A Fortress

Him: Mom, let me get under your blanket. I’m cold.

Me: It is no degrees outside. Put on some pants. 

Him: (Crawls under the blanket with me, rubbing clammy feet on mine)

Me: (Aw. And ew.)

Him: Pants are uncomfortable and I don’t like wearing them. 

Me: (Endlessly hugs the now-warm, still pantless child, who is clearly mine, and who tolerates the affection for one more second before he scampers back to his fort because sometimes too much mommy is too much. 

And we had a day in the fort with snuck-in food amongst the many pillows and too much TV. 

It was a glow of heat in the dark cold. 

And I remembered how much brightness there is. 

Peeling Away

 

I don’t make resolutions.

I have trouble enough keeping my head above water without a list glowering at me, smirking at my inability to achieve any item scratched there on a late night in December.

Once I made a vision board. Five years ago. I still have it. I realize now, this isn’t a good supporting paragraph, as I actually achieved most of the things on that piece of cardboard. My whole thesis could be flawed and maybe I should shush, stop writing this and make another vision board.

Maybe later.

The paint on my living room ceiling is peeling. Has been for a while. I haven’t fixed it. I don’t know how to fix it. One of the troubles being the only grown up in a house is that shit breaks and you’re the only one doing the fixing. Another of the troubles, is when you don’t know how to fix shit, so you just try whatever comes into your brain for whatever YouTube says and those results range from fair to middling to disastrous.

My ceiling debacle is no exception. I’ve never repaired paint. Painted, yes. Repaired nicks in a dorm room wall that we covered with a homemade fix of Colgate and mid-spectrum foundation, yes. Actual wall repair in a room where actual people might sit?

No.

That’s for adults who know things. Capable, stalwart, accomplished humans. But, none of those  live in my house.

I tried. I scraped. I mixed. I dripped. I dripped some more. I blended. I swore. I managed to get paint everywhere in the room, including my mouth.

My mouth. I got paint in my mouth.

I’m learning to draw. (The verb learning is a stretch. Despite excellent instruction and demonstration, I now am responsible for a  handful of skull stretches that could only have a place in an Itchy and Scratchy episode.)

It makes more sense after that comparision that those skills did not translate to the ability to paint a ceiling.

I tried. I failed. I didn’t cry. (I really, really wanted to.) I didn’t send a self-deprecating text where I flagellated my self and ran myself over with my truck of personally directed hatred. (I really, really, REALLY wanted to.) I didn’t break.

That’s what I do. I get upset. I direct that sadness and disappointment back onto myself. My anxiety builds. It crests and relaxes. Then the depression gets its boots on and I deal with that for a while. Until the next metaphorical ceiling needs painted and I do it all again. It’s gleeful fun for everyone, I assure you.

The new year is made-up. Completely random selection with no consequence delegated by a pope. Probably slapped on top of a pagan holiday to ease the transition and soothe some disenfranchised group. I’m guessing. But that seems to be how these things evolve.

Old layer of paint off.

Let’s try something new.

Yes. I fucked up the ceiling.

But, it’s not broken. There’s not ice rattling down onto my couch like a freezer-built living room. I learned something. Someday this week, I’ll go back to the store and try something else. Maybe I’ll learn something else.

What I don’t want to do, is keep this pattern of bruising my spirit and drowning my soul with my own kicks and hands. It’s not fair. Not to me. Not to the ones I love, who sit under this fucked up roof with me.

If I can do that–a single choice of  kindness and forgiveness to the little chubby-cheeked blonde-haired girl that turned into this bigger, chubby-cheeked, blonde and brown and streaks of white-haired girl– a single step away from the instinct to hurt and instead looking to learn– a single instance of giving myself a god damn break…

Well–

That’s better than any resolution.

Want more stories of peeling away and looking for a better layer? My novel Drowning Above Water is available at Amazon. 

Knew

 

Making Space for New.

Knew

How do you make something new

if all you have are yesterdays and
last years?

What you’ve always had,
and told
and been

lying there,
looking at you,
waiting.

And you knew.

You knew you shouldn’t have said that.

Shouldn’t have left.

Shouldn’t have had that drink
or that one
or that one

but that one,
you knew you needed.

Like you knew you shouldn’t have come back
but you knew
new was not what helped.

There’s not always a place
for new,

or time
or forgiveness enough.

As soon as a second is new
it’s dead.

And you knew better.

Until you didn’t.

And there it was

new

never seen or touched
but something
you knew.

Is there anything new,

or is there only more and more

and more

of what there’s been every time,

disguised in new hair
new clothes
new job
new togetherness
or loneliness
in the same bed.

Because new can be awful.

But it’s safe and known

and it’s there
and it’s been there
never new.

And you go back every time.

To a new face
new hope
new hurt
same you.

You have the same
underwear
and the same moves
and the same dread.

Because you know
the new won’t last for
more than a few more
good morning, babies.

When our hurts are as comfortable
as our old bras
elastic stretched
so you know you’ll sag
and sweat
but you won’t pinch
and you won’t bleed.

Is new even possible?

When you
refuses to
leave behind.

A new day seems
extinct before conception,
let alone a new way.
which drops like an abortion.

But what if you knew?
Knew that new could hurt
but that it wouldn’t kill you?

What if this could kill you?
This old, known, comfortable
you.

What if it already tried?

If you are hearing this,
it didn’t.

You are new.

There is new.

Maybe you knew
Maybe you old
Maybe you didn’t.

Now is new.

Knew is what you got
for surviving yesterday
and new
is who you are
for daring to step outside
step onstage
step away
and step toward
new.

New hurts.
It blisters
and pinches
and soaks your skin
with the slippery fluid
of cells learning
to trust.

This is the birth fluid
of the new knew.
the next ‘look at these’
the next favorite
the next one that makes you smile
and dance.

Someday
we’ll look at all we knew,
so much of it we didn’t,
and if the goddess smiles
on us.
we’ll have a reason to ask for one more new.

And one more new, could be the last.

So make it last

Don’t wait for knew.

My book Drowning Above Water about letting go and gathering the courage to look for new is now available at Amazon. 

Malina and Grizella

For the two incredible women who walked with me through this year.

This is the introduction to Malina and Grizella, the warriors of my imagination.

 

Photography by the author.

Malina was still curled into herself and asleep when smelled the smoke. Her legs started moving before her mind did. There had been fires here before: cigarettes, an iron, and once a disturbed Iranian girl who simply loved the red glow of a client’s gold zippo and what it could do. That damaged girl and her tender scars had also briefly slept on Malina’s couch. She remembered all this before her head left the pillow and her legs started to process the motor action needed to run away. When she smelled the clove beneath the smoke, her body stopped and her eyes opened. The woman and her dark cigarette stood in Malina’s doorway.

“Out in the hallway. Don’t wake her,” Grizella said.

The smoking taskmaster finished her order and then she shut the door. Malina closed her eyes and let her body return to its automatic muscle responses that would get her out of bed and then out the door; let her body face what her brain would ignore. Her arms functioned on instinct to pull on a robe. They weren’t supposed to be in the halls in their underwear.

Grizella had placed herself, all six feet of her pipe-thin frame, only inches outside the door. Malina had to flatten herself, back against the door, to pass through. Grizella wasn’t about to move or make anyone else’s life easier.

“How much?” Grizzled asked, staring down at her. Grizella’s eyes were red and there was a scratch on her forehead. The make-up didn’t mask everything. “How much?” Grizella demanded.

Malina’s mind flipped through the meaning or possibly the translation of this. It wasn’t money. As a legal maneuver, years ago they started sending someone to meet the men outside the rooms. The girls never actually touched the cash or even witnessed the exchanges. So, it wasn’t money.

“How much what?” Malina asked.

“All you girls here, you think I don’t know things?”

The drugs. Malina crossed her arms over her chest, trying to fold herself deeper into her robe. She tried to forge a map in her mind – where her pills were in her purse, how to get to them and then get rid of them in the fastest, most direct route. She’d never make it.

Grizella did not like drugs. Selling them was fine. That was an acceptable income diversification. She usually kept a stash for clients who paid well and wanted an enhanced experience. Clients, of course, sometimes enjoyed them free of charge as her hospitable gift. Her girls doing drugs was different. She didn’t give a shit about the lives than could be wrecked. It was a matter of commerce. Drugs ruined faces, they ruined bodies, they ruined things that would need to be replaced. These men were really only kids, after all, and no kid wants to play with a broken toy. Buying new toys cost money. The other women didn’t know this. Grizella didn’t want them to know anything she thought or felt. But Malina knew. As she knew Grizella didn’t like it, but would tolerate it among most of the girls, but not Malina. Never Malina. She had promised.

“How much what, Grizella?”

And with that, the woman’s needle of an index finger jabbed through the flaps of Malina’s robe and into her stomach. Malina was more shocked at the motion itself than the unexpected pain it caused. She flinched and backed away from the stick of a finger.

“Baby. What do you think? How much baby?”

She knew, Malina thought. Of course she knew. She knew everything.
“I’m not sure,” Malina said.

“Not much yet,” Grizella said. “I already have an appointment. The Jew doctor. Day after tomorrow. To fix this.”

Malina nodded.

“I’ve never had a girl get pregnant as easy as you. All the time. I’ve lost count.”

Malina opened her mouth to apologize. Like she always did. But she stopped. She said nothing, and only curled deeper into her robe, cinching the belt at her waist.

“Just like your mother. All the time. Another baby. Your cipki taking one thing in or pushing another thing out every day,” Grizella said.
Malina stared at the tall Polish skeleton in front of her. The nose on that face, long and equine, was the same one Malina tried to hide on her own face. He mother had hated that same nose as well. Malina turned to escape back into her bed and the tin in the bottom of her purse.

“Nie.”

Malina stopped.

“I’ll give you two days after. Two days to stop bleeding. Two days to stop the drugs. After three days, if you are not fixed, all fixed, Abraham will take you away in the van.” Grizella blinked when she said his name. No one else would have seen. Malina did.

Malina didn’t remember the cigarette being held out to her. But her eyes were stinging from the strong smoke, as Grizella held it to Malina’s mouth, the moist tip soft and wet against her lips. Malina knew this woman and she wanted to forget her. She didn’t think or feel, but inhaled, held the smoke in her lungs, and let it seep out her nose. She just wanted to taste the smoke.

“But maybe, almost time for you to leave here anyway. Not so good to be the oldest apple left in the store, Teckla. You rot. Then, you’re only good for the rats in the alley.”

Teckla. She hadn’t heard that name spoken in a long time. Her old name. From her old life. Her dead life. Like the one she was walking through today.

The above is an excerpt from my debut novel Drowning Above Water. It is available now at Amazon in paperback and Kindle, and at independent bookstores throughout Pittsburgh. 

Fuck You

This one is a lot. As it needs to be.

Fuck You

Yes.

You.

All..

The ones who think,

no, not me…

Yes. Yes you.

Fuck you.

Fuck Everybody.

The ones who look in your face,

smile and cry with you

and rub your back

and let you relax

and it’s not until

the tip of the knife

pierces your skin

that they just warmed

do you know what

they’re doing.

And fuck the ones

who don’t give you

the benefit of hypocrisy

and tell you hard and plain

when you aren’t enough.

At least some will tell you.

The others?

Fuck you and your cowardice.

Fuck you and your cruelty.

Fuck you for fucking her.

Fuck you for not getting me help.

Fuck me for not asking.

Fuck you for not believing me.

Fuck you for not seeing me.

Fuck you for not caring and

Fuck you for caring too much.

Fuck you for wanting me to change

and fuck me for doing it

again and again and again.

Fuck you for dying.

Fuck you for holding a place for me.

Fuck you for being so perfect.

Fuck you for being too good for me.

 

Fuck this body for putting up with what I’ve done to it.

Fuck this brain, for telling me lie after lie after

truth and letting me fuck my body

and my brains and anyone

who touched either. .

Fuck me for always pointing

when I should be looking.

For taking on what isn’t mine.

For believing when I should doubt.

For building safety net when I should

trust the fall.

For knowing I should shut up

For knowing  I’m full of shit.

For knowing when I shouldn’t open my mouth

to say fuck you, get out

when what I mean is I love you,

please don’t leave

Please don’t grow up.

Please don’t need her.

Need me because

what am I if you don’t?

And fuck me for thinking that.

Fuck everyone who doubted

and that was everyone.

That was me.

Fuck my empty back account.

Fuck my empty soul.

Fuck the anxiety that

puts a pill in my mouth

and a pit in my heart

every single day.

Fuck my therapist

that knows so much

but doesn’t get it

and the insurance

that doesn’t pay for him.

I’d say fuck my mother

because that what we always say

about our mothers

because they’re just like us,

but I’ll probably have to move

back in with her soon ,

so I can’t say that.

Fuck her cat though.

That bitch is an asshole.

Fuck the constant struggling.

Fuck that fact that I have it easier

than almost everyone I know

and it’s still really fucking hard.

Fuck the fact

that I don’t want to give up.

Fuck that I still write

and look for beautiful sunsets

want to believe in love

despite every bit

of evidence that it’s as real as faeries

dancing a reel in the dew.

Fuck you for dancing with me.

I know better.

I don’t want to know better.

Fuck knowing better.

Fuck your sorry.

Fuck your it’s okay.

Fuck you for loving me.

Fuck you

for not telling me

to fuck off

when I was

selfish

and awful

and that’s what I needed

to hear.

You didn’t say it.

What in the fuck is wrong with you?

What’s wrong with me?

Bitter and caustic are easy.

Hard and closed are comforting.

Shut off and locked away are safe.

Fuck safe.

You know what isn’t safe?

Hope.

Hope is fucking hard.

It’s devastating.

Like your smile.

 

Smiling. is hard.

You only smile.

Fuck you for making me smile.

I’m trying to be pissed off here.

I really want…

Fuck you for making me

want again.

Want so much

And

not want to fuck anyone

but you.

Fuck you for making me think,

fuck everyone…

but you.

You,

Fuck you most of all.

I don’t want

to want you.

I put that in a box

years ago.

Big fucking box

big fucking lock.

And now, I’m sitting here

key in hand, flipping open

the lid.

Fuck you. Really.

It was old and rusted shut

and I cut my knuckles

prying that thing open.

Fuck you,

for kissing it and

making it better.

Because that’s not

supposed to work.

I didn’t want it

to be better.

But it did.

You made it.

And now what do I do with that?

Except not fuck you,

but hold and wonder,

love and trust

and then fuck you.

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

Not Hers

Trying to be her.

 

Not Hers

 

These aren’t hers.

 

Hers had shiny icing

and soft, tawny edges,

 

Not sandy sugar covering

and black, ashed bottoms.

 

Mine barely fill a plate.

She had enough to reach across

her kitchen.

 

Where she raised a girl

to do the same

in hers.

 

Who did the same with

her girl.

 

Who didn’t.

 

What did she think?

 

Of my clothes.

And my tattoo.

My degree.

And my divorce.

My lost faith.

And my dark roots?

 

My home

that’s warm

and decorated

and has been host

to a mouse and a

maggot

and that’s not

the men?

 

 

 

 

Did she want more?

For me?

From me?

For her?

For not her?

 

She painted her long

slender legs

and I can’t be bothered

to zip my un-slim legs

into pants.

 

She raised a salutatorian

and a Christmas dinner

maker.

A sender

of beautiful cards

and thoughtful

messages.

 

A volunteer.

A nurse.

A giver of time

and compassion.

Even when she doesn’t want

 

She raised a woman

who knew how to love.

Til death do us part.

Even though

she had to be both

halves of a

separate whole.

 

How can I measure?

I can’t even

measure.

Not hers. Mine.

Does she know?

 

Does the one she raised know?

 

How proud I am

to be hers

and hers.

 

And how I want them to

be mine.

 

But I’m green

To their red.

 

I’m wispy air

To their solid earth.

 

Indulgent sugar

to their austere,

pragmatic

flour.

 

I want to be hers.

 

Both.

 

But I’m not.

 

I’m mine.

 

My make-believe, my stories.

My comic-book kid

And my pancakes for dinner.

 

My city stays

and all-black.

My sulking and silence

My burned edges.

 

But my soft parts.

My strong parts,

the leading and

supporting

and surviving parts.

The loving parts.

The believing parts.

The good parts.

The her parts.

The their parts.

 

The parts I have

of them,

to remember

to never forget.

No matter how I try.

 

Not hers.

 

Or hers.

 

Ours.

My new book Drowning Above Water is available to read with holidays cookies. Yours and hers. Amazon Kindle and paperback. 

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.