I see a place sometimes.
My dress is long, thin and white
Your hat is worn and your eyes see far across our land
I skip off the wide porch towards you
the sun is low behind the oak trees
The expression you wear is serious,
mine is light and playful
We favor each others faces still
more than anothers
Our tomatoes taste like earth
all of its sweet acid
our friend brings peaches
like warm heaven.
I run my finger tip down your arm
then to linger on a flower petal
down to the wandering weed I pluck
We settle onto wooden seats for sunset
the suns orange is loud upon the tall grass
calling in color
reaching for us.
Our language is silent
We’ve said all the words
Spent a lifetime together
love unspoken was earned
A young man born in Joplin, Missouri in 1902, inspired by the blues and his own experience, wrote the poem “Let America Be America Again.”
Today, we hear men and women, young and old, yelling at us about what America should be. They tell us to Make America Great Again. Make America Smart Again. Make America Kind Again.
Yet, fifty years after his death, it is Mr. Langston Hughes whose words speak loudest to me.
Let America be America again. Let it be the dream it used to be. Let it be the pioneer on the plain Seeking a home where he himself is free. (America never was America to me.) Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed— Let it be that great strong land of love Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme That any man be crushed by one above. (It never was America to me.) O, let my land be a land where Liberty Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, But opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe. (There’s never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”) Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? And who are you that draws your veil across the stars? I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart, I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars. I am the red man driven from the land, I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek— And finding only the same old stupid plan Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak. I am the young man, full of strength and hope, Tangled in that ancient endless chain Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land! Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need! Of work the men! Of take the pay! Of owning everything for one’s own greed! I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil. I am the worker sold to the machine. I am the Negro, servant to you all. I am the people, humble, hungry, mean— Hungry yet today despite the dream. Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers! I am the man who never got ahead, The poorest worker bartered through the years. Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream In the Old World while still a serf of kings, Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true, That even yet its mighty daring sings In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned That’s made America the land it has become. O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas In search of what I meant to be my home— For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore, And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea, And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came To build a “homeland of the free.” The free? Who said the free? Not me? Surely not me? The millions on relief today? The millions shot down when we strike? The millions who have nothing for our pay? For all the dreams we’ve dreamed And all the songs we’ve sung And all the hopes we’ve held And all the flags we’ve hung, The millions who have nothing for our pay— Except the dream that’s almost dead today. O, let America be America again— The land that never has been yet— And yet must be—the land where every man is free. The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME— Who made America, Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain, Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain, Must bring back our mighty dream again. Sure, call me any ugly name you choose— The steel of freedom does not stain. From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives, We must take back our land again, America! O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath— America will be! Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death, The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies, We, the people, must redeem The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers. The mountains and the endless plain— All, all the stretch of these great green states— And make America again! Langston Hughes, 1902 - 1967 From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes.
I wanted to write you a letter to thank you for a few things, just a few.
I want to thank you for reminding me what it is to be righteous.
thank you for waking up my generation to the fact that life as we know it can change unless and because we stand up to defend it.
thank you for making it so glaringly obvious that while we might have seen great changes in the race relations in this country – we saw a black man excel at the office you currently hold and will never forget it – we still have a lot of work to do. it is on us – the PEOPLE of this country – to prove to our black sisters and brothers and brown and native and foreign alike that ALL their lives matter. (since you clearly don’t plan on helping with that)
thank you for genuinely, disturbingly, and deeply pissing off women, this is a two-parter:
- because everyone knows that pissed off women get shit done.
- because you reminded me of a true love I had abandoned: Fiona Apple. below, i have posted the lyrics that have brought me solace, which thanks to you, I desperately needed.
thank you for showing me how lucky I am to live in a world where strong women and sensitive men aren’t differentiated or celebrated, they just are them, because we are all equals.
thank you for making me feel like a genius with every single word that comes out of your mouth or from your tiny, tiny little fingers.
finally, thank you for awaking our passion, and may God – the ever-loving, compassionate refugee that i know in my heart- be with you.
RED RED RED by Fiona Apple, album Extraordinary Machine
I don’t understand about complementary colors
And what they say
Side by side they both get bright
Together they both get gray
But he’s been pretty much yellow
And I’ve been cryin’ blue
But all I can see is
Red, red, red, red, red now
What am I to do
I don’t understand about
Diamonds and why men buy them
What’s so impressive about a diamond
Except the mining
I don’t understand about
The weather outside
The harbinger to the words
That somebody lied
There’s solace a bit for submitting
To the fitfully cryptically true
What’s happened has happened
What’s coming is already on it’s way
With a role for me to play
I don’t understand
I’ll never understand
But I’m trying to understand
There’s nothing else I can do
I am not perfect, but I believe my child is.
I will never tire of watching him try new things.
I simply cannot believe my eyes when he does something on his own that he has never been shown how to do by me.
My heart races from frustration to longing to rage to utter and complete satisfaction, pride, and boundless love in seconds. Most days are a long battle between them.
Fear can creep slowly like a tickle in my throat that turns into the plague or it can spark and spread like wildfire in a millisecond.
My child’s grin can make every other being and object of matter in the universe disappear.
His laughter rings in my ears like the most harmonious bell.
Watching him play and learn and laughing with his father brings tears to my eyes.
Watching him adore my parents and grandparents and brother and sister is the epitome of joy.
Keeping calm while a seemingly drunk tiny psychopath screams irrationally at me for the eighth time in a day is the most difficult task I have ever been appointed to.
Trying to rationalize with a toddler is absolutely pointless, but I do it to make myself feel better when I resort to distraction and bribery.
Crying to other moms is sometimes the only solution.
Screaming at the father of my child is often both entirely irrational and necessary.
Poop is not taboo here. There is poop everywhere, all the time.
There is literally no TMI left.
Wanting to go out and rage and make bad decisions is a fleeting thought after his bedtime between a shower and PJs.
Coffee is only there for the placebo affect by now, but I will curse anyone who tries to take it away.
Sleeping in past 7am is ecstasy.
Someone else cleaning my house is a luxury sent from heaven above.
Snacks and naps make for happy children, damn anyone who intentionally gets in the way of either.
I do sometimes loathe my life and this tiny perfect human that I created.
I have never known love like this, and it makes me better all the time.
I am raising a human that I grew and birthed, for nothing, by choice, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Remember getting dumped when you were 22? I had completely forgotten what it was like. To be blindsided by the utter and incomprehensible failure of the relationship that you were so wrapped up in, so invested in, so sure it was going to last for the rest of your life, that you hadn’t even considered the possibility that it could end. It inevitably did though, because 22-year-olds….and it felt like the life was kicked out of your guts and sucked from your heart. Your brain scrambled to process it, and you drank heavily to avoid that from happening, because how can one make sense of a heartbreak so raw, so unexpected, and so final. How can my brain be expected to process the fact that two Tuesdays ago America dumped me.
This is how I feel, and if this analogy has legs they are standing on the fact that America is a proverbial 22-year-old. Young and empowered by a college education filled with sex and whiskey, privilege disguised as knowledge and job prospects for a select few that make it seem like things are in good shape. An economy that from a university town looks functional, and an apartment in a newly gentrified neighborhood which makes it seem like our cities have progressed.
It’s tough to put myself back together because I really thought we had something special. Our relationship was founded on the principal that all men, and I thought women, were created equal. That these truths would be self-evident, and that together we would pursue life, liberty and happiness. I know America wanted that too. The problem, is that now I also know that in all the time that we were together, there was a part of America that didn’t see me as an equal at all, that didn’t see progress as positive, that didn’t see certain lives mattered, and that didn’t see that love is love. That hurts.
So, we have a lot of shit to sort out. America has some growing up to do. Americans have deep-seated prejudice, systemic racism, sexism and xenophobia to take responsibility for and to work through, together. That will take years of therapy, marching in the streets, drinking, strong leadership, and ideally some kind of group therapy. Call me crazy, call me a hopeless romantic, call me in general because I am not ok and I want to talk about it, but I love this country too much to let it, or it’s fundamental values get away.
we say we don’t have seasons in miami, but we do. they are slight and they are lovely, and yesterday was our first fall day. the beach was windy and almost too cool, if not for the eager sunshine. lying on a thin blanket, my face hidden from stray drops of sea flying off the white caps through the wind, my toes hanging off the edge of the blanket digging happily in the warm, sun-baked sand, my soul reaching through the blanket and into the earth, thankful, for once, for change.
it is the best kind of beach day. it is the most serious we get around here. the reggaeton is drowned out by the waves pounding the sand and the party people picnic without overhearing. the change in the air is tangible. facing the roaring atlantic on a day like that with your eyes on the edge of the earth, and your body warmed by it, you feel grounded. it was a refreshing, glorious day that i was happy to spend with my dear friends, equally in need of a recharge.
happy fall everyone. may the cool air warm your soul.
The greatest man I have ever known raised me to be a dreamer. He taught me to ask not what my country could do for me, but to strive to do good for all mankind, including questioning authority, indignity, and every day bullies. He showed me the power of my voice and the sanctity of silence. He instilled in me the toughness I would need for life’s many trials, and made certain I would be present and feel all the feels. He let me see him cry when tears were all he could muster. He dances when the music moves him, without a shred of thought to whether anyone is watching. He raised me to know my own strength and to nurture it, but to understand that love is a better weapon against any enemy. He taught me to sing when I’m scared, because the sharks can smell fear. I still whistle a happy tune so no one will suspect I’m afraid, and I still run to him. I’m lucky enough to have had my dad in my corner every step of the way. He is a champion of the underdog, a true humanitarian. He uses the force. He believes that good will always defeat evil, and I believe him. If that was the one gift he had given me, that would have been enough, but my life has been showered with his wisdoms and those of so many righteous wordsmiths before him. Today, I celebrate his birth with a magnitude of respect, gratitude, love and light. Shine on you crazy diamond, here’s to Chapter 63.
She closed the last plantation shutter and looked down at the room key in her hand. Pale blue, a long diamond with wide font, “Room C” in white, attached to a real key on a keyring. Just as soon as she dropped the key into the pocket of her loose fitting Levi’s her hand drew to her mouth. She bit her finger nervously.
Her eyes fell upon the car seat, and drifted to the bed, still made by someones else’s deft hands. A lone toy sat next to the TV remote. There were trucks and blocks strewn across the floor. The kitchen was clean apart from a trash bin in the sink and two pots on a chair. Within the silence she heard the magnitude of sound that his tiny hands had made with the lids.
Her finger traced the edge of the small kitchen table. She poured a glass of wine and sighed. Only four clementines left and the whole day to get through tomorrow. She knew an extra bushel had been in order.
It has been such a very long time since I posted here with any sort of consistency. I would like to try to remedy that, and first, I thought I would shed some light as to why I’ve been busy.
Don’t call it a comeback.
Things I did today:
- I woke up at 6am with a 13-month-old child who is cutting his molars. (god help us both).
- I baked my first homemade pumpkin pie, from scratch, and the crust was slightly overdone but the pie is perfect.
- I toasted fresh pumpkin seeds.
- I made pumpkin purée for my little love. He ate all of two bites before a tantrum that ended the meal.
- I nursed my wild, curious, oh-so-swift son after he climbed to the top of his stroller and promptly tipped it over onto his face earning his first black eye.
- I ate all of the previously mentioned pumpkin seeds.
Things I did not do today:
- I did not cry.
- I did not eat the entire pie.
And for that I will call today a win.
Happy Fall! 🎃🍂🍁🌾
I see me. In a little black dress. I’m walking. I reach the side of the pool and I don’t hesitate to dive in.
All sorts of people are swimming in black-tie apparel. Everyone is under the water. Twirling and swirling like dancers on a ballroom floor. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to breathe. I swim past them to the deepest part of the deep end.
I wait for him. Breathless.
We got in his old pick-up truck and he started the ignition. The vinyl seat was like ice beneath me, but he had lit something within me. Jack was rugged and charming, he had the swagger of an athlete from birth, and that voice, like the trucks engine, making me both nervous and excited.
He wasn’t driving away and I followed his gaze to a delivery truck on my right. It was open, unmanned, and full of beer. I raised my eyebrows daring him to say what was on his mind, but before words intruded he was out and running. I had never seen someone act so impulsively, simply crack the mold of good behavior like the thin bits of ice on the pavement beneath his boots. I had spent my high school career visualizing myself raising raucous disturbances, but was always brought out of them by a sympathetic teacher wondering if I needed a pass to the restroom or to the nurse. I never needed a pass, what I needed was a radical.
Jack’s face was bold and excited, almost terrified but completely cool as he hustled back to his truck with a twelve-pack of imports tucked under his arm. He stepped on the gas and I laughed. I inherited the laugh from my mother. As a child I’d watch it rip into the room and turn every head, scared certain that I could never live up to it. It just made Jack drive straight through the sunset pulling out all the stars.
Have you ever wanted to punch someone? Not in that – the person talking too loudly on their cell phone next to you in an otherwise quiet, slow moving-line deserves a quick back hand to the mouth – kind of way. I mean, for reasons that are clearly written in the code of human decency, someone is asking to get knocked around. A guy, for example, has pushed his way into a group of girls, and you actually feel it would be a disservice to the world and all of the humanity resting upon it if this person is allowed to say even one more syllable.
By now, your hand is twitching and while you’ve been keeping it still with a glass of bourbon, it’s down to just rocks and they’re giving away your frustration. Your girlfriend gives you a sideways glance and you’re pretty certain she’s surprised that you’ve let this Heineken-fueled tool stay on his feet for as long as you have. He has been asked politely to leave by two of the girls in the group, and the poor dear with his unwanted arm draped over her shoulder has become a slouched shadow. The third attempt is about to get loud. So, you put the glass down.
“Do me a favor, guy,” I say, and yeah I probably have my hand in his face by then, just so he knows his last chance had passed. “Listen to the ladies, and walk the fuck away.”
Next thing I know, I’m outside looking in. The room is no longer a space occupied by people, it is the being. Drinks float out of their glasses and into the air at a rate that appears to defy the natural laws of gravitation pull. Everyone jumps up at once but none of that is any concern to me because this puffed up short-guy actually chest pumped me and now all I want, with a raw, aching desire, is to be sure that my fist meets his face with the proper torque and accuracy.
The manager’s voice is somewhere in the background shouting orders at waiters who take light-years to appear and when they do, they act with no more strength than that of children. A table is knocked over and wood cracks and splits. The fluidity of the room moves people around like waves crashing.
I can hear my name coming from someone very, very far away. The only thought I process is that someone is holding my right hand back and if I want to swing on this guy it’s going to be a left cross. But in order to do that, I’d have to release the grip that I have on his neck, which is the only solid thing left in the room at that exact time. I finally shake my hand free and land a punch, right around the time the five waiters seem to restrain the flailing fool.
I walk away. I go through a door and down some stairs and find myself at another bar. My hand isn’t twitching anymore, which I only really notice because of the throbbing emitting from it. I move my jaw from side to side and discern I didn’t take any hits. I clench and unclench my fist and determine that the torque, velocity and force were all accurate. My left hand still has a lingering feeling of holding on to something far too tightly.
I ask for a glass of water. My girlfriend is walking towards me trying to suppress a smile, something that she is lousy at. I am certain that if I had a similar disposition, the talk of the bar upstairs wouldn’t be about the douchebag who was asking for it, but the maniac who was just plain giddy to hit someone. I keep that thought, and all the rest, to myself. And for a while, I’m their hero.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, the ground floor of an old house
Had been converted into a piano bar, filled by many a louse.
Music and banter wound its way up the spiral staircase,
Melodies curled around a lady giving a sailor good chase.
Somewhere down some lane children slept in their beds
Visions of iPhone 6’s danced in their sweet heads
The avenue that divided the old house and the shore
Punctuated the season with lit palm trees and whores.
Headlights bound down A1A, his father’s Tesla he’d borrowed
High school sweethearts high on speed and dreams of the morrow
To the stars her eyes lifted through the open moon roof
It was then she saw a sled guided by many a hoof.
Slapping her beau frantically, she finally found her words,
“I saw Santa! That was Santa!” She said face towards
The sky, searching for more of what she had seen.
“That’s cute, Babe,” he said, and patted her knee.
“But,” she began, and knew it was useless.
I must’ve been seeing things, she resolved, quite hopeless
Back inside, the sailor was back at the bar
His date sipped champagne, flirting all the more.
The piano player banged out his version of Jingle Bell Rock,
A couple with more gumption than talent sang amuck.
No one heard the clatter that came from above,
Each patron was numbed by booze, lust or love.
They missed the sound of a sleigh landing with a crash.
Just one disbeliever had seen the flash
Too easily swayed was she from the magic,
“Can you believe it,” Santa huffed to his boys, “it’s just tragic.”
“Kids used to make it more difficult for us to fly about,”
“No one believes anymore, the stress is giving me the gout.”
At the piano the carolers had moved on to shots of whiskey,
Their song choices had slid from Christmas-themed to Bowie.
A third shot for his efforts sat atop the black polished grand.
As they counted down the Space Oddity, Santa’s bottom did land
On the floor of the chimney, soot splattered and rose
Landing softly on a couple necking, dotting her panty hose.
He brushed himself off and surveyed the room
More naughty than nice he suspected, still he pulled
Two presents from his sack, for the blokes behind the bar.
He couldn’t blame them for the rest, it was their house, after all
And while he happened to be in such an establishment,
He couldn’t resist the idea of just one little nip.
“Can you hear me, Major Tom” consumed the air;
Santa put back the shot that had been waiting there.
“Delicious,” he announced, his belly jiggling before him,
“George Dickel, good taste, maybe they are nice the lot of ‘em.”
With that he was off, more houses to tend to.
The singing finally ended, which brought their attention to
The empty glass sitting pretty right where they’d left it.
“Who took the third shot?!” lead carol singer called, indignant,
That someone would touch what was rightfully another’s
Unbeknownst to the lot, it’d been the ultimate gift-giver’s
Fair hand who had taken that nip of their bourbon
Santa took his seat, the reindeer launched the sleigh into mornin’.
Back in the Tesla’s she beamed, as she heard clear as day light,
“Merry Christmas to all, And to all a good night!”
Do you remember when Jay-Z and Beyonce got married?
I was standing in a gas station somewhere on the border of Montana and Idaho waiting for a shift change to be carried out. On a Greyhound bus, I’d just learned, each passenger must disembark before the drivers change places at a different location. I had boarded the bus four hours previously in Bozeman, Montana at 3:15am and while I’d rather not have parted with my seat and my pillow, I held my tongue and walked sleepily into the freezing cold morning. Had it been a less ungodly hour, I might have protested, or at least had the wherewithal to grab my purse.
Instead, I walked into the gas station groggy and shivering. It was heated and like a dog curling up in front of the fire, I settled in to the magazine rack. This was 2008, long before Bey ran the world, when Jay was still the power of the couple by my estimation and before they named their child a color. People magazine had printed a story about their very private penthouse nuptials. “From the White Orchids (70,000!) to the Famous Guests and the Crazy-Expensive Cigars, Inside the Power Couple’s Ultra-Private New York City Wedding” read the by-line.
Seventy thousand orchids, I thought, I better see what that looks like. And, obviously, I hoped to see a picture of the dress.
I didn’t get to see pictures of either. I shut the magazine a little disappointed, but also kind of happy that they’d actually pulled off a celebrity wedding that the paparazzi hadn’t infiltrated.
Good for them, I thought, placing it back on the shelf.
“Weren’t you on that bus?” the meth addict cashier said to me. I looked through my red eyes at her brown teeth trying to process the tense she was using.
“What?” I asked, mentally preparing myself for some kind of atrocity.
Ali and Heather walked home from cheerleading practice with an aura of sulkiness about them. The trees were just beginning to set fire above the suburban road, but the two fourteen year old girls were so chocked full of self-doubt that they couldn’t see the autumn delight. The yellow and orange leaves mingling with the green in the pleasant afternoon went unnoticed because lately, things had not been going Ali’s way.
When school first started in the fall it didn’t seem to matter that she was the new kid. Despite her original fears, freshman year had started alright. Ali had been chosen for the JV cheerleading squad, she had made some nice friends, and a boy even shared his sandwich with her at lunch. In girl world, things could not have been better. Then one day, out of the periwinkle sky, a shadowy cloud rolled in and settled itself just above Ali’s pretty, red-head. Continue reading My Mother is Not in a Cult
1. Standing on a hill in my mountain of dreams, telling myself it’s not as hard as it seems.
2. The Cheshire Cat moon.
3. A warm place to sleep.
4. A night cap with the one you’d like to share the morning coffee with.
5. Morning coffee.
6. Knowing who you are.
7. Knowing where you’d like to be.
8. Knowing where your next meal comes from.
10. Knowing tomorrow will follow today.
Continue reading Things to be THANKFUL for….
I am an intimacy junkie. Ask my boyfriend. I need it like oxygen.
The closeness, the familiarity, the private cozy friendship, the feeling that my feelings are shared. Without it I feel lonely, even in a room full of people. It has only recently occurred to me that the fault of this doesn’t fall upon my parents, or myself, not my sun sign or moon sign. Instead, I have Edith Wharton to blame. Along with Ernest Hemingway, Pat Conroy, Jane Austen and every other author who has written a story with characters so engaging that it became a world within and completely outside of my own.
Books define intimacy. They make you laugh, cry, blush, shiver, shriek, and tremble. You take them to bed with you again and again, and then, never again. They let you in. They show you their deepest and darkest secrets, the really sick ones, and the cheesy ones that just seem like bragging. They trust you. They let you love them. And then it’s over. So, you pick up the next one and hope to be satisfied. Or you stick with the same one, and you learn new things every time. As you grow, it changes, but the closeness is always there.
And, thanks to fabulous people like Mitchell Kaplan, and The Knight Foundation, and Miami Dade College, and everyone who continues to buy books – real, tangible books – this cycle of paper thin, black and white, one-sided, insatiable, insomniac love continues. Because, let’s face it, junkies need their fix.
So, as we welcome the big weekend of the Miami Book Fair International, here are some tips of the trade that I’ve gathered over the last few days to help you navigate the oddly cool and wet streets of Downtown Miami this weekend. Or to help you sound a little more industry savvy at your next book club.
1. Books are called “titles” as in, “Do you have the new title by Paulo Coelho?”
2. Published writers are called “authors” as in, “I prefer this author, to that one.”
3. If you are coming to the fair as a writer who is trying to talk to publishers about becoming an author, I’ve got sad news for you, there are not a huge number of opportunities for that. The publisher’s advice: get an agent. On the plus side, there are a huge number of writers wandering around to commiserate with, or to learn from on Writer’s Row.
4. People who work in book stores are called “book sellers.” These are the people who physically get the book into the hands of the public. Thank them, and be patient when they can’t get to you fast enough. There are so many of you, and so few of them.
5. This is the largest literary fair in the country. You should come. It’s only $8. Seniors and teenagers are $5. Kids are free. I assure you there is something for everyone. Like comic books, and funnel cakes.
“So,” says the darling person genuinely interested in my life, “what have you been up to?”
“Well,” I start, looking to whatever person or book I happen to be in public with for support, “I just finished editing my novel.”
And in that time, before they process how to answer this statement, I wonder: do they not believe me? does it sound as strange to them as it does to me? do they write best-sellers in their spare time?
I wrote a book, I remind myself. My third, and this one’s good, get it together. But I’m not published yet (and this destroys me).
“Wow,” they say, finally, “that’s great!”
And it is. They say.
But I haven’t sold it.
You haven’t read it.
So what is it, really?
It’s just a leap of faith, on your part.
You believe: 1. that I have actually written said book. 2. that I’ve done it well. and 3. that I’ll become successful enough, that you’ll know someone famous enough, to brag about.
Because that’s what this is, isn’t it?
The proximity to greatness.
I know, because I want it too. That light of genuine feeling that people relate to whole heartedly. The one that is pure. The one that shines so bright that basking in someone else’s is fine. Because it’s honest.
This is why I wince. Why this conversation is so uncomfortable for me, and why I hesitate to answer the question. Because in this scenario I am the one who will have made something great.
Which is why I keep writing.
Because here, being naked isn’t just for show, it’s necessary.
Four years ago, I had never worked in the hospitality industry. I had lived with four servers and one bartender from Applebee’s in college, and I had seen the movie Waiting. I had actor friends who were either wait staff or baristas. I’d had the fortune of eating in outstanding establishments, but I had never heard the term Back of House, or Yes, Chef.
#LikeAGirl <– CLICK for Video
Genetics are dumb luck as far as I’m concerned. Throughout history, whether you were born into the working class or the aristocracy was your fate. These days, we live in a world where you can change your stars. That is, if you were born in a first world country, and you are provided education. I could’ve been born a girl in Pakistan or I could’ve been born a boy in Western Africa. I got lucky, though. I won the gene pool lottery.
My mother and father are the winged unicorn of married couples. They have been married over forty years, they still love each other, and they still like each other. They sing show tunes and “I Got You, Babe,” there’s a video of that that I will never post – you’re welcome. My father supports my mother in all of her endeavors. He shows me the same respect. He supported me through soccer and water polo and cheerleading, expecting me to do my best in each of them. My brother never cut me any slack. No one ever let me win and when I won, no one was surprised.
My paternal grandmother was a golf pro. Even after she won a fight with breast cancer, after a full mastectomy, she returned to the game, as a pro. If that isn’t tough, I don’t know what is. My maternal grandmother had four kids, an airline pilot husband who was off flying most of the time, and was a league tennis champ. These women were stylish and clever and strong, like a girl, so why isn’t that how the phrase is applied?
Only once in my house did I hear the phrase, “like a girl”. My neighbor and I were putting on our rollerblades. I had wrist guards and he didn’t. “Do you want to use these?” I asked. “No,” he shrugged, “you need them. You skate like a girl.” Later that day when my mom was about to take him home, I shut that boys fingers in the car door. We were about eight years old and I played it off like it was an accident. I’m not sure that he even correlated the two incidents, he was quite literally crushed. I cannot honestly say I didn’t feel a sense of victory in hurting him physically, for the way he had hurt my young and developing physicalness. I’m sure if I did something like that today I would be called a “psycho bitch.” And would you agree?
I bet you would. I was a child, and of course what I did was wrong. Even then I felt bad and apologized profusely. But here’s my problem. You don’t poke a lion and expect to walk away unscathed. You don’t insult a man and expect there won’t be repercussions. So why can you tell a girl that she’s doing something “like a girl” and not expect her to prove to you exactly what that means?
YES, I AM A GIRL. I am able bodied and smart, and I will retaliate against your sexism in one way or another. My brother and my father taught me to. My mother and my grandmothers told me that skating faster than him was enough, and not to rub it in. But I disagree.
I want to change the stars. I want young boys and girls to know that they can do and be anything without gender factoring in as a limitation on that. I want to speak my mind, and I want to do it proudly, like a girl. So tell me, why doesn’t “run like a girl” mean win the goddamn race?
A violin whines through the history of her mind. Memories intertwine and overlap like the cream into the coffee in her cup. The diner disappears and she’s young and at home. Ice cubes clink and the porch swing creaks, but the laughter of her girlfriends echoes loudest. She sips sweet lemonade through a straw. The balmy breeze sweeps curly blonde hairs off of her sticky neck. She looks down at her legs, tan and lean, her pink toes dangling as she glides. Summer in the south has always been her favorite time.
It was a time characterized by pace, slow like the molasses pouring into her mama’s bread pudding. It meant all day drives to the beach along the two-lane dirt road. She and her sister would run out to the yard in their bathing suits to crank up the 1936 Model A Ford that they were lucky to have. In the heavy old car their sunbonnets were held tightly to their heads with pretty ribbons that matched their bathing suits and trailed behind them in the wind as they bounced along. They rode east past the endless forest that would eventually be home to fast food chains, housing developments and strip malls. They patiently waited to see their grandmother, who also sat waiting in her rocking chair in a black wool bathing suit reaching her knees.
The car never went over thirty miles per hour, and her dad wore his riding cap and told stories along the way. When he was eight years old he sold newspapers on the corner of First Street and Main for a penny. It was called the Jacksonville Journal, now it’s the Metropolis. He sold the papers from one to six each and every afternoon.
She likes to picture her nine-year-old grandson on that same corner selling papers, he’s got the same gumption her father had, but the world has changed around him.
Her smile fades as the nostalgia sinks into deeper and darker waters. She’s seventeen and walking along with her beau. They stroll casually down the road, tennis racquets in hand shaded by the oak trees along the way, he whistles. They talk for a while, and then walk for a while; he holds her hand and walks on the outside, she smiles and bats the eyelashes that frame her sparkling amber eyes.
“Do you think you might win one today?” She taunts him.
“Well, darlin’, that depends on whether I let you win ‘em all or not.”
“Oh, you think you’re so funny,” she pokes at his middle and he grabs both her wrists and holds them behind her back.
“You may talk like you’re big and tough, but like it or not you’re still a sweet little girl.” With this he releases her arms and kisses her mouth. She pulls him close and squeezes real tight.
The coffee ripples and she looks up at the waitress who is walking away briskly, a coffee pot in each hand. It takes a few blinks to adjust to this reality. She looks up at the cracking wallpaper, and wonders when the diner changed from being a nice restaurant to just a decent one. The walls are yellow with big white gardenias, it’s tacky and she frowns. Pain sits stubbornly in her throat. It’s been a hundred years since she has let herself think of him. The violin plays louder.
Her thin gold watch dangles on her frail wrist. She dives back down to where it is strong and sees his long fingers wrapped around it, as they perfect her backhand.
“You have to follow through, like this, see?” She hates to be treated like a child.
“I have a better backhand than any girl in the club.”
“And a better backside too, but if you don’t follow through you could hurt yourself, honey.”
The man in the booth behind her lights a cigarette. She feels the rush of a dance hall. The first night he filled up her dance card she wore a black dress with red flowers and he wore his uniform. She loved the way he looked in it, so handsome and proud. The world was a mess, but he thought not of the Germans and she thought she would never lose him. They danced for hours.
Afterward he took her to the drive-in and ordered two strawberry milkshakes. Her pretty red toes sat in his lap. He couldn’t take his eyes off her, and she could not stop smiling. Billie Holliday sang “I’ll Be Seeing You.” She thought time would stand still for them.
She’s back on the porch swing. There is a cool breeze that tells them summer will be over in no time. He sits beside her, not touching, yet so close. His violin is perched on his shoulder, he plays a sad song. The strings vibrate against his fingers and the bow. She wears a smile, closed eyes, and one of her dads oversized work shirts. The sound throbs deep within her.
“Baby,” she asks, “why do you always play such sad songs?” He pauses, and takes it away from his chin. She opens her eyes.
“The violin is a sad instrument,” he says looking deep in to her, “If you want to dance I’ll go get my fiddle.”
“No,” she breaks his gaze and looks forward, “I don’t want to dance.” He resumes playing and she looks up at the stars.
Her old eyes grow bloodshot as she remembers the night before he left. No one blamed the President or even the Nazis. He was going to perform his natural born duty, and she wasn’t willful enough to question true loyalty.
In their last moments together they took her dad’s car all the way out to the beach. The long walk through the palmetto bushes was silent. The sand was cool, the air warm. He held her close and she let him lead. Her head rested comfortably on his chest. A million reflections of the moon on the water danced with them to the sound of the crashing waves.
His last letter reads itself in her head as she inhales a sharp breath. After sixty years she knows it word for word. Her fist instinctively clenches around it, but it’s not there. She takes short, quick breaths. The day his mother called she hyperventilated and lost consciousness. She wished they had never revived her. For months she cried herself to sleep with the worn paper crumpled in her palm. It took her years to finally let go.
“Hi, Grandma!” The joyful voice of her grandchild calls her back to the present. It’s too soon. She’s still lost in a different time, a time lost.
“Hi, Mom, sorry we’re late. Are you crying?”
“No, honey, I’m fine. I was just thinking about old times.”
She nods at her beautiful daughter and grandson. Pulling a tissue from her purse she wipes her eyes and blows her nose quietly. They would never understand that there were two loves of her life, one cut horribly short, and one that grew to be over a lifetime.
“I miss Grandpa, too,” the child smiles reassuringly.
She sips some coffee, swallows her pain and lets the violin’s gentle strings play on.