Friday, September 18, 2015

dad and father, father and dad~

I saw my dad today. My adoptive dad, that is. The man who raised me, technically as close to one I can call "dad" as ever will be.
My son and I had just finished visiting his own dad at the PPG building where he works. We sat down to share a bagel in the café in the plaza. I looked up and saw him then. He said good bye to what appeared to be some coworkers and turned away from us, walking the opposite direction. I watched him as he walked, he looked old to me now, a slight limp in his gait, hair almost white. I stood up as he rounded the corner far away so I could watch him until I couldn't see him anymore. He still had the paunch and the big hands, something of a comfort to me growing up. When I sat down again, my son said to me, "what were you looking at, mama? You look sad." I had no response and just hid my face in my coffee cup as tears welled up in my eyes.

This incident all came shortly after my birthfather sent me his usual "tree" of flowers on my birthday. Always picking out the largest and most expensive arrangement available at the local florist, even the delivery man each year is a little embarrassed for me as he tries to find a place to put them in my house. I only glance at the cards now, already knowing what they say because they're written by his personal assistant, conveniently and perfectly impersonal. My favorite part is how he signs the cards "Doctor"---as if we're on professionally detached terms.

I've never known a dad, to be honest. I once knew a man who raised me as his own and last year I met the man who gave me the other half of my genes. But I do know someone else's dad. I watch him everyday with his son, who looks like a miniature version of himself. I see him gently kiss him as he sleeps, pick him up and throw him around, I see him say sorry when he messes up, modeling an evolved man in a world that teaches men they are not responsible for their actions. I see him work on being patient with him knowing neither of them is or ever will be perfect.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

the walnut tree~

The other day, my son showed me a walnut fruit he'd found on the ground at a park we go to. At first, I didn't recognize what it was. When I did, I simply brushed it off, handing it back to him,  "It's a walnut hull." We looked for the tree but I couldn't remember what the leaves looked like. He held it tightly to himself on the ride home, a newly discovered treasure. Suddenly, from the backseat he says to me, "Mama, smell this."
And just like that, it all came back.

I was in that backyard, swinging on the tire swing of the walnut tree. I remembered picking up the walnut fruits and trying to peel them open. I remembered their smell: tart and tangy, nearly too raw for my nose. I remembered the squirrel family, always getting to the shells before we could. I remembered the tire swing hung too low when you got on it, nearly touching the ground so that you had to jump onto it from a running start. You would then swing far out, over the hill, the wind kissing your face. You were in flight, and could only stop safely once the tire's weight pulled you beneath the massive branch it hung from.
It was the house I was adopted into. It was the house where my adoptive mother slowly started to become a fanatic, hauling us to this religious teacher and that for hours and hours, after school and on weekends, we couldn't learn enough, attend enough anti-abortion protests, be mentored enough by mentally unstable people about her version of religion and church and god. It was where I saw the rainbow after she was arrested, my grandmother telling me it was a sign from Jesus that my mother would come home. I hoped so, because my other mother never came back.

But the tree. That walnut tree. I had to see it again. I knew the house was not too far from the park and so I took a different route in order to pass it on the way home. I pulled the car over when I saw the house. Ah, yes, the long pinnate leaved branches; I never really cared for them.  It was not as massive as I remembered it, my 6 year old body now 34, my belly swollen with my second child. The tree looked old and weathered, neglected. I wanted to get out and touch it, the haven it was to me those many years ago. The hill it was on looked flat to me now, not steep and risky. Perhaps I'd climbed too many mountains of my own; where the walnut tree sat, my first.
What I mostly saw was how the branch was gone. The branch from which the tire swing hung, cut off, an ugly stub remaining. That key to my freedom, it held the first of all the risks I took, running and swinging out and away and through and under and over and beyond that backyard.

Friday, July 31, 2015

tea time~

I am only able to get to the tea pot in time if he doesn't pull on my pant leg,
I on his,
both of us needing the other, desperately even.
I ask him what he needs. I already know.
He scratches his head as if deep in thought, then ignores me.
I think about the tea pot again. Maybe I'll have time to...
He bites my knee, begging for yogurt and blueberries,
riding a matchbox car up my leg, handing me a Christmas book to read to him.
I think about the tea pot again. I add water to the pot.
We settle in, buried in the early dawn comfort,
the cool morning seeping in through the window,
practicing the words finally coming to him.
The whistle is blowing
but my cup already overflows.

Fall 2013

Saturday, May 2, 2015


Last night I had the strangest dream. I was talking on the phone with my brother Josh, a person I've never gotten along with, whom I haven't spoken with in years. We were all adopted in my family and I can still remember when he came. A skinny boy of 3, always smiling with the most nervous and tinny laugh, his little legs next to mine in the car as we drove away from his foster mother's house. He carried his nervous laughter into adulthood, where humor became his armor of confidence, every person the butt of his everlasting joke. That person often being me.
This tiny boy grew into a man. A man who became a Marine. He served in the Iraq wars, killing people, calling them his "kills" as he'd been taught to dehumanize them, to distance himself from the men only doing the same as him on the opposite side: defending. The chasm between us grew wider and wider, as I was a medic serving in the very same military. He called the Arabs "towelheads" and "sandfleas" at Christmas dinner. There I was, sitting to his right, flinching, remembering my Arab half. Thinking of all the blood spilt on both sides.

But in this dream we are not distanced. We are on the phone talking; eating sandwiches together. We are sharing our lives in ways I'd only dreamed of; natural, comfortable, connected. I tell him how sad I am at the way things turned out. At the way things turned out. My brother doesn't get defensive. He doesn't laugh me off. I can hear him munching on the other end of the phone, moving his sandwich from one hand to the other, he takes another bite. He says something soft and understanding, so unlike him. So unlike him from the very day I met him, sitting next to me in his dinosaur tot t-shirt in the car, that strange tinny laugh gone.

My son is waking up in bed next to me, I feel myself surfacing from sleep. Hanging up the phone, I can hear my brother's voice fading, I know. I know. And I'm sorry about that.

I swear there were crumbs on my pillow next to my head when I woke up.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

on grief~

I volunteer at a Free Clinic and the people I saw today in particular were so vulnerable. More vulnerable than usual, it seemed. We have a funny saying in massage therapy that goes, "People come and bare their bodies on your table, but they're really there to bare their souls."
I was working on this one young woman and she was just lovely to even look at. She was clearly into an authentic retro post WWII style. She had a tattoo sleeve and the most awesome blunt bangs I'd ever seen on someone. Her face was quite pierced and yet she still managed to look ethereal and elegant with all that edge, at least to me. She was an utterly beautiful mess, coming completely undone.
She let me know she was having a lot of emotional pain from a recent break up and as I began to work on her body, she talked about how she still couldn't let it go. Stop thinking about it. Him. Them. Everything that went wrong. It occurred to me that I was once 25 and a total mess, too. I'm 34 and still feel like a mess, only for different reasons now.

At this point in my life, unless I know people well, I've learned not to share my opinions about What To Do When Life Hands Someone Else Lemons. The world has enough know-it-alls; who wants to come into contact with a complete stranger and be handed yet another set of bad project management skills? They're all the same anyway. We all go by the same handbook at the end of the day---the one where you finally figure out there are some things you only learn by having them finally you.

But something in me reached out. I was holding her head and suddenly heard myself gently say, You need to give yourself permission to grieve. 
I told her to stop holding it together so well. To let the tears come. Grief is part of the letting go even if it feels like giving into it might take us to a place we fear we may never leave. But there's always a door. We open it and walk out when we're ready to.
Tears started streaming down her face. My own eyes welled up for her. Sometimes we just need another human being to hold us and let us cry and say...absolutely nothing. 
We can't let go of something if we don't have a grasp on it in the first place. Sometimes I think that's what's eating us as a culture----the grief. Our grief. Everyone's grief. We're all trying to pretend we have a hold on it, that we've got it figured out. But the nature of grief is just that---it's messy. It's not fun to look at. It's best dealt with by doing all the things we no longer do very well: Be quiet. Touch people. Cry with them. Let them lead the conversation. Grief is horrifying because there's that moment where you wonder if you'll ever find your way out of it. And if you're present to someone else's grief, you're wondering if they will ever find their way out of it. There are too many unknowns. Too many awful, godforsaken unknowns. So we try to contain it, control it. And what a shoddy job we do of that.
But that's life, isn't it? That's life, right there, in a nutshell: too many unknowns. When it comes down to it, that's what we're really grieving. Not only our losses, but all that could have been.

I held her face for a long time. That beautiful, weeping face and the curtain that was pulled back for a few minutes that no one else could see.
When she was ready, she got off the table, opened the door, and walked out.