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.

Thursday, September 28, 2017


It is still warm, and I am on the porch in the dark beneath the twinkle lights. We have spent the evening planting in the backyard, which is no longer a literal shithole but has a lawn and places for berries and flowers and the old camellia has been tamed and we've planted a new one, and the photina isn't insane anymore and the satan-flower-that-never-blooms-wisteria has been whacked into oblivion. D and R and I worked until almost dark, and Jonah was in his room drawing. There are all sorts of flying insects tonight, surely because it is the last warm day after a very warm summer and the smoke is gone and the trees are turning and the winter crops have been planted in the sunbeds and the last zucchini harvested, the plants pulled but the pumpkin which has three toddler-head sized fruit, oranging.  When I was weeding in the front yard (really, a 45 degree slope) the lavender was on its last blooms, and the scent drifted over the earth, dry and clean.

Yesterday afternoon (and all afternoons when I come home) Jonah and I hugged in the living room, great yellow slabs of late afternoon sunlight over our shoulders like robes. We always hug--after he unconsciously eats breakfast in the morning and before he goes upstairs to get dressed, when I get home from work, before bed, and just now, when he came out onto the porch and scared me and I almost punched him (I have a fight instinct, not flight). Last night I made the boys dinner--chicken, potatoes, chocolate zucchini bread. I wondered to R. in bed if I were entering perimenopause. I slept fitfully, dreaming I punched the college president in the face.

During today's math department meeting, I told them of that dream, laughing.

Last week, my faculty made me cry because they stood up, one after the other, to the new executive dean, and told them how much they supported me. I sat down on the step in the front of the lecture hall and cried. I have never been good with people being nice to me. I love these people, many of my colleagues. I never expected that.

I will not be a dean forever.  I have set that intention. I am moving closer to being a witch: this night of autumn warmth, woodsmoke, lavender, pinot noir I found in the basement left by the previous owner, a winemaker. On my altar are lake Michigan stones, ocean rocks, a smooth round stone from France from a beloved writer friend, crystals the boys found at a gem store, a smooth labradorite from R. The Virgin of Guadalupe, crow feathers. I just finished Ariel Gore's We Were Witches and read Natalie Diaz's poem "From the Desire Field" and have been transformed.

How do we become witches? We have been them all along.

And the crazy family drama that has been unfolding wouldn't be believable as a novel: my ex husband is dating/moving in with the wife of his high school friend and our old neighbor and both of them former KVCC students  (the husband and wife) and the husband is in jail on an open murder charge for bludgeoning a neighbor to death with a hammer and the wife testified on his behalf and the daughter and the wife and the husband found the dead man, called the police, and the house had been scrubbed and the wife's story, according to the reports, has changed, has changed. And it was a mistrial the first trial and the next trial is in January and tomorrow I contact my new lawyer and a lawyer here in Oregon and start making contingency plans.

And the college president where I work has lied to our accrediting body and no longer responds to emails and leaves work before 3 PM and the Gorge is still smoldering and I am doing theater again and writing and tomorrow is closing weekend of The Gondoliers and I have decided to audition more and re enter this part of my life and my second book is with the editor now and I have a working title for the third. And R. is on the other side of cancer (knock, wood, heart) and my boy, my bird, my heart-outside-my-heart is upstairs in his room drawing and.

What if, i thought today, driving home along Marine Drive and the air was full of sunlight and smelled of leaf mold, water--what if i decide that at 40 i am more beautiful than i have ever been, and it keeps being like this?

Right now Jonah and I are on the porch. He is drawing, I writing.

What if I am a witch, if I am in this animal body for good, for now, am here, here, here--

Friday, September 8, 2017

Disaster Relief

This summer--this year--has been, is, hard. Cancer, wildfire, Tr*mp, white supremacists, hurricanes.

The first place I took Jonah to when we moved here was Multnomah Falls. A stranger noted my struggle with trying to take our picture, and offered his help.

The Gorge is burning, and people are calling for blood. The person who started the fire is a boy, not much older than my own son.

I love this place, this landscape. Last week, before the fires, it occurred to me as I drove home that there is nothing about Portland that makes me feel stuck. Oh, I loved Michigan and the Lake and the woods and prairie and Kalamazoo and the people there. But somehow, this is different. It is still somewhat new, three and a half years after moving here.  I want Jonah to love it too, this place. Place is so important. The earth is a living being, he said on Tuesday as we drove to school through thick yellow smoke. Somewhere, people have drilled down so far they can hear the earth's heart beating. I love this place and I love it more now that it is hurting.

And if you want the ridiculous, my ex husband has a girlfriend with whom he's moving in come December. When Jonah told me the girlfriend's name, however, I recognized it. She is the wife of one of my ex's high school friends, a couple we knew and lived near when we were married. The husband was amiable, but a drug addict, erratic. The wife was nice enough. They had a baby before we did, and one right after. That's all fine and good. But--here's the Jerry Springer moment--the husband is currently on trial for murdering a man across the street with a hammer, purportedly for drug money. Husband was then spotted in dead man's car. The next day, Husband and Wife went over to Dead Man's house and "discovered" him, called the cops. His trial started yesterday, and when I saw photographs of the trial, the defense attorney also looked familiar, as she is a former teaching assistant's sister in law.

I can't make this shit up. I can only hope he's convicted and goes away to prison for an awfully long time because if he's found innocent, I can't imagine he'll take nicely to his buddy living with his wife. This is also, as far as I know, the second of my ex's friends to be headed to prison. The first, his best friend, was convicted years ago for drugs, or violence, or both. I have blocked his last name, and I'm okay with that.

This year is hard. I am hoping for rain, for the skies to darken and the air to go cool and wet and sword ferns and moss green up. For us to ride this year out, to gather our strength for the fight. To persist.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Hotel Time

I didn't sleep all night; half-sleep dreams of organizing a resistance in the streets against our Rapist-Treasonweasel-In-Chief. I was hot all night, a burning cinder. I'm never hot, always freezing cold, the down comforter pulled over my ears even in the hottest of summer evenings.

I checked the clock at midnight, two, three-thirty. Then the alarm at 4:15.

The security lines at PDX--post Eclipsealypse--were insane, snaking past each other through the middle of the airport. Lines at PDX are never long. But the TSA agents were efficient and pleasant and I moved relatively quickly throug most of it, my companions all discussing the eclipse, the next eclipse, how they were now hooked.

I slept on the plane, landed at Midway where there isn't a fucking working espresso machine to be found. Flew again, landed.

The hotel smells like it always does, the front desk attendants cheerful, the rental car agent knows me by name. We talk about our children. She tells me she'll see me next month; she will.

I paint my toenails. I take a long, hot shower. I eat cheese and bread and fruit and chocolate and wine.

I briefly speak to Jonah, who has lost another tooth. Who tells me he is 5'3" and 120 lbs, as he went to the doctor today. I think this makes him officially bigger than me in all ways, though I haven't weighed myself in years.

I watch The Great British Baking Show Masterclass, episode after episode. I drink more wine. I ration out some melatonin and put it by the bottle of water by my pillow. I watch more Masterclass. I read a draft of a poem but decide I'm too tired/anxious/crazybrained to write.

I watch videos of elementary school brass bands in Kenya,  college string orchestras, chamber choirs. I weep, weep some more.

My alarm is set for five in the morning, which is equivalent to two o'clock western time. Tomorrow I get my boy and we go home.