"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Sunday, November 29, 2009


It hides from us in corners of our past, peeking out, then retreating for cover.

It bares itself openly in unexpected moments, overwhelming all of our senses and leaving us breathless.

It whispers to us in dim light and quiet moments when everything seems lost.

It endures the struggle of our battle against it, stronger than we could have imagined, defeating our resistance and somehow empowering us after the fight.

It is a mystery, a longing, a prayer with held breath, a distant glimmer of a light that looks something like peace.

It takes audacity to willingly seek it, even when it seems a given that it is there.

It takes a realm of courage unfamiliar to almost everyone to truly fall and know you will be caught by its net.

It is blindingly beautiful in the midst of chaos and debris.

It is today…shocking…because it resides in my heart.

It may at times seem weak to hope. Watching someone stand in the middle of a figurative or literal wasteland and profess hope for the gift of the next day can seem powerful, or a little delusional. And while most of the time I feel the former, when I heard the word audacity tied to the feeling of hope, it hit me how deep the level of courage that is necessary to accept and see some sort of possibility—to simply anticipate that things will get better.

I was not watching in 2004 when President Obama delivered his speech -The Audacity of Hope. I can’t say I have ever seen it, and have not had a chance to read his book with the same title. But I loved those words—and without anything to do with politics. Those words –the audacity to hope—spoke to me.

The thoughts I write tonight come to me as I stand on the edge of uncertain territory. I can say that over the last few years, I have watched my ability to hope falter in what I was sure was a map for my future. But there is a strange mix of fear and courage that brings me to this place—willing to take a step, a leap into an experience unknown to me until now.

And I feel those words that touched me so when I heard them. The audacity to believe permanent scars fade and heal, trust can return to my vocabulary, and a flicker of something I knew only before countless hard lessons, and too many mistakes…the belief that it will all be alright.

And as I type these last words tonight, there is an audacity in that, too. Putting these words out there, giving them life beyond the silent safety of just lingering in my mind.

It makes this real, it makes hope come alive—living and breathing in my mind, my heart…
in my life.


Friday, November 20, 2009


It derails me
that at times
I worry about your passing.

I fear when you reside
in a yard of stones
that I will conjure up ways
I could have quieted my mind
if only you were here.

And you are here
and I can’t thread words together
and you won’t hear me

I practice in my head;
on paper
with keystrokes flying.

I say everything I have ever wanted to say
and things I haven’t.
And yet, none of the words are right.

You won’t believe me
you won’t accept your role
in the path my life has taken;
the bruised soul you left behind;
the doubt in every thought and whisper
I deliver to my own spirit.

You will never
I am sorry.
I was wrong.

You will never
be someone I can count on
or lean on,
gain wisdom from
or trust.

And I will never be
what I pictured
you wanted me to be.

I am, as always,
trying to stay one step ahead of you
before you shock me
hurt me
betray me.

So I prepare for your passing.

I worry
that it
won’t be a comfort or
even painful;
but instead an extension
of a never ending question.

I won’t ever have the answers
in this life;
in yours --
in what has become ours.
You will take your reasons
with you.

And I worry I will be left behind
more buried than you-
even in death.

Will you pull me with you
more away from the living;
sharing the dust with you
as I try and assemble
the pieces of me that are left?
Or will I somehow find
a path
through the tall grass
and ragged stones
to flat land;
a place of solace-

So, I prepare in my mind
for the end
of the possibility
that you
will ever
make things right.

And I know
I must start now
to look for the
path to flat land;
far away from
where you will be buried-
far away from where you
are now.

I am beginning
to trust my own compass
without the shadow of
your life
or death
inhibiting me.

I can see you
fading in the distance
even now.

And I...
am ready.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Haunting Houses

When I was five, we moved to a green house in Richmond, Virginia. The house was far away from any major roads or shopping centers, sitting on a large lot far back from a lone dirt and gravel road. It seemed as if we lived in the middle of nowhere, and only emerged for visits to the grocery store or the bank.

Deep, thick woods surrounded us practically on every side. I can remember walking in the road in front of our house, picking up rocks from the gray and brown selection, with not a worry of a car coming by or following the usual rules of looking both ways or staying out of the street.
We had moved in a hurry, and the process was tense. Even at five years old, I had sensed it. What I didn’t know then was that we were moving to get away from my father’s last mistress. We had lived in another area of Richmond, in a little white brick house with a black door, and neighbors all around us with kids my age. My memories of that first house include what seemed to be one big back yard laced together between four or five houses, and all of the kids intermingling between swing sets and sandboxes, drinking kool-aid in different kitchens all the time.

My sister, nine years older than me, made extra money babysitting for the lady at the end of the street on the corner, who had a little boy my age. Her house was the farthest away from ours on the street, so she and her children were not as familiar to me. But, my sister could walk there to babysit. And she did. And while she did, my father and that woman had an affair; their trysts planned while my sister cared for her children.

I only learned this in college, when my sister told me, amazed that I didn’t remember everything, forgetting I was only five. The things I do remember were an explosion of emotion, my father rushing home, telling my mother something, all of us crying, lots of screaming and slamming of doors and everyone in and out of the house. I remember us all in the car, my mother driving at a frightening rate of speed and finally stopping to look at us, my sister and me, in the backseat.

To be honest, that event had stayed in memory, but I didn’t know the context. And frankly, my mother and father had a number of other fights before and after that, so this one had just seemed more intense. But, as my sister explained to me over the phone fifteen years later, the woman had threatened to tell my mother about the affair, and basically my father raced home to beat her to the punch. We had to move, and it all happened fast.

The green house in Richmond holds a lot of odd memories for me. Lost in the aftermath of their battle, my parents were merely coexisting, fighting constantly, and whether intentional or not, leaving my sister and me to fare on our own. Even though she was only thirteen at the time, I don’t remember her being home much. My guess (and hope) is that she was spending time with friends. I remember being able to wander all around the yard, across the road, and to a neighbor’s house—connected to us by a path through the woods. Maybe my memory is patchy, maybe my mother was always watching, but I felt very much on my own most of the time.

There was a hatred that hung between my parents, and after particularly loud and angry arguments, I would be reassured if I was heard crying, or if I walked into a room where they were arguing. Everything was fine, nothing was wrong. The drastic difference to what I saw and heard and what they were telling me was hard to reconcile.

At some point during the first months we lived there, and I am sure much to my mother’s annoyance, my father bought a motorcycle. I remember its loud roaring motor, the brown color of the gas tank in contrast to the rest of the black bike—and the seemingly terrifying speed with which my father raced down the dirt road, invisible within seconds inside a cloud of dust.

He would take my mother riding on it, and she tolerated it more than anything, always fearful of my father’s moments of daredevil antics. I wanted to ride with him, begged constantly to ride. He would let me sit on the bike while it was idle and leaning on a kickstand in the front yard-him standing next to me, holding me centered on the seat. He would then get on the bike and sit behind me and show me what all the buttons and gauges were for, seeming to speak a foreign language as he talked about gas levels, the ignition, and the odometer.

But I didn’t want to ride the bike because I was a budding speed demon. I was actually terrified. I had watched my father ride the bike seemingly a hundred times, and as he sped around, pulling the front wheel off the ground, I didn’t get excited, I was scared. Scared that he would do those things with me on the bike, and we would crash. Scared that he would go too fast, and I would fly off the bike. Scared that he wouldn’t be careful with me. But, I longed for the solitary attention from him that wasn’t negative. I longed to have moments with him where he seemed as happy as he was riding his motorcycle, but with me included.

I don’t remember all of the details, but I believe my mother had protested my riding with him. At some point, she relinquished, and he took me on a ride down the road and through our yard. I pretended to love him taking off too fast, and speeding up too quickly, and taking sharp turns that left us teetering sideways. I hid my fear in squeals of what I hoped he interpreted as delight.

Over the next weeks that summer, we started riding more, and venturing farther and farther from the house. We would be riding down the long dirt road, and he would suddenly, without warning, veer off the road, through a ditch and into a field of tall grass, trees and weeds. The ride would get bumpy and fierce, limbs smacking at us, and tall grass catching in the laces of my tennis shoes as we rumbled through. There was no way to tell what the land before us had in store, holes, rocks, debris that could have stopped us in our tracks or overturned the bike. But, I acted as if I was thrilled to be along for the ride.

And then one afternoon, in the distance, in the middle of a field, miles and miles from anything, we saw a house.

It was a huge farmhouse with a wraparound porch, faded white paint and a tar black roof. Pale blue shutters, faded in years of unfiltered sun, hung loosely by the windows, some dangling by only one corner. As we got closer, it was easy to see that most of the glass from the windows was gone. There was no front door, and remnants of trash, old tires, and large pieces of metal littered the yard.

He pulled closer, parked the bike, turned off the motor, and lifted me off the seat before getting off himself. He excitedly told me to follow him as he headed toward the house.

My heart was thumping in my chest. What if someone was there? Why were we going inside?

He stepped on the porch, not trusting the steps leading up to it, which were in serious disrepair. He tested the strength of the boards before pulling me up on the porch beside him. He cautiously stepped in through the open front door frame as I followed behind.

His footsteps stopped and I stood motionless, looking around the room, just as he was. It was as if we had stepped back in time. The furniture was old and dated, but was all there. A complete living room, still arranged with sofa, chairs, and tables all in place. A fireplace on the far wall stood open, the stone hearth stained black with years of use. Pictures hung on the wall, and faded crumpling wallpaper hung on to the remnants of the walls. The only indication that the house was abandoned was a layer of dust so thick that I didn’t recognize it as dust until my father placed his hand in the center of a sofa cushion, mesmerized by the density of it.

There was absolutely no sound other than our footsteps as we wandered through the rooms, even venturing upstairs to find a large unmade bed, a closet full of clothes, a nightstand and rugs, all in place, looking as if someone had just crawled out of bed, dressed hurriedly, leaving the closet doors open. The only indication that this wasn’t the case was the inches thick blanket of powdery filth covering the pillows, bed linens, and clothing hanging in the closets.

We made our way back downstairs to find the kitchen, a round table in the center, with an old school workbook my father said he recognized from his childhood. He stared at it in amazement, absentmindedly sharing moments of his past as a young schoolboy in Kentucky. I was afraid to move, afraid he would remember I was there and stop talking. I soaked up every word as he began explaining things to me—what this was—or how amazing this was—telling me to look at this or that.

I was still beyond terrified. I felt as if we had stumbled into some other world where we didn’t belong, into someone’s home, and I knew any moment, the owners would come storming in and harm us for intruding. Even though it was obvious no one had been there in years, that feeling never left me, and I was so eager to get on the bike and return home.

We did return home and told my mother and sister about the house, but weren’t able to deliver in detail what we had seen accurately just through descriptions.

However, that summer, my father and I made several other trips just like that one, and astonishingly, found house after house like the one we had first discovered. Some ended up being within walking distance of our home, and we would trek as a family to look through these houses and their still life histories. But most of the time, it was just me and my father, heading out in search of another adventure.

What amazes me now is that I was so frightened the whole time we went on these rides and explorations. I honestly didn’t want to go, and the whole time we were gone, I wanted desperately to be safe back at my house. But, I never hesitated to go with him. I wanted that time and individual attention with him more than anything, and those rides, however harrowing, were the only time I got them.

And even though I resent many things my father has done, and even the reckless way he risked my safety at times, those motorcycle trips are still one of the most vivid and pressing memories I have of my childhood, and some of the only ones where I remember interacting with him outside of our home and the pain and tumultuous relationship he had with me.

So I am thankful for those summer days in 1975, the two of us haunting houses, chasing ghosts, and visiting private, mysterious places. There have been times over the years that I doubted my memory. There couldn’t have been so many abandoned houses; we couldn’t have just discovered them. I have no photos of any of the houses, or from any of those rides. But my mother has confirmed my recollection, adding details of her own.

I have so often wondered about those houses and how they were abandoned so swiftly, and what happened to the families that lived there.

We didn’t live very long in the green house before my father was transferred with his job to North Carolina. I am sure he asked for the transfer to get us as far away from his deceit as possible.

And even though I remember us packing boxes, and I remember the move from the green house to our new home, I have often imagined the green house sitting empty, the front door missing, and everything as we left it. I imagine someone discovering our house as we discovered the others, wandering in to touch the layers of dust on our blue floral couch or my ruffled bedspread. I can almost see them looking at the rocking chair in the den and the photos on the walls, wondering why we left so suddenly.

And then, just like my father and I did each time, they leave our mysteries and our ghosts behind to go back home, never knowing the answer.


Friday, November 6, 2009

For Better or Worse?

I have been told before by a very talented therapist that I have terribly negative “self talk”. By this, she meant the things we say to ourselves—that tiny little voice we hear when asking ourselves what to do or what is right. Mine has always been negative, not on purpose and not as much as it used to be. But it is sometimes humbling to know that even my own little voice doubts me.

I worry about the choices I have made in my life. What if I hadn’t loved him, moved there, taken that job? What if I had done something wiser, safer, or riskier? What if I had actually believed in myself all these years—what could I have done then?

I know I haven’t lived up to my potential. I don’t know a lot of people that would say they feel they have. I understand that part of that doubt is being Type A, and just being human.
But the biggest issue I wonder about often is children. I am 40, not at all where I thought I would be in my life now. On my own, still wondering what the end result is supposed to look like.
There are days when I am with my friend’s children, or even when they talk about their kids, and I breathe a sigh of relief that I don’t have that responsibility, that burden. Even along with the joy I see, it is a level of accountability that awes me.

However, it is easy to say that from this side of things. How will I feel 20 years down the line? Will I feel a huge loss, a huge emptiness?

From the time I can remember playing with dolls as a little girl, I wanted to be a mom. All through high school and college, I saw myself as a lot of things, hoped things for myself, but being married and having kids seemed a given. I had no idea how much nothing is a given then. How could I? I see kids that are high school and college age, and they seem so much younger than I felt then. And I look at them and think of what I thought then, what I believed were facts and expectations, and I now know that in all their eagerness, their beauty, their yearning—they can’t know. It is too much to know the pain that life can hand you, the disappointment. But it is also too much to know the beauty and the realization of a dream. All are grand in measure, at opposite ends of the spectrum. And however you imagine both with a young heart, the reality is still a shock.

What terrifies me is that, at this moment, I am not ready to be a parent. I am barely keeping myself afloat. But at 40, how the hell am I still here—at this point? Why haven’t I gotten it together? I know I have been given gifts in this life, things about me I wouldn’t change…but it all seems so thrown together—scarcely keeping a shape, held together with remnants of tape and fraying thread.

Most of the time, I tell myself I am really ok with the idea of not being a mom. And the certainty I felt about it so long ago definitely began to fade, not just because of reasoning, but as I saw that I wasn’t going to meet the right person in time. Today, even as I write this doubting all of it, I am ok with that not happening for me. I worry more about the future than I do right now.

But one aching, powerful reality does comfort me. Even in times of great longing to know the joys and bittersweet moments of being a parent, I have felt protective of a child that doesn’t even exist. I know that a child is “of” his or her parents. And to be “of” me is a concern. I believe I am a fairly good person (most days), and halfway intelligent (most days), but the pain I take to heart, and the depth to which I feel things is more than I would wish upon anyone coming new into the world. Even though this child’s upbringing would not be the same as mine was, I am a carrier of that upbringing. I know all patterns don’t have to repeat themselves, but the emotional scars I carry would translate somehow.

So even as I worry or rationalize, fret or envision, the larger feeling is protectiveness. Not wanting to spread the doubting small voice any further. Letting it fade, whisper and end with me.

Artwork by Selma Albasini- "Sometimes I Feel Like a Childless Mother". To view more of her beautful work, click here.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Homecoming: The Tragedy at Richmond High

On Saturday night, October 24 at Richmond High School in California, many students were enjoying their annual homecoming dance and festivities. In a back alley at that same school, a fifteen year old girl was gang raped by as many as 10 men, while another 10 people watched.
When I first read this story, I felt physically ill. I know we are all faced with headlines that shock us every day, each more horrible than the last, it seems. But this story, and this girl have haunted me.

Her life will never be the same. I can’t even begin to think how you recover from something so traumatic and brutal. Rape in any form is horrific and devastating, and reading any story about an attack involving rape is painful. But I cannot wrap my mind around 20—TWENTY—people involved in an attack, and no one having a conscience. How does that happen? I understand the psychological theories—this group mentality takes over, but still. It seems so implausible to me that 20 people can all randomly come together and simultaneously lose their humanity.

At this point, it appears that the bystanders can’t be charged. The police do have suspects and there have been arrests. But my thoughts have never left this young girl. After the attack, the rapists left her critically injured and unconscious under a bench. She had to be airlifted via helicopter to a hospital where she spent several days, finally being released later in the week. I have felt such an urge to reach out to her somehow. I knew the authorities would protect her identity, and rightfully so, but I have thought of her every day since reading the initial article.

A friend of hers has spoken out, describing her coming to the dance in a purple sequined dress and faux diamond earrings. I remember those incredibly awkward years when nothing makes sense…and how hard it was to fit in and feel accepted. Her friend said that this girl struggled to fit in. I thought back to how much I didn’t like dances, and often didn’t attend- afraid of my own awkwardness, too self conscious to even pick a dress, fearing how I “wouldn’t” look instead of how I would. I can honestly say that I never, ever felt I was beautiful or even attractive throughout grade school and high school. I think so many of us go through that. And to think of this young girl, dressed up, going to this dance-an innocent thing we have all done at one time or another during our school years—and then to lose her youth, her innocence and far too much more—is almost too much to comprehend.

I am afraid to see the next news stories once the suspects and their lawyers get their sound bytes. Maybe I am mistaken, maybe I will be surprised. But I doubt it. I don’t want to read about her reputation, her upbringing, mistakes she made, if she was drinking, or what she was wearing. I don’t want to read about the rapists’ troubled upbringing, or how they were too drunk or high to know what they were doing, or that some were “pressured” by others to participate. I just don’t. There are NO excuses. NONE. Not for this. The age range of the rapists is suspected to be 15-21. But anyone of any age knows this is wrong. There is no gray area.

Her family has, with much grace I think, spoken out to the community, asking that the response to this tragedy not be more violence. They have asked that the community work to find ways that this will not happen again.

I so agree. Let’s do something—anything—so this kind of thing never happens again. But how do you even begin to know how to do that when the crime itself is impossible to understand?

As much as I don’t want anyone’s childhood to be used as an excuse for this, I do know that this is the only place to start preventing violence. It means raising children to be accepting, compassionate, kind, and with some sort of belief system rooted in decency. This is no small task. And I guess even when all that does happen, someone can grow up to be a criminal. But the odds are lessened.

It does take a village to raise a child. And that whole village, which includes any adult that touches that child’s life, has to be an example for that child to live by. Lofty aspirations I know.
My hope now is that this girl, even in her anonymity, can somehow be saved by a village. First, her immediate family and community, and then by those of us who only know her as the victim.

I didn’t know of a way to reach out, and today, found the solution online. If you feel so inclined, grab a card, a piece of paper, and send this young girl a note with your words, your kindness, your compassion.

Let her know her village is watching over her, even from afar.

The girl's school, Richmond High, is accepting cards and donations for her and her family.
Checks should be made out to the Richmond High Student Fund.
The checks and cards should be sent directly to the school:
1250 23rd St., Richmond, CA 94804-1011.



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