Saturday, June 9, 2018

Two

I don't have much. It has rained today; I walked out of the feed store to pea-sized hail, thunder. Rain in sheets, the smell of daphne and soil and rain. Petrichor. Now, purpled clouds, shafts of yellow light on the cedar branches. From my office window, the neighbor's weed pit is intensifying. The chickens are chattering with each other in their roost.

Jonah spent the day with his best friend, C. We made a pizza, watched Star Trek (the original, in all of its sexist, campy glory). We decided, finally, that it's actually terrible. We'll watch something else next time.

Let's watch Lilo and Stitch tomorrow, he said, curled beneath the tattered quilt I've had since before he was born. A quilt my mother made for my cousin, but then decided to give to my husband. My ex husband. I took it with me when I left, like I took all of the furniture my father made, and the pizza stone and the pasta maker from my grandfather, the box held together with 60 year old masking tape.

J and I watched Lilo and Stich a lot when he was little; my friend Laura had her husband burn every DVD they owned when I got divorced, since I didn't have a TV and I was so desperately lonely. Laura was my first post-divorce friend, sheperding Jonah at church while I sang, talking about eating disorders and music and men and what it meant to be a woman our age. She's been dead now for 8 years; her dog, Max, is curled at my feet as I write this. I am not sure I can survive a Lilo and Stitch viewing. I know I will cry.

Oh hell, most of what I've done for the past week is cry. I'm so proud of my boy. I love him so goddamn much.

I don't have much. Three days and I bring my boy to Michigan for the summer and I know it will be okay, I know he'll survive, his friends have done such a good job of making sure he knows he won't be forgotten. We've talked about all he has to look forward to: his dad's new cat, the dogs at his dad's house, a mysterious family vacation his dad has hinted at. And his dad's girlfriend is a decent person. It will be okay. It will be okay. It will be okay. I have to keep repeating this so I don't spin apart. My boy who is almost a man who is my heart outside of my own body, so far away.

But we've done it before. This is the fifth summer he'll spend with his father. We will survive this. R. and I have planned some travel, since we did none of it last year because of his cancer treatment. I'll spend a week at the coast with a bunch of choral musicians. I'll run a half marathon. I'll half-heartedly decide, after I don't die from the half marathon, to train for a marathon. I'll get up to, say, 18 miles, and decide I am bored, and will just run another half marathon. I'll go to to the coast. God willing, my book will be move along in the publishing process.

My father's in the hospital again. We leave in three days. It is dark and cold and my office windows are open and it smells like rain.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

One

Tuesday. He leaves in a week. In a week, I will be sitting in an airport hotel in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a few hours after watching my son walk away into the crowd with his father and his girlfriend, her daughters. For nine and a half weeks. I will probably be a little drunk on cheap wine, ready to take a handful of melatonin so I can sleep the few hours before I wake again, board a series of planes back home. Alone.

But right now, I'm here on the porch. Jonah and I just checked on the chickens, fed them lettuce and strawberries. Reiko, a black sexlink and the largest, chased Horus and Lilac into the corner. Horus is a Rhode Island Red. Lilac is a Plymouth Barred Rock. List the names of things to push off terror. When Max the Border Collie mix is outside, he sits outside the coop and herds them back into the corner when they get rambunctious Or, you know, when they have the audacity to move. Before this, J and I read the last chapter of La Belle Sauvage, the first book in Philip Pullman's Book of Dust series, a companion series to His Dark Materials. If we've planned correctly, we'll finish the book on Friday.

The light is gold in the arms of the deodar cedar. I've spread more mulch, we've been unexpectedly sprung from Jonah's therapy appointment, so went to get sandwiches, potato chips. I'm watering the vegetable beds. I sort of met Fit Jim, the across-the-street neighbor that, from a distance, looks like a far fitter and younger version of my ex, hence the name. His real name is Tom. His dog, Arthur, ran into the street and J and I ran down the steps to stop him. I stepped into the road and put out my arm to stop the oncoming car.

I am trying to stay in the moment. At night, I can do little else but cry or fold into myself. J has cried the last few nights, afraid. He doesn't want to go, doesn't want to disappoint his dad. He doesn't want to leave his friends. He is afraid to tell his father this. I can do nothing because he also made me promise that I won't make him go to court again. I don't want you and my dad to just hate each other again. Every night he wants to talk about a plan. Today driving back from dinner, we talked about it, a little. i just need a plan to help with my anxiety.  

The nuclear option, I told him,  is that I just come get you. Or I just don't send you. It will likely end us up in court, and you'll have to tell a judge what you want. But if you tell me that you don't want to go, you won't go.

If, say, in July it just gets too bad, and you want to come home, text me. I'll figure out a way. If it doesn't feel safe to text or call me to tell me that, just text me an X and I'll know I need to call you and we need to act.

One week. I'm trying to stay in the moment. Someone is barbecuing. The light is gold. The rosebush I planted last week by the porch is throwing up its gentle perfume.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

SMASH THE STATE

I was reminded again today how much less I'm paid than my colleagues. Between 10 and 50,000 dollars a year. I generally don't think about this; I am paid enough to pay my bills, pay for every plane ticket and hotel room and rental car when I take Jonah back to Michigan ten times a year. My boss asked me what was wrong when I met with him. I was angry. I told him I didn't want to talk about it, but he wouldn't take that for an answer. I told him and he claimed he hadn't known. He said it was HR's fault. He said it was the President's fault. He told me he wanted me to be happy. He told me these things take time. Maybe five years.

Has the president ever called you kiddo? I asked him. Has she ever commented on your potential, how someday you will be a good academic leader event hough you've been doing it for five years already? No.

Perhaps I am unqualified.

Did you know that almost a quarter of the college reports to me? I asked. Yes, he said. That's an inequitable workload. This has been the case for two years now. I have not had a say in how much work has been added to my proverbial plate. My pay has only changed incrementally. More work at the same level, HR explained to me, does not reflect a change in your pay status. You don't get paid more for more work at the same level.

This isn't about the money. I don't believe administrators should make $140,000+ dollars a year when we rely on adjunct labor to teach the bulk of our classes. I don't believe we should charge students ever increasing tuition in order for us to get fat raises. The executive lot the other morning had Porsche, Camaro, Corvette, Lexus. I had a 4.0 student in my office on Monday weeping because he is struggling in a class and an F could cause him to lose his financial aid and he doesn't want to be homeless again.

I go home every night to a nice house in a safe neighborhood and I'm never hungry. I buy shoes and underwear when I want to; I splurge birthday presents for my son. When R. was diagnosed with cancer, our insurance paid for his treatment. I can go to the chiropractor and pay only a meager copay. I'm not innocent. I'm part of a system that is broken and killing some of us while others are confident their virtue signaling and public radio stickers on their Mercedes have redeemed them. I am a white, middle-aged, middle-class woman who moves with ease through much of my life. I am no longer in an abusive marriage; I no longer live in fear for my daily bodily safety. I am gaslighted only at work. I have a lot of privilege.

What do you think the purpose of an education is? I asked my boss. Is it just to make a bunch of people who can serve us? Or are we doing something bigger than that? Oh sure, we are, he readily agreed. Our students are so diverse! We are giving them such opportunities!

I love my (former) students. I love my faculty, my colleagues (mostly). I love how much so many of them care deeply and fiercely about each other, about smashing the status quo every day and attempting to live in a world where we are all empowered.

But.

I have a lot of privilege and I'm not okay with participating in a system that actively fucks over those who are less privileged.

I don't know how long I can remain in a system that, for all its talk about empowering students and transforming lives, happily acquiesces to the classism, racism, sexism of the rest society. But.

I don't know what else I can do.  I have worked at a community college since I was 22. Selfishly, I just want to be an English professor again but I also know that is problematic, as it is an active participation in a system that is fundamentally fucked. As much as I wish for the ignorance I had at 22--the belief that, professionally, I had made it. That I was in a position to change the world. I can't go back to that. Being part of the tenure track when so many of my colleagues are being fucked over as adjuncts so the INSTITUTION can pay its bills because the STATE values education as much as I value a fucking ant. I know that I want more of us to be empowered to fight the status quo; that I want to smash the fucking state.

So I came home, hugged my boys, went for a run. I felt like I was having a heart attack; a tight fist had wedged itself between my ribs. And then I looked up and it was Division I'd crossed, not Hawthorne. I could have kept running all night.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Hanging In, Hanging On

There is a flower in my garden that smells something like Old Spice, sweat,  lilac. It is evening, still near 80 degrees, late April and a pair of bushtits are courting in front of me--darting from the rhododendron on the edge of bloom to the arbor vitae.

I have struggled the last two days with mild depression--nothing serious, and it lifts easily to the edges of my vision. When I'm talking with faculty about books, or when a hawk lifts from lightpole on I84, when I hold one of the chicks in my hand, when Jonah hugs me. But it's there. No cause except the way my brain chemistry is just this side of  off.

We got three baby chicks last weekend; the boys put together a chicken coop in the dirt pit of a back yard; I couldn't sleep at all Saturday night as my heating element for the brooder broke and I was terrified the chicks would die, the space heater I'd jerry-rigged to run all night to keep them alive would burn down the house, that one of these pullets would turn out to be a rooster. Early Sunday morning I drove over the Columbia into Vancouver to the Wilco and bought a heat lamp. Something tugged in me during that drive--the open space, the suburban edge, the clean and friendly farm and feed store. Some vestige of my old, brief life, in the suburbs. How that life built this one.

So we got chickens, which is something I have dreamed of since I moved to the suburbs and realized that was a thing a person could do. Adopting animals has been the single most indulgent thing I've done as an adult--my deep need to care for something compels me to do this, I think. I remember thinking, at the end of my first marriage, that I'd channeled that need into taking care of my then-husband, but that energy was misdirected; what he expected from me was utterly imbalanced. Once Jonah came along I knew this fundamentally. But then I also realized that I wanted to rescue everything--and rescue is appropriate for puppies and kittens and chickens, not men. It is likely less indulgent than it is compulsive--if I'm not needed, then am I loved? If I am not needed, do I exist?

So. I also hit my neighbor's car while trying to turn around and park (we don't have a driveway and the street is narrow.)  There don't seem to be any scratches, but I felt remarkably dumb. I am the worst person the street when it comes to parallel parking. I am utterly terrible at it. I'm now parked at least a foot away from the curb and sitting on the porch watching the other neighbors try not to hit my car as they pull out of their driveway.

I'm half-marathon training again. It feels good, at least, to have figured out. We've got chickens. It smells and feels like spring here in the Pacific Northwest.

It's dark now, and the wind is cool. The temperatures are going to drop 30 degrees between this afternoon and tomorrow, and the rain return. And my mother called as I was fussing on the porch this afternoon, trying to decide if I should run or take the day off. My father is headed, again, to the cardiac ward. He's in some stage of heart failure, a phrase which I cannot wrap my head around. My mother says not to worry. Heart failure is a spectrum and he has good doctors. Though Jonah doesn't know my parents well, as we have always lived hundreds of miles apart since he was born, he was inconsolable all afternoon. Family is so important to him, so important. It'll be okay, it'll be okay, I said, his head on my chest, my arms wrapped around his body. I don't know if it will be okay, but what else do I say?

hawk outside my office this afternoon
My father has an enormous heart, and so does my son.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Spring is like a perhaps hand

Today, Jonah and I went to the Farm and Fleet and bought a chicken coop. He and R. and I hauled it up our 30 steps, and will put it together tomorrow. Next weekend, when D. gets home from Japan, we'll get chicks. Jonah and I stuck our hands in barrels of them today, the peeps scattering and peeping and so soft, so soft.

This is something I have wanted since I bought my suburban house in Michigan with its quarter-acre lot. And it is somewhat ironic that I am getting them here, in my small city lot in Portland, and not back in the Midwest. You must miss that house a lot, L.one of my admins said on Friday as we were looking at houses on the internet instead of working. L. is awesome--an unbelievably talented artist, smart as fuck, funny, snarky. Nah, I said. The house was great--three bedrooms, one and a half baths, quarter acre. But Jonah and I were outcasts there--the only single mother, an artistic kid. I didn't know how to talk to kids before i moved to Portland, he said in the car today as we drove home from Gresham. In Michigan I knew how to talk to adults. I didn't have friends. Except for church friends, but not friends all the time, that I saw consistently. That weren't 'we are friends because our parents are friends.'


And weirdly, the laws governing chickens were stricter in Portage, Michigan than they are in Portland, Oregon.

Oh, there's so much I miss and dream about: my church family, my students, my colleagues.

So we're getting chickens.

But.

Walking out of choir last Monday night, the sky heavy and dark, and the lights of houses on the hilltops circling the westside church where we practice, I put a name to something I have known for a long time. Goddamn, I'm happy. I am hesitant to say that, as that's not the way of my family. To admit happiness is to invite the other shoe to drop. But I love coming home to R., even though marriage isn't easy. I love the man my boy is becoming, though it is unnerving at best to be smaller than he is. To lay my head on his shoulder. And it's unnerving to look in the mirror and see the face of a 40 year old woman looking back at me. To see grey hairs at my temples. My knees burning after a 6 mile run. Or, today, my body simply shutting down after 2.5 miles and having to walk a mile home in the opalescent spring--cherry trees and magnolias and tulips and euphorbia blooming.

But if you'd asked me ten years ago, when I was freshly divorced, just learning how to be a human on my own terms, if i could imagine that this was where I'd be at 40--well, I would have wept with joy. Except, that woman, that 30 year old, I'm proud of her too. That's when I first started feeling like me, whatever that is.

Anyway. It rains and continues to rain here. Jonah and I touched little peeps and Snake-the-cat is on my lap and my second book of poems is coming out this summer and I continue to write poems and R.'s cancer continues to be absent and Jonah is still home and I have a choir family and having been playing Satie and Chopin and Beethoven on the piano again am working toward another half marathon and am writing poems and reading books and I know everything is terrible because of the Evil Orange Cheeto my ex husband adores so much and we're bombing Syria and we're a fucking racist as fuck nation but I'm also here to say it is possible to come out of trauma and survive, even thrive. That we also must count our good days too.

I barely could run but am feeling okay in my body. The mesclun and spinach and snap peas I planted have broken the soil. I mowed the lawn and the jasmine vine I thought was dead has a few green leaves. Jonah is upstairs drawing me a magical creature and the house smells of garlic as fingerling potatoes and asparagus roast in the oven. There is a glass of decent, but cheap, wine, twinkle lights in my office.

That the biggest Fuck You to the hopeless void is to continue, even so. To persist.

(Title, for those of you who didn't major in English, is from the ee cummings poem: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/spring-perhaps-hand)

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Spring Break

Today on the plane (6 AM, dark, cold, R and D still asleep at home), Jonah and i sat in front of two salesmen for a manufactured home company. I never got a good look at them but I heard their entire work story. They were on their way to Corporate (tm); they had worked with some of the same people--Jim, Kevin, Lawrence,--they had regularly attended social events that doubled as work functions, often with their wives. They had fished in Alaska, had gotten drunk on a deck in Sonoma, discussed the new manufacturing practice of trusses and windows. They were loud, drank at least three bloody marys (our flight left at 6 AM), they were jovial, outgoing. Clearly, not Death of a Salesman material. I tried to sleep, but couldn't help listening to their three hour conversation--how the women in their lives appeared as punctuation for importance. At the work barbeque where Jim Justice (not the W.Va dude) was flipped on his back by a drunken Lawrence, as background at picnics, stories about buying vintage cars and engine blocks and eight month pregnant wives "going crazy, she was super emotional." The elder (I think) of the two at one point said, explaining why he didn't like traveling as much as the older men,  i really like being with my wife, you know? She's my best friend. It sounded less sweet than a sort of shameful excuse.

When they began talking about immigration (Dude 1's son had married a Spanish woman and they were working their way through the garbage immigration system here, so his son could visit her every 90 days but she couldn't get a visa, despite being married) and he began spouting Drumpfian bullshit about legal versus illegal immigration, I remembered how easy it is to give white dudes the benefit of the doubt: they seemed so sweet, so jovial, so innocuous. But also, fucking dangerous. They were loud as hell. Everyone in the plane must have heard them and their throw-away discussion of the laziness of "illegal" immigrants versus the clearly not lazy (and clearly privileged ability of Dude # 1's son to be able to wait for "legal" immigration, to be able to pay for plane tickets and visits, etc). How all those "illegals" needed to do was what his son did. Dude # 2 laughed, agreed. They ordered another bloody mary, they talked about setting a house in Alaska, four day chartered fishing trips, how Dude # 1's wife was "pulling in 70 to 80 grand a year" but they were still not going to live an "obnoxious lifestyle."

They both had pilot's licenses. Dude # 1 owned at least one plane, and Dude # 2 was going to buy one.

So.

So here I am in an airport hotel, again again again. I've got a tetra pack of cheap wine, some goat cheese, a baguette, some fruit and some chocolate. I've got another 1,700 miles to fly tomorrow, back to R. and home.

Jonah held my hand, sat in the window seat for the first time, slept curled in my lap though he is bigger than I. I love you, he signed again and again until when his father grabbed his arm. I love you, Birdie, I said as his father and girlfriend and daughters dragged him away. He turned his head toward me.  Bye mom.


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.