Thursday, December 18, 2014

for rex.

rex dwight. that wasn't his full name, just first and middle. his eyes were the color of exotic waters in faraway places. he was handsome from birth till death, the latter being only two days ago, after only thirty-two years on this earth.

rex dwight was my first cousin—is my first cousin, some light years removed now. as children, we biked up and down the street, climbed the thick metal fence, and sat atop farm equipment "on the hill," as everyone referred to my grandmother's quasi-farm homestead in north central west virginia. we played like crazy, especially ornery rex, who once shot me in the face with a bb gun. and we never lacked playmates because there were endless cousins—because we come from a family of ever-bountiful fertility. grandma helen gave life to seventeen, although two of our would-be elders didn't make it past infancy. helen was a chocolate-dipped pretzel of a woman: sweet and salty. she was a spendthrift with syllables, so when she had something to say there were no frills. she didn't know or care if she was funny about it, but as we all grew older we realized just how funny she was. after grandma died, because she and hers had lived on that hill for so long, its official address was changed to helen's place. that struck me this morning as i read my cousin's obituary: rex dwight of helen's place.

my countless cousins and i, we are all a little bit of helen's place.

i didn't know rex dwight much after childhood. we went to different schools and went our different ways. helen's place changed with the years too. the big green house where grandma raised her brood, which was home to many manifestations of nuclear families within my family, saw its last occupants in the 90s and would eventually be demolished, leaving a big grassy expanse that would serve as the future home for family reunions. as the 1980s passed over that hill, a heyday began to expire too: there were fewer farm animals; fewer long summer days spent exploring fields and riding bareback through the woods; fewer family gatherings spent in the much smaller house helen had moved into just a few hundred feet down the road.

into adulthood, i didn't know my cousin rex dwight at all. i moved one, two, three ... 23 times at last count ... to various states and cities. i became a girl after a dream deferred, and deferred and deferred. my path led me farther and farther from helen's place, although those roots did their job in my heart, holding it fast to west virginia. did rex dwight have dreams? i wonder that now, as in right now as i type. if i could impart one thing to anyone in the throes of trouble, it's this: always dream. always know there is more than this, whatever this may be. my cousin had struggles i'll never understand. should i have reached out? or is it naive to think i could have possibly entered a place in his consciousness that nothing and no one else could? hindsight is a target and thoughts are badly aimed arrows. the bullseye is gone.

rex dwight's mother, my aunt, gave her son the shape but not the color of his eyes. unlike her son, whose coloring reflected the irish-german of grandma helen and pap aubrey, my aunt is all shades of southern italy, with black curls as the highest point on her short, round frame. in the late 90s, auntie and i both worked for doctor b., a physiatrist whose calls i answered by day and whose office bathrooms i cleaned in the evenings for extra money. my aunt and i got to know each other better in the handful of months i stuck around before running off to florida and then south carolina for brief stints: we shook our heads in shock and hilarity at doc b.'s f-bombs and between-patient tae kwan do kicks; whispered about a certain elder patient's odd son; ate bland lunches in non-recyclable containers from the nearby hospital cafeteria.

my aunt is married to my mother's youngest brother, the gentle, quiet, high school football standout who chose a welding rod over the pigskin. at every opportunity, uncle—just like that, sans first name, as he is often called by younger cousins—tells me "eat you a fatburger," in a semi-joking attempt to cure my meat aversion. i barely remember my uncle without a welding cap, which always seemed to be the same blue one with white polka dots, but given the endless grease and filth and spitting sparks, it's more likely he had a steady supply. uncle worked his whole life along with his brothers in the family's welding shop, which was in business for over 100 years and served as a gathering place and occasional employment for just about every son in the family. he was the last one standing—or bent over a welding rod, that is—recently closing the shop for good at the behest of his ailing lungs.

tomorrow, my aunt and uncle will enter into another day of this week full of the worst days of their lives. they will bury their only son, also a brother and father. tomorrow i too will mourn the passing of rex dwight, a man i didn't know as an adult but a child whose face will always be imprinted into my sweet memories of helen's place.

good night, my cousin with the ocean eyes. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

a christmas story.

i am a book full of pages torn down the middle. i think this way, and that way too; i feel that way and this way both. torn, my constant. i hope that as i read my own story, as i get further and further into me, i'll find more pages that are whole.


this year, my son is old enough to be excited. he knows about santa and the north pole and christmas trees and hot chocolate. his excitement only stokes the christmas nerd i've long been. last weekend i began our holiday season by decorating the apartment. early, i know, but i wanted him to come home from visiting his grandparents and walk into a wonderland (as wondrous as one can get with Dollar General decor). as i hung the garland, to which i attached bulbs and a center bow that i made from ribbons and bells, i remembered its original purpose: hiding the bald spots in my Dollar General tree i bought in 2004—the year i went without cable, made lattes for a living, and spent a lot of time with my sewing machine in the painfully outdated apartment full of structural and functional oddities, among which was a staircase to nowhere. obviously the folks at Generic Christmas Tree Company could not spare another branch or two to make their product look remotely legit, so i had to make do with ten feet of space between each tier. every year, once i decorated my
little tree that could, i always looked upon it with love, proud of the something i could make out of not much. 

in years past, i put up that tree while singing carols to my dogs, kaiser and phaedra, and then i'd put santa hats on their block heads and say the word "treat" to get them to hold still so i could take their picture. kaiser and phaedra are a few years gone now, so last weekend it was just me and private joker. i didn't sing him carols. i thought i'd save that for putting up the tree with my son in tow, and make it a full-family affair. so i turned on a Hallmark holiday movie instead . yes, really. for two months every year, i immerse myself in corny dialog, unrealistic scenarios, and sickeningly wholesome themes. except this year i've picked up on a pattern that counters that trademark nice with some naughty: most of the films' protagonists find love while committed to someone else they unceremoniously dump.
i think Hallmark is going for "love conquers all," but what they're actually getting is "all's fair in love and war." the latter does have a certain appeal, a realism that reminds us that there's no ideal scenario leading to love. however, when the reality of love is coated in sap, it's unpalatable. i wonder if the average Hallmark viewer notices or cares. i'll go with no. i doubt "perspicacious" is on Hallmark's list of target-viewer traits. and now i'm redeemed for my cable-bound sin: it turns out that even the low art of holiday movies offers opportunity for critical analysis.

i've digressed. as for my bargain wonderland, when i unveiled it, my son acted like a two-year-old, literally, giving me a scowl followed by "i don't wike it." a few minutes later, predictably, hyde became jekyll and he was thrilled. in the toddler psyche, elation is generally correlated with destruction, so soon my place looked like a christmas massacre. still, he loved it. exhale, mamma. christmas mission one, accomplished. 

what comes next? decorating the tree. the christmas parade. christmas movies and cookie-baking. candy cane hunting at the local park. christmas crafts. the joy of my parents seeing their only grandchild's delight. nighttime drives to see light displays, and maybe this year that pined-for trip to the Winter Festival of Lights at Oglebay Resort. i'm going to make it so good for him this year. this special year when he can first feel the magic.

and what comes between all the joy-making? visions of what isn't. the kind that leave a single parent ... torn. the page begins whole, filling up with all the beautiful possibilities, and i want to stay there, there and only there, but inevitably the page begins to pull away from itself. there's no man to put my son on his shoulders to see santa at the parade; no date for holiday parties; no one to keep the kid from smashing bulbs while i trim the tree; no extra set of arms to carry and unpack and wrap; and all the holiday driving! i'd love to sit in the passenger seat and look out the window instead. 

but there's this: being single is good, too. there is comfort in the familiarity of long-held habits. my days are mine to use as i please. dinner is at whatever time i make it. there's no one to blame besides me. i don't have to care if my in-laws like me. i don't have to fret over how someone else might parent my child.

is it possible to simultaneously like and lament being single? yes. normal? i have no idea. it's my normal. torn. 

people tell me to try online dating. no. i can't look for mr. forever (and god help him if he finds me); i just don't want to try that hard. we'll have to cross paths in one of the places i frequent, which doesn't leave much room for possibility, unless he likes Dollar General or the secret organic aisle at Giant Eagle or, i don't know, sidewalks? i'm on them a lot. my son and i have a good thing going. last wednesday, i was washing dishes [dear santa, how 'bout that countertop dishwasher, eh?], my boy was napping, and i suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude. that happens from time to time. that hackneyed "warm feeling" becomes altogether real, and i know we're better than okay. 

we're gonna have a merry christmas. turn the page.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Or: 38 ways they didn't tell you the truth about motherhood 

1. You will wake up to your smiling baby, feeling full of love, only to be kicked in the gut and head butted. 

2. On the way to baby’s one-month appointment, you drive past an exit for "Pleasant Valley” and wish it were yours. It sounds like people could sleep there.

3. You will find crusty things on your face. You won’t know what they are or how long they've been there.

4. How you greet the mailman at the door: “Did you get up five times last night? No? You gotta try it! Hey, got any crack? I sure could use some!”

5. Your boobs will reminisce about the days when they didn't have a job.

6. You learn the meaning of a Good Housekeeping Magazine seal of approval: The product actually does what it says it'll do. You wonder if they give those seals to fathers.

7. If you had known you’d pay in sleep for your past sins, you would’ve thought twice...and then still sinned. Dang it. Never mind.

8. The run-the-vacuum-during-naptime cure works as well as your miracle wrinkle cream.

9. You consider capitalizing on your new crackhead chic look, offering friends makeunders available only after 2 a.m.

10. After a run, you take off your sports bra and discover your missing belly girdle in a sweaty wad under your giant nursing boobs.

11. You take your infant for that traditional Christmas photo at the mall, and you keep hoping for a miracle that he’ll say “boobs” when Santa asks what he wants.

12. On a freezing morning after no sleep, your car doors won't open, so you pound and kick them because obviously they're frozen. Nothing works. Then you try the unlock button. Oh.

13. No one told you your child, upon teething, would turn into Hannibal Lecter.

14. If your baby were a superhero, he would fight sleep instead of crime.

15. They tell you he’ll sleep through the night after three months. Liars. Then they tell you he’ll definitely sleep after six months. Filthy liars.

16. An older man at the grocery store smiles at your obviously male baby and asks, "Boy or girl?” You smile and reply, “Girl. Now you have a nice day, ma'am."

17. Three months postpartum, it’s like there's a traffic jam at the top of your thighs, preventing your old pants from getting where they need to be.

18. You know you smell vomit, but you haven't yet located it.

19. When your 8-month-old twists your unoccupied nipple over and over while nursing, you will scream-sing the chorus to “Love is a Battlefield.”

20. A friendly stranger smiles while you’re walking with your baby in the stroller. You attempt to smile back, but your mouth is too dry from nursing dehydration and your lip sticks to your tooth. You decide being friendly is overrated.

21. If one more person says of severe sleep deprivation "it's worth it" or "one day you'll miss these days," you will walk slowly until you catch them and then eat their brains, because you are officially a zombie.

22. As you put baby to sleep, someone in the nearby kitchen will inevitably use the icemaker, aka Mountain Rockslide Sound Maker. You will wish them persistent, explosive diarrhea.

23. You will marvel at the ability of poop to travel upward.

24. When men old enough to know better don’t offer help while watching you struggle with a white-hot coffee and a 300-pound car seat full of screaming infant, you hope they're stricken with an incurable itch in an unsavory place.

 25. When the phone rings while you're trying to calm your colicky newborn, you will wish you knew how to curse in sign language.

26. Zero sleep is the new eight.

27. If one more person mentions cereal or crying it out, you will hire a hit man to take them out.

28. You will seriously question why the tube of Orajel doesn't have a note saying "straight jacket and/or stun gun recommended for easy application."

29. You wonder about the ethics of rigging the doorbell to administer an electric shock to anyone who interrupts your nap-time routine.

30. In one year, your boobs have undergone three identity crises.

31. After endless rounds of the pick-up game, you wonder how long the toys will stay super-glued to his hands ... or will duct tape be better? ... how about velcro! ... bungee cord?

32. Because that box of feminine-hygiene products is fascinating your toddler, you have 10 uninterrupted minutes to pluck your shamefully unkempt eyebrows. You now think it’s okay to bring tampons to restaurants for ten minutes of uninterrupted dinner.

33. Diapering a toddler is not unlike calf roping. Except with the latter, you can leave the crap on the ground.

34. While your toddler uses your body as a track for his bulldozer, you hear your nursing-ravaged breasts referred to as mountains. Hyperbole never sounded so sweet.

35. You want to do a remake of WuTang’s “C.R.E.A.M.”: Cleaning Rules Everything Around Me.

36. To know how many times a toddler will ask the question “why,” count the hairs on his head.

37. Your 2-year-old turns into an octopus every time you dress him. You wonder if those airbrush people at the mall can spray him a permanent outfit.

38. Your toddler's burgeoning speech sounds like Harry Caray. You like it.

Saturday, October 25, 2014


I ::

An I.
A snowflake.
A crystalline chunk of sugar.
A grain of sand.
A filament.
A forager.
A mother carved from kisii.
A kite's tail.
A loose fang.
An eye.

Monday, October 13, 2014


you can sit or stand closer to me. or put your hand on my shoulder, just for a second or two, so i'll know you're still there if i'm not looking up. or you can wait for me to decide.

but don't hug me when i cry.

two years ago, a friend reached out to me. a woman i'd known for many years but had never hung around or even talked with beyond critiques in a college course we shared years earlier. somehow, she sensed that i needed a friend who understood. she was right. we talked infrequently but powerfully. we talked about good listeners and poor listeners and well-meaning jerks. in one of our early conversations, she told me that hugging can be emotionally counterproductive to a person in pain. that made sense to me.

the general response to a hug is emotional tidying: if we could look inside our brains, we'd see ourselves hurriedly fluffing the pillows and shoving the dirty clothes under the bed. except in our minds, instead of domestic trappings, we're pushing away emotions. when the hug comes, the sniffles give way to a long exhale. the tears are sopped up by the back of a hand or the sleeve of a shirt ... i once used a pair of underwear because it was the closest thing i could grab. in a few seconds, we're no longer expressing our pain and we've moved on to a state of emotional purgatory.

tears help usher out emotions that need to be in forward motion. tears are part of the process that only time can complete. a hug, though well meaning and natural, can put those mobile emotions in reverse, and the crier is left without that moment of release. 

this afternoon, i was sitting with a friend, watching but not really watching E! i was mostly staring off into one direction or another and occasionally trying to make conversation by pointing out petty flaws in the cast members of a reality show. he was occasionally trying to make me laugh, as he usually does when i look like i need it. at times, i'm able to let a giggle sneak past the barred door; other times, i apologize for being bad company. he understands either way.

today, while watching but not watching E!, i sat next to a pile of unfolded laundry that i should've folded last night but didn't. i did make sure to vacuum at midnight so i didn't feel like a total slob. at some point this afternoon, maybe when we were discussing the staging of reality TV, i suddenly planted my face in that laundry pile from last night. my nose was smashed a little by the weight of my face, and breathing was awkward, and i stayed that way, with images of the past two years running through my head. did an entire minute pass? i'm not sure.

sometime between the time it took to lift my head and then turn it to face the tv again, the tears had escaped. it was the first time i'd cried. not ever, of course; just since the events of saturday.

saturday: as the numbers on the clock began their second ascension, the day began to collapse. "bad day" is a slight understatement, but if i were to go with my current emotions, i'd probably overstate it. in hindsight, i recall the night's events as if watching a movie on fast forward: i walked in. he walked up. another walked in. the three of us switched places and positions four or five times, engaging in heated conversation in pairs, always leaving one of us out. before the little hand on the clock reached its halfway point, everything had changed. what i thought was my future had quickly become my past.

love is an inexplicable connection between two humans, who are flawed—and within this territory of human error, love breaks all the rules. this is the place where good intentions can lead to pain; where pain can lead to bad intentions. when it all goes wrong, what rises above the ashes is this: all love is not good love.

this afternoon, i declined a hug, and i cried. in the middle of autumn, i cried a summer rain shower: sudden and brief. a few hours later, a different emotion stepped in. they're splitting my time today, the sadness and the anger, each taking a shot at resolving this: the one who wanted to be your hero, the one who said a thousand days apart was worth one day in your presence, can turn and try to break you.

you will never understand.

i picked up my son from visiting his grandparents this afternoon. he ran inside our place, frantic. mamma, i needa pee in potty! nowwww! when he finished, he lifted his arms for me to pick him up, which is becoming rare as he grows. we looked into the bathroom mirror together. saturday night was lingering under my eyes. two years had been laid to rest, and my entire mind was filled with WHY.

mamma, are you good? 

yes, baby. i'm good.

he squeezed me tighter and laughed. i laughed too.

two days past saturday: one earnest laugh and one perfect hug closer to tomorrow. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

let's get gay merried and fight drugs, west virginia.

west virginia, my hometown particularly, has an abysmal drug problem. when i moved back from memphis, i was shocked at how my hometown had devolved. drugs everywhere. families broken. children suffering. that's the worst to me—the kids. they get exposed to things they're far too young to comprehend. they lose their innocence because of choices someone else made. they're saddled with an uphill battle to overcome the circumstances of their youth. all parents will do something to screw up their kids, mostly just by being who we are on a daily basis—chock full of neuroses and anxieties and quirks. some parental choices leave kids with a whole lot more on their shoulders as they grow.

tonight, i saw lots of posts expressing disappointment and outrage over gay marriage now being legal in my state. all i could think was, i wish people were this upset over the drug problem. i wish i saw more posts about how the drug problem is ruining the sanctity of marriage and family—because it is.

who am i, a single mother, to talk about the sanctity of the family, right. i made a choice to have sex without a proper family intact, right. i did. and nothing is ruined. my son has a family. it's missing some elements, but he'll be fine. more than fine. he'll be loved beyond measure. he'll be encouraged to read and research and create. he'll be exposed to the lifeblood that is music. he'll know both god and diversity. 

some people choose partners of the same sex to build their families. some people break ties with blood relations. some people consider friends as their foundation. family is what you make it.

marijuana is the only drug i ever used. it didn't thrill me, but in hindsight i'm glad i did it. yes, really. because good memories are worth the vault. the first time i did bong hits i was 18, at a new year's eve party in an underwhelming college town a short drive from my much cooler college town. after partaking, i sat in a dirty recliner all night holding my tongue because someone told me getting high might make me swallow it. i got back to my apartment unscathed, tongue preserved for future communication, eating, and kissing. it was harmless young fun. i didn't even get hooked on crack after i reached the gateway of marijuana. i'd like to fancy myself an anomaly, just because who wouldn't, but i believe the supposed straight path from marijuana to hard drugs is a figment of some hysterical imaginations.

i haven't smoked pot for many years, but i think it should be legal. it's no worse than alcohol, which is, as we all know, legal. stoners are way better company than alcoholics, in my opinion. i've dated some drinkers. they get sloppy and angry; have trouble staying upright; take back late-night promises to love you forever; forget to be faithful. drinkers can be a real drag. potheads can get annoying, but they've got doritos, and they're totally down to share.

i respect religious opposition to gay marriage. i'm not here to tell anyone what to believe. then why do i debate it? i find their logic flawed. if gay is a sin, then it is a sin like all other sins. except it's not treated that way. it's not. no, it isn't. IT IS NOT. i haven't seen any facebook memes about how sickening it is that people work on sunday. have you? haven't seen any marches against cheaters being allowed to attend college. today's sly cheater could be tomorrow's pyramid-scheming CEO, you know.

people don't oppose gay marriage as much as they despise it. it seems they think that the more society accepts the gay lifestyle, the more gay people there will be, and that terrifies them because they don't want their kids to become gay. it could be true that more kids will experiment with homosexuality if they are exposed to it. i tried pot because i was exposed to it. i went on to smoke it a handful of times, ever—because, see, i'm me, and i'm not built to become addicted. just like some people are not built to become gay—no matter how many gay people they see or know. i've been told that you can even hug a gay person and not catch it, but i haven't tried. potential lesbianism is too much of a risk. i can barely deal with my period each month, let alone throw in another week of another woman on the verge of homicide when we run out of chocolate chips in the freezer.

i'm not 100 percent comfortable with all things gay. i don't know why, nor do i care, because i'm also not 100 percent comfortable with all things straight. like engagement photos that have the man playfully peeking around a tree at his beloved looking lovingly in his direction. odd that women want their future husbands in a pose that belongs in a christopher guest movie.

do people really believe gay marriage will ruin the sanctity of marriage and the family? surely not, because it's abundantly clear that straight couples cornered the market on dysfunction long ago. legalizing gay marriage won't change anything in terms of how nongay people live their lives. i'm not offended by religion that says gay marriage is wrong. i believe in god myself (although i'm a terrible heathen according to my upbringing) and respect my family's—or anyone's—desire to worship. what offends me is hateful language and the nasty tone with which people express their dissenting thoughts, which are often followed with "but i don't hate them" (okay, but you sure don't like them, either).

i've been watching ellen degeneres lately. at the end of every show, she signs off with this: "be kind to one another." i believe she means it, and i believe it's easy to mean it when you're the subject of derision from people who don't even know you. i'd like to see west virginians talk as passionately about the drug problem as they do about gay marriage.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

two rapes and a thousand words.

your fear thrills me. i want only power and satisfaction. i am everything. 

this is the mind of the subhuman who raped two women on the rail trail in morgantown five days ago. i haven't stopped thinking about it.

the trail has a few veins that travel to different areas of town, in one direction stretching as far as pennsylvania. the most populated section lies along the riverfront near downtown. during college in the late 90s and early 2000s, i used the trail often, running the small, straight stretch along the riverfront or rollerblading with my best friend erin and one time with a new friend, smitty, whose aloof pit bull, saturn—along with my own dog at the time, kaiser—was among my first introductions to a breed i'd grow to adore and defend (and in later years that breed would defend me as well). on the rail trail, i never went too far in any direction. when i moved back to morgantown last spring, i was just as wary. quite a few times, i would walk off the busy stretch toward the section under the south high street bridge, which winds around downtown and along decker's creek, but a feeling of discomfort would come over me and i'd balk. this is the section of the trail where the first woman was raped. eventually i started traveling that section, but only with joker, my pit bull, and only a few times, because it just didn't appeal to me. a runner for 21 years, i've always preferred busy routes to quiet ones. i don't wear headphones to cancel the noise; rather, i treat the sights and sounds along the way as swatches of color to save for later use, maybe in my writing or various quasi-art forms.

the straight stretch by the hazel ruby mcquain park and amphitheater on the river is seemingly the safest spot on the trail because of its visibility; last friday proves this is not so if you're jogging at 8:38 a.m., which is when the second woman was attacked probably less than a hundred yards away. this struck me because just last week i started venturing in that direction, past the amphitheater and toward star city, the next town over. still, i wouldn't go very far because it didn't feel right. turns out my intuition was correct.

since last friday i've been thinking: rape is like a crack in a window, splintering out from the source of contact. it's a crime against all women. this is not to take anything away from the victims, whose horror i can't fathom. i've tried. i've imagined that moment of feeling someone grab me and ... put his hand over my mouth? ... put a knife to my neck or side? i don't know how he actually attacked them. that moment has to be one in which they didn't know if they'd live. and to think it was brought upon them not by an act of uncontrollable nature or circumstance but by another human. he isn't human, not to me. in two events four hours apart on the same day, he proved his inhumanity. 

i've thought about that man. his face—in mugshots from various crimes—was all over facebook. is that a blank, soulless look, or am i projecting? i've wondered if i have ever passed him on the street or at the grocery store. i've thought about the fact that it's due to luck or statistics or god that a man has never hurt me, because the years have presented opportunity—in my many solo outings and late-night steps from car to front door and unsafe windows in rental homes.

i've thought about what i'd say to him:

who are you to take away my freedom to walk through my town? who are you to infringe upon my sense of safety? i hate what you represent: the facility with which men can oppress women. the way you use the human body as both weapon and target. you have only the appearance of a human, and to call you an animal is an insult to creatures who act on the purity of instinct. i've thought about how, if you had been unlucky enough to come across a victim with a safeguard, like me with my dog, i'd have unleashed him on you and kicked you in the face as he brought you down. hate doesn't come naturally to me. i try to see the good in everyone. you are an exception. all i see in you is a type of selfishness that surpasses comprehension. for the pleasure of dominance, you tortured two helpless women who did nothing but cross your path. if you're ever capable of recognizing the abject inhumanity of what you did, it won't take away what you've taken away from those women and all women. 

in 2011, in memphis, tennessee, i was living alone in a two-bedroom bungalow. it was a rental and in need of updating and repairs, but still i was thrilled to have my first "real" house after spending many years in lackluster apartments and cramped spaces. in april of that year, around 3:45 a.m., i awoke to my three pit bulls sniffing and barking at my bedroom window. a quick flick of the miniblinds revealed the outline of a man looking in. horror set in. i screamed and screamed. he didn't retreat as fast as i think one should when faced with three big dogs clearly in protection mode, but he did leave. nothing came of the police's search. he was long gone. in the following days and weeks, my longstanding sense of safety and the joy of my newfound home were demolished. will he come back? does he live nearby? has he been watching me? although i had friends, who let me sleep on their couches and in their extra bedrooms, i knew there were limits to their offers. the only people who'd never run out of time or energy for me—my family—were 12 hours away. so eventually i had to stay by myself again. i stayed scared for a long time. this is the mark a man—even if merely a shadow at a window—can leave. 

recently, i was jogging across the walnut street bridge in downtown morgantown, with my son in the stroller. a man, likely in his mid thirties, smiled as he came toward us, so i smiled back. as he passed, i could tell he was about to speak, and i figured he'd say some variation of the usual remark about what a heavy load i was pushing. instead, he made a vulgar comment about my body. i was instantly furious. how could he disrespect me in front of my child? on the verge of tearing into him, which has been the usual when catcalled, etc. in all my years of jogging through various cities, i instead bit my tongue because i didn't want to expose my son to potential confrontation. 

thankfully, my history with men—strangers and intimates alike—although far from ideal, is fairly tame. i've never been hurt physically, but hurt i have been. women are so often disparaged and devalued. it leaves a stain on the soul. we furiously rub at it, sometimes for many, many years, trying to make it fade. every time a man steps outside the confines of propriety or commits a horrific crime, especially in my community, i'm drawn to wonder: what happens to men in the course of their lives that makes them capable of dehumanizing women? did they lack parental affection or attention? were they abused? enabled? i feel like somewhere we are failing. women endure fear and disrespect as everyday parts of life. even when no definable crime is committed, the seeds of dysfunction in the male-female dynamic are all around. 

i grew up in a small town and went on to college in a bigger city and moved on to even bigger cities. mostly single during these years and away from my family, i developed a sense of suspicion toward strange men and a defensive stance of personal safety. i've been unfriendly toward overly friendly male neighbors or strangers knocking at my door; i never leave windows open in my home at night; when i go for a run or take my son to the park or walk to and from my car, i pay attention to who's around; i have always owned and will always own a big dog, or two or three. such is the state of being a woman. i don't live in fear but in awareness. 

may those two women discover the strength to move forward. may that criminal who harmed them be punished—both by the law and in the depths of his ravaged mind.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

in memory: my sweetest friend.

this was our last photo.

today is a few days from what would be kaiser's 15th birthday. i thought of him this morning as i wrote to a friend who was asking for help with her pit bull. kaiser was half pit bull. all perfect. he was the worst puppy who grew to become better than chocolate. he grew into my soul. all those years i spent alone, trying to figure out where i wanted to be, what i wanted to do, and who i wanted to love, i wasn't really alone. my sweetest brown boy was always there.

kaiser left me on may 7, 2012. he was 12. my first and only human child—my boy who was all creases and rolls and perfectly puffed lips—was four months old. i lost one great love as i was just getting to know another. this was the season of my life. in the year before, i had left behind career, friendships, and a time zone. the earth opened up and sucked me into the hollows. what else to do but feel my way back out. the light comes and goes along the way. my kaiser, he was a bright spot ready to fade. i guess it was as good a time as any.

i didn't know it was coming, unless you count the moment in the vet's office when the phrase mass in his lungs and my heart collided. the vet said i could take him home for the weekend and bring him back monday. no. unlike my past—twisted up with goodbyes stretched far too long—i did this one right. i let go when it was best for both of us.

the grass was so green outside the vet's office, which was tucked away in an alley. it was just me and my kaiser out there in the rectangular patch of yard about a week overdue for mowing. as i was trying to take a picture, i accidentally hit the video button on my phone. i still have that video. only visible is the grass, and only audible is kaiser's labored breathing. i've listened to it a few times. not many. 

kaiser wasn't the most manageable dog. he didn't obey commands very well, if at all. he took forever to find the perfect spot to poop, which was often with his brown butt propped up against a fence or a bush or a tree. he would run away at the mere hint of opportunity, and i'd have to chase him until he was done playing hide and seek. he whined at my bed and my desk chair until i did whatever particular thing it was that he needed, which could only be determined upon me doing a bunch of things in hopes one was right.

as i evolved from college girl to curious woman, kaiser went along for the ride. back roads were our way. we hit some dead ends, found some great friends, and made memories a million.

this morning as i was remembering kaiser, as i was missing him terribly, i thought about the lessons. they're always there, of course. vivid in hindsight. i spent a lot of time by myself in the years kaiser was with me. i lived alone; i was mostly single; i moved far away from west virginia and my family. powerful years that reconfigured the shape of my world. the relationship we had, unlike the love between humans, needed no language to communicate its depth. in all its silence, that relationship opened my heart, which often becomes occluded by direct communication with other humans.

the love of a dog allows you to behold togetherness in a unique way. from kaiser i learned that perfect circumstances and perfect behavior don't define love. maybe love is about being there at a time when you can love each other in the most perfectly imperfect way possible. it might last for a very long time; it might not. 

purpose: sometimes i turn up my nose at the significance we assign that word. yet when i think of kaiser, i know he fulfilled an incredible purpose in my life. the sorrow of loss is of course unwelcome, but i take comfort in knowing our timing was just right.

thank you for all you never knew you did. i will love you always, my sweetest friend.

Friday, September 5, 2014

the e-bully that wasn't.

last night i read romance advice on the internet. what a loser. 

i'd had a particularly trying day with my two-year-old. fresh from his nap—and by "fresh" i mean volatile like kilauea—he walked in as i was reassembling his high chair. the result of asking him to sit down every two seconds during meals, this "solution" came at a cost: one, i don't have three hands or an engineering degree; two, he found this highly insulting because "i'm NOT a baby!" 

let the explosion commence. 

during my hour of exasperation, i found myself mentally transported to a ranch-style home in a cul-de-sac, where i was relieved from duty to get a deep-tissue massage while my dutiful partner donned his shield to fight the dragon raging in the sweetly decorated bedroom with handmade items carefully culled from the depths of pinterest. 

it is often these momentsalong with holidays, instances of things that are too high to reach or things that are too heavy to carry
, and saturday nights when i'm all dressed up with no one to sex up—that i indulge the thought that marriage might not be hell.

so i went to bed wondering why the hell i can't get this partner thing right. the internet was full of answers. 

one website indicated that my man is all wrong if he is too angry and all wrong if he is too passive. noted. anybody know anyone in a coma who's single?

an article on told me i'll need to marry the wrong one first. hey. you should've told me this when i was 21, or at least two years ago before i entered yet another age demographic. 

a blogger told me i should both model myself after a woman i admire and bear in mind that a man doesn't want to be embarrassed by his woman's physical appearance. hmm. i hope this mashup of maya angelou and sofia vergara works better than i think. 

in the midst of my surfing, i received an email from AT&T stating that i'd used over 90 percent of the data in my freelance-writer economy plan and that if i dared to continue researching my destiny, they'd simply have to add $20 to my next bill. thank you, conglomerate with a heart, for saving me from myself. 

i put down the phone and watched an episode of "diners, drive ins, and dives." i haven't had red meat for 20 years, but that gastropub BLT looked like a dream. hey, maybe there's a positive correlation between lack of animal fats and failure of commitment. if guy fieri head-butted me, would his hair make me bleed? 

the clock pulled me elsewhere. better get the kid into my bed so we both can sleep through the night. after especially trying days, or even regular days, the evening ritual of bath time, story time, and bed time can feel heavy. it can have a way of painting a jackson pollock of single life and parenthood: overwhelming to the senses. frustrating. nonsensical. you look and look and look to find out what it's worth

last night, i carried my 33-pound baby turkey from his bed to mine, with his warm, soft arms hanging limply over my small, defined shoulders; sweaty head nestled into the curve of my neck. for a moment i felt very alone, because the internet had told me i had it all wrong

this morning i awoke to my better judgment. back to believing mass-produced advice can be a massive pile of crap. i often feel utterly hoodwinked by love, but the internet doesn't hold the answers. my world is mine to behold. some days i do think it's ugly. other days, i step back and think it's pretty cool. zoom in, zoom out.

currently reaching for a hammer and nails so i can hang this masterpiece in my living room. 




Wednesday, August 27, 2014

the not much that i know.

20 years. that's how long i've had eyes wide shut (credit to whomever coined that phrase). i've been doing things my way for 20 years. my way has made life both complicated and colorful. my way gave way to three pit bulls who made my heart swell to near explosion and then a son who has both sleep deprived me to near insanity and suffused my soul with a supernatural love that sometimes overcomes me so much that i have to nibble on his chin or his nose or his cheek because little ones are as close to pure as humans will ever be.

i've moved around, slept around (sorry, mom and dad—but i promise that's more about sentence rhythm than literal accuracy), worked around, run around, and skipped around social circles (tripping a whole lot over expectation and intuition). i'm still figuring me out. we all are. although some of us are figuring out our inner selves while also figuring out the external stuff, like work and shelter and love. i fall into the latter category. 

i don't know much about sticking around in one place or with one person or one job. i know a few things. here they are:

1. produced effects: life and love are not like a grade school science-experiment volcano. our efforts can involve all the right elements and still not produce the desired results. we do what we do; what happens, happens. 

2. trying: none of us will ever get it right. we'll be haunted by whether we tried too hard or not hard enough. if we recognize ourselves in the midst of one extreme, we should try to fix it—but not too hard or too little. none of us will ever get it right. it's okay. 

3. shutting up: this can save a lot of frustration if we teach ourselves when to exercise it wisely. 

4. not shutting up: this can change the world if we teach ourselves when to exercise it wisely. 

5. sleep: for those with small children or sleep-disruptive disorders, it is precious. priceless. restorative. 

6. the gut: it's a truth teller. it tells you what's happening in your body. it tells you what's real in your thoughts. listen.

7. scores: not worth keeping. 

8. letdowns: they'll happen so often. we all know to let them go. we should also know how to read the fine print of a letdown: maybe it's telling us to redirect our paths. maybe it's telling us that in some cases, it's okay to reconfigure our affections and affinities.

9. idiosyncrasies: we all have them. how.many.times i've been told i analyze too much. analyze i do. however, the message behind that statement is utterly irksome: if you'd just be less like you, you'd be so much better off. no, i wouldn't. i'd be a different person with different idiosyncrasies. shoo, fly. 

10. awareness: what it is, is precious. what it isn't is an add-water solution. it is evolution. or even revolution. 

be well, little fritters.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

if you're happy and you know it ...

Be So Happy 
That When Others Look at You
They Become Happy Too

i saw this online recently. it stuck with me. or maybe it stuck to me, like crazy glue, because i've been picking at it for days. 

i fancied the idea of being that girl who always exudes happy. i went through my usual be better than yesterday! drill, or perhaps my worse you're not trying hard enough to be perfect! drill. 

then i read that robin williams hung himself

i began to re-evaluate this notion of exuding happiness. which is not exactly married to happiness itself; i'd call them a cohabitating couple.

happy looks like ...

my dad. the ultimate cover singer—with his own silly lyrics inserted—often performing to an audience of two, my mom and me. we playfully remind him how he never shuts up, only to be reminded by him that when he shuts up, it means he's dead and then we'll miss him never shutting up. my dadwhose small stature, prominent nose, and mannerisms make him ever more hometown italian guy as he agesfills many days delivering his baked goods and canned peppers to bank tellers, dentists, doctors, neighbors, church members, friends, and family. and no matter where he is, he never misses an opportunity to say hello to absolutely everyone he has ever known.

my friend. a talented darling who endured depression and more and then found her piece of peace and has clung to it like the kudzu covering the midsouth city where we met. southern roots twist her every syllable into airborne curlicues that are surely infused with the barely-there scent of moonflower, which she so carefully cultivates in her front-yard garden that she shares in beautifully captured photographs. gardening is her bliss, and in her bliss, she upholds the virtues of staying positive. 

then there's me. 

wait, me? a happy maker?

to get to yes, i must remind myself that private me—dead-horse beating, wildly what if-ing, and emotionally indulgent—isn't all there is. funny, saucy, clumsy, animated me is no less a true reflection of the kaleidoscopic human i am: singing cartoon themes in the shower as a kid; walking face-first into a glass door in front of an undeserving ex-boyfriend; singing my souped-up conway twitty/loretta lynn duet at my best friend's giggly request; showing my mom how to drop it like its hot in the dining room while home from college; exchanging witticisms with strange men in bars; posting not-your-average reviews of early motherhood on facebook; busting out the revenge of the nerds rap with my drunk skateboarder quasi-roommate on a neighborhood sidewalk; so much dancing in cars; so many vocal performances inspired by a vacuum. 

happy is ...

real when you see it. it's perfectly human to laugh and to want to make others laugh, no matter how we feel on the inside. that's the easy part. the hard part is sustaining positive thoughts. that takes work. homework, i call it. that's what i said to my therapist in college over a decade ago. looking back, i'm drawn to wonder: on a campus boasting lovely and eye-catching architecture, the building housing offices where souls were meant to be healed was among the ugliest. does that say something about how we view mental health? or maybe it's simply ironic. either way, on the way out of that ugly building, my mind was working hard, processing the knowledge that i couldn't be fixed, that instead i had to live the fix. 

i wish people would stop asking why a man who seemed so happy could kill himself. are they forgetting themselves? are they obtuse? just like we have layers of skin, we have layers of being. some are smooth; others are twisted and torn. who sees which layer changes with time and place—this includes the eye of the beholder. depression wears many faces—i almost typed "masks," and then i realized that's part of the problem. when a depressed person appears happy—or exuberant in the case of robin williams—it isn't a front. the joy is as much who they are as is the sadness. 

maybe some depressed people don't do their homework. i know i haven't always. fortunately, being a poor student of cognitive-behaviorial psychology hasn't been debilitating for me. is that because my sadness isn't bone deep as it was for, say, robin williams? i don't know. what i do know is my desire to find fulfillment is unstoppable. maybe that's why i've never been stopped. you can kick me, but you can't keep me down. that's what an old, beloved friend says. she has more right than most to say it, having battled depression, anxiety, abuse, financial loss, illness, miscarriage, and more. she did what she had to do, with sometimes nothing more than a lit cigarette as her guide through the darkness. these days, her soul is not fully satisfied, but she's resolute on her path

i don't know why robin williams decided to stop. i wish he hadn't. his frenzied humor swept me up and tickled me to the core. his smile reminded me of my dad's. my dad also battled depression, when he was a young father. he didn't tell me this until i moved back in with him and my mom and was faced with my own obstacles as a new mother. 

there is no being happy all the time, not even for those who wear it so well. happiness comes more easily to some than to others. there is no fairness in the distribution of mental makeup. 

i wish for everyone to never lose sight of this: life is worth it. 

embrace your happy. do your homework. and if that fails: lean, lean, lean on those who've got your back.