Friday, August 23, 2019

Home, Home, Home

I don't have much to say except my boy is home.

I flew 3,400 miles over two days and we were delayed for hours in Chicago and I contemplated the possibility of sleeping on our bags on the shitty, dirty, disgusting airport floor but lo! the angels at Southwest conjured another plane and we lifted off and landed in the wee hours of the night and my boy slept in his bed and spent the day with his friends at the pool and came home sunburned and exhausted.

He is so skinny and tall and he hasn't slept all summer long. I hope a few days here can jar him back into a non-psychotic sleep schedule.

On the plane last night, I thought about that first time I flew to Portland, R.and I only a possibility after weeks of writing to one another. How terrified and also brave we were, how I couldn't eat at all, how scary and yet easy it felt with him, how he held my hand as we walked through a parking lot, how awkward that first kiss was in the airport, how I asked him, timidly, that last night, if he thought we were a thing and he said of course we're a thing and how when I turned my phone back on after landing in Chicago I had a text that said I think I'm in love with you and I didn't even hesitate to write back I'm in love with you too

And here we are, seven years later (!). Jonah exhausted and asleep in his room at 7.45, R watching a soccer game in the living room and me here on the porch.  The boys were in third grade when we moved out here; they start high school next Wednesday. In the hours I had between landing in Michigan and flying out, I drove to Lake Michigan, walked through a prairie. THat landscape is in my blood but today on my run through the sun-bleached lawns of North Tabor, the deep green of Laurelhurst Park, I realized this landscape is in my blood now too. And this one doesn't make me feel anxious, doesn't unsettle me.

Even before we landed, my ex was emailing demanding our travel dates for September (we don't travel in September). Jonah only is required to travel three more summers; in three years, I never have to deal with his father again. I don't wish my boy to grow up any faster than he already is, but my god.

Here we are. I hope J sleeps tonight. The air is thin and pink. I am so glad to be home.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Late August and Here We Are, On the Edge of It

It is the golden hour: yellow-pink light on sunblasted lawns, lawns dry as straw, the deodar cedar and its little chartreuse pollen cones. My husband is inside, playing his guitar and singing quietly I can hear highway noise, a soft hush-hush. Runners and walkers and crows slip past the porch, the twinkle-lights on, prayer flags fluttering in small wind.

I leave tomorrow to fly across country to spend a night in an airport hotel, get my boy, turn around and fly back home again. It has been 10 weeks. I am brim-full with anxiety: these transition points feel like weak joints where anything could go sideways.

The neighbor's sedums are almost blooming, a blush of pink. I have a glass of wine. My husband's voice rises and falls softly inside.

We have gotten the best of news possible--he is healthy, he is cancer-free. We have bills, large ones, for all the tests. We have hiked the Deschutes river, Great Obsidian Lava flow, Lake Paulina high in the Cascades. We have also had some particularly difficult nights as life has closed in again. I had the first reading for Animal Bride. I have gotten, suddenly and after long silence, back-to-back extremely good poetry news that I must wait to post about. He struggles to sell his novel, which is beautiful and brutal, and it is hard, being a family of two writers sometimes. It is hard to be a woman and have spent my entire life learning how to fold myself up put the needs and emotions of others before my own successes, to know how to navigate this. We are trying, both of us. There have been tears and shouting and long walks with the dog and trying to find our way outside of ourselves to something real. We will--that we are able to have these conversations about gendered behaviors and what it means to be in a supportive partnership, that--honestly--he listens to me and I feel safe enough to work my way to the truth without fear he will stop loving me, is huge.

My boy comes home on Thursday. It will be late, he hasn't been able to sleep all summer, finally falling asleep at dawn most days. He starts high school next week, as does his stepbrother, D. Both boys at the same school for the first time, and D. having to navigate moving to a high school where he knows no one. Jonah is moving with his tight group of friends, kids he misses fiercely.

The sky is pink and lilac. R. is singing, Mr. Bill the dog is collapsed on the floor after a long walk, after a day of not eating until I gave him turkey and wet food and he scarfed it all down. He is twelve and Jonah's best friend and I need him to hold on for a few more years, even though he is twelve.

Jonah is coming home. It's going to be okay. This is what I told him as a baby, as a child as I rubbed his back and held him fiercely to my heart.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Halfway Through/Leo Season

It is almost halfway through the summer, and it is grey and chilly. Late July and it's crept above 90 once; it has rained, there was even a tornado in Alameda, a mile or so north and west of my house. Tonight, breezy and the air is chilly. The tomatoes haven't grown a bit, though the cucumbers and zucchini I planted in the new raised beds in the back are verdant, monstrous. The chickens went for almost two months without laying, and the Artemis Twins have grown. After R.'s PET scan, Lilac, the barred rock, started laying again and Horus, the Rhode Island Red, started what looks like a hard molt. The enclosure is full of orange feathers, and she looks more bedraggled by the day.

I talk to Jonah three times a week, I go to work early and come home in the late afternoon sunlight, I run, I walk the dog, I water the garden every other day. We don't sleep much, R. and I, as we are still waiting on one last test to clear him, again, from cancer. All the signs have been good, but I am deeply tired and my body worn down by worry. We lived a week, in between test and a doctor's explanation of the test, believing we might be facing a worst case scenario. I have not had such anxiety attacks for a long time. Thank god for CBD oil, thank god for cats and chickens and running and the smell of jasmine and rosemary and lavender. Thank god for the porch and for good news.

Tonight I can hear a neighbor's toddler having a complete meltdown--scream-crying mama mama mama NOOOOOOO!!!!!! and it feels like a fist in my chest, at my throat. I want to scoop that baby up and hold her and rock her and take her sobs into my body.

It's been a long time since Jonah fell apart like that. That he was a baby. And he didn't have many tantrums--after I left his father and he started sleeping with me every night, he rarely threw a tantrum. Oh, he cried. We both did. A lot. Still do, I suspect.  And he'd ask for a 'rocky hug' where he'd sit on my lap and wrap his legs around my waist and bury his head in my neck and I'd rock him and rub his back until he felt safe, until he was okay.

His face on my laptop yesterday was strained. He's worried--about R., about his friend M. who was diagnosed with a heart murmur, about his father's girlfriend's dog Otis, who might have cancer. We still have four weeks. I miss him fiercely, my boy-man, my best person. I cannot bear to see Facebook memories from years ago when summers were ours, when I didn't have to work and he was with me every single day. But, that was also when his father forcibly cut his hair and he had to sleep there three nights a week and i thought i would never escape.

The screaming toddler--and mother and father and infant sibling and dog are in front of the house now. Dad is doing a valiant job of distracting the bigger one. Did you see that house that had the flowers? are they still there? Mom is wearing a magnificent sky blue caftan; the infant must be weeks, if not days, old.

This is what I am so desperately jealous of. What I so wanted years ago, but didn't believe could ever be possible. To have raised my son away from fear.

I know. Not everything is as it appears. As R. pointed out a few days ago when we were on our nightly walk with Mr. Bill, maniac dog. I have to walk a few paces ahead of R., (despite his legs being almost literally twice the length of mine and my steps being three to his every one) because Mr. Bill walks like a goddamn maniac and can't choose a side of the sidewalk and if you were to walk right next to me he would trip you in an instant. Anyway, R. wondered what people thought of us--did the neighborhood think we didn't get along, as we never walked next to one another?

Well. We made it this far. Only four weeks and a few days left and then the boys start high school and the school year starts up again for me and I have my first reading for my book in a few weeks and am begrudgingly trying to schedule a few more (self promotion is really fucking difficult and I am Not. Good. At. It.).

Anyway. My friend M. and I saw a juvenile red tailed hawk today over the creek at work today, spreading its wings and tail while perched in a snag. It turned its head and looked at us a few times, but paid us little mind.  Thank god for friends. And there have been no fires so far this summer, no orange medallion sun and unbreathable air, and the toddler has stopped crying and Mr. Bill found a tennis ball on our walk and the sky is lilac and I have to believe that despite everything, because it it, we didn't make it this far for it not to turn out all right. It took, and is going to take, a goddamned fight, but the only thing we've got is the ferocity of hope.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Week One, Toward the Solstice

In some ways, it is easier to be on this side of last weekend than before. Now I only have August to look forward to, to count down the weeks. I am no longer anticipating the day I will have to bring my boy cross-country, leave him with his father-who-will-always-hate-me, his father who would do anything to hurt me.

It isn't about me, i try to tell myself. It will be different for Jonah because he is not a woman, not fuckable, not a thing to be owned in the way I was owned, in the way The Murderer's Wife will now be owned by my ex. They are, supposedly, getting married in August. Perhaps it will go okay with her--she is physically larger than I am, almost 6 feet tall, and has obviously been married to a nightmare before. My ex can't intimidate her like he did me, at least not physically.

At any rate, Jonah is gone for 9 weeks and I am going to try to make something of this time--write, garden, spend time with R., run, try to book some readings for my book, which is now officially OUT. I have gone to work, I have run, I have gone to the grocery store on my lunch break and bought a bottle of wine, I have cleaned the chicken coop, watered the vegetables, researched how to integrate chickens and why aren't my chickens laying haven't cleaned the house,  haven't put away laundry. Have been barely okay. Mostly not okay.

One of the things you learn from trauma is how to disassociate. Shut down. I knew I was doing it on the airplane into Michigan, could feel the doors inside of myself swinging shut, locking. R. knows I'm not okay, but can't do much. I realized on my drive into work yesterday that I'm angry, livid, incensed. A white hot anger that I can do nothing with, that will change nothing. I can write poems, I can write here, I can advocate for others. But my anger will not change anything; I am lucky to have been allowed to leave. I should be satisfied with that. I am not. There is nothing I can do. I know I need to re-enter my body, need to be present. I'm trying, I promise.

But there are children in concentration camps in America. But we are on the brink of war with Iran. But NASA published a study that says civilization will collapse in 20 years. But I am trying to promote my book and it feels so fucking futile.

I have spoken to Jonah twice; he's ok. Bored. I can't see his face because the internet connection at his father's house is poor. But here's there, but there's only 9 weeks to go. But the chickens are settling in to the coop outside my office window, the dog has curled near my feet; but my husband will hold me tonight if I let him (it is so hard for me to let him, sometimes); but I have friends who check in with me, who make me laugh and bitch about the futility of meetings with me. But the sky is the palest blue and it smells of jasmine and cut grass.

Thursday, May 30, 2019


It is an almost unbearably beautiful evening in Portland tonight--the jasmine has just started to bloom, the sky is pink at the edges, crows and bushtits and chickadees singing, someone mowing their lawn, the across-the-street neighbor's garden beds a riot of bloom and leaf. And in my garden beds, six tomatoes, two blueberry bushes transplanted from the barren weed-choked side yard, an empty bed ready for the peonies R. has wanted since we moved in.

This is a hard time of year, the hardest. I have already spent one evening crying until I could barely see, R. rubbing my head. In two weeks Jonah graduates from 8th grade. In three weeks he goes to Michigan for the summer. No. In one week and a day he graduates from 8th grade. Everything moves too fast.

Yesterday I left work at 1, pulled him out of school early and we drove down Highway 30 toward Scappoose--through North Portland, under the St. John's bridge, past Sauvie Island, the West Hills and Forest Park (I think?) rising to our left, the Willammette and then the Columbia to our right. Then we took a steep winding road up a mountain in Scappoose to a farm at the end of a gravel road where a man had sheep, goats, sixty-five laying hens and at least that many pullets and chicks, a run down trailer. He shook Jonah's hand, mine, sold us two young Americauna pullets that we carefully shoved into a cat carrier, drove home.

I have terrible vertigo and a gut-stopping fear of heights; while driving up the mountain (no guard rails! clear cuts! immediate and dramatic drop offs!) I glued my eyes to the road, and Jonah kept talking. He knows me, knows how fear washes over me like a wave, how I panic.

We talked about how it is so hard for him to ask for things for himself--even to buy something with his own money. We talked about how the countryside of Michigan and Oregon compare, and his conclusion: Oregon wins except for water (Lake Michigan is swimmable) and Mackinac Island, where the two of us vacationed, those magical trips that are centered in both of our psyches.  I hope w we can bring R. and D there someday he said. Those trips were really special to me. Me too, kiddo, I told him. Not only because it was so scary to do it--go on a vacation (something I almost never got to do as a kid, something I was terrified to do as a single mother in a state that seemed bereft of single parents). Remember how I told you on one of those trips that I would be sad when you were a teenager and you didn't like me very much? And how you told me then you would never ever not like me? I asked him as we headed down the mountain, the city of Portland a shimmer in the east. (When I told R. of this conversation he exclamed why did you ask him that?!?). 

Yeah, Jonah replied. But it's still true. We're lucky. We are just enough the same to like each other. I think a lot of kids and parents love each other, but don't like each other. Which is okay, and normal. Yes, I agreed. It is okay and normal. But I'm really glad and lucky that we like each other.

Tonight the littles are in their crate inside the big coop; the big chickens (Lilac, a barred rock, and Horus, a Rhode Island Red) are suspicious. The littles have broken out of their little daytime quarantine enclosure a million times already; R. reported today that all four were ignoring each other nicely. I'll integrate them all likely within the week.  R. is inside, watching basketball. D. is upstairs in his room, J. in his.

This is not a life I could have imagined, and I'll be honest with you, one I'm terrified (and more than halfway believe) will be ripped away from me. Who am I to deserve this kind of abundance?

Except it is the abundance, and then some, that I know Jonah deserves. So, I suppose, must I.

Friday, May 24, 2019

In Memoriam

Flying into Chicago in late May what I can see is: haze, green, the yellow of sandy soil.  How this was a prison to me, how I can float through it now. How Muskegon is the poster child of Rust Belt abandonment,

that terrible, lonely year between college graduation and when I started grad school (emails today today is the day of Gracious Living, Sara, congrats on your book the class of 1999 has been the top donor to the alumni fund for the past three years, donate now)  how I ghosted on my senior year because after I spent 9 months abroad I tumbled ass-over-teakettle back into smallness, I got a shitty boyfriend (he's working class just like my dad how dare i believe i could be an intellectual like these bougie middle class white kids who were top of their class who seem to think they are owed this education of the mind and spirit, etcetera etcetera) and got cervical cancer and ghosted everyone/I wasn't allowed to have friends/I was afraid/I don't know how to fix this.

After my surgery, after H. and I didn't move to Santa Fe and instead she moved in with her parents in bougie East Grand Rapids (like the North Shore isn't one billion times more bougie than anything Michigan could dish up, Sara), after I moved in with my ex and decided this is all I deserve, this is all I can expect and taught preschool for a year before I cracked and applied to grad school. Two of us in the Chickadees classroom got engaged; Tiffani, with her shithead boyfriend D'Wayne, he of the fucked up eye, he of the bowling shirt, he of the acid washed jeans; she of the I hate all of the black poor child of queers teacher though she herself was poor as fuck. And me, with my 1/10th carat diamond ring, me with my waist-length hair, secret poems about jack pines, abuse.

How the smell of this place, all these abandoned, derelict sandstone brick buildings gut-drag me back.

How here it is 20 years after I graduated from college and I am 42 and flying my 14 year old child back to see my abuser and I have published books and traveled and run races and learned to feel everything instead of nothing (except this means i FEEL EVERYTHING and seem to have forgotten ow not to panic how not to fall apart in a crisis like when Max the dog was dying three weeks ago and I couldn't stop sobbing could stop screaming how today when the plane started to buck over Lake Michigan in thick stormclouds I gasped grabbed Jonah's hand, couldn't breathe).

How i have to still tell myself, when I look down the barrel of the next three weeks and see that weekend where we fly another 1,700 miles and I leave my boy with his father who doesn't cal more than once every other week who doesn't make any effort to acknowledge/come to his 8th grade graduation, who won't even acknowledge me when I stand two feet away from him. How i have to force myself to pretend to feel nothing to prevent myself from falling apart.

First night of three in the post-industrial Upper Great Lakes, May of 2018.

Just holding on.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mother's Day Triptych


Fourteen years ago, I was admitted into the hospital because my amniotic fluid was low, and the doctor said my baby was too big. They began attempting to induce me that night. That night, before Jonah was here, his father stayed with me. Mostly, we slept. Induction wasn't working. It was weirdly cold that May in 2005; from my hospital room, I could see the convent, see the cemetery where all the nuns were buried.


R. has withdrawn this week. His best friend is getting heart surgery, another friend is going through aggressive prostate cancer treatment, R.'s PET scan was denied by insurance, we still don't know nor have had any tests to tell us if his cancer is back. Max-the-dog died a week ago tonight. Jonah leaves for Michigan in a month; we leave for Michigan for a long weekend in two weeks. R. has gone inward, leaving me out here alone. I get it. But I miss him. 


Three girls showed up while Jonah was eating dinner, shouting his name. He left for a walk with them a half hour ago; I can hear their voices laughing down the street. Mr. Bill-the-dog can hear them too. I am on the edge of tears, I desperately want us to have an easy summer. I desperately want R. to be okay, Jonah to be okay. A box of my books arrives this week; the book itself is released in a month. Having PTSD means my body doesn't know how to react to that kind of excitement differently than my terror about R. and Jonah. I hope someone reads it. I hope it isn't terrible. I hope I can enjoy it.