Summer camp

In Arizona in the summer, your feet are always dirty. I don’t know what it is. If it’s just too difficult to keep the desert sand out from underneath you. The most refreshing thing, better than a face wash or a flick of the brush against your teeth, is to wash your feet from the edge of the tub. The final bedtime ritual, and then your feet just glide against the sheets as you fall asleep. The Morales cicadas.

My new neighborhood is overwhelming. The large, stately houses on small well-kempt lawns. Big looming porches and small concrete driveways. Tree-lined streets that seem to never end. My six block walk seemed too long at first, then not long enough, as I tried to take in everything all at once. The couples setting up a mini drive-in movie screen in their front lawn; the tricycles and bicycles left on the sidewalks; the shouts of children; the jingles of dog collars; the buzz of nature everywhere–ants in the cracks, birds in the trees, sticks scraping by.

I walked home in the dark and couldn’t decide to hurry or pace. Couldn’t decide to trust that there was nothing looming, even though the streets were lamp-less. My city-ness kicking in. But there it was then, up ahead, the big white house with the big red porch, all lit-up and waiting for me. My car parked out front, waiting for me. I walked up the stairs and opened the screen and unlocked the door and shut both behind me and turned off the porch light and opened the entryway door and walked in and hung up my keys on the hook and took off my shoes and looked around. The house responds to me. It answers every step. Realigns and readjusts and moves over for me. It absorbs me. The floor reverberates out, alerting the stairs of my presence, and they welcome me as I climb to my room. Everything I touch is soft and presses in.

The faucet sprays into the tub and my summer callouses are sensitive to the hot water. The dirt of the day comes off easily enough, and then I’m in bed against the slick cotton of my sheets. It’s enough and it’s intoxicating and I feel something I haven’t felt in many, many summers. The feeling of possibility, of adventure, of timelessness.

A long day

I sit in the coffee shop with my plate of vegan, gluten free choices. The heat, a foreigner in this land, is heavy and pressing and leaves the streets burnt yellow and empty. I enjoy it. The vacated feeling. I wonder, how do you create a main street, a downtown, when there are lake houses and cottages nearby? I sit at my table with my back to the wall. A pair of female friends sits down in front of me. They discuss their friend, “well, he only does LSD like once a year.” They discuss their group of friends, “he told me I couldn’t point out that everyone was high, and I was like, well I don’t smoke weed, so I don’t know.”

The words of my book blot out the details. Do you remember how to be alone?

This place is so stereotypically white American. The group of girls with their long, heavy hair and their barely there outfits. The men with their beards and glasses and hats and general look of need a showerness. Later, I will sit on my porch and watch cars drive past with their dogs in the back. I will watch old muscular men on bikes stream down the street, and rabbits dance across yards for safer pastures.

The heat sends me packing to my couch. I will fall asleep and lose track of time. Forgetting how late the light stays here. Forgetting how the angle of the sun means nothing here. I will venture out once it is dark and cool, so cool I will need a jacket to counter the shock of the temperature change. I will walk across the dark pavement, and I will close my eyes, and I will tilt my head just right to catch that hot dissipated pavement smell. It will feel like Arizona if I walk just right. The mountains will be looming there. The desert dirt will be creeping there. A different sort of America. A different kind of life. The same kinds of conversations. Different bodies under similar angles.

Let me know 

“We are a child who cannot speak yet.” We join a new community of talkers, using their mouths to make noise. Using the noises to interact with one another and make sense of everything they see, taste and touch. As children who cannot yet speak, do we feel self conscious about our inability to engage? Do we get self conscious then, as the noises start to form from our mouths that the words are not perfect, that our sentences are lacking in structure, that our voices are weak or loud? 

Do we go around shaming young children for their inability to speak to us? For saying, “hold you” when they want to be picked up; for saying, “I’m blooding.” For misinterpreting and responding to the world in ways we find nonsensical, hilarious, refreshing? 

When do we cross-over? Where do we draw the line between new member/learner and mastery? Why are we so uncomfortable with being new, with not knowing, with coming upon those who do not yet know? 

How do you talk to a young child? You clip your words? Change your pitch? Alter your vocabulary? Censor your ideas? Because you’re meeting the child where they’re at–in their lack of knowledge, in their place of newness…

Is this part of the problem? 

Inspired by Etienne Wenger’s Communities of Practice work and I guess Carol Dweck. 

Because 2 years since

When Richard went missing it was really weird. It was the weirdest emotional experience of my life. I felt, and I felt like I didn’t feel–like I was watching myself. Like I was going through the motions of a grieving friend. I spent 5 days completely unaware, and another 10 days knowing he was gone, but holding out a tiny iota of hope that maybe he wasn’t gone. When I heard the Brazilian authorities had given up the search, it was like hearing he was missing all over again, but worst because I knew I had to desert all the hope I had bundled up and stored away in the corner of my chest. I have never felt nor expressed such sadness. The kind of sadness that turns you into a zombie, that engulfs you in a sea of mind-numbing weightlessness while turning your limbs so heavy and your skin so thick you forget how to move and wear and be. I had no practiced reactions to such conflicting feelings and sensations.

It was weirder still because I could feel him around all the time. Once I was made aware, he came to me in a way I could have never anticipated, and we tapped into our bond in a way I didn’t expect. He confirmed for me so much that I didn’t know I was questioning. I could feel him in the closet when I got home from work. I could sense him in the living room when I fell asleep in the dark of my bedroom. I would close my eyes and dream about him. Share in his experiences. His newfound realizations beyond the space where I cannot follow. He showed me that he was safe and ready in the first dream. He showed me how it felt to drown in the second dream. He came and hung out in the third dream–reminded me how he could make me laugh. He showed me memories and feelings from his childhood, from his brief time as an independent college student–sometimes lonely, mostly not. He showed me things he had learned about me. Feelings he knew I had felt and memories he knew were important to me. Relationships I had built and invested in. He showed me slowly that he was moving on, away, and that I would too.

He led me to his hometown. He led me to his parents. He watched as I watched–knowing I would see what he meant as I passed the time in his city, walking his streets and eating his foods and making small talk with his family.

And I felt him go, day by day. So slowly it was hard to acknowledge, hard to accept that he was really going to leave this time.

And now it’s been two years, and I don’t feel him around at all. Not the faintest detection of his presence. Nowhere near and nowhere far. Poof, like Puff the Magic Dragon. He doesn’t visit me in my dreams. He doesn’t sit around so I won’t feel alone. I made my way down the side of the mountain of grief. Made my way home to here, and I feel good about it. I feel accomplished and in some way, sated. Sated for having felt the strangeness of the grief, for acknowledging it, and for pulling through it. Sated that he came, he helped, he left. That something beautiful and inexplicable was borne of something so freakishly, unexpectedly tragic.

Happy that we are both happy 2 years since.

Death is a girl

Since I tore through 2 Dope Queens, I had to start something else…something just as consuming, and a friend recommended My Favorite Murder. It has a similar set-up to 2DQ: 2 ladies just chatting for themselves and making jokes about life and womanhood, etc. I was immediately into it–loving their takedown of the Stanford Rapist and loving their use of cusswords and then of course their love of all things morbid and terrifying. I quickly fed all 20 episodes to my ears and was pleasantly surprised to review old favorites, like Martha Moxley and the Night Stalker and to find new ways to scare myself awake at night.

I’ve since moved onto CaseFile and True Crime Garage. MFM reminded me of 2 things: 1)My obsession with true crime. Memory upon memory of me on the blue couch in my mother’s living room, greedily scooping up the remote to sit in front of City Confidential (with Paul Winfield’s quaky draw) marathons or follow along with Bill Kurtis’ soothing narrative during Cold Case Files or waking up early in the Arizona heat to watch Unsolved Mysteries on Saturday mornings. In college I would sneak away from my boyfriend’s living room to watch Dateline and ID and Forensic Files alone in his bed. Cable television was an expense I couldn’t spare.

Those moments when I had the TV all to myself, you see. Those moments before my stepdad would yell at me for choosing something so inappropriate or my father would want to chat through all the good parts of the grisly detail reveals. When my mother wasn’t around to nod at my brother and sister to say–not now. I had forgotten my obsession with Fear Street; the short murderous stories I used to write and illustrate; the vengeful ghost stories I would tell my cousin; the days I would spend wandering and biking to set-up shop at whatever old cemetery was closest at the time. Tracing names and imagining how they ended up on those stones. I’ve always been fascinated with death. Maybe it was the early move and feeling like…being familiar with the idea that people will be there one day, every day, and then seemingly without warning–gone, and strangers for good. Maybe it was the stories my mom told us from her childhood of the farmhouse being haunted. Maybe it was the late night drives past the glowing tombstones or the stories my mom would make up about the dark as the car passed under the trees and over the decrepit bridges. Maybe it was the endless memory she and my Aunt Leandra seemed to possess on our long rides back from St. Louis, when they would remember saloon murders and farmhouse break-ins from their parents’ childhoods.

Maybe it was just living in the middle of nowhere and realizing how alone and how dark it could be.

I don’t know. Mysteries fascinate me. Maybe it is the combing we do afterward, after a death, piecing together someone’s life and realizing how much we ignore, how much we don’t see, how much we can miss when we’re not looking. How much we can make of nothing. It’s realizing what’s outstanding in someone’s life. There’s always something, isn’t there? That we miss or just don’t get, until it’s too late. All the pieces that come together to that one point. That irretrievable moment. Trying to understand how much someone was loved or how much someone was noticed. Trying to piece together that which we can never know–the inside of someone’s head. My mouth waters. I love it.

In third grade I bought myself a picture book about JFK’s murder. I still have it, perched on the bookshelf among titles with adult plotlines and words.

These true crime podcasts have also reminded me of 2)My hometown murder.

I remember it was the week of Valentine’s Day. I remember I had stayed at Raley  Myers’. I remember mom calling to see if I was okay early in the morning– not our style at all, “well, you know, family of 5, just checking.” Me doing the math in my head…well, without me, you’re a family of 5. Seeing the images of my family in their beds before I could stop myself.
They weren’t a local family, but had moved in earlier that year. The oldest girl was a year ahead of me in school, so we’d had a couple of those nice girl middle school convos like during lunch and recess. Our lockers shared a hallway. I have memory of her dark bushy ponytail fading into her classroom. Or do I?
Her younger brother was in my brother’s grade and then the youngest brother was in kindergarten or 1st at the time. It was tragic cause you could tell they hadn’t had the best life up to that point. In a school without rich kids, they were the poorest. I remember going to the counselor after. Not a counselor at all, but a dad from the neighborhood. Me feeling cheated somehow. Not knowing what to say, but feeling like surely I had something to say. They were here all the time, and now they’re not. Surely, that’s given me something, or left me without. I didn’t have profound words. I told the counselor I came because I was sad. I waited for him. I think he nodded and made a sadder face. He seemed just as weird as I always imagined.
Their murders were especially shocking in a small rural farming town where people didn’t lock their doors or cars and all that shit. And it wasn’t like they were killed on a farm way out. Their house was in the middle, not far from the park and the grocery store and the little league diamond. In high school, I became friends with the younger brother of the murderer. He had to deal with a lot of shit obviously, and spent the rest of his time in that town disassociating himself from his brother. But your name. I remember looking at that space around his eyes, as I had studied his brother’s face in the newspaper. I didn’t see the same thing. That same dearth. He told me the things people had said to him, done to him, how he felt. We sat alone in the dark in his house. I imagined blood in the carpet, blood on the walls. I knew I was in the wrong house. I wanted to tell him he should wear less black. I wondered why we were friends. I don’t know where he is now.
My best friend’s grandfather was the sheriff for the county during the murder, and we spent most of our teenage years snooping around his home office reading his notes and newspaper clippings from the time. Not finding anything, but always hoping to find something. She told me made-up stories and I pretended to believe them.
We drove past the house in high school, trying to remember what it felt like when we felt like…it’s happening right here. We looked at hammers a little differently, expecting the one we pulled out of our toolboxes to be dripping in blood, expecting maybe some murderous urge to trickle up our arms and into our chests. We felt, we realized, the brevity of it all.

The simple answer

I’m tired of everyone panicking. I’m tired of everyone pointing fingers. I’m tired of everyone jumping up to be offended or angered or right. I’m tired of the outrageous emotions and the up in arms. Violence begets violence, and our words are more powerful and carry more weight than we realize. People often cite my silence, my quiet, as a weakness, as a failing, as short-sightedness. I see my quiet as my ability to detach, to remember what matters, to remember that words can be weapons as much as a bullet or an open palm slap. I remember how ugly words have shaped my life and flavored my environment. I remember how lack of words have helped me feel like I could make what I wanted of a situation.

Our lives are intricate, and our feelings matter, but do they matter to the extent that we claim? Do they weigh as much as we imagine? Do they deserve the projection that we give them? I wonder too, how we determine whose feelings matter more, whose feelings deserve more attention. Why we give more attention to certain types of feelings, why we assume that our feelings are being ignored and act from that base, rather than acting from the base that our feelings are unknown. We assume our feelings are somewhat felt or somewhat known by everyone around us. As if they have a sixth sense that allows them to tap into how we must of course be feeling. As if everyone wandering around isn’t too distracted with their own feelings. Consumed with their own being.

But then there are those who let you be with your feelings, who don’t cloud you with their feelings, who somehow have learned to navigate these high tensions we create. Who are soothing and calming like aloe after the burn, like sunrise after the storm. That’s what I want, liquid like fluid like streams in the spring.

 

Work hard or die trying, girl

I wanna work for someone who can properly pronounce my name. I wanna work for someone who doesn’t call other women bitch to my face. I wanna work for someone who recognized their white privilege. I wanna work for someone who isn’t afraid of direct communication and honesty. I wanna work for someone who is interested in mentoring not competing. I wanna for someone who has vision for a cohesive functioning unit within its current structure. I wanna work for someone who is empathetic because it comes natural, not because it’s the right thing to do. I wanna work for someone who will take a moment and sit in the sun because life is short and why not. I wanna work for someone who is happy and not afraid to laugh at themselves or with me. I wanna work with someone who understands we’re not the first or the only or the best or the worst. That we will do the best with what we’ve got and even go above and beyond at times because we can. I wanna work for someone who gets it. Who feels it. Who can write it.