April 6, 2018

Reader, I married him.

When we tell the story later,

We’ll tell them that we got the marriage license on the day of the State of the Union Address, which you would later watch while I zoned out with my music. That you wore your yellow safety jacket, and that the courthouse security held on to your pocket knife while we went in. Your hand trembled as you signed the papers, and I stammered to spell my name.

We’ll tell them that it was a spring wedding, with piles of snow melting in brisk Annapolis sun. Your father and stepmother showed up first, and our photographer was the best last-minute decision ever made. I bouquet-bumped another bride. We had scallops and crab cakes and espresso crème brûlée and Bombay Sapphire tonics for lunch. We won’t tell them what your mother said after she slipped on the single lonely patch of ice on top of the parking garage. We’ll share the jokes and the relief, and for years on end we will laugh at the words nosegay and boutonnière.

We’ll tell them that our hands spontaneously found each other as we said our vows. And that we giggled at the richer or poorer, and especially at the till death do us part. That our tiny wedding party each held our rings, and that my dress was two sizes too big but my legs looked phenomenal. That we decided to strip the whole thing back to where it only included those closest, most precious to us, and that my family were missed, but graced us with love from across the ocean.

You woke me up in Ocean City to watch the sunrise from our hotel. A woman walked her dog along the sand, and a man set up his camera gear for a time-lapse piece. We can tell them about the prayer group next door testifying to Jesus at daybreak, and while I recover from my one-too-many tumbler of Amaretto nightcap, you can rave about the platters of cheese, fish, and charcuterie that we had at Liquid Assets. We tipped our housekeeper Veronica nicely, even though we never let her into the room.

We’ll tell them our story like we’ve told it a hundred times before, to people like those at the bar who thought we looked so snazzy that we had to be royalty or millionaires, or both, but nothing could have prepared them for the truth. That you chased me, but I found you. That we started out not knowing what the other looked like, or what their name was. That we wrote letters to each other for over a year before we met in person. That there was an ocean, a bay, and an oak tree. A white whale and a ship named Narcissus. Some guitars, a Vonnegut and a Pynchon, and a pair of oxblood dancing shoes. Countless Natural Lights and bottles of Big Bold Red. Some five or six years of ocean-hopping, dissertation writing and bridge-climbing that we made look easy. But that now, there is finally an address in this universe where they can find us both. Till death do us part.

May 22, 2017

Farewell to a friend

I lost a friend last week.


She died in hospital, waiting for her second liver transplant, a few days after her fortieth birthday. The last thing I texted her was “Happy birthday, dear I. I hear you’re in the regular ward now. Just wanted to let you know that I’m at your hospital today and would be happy to pop in if you’re taking visitors. No pressure, just love.” It never went through. The little red triangle sign with the exclamation point in its center, indicating something has gone wrong with the communication, kept coming back.


I felt her go. I had stomach cramps and heart palpitations last week, waking up disoriented and in a panic attack, all of which I knew wasn’t mine. I just didn’t know what it was yet.


She had an autoimmune illness, causing her body to reject her own liver. Diagnosed at 14. Had the first transplant in London, somewhere in the mid-2000s. I’m trying to piece the timeline together, because I recall that I had my metallic flip-motorola cell back then, and I remember how the black letters looked on the pale green screen as she texted me from far away: “Hold on to your pants, they might operate on me tonight!”


After the transplant, she would have yearly parties for all her friends, celebrating her “second birthday,” as she called it.


She flunked a few years in high school, and a few more in college, due to the illness. At her classical grammar school graduation day, everyone wore togas, because that’s what Latin and Greek kids do. Except for her: she wore “civilian” clothes, because her body was covered in bruises from treatment. Over the years, she had teeth removed, her spleen engorge and have to be ripped out of her, she puked blood as she brushed her teeth, and a million other side-effects. Somehow she made it to third year of English and German studies, and that’s where I met her. She drove a red Kia with faded stop lights, and took us all around town before and after class. She was a cat lover and bleeding heart for shelter animals. That time in my life was the closest I ever came to having a “gang” of my own. We were young and silly, she was wiser than her years because she had to be. But it was a time when you didn’t really think about what was possible in life or not, because doors were opening and nothing seemed finite, really.


I feel a need to write down everything about her, every situation, character trait, joke, drink, or message. We drifted in and out of each other’s lives over the years, as we moved apartments and relationships. I made falafels and avocado dip for us last summer. I took her and her dog to my sister’s vet clinic to get her shots. I told myself that I would be there as long as she wanted me to be. Last time I saw her was last September. We met for coffee at the hippodrome, watching horses prance and jump around. She looked really bad, her transplanted liver giving out sooner than the 15 years it was supposed to last. She broke down and kept apologizing for it, and I told her that it didn’t matter. It really didn’t. She was entitled to any fucking way she wanted to feel, as far as I could tell. She had earned that much. We went to a crêperie called Galápagos, and she didn’t like hers so I gave her half of mine.


I got the news Saturday morning and called my friend T. “I don’t want to be alone,” I told her. She and the guys took me out – to Galápagos, and we laughed and drank and shot the shit, and later on in her apartment, she and I cried over shots of homemade walnut schnapps. We went to the hippodrome the next morning. Talking Heads, the Smiths, and Pet Shop Boys played at the outdoor café as we watched horses prance and jump around. I kept traveling between the present and the past, in and out of tears.


My heart is empty and full at the same time. Empty with her absence, and the lack of any explanation for why life sucks and isn’t fair. There really isn’t any. The sun came up and then down again and it rained in the meantime, only she wasn’t there to see it all. Dogs went out for walks, and she didn’t get to walk hers. She didn’t get to graduate, or work, or travel, or have a family, because her life didn’t allow for longterm arrangements. And yet my heart is full for having known her and being invited in, even if only for a short while. There is no closure lacking, no wish that that last text would have reached her, or that we could have said goodbye. That would be selfish, and cheap. She knew I loved her, and that I was there. I just hope she got everything she wanted and needed as she went. I hope she had a fucking awesome last meal. That she resolved everything with her family. That she had friends with her, if she wanted friends. That she was alone, if it gave her peace. That the universe comes through for her in some other dimension, with a stack of cards in her favor. She fucking earned it.


She gave the best hugs. I will miss her dearly.


Life is short and love is precious. Any morsel you find, fucking grab it and don’t let go, kids.
One of our last meetings - I didn't take a picture of the two of us, but of a silly mural in her neighborhood

September 24, 2016

The island where time stops

I submitted my dissertation and went to the sea.

The cheapest ferry ride took me back to the island where I licked my wounds four years ago. Nothing had changed, except September was even more beautiful than July. There are no cars on the island, or tourists anymore, only grumpy hilarious locals at this time of year. They complain about the new ferry because she is a riverboat, a shallow-draft vessel that leans in turns and high wind, whereas the previous rusty old favorite used to break waves like matchsticks. After being briefly on display in dry dock, it has now been scrapped, reminding everyone that one fell swoop is all that lies between breaking waves and breaking ships, and local teenagers have to find some other ropes to jump on and hang off of as the ship leaves port.

All ancestors' houses are the same, just like my family's farmhouse. They are haunted by generations' worth of memories. They have closets that smell of childhood and conjure up the past every time they open. They have cracks in walls and broken pipes that a grandfather built once, clamoring for repair. They have new furniture and tiles, as the new generations take over the upkeep. Stone, dirt, and wood mix with cement and metal as room is made for the young ones.

The seabed is still crawling with urchins, which means that the sea is as pristine as can be. There is an urban legend that female sea urchins adorn themselves by wearing pebbles on top, which, even if it isn't true, you still wish it were. The winds are haphazard and unpredictable: the southerlies make the sea warmer and draw a cover of pastel clouds above the sky, the easterlies bring sweet splashing waves, and the north wind chases bad weather away and chills the sea. The fishermen love the southerlies and the sailing ships come out to play when the north wind kicks in.

We swam. We fished. We played cards. No computers. Phones barely making touchdown with networks. We fed a herd of local cats whose nicknames were Batman and Robin, Squinty, Stumpy, Mother, Ninja, and Bro. After a week they were shamelessly stealing food from off our plates and we chased them away with a kid water gun, only to invite them back in when the rain started. We talked of going to the harbor for drinks, of climbing up to the World War II battery, of revisiting the snake hill, and the island where time stops dispelled all our plans.

There are two villages on the island, one historically communist, the other fascist. They hate each other and cannot live without each other. One road connects them, and on this road is a shared cemetery, separated by a wall. The last names on the tombstones are completely different, you will not find one village's names in the cemetery of the other. The men die at sea or in some senseless war, and their widows outlive them by forty years, roaming the tiny streets, gossiping and nurturing, clad in black for the rest of their days, as if the Adriatic island sun were some elixir of eternal life.

There is a woman in my brother-in-law's family, lovingly nicknamed “crazy Sonia.” Her husband died decades ago, and her son lives in the big city, simultaneously wiser than his years and a fatherless child at heart. She hasn’t left the island in ten years. Her crazy brother lives two houses down but no one calls him crazy. She is seventy but doesn’t look a day over fifty. She brings capered sardines, home-made bread and cherry cake and gives us all a lashing of her beautiful snake tongue. What nobody in the village knows is that there is a song from the eighties, a cover of Lobo’s “Baby I’d Love You to Want Me,” entitled “Sonia” in our language. It’s about a girl leaving a guy, and him still hearing her footsteps as she is in a hurry to get away. No one knows that it is about her, but the lyrics follow her everywhere she goes: “Sonia, just every now and then, please take me back again…”

I hate telling myself that all the sense-making will only make sense with time, but it's the truth. The taxi boat ride back to mainland is swift and exciting. My brother-in-law holds me down so that I don’t tumble out of the boat and my sister and I remove our sunglasses and let our hair down as we cut the waves and they spray us back, straight through a forest of blue-hulled sailing ships that seem to be playing ring-around-the-rosy in the azure archipelago. There are too many people and traffic lights back in the city, across the mountains and away from the sea. I am condemned to wait some more and make the best of the wait.

January 10, 2016

Dancing in no man’s land

The last time I’d been on that road I was in a car accident. We were reluctant to go this time, yet had no real reason. A Hungarian goddess was holding a flamenco dance class so we went for it. A rain, sleet, and fog interstice between two capital cities, an hour and a half ride, what the hell.


We never made it. Ten miles before our destination, somewhere between two tunnels, highway traffic stopped dead. Hey buddy, we’re running late, I texted our instructor. As we slowed down, cars parted to the left and right, like the sea, as if gently coaxed by some invisible hand. A rotating light whizzed by in the opposite direction. Then another, and a few more. An ambulance returned our way, followed by several police vehicles, then safety trucks carrying flashing road signs.


The car radio didn’t work because I’d knocked off the aerial a few days earlier swiping snow off the roof of the car. Our phones had no data service. There were a million headlights all around, a crowd of people neatly separated and packed inside little metal boxes with wheels on, hiding to keep the cold outside. We couldn’t see far enough ahead to know anything. Nothing left to do but nosh on breadsticks and tangerines, turn knobs and push buttons in the car, and check phones that wouldn’t work. An interstice of fog and sleet between two capital cities, an hour and a half ride through, apparently, the middle of nowhere.


My instructor called. Some maniac wrong-way driver crashed. You’re probably not gonna make it, but when you get here, at least stop for drinks.

Germans call them Geisterfahrer. Ghost drivers. Flying Dutchmen of the road.


We sat in traffic for two hours, abandoned by technology, stretching legs, cracking jokes inside our little warm box, counting the reasons we were running late in the first place. My friends’ bus, me forgetting the car insurance policy, her stopping for coffee at a gas station. Tiny distractions that held us back like Aphrodite’s apples, like breadcrumbs we needed to leave behind. Then the sea started rolling again, slowly and heavily diverted into a single lane. The newspaper reports would say later: one killed, several injured. Wrong-way driver in a Fiat Punto crashed into a Dodge, four more vehicles crashed trying to avoid the collision. Sorry M, but we think we’re just going to drive back home, I texted. Don’t be, he replied. I’m just glad you guys didn’t head out three minutes earlier.


We’re not the kind that need to be reminded that we are always close to chaos. That all the comfort, safety and trappings of civilized life are a tunnel, a thin metal membrane, and a steering-wheel swerve away. We don’t read too much into coincidences, but we keep them in mind. Viva la vida, we thought as we passed by the crash site. The little Fiat Punto looked like some otherworldly flower in full bloom, doors and metal sheets unfurled as they tried to get to the driver, and the Dodge had a big dent in its front left side. Three more cars were scattered on the road, lights flashing. A soul left this world, and our dance shoes remained packed away.


We turned around, back into the sleet and the rain and the fog. We stopped at a Marché to refresh and get our bearings. There’s something about these places between worlds, between borders. A franchise diner in no man’s land, looking like every other of its kind, with neat containers of fresh fruit and Vienna schnitzels and potato salad and muffins and ever-hot cocoa and coffee. We were the only people there. We had tea and cake and laughed with poppy seeds in our teeth. We spoke of Israel and America and family, and threw a little dance party between the Delilahs and California Blues and My Ways that played for no one but us. I thought of how I hugged my Mom before I left but didn’t hug Dad, because he just handed me the insurance papers through the window. I thought of how I would always be annoyed when my friend takes her time with things, regardless of the outside world. I thought of the “Danger! Slippery” sign in the restroom.

We spent nine hours in a car, getting nowhere, doing nothing. No drama, just life, unforgiving in its awkwardness and oddity. Happens every day. We live in lighthouses, connected with corridors of darkness and frost. We follow the music, and take wrong turns that end up righting someone else’s path. We drop out of connection and end up dancing to the music that was meant for us, not the one we thought we had chosen. It wasn’t my car crash this time, it wasn’t my music, but we danced.

July 5, 2015


I am seven years old. I come to a friend’s house after school to play and she introduces me to her big brother. “This is my friend Chris,” she says. “Is that right?” he responds. “’Cause she sure is ugly.” I don’t say anything, just smile coyly because that is all I know. I float above myself, above him, above the three of us. The distance I feel from myself, from him, from everything tells me that he is only twelve and we are only seven. That what he has just said is not true, yet I cannot fathom the possible origins of his meanness.


I am nine, celebrating my birthday with friends from school. My mother brings out sandwiches that I watched her prepare hours in advance. Some kind of salami, pickles, mayonnaise on tiny slices of bread. All the kids start whining, “I don’t like mayo!” “I hate salami!” “Yuck, pickles!” My mother says “OK” and brings out a plate for the kids to pick off the things they don’t like. I say nothing. I stare at them readily picking apart my mother’s work as the plate fills, expressing disgust, gobbling up the little that was left after they finished. I understand that they are just children and that not everyone likes everything, but a part of me hates them all. It wants to yell at them and chase them the hell out of my house, because they are terrible and ungrateful and I want them all gone.


I am eleven. MIGs are bombarding the TV tower a mile north from my school, and the ginger boy who sits behind me, whom I kind of like and am friends with, asks me “Can you read Cyrillic?” “Yes,” I respond, knowing that it is a loaded question and that he had an answer ready before he even spoke, yet I wouldn't lie. He comes back with an ethnic slur that doesn’t even apply to my heritage. I turn back to face the blackboard and say nothing, realizing I might have just lost a friend. He would inquire about the sincerity of my Catholicism just weeks later. I float above myself, above him, above his deskmate and mine, as nobody says anything. My eleven-year-old self feels like there should be an adult here, to tell him adult things in an adult voice and set him straight. There is a war going on beyond our classroom, and you and I are just children. There are kids disappearing from our class daily, because their parents no longer feel safe. I know you don’t even realize what you said right now. You heard your family say some thing or other as they watched the evening news, and you repeated it because you didn’t know any better. You will say hello to me in a coastal town ten years from this moment and make small talk about how far we've come, and even though you won’t say anything about the war, I will understand that you came to apologize.


I have always floated above myself, one part of my consciousness dissociated from the rest of me. I have always had a double understanding of things. How they are, and how they strike me at any stupid, vulnerable, helpless moment of unripe response. I have observed myself facing an infinite choice of reactions, and watched myself take the one that I was safest with, as my then self was not prepared, brave, or woman enough to brace up.


I have done things backwards. I felt out of touch and stupid before I realized I am me. I was quiet before I was loud. I was strict before I was soft. I was old before I was young.


Stitches popped one by one. Valves exploded without a sound. Now that the gates are open, it’s a question of how loud, how soft, how young. Parts of me are missing, some of which I wish I could have back. It is hard to keep quiet about anything anymore. It itches insanely to stand still and wait my turn for anything because the universe is too fucking slow. Next to impossible not to say “Yes” to chaos that keeps knocking on my door.

June 23, 2015

Ticks go in the fire [Reconnecting with ancestors, part 3]

“It’s funny. We’re going to the farmhouse, and you’re going to America,” my mother says as she and my father drop me off at the airport.


It took me the longest time to understand that I come from a family of migrants. I never had aunts and uncles to send gadgets and treats from Canada or Australia, no distant cousins to be pen pals with. I was led to believe that I was breaking new ground in the bloodline, no pressure, no expectations, just an open road for my wanderings. I saw my parents as sedentary creatures, their move from farming lives to the big city not far or wide enough for me to recognize.


They moved for education, for work, for less hardship, from the cycle of seasons, toward what they felt they were supposed to do. They sent money back, returned to help with the land, learned to live with the guilt of leaving it. I have moved for higher education, for beauty, for love. I am standing on the shoulders of farmers, laborers, visionaries, nurturers.


It is taking me the longest time to reclaim the family homestead. My parents and my sister did so long ago. They atoned for the guilt, spent countless nights curled up in its corners, mourning the life that was gone, yet never abandoning it. They made it their own again, fixing up, clearing out the clutter as they wiped away tears, counting new kittens born in the crawlspace above the old stable, feeling sorry for the swallows who would be robbed of their nests now that the stable had to be locked shut.


It took ten years before I could finally spend a night in that house again, after my grandparents died. And I have only spent three nights there since. I was the only one who didn’t cry at the funerals, but I have been skirting, fleeing, evading, unable to make peace, unable to offer myself.


I see everything in double exposure. The way it is now, and the way it once was.


You live and die with your animals at the farm. You feed, raise, cull, and consume. You manufacture makeshift slings for broken wings that will end up in your soup. You cry when your prized bull is sold. You fawn over your newborn suckling pigs, then tear them from their mother and roast them for a family celebration. You de-worm, de-flea, collect the best bones and the best milk for the furry ones, but shoot them in the head if they turn rabid. Foxes are not wildlife, they are vermin killed with shovels. It is a cruel little world that you own, giving and taking life with the seasons, picking out the runts from the survivors, your hands shaking as you act God in this small universe.


All steads are the same. There is a barn, a stable, a corn dryer, and a house with thick walls, warm in winter and cool in summer. Sometimes a mill, sometimes a tractor, and trailers. There is land, and irrigation canals. There is a farmdog, blunt beast that has never seen a leash or a muzzle or had his shots, who knows his place underneath the table at lunch, and inside the tractor cabin come harvest time. There are between five and ten cats per household, but you always have that one favorite that is allowed into the bedrooms, and that leaves half-dead mice at the doorstep as tokens of pride and gratitude. You never see them die. They just disappear, run over by cars, burned out by the mating season, or too proud to bring their sickness home. They just make themselves scarce.

As a child, you are not your regular latchkey kid in the big city. You know how many eggs a hen lays a day, what real milk tastes like, and what blood pudding is made of. You are not squeamish. You pick the fleas off of cats and press them open between your fingernails until their white insides come out. Ticks go in the fire – you need to hear them pop inside the kitchen furnace, otherwise they live for seven years off of the blood they sucked. Pig slop is made out of corn starch, turnips, bad potatoes, greens, and boiling water. You stir it with your bare hands, and each box has its own bucket. Manure is collected in the back, behind the stable, to be used come sowing time. As a child, you are given boiled chicken legs and a spoonful of mashed potatoes with homemade cream as a treat. In the morning, you are woken up by the mooing of hungry cows, or the screeching of pigs led to the slaughter.


It is a brutal, beautiful life of absolute accountability. Hay can only be baled at a certain time. Winter firewood is only collected over a few weeks. Neighbors help one another to pick the ripe grapes before the starlings get to them. They nurse storks with broken wings who cannot make the yearly move to South Africa. Nature is unforgiving, and human farmers can only afford to be so much less so.


I walk the corridors and hear voices. I see animals running around the yard. I remember Christmases and laughter, and how little and wide-eyed I once was. I imagine them all roaming these rooms, my ancestors, parents and children, toilers, slaughterers, firemen, political prisoners, cheated-on wives, klutzes and loudmouths, those that I knew and those I never met. Their ghosts sometimes scare me, and sometimes give me comfort. I wonder if they see me. I wonder what they would think of me.


My sister and I light candles at the village cemetery. Four graves belong to my family, yet the wind won’t let us pay our respects and the wicks keep dying out. I watch a surreal scene across the street from this quiet resting place: a stork chasing a kitten down the asphalt road and into the high swamp grass, and look at my grandmother’s picture on the tombstone. She picked it out decades before her death, and us children grew up knowing we would once see it on her grave. She would be mourned in an open casket, in her own house, having died an unnatural hospital death, away from her animals, away from her husband, and I would not cry. The picture on her tombstone is black and white. She is young. Her hair is combed back, her shoulders clad in a dark high-collar buttoned-up dress. Well I’ll be damned. She looks like a flamenco dancer.


It has been twenty years now. I watched it all die in three months. Machinery sold, animals culled, crops and fields rented out. All that life, redistributed so quickly. There is new siding on the house and the stable now, and the old pine trees have been cut down. Neighbors are keeping their corn and hay in our yard, and their dogs and cats come to beg for food when we visit. I write this from thirty thousand feet up in the air, counting icebergs off Newfoundland, counting the minutes until I am in my other home, on the black water, among farmers and firemen, hunters and old souls. It lives. It lives.


My sister and I light another candle at the grave of our closest neighbor, barely a few years passed. Dogs bark and donkeys bray to the left and right of the cemetery – in the country, you live and die with your animals. In the evening, we curl up on old couches – beds that my grandparents used to sleep in, that we would sometimes sneak in to cuddle – wrap ourselves up in blankets older than ourselves. I shake off a tick that somehow made it into the house on my shoe. My sister picks it up, drops it into a beer bottle cap on the table, and puts out her cigarette on it.

My old "Reconnecting with ancestors" posts can be found here:

Part 1
Part 2

March 20, 2015

Thoughts of a solar eclipse

I can’t remember the last time I was that close to happiness. Well, happiness might be too big of a word and a little out of reach for another year or so, but still. I choose it. With all my heart. I was sitting on the sofa, our sofa, the sofa bought for my first arrival, sipping my morning dark roast, listening to the silence in the house, our house, the house that greeted me, the luckiest house in the world to nest such a love. I was content. I was at peace.


To have a first Christmas together, two and a half years since we began. To scrub a bathroom, make pan-seared tuna, pick out ornaments, listen to the ice cracking all around the outside. To have his hand reach for mine across the center console as his left makes a turn for Staples, “Look at us, running errands like normal people.” To stay up all night, to toast the new year by the water, the smallest yard and the smallest house overlooking all the fireworks from Edgemere to the Inner Harbor.


I arrived, and I swear the air was familiar. It had chill and drive. It tasted of me five years ago, of being stupid and alive and high on it. It tasted of being a bad drunk, of being loud and obscene, of leaving regrets for later, what happens there, stays there. It tasted of everything that brought me to this bed right here, to these houndstooth sheets and his baritone sliding over my skin.


It’s a lot to ask her not to sting
And give her less than everything


Winter will always taste of America.


And spring will always taste lonely. Of course, with me, it’s impossible to know which came first: was I always isolated and just learned to live with it, to make my own universe, looking in on the world from the outside, or did I always want to be left alone, and just got tired of it? Spring will always be big decisions and leaps into chaos, the aftermath of the high and carrying the chill inside amidst the blossoming life all around.


I lost something very important in these past few years, and it broke my heart. I lost the ability to be happy for others. To partake of their joy, to be moved by their goodness, and just love them for who they are and what they bring into my life. I went through the motions, vaguely remembering what that kind of happiness was, unable to open up to it, scared to say it out loud for fear it should become an eternal state. That is a terrible thing to lose. But it is not eternal. It is going away. And it’s a relief to withdraw my judgment from the world and toss that sour ink to the waves.


I just submitted my last translation for publication. I have a hundred and twenty pages of dissertation that I am proud of, and a comps exam under my belt. The blogger in me smiled secretly when the head of the committee said that I could turn an excellent phrase. Basically, I was told that I was a good writer, and I was glad that I made my sailors, ships, whales and oceans speak louder than ivory tower jargony. Shit’s getting done.


Two nights ago, I held my bird in my hands until he died. My beautiful feisty boy, such a perfect instance of nature’s engineering, was taken over by his illness. Seven years ago, I was in a bad place of solitude and loneliness, feeling guilty for asking for more, yet knowing that I had to, not yet knowing how deeply it would get me in trouble. I got two birds to keep me company and be loud and fly around. Both have left me now. I held him, and I talked to him until he died. His eyes were closed, and his wings kept fluttering, as if he were dreaming of flying. I cried for all his seven years with me, for his lost companion, for the excess of nurturing that is left over now. An empty cage, a bag of seeds, medication in the fridge and ointment in the medicine cabinet. Not needed anymore.


I know what T-61 is in veterinary medicine. And what Code 42 stands for in bridge safety. My loved ones deal with hanging on and letting go, with those who have one but wish for the other. And my God, it’s heart-rending, but isn’t it good to let go? Isn’t it a fucking miracle of the universe that things end, that we get to leave, that we have to take no more?


No more.


For a few hours today, my world got dimmed, and gauzy, and colder with the eclipse. I was, I am, grateful for the magic. For staying up all night and all the sunrises and morning birds that I got to greet in these past few years. For music. For the pair of black wings working up a storm with the universe on my behalf. For leaving, for arriving, for the chaos in between. My chaos, our chaos, this chaos.


I am dancing tomorrow. My troupe is having its spring production. The seguiriya is a dark, severe, difficult beast. I will wear my ruffled skirt, my lace, and my oxblood shoes. My hands will be gentle birds, and the nails on my soles will stamp heavy with love. All of the ‘no more’ will be in my steps, and the lonely will be turned into something beautiful. I will give my sadness to my loved ones, and they will watch, and partake, and be happy for the beauty.

March 9, 2015

Deepest shade

I can’t remember the last time music hit me this good.


And it hit me like a delayed-response drug. A day later. Amping up to a week later, reverberating, echoing. Calling for more, and hurting like shit when more is played. It took awhile for music to soak through the layers of sensory overload.


I was almost a no-show because the locale involved brushing against some old stomping grounds that I was reluctant to revisit. I could feel everything but myself. The respectful bubbling of the crowd, the sticky floor under my boots, the 548 number from the coatroom in my pocket, the flickering projection screen in the back of the stage, the uneasy dance because it ought to have been a sit-down event really. The red Austro-Hungarian cavalry barracks bricks housing a few hours of collective beauty, allowing amplifiers and cigarette smoke to infuse them from within, a fate that was never meant for them.


I listened. I took it in. I put it away for later. I was feeling everything but myself.


There is something about these fifty-year-olds with whiskey in their voice and Bible in their lyrics. The high-contrast greyscale of the world they paint, of the ghosts they turn into, of the purposefully turned-off spotlight above their heads. Those who do not look like themselves if anything less than an emaciated, hunched-over, haggard version of how they were brought into this world.


He was tired. Melancholy. The kind of quiet that comes after too much of something else. I invoked a dead man’s name that triggered degrees of separation in motion. My now life, in two places, if not more. My man, the artist, and the dead man, connected somewhere in the past. My three lifetimes ago, promises sworn and broken and a little girl who was loved and sung that song to. The Pacific Northwest that I will return to someday, just like the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni sculpture garden will see me again, and like I have to see Firth of Forth once more.


Just like the music, my own healing was delayed. No amount of my penance could offset the fact that my grief would be denied, until it could separate itself from its consequences. I feel like I have been holding my breath for seven long years. Like I have been feeling everything but myself, owing everything to everyone because that made me feel a worse kind of better. Or perhaps it is like that childhood drawing game where you trace an invisible groove on paper, then lay a crayon sideways and add a coat of color on top of the grooves, and watch the pattern underneath appear. Perhaps there is no way to trace our being other than to cross the lines, over and over. Perhaps there is only music, and the Bible, and greyscale.

January 7, 2015

L'hiver est là

You know what winter is?


Forget that death and rebirth tinsel.


Winter is being able to count all the nests in a tree when the leaves are gone. That which was hidden, protected and private now bare and exposed.


Winter is waking up to find a maze of foot trails in the snow. You just had your meter read by BGE and you didn’t even know it. Elliptical, two-beat imprint between the house and the tree: a running squirrel. Tinier steps, rhomboid pattern: the fox from two weeks ago crossing neighboring properties at night. You walk to the pier, only to find someone was already there before you.


Your house is surrounded by creatures and ghosts. They live and walk around you, watch and ignore you, your oblivious self none the wiser until the snowy palimpsest presents itself.


Winter is acorn husks in the back yard all dug up, hollow and empty. Will you panic as you try to remember your last-resort hiding spots? How long can you live without? Are you going to be enough until spring?


People cross the icy water in waders at sunrise. No duck or goose is safe from the shotgun blasts.


On the other side of the hunt, you sleep naked among claptrapping screen doors and trash bins tumbleweeding down the street. You wake up in the middle of the night, hearing the wind howl through the thin wall that stands between your goose skin and the blizzard, snowy footsteps and ghosts.


You know how to walk this house in the dark. Your naked flesh is a silent glimpse in between the rooms, a twister of energy bouncing off the walls as you traverse its space. With no lights turned on, the reflection in the mirror is your own ghost self, hunkering down, building a love in pockets of stolen happiness, one barefoot snow step at a time.

October 5, 2014

Mad people across the water, part 5

Dulles, mon amour, how many times have we done this?


Clown red uniforms speaking that other kind of German are serving me water. Lipizzaner stallions, whose passages and caprioles moved me to tears once upon a time, prance on the screen in front of me. Leonard Cohen wails “Take this waltz” on repeat in my head (there is a concert hall in Vienna where your mouth got a thousand reviews). The laid-back Hapsburg campiness sucked me in so quickly that I was genuinely disoriented when I looked out the airplane window to find out I was still on U.S. soil. The futuristic shuttle monsters were shuffling between concourses, I was on the other side of Immigration and Customs, and my baby was riding the Great White Whale on a road somewhere, smoking cigarette after cigarette, wading through traffic back toward our house.


It takes three visits to call a place a home. Three borders to reach it. One beer to fall back, two Adirondack chairs on the porch, and one shower for hair and skin to remember how soft the water is. It takes three lights, LaFarge, the L-Furnace, and the Key Bridge, and the big barge redding up the waterline in between, to offset the torn-down tower that we once called FeelGoodInc. It takes three nights in your, his, our bed, and three strands of scent - his skin, the house, and Old Road Bay, to bring a heart wide open.


“You were never more quiet,” my friend says upon greeting me back.


It is true. Usually, when I jump countries, I will text, call, send photographs and long-winded letters. This time, I was quiet. Baby cooked for two, drove for two, sang and danced for two. I was happy to lie down on the sofa, our sofa, that sofa. I was happy to be quiet and listen to him speak. Tell me a story. Speak of the future. Let that baritone fill my ears and my oxblood shoes show us both just how mindless my mindless is, and how wicked my wicked.


“We cried less and fucked more,” I tell her.


I will never have the things I love in one place, or even remotely close to one another. I am back to being the plucked chicken of romance, chasing my multiple lives across pages and time zones. Where there is dance, there is no him. Where there is him, there is no family. Where there is family, I am always a misspoken child in a house of super-ego mirrors.


There is that moment of first sunrise above the Atlantic, above the clouds, just above the first shoals of Europe, when you realize the flight is almost over. That moment when, if you have met a handsome stranger and your head is resting on his shoulder, you start wishing that the voyage would never end. If you are flying home for Christmas, that is the moment when time seems to slow down like a lazy drone, and you will never land. Caught between my stretched-out lives, I take it as another border-crossing, clouds, sun and sky in three thick stripes of white, apricot, and cerulean, brushed across my horizon by some relentless hand.


Greyhound tickets, 7-Elevens, Wawa receipts fall out of my pockets. I carry three currencies in my wallet. I brought the Bay back with me again, I brought my baby with me again, mold, wood, age and water, scallops, steaks and spicy crunch sushi. Dulles, mon amour, how much longer?