Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Last Time

My eighteenth birthday was the last time I saw my father. He has tried to reconnect over the years, usually when he has found a new girlfriend. I think it has something to do with him trying to prove that he is not as screwed up as he may seem if he does not even talk to his own kids anymore. Whatever the reason I resist because of the last time I saw him, so let me back up a bit.

Dad and mom began the divorce process back when I was still in high school–senior year. It promised to be the best year of high school, but for my twin and I it proved to be bitter-sweet because of the divorce.

I knew my dad had cheated on my mom, so it should come as no surprise that I did not exactly hold him in high regard. But that part of it was not the worst of it. What I saw this whole process do to my mom was the most devastating. She loved this man blindly, without really asking for much in return; what she received in return came in the form of bruises both literal and figurative–I remember the time she just had surgery to get her gall bladder removed and in a blind rage for God knows what, he pinned her down with her legs pressing hard against her chest. She screamed for mercy that he would not give and I lacked the courage to do anything because at this point, around fourteen years old, I did truly fear my father.

So now, if mercy is asked of me, mercy for my father, it is not something that I give away without some inkling of remorse in return, some vestigial feeling of regret or sorrow for the horrible things that man wrought upon a family and a wife he supposedly loved.

But back to the last day I saw him. He did not want to stop by at first. My mom had told him that he didn’t have to but that it was our eighteenth birthday afterall. So in an act of such depth of feeling and kindness, he spared a moment to throw his children a bone. And that is what it felt like. As he quickly pulled up the driveway in his white Trans Am with radio blasting, he stared me down with white hot anger in his eyes. My twin brother, David, was off somewhere with friends. As he stepped out of the car, I could feel the immediate desire for him to escape, to go away and do whatever thing else he felt was more worthy of his time. Hurriedly he threw the birthday cards into my hands.

“Happy birthday,” he squirted out in haste, placing his sunglasses gently on his face. At this point, I could feel my blood beginning to boil; it began in my mind but quickly found its way to my heart and once it did I could not control it.

“Fuck you! How fucking dare you! It’s my birthday. If you have something so important to do get the fuck out of here! Take this card with you, you fuck!” and the card hit him hard in the chest.

“Okay, that’s the way it’s gonna be. Make sure David gets his card.”

“Yeah, sure. Whatever.” And as he drove away I flipped him off. Now at this time, I was a good Christian boy. I had never cussed out anyone before. Maybe no one deserved it like this before. At least I felt he deserved it, still do.

I don’t know if there is a lesson here, but every time I see a show that reunites a father and a son after a big fight of some kind, I think to myself, “Bullshit.” Not for the people in the movie or that this cannot happen or that it is not great when it does, but for me, not a day goes by when I regret that this was the last time I saw my dad. Maybe someday he will finally come around to express his heart felt apology. Maybe he will finally understand what he did and have some kind of remorse or human emotion of decency instead of stubborness. But until that day comes when he can acknowledge wrong-doing and see past himself and his own selfish desire, I will be perfectly fine going to my grave or seeing him in his knowing that there will be no reconciliation.

boy toys

Ben used to carry a purse, a purple, beaded, sparkly thing, with a long strap. He usually kept a little doll inside of it, Daphne from Scooby Doo or Tinkerbell. He loved Daphne so much. I ordered her from Ebay, and she arrived just in time to come with us for a weekend beach trip. I buried Ben in the sand, and I buried Daphne right beside him. They both smiled, sand in their hair, as I took their picture.

We didn’t let him take the purse everywhere. We never explicitly told him he couldn’t; we just redirected him, enticing him with something even more amazing to bring with him instead. I felt bad not letting him take it with him, but I didn’t want him to deal with the stares and awfulness of strangers. We did let him carry it whenever he wanted at our house or at the house of family members. But even family members say things sometimes. Surprising, terrible things.

When he was two, he really wanted a broom for Christmas (I swear.) So, I walked into Toys r’ Us, which I hadn’t visited since childhood, and discovered that there was still a visible divide between “girl toys” and “boy toys.” I knew where to look for the broom. On occasion, we’d let the kids get Happy Meals at McDonald’s. “Girl toy or boy toy?” they would ask at the drive-through (not thru) window. “The Hello Kitty watch,” I would snap, refusing to identify it by gender, hoping my son hadn’t heard what they said. Knowing that he had.

Up until he was about six, Ben regularly played with Barbies, a Strawberry Shortcake, mermaids, a dollhouse (which we still have). His favorite movie was Cinderella. His favorite colors were pink and purple. Still, I persuaded him to not take his Strawberry Shortcake to kindergarten for sharing. Because although I believe passionately that he should not be ashamed of doing so, I also know the cruel reality of a classroom, and I didn’t want to set him up for ridicule.

Ben’s predilection for “girl toys” gradually changed as he became more interested in comic books, Mario Brothers, Legos, and superheroes. Barbie now frequented the Batman lair. Mario slept in the doll house. His favorite color is now green. Eventually, the dolls receded to the bottom of the toy box, seemingly forgotten. When we moved last year, I found a pile of them, and asked Ben if he was ready to give them away to his baby cousin. He thought for a few seconds, and nodded. He was ready.

We kept two Barbies, named Peehead Sr. and Peehead Jr. Ryan tells the boys these insane and hilarious stories based on the dolls and figures they own, and the Peeheads, who are naked and maimed after years of play, are often featured in those stories.

Peehead Jr. She has had a hard life.

Peehead Jr. She has lived a hard life.

A couple of days ago, Ben was playing with Peehead Jr. and said he would like to buy her some clothes. On the way to Target, he excitedly discussed outfit possibilities and thanked me profusely for taking him. But as we neared the parking lot, his demeanor changed. “I just feel a little embarrassed,” he said. I parked and turned around and looked him in his sweet little face and we talked about how there shouldn’t be a such thing as boy toys and girl toys, that kids can and should be able to play with any kind of toy they want. Ben seemed slightly reassured, but he’s not a dumb kid. He knows the difference between the ideal and reality. “Listen,” I told him. “In our home, you are safe to play with whatever you want to play with.” That seemed to work okay.

After perusing the options, he chose an assortment of rainy day Barbie clothes–the package included a rain coat, rain boots, a coffee mug, and two dresses. “This is perfect,” he said. “Because it’s raining outside.” He wanted to carry it at first, but I noticed as people walked by him, particularly one older boy with a skateboard balancing on his head, he would hide it behind his back. I offered to carry it for him, and he seemed relieved. “Ben,” I said. “If someone says something mean to you about those Barbie clothes, I will punch them.” I did not intend to say this, and I shouldn’t teach him to resolve problems with violence. But I was so angry that he had to feel ashamed of wanting something as innocuous as tiny rain-appropriate attire. He just laughed. I told him I didn’t mean it. But I think I did mean it. If a stranger made fun of my son in the throw pillow aisle at Target, I don’t actually know if I could stop myself from punching that stranger.

After buying it, we stopped at the “cafe” for a snack. The Target Cafe. Because I’m classy like that. He went to find us seats, and I watched him as I waited for our order. He slipped the box out of the bag and studied it, smiling. But when a family walked by outside, on the other side of the window, he threw it onto the table and covered it with his hands. The family didn’t notice. This was very difficult to watch.

Ben asked me what my favorite kind of Barbie was when I was a kid. I told him about this one Barbie I had, Perfume Pretty Barbie, that I received one year for my birthday. I didn’t tell him about how I pretended to be excited when I opened the present, how I maneuvered her arms and legs and wondered what the point was. I was not interested in Barbie, ever. I was interested in Thundercats and Transformers and tetherball and arm wrestling. I had neither an interest nor an inclination to be inside of the house, strapping infuriatingly delicate sandals onto plastic feet. But that, of course, was okay. I had the ability to move between “girl toys” and “boy toys” with fluidity, because the stigma wasn’t as great.

As I got older, however, girls stopped playing and began walking in groups, chattering about boys, and I wanted to play basketball, or softball, or whatever game was going. Eventually, both girls and boys began calling me a “dyke.” I was not doing what I was supposed to be doing, what every other girl was doing. And this apparently meant I wanted to have sex with other girls. There’s nothing wrong with having sex with other girls, of course. But one thing clearly doesn’t lead to the other.

On the way home, Ben spoke of the possibilities for Peehead Jr. “Maybe she can have a friend now that she has clothes…Maybe we can make her a closet…Did you know that her real name is Francisca?” I want to lock all of that sweetness inside some sort of bulletproof structure and protect him inside of it. But I can’t. I know that.

I don’t know whether Ben’s interest in Barbies means he will be gay. I suspect that’s why people punish their boys for even wanting a baby doll or a purse. Do they really believe that playing with a certain type of toy will somehow alter the genetic composition of their children? Why do ignorant bigots get to make my child feel badly just for being an open, loving, amazing person? What I do know is that Ben does not fit neatly inside of the box these people have created. And I never have either. And, to be honest, neither does anyone I know. What I do know is that we should abolish the terms “girl toys” and “boy toys.” These terms serve no purpose, except to limit and harm.

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Persimmon Pulp

I doubt persimmons are on very many people’s comfort food list, but they are at the top of mine.

Most Americans don’t have any idea what to do with them. When they are ripe, the tangerine-colored skin crawls back nearly on its own, like it is being skinned alive, revealing a bloody orange pulp of thick mucous, like the slime sold to children in the 70s. My nearly grown children cringe when I separate the pulp in the sink, my fingers drooling orange goop. “How can you do that? It’s so gross!” they crinkle their noses at me. I reply that it’s not animal guts, it’s not like I’m not oozing through somebody’s insides. They shrug, unconvinced. I continue to separate skin from pulp and measure it out into Pyrex containers, labeling it in tidy ziplock bags for the freezer. I will cook with the fruit later, will savor the smells and the texture and the tastes, but not today. Cooking with persimmons is a ritual that requires a particular premeditated attention I need time to create.

My maternal grandmother taught me to do this, not through words, but by ritualizing the motions like a religion. I would watch her silently go through these steps with deliberation, a repetitive rhythm of separating and measuring, in a meditative trance that looked something like joy.

Now it is a familial ritual of mine, and it’s the only thing I do that I can directly trace back to her influence.

Grandma Ruth had a stroke when I was 5 years old, and our extended family was told she wouldn’t ever speak or walk again, that her life would be still and silent. I remember how my grandfather retorted, “No sir, she won’t live like that, not her, no siree,” and how completely he dismissed the doctors’ prognostications. She lay in a coma for over three weeks, and as valiant a patriarch as he paraded, Grandpa couldn’t dismiss how much he needed her, how she simply had to recover, come home, earn their income and pay their bills meticulously from her fold-out accordion desk, cook, clean and care for everyone, including their mentally ill daughter.

And so, quite miraculously, she did.

Two years later, with a slightly drooping face, Ruth was impatiently trying to teach me to play classical piano, sitting next to me on the narrow bench, pointing to the notes with fragile frustration. She would get angry that I couldn’t play pieces she used to soar through with ease, but even at that age, I knew her desperation had nothing to do with me or my lack of discipline. Against all odds, she was able to move her fingers deftly along the keys, but not the way she used to, and she didn’t have the language or the patience to effectively guide mine. Even though I was a child with no training, she needed me to take over, to play Chopin as he was meant to be heard, with precision and nuance and clarity. I let her down.

Nevertheless, Ruth managed to run her home efficiently, re-learned to drive, shop, cook and choppily coach piano again, seemingly unaffected when her husband died, continuing her work and her routines throughout the next decade. But it was a small and ever tightening sphere of competency. By the time I was in my early teens, she was a widow with diagnosable Alzheimers. During those years, when our parents spent most of their time leading survival workshops in the mountains and outlying deserts, or prostelytizing across the nation with a bus full of boys, my sisters and I lived primarily with Grandma Ruth and our schizophrenic aunt. We weren’t told there was anything wrong with her, but my mother’s youngest sister clearly believed we were sent from the Devil to set her on fire in her sleep, and guarded the kitchen like a gargoyle. I would wake up on the couch with her steely eyes honed in on my face, where I can only assume she kept constant vigil. Looking back, I have no idea who was taking care of whom. Five intergenerational women in a two-bedroom home, none of us functioning as fully formed adults.

I never heard my mother or grandmother speak to one another.

I have pain in my belly when I realize I have no memories of my grandmother as the woman she must have been in her vibrant years as a bustling matriarch. There are so many memories of her anger and frustration, of fits of rage and constant confusion. I never got to witness the decades she raised her five children and cult-leader husband, how she supported them all through her skill and will, long before my sisters and I added to her cadre of burdens.

But then, there is also the memory of watching her separate persimmons and cook them into puddings and breads and cakes, and I hang onto this as an oar that guides me to compose the image of a matriarch who raised five children and several of her grandchildren without the income of a man.

And so I separate persimmon pulp, contrary to all logic, thinking I will summons either her energy, or her ghost. With open palms, I humbly and gratefully accept whatever wisdom she can impart.

I’m checking out

This week was amazing. I usually don’t get to drive the bookmobile but my supervisor let me. I suppose we can call it training since she will be moving on pretty soon. On Wednesday it was our time to visit the school. The week before, I had a special display on Louis Sachar books for the 3rd graders. I read them a couple of chapters off of Wayside School is Falling Down, one of my favorites as a child. They enjoyed the simple ridiculousness of Sachar, who I credit as the founder of my offbeat and witty humor. At the end I announced that I would be holding a writing contest for the funniest story. They asked with excitement what the prize was but I only told them it was a surprise. I actually didn’t have that figured out but kids love the mystery of surprises, even if it’s a super cool pencil. Actually, am I still living in 1995? I’ll think of something good.

———-Overheard speaker: Music Line 2. Music Line 2———————-

I stop dusting the same empty row between the Drama dvd’s and the Comedy dvd’s. I got a twenty five cent pay increment, I suppose my dusting skills are impeccable and whenever customers walk by, they must comment “God damn, that empty row is so fucking clean. Whoever dusted that must be like a God among dusters.”

I get on the phone and it’s one of the regular customers who has the most unfortunate stuttering problem. He is 46 or 56. He’s a virgin because he thinks with “the right head.” He wears a fanny pack. On the phone it takes him probably a full 30 seconds to pronounce one word. It probably takes him 5 minutes to tell me what he wants. It takes me another 5 to figure out what he wants. He then repeats whatever information I give him as a question. So if I tell him “No we don’t have it in store but we can order it for you” “S-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-o you-you-you-you-you-you donthaveit?” “No, but we can order it” “Kuh-kuh-kuh-kuh-kuh-canyouorderitforme.”

I feel like a terrible human being but he depresses me.

Where was I? Oh yeah, after work I took my parents out to dinner. I had been telling them that dinner was on me for a while. I wanted to take them out on my first check but I kind of got a little selfish when I went to the mall with my mom. I bought a couple of new dresses and she told me not to even worry about it, I could take them out next check or the next or the next. She was just happy to see me happy. She was most excited about me being able to finally pay off a big chunk of my dumb bills. I had asked her to look over my finances and she told me that within the next 6 months I could purchase a new car. I told her to hold off on that daydream because instead maybe I could move out? She told me I was crazy, in that teasing way, but that she was happy that I was thinking about that.

——————-Customer walks into music department—————–

“Hello”
A woman walks in. She’s wearing a business suit and gives off that “time is money” vibe. She walks back and forth near the music CD’s and yells something fast and inaudible to me. I am standing practically on the opposite side of the department. She starts walking up to me really fast and repeating what she had said until she’s finally too close for comfort and asks me “Where are your machines where I can listen to the CD’s?”
“We don’t have them anymore actually”
“You don’t have them anymore?!” with a really annoyed expression

At this point, I just want to leave. She interrupted the little quality time I had and now it was broken. I swear, they tell me, “look on the bright side” “the glass is half full” “be positive” “have faith” and…and…and I walk into work thinking this and I look at my schedule and I have 7 hours for the next week. I have $150 worth of bills to pay this second half of the week. There I go again asking my mom to loan me money, to give me little jobs, to pay me for being her daughter. I start to think, is this their way of telling me goodbye? What did I do? Did I push the company on edge with my pay increase? God, buy a fucking membership, please? Yes, I ask GOD. I ask HIM to buy a membership. He wouldn’t say no? I just said “fucking” to God. Great. I start to think, this is how it feels to be an unskilled worker. I’m part of that demographic. I’m that demographic of people who will never have job security. I start to think, I hate being fucking brown. It’s always white people at the top. It’s always some dumb white person in charge of me. I fucking hate being brown. God, I’m ugly too! And then I start to think about him. He must be so happy. He must have a pretty skinny girlfriend and is living the life. I fucking hate him. I don’t want him to be happy. He can be happy after I’m happy. And then this bitch walks in with her attitude…

“No we don’t have them anymore”
“Why Not?!”
“I…I…” I give up. “…I really don’t know.” I really don’t. I never bothered to ask. Usually I just spit out some, oh corporate you know kinda stuff. But today, I give up.
“Oh, you don’t know? So you don’t ask questions at work? You just work with no thoughts in your head? I’m a manager at my job and I got to be manager because I asked questions-“
“Oh, Good for you”
“Good FOR ME?! Wow. Good for me!”
“Yeaaa good for you”
“You know what thanks for your GREAT customer service”
“OH, YOU’RE WELCOME”

And like the little wimp that I am, I preceded to cry in the corner and asked to leave early because I wasn’t feeling well. The whole way home I cried about my stupid job, my stupid 7 hours, my stupid car that makes stupid noises, my stupid ugly brown skin, that stupid bitch, stupid white people, my stupid friends, stupid God, the god damned stupid dusters.

I went into my bathroom. I had started my stupid dumb period.

And I cried because I thought “I’m such a stupid dramatic stereotype.”
And then I cried some more because I was crying about not having hours but I cut my own hours therefore I’m more stupid than I thought.

But it’s okay. Not everyday, week or even month is like this. I just need to remember the little Dan Savage on my right shoulder whispering “it gets better it gets better.” I’m not the type of person that will adopt those trite messages of positivity. I’m a positive person, hard to believe, but I am. I just have a different approach. I take the Dave Chappelle approach and I keep it real. That day might have been an example of when keeping it real went wrong.

I keep it real. No I don’t have that job because there’s something better for me and God has better plans. No, I would have been amazing at that job and I don’t have that job because the state of California is fucked and God hates libraries, obviously.

I’m also rational and I allow myself a day of insanity, pity and sadness. It’s okay. I realize I probably scared any potential mates out there saying to themselves “This lady writer is charming-oh wait a minute…” We all know what a great reputation lady writers have after all.

Also, the other infamous “him” in my writings was a prevalent thought in the past months. I am happy to report that not only am I happier with myself but I am also not ugly. In fact, I think I’m too cute for him now a days.

I will probably have another day like this where I refuse to live outside my head. Where everything outside of myself is just a tumbleweed of dumb crap slowly rolling towards me and I’ll stand there waiting for it. When it hits me I’ll cry and I’ll think where did this come from and why me and I hate everyone. And that’s okay because I’ll move on once I brush that shit off.

fuck your manifesto

Manifesto01-321x440If I ever post something and (without irony) call it my “manifesto,” then I give you permission to dismiss my ideas. Because sane people don’t write manifestos. We send emails or make phone calls or talk to our friends. We send letters to Kaiser Permanente requesting they reimburse us for screwing over our autistic children for several years. We take our enemies to court. That’s how we communicate, even about the things we care about most. We stay within the lines. Maybe we push right up against those lines in an effort to make them stretch, but we do not break them. We do not write manifestos. We do not acquire weapons and begin killing people.

And if we do, we are wrong.

There is a man named Christopher Dorner who has hidden himself away in the San Bernardino Mountains. There is a storm this weekend, which makes it more difficult to find him. On Wednesday, he killed a man my husband grew up with. He was a police officer in Riverside. He was a father to young children. He was a husband.

I expected that we could all agree that this man needed to be caught and put to trial and removed from society so that he couldn’t kill anymore people. I did not expect for people on my Facebook page to begin posting snippets of his manifesto that they agreed with, mostly about Dorner’s beliefs about gun control and LAPD corruption. I did not expect a small but very vocal minority to speak out in support of Dorner.

I am certain the LAPD is corrupt. I am certain it needs reform. Lots of things are corrupt. Lots of things need reform. Lots of us are wronged, all of the time, every day. Lots of people are wronged in ways that are much, much worse than the ways in which Dorner, a young, physically healthy, American man, might have been wronged. That doesn’t give Dorner, or anyone, the right to appoint himself judge and sentence people to death. We are right to ask ourselves why this is happening and what we can do to prevent it in the future, but that doesn’t mean we need to make Dorner a martyr or a hero. It is not heroic to gun down innocent people. As soon as you make Dorner a martyr for your cause, your cause is lost.

Maybe Dorner had something valuable and important to say. Maybe I would have listened. Maybe something would have changed. But he began murdering people in the name of his cause. And with that, nothing he says matters anymore. I will not read your manifesto because fuck your manifesto.

Photo credit: http://www.wordsinspace.net/wordpress/2011/12/11/off-you-go-with-a-manifesto/

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NRA: Add us to your Enemies List

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Were you disappointed you didn’t find your name on the NRA’s recently published Enemies List? I was, too. Sign the petition I started to get your name added!

http://www.change.org/petitions/nra-add-us-to-your-enemies-list#

Here’s the text of the petition:

When the NRA published its recent Enemies List, they overlooked millions of Americans. Beyonce, the YWCA, the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, John McEnroe, and many other Americans were included, but we were left out. We ask that the NRA correct this egregious error. We do not like you. We think your organization is destructive. We think your spokesperson is illogical at best, unstable at worst. We believe there is a middle ground between taking away all Americans’ guns and no regulation whatsoever. Please add us to the List.

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write-off

Image

There have been a rash of burglaries on our quiet suburban street, and the neighbors are whispering suspicions in front of our kids. Who was that dark man in the white car parked outside your house the other morning? It was my brother-in-law, actually, and we were going for a nice suburban jog through these quiet suburban streets. Oh, okay, they say. We should all keep an eye out. Yes, we should. Thank you, I say.

I have a son who is an obsessive worrier. He’s also too smart to fool. The what ifs fire rapidly. What if someone breaks into our house? What if they steal our car? What if they kidnap me? What if they hurt me? What if…? It will be okay. It won’t happen. I promise you it won’t happen. Your dad and I would never let that happen. “But it’s always a possibility,” he says, effectively dismantling any assurance I could ever offer. That night, he runs screaming into our bed in the dark, early morning. I wrap my arms around him and rub his back and he settles into sleep. The next night, he does not want to go to bed, but we convince him that it will be okay. When he’s finally asleep, I sneak in and make sure the blinds are closed tight, that no lurker could see him if they tried.

All of this is to say that I am going to work and I am caring for my children, and I am not spending my days thinking mean thoughts about my stepmother or her son, my half-brother, Jaden.

My father was looking for a babysitter so he can spend a weekend with one of his lady friends. He is at my house for a visit this morning when my stepmother texts him. She doesn’t want my little brother to stay at my house. She is worried that I hate him, that I will be mean to him, that I think I am a better parent. The bar is set very low on that last one. I do not abuse my children. I do not hit my children with high heel shoes, or make them kneel on gravel, or tell them they are worthless, or force them to hug their uncle who touches them inappropriately, so, yes, at the very least, I am a little bit better. “I am concerned,” she says. She is concerned that I will damage him. Oh, the irony! I love my brother Jaden. I am only ever kind to him. He’s not even two years older than my eldest.

I interact with this woman a few times a year. I send her a text message on her birthday. I send her a card when her mother dies. It takes a tremendous effort to squeeze out these tiny kindnesses. This woman was physically and emotionally abusive to me for my entire childhood, and I have managed to say hello and even I love you and continued to call her Mom instead of Lucy at the biannual family gatherings.

For some reason, this was it. We are finished. Here is the dictionary definition of write-off: “an elimination of an item from the books of account.” Lucy, consider yourself written off.

Photo credit: http://www.carfinderservice.com/car-advice/5-steps-in-preparing-a-write-off-interest-for-taxes-on-a-car-loan

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