Sunday, August 19, 2018

I'm Here

I am undone. As the Victorians might have said, hysterical. Not meaning that I'm freaking out, but more of the roving-womb affliction; catatonic, crying, unable to move from the chaise in my office. R. is often overwhelmed by the onslaught of my depression. Is it depression, or is it anxiety? JOnah comes home on Wednesday. I fly out to the Middle-West near dawn on Tuesday, spend the night in the airport hotel that I know almost as well as I know my childhood home. Then we reverse course, do the same thing I've done over a hundred times now in four years. Almost five.

And inside of me there is a wave; transitions are always hard. I cannot, cannot wait to see my boy, my heart-outside-my-body, my almost-man. 

But I am also struggling to keep my shit together, as it were. There is a tsunami inside of me, a tornado, an overwhelm, as Jonah once said.

R. has hugged me, sat silent next tme on the porch, attended a literary reading in a beautiful garden. He's gone to get food, the neighbors are walking their dog, my dogs have busted the screen on the back door and the chickens have almost come inside. They escape, every day. Wander the patio, the narrow side lawn. They haven't laid yet, but almost, soon.

Jonah is home in two days and I am beside myself, I am drinking whiskey, the porch is dark and the sky is a river of crows, smoke-pink, Mt. Tabor to the south and east cast in a haze. I ran through the West Hills today, or ran-walked, stumbled up hill and stumbled down.

I do not know how to be open with those I love, I do not know how to ask for help, to be held, to hold myself sometimes.  And yet. And the moon is waxing and halfway there. And the crows keep coming, east to west.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Dog Days

Today, we hiked on the slopes of Mt. Hood, a few miles to the Zig Zag Canyon, then a little past it, then the flies got bad and we turned around. The air was clear up on the mountain, not the pink-fire haze of the valley, where smoke from fires north and south of us has settled in, turned the sunsets and sunrises orange.

I am terrified of heights. R. promised to turn around if I started to panic (we've had these moments, in the Gorge and at Smith Rock, so he knows). And yet, we made it. There were a few escarpments, but the trail was relatively wide and sandy, instead of being uncertain basalt scree. A month ago, when we were in northern California, I hiked by myself up San Pedro mountain, behind Dominican University. Of course, San Pedro is a mountain in a different way than Mt. Hood is a mountain, but it was far more steep than I have done without panicking. And I did it.

And today, though I had to look down a few times as we drove up, and though I said to R. a few times I don't think I can do this, he calmly said It isn't so bad, I think, after this bit. Let's just go and see and he was right, it wasn't. It was beautiful--heart-stoppingly so. I didn't take many pictures, or say much. Just watched R.'s back in front of me, put my hand on his knee in the car, in the restaurant. We ate lunch at Timberline Lodge, I texted Jonah a picture of the summit of Mt. Hood. The alpine lupine were blooming, and some kind of aster. It was dusty and cool, though the sun was hot and my arms are burned, and my legs are tired.

Then we drove down the mountain after a few hours, and here we are at home, the city hot but not as hot as they'd threatened, the sky a milky pink and a small breeze lifting the arms of the deodar cedar. And in a little more than a week, I fly to Michigan and gather up my boy, then turn around and fly back home the next day. I am neck deep in thinking about the edits on my book. And though it is ungodly hot, the shadows are starting to slant toward autumn. I am having panic dreams--about mountains, airports, Jonah, teaching. My garden is faltering--the tomatoes still not ripe, the zucchini flowering but not producing fruit, the cucumbers small and fat instead of long and slim. I wandered the nursery yesterday, fantasizing about buying fruit trees and pushing my urban homestead a little further, but I need to do more work to figure out how to make these beds better produce, figure out how to eke out more sun in this tiny lot.

And now I'm on the porch with a glass of wine, back in the city, listening to two hipster twenty-somethings on bikes stopped at the bottom of the hill discussing their boyfriends, or one of their boyfriends, and a bar and last Saturday's plans and Instagram and they have pulled beers out of their backbacks and have cracked them open--clearly tonight's plans need some fortification. R. is inside, the dogs curled at his feet and the cats likely on his lap.

I love living here. I love that my boy is coming home in a week. I love that we live an hour from the mountains, an hour and a bit from the ocean, a few minutes from woods and buttes and extinct volcanoes.
the summit of Mt. Hood from Timberline Lodge

somewhere before or after Zig Zag canyon

Saturday, July 21, 2018

After Midsummer

Behind us tonight, the neighbors have lit a bonfire in their firepit, have turned the radio loud enough that my chickens are unsettled, moving around their coop and ruffling their wings, pecking nervously at the ground, at the hardware cloth of the enclosure. The air smells like smoke, like whatever accelerant they needed to start those flames, licking up high and awfully close to their house.

They're renters. I don't think they much care. For an hour or so yesterday evening, they pulled weeds, cleaned up the majority of the crap in the yard--old beer cans, solo cups, dog shit. People keep showing up, parking in front of our house, walking up the dirt road next door, carrying booze, Trader Joe's bags of cheeze puffs, chicken wings.

In Michigan tonight, Jonah brushed his hair from his eyes and said 32 days. Not even four and a half weeks. Sooner. His sort-of step sister opened his bedroom door and said tonight's dinner is pizza rolls and chicken wings. We've got a lot of ranch. The door clicked shut. Is there a more Midwestern dinner than that? I think I'll probably make myself something to eat, Jonah said. Except I know him, and know he'll either eat what they offer or not eat at all. He hates to be a bother. His hair is long again, to his shoulders. Yours is longer though! he said. For now, I replied. I am becoming increasingly uneasy with the hyper-femininity of long hair (changeable) and a hyper-feminine body (not particularly changeable, though race-training helps some. Being 41 works against me, though).

On Friday his father will force him to see the hack therapist, who--though he was assigned by the court years ago for one session, and though he is legally compelled to communicate with me refuses to do so, whom Jonah calls "Dr. Fatfingers" instead of Fatzinger, and to whom Jonah spins tales of his sudden (and false) interest in planetary science, algebra, jazz music. Then his dad will take him to the doctor (who also refuses to share records with me) for a physical.

Please come home soon, I say, which I know I shouldn't. But nine weeks is long. But I miss him so much. I will mom, I promise. I'll tell Dr. Fatfingers I'm contempt with my life. I want to be with my friends. I want to live in both places.

You mean 'content,' not 'contempt,' I say. Content means you're happy; contempt means something else.  What is a Freudian slip, what is the truth? I want to come home, Mom. I can't wait to see you.

The sprinkler in the tomato bed is sputtering. Crows fly east to west, as they do every night. The sky is a thin, pearly blue fading to pink. Tomorrow it will get hot again, and stay hot. The grass is yellow. Fires crop up everywhere.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018


When I was a kid, the Fourth of July was the only holiday I really got to spend with my dad. He was off work; my memory is that he took me and my sisters to the parade, or to Deerfield Days. On the 3rd we'd pile into the back of the station wagon and go to the Sears Outlet parking lot, next to the high school to watch fireworks. We ate off-brand cheeze puffs, red licorice.

I remember wearing matching dresses--white with stars--I remember my hair braided. The anticipation of waiting on my swingset for the parade, the smell of fireworks, the way those of us who had to park at the Sears' lot were a different kind of people in Deerfield, not the people who paid to get into the high school and listen to the bands, buy hotdogs or popcorn at the concession stand. At the edge of the lot was a creek; mosquitoes rose up in clouds. When the fireworks bloomed overhead, the shrapnel fell, fizzling and smoking on our cars.

When I was still a single mother, I took Jonah to Richland, MI for the parade: combines and marching bands and candy thrown from floats. I don't know if he remembers, or enjoyed it, but I wept the whole time.

Tomorrow I run my first half marathon since I hurt my achilles and since I moved across the country. For the first time I have race anxiety, even though the course is super flat, and i've trained, and a decent result is finishing under 2.30 and not peeing myself. Jonah is in Michigan with his father. We still have six weeks before he comes home. He sends me texts

I love you
I miss you
let me know when you can talk?

I see his face on the small screen of my phone as if through water.

For all of those parents who don't even get this, who came here like my great grandparents came here, fleeing violence and poverty and in hope of that garbage I used to teach in American Lit, the "American Dream"--

All I want is my baby back home, my family safe. What we all want, really. To take this life for granted. Or at least to be able to breathe a little, to feel safe.

The yard tonight smells like jasmine, woodsmoke, butterfly bush. There is ash on the breeze. There is fire somewhere.

Saturday, June 9, 2018


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


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


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.


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.