fresh wind and bright sky

there is a sharp pain in my left ribs that shocks me when i bend forward. this can’t be good, but how do you put a band-aid on a rib?

i like to ignore things.

isn’t it funny what scares you?

do you ever find yourself apologizing just to make the other person feel better? do you ever want to stick a fork in your forearm just to snap out of it?

my childhood wasn’t bad, it was interesting. my brother got sick and had a Make-A-Wish. he chose a shopping spree. when he died, most of his things became mine. coincidentally, adults like to buy presents for kids whose siblings have just died, so i had both a bedroom and a “toy room.” the eldest daughter of our pastor told me all the other kids hated me because i had so much stuff. i was 10.

today the radio said it was the first day of fall which i believed because i was wearing pants. fall feels like a Wilco song you want to live. summer sometimes feels like a video game you can’t win.

the year i was told no one liked me, i played my brother’s Sega Genesis every single day. Aladdin was my favorite game, but i never beat it. i would get to the very end and lose. eventually, i stopped trying.

quitting takes just about as much courage as starting.

my firsts months in NYC were lonely, somber, and cold. so fucking cold. i was working 2 days a week, barely able to navigate, and regretting the move. so, i scraped together spare change and booked an appointment with the nearest acupuncturist. Sherry’s studio is near the water, sandwiched between decorative-twig-selling boutiques and Michelin restaurants. unlike my former practitioners, sherry is all business: what’s wrong with you? how many hours do you sleep? how’s your poop? i was anticipating warmth, sage, and comfort in the form of “i understand how you feel, pumpkin. everything is going to be okay.” instead, i got poked and scooted out the door with advice like “drink less tequila, eat something green, and stay away from milk.” no fun Sherry, i called her.

i returned. again. and again. it was my safe place. eventually, i did stop drinking as much tequila and sometimes i even eat green stuff. the absence of empathy allowed me room to heal.

somethings can be ignored, others apologized for. our Right to heal is not one of them. we entered this world whole, there’s no reason we shouldn’t leave it that way. even if no one likes us.

 

 

summertime

wake up early. the sun is bright, it’s already 80 degrees. somehow, everyone has the day off. when you meet up— on a patio, in a park— shirts are damp, faces are shiny, everyone needs a drink. that first beer is the best thing you’ve ever tasted. this is summer.

in san diego, everyday is summer. in san francisco, summer is a chance day you don’t need a jacket. in nashville, summer lasts until the humidity smothers you.

i’ve always been a summer person. it means my birthday, it means fireworks and pool parties and long days at the beach. it means reading shitty books and drinking even shittier beers. it means sunburns and sandy sheets. it means freedom and festivals and fun, so much, fun.

i’ve written about this before, the one summer i was living at home at the same time my dad was unemployed. he was always doing something to make me shake my head. he baked boxed chocolate cakes but never iced them. he watched muted UFC fights as he did bicep curls. if i left my morning dishes in the sink, he would put them in my bed. yes, in my bed. his best friend would stop by unannounced and they would talk for hours, my dad sipping a seltzer and Paul vaping, the candy smoke drifting throughout the house.

that was 8 years ago. i shake my head even now.

yesterday was father’s day. there’s no timeline for grief, though i wonder if maybe one year it won’t punch me in the gut.

from the minute we are born, our lives are scheduled. walk at a certain age, read at another. one year, learn algebra. a few later, graduate. get married, buy a house, and pop out a baby…. in that order. of course, the norm is shifting and exception is more common than rule.

but what if something fucks with your internal schedule (sorry, Mom, i can’t think of a better way to say it.) can we recalibrate? can we forgive (who? i’m still not sure.)

the last time i was in san diego, my grandparents drove me to the cemetery. naturally, seeing my father’s gravestone was emotional. my grandfather– my strong and stoic grandfather– said to me “it never gets easier.” it was the most freeing thing anyone has said to me regarding death.

my summer in new york starts in just 3 days. i hope it is defined by freedom. freedom to grieve when needed and, more importantly, to take a car when it’s just too hot to take the train.

the first trimester.

i guess it’s been 3 months. 3 long months. i struggle with thinking every moment here should be the best damn moment. but so much of my experience in New York is just as it’s been everywhere else

today, the tenth of May, was entirely mine. which meant i slept in, shaved my legs AND washed my hair, walked the Williamsburg Bridge, and bought $400 sunglasses. then i walked to my favorite place, McNally Jackson Books. for the last month or so, i’ve been reading about a book a week. i opt to purchase them at McNally’s because A) spending money is fun B) it’s something to do C) the other independent retailer treated me like a chicken bone found on the corner of Roebling & Grand. the one near my house is new, bright, and an easy place to disappear.

today i went to the original location in what i think is considered SoHo. it is much, much smaller (read: i cannot easily disappear.) per usual, i went straight to the Essay section–it’s the only one with which i can remotely identify– and browsed. Didion always sticks out, but she’s so trendy i cringe imagining myself as yet another white girl reading Magical Thinking in between checking Insta and waiting for my Seamless delivery.

because i was in Manhattan and not Brooklyn, most of the other customers were way better looking than me. so, i avoided looking up for many, many minutes. just when that section got as full as an office elevator at 5:01pm, i found what i wanted and moved onto American Lit. next to me was this incredibly stylish African-American woman– let’s say she had Eve/ Erykah/ Lisa vibes. in NY, you’re always within eavesdropping distance and frankly i still don’t know if it’s more rude to chime in or to act like you didn’t just hear someone say, “Elisabeth Moss starring in A Handmaid’s Tale is some ironic bullshit.”

long and short of it, these two femme fatales were way cooler than me… me with my flat hair, face full of “before” skin, and dirty Carhartts. surely they’ve never picked up a Didion or tripped on thin air.

and then i heard one say, “do you wanna just go home? i mean i know we should do something, but, like, what is there to do?” the other agreed, “yeah, we could go to that thing, but then we have to talk to people.”

was i hearing this right? two cool-as-hell native New Yorkers wanted to do Nothing just as much as i did? it got better, “that’s why i like books, you can just read and be.” at that moment, i felt more at ease than i have in 3 months. 3 maybe-not-so-long months.

normal?

do you remember when we first met? i think it was a friday. i handed the wallet you’d forgotten the night before like it was an invitation to my 12th birthday. the next time i saw you–i think it was a sunday–i handed you some meletti like you hadn’t rsvp’d. was that last year? or the year before? where did i live? where did you?

it seems time only moves slowly when you’re waiting in line.
***
yesterday, it looked like someone stabbed a million down-filled pillows. snow swirling and swirling around me like i was stuck in a snow globe. i put on my wellies, trekked to the market, and bought pink roses to remind me spring’s coming. i am here now, here in New York. for so long it seemed impossible, but after a month, it feels quite normal. “NORMAL?!” i think to myself. how could living in this city feel normal. whether it’s a testament to age or a general non-chalance, there is relief in normalcy.
***
when people ask if i’ve been writing, i look down at my feet like i’ve been caught misbehaving. is it writer’s block? is it lack of interest? or is it the work? the work of finding my voice after it’s been swallowed and spat out by grief.
***
once you said, “you know, you don’t always have to be the girl whose dad died?” i think i was putting on makeup. you were leaning in the doorway holding a half-empty coffee. i remember my breath catching in my chest, i remember turning slowly towards you. with a sentence, you set me free.

so, now what do i write about?

my dad was a bartender, too.

they tell you it will get easier and it does, it really does. i don’t think about him nearly as much and hardly ever cry. but the other day, i was alone in Rosemary and picked up my phone to call him. CALL HIM.

then, i sighed “fuck” and went back to setting up the bar.

i just wanted to tell him how the opening week went, how beautiful the bar looks at night, how the drinks are selling like hotcakes, how i am heard and respected by my bosses, how i am working 18hr days and totally happy, how i am still astonished nashville ended up being my promise land. and that’s the shitty part about your dad dying, the one dude you spend your entire life trying to make proud isn’t around to say “good job.”

i have this friend. his hair goes every which way and his hands are always clasped across his stomach. you can say one thing and send the guy into hysterics. once, he almost crashed his truck because i said something about my thumbs. anyway, his dad died, too. sometimes we talk about it, sometimes we don’t have to. i think we would have ended up friends regardless, but it is nice to share this type of fuckedupness.

i spent half of my early 20s wanting to be married and the other half complaining about being single. my dad used to say, “babe, you take after me and i didn’t get married ’til i was 32.” i used to roll my eyes, but now i’m almost 31, still single, and doing exactly what he was doing at my age: bartending (and fantasizing about becoming a famous creative.)

i wonder what it’s like to have a kid that not only looks like you, but sounds like you, behaves like you, thoroughly resembles you. he must have watched me– especially his last few years– like you’d watch a crashing train. can’t do anything about it, just send up a prayer. he taught me by word and action, to always land on my feet, to take care of business, to work hard, to not take any shit from anybody, to eat and drink and be happy.

he was the best of the best.

so, maybe i can’t hear him say “good job,” but i know i’m doing one because i take after him.

a crispy taco. an ocean view. the sound of guitar. these are a few of my earliest memories. don’t ask me what i did yesterday, but ask me about the summer of ’95 and i can tell you every last detail, including what i was wearing and what i had for lunch the day i learned my brother had cancer. i was 9.

he was sick–or should i say treated–for 6 months. then it was over. that happened 21 years ago today. i don’t have much else to say about that right now.

here in nashville, spring came early. it’s 70 and sunny and the neighbor’s daffodils are blooming. i walk across the street and sit on K’s porch. we sip coffee and shoot the shit. every 10 minutes, i look up with wonder and say “damn, it’s nice out.” around dinner time, i say goodbye and go to wherever i’m wanted. later, i’ll thank him for letting me sit and talk and be.

my life has had its ups and its downs, its dramas and its triumphs. nowadays, i cling to simplicity like a blanket in winter. routine has become my communion. let me drink the same coffee everyday and eat one of three things for lunch. let me wear the same jean shorts with the same faded tee, let me see the same faces that– somehow– always smile upon seeing mine.

i’ve stripped my life down to the bare necessities: caffeine, tacos, laughter. when i speak of past experiences… from my sick brother to the basketball coach i loved to the first time i smoked weed to the church i almost moved to boston to plant to making $801 on my first night behind the bar… it feels like i’ve already had two lifetimes. then, perhaps naively, i think, “well, i guess i am living for two of us.”

which brings up another question: when we say “in loving memory,” what do we mean? ’cause the way i figure it, i’m just tryna live a life so good my brother would be jealous (once a bratty little sister, always a bratty little sister?)

today “a life so good” doesn’t include much. just enough to remember. lovingly.

“do you love love?” he asked as he sipped the manhattan i’d just stirred.
“no.”
then i went back to bartending.

what should have been an indication that i had no interest in talking, instead was taken as an invitation to prod. and so he did for the next hour until his date took him home.

his name is jim and he looks like he could be my father’s brother. i first met him on an evening where the burden of my father’s passing seemed unbearable. he arrived, he sat, he spoke. and all of it was so familiar it almost had me believing in ghosts.

it wasn’t the first time someone had asked me that, nor the first time my clipped answers lead to more questions like, “who broke your heart?” and “what did your father do to you?” i never answer. who broke my heart? well, read back a few years and you’ll probably figure that one out. what did my father do to me? he died on the very day i moved across the country to be with him.

anyway, i know what it’s like to have a broken heart. doubtful, any of us have made it this far without one. if somehow, however, you’ve dodged that bullet all that certainly changed on january 20th.

what a shame. what a motherfucking, rotten, disgusting, disheartening, and ugly shame. i want to tell all the americans who support that piece of shit to read a history book. i want to tell all the “christians” who are brainwashed into automatically voting for a republican, to maybe- just once- to read the book they so highly value.

but this isn’t a rant and this isn’t an argument. this is one broken heart talking to (hopefully) many others. how do we cope without copping out?

i think the short answer is “community.” we find each other in picket lines and concert halls and taquerias. we sit at the same table and we lament. we crowd together and we embrace. the only thing i truly believe in is the power of a shared meal. this, perhaps, is why da Vinci’s “Last Supper” is such an important piece of art.

as the story goes, Christ knew he was about to be arrested and consequently crucified. instead of running, instead of hiding, he found his friends and he ate. the following days were dark and menacing, but the light did return and with it new hope. religious or not, we must fight for that same hope and make room at the table for all people that do.