Category Archives: Matilda Jackson

For Fathers


 He watches her, a pretty stranger standing in his kitchen. She is telling her mother how she is sleeping better now; the nightmares are beginning to subside. Dinner burbles and a house he does not remember building speaks of years passing that elude him.

 He remembers her as a tiny child. Even then something dark would grip his baby girl so she could not sleep. She would crawl onto his lap at night while he read his books, both of them cocooning in the safe cave of words and stories. He remembers placing his hand on her back and feeling her breathing mimic his until eventually she would be convinced of safety. Even then her tiny hands would grip fistfuls of his shirt, demanding protection from those leering monsters.

She is older now and the same exhaustion that haunts him seems to live in the crinkle of her eyes and the restraint of her laugh. He sees so much of himself in her. If he could he would protect her from everything and the fact that the world is corroding her fills him with a desperation he cannot name.

He remembers fights, grounding her when she was 16 and believed she knew everything. He remembers Christmas mornings when he would wake up to his two girls screaming for everyone to wake up, sleepy eyes not catching up with the excitement of presents. He remembers Disneyland, telling her stories, listening as she explained her Lego game of Indiana Jones. He remembers her soccer games and her small little legs tripping clumsily. He remembers taking her to get their first puppy on that brilliantly cold November day, she looked up at him covered in mud and grass and grinned from ear to ear when he nodded and handed her the leash. He remembers her tireless steps in caring for him when his oldest begged for freedom, a pain he still does not believe was possible to live through. He remembers dropping her off at college and as he drove away swearing it was his little 7-year-old bandit that was waving goodbye. He bites his lip and rolls his eyes, at himself not at her. It is unfathomable to love something so much you cannot understand it.

She seems unbeatable now. She is in love with a man but will not admit it to him. He remembers the first time she had her heart broken, she lay on the couch with her sister and he brought them bowls of ice cream. At that moment he considered threatening God for his affront in daring to create anyone that would harm her. He sees her today and realizes she has borne so much more pain than she has ever told him, realizes this need to protect those she adores through silent martyrdom is the same thread that is unraveling him now.

Now he is expected to let her go, his little baby that fit in the crook of his elbow. Now he is to let someone whose face he cannot even hold accountable grab her hand when she can’t sleep, trust that she will have someone love her through those gut wrenching dreams, pick her up when she cries, and protect her from everything he could not. Worse yet, his life is being haunted by demons he cannot control, cannot even describe. For the longest second in the world he has to say words that twist daggers into her limbs. All of a sudden in the space of breakfast she has grown up, and it is him she is seeking refuge from. He realizes with a flash of pride that she is strong enough to handle anything, but breaks with the weight of knowing that what he is saying is hurting her.

The superhero is gone but he adores her and is desperate still to protect her from what he can. When she lifts that bowed head and smiles through clotted tears, he wishes for a second that he could still swoop her up in his arms, laughing as she shrieks and makes him measure her arm muscles in case they’ve grown. It is cruel for men to have daughters, no person is capable of watching small angels grow up, and worse yet, away from you.

She asks forgiveness from him and he smiles at her through his pain, someday when she forgives him it will be with the understanding that she is his whole world, all he ever wanted was for them to be happy. His jaw clenches in anger at himself, for letting the years go by without realizing it, for what he considers weakness and what she calls humanity, for allowing the chasm to open between him and his little one. One too many tragedies have shaken him and he wishes he was the god she always saw him as, all he wants is infinite stretches and no end.

 He blinks, time has crawled across his face and now he does not recognize his life. But he looks at his two babies and knows; with love like this nothing could have been in vain.

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Adventures in home making


I never intended to be a homemaker, not because of disdain but rather because I am rarely impressed with my organizational or cleaning skills. Yet in this in between year of life that I also never intended to have I find myself enjoying the process entirely too much. A job is going to be an extreme hindrance in my propensity for cleaning the kitchen and catching up on my shows, not to mention my coffee dates with girlfriends and the new hobbies of sewing and pencil sketching that I have picked up. I’ve come to enjoy my leisurely mornings of juice, coffee and a run followed by clean up and then writing. When one of my mentors suggested we meet for coffee at 9 AM I gasped audibly.

“Does it have to be that early?”

One morning I was feeling particularly inspired after several days of half heartedly keeping up with everything and decided to tackle the Everest of dishes in my sink. Cleaning and scrubbing and loading the dishwasher ensued, and satisfied with myself and feeling productive enough to ride out the next two hours without lifting a finger I opened the cabinet and pulled out the empty container of dishwasher soap. A litany of curses flowed out of my mouth and, completely put out, I closed the cabinet door with a flourish and petulantly put my hands on my hips. After all, True Blood was not going to watch itself but somehow these dishes had to be cleaned. I glared at the offending culprit but the snide little green bottle did not magically fill up.

“So clean your dishes will sparkle!” it cruelly teased me with.

I opened every cupboard I could think of wondering if we had any more soap when all of a sudden, like an angel parting to show the holy way, a stream of light fell across my sink and illuminated the deep blue bottle of Dawn that I had been using to clean my non conforming dishes with.

“Soap is soap!” I sang to myself and joyfully filled the entire container in the dishwasher with the magical blue liquid. I shut the door, hit the right cycle and off I went to occupy myself with whatever was next on my list.

Fifteen minutes later my house smelled incredibly clean and I felt an enormous pang of self love at my own brilliant genius. The dishwasher never smelled this clean when we used the boring old dishwasher soap! I practically pranced down the stairs to get a glass of water and then screamed with a combination of anxiety and panic when I saw what awaited me.

The dishwasher was spewing out bubbles like an angry white monster and my counter tops and floor looked like someone had gutted them with a knife and they were oozing soap instead of blood. It was everywhere, small specks of it flying around the air and the dishwasher just kept spilling more and more out as if to punctuate the stupidity of my decision with each passing bubble.

Immediately I thought to myself  “This is all Asher’s fault” followed with an ever increasing sense of dread of what he was going to do when he came home and his house was just a giant bubble, consumed with soap and water. I briefly considered running away and claiming that I had no idea what he was talking about but thought better of it. After all, who was going to believe that the next crime wave was an intruder who was putting the wrong kind of soap in dishwashers? If I was going to make a run for it I needed a believable alibi.

“This is why we need a dog” I muttered to no one in particular.

Finally I faced the fact that the dishwasher was still running, there were still bubbles everywhere and that something had to be done. Standing in my underwear in the kitchen while it was being continuously bombarded with soap bubbles was clearly not a viable option. Using my hands as machetes I cut through the attacking forces until I could see the front of the machine and found the customer service number. Spitting soap out of my mouth I frantically dialed the number and waited.

“Thank you for calling customer service! Your call is important to us and will be answered in the order in which it was received”

“MY KITCHEN IS FLOODING WITH SOAP BUBBLES. IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS HOLY AND GOOD SOMEONE ANSWER THE..”

“Hi this is Matthew… ma’am is everything okay?”

“NO. Um. Hi Matthew. I was wondering if say, someone had hypothetically put dish soap in the dishwasher instead of the right detergent, just hypothetically, what would one have to do to fix that?”

There was a quiet silence in which I imagined Matthew covering the phone while laughing and then high fiving his buddies at the customer service line. I hate Matthew. Then his voice came back on the line with an almost unbelieving strain of restraint came forward over the line.

“Miss, please do not put dish soap in your dishwasher. And if you did then run the rinse cycle until there aren’t any more bubbles, it should only take a few cycles”

I stared at the mountain of bubbles cascading out of the dishwasher and wondered if the angry sounds emitting from the machine were normal or if the soap had worked its way into the inner pipes of the house. I imagined lying in bed that night reading to Asher and having the pipes groan and burst, the soap bubbles frothing in revenge until finally the walls and ceilings exploded in an ecstatic display of clean white lace. He was not going to be pleased.

Arming myself with three towels and disposable gloves that I imagine psychopaths also keep stock of I took to battling the soap with ferocity. I cleaned, swept and chopped at the bubbles until finally I could see the controls of the dishwasher.

16 rinse cycles and three hours later, the bubbles had subsided and my floors were spotless. It is exhausting business, channeling Lucille Ball.

That evening the door opened and in walked Asher. I was attempting to play off the whole incident as non-chalantly as possible which as I came skidding down the stairs to greet him was instantly betrayed by the look on my face.

“Baby why does it smell like a Laundromat in here?”

I sighed inwardly and related the events as calmly as I could. He ducked his head down and pursed his lips, attempting in vain to keep the smile to himself but it burbled out of him and shook his shoulders. He does the only thing he can which is wrap me in a hug and wonder how on earth this tornado of a girl hasn’t burned his house down yet, and worse yet how it is that even if she did the story would surely be worth the ashes.


Lulu


The other night when Asher and I were preparing ourselves for sleep, I looked up onto his dark wall and noticed a spider comfortably squatting above one of the picture frames. Turning to Asher, I politely pointed out that there was an intruder in the room.

“I know, and when you’re sleeping he’s going to come and crawl right onto your face” he responded.

I’m not particularly afraid of spiders, a trait which Asher and my father seem to think can be broken with enough grotesque images of flesh mutilating arachnids. However both their attempts to instill this paranoia in me have only proven to me that spiders are about as snobby as cats, and generally like to be left alone. In response to Ashers picturesque night time pillow talk of how spiders were going to slowly scavenge parts of my anatomy, I decided to name the spider Leroy.

I have an unfortunate habit of naming most creatures and inanimate objects in my life, thus creating intense attachment to things that were not meant to last a lifetime. My cactus is named John Wayne, my bike Ted. Now there is Leroy the spider and, of course, the one time a slug came in with the garden collection he was promptly named Gary. When I asked Asher if he had seen Gary the next morning, he looked at me curiously and asked who Gary was.

“The slug that was on the lettuce, I put him on the glass and now he’s not there”.

Asher’s eyes just get bigger and he peers at me in utter disbelief.

”Why did you keep him in the house?”

So it goes, with me collecting friends left and right and Asher shaking his head and cursing under his breath as slugs, spiders, and cacti assort themselves like old drinking partners along our windowsill.

One sunny day, I managed to find myself running meaningless errands in an attempt to avoid the cleaning ladies at the house, and while walking up the curb to the grocery store around the corner I heard a faint and distressing peeping from a baby bird struggling for life. The pavement was hot, and from the perspective of the little creature looked like a barren, flat desert being marauded by large screaming figures and metal boxes on four wheels. I kneeled next to the bird and then looked around for its nest. I had no idea what I was supposed to do, but returning it to its home seemed like the best idea. I couldn’t find the nest anywhere, so the next step was to call my best friend, who happens to be a biologist, and an avid nature lover, and therefore would know a lot more than me about what to do next.

“Let it die” she heartwarmingly said.

“I can’t let it die its little and bald and ugly! No one else is going to save it!” I was aghast at the idea that nature had any idea of what it was doing.

“Fine. Then find its nest. Don’t touch it, whatever you do. And if you do touch it, don’t bring the diseases over to me”

Horrified I searched my car for some container I could save the little bird in. Finally I found one, and brought it back safe and sound to my backyard. The cleaning ladies were still at the house and tilted their heads in confusion to see me frantically running around the backyard clutching tufts of grass and twigs before kneeling down to speak to a Tupperware container.

In a state of perpetual anxiety, I decided to go back to the parking lot and find the nest. As I was rolling my bicycle down the driveway, Asher was pulling in. He rolled his window down to smile at me and say hello and in response I waved my arms over my head and shouted

“There is a baby bird in a plastic box in the backyard! Don’t kill it!”

He blinked twice and then just nodded, shaking his head slightly in disbelief. I of course could still not find the nest and when I got home he wrapped me up in arms that love me entirely too much and said

“Baby girl, we can’t keep it and raise it, and it’s dying right now”

“Lulu” I sobbed “her name is Lulu”

“Okay. But we still can’t keep her”

I nodded and turned away while he did the hard part, a small tragedy in the blink of an eye. Later, we buried the Lulu in the backyard, and Asher made sure she had flowers. It is his unending strength and steadiness that guide me, and that he loves me so much is a testament to why I am still here. He kept his arm around my shoulders and squeezed me in tighter as I dropped a small note alongside the little bird that read:

Life is a shipwreck, but we must remember to sing in the lifeboats

                                    -Voltaire-

That night he wrapped me in blankets and watched cartoons with me until we laughed. Leroy was still sitting comfortably on the wall and Asher breathed evenly next to me, I thanked whatever forces were at work that I had the capacity to live, and more so, to clutch his hand when tidal waves overtook me.


Original Sin


What a common scene, two people on a park bench in the middle of the night demanding perfection and facing the inevitable truth that it does not exist. I am broken from your knife in my back and you are screaming for me to let you in. One more fight, another head bent in despair. How many other couples reach into unlit caverns to try and make sense of this pain. Humanity is comprised of masses desperate to be unique, mortals looking for eternity in someone else’s arms.

You sit there alternately asking and demanding forgiveness, bringing up my lighter crimes that I have allowed you to own as perspective to what you have done. I have never seen you desperate before, but I still cannot breathe from this. I expected this cruelty from everyone else and it is shattering me to realize you are common. I want to tell you, shake you so you feel me; I am no one to ask forgiveness from. I am not holy. I am not perfect. A reel of my transgressions against you plays in my mind and I wonder if silent lies are all that holds us together. I wish I could be on a cross with the high-minded claim that my blood will save you but it won’t. It is not a blessing and mixed with dirt creates nothing but mud. A snake in our Garden of Eden has exposed us.

Listen to me; listen closely so that you understand. I am afraid of what you can do, of what you are doing to me. I am on fire with what you have done. How desperately I want to cling to my vision of martyrdom, isolate this event so that you are culpable and I am the gracefully wounded. But I cannot. How many nights have you already betrayed me? How many more nights I have already betrayed you.

This is dirty business, falling in love, and it’s going to eat me alive. I do not own a single hair on you and on days like today, I hate you for it. You have mistaken apathy for freedom and I have granted you permission to bear my silence. What if this is doomed? I have spent hours agonizing over the potential of losing you and my solitude is causing you to lose me. What if this is the mistake that erodes and one day you come home to your house being exactly as you left it with one room missing? Will you miss me? Swear your house is haunted because my footsteps will remain on your carpet? Hang figures of me on the wall as protection? My fear is not that I am made up of skin and bones and that you can indeed penetrate me, my fear is that you will overtake and then forget me.

That I cannot speak these words aloud to you seems a sin you will not bear.  But what would you have me do? This is not an anonymous cloister that I can simply regurgitate all the demons swirling in my head. I cannot look at your face while I spout venom and confession is a simplistic art form at best. We are simply two people who have done the ordinary and fallen in love. Nothing unique, we are daily. If we crucify ourselves it will not matter, and men in dresses will not quote these letters I write to you. These letters are sin not scripture. I am forgiving you, not for your transgression but for your humanity. Consider my confession, then- tonight when you fall next to me remember I can leave you too.

I want to cling to my grief, to the ‘how could you’ and the accusations of not loving me enough. But in the face of this I realize I am tiny, of little importance. Days go by from the fifteen seconds it took for you wound me. Slowly hours crawl through me and I am steps closer to being in the ground. I do not have time for grief and I can no longer wait to be saved. At this moment I realize that my imperfection is mine to own and I will grow, from grief to grace. You will not make me afraid and in return I will give you opportunity to face your weakness and slay it. We are both criminals aghast at being robbed. So you have hurt me, done what I have been so afraid of and I am still living. I made you a god and am now charged with forgiving you, and I will. Night after night I will peel this off of me and hand you the blood until I am new again. Finally I realize that love is a filthy verb and requires more blood, spit and tears than it does pink bows and champagne glasses. It is an action not a faith. You will hurt me again and I need from you the courage to admit you are flawed and broken. I will give you my dark corners and come down from this holy altar I built for myself. Be careful with this, with me. We are just two people in the end, just like all the other except that I love you and you, I must believe, love me.

I will breathe this onto you, I love you I love you I love you.


Origins of a Dear John letter


I am leaving you, and I will write the words that you can never hear on this page, so then you can never again accuse me of refusing you honesty. You accused me of so much, so here I will explain my going, in the quiet vacuum of literature so you cannot twist my words and deny my intent. Nine years spent believing you were meant for someone is a hard habit to shake. I realized that every day I was gathering up the strength to not answer your phone calls, not respond to your emails, slowly beginning that uphill battle against your psychotic ego and voracious tendency to destroy anything you encounter in the name of self-adoration. You claim innocence from the bloodied bodies lying next to you, saying you are not responsible for the terror you have sown.

I am here to tell you, in simple English so you understand me, you are. Every day I look around at the myriad of men in the world, and wonder what it was about you that entrenched itself in me until I was dead. I am tired of you. You throw beautiful women up into your sky and claim you make them shine, how do you expect me to stand out in such a cosmos? Yet if I do not try you decry me, claim I am flawed.

I am more than flawed. I am beyond imperfect. I am tiny shattered shards of dismay awkwardly glued together. I do not need you to love me for what I could become, if someone were to come along and fill in the cracks. I do not need you to tell me how great I could be, if I were only more like her (or her, or her). I do not need to bend my words carefully so as to not damage your ego. I do not need to quietly stand here, carrying your past like a trophy, listening to you claim greatness while refusing to see the happiness already in your world.  I do not need you at all.

I am leaving you because it is not my duty to make you a great enough man to understand a love like mine. I am leaving you because I am proud, selfish with my love, and because my pride can no longer tolerate watching my body cry when you forget to call, when you leave me for other women, when you forget my birthday.  I am leaving you because I want to believe in love stories again. I want to still believe in princesses, that I merit feeling like one. I deserve to have my hand held proudly, I deserve to be in love and be unafraid. I am leaving you because I want a love that is brave enough to want me, to want to build a life with me, a love that is not afraid of saying that. Your only words of commitment came after I had committed to leaving you. A safe bet for empty words.

You accused me of not caring for you, of not loving you, of being so enamored with the glint of titles that I did not see who you were. For those words, for that idiocy, I will unabashedly give you my anger, coldly and without pardon. For years you had my heart in a shoebox in your closet, a dusty toy you had long since forgotten to play with. I loved you intensely, the only way I knew how. I loved you with forgiveness, for every word you had said and more importantly, for the ones you never did. I loved you so much the force of it almost made me lose myself in you.

When finally, I stood up and faced you down, roared out my freedom with savage screams and tore off your shackles till there was blood running down my body, then came the accusations of selfishness, of lack of love. I am not leaving you because I am flawed, although I am, nor am I leaving you because I am weak, although I am that as well. I am leaving you because you failed me, and my anger filters through you back towards my straggling limbs for having latched on for so long. I am leaving you because when I laughed you said it was too loud, and when I cried you said you didn’t understand, and when I was angry you said I was irrational. I am leaving you because you never wanted a lover or an ally; you wanted a doll made out of mirrors to reflect your current obsession.

Staying with you is a lie, a play I can no longer act in. You spread your hands as if drawing a question mark in the air, easily forgetting your role in this two-man show. You repeat ‘I love you’ to me with a look of condemnation. I am the deserter, a criminal in my own right. I am leaving you for my own preservation, beyond that I am walking away because a life is built in moments of bravery, and you have faced life with nothing but cowardice.

I am leaving you now, and in a year I will be able to say why. In two years I will have forgotten the black anger that coats my muscles, in three I will believe someone when they say they love me. And in five, I will have forgiven you, and myself.


In Session


Lewis taps his fingers rhythmically against the paperclip. He always has something in his hand to tap against. I picked him from the long list of other therapist profiles because he looks so… Southern California. The therapist website in itself was weird, looking like a dating site with pictures and small quips about the counselors, their educational backgrounds and particular therapy styles. Lewis’ profile was different, the way most profiles that catch your eye are. He didn’t write the profile as if he were talking to you, rather it read like a Curriculum Vitae of a potential research professor.

I really like Lewis. Lewis really likes himself, which we seem to have been trained to despise but in Lewis it glows outwardly, inspiring people around him to like themselves as well. Which makes sense as to why he is a successful therapist with an office in a high rise building in downtown, the view of the harbor glittering sunshine back in. His office is mild, clean, with an outdated laptop humming away in the left hand corner of his desk.

I started therapy because the depression had gotten to the point of destruction. I found myself in my kitchen one night, in an apartment that was too big for me, crouching like some crazed beast on the cold linoleum floor holding a knife and screaming through thick, clotted tears. I wrote words down that night that were so angry I cannot read them on the page, it does not look like my writing. The next day I could not get out of bed, because the only motivation I could find for removing myself from my bed was to jump off the roof and I could not do that to my mother. I didn’t understand before this, that depression could cripple you. Grab your mind and suffocate it slowly, a boa constrictor that takes over every aspect of your life, your mind, until you are a victim to it as if a stranger were squatting like a little black lizard where your heart should have resided.

Lewis titles these episodes as my ‘earthquakes’. He says this triumphantly. Lewis loves metaphors and his own cleverness, mainly the latter.

“It’s like an earthquake! You don’t know where its coming from or how long its going to be. And then afterwards you have little aftershocks, don’t you?!”

He sits back, a self-satisfied smile still floating over his lips. I look at him from across the desk. I sit in a deep leather seat, with a pillow on my back because otherwise I’m too small and my feet don’t reach the floor.  In Lewis’ office, I always make sense. I love it there, when the words tumble out of my mouth like tiny pebbles being thrown around by white water, Lewis just leans back until I am done and then carefully reconstructs what I have said, following the tangled strings of emotions until he has clean lines laying before us. Unlike anyone else in my life, Lewis presents me with cool, linear logic that doesn’t condescend. He never angers at my reactions, in fact for the most part Lewis treats every single one of my emotions, outbursts, tears, and laughter as the most singularly important thing that has ever happened in the world. He seems truly excited and enthralled by the fact that I, indeed, exist.

Today, I am explaining to Lewis about my self-sabotaging in relationships. Not only romantic ones but friendships as well. He leans back in his chair and looks at me through his spectacles while I take him through the claustrophobic vines that I attempt to machete through when explaining how I feel to people. Therapy is an odd art form, we attempt each session to place into neat categories every memory, touch, and influence we have had throughout our lives.

“Why is it concerning you now that you do this?” Lewis asks. He pretends it is an innocent question but Lewis is a very deliberate person. He explained to me that he is the most important person in his own life, and as such his time is invaluable. He does not spend it circumventing what he really wants to know. When he told me this, I asked him if he ever worried about offending people and having them not like him. He looked slightly confused when I asked him this.

“Not like me because I am asking an honest question? Well they sound like someone with something bad to hide and, I don’t want to know those people anyway”.  Lewis lives his life with a close-knit circle of people he loves around him whom he will do anything for, and the rest of the world he treats as if they were in an interview for the last available slot to be his friend; politely and with extreme discretion.

“I’m concerned because I don’t want to sabotage anything this time. I can’t lose him, and I like my friends and I’m tired of feeling as if the only way I’ll be happy is if I am completely independent of everyone. Like my safety net is figuring out a way that I will be completely okay if any particular person is no longer in my life”.

Lewis doesn’t say anything at first, just looks at me as my body clenches and tenses. Expelling this darkness in this neat rectangular office is the most exhausting thing I have ever done. It is a chain weighing 10,000 pounds that I have wrapped around me, longer and longer, for years. Slowly we are tracing back the knots and the kinks, figuring out what I have done in order to undo it and free me, pound by pound. Sighing inwardly, Lewis sits his small frame back up in the black chair and says

“No. You are not alone, you are not independent, you are not unattached. And it is not an admirable quality to be those things. I haven’t cooked a meal in 20 years because my wife is an incredible cook, if she were to leave me I would have no idea how to cook for myself. But I don’t refuse to revel in her cooking, I take it in, I bask in it”

At this point Lewis is leaning back in his chair, arms stretched out and an almost monk like expression of peaceful bliss extends on his face.

“You have to allow people to love you. You have to just, take it all in, enjoy it, swim in it. When people want to do nice things for you, you must nod your head in agreement and say ‘yes, do nice things for me!’. Otherwise life is miserable and short. And why wouldn’t they want to do nice things for you, why wouldn’t they want to love you? You must expect people to treat you as if you were the most important person in your life because you are.”

I laugh. Lewis is not joking but I can’t help but laugh, the idea is so freeing. I am still in shock when people love me the way my friends and family do. That demonic little presence in my head has slowly convinced me it is all false, Lewis’ main job is to tell me that I am fine, that I will be fine, and that no one has the capacity to hurt me anymore than I allow myself to react by being hurt.

The hour ends, and Lewis stands and smiles at me. Therapy is precise, within a set time frame, the way situational comedies always resolve themselves within a half hour.

“Next week, same time?” he asks as he opens the door for me. I nod as I walk out the door and back down the stairs, preparing myself to re enter a world that overwhelms me, a world that never seems to resolve itself no matter how many hours tick by. I look over my shoulder and Lewis smiles and waves goodbye, until next weeks session.


An Ode to my Mother


An Ode to my Mother

When I was 8 years old, my mother, older sister, and I, rode bicycles to my soccer game. When we were about to cross the huge highway separating us from the soccer fields, a semi truck blew through the red light and came within inches of hitting me on my pink and white bike. The force of the air as the driver drove by knocked me off my bicycle and scraped up my knees and elbows, right in front of my mother’s eyes. I don’t remember that game, but I remember my mothers lap as she cradled me close to her. She didn’t say a word, but that day I learned the meaning of the word ‘treasured’, I remember her arms around me, the way her thin skin barely wrapped her collarbone where my face was pressed.

When I was 11, my father was gone again on one of his endless business trips, and my mom showed my sister and I the movie “Los Desaparecidos”, and explained to us how she had lost her older brother to forces beyond her control, how a part of her soul had been ripped out in his brutal disappearance and murder. I learned the reason of her almost endless sadness, and her eternal pride in her family and her country. She instilled in me the same pride, the same defensiveness. I am, without a doubt, my mothers’ daughter.

When I was 15, my sister left me to save herself, and us. I watched helplessly as my parents hearts were ripped out of their chests and floated away. It was my mother who stood back up, demanded reparation, made me realize that forgiveness follows heartache, that life is messy, that you must always accept people for exactly who they are. My mother demonstrated to me the power of love, and her incredible capacity for it, and forgiveness.  For what seemed like an eternity, what had always been my source of safety, security, and identity seemed to have crashed and burned. It was my mother who took me by the hand and told me “We are what we think, with our thoughts we create the world”.  Love is only love when you are willing to take someone with all the darkness, with all the eternal flaws, and adore them anyway.

When I was in college, my mother sent me care packages and letters, and would buy me groceries and take me to dinner. She listened to me sob when I missed home, and did not berate me when I forgot to call because I finally didn’t. In her Valentines card to me she wrote to me that she loved me, her sweet butterfly, for being able to see the beauty of life down to the last teardrop. It remains to this day my favorite line anyone has ever written me.

Today, my mother holds my family together still. It is my mother who plans vacations, Christmas, Three Kings, and Thanksgiving. My mother remembers birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries. It is my mother who puts dinner on the table, who listens when I am crying, who knows me well enough to know when I need to be left alone, who reminds me that I am good. My mother is strong enough to take the blame from me and my sister whenever anything goes wrong, she has taken the burden of our anger, weathered the storms of my father, understands my sisters needs, my loneliness. It is my mom who transplanted from her homeland years ago and has flourished and thrived in her new home as well. I wish I could explain to her the beauty of her every movement, of how I wish every day that I could be a little more like her. I watch as she pours herself into her work and her family.

When things go wrong, when I am sick, when jobs seem scarce and relationships too frightening to endure, it is my mother who brings me soup, tells me money is fleeting anyway and will always come back, and who iterates time and again that grace and compassion are the backbone of my life. Her strength, resilience, laughter, joy, and small reminders to never drink and drive, and always call home, give us the foundation from which we are able to build our lives. From the day I was born onward, it is my mother who has never stopped believing in me, loving me, and who through her own example of existence has shown me the true meaning of being a lady.

Someday I will have a daughter, a small baby girl who will run too fast and too far, who will climb up the wrong side of the slide, who will break her arm and smash her teeth, who will come home with bruises and sawdust in her hair. She will have her heart broken, will leave me for her life to begin, and if I am lucky, I will be able to give her the same home and the same heart that my mother has bestowed upon me.


Childhood Dreams


When I was six we moved to the small town that I grew up in, and I began first grade at the local elementary school. My dad was starting at the local college as a professor (or in my world, as a professional paperclip chain maker) and we lived in a large rambling house about four blocks from campus, and about eight blocks from my elementary school. Our landlord was this cantankerous old man who told amazing stories, so I never left the poor man alone. He’d been a WWII vet and looked older than my grandpa, which in my world meant he had lived forever. He couldn’t have been that old since he’s in his 90’s now and still kicking, but at six years of age he seemed to me to be the oldest and wisest person I knew. He moved slow and his skin cut in and out like tree bark as he wove stories about planes, enemies, and most importantly: Ninjas. He was the one who started my fascination with ninjas (looking back I realized he had completely made this story up because he was old and it was amusing), and from the ages of 6 to about 8 my main ambition in life was to become a ninja. Even when I was little, I was insanely curious about everything so when I started to get interested in things I would drag my mother to the library and look up every known fact about whatever it was that I was thinking about for that nanosecond. I dressed up like a ninja for Halloween for about three years in a row, my father was ecstatic and encouraged this growth by also incorporating adventure stories, Indiana Jones obsessions, and karate movies.

Then, in May, my grandmother came to visit. The house being so close to the school, I usually walked with my sister and the three friends that lived around the block from me, but they all had after school activities and normally my mom was the one who picked me up. It was about a week after my grandma had come into town, my dad was gone on a business trip, and it was actually starting to be sunny outside. School had just gotten out and I was so excited to get home because a) I had passed the highest reading level my teacher had which meant I could start reading my own books instead of those little one sentence books she made me read, and mainly because b) now I got to be a ninja. My teacher had said I could not pretend to karate kick the boys at school because my version of pretend was to have them pretend it didn’t hurt, and that wasn’t allowed. I ran around the outside of the school to get to the front because the door to the outside was closer, and I’d already gotten in trouble way too many times for running in the hallways (and about six bloody noses from falling down, the custodian and the nurse were well acquainted with me). I got to the front of the school where normally my mother was waiting for me, only today she wasn’t there. I sat down on the bench to wait, and after what I felt was an appropriate amount of grace period for her to show up with my grandma (read: 15 seconds) I got back up and decided that since I was definitely entering the superior ninja level, I could make it home just fine on my own and started walking. The crossing guard was the custodian who knew exactly who I was and high fived me for making it through the day with minimal injuries, and after I got past that busy street I began to meander my way to the house. I did somersaults, hid behind trees, and narrated how I was fighting off attacking forces the entire walk back. I bounded up our porch, and slammed my face into the door that was supposed to open and be unlocked and wasn’t, my face ricocheted off the door with a loud thud and I could feel my cheek protesting at what was sure to be yet another bruise. The door was not supposed to be locked, and the knob should have turned. This was odd, my mom hadn’t been at school, which meant she had to be at home. I ran to the back of the house to try the other door, thinking maybe she was in the backyard or doing laundry or in the kitchen with my grandma. Nothing. I knocked on all the windows and rang my doorbell eight trillion times, and no one answered. Starting to panic slightly, I decided that she had probably just shown up at the school and so I bolted back towards the school. When I got there, the crossing guard was gone and the place looked empty. I had taken a lot longer than intended ninja-ing my way home. I ran back and forth between the school and my house desperately looking for my mom, even ran to the university to see if I could find someone in my dad’s building who would let me call home, and didn’t find anyone. By this time, it had been about an two and a half hours, I was exhausted from running all over the place and terrified that I would never find my mom again and that I would have to fend for myself, even beginning to doubt my kung-fu bad ass levels when it came to actually making food and sleeping without my teddy bear and my dad in the next room in case I got nightmares. Walking down the street I started bawling, each breath getting more and more hysterical and my face red and sweaty from running, starting to bruise from face planting into a heavy oak door, and now soaked in the psychotic tears of a six year old. Then all of a sudden, I heard my name and looked up to see my mom in an equally hysterical state running towards me, and I have never felt such extreme relief. She just picked me up and carried this sobbing, crazed looking, non-ninja little girl back to the car. I didn’t stop crying for about an hour, not so much because I was so scared about being lost, but because when push had come to shove, I most certainly had not proven to be ninja material and was completely devastated. When my mother finally calmed me down enough to explain to her why exactly her baby girl had been missing for almost three hours, and where I had been, the devastating words slowly sputtered out:

“Mo-mo-mommy! I can’t-can’t-can’t be a ninja!”


Anniversary


Anniversario

He left her a year ago, walked out of her office into the summer heat and drifted away, each step permanently bruising the cement. She never thought she would see him again, after a brief, cursory hug she sat back down in her chair and looked at her screen pretending with all her might that he meant nothing.

A year ago he walked into his house, into his ordered life with his neat, square fence, and prepared for the vacation he had been intending to savor for so long. But this girl had slipped into the crevices of his mind and she demanded all of him to be happy, he sensed her requiring every small piece of his being, every dark corner that only he was master of; she needed it all before being satiated and for some unknown reason, he had to satiate her. She was younger, impetuous, filled with a strong desire for him that he hadn’t felt in years. Absent-mindedly he wiped his hands on his leg before realizing her thighs had been left in the intricate mappings of his fingertips. He shuddered at the thought of someone else touching her, tasting her, swiftly cutting out the image of any other person creating the moans that he so viciously burned out of her. He would never admit this to her, never confess to his overwhelming need to have her only ever love him, need him, to consume her world the way she had consumed his. While he walked away a thick coating of fear trickled into his throat, if she did not love him he would disappear.

On her part, she tried in vain to forget him, convinced he did not care for her and cried in silent agony at falling for yet another human who could not consume her with the same vengeance she met every single moment of life with. She exhausted herself in the pool that night, each time she hit the wall and pushed back into cool blue wishing she would look up and see his face. He is not the type to surprise, not the type to need her so desperately that he cannot stay away. She loves this about him as well. Walking home in the thick heat to her small apartment her legs can barely pick up and carry her but her mind is far, far away. He smells stronger than the chlorine. Her organized chaos taunts her as she turns the key to her tiny apartment with too much furniture, arranged like pieces of six different puzzles. That night, away from everyone, she breaks and whatever small piece of her heart he left in her chest so that blood could still pump falls to her toes. She screams at her walls, her windows, rips down the pictures and paintings she has haphazardly put on the walls so that she would become attached to something. Left alone in this tornado she realized she was dying.

They are in love, that sickening sticky mess. Humans are piles of goop and muscles, growing bones long enough to stand up next to someone so that when they fall apart again there are arms to disappear into. She feels her skin stretch away from her breastbone towards him, forming a thin invisible line. The glue that holds the world together, and he knows that without it he will wither and die. But every mile that he drives away from her she senses herself breaking down, falling apart. Her existence is his memory of her, snippets of waists and nipples.

Together now, they celebrate the anniversary of this abandonment quietly, without flowers or cards used to mark occasions of lovers coming together, and every day she wakes up yearning for him more and more. He lies next to her every night, and yet she feels the sinking desperation to hold onto any part of him she can, mediocrity is her worst enemy, her worst nightmare. She remembers all too clearly how her heart cut out of her chest on that hot August afternoon, that horrible day he left her. She is afraid of becoming ordinary, of their love becoming daily, of becoming forgettable again. He loves her more and more, for the way she believes that omens are told through the moon, for her obsessions that change weekly, dictating the entire vacuum of her attention. He is unyieldingly proud of her, she has the courage and spirit he has emulated his whole life. She loves his ordered, careful ways. Not a single part of her understands them and it consumes a grand majority of her time to remember to put the glasses away in the right order, the place to leave the sponge, and how to lock the front door.

They live together and still cannot believe it. The darker memories gnaw at both of them in different ways, bittersweet reminders are left all over the house, a house she does not feel a part of. These memories cut at her, making her wish the skeleton made up some part of the human heart because maybe then bone could stop that cold knife of past loves from piercing. She is too young to realize how much of him she owns, youth clouds the mirror and makes it impossible to understand that other people hurt and fall in love with the same fascination. . Without realizing it they have become the lovers so many stories were written about, people so utterly smitten they have banished the cold thought of life after each other.

They mark the anniversary of this love by remembering that day, a day so hot the wind was too sticky with sweat to move.  The bitter memory of him leaving remains, like a cut on the side of her mouth that splits open every time she smiles. Her heart seizes with the thought of him one day walking away forever. Love, like life, is not to be savored because it lasts forever. It is its inevitable end that feeds the fire, makes hands grasp hips, and tongues slip over unfamiliar teeth. They love each other with voraciousness, all too aware of the pain of losing the other, and celebrate the dark side of that coin to remind themselves that for at least one more night, both get to fall asleep listening to the breathing of someone they secretly swear they can never live without.


Letters to Asher (Letter 2)


-A-

I wish there were a literary equivalent of a dramatic unveiling. Some gesture that could be captured in the curve of a ‘V’ to illuminate the way a hand can swoop down, grab a curtain, and then swoop up again to reveal a grand truth. Humans seem to be cursed with this endless pursuit of truth, of knowledge. We have created an entire field around it, with such precision of the word being granted to having a sliding scale, from theory to fact. It gives us a strange sense of superiority to know something, when in reality we are simple little dolls, thrumming to the beat of music we refuse to listen to. Day in and day out I am concerned with the mundane aspect of my own existence. Convinced that whatever psychological turmoil is seizing my heart at that moment is of such brilliant importance that it is vital that I write it down, capture it in some way. Even in my egotistical rages, some semblance of me can appreciate the irony of wanting to capture these fleeting moments in the belief that they are eternal.

Tonight you spoke of cowardice. You used a slightly more vernacular vocabulary, but I’m sure it will quirk your smile a little bit to see me wrap it in the pretty bow of eloquence. Life, in this little ones humble opinion, is simply too short to not use as many words as possible. Smarter creatures than I uttered ‘you will find poetry nowhere if you do not carry some of it with you’.  Are you bemused by this idea? I am so curious about you. We are all cursed with chasing after anything that is difficult. I found myself fiercely defending a person not telling the truth about their emotions because for so long I was that figure, the joker thinking it was their pretty words that made people laugh and not their very existence. Siddharta explained that you must go through life with the conviction that everyone around you has achieved perfect enlightenment, and that any behavior towards you is done in order to help you achieve it as well. I try to hold on to this thought when frustrated, angry, or sad. Breathing in and out and learning to practice patience, to smile when I am angry, to control my emotions and outbursts to the point of knowing how they shape me, instead of waking up one day, twenty years down the line, and realizing that I have no idea how I got there.

If I were to assume that you were perfectly enlightened then, what would I learn from you? I would learn to never shy away from how I am feeling, you saw my cowardice for what it was and held it up in ugly light. It is hardest to see your faults held in hands that you find completely perfect, there is nowhere else to look. You forced me to recognize my own worth, my own brilliance. It was the cruelest line you wrote to me in that letter, those compulsory days of solitude which we failed at so miserably. So much of that letter made me taste bitterness, realization that I had unfairly condemned you and worse off, reduced myself to this pathetic figure that I had always despised. My biggest fear is to realize that I am not brave, that in reality I am mundane, a person so castrated by trepidation that I lose out on anything worthwhile. Cowardice may not be honorable, but it is certainly safe. You always know where cowardice will take you. I was a coward when it came to love before because I was so fearful of being found out. If you forever hold people at arms length, all they see is a mystery and not a scared little girl begging for an excuse to just breathe the way she wants to. The former is much easier to maintain, albeit lonelier. I want a brave love, a person that is mine, that is proud of me and cannot wait to hold my hand. I refuse, however, to give to this love in any way. I tip toe around the ugly parts, soothe tempers and bite my tongue when upset. I must be easy, I must be simple, I must be perfect for whomever is laying next to me at the time. Once the first flowers fade I am already finding excuses to leave, discovering cracks in what I had painted to be a perfect picture, pitfalls that I do not even consider attacking. The only celebration we have, however, is that moment when we realize that we can no longer live in constant fear, that the darkness is suffocating, not soothing, and that with our hair a mess, and our eyes still sleepy, we grab whatever weapon we can and charge forward. I have found this lesson in you as well, because if you are lost, then the ground will shake and split open and I will fall in. So I will give you everything I have, I have no other option.

Finally, in you I learn what it means to rise to a challenge, confront demons. Force myself to stand up in the back of the truck and scream into the wind because I demand to be heard.

I love you madly, in that way that begs of you not love in return but rather, your scorn and your anger. I wish with fervent necessity to have that which is most base about you, if it is simply thrown at me with little regard to where it lands is fine. I demand you, every time I wrap thin fingers around yours it is with the childish hope that I will be able to capture some part of your essence that I swear is hiding from me. If I could have you in your weakest moments, when you are angry and out of control, when your perversions have captured you and you are enraged and engorged by things you cannot comprehend I will be happy. When you bend over me, naked and sullied with the dirty interactions of two people laughing at the cosmos with desperate desire and your eyes intensify while you look at me, give me that in all its completion. Give me that, and I will stop wreaking havoc on your perfect plans (I swear). I want to drag you outside in the rain and the mud, I don’t want to taste your lips in sweet kisses but rather tear at your skin until you bleed, broken and despondent. I want you, all your stupidity and imperfections, your anger, your repressed need to feel sanctioned and approved, your disastrous belief that you will find immortality through beauty.

Give me every dark corner of yourself and I swear I will be happy

I love you today.

Matilda


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