Monday, March 31, 2008
Jam Guy and I drove back to Santa Rosa and late that night I fell asleep and dreamed that I was sitting at a table with my HYOC girls again, with the empty seat open and waiting at my left, as it had been for Jam Guy earlier that evening. In the dream we were eating an afternoon kaffe und kuchen--the German version of high tea, coffee and cake at 4 pm--that my mother used to love, especially after a day of shopping. I dreamed that I thought about my mother, and wished so hard that she could join us and that that empty chair was waiting for her.
I dreamed a wish, and in the dream the wish came true: My mother came, smiling, in the best of all her possible moods. She was loaded with shopping bags, the way she would be in some of my favorite memories of her. She sat down in the chair next to me, so happy to be joining us for kaffe und kuchen, so happy with the shopping she'd accomplished. She was happy to see me, too. I didn't know what to do--I knew, even in my dream, that my mother is dead, and that whatever was happening was out of the ordinary. But I was so happy to see her that I decided to pretend that everything was normal. I chatted and gossiped away with her, and the other women there must have been astonished too, but I was totally wrapped up in her.
I was so happy and shaken by her presence that I was crying, all wet with tears, but I was trying to keep my voice normal and keep acting happy and chatty. I didn't know if she knew that something supernatural was happening, and I didn't want to do anything that would make her go away. It was the kind of dream you almost wish you could live in.
I was still happy when I woke up. I thought, there must be something to the fact that in the dream, she was sitting in the place that was waiting for Jam Guy at dinner the night before. I thought--I still think--it was a good omen that she was so happy.
Jam Guy made us coffee and oatmeal with sour cherries and cream, and then we drove to Berkeley to meet with April Higashi, the wonderful artist who is designing our engagement ring. She had found some rubies for us to look over. When we were debating the ethics--both from a human and an ecological standpoint--of a mined ruby versus a lab-created ruby, we had written to April for insight from someone in the industry, and she'd written us a lovely email helping to elucidate both sides of the discussion and really helping to clarify our perspectives.
The first stone that drew me was a small, oval ruby from Madagascar. I hesitated, though, because it didn't seem red enough--it was tending more towards pink. The lab-created rubies looked redder, but somehow too perfect, sort of dimensionless. April said that if we didn't love any of the rubies she could bring more for us to look at, but I was really drawn towards that first one.
When I held it against a gold band, though, it did look beautifully red--red with the little shades of magenta and gold that you see in a glass of Merlot (which isn't, for the record, my favorite wine to drink, but it might be my favorite one to look at). April put some light on the stones, and the Madagascar ruby in the light actually looked redder than the lab-created stones, which made me happy--I really wanted the stone that I'd been so drawn towards to look like the stone I had envisioned in my ring. Somehow all of a sudden it all worked out--I'd been leaning towards a mined stone because of a desire to spend in a way that supports a community in a developing country instead of a corporation; Jam Guy had been leaning away from a mined stone because of the tragic politically-motivated events in Myanmar, where most rubies are purchased, but this stone was not from Myanmar; April pointed out that the stone would look even redder when set and also that she believed that things have energetic properties (which I agree with) implying that if I was drawn to the Madagascar ruby from the beginning, I should pay attention to that feeling. We decided to go with that stone, and on the drive home I remembered my dream, and thought about how everything had fallen into place this morning.
Mom: what a shopping trip it was. Thank you for being happy for me.
Friday morning I was on the bus on the way to the airport. Sitting across from me was a trio of high-school students—three girls, two looking like they were headed straight for the live audience at TRL and one in faded, baggy jeans, a big grey sweatshirt, a loose ponytail and no makeup. Sweatshirt Girl was a little heavy where the other two were thin, and she stared into space while they other two gossiped and whispered. It seemed, though, that they were all friends, in defiance of all the high school rules I remember.
Sweatshirt Girl had one of the TRL girls on one side of her and an empty seat on the other, on which she placed her backpack. About ten minutes went by. A heavy boy, a classmate of theirs, waved at them as he boarded, all awkwardness and self-awareness. Sweatshirt Girl waved back. The TRL girls ignored him.
Then another boy boarded. He wore a striped polo shirt that was ridiculously big on him, his hair stuck up all over the place, and he had these thick, coke-bottle glasses. The heavy boy leaned forward and stuck out his hand for a high-five. The boy in the glasses reached to return the gesture, and the heavy boy suddenly pulled his hand back and pretended to slick his hair (Psyche!). Even he winced a little at his own sad, small joke.
Glasses Boy did not once look at Sweatshirt Girl or her friends, and they didn't look at him, either. As far as I could tell, they didn't know each other at all. But when he boarded, Sweatshirt Girl moved her backpack, and he sat down in the newly-empty seat. They still did not look at each other.
About a minute went by before they looked directly at each other. Sweatshirt Girl cracked the smallest, most circumspect of smiles and waved at him—waved, even though he was sitting right next to him. He did not smile, but waved back. They went back to staring into space. All the while the high-pitched chatter of the TRL girls floated around them—it seemed as though the TRL girls were aware of each other, the heavy boy was miserably aware of himself and everyone else, and Sweatshirt Girl and Glasses Boy were each totally unaware of anything at all, including one another.
Several minutes later, entirely without preface, Glasses Boy stretched, yawned, and put his arm around Sweatshirt Girl. She did not react, except to look slightly more indifferent to everything. The TRL girls did not react either. I wanted to clap my hands and cheer.
Five minutes later one of the TRL girls addressed Sweatshirt Girl. “You're so quiet today,” she said. I couldn't tell if she was teasing Sweatshirt Girl or just making conversation. Sweatshirt Girl glared a little. “I'm just tired. It's early,” she pointed out. (True that, I thought, clutching my coffee.) But then she leaned a little into Glasses Boy and pretended to be very interested in his other hand, the one not attached to the arm around her. She picked it up and peered at it. He said something, gruff, his face still blank and serious.
Suddenly Sweatshirt Girl's face cracked wide open. She smiled and smiled; she laughed out loud, playing with his hand. She brought it up to her face and traced the lines along his palm. She turned it over, peered at the moons of his nails. It could have been the most fascinating, the most entertaining, the cleverest thing she'd ever seen. Glasses Boy said something else, his face inscrutable, and this time Sweatshirt Girl nearly collapsed with laughter. Joy shook her. Finally he laughed too. He held her hand. After a few minutes of this they lapsed back into their calm, inscrutable, staring silence. When they got off the bus, I watched them walk into school—next to each other, walking in the same direction, but, bizarrely, looking away from each other, in opposite directions, practically incurring neck injury in their efforts to not look at each other.
I know how that girl felt. I know that even though she wasn't spending her morning curling her hair or her eyelashes, even though she wasn't picking out the cutest clothes to wear, her whole morning strained towards being on that bus with that arm around her shoulders. I know that she knew how totally in over her head she was, daring and helpless in love, maybe for the first time ever. I know that she was trying to make sure she could still breathe, trying to stay above water, and that's why she only let herself look right at him for a few moments at a time.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Every day I am grateful--I know I say this all the time. I am grateful for my life in a very large way, but also in smaller ways grateful that I've found a career path that clarifies for me the significance of death within the significance of life, grateful that this path brings me in contact with other people that share similar values, grateful that there is a realistic understanding of death that is part of the practice of being in this field.
What surprises me is that all this understanding does not make acceptance of death any easier.
I know there is a huge element of ego in the fact that I'm so upset by Claire passing away--the fact that she was also 30, also healthy, also loved and in love, also about to graduate and start the career for which we've all sacrificed so much time and energy over the last four or more years. But there it is. It makes me sad and scared, and makes my fear about the precariousness of life swell and roar. It also makes me want to spend all my time connecting with the people I love.
Here is a link to the website that Claire's friends started in order to raise funds for her treatment.
(Really I took it looking for a distraction--I just found out that a woman in my class passed away this morning. I am sure this seems horrible and insensitive of me, but this is how I deal. I don't want to think about it yet. I am coping. So I take a silly quiz.)
Here are my results:
Random Brutal Love Dreamer (RBLD)
The Wild Rose
Colorful, but unpicked. You are The Wild Rose.
Prone to bouts of cynicism, sarcasm, and thorns, you excite a certain kind of man. Hoping to gather you up, he flirts and winks and asks you out, ultimately professing his love. Then you make him bleed. Why? Because you're the rare, independent, self-sufficient kind of woman who does want love, but not from a weakling.
You don't seem to take yourself too seriously, and that's refreshing. You aren't uptight; you don't over-plan. Romance-wise, sex isn't a top priority--a true relationship would be preferable. For your age, you haven't had a lot of bonafide love experience, though, and this kind of gets to core of the issue. You're very selective.
The problem is them, not you, right? You have lofty standards that few measure up to. You're out there all right, but not to be picked up by just anyone.
(They even put in this little picture of what this brutal dreamer person is supposed to look like. Eerily enough, I'm pretty sure I have this exact cardigan.)
Sunday, March 23, 2008
I think dancing is really good for me, and I think wearing fantastically provocative clothes every so often is good for me, too. So take that, ugly voices in my head!
Friday, March 21, 2008
Last night I went out for drinks after class with D. I had one-and-a-half beers. That is not a lot of alcohol, even for lightweight me. I waited a bit before driving home, went to bed, slept a lot of hours, and then woke up with a mind-blowing hangover.
This is puzzling, because I am not really the hangover type, and when I have had hangovers (maybe 4 or 5 times in my entire life) it's usually after drinking loads of something really strong--martinis, Jam Guy's delicious French 75s, or, memorably, a fifth of dirt-cheap tequila in college. Why do I have a hangover today?
I think it's because of one of the things D and I were talking about last night. We were talking about how women and men relate to one another, and the element of control in relationships. We talked about how some men control their girlfriends or wives with physical violence or emotional abuse; D pointed out that often these two things are not all that separate. He said that some men just exude a sense of volatile physicality that states wordlessly that they might lose it and hurt you if you don't go their way. It doesn't matter, he said, whether they've ever gotten physical with you or not--it works to control you at the very basic level of fear for your own safety. Potentially, you end up bartering everything you might ever want for an unreliable promise that you might remain intact.
No one had ever pointed out that particular dynamic to me before--the threat of physical violence being as real as the violence itself. I am sure D thought we were talking from a totally objective, third-party perspective. I stared into my beer and watched the bubbles become untethered from the sides of the glass.
D doesn't know a whole lot about my relationship with the guy I lived with for four years in New York. Most people don't, other than that he was controlling and jealous. This particular ex and I met when I was recording an album for a so-so band in a studio in midtown Manhattan. The ex was directing production on the album. We started dating and everything moved really fast--sped up by the fact that he'd gotten a potentially terminal cancer diagnosis, which turned out to be false, but I was already in fullblown caretaker mode and head-over-heels. Six months later I found a fantastic deal on a semi-illegal sublet in the East Village; he moved in with me.
During those six months there were warning signs all over the place. I think am a pretty damn smart woman, but all of us are stupid in love. He was mad when I got a ride home from a gig with an ex-boyfriend in the band. He was suspicious and jealous when I came back from a trip with girlfriends to Atlantic City--he was certain I had cheated on him. He picked on the provocative clothes I liked wearing so much at the time. I didn't tell my friends this; I wanted so much for things to work. Something about the way he suspected me of having poor character and thought it was wrong for me to have the kinds of fun I did resonated with me--he sounded like my parents getting ready to ground me. It's kind of sick now that I look back at it, but I guess as a little girl a part of me had learned to interpret control and guilt as the way love is supposed to be. I felt a little bit of fear of him; I felt a little bit of nausea when when he put me down; I thought maybe that was how falling in love was supposed to feel: giving up control, helpless.
I feel like I need to explain how I fell for this guy to myself, because what came later seems so obvious now, in retrospect. It's hard for me to understand now how I ended up in this category of women that have been in the situation I was in. I am not weak, but I turned over all my strength without a fight. I liked looking pretty, working all of my sex appeal, and I handed him the keys to that particular racecar. I had been fighting so hard for a real sense of self, one that was just in its infancy at 24 because it was the first time in my life I'd felt able to be more than somebody's daughter or girlfriend or student, and I let him take that infant self and squish her into his idea of what she ought to be. It was a bad fit, but I sucked in and just tried to resign myself to never exhaling again.
It was bad and I only stayed in it because I was in love. I know how cliched and dumb that sounds. I want to say I am not that woman, but maybe we are all that woman, given the wrong circumstances. I am not going to try to justify it, but I am embarrassed now by it.
I didn't tell anyone how bad it was because I didn't tell myself how bad it was. This is how bad it was: If an attractive man came on the television and I was watching it, he would be angry at me all night and sometimes into the next day. Eventually the definition of "attractive man" extended to anyone male that was old enough to have entered puberty and young enough to not need live-in care. If I passed a man on the street and looked at him--even just enough of a look to not run into him on the busy streets of downtown Manhattan--the boyfriend would be angry at me all night, again, and again possibly into the next day. If I breathed or shifted the wrong way when we were sitting together on the couch, he would accuse me of not being attracted to him, which led to accusations of being attracted to other men. If I wore anything besides the plainest and baggiest of clothes he wanted to know what man I was trying to attract.
If I burned the coffee, if I made him an egg sandwich that was too runny or too dry, if I spilled water, if I forgot what day the car needed to be re-parked, if I wanted to cut my hair, if I didn't kiss him goodbye the right way, if I complained about anything: all reasons for a litany of complaints about my character. If I asked him when he was going to have an income again because I was exhausted from working nearly full-time to support myself and another adult while going to school full-time, he simply stopped speaking to me, or meanly suggested I cheat on him if I was so unhappy with him. If I sneezed too often, it was interpreted as a cloying and underhanded way of seeking attention and sympathy.
I grew up in an often-unhappy house; I understand why people take out their sadness on others. Being that other was not a new position for me. I knew everything was wrong, but I also knew that this ex was a man who volunteered in his community, made me dinners sometimes when I was really tired, was very sweet with our pets, held me while I cried for hours when my fish died--so I felt sympathy for him; I thought how awful it must be to not believe that you could be loved as much as I loved him then. And I coped in ways that I can't believe now: when we went out together, or even when I was alone but on our block, in case he was watching from the fire escape, I looked down at the sidewalk. I just walked very carefully and quit looking up. I saw a lot of shoes, cracks in the sidewalk, tiny sick city plants, litter, rat feces. I told myself I'd never noticed how interesting these things were before. I told myself I could live without the sky and the faces of new people. I swallowed his exasperated beratements about how clumsy I was when, inevitably, I bumped into things. I took up knitting to have something to look at while we sat on the couch and he watched television, so that I wouldn't have to justify looking down every time a male came on the set; I finally just quit looking at it at all while it was on, which is surprisingly hard to do in a tiny studio apartment. When he was out of the apartment--which was not often--I didn't turn it on at all, because if I did, he would come back and inevitably ask what I'd been watching, and there was no way to have a correct answer: if it was a program that didn't have a single male in it--like a cartoon, which is about all that was safe--he wouldn't believe me. When he was out for longer periods, he would text me all the time to say he was coming back, just around the corner, might be in any minute, so that I wouldn't leave or feel like I could watch television or do anything other than sit in the apartment in my baggy clothes clutching my knitting needles like a crafty asylum patient. I watched my breathing, making sure it never sped up or slowed in any way that could be interpreted as interest in someone else or a lack of interest in him. I rehearsed even small movements in my head before doing them to make sure that they didn't seem like I was pulling away from him. I tried to say only things that were necessary, that would charm him, or that showed my love for him.
Just once we played a gig together, and when he saw what I wanted to wear--flowing black pants, a batwing-sleeved blouse--he refused, an hour before we were supposed to be on stage, to do the gig. Only after I'd changed into a military surplus jacket and old jeans, removed all my makeup, and begged, did he relent. I was so uncomfortable during the gig. I remembered, like a dream, that once I had loved performing, but in that moment I didn't know who I was being.
When he was angry I was scared of him. He got angry in a quiet way. He got quieter and quieter and would sometimes use a weird sing-songy voice, the way you scold a child for doing something like eating a cookie before dinner, except that with him it wouldn't end there. He would go on to tell me how I clearly wasn't trustworthy, how I was addicted to the attention of other men, how I would never find a relationship worth staying in because no man could ever respect someone so wanton, superficial, scatterbrained. How he saw thought he'd seen a good person within the floozy I was, but now he wasn't sure anymore, but it was too late for him to back out because, in spite of all his better judgment, he did love me and had invested so much time now into our relationship. But maybe love wasn't enough, he said, and maybe he should have known better; although maybe since he'd been so deceived by my devoted, nice-girl act, the only thing left for him to do now was make the best of the mess he'd gotten himself into, the mess of me, and hope that I could eventually mature into someone he could love as an equal.
I am not exaggerating when I say I didn't know it was possible to cry that much or that often. I didn't know what to believe. The part of myself that knew better than to swallow his opinions about me got littler and littler. I went to school with my face puffy and red and blamed allergies. I was afraid of him physically, and he never ever hit me, but he was strong and a trained fighter and the physicality was always just there under the surface. Sometimes it came out, though never at me: he would throw things, punch walls, break stuff. He hit our ceiling with a dumbbell once and left a huge dent; the dog and I sat in the bathroom, the cat under the couch, until it felt safe for all of us to come out.
The dog and I also sat in the bathroom when pizza delivery guys came over, and I said it was because the dog would growl at the pizza guy and scare him, but really it was that I was trying to avoid him confronting me about trying to seduce the pizza guy.
Song lyrics I wrote in those days reflect a loss of self and a fierce attempt at resignation that I only recognize fully now:
There was a girl without a face
She lived alone inside a cloud
And every day there in the sky
She dreamed of being recognized
I don't know who you think you've got your arms around
She's already died of fear of letting you down
helpless as the tide before the moon
might be the wrong thing to do
but i follow you
sunrise!: but you don't dare lift your eyes
it's nothing you ain't seen before anyways
The things that made it possible for me to leave:
One day, he was looking at my email and clicked through messages from a male friend. I reached to stop him from reading my email--he was starting with the sing-song voice, and even though there was nothing inappropriate in the emails, I knew the simple fact that I had a male friend was enough to send him over the edge--and he grabbed one of my wrists, then both, easily in one of his hands while clicking through my inbox with the other. I couldn't pull my hands clear, and when I tried he just gripped tighter, with no change of expression. It hurt, but worse than the hurt was the sense of helplessness, and the clear message that the gesture sent: "If you and I want different things, what it comes down to is that I am stronger than you, and I will use that advantage."
One day, shortly after that, I suggested we get counseling, and he broke the railing of our loft bed. In an act of unprecedented rebellion, I left the apartment, but before I got out of the building I got yelled at by our crazy landlord for something. I came back in tears--the landlord was always yelling at someone and it was usually sort of funny, but it was just more than I was ready to take that one day--and against all logic the ex-boyfriend went out to ostensibly beat up the landlord for making me cry. I tried to explain that it wasn't the landlord that had made me cry, but he was already out the door. (Fortunately, he didn't find the landlord.)
That same day I tentatively brought up counseling again, and again there was an explosion, which culminated in his calling me (I can't forget this) a "fucking freak" and I literally ran out the door this time. It was, of course, in the middle of a thunderstorm. In movies this looks cool and dramatic and super-emo. In real life it sucks and makes you hope you don't run into anyone you know, especially if you're wearing flip flops and a tank top because that's what you were wearing in the house and you ran away without giving weather conditions any thought.
The following week my sister and her wife came to town, and the ex left the apartment and went to stay with a friend. We went to the Brooklyn Pride festival and watched a salsa group dancing on stage. There was a young woman in a red dress who did a little featured dance solo. I watched her and felt a glimpse of recognition--her hips were swaying, her head was tilted up, she was so in love with her own physicality and sexuality. I remembered that feeling and suddenly connected with how much I'd missed it. I love dancing, but there had been so much angst connected with trying to justify a dance outing since living with the ex--the clothes, the men that would inevitably be at the club--that I just sort of gave it up, like looking at the sky, and tried to tell myself it didn't matter. What I realized that day was that it did matter, that there was a kernel of a self in me that was hollering itself hoarse to avoid being accidentally buried alive. I cried there in the festival amid all the happy people out of grief for the years I'd kept myself apart from the girl who loves dancing.
When I left him it was in a hurry and with one suitcase and scared out of my mind for my safety and my sanity. It was maybe harder than anything I'd had to do before. I had my wonderful sister and my wonderful friends--and, thank heavens, a good therapist--helping me through it, an amazing support network of people that saved my life. But I had wanted it to work so much. I was giving up not only on the good parts of our relationship but on my desire to see the goodness I knew existed in him manifest in a real and consistent way. I know now it wasn't going to happen, at least not in any way I could be around for. I know now that the four years I spent with him were meant to teach me some kind of long, grueling lesson. I know that I might not be with my amazing Jam Guy now if it hadn't been for the time spent with the ex. And I am grateful for the experience and for the opportunity it gives me to empathize with other women in the same situation. I know now, firsthand, why you don't leave a relationship even when you know you should, and I know now how little "should" has to do with anything when you're caught up in the thrall of someone who's systematically destroying who you are.
But the reason this is coming up for me today is because of my talk with D last night, because i have a headache and that makes me feel vulnerable, because I am in love with a wonderful Jam Guy and in a safe enough place now where I can start to process my feelings, and mostly because I'm going dancing tonight. I'm going dancing with some wonderful girlfriends from my school, and I'm trying to figure out what to wear, and I'm realizing that anticipating going dancing is not the pure, simply fun thing that it was before I was with the ex. There is a voice in my head that vetoes the things I consider wearing because they're too slutty or head-turning. That same voice tells me I should feel ashamed to want to dance, to make any sort of exhibition of myself, that I can expect men to hit on me if I'm out at a club because that's what men do at clubs, and I should feel guilty because I am willing to go out knowing that this will happen.
I know all these reactions ought to be things I ignore--I should just wear what I want and do what I want and have fun--but they are there, in my head, and I resent their presence there. I want to look forward to this in as uncomplicated a way as I used to. I want to enjoy being a pretty woman in high heels. I want to feel like there is nothing wrong with that. Jam Guy reassures me all the time that these feelings are ok--he is the most wonderful man in the world, if I haven't mentioned that--and I am really trying my best to believe him.
I am going to keep trying my best to know that I am ok.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Reply to: (see message body)
Date: 2006-11-16, 6:19PM
$1800 Rent - $2100 Deposit
4 Bed/2 Bath
1850 sq. ft.
Beautiful peaceful private yard
yes, may? where's this going?
I know... I'm naughty! I've been searching CL...I saw that
ad and couldn't resist sending it to you. $1800!! A whole house!!! Can
you imagine? 4 bedrooms!!!! in wine country!!!!! that's incredible...
;) xoxoxoxoxox, may
oh yes, it's beautiful! now i have this whole big quite fantastical fantasy of moving to cali and being pampered for the rest of my life by california boy...who needs school/work/subway stress?
hey, you and dave take one bedroom, i and CA boy will take another, jenjen and the ideal lovergirl we'll find for her will take a third, and the fourth can be our kanekapila room/recording studio/creative writing space/art workshop.
imagine the dinners we'll make! and the wine we'll drink with them, brought back from neighboring vineyards...
that was the most beautiful fantasy EVER. EVER!!!!!
'course.... does it have to be fantasy??
k, I'll stop because I know
then again, so did jenjen and i....
tease, tease, tease & love you!!!
Anyways, you get the idea. Jenjen joined it and we fantasized about it all day. At the end of the day, May wrote:
you guys, i really wish we weren't kidding. i want to live that life
we just made up!!
let's just promise ourselves we won't rule out a scenario something
And today, here's the thing: this could actually really and truly happen. It is possible May and Dave will move back to the Bay Area someday; Jenjen has all on her own found a partner so ideal that it seems as though Raquel is drawn for Jenjen out of some perfect karmic rewards system reserved for people who, like Jenjen, are models of filial devotion and loyalty and love to friends. I am moving up to be in wine country with Jam Guy. I am half-disbelieving in my happiness, in this idea that 2006's crazy fantasy could come this close to touching my real life, that my very real and amazing California Boy has turned into the man I want to spend my whole life with. Like May said: Does it have to be fantasy? Why did I ever hold myself back from believing I should follow my every happiness? How did things get this good?
Every single day I am grateful.
Anyway: This is not really me blogging about a blog--that is just sort of fun to say. I have some fantastic friends. This is about one of them, who happens to have a blog, who I don't think I mention enough in general, but whom I do count among my close friends: May, the brilliant writer, the enviably-fantastic dresser, the fierce mover-through-life, the future tambourine girl when Jenjen and I finally get together the band we keep talking about, is one of the women that I grew up with in the Hawai'i Youth Opera chorus.
[Important aside about that chorus: HYOC, which is like a second family for me and the entire reason I could ever call myself a musician and ever got any work as a singer, is a community choir in my hometown of Honolulu that was originally founded to supply children for productions at the Hawaii Opera Theater. Under the direction of Nola Nahulu, who is pretty much superhuman, and a really excellent staff, the choir became a place where we learned a classical Western musical canon but also studied classical Hawaiian pieces. I joined when I was twelve years old and left at 18, but if I could have stayed in it forever somehow, carried it with me to New York or left a part of myself in Honolulu singing and lomilomi-ing my peers, I am certain I would have. In that choir, I traveled all over the US and to Europe, stood and sat and sang through hours of rehearsal, and bumped through adolescence in the company of Brahms and Beamer, Lili'u and Lully. We were treated like working professionals; we learned as much about respect and discipline as we did about theory and performance. When I see people, even after two or ten years, that I know through HYOC, it's like no time has passed--we are as familiar and affectionate with each other as if we had been visiting weekly through all that time. We fall out of touch routinely, but we are nevertheless connected through our shared history. We are college roommates; we are co-counselors; we are sometimes, unashamedly, co-dependent. We are calabash aunties to one another's children and we stand up at each other's weddings; we cook each other dinners and worry over each other's health and romantic choices. We are sisters and mothers and daughters to each other. We wonder together over how to state the importance that the choir has had in our lives. We can't, really. My memories from those years in my life are so colored by how deeply and unquestioningly I loved my chorus family that I can't even imagine who or where I would be without them.]
So, back to May: May is one of those beautiful people whom I don't get to see enough but when I do see I wish I could see all the time. She is smart and funny and kind; somebody should write a television show where she is the heroine. Also, she has a fantastic wardrobe. The thing about May is that she was a little girl to me for the longest time: in sixth grade through high school, I was always two years older than her, which in teenage years is practically a whole generation. When we both ended up in New York City after college and I met up with her, I was sort of astonished to meet this lovely, poised, citydwelling adult. Now that we're both officially grownups, I'm so happy to count her among my good friends. She moved away from New York a few years ago, to the Bay Area, and sadly just about when I made it up to California she moved back to New York. I'm happy to have been able to share New York with many of my fellow HYOC graduates: May, Jenjen, Hina (with whom I discovered New York, from our impossibly tiny dormitory room on Broadway), Lisa, Amy: but I am sad that May and I are switching places instead of getting excited to live in the same place. But hope--that someday we will all find it in ourselves to be happy in the same area--springs eternal.
My dear friend M, who is moving to Amsterdam (why must the world be so big? why must so many wonderful places be so far apart?) is the person who suggested to me that I start this blog, as a way of keeping in touch with her. I am so happy that M has suggested this for us, and I am happy that my May has her blog and I can keep close to her through it as well.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Jam Guy, bearing Splenda-sweetened marmalade, met my dad, and nothing terrible happened. In fact, it was the most fun I've had while with my dad since becoming an adult, I think.
Part of this undoubtedly has to do with Jam Guy's presence. Part of it must have to do with my real love for my dad, which is often obscured by the stress I usually feel when I'm around him. Part of it is most certainly due to the silent vibes of support sent across the dinner table by my sister and her wife, and some of it might even be due to my father's fiancee lightening the mood with her off-color sense of humour. All of that being said, though, I think for most of it we can thank the La Crema vineyard of Santa Rosa, who makes a Pinot Noir so fine and tasty that my teetotaling father had downed his first glass and a half before the food even arrived.
My father, who rarely touches alcohol and never has more than one glass of wine, was kind of drunk. He was great--relaxed, funny, sweet. Certainly anyone who didn't know him would never be able to tell he was tipsy, but the relative scarcity of frowns and career advice was definitely indicative of some sort of inebriation. I liked it awfully.
And my father was charmed by Jam Guy, who was as poised and polite and sincere as I've ever seen him. My father would have loved Jam Guy even if he'd been sober, I know, but I really think the path was smoothed by the Pinot. (Kudos are also due to Jam Guy for selecting said Pinot--when Dad heard that the vineyard was in Santa Rosa, he joked that maybe Jam Guy was getting a commission.)
At one point, apropos of nothing at all, Dad asked Jam Guy what he thought the two most important qualities of a good relationship are. I panicked--he asked it in a ways that implied there were exactly two correct answers, and every other answer was wrong. Jam Guy did not look panicked at all; he only took about three seconds to answer, and then he said "Off the top of my head, I'd have to say trust and love."
That he said "trust" meant the world to me, recovering as I am from my last relationship, where I wasn't even trusted to choose which television shows to watch when alone--ech, but that's a story for another day.
Dad made an expression that implied that Jam Guy had answered incorrectly. He tapped his fiancee and reported Jam Guy's answer. His fiancee replied approvingly. My father blinked a few times, then said to Jam Guy, "I would have said communication, but I guess trust and love are good too."
Midway through the meal Dad leaned over to me and said in a low voice "I think he is good. You can start making plans." I was so happy to hear this that I didn't even stop to think about how I could turn this into something I could be angry about. I teared up a little, kissed my dad on the cheek and thanked him, and then beamed through the rest of the dinner. And I drank my share of the Pinot too, for the first time unabashed to act like something of a grownup in front of my father. It felt like a miracle unfolding.
My sweet, motley, weird little family finished our dinner hours later, laughing and happy. I don't know what this all means. I don't know whether it means that good wine is the simple prescription for healing a historically dysfunctional family, but that's something that I'm going to keep in mind during my next visit with my dad. I don't know whether it means that when I don't come into a meeting with my dad armed to my figurative teeth with defensiveness and rage about my strained and shaky childhood, I allow myself to receive his love in a more real and open way. I don't know if it means that Jam Guy is one pathway to coming to peace with myself and thereby with my family. I hope, and suspect, that all of these things are true and that I am learning how to learn ways to make life better for myself. I know that even though I said it was just a formality and didn't essentially matter, I feel readier than ever to leap into life with Jam Guy as my partner now that I have received my father's blessing.
Friday, March 14, 2008
It was in whatever bag I was carrying, even if I was just going to the bodega around the corner. I don't know exactly what I thought I'd do with it. I think at first I was carrying it because of the hate crimes and profiling against Middle Eastern New Yorkers and anyone who might look vaguely Middle Eastern (like my sister and I). I thought I might have to prove my citizenship or else chance going to jail. When my friends teased me about it, I'd coolly point out that you never knew when you were going to meet someone that would want to whisk you off to the Caribbean or Paris for a day or two. It was a good cover, and indeed occasionally some barfly would drunkenly beseech me to go to Aspen or Montauk or Hoboken with them, but never anywhere I might have needed my passport to get back from.
After a while, I reasoned that I was carrying it because I might have to leave the country at a moment's notice. If in our incredibly concrete-insulated city enormous buildings could suddenly burst into flames and collapse, anything could happen. If masses of completely silent people could zombie-march over the Brooklyn Bridge covered in ashes, if thousands of "Have You Seen This Person?" posters could plaster every surface in Manhattan, if the absolute audacity of my own city could be deflated by one early-morning clumsy bludgeoning, then I would be prepared for anything. The entire country could abruptly become as uninhabitable as the distant war zones we were used to seeing on the news that we'd suddenly, disturbingly come to resemble. I knew that internment camps are not distant enough history that we are safe from the ignorance that engendered them. Nothing was stable.
There is a noisy and unpleasant whine in my head that does not believe anything has ever been stable, anyway. It has always been there, in my head, ever since I can remember. As a toddler I feared falling more than anything. I feared that if my parents, who seemed very high up, fell, it could only be fatal. I feared that they would fall and die, and leave me paralyzed with grief for the rest of my life, orphaned and useless.
I learned to read as soon as I could, and then I read so much and so quickly my parents were alarmed about eye strain. The more I learned about the world, the more I understood how precarious it is. You could, indeed, die from a fall. You could also die from any number of accidents, gruesomely. Flower shapes could bloom on your skin, in your brain, on the red and orange organs pictured inside your body, and gradually consume you inside-out or outside-in. Or your heart could simply stop working, with no explanation. At church they said God called you when you were ready to go, or when he wanted you to keep him company. At home my parents said not to worry, that they were not going to die. I wasn't entirely buying any of this, yet.
I read emergency guides that told you what to do if you were kidnapped, if you were trapped in quicksand, if you saw a rattlesnake in your path. I read the CPR and Heimlich manuever charts you see in restaurants. I doubted anyone actually turned that blue, and that everyone in the entire universe actually knew that hands at the throat was the universal sign for "I'm choking," but then I had nightmares about blue people strangling, helpless to communicate, and just hoped fervently against logic that everyone could figure the sign out or remember it in time to ask for help.
By the afternoon of September 11, 2001, the noisy whine was screaming in vindication. Nothing was safe; I had been right all along to vigilantly avoid relaxing and feeling secure. My sister and I moved through the quiet, smoky city, looking for her partner, and when we couldn't find her, we walked to my apartment to wait by the phone. A car rolled backwards down a sloping street and I rushed us around another corner in case it exploded--why shouldn't an exploding car be probable? Above us, in the otherwise empty sky, circled a plane that looked like something we'd seen before in war movies--moving south, then returning, over and over. Seeing us cower, a man next to us also looking into the sky--for days the whole city watched the sky--said, reassuringly, "It's an F-16," and then when he saw that we didn't know what that meant, he explained, "It's ours." It's strange to me now that I'd never heard the term F-16 till that day; we heard it so many times in the following weeks. They droned into my dreams: two nights later I fell out of my closet bedroom and found my roommate, still sleepless, in the kitchen. Fogged with dream, I announced that we had to evacuate immediately because another plane had crashed into Lincoln Center, which was a block away from our building. He sent me back to bed, but I remained awake, just in case.
The suddenness of the attack and the sense of violation and instability in the months following clicked into the scared, vigilant whine in my head. The part of me that had always expected and needed to be prepared for catastrophe roared into post-September-11th New York and dropped all apology. Something was validated in a big, bad way. I quit wearing shoes I couldn't run in. I didn't scream when I turned the corner and nearly walked into a machine gun carried by a soldier who looked like a high school student. I rolled my eyes when my then-boyfriend bought me an Israeli army gas mask in case of some kind of air-laden warfare, but I was secretly pleased and studied my frightening mask-wearing visage in the mirror, smelling rubber. I practiced looking inscrutable when my sister and I and one other Indian-looking woman were the only ones selected for a "random" security screening on a commuter flight to DC. My friend G visited from Montreal and wanted to know what I thought about the yellow police tape surrounding various synagogues and temples of Islam; I hadn't even noticed it. It was part of the landscape of chaos that I had found my footing in. And I carried my passport, ready to prove my identity or flee the scene at a moment's notice. Just in case, for years.
Lately though, I have become so complacent that I not only don't carry my passport, I actually let it expire a month or so ago. So I have no passport, no way to run away to Canada or Mexico. I have wondered if this means that I am starting to let go of the whine, which has keened, exhaustingly, in my head for such a constancy of waking and sleeping hours that I can actually remember and count on the fingers of one hand the moments that it was not keening. I wonder if it is weakening its hold on me. Maybe it's being a Californian, or being in real good-for-me grown-up love, or the gradual finding of my own voice.
Tonight, though, I am packing for the trip to LA, for the meeting up of Dad and Jam Guy, and I found myself considering packing my passport before I remembered that it's expired. I know I have had some nerves about this trip, but reverting to my ready-to-flee-the-country MO seems pretty extreme. I'm not even leaving the state. I need to reflect on this more, but right now I'm sleepy and have eight million things to do tomorrow before making the drive north.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Jam Guy told me last night that he's making some marmalade to give my dad. My dad really liked the marmalade that Jam Guy sent along with me for Dad's Xmas present; he was more enthusiastic about it than I can remember seeing him about a present in a long time. He did say, though, that maybe next time Jam Guy could make it with a sugar substitute, since Dad is insulin-dependent and really needs to watch his sugar intake. There was somewhat of a lack of graciousness about his suggestion, which made me a little peeved, but I passed the comment on to Jam Guy, along with all the compliments. I expected him to be a little peeved about the suggestion that he modify his recipe, the way that I was. Like me, Jam Guy keeps his kitchen and his diet fairly clear of artificial and processed ingredients--he's actually more of a purist than me about it. While he understands the value of something like Splenda to a diabetic like my father, it's not something he would typically buy or cook with. (I think it's wonderful that products like Splenda exist for people who are diabetic or have other kinds of sugar sensitivity, but I always advise using them in limited amounts, and I am actively opposed to their use by people who are healthy. I don't know a lot yet about stevia and agave, because I haven't done any research on them yet, so I can't comment there.)
Ok, but. Instead of being peeved, the amazing Jam Guy is preparing, for the first time, a jar of marmalade made with sugar substitute for my dear but sometimes difficult father. I am so bowled over by how sweet this is that I haven't any more room to be nervous about the meeting. Now I sort of can't wait.
I've introduced boyfriends to my dad before, but I've always felt sort of like I had to conceal or defend some overt deficiency in them. But now, with Jam Guy I feel like I have this tremendous golden fantasticness that I am just dying to show off.
Monday, March 10, 2008
D and I studied like champs, and then after he left I fell asleep and dreamed I was driving around with my friend M looking for a restaurant. We were in Hawai'i, in my hometown, but in a city neighborhood that I hadn't visited since I moved to New York 12 years ago. I kept seeing things I remembered from childhood, noticing what had changed and what hadn't. I guess it was her first visit to Hawai'i, so I was acting the tour guide, although it was hard, because we were in this ugly industrial area, not at all somewhere you bring your friends on their first visit to the islands.
Then I saw an old diner-style restaurant that I had once been to with my mother, and I realized that it was a memory I hadn't revisited since being there with her. Missing her hit me like a stomach virus; the guilt of maybe not remembering every single last thing about her and our time together was like a gut punch. In the dream I wanted to fold up and grab myself around the waist, but I was driving. So I just drove and drove, and kept chattering to M about where we should eat, trying to sound like there wasn't a big cold stone pressed into the middle of my body.
Saturday, March 8, 2008
This is all to say that I don't always know that I deserve the amazing life I have right now. Sometimes I don't know if people are meant to stand feeling so braced with fortune; I know that I did not know a thing about how to expect this kind of happiness for myself. Tonight I went to a thought-provoking modern dance performance/documentary viewing about the diverse voices of Palestinian women with two of my favorite San Diegans, J and D. I learned the history of the Palestine-Israel conflicts in a way and from a perspective I hadn't explored before. (Something that always strikes me when watching footage of people in extended states of crisis: for as long as they are able, children always still play, and for as long as they are able, women always still gather together and talk to each other. The universality of human urges is always reassuring.)
Afterwards we discussed the event while walking to a dive bar, where we ate burgers and cheese fries. (In my vision of heaven, there is a dive bar in walkable distance from everywhere.) While we were eating and eventually laughing through our ketchup, Jam Guy texted me that he was making salted butter caramel ice cream.
Salted. Butter. Caramel. Ice cream. How could I not want to marry this man? How can I not be happy in my life? How can I not be overwhelmed with gratitude at every step, walking around with my hair down every day if I want to?
Oppression, we said over our drinks tonight, happens everywhere, on millions of levels. Nations oppress nations and steal from one another while in the act; our human race oppresses our environment and millions of other, less disruptive species; a man oppresses a woman every day, over and over again, under her very own, her preciously owned, roof. Some kinds of oppression are quiet, and sometimes they are quiet not because the oppressor is hiding his ruthlessness but because the oppressed doesn't know how to use her voice yet.
I flew all the way to San Diego from New York to start things all over, and I am doing it, I really am. There is a man who loves me exactly as I am. There are friends who really try to understand me, laugh at me but with kindness, listen to me. There is family who at bottom always has my back with no questions asked, even though I know sometimes they are watching me with circumspect bewilderment. I am loved. So it took me thirty years and more than thirty flights across a continent to learn that love is the opposite of oppression when it is the right kind of love. Love is freedom, and I rise in it.
Friday, March 7, 2008
why my life is so great--mostly food-related
because yesterday i wanted to ride my bike over the GWB, but couldn't figure out how to get on it, so instead in the hottest part of the afternoon rode up to the farmer's market way up on Isham, bought a pound of honey and a pound of peaches, a bunch of basil and a bunch of beets, put my purchases in my basket and rode home trailed by the fragrance of overwarm peaches and humidly wilting basil;
because my friend mailed me a present of three jars of his homemade preserves--plum, rangur lime, and mixed citrus marmalade--all the way from santa rosa, all made from fruit he picked himself in other friends' backyards, and the plum jam is flavored with zinfandel, vanilla bean and black pepper and is like nothing i've ever had before, maybe in no small part because they're californian plums grown in leisure and given with love;
because sauteed beet greens are my favorite vegetable and eating them, especially while drinking cheap cabernet, stains my lips such a pretty color;
because i live in a city where i can eat an empanada for breakfast, a musubi for lunch and frites for dinner, without once going a fraction of a block out of my way;
because i am going to make the best peach-custard pie, or peach gallete, or peach tarte, this city has ever seen with those lovely summer jersey peaches.
Well. Now I miss New York. In a much bigger adventure-type move than impulsively deciding to ride my bike to Inwood, I've rather impulsively moved to California. I moved for lots of reasons, but when I'm being totally honest with myself the biggest one is because I fell in love with the friend who mailed me the jam. Jam Guy is a truly remarkable human being.
I do miss New York. I miss my friends; I miss the food. I miss all the walking, the bike riding, the long runs along the river, the abundance of dive bars and pubs, the way the city so absolutely absorbed my light moods and my heavy ones. Now I live in San Diego, still about a billion miles from Jam Guy in Santa Rosa, and miss him too. I do a lot of missing. Some days are very blue.
There are a lot of days that are still very good, though. New York City to San Diego was quite the culture shock, but I am assiduously assimilating, at least on the surface, into a good Californian: I practice self-forgiveness every time I topple over in yoga class; I eat purple blood-oranges from the farmer's market; I laugh and contemplate teeth-whitening procedures over grilled fish tacos and light beers with my classmates. I revel all the way through decadent weekends here or in Santa Rosa spent with Jam Guy. My dear friend M visited me and one night we stayed up till after 2 talking over carne asada fries and then woke up at 7 and talked all day till we couldn't not sleep any more. I've rediscovered the library and read novels at a pace I would never have been allowed as a little girl. I drive up to LA, feeling very On the Road because to me that's a long drive, and spend weekends with my amazing sister and her wife. I listen to my cat snore. I write and write, mostly songs and little poems that I want to be about being in love with Jam Guy but that nearly always end up being about missing my mother; still, there is healing in writing about missing her, and they are still love songs in their own fashion.
I don't think I ever made anything with those peaches; I just ate them day after day, sitting on my fire escape watching the city trees.