017 was a quiet affair at our place. I have a steady Saturday volunteer gig that I don’t miss for anything. Now yeah, there’s a lot of Saturday nights I don’t want to go. I want to stay home with my lovely husband and children. But I go, unless I’m in the hospital or called out of town.

So tonight I got dressed up a little, a hooded dress of my own making, a little eyeliner, a deep red lippie. The closer my hair is wrapped up and the larger my hoop earrings, the more secure I feel!

I had to pick a friend up. I’m off through the streets of Aberdeen, which are innately familiar. I’m a night person but New Year’s Eve others are obliged to join me. Lights in restaurants and taverns; a few souls out on the street but it’s cold, snow mixed in with the rain. I know people are gearing up to carouse, or maybe they’ve already started. A friend of mine is nearly run off the road by a drunk driver.

I’m to a little corner building, flipping on lights while another friend brews the coffee. A vigil, here for those who observe life’s triumphs and travails without the use of drugs or alcohol.

As much as I love the holidays, I’ve come to know that they are a hard time for many people. I figure since I’ve been okay for holidays, I love them in fact, I can be there for others. Maybe one day my time will come, and it won’t be so easy.

The coffee: hot, dark. Delicious. I have half a cup. Alongside my quart jar of water. I still get the moonshine jokes. I’ve never had a drop of moonshine in my life!

I welcome a man who is new to the area. He’s just moved, and he’s exhausted. I get to talk with a woman I see now and then. I’m thinking of a man I knew. I can see him crystal clear. He was older. He was on oxygen. He wasn’t healthy. I can’t remember his name but I remember his face. He would come in from the beach to sit with us. I grew to a swift affection. Where is he now? His name will come to me. Is he still with us? Is he sick? Is he well?

So many come and go. I can’t keep up with them all; not just the sea of faces, smiles, and handshakes here in this room – but the friends who wish me well, the little letters and emails and text messages, those who write me and ask for advice or who thank me or who call on me for some reason or another. I used to be able to grasp them all but there are too many. So I get to settle for telling people Thank you, and trying to comfort and be kind, and to show my appreciation.

Home now, and I have a hot slice of deep dish pizza. We sit down. After my shower, I am still not feeling well. My husband holds my feet in his hand, paints my toenails; holds my hands and paints each fingernail too. I am still feeling ill. I lean up against him. He smells wonderful; like cedar and warmth. He has always smelled wonderful to me.

At midnight, the fireworks, more than I figured. I bump up the music: INXS’ “Need You Tonight”. I’m on the couch in my blanket and I watch Ralph and Nels don coats and go outside to watch the pyrotechnics; I lean back and feel that mixture of sadness and joy. I remember where I was the day we heard Michael Hutchence had died by suicide. I was at a house party and someone played a ballad and for a moment we were quiet, drinks in hand doing nothing to keep us from reflecting on yet another loss. 

And tonight, another year sober and another year deepening my practice. This year brought me more Buddhist practices; I am still astonished as I sink deeper into them. Tonight, my oldest child is sketching at the table, on a tablet. My youngest is in his underwear, gaming on the couch. He is only a few inches shorter than I, now.

This year life kept crashing along, despite everything. 

We Visit Louis

if you fall asleep, down by the water / baby I’ll carry you all the way home

We Visit Louis

Christmas was not precisely difficult this year; but it was a bit off. On the 17th of December, a series of ATM fraud charges cleaned out our account – I mean entirely, taking our pending mortgage payment, and everything. Talk about an unpleasant surprise!

Then, Ralph shaved off his beard and left a huge push-broom moustache. Which he occasionally tries to rub on my soft skin. So that’s something that happened.

But – it’s impossible to have a poor holiday, or just a poor regular day, with my children. They keep things spicy. On the 9th, our oldest came out as non-binary, meaning they no longer associate with either the male or female. Fine, fine. After all – this is the child who changed their name at age eight. Not only do I totally respect this child’s autonomy, I also know it’s unlikely it’s “just a phase”, not that I wouldn’t support my kiddo – phase or no.

Night Creatures

(night creatures)

Using “they” and “them” pronouns for Phoenix has been such a novel experience – even harder than getting used to a name change. Ralph and I are at the stage where we are gun-shy around the female pronoun set. Every time we say “she” or “her” – about my mom, a friend, or a kitty cat – we flinch as we are sure we are getting it wrong! But – we’ll get used to it. Phoenix is very patient at correcting us politely.

Nels has taken off in gaming. He and I are downstairs at night – I’m sewing while he’s into Competitive Play on Overwatch, and has been recording, editing, and uploading compilations to his YouTube channel. In true Nels style, he is entirely immersed. After the summer where he was outside with the local tribe of boys – I mean he was always outside if he wasn’t at home eating or snuggling/sleeping – now he’s gaming all day unless I drag him out on errands.

Nels, The Joy of Gaming

The last few weeks I sewed so much for gifts and for clients that I was shipping and packing up and delivering faster than I could photograph. Having a little space to sew for myself, has been lovely.

So, we’re getting through. We had a lovely gift exchange and our first Christmas in our new house (we were traveling last year); we enjoyed our first vegan Christmas as well, with a repast from The Herbivorous Butcher. Life doesn’t get boring, let’s just say that!

Wishing all of you a really fabulous end-of-year.

Me, Kitchen

Flu Shot

into the early hours

Flu shots today. One stoic, one pensive and needing a hand-hold.

Flu Shot

Flu Shot, Part 2

We struggled so much financially, when the kids were small. Thinking about it now, this might have been the best time for that sort of thing. Children don’t need social status, and they don’t worry about the future (until we show them how). They need food, warmth, play and rest, love and attention, and opportunities to explore with their beloved carer at their side.

Ralph and I managed all that, amidst varieties of hardship and calamity that brings to mind the adage: “Comedy is tragedy plus time.”

I’m thinking of this past, now that my cupboard is full and we have pretty reliable hot water and I don’t worry as much. It seemed like things got better pretty easily, but of course I’ve worked hard, and of course we’ve had good fortune besides.

We are in our final weekend before Phee’s second year at college. The children are both very engrossed in their exploits: Nels has been alternating between gaming online – and playing outside with the neighborhood gang. His schedule has gracefully morphed to perfection: he is up only a few hours before the rest of the boys get home from school, and in that time he cleans up, breakfasts, and does his morning chores. He plays with the boys until they go home, and then he’s online until I get him away, after I’ve done my own daily work.

Crawling into bed in the wee early hours of the morning, my son and I are watching Scooby Doo on Zombie Island. “Do you think that’s a real ghost?” I ask my son, during the rousing beginning caper in the film. “No,” he replies, sounding like the teenage boy he’s growing into. He knows how Scooby Doo works – come on, mom!

But I turn and look at him in the light from the screen, and I can see he’s smiling.

Road House (1989)

take the train

“I don’t know why people don’t realize that I like Road House unironically.

“It’s a perfect film. It’s paced well. It doesn’t have any extra fluff. It doesn’t get bigger than the story. It doesn’t try to be something it’s not.”

“…”

“I mean yeah, it’s ridiculous. OK. But it’s also got a noir element.”

He’s still listening, so I go on.

“You know, you have this kind of bleak wasteland. You have an anti-hero. A loner. He’s used to just taking care of himself. He’s good at it.”

“He’s a philosopher,” Ralph interjects.

Right! But then he finds himself in a circumstance where he has to protect some innocents. And he can’t help himself. He has to get involved, even if it’s hopeless.”

I pause, and then say, “Well… I guess it’s not really that noir, I mean besides that. I mean, usually a noir has -“

“- a femme fatale,” my husband nods knowingly.

Instantly, I’m peevish. “Road House has a femme fatale!” I’m pissed. He’s sat through this movie with me many times. Come on!

“…She just doesn’t have a big part,” I allow, begrudgingly. 

Road House (1989)

a date with Beeps. xxx ooo

kindled by my love’s pleasing / into an ardent blazing

a date with Beeps. xxx ooo

This last week my son took care of kittens at a friend’s, while the family was on vacation. Tonight was his last night “on duty”, so the four of us travelled up the hill to help – I, to play with the kittens while my son cleaned their litter boxes. My daughter drove the BMW with Ralph as passenger; Nels and I walked so Hutch could get a walk too.

It’s a steep trip, and for me a slow one. The summer night air is balmy and gorgeous; I can feel at the edges of my restlessness and know I am working too hard, too much. I am not slowing down to enjoy all that I can.  I have dozens of bills – medical bills, veterinary bills, and household bills – and I’m letting these things creep into my mind. They’re my responsibility, true enough, but somehow it’s twisted and they occupy my head.

My children, though, still have the right sense of proportion about things. My daughter picks a cornflower before dinner – she is thrilled when I put it behind my ear, peeking out from beneath my head wrap. At dinner, in the booth of an Italian restaurant, she triumphantly slides in next to me than comes in close and holds my hand, her fingers wrapped around mine. I am often stunned how this little daughter, who was a blonde little thing with beetled-eyebrows and a sharp voice, has turned into this lovely bloom, this slender reed. A strong woman and a gorgeous one; a fierce and compassionate bloom.

At home my sewing studio is well-organized. I am halfway through a project today; I hang up my rulers and click my scissors onto their magnetic storage bar. I open the door to my son’s little computer room. He’s curled up on his chair, gaming. He is eating popcorn from a paper bag and his little bundled body in a too-loose striped shirt fills me with an inexplicable surge of affection. “Get dressed – we’re off to dinner,” I tell him. “‘kay,” he responds, his eyes on the screen, his hand reaching out for me. The kids are always hugging, reaching out for me, holding me, kissing me. My most profound blessings.

Later, on the walk down from our last kitten night – the family returned home while we were there, so we got to exchange warm salutations – I tell my son about tonight’s meteor shower – the Perseids. He is as joyful as if he’s never seen a meteor shower before, smiling and looking up, his hair shining blue-white in the light of the waxing gibbous moon. I think to myself I want to feel the way they feel, I want to see the world the way they do. I want to know I’m as beautiful as they see me. I want to return to that Place they inhabit. As long as they walk beside me I know there’s a chance I can.

a white dress, a blue room

I’m standing by the clothes dryer ironing; my son is telling me a joke he wrote. It doesn’t really make sense. But he laughs, his face flushed with pleasure. He steps up to me – he’s almost as tall as I and will be taller this time next year – and puts his arms around me. He kisses me frankly. Then pulls back and looks, peering: “Also – I put three potatoes in the oven to make baked potatoes.” His tone is half-proud, half cautionary, as if somehow I’d be alarmed to find the oven on if I went upstairs.

His father taught him how to bake potatoes. You scrub them up really good, wash them dry them. Coat in olive oil and coarse salt, then stab ’em with a fork. An hour at 400 degrees F. They really are sublime. But Nels, he’s really proud of himself. In fact the kids have settled so thoroughly into veganism and it seems like everything is more peaceful, is more funny. It seems we eat less food but enjoy it more. We certainly spend less on food.

Today I finish up the hooded sweatshirt in a bamboo french terry – set it aside for washing and air-dry, it will be a gift for my daughter in the fall. I steam-press linen for a dress shirt for my son – a gorgeous cerulean blue. I cut out a pattern and catalog it; hanging it up for next week. I will be ordering a pink jean zipper for stretch jeans. I will be overdyeing some gorgeous fleece yardage for my Halloween costume. Yes, I start early. Because some years I get an awful lot of Halloween costumes.

This evening I am finishing up a meeting with a sponsee; sitting in my car with her for privacy. A client arrives – a bride-to-be. She wants her tulle-overlay dress converted to a strapless dress. This means? Cutting into a wedding dress. She is a relaxed bride so there is something very thrilling about it all. Instead of sending her away, I have her sit with me while I whip-stitch the remains of the overlay to the inside of the bodice. The result is gorgeous and she’s very happy when she leaves.

I’m exhausted. My pain level has been very low today, with about 1000 mg of ibuprofen, an acetomenaphin – and this evening, half a hydrocodone. For now I am trying to be patient and trying not to worry about the future. I have a pile of laundry on my bed that will need to be put away before I can sleep in it. I need to drink some water.

A hot shower, and then falling under covers.

 

your electric love!

Tonight I attend a small meeting, of alcoholics and addicts. I hadn’t intended on staying – I was picking up some information to help with the local community – but my heart softened and I told my husband to come back for me. I mean… this room, these people, they raised me. I gotta stay.

So Ralph picks me up an hour later and we head off in the car for a household errand. In the sunshine in his busted-ass BMW, feeling content, I laugh and say to him, “Why don’t I trust men?” He laughs along with me and says, “I don’t know, maybe something happened [in your life] to make you feel that way.”

I tell him I’m thinking about the men in the meeting. I say, “I was going to get a ride from one of them so you didn’t have to get me – but out of all of them there’s only one I’d trust to ask. And even him -” I see-saw my hand a bit. He knows what I mean, though. I don’t know these men. I know how many men have treated me my whole life, how some of them treat me today. I don’t mind avoiding their company, keeping it social, not spending a lot of one-on-one time.

But we’re standing in line and he says something then I tell him, I say it right as I am realizing it: “No man has hurt me more than you.” He smiles but he flinches a bit. Because he and I know it’s true. It’s so painful that it’s true. But there it is. And even as I say it I reach for his hand because I love him so, so much. We’ve been through so very much. I’ve forgiven him entirely. I wonder if he feels the same. It doesn’t matter. I can feel his hand in mind; precious to me, his beautiful hands, rough to the touch, expressive and tender.

There’s a love there that is unlike anything I’ve known. I’d never give him up and I think he feels the same. He is my best defender and my best friend and the strongest man I’ve met. I don’t think I’d stay with anyone less.

milk-fang

My dreams have been restless of late. Two nights ago my husband and I were entertaining suitors, men and women who wanted to carry off and then marry our girlchild. In the dream my daughter was so young she was still Sophia; her fine blonde hair and had that childish fullness in her cheeks. And in the dream Ralph and I had no choice but to find the best stranger for her, in a whirlwind speed-dating scenario. I remember a desperation, a hopelessness, as I interviewed strangers with smiling mouths but who knew what lurked behind. Last night dreams were not so frightful, but were exhausting nevertheless. I held a man’s hand, or rather he held mine. He was old enough to be my father but he only meant it in the friendliest of way. I still felt odd. As with the child-marrying dream, it was I who was out of sync, out of touch with what the world expected. My own secret life. Being different.

Tonight my daughter and I, tonight in real life that is, we take our dog on a long walk, a mile there and back to Canyon Court where our littlest kitty, Herbert Pocket, seemed to have stranded herself on an earlier walk. We have up to three cats at a time go on long walks with us, trailing us silently and racing through dark yards and up birch trees then back down. Earlier today Herbert Pocket had accompanied Phoenix into the small forest, back out – but not all the way back home. This evening, my daughter and I were unsure if we’d find her, or if she’d already made her way back to our neighborhood. I try not to worry, because what good would that do?

Sure enough, at the precise household Phoenix remembered seeing her hours before, our kitty’s sleek little body – black with dainty white mittens and long white “socks” on her back legs – joins us silently, trotting alongside. We’re as thrilled as you can imagine us to be. Tonight’s other walker, Harris – our oldest, age nine, is along for the trip as well. A half mile from home, though, he starts to flop in the road. Figuring he’s tired, I laughingly pick him up. He lets me carry him half a block then, with no apparent tension in his body or display of tooth or claw, a horrible deep growl wells up in his body. Figuring he might be serious, I set him back again on the cool concrete and he continues on with us.

It is cold out; my daughter is in the lovely down coat my sister bought her, for Christmas. And my daughter wears the warm alpaca hat I bought my husband – another Christmas gift, but many Christmases ago.

My body is tired. I’ve been cold all day; drinking a gallon and a half of water, perhaps that is why. Today my paid work was provincial and satisfying; the situation in the department has sorted itself out miles better than when I first started, half a year ago. I am able to do my duties well and not rush through clerical detail. My husband was home with the kids, and he spent the day cooking a curry – sweet potato, peas, and cauliflower fragrant with coconut milk, ginger, and garlic – and painted a table and scrubbed the floor. The kids spent the day playing; Phoenix is on a welcome break from school. She is drawing and playing Minecraft. Nels is doing the same – until the neighborhood boys are released from school, or homework or whatever, and mill around in our driveway waiting for Nels to enrich their play. Then we don’t see Nels again, just glimpses through our windows, until the boys have gone back to their homes.

Spring is feeling good.

tryna catch a woman that’s weak

Shortly after I arrive home, the pain begins. It starts as a bit of a pinch, a bit breathless, and as usual I don’t really notice for a bit. But after about a half hour I come into awareness. So now: fright. The pain is rising, clashing, a small crescendo in my lower back – this time, on the left. The pain isn’t the hardest part. It’s the fear. I know how much worse the pain can get. I know it won’t kill me, but pain is my master. Pain like that, anyway.

By the time I am stepping into a hot shower – a futile distraction, a bit of comfort to my bones while my body runs riot and S-H-O-U-T-S! at me from the very within – by that time my hands are trembling. I am in a state of heightened awareness, of stillness. It has been about fifteen months since I’ve entered the hospital. I hope to stay out, tonight.

Out of the shower and I shakily dress myself. A hot pad for my lower back. I am shaking too much to type or text. I lie in the bed and gently rock back and forth, and shake. But maybe it won’t get worse. 

And this time, it doesn’t.

Today some good things happened.

– watching my son shoot baskets, dribble the basketball, his lanky frame looking more and more like his father, the man I met when he was a boy

– sitting next to my mom on the bleachers and trying to tell her about a film I recently watched. And singing, “Across 110th Street” to remind her

– my daughter showing me things that make her laugh, and make her angry, on her phone. My daughter climbing into bed with me tonight while I suffered, and telling me she wouldn’t leave my side until the pain was gone

– my husband at the oven, baking hot pita bread, and washing his hands then coming close to hold me

– the moon tonight on a drive on the beach Highway… lonesome and cold and bright as a beacon