Thirteen Steps to Christmas

 

 

Steps to Christmas

 

To be a child alone at Christmas

Waiting on a step

For a parent,

For a present,

For this day to sparkle like

The songs and the lights

 

On two trees

One real and substantial

The other

Oh-so-artificial

In its attempts to

Mimic real

Function and beauty.

 

Must be so frustrating,

Waiting on those steps.

 

My thirteen crooked,

Dusty, thread-bare ones

To their twelve evenly

Planed pine planks,

 

And later

Alone in the back seat of cars

Mine, his

 

Looking at the decorated doors

Down the road

Back the same again.

 

A different Santa

A different holiday waiting at each end.

 

Sitting on opposite steps

Staring out opposing windows

 

Dreading goodbye

Eager for hello

 

So when the last is opened

And no one is playing

Around your tree

And your steps are empty,

Except for you,

 

And you just might stay there

Until December 27th

Because that when you get your Christmas,

You want to burn

That fake plastic tree

To a melted mound

Dense enough to choke a reindeer. .

 

This happens every holiday

Every season

Every day.

 

Lovers

Fighters

Families

Chosens

 

Separated by steps

And steps

Climbed up

And fallen down.

 

Every one

A mile

And a ragged breath

Until the next one.

 

Where I don’t have a leg to stand on

Because he’s a year older

And there is no Santa

And he’s ascending beyond

 

So, I sit on the steps

Waiting.

 

I’ll bring g a pillow next time.

 

My carpet is old and thin.

Maybe bring coffee.

Or better, wine.

Some yarn to tangle the time

Until my Christmas.

 

And this year,

Maybe a gift.

Maybe someone to wait with.

 

So I’m not waiting.

 

Living.

Step

By step.

 

Letting the

weight

wait

be taken on one leg

before pushing off on the next.

 

If he’s willing.

 

If we’re willing.

 

To take steps.

 

Steps toward.

 

My steps.

 

My new novel Drowning Above Water is available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon. 

It’s Always Something

Like many women of my rapidly advancing age, I loved Gilda Radner. I watched old SNL skits on VHS, while eating popcorn with my dad. He and Gilda helped me learn what funny was. 

When I later became a reader, I devoured her memoir “It’s Always Something”, probably still while eating popcorn. The book was funny and heartbreaking. A passage always stuck with me. 

When Gilda was advancing down the floor, dancing with cancer, she told of lying in bed at night with Gene Wilder. She relayed her memory of once again crying, being scared and needing someone to hold her and make it all okay. 

She revealed, to my teenage disgust, that on one dark and lonely night, Gene could no longer do those things. He too was tired. He was scared. He needed someone to rub his own cheek with words of solace, and make it all okay. 

How dare he! I spat and eye rolled and huffed as only a disappointed privileged teen can. How could he ever consider not being there to the very last curl of his hair for Gilda Radner!

I didn’t get it. 

Now I do. 

I watched my own dad die of cancer. I watched my mother care for him as he slowly did. My father needed the physical care. The mental care. 

But so did my mother. 

It’s not easy to be the caregiver or the partner. I know that. Sometimes, it really is easier to be the patient. As hard and callous as that sounds. 

I watched her do it before for him. Before cancer. She laid with him through anxiety and mental illness. I know there were nights that she didn’t have any more to give. When she was bone-tired from her feet to the end of pin-straight hair. When she needed someone to tell her it would be okay. 

There was no one. 

Last night, I lay there like my dad. 

I was the one hurting. 

Again. 

And I was the one who asked to be held and comforted and coddled. 

Again. 

And I never thought for a moment to consider if the one I was asking might not need some care, too. 

They did. 

I forget. I avoid. I neglect. Not on purpose. Not at all. But because while anxiety and depression hurts. And hurts. And then hurts even more. To have your own brain and body rebel and scream lies. It hurts. I was too busy hurting to see. And remember. 

It hurts to be the one watching. 

It hurts to give and give and never get any return. To reaffirm and encourage and try to lift up someone who seems to only want to drag themselves as far down in the pits as their claws will carry them. 

And that’s what I do. What many of us with unquiet minds do. And sometimes we bring the ones holding us down with us. 

Because it is always something. It’s work. It’s a kid. It’s a bill. It’s a failure. It’s a successs that’s not success enough. It’s a wonderful weekend of love and magic that your brain tells you to fight against for no good reason, only that you can’t believe it actually happened. 

Today, I want to remember. To be thankful for the love I take that is so freely given. Again and again. Even when I don’t see or believe it. To see, really see when someone is watching me and maybe hurting too. I want to go into the pit alone if I need, but alone. And I want to have strong, free arms to grab hold, to keep them from going into the same dark. 

That’s what love is. 

Being there. 

Seeing. 

Believing. 

Remembering every little something.

Empty Egg (or how to make your own coffee)

I have a problem with jealousy. It’s not a small problem. It’s not an idiosyncrasy or a cute quirk. It’s a looming, strangling flaw that has suffocated more relationships than I’d like to admit. Most of them, to be honest. Okay. All of them. And the ones it hasn’t killed, it’s prevented. No one wants to be new friends with an asshole.

My therapist (yes, I’m that girl. I’m starting a paragraph with “my therapist”, but come on. Look around you. Maybe more people should be doing this.) gave me a metaphor. He’s big on them and they tickle me.

This one involved brunch foods.

He really gets me.

First, we talked about coffee. The gist was that I’m an empty coffee cup. It’s my job to see that there is coffee in my cup. Not the cook’s. Not the waitress’. Mine. Others cannot be my coffee. They can be my Splenda. They can be my half and half. They can be my light soy foam. They can enhance, delight, make more aromatic and delicious. But other people cannot be the coffee. I have to be the coffee.

Next, we talked about eggs. My therapist described me as being a beautiful painted egg, artistic and engaging. But most painted eggs are hollow, the innards blown out through a tiny hole in the bottom. This makes them veneer thin and fragile. The slightest tap can shatter them. They are gorgeous. And the slightest wind will eradicate them.

That’s what happens to me. I want someone else to fill my mug.  If I encounter the slightest contrary force, I’m a mess of splinters. I’m a failed breakfast.

To get through life, I need coffee and eggs without the shell. And I need to be the one to order and make them.  I can’t let other people be my happy. I have to find or if I can’t find it, manufacture my own happy. If I can do that, fill the space with substance that sustains me, maybe I won’t be so easily broken.

Here’s the bug in that particular batter: when you are a parent, you rarely get to chase after your own fulfillment.

Now, I know that sounds awful. It sounds callous and selfish. As a parent, aren’t we told we should be filled with indescribable, ever-mounting daily joy, all the time, just because we have a child?

What if you’re not?

Don’t get me wrong. I love my son. With my entire soul. I love being with him. His laugh lights up my universe. When he’s not with me, it feels like my heart is bopping around the world without me. It’s crushing to go to sleep knowing he’s not in the next room.

But, the contrary is equally as strong and true.  Because I am a mother and I am committed to that job, and to raising a strong, capable, happy kid, I am usually unable to pursue my own happy.

Because simply being a mom isn’t enough to make me happy.

That’s horrible. It sounds horrible in my head and it’s horrible to see in print. But that’s what it is.

It hurt when I had to give up acting to be a mom. I resent that I can’t buy a decent camera to work on the photography I love because I have to pay for braces. And I am as bitter as that coffee I expect someone else to pour me every time I miss an opportunity to make a piece of art because I have to be at a school meeting or sit at an unending baseball practice.

And I’m not even good. It’s not as if the world is minus a master because I don’t have the time to put out another poem. But I feel it. And every time I see a friend or even my wonderful, generous partner succeed at their crafts, my own envy over takes me. I become as dark and toxic as yesterday’s espresso. It’s insufferable. I hear the words I say and I want to tear out my own tongue in disgust. That’s not me and I hate that woman. But she appears almost every day. I’m want to kill her.

The bleak reality is that there’s no good fix. I won’t spend less time and effort on my son. And I can’t put any more time into me. Therefore, I will continue to fall into deep caverns of rage, sadness and fuming jealousy.

And I know these are uptown problems. I can’t begin to even pretend I know what actual struggle is. If I was faced with the horrors people across this world are dealing with, I’d crumble. I’m not brave. I’m silly and vain and weak. I’m the woman Ruth Bader Ginsburg orders for brunch and spits out into her perfect napkin because goddesses like her don’t have time for slimy, fatty  omelets like me.

So, here with the computer and the silly words it is. Putting something out. Trying not to fall apart. Egg in the pan. Shells in the compost. Coffee in the cup. Trying  to add some light to the darkest  brew. I have to make my own coffee. Somehow find a way. I have to fill my egg with something. Because I don’t want to be a shell. I want to hold a life. Mine.

 

 

Alyssa Herron is a mom and author. The caliber of either is up for debate. Her new novel is available at Amazon.

 

Sitting Out

 

Sitting Out

Hello, Friend

I see you’ve come around again.

Was beginning to wonder if you

hadn’t forgotten your way here.

 

But I knew you’d remember.

I remember.

That time in fifth grade, when we first met,

when I wrapped you around my waist,

tight and knotted.

Because I was afraid I’d forget.

To hold in, to hide,

to stay the way I was,

when I was small and good.

And I remember when that boy,

the nice one,

wanted to steal his dad’s car

just to try and help.

He didn’t.

He couldn’t.

I remember.

Trying to jump off the chair.

Trying to hide them beneath my socks.

Trying to hide, and then hurry.

Trying to hide within a story,

because you can’t tell that tale

the first time,

if you ever want there to be a second.

All it took was a second.

Trying to fit into a box that wouldn’t have me.

Letting people fit inside that didn’t really want me.

 

I remember trying.

I remember fighting.

I remember giving up.

 

It’s easy when you’re here, friend.

We know each other.

Our cells know the steps of the dance

and we move together,

without needing music.

Because we’ve rounded this room together

for a long time.

And I don’t know how to move

without you.

 

But I wish I could.

 

Because you’re not good, friend.

You’re not a good partner in this

collapse of two.

Because only one of us ever falls.

 

You’re possessive and clawing,

You take over my soul and I can’t breathe.

When you fill my head with your thoughts

of not good enough,

of she’s better,

of he doesn’t love you,

of you should just give up,

 

I can’t hear the music

and despite rehearsal

I can’t remember the steps.

 

I don’t know where to go.

I don’t know where I’m supposed to be.

The spotlight is blinding.

 

I’ve lost so many days with you.

Lost people.

Lost myself.

 

And every time you leave,

the sun comes back,

I say, no, not again.

Because the gloaming

might be dark and cold

but it’s honest; and at least

it puts the shadows where you can see them.

But when you knock, you bring a

a flare of bright and heat.

So hot it chills.

So cold,

I answer,

swept into your arms again.

Sweating in an icy room,

being asked if I have a fever.

 

Because I know these false-caring arms,

I know they are not arms that hold,

to return life.

But ones that suffocate, to bring

Stopped breath.

And then

nothing.

 

So yes, hello Friend.

I see you’ve come around again.

I hear the music coming from behind you,

and I see you holding out your hand,

asking for another turn,

around our wooden floor.

nicked with heel marks,

worn smooth from years

of spins and shuffles and falls.

 

I’m turning off the sound,

even though it’s still rattling in my brain.

Probably always will.

And my feet will tap

to the ghost tunes of

the waltzes I can’t forget,

that left me gasping,

tired,

and bleeding.

 

But I can’t let you in.

I’m not dancing tonight.

 

I’m standing,

arm across the threshold,

giving myself a chance

to stand.

For me.

With me.

Willing to say goodbye.

For a chance at

an awkward, unsteady,

but real

hello.

 

To a life without you,

Friend,

For a life with me.

 

(Taking a break from the novel to consider my next work of a poetry collection. Stay tuned. And of course, the book Drowning Above Water still lives at Amazon.)

 

If You Can

Photo credit: C.K.

Let me know when you get home-

if you can.

I’d like to leave by 5 so get here by 4-

if you can.

It’s cold out here. Grab my sweatshirt from the chair-

if you can.

Just hold me again-

if you can.

Maybe can is too much.

Always asking for one or another
and then qualifying…

if you can.

And you don’t even hear it.

Of course they can-

can call and come and grab,

if they want.

Maybe they don’t want.                                                                                                         Maybe they can’t.
Maybe they’re tired ,
of calling and coming and grabbing
because you ask for it all the time,
expect it every time,
and never consider,                                                                                                                              for a time,

if they want.

Maybe that’s why-

why this whole tangle started,

opposite us at opposite ends of it,

the bite and the working ends of the rope,

knotting, twisting,
getting farther apart
with the same length of thread between us.

Because
if you can,
they can.

But You wouldn’t.
You don’t want to
You won’t ever want to.

But that doesn’t matter
because if you can,
they can.

Even if you don’t want,
they want,

and you not wanting,                                                                                                                   doesn’t make them want less.

Neither has anything                                                                                                                                 to do with can.

The converse, it has only to do with want.

Maybe doing so many cans
makes their want
that much more acute,
makes the want so much brighter and sharper,
and makes it ache so throbbing
and incessant that it veers from

can…

to want…

to need;

that space to
see and feel that

they can
so they will.

And you did.
You made it through
like I made it through
that messy war we made together.

Then you found it,
the real it,
not that make-believe
shit we heard about.

And I love that for you ,                                                                                                                    not you for that,
but there is still                                                                                                                                something that
is  loved
together,
which is irreplaceable
even if means crying
a lot
and smiling
a little.

We can do both.

But I do want.
This.
Don’t need.
Want.

And I’ll be here.
If you want, or don’t want,

Want, if you do.

Need, if you must.

And please stay-

if you can.

 

 

 

(Answer) Before (Listen)

Read between the lines. Listen then answer.

Empty glasses. Empty words. Empty night.         Empty answer.  Empty listen.  

(ANSWER)

Why are you helping me?

Seriously. Put that down.

I didn’t ask you to…

Why? No one just “wants” to do laundry for someone.

Did you do something?
Something bad?  Jesus. Is it really bad? Am I going to be pissed?

No, I’m fine, okay? Why are you..are you just trying to distract me?

Nothing. I’m just tired.

Whatever.

So, we’re not going to talk about it?  That’s the answer?

I said that two days ago.

You could talk to me.

Don’t hurt yourself.

This isn’t what you what.

I’m not what you want.

Look at me.

Right. Cause I want to do this. That it?
I want to put everyone through this shit?                                                                                I wish you’d listen.

It’s so hard.

God, just, stop. Stop saying it’s fine. Stop telling me I’m okay.
I’m not. Obviously I’m a mess. I see. I get it. Obviously I’m not okay.

No. I’m sorry. It’s just… It’s just a really bad day.
I know you do…um…I guess. Get me noodles. 7 1/2 heat. No five. No. Yeah. 7 1/2…
I’m going upstairs. Just…just put mine away if I’m asleep.

(LISTEN)

I’m just doing laundry. It’s no big-

It’s fine. I’m almost done.

I know you didn’t ask me to. I just wanted to help.

Well, no, I didn’t want to do laundry, I’m not weird. I just thought-

What? No, I didn’t do anything. Ok, I smoked today.
I’m sorry. I know you don’t like it, but I grabbed lunch with Mark.
It was one.
Am I missing something? Are you okay?

No, I’m not trying anything. What happened today?

See? Just sit down. Don’t worry about it. We’ll order some pad thai.

Ok. How am I supposed to know?

You said you didn’t want to.

I can’t read your mind. I want to listen. Talk. Answer.  I’m listening.

What have I been doing? I’m trying. I’ve been trying.

I don’t need to.

Of course I want this.

Why would you say that?

I am. Please stop.

It’s me. We don’t have to.
You don’t have to with me.

I know, baby. You’re okay.

I’m sorry.
It….,no. It’s not okay.
I know you’re not okay. It’s not your fault. And I get it.
I don’t have an answer. But I’ll listen.  I want to help.

Ok. I’ll be down here.

(answer)

Dating the Talent

I was actually serious with this.

I was actually serious with this.


I was first introduced to the work of Brené Brown when I read her introduction to ‘The Art of Asking’ by Amanda Palmer. Ms. Brown is a researcher-storyteller who focuses on shame and our inability to connect. Ms. Palmer is a rock musician who lives her life asking and giving and being vulnerable in a way I never could. The theses of both these writers compliment each other and I wanted to learn more.

In a completely unrelated event, with him not privy to any of this information, my boyfriend sent me a link to Brené Brown’s TED talk about the power of vulnerability. We’re on the same page that way.

There’s one important page in our book, however, on which we are on different pages. Different chapters. Nearly different stories.

I have shame. I have vulnerability. I have inability to connect.

And I have no talent. He has it by swollen handfuls. 

At least, these are all things my head tells me. Granted, my head can be a right brutal bastard. Others might not say so about me. They might have nice works and compliments and proof to the contrary. But for me, today, behind the computer, fighting the words, I have no talent.

But if you ain’t got it, you ain’t got it. I can’t sing. Or play any instrument. I can’t paint or draw. Truly. My worst grade my freshman year of high school was in art. You can see why. And aside from doing,  I can’t speak about art or history or art history. I don’t know photographers or understand lighting design concepts.

That’s hard medicine to choke down, no matter how much honey you add to the spoon or how strong a chaser that follows it.

I hate not being talented. That’s obvious to the point of hyperbole. But I really, really hate it because I really, really want it. Again, giant obvious.  We all want talent. To be good at something. To be sought after and seen. To feel contributory and valued.

I love creativity and artistry. I will flock to it and stare. I will flirt with it as much as my social anxiety allows. I once gawked and had absurd and inappropriate romantic thoughts about a dossier at the Corcorn Gallery of Art in D.C, not because of anything he looked like or who he was as a person, but because he spoke with nerd-zeal compassion and authority on Stanley Kubrick’s use of facial distortion as a societal commentary in ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Entrancing.

The gripping attraction is  because I want to be physically near it.  Feel it. Pretend as much as I  wish with my green-tinged little heart that I had it. Not just faking it. Real goods. The talent that takes up space and air as much as another body in the booth next to you. Maybe I just want some of its skin flakes to entangle with me so give me a bit of something. Because up close, seeing how it’s made, makes it even more beautiful.

My lovely boy is talented. Extremely talented. A photographer. A writer of poems and novels and maker of worlds. A painter. A musician and crafter of songs.  He might say I exaggerate. I care about him, so maybe. But maybe not. I don’t have the goods to participate in the art so I try to facilitate. I buy booze. I make food.  I try to help think of the right verb that means ‘to ask strongly’ but isn’t the word ‘ask strongly’. I provide space and distance and understanding. Well, I always provide space and the sundries to allow creation. It’s as close as I get to artistry some days. To my own disappointment, I have struggled with distance and understanding. With enough conversation and openness from him and more trust by me,  I’m getting it. Getting better at being his audience, listener, problem-tinkering lab assistant. But part of me will  still always selfishly wish it was me as creator. 

Maybe I’m just hard on myself. Not appreciating the work I do accomplish in my possible world. 

Why does it bother me?  Why am I not just immediately thrilled when he reaches a watershed word count or does gorgeous shading work on a charcoal portrait? Is is simple jealousy? Why do I immediately reverse and compare that to myself, with strong and hard criticism. Yelling in my mind that I’m not the one writing. I’m always so humbled and thankful that he shares his work with me. That he thinks enough of me and my instincts and opinions to let me have the first look. Because I want to connect. And I love that he makes himself vulnerable to my gaze and giving me permission for deeper dissection. But so often I’m too busy listening to my own thoughts belittling me and my attempts that I can’t give the time and focus that his work deserves. It’s gorgeous work and I am so thankful he brings me into his fantastical worlds and lets me play.

But in real life, why aren’t I  enough? I’m crazy about this man. Why do I feel like if I’m not keeping up with his every creative beat that it’s not enough? It’s not him saying it. He has read my pieces and sat through my plays and offered not only commentary but heaped praise. Not generic lauding. Thoughtful, honest verbal applause when and where it was deserved. It’s an incredible feeling. To have someone you care about, in turn, care about what you love and what you do. Maybe time to do the same, consistently, intentionally, sincerely for him. Less grousing in my anxious brain about how everyone is better than me, especially the unafraid writer in front of me asking me to listen. How about I shut up and get to work. Stopping lamenting how some of my life choices prevent me from writing and use what I do have.  Actually get better at what I love, instead of wishing I could do what he does.  Keep pushing to  give him, and me,  things to look at, not because I want to prove or compete or to silence an inner doubter, but because I just love it. And I want to share that excited ‘look-what-I-did’ with him.

This is my new, big want. Not just to be a better artist, or any artist for that matter. But to be better at trusting. Trusting that being someone’s first, constant audience is necessary art work. That listening and supporting is a vital gift that I can give. Something I can be good at, even if it means being vulnerable or ashamed of my own lack of work or my perception of its lack of quality. That being genuinely proud and excited for his success can only make him and me and us better. I need to work at being a better artist. Always. But right now, I want to work on being better backstage, taking care of the talent.  Because doing that, also takes care of me.

 (Addendum: He read this last night, while I read the latest chapter of his novel. He liked what I wrote and also disagreed with bits.  He told me I’m talented. He  told me some of what I think is bullshit. He reminded me of what I am and what I can do. We talked and listened and shared and,  for a moment, he was dating the talent. Then he told the talent to put her phone down and go to bed. )