2015 in Review: Six Word Memoir

We rang in 2015 in Deming.

 

Grandma China’s been gone eleven years.

We thought it was only ten.

Went ahead with the commemoration anyway.

 

K. cut three years of hair.

Just like that, he looks older.

Little boys get bigger. He resists.

Sometimes his fear outweighs his trust.

We celebrate risks faced and overcome.

We process the others. He grows.

I see him. I’ve been him.

 

P. turned 13. She wears eyeliner.

They grow so fast. Cliché. True.

I love who she is becoming.

She is stronger than she knows.

 

Feast Day at San Ildefonso Pueblo.

The dances root us in place.

 

I am constantly trying to simplify.

 

One board at a time—plenty.

 

After thirteen years, the Saturn died.

We left it where it stalled.

 

EKCO poets with Shelle and Valerie.

Write ten pages. Cut them up.

Collage them together. Rehearse. Perform.

 

We finally have a house plan.

There is a window between our bedrooms.

Can’t wait for that to go.

 

My friend started a book club.

Favorite: Between the World and Me

 

It’s time to be more honest.

 

Being a stepmom is no joke.

P. and K. – my greatest teachers.

 

Hembras. “Mother Lode.” My stepmom play.

My pink rebozo played a baby.

 

It’s time to write about Harvard.

Then I’ll have a suitcase trilogy.

Packing it to go to college.

Clinging to it after the fire.

Unpacking it to live my life.

 

I love reading at Sunday Chatter.

 

The cutest dog ever chose us.

Sat at our gate all day.

K. fed him, named him Leo.

Now he’s ours. I love him.

 

We lost Henry’s dad, April 20.

 

My dear friends lost their brother.

 

Aparna Levine healed my back pain.

 

I’m not allowed to run anymore.

Insurance pays gym fees. Hello, elliptical.

I’m trying to take up swimming.

Easier on the knees. Great cardiovascular.

Took first lessons since first grade.

I’m still learning how to breathe.

 

America Healing in Asheville, North Carolina.

 

Adrián Pedroza for Bernalillo County Commissioner.

 

It’s hard to share this part.

Depression has me back on Lexapro.

I tried everything I could try.

Running, writing, sleep, therapy, acupuncture, limpias.

Weight lifting. No coffee. No sugar.

Yoga. Meditation. Long walks. Good friends.

Poetry. Theatre. Being harder. Giving less.

Some combinations. Sometimes all at once.

But then there were mornings lost.

I’m kind of a mess today.

Yoga unlocking emotion in my hip.

I’m in tears on my mat.

Hours crying in the living room.

Nobody home. Thank God. I can’t.

And the worst is the judgment.

It came from nobody but me.

Suck it up. Pull yourself together.

Stop crying. Get off the floor.

What is wrong with you now?

You have everything you ever wanted.

You are healthy. You are loved.

Henry. P. K. This place. Words.

People are mean in my head.

Stop messing with my friend Michelle.

If I were my good friend

I’d say, you’re sensitive, that’s beautiful.

I’d say, it’s just for now.

I’d say, understanding why isn’t necessary.

Right now just do what works.

There’s nothing wrong with needing help.

Some people need to be medicated.

I guess I am one of them.

What else is there to do?

 

I remember I like to dance.

 

Summer garden wasn’t about the harvest.

I needed my hands in dirt.

I grew stevia, lemongrass, and sunflowers.

I grew six yellow pear tomatoes.

Oaxacan green corn, basil, marigolds, hyssop.

Lemon verbena, bell peppers, volunteer melons.

Grasshoppers and hornworms ate like kings.

K. said to chop their heads.

“Post them on toothpicks as warnings.”

 

I finally took the curanderismo course.

 

I want chickens in our yard.

They would help with the grasshoppers.

 

K. made the school’s archery team.

He and Henry shoot into hay bales.

 

The Kellogg Fellows are buena gente.

I get to work with six.

Carmen, Carnell, Carlos, Kayla, Sarah, Ventura.

 

Happy Arte Hour. So much fun.

 

We are launching an artist cooperative.

 

coffee, coffee, Zendo, Zia Latte, coffee

 

We lost Leo. He came back.

 

We rafted. Let’s do it again!

 

We lost my cousin, Robert Otero.

My BFF married a good man.

We lost Henry’s cousin, Epi Chavez.

We lost my tío, Joe Calderon.

A wonder he lived so long.

We lost Henry’s cousin, Alfonso Lopez.

 

P. was the best Halloween chola.

Thanks, Andrea, for doing her makeup.

 

My godmother was diagnosed with cancer.

 

P. dyed her hair in LA.

Four hours later, it’s bright pink.

 

Things I am embarrassed to admit:

I love that Justin Bieber song.

It’s too late to say sorry.

My mama likes everyone, except you.

 

Why don’t mid-school kids wear jackets?

That hoodie can’t keep you warm.

 

We lost Berna, a family friend.

 

Some things I could’ve done without:

Two words. Donald Trump. Enough said.

Middle school girls with duck lips.

Road rage. Police violence. Susana Martinez.

(Pee-tzah. Cokes. Call off your guys.)

 

I am blessed with good friends.

Stephanie reminded me who I am.

Emmy, thank you for making time.

Avi visited with her youngest daughter.

Anel and I wrote in Santa Fe.

María Limón surprised me one morning.

Finally got to meet Jesse’s kids.

I told them stories about college.

I wish his family lived closer.

Vicki and I ate and laughed.

Got to hold Desiree’s baby Luisa.

 

It’s time to be more honest.

I am constantly trying to simplify.

I’m still learning how to breathe.

Everything is better when I write.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on February 2, 2016 at 8:30 am  Comments (7)  
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Vigil

On the passing of my father-in-law, Henry Rael, Sr., April 20, 2015

IMG_6058That first night each of us prayed in our own way. My Henry held his dad’s hand and whispered, almost chanting, “we love you, thank you, it’s okay, you can rest…” His sister held the other hand, smoothed her dad’s hair and prayed the Our Father. I sang Hail Mary, Gentle Woman and Las Mañanitas. Priscilla spoke in tongues.

We thought he would go any minute, grasping our hands, lifting his chest from the bed only to collapse into it again, moving his lips to speak, no sound. The sun rose, and my father-in-law was still with us, the hum of the oxygen machine with its intermittent bursts still a constant backdrop. We drank coffee, ran home to replenish our overnight bag, canceled meetings and travel, made arrangements for our pets. We lit a candle and kept it burning on the bookcase where he kept his Bible and binders of Spanish liturgical music he’d composed over the past 40 years.

We made agreements: when we are here, we will be here. We won’t speak about him. We will speak to him, with him. We will do all we can to make him comfortable.

The next night we took turns. There were long, quiet hours when each of us was alone with him, the light low from his bedside lamp. Loose from its ponytail, my hair cast wild shadows on the wall. I think the shadows spooked him. He was a man who sought light.

And so I changed the angle of the lamp and sat on the floor next to his bedside table.

He stopped eating. Spoonfuls of water to ice chips to a sponge to wet his lips. White spots on the nails. Dark spots on the hands. Cold toes. He didn’t talk or close his eyes for three days and nights.

To his bedside those last 72 hours came the estranged sister, the gay nephew, the niece who’d lost a young daughter a few years prior, the cousin and sister with their rosaries, the priest who got a smile out of him when he said, “I’m here to pray with you.” This is how we should pass. At home, with people we love, no need to talk, just listening to beloved after beloved say, we love you, thank you, you are good, God is with you. And as steady as the oxygen machine, his daughter, his son, his wife of nearly 50 years. That last morning he looked Henry in the eye, took his last breath, and he was gone. I woke to my mother- and sister-in-laws’ weeping. He is gone.

I think of Mary Magdalene weeping at Jesus’s empty tomb. “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:13)

The day he was buried, rain pounded our procession as we rode from church to cemetery, then again from cemetery to reception. I had run out early that morning to buy umbrellas and waterproof mascara, but we didn’t need the umbrellas because both times we stepped out of the family limo the rain stopped long enough for the pallbearers to rest their boutonnieres on Henry’s casket, for his white-haired cousin to sing an alabado, long enough for my Henry, his brother, his sisters, and his mom to reach across their folding chairs under a blue tent and hold onto one another as the casket was lowered into the ground.

He is gone.

And he is here. In the choir that played his music at the rosary and funeral, in the angels with their crockpots of posole, beans, red chile, green chile stew, their trays of brownies and bowls of macaroni salad, their packets of sugar and powdered creamer, their bottomless cups of coffee. He is in the condolence cards, in these words from a dear friend: “In Navajo Way when a person passes, we talk about how our essence is to be wiped from this world—our breath, fingerprints, footprints, etc. The rain helps to cleanse us from this world to go into the next world. I thought about the rain that has fallen since Friday. Your father left such significant marks upon this land that it took so long, so many days of rain to celebrate his essence.” This is the wettest summer in the children’s lifetime, the first summer that our peach tree—a gift from Henry Sr., started from the stone he planted in a backyard bucket—yielded more than one fruit, a dozen peaches on the northern branches and on the south, about twenty nectarines.

He died during the Easter season, just as he’d wished. “‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.’” (Luke 24:5)

He has risen.

And he is here. In the strum of P’s fingers across the strings of the guitar he left for her. In K’s desire to sleep in Nano’s bedroom. “It’s a little creepy, but even if there’s a ghost, it’s a good ghost.” He is here, in Henry’s eulogy, written and spoken with such honesty and love.

He was 93 years old. He was a good man. No weeping and gnashing of teeth for this one. I picture Jesus and Saint Peter welcoming him, “Well done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of [the] Lord.” (Matthew 25:21)

Published in: on August 18, 2015 at 7:00 am  Comments (5)  
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The Savior, Part 5b: (Gotta Have) Faith

Continued from July 2 post: The Savior, Part 5a: (Gotta Have) Faith

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Twice in my life I have returned home from two-year stays in other countries. Neither time was fun or easy. After Belize, the priest at my home parish opened his Father’s Day homily with an observation that all movies featuring single fathers are comedies. I thought he’d go on to say that fathers were important, that Hollywood did them wrong, that men needed support in their roles as fathers. Instead he launched into a diatribe against “the radical feminist movement of the 1970s,” excoriating the bad women who had children out of wedlock and kept babies from their fathers, the awful women who pursued careers and forced children into daycare. He stayed with the image of father as helpless buffoon. This from a man who had never parented, a priest in a community with one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in a state with one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation.

He was one priest in one parish, but I thought of all the people listening to him that day. My high school classmates who’d earned diplomas after giving birth. The boy being raised by a single dad because his mother died. The fathers. My mom who worked her ass off to become a teacher, whose salary kept us afloat when my dad’s job hit a slump and dropped everyone’s hours. The friend who left the mother of his child right after high school. The childless woman. Me. Do I matter to this priest? This church? Do I matter at least as much as the child I might someday bear? And if I never bear children, do I matter at all?

IMG_5930I didn’t lose my faith. It changed. This was when I turned to La Virgen de Guadalupe, weeping before the tilma at her Basilica in Mexico City. This was when I started hiking, when I began shaping journal reflections into poems, when I jogged North Valley ditches with my roommate and her yellow lab, when I found a good therapist. This was when I had an egg rubbed over me by a traditional Mexican healer. I buried the egg and the rosemary she’d swept over me; I felt rooted and ready to fly at the same time and knew I had found a kind of home.

I would never leave the Catholic Church for another. I would miss the ritual, the songs, the liturgical calendar, communion, the sacraments. I would miss the bloody saints, the reverence, the solemnity of Christ’s suffering, a suffering we share in the breaking of bread, and I would miss the joy that follows that suffering because, like the denouement of a good novel, it is earned.

The Catholicism I grew up with and deepened at Harvard was of the Americas, tied to ancient tradition and new, post Vatican II, folk songs in Spanish, children sitting around the altar. Nuns never rapped me on the knuckles with rulers. (Though I, along with all of the other children who crowded into Father Stanley Hall for weekly catechism, was justifiably terrified of Sister Rosalie.) I was part of the mass, a lector, playing my trumpet, serving communion, holding the holy book above my head in procession with the priest.

IMG_5926I still feel at home dipping my fingers in a holy water font, still feel drawn to ritual and sacrament, to Good Friday mass, leaving the church in silence as the white cloth is gathered from the altar and folded. I am learning the newer mass parts (though “consubstantial” will never sound right to me). Pope Francis gives me hope. (Favorite quote so far: “Who am I to judge?”)

As with the fire, building my faith was never about trying to recreate my old life, but about creating and recreating with what remains: the ancient, the acequia, el mestizaje, the word.

Published in: on July 31, 2015 at 7:55 am  Comments (4)  
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The Savior 4: Three Chords

Continued from March 10 post, The Savior, Part 3: La Culpa

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My second year as a Jesuit Volunteer (JV) in Belize the church was my job. An American priest who’d spent most of his time in country on the grounds of a private school became the pastor at St. Martin de Porres (nicknamed St. Martin de Poors) Church, across the street from our JV house. I’d worked myself out of a job with the Lay Ministers Program. The wonder-JV a year ahead of me who played guitar, ran the children’s choir, coached the soccer and track teams at the adjoining school, and had attracted legions of grade school admirers who affectionately ran after his bicycle as he rode onto the church/school grounds calling, “Mistah Phil, Mistah Phil!” had completed his service and returned to the U.S. I became the Pastoral Assistant.

I’ve written about this before, trying to lead the children’s choir with my three chords on the guitar Mr. Phil left behind, the genios Father would throw me from the altar when I got it wrong. Teaching religion to the kids in Standard 3 because their regular classroom teacher was Jehovah’s Witness. Setting up the school counseling program with another JV, though I had majored in History and my only training was a three-day course put on by an all-white team from the U.S. whose orientation to Belize was a coffee meeting with a former Embassy worker.

I naively (it goes without saying) believed the kids at St. Martin’s would trust me, that all they needed was a good person to listen to them, and that together we’d develop the skills they’d need to navigate poverty, violence, absent parents (many of whom were trying to establish a foothold in the U.S.).

“They won’t go too deep,” Father said. “They just need a little encouragement.”

Sometimes we drew pictures. Sometimes we did homework. Sometimes we sat in silence. I thought instinct would guide me. I was afraid to ask for help. And the one time I did, reaching out to a family violence prevention organization, I got called into the principal’s office to face the mother whose son told me she beat him. “He’s a naughty boy,” she said. I walked straight from her office to an empty classroom and wept loud and messy for the shame of f#@*ing up, for the certainty that I’d failed him. He didn’t come to me anymore. Even now, I don’t know what else I could have done.

To Be Continued

Published in: on June 18, 2015 at 1:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Hembras de Pluma

#hembras2015

#hembras2015

“When I grow up, I want to be a stepmom,” said no one. Ever.

And so begins “Mother Lode,” the short play I wrote and am directing for this year’s Hembras de Pluma. You might remember from last year that we are a collective of women of color artists, actors, and writers. Or that we debuted during the 2014 Women & Creativity series at the National Hispanic Cultural Center to mostly sold-out audiences. You might remember the one and only Lola, grand dame of 1940s radio who refused to be aged out of her long-running show without a making a statement. You might remember the bond between six sisters and their makeup, or the teenager barricaded behind a flimsy bathroom door with her first box of tampons.

Though we know this to be true, I think we were all a bit surprised that we could take the tiniest seedlings of ideas, nurture them with time, attention, and hard work, and share them with our community. But there we were, writing on our laptops and journals around a dining room table, in a living room, on sofas and throw pillows. And then months later, lights, makeup, sound cues, audience.

And so we’re back with new stories. This time we’ve gone a little deeper, peeled back another layer.

Valli Rivera returns as Lola with new spicy advice for your life and a few secrets to share.

Monica Rodriguez brings us María Elena, a 40-something believer in love who has “spent a lifetime chasing the wrong men.”

Bineshi Albert explores the trafficking of indigenous women through a fast-talking, sharp-dressed salesman.

Michelle Estrada Allred shares two stories. In one she journeys to childhood in the land of pecans. In another she introduces a crew of cholas with a passion for public service.

María Teresa Herrera ignites the fire within three women as they drift into memories of life-changing events.

Andrea Serrano channels the voice of an elder as his life draws to an end.

Please join our audience at the National Hispanic Cultural Center as part of the Siembra Latino Theatre Festival, April 23 – May 3, Thursday – Saturday at 7:30, Sunday at 2:00. For tickets, call 505-724-4771 or visit tinyurl.com/hembras2015.

Follow our progress on Facebook and Twitter.

Finally, please contribute to our gofundme campaign. By day we work at non-profits, in children’s court, at a cancer center. We defend voting rights, organize our communities to protect clean air and water, and support vulnerable families. We help others tell their stories through poetry, dance, and theatre. Your gift not only enables us to build a set and pay our crew, but it supports our ongoing creative work, telling the stories of our communities, one little seedling at a time.

Published in: on April 7, 2015 at 12:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Cease to Exist, Part II: Aftermath

It takes me a long time to forgive, longer to let go. It’s harder when the object of my forgiveness doesn’t apologize, and harder still when the object disappears, leaving me to do the work of relationship on my own. Look at me, I want to say. Put your hand here where it hurts. I don’t want to punish; I just want to be seen.

I was spending Valentine’s Day at the dollar movie with my girlfriends because that sweet boy who’d put a journal in my hands all those years ago got engaged to someone else. Though we’d broken up when I was nineteen, he’d written to me during those two years after college when I was a Jesuit Volunteer in Belize City. His letter kicked off a sweet and hopeful correspondence between us. We made plans for him to visit, talked of our hearts coming full circle. And then there was silence. No letters, no calls, except that one from my mom telling me he’d met someone else. Though we had promised each other nothing, in my mind, the story ended with us together.

I learned a lot in Belize, how to bake bread, how to play guitar (well, sort of), how to pray, how to coordinate a youth group and a parish fair, how to teach twelve-year-old girls to play volleyball, how to write every day, no matter what, how to enter and re-enter a long and deep healing process that I didn’t even know I needed. Belize cast light on my shadows, and some of them followed me home.

*

IMG_3606Those days and nights after the St. Valentine’s accident were filled with fear, a sense of dread and doom. On our first trip to the credit union, before my mom and I spoke with the “cease to exist” guy, we’d met with an in-house financial advisor who’d said we weren’t eligible for credit union membership. No membership equaled no loan, which equaled no car to replace the one totaled on the night for lovers. As we drove back to the dealer to explain our plight, clouds settled over me, darkening the crisp blue of Albuquerque’s winter sky. My mom might have said, “It’s okay. We’ll figure it out,” or perhaps commiserated with a “yes, that woman was rude.” But I had already left her for the land of Nothing Ever Works Out For Me. We find a great car in my price range, but I can’t get it. And I wouldn’t need a car if my old one (read: my parents’ car) hadn’t been totaled. And that car would be fine if I just had a boyfriend to take me out on Valentine’s Day.

IMG_2404There have been blessedly few periods in my life when I have felt like Charlie Brown, the Wicked Witch of the West, and my overgrown five-year-old self all rolled into one, alone, threatened, afraid, certain the moment I step outside, a house will land on me. But when those periods hit, they feel eternal. These periods have all been preceded by a Major Life Event (emphasis mine)—a breakup, an accident, a move, a loss, sometimes all at once. Just as in the midst of a migraine, you can’t remember a time when your head didn’t feel like it was being stabbed from within by an icepick, when depression hits, you can’t remember your joy. And if there ever was joy, it was fleeting, the bright spot in an otherwise overcast life. In a depression, I might call a friend, go for a run, or take a nap. Sometimes I’d bake just to have a sense of accomplishment. Look at me, I made four dozen Hershey Kiss cookies. Maybe I am capable. Maybe I’m not a loser. Maybe I won’t have to live in my parents’ garage. Whatever the lifeline, its lift was temporary. Soon enough, I’d have to hang up the phone, jog home, wake up, or find something to do with all those damn cookies (besides eating them, which just leads to an even deeper depression).

Sometimes I would turn to my journal with a pen to bleed out some of the sickness. I tried never to read over what I’d written in the past for fear I’d find the same ailment that plagued me in the present, or worse, that those entries from Joy would feel like dispatches from a far-away land that I would never visit again.

Each time depression hits, I feel singled out, a twisted kind of chosen one whose lot in life is to feel more deeply than others, to carry an emotional and spiritual weight that normal people can’t bear. I wonder, why me? What did I do to deserve this? (And then I remember the words of a writing teacher who spoke about this indignation in a lecture on authenticity in memoir. She asked, “Who are you to be spared?”)

Relating to depression in this way feels a lot like cursing the wind. I don’t have to like the grit in my contact lenses or the toppled trash bin; but questioning the wind’s presence doesn’t relieve my eyes or improve the condition of my yard. Telling the wind to f@#* off doesn’t impact its force or change its direction. It only inhibits my movement.

So next time—if there is one—depression enters my room, instead of pretending I don’t see it or telling it to go, I might step closer to it, observe it, relate. Look at me, it will say. Put your hand here where it hurts. It doesn’t want to punish. It just wants to be seen.

 

 

Cease to Exist, Part I: Impact

I am remembering a trip to the credit union with my mom. She was helping me buy a car, and the suit and tie man behind the desk was explaining the ins and outs of the loan, the particulars of early payments, missed payments, and what would happen to the car should I “cease to exist.”

Weeks earlier I had been rear-ended by a Dodge Ram Charger in a 4-car pileup and totaled my parents’ Ford Taurus. The accident happened on Valentine’s Day, and my dates were my roommate Beth and a woman I’d met in group therapy. We were on our way to the dollar theatre to see The Empire Strikes Back when the Toyota Camry in front of me slammed on the brakes. I screamed, certain that I was about to plow my parents’ car into the rear bumper, and then breathed a sigh of relief when I realized we had stopped short. In an instant, a bad thing had become a good thing, and I had made that happen. Beth, in profile, her face illuminated by the Kentucky Fried Chicken sign across the street, opened her mouth to speak. She might have turned to me, the light glinting off her glasses.

The worst hits come out of nowhere. You go to the movies on a Friday night. You slam on the brakes. You exhale. Your friend opens her mouth to speak. But you don’t hear her. Instead light in the rearview catches your eye. The light makes you scream. Or maybe you were already screaming, and that’s why your friend opens her mouth to speak, to ask why.

There is the before: holding tight to the steering wheel, as though it could protect you, bracing for impact, headlight filling the rearview, not looking back, knowing there’s nothing you can do.

And there is the after: A man’s face in my window. “Oh my God, are you okay?” Stepping out of my car, the door still opens and closes. Radiator fluid pools on the road. Saying, “No, it’s okay, I don’t need an ambulance,” even though I probably do, even though I know that saying no is a misstep. An ambulance is a big deal. An ambulance is expensive. But there’s no blood, no broken bones. It could have crushed me. I could be dead. But I’m not crushed or dead. So I must be okay.

I don’t remember the middle: the impact, the sounds, the smells, the feeling in my body. The body-mind is wise in this way; it protects us from pain until we are strong enough to feel it.

Published in: on September 30, 2014 at 2:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Pit, Part IV: Silence

Three and a half weeks after Hurricane Green Chile our streetlights still do not work, and though we live in the same house on the same street as before the storm, a fear creeps over me when darkness falls.

I hated having my own room when I was a little girl. My parents got to share a bed. My three older brothers shared a big L-shaped room at the back of the house. More than a few nights I tried to crawl into bed with my parents, but they usually sent me back to my bedroom with its pink walls and purple carpet. Some nights I would call out to my mom because I was too afraid to leave my bed, certain that someone or something would attack before I could reach their door across and down the hall. Sometimes my brothers would hear me before my parents could get to me, and all I can remember are the sounds of sleepy teenage boys saying, “Michelle, just get up. They can’t hear you. Just go to their room.” And then, magically, my bedroom light would turn on, and there my mom would stand in her blue housecoat. She never looked happy in those moments. But she wasn’t angry either, just sleepy as she listened to my carefully crafted argument for moving into their bed.

Mine was the room closest to the front door, and I reasoned (because, clearly, reason was the thing at work here) that an intruder would find me first. And besides, wasn’t it unfair that everyone else got to share a room, and I didn’t? I don’t think my argument ever worked. I remember her saying that our house was the same at night as it was during the day, and that helped a little, knowing that our home did not change, only the light, knowing that the older people in my family had all learned to befriend the house in darkness and that maybe I could too.

There were nights this summer when I sat on the couch wide awake while the house slept. Some nights I lay in bed with my eyes open, staring through our bedroom window at the outline of sunflowers, their backs to me. I thought a lot in those moments about what I don’t say when I am hurt, angry, or afraid, and the fear that grips me when I think about revealing these feelings even to someone I trust, even to Henry. And again, I am that little girl, calling out to my parents in the middle of the night, and I’ve woken my brothers, and they’re saying, “Michelle, just get out of bed and go to their room.” I can’t. I am paralyzed.

But what really kept me awake those nights were the things I don’t tell, the information I withhold because I am afraid of what I will have to give up in exchange for my honesty. I have kept secrets as long as I can remember. I have kept stupid, inconsequential secrets. I have kept secrets at work, overcommitting myself and not telling my colleagues until we’re too far into a project to do anything about it. I have kept secrets in my relationships. It is easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission. Only it’s not. And when we’re all adults, it’s not really about permission. It took many of those nights, lots of writing, long runs along the acequia, longer conversations with Henry to see that my strategy of silence was about power.

He has power over me; I don’t have power over him.

If I don’t tell him I am hurt, then he won’t see me cry, and if he doesn’t see me cry, then he won’t know I am weak, and if he doesn’t know I am weak, then he will think I am strong, and if he thinks I am strong, then he won’t feel his power, and if he doesn’t feel his power, then I win.

If I keep a secret, if I withhold information, then I get to do things my way. I have power. I win.

As a child, one of my most profound experiences of the masculine was feeling powerless against it. I learned to wield silence. But silence used in this way is a weapon. I don’t want to fight anymore. So what now?

Coming next week: The conclusion of The Pit series, Loving the Darkness

Published in: on August 21, 2013 at 8:44 am  Comments (2)  
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The Pit, Part III: SAD

Kids are back in school. The house is quiet.

972137_10151500199949423_1619312883_nOn the surface, summer was what summer should be. There was the Desnuda reunion road trip from San Antonio to Rio Hondo, where I watched dolphins swim through a channel toward Laguna Madre and the Gulf. It was sunrise, and even the mosquitoes held still as, one by one, the creatures surfaced for air and continued their journey to the sea. (Their quiet determination surprised me. I had expected them to travel in groups of three, leaping through the air and giggling at the apex as they do at Sea World. The morning stillness, their breath the only sound, was better.) The arroyo, the desnudas, and the dolphins put me back in touch with my manuscript. I wrote at a kitchen table, on a cushy chair, in Anel’s magic casita in San Antonio.

There was Father’s Day mass at Holy Rosary, the one-day Otero family reunion (and requisite water fight) in Las Cruces, the Rael/Otero Northern New Mexico family vacation. We rode the train from Chama to Antonito, dipping up into Colorado and back to New Mexico through a rock tunnel, over a suspension bridge, and alongside deer and elk, the fires in Jemez and southern Colorado beyond our view, the only hint of destruction as we pulled out of the station, spider web tents hanging from the branches of aspens and pines along the tracks.

382521_10151534847664423_839236494_nI grew corn and tomatoes and planted more of the seed paper on which our wedding guests wrote their good wishes for Henry and me. They bloomed as pink, orange, red, and yellow coat buttons under the office window and outside our dining room. I planted sunflowers that reached up to our bedroom window and greeted us each morning as though they knew nothing of drought.

The four of us camped out in the backyard. Henry and I got prettied up, prepared a portable feast, and experienced (for this is the only word for how one takes in this event) the Santa Fe Opera. After a week of dance camp, K’s love of movement overpowered his shyness, and he walked the dinosaur at the Natural History Museum as part of a Keshet Dance Company flash mob. (He had the best free-style.) P discovered a love of graphic novels. She devours them, reading in the car, the bathroom, at the dinner table. She reads them in lieu of watching Disney channel at Nana’s house.

Photo by Avi Huelskamp

Photo by Avi Huelskamp

There was the Belize women reunion on San Juan Island. We saw a pod of orcas from a rocky perch on the west side of Friday Harbor, visited a lavender farm, looked for heart shaped rocks on a lagoon shore.

And still I am relieved to see sunflowers browned and tilting toward the ground, to smell green chile roasting in the parking lot of Pro’s Ranch Market, to feel a chill against my skin as I leave the house to jog while the kids sleep and Henry lifts weights at home. Summer is ending.

Fall is near.

On the train I imagined how gorgeous the ride must be in early October when the aspens are torches lighting up the mountainside. I looked for the aspens, white trunks, slender and sturdy, knots like dark eyes taking in the forest, heart shaped leaves the green of apples. I love the sound of a breeze through an aspen forest, the quaking of the leaves, as though each tree takes a breath.

The aspens are dying. Swaths of mountain are covered in tree bones, skinny old men eaten by time and disease. Those “spider webs” are silk cocoon sacks, writhing with the larvae of tent making caterpillars that, together with bark beetles, drought, bronze poplar borer larvae, and climate change have led to Sudden Aspen Decline or SAD.

Summer was sunflowers: not having cancer, time with friends, time with family, watching P and K come into their own, Henry. Summer was SAD: fire, the aspens, bringing my unconscious beliefs and ways of being to consciousness and recognizing that they too will die. They have to. Even the sunflower browns and bends toward earth. Fall is near.

Published in: on August 14, 2013 at 7:06 am  Comments (6)  
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The Pit, Part II: Hallelujah

Maybe there’s a God above

but all I’ve ever learned from love

was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you.

-Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen

There should be a statute of limitations on old relationship pain, and it should probably kick in when the length of time since the relationship’s demise is equal to or greater than the relationship itself. You dated someone for three months, you get three months to forgive, let go, and move on. One date with the dancer who took your number at Salsa Under the Stars? Let’s be generous and give you a week.

Letting go has never been my strong suit. I can purge old clothes, books I do not love, even letters and photographs that spoke to or captured my younger self. Though I would never choose to do it again, I know I could lose most of my possessions in a fire and recreate my life out of the love of family and community.

But my attachment to pain is different.

I can call on old relationship pain, remember exact conversations, what I was wearing, the way the light blazed on the flamboyant blossoms outside Santo Domingo Church/washed out that desert path as we walked/bounced off my wine glass as I left the table. I remember slamming down a public phone in Oaxaca, storming up an arroyo in El Paso, running to a bar bathroom in New York. There’s a quality to that pain that made me feel alive.

But there’s something deeper.

Love heals us. This love with Henry heals me.

So why does the old stuff still hurt sometimes, even if it happened years ago and only lasted a few months? Why is it that when this relationship bends me in a particular direction I am once again that woman walking away from the Mexican payphone, kicking rocks out of my path under the El Paso sun, blowing my nose into a scratchy paper towel in that bar bathroom?

Healing is hard work. It’s the manual labor of the soul. I have been doing some excavating and heavy lifting this summer, going deep into memory, holding my beliefs up to the light and watching some of them shrivel. One belief in particular was embedded in me so long ago I thought it was truth. It has shaped my view of men and my relationships with them. It has protected me, and for that, I am grateful. It has also made me resentful and incapable of releasing the past. Maybe I could have come to it on my own. But I think I needed this relationship with this person to feel safe and loved enough to allow it to surface.

Here it is: He has power over me; I don’t have power over him.

Published in: on July 31, 2013 at 7:38 am  Comments (9)  
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Jennifer Givhan, Poet & Novelist

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