A scary story

I’ve been reading IT for the first time in my life. I read in the evenings mostly, after work, or throughout the day on the weekend. Forcing myself to rearrange between chapters as I feel my neck and shoulders stiffen. The age of reading. I bought the book at Target, 20% off. How hilariously the book fits in my hands. It is short and squat. Fat. Over 1,000 pages in length. I finally feel I have made progress with only 300 pages or so to go. There still feels like so much story waiting for me.

I went to the theater alone and watched the movie. I told no one I was going. Asked no one along. Randomly picked a theater and a time on a day with heat that was too oppressive to do anything other than sit in a dark, cool room. I sat near the front because my visit was so impromptu I didn’t have my glasses. I put my feet up on the rail and suffered through the previews. Waiting. Waiting. I raised my eyebrows at a lady, older than me, who hustled up to the top of the seats with 4 children in tow. One of them a boy, probably no older than 12. I wasn’t convinced he would enjoy what was coming.

I don’t remember a time before IT existed. Imdb dates the miniseries at 1990, which makes sense. I would’ve been 3. I don’t remember a time before clowns scared me, before I was anxious around drains and grated holes in the ground. Seemed like every summer the miniseries would air on TV or on one of my dad’s many movie channels. And I would curl up on the air-conditioned soaked couch in the afternoon. Eager and nervous to pass the time with Pennywise the clown. I don’t remember the first time I saw it. Surely I watched it with a parent or an older cousin. Maybe at my Uncle John’s, where we watched all the horror movies for the first time. All of us feeling safe in a group with our aunts and uncles hovering at the periphery. Their rambunctious laughter reminding us of the safe world we lived in. A world without murderous clowns.

As a child who spent countless hours alone, I found IT to be especially terrifying, as a creature who preyed on not just single children, but independent children. Children who were not afraid to go play in a rainstorm or take a bath by themselves. Children who rode bikes around the neighborhood while their parents were at work. Those children were me, as I passed the Arizona July afternoons on the couch sitting by myself in front of the television.

My father owned the book IT. The book cover had been lost in some countless move. The book stared out at me from the bottom corner of the bookshelf. Gray and hard with the title loud and red on its spine: STEPHEN KING IT written in glossy red font, pretending to bleed down the edge. I picked it up once. The beginning seemed ordinary enough to me. But it was the length of the book with the sections and the chapters outlined so meticulously that convinced me there were too many horrors lying in wait. I had a vision of myself, my 11 year old self, unwilling or unable to finish the book because of all the gruesome details the story would entail. The miniseries alone had made it difficult for me to take showers in the empty apartment, to lock the door when I went to the bathroom, convinced that something was waiting for me, would start calling to me, from the drains. If I read the book, if I let that world inside of my head…then how would I escape? Would I ever? What would come for me then?

I didn’t like being alone as much as I was. I was often bored. I often tired of the silence of myself. But in my summers, the Arizona heat compelled me to stay inside. The thought of going to the pool alone seemed just as boring, if not more lonely, than staying on the couch. I would channel surf, time out my day, count the hours until my dad would come home and end the monotony. I would stay awake as late as I could to ensure a late sleep the next day, which meant fewer hours alone until dad came home. These memories of being alone are vivid to me, although the logical part of my brain reminds me that my brother was around somewhere. Always around. And there were other people, other siblings and cousins, who would often come around. And we would go to the mall or eat lunch or watch tv together. But my memory of that empty, cool, quiet apartment is not wrong.

Ultimately, that was the draw of IT every summer. Not the bloodthirsty shapeshifting clown. Not the feeling of dread and terror that welled up in my chest throughout and after watching it, alone in the shower or in the apartment. I like to scare myself, but not that much. No, what kept me coming back to that semi-melodramatic film every summer was the bond between the kids, first as monster fighters and later as sad adults obligated to face their pasts. I was drawn to a world where kids were not alone, not always. Where they had like-minded peers to spend part of their day with, every day. Where their fears were realized and affirmed. Where they found a place to hatch a plan to use their togetherness. Where friendship meant something. Where it meant adventures and jokes and stories that spanned time.

I sat in the theater as an adult and was reunited with those characters. I knew their backstories and knew what horrors (in some form) awaited them. I laughed with them. It was an odd sense of familiarity, of recognition. More than I was comfortable fully acknowledging. To have grown up with a horror story and to have identified so strongly with the make-believe and with the minds of the children. What did that mean?

So I read the book now. And that old, creepy dread has found me again. Alone in the house, I look up at every creak. I shower when the house is full and loud and bright. I have many vivid nightmares. I am reunited with a me I felt often on those summer afternoons. On edge. Alone. Imagining. But when I’m not reading I want to be. It consumes me. This desire to reconnect with another me. Another self with feelings that informed the infrastructure of the current self. To be an adult is everything King said it would be.


To fall away

I’ve been hiking every weekend. I haven’t taken a single picture of the river, the yellow leaves, evidence of early fall in the great north. I haven’t sat at any of the benches to remember the sun, only to let my feet rest.

I woke up this morning totally empty. Feeling completely erased. It happens like that sometimes: I sleep real deeply and I wake up feeling like no one. No memory of who I’m supposed to be or how I’m supposed to feel. It’s the closest to bliss I’ve ever experienced. But the feeling quickly fades, the second I’m awake enough to realize the blankness of my mind. It is only another second before I lose the sensation. Because it is the nature of the mind to create thoughts.

I have grown into the habit of moving forward, heading into whatever is next. Like today, my only concern at the park was to walk onto the new trail, to seek out the new sights I had yet to encounter. But I forget, as each new turn yields some new sight, that I will eventually have to turn round and head back. I forget to ration my energy and motivation to have what is necessary for the return. I have to map out the trail behind me as I walk forward, in order to keep looming in my mind how much of me I will need to double-back.

You can leave. You can go wherever your heart desires. But remember you will probably want to–need to–return. Do you have what you need to make it back? What does that require?

Meditation is this: Your mind can wander, as is its nature, but can you bring it back, back to the line you’re walking, the awareness of just being…of your self in the world: breathing and sitting and surrounded. Separate from your thoughts. Separate from everything. The trick for me is to return to everything. To reunite my mind with my thoughts. To come off the trail and retain the sense I gained there as I return to the rest of my life. To return myself to what I’ve been.

A page turner

It’s like when you’re reading in bed and the library return receipt slides out of the book and into the sheets. Only you don’t notice it because you’re reading. And somewhere in the rolling on your sides and the turning of the pages and the shifting of the blankets, you forget, or maybe you never noticed at all.

And then later in the middle of the night, really throughout, really all the night, you feel this slightly sticky, mostly poky sensation, just out of reach, just out of recognition, just beyond what is familiar to you in bed. A feeling of discomfort that calls to you from across the valley of sleep. Tries to call you out of your dreams. And you roll over to it but you immediately roll away, too uncomfortable to take notice. Too unsure to reach out a hand, or open an eye. The once slick paper losing more and more of its softness as you toss and turn around it, evading it.

Maybe it’s like that. Where you have just a bit of peripheral knowledge. A bit of notice. A slight awareness of what you can’t quite pinpoint. A pinprick in the night.

I want to vomit up all the labels they have given me. I want to push out all the ugliness they tried to package in me. I want to sleep without distraction. I want to lie without obstruction.

The lessons of small things

I see you. I’m going in to write.

I stop at the toilet. I realize how much nicer the bathroom would look with all mustard-colored towels. As a child, I told myself I would never be the kind of woman who would care about the color of the bathroom towels. But suddenly, home is Home, and it is an appendage of me and I need it to be satisfying. I desire to satisfy it. The Home. I am indebted.

What is a woman who doesn’t want to be a mother, when the option is available? Is she anything? Is she human?

I spent last week with small children and was terrified, horrified, as I prepared myself for the week.  I can’t do it. But then, it was fine. In the midst of the children, I was reminded how goofy I was as a child. How goofy I used to feel around children. I’ve become so tight and anxious. Something about over-exposure to helicopter parents. Something about uncovering my own damage and realizing my potential to damage others. Because this was my feeling, has been my feeling: If I cannot be a mother, I will not be disappointed. If I choose not to be a mother, I will not be disappointed. If I choose to be a mother, I will not be disappointed. I will marry this ambivalence. I will change my name to it. I could not protect myself all those years from all those words, but I can save myself now.

I spent the week with two children, whose joy gave me joy. Whose wanderings and silences and urges wowed me. Impressed me. Schooled me. One child, we’ll call her Z, climbed the doorways like a little squirrel. Like a creature with legs and hands meant for climbing. Her abba stood close, encouraging her, asking her if she could climb both, if she could climb all. Never had a parent encouraged me to be fearless, to take a risk, to put my grubby, tiny hands and feet on the white walls for chrissake.

Z would be asked to do something and she would say, “no.” And that would be that. No argument, no screaming or threats or catastrophic change in the atmosphere. I stood dumbfounded. Z would be told it was time for something and she would say, “okay.” No wailing or bargaining or compromising or devastation. I furrowed my brow in disbelief. What have I been taught? What have I witnessed?

“These are the kind of things a mother might teach a daughter. How to get through the day. How to feel a little better when she is feeling a little worse….All my mother had done was try to love me while not loving herself. All she had done was make me feel about myself as she did about herself. She had been pummeled by life, by loss and by men, neglect and upheaval. She taught me what that felt like and it felt like shit. But in this realization there was great relief. My mother had not hated me. She had not thought me fat or misshapen or disgusting. These were feelings she carried about herself.”

So I’ve had to unlearn all the things I was and wasn’t taught. All the things I absorbed, me and my learning sponge of a brain. I can forget. And I cried, cried, cried in the living room while the children played outside, half-supervised and barefoot in the grass. Realizing all the things I didn’t learn but all the things I have learned and all the things I am learning and all the things I will learn:

1. Cultivate a persona of unreliability.

A handful of years ago, I had a revelation. This was back in the time when I worked very hard to answer all the emails in my email inbox. When I lived in fear of the disappointment of other people. When quelling the impatience of strangers was of higher priority than my own artmaking or sanity. Maybe you live in such a time of your own right now…

I spent a long time trying to maintain relationships with people who wanted more than I was capable of giving. The truth is, I do need to cancel plans regularly. I need to disappear for a few days or even months to attend to my writing. Friends or lovers who resent this, who interpret it as a personal rejection, are often angry with me. And feeling at a deficit makes me want to work harder to make it up to them.

Patriarchy (and institutional bigotry) conditions us to operate as if we are constantly working at a deficit. In some ways, this is true. You have to work twice as hard to get half the credit. I have spent most of my life trying to be perfect. The best student. The best dishwasher. The best waitress. The best babysitter. The best dominatrix. The best heroin addict. The best professor. I wanted to be good, as if by being good I might prove that I deserved more…

I don’t believe in my deficit any more. I will stop seeking out the edges of that pit. I will stop falling into it whenever I am asked a simple question. Whenever the thing doesn’t go my way.

I am loved now. I have a Home now. I don’t have to feel needed. I don’t have to feel tied. There is no strain to feel anymore. Not a leash, not an ugly to answer. Nothing to run from.

I had never expected that my psychiatrist telling me she loved me would be one of my happier moments. It sat in place of something that had been missing. A sensible love. A love that was not the other side of hate. A love that did not need me.


Visiting someone else's life and peeking in. Sorting out what I like, could do without, and desperately want for my self.

It comes down to something very simple: I want to do more. I want to feel more. I am missing…something, something critical. There is an urge I have in the pit of my gut. Like a geyser waiting, boiling, ready, but I sit and push it down. What is it? A hum, a tapping. I can't quite locate it. It is living, breathing, tangibly there.
I sit and try to hear it. Close my eyes and strain a little more. There is a drive, a passion in me to figure it out. Am I afraid? Afraid that if I hear it, then I will have to respond? I will have to answer the call and do something about it. What will that be like?

Am I ready to be left without excuses?

Not mass produced

I’ve been thinking of so many things. Trying to make sense of my place in higher ed. Trying to make sense of my place in a society that is becoming increasingly anti-intellectual and insular. If you watch the news.

I don’t know if I am different, but I have always felt I am different. Growing up, there seemed to be a clear divide between myself and my peers. I was born, I opened my mouth, with a question. I am reflective, always searching for new lines of inquiry. My critical thinking skills were apparent from an early age. I have distinct memories of my kindergarten and first grade teachers warily accepting my answers in class. Warily addressing my comments. The things I would say. My classmates have memories of this same girl– questioning, curious, bold. Somehow, this was seen as malicious, my love of questions. My seeking soul. As a six year old, learning like a sponge, I did not have malicious intent. I only sought data, facts to grab onto, something to pull me out of the sinking ship that was my world where everything was ambiguous, unknown, unanswerable.

When will I see my father again? I don’t know. Will we have running water in the morning? I don’t know. Will we ever stop feeling sad? I don’t know.

So maybe that’s it. My difference. Just my mind, my whirring brain, my rich inner life. Seeking words and moments and knowledge. I don’t know. But I wonder too how much of that difference can be attributed to my latin-ness. The blood in my veins that comes from the mountains, the desert, the valleys of Mexico and the rivers of unknown America. I don’t know. The shape of my last name that comes from Spain. That came across the ocean and scattered out, and caught my ancestors. I don’t know. I have loyalty cards, membership cards, to clubs I have never been to, but whose ceremonies and social cues I know. What then? I don’t know.

How much of my struggle, of my search, has just been me, trying to fit in. Trying to blend in, because I am different. In what way, I can’t exactly pinpoint, but in a way that is significant and has shaped me and continues to raise it’s little sharp head from time to time. Like when a white friend mentions her offense, her tan parents, her boring partner, her lonely life. When something, anything, jolts up in me, strikes a chord, and I have that inner quiet argument with myself: do I say something? Do I show this side of myself? Whatever that side is that has a different, opposite response, opposing knowledge to what is being presented to me as common fact, common, familiar, all-encompassing experience? Do I counter that with my own?

Do I remind the people who have never felt different that they are in fact different?

What if I instead desire being liked, being loved, and am tired of the wariness. What if the constant reminders of being different are too much. What if these have in fact drowned out, overcome, overpowered my desire to be loved? Then what? The boundaries I walk between being loved and loving myself. Between caring for others and maintaining myself.

Do others trump the self? Does the self trump the others? Neither seems quite right.

Entirely irrelevant

We had too much coffee at brunch. My stomach churns and sloshes. Nothing seems to help the slight irregular movement behind my ribs.

It is early July in Green Bay. The cicadas hum like it’s late summer, but the weather is just becoming pleasant, reliable, and steadily warm. The sun only recently a familiar face.

I enjoy a staycation. I read and read and read. I consider my future as a mother. I consider a future without children. I consider another world for women. I read some more. I cry, selfishly thinking of my own brown-skinned loves. Thinking of all the brown people I’ve loved in my life. I imagine their own deaths, their likelihood of getting murdered. Shot at their favorite bar. Over a beer with their best friend. I cry and it feels like relief. I tell myself it will be okay, although I have nothing to back this up. To prop myself up. To change my feelings of fear. I text my Asian boyfriend who is in New York visiting his Asian friends and family. We talk about Asian murder. I send him the link to the Indian murder. He does not want to read it. I did not expect him to. We change the subject from scary white men to food. Our constants.

I drive to Goodwill. I purchase books for my friend, who is expecting her first child. I am delighted to find a few of my favorite books from childhood. Maybe this new child will get to feel some of the things I felt. Maybe this new child will be like me. Maybe this new child will be a part of my life. I have no idea. I find myself at the dress rack, sliding hangers as much as the cramped space allows. I find myself with a handful. How easy it is to be a woman sometimes. One piece of cloth as an outfit. No zippers, buttons, or buckles. I am excited to wear something light and simple. To feel free in my body and unrestricted in my movement. If only every day my skin could feel so unencumbered.

I come home and sit on the roof. I think about writing. The constant urge. The constant slight vibration in my palms. Almost anxious, desperate, to produce something. Something with shape and weight and feeling. A way to displace all this weight that I gather. A way to keep moving forward. To keep the jitters at bay.