Square Dances and Full Circles


My father wore that cowboy hat at every show he played over the course of my entire childhood. He was the lead guitarist of a (fairly popular, local Philadelphia) band (called Legend, if you care, which you don't) but instead of standing at the front of the stage, like lead guitarists are wont to do, he always stood waaaay in the back corner of the stage, behind everyone else...only ever visible by the silhouette of that hat against the orangish spotlights of smoky, sweaty nightclubs.  

I don't really know why he gave it to me, except that Josh inherited all of his dad's cowboys hats after he passed, and he gave me all of his hats right after he found that out, so I can only guess that my dad wasn't about to be out-cowboy-grandfathered by some dude he'd never even met, or something. Competing with the dead is a weird concept to me. So is my dad. Bygones.

There are pictures of my brother and me both wearing that hat at around my daughter's age, but she's never seen them. She's also never seen a picture of my father wearing it. I don't know that she's ever actually seen a picture of my father at all, now that I think about it.

No matter; there she is, wearing it just like he did a million years ago in another life when he was my father, not a hat I sometimes cup to my ear when no one is looking, so I can hear - across the ocean of time - the strum of guitars through humid, smoggy air, over the hum of a window air-conditioner, beneath everything that hurt, to the precious few moments of time when I got to be nothing else but a little girl who worshipped her dad. 

I think when I cup it to my ear, now, I'm going to hear nothing but the giggles of her childhood, when I got to be nothing else but a mother, starry-eyed in love with her child. 


I love this picture because of everything it isn't.

It isn't anywhere close to the best picture I've taken.

It's blurry

                  It's grainy

          The colors are all off

                           Oh my god, the sneakers.

But when I look at this, all I can see is the sound of laughter in the air, the feel of cold on my skin. I see, with crystal clarity, one gloriously perfect moment that flew past you both so fast it bent and blurred the world in its wake.

In that fleeting moment, I see you. I see you joyous, and I wish you 39 more years of it.


Some 35,000 feet above Calipatria, I sat watching two children fold down their trays and deal each other a hand of some card game. I imagine it was War or Gin Rummy, because that's what my brother and I played for hours that felt like days, locked inside his bedroom on sunny afternoons. We didn't have much, but we always had a deck of cards - and each other.

This is where a normal blogger would insert a picture of happy childhood whimsy, but I don't have any of those. Oddly enough, I seem to have the happy and the whimsy.

It wasn't until we hit a patch of turbulence that the memory of learning how to fight (and sometimes win, when he let me) with a deck of cards was jolted back to the memories of that bedroom, that house, those parents, that life. It was long time, longer than ever before, that I was able to be perfectly happy inside the memory of my past. 

Time. Time and perspective. What wonderful healers are thy. 

I remember, when I was a little girl in our little home with little of anything, laying in bed every night saying my prayers. We didn't pray like people usually pray; we believed that a prayer was a conversaiton and that you really ought not squander the chance. We talked, to God or someone or no one, and today I know that I was really just meditating my way through a really hard life, but then all I knew was gratitude for having someone to hand everything over to every night, someone to share my story with. 

I prayed, not for what we didn't have, but for all that we did. I was so thankful for a roof, for walls, for heat coming out of the vents and what very little food was in the cupboards, on the days there was any. It's funny how, when you have nothing, everylittlething seems so wondrous, such a gift. 

And it was. It still is. 

All of this, even the hard parts, are full of wonder. And I, for one, living all of them happy.

I had to remember that happiness isn't something I am ever going to have, it's something I have to do as often as I can. I'm trying to do more of it. Happy feels good

I'm Speaking at BlogHer '11!Tomorrow, I'll be speaking at BlogHer11 with Gretchen Rubin, with Brené Brown, and with Shauna James Ahern about acceptance - of our whole selves. 

Of being happy because of, not in spite of, who we are. 

I am card games on cold, wood floors under windows without curtains, in the quiet space between what had happened and what was coming next. I am Eddie's little sister, and I am still learning.



Of course I had the Brookview nightmare this morning. 

I haven't had a Brookview nightmare in so long, I forgot what they were like. This one was so strange, so fucking obscure, so ninja-like that I hardly noticed the signs of what was coming. Do your dreams give you warnings, too? That stretch of Governor Prinz Boulevard that turns inland right before the Philadelphia Pike exit, the right turn onto Chesnut Drive from Veale Road, those are my 'Turn Back Now' signs that white people always inexplicably ignore in the movies, and I always do in my dreams, until it is too late.

What does it mean that my warning signs are always in a car, that they always, literally, lead me to that place? If your degree could only explain that to me, it will have been worth the price tag.

I dreamed that present-day me was in the car with one of the leaders of my old church. We were on our way to visit his wife in their home. We talked about the tattoo he regretted getting, and I tried to explain why I didn't regret mine. He was nice until we passed those apartments right before the bend, then the conversation turned - not mean, just serious. Then he got my age really wrong, and I realized that maybe he, or I, wasn't on the level. Then he kind of implied that I would be back again. Then he opened his front door, (the one he, in reality, doesn't live in, the one in Brookview) and I accepted his invitation to enter the bad part of the dream.

The interesting thing about my nightmares is that, even on a subconscious level, I look for the best situations - I seek something I can walk away from that makes them sting less. Like the fact that the homemade, cedar table with the wooden stirrups they were going to strap me to when they took my baby from me had pink, fluffy blankets and the exact kind of yellow and pink fuzzy slippers I like the best - the kind I buy at airports when my flight gets delayed. In the third of a second before I ran, I thought, "Well, jeez, at least they care enough to make sure I'm comfortable and warm."

Unlocked doors, an old car, a gate, sunlight, pavement. Hot, black, sweating pavement. The same pavement that is always in this dream. Pavement that laid five minutes between my house and my grandmother's. Pavement I don't ever want to know why I keep running across.

Pavement you stood on, it just was piled up alongside what used to be a road. 

That used to be the house I lived in.

There is something comforting in knowing that someone took a fucking wrecking ball and tore the source of your nightmares right fucking asunder. That nature came along and zeroed out everything you thought could never be haulted. Standing in the middle of that was a thousand times more healing than all the dreams I used to have of watching my old house gurgle and spit and drown beneath a mudslide. 

The neighborhood swimming pool. really.

Looks kind of pretty now, (don't you think, in an urban decay sort of way?) that place where my brother and I died over and over again.

And I never would have known that if it wasn't for you. I never would have had the chance to go back there and stand in the middle of that if you hadn't been willing to drive me out of your way on a whim, to help me break through a fence, to drive a car not rented in my name over my hills and far away to a place that doesn't exist anymore, except in my dreams that can no longer resolve, because the faster I run, the less real that pavement feels under my feet. Because it doesn't exist anymore.

And somehow, that has something to do with you.

Today is your birthday. The day we took those pictures was mine, in a way. You're the only person I've ever shown this part of myself to, and I'm trying to learn how to balance the person I want you to think I am against the person you now know I am. 

I know you like lemon squares and you know the smell of the dumpster I used to play in. I once watched you break yourself against a fighter's glove, and you've seen me break in two in the middle of a creek and beside a pile of old concrete quickly becoming a field of dreams.  

It means something that you, who pulled me out of what I thought I was going to be and into what it turns out I am, are the one person to cross the imaginary line I drew in the sand in 1992 between that life and this one. So, of course that line is going to blur on your birthday, because you're a part of that field, that story, that life, now.

Maybe you always were. 

Throwing Winter

The vitreous blue glaze of winter's light fuses against the raw textures of dormant lives. Our porous souls are sealed against the onslaught of winter's desecrations as we brace for the hibernation of our outstretched aspirations. The ambition that slams itself against the shores of our yearning - orchestrating dreams that throb and ache with desire for the new - is quelled by the slowing of the elements, life's gradual crystallization into gleamingly masculine stasis.

Time drags itself across the plains of this barren landscape, fighting to slouch another pace forward into the assault of winter's air. The whole of creation is penetrated by jagged blue melancholy, seeping through the imperfections of our shells and invading our bodies like an awkward lover, all fingers and tongues fumbling towards our dark places, deep inside the recesses where we've hidden away our fires.

But we do not all sleep. We do not all hoard our flames in secret chambers. Those forgotten and dismissed, the discarded remnants of something once grand and impenetrable lay hidden in plain slight, shattering the glassy blue haze of winter's long night with a crimson chorus screaming one universal truth, that there is nothing left to lose, and everything to gain if you only try.

Winter Berries