Thursday, October 27, 2016

some thoughts on memory

Childhood. Idyllic and fraught, it is the place where our ideas about the world and it's inhabitants are set. We learn what relationships look like, what self care looks like, responsibility, kindness, family, friendships. Some learn all of those things from a dark corner, overshadowed by abuse, or neglect, or isolation. But most of us have a mix.

My earliest memories live in a house and neighborhood in Connecticut. Most of these memories, I know, come from photographs. The ice fort my father built me, which included a few separate rooms and a working wooden door, for instance. Playing with our family dog, a birthday party at McDonalds. All lost memories but for the photographs. 

Then there are the moving memories. Vague memories, nebulous and shifting and untrustworthy memories. A neighbor boy chasing my friend Peter and I with a butter knife. I can feel the memory of knowing it wasn't really dangerous but thrilling at the fear and high drama of running away screaming. Standing at the bottom of the stairs, afraid to go up them into the big quiet aloneness of the second floor.  Sitting on the floor in the formal living room, eating my happy meal off of the coffee table. It must have been a special treat, but my mother's quiet and distant presence beside me made it feel lonely and a little scary. I cannot remember her laughing, though I'm sure she did. I cannot remember her crying. Though I'm sure she did that too. 

The one memory of my father comes from a day when I was playing house with the neighbor kids while our parents drank gin and tonics on the back patio. I imagine that their conversation and laughter drifted through hot summer air up the little hill to the edge of the pine woods where we played. I pulled my pants down momentarily in the 'bathroom' which was marked off with sticks and pinecones. As soon as my mother called to me in her sharp voice, I must have known that I was in trouble, and likely felt embarrassed at being sent inside the house with my father. He sat on the stairs with me, and explained that he was to spank me for pulling my pants down. That people ought not pull their pants down in front of the neighbors and their children. That he wasn't going to, as long as I understood not to do it again. I felt shame and relief and gratitude. 

There is one other, and it is strong because it is a story I have told. Here is the story. One day, I was out wandering our cut de sac with my friend peter and two boys who were 'trouble'. We came to a yard with a chain link fence, and within the fence were two dogs. A big dog, and a little dog. The boys started throwing things at them. Sticks, rocks, and pinecones perhaps. The dogs barked and finally, having had enough, the big dog jumped the fence and we scattered. The dog knocked me down, and bit me. In the ass. I was screaming and a neighbor heard and he came out of his house and carried me home. I remember being brought into the little bathroom downstairs and my mother pulling my pants down and bending me over her lap. It felt like the entire neighborhood was standing    there watching and I felt angry and humiliated and scared and also it hurt when she cleaned it and put on the iodine. I know that this is not what happened. Not exactly. It is the story of the story of the story. Each telling just the re telling of the last time I told it.

This realization feels powerful. I realize now that I can re tell the stories any way I choose. The heartbreak of my first hamster's death can be retold with the focus instead on the pair of earrings I got that day. Small dried peas with white daisies painted on. I loved those earrings. And just like that, I am the master of my memories.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

another beginning...

Lately I've just had the energy for beginnings...Like this one...

She hadn't noticed when the ticking started. It followed a slow evolution from a few rapid blinks to acts of facial distortion she didn't want to be seen performing in public. There were the eyebrow ticks, which consisted of an exaggerated raising and lowering of one eyebrow, quickly and several times in a row. This often led to a double eyebrow dance, haphazardly timed and frenzied. There was one that was a rabbit's face, consisting of movements of her upper lip and nose. There were sound ticks, the pulling of air between her top teeth and bottom lip, the clicking of her tongue at the back of her throat. They could embarrassing, to be sure, and that was what was so damnable about them. When the impulse took her, wherever she happened to be, she had to comply. If she fought it, the impulse grew to a clutching need within her, like thirst. The satiation of the need was not as pleasant as one would expect, but more of a release of pressure. The act of distorting her facial muscles felt both like the expression of anxiety, and the tamping of it. Exciting movies sometimes drove her into such a fit of ticking that her partner would have difficulty hearing the dialogue, and would have to pause the film until she reigned it in.

 She had told people about the ticking, humorous stories about being caught in the act, mostly. She wanted folks to know that she was okay with it, which in fact, she was. But she also wanted to reassure them that she knew it was happening, and that it wasn't an indication of any sort of deeper mental imbalance. Anxiety, sure, but she wasn't like an unmedicated person, like a crazy person. That, in truth, was her deeper fear, that beneath the seemingly innocent facial contortions she enjoyed there lay a deeply troubled aspect of herself she was unaware of. What if there was a part of herself that was a raving lunatic, and she saw glimpses of her but was unaware of her influence? She cringed to think it, and immediately took a moment to cringe good and hard, forcing her facial muscles to bunch up tightly before succumbing to the release of relaxing them.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

cat love. true love.

The first few sentences are so important. Aren’t they? But sometimes the hardest part of telling something is starting it. So perhaps I’ve lost you already, beginning this way. But I will forge ahead, regardless. Even if I am speaking it to silence, typing to the cloud, confessing to thin air.

I dated her for two reasons. One, I was too lazy to end it once it had begun, and two, I fell in love with her cat. He was a great ginger boy, soft and slow and sweet. His breath was the pit of hell, but his purr was a chorus of angels. The first night I met him he got into my lap, tipped his head back to rest  it on my breast and looked up into my eyes. I could barely contain myself. When we said goodnight, I asked her when I could see her again, forcing myself not to look over her shoulder at him, laying there on the rug like a sweet plump loaf. She said, How about this weekend? I said, I can’t wait.

The relationship was fine. We laughed a fair amount and had a few interesting conversations. She was easy going, and the sex was nice. But it was the cat I thought of when we were apart. His chirps and meows are what made me smile to myself in unguarded moments. I even had a few dreams about him, one in which he showed up at my door standing on his hinders and dragging a little suitcase on wheels was particularly joyful.

She told me that she wanted to break up one evening as we sat on her couch. I held the cat tighter and asked what she meant by that, exactly. I don’t want to see you anymore, she said. I looked down at the cat, and my heart broke. I looked up at her, my face etched with sorrow, tears rolling down my cheeks, and I asked for another chance. She said no.

I’m not proud of what comes next. I’m not proud, but I’m not sorry either. I waited almost two weeks. I cried and hugged pillows and spoke to the cat, hoping that his heart somehow heard my heart. I told him to wait for me, I told him that we would be together again.

On the following Thursday at 11:30 in the morning, I went to her apartment. In the basement I let myself into her storage unit. There I found his carrier, and the spare key, which was tucked away in the front pocket of a suitcase for lock outs and girlfriends. I went upstairs with my heart pounding, both terrified at being caught and thrilled to be reunited with my love. I stood on her landing and listened. Hearing nothing, I gave one tentative knock. He meowed in response, right on the other side of the door. He’d been waiting.

She called me of course, frantic, asking if I had been in her apartment and stolen her cat. No, I said, I’d been dumped, I wasn’t a lunatic. What kind of person steals a cat? I covered the mouthpiece of the phone and the cat and I laughed a little, softly. I winked at him. She asked if I could help her find him, if she could see me. I said no. She had dumped me and I was healing and seeing her would undo all of the work I’d done. And I hung up the phone.

We stayed in all weekend. We laughed and talked and watched movies late. We napped in the daytime. Sometimes in bed, once or twice on the floor. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. I love you, I said. I love you too, the cat said. And it was true. True love.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

I just found out from someone who had tried to write to me in response to my last post, that if you 'reply' to the email, it goes to some unknown junk box. Just fyi if you have sent replies to posts.

the words she chooses

This place she is in is familiar. It is a dark place. There is no kindness.  In it,  she is bad.
she is…
selfish/delusional/self absorbed
childish/immature/a spoiled brat
broken/unlovable/deeply flawed
She knows these are old old echoes. But sometimes, when they’re all she can hear, she fears that they are old echoes of truth. She doesn’t hear them all the time. But when she is bad, when you are angry at her, she waits for you to turn to her, and say these things. She waits, trembling, to hear you say “what was I thinking? You sure fooled me. I thought you were worth my time, worthy of my love. You are...selfish..delusional…”
Sometimes, when she is bad, she punishes herself. She collapses inward and says all of the worst things. She tells you an edited truth, because it’s not bad enough that she says these things to herself. She is also ashamed of it. She is weak, you see. Sometimes she cannot stand up for herself against her mother's echoing in her head.
She has forgiven her mother. But she still does her abusing for her. She used to be able to stop her mother sometimes. When she would get started, and it would be bad, she could speak over her mother and take her voice and say all of the things. And then sometimes her mother would stop it. She would listen to her say all of her worst things and watch her prostrate herself under the unbearable weight of it all, and her mother would have pity on her.  Softening toward her and attempts to comfort her made her dizzy with rage. Her throat would constrict and her body would shake and one time she screamed at her mother. Only once, and it terrified them both. After that she would cut herself a little. To let the rage out, to bring numbness. And in between times she wouldn’t feel much. Depression was the safest place to wait in between.
But She has worked so hard to heal these parts of herself. And most of the time, she can say she is not bad.
She is…
self searching/self aware/healing
whole/well/lovable and loving
These are new words. And they must be shouted with intent to take up all of the space that the echoes filled. But more and more, these are the words she chooses to say to herself. Even when she is angry, and feels ashamed. Even when she is so afraid that you will see her struggling. She is always trying. Even on the days when she is too tired and she succumbs to the darkness. Especially then, she is trying her best to love herself.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

oh, brother.

There came a point when Mallory knew she could no longer bear her brother. This realization struck her quite suddenly, rather than dawning on her over time the way these sorts of things usually occur to people. And once she realized it, it was as if a long curtain had been slowly drawn back on a lifetime of evidence that her brother would, one day, alienate everyone around him.

Kit had always been a great purveyor of unsolicited advice. He doled it out indiscriminately, and while he was most often telling his family how to do the things he felt they should be doing, he also gave advice to strangers. Anyone unfortunate enough to be in conversational range while in the company of a child, anyone of retirement age, young pimply clerks in stores, even, on occasion, couples who were arguing in public. He had an uncanny ability to zone in on people who would actually listen. Many looked trapped and uncomfortable, some impatient and annoyed, but only one in ten would cut him off and be done with it.

 The siblings had just come from visiting their father, who was, to use his words 'languishing in a prison for the elderly'. He was bored and angry and pointedly ignored them on their visits unless they brought him the gift of tiny dried sardines from chinatown. These treats created a little aroma cloud of salt and fish, through which he would stare out at them with his clear blue eyes and tell them stories of his life they had never heard before. This act of sharing on his part stirred sensations of tender appreciation and bitterness in Mallory. As children, he had been a non-presence. A shadow in their home. He was quiet and seemed always to wear grey and if he was there or not didn't make much difference but for the sweet tendrils of pipe smoke in the air when he was.

Their mother had died a mere 4 months after a cancer diagnosis which she chose not to treat. "It's all warfare and fighting," she said to them wearily, "and I don't intend to drag this out." And that was all there was to it. Their father was an attentive caregiver, tender and present. This extended to Kit and Mallory, too. Gentle, empty words of comfort and eye contact and actual inquiries about their lives. Kit devoured the attention, only to realize that his father quickly lost interest, and stared through him, lost in thought. Mallory had been angry at him in those months. How dare he take solid form and try to change their entire dynamic. She gave him nothing, preferring to remain the invisible daughter she had always been. She waited for him to disappear again. She hadn't expected dementia, though, which had made him both more present and more elusive than he'd ever been to her.  The great escape, she thought bitterly, Now you see him, now you don't.

Kit and Mallory sat side by side, bumping along through the city. Each deep in thought as they tended to be after a visit. Kit broke the silence, "What she needs is more structure" he said, leaning away from his sister and touching the arm of a young and harried mother who was negotiating with a weeping toddler. Mallory dropped her head and thought 'oh, shut up, Kit, shut up, shut up...' This mantra never worked. The woman turned her large doe eyes to Kit, and he proceeded to engage her in a patient and well practiced diatribe of his theories on child rearing and discipline. Mallory had seen this before, and largely ignored it. In the past she'd shaken her head and sighed indulgently, but it suddenly felt so unkind, intrusive, and obnoxious that it was all she could do not to slap the back of his head to quiet him. The young mother nodded and listened until she had an opportunity to say,  "You must be a wonderful Dad. How many children do you have?"  He smiled gently and replied, "I wouldn't bring a child into this word for love or money. They're all doomed to drought and famine and chaos. It's entirely irresponsible." Cue stunned parent. Cue asshole brother's broadened smile.

It hadn't always been this way. Mallory suspected that due to years of fatherly neglect Kit was simply trying to be seen. Wanting to be relevant and valued.  There had been a time when peace and comradery reigned. They had agreed on most things and felt like a team, a dynamic duo. That all ended when he launched a non stop campaign of telling her what to do. In camaraderie's place sprung howling arguments and occasional violence. "For God's sake Mallory, your teeth will all rot out if you don't brush longer than a minute!" This when they were 9 and Kit had gotten his first cavity filled. "You'd better keep up with your personal hygiene," he whispered gravely, "or dogs may attack you." This when she started her period, which he shouldn't even have been aware of, never mind giving her advice on. "Mallory, if you keep standing that way you'll be a hunchback by the time we're in high school." These small criticisms eventually grew into more constructive advice which Mallory never took. She would indulge him with a "thank you, Kit" or a "go to hell, Kit", and be done with it.

Mallory followed Kit off of the bus, the silent toddler and her now weeping mother behind them. "You're an asshole, you know." Kit turned to her, stunned "Where the hell did that come from, Mal?" "That woman!" Mallory knew she sounded shrill and hated it but couldn't seem to stop. "It's cruel! You lure people into thinking that you're safe and you're kind and you give a shit, and then you cut them down!" He stared at he for a beat before responding with a gruff "Jesus, Mal." Kit turned and started walking, shaking his head, furious at her.  They strode on like speed walkers, waves of anger shimmering between them. Her heart pounded in her chest as she waited. Waited for more, for something. They came to a crosswalk and stopped, two more beating hearts in the throng of midday pedestrian traffic. "People are idiots, Mal." He said levelly, and gestured around them, "They can't think for themselves and they need help. I just help people, okay? That's Not being an asshole. It's being a samaritan for Christs's sake." "Oh my God, Kit." She threw her head back in exasperation and looked up past the buildings at their backdrop of blue sky with high clouds racing past. She took a breathe and continued more gently "You don't have all the answers, okay? You don't know these people, you don't know who they are or what they think and feel. You just meddle! And quite honestly I think that you like making people feel bad. Your brand of advice always comes with the tag line 'you're fucking up'." "Because they Are, Mal!" "How the hell do you know that Kit?" She fired back. "How do you not know it?" he leaned into her face, "You're so self centered, Mal. You don't help anyone but yourself". The light changed and they were horses out of the gate, muttering to themselves as they continued their arguments privately. Mallory's anger suddenly waned and left her suddenly sad and very tired.  She slowed her pace as Kit marched on, disappearing into the sea of people he thought he had a right to advise.

Friday, June 12, 2015


She had no idea where it came from. She only knew that before, there was nothing, and now, there was something. It frightened her at first, seeming to fill the room with it's colors, and it's smell. New and strange and previously unseen and unsmelt. How did it happen so quickly? She had heard some commotion while she was resting, some conversation and the roar of the machine. She was used to these sounds however, and slept through. There was no audible clue that this was coming. It was silent. It seemed, in fact, to absorb sound. When He walked through the room, the thing ate the sound that He previously made when walking. Now she would not know if He was sneaking up behind her. She stepped tentatively on to it. It was soft, and thick. She smelled it's strange smell and then smelled the place where she had stepped, making sure that her own scent was now on it. She put her cheek to it and rubbed, three quick cheeks on each side and a few with her chin for good measure. So far so good, and now this section smelled familiar. She crouched down, and slowly lay on it, and it felt wonderful. Caressing and warm and when she stretched and rolled it felt like it was petting her. She took a nap. When she woke, all was as it had been. Nothing in the room had changed and she was glad, because she liked things to stay the same. Her person stopped to pet her head and asked "How do you like the new rug, little bit?". She didn't answer of course because her person was very dim witted and hadn't learned to speak properly. And she would certainly not deign to learn the language her person spoke. He was laying on it too, and they looked at each other and agreed that play and chase would be so much better with traction.

We got a new Rug! The cats love it.