Friday, July 8, 2016

Thanksgiving Square

The white spiraled tower grew out of the ground like a massive seashell pointing up to God.

My tiny, six-year-old hand grasped for my father’s large one, craving the reassurance that only his enveloping strength could provide.

“Come along, Tootsie.  It’s time to cross the street.”

I’d been happy, sitting behind his giant oak desk, drawing with the paper and colored map pencils that his secretary, Mrs. Baker, supplied me.  Reds and browns that ordinarily traced turns in rivers and bends - hunting oil - became hearts and tree trunks in my fingertips.

Maps covering the white walls of the room cast a comforting order about things. Assurance that life could be untangled and plotted out. That chaos could be controlled.

I skipped to keep up with him, stumbling and scuffing my navy blue Buster Browns.  My mother would fuss at me later.

Skyscrapers soared over my head. Traffic roared, an angry horn honked, and I grasped my father’s hand tighter. My nose burned with the hot sting of steam from the sea of cars and buses, carrying people who all looked tired.

We hurried to reach Thanksgiving Square.

Achingly bright, green grass. The lulling echo of water cascaded into a pool. Giant bronze bells towered above, chiming on the hour.

We stepped inside the hushed interior of the seashell, and I looked up into slivers of colored glass, the warm Texas sun painting a chorus of rainbows over the interior curved walls.

My worries about my shoes and my mother slid off my shoulders, swept away by the waterfall outside.  I felt my chest rise and fall with each breath.

“Daddy, what is this place?”

My father inhaled and glanced up to the apex of the domed shell.

“It’s a place to remind us to be thankful.  For our blessings.  And for each other.  And it’s a place to be quiet and find peace.”

I thought about the colored pencils, and Mrs. Baker, and Sam, our cat who had died, and my friend at school whose father didn't live with her anymore.

“I like this place, Daddy, can we come back?”

He smiled and took my hand in his again.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

20 Minutes Matters

I don’t think about it much anymore.  I don’t let myself.  It lurks on the edges of my dreams, of course, always threatening to turn them dark. It’s embedded in the crevices of my mind, affecting my thoughts without me even knowing.  It skulks around my house, casting a shadow that only I can sense.

Maybe it didn’t really happen?  Maybe it was all in my head, like they said. Maybe I’m crazy, like they said.  Mentally unstable.

Until the physical evidence came out.  Yes, it did happen.  Then it was Slut. And Questionable Reputation, a derogatory slur, slung about frequently by sorority girls eager to thrust the spotlight off their own poor choices. Yes, I had wanted it and was crying rape to get revenge on him for not wanting me.  He had a girlfriend, after all.

He was good-looking and rich.  Big Man at the fraternity house.  Parents were alums of the university, on the board of trustees.  Dad was a high-powered attorney.

I didn’t stand a chance.

But something inside me kept saying, no.  No, this is not okay.  No, you may not do this to me.  No, I will not pretend like nothing happened. No, I am not a piece of meat for you to use and toss aside.

I’d wait until no one was home, shut myself in my bathroom and scream at the top of my lungs until I collapsed in tears.  I’d punch the floor and scratch at my eyes.  I thought if I wailed loud enough and scraped hard enough the images of him on top of me would stop.  That moment when I regained consciousness, realized what was happening and experienced the horrible cliché of trying to scream but nothing coming out.  The terror of being violated, trying to sit up and being pushed back down on the bed.

And then nothing but darkness again.

Waking up on the couch, shirt inside out, shorts on backwards. Hearing him bragging to his roommates about how he’d taken care of me last night when I was sick, vomiting up bottles of cheap champagne I was “forced” to drink at the fraternity’s little sister initiation the night before. My friends left me, it was 1990, I was twenty years old, and there were no cell phones.  My purse was in another girl’s car.

I had no money, no way to get home, and no way to get into my apartment.  My “big brother” brought me back to his apartment that he shared with several other frat brothers. As I was getting sick in the bathroom, I remember his roommate coming in and holding back my hair.

It was Him.

But we were friends, and I recall thinking, “Oh good, someone is going to help me.” He assured everyone that he would stay behind to take care of me, so they could all go back out to the bars.

The last thing I remember was being carried to the couch, where everything went black.

***

I need to pay attention when something on the internet says, “Trigger Warning.”

Reading the letter the Stanford rape victim wrote to her attacker, I thought, “It’s been twenty-six years, I can handle this.” The second sentence in, I started having difficulty breathing, but I couldn’t stop reading.  Her words sucked me down into a sinkhole of memories that encircled me, tangling me in that old, familiar, paralyzing web.

So much of the Stanford victim’s story resonates with me: the Golden Boy, whose future we couldn’t possibly ruin; the accusation of “she wanted it” because clearly, unconscious people love to have sex; the re-victimization with the trial and all the ridiculous, impertinent questions about her personal business, as if the answers would somehow justify the crime committed against her.

My five-year-old son watched a cartoon on the couch while I vomited and sobbed over the toilet in the bathroom.  I turned on the shower so he wouldn’t hear me.

Because twenty-six years later, it still matters.  It still matters that he did this to me.  It still matters that he took a piece of my soul that I’ll never get back.  It still matters that he got off with a slap on the wrist.  He was found guilty by a university peer council, but the decision was overturned by a higher-level council at an appeal at which I was not even allowed to testify.  He did leave the school, but that was his only consequence.  The DA tried to prosecute him but couldn't even get an indictment.

My case was covered in the New York Times HERE.  When I read the article now, I am sickened that I actually cared about what happened to him because I thought he was my friend. They told me that "acquaintance rape" was different from "real rape," and I believed them.

It still matters that we allow this to happen in our world, that there are men protecting men, and women standing behind those men, enabling them.

Twenty-six years later, and our daughters are no better off than I was back then.

This is not a reality I can accept, as I witness my children growing up.  I cannot accept it for my daughter, whom I worry about becoming a statistic, like her mother.  I cannot accept it for my son, who is growing up in a world that tells him that “20 minutes of action” needn’t have consequences.  Read the letter that Brock Turner's father wrote in his defense HERE.

In the words of Twitter user Kristin Hull: “anyone calling sexual assault ‘20 minutes of action’ has not been assaulted for 20 minutes.”

How many of us have these stories to tell?  How much longer will we allow this to continue?

We can do better than this.  We have an obligation to do better than this.

I am tired of screaming at the empty bathroom walls.

It’s time to scream out in the open, and this time, I don’t care who hears me.


         

Thursday, April 21, 2016

All Hail to "The Kid"


Electric word, life, it means forever, and that’s a mighty long time.  But not long enough for the pop, rock, funk, and R&B icon who transcended classification.  He died at 57, which is only ten years older than my husband.  

Shit is getting real around here.

2016 is killing me…David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Merle Haggard…I just can’t take anymore.  You know my devotion to Bowie and how his death affected me.  Here’s the thing about Prince, as so eloquently put by Martha Quinn today:  Bowie and Frey, we shared them with other generations.  Prince?  He was ALL OURS, the MTV generation.  He belonged to us, and we belonged to him, Raspberry Berets, and all.

For so many of us, and I’ve heard this echoed repeatedly today on social media, it’s like a part of our youth has disappeared with his death.  Every time one of these iconic artists dies, I feel like I’m holding the photograph from Back to the Future, where people are starting to disappear the longer Marty stays away from 1985.  Just knowing that Prince is no longer on this Earth to belt out, “Let’s Go Crazy” is just too much.

Saying goodbye to Prince means saying goodbye to so many of our firsts:  first kiss during the slow dance at the first high school dance after a football game, first R-rated movie we snuck into, first air guitar solo (Let’s Go Crazy), first time to realize we were listening to something we shouldn’t have been listening to.

Like Bowie, Prince refused to be defined by gender stereotypes, and that was somehow okay with us in the ‘80s.  He danced better in high heels than I ever could.  He was mysterious, guarded, and soft-spoken with words, letting his music do the communicating.  He refused to be owned by anyone and was constantly blowing apart our expectations.  

His prolific songwriting puts modern artists to shame.  In fact, as my tween daughter and I were listening to a Prince tribute in the car tonight, our conversation jolted me to the realization that this generation doesn’t have anyone remotely like Prince.  My daughter cited a musical entity called, “I Heart Memphis” as a modern iconic musical influence. 

Um, no. 

No, no, no, no, no.

They (he?) apparently sing a song titled, “Hit the Quan.”  I don’t even want to know what that means, but I’m hoping it has nothing to do with the rape charges that popped up when I googled him.  Bottom line, most of the artists of today are nothing but a blip on the radar of money-churning pop charts, sadly.

So while I sit around here tonight, feeling glum, reminiscing and crying to Purple Rain, I’m also praying for the future of our children, their musical and artistic landscape, and the world in general.  Because Prince was a true artist, of which the modern era is sorely lacking.  

And we need true artists and poets to take our hand when we’re hurting and lead us to higher ground.  To be there for us when our family and friends fail to show up.  Someone to soothe our hearts with music and lyrics when nothing else can reach us.

These days, that kind of trust in music isn’t expected or deserved.   If you can lip sync to it on musical.ly, it’s “iconic.”  Back in the ‘80s, you had to earn it.  Prince earned it tenfold.  We may have lost his body on this planet, but we will always have his music. 

And I will never stop playing it.

All Hail to "The Kid."




Thursday, April 14, 2016

I am from

Written by my eleven-year-old daughter
Inspired by "Where I'm From" by George Ella Lyon

I am from a room full of toys with old blue carpet

Playing with neighbors, now life-long friends

I am from the smell of fresh baked cookies, filling the air

I feel a warm fuzzy when I hug my kitties, as soft as a blanket

I am from the wishing dandelions in the garden, the little ladybug I saw

The beautiful butterflies I watched them go


I'm from putting the star on the Christmas tree,
all the lights shimmering around

From watching my Dad spin my brother around,
that used to be me so long ago

I'm from licking the batter and spilling the sprinkles,
and slurping spaghetti on fun nights


I'm from saying "excuse me" and "yes ma'am or sir"

And watching "The Muppets" or "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown"

I'm from picking the best pumpkin in the patch
or picking the best Christmas tree

I'm from yummy croissants or macaroons,
all reminding me of my heritage

I'm from ice cream sundaes and apple pie, wondrous family foods

All the memories spilling out but quickly running away

Good times I used to have, I wish those times were now


Thursday, March 31, 2016

Dreams

Last night I had a dream that I was about to jump out of a plane.

You know how in dreams, things aren’t exactly the way they are in real life, but yet, you know exactly what they are meant to be?  Well, I wasn’t in an airplane, like a normal airplane.  I was in a large tin cylinder, with the openings facing north and south.  So, if I looked down, I could see the sky and the ground faraway beneath.  I never looked up.

In the midst of my terror, I somehow managed to be captured by the beauty of the heavens: an infusion of cold that tickled my arms with goosebumps; the smell of clean air, that scent we’re always trying to capture in air fresheners and laundry detergent; the never-ending, cottony puffs of clouds glued to a blanket of ice-blue sky; the warm, comforting rays of the sun; the peacefulness that beckoned beneath the roar of the plane’s engine, if my ears could only reach deep enough to claim it.

Someone called out, “3…2…1…GO!” and I was supposed to let go.

But I did not.

My eleven-year-old daughter was in front of me, or beneath me, in some weird configuration that’s only possible in a dream.

She let go.

I remember hearing her elated squeal as she slipped away from me, growing smaller and smaller, down through the bottom hole in the cylinder, and finally plunging into the sky towards the brown and green patches of earth below.

I remember no longer being able to see her.  I remember feeling afraid for her safety, but impressed with her nerve.  I remember wondering if she would ever come back to me.

I still did not let go.  My fear got the best of me, which is not surprising.

Many times in my life, childhood through young adulthood, have been characterized by a desire to try new things and not having the courage to follow through.  I’ve grown better at this in my 40’s.  The fact that this blog exists is pretty major.  But I am also old enough to know that I am not going to push myself so hard that it will draw blood.

But my daughter?  Not like me at all.

She decides she wants to try something, and ten minutes later, she’s doing it.

Surfing? Check. No problem forgetting the sharks we just saw at the aquarium, plunging herself into the ice cold Pacific ocean with a strange man/instructor, surfboard tethered to her ankle, swept out further than I would allow myself to comprehend.  She popped up on the surfboard on her second try.

A new sport?  Sure thing.  Breaking her dance girl stereotype, she stepped right up for the volleyball team and has pursued it with a commitment I’m not sure I’d have given her credit for a few months ago.

Me?  As a kid, I would have wanted to surf but would have been caught at the shoreline paralyzed by the what ifs.  As a twenty-something, I desperately wanted to join the company’s softball team - it looked like such fun - but instead of giving it my best shot, I hid in the car in the parking lot, tail between my legs, like the lion in The Wizard of Oz.

My daughter is like me in so many ways, introverted, shy, and somewhat awkward.  But in so many other ways, I see my sister, my aunts, and other yet-to-be-named DNA in her.  When she was little, I thought of her as an extension of myself.  The call of adolescence will be recognizing her uniqueness and embracing her capability to outdo me.

It’s not hard, really.  Isn’t that the unspoken parenting wet dream all parents have?  For our kids to turn out better than we did, even though we’re perfectly fine?

So I’m going to sit back and keep letting her put me to shame.  Who knows, maybe she’ll inspire me to pick up a surfboard or a softball glove.

But one thing I can promise you:  I'm never jumping out of a plane.


Mama’s Losin’ It

Monday, January 11, 2016

Goodbye, Starman

I was poking around my older sister’s room, looking for I-Don’t-Know-What, mainly just wanting to feel close to her.  The giant, four-poster bed loomed large in the middle of the room, and I amused myself by swinging from the posts, hanging upside down and arching my back until my long, yellow hair grazed the brown shag carpet.

I often spent time in her room when she wasn’t home, combing her shelves looking for clues to the mysterious, grown-up charm of hers that I coveted. Among the pictures of horses, old Nancy Drew books, and Vogue magazines, I stumbled upon an album that caught my eye.



The stark contrast between the graphic black and white image and the bold red lettering drew me in, and it was nothing that the likes of my seven-year-old-self had ever seen.  And although I knew nothing of this artist or his music, I felt like maybe somehow, someday, I should.

*****

I sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the television set, eye-level with the VCR my parents had finally given in and purchased.

Rewind, Play, Repeat.

For a ten-year-old kid in 1980, pre-MTV, a VCR recording of Friday Night Videos was as good as it got.  The show came on every Friday night, and not only did I watch it live, I taped it and watched it over and over all day on Saturdays, pausing only to grab a Coke and throw a Totino’s pizza in the oven.

On this particular Saturday, I was mesmerized by the new video, Ashes to Ashes by David Bowie.



Haunting, trippy, bizarre, nonsensical, beautiful, sad.

All the things I felt as a young girl watching this video on repeat. 

My Dad, passing in and out of the room while puttering around the house on a Saturday, decided to stop and see what all the fuss was about.

“ What kind of strange music is that?”

“DAD! GO AWAY!”

“Why is that guy dressed like a clown?”

“DAD! GO!”

“ Why is he wearing makeup?”

“DAD!”

And so it went.  As my obsession with Bowie and his music grew, so did Dad’s teasing.

“So, how’s Jim BOO-ee (aka, the Texas revolutionary from the 1800s)?”

“Very funny. It’s DAVID Bowie, with a long O, Dad.”

“Really? Does he know he has a knife named after him?”

Sigh.

*****

My friend and I sat on her bed on a Friday night listening to Space Oddity, Changes, and Ziggy Stardust from ChangesOneBowie, playing each song over and over to decipher the lyrics.  She was a bit more poetic than I, and she seemed to grasp more meaning in the words than I did.

But although I'd only begun to scratch the surface of human experience and emotion in his songs, his music spoke to me with the familiarity of an old friend.

The gift that Bowie gave to me that day, throughout my adolescence, and even today, was the gift of settling.  Not settling in a bad way, as in, for something less, because that’s never what he did.  But settling, as in settling down and settling in...to my perceived weirdness, my otherness, my difference from what I saw when I looked around me.

He showed me that the world was a really big place, more than I could ever imagine, living in my one-dimensional suburban bubble.

I didn’t fit the cheerleader mold, or the athletic girl mold, the band girl mold, or even the Brainiac mold.  I didn’t really know where I fit in, and Bowie told me I didn’t have to fit in at all.

That I didn’t have to be one solitary answer on a multiple choice test, but that I could be ALL OF THE ABOVE.

He showed me that we are fluid beings, morphing and growing, built to break one's image of oneself as soon as it’s fixed. 

The thing about his death that gets me, really rips me in half, is that I was kind of counting on him to always be around to remind me of this.

Because there are days when I’m still not so sure.

One thing I am sure of is that when David Bowie entered the Pearly Gates, I bet my Dad was there to shake his hand and say, “Welcome to Heaven, Jim Boo-ee. Good work inspiring my girl down there in the trenches.”


I'm not a prophet
Or a stone aged man
Just a mortal
With potential of a superman

I'm living on.


I'm counting on it, David. Rest in peace.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

This Old House Is Not Mentally Tough

I’ve always been on board with the theology that claims Your Body is a Temple, but lately my body feels more like an episode of This Old House.

Plumbing woes, electrical outages, and cracks in the once nearly-flawless exterior all remind me of a road well-traveled.  Along with charm and character come windows painted shut from coat upon coat of fresh paint applied to compensate when the latest coat begins to chip. 

But all of this reaches a breaking point.  The revelation that comes in mid-life is that whatever you’ve been trying so hard your whole life to be, probably isn’t going to come to pass if it hasn’t already.  Especially if it’s something you’ve been forcing.  

I once believed that I could be anybody I wanted to be, or thought I *should* be.
Now I know I’ll never be anybody but myself.

I had just plopped down in my squeaky office chair to tackle some paperwork, when my eye caught the spine of a book on the top shelf of the bookcase: “Mentally Tough” circa 1987.

It had been years since I’d laid eyes on this book and frankly, I couldn’t believe I’d held onto it through more than one city, apartment, and moving van.

Immediately, the image of my father sitting in his huge brown recliner, hands gripping the arm rests, filled my mind.

I’d been frustrated and disillusioned and had come to him that day expecting sympathy and a shoulder to cry on. 

What I got was a swift kick in the ass.

I’d been complaining about my new job.  I was two years out of college and working in the frantic and lawless Advertising industry.  I’d been wooed away from my first job with a highly reputable agency by another highly reputable agency that promised me the opposite of the sweat shop atmosphere I was looking to escape.

Surprise, the new agency wasn’t a lick different.  In many ways, it was worse.  When I shared my concerns with the head of the department who’d hired me under the pretense of working fewer hours, he looked at me as if I’d spoken in tongues.

As a young twenty-something, I was aghast at the injustice of it all, and I spilled this anguish on my father expecting him to dry my eyes, kiss my boo-boos, and send me on my way with an excuse note, as he’d always done.

What I got was a verbal lashing at my ungratefulness in having a job when others were not so lucky.  I got a lecture on growing up, topped off by him placing a shiny new copy of “Mentally Tough” in my hands and sending me out the door into the cruel world with nothing more than the unwelcome book and a pat on the back.

As I now comb through the pages of the book, I see that I made it about fifty pages in before giving up.  It all seems familiar, the pie charts and graphs on understanding and controlling your emotions and how mood control dictates ideal performance state.

Written from the perspective, I imagined, of a gruff P.E. teacher sporting short polyester shorts and a whistle around his neck, it didn’t speak to me at all.  I was (and still am) a quiet, introspective soul and after several decades of trying to be otherwise, I accept this as my fate.  I am not competitive and have no desire to reach “peak performance” with my body or emotions, for that matter.

Although I never finished the book, it served as a somewhat unattainable goal through most of my adult life: to be “mentally tough.”  It’s what most of the men in my life wanted from me: my bosses, my father, my husband, or so I thought.

And each year that passed in which I tried to put on the warrior face I needed to succeed in life, it was like slapping another coat of paint on the window frame.  And we all know what happens after too many coats of paint have been applied to an old window: it will no longer open.

That’s right, it will NO LONGER DO WHAT IT WAS DESIGNED TO DO.

It no longer opens to the light and the sun and lets in fresh air.  Soul-cleansing cool, fresh air, studded with birdsong and fresh jasmine to renew the mind. 

It no longer opens to let out the bad air.  The burnt toast-dusty-stifling hot stagnant air that threatens to choke us if we don’t provide an outlet for it to dissipate.

I smile wistfully at this old book as I toss it onto the donate pile I’ve started in the corner of the room.  I laugh because I am free of this book and all it implies.

Because if forty-five has taught me anything, it’s that there’s a place in this world for people who are NOT mentally tough.  The world desperately needs us, in fact.  We may not be running staff meetings, arguing tough cases, or bringing difficult people to their knees.

But we are paying attention to those who are hurting, those who can’t speak for themselves.  We are mothering friends through difficult circumstances and raising children to be empathetic creatures.

So, friends, I intend to keep up the slow and tedious process of scraping off the old layers of paint.  The lies and “if only's” I used to tell myself, the masks I applied to cover up my vulnerability. 

Coat by coat, it will come off, and eventually the window will be stripped down to the original, God-given wood it was intended to be.

And it will open. Letting in the crisp, fresh air full of promise and cleansing light, and out will go all the bad, negative junk that’s been festering.  Until eventually, that window will remain an open portal of joy, love, and grace.

My father might not agree, but that’s a whole lot better than being “mentally tough” in my opinion.