Thursday, March 15, 2018

Don't Trust Liars/Springtime

One of the things my ex husband finds hilarious is tricking people. He likes other to make people feel foolish. For example:

For Christmas, he gave Jonah, in his stocking, a package of condoms. Jonah is 12. J opened this in front of his father's girlfriend's daughters, ages 11 and 17. A joke!  his father proclaimed.

Then, when we were  in Albuquerque visiting R.'s family, which Jonah loves more than anything,, right after Jonah had returned from Michigan, my ex sent Jonah a text of a photo of a postive pregnancy test, no explanation.

Danielle? Jonah texted back, after asking me what it was (I told him).

Maybe. Or is it???????!!!!???!!!! his father texted back. He refused to give a straight answer.

Jonah was quiet. This played into my suspicions: that his father, once he found a new family (and particularly sired another child) would drop Jonah.

When Jonah visited in January and asked his father if there was, in fact, a baby, his father laughed at him. It was a joke, dummy.

Before we left for Michigan in January, Jonah sobbed and sobbed. I am not allowed to have my own opinion at my dad's, he said. He didn't want to go. For now, until he can tell his father that, we have no choice--go we must. We in fact will head East in a week or so, so J can spend spring break with his father, his girlfriend, her two daughters.

This is what I thought of as i have read the copious tweets about Trump admitting--nay, bragging,--about lying. My gut-level reaction to Trump is near identical to my reaction to my ex. They are so alike, except for the fact that my ex will never be rich, will be lucky to reach the middle class.

They are both abusive, misogynistic, ignorant, racist, terrifying men. When Trump debated Clinton, I had to leave the room, I was sick to my stomach. I knew that man, that kind of man, intimately. I had been raped, humiliated, put in my place by that man for years. Even now. Even so far away.

That my son is not his father feels a miracle, and every time I have to let him enter that world I am terrified I will lose him. That we will lose him, we the world that believes in hope instead of hate. Oh, to be honest, I'm afraid that if I lose him to his father that I will be erased, will be reduced to a footnote, a mote, to shit. Women, in his father's world, are to be fucked and are to keep quiet. If that is the man my son grows into, I will die. I cannot live in that world.

But today, like every day, he hugs me and he signs I love you and we horse around Fred Meyer fucking with all of the weird easter shit and he and R. watch Star Trek and R. curls around me at night and today a small hawk watched over the highway and I ran through the sluggish pain of half-marathon training and there were azaleas blooming all over campus.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Stasis in Darkness

It is raining. My office smells of vanilla and lemon oil, my husband is arguing quietly with his bluetooth speaker in the kitchen, Jonah is doing his Spanish homework, and the shower is running upstairs--presumably because my stepson is in it. The behind-us neighbors who slaughtered a turkey and a goose from the redbud tree in their yard this past Thanksgiving have let their dog out. She barks at me, at my desk in the my office, my little light burning. She barks at the door to be let in.

Every poem I write, it seems, involves knives. Fire.

Three windows in my office, three black rectangles, three black mirrors.

I am drinking wine. I am revising poems. I am researching grow lights and seed starting kits and chicken husbandry because this spring we will build a coop and a fence and get chickens; we will plant the garden with beets and kale and beans and tomatoes and whatever my stepson chooses, as he has developed an interest in plants. Snake-the-cat is on my chaise, kneading the weighted blanket R. got me for Christmas, one of many cures for anxiety.

Today Jonah walked home from school to a friend's house. He came home near dinner time, tall and deep-voiced and hugged me. When I drop him off at school every day he signs I love you.

He never wears socks, or a sweater, or a coat.

R.'s cats, sleek torties, wander in and out of my office, unsure. My own long-haired dilute tortie, Iris, chases everyone, including the dogs. Snake continues to snore on my chaise. Later, he'll burrow between my thighs or in my armpit, biting my hand or my thigh or whatever soft flesh is near his mouth if I don't pet him in the thinnest hours of night.

I have lived in Portland for four years now; we moved four years ago yesterday. Facebook shows me photographs of me, Jonah--he is a baby. I am short-haired, in my 30s. It feels like yesterday/like a different lifetime. The winter daphne we planted is about to bloom; the hellebore has emerged, the pink camellia is enthusiastically dropping pink petals onto the grass.  My runs smell of daphne, rain, rosemary. On the way to work, hawks cling to lampposts. I have begun using them as auguries: let me see a hawk if--

The etymology of augury comes from the 14th century, from the French augure, augurie, meaning the divination from the flight of birds.

On my desk, Verdi, German art songs, tarot cards, a rosary. A jar of feathers: cooper's hawk, cardinal, Eastern blue jay, crow, barred owl, peacock, seagull. Petoskey stone. Laboradorite. A perfectly round white stone a friend found in France and gave me at our housewarming party/my anxiety freakout. Flashcards in Spanish of the birds of the Pacific Northwest.

R. in the kitchen, the boys upstairs, the dogs snoring in their beds. Outside, rain. Outside, woodsmoke and the green scent of my neighbor's weed, the orange flash of his joint as he sits on his roof and the seafoam green of the room behind him. I'm sure he can see me--middle aged woman in her Thank god for science hoodie and unkempt braid and Virgin of Guadalupe candles and so many cats--

Monday, January 15, 2018

Long Weekend

Here are some things I have done this weekend:

Jonah and I hiked at Cooper Mountain, a park owned by Metro on the west side. It was underwhelming but we haven't had an adventure in a while. When he was little, every weekend we went on an adventure: to the gravel pit,  the Radisson to see the fish in the wall-long aquarium, Lake Michigan, and when we moved here to the audubon society to see the vultures, the ocean, the witch's house along the Wildwood trail in Forest Park, up to Horsetail Falls in the Gorge before I started to panic because I am terribly, terribly afraid of heights. Anxiety makes that fear worse. Terror not that I'll fall over the edge, but he will. The hike this weekend was easy, and we talked about art and puberty and he climbed on my back and hugged me.

I made cookies, fried chicken (I'm a vegetarian), recovered a chair so I didn't have to sit on a weird armchair at my desk, ran, hiked alone, walked over a suspension bridge, looked over a Verdi score, tried to figure out how to wear false eyelashes, used the google arts and culture app and why do i keep coming up as a monster? what the fucking fuck? walked the dogs with jonah, woke up with a headache every single day, grinding my teeth at night, all night. Ran and ran and ran. Ran up Mt. Tabor, ran up the West Hills, ran through my neighborhood. Worked on drafts of poems. Cleaned out my office closet and discovered that the inside of my closet door is more intricate than any other door in the house.
Chair with new cushion made from an old skirt. Hideous orange paint circa 2007 when Jonah and I painted these to go in our first post-divorce apartment, because I was finally allowed to do WHATEVER THE FUCK I WANTED WITH MY HOUSE AND SHIT IN IT.

Slopped out the back yard. Planted a potato plant that my stepson had salvaged from the compost at school. Read about saints, asceticism, saw a bald eagle as Jonah and I drove to the woods, drifting over I-84.  Thought as I drove through the city in late afternoon, as I drove home from work on Friday, how grateful I am to live here, how much I love living in the Pacific Northwest, Portland in particular, how it feels like home in a way that I haven't felt ever in my life even though the landscape of the Great Lakes rings inside of me like a low bell, always.

My anxiety and depression are high right now. I am irritable; i want to push everyone away. When R. reaches toward me at night, I curl as tight as I can and cry when he touches me--not because it is unwanted, but because I do not know how to deal with kindness. On Thursday, I sat in during a math department meeting and was fine until they were kind to me. I burst into tears (what kind of a fucking boss am I, anyway?). They are never unkind, of course, but I have little vocabulary for ordinary kindness, little muscle memory of how to act.

Kindness was always transactional, in my experience. Kindness meant I was in someone's debt. Kindness meant I owed something.

When my students were kind to me, I ignored it. When my friends and peers were/are kind to me I ignore it too.

When my husband is kind to me, I also ignore that too often.

If I were to say, in real life, this is what I want; this is what I need--

I have no idea how to do this. For me. In my life. I can tell you how to do it, but when it comes to me? I have no fucking clue. I don't want to be selfish. I don't want to overstep my bounds.

And let's be honest: what a woman owes, in this life, in a heterosexual relationship, is her body.

Reading the account of the shitty date Aziz Ansari, a comedian I really wanted to love, put a woman through, all I could think was: yep. As a heterosexual woman, most of my sexual encounters, and almost all of the dates I have ever gone on, mirrored this. I never had the language to know what I wanted, or the assurance that wanting something was allowable. What I have always known is to be nice. Is to be amenable, is that my body is currency. To go along with things even if I didn't want to because--well, because all of the things. Because saying no loudly and firmly puts me in danger. I remember a date I had when I was in my early 30s. I'd met him online, on e-Harmony, the most relationship-centric internet dating sites I used. We'll call him Mark. Mark was educated, Catholic, funny in his messages. I met him at a bar in Plainwell, halfway between his home in Grand Rapids, and mine in Kalamazoo. Within an hour, he'd told me his ex wife was crazy, had a restraining order against him (obviously unwarranted), that homosexual sex was a violence against the body, and he'd invited me to see a show in Grand Rapids and perhaps spend the night at his place. I demurred, said I had to get my son from the babysitter. He left without paying the bill. Three days later, I got a message from him telling me in NO UNCERTAIN TERMS that I was a whore, unattractive, and he was absolutely, unequivacolly unattracted to me and good luck with future dating prospects.

He wasn't an outlier. An ex boyfriend, who I met through conventional, vetted channels (brother of a friend) lashed out when I wrote about having, in my early 20s, contracted HPV and cervical cancer, telling me I had no right to write about those things because his grandparents might read it and other women might read it and infer things about him. Another man, a colleague with whom I'd eventually have an affair, came home with me to let my dogs out before a work meeting and pulled my tights down to my ankles, thrust his face and then his fingers into my crotch and I had no idea what to do. After all, I'd invited him to come with me because he'd told me how much he loved dogs, and would love to meet mine. But you're married? I said, but we have to go to the work meeting?

Another ex boyfriend, when I tried to break up with him, told me he thought he was in love with me. Wanted to talk it over with his best friend. Then three days later told me, when I begged to at least have a conversation,  that if he was in love with me then we should please, please talk, that he had never been attracted me at all, that I was actually, actually, terribly unattractive and he was ashamed he'd dated me at all.

I won't even touch on my first marriage, and what expectations that set me up for. Let's just say they were low. Below low. In hell.

It has been unsettling, to say it kindly, to date and sleep with men who have been considerate. When C, whom I dated before I met R., rubbed my back I couldn't stop shaking. I had no idea how to react when someone touched me with kindness, with the desire to make someone else (me) feel good. Even now, when R. rubs my back, or touches my belly (that most shameful of spots for me, striated with stretchmarks, soft, vulnerable) I shake and twitch like I've touched an electric socket with a fork--and i don't mean that sexually, as if it's some volcanic sexual response. It's more primal, terrifying, protective than that.

It's weird and terrifying and unnerving to be touched in a way that does not demand payback. It is the same reaction I had the first time I touched Jonah's head as he was crowning: terror. Love. The vast unknown.

I'll be honest: I don't know how to behave with someone who really, truly, cares about me. Unless he is my child, and then it's a different story.

I'll be honest: I'm terrified, as a woman currently in a heterosexual relationship, and mother and step-mother to what seems, at this point, to be heterosexual boys, that there might not be any good guys out there. I want there to exist heterosexual men who aren't abusive assholes. I want to believe that I can trust a man, trust my son, raise boys to be fully human.

I'll be honest: when I bought false eyelashes I felt ashamed. Same as I did when I bought not-cheap-as-fuck-eyeliner. Or a decent bra that fits. Or when sometimes do my hair. Me? I should be doing this, and not someone beautiful?

And so it's mid-January, 2018. And I'm here, and the cats are asleep on the chaise in my office and my husband is watching 60 Minutes and my boy is upstairs drawing monsters.

And so we keep on making this shit up, being alive, being in this body.

Here we are.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

How To Survive as a Woman

When I woke this morning--for the second time,  the first in the cold dark, my husband still asleep next to me and the dogs confused, and our bags packed, and the car covered in almost-frozen rain--i was 30,000 feet above the Midwest, the ancient prairies carved into dull brown squares, everything at right angles. Jonah slept on my lap, as he always does. When we take off, he grabs my hand in his the way I used to hold his child's hand in mine. When we land, he buries his head in my shoulder or my lap. When his father pulls him away from me, Jonah hugs me quickly and we both walk away stiffly.

The space between sunrise and sunset was compressed; it rose while we were passing Mt. Hood beneath and above two separate cloud layers. It set around 5.30 eastern time, smudging the snow-struck trees, a broken egg, a little fire burned to ash. The trees are snow-laden; huge piles at the edges of parking lots, a rough-legged hawk on a streetlamp.

And 14 hours later, I was back at it, two more flights and back in my own bed by noon. R. asked if I wanted to take a nap and foolishly I said no, make me a cup of coffee and so he did and so I drank it and at 3:00 I woke up.

So, a week-ish while my boy is with his father, and then next weekend I'll retrace my steps and bring him home.  We've gotten used to traveling, and this time I wasn't even that anxious. Now that my ex has a girlfriend, he's been nicer. Or, at least less angry. R and I have commented on this, and Jonah even said i can't believe my dad hasn't texted you one billion times about when our flights come in! Yes, perhaps this was the Christmas miracle, ten years in the making. My ex walked up to us at the airport, holding his girlfriend's hand. No one spoke to me. I tried to make smalltalk, and everyone ignored me.

Then this text exchange:

This happened after I'd texted Jonah to ask if he was having fun with his dad and girlfriend at Great Wolf Lodge, and whether they were spending the night, and if his girlfriend's daughters were taking the day off school tomorrow. Now I'll do something for you that this kind of thing makes me feel compelled to do: justify why I was asking those questions. I want Jonah to know that I am interested in his life in Michigan, that I understand he exists and lives and has connections in both places.

I always feel like I have to justify my position.


I've had a difficult time responding to the #metoo movement. Of course, I've had the moments all women have had: men catcalling at me when I run (or, last week, when I banged on the side of a car that almost ran me down, fuck you fucking cunt!), I've had coworkers comment on my body and appearance instead of my work, men touch me without permission, dates go suddenly awry with someone's tongue thrust down my throat and my nipples pinched hard beneath my shirt, famous and not-so-famous writers tell me they'd love to fuck me or that my work was inconsequential because it was too domestic, too feminine. Such incidents happen so regularly for most of us, it is difficult to recall them all. It's normal. Of  course women walk to our cars with our keys clutched in our fists, of course i lock my hotel room three times and push a chair against it, just in case.

But I've struggled because for ten years I was lived kind of hell and believed I was crazy. Believed it wasn't so bad, and that I was making it up. Because I was raped on a regular basis though I wouldn't have called it that, then. You're my wife, goddamit.

You're such a frigid bitch.

And I'm still afraid no one believes me. My mother didn't. She thought my ex, when we were married, was a good husband. He cooked, he cleaned. He was polite when we were all together. And when we broke up, it only got worse. He threatened to kill me, chop me into little bits, took my child and disappeared.

And yet the courts believe him to be a good father. And yet, because when we got divorced I didn't have a lawyer and I was terrified, he has equal parenting rights.

Because the most important thing in my life is my son and he is the only currency my ex has over me. And the law has so far been on his side.

Because ten years of gaslighting is difficult to shake. His aggression and anger still scares me, though I know I am literally and figuratively thousands of miles away from the girl I was at 21 when I met him.

The other night R. and I had a discussion about why I couldn't watch the results of the Roy Moore/Doug Jones election. I came home and he had the election count on tv. Turn it off, I said. I can't fucking take any more white men. And I can't take your shock if he wins. It's no surprise to me that the world fucking sucks, ok?

Later that night, I tried to explain why I just couldn't deal with his shock that the world was awful, that awful men who've done awful things get away with it. R. is a remarkable man, and I have a life I never thought possible: Jonah and I are safe, I'm in a place I chose instead of a place that forced me to stay, I have strong friends and am working as a writer, a singer, an actor. I have a husband and family who are politically engaged, who are supportive and progressive.

 You're safe now, R. said, holding me. But you're safe now. You have this life now.

But. I can't be shocked at terrible men. I can't handle the surprise of people who are shocked. Because no one believed me when I was trapped--I didn't believe me--. No one helped me when i was being raped, no one told me that wasn't okay.  No one could, because I was totally isolated. That's what abusers do. Jonah and I spent our days locked in our little house with his father, and he slept with me so I could keep his father away. Though his father still fucked me regularly on the living room floor and I learned to float up, float away. I had rug burns on my back, I said hail mary after hail mary until he was done.

People did catch me when I fell--the singers in the FCC choir, my dear friends C. and J and their kids. The people of the UCC church who helped me leave.

But as long as my ex can hurt my child, I am still one foot in that life. And he persists in his white-hot rage. I should know better--every time I think it's gotten better, that he's moved on, that maybe I am exaggerating (you're so dramatic, you're making things up, you're exaggerating) I am reminded.

It is difficult to believe in the life I have now. I am always afraid it will be taken away, that I haven't earned it. That what I deserve is that text.

Fuck that.

I am a feminist. I am a college dean. I am a professional singer. I am a writer. I am a runner, I have a beautiful family. I am fierce. And yet.

And yet I also know what it means to be flat on my back wishing myself out of my body. Yet I know with the court system, I am no better than my child's father who calls me a twat, a bitch, a whore.

I know that everything I do is part of talking back. Is listening to those of you who have also been told to be quiet, be a good girl, that you're exaggerating, that it isn't that bad.

It is.  And I am not going to shut up until it's not.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Alonesgiving, Part 2

It is almost midnight, Eastern time, and I am a little tipsy from cheap wine. I have run and hiked and walked miles and miles today, and it has been warm, and my legs are sore. The wind has died down, the neighbor's smoke detecter persisting in cheeping for at least two days now (and a google search says it can go on for 7 days minimum.)

And I am weepy watching videos of my students' new babies, my friends' new pregnancies, for I will never have another child and I miss the child I have tremendously right now, my husband, my stepson. Our life back in Portland.

I've run and hiked and drunk wine and written poems. I'm waiting on edits on book 2, so am working on book 3. I've spoken to exactly nobody for two days, except my mother on the phone yesterday.

It is almost midnight, or 9 PM, or something in-between and my circadian clock is all fucked up and I'm sitting on a sofabed, sore and exhausted and a little drunk and the gale has died down and I wish I had a baby, or a cat, or dog, or my husband or my real baby here with me but there is nothing but the quiet, the cheep--cheep of the smoke detector, the hum of the refrigerator to keep me company.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Alonesgiving, Part I

We have traveled 1,700 miles together today, up at 3:15 AM, final wheels down at 3 PM eastern time. Jonah has curled into me, slept in my lap, his hand curled in mine. He has clung to me like a toddler, snuggled close beneath the first blanket I ever crocheted and he refuses to give up, bringing back and forth every trip. And he's also taken it upon himself to haul my suitcase into the overhead bin, haul it out again, hand the cashier at the coffee kiosk $12.00 for my coffee, his croissant. He still signs I love you a dozen dozen times as we float above the continental united states. How the little baby-bird that clung to me, that slept curled next to me every night like a pillbug, has become this boy-man, who holds my hand who spends his nights drawing, studying the drawings of other artists, who is my heart outside my own body--

And then there is his father, his girlfriend, her quiet, nervous-looking youngest daughter at the airport. At least now my ex is on his best behavior, is trying to impress someone, isn't so foul and mean.  Jonah hugs me hard--as he does every day, as he is so good about doing--and then walks into the crowd with his father and his father's new family. And I am alone.

And then I still had a few hundred more miles to go.

And it is night and the neighbor's smoke detector is chirping and as it is a vacation rental unit, I have little hope it will stop over the next 5 days. So I'm listening to Nina Simone. I have three full days where I can be anonymous, invisible, silent. Where I can do nothing but run and write and read and write and drink wine and walk through the now-familiar small resort town, Christmas lights already twinkling for the few remaining locals. Convert my CV into a resume, contemplate a huge career move, be whatever I am without the trappings of my normal life. It has been such an awful couple of weeks at work, I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to unplug completely, to contemplate who I am outside of the only career I've had since I was 22. I will not think about that, or about the terrifying insecurity I have around poetry-or my heart-level jealousy of others. Around my body.

To run. To be out in the cold, in the woods, in the lakedunes, in this weird wilderness I never knew when I lived in this part of the world.

Tonight when I walked through town, it was utterly deserted--so silent that the county sheriff on his rounds drove by me three times--the third time, he slowed down and rolled down his window and I waved and said just out for a walk, officer and he wished me a  happy Thanksgiving and I wished him the same. Tomorrow the entire Midwest will be shut down and I'll be invisible. I already miss R. and Jonah and D. terribly; i don't look forward to curling up alone in a strange bed, R. not next to me. And even that--this life I have in the temperate rainforests, in wet-grey Portland, hits me as utterly improbable every time I land here, walk the dun-grey fields of the upper Midwest in November. Can a soul be suspended between two places? It can. It is.

So I'm listening to Nina Simone loudly to drown out the chirping. I'm content to be an alone thing, whole in my weird human skin.

Also I'm so tired I can barely stand. And even though it is only 8:30 here, 5:30 where my body usually lives, four hours of sleep is four hours of sleep.

Saturday, October 14, 2017


Friday, before dawn, Jonah and I  started the whole rodeo again. 4:30 in the car to the airport, 5:15 at the gate, 5:30 board, 6:00 hurtle across the country for a weekend. For him, to his father's girlfriend's house (remember? the murderer's wife? Trial was a mistrial, new trial in January), me to an airport hotel and boxed wine and revisions and drafting and reading and talking to no one, pretending I'm invisible. I was a wreck Thursday night. I picked a fight with R., didn't sleep, and when my alarm woke me at 4:00 AM Friday, I'd dreamed of catastrophe, disaster, rivers.

Then the trip, again. Jonah and I bickering at PDX--his headphones not working, his music too loud, both of us so tired, so. Then he slept in my lap for four hours and we held each others' hands. Then his father and his girlfriend and her youngest daughter met us at the gate. The girlfriend was friendly, made-up to the nth degree. We have met before, been friendly when our husbands were friends, smoking joints and whatever else on the back deck. When she was my student. It was the first time in years my ex spoke to me, made eye contact. The Girlfriend's daughter, a lovely girl, hung her head to the side, didn't make eye contact. I'm sure it was weird. Jonah told me he loved me, would see me on Sunday.

Then yesterday, woods, wine, hotel. Today: woods, woods, Lake, owls, hotel. Wine. R. texting me from 1,700 miles away. Rain and water rising on the roads. Three owls over Lake Michigan between storms, in the middle of the day, flying from the scrub dunes. I was breathless, amazed. They were silent, the Lake silent, the sky weird and grey and scuttling.

Owls are associated with Lillith (the spirit in the tree), Athena.

On my hikes today, I only saw white people. Two dudes had white supremacist tattoos, another a Confederate flat iPhone case. I am in Betsy DeVos country, sure, but it is a culture shock, nonetheless.

It has rained and rained and rained. I'm never going to be dry or warm again, I texted R.

And so I have walked through dunewoods, lakeshore. I have driven through small towns with their Victorian farmhouses and imagined my life, if i hadn't left. Rather, if I had stayed but allowed myself to want things: a beautiful house, a yard, chickens.  Space from my ex, a place to start to forget what it meant to be raped, to be flat on my back, to be folded into myself. Maybe I couldn't have done that here. And yet, I grew up here. I became the woman who became me. I don't know who this woman is, yet. But I am starting to feel okay in her skin. My skin. And I am grateful i live in the Pacific Northwest, whose forests make me feel electric and ecstatic and the ocean that makes me dumbfounded, every time.

At the woods today, two men with White Supremacy tattoos, another with a confederate flag iphone case.

But also: three short-eared owls flew out over the foredunes and over the Lake, which was still as glass and dead silent, in between squalls. Something inside of me broke open. I watched them fly over me, over the water, over me again. I climbed the dune, my ankles mosquito-bitten, raw. I could barely catch my breath. The water was grey-blue, a thin, darker line the only mark between water, horizon and sky. Then owls, silent. After they flew over and back, ever and back, the wind kicked up, the aspen rattled.Tonight, the promises more storms, red blooming like poppies on the radar screen. Tomorrow night, my boy and I fly home, and then we'll be back in a month.