All Appears Normal

Right on developmental schedule (I’ve gone and turned 40) I’m compelled to start writing memoir. It’s like studying Kabbalah – the rabbis won’t let you do it until your 40th birthday because only then, they say, do you have the depth and maturity to even make the attempt.

I will, however, resist the urge to take up acoustic guitar. 


All Appears Normal

The second I got legal permission to work in Canada, I quit my under-the-table nanny gig and applied for a job as a night security guard. I wanted to work 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., to live my days backwards, to slip in and out of work in the dark and eat spaghetti for dinner at sunrise.

A broken heart is worse in the light. A broken heart mocks you in the light. A broken heart in the broad, clear light of day is like looking at your own impetigo without a bandage. I didn’t want to be wakeful in busy daytime Toronto; didn’t want to watch couples living the happy lives they planned for – the bungalow houses and Bugaboo strollers – and then, somehow! pulled off. I needed to be up all night, wearing a sexless khaki uniform and keeping things secure that wouldn’t be secure if I (a person who was afraid of everything from garden slugs to deportation) wasn’t there. I needed, as the sun came up, to be as exhausted as I was alone.

I needed an epidural for my heart: You’re still dilated and racked with pain; you just don’t care. “Pathetic,” when numbed out a bit, can dig around in the dress-ups box, find a swoopy cape and a helmet, and disguise itself as “tough.”

The security company gave me a giant flashlight and a radio, but made me buy my own needle-proof gloves and boots.

“In case you step on a needle,” said the man who hired me. “No worries, eh!”

Within a month, I’d stepped around needles in a variety of locations – mostly the alleyways, parking garages and foyers in and around high-rise poverty pockets in the Jane and Finch neighborhood of Toronto. The “good” residents were recent legal immigrants from Africa and South America, but they were nestled among a large assortment of gang-affiliated criminals and garden-variety creeps representing the dregs of a hundred nations. They all loved to chew khat, a psychoactive leaf from southern Arabia that acts like amphetamine and worsens symptoms of mental illness in people who are already batshit crazy. When they ran out of khat, a needle would do.

It was odd: I was 34, and since middle school I’ve had recurring nightmares about getting stuck with an HIV-infected syringe. The dreams ware always vivid and literal: OK, rinse the puncture with bleach water for three minutes while squeezing the tip of my finger; get to the Emergency Department and request post-exposure prophylaxis.

I blame Ronald Reagan for every one of these dreams, stemming as they do from several years of borderline-hysterical AIDS education in the late 1980s. It’s one of my two recurring dreams – in the other, I try over and over to dial the number of someone I desperately need to talk to – or just need – but my fingers are clumsy and slip, or something is wrong with my eyes and I can’t see the numbers. In this dream, I misdial over and over again, crying with frustration and fear, hearing nothing but a dead line or a dial tone.

“Stay away from the windows,” said the girl who trained me at the site. She was a delicate blonde who’d dyed her hair jet-black and arranged it carefully into pinking-shear spikes. “People throw things. One guard almost died last year. Boom box.”

The buildings themselves were crumbling Soviet-style honeycombs with slanting hallways and horror-flick stairwells (another great place to find a needle). Part of my job was to sweep through the building every hour, then write, “All appears normal” in the security ledger. I faked a squared-off, blocky penmanship to feel tougher; less like a pathetic wuss who cried alone in bed every night and averted my eyes every time the subway train approached my ex-girlfriend’s stop (Here’s where we always used to buy hot pretzels at the kiosk!)

I was FINE. I was NOT UPSET. How could a person wearing needle-proof, steel-toed boots be upset?

In the parking garages, my heart pounded like a druggy rave bass line. Were the stompy sounds of my boots giving me away? Could the rapist/murderer crouched behind the row of decrepit cars tell exactly where I was by my sound; by my light? Underground, my radio lost reception and died. It was row after row of yellow and white lines; oil stains; unidentified susurrating sounds. A person – say, a dangerous, violent person with nowhere else to go – could live unnoticed in a large Toronto parking garage for quite a long time, only surfacing at night to go through the trash or eviscerate a security guard with a homemade shank.

No one would know where I was if I needed help. They’d just find me in the morning, stuffed behind a Dumpster or splayed out in plain sight. I would be even more of a cautionary tale for women everywhere, uniformed or not.

“This is real fear,” I’d say out loud, forcing myself to stay in the parking garage as long as possible with my flashlight off. And it was. Fear for my actual life, as opposed to fears on a more luxurious level of Maslow’s hierarchy; ambiguous or fixable fears such as “not being loved enough for who I really am” or “never making more than $10 an hour.” Blind in that dirty, cemented dark, a useless radio hanging from my pocket, was the only time my terror of what my life had become quieted a bit. Because I was still alive right now. And now. And this minute, now.

Back in the high-rise, as I swaggered past each thin, chipped door – some with sad, persistent decorations for the fall and winter holidays – I’d bump into odors solid as furniture. That’s how I learned what crack cocaine smells like – a toxic, plastic, somehow threatening smell. Get a hint of it in your nostrils and you start worrying about brain damage; liver cancer; secondhand psychosis.

“Wait ‘til you smell crack mixed with buttsex!” my spiky colleague said cheerfully. “They start smoking up; they can go all night. Sometimes we have to knock on the door, tell ‘em to keep it down.”

My shifts in the gay neighborhood at Church and Wellesley streets were more fun. There may have been buttsex, but the apartment lobbies were always tasteful, or at least kitchy in a good-humored way. I’d watch the men enter and leave in different combinations, their pretty heads popping out of winter scarves like hothouse flowers.

Occasionally, my uniform and I would be invited to a dyke party, which is how I got my next gig as a weekend bouncer at a dyke club. What people don’t know about bouncers is this: Bouncers do NOT enjoy getting on anyone’s case. Mostly you just stand there with your Bouncer Face, bored yet alert, and pray that no one fights, cries, or gets so drunk that the bar is liable for any nightmare scenarios that might ensue. Also, you listen to dance hits from the 90’s. If you woke me up out of a dead sleep and asked me to recite the lyrics to “I See You Baby” by Groove Armada featuring Gram’ma Funk, I’d sit bolt upright in bed and shout, “THIS IS THE HOUSE THAT FUNK BUILT.”

One weekend in February, my assignment was the 10,000-square-foot soap factory warehouse by the river. The Famous Soap Company had recently hired dozens of new immigrants (thereby giving them a well-deserved respite from Jane and Finch). The new workers’ rock-bottom wages effectively busted a union of men who had worked at the warehouse for thirty years or more, and they were angry. Angry enough to set up camp outside the warehouse gates and picket there all night, drinking and grumbling.

I loved the picketers’ resolve; their unwillingness to take shit from anybody. Were they hiding their faces in mute hurt and impotent rage, sobbing, Why can’t the Famous Soap Company just love me again? No. No, they were not. They set up camp by the screaming snowy mouth of the river and said, Oh, you want us gone? Come here and get rid of us, then, motherfuckers. We dare you.

My job: Park the security car just inside the warehouse gates, keep an eye on the picketers and don’t fall asleep. The hardest part was not falling asleep. I was used to my vampire schedule, but sitting in a car alone for 12 hours? A person wanes. I had a short list of activities to help keep me alert:

  1. Turning the heat on and off. Unfortunately, “heat on” also meant “engine on,” which caused me to worry even more about brain damage,
  2. Playing dance music and doing rave lights on the car’s ceiling with my flashlight,
  3. Taking off my polyester uniform slacks and masturbating, and
  4. Calling my stoner friend, Jason, and emotionally manipulating him into bringing me snacks from the convenience store.

“Oh, heeyyyyyy,” Jason would breathe into the phone. “Are you still, like, out by the lake, defending the Famous Soap factory from all enemies foreign and domestic?”

“I need dark chocolate Kit-Kats,” I’d tell him, in the same tone of voice one would use to say, “I need my electric wheelchair,” or “I need you to love me.”

While Jason was on his way, I’d do my “sweep” of the warehouse itself. I could smell the inside of the building from the parking lot, because it was full – from floor to ceiling – with pallets of soap, shampoo, dish and laundry detergent. It was the cleanest smell I’ve ever smelled, before or since.

The warehouse was a vacuum of sound – the kind of quiet that lets you hear the rush of blood in your ears. Once inside, my job was to stalk the corridors between the pallets and make sure no one had sneaked in. I didn’t really know what I WAS supposed to do, exactly, if someone popped out from between moisturizing bars and powder flakes, so I just got into it and pretended to be a stealth op. I ducked behind forklifts and practiced my night vision; I climbed up and across shelves like a ninja. I practiced my singing. If you’ve never sung “Ave Maria” at three o’clock in the morning in a 10,000 square warehouse on a winter’s night – well, take the opportunity if it ever arises.

Outside, it was cold enough to need a balaclava – or, as I called it before I knew what it was, a “face hat.” It made me look like a tiny murderer. I slipped it on over my eyes, nose, and chin, then walked out designs in the hip-high snow. I’d make a heart and then stomp the shit out of it (cathartic!); write my name with flourishes (this fucking snow is mine!) or lie down and make an angel (now my butt is frozen!)

One night, I peeked around the wall to check on the picketers. They were throwing wood onto their campfire, some of which had paint on it (more brain damage) and whooping it up over cans of Molson.

“Hi,” I said. I was so lonely.

They were friendly, especially one grey-bearded sixty-something who seemed to be the leader: “You poor kid, sitting out there in the car all by yourself! Come sit by the fire! We just put more wood!”

I sat down, as upwind as I could get, and the picketers and I shot the shit. Where was everybody from? How did we get into manufacturing and security? Who was married? Who had children? Who wanted another beer? EVERYBODY!

“Do any of you guys know old labor songs?” I asked, stomping my ice-block feet and remembering an album Ani DiFranco recorded with Utah Phillips. “Does anyone know ‘Bread and Roses?’”

They didn’t. “I’ll sing it for you,” I offered. Possibly the burning paint fumes were kicking in.

“RALPH! ANDY! SHUT THE HELL UP AND LET THE LADY SING!” said my grey-bearded champion.

“OK, I said. “Ready?”

As we go marching, marching

In the beauty of the day


A million darkened kitchens


A thousand mill lofts gray

Are touched with all the radiance

That a sudden sun discloses


For the people hear us singing


Bread and roses, bread and roses

Our lives shall not be sweetened


From birth until life closes


Hearts starve as well as bodies


Give us bread but give us roses

Thunderous applause, and then they wanted to learn it. Years later, after I became a teacher, I would remember their pure and furious commitment to learn this song (whether due to drunkenness or a passion for the labor movement) and the ferocity with which they coached each other (“Mill lofts, dumbass! MILL LOFTS!”) They had never sung in a chorus before, but by God, that wasn’t going to stop them.

“Pretend the sound is coming from a hole in the top of your head,” I coached like Mrs. Dorsey used to when I was a soprano in the Tucson Girls’ Chorus a lifetime before. I took them through the scales – octave up; octave down; major; minor; arpeggio. What they lacked in talent they made up for in beery panache.

As the first threads of light came up over the horizon, we sang “Solidarity Forever,” which I’d memorized during my History of Justice class as a high school sophomore in order to protest tunefully while my father made me pull weeds in the backyard. We sang, and we smelled like paint and smoke and soap. We sang, and the wind stabbed us from the river. We sang, and without our brain and muscle not a single wheel could turn.

The sun pushed up hard from the horizon. All appears normal, I wrote in the security ledger before I went home for my spaghetti breakfast. In my own, my real, handwriting.

In ancient Sparta

phonaesthetica:

Truth. And brilliantly written.

Originally posted on Hypotaxis:

There’s a play/movie that I like called Doubt. I have an affinity for nuns, and the play centers around nuns, so there’s that. In any case, in the film version, Meryl Streep delivers a line that often resurfaces in my head: “In ancient Sparta, important matters were decided by who shouted loudest. Fortunately, we are not in ancient Sparta.”

But we are in ancient Sparta, in a way. All too often the opportunity to have reasoned, rational discourse around gender, women’s space, women’s boundaries, women’s lives is hijacked and destroyed by those who “shout loudest.” Worse still, perhaps, is the fact that women who speak openly, who are willing to assert their positions (and who are unapologetic about those positions) are fiercely attacked — mocked, berated with misogynistic slurs, threatened with sexual violence. Those who most often engage in these tactics are male. Or, sometimes, they are employed by women…

View original 991 more words

it remembers better

This post is a response to the following writing prompt given to me by my good friend and writing buddy Hypotaxis:

In Anne Sexton’s poem, “Music Swims Back to Me,” Sexton writes, “And in a strange way/music sees more than me/I mean, it remembers better.” Think of a song, or an object, or a single word, that “recalls a moment” for you. Is the song or the object or the word more than a memory trigger for the recalled moment? Is it also, perhaps, an objective correlative of the moment itself? 


Inside a wooden cabinet full of archaeological layers of CDs I can’t part with because each  represents $18 I didn’t have but spent anyway when I was young and into Melissa Ferrick or rave mixes or – for some un-recallable reason – Irish dance, there sits a jewelry box of things I never wear. In that box is a small ring given to me by a woman I loved, seven months before she left me for the last time.

The ring box is black with small white polka dots and a vague floral pattern underneath; very 1950s. The underside says “C. Howard Daley & Co. JEWELERS Danbury, Conn.”

I googled it just now. It exists only in memory and old newspaper ads.

The ring itself is white gold; a slender band that bends into a square at the top. At the center is a moonstone, flanked on four sides by tiny sapphires.

She gave me the ring on a January morning; a month after we collided at a feminist-bookstore reading. I heard a faint beeping noise far off, telling me to care that she was married, but it was faint and thready like my pulse and after a little while I couldn’t hear it at all.

I wanted any scrap of her I could get. This was a time in my life defined by a compelling need to see what would happen if I didn’t ameliorate desire with any common sense.

I’d been the other woman before, and, like Henry VIII said about murder, “after a few times, it doesn’t seem so difficult.” Being the other woman isn’t hard. There’s a bravado to it; a fuck-you-ness. You find other things to do when she’s busy. You feel the longing. You yearn like a Disney dog and it’s oddly satisfying – longing as a weird source of fulfillment – and then hey, here she is at your apartment. Hey. Hi. I was just making dinner; come in. You shop at the same Trader Joe’s at the same time every Saturday, and when you run into her in the soup and rice aisle, you both go, Well, of all the gin joints.

“It’s just costume jewelry,” she said as we sat in her car, looking out onto a vast expanse of Sonoran desert; its friendly waving Saguaros hiding venomous mini-dinosaurs and herds of feral pigs. Everything here is beautiful and wants to kill you – Western Diamondback rattlesnakes; black widow spiders; the unrelenting melted yolk of the sun. I was born here. She was a New Yorker. Her accent went straight to my clit.

“This ring was always on my mother’s hand,” she said. “Throughout my whole childhood, it was a part of my everyday life. No matter what happens, I want you to have it.”

“No matter what happens,” rarely means anything good. What happened was a blur of fig perfume and long drives; blankets and thunderstorms; a fortune-teller at an Indian restaurant telling us we were “meant to be in this life and all the lives to come;” my blood on her fingers;  the shape of her back as she left to go home, again and again and again. I forgot how easy it was to be the other woman. I forgot all about Henry VIII.

I was thirty-five; too old for crying when I threw away the fancy pink Himalayan salt because the only person who liked it was never coming back. Too old to rhyme “landlocked” with “heartshocked’ in handwritten poetry. I was a character in a story that was over, and I was sure it was the only one I’d ever be able to tell.

This is how I learned that if someone is able to walk away from you, you should let her; that love is irrelevant in the face of circumstance; and that if someone just…can’t do it, the Indian fortune-teller is WRONG. If someone says, “Let’s have a baby together” on Sunday but won’t return your calls on Monday, you need to get back on the old Curve personals horse and ride it into the sunset.

These things are obvious and simple. Just not to me.

Looking at this ring now, I remember all the things she loved. Like thrift stores. She’d pick up things that spoke to her – old glass jars; a hand-embroidered Mexican housedress made of clean yellow linen; an antique candy dish with pink French script. I used to say it was like watching a smart, fey little animal snag items to bring back to its den so it could curl up with them and feel safe. Once she brought me a blue-and-cream striped vintage sweater. For awhile I couldn’t bear the sight of it, but it’s still in my closet. I wear it every so often, with jeans. It only itches a little.

She loved for me to brush her hair. It was impossible hair – too thick; too wiry. It resisted my $300 flat iron as she closed her eyes and melted into me like a cat.

“It’s Jewish hair,” she said once. “It’s imbued with suspicious genetic memory. It’s seen much worse than your little iron, and it’s not taking any shit.”

She loved to cook. One night she made a red sauce that smelled so much like everything I’d ever wanted since the day I was born, I had to excuse myself to sniffle in her bathroom for a few minutes. In there, looking at her collection of thrift-store cotton-ball jars, I remembered something Nora Ephron wrote: “Show me a woman who cries when the trees lose their leaves in the autumn, and I’ll show you a real asshole.”

She loved the life she’d built – her small, wood-floored bungalow with its cabinets full of obscure spices from markets in New York; her group of friends who loved her as half of a longstanding couple. Compared to what she’d been born into, it was a safe and comfortable life.

She loved me too, I think. But in the end, when I came home and all her things were gone, I wasn’t surprised. She left the ring, though, sitting on my dresser in its polka-dot box. She wanted me to have it, no matter what happened.

I am my own wreckage; I am my own black box

Last week, I became someone who never had children.

Before then, I was someone who simply didn’t have them.  In March, though, I joined the waiting list for sperm from a bank that gives its donors names like “Woody” (or “Kim,” if they’re Asian). I read 17 pages of my guy’s family history and listened to his 10-minute interview.

“What advice would you like to pass on to your future child?” the interviewer asked.

“Life is hard,” he replied. “But if you can stay interested in things, it’s also a great adventure.”

“Staying interested in things,” simple as it sounds, is a full-spectrum anti-depression light box for the soul. Put me down for four vials! (It was a twofer deal). I loved this guy!

I even loved that he was only five foot eight. His family was full of short men married to tall women, so I figured they must really have it going on in terms of personality. Short men have to build character if they want to pass on their genes, my dad says. My dad is five foot six. He told me to “stop messing around and just pick the tallest donor in the catalog.”

But before I made the decision; before I shelled out $1200 for the first insemination cycle, I got my hormones and egg reserve checked. I’d been peeing on ovulation test sticks for three months but never saw the digital “O” in the window; the little open mouth of anticipation.

I felt like the urine was too close to the angels gathering here

I felt like the urine was too close to the angels gathering here.

After the doctor took my blood, she wrote me a prescription for Clomid “to get going on all fronts.” But that blister pack of pills might as well have contained Skittles, because when my lab work came back we saw that Nature had made her position clear in hard, unassailable numbers. Looking at them I felt neither pain nor surprise, which, I am told, is the case when a bullet strikes the heart.

I was too late.

The world’s most facile metaphor rose out of a rogue memory circa 1994: my friend Eddie’s alarm clock when we were sophomores in college. Eddie was not a morning person, and he had hit the snooze button so many times – and so hard – that there was a fingerprint-sized dent in it.

There was never a right time. That’s a thing people say:  “There’s never a right time to have kids! So just be brave and have them!”

Would the right time have been when I was 18 and sleeping with a dumb guy who eagerly awaited his issue of Guns & Ammo every month? When I was 22 with no work experience and struggling in a shaky marriage? When I was 27 and obsessed with a drummer who ghosted after a couple of months because I wasn’t an orthodox Jew? When I was 28 and coming out as a lesbian? When I was 32, living illegally in Canada with a transsexual who hated kids? When I was alone again, a broke graduate student at 35? Or when I was 37 and fell in in love with a woman who already had two teenagers and lived 400 miles away?

I mean, really. When?

Women do have children in these circumstances (and much worse) with no regrets, but it felt wrong to me. Irresponsible. I bought books about single motherhood (“Knock Yourself Up”) but they were geared toward women with money or a support system, neither of which I had. There was no big, warm, multigenerational family who’d say, “Congratulations, P! What’s one more kid! Come into the kitchen and help cook a big hot dish!”

Of course, I did make choices: I pursued several different partners who weren’t interested in children, and passed up several who were. I chose not to select a partner who was just OK, in the interests of having a family. When I was working as a nanny, I saw this breed of partnership close up – the woman was 30something and running out of eggs and time and fucks to give in terms of whether or not the man (or woman) she married was anything but…OK. Solid. Workable.

No shade: that’s a satisfying choice for many women. Just not for me.

So the years went by. And every time I came back to the question, I imagined all the awesome – the way babies laugh incredulously at random stuff; how they rub the hair off the backs of their heads and get bald spots like little old men; the sudden shift in consciousness when they turn three years old and become more of a real person and less of a dog or a cat who can talk. I imagined watching my seven-year-old develop near-Jesuitical argumentative skills and star in the school play as a radish. I imagined a wry, funny middle schooler; a houseful of my bright teenager’s wacky friends.

I forced myself to imagine these things, too:

  • Sitting alone with a feverish baby in a crowded clinic, afraid it’s a staph infection from day care and knowing I’ve run out of paid time off work.
  • Watching a child take her first steps, without anyone for me to turn to and say, “LOOK LOOK SHE’S WALKING!”
  • Hearing screaming in the night and being so bone-deep exhausted that I’m physically unable to get out of bed for a full 10 minutes.
  • A partner whose heart just isn’t in it. A child who sees that.
  • Getting up for work at 6 a.m. over and over and over again, after being awake all night – that unreal, hovering-above-my-own-head feeling of sleep deprivation; those grains of sand underneath the eyelids.
  • Living in a crappy school district because $$$. Knowing exactly what that means for my child.
  • A pediatrician saying, “Yes, there’s definitely cause for concern. I’m going to refer you to a specialist, but your insurance won’t cover it.”

And in the end, what I wanted was a family. That seemed like the fun part; the co-creative adventure. A family, not just me-and-a-kid. And that didn’t happen. It just didn’t.

I think of who my daughter might have been. Compact; husky-voiced. Good at math like my mother; a seismologist of the mood and motivations in any given room, like my father. An obsessive athlete; a poet; a too-fast driver with a laugh like a handful of coins tossed in the air.

I had a name for her.

Nature, though, is smart and may be offering an ineluctable mercy. Much as I’d like to be the kind of person who could handle a child with Down syndrome or the kind of severe autism that makes kids wail inconsolably and bite their own hands, I’m not. When I see middle-aged developmentally-disabled adults walking the aisles of Safeway with their tired, elderly mothers – who, when they die, will leave these grown children to the mercies of institutions or the streets – I know I couldn’t handle it. Or, fine, I could “handle” it, but I’d have a hell of a time prising the joys out of the pain, disappointment and worry. I always thought that “Dear Abby” fable about Italy vs. Holland was oversimplified; more disingenuous and twee than inspiring.

And even if adoption was easy – even if I could get a healthy baby tomorrow morning – I find much to dissuade me in this blog. I’m troubled by a system that tells women, Sorry, but you’re too poor/too young/too single to be a mother and tells the child, The woman who gave birth to you loved you so much, she gave you away. But then we chose you, so be grateful!

I wanted a part of life I won’t get, but the other parts aren’t exactly consolation prizes: Travel, friendship, books, sleep, a rock-hard set of abs, and the company of good and gentle animals. I won’t see my eyes in someone else’s face, but I’ll see a Tuscan sunset at the end of a two-week cycling trip through Europe. I’ll see Galapagos. I’ll see…whatever the version of me with a child wouldn’t get to see.

My life will have a different meaning, that’s all.

I’m not bothered by people who say I’ve missed out on the Most Important and Profound Thing a Woman Can Ever Do, because deep down I don’t think that’s true. The idea is unimaginative and misogynist across the board. Important and profound, for sure. The be-all and end-all of female existence? No.

It’s true, the only people who’d visit me in old-person assisted-living will be there by choice and can stop coming by anytime, but (a) I’ll be able to afford assisted living with the money I’m not spending on children; (b) It’s an excellent motivation to seek out, retain, and invest in friends-as-family; (c) I could die of a surprise heart defect or in the Global Water Wars long before then; and (d) People with kids die alone all the time.

Perk #1 of middle age:  Realizing just how much I’m not in control of.

Perk #2: Knowing I’m not special, and neither are my genes, and not passing them on isn’t a tragedy.

Perk #3: Understanding I can’t transfuse the meaning of, or the answers to, my own life into someone else’s, whether I’d had kids or not. I can’t recuse myself from the task of meaning- and answer-making. No one else can be the black box in the middle of my wreckage.

The older we get, the further our possibilities narrow. We begin with an infinite number of possible lives, and every day, that number decreases. One day in third grade, you have the potential to be an Olympic gymnast; the next day, you break your arm or lose interest in the vault…and then you don’t. In high school, you get a ‘C’ in physics and Yale is no longer a possibility. Day after day, you don’t leave your sad marriage, and one day you hit a tipping point and know that no one else will ever touch you again.

You choose a city, a home, a partner, a career, an addiction, and soon the only way to experience anything else is through fiction and/or lies. Avenue after avenue closes down, and all of a sudden, you’re in one specific neighborhood with a cul-de-sac. You sit there reading the last page of a Choose Your Own Adventure book you loved as a kid, and then someone comes along and takes the book away.

That’s one reason we have babies: behind their blinking, muttering faces are impossibly intricate networks of possible lives, and we’re comforted by this. We’re inspired. As we should be. As is right.

I don’t have an ending for this post that wraps around neatly to reference the beginning.

I don’t know how it ends.

do you think they know that sunday brunch is the gayest meal of the week?

Internet, I should tell you what happened afterwards! Bullet points are the most merciful choice here because it was a long-ass weekend:

  • Parents, stepmother, grandfather and cousin declared unconditional support
  • Dad sent pointed email (cc’d everyone!) to homo-loathing family member. Email included words such as “cruel,” “exclusionary,” and “apologize”
  • Dad’s repeated viewings of heartwarming GLBT films (beginning with “Go Fish” in 1993 – my fault!) inspire request: put anger aside; high road; French toast and forgiveness; c’mon. Dad’s vision: victory of tolerance over bigotry; dignity over dehumanization; set to triumphant Ani DiFranco musical score, heavy on percussion. Dad said, “teachable moment!”
  • Dad so sweet
  • But am not educational documentary made flesh; sorry. Buy homo-loather Andrew Sullivan book or Advocate magazine, OK? Find high-school production of The Laramie Project!
  • But then self began wavering! Self was suddenly Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” when redheaded daughter takes up with non-Jew! (“On the other hand…”)
  • “THERE *IS* NO OTHER HAND!”
  • Homo-loather pressured from all sides to apologize
  • Have not heard from homo-loather yet
  • Am OK with that: Apology nice; no apology also fine
  • People allowed opinions! Even terrible/wrong opinions!
  • But do not have to subject self to them if can help it, right?
  • Family did brunch thing
  • Invented new veggie casserole for lone self to enjoy with beer while watching Seasons 3 and 4 of “Queer As Folk” to help maintain militant attitude
  • Chuckled warmly at “Queer As Folk,” which was filmed in Toronto and should have been titled “Earnest Canadian Acting With Buttsex”
  • Girlfriend (“beloved life partner” to YOU, homo-loather) canceled visit due to legit family emergency of non-emotionally-wounding variety
  • Two family members emailed “family photo” of the brunch
  • Never has such a well-meaning gesture been so insensitive OR so poorly received
  • Was pretty buzzed by then
  • What else, what else
  • Oh yeah, Dad said aunt by marriage showed up wearing horrible Civil War-era badger neck-fur coat (not fur solely FROM badger neck; complete badger fur worn AROUND aunt’s neck) with badger head on one end fastened to badger tail on other; so badger looks like eating own tail, and aunt said something SO HORRIBLE! SHOCK AND AWE!  that karma was, at least, a little bit served.

UPDATE: Received – and accepted – heartfelt, genuine apology/promise to do better from (former!?) homo-loather. Also received chocolate cake. The mind boggles, pleasantly.

UPDATE 2: No one will repeat what badger neck-fur coat aunt said. By all accounts was not homo-related though. Small blessings, self. Small blessings.

My family threw a bomb, so I threw one back. Here’s the email.

Dear family,

I’d like to explain why I won’t be joining you for any of the lovely weekend events planned for Grandpa’s birthday: It has been gently, kindly explained to me (via text message) that my beloved partner’s presence makes one of you uncomfortable;  therefore, I am not welcome to bring her along.

I would like you, dear family, to imagine being told by someone you adore and admire that the sweetest, best person in your life – the person you have waited and hoped and worked for until the cusp of middle age – is a source of discomfort. Imagine that the smartest, wisest, most full-of-integrity person you have ever known; the one with whom you are finally your best self, is not welcome among the people you have loved since the day you were born.

Imagine being expected to understand this and just sort of be cool with it.

Now imagine being un-invited to the Sunday brunch you bought a new outfit for; all the while excitedly telling your partner: I can’t wait for you to spend some time with my family! You’ve never even met my grandfather; my uncle John or cousin Mike!

Imagine the person you love. Go ahead. Really bring that person to the forefront of your mind. Let him or her wash over you in all his or her inimitable verve. Think about the way he or she forgives your mistakes; encourages your dreams; gives your life form and color and meaning.

Now imagine, if you can, that your family requires you to treat that person like he or she doesn’t matter; doesn’t even exist. You are only welcome if you come alone. You are only welcome if you STAY alone. Like, for the rest of your life.

You are only welcome if you lie.

Never. That’s a thing that will never happen. If you’re surprised by this in the slightest, then you don’t know me at all.

Because that is a denial of my full humanity, dear family, however kindly it is put to me. Every gay and lesbian person knows that this denial will come, and often, but we hope it is delivered by strangers or cable television personalities with bad hair. Better the rock; the brick; the can of spray paint; the loud, ugly scream of “FUCKIN’ DYKE” from a stranger, than the gentlest denial of our humanity from our own families.

I hope you have a beautiful weekend together.  I love you all very much.

But also? I love myself.

 

– Your daughter, granddaughter, niece, and cousin,

Phonaesthetica

 

 

Congratulations, and I’m sorry: An imaginary time-travel instant-message conversation with my 16-year-old self

Phona39: Hi

phona16: hi

Phona39: How are you?

phona16: fat. everyone knows you’re supposed to see three diamonds between your legs when you stand with your feet together in front of a full-length mirror. how much do you weigh?

Phona39: About a hundred and twelve pounds.

phona16: gross. why did you let yourself go? is it because you’re old and like it doesn’t matter anymore?

Phona39: Let me tell you something about your body, little P; and about the bodies of all the women in our family: You are on something of a time delay, with a rockin’ behind -

phona16; hee hee ew “behind” stop so lame

Phona39: – which will not even begin to reach its full potential until your mid-to-late twenties. You also have a predisposition for putting on muscle, and you are very strong. It turns out you find a lot of joy in movement.

phona16: i hate exercise

Phona39: No, you don’t. What you hate – and I don’t blame you – is second-period P.E. class at Gila Javelina High School in Tucson, Arizona. You hate running around in a field of sunburnt grass, being made fun of by the teacher and that little asshole Jason Collier, who, by the way, will serve six years in prison on drug-related conspiracy charges in the mid-90’s. Any sensible person would hate this. You hate the heat and you hate running and you’re basically a hologram before ten o’clock in the morning, and none of this will change, but there’s a lot you’re going to love, too.

phona16: like, i’ll love my family, right? do you have a lawyer husband?

Phona39: Not anymore.

phona16: WHY NOT. THAT WAS THE PLAN. don’t you have three children?

phona39:  No.

Phona16: oh, my god. you’re all alone?!????

Phona39: It’s really not that simple.

phona16: why did we even set this thing up

Phona39: What?

phona16: this wack talking thing

Phona39: Here’s the only way I can phrase it that you’ll sort of understand: Plans don’t always work out. Some things happen, and other things don’t happen. Sometimes we make deliberate choices; other times we get dramatic surprises. Sometimes we get our hearts broken in very important ways. Sometimes we realize we don’t want the things we thought we wanted – and actually, it turns out we actually want the things we were afraid of and trying to avoid.

phona16: well great, because for a minute i thought you were gonna be VAGUE about this

Phona39: It’s like – well, you know how you love Nestle Crunch bars? Milk chocolate with little bits of rice in it you get for 35 cents from the school vending machine? How that’s all you want sometimes, even though you try so hard not to?

phona16: um yeah

Phona39: It’s like that on a grand scale. A dozen years from now, you won’t want those at all.  They’ll taste like wax, because you’ll know better treats – raw cacao paired with a lush red wine in a basement club in Prague; a transcendent aged cheese plate with a group of smart, funny friends in Toronto; a cracking bowl of impromptu pasta and fresh veggies your girlfriend makes for the two of you share in bed.

phona 16: ???

Phona39: There are…circumstances. There are conditions at play that, were you living in a different culture, nation, or time, you would understand as fate, justice, or the will of the gods. Right now, you live in black and white, but the grays are coming and they’re coming for you. Congratulations, and I’m sorry.

phona16: what wait what

Phona39: Anyway. What happens is, you end up having a huge capacity for love of varying stripes, not just the kinds you believe right now are worthwhile and acceptable. You find a lot of people, things, and ideas to fall in love with, and the only thing you wish you could go back and do differently – besides moving to Canada to marry a pre-op transsexual you’d never seen in direct sunlight -

phona16: what’s a

Phona39: – are the hours you’ve spent, and will spend between the you that is you and the you that is me, hating your body and finding it disgusting. Plus, you’ll also wish you’d taken up weight training early. Everything else is a learning experience.

phona16: weights are for boys

Phona39: Oh, honey.

phona16: whatever. is our hair grown out to our waist, at least?

Phona39: Um

phona16: never mind. i don’t actually want to know anymore. it’s ok

Phona39: It is OK. It’s really all OK. Better, even. I promise.

phona16: mmmhm. see you

Phona39: See you.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 460 other followers