Sunday, January 30, 2011

soliloquy.

pressed between my top and bottom teeth, my bottom lip—slick and warm from one up-and-down sweep of my tongue—made the slightest crunching sound as it slid back out where it belongs. i bit it again just to make sure. i can feel it. i rubbed my hands together...they are cold right at the tips...then ran them down each arm, down my thighs, then back up again, to my face...my cheeks are so warm...through my hair...a few strands came away with my fingers. i feel all of it. feeling is so different now. but at least i am only getting older, and not numb.

what comes next? no one will tell.

and then? shh.

in the bars right now, people are feigning a good time. and i will lose no sleep.




Monday, January 24, 2011

before and after.

the sun is throwing one long, blazing dagger through my office window. i resent it. i wish the world outside my window were colored in the cool blue and solemn-but-not-unwelcoming mood of my favorite winter days. it snowed yesterday, barely. mostly rained. from the looks of my yard, it must have rained very early this morning, while my body was still, except for the rise and fall of my chest, bare but for one finger-length, barely-pink scratch on my left breast. the mark of an over-exuberant puppy demanding my attention. from shoulders down to sockless feet, my body formed a blanket-covered Z, with two black and white dogs tucked tightly in a row along its bottom angle, and i dreamed about a man i'd met years ago, who spoke only a few words to me, but they made me think he was a decent man, i remember. he kept mostly to himself. i liked that about him. in my dream, his hand rested on the curve of my left hip as we slept in a warm bed in a house in a town, somewhere, sometime.

the sun is taunting me, but i can go in my sewing room where it can't reach around all the angles of my house to find me. maybe i will make a new shirt today, from an old shirt. or i could buy a bottle of wine, hide out in the kitchen and make that old italian recipe i've been meaning to get around to for weeks...minestra, pasta and beans with kale. andiamo, daniella...that's what maria would say when i didn't high-tail it out of the kitchen with my big, brown, cork-covered tray full of pasta and beans for the lunch crowd. maria was the day chef at the restaurant where i worked on and off from the age of 18 until 20. she was short and square-ish, with chestnut eyes that matched her hair, which was short and swooped up over her narrow forehead to one side, the right, i think. her accent was as authentic as the old-style recipes that came from calabria, the part of italy from where most of my hometown originated. i loved to hear her talk and pictured her accent as fancy, scroll-y serifs attached to every word.

the restaurant was owned by the uncle of my best friend. i have a picture of she and i in the waitress station on a new year's eve 5,475 days ago, plus or minus. we're both in black pants and white button down shirts, leaning against each other next to the coffee machine, our heads so close that our black hair blended together. we were so young. drunk, too. i remember us making drinks for the customers and sneaking a little for ourselves that night.

in the waitress station was a door that led to the empty warehouse next door, and you just never knew when my friend's uncle would appear from it. i never actually went inside that warehouse, and i liked to think there was something otherworldy over there. it would explain why her uncle went over there, because he was a curious guy himself. he was a lot of verys: very tall and quiet and enigmatic. we spoke in brief flashes when one of us would say something from our respective sides of the kitchen, or when he would happen to be in the office, which doubled as the dessert room, where i would be scooping praline ice cream for the stregata. despite the brevity of our conversations, we got each other...and in the very few times i've seen him over the years, although we barely speak and barely ever did, i can tell we still do. affinities can grow in such interesting ways.

the restaurant was frequented by doctors, lawyers, rich wives. my friend's uncle designed the front room, which was long and narrow and had hand-carved art deco wood panels on either side of the entryway; a huge, single-piece handmade bar—a work of art in itself; and 15-foot, original tin ceilings. the back room was almost unchanged for 30 years...it had a mood all its own, infused with warmth...the aged, dark carpeting, a mural of venice and wooden sconces on the wall, bottles of deep red chianti on the mantle in the tiny bar that doubled as a waitress station. the restaurant's side entrance, the original one, was in the back corner of that room, right past the decorative fountain...was there ever water in it?...down a short flight of stairs that led to a small foyer. almost no one used that entrance, not even me, but it was still my favorite.

the surrounding neighborhood was my town's version of little italy, where my dad grew up and where i spent many afternoons of my childhood with my nanni and her two sisters, my great aunts. they lived together for as long as i can remember. before moving in with great aunt judy, my nanni and great aunt phyl (short for philomena, i always liked that) lived one block from the restaurant, in a white house with two neighbors: a small brick bar on one side and a biker called "wild fee" on the other. fee wasn't a big man but made up for it with long hair and a ZZ Top beard and of course the requisite leather biker gear. what a sight for a kid's imagination, ol' wild fee. i wonder where he is now.

the restaurant had its characters, too...the woman with the squinty eyes and bad skin and raspy voice that matched her just-as-raspy personality. she was the aunt of a boy i'd dated, though i never told her i knew. she had a german shepherd named chivas, which was also her drink of choice. she'd sit at the bar, never at a table, always on a weekday, and always before the dinner crowd trickled in. she gave great face massages, and i remember thinking once that i hoped her fingers wouldn't smudge my eyebrows i'd just filled in with black eyeliner pencil. then there was the retired pilot with the elegant-yet-approachable wife who always wore mauve lipstick and her auburn hair pulled back and had the longest eyelashes i'd ever seen...falsies? i could never tell. most of the waitresses didn't seem to care for him...something about him being a jerk or sarcastic or both...but he and i, we got along just fine. i'd even call us pals. long after i quit, i'd see him at panera bread and we'd chat, though after the old restaurant our dynamic was never quite the same. not bad, just different.

after the old restaurant nothing was the same. it never is, afterward. after anything.

i've been writing on and off for hours. thinking about place, and about time. somewhere in the midst of it the sun went down. and i like today better.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

where the streetlight glows.

i wish there were icicles outside my window. it would be nice to look out at them while i'm writing. in my last apartment in morgantown there were always icicles, hung like ornaments from the tips of the aluminum porch awning.

the place was a dump...holes in the walls, gaps in the scratched up hardwood floor, the stairway that led to a sealed-off wall, the stained brown kitchen carpet left over from the 80s. when i moved in i found a nick cave cassette in the bookcase in the living room, which was painted chartreuse. mom and i painted the bedroom turquoise, and i painted the furniture a purple-ish pink. my dad could hardly believe i would live in such a place. i kinda loved it, though. especially in winter bc, of all things, my little dump had a wicked heating system.

on many snowy days that year, i would pass my icicles on the way to the bakery around the corner, where my ex-boyfriend of around 3 years worked. i'm pretty certain i squealed with little-kid-like joy on days when the minivan moms hadn't gotten to the pumpkin scones first...it had to be them, bc who else gets up that early. though it was a 60-second walk to the bakery, on the very coldest mornings i would still wear my extra warm, full-length black puffy coat with the orange lining. when the bells on the door announced my arrival, my ex would come out of the kitchen...'sup, how you doin'...in his slightly congested-sounding voice. he would have on loose-fitting jeans, new balance shoes, and two short-sleeved tshirts. i asked him once why he wore two, because he always did. i can't remember his answer. i'm sure i poked fun at him, regardless. cause when you like someone, you laugh at their idiosyncrasies. it's cute.

he was a quirky guy. the creative soul usually is. when he sang, during certain parts he would close his eyes and purse his lips, its corners upturned slightly as if he were thinking something pleasant. i remember that expression precisely from a particular show, the one where his band played the beginning of a radiohead song before starting their set. he played a yellow-orange-ish starburst guitar that may or may not have been a les paul. he explained something particular about its manufacturing to me once, but i don't remember. he talked a lot. so do i. two talkers do not make two good listeners, i've found. he got the guitar from his dad, who i met once and who did not act interested in my presence one bit. i was miffed, i think. but the guitar was beautiful. when he would play, i'd listen very closely so i wouldn't miss the teeny, scratchy fret noises. i read somewhere that fret noise is an unintended effect. i like those.

the last time i heard him sing, i barely paid attention. it was in the midst of our longest off-period...we were off as much as we were on. except this time i had preoccupied myself with another boy who was preoccupied with cheating on his girlfriend. it was september. i was driving through campus in my old tan camry with the jesus fish on the back. it had been my mom's car. i'd tell her, "ma, how am i supposed to pick up men with this fish back here?" and she would laugh. that afternoon, right in front of white hall where i'd nearly failed geology 7 years earlier bc i bought a biker jacket with my book money, the singer walked up to my window and handed me a show flyer. it was covered with "come see me, dmc" in sharpie in his severely slanty, pointy handwriting. i still have it somewhere.

the singer and i got back together, maybe that night. i can't recall. i left him in january. though really it was september that took me away. it wasn't for the other boy. and it wasn't bc the singer had sent me off too many times. it was...timing? or time? i'm never sure. i'm sure it doesn't matter, though.

it took years for us to become friends. even longer for me to realize how i appreciate him...not miss him, not lament our ending in that "one that got away" sense. i don't believe that exists anyway. if you let something get away, it's bc you don't want it. i like to think pumpkin scone days were good for the singer and i, a mending of sorts. a return to the niceties of knowing each other. he always got a kick out of the way food made me so happy, or how it so disappointed me when my cravings went unsatisfied. it was cute.

on one of those bakery trips, as i passed the icicle on the left front corner of the porch, i told myself i should write about it. particularly the way it looked at night, when the street light would suffuse it with blue or pink, depending on which car was parked nearby. it didn't happen that way. it happened this way. an unintended effect.

Friday, January 7, 2011

love notes.

I love you, my beautiful, talented, brilliant shining star.

...says the small, rectangular paper hanging by a magnet on my desk. i cut it out from the bottom of a card my mom sent me a few years ago.

Dani – I love and miss you. Dad

...always on post-it notes, usually with the words underlined, stuck to whatever piece of mail he has sent. i wonder what dad will do when i eventually have my own home and don't have any mail going to his house.

my parents have been sending me love notes since i was 21, the year i moved to miami. i have two pictures of the very moment before i drove off in the white chrysler convertible i bought from mom that year: one is my brother and i with our beagle cujo, in front of the dogwood tree. the way kev is standing, slightly slouched, and the lopsided half-smile on his face...it captures the essence of him. he's so unique. so cool. i mean really cool...not hip, not trying. he just is. the other picture is dad and i, the rims of our eyes wet and pink, but still trying to smile. it was the first time of many that dad would cry when i left. sometimes he apologizes for it...i'm sorry, honey. i just hate seeing you leave. in recent years i've learned that sometimes i have to be the strong one, so i fix my eyes on something in the background and measure my breaths when he hugs me goodbye. and when i reach the sharp turn in the gravel road, i let the faucet run from my eyes. it turns off on its own...all the time now, actually...as if something inside me knows better. just drive, d. look at what's in front of you, and go.

mom and i had a long talk yesterday. she doesn't call often, maybe once a week. some days i don't feel like talking, so i don't answer. and every time, i watch the screen on my phone and count to three or so, waiting for the ring and "Dad Cell" to appear. then dad says mom had just called...as if i didn't know...and "we were just trying to get a hold of you." a few times i've tried to explain that they should at least give me a few hours or even a day to call back, to which one of them always replies "you don't know what it's like to be a parent." so i answer most of the time, because i don't know what it's like to be a parent. and because i remind myself that some people's parents are always in their business, telling them what to do...mine are not. and some people's parents are not in their business at all. it shocks me, still, even though it's commonplace, to see parents being apathetic toward the very beings they're supposed to protect and care for, forever, not just when they're small. i can't know what it's like to be a parent until or if i am one, but i can know, without even a breath of hesitation, that my life would no longer be about me. and i know that bc i have parents who live it, to this day, even though both of their children are grown. so when i get frustrated at two phone calls in a row, i catch myself in the midst of being ungrateful and remind myself that all they ask of me is an occasional phone call, and a few visits a year. i've yet to be consistent on the latter. 11+ hours is the same as 1,000, it seems. i told mom last night that one of the few reasons i'd ever care to be wealthy is so i could hire a driver and come home any time i please.

the love notes, they are one of few habits or traditions in my family. mom, dad, kev, and i, we always did our own thing, separately. dad had his routines. the fixtures of my childhood were his things—his keys, always on his desk; gym bag by the front door; cologne on the right-hand corner of his dresser; shirt and tie hanging on the door of the closet outside my bedroom; socks and tshirts and underwear with a "g" in black marker, so i wouldn't mix them up with my brother's when i was folding. mom was a loner, a woman of few words, unless she was singing along with the radio she kept in the kitchen. what a voice. i wish i had inherited it. she would go about her day nearly unnoticed, like the doe that occasionally appears from the clearing below the house they live in now. my brother, he spent most of my childhood in the attic, for hours upon hours, playing neil peart drum solos. or he would be fishing, probably at the west fork river. his burnt orange tackle box—the kind that doubles as a chair—is still around. i see it, along with the box full of his old cassette tapes, on the shelf in the basement when i go home, and if i stop for a second or two i can picture his bedroom when he was a teenager. i loved to go in when he wasn't home, just to look at his things—the band posters on the wall; the hunting license cover that he put a picture of john bonham in; his tshirt drawer filled with zildjian, buddy rich, and the army tshirt i stole, so old and threadbare that now it's nearly see-through; the knife with a compass built into the end.

my parents say all the time how they wish i lived closer. i doubt i ever will. mom says i shouldn't feel bad about it, though, because she knows there's no life there for me, that sometimes kids have to move away and that's just how it is. it's funny how now she's reassuring me, because in years past, i would be the one saying mom, people's kids move away all the time. it's normal. because back then, i interpreted their concern for control...and the surest way to push me away is to tell me what to do. while the distance is harder than i ever imagined it would be, on me and my parents, it's okay. mom and i have agreed that it's better this way because we would butt heads if i were always around. it's ironic how things turn out...how most of west virginia, all of kentucky, and the entire length of tennessee between us has made us closer than ever, and how this blog is my way of writing love notes to my family.



Sunday, January 2, 2011

palimpsest.

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
~Maya Angelou

my friend just posted this on her status. it was part of a longer excerpt, and right when i hit this part, it hit me back. in the time it takes to reheat a cold cup of coffee, i thought one hundred thoughts.

i've read maya's memoirs, and liked them very much. what a life...love and sorrow and sex and struggle and poverty and success...and all along, learning. she was always learning. i saw her speak at wvu many years ago, in the student union, which is cavernous. and she still took up space. she is big...her presence, her stature, her voice. big, but not intimidating. solid.

maya is right about forgetting. forgetting what people have said and done is why the people who are in your life are still there. i have a habit of kicking people out of my life...sometimes directly, abruptly...when i can't forget any longer or when i can't deal with the frustration that comes along with giving a damn. other times it is emotionally...that's what you do to the people who stick around. despite how you will let them down, they somehow know to stay. the "wall" metaphor, it's not quite right. people don't have walls; they have doors...wide open or slammed shut or cracked just a little. giving is complicated. it makes your world smaller; your options, fewer. giving means not knowing what will happen next...even though you can never know anyway. the illusion of control is powerful. and sometimes, the only control you have is to continually create chaos. so you hesitate and stumble and give a little but not nearly as much as you want, and then you make apologies to the people you shut out, even if only as a whisper to yourself, amidst the strange realization that you are not as wide open as you thought. age and time alone allow for an objective view of the self that is often surprising.

people will never forget how you made them feel. that part reminded me of an old love. years ago he told me—over the many years of us, in different conversations that i've pieced together like a puzzle—how he felt so proud when i walked into a room, how amazed he was at the way i took care of him, how he was afraid that no other woman would love him the way i had. in earlier years, those words went straight to my heart. now, they go straight to my head. i never felt that love from him. it was almost always in words, as if it only existed in his mouth, just like a taste. lingering, then fading off. he would resent me for saying that. he would say that he tried, and that nothing he ever did was good enough. he would say i had to have everything the way i imagined it should be and that dee, you can't tell someone how to love you. and he is right, a little. my love for him, it was so big. it had a presence. like maya angelou in the student union. it was an urgent, overwhelming, i-can't-live-without-you kind of feeling. i'm not sure i'm capable of that again. nor do i want to be. age and time alone allow an objective view of love that is often surprising.

i wonder why maya said forget, not forgive. the two words seem inextricably linked, at least rhetorically. i think about the balance between forgiving and forgetting, and the lack thereof, that has lead and continues to lead people in and out of my life. friends, loves, family, all of it. all this forgiving and forgetting, it builds up, uneven and thick like scar tissue. sometimes i can't help but to look at it, run my fingers over it. learning, always learning.