... I can only speak my mind.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

Monday, February 06, 2006

Because of a broken heel 8/8/03

My attention span is short these days. Daydream for a minute and I almost get run over. A taxi cab came barreling down the street at me yesterday, its abrupt horn nearly knocking me off my sandals. Today someone stepped on my heel and broke it off as I stopped to listen to a homeless man's serenade. "You are so beautiful," the bedraggled man sang to a woman walking by. Her companion laughed, and when the man was denied a tip for his performance, he said, "That's okay. Someday I will be a millionaire! I'll invite you both for a trip on my yacht!"

When I noticed the bottom part of my heel had come off, I walked back to retrieve it. There it lay -- a black rubber dee-shape, abandoned like the runt of the litter. I picked it up and inspected it as though its nails and grooved pattern fascinated me. After carrying the heel for a few blocks (perhaps as proof of my hobbling pace), I threw it into a garbage can.

And so now I have officially become a cliche. In my quest for originality, I have resorted to this: a wide-eyed, pony-tailed, suburban-raised import, wandering the streets of New York aimlessly. I have book-smarts to spare, but they are of little help when I am stranded at the McDonald's in Times Square because of a broken heel.

Instead of getting frustrated by this, I can feel my excitement building. I must buy new shoes now, out of necessity. My explorations of the city have led me into many shoe stores these past three months, but I have yet to buy a pair. I can barely feed myself, much less buy new shoes. Maybe I will skip dinner tonight. I need these shoes for work tomorrow.

I imagine that this kind of struggling should get me down. But when you spend your whole life in a survivor mindset, you learn to expect a struggle. It was always harder to explain the bruises when I had to punch myself. This city seems to be filled with masochists, however. Maybe I fit in better than I thought. We complain about how tough it is here, but secretly we love it. We are all waiting for the day when we finally beat it. But we can't win against a city. It's just too big.

This is what happens when you barely ever look before leaping. I look around me everyday and I see these fashionable, strong, business-like women. I feel I must wear their uniform, share their armor in order to protect myself. Any visible flaw ruins my chances in survival of the fittest.

But freshly-shod racehorses only run faster for a short time. They can't blame the racetrack for their shoes getting rusty. If anything, they should be proud of their broken heels -- evidence of many races run, many battles won, and the stamina to keep on running.

Clothing poems 4/3/03

Dirty Laundry

I used to hang myself to dry
Soul swinging in the breeze
But now I wash up in the dark
My laundry’s never clean.

I want to walk in wrinkles
And sleep in dirty sheets.
I’ve outgrown all my hand-me downs
My shoes won’t fit these feet.

I’m due to take a mudbath
Where cries turn into squeals
And dusty knees can lead me home
Where hearts know how to heal.

Making Waves 8/20/03

Eleven days after my father's death, I am realizing the potential of my true power. That I must surrender to the tide sometimes, ride the wave wherever it might take me.

Once out in the ocean, I can choose to bodysurf or let the waves just pass me by. I can hop the tidal waves or paddle through the little, baby ones. But then I have never had a wipeout take me down for long. I get a little scraped and sandy, but usually swim right back out.

The last time I saw my father was on August 3. I told my boyfriend on the way back home that I didn't think I would ever see him again. I was right. He died in a sudden car accident five days later.

My first night in my parents' home, after taking a train back from New York, the power went out. By August 14, the day before my father's viewing, the lights went out in New York. I watched the streets on television that I would normally walk, heard news anchors report that nobody knew the cause of all this. Meanwhile, Mars is closer to Earth now than it has been in centuries. I looked up at the sky Friday night and could see it clearly. I told my boyfriend that night that I hoped we would get a terrible thunderstorm the next day, the day of the funeral. As we stood by the gravesite, I heard the first few grumbles, and then the downpour came. On the way to the reception, the lightning was so bright that my sister-in-law said from the front seat of our car that she thought she had gone blind for a moment.

Today I saw a photo in Time magazine of sweaty, tired New Yorkers, sprawled out on the sidewalk. One girl sat up from the masses, in a white tank top and denim skirt. She surveyed her surroundings with a concerned and frustrated gaze. The caption read, "Powerless."

What a wave of crazy people, lost without their lights. And yet the article noted over and over again the amount of kindness shared amongst them. Hell, there were 100 fewer arrests in the city that night. Only 850!

Maybe it is when we lose our power that we become aware of the power we truly possess. That our choices become clearer, that we can see our real control and potential. We are given endless opportunities to shine everyday of our lives. Why don't we? Why do we let them pass us by?

I really feel like going swimming.

Home 7/25/03

Something about the way
A cloud floats in a sky
Of blue
Over darkened heads and
Brown-crisp skin
And I in red
And body too thin
And face too pale
And hair too blond
For this Indian town
Reminds me that today
It's okay
To take the local train
To pass through all the stops
Sit back and breathe
And know that when
I think I am the most alone
Even then, wherever I am,
I am home.

My weakness for the strong stuff 4/13/03

Tonight I watched as a young man sipped scotch and I told him about you. I asked him if he drank scotch often; or maybe he professed his love for the drink and had already answered my question before I asked it. He began to talk of something else, but the bar was noisy – I could not hear a word he said. My mind was stuck on the scotch.

I nodded at him and mentioned how you once had scotch for breakfast. He laughed. He said he thought that was going too far. He had missed a wine tasting that day because it was scheduled for 10 a.m., he said. He leaned back from the table, and lifting up his brown knit cap, he rubbed his eyes, forming puppy-dog wrinkles on his forehead. His re-enactment revealed a tuft of brown hair and I wondered what the rest looked like. Suddenly he became more attractive to me. Of course he did. He was drinking scotch.

And so I must wonder how hard liquor makes boys feel like men.

My college boyfriend wanted to be Frank Sinatra. On hearing the news of the singer’s death, he woke me from his dorm room loft with tears in the corners of his light blue eyes. A contact lens irritation, he explained. At a party that night, he toasted scotch with friends in honor of Sinatra – a man famous for his emotional renditions of sappy love ballads. A man from a generation who called women “broads” and wore hats with their suits. A romantic idealist with tremendous talent, charm, and intensity. That was Frank. Donning a tough-guy facade to protect such vital sensitivity, his talent alone could reveal him. To drink like Frank was as close as my boyfriend could get to being him that night. His hero had succumbed to his own mortality.

When I saw how you attempted to emulate Bogart and the men of film noir (fictional characters, no less) through your habits and your dress, flashbacks of my first love flooded me. How comfortable this would be, how familiar, I thought. Another man enriched by fantasy. And such a romantic fantasy, at that. Of course, my college boyfriend could never drink like Sinatra. He was not nearly as lost as you are.

I found myself first drinking scotch on an evening out with my campus newspaper’s editorial staff. The national news editor ordered it on the rocks. Gradually evolving as my latest crush, he offered me a sip, and sped up the process. I placed the rim hesitantly to my lips only to reveal a squeamish femininity kept hidden so well in the newsroom. My crush had a calling unlike any of the other writers, a complete immersion in his passion, and an egotistical flair for debate. He became my favorite distraction from the stressful juggle of new responsibilities. I laughed at his antics. He soaked up my intelligent asides. He reminded me why I was there in the first place. And though we referred to each other by last name only, he had given me that sip and let me in on his intensity. This was something I could never do with you.

You protect yourself so tightly, so afraid, so afraid. You drink your coffee black. You smoke cigarettes unfiltered. And you drink your liquor hard to keep your heart from breaking. I fall in love with boys who hear their mind too loudly, whose eyes burn with longing for the reason. When women cannot soothe them, they calm their waves with poison ... the quicker the better. But you like it almost deadly. Your well is buried down so deep I can barely stick my toes in. And this is why I won’t drink scotch. We’ve too much animosity.

The Guest Room 4/29/03

The other night, my mother found boxes of old photographs buried deep in the guest-room closet. Pictures of our old house sat in a white, wrinkled envelope in one of the boxes. I remembered my step-father taking these photos of my mother and different rooms in the house back when they were trying to sell it. They had just gotten married. I was 13.

When I flipped through the photos, I was amazed at how young my mother looked. And how independent. And how tired. Back then I didn't really consider how difficult it must have been for her to raise my brother and me alone -- to try and establish a sense of normalcy for us amidst such adult chaos.

In one photo of the dining room, she poses next to a corner china cabinet, painted white to match the walls. She was immensely proud of this purchase. Another photo shows the tiny kitchen that hosted dinners for three for much of my childhood. In the corner of the kitchen photo stands a skinny girl with braces and a baggy green t-shirt. She is barely in camera range. She is turning her back on the photographer.

My bedroom was huge in that house. It was a two-bedroom colonial. By the time my brother and I were too old to share a room, and my father had moved out, my mother converted the downstairs family room into a master bedroom for herself. She had no privacy whatsoever. In my room, I had dormer windows and a door leading out to a patio on top of the garage (although my mother never let me open it, for fear I might fall off the roof). By age nine, I would sneak out there anyway when I got home from school -- when I had the house to myself for a few hours.

In his bedroom, my brother had a long, walk-in closet. One day he decided to draw superheroes and cartoon characters all over his walls. The neighborhood kids came over with crayons. My mother was fine with this. She wallpapered over our art once we had gotten bored with it, but kept the Batman drawings in the closet as souvenirs.

That house always felt like mine as much as it was my mother's. We had rules, I suppose ... but I helped make them. So did my brother.

My mother remarried. New rules.

I put the box away. Suddenly I realized I no longer wanted to see those photos. They reminded me too much of an identity I had lost. Back when my step-father would mention moving away from that house, I would run up to my bedroom and slam the door in protest. In my mind, the topic was not up for discussion. Maybe because I no longer had any say.

My mother would try to rationalize with a defensive preteen. She recounted tales of living in seven different houses as a child. She couldn't get too attached to any one place. She learned to accommodate for others. She never had any say. She still doesn't.

The day we moved out, I wrote my name in pencil in hidden places in my bedroom -- behind the curtains, on the side of a heating vent, in the upper corner of the closet. I needed proof that I was there. Yet I did this in pencil. I could only really whisper my existence by then.

In my new house, our rooms were the same size as the guest room for new step-brothers. My mother and step-father had the largest bedroom, their own bathroom, and their own privacy. Doors closed. My step-brothers stopped visiting as much. The guest room was usually empty.

At 13, as I began to feel like a guest in my own body, I also began to feel like a guest in my own house.

I don't want to be a guest anymore.

The Navigator 8/15/03

Today, I watched myself wander down 34th Street, in and out of shops filled with clothes I cannot afford to buy. A faint, dusky sunset lit the box of space between skyscrapers, and I looked to this space for direction. A girl alone on a crowded street, the perils of city life are new to me. But I have been trained for just this sort of navigation.

At eight years old, I found my way through forests with only the sun as my guide. Well, the sun, and my father egging me on from behind, dubbing me the "Navigator" of our make-shift Indian tribe. My father turned fear of the unknown into a game. We would set out from his apartment on a Sunday afternoon, and as we got lost, the mundane became a movie.

Three walking sticks -- one for each height -- and we were on our way. My little brother sped ahead, carelessly thrashing anything alive in his path. Perhaps a sharp stick is not the best toy for a hyperactive six-year-old boy, but I think my father enjoyed watching his excitement.

David hopped around like an elf back then. He echoed my father's songs and jokes with his own silly versions. Our train's caboose, my father pounded his walking stick and stuck out his chest, proclaiming his new name: "Chief Big Bear." David was, "Little Bear," our warrior, he would say.

My "Navigator" title seemed much less glamorous. I wanted to be a bear, too.

But when I complained, my father explained that my role was the most important. I would find our way into adventures and I would find our way out again.

At first I was a horrible navigator.

I daydreamed into groves of poison oak because I had seen honeysuckles nearby. I stopped at every flower and butterfly. I would spend a good 10 minutes admiring the sound of rushing water or the shape moss formed on a craggy rock.

But six-year-old boys get tired and cranky, and their Kool-Aid smiles fade when they have been climbing rocks all day. The same thing happens to 40-year-old men when they are ready for dinner.

And so, when the sun set, I would find my focus. My father would watch quietly as I guided us back home.

Anyone who knows my father well can tell you -- this was not a quiet man. He was an entertainer. He often dominated conversation. He had an abundance of energy and a dynamic presence that could overwhelm, if not enthrall you.

And yet, with me he knew instinctively when to tone down his charisma ... and listen as I found my own voice.

My father was a natural teacher and never condescended to a child. He shared many of his life's lessons with me and my brother, yet he knew the best teacher was experience.

He never pushed. He only guided. And while I know it must have pained him all the times I have lost my way in the woods, he knew full well I would always find my way out.

I feel very lucky to be the daughter of a man so concerned with the happiness of others that he taught them how to relax and laugh. To stop worrying and listen to their hearts.

I feel very lucky to be the daughter of a man who could encourage my need to get lost in the details of life and yet inspire me to find my direction at the same time.

I survive in a city these days that tests the strongest navigators. But, I have faith in myself to still follow the sunlight, my dreams peeking through the cold granite. One might think I have new reason now to look skyward, but my father is not up there in those clouds.

More than ever now, I think he would want me looking up, if only to display my confidence. And my faith that Big Bear is always behind me, watching as I find my way.

Flash Fiction 11/3/04

As she reached for her second diet low-carb root beer, the young blond woman wiped the foam off her mouth with her pink argyle sweater-sleeve and leaned her head back to chug the second, back --back so far that she feared she might fall over onto the white linoleum kitchen floor -- but at least that would be a novelty and something she could write home about.

The Swing 2/1/03

A slow, summer morning filled with cartoons and cereal commercials inspired me. I had probably seen one on television where perfectly happy eight-year olds always had perfect new toys. So I asked Dad on a whim. I had decided I must have a tree-swing. I never thought he would actually come through. But then he had an eight-year old heart, too –- I thought all dads did.

Of course the conception of the swing was rather shoddy. He was never one to get lost in the details. Hard at work in the basement, he took my mom’s good broom and sawed off the handle and then tied some twine to either end. I wish I knew how he got it hoisted on that branch. He chose the tallest tree in the whole backyard with the longest trunk. And the thing was the most uncomfortable swing imaginable. The light blue paint chips clung to my little-girl legs as I attempted to move on the contraption. I could only sit on it for a few minutes before the tension of the wooden rod seared into my behind.

We already had a swing-set. But I guess that was beside the point.

Dad was pretty heroic that day. I think I just tried to ignore the pain the swing caused – that he had caused despite himself. I just tried to happily ride it anyway.

I suppose I’ve done that ever since.

When she came home from the grocery store and opened the screen door, my mother appeared a bit dismayed at our triumph in the backyard. Dad had once again broken down the practical tools of life just for fun.

I learned to listen to her that day. The swing was certainly not what I had dreamt of and I had gotten Dad into trouble. And Mom had to buy a new broom. I could see she was really upset but wouldn’t understand why until years later.

It wasn’t until Dad got sick this year that I wished I had never understood.

False Gods 12/16/04

The speedometer had barely gone past 65 mph when he first saw the flash of red lights. Sam released the pressure from the gas pedal. He steered the truck right and cut the ignition.

As the police officer approached the truck, Marissa peered behind her, past the suitcases and garbage bags piled into the back seat. In the passenger-side mirror, she stared down the khaki uniform until her reflection distracted her. At 25, the women lurking behind her mirrors often surprised Marissa. Today she was freckled and pig-tailed, squinting through windshield-filtered sunbeams. How this could be the same woman who had gazed at her with mascara-stained eyes, lids drooping, in Sam’s bathroom mirror that morning, she could not quite fathom.

She placed black sunglasses over her cool green eyes and furrowed her brows at Sam, whose worrisome words invaded her.

“I can’t believe this,” he said. “We’re barely even out of the city and now this. What does that guy want from me? I can’t sit back and let the rest of the cars pass me!”

The corners of Sam’s delicate mouth sharpened with tension, as his eyes remained a placid blue. His eyes possessed an incredible ability to sit still, clear, and chlorinated like the baby pool, despite the tidal waves that rose within him. Marissa trusted them, but she envied their stability.

“Hey there,” the officer said. “Do you know why I’ve stopped you today?”

Sam could not decide if his question had been rhetorical. He chewed on his lip before answering.

“I caught you going 65 in a 60-mph zone,” the officer said.

Marissa sat like a window between the two men, studying both from behind her dark glasses. The officer wore aviators; the golden rims shining like false gods. His chiclet grin spoke to Sam mockingly; middle-aged skin and graying, straw-thin hair revealing a wisdom Sam had yet to gain.

“We’re driving across the country,” Sam said. He reached into the glove compartment for his rental papers. “I guess I’m kind of in a hurry to get to New York.”

“How often have you driven in the past five years?” the officer asked, rustling the papers in his sun-speckled hands.

Like a human ping-pong ball, Marissa shot her head back to Sam’s side of the truck.

“I haven’t driven at all in the past three, actually,” Sam said. “I don’t own a car here in Seattle. This truck’s a rental, see?”

“That’s not true,” Marissa said. “You just drove two weeks ago at my parents’ house, remember?”

“Uh,” Sam said, his voice reaching for words. “Okay, yes, I did, but just that one time.”

His mouth tightened into a horizontal line.

“And where was this, your parents’ house?” the officer asked.

“Delaware,” Marissa said.

“Well, you really get around now, don’t you?” the police officer said, laughing to himself.

Marissa stared back at him, her voice reaching out for words now, too. She could not recover as quickly as Sam had.

“She doesn’t talk much, does she?” the officer asked.

“You’d be surprised,” Sam said, smiling.

Marissa sat back in dread. The familiar knowledge of having said the wrong thing flooded her. And so she relaxed for the moment. She had just that moment, and when the officer left and returned to his car, when Sam had managed to win the ping pong match, the dented ball could be fixed. It could be hammered out and prepared for the next serve.

“Okay, I’ll let you go on this one,” the officer said. “Just be careful once you hit Route 90.”

“I will, thanks,” Sam said.

As the light brown figure grew out of focus, Sam turned the key and inched his way back onto the highway. Marissa sat still, her moment over. She sat still and waited. Sam looked over at her and shook his head.

“Man,” he said.

I’m not a man, Marissa wanted to say. She impulsively always wanted to say this.

“Why did you have to say that?” Sam asked. “It doesn’t matter that I drove two weeks ago in Delaware.”

“I was just trying to help,” Marissa said.

“It just made me look bad,” Sam said.

His eyes were calm. His mouth was laughing. His mouth was laughing through vicious teeth.

The truck neared a dimly lit tunnel, and Marissa placed her sunglasses on top of her head. She turned her eyes away from Sam. They were no match for his. They dove into his blue pools unprotected, never knowing how deep the water might be.

In the dark, murky, cement-mixer walls of the never-ending tunnel, a little girl with pigtails stared sadly from a sideview mirror. Marissa watched her bob along. She watched her blank stare.

Such a familiar face, she thought. I think I might know her. If only I knew what her voice sounded like.

As the truck plowed out into blinding daylight, Marissa thought of the pigtailed, speechless girl she had been a year before. The rented red Buick Rendezvous glided down the pine tree-lined road and Sam broke the silence.

“Washington is the Evergreen State, you know,” he said.

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” Marissa replied. Her soft voice lilted, her response automatic. She blinked at the window until her vision got foggy and meshed with the glass. In the back of her mind, Marissa felt her father’s forefinger and thumb pinching at her pigtail that day, as her feet stood planted, her eyes wet with tears.

“What are you doing?” Marissa had asked him. He walked behind her, picked up the other braid with his fat fingers. Lowering his head, he focused his narrow eyes on her ear.

“Just as I thought,” he said. “Goes in one ear and out the other.”

Waking Up 4/29/03

My days become perpetual dawns ...
Always awake at six.
Light passes through (in winks and yawns)
My window, playing tricks.
The sun comes in and stretches wide
Eyelids and stubborn lashes,
Who cling to sleep, who tell me lies
In dreams of dust and ashes.
Gold-flickered trunks of trees who grow
And age
Mock my impatience.
They can't be caged
And yet they know
To rest throughout life's changes.

Water Safety 4/9/03

He’s always so lost and
Fascinated by me --
As if I’m a mermaid,
A vision at sea --
And he a fisherman who can’t swim.

His bait cannot lure me,
His hook -- it might hurt me,
And so he decides to dive in.

And I soften my tone
When I share my world.
And he reminds me of all
That I’m missing.

In love with a life
That is never my own,
I forget who I am
When I kiss him.

So quickly it seems,
My scales lose their gleam
Down where the sun cannot brown them.
He struggles for air
For he’s gone too deep.
He wakes from his dream
And he’s drowning.

A fantasy shared,
I am saved
And he cared for.
I sing until I am voiceless.
I give all I can,
But he longs for dry land
Where they stand on two feet
And make choices.