Bliss

When she came to me,
I pretended to sleep


My brother and I had tried to go to the People of Color meditation
but the monk had shut the door
Lateness has wings


She visited again
I missed her
So I wrote to her and pushed it through the drywall


Bits of brick newly littered the fireplace when I came home, a reply?


I shut my door
willing to smolder with sage
and sew small dolls to carry my new hope


But, I should know better.


I’ve touched the kingdom
and Bliss, like a missed appointment,
dangles its promise to those shut out

Birds, Fighting

I became angry when he opined on my relationship with my mom.
I flew into a falling bird's tumble. A soft scratch on my outer wings.
Were it not for this new rage I'd be glum. Rounder. And fuzzy like all my pulled sweaters.

Is it time for us to fight?
It is. There is no way around it.

Before it happened I was plumper like I said and could never jog off my jiggle then somehow my wings/legs toughened.
I could not do what rage did to me
I could not replicate a missing like the one I had now.

Perhaps the jiggle was sexier.

Echoed back within our nest, I tore into worms, seeds, soft tree fruit. Punctured their skins and plucked a nutrient. Rage. I awoke in many suns not singing but shrieking. Unblinking loss. I went from shapeless to a necessary form. I'm a woman now with a wingspan longer than predicted.

Can I hold him in it? A small protective place? If there's room, it can only be made when I dash out holes back-lit by the moon.   Tiny places echoing from larger ones.

Swallow a song. Keep it just between us. Your initial plumage won me but it is your wounds that intrigue me. 

One-ways

Sterling silver compact mirror.  Paid for at a garage sale or it was from a woman relative that calls me a “grandchild.”  I don’t know.  Sort of tarnished but mirror is good to see nose, cheekbone, eyelids.  It’s not for sale.

I hold myself unblinking in the back seat of the 4Runner keeping the compact steady.  We take the one-ways.  When driven over, roads sound like cereal on teeth.  They say the best way to get from Sugarland to Missouri City is to use the back roads.  But how come I always see us tipping over into the bayou?  Because it wants us?  Two decades later, I still need terror to be tranquil.  I nap and recall the un-dead at dusk pulling their chaffed fingers through my hair.  The glare of the mirror keeps them off.  

Delicate Rush

Mascara on the left eye. Keys in the fridge. Now found. Scraped the bottom shelf of memory for that. Now where's my debit card? Go.

We have to go or we'll be late. Which shoes? Cover the run in pantyhose with clear nail polish. That's the trick. Spray smell-good. You already did? Good. Nice.

It's been 3 minutes. I know because when I looked at the clock it was 9:27 am and now it's.... Why are you laughing? Is it because you know we're always late? Grab me a snack. But first make me a quick green juice.

A what? No, a tea. That's faster then I can take it in the car. No you can't drive.  Cuz I said so. Grab that purple Mac lip gloss. It's in my purse. On the side.  Why? Because I borrowed it, that's why.


What are you looking for? Ok. I thought it was something else. It's not anything?  It's just us being here, isn't it? It's just this right here because this is all there is. And I won't have to tell you because you'll know it when you feel around for something, spooning the fallen times of humidity and going and freeways and tea and lip primer. Like a penciled outline. Like a swollen under eye which had been so stubborn to be concealed but was so evidently delicate.

It was a rough week so I wrote a lot of poems.

The Call

Among other knacks, we inherited a rotary phone from Aunt Mina.
The black and gold curved receiver rang like real bells.
We dialed on it as if in the '30s.


Visitors asked, Why such an old phone?
(I secretly believed time travel.)
Its wooden plaque frame beckoned us to mount it, but it wasn't.


What is it to come of age, in the year 2000, in your living room?
A call is placed, and we walk around the heralding sound.

A hard shell

A cracked egg seeps for me.  Proof in the sun rays. Those dusty bars. I dance in them because I'm a child and haven't ruined my freedom yet.

Scattered shells congeal. Dreams out on parole. Uncle sits in our living room waiting to be logged and collected. Mommy is mad. They say that was your confinement! But it won't crack easily.

We visit him inside Livingston. The procession is already fraught. Mommy wears a sleeveless blouse. Beautiful long skirt. So the guards turn us away. (Could provoke the men.) Here men like my uncle wear cotton white and form a single desire. But it's not for sex.

We go back. It's a hot Christmas. We raid the vending machine for blessings. Is this enough? It better be. We move outside to find the sunlight. But it's not really Outside.  It's a yolk.

Cooking is a Devotion

Cooking is a devotion.  I don’t know how my life
got this way.  Except finding the correct lid
to the boiling meat sauce.  That is important.
Begrudging my family because they can lounge
while I sweat about the steam.
I want to sit.  My thighs are lit up
as if colored inside by a mad child.  I want to speak to someone
but I will tell everyone at parties that I love this.   What I love
is making potions and finding essences and oils
and extracts reduced to a tonic and
Salt baths.  Spells.  Smudges. And red algae sheet masks.
I love wine, and too much makes me rage.
I say I am committed to writing. But nothing torments me more.
I am inspired, and despondent once inspiration dies out.
So what is that?  A careless lover.
I am a lover, for the newness and also
the world-renowned security.  That if you leave wishes
in a shoebox and vision boards on the mirror
they will bump
up against you.  Leave deposits of yearning
And return with a shisito pepper singe.
I learned to be devoted from my mom
But she hated cooking and sliced small fruits in one hand
Using her fleshy thumb as a surface against
Which to slide the blade
Because to invest in a cutting board would have meant surrender
We sang her praises at spaghetti dinners
It was magnificent and made with, not love,
But a commitment to keeping us alive
A nightly doing, while we lounged in the living room,
I writing, Terrance singing, Trey watching, my dad another
place.

LPQ

I forgot to put the keys in Willow’s backpack for the babysitter.  I realized this on the 4 or the 5 train to work as I pulled out two pairs from my bag.  I closed my hands on their cold metal and softly muttered Shit to some glances.  But no one really paid me any mind.  I could have been bemoaning the heat while hurling underground to sit in my windowless office.

I made a plan to have Rosanna bring Willow to my midtown office and retrieve the keys.

Something caught my heart when Willow bounced into the marble lobby.  There was a gentle unease.  In her buoyancy, I was less able to protect her.  There was nothing specific to fear.  But I could see that the way she moved about in the world had changed in a matter of days.  It had grown less afraid.

She was golden now too, blessed with a week’s constant Fire Island sun.  She was taking up more space.  I couldn’t bring her to my small, artificially cold office.  I didn’t think it could hold her.

We walked to Le Pain Quotidien and sat down to cheesecake, lemon tart, and mixed berry tart at a table near the front.  I shoved down a panic over work to-dos I'd promised by EoD.  I helped Willow cut her tart with plastic wear and she judged its "bake" and structure in a manner gleaned from the Great British Baking Show.  

“Hmm.  This is a very good tart.  Well done.”  Then she took the biggest bite possible.  I was incredibly proud.  It strummed the back of my throat with raspberry gelatin. 

Day 3 of Vacation

Everything smells wet.  I must be fully relaxed now because it doesn’t bother me.  At home, things bother me.  Our domain on Fire Island is giving us gray and white skies.  The lemongrass and eucalyptus oil we apply isn’t a deterrent as much as it a sign of our attempt not to be feasted on while going about the day or sleeping.  It’s a ritual that gives me a lot of pleasure because I love scents.   I get the same pattern pleasure when sunblock is between my palms. Apply every 90 minutes or as needed; apply 20 minutes prior to sun exposure.  Our skin shows exposure to three days worth of sun.  My legs feel stronger so I see them as more defined than before we arrived here.  I am already thinking about returning to our routine in our new-found glow.

Two evenings ago, about 36 hours into our vacation, J suggested that we venture out for a walk  just us two.  I went somewhat against my will.  Then, I wilted.  I still couldn’t cry, but I could admit what I was.  The sand was a blanket on my feet.  And I watched him swim while I stretched into the 20 minutes of our found freedom.  And then, my solitude appeared, shyly at first and then more assertively and it sounded like me.

Observation on LIRR

I was in love with the woman with the smoker's croak. She was so confident. Gesturing with a ragged intonation, she explained to the young European couple that yes, Long Island beaches are better than Coney Island. Different, I thought even though I've never stepped foot on Coney. Just different. One is a kitschy county fair vibe and the other is a beach. 

They nodded, and I could see that they really didn't have any questions for this woman. They weren't the NY tourist that latches onto strangers to make everything an experience. No, I could see that they were quite content to be within the world, the traveling world they created where every moment blossoms, cracked open with new spontaneous life, and they were happy to appear naïve for a second to lend a little bit of this to the eager Long Island-er.

Appointment

The receptionist wanted to know if she could walk me through other options now that Carmen was no longer with the salon. I didn't respond quickly enough.  She repeated, "So would you like to book with another of our stylists?"

Someone at work waited for me to finish something important while I stared down the hall of options. Hmm. I didn't want to find another.  I wondered if I could DM Carmen and follow her to her new other opportunity? Was she freelancing now? Did she have her own space? Was she a kitchen stylist? No, she was too good for that. 

I chose my words carefully. 

"I'll cancel Saturday's appointment and reschedule some point in the future."

I found Carmen in January and she cut my hair with such reverence and careful admiration that it grew more from her squinting and combing and lathering than it had from when I'd braided it up. Also, she recalled what I'd said during previous appointments with startling accuracy.  In her chair, I said things like "I'm a poet," "I'm cooking chicken tonight," and "Yeah, I guess she is well behaved compared to most children."

Under the vanity lights, fiddling with very hot ceramic tools, she followed up on bits of my life. "How did your meal turn out? You know! The one you were in a rush to get back home for because you had friends coming over."

I continued to the receptionist:

"I guess what I'd like is to find a new stylist very similar to Carmen if it can't be Carmen.  I'm getting married and the next time I come in will be just before my wedding."

I'd been passed to a manager mid-explanation.  There was a more experienced voice on the phone now.

"We understand your concern and I assure you each and everyone here can give you the experience that you're looking for."

I was sure they could too. But that wasn't what left me unexpectedly blank. 

What was that? It reminded me a little bit of loss. 
 

Take Note

I struggled to make out the capital letters scrawled in Sharpie.  It began, “Dear Mommy, I love you but…”  I leaned in to read the rest of the phonetically spelled words.

“What does it say?”  I asked tentatively.  I’d started reading the letter expecting a confirmation of my best mom traits.  Other of her notes have praised my cooking and cleaning.  Not that she found either of these exceptional -- just remarked on the fact that I did them.  

“All the time when I get in trouble, you always scream at me.”  Instantly, I regretted having intercepted the letter while she was en route to deposit it on my pillow.  I should’ve continued to the kitchen, summoned by sizzle, to prevent dinner from burning.  Then, I would have discovered the letter upon falling asleep on a Sunday night, and being too tired-anxious to feel what I was feeling now, would have chalked it up to having an emotional child.  Or, I wouldn’t have been able to decipher the text and it would have ended up in the drawer of my nightstand never to hurt me.

Mom used to yell at us when we were young.  But, it was sort of like a sitcom yell.  A little joke.  When our bickering drove her witless she would call us shit-heads or make a joke song about beating our asses to the ground/stomp us all over town in a sing-song fifties jingle sort of way.  It sounds abusive which is why it’s funny.  We’d all be in the car heading south on 59 about to exit Beltway 8 and be laughing together - the previous tension unfurling in our path.

If I wrote my mom a letter, I wonder what she would’ve thought.

When I see a mom screaming at her child on the subway, I immediately know that I’m not that.  I am warm, open minded.  I allow Willow to watch pre-teen romantic comedies produced by the Disney Channel.  We bake together and I don’t like baking.  I straighten her hair.  We paint our nails.  We have mommy-daughter days with oreo milkshakes from Shake Shack. I let her wear very light glossy lip colors.  Basically, I’m going to load a bunch of good memories into the vault like a squirrel.

When I'm frustrated with Willow, I work really hard to speak calmly just as my mom tried to be softer than her mom.  But, there is still an unfocused meanness born of having to mother that is detectable even by a child.  Willow had to point it out.  "I love you but...."

Caution: Children at Play

She raised her hands shakily overhead as demanded by the boy about two inches taller.  She did so slowly while playing afraid.  With the green/blue super soaker, he motioned for her to retreat to the jail - the shadowy space underneath the top of the slide.  She went and placed her hands behind her back.  Her curls tumbled in front of her eyes, but she didn’t brush them away.  She looked up all faux-helpless and submitted to an interrogation.

J got up but I stopped him from intervening.  I wanted to see how she would play this.  What had started as a pair of slightly older boys chasing and trying to spritz her with summer playground plastic weapons, quickly turned into a tense standoff and then surrender on her part.  Was she playing the bad guy or the victim?

I wanted the kid to show her some mercy.  I mean, she’d surrendered.  It also looked like she’d given up her comrade, a girl of similar age with beaded cornrows who slumped down next to Willow once caught and ushered to the same jail.  But, now the kid had two flunkies and they all pointed their water guns at the girls play-demanding and yelling.  I ended it.  Willow saw me and got up but he stopped her.  

“It’s my mom,” she explained and he turned around as if it couldn’t be so.  My best stern mother face was what made him shrug and allow Willow to pass.  She didn’t want to leave, she wanted to stay and play prisoner/hostage.  I refused and she moped all the way home through the sunny Bed-Stuy streets echoing with daytime July 4th rockets.

I was just as bothered.  Only on a playground did I have the power to end a standoff with a stern expression. I was questioning: how would Willow defend herself in powerless situations; do men really hate women so much that they have to trap them; am I a weird parent that I watched Willow squirm under the watchful guard of somewhat older boys.  All these questions jogged a rage that likes to roam outside its cage every once in awhile.  I was provoked by a specific fear of violent men - those that make you pay for their own impotence.

The women who raised me encountered some violent man somewhere along the way, even if they ultimately ended up with kind men.  Their nicks forced them to shed their softness for survival.  I almost did it.  Maybe I did. With J, I certainly don’t recognize myself sometimes.  It’s like I’m acting out of primal fear and protection.  

Men set fire to women, verbally encourage women to smile in the streets, and rape behind dumpsters with equal agency.  I am still learning to live in this world.  Even with a kind man who promises to be my side forever, there’s an unease in my day to day because of the violence I've endured and the fact that at like 5:00 on a Wednesday I’m a bitch for not stopping to entertain a stranger.  

Around and between the monkey bars, Willow ran from her perpetrator then turned abruptly to face him, saying “you can’t catch me.”  It’s that resistance that I want to cultivate, fan, and tease out if I can. Because this really isn’t play.  It’s a learning.  

 

Fingertip Fragile

I shut my thumb in the car door
and realized the fragility of a fingertip
Here, mothers are killer whales
and children are fish
where we are together, anchor-less ships

We wait for the men
somewhere dutifully preparing and trying their best
which is why I've always loved them
But when the pain pored over my arm
and I shed my nail, it was a charcoal goodbye
These things happen, accidents
attacks now, I blame myself
I should have never stood there
"Oh, I should have loved him harder"
now I've also shed the jelly love that
brought them to me in the first place
I wrapped cloud gauze, inherited guilt
the moment I walk from the car
and cannot move

I look to Mommy because she knows
she's warned me of blindly slamming doors
but she can't tell me anything

Is this what it's like to be a woman?

 

Juneteenth

I ate all the barbecue
because I wanted to
It was my choice

The park opened gently
when we entered the mouth that receives
most Brooklynites
With my daughter, I enter the victory lap

We are overtaken
by West Indian bikers in cobalt
their speed whips up our hair
but we are also cared for
in shady gestures of 1 o'clock
We are one woman split

Motherhood is seeing yourself emancipated
in the speed of her pink scooter
on a frictionless ride
headed toward a gathering space

8 years ago,
I took my bike here and couldn't glide like that

This is what I've learned since then:

The only way to love a conqueror is to leave him
The only way to survive is to kill him
with the baton of your umbrella and a really good friend
Then, look Sir (or ghost as it were) in the eye and proclaim,
Were it not for my meekness, I would be gone

My daughter and I are received
at Prospect Park West wearing gowns
expecting salty sweet burnt meat
cold tangy gelato
these are gifts and the reception is parallel
to all my inherited dreams

I wipe my sweat
I am sweating for home
I mourn my mother's cooking in every bite
and search for her quick visits here
I think she is here too, also wearing a gown

But, I am waiting for his arrival
Do you know this man?
He is greeted with "Daddy!" but
sung in hymns of longing
Call me impatient
expectant of messengers...

And then he comes
takes one look at me and says,
Didn't you know? You were free this whole time.

I sip wine
fermented sacrifices at my banquet
at my picnic, I drink all the wine
It's my right

Anxiety, Hello Friend

Anxiety settled on me, like the ash after 9/11, like residue of a hapless chemo therapy, of cigarettes smoked by the father of your baby’s daddy in the presence of her unborn-ness.  It is distinctly spiritual — anxiety — and it dawned on me when my therapist pointed this out after I confessed a miserable state.  At the time, he still didn’t get the degree to which I suffered and made others suffer because I concealed it.  I lied every two weeks, and I wrote the check for $125 per session to protect the image of myself.  I learned at 13 to audition for the approval for others when I made it my dream to be a model or a Ms. Teen U.S.A.

Let’s revisit this: anxiety is distinctly spiritual.  I hold onto this when I can’t to anything else.  It’s a thread back to a safe place because it gives a purpose to anxiety.  If we are all going to suffer this stalking panic, then thank god that it must have a purpose.  Anxiety raises the stakes.  You can be complacent or you can make friends with a fear that is as vague and unknowable as your own real self.  It settles in because it wants to bring you back from the fringes to which you’ve wandered.

And I’ve wandered far.  When it was time to reckon, I was rightly ashamed of the extremes to which I stretched myself.  I walked around with fraud syndrome, a fear of disappointing those I’m responsible to, and then purposefully disappointing them.  These acts, though not literally, were violent.  The episodes were regularly-scheduled reason to self-loathe and put a little more armor on me.  The scariest thing for me is to know that those I love could leave at any time, or choose to cut me loose, or betray me. 

But if I’m to be really honest, it was laziness that did me in.  I did not want to change because it was easier to stay the same.  I had emotional outbursts, not because of my emotions, but because of easy, bad habits that I fell into with familiar ease.  Those habits are lies.  They are easy but honest to God, they are not good.  

The good actions are hard.  They require an athlete’s strength, and I am training to achieve that level of fitness.  I am practicing so that my actions match the goodness of my intentions, my heart.  I love easy and accept others with compassion, and doing the same for myself is a good place to start.

Brave

Willow left the house today with a moist pirate ship tattoo on her forehead.  She’d gotten the adhesive at a birthday party, and so J and her created a club.  

“I’m in the Pirate’s club,” she insisted.   I let her leave it on as we walked to the C Train in one of the first truly cold days this winter.  From a distance, it looked like she a had a ringworm, but I pick my battles.  I also didn’t pick a battle over the helium shiny blue ballon that she’d also taken from the party, which she was now carrying.  The curled ribbon string drug its way on the sidewalks, and I imagined a trail of dog excrement, homeless pee, drug particles, and bubonic plague that it was carefully collecting and would return to our new home.  

We were four blocks from our place when I received a romantic proposition from a man consumed by an army green parka and fur lined hood.  He graciously extended his hand, and even bowed.  “Can I get to know you?”  I thanked him?  As one does in these parts, and informed him that I was married because “engaged” still leaves an opening.

Willow looked at me, eyebrows furrowed.  “Mommy, why did that man want to marry you?”

“You’d have to ask him.” I responded.  But, it opened a stream into a river, into a waterfall of information that I wanted to bestow on her and have her understand.  Some of it is part-rant, part-anecdotal, and part-caution.  The lesson is that being hit on has nothing to do with me.  Nothing is “complimented” or rewarded because I appear some way to a man.  There is something about being a woman, even when walking briskly in the cold to the subway to buy groceries, that leaves you open to a man’s gaze and the whole thing can be inherently unfair because the only thing to do is to smile and appear flattered.  

Encounters like this force me to think about how I am in the world precisely because Willow is more aware of herself.   She learns more from what she sees, and less from what I say, and for that reason I’d like for the world to be at least a fair place where crazy shit does not happen.  Like the fire that broke out a block away on New Years day.  I asked the local news camera guy what catastrophe and brought out the media.  “A fire.”  So I followed the crowd and gazed onto a charred brownstone, and realized with a full body fear that we’d almost moved 2 homes down.  

Oh man, if I tallied all my fears, I would always live with a low grade anxiety of just feeling exposed.

But Willow is unafraid, of men shouting in the street, of a homeless man with missing teeth jeering in her face.  I haven't done anything to make her that way -- she's built brave.

30 - A Brief Reflection While Trying to Get Into a Brunch-Club

“I just want to find my friend, wish her a happy birthday and then we will leave.”  

Willow holds my hand in the late August afternoon.  

I implore the model drumming on the clipboard on a Saturday afternoon to allow me into the Meatpacking brunch establishment.  

“I can’t let you in.  Not with her.”  She waves in the general direction of Willow’s head, which is full of humid, parsed curls.  Only in New York, I think.

“I know,” I admit.  The ground pulses with the EDM, champagne bottle brunch, “Maybe I can text her to come out.”  In my other hand is the box with G’s gift - a hardware bracelet that I hope she’ll cherish for her 30th birthday.  There was a babysitter mix up, and with J out of town, there was no one to watch Willow.  

At home, I had agonized for an hour, texting baby sitters, applying labored “effortless” makeup which was already melting, trying on strapless bras with padding, mesh halter bras, and finally no bra.  Then, I thought specifically about what to wear.  I mentally settled on high-waisted maroon pants with a cream spaghetti halter, only to completely scratch the entire ensemble when I looked like an under dressed “secretary.”  It was brunch, but over the phone the hostess informed me that it was strictly 21 and over.  No, my 4 yo would not be allowed in.

That information shifted the parameters of the event, and I made my way into no-stretch high waisted frayed shorts and a heather gray collarless shirt dress tucked in the front untucked in the back.  My hair, although having undergone an hour of styling, was unfortunately and puzzlingly so still a mess, so I ducked my entire head under the tub faucet, applied handfuls of smoothing gunk to get the whole rebellious thing into a bun.  After 10 minutes and lots of petting, it obeyed.  I was already late.

Just a month earlier, G arrived to my 30th birthday party and made sure that the Prosecco arrived without lapse and that the DJ was spinning something I could dance to.  For 8 years, she’s helped celebrate my birthdays, planned a dope baby shower, and was at the hospital when Willow was born.  She has the fabric of friendship woven into her being.  

I am the worst friend, I texted J.  

I love you. J texted back because he knows how I can get.

“Mommy, I want cake.”  I’d forgotten that I’d informed Willow that this was a birthday brunch.  To her, this meant a sprinkles-frosting-balloon-filled disco to Taylor Swift.  I looked at her big eyes and braced myself for the inevitable tantrum.

We made our way to tear-filled cab, to Flat Iron for the gift, and ultimately to Bagatelle brunch-club.

I caught Karen on her way in.  She looked dewy and relaxed.  

“Hey, don’t cry."  My eyes watered.  "You don’t want Willow to see you cry.  Hey, let’s grab a drink - just us 3.  It will be like girls night all over again.”  Then she leaned in so Willow wouldn’t hear, “I still have pictures.  Remember you with that bottle of Grey Goose?”   I smiled weakly.  A part of me was sad because I could longer do those things.  

There's the feeling that I cannot shake when I am not allowed to do something.   I become trapped in walls of obligations, age restrictions, and taboos, and I’ve flung myself so far into these prisons that I have crafted an edge that I want to grind against it.  It is the acute nostalgia of wanting to always be elsewhere.  When I catch myself there, J knows and Willow knows it, and sometimes it takes me far away for wherever I presently happen to be.

At the mouth of Bagatelle, I still needed to make a decision.  I hip-shift from platform wedge to platform wedge so my hips have something to do.   Willow keeps pulling the strap of her kid purse up onto her shoulder.

I turn to the hostess.  “She’s Armenian, about this high, hair down to here.”  

“You’re going to have to do better than that.”  Two middle age men of at least 6 feet, who looked like they could have played college ball in their prime, started to take interest.  

“A cute girl you got there.  How old is she?  Two?”

“Almost five.”  The other bouncer threw his head back in the sort of laughter meant to ridicule his counterpart.  I smiled the kind of smile I've yet to master when I don't think something is funny but I’m trying not to be a bitch.

What happens if you always want the other experience?  If you always wanted to be older your entire life, until you turned 30.  You may reach a pinnacle of craving where desire for desire’s sake is suddenly stale.   My former boss who also lost her mother around my age warned me about the temptation to live in the past with all the good memories.  But I still go there.  I remember my mom’s 30th birthday.  It was an occasion marked by a gold and sapphire heart necklace bestowed by her mother - so I was aware of her perfect semblance of mother and daughter at that very moment.  

But I am almost perfectly a daughter, even in motherhood, my experience at every moment defined by leaving home, attending school in the Bronx, and aspiring to build a career in the city.  My life was crafted by awayness -  away from family and from Houston at 18, and I was always aware of the tension that caused.  I thought of myself as free or unafraid, but I was always turning to men to create a safe space for my life in dorms or in Brooklyn by loving me.

They always had their own problems.

The fall of 2009, he wanted a fling but when he fell in love with me, I stopped writing, didn’t go abroad to teach or travel, and spent days that winter watching him create short films about cooking.  People I recognized from the internet came in and out of the stable house edifice on Broadway, one day a protruded nail from the floor board stuck the sole of y foot, Grizzly Bear was always on play, and everyday the the roar of the J Train roared  It all ushered me to the day I held the First Response to the light and saw the faintest +.

Rapidly, I was  a grown up because I was going to be a mom.  So I say that my 25 was actually a 30 of most.  I was catapulted into a strange stratosphere away from my friends who were interning, partying, traveling.  Early in my pregnancy, I went to a rooftop party in South Williamsburg, and as I parted the crowds with the beginnings of a babby bump I knew that I couldn’t be there anymore.  That place was too ambivalent, too filled of meandering uncertainty.

When I had her, I made a commitment, a promise even slightly unclear to me at the time.  I devoted myself to creating a place for her that was nurturing and protected, and I shifted from desire to love, and for the first time I felt calm.  It was in this determined calmness that I met J, and I had already learned to be with myself and take care of myself because I had done it with Willow.  And I knew that because he didn’t need it, I could love and take care of him too.   

It is always there, the despair and compare, I suppose.  But life is richer when I draw it closer, instead of looking for a tide to take me away.

G emerged from Bagatelle with a loving smile and hugged me through my blabbering excuses.  I hoped that Willow was seeing that -- that love and commitment and being there for each other is presently.   It is the cure for awayness.

 

A List from My Mom

If my mom were alive today, she would tell me the following 30 things:

  1. Drink more water.

  2. Worry less.

  3. Stop complaining about people - even if they do annoy you.

  4. Find more alone time.

  5. Write more.

  6. Say what you want.

  7. Wear what you want, even if you think it makes you look too sexy.

  8. Show people what you write.

  9. Eat good food.  

  10. Drink juice.

  11. No one remembers -- or cares.

  12. You already have so many beautiful clothes.  Anything you wear to [insert event] will be perfect.

  13. You’ll get the job/position/etc.  

  14. People wish they had curves like you!

  15. Don’t stress!

  16. Don’t cry!

  17. But if you despair, think of all the things you have.

  18. Everything will turn out OK.

  19. You don’t live in a bubble - things are going to happen.

  20. Wear the heels even if they make you taller.

  21. People wish they were tall like you.

  22. I couldn’t do that when I was 25 or [insert age].

  23. Clean your house on a Friday night so your weekend is saved.

  24. Spend time with Willow - [insert] years old will be here before you know it.

  25. Let’s get a facial.

  26. Let’s get Thai food.

  27. Let’s watch a movie and make a paddle (pile of blankets yanked from top shelf of closet and compiled in a heap on the floor).

  28. You are smart.

  29. You can do anything you want.

  30. {No words] just a hand squeeze.

Parenting is Heartbreaking

It has to be.  

Take this scene, for instance.  My daughter is overtired, wired, and afraid of a bad dream and I am attempting to coax her to sleep despite all of this.  I have read two long children’s books, activated two night lights, closed the window, and refilled her cup with cold water the way she likes it.  I tell her that she won’t have a bad dream (I don’t know that) and that Mommy and Daddy are in the room next door so no bad guys will get her (another concern of hers).  She reluctantly takes the chill pill, but throws it back 20 minutes when she yells "Mommy!"   I am already in the bath.

Next, J tries to lull her to sleep.  She knocks over stuffed animals and hollers with a red face.  She is a force at 4 and a half.

“She screamed at me to get out.  It was kind of mean.”  J admitted as I settled in next to him.  These two sentences leapt at me.  Because, when I’m angry, I’ve also been mean to him and so I'm instantly defensive.  But, I saved us an argument by not indulging the flare that provoked in me.  I am starting to understand that Willow directs something different at each of us.

With me, she can be sulky and sullen.  She will pull her curly hair over her eyes and become the saddest child I’ve ever seen.  And it doesn’t matter if I have a good reason to deny her the $100 stuffed animal at the boutique kids store in Battery Park City, I will still feel the residual daily guilt that comes from not being able to cannot change her.  Hers is a self that is fiercely emotional, enduringly kind and alternatively pissed off.  She was born into a fractured situation where I was still spewing the bitterness of having been left during my pregnancy.  I was grappling with my inability to fix a manic depressive; the person who made her.  Her moodiness is what makes her lovable because she feels so much and it is definitely a mixed bag.

With J, she sulks less and screams more.  And as per exhibit A above, these scream sessions have increased in frequency in recent weeks leading to nightly discussions between J and I about how to correct her behavior.  We talk with her a lot about the correct way to treat us, we’ve taken away certain privileges, and we’ve tried to emphasize that there are consequences.  But deep down, I know that it is all flimsy theater at best and probably just ineffective because it is all at the surface.  There is an illusion to parenting that is handed down vertically through generations and horizontally via peers: we are trying to get a person to adulthood unscathed, but we are all very beat up ourselves.

It breaks my heart because I always feel my ineptness, frustration, and unworthiness as a parent.  Those are always hovering when I kneel down to her crying face.  I want to make it alright but loving a child isn’t that much different than loving anything else.  It requires a certain dose of pain to keep you always moving toward the light.

 

Newness

A lot of times i think of my mom when I fall in love with a new shoe or hair color or pant leg length (currently coveting some vintage flea market bell bottoms for spring).  I shared all of these things with her.  I’d snap a pic and text her a new lilac Mac lip stick, my newly cut bangs, a Ralph Lauren collection dress that I’d fished out of a sample sale bin.  

So I had that thought as I ordered my avocado toast and veggie scrambled eggs in a sunlit, high ceiling, hard wood floor café in Tribeca.  My mom would have cooed with delight particularly at the avocado filled with humus in the cavity where the seed should’ve been.  It was covered in specks that looked to be either Flax of Chia.  When my mom visited her offspring in NY, it could sometimes be like seeing the city anew through her eyes.  You'd share in the experience of seeing everything new. 

As I sat down to snap a picture of my breakfast, I opened the message screen to text my mom about my newly discovered morning commute haven.  I do this a lot.  I'll begin to call her or text her.  After a year, my habits are a phantom, an invisible trick, a persisting wish.  I want to update her on all the new things in my life.  And, it is always the mundane things carry the most urgency.  It is never as much the mile stones.  It is the workout regimen (currently dance cardio & sculpt), the new Beyonce song, a new hair conditioner.  Our ritual was to try on and delight in everything new.  New doesn’t make it better than the old.  It can sometimes remind you how great the old is.

If you live in newness the way my mom did, you might dye your hair burgundy, then bleach it blond, and finally jet black.  You may be the most fashionable of all your friends and try to get them to juice and eat organically years ago, before anyone was. 

If I cultivate that newness, then she can be, instead of a bank of old memories, always new.  Which is how she always was to me, my brothers, and anyone who knew her.