Monday, September 24, 2012

Women for Women

Yesterday I went to a women's yoga fundraiser retreat. This retreat is the brainchild of Pauline Gardner, a glowing diminutive dynamo, for the benefit of Women for Women International. I am blessed to be able to help support a sister in need and blessed to live here, in Vermont, in the United States, where I do not have to worry about war & bloodshed in my neighborhood, where my challenges are not as great as those faced by many women half a world away.

My pink yoga mat was sandwiched between between Basha, a beautiful dancing maiden from Brooklyn, and Edina, a radiant organic woman who I've been friendly with before. I was glad to have a chance to reconnect with her.

We received bindis from Basha & lit candles; together, led by dear Pauline, we did chakra yoga, we meditated,--at least the others did, I promptly fell asleep; we learned & executed the Five Tibetian Rites, We received citrine stones and Goddess cards and each of us selected a crystal bracelet. So many goodies, and a treat bag at the end, as well! Facial & foot massages. Delicious luncheon (as usual, I ate as if I'd never been fed before and never would be again, and my belly ached).

I observed with lovingkindness as one woman revealed her emergence from a challenging time: I was her, at this very event two years ago. I know how very hard it can be to speak your truth out loud to a room full of strangers. It requires a brave heart.

On the way home afterwards, I drove through a rainstorm. On the other side: a thick chunk of rainbow.

It was a good day to be alive.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

it was almost a miracle

It was almost a miracle that Cameron was not killed when he fell twenty feet down a rock face next to a water fall. His sister thought he was dead and even now will not talk to me about it. I thought it was she who screamed his name over and over.

The trip had not been wonderful. Both kids wanted to go home early and were feeling done with the camping trip by Saturday afternoon.
Ok, I said, let's just take this one hike to see the old bear cage and then we'll go home. I secretly planned to lure them into the Cascade restaurant with the promise of lobster dinner.
We couldn't find the bear cage. Erin was angry and stomped ahead of us and Cameron said he felt like the cage was on the spur the headed to the right. We followed Erin into a big field with tall yellow weeds and oily railroad ties and a chain link fence.
Let's try Cameron's way, I said, but now Erin was behind us, busy with her cell phone.
Cameron has always been an alarmingly anxious kid. Frantic. He didn't want to be lost.
We made the right hand turn and there was the empty cage where the State of Maine used to keep a bear for the entertainment of tourists. We waited there for Erin to rejoin us. And then there was the brook and it was cool and sweet and I thought I'd redeemed the trip. Both kids were smiling. We hiked up one side of the waterfall and then back down, and then crossed a falled tree where Erin squatted down behind her little brother so they'd be the same height for a photograph. Cameron's smile is wide and he is wearing dirty basketball shorts and hiking boots.
We began hiking up the other side of the waterfall: no real trail on this side but more of a wide flat swath. Erin lagged behind and I led the way. The artery was covered with dead orange pine needles and a useless thick wire rope twisted on the ground beside us.
I was looking at my own shoes when Cameron said, "Mom."
I turned around and all I could see were the tips of his fingers stretched out to me.
I dropped the piece of lichen I'd been carrying and ran back down to catch him before he hit the bottom. I must have been screaming his name. CameronCameronCameron! I was not in time to catch him. He was flat on his back on the rock, looking up at the sky. He opened his bloody mouth and said, "I just want to go home."

Sunday, September 16, 2012

I'll always remember the day when I left my 4-year-old daughter in the Head Start classroom in the church basement, with more children than I could count running between the brown waves of folding tables. I earned too much money, really, for her to attend, but the center Director manipulated the math. I worked at night in a home for retarded adults who hit themselves in the head and smeared feces on the walls. I didn't need her to go to Head Start, really, except that I also earned too much money to qualify for food stamps. Somehow that $10.50 an hour, which put me outside the bracket for help, never went much past covering my rent. At Head Start they would feed her two meals a day. This was what I wanted--for my daughter not to be hungry. And in theory I believed in the program.
In practice she only attended for a week or two. I coudn't find a day job. I missed spending my days with my girl. I was alarmed, too, at the rapid deterioration of her language skills. When she began speaking about herself in the third person, and even that incorrectly--"Her hungry,"--I withdrew her.
I'd breastfed my daughter and we'd rarely been apart and I had always talked to her constantly, explaining everything to her, at the laundromat, at the grocery, at the library, in the kitchen. This is detergent. We're going to have nice clean clothes. This is a can of tomatoes, we like tomatoes, don't we? This is where we get the books we like to read. This is how Mommy makes dinner. Her round eyes stayed glued on me and she recorded it all and by the time she was two we were having complete conversations.
Her recording of everything is what gave me the strength, finally, to leave her drunken father, although it happened in fits and starts.
First there was the little cadet-blue house on stilts. The oven didn't work and the toilet wobbled. There was a big dirt driveway for all three cottages and migrant workers lived in the other two. They asked me to drive them places. Next I shared a winter rental with a coworker, a college girl. When I lived there I dated a little man who resembled Captain Hook and when I got pregnant and then aborted, he said I'd broken his heart. I couldn't bear the thought of living forever in his dangerous neighborhood. Then there was the tiny apartment upstairs from the antiques store where the previous tenant had kept a pet rabbit. I crawled around on my hands and knees picking up pellets of poop. The bedroom had such a low ceiling that I couldn't stand up so we slept in the living room. I worked then in a homeless shelter and I understood that the women there had a better chance at success than I did. Finally we lived in Rachel's basement where the lack of sunlight destroyed my circadian rhythm and I gained weight because all I could do was play Disney movies for my daughter over and over. Rachel's daughter had more toys than my daughter and there was often conflict over this. I was hopeful when I responded to an advertisement about selling my eggs, imagining I how quickly I would move us out of the basement. My application was rejected due to my lack of college education.
When I found the apartment on the North Fork, I believed it was kismet. The landlady came from the same small state I did, 300 miles away. We knew the same people, who we called "kids" because that's what they were in our memories. The apartment had two bedrooms and lots of windows and carpeting and a porch. My family was upset because it was so far away from them--45 minutes--but I knew it was the place for us.
We loved it even though we had almost no furniture. We painted the bathroom purple and the kitchen red, and we fed peanuts to the squirrels on the roof. We went to the beach and lay in the sand and listened to the surf and stacked rocks and pebbles. I drove a car with no insurance or regstration back and forth to work at night, while my daughter stayed at my mom's apartment with her. I appreciated the help.
In the winter things were not as wonderful. The landlady controlled our heat and we could often see the white clouds of our breath at night and we curled together like oysters and kept the electric heater on high next to the bed. My daughter kept getting sick. But in the spring things began to seem possible again. I didn't know what was coming: that my car would break down and I wouldn't have the money to fix it, or that I would quit my job on impulse and wind up taking a part-time position in a health food store where I would steal food so we could eat. The depression that perpetually haunted me, that had waxed and waned since I was twelve, crashed over me like the glass container of organic milk that shattered when I dropped it. Precious milk spilled to waste and all I could do was walk away and go back to bed. I left the thin white rivers running all over the red kitchen floor.
It was early spring when we tried Head Start. The air smelled washed and clean and I dropped my daughter off in the morning at the brick church building where a concrete Virgin Mary stood with her hands outstretched. I drove to the town park. I brought my new paperback journal and a set of markers. I sat on the cement jetty and squinted at the glistening water and drew merry pictures in my book. The sky seemed endlessly blue that day. I believed then that we might make it, that we might be able to somehow survive and that things might get better. I was, of course, wrong.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Joni prompt

I'll always remember the day when I came back to Vermont and signed the lease for my apartment. I told my husband some lie about where I was going for the weekend. I may even have told him that I was going to see Sarah, which I later spun into a full story about renting a place from her. I imagine he's assigned a different story now to what I did then.
I arrived in my old hometown--not really my hometown, there is no such thing when you're an untethered vagrant--and even though the December weekend was cold and gray, I felt as free as a summer day.
I set up the air mattress I'd brought in the middle of the front bedroom at the top of the stairs. I left things on my new kitchen counter to claim the space: a half-eaten jar of peanuts and a paper coffee cup I'd drained. My keys on a ring. The vacant apartment felt weightless to me. No kids, no furniture, no heavy echoes.
The next day I walked around town and looked at the mountain range that the valley nestled against.  It was just as I'd remembered. Things like mountains don't change. I took a photograph of myself sitting on a marble bench on the town green. In it, the wind whipped my hair across my face.
My lover surprised me with a telephone call. I sat on the top carpeted step and told him about the epiphanies I was having and described the luxury of following curious trails of thought.
"But I don't understand why, now?" I said.
"Pet," he replied, "maybe you were too busy just trying to survive before."
After we hung up, I realized he was right. I'd been tiptoeing and holding my breath for seven years. I did not know for sure what lay ahead of me. I wasn't certain how to engineer the details of my escape or when I'd be able to move into the apartment full-time. But I knew, at least, I'd be safe and able to breathe.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

2 prompts from Joni B Cole

I want to tell you how it felt. It felt like the time Brian told me, with his eyes wide, about Matt's bachelor party. "And Zoot fucked this girl so hard with the vibrator, that she fell off the table!" There was no mistaking the glee in his voice. I didn't answer him then but the next day I crouched on our concrete stoop and drank my coffee alone.

It felt like the time Brian pressed his thick forearm across my throat. He was drunk and his eyes rolled like sluggish cue balls in their sockets. The police came. I went away with the kids to a bright hotel room. The next day he came to my office and took me to lunch in a dark bar. He tried to make light of what happened. "I didn't mean it," he said. I couldn't answer him or look at his smile. Instead I imagined tenderly pressing a razor through the thin white skin of my forearm and into the long blue stripe of my vein. I thought about how cold my body might feel as my blood drained away.

I want to tell you about my walls that are high and deep and fortified and how sometimes I fail to pay attention. Sometimes things slither in through fissures and this unravels me. Ropes of hair, strips of skin, skeins of tendons and ligaments and finally loops of intestines puddle into a slick pile.
Here's what I want to say to myself. This is what you must, but never can, believe: that you deserve better. That what Kelly said is true, you can't know if a choice is the wrong one until after you've made it. And while you may pray on your knees for hindsight-blindness, it will never happen. So don't let your mistakes define you. You're more than this.