Friday, December 14, 2012


My new friend Susie walks over to my house after ballet class and I introduce her to my mom and dad.  We wear pink tights with slits cut in the bottom of the feet so we can peel them up after class, freeing our red squished toes.

I’m a few months older than Susie, even though we’re both in the 7th grade so I try to show her COOL and MYSTERIOUS.  I’m detached when they ask how class went, slumping onto the couch, putting one foot up on the coffee table… until my mom gives me ‘that look’ and I remove it as quickly as possible.

Susie shakes hands with my parents and I watch anxiously for any inkling of surprise.  We get to my bedroom and our homework is spread out all over the floor before Susie asks, “So what’s the deal with your mom and dad?”  Bingo.  I pause, arch my eye-brow dramatically, use my big sister’s voice, and say, “Didn’t I tell you… the milkman was Asian.”  Susie laughs at my joke – most likely because it’s about sex – and I know we are going to be best friends. 

When Susie’s mom pulls into the driveway she stuffs her books into her dance bag and slips me FOUR pieces of bazooka.  “I have tons,” she says.  Tons? I imagine a torrent of pink chewy rectangles cascading down a snowy mountain sparkling like jewels with me and Susie frolicking waist high in a sea of comic stripped wrappers.  I want to offer something in return, something to seal our future… what do I have, what do I have... “My dad delivers 7UP.  I have tons of 7UP.  I’ll bring it to school, all the time, as much as you want, tons of it…” Before I have to take back my offer and admit that my dad actually got laid off from 7UP and now works for a propane company and comes home smelling like gas, Susie says that her mom won’t let her drink soda because of her braces.  Thank you GOD.  I promise I will be good forever.

We walk through the living room and through the kitchen to the front door where my brother Kerry nearly smashes into us.  “Man, watch it…” he starts and then notices Susie.  “Hey…” he says. Susie says “Hey…” back and I grab her arm and drag her away.  “He is such a dork,” I say as we step outside.  Please God, don’t let Susie get googly-eyed, don’t let her start scribbling my brother’s initials on her notebook or start calling to see if he’ll answer the phone, I promise I’ll…  I stop myself knowing, even at 13, that God’s not gonna keep Susie from liking my brother, anymore than God’s gonna make that 9th grader with the leather jacket like me.

On the way back to my room I pass my brother’s door.  I can hear him playing his guitar.  He is in a crunchy granola phase and hates my guts more than usual. The walls of his room are covered in “forest” wallpaper and he keeps the overhead light off.  A low-lit lamp sits on the floor next to his beanbag. It’s crazy, as much as I wish he’d hurry up and graduate and move across THE PLANET, I still sleep better when I know he’s home, tucked in bed on the other side of the wall.  I prize the purple and blue tie-dyed t-shirt he gave me for Christmas, and try desperately to learn lyrics to songs he likes so I can coolly sing them when he’s passing by my bedroom.

Kerry’s door is open just a crack and I know if I can get him to look up he might invite me in. This has happened on rare occasions like when my parent’s are glued to the TV and go from Love Boat right into Fantasy Island and Kerry has smoked enough pot to believe that “everyone can live in peace, dude”.  I really can listen to him play for hours.  Not because he is especially good but because he is so dedicated to his music and so pained. 

But, other than those rare occasions my brother and I are at odds.  He is always throwing things at me.  A croquette ball at my back, dirt clods or green apples at my legs to “make me dance” a Rubix Cube, matchbox cars, pens, pencils, a Nerf football that ‘couldn’t hurt a wus’ as he says.

And, to be fair, I am always throwing things at him.  Words.  Horrible, hateful, ugly words.  Of course my words are deserved.  I am certain of it. But somehow I always end up the loser, feeling polluted by my attempt to retaliate, shell shocked at seeing my words cut into him – and then, sure enough, the unlucky recipient of some object being hurled.  The worst – a block of wood to my forehead.  Yep.  I slathered Vasoline from hairline to brow line for a good two weeks.  But even after the crimson scabbed over and the deep purple turned greenish-yellow I still couldn’t remember what I had said.

Only once does my brother throw something that actually surprises me.

It happens my first year of Junior high, that same year Susie and I make it half way through the year as BEST FRIENDS before she starts doodling my brother’s name on her notebooks. 

Kerry is in eighth.  And now I am a Seventh grader and I get to ride the big kid’s bus, with all the high schoolers.  It is a hot afternoon for Oregon.  We’ve dropped off all the ‘in town’ kids and are toppling across the swervy country roads.  Rita lets us put the windows halfway down.  She is the coolest bus driver ever, always calling me ‘Sunshine’ and turning a blind eye when I change seats while the bus is in motion.

It is wild and squally and loud and all of us kids are going absolutely nutty. I wrap my hair around my neck to keep it from flying up and whipping me in the eyeballs.

Kerry is riding in the back of the bus with his buddies and they start “rough housing”, as my dad would describe it.  Denny (whose dad owns the auto body shop – whatever image you’ve just conjured is almost accurate, just add another 80 pounds.) Denny, who use to cry when my brother wouldn’t sit by him at church, Denny who finally found his future in football, has my brother’s arm twisted behind his back, pinning him up against the emergency door.  Kerry is laughing in this tight, pinched laugh that I recognize as the one he uses when my older sisters gang up on him and want to lock him in the closet or put make up on him.  It’s the laugh he uses when he is actually a bit scared.

I tear out of my seat and scramble to the back of the bus, my hair flying, blood boiling. I’m screaming, “You let him go! You let him go!  LET HIM GO!!!!” I am channeling Medusa, snake hair and all.

Now, this part of the story is really short.  There’s no surprise turn of events, no crazy squabble that breaks bones or bus windows.  No one faints or pees their pants.  His buddies are so startled at my outburst – they let him go.  And then Rita taps the breaks to jostle us to attention and the entire bus turns back to stare.  “Knock it off and sit your fannies down little Mr.’s!”  The bus laughs, Kerry and his buddies laugh loudest and the spectacle is over. 

I am halfway to my seat when Kerry must have said something funny to his friends.  I turn but only see the back of his head and his pals sneering at me.  And there is Susie sitting one seat up from Kerry, where she’s planted herself for the last three weeks, ever since he broke up with his girlfriend, and whatever Kerry says actually makes her turn away.  I’ve been hit in the chest.  Hard.

Kerry and I are all the way up the gravel driveway almost to the front screen door, the bus a distant rumble, when he whispers under his breath, ‘Thanks.’  My heart skyrockets and then he says, “Don’t do it again.”

The next day I go to my locker and a note has been slipped inside.  I recognize the stationary immediately even though Susie has signed it “from a friend.”  She writes in her cheery bubble letters, with little hearts dotting the ‘i’s…

Kerry told them
that HIS mom
baby-sits you
until YOUR mom
gets off work.”

For the rest of the morning I conceal my puffy eyes behind my hair, letting the long strands slide forward across my cheekbones.  In between classes when I see a tie-dyed t-shirt heading my way, I change direction and slip into the bathroom.  I wait for the first bell to ring and then dart to my class.  After lunch I go to the nurse’s office and they call my mom and she comes to take me home.

I hear Kerry later that afternoon when he gets home from school ‘cause I’ve left the door slightly open.  I hear him drop his backpack in a heap at the front door, I hear the frigdge jangle open and closed.  And I hear him come down the hall and stop outside my door. 

“You okay?” he asks. 

“Yeah.  Stomach ache.” I say.

“Well, listen up, dude, I’ll play you a tune.”  He goes into his room and in a little while I hear through the wall…

I close my eyes
Only for a moment and the moment’s gone 
All my dreams
Pass before my eyes like curiosity
Dust in the wind
All they are is dust in the wind

He knows that one is my favorite.  And I know that he knows that I know.


I went back home to Oregon for Christmas the year I wrote this story. My brother flew down from Kodiak, Alaska where he lived in a cabin, next to a lake, surrounded by forest.

We never talked much when we were home. Probably because we were pretty much caught up. We’d spent the years apart getting closer, becoming people to each other.

My favorite memory that Christmas.  I am sitting next to Kerry.  He is strumming a guitar and teaching me a Dave Carter tune from the CD he sent me a few months back.  I don’t love the tune but I wish badly that I knew it better, wish I could impress him with the lyrics.  His voice still wavers with passion and purpose as he holds out the long notes and I am 13 again, sitting on the edge of a beanbag chair, hoping that if I just sit still, he will play for hours. 

Today would have been his 42nd birthday.
Chicago lakefront, April 24, 2009

KERRY was first published by 2nd Story's 2D Magazine

Monday, December 10, 2012

Better Than Better

The mom at the table near me says to her son, “Stop. Stop it. You look like one of those kids who needs medicine. Do you need Ritalin? Oh my God!”  Immediately, the agitated boy tries seriously to contain himself. 

She is dressed in faded black, her jeans and short-sleeved shirt a possible uniform. The boy, maybe eight or nine, has homework strewn across the patio table and his jacket is pulled over his T-shirt in similar disarray.

She tells him he is embarrassing, she says, “You look like that kid Joshua who needs medicine. Do you need medicine? DO YOU?” Her other son, under the din of her disapproval, is repeating the same three sentences. He’s just a twig of a boy, biting on a toy truck, battling for her attention. She turns toward the little one, but cannot focus on anything other than the bigger one who is flicking his hand in the air, conducting an unseen orchestra. I can tell she wants to grab his wrist, grab the scruff of his neck, and organize him.

“OH   MY   GOD,” she says again, pressing hard against each word. "Are you RETARDED? What is wrong with you?"  I feel the tension in the back of her throat and clear my own before creeping a peep out the side of my tinted sunglasses. She is tilting forward, as far as the table will allow, the top unyielding against her ribs. She strains to make eye contact with her rumpled boy and it seems, he strives earnestly to receive.

All the while, the younger son leans on her, repeating his urgent message, “Mom, I was… Mom, I was just… Mom…” with a disturbingly mechanized inflection, like the skip of a needle on a dusty turntable.

But the mom has her sights locked on the older one. She tells him he looks ridiculous, she says he should apologize, that it’s hard on other people to be around him, that it’s hard on the mother who has to deal with him, that he, that he, that he…

The barrage is narrowly fixed yet I feel assaulted by proxy.  The kid in me cringes.  My hand travels unnoticed to my cheek and it’s as if I hear this mother saying to me, “Don’t pick at your face. Stop biting your nails. Sit still. Just wait. Shhh. Just. Don’t.” I promptly squish my fingers into a fist and press my knuckles into my knee. Oh. I know this. No, not exactly, but I know this.

The adult in me shoots muted energy their way, wanting to cover the brothers and the mother in a bulky blanket. Anything to dull the words and warm their eyes.  I want to ease the weight of what she is imposing on their small-boy-shoulders and insulate them all.

I try to think for a moment of her plight, a context that could justifiably contain – maybe single mom, maybe working two jobs, maybe married to a man who is harder on her boys that she is, maybe she tries to correct them so that that he won’t have reason to, maybe she is so much better than she used to be.

And that's good, really good.

But the kid in me resists and says, it’s not okay. She’s the Mom. She has to do better than better. Even if they will forgive her someday and someday she will forgive herself. She has to do better soon, for all of them.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Being / Knowing

Being at your god twins’ first birthday
The dads and dads-to-be out on the patio talking sports
The moms and moms-to-be in the living room talking mom stuff
Feigning a headache and driving to the gym
Working off the 400+ calories of birthday cake you devoured in the kitchen because you didn’t have anything to say.
At the gym
Reviewing dozens and dozens of conversations you've had with your husband about being parents or not
In the car
Reviewing dozens and dozens of conversations you've had with other people about why you're choosing not 
You remember
Being told that you’ll likely change your mind.
Being told this for twenty years and wondering why your mind never changed.
Being told, when you say out of habit, maybe you’ll adopt someday, that it’s just not the same as having your own kids.
Being an adopted kid and hearing this
Knowing it’s true
Knowing they are not the same thing
Knowing each is a unique gift…
Knowing that's not what they mean when they say it’s not the same.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Not in New York

I was supposed to be posting this from New York City. It was going to be some inexplicably inspired and long (because long always seems better than short…which I know isn’t true, especially with words, but seem to strive for all the same) retrospective of my 40th year on this planet, which, poetically, began in the New York City subway, wearing my favorite dress and black leather zip-up boots, after a night out on the town, complete with theatre, vegan cuisine and crinkly-crunchy weather.  

It was going to be my third draft. The first scrawled fluidly and censor-free in my Moleskine, with a juicy pen purchased at Kate’s Paperie on Broome Street. The second typed out on my MacBook Air while sipping Harney & Sons, a rooibos blend, at The Smile in the East Village (which was top of my list of places to visit, right after Moksha Yoga NYC where I planned to do a Facebook check-in with some Zen-ish Instagram for my little world to see). The third, would be a crisply crafted, carefully edited gem (losing the length but not the love) posted before heading to hear live music at The Living Room and reread sometime the next day after one of my six readers left a comment, confirming that I indeed, still exist.

Instead, it’s 1130pm and I'm standing at my laptop (because I’ve been sitting on the couch for three days) still in Monday’s PJs, just now realizing the cold meds I’ve been taking may decongest me but they also depress me. And that even if Mother Nature hadn’t wielded her irreconcilable wand and rained down thunder and lightening on the whole of Manhattan, I would still, likely, be posting some scrambled attempt at my one-blog-a-month, right now, at 1141pm.

Truthfully, I toyed with posting an entry from 2005.

Why didn’t I?

Because I know all six of you love me.

And, because I have to believe that creating something, even a last-minute-medicated-far-from-perfect-first-draft, is better than creating nothing at all.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Some things just need to be reported

Like how the crossing guard cradles his stop sign like a vintage guitar.

Like how knowing some things are good for you rarely make them more enjoyable.

Like how knowing some things are bad for you rarely takes away their pleasure.

Like how the kids in the park play with the puppy in a way that worries their parents and worries me too.

Like how the words written in chalk on the sidewalk always make me smile and feel a little more hopeful, even if a word is misspelled.

Like how flipping through vinyl records at a second hand store is sacred and soothing.

Like how over-medicating before a performance will keep you from having a panic attack but it will also keep you from feeling.

Like how the 40-year-old version on of me realizes the 20-year-old version of me could have been more grateful for the ease of youth.

Like how the 20-year-old version of me was sure the 40-year-old version of me would know how to just BE.

Like how your husband takes you on a Sunday hike to a place called Amir’s Garden where there are trails lined with jade and remnants of burnt trees and hawks hovering languidly overhead.

Like how you will always picture your brother, as he was the last time you saw him, standing in your LA apartment, sipping a beer, sunburned and vibrant.

Like how one day you eat a peach with the skin on and like it better that way.

Friday, August 31, 2012


The woman walks passed my table wearing heels so high she cannot straighten her legs. The knees stay bent as she glides by, stork-like. Yet curvy hips balance above, a cocktail tray on the tips of a server's fingers. Her lengthy torso, the stem of a sloshing martini.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Please wait here

The white haired man totters past me as I stand in line to buy my book. He is oblivious to the sign that says “Please wait here”.

There are two clerks at Barnes & Noble and one busies herself in a manner that clearly communicates, “I’m busy doing nothing, but all the same, I’m not going to help you.” The other clerk is petite and I imagine her wrists will hurt at the end of her shift from reaching up to punch the screen and tear off receipts (if they even tear – maybe their receipts glide out nicely, pre-cut so the coupon dangles from one limp corner).

I am irrationally sensitive to what I deem subconscious injustice.  I’m sure that the stranger who didn’t make way for me in the travel aisle, her eyes searching the rows for some foreign country, was purposefully blocking me, planning to snatch the book I’d set my sights on (even though I had no destination in mind).  Just as I’m sure the ‘busy doing nothing’ clerk would wait on me if I looked like I had more money to burn on books, or a Nook, or looked like I would agree to the Barnes & Noble membership.

So, obviously, the tottering old man saw me, chose to ignore me, likely associating me with the ‘Japs’ he fought in World War II, who moved to his country and took his grandchildren’s jobs, who doesn’t respect her elders (wearing such a short sundress and all), who is surely buying frivolous paperbacks about sex and fashion.

I heave the heaviest sigh I can gather, starting at the pit of my darkening spirit, traveling upward past my wounded pride, expanding my constricted lungs and pouring out my nose (like a cartoon horse, smoke lines shooting from his nostrils).

The petite clerk notices my billowing breath and smiles a tiny smile, one that says, ‘sorry’ in lower case with an ellipsis trailing meekly after the y.

The white haired man rests his hands on the counter, supporting himself as he pulls out his weathered wallet. I swear I hear the counter complain.

“I’m tired,” he says to the clerk as he hands her a pretty greeting card, purple flowers delicately scattered across rough cream paper.  The clerk smiles awkwardly and says, ‘Time for coffee!’ She says this as cheerfully as her opening shift allows. Reaching up, she taps at the computer screen and I notice the crease in her wrist.

“It’s my medicine,” he says. “I take medicine at night and it makes me sleepy.”

“Oh,” she says, with that same ‘sorry…’ smile.

“And it makes me sad,” he says.

All three of us seem to stand up straight for a second, making room to take this in. I don’t know if he meant to say this out loud. It wasn’t an invitation or an expectation – just words that fell out, like a dollar or a tissue falls out of your pocket when you reach in for something else.

The clerk makes shapes with her lips, searches for something to say. She reaches up for the receipt. It is one of those machines that neatly delivers, pre-cut, with a coupon dangling.

The man takes the receipt and greeting card from the clerk’s hand, and I notice her sparkling engagement ring. I know that I will ask her about it, ask her if they’ve set a date, if she wants a big wedding or a small one, where they will go on their honeymoon, and I know she will answer. All the while, we'll both know we're talking about the old man and his medicine and how it makes him sleepy and sad.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

I remember...

…most Sundays, pretending to put offering in the wooden plate by crumpling my fist and then swiftly pressing my hand flat onto the other bills. 

…sitting by the popular blonde boy on the school bus as he cried into his forearm.

…being downstairs at the dance studio, pointe shoes squeaking on the basement floor, the rosin leaving powdery imprints.

...being downstairs at the dance studio, hoping I wasn't getting my period.

...babysitting the little girl who wrote on her face with permanent marker and pooped on the carpet during naptime.

…sitting across from Kate in her apartment downstairs from mine, her fiery red hair rivaling her burgundy fishnets.

…Seattle rain on the slicker Kate lent me, the same one she wanted back later that school year.

…the looks they gave me for wearing my platform heels and short skirt and deciding to stand up straighter and sway my hips.

…when I believed that meat originated from white packages in the deep freeze.

…the alarming revelation of my first French Kiss.

…hearing my brother whispering with his girlfriend and wondering if they French kiss.

…for the first time in a dozen years, my doctor recalling I’m adopted when we got to the part about family medical history.

 …when going to Grandma’s house meant crayons and comic books and TV dinners with corner compartments sticky with cherry cobbler.

…when going to Grandma’s house meant awkwardly hugging her in her wheelchair and yelling to be heard and wishing to be anywhere but there, surrounded by the smell of loneliness.

…sitting backstage, waiting for my entrance, hoping somehow I would return a different person.