Long, Beautiful Hair

uniselfie

2013 – I asked the face painter at the Strawberry Festival to give me a unicorn where my unibrow would normally be.

I shaved my head not long after this photo was taken. I had colored it for a dude who didn’t care for my grays, but a few weeks later he broke up with me on the phone while driving to play golf. I had already grown tired of having to deal with my hair. I was always trying for the lustrous long manes I saw in the salon and on the shampoo commercials, but my reality was much frizzier and lame to deal with every day. And I had never really forgiven myself for dyeing it in the first place, so I was excited to ditch the whole mop. I had a woman at the Supercuts in town shave it for me on Halloween over three years ago.

I always figured I’d grow it out again when I got tired of not having hair. Hasn’t happened yet. Every time I shave, I still get the feeling I’m leaving behind more than just a bajillion little shards of hair. Without my hair, I have fewer places to hide, and that has been a big gift for me.

Since that time, I’ve gotten into some interesting conversations over my hairless choices. And if I had a dollar for each time I’ve been asked if I have cancer, I’d have about 30 bucks by now.

The cancer questions are well-meaning and respectful. These are questions borne out of basic kindness, and I can feel the desire to connect each time I’ve been asked. Still, it’s really trippy. If I did indeed have a disease which resulted in hair loss, I don’t know that I would feel comfortable or prepared to discuss that on the fly, with a complete stranger, in the middle of the grocery store/craft store/park, etc.

***

I had long hair as a girl when my mother died of breast cancer. I clutched a half-used roll of Tums everywhere I went because I was a nervous wreck, with a constant lump in my throat, and an overwhelming fear of yakking all over someone in public. No one asked me anything.

My hair was much shorter sixteen years ago when my husband had pancreatic cancer, and a few months to live. I did all the shopping as John’s disease progressed and his energy waned. No one ever approached me to inquire about my well-being during those times. Several trips to the store preambled with my sobbing the whole way there, but no one knew that as I shopped a short time after.

belfieGranted, those weren’t my illnesses and therefore didn’t leave tell-tale signs on my body. Still, they were dark times of devastation and struggle, and no one knew because I looked average and healthy.

So, when do we know? When do we really see someone’s struggles? Or joys, for that matter? Do we have a real purpose in approaching only those who may look vulnerable or unwell? I wish I knew.

Bubbles

bubbles-finalWhen I was three, my brother got me to jump into my aunt and uncle’s pool by telling me I knew how to swim. I have only a flash of a memory of falling through the water and then wanting to breathe but only seeing little bubbles rising above my head in the dark water. An older cousin pulled me out before the adults around the pool really knew what had happened. Afterward, I remember standing in my underwear in front of my mother. She dried me off as I cried.

Sal also taught me how to ride a bike. We lived with my maternal grandparents by then and they had a tangle of old bicycles on the side of the garage. All the kids and grandkids that came before us seemed to have left one behind there. I picked a bike that looked small enough for me to ride, and we walked over to the church parking lot. It was a girl’s bike with a cracked vinyl glittery banana seat. Each handlebar still had a few silver tassels outcropped on each end. The church lot was two houses over on the corner and usually empty during the week. We found it that way when we got there. Paved smooth in black asphalt, it had plenty of room and a ramp that came off of the back door of the building and fed into the lot.
Sal explained how you have to peddle right away or you will fall over. That didn’t seem so hard.  He looped around the lot while I stopped and started, trying to balance my momentum.  Eventually I was able to follow him for short spurts before keening to one side and tipping myself over.

At dinner, I was eager to tell my grandparents about my big news: I was officially a bike rider. “Let’s wait until after dinner and you can tell your mom too,” my grandmother suggested. I rushed through my food, but each mouthful seemed to be replaced by another. Finally I had eaten enough that I could be excused from the table. I went straight to my mother’s room.

Our grandparents owned a very big house. My brother and I shared a bedroom upstairs, my mom stayed downstairs in a room off of the back of the kitchen. A room originally meant for house staff quarters. It was big enough for her hospital bed and all the supplies the night nurse needed. My mother had come to look so different. An array of colorful little knit caps replaced her thick, dark hair. My grandfather would joke with her that they kept her brains warm. Her skin was different too, a sallow undertone muted her natural olive coloring. Two half moons of dark skin sat permanently under each of her eyes.

I was triumphant when I got to my mother’s side. “I learned how to ride a bike today—Sal taught me,” I announced, and climbed up on the foot of the bed to wait for my grandmother. “That’s great!” I liked when she looked at me, as she did now with a tender smile on her face. My grandmother came in then with a plate for my mother. She fed it to her in a patient succession of small forkfuls and listened as I recounted the afternoon. I told them how I learned to stay up while I peddled and how Sal was going to teach me to go faster and how to stop.

The next day Sal and I headed back to the church to pick up where we left off. That’s when he told me that bikes don’t have brakes. Tipping over or crashing into something, he said, were the only ways to stop a speeding bike. He also told me that the first day I hadn’t been going fast enough to need to know such things, but now I would have to learn to be on the lookout for a fitting crash spot when I wanted to get off my bike. I scanned the lot as I started riding. The perimeter fence was completely lined with rose bushes. I could either hit the side of the building or aim for the fence and let the roses break my fall.

My first crash-stop went pretty well. I had been riding around for quite a while and was ready to see if I could do it. My brother promised to watch, so I gave it a go. I hit the bushes pretty much straight on and most of the front of the bike caught the limbs and thorns. I got just a couple little cuts on my shins. It really wasn’t so bad.

I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to perfect my technique. I had it down to where I could almost always hit the bushes without hitting the fence and that would bounce me back a little, and that, for the most part, kept me from snagging into the thorns.

We spotted my grandfather turning down the street, coming home from work. I waved to him and he pulled over outside the lot and got out of the car. “I know how to go fast and stop now,” I called out from where I was riding. “That’s good! Show me!” he answered as he waved.

I started with a few figure eights and then went up and down the ramp a couple of times.  As I glided back down into the lot I started to look for a grand finale crash-spot. I liked the corner across from the broad side of the building. I headed for it and tried to keep my front tire as straight as possible. I made contact at more of an angle than I realized and scraped my arm through some thorns before coming to a complete stop.

I was getting up to inspect my elbow when my grandfather was at my side, picking up my bike and asking me if I was ok. He looked alarmed. I told him I needed to keep practicing my stops, so I didn’t get so many thorns. This confused him, so I explained what Sal had taught me.  When I turned around to find Sal, he was gone.
My grandfather brought me home, and left me in the kitchen where my grandmother sat me down at the kitchen table and cleaned my scrapes. I watched him take Sal by the elbow and walk him outside. I could hear his sharp tone, scolding my brother about how he should never have lied to me and allowed me to hurt myself.

***

Someone taught me how to measure out liquid morphine with a syringe and squirt it into a plastic cup with Rose’s lime juice. This would make it easier for my mother to drink down. I liked the way the plunger forced the medicine out into the thick neon juice and filled it with little bubbles that would slowly rise and break on the surface. I felt very grown up and responsible when I did this for my mom. She would would shoot down the mixture and wait for relief.
mom-and-me-finalThat night my mother’s two youngest brothers were coming over for dinner. They brought their girlfriends, and the kitchen filled with the sounds of cooking, conversation, and laughter. It was interesting to watch the adults. I left the table as my grandmother was serving dessert and headed towards my mother’s room. As I got near I heard her softly say to herself, “They’re having a party out there while I’m in here dying.”

***

Sal apologized, but I knew he wasn’t trying to hurt me. He wasn’t allowed to ride bikes with me for a while.I missed him.The next day my grandfather walked me down to the church and showed me how to stop my bike by pressing backwards on the pedals.

Find a Man

for Stacey

find-a-man

Find a Man

find a man who buys you Manhattans
and a platter of calamari
on the beach in November

find a man who’s got great hands
a man who’s gentle in good ways
and rough in good ways
and makes a craft out of discovering which way you like it

find a fallible man
they’re the only honest ones
imperfect in all the best ways

find a man who kisses your hands
and your lips
and your forehead
and thinks you’ve got a really great pussy

find a man who will laugh with you
and cry with you
and always ask you to stay after an argument

find a man who treasures your cracks and soft spots
who sees all the light those places let in
a man who wants to know what you really think
and always sees your highest self

find a man who loves his mama
and whose mama makes you feel like 
maybe you found your own
a man who leads you to your tribe

find a man, not a boy
definitely a friend
a partner

Good Man, Gone

Goodis is gone. I came home from a weekender and he seems to have vanished. In the afternoons, he usually had his ladies lounging in a group under the shrubs that flanked the driveway. As I got out of the car and stepped into the noonday sun, I immediately felt his absence. I don’t know what happened; I probably won’t ever know.

Here is what I do know: Goodis was a damn fine rooster. Handsome, gentlemanly, chivalrous, judicious; a downright excellent chicken soul.

Most mornings Goodis and I would meet at the base of my little outdoor staircase. He was always the first to greet me, and usually had his two whack-ass sisters in tow. We would all then head around the corner to the workshop and get some dried mealworms. Good would have a few and then leave his sisters to the rest. He had business to attend.

We would walk down the hill to the coop together, staying on the narrow, well-worn trail of dried earth that wound a barren path through the tall grasses that had sprung up all over from the recent rains. At the bottom, the ladies eagerly awaited our arrival, crowding the exit of the run. I would throw scratch outside the run and then unlatch the gate while Good stood off and to the side a bit, waiting. He reminded me of the airport drivers you see outside gates standing stoically with signs for arriving passengers. He never held the sign, but he definitely had his patient and friendly arrival face on when the gate swung open.

And the day would begin. Hens everywhere, about thirty of them. He would immediately dig into his duties amongst the cluck and chaos: Direct a few to the sunflower seeds, pull off a bit of the tidbit dance for others, keep the ever vigilant eye open for predators, bang a couple of willing hens —all part of the game.

And the Good Man had game. I used to call him the Technicolor Dream Cock because his shit would glow. His feathers were iridescent, and full of beautiful shades of orange and black. His body plumage ranged from fawn to deep russets and his tail was an inky gloss black of feathers cascading off of his chicken butt.

Yiddis Joo Roo

Goodis was born here, and during his teenage weeks, he boldly decided he was going to live his life on his own chicken terms. This involved not ever sleeping inside the coop. Instead, at the end of the day, after his ladies retired, he would jump up on the back of the fully enclosed run and nestle at the top where the run attached to the side of the coop. Often times, his two sisters, Hetty and Sky, would sleep up there with him. There was no reasoning with any of them. I tried in the beginning. I would go out and coax, poke, prod, anything to get them to jump down and go inside for the night. Hardly ever worked. Once in awhile I could get Hetty and Sky to be so sick of my shit that they would rather just comply, but Good wasn’t having it. He was a rooster, goddammit! If he was going to take shit from me, he was going to have to take shit from everyone, and he just wasn’t going to play it like that. So I let it go. I had to accept his choice.

My acceptance came from a place of always wanting my bird friends to have a good chicken life. If their good chicken life involved sleeping in weird places, for the most part, I had to let it ride. Not ideal for chickens, especially when you happen to be food pretty much everyone loves, including predators, but chasing him around every evening wasn’t going to add joy to his days, and it was adding stress to my nights. Good’s daring seemed to embody Shelby from Steel Magnolias when she said, “I would rather have thirty minutes of wonderful, than a lifetime of nothing special.”

So that’s how it went for months. Goodis would snooze under the stars until it was time to assert his territorial dominance in the first rays of each dawn with the song of his people, and I would greet him in the morning when I hit the bottom stair.

And now he’s gone. There’s no carnage, no note, no explanation, just the very sad presence of his absence. I hate that he’s gone. I miss him. I worry that he suffered. I hope, hope, hope he didn’t.

And here’s where it gets tricky: He was mostly likely eaten, and I am—in a way—okay with that too. Life is hard, especially hard for the wild ones. Someone got to eat. We’re all in this together and this sort of thing is all part of the balance. I get it. I just can’t help but wish it didn’t have to be Goodis.

I’m grateful for time spent with the Good Man. I hope the rainbow bridge only serves to enhance his magnificent colors. May we all have the courage to break away from the flock for a while and sleep under the stars.

Moons

 

moon

Enter a caption

For Eleanor

Do you think mothers are like moons?
Gently shining over the mercurial, roiling seas that are children

Do you think they balance and pace us?
Then send us away and wait for us to break upon the shores of our return

I could be wrong.
I’m not speaking from experience
My moon has been gone for years

In courageous moments, and I am not often courageous,
I would have traded places with her if I could
I know it doesn’t work that way
I also know the world could use more people with her kindness

My mother would have had a birthday today.
She probably would have been feeling like old age was setting in
But she isn’t old, I just wish she was

Sometimes I feel gentle tugs
Small pulls towards my heart
Perhaps my moon still shines

mom and dead baby

Mom and me before my baptismal fall from grace, 1975

Kitchens Feed People

On the last Monday of each month, I bake. I get up early and I try to make as many recipes as I can by noon. Mondays, when I remember to put the butter out to soften, and the eggs out to warm on the counter the night before, are good days. If I forget to do this, I have to nuzzle chilled eggs into my sports bra and shred hard butter with a cheese grater so I can use it, and I lose time.

sepia cakeI like to start with the recipes that need the most time to cool. This is usually the cakes. One of my favorite cakes to make is a buttermilk berry cake. I have made it enough times now to have the measurements memorized. The first time I ever made it, I didn’t use berries. I dotted the batter with big black cherries, careful to evenly disperse them so that each slice had fruit. The top of the cake is sprinkled with raw sugar right before it goes into the oven. If it’s a sunny morning, the little pebbles of sugar glisten as they catch the light from the window above the sink. After the cakes go in, I usually take out the mixer my dad gave me and get started on the cookies.

***

The house I grew up in had a big cherry tree in the backyard. In the summers, my dad would send my brother and me up into the high limbs with buckets to pick the fruit that hadn’t been bird-pecked. We would sit in the branches eating, spitting the pits down to the soft ground below. I would pinch the cherries at the top of the stem to gently separate them from the branch, and then carefully place them into the bucket. My father and I would use them to make pies.. My dad would mix the dough for the crust and roll it out, while I pitted the cherries.  My thumbs bled the dark juice as I gouged the side of each fruit to move if off of the pit.

My father depended on me to help in the kitchen. After my mother died, I don’t think my dad knew exactly what he should be doing. Instead, he seemed to go through the motions, and the rest of us waited for direction. We worked side-by-side in the kitchen. Always a cook, and meticulously detail-oriented, my dad took instructing me very seriously, and I was equally devout in learning how to do things the way he wanted them done. There was an exact order and method to wash all of the vegetables, peel potatoes, and put our salads together. By the time I was seven, I knew them all. I was always looking for ways I could be of extra help. I never forgot to listen for the timers or keep vigil over the oil so it wouldn’t overheat when he left the room.

Drop cookies are my favorite. I can just spoon out dough and plop it onto my cookie sheet. Cutout cookies intimidate me. So do elaborately frosted cookies. Drop cookies are different. Straightforward and sturdy, they can stand up to the fumblings of an amateur baker without crumbling or falling apart. They are also easy to embellish. Sometimes I do fruit and nut combinations, other times, chocolates or spices.

A fascination with cream puffs overcame my dad when I was about nine and we made them once a week for many months. I thought they were delicious, but they scared me. If the dough wasn’t hot enough, or you didn’t incorporate the eggs, one at a time—just enough, but not too much—all was lost. Most of the time I just watched my dad, but sometimes he would have me do the puffs. I would forget to breathe, and the top of my arm would burn from working in the eggs with the wooden spoon. When the dough would shine and slump away from the sides of the pot, I knew my dad would be satisfied. The puffs would bake to a golden color. We would slice them in half and fill their airey centers with whipped cream or pudding.

***

Once I have the cookies out on the rack to cool, I start packing up the cakes and breads. I add what I have baked to the items my cousins have baked as well. Our little book club came up with the idea of doing this baking once a month.

I make sure everything is in something that is disposable. If it isn’t, I usually transfer it to a large styrofoam container, like restaurants give you for leftovers. I stack these containers into tall paper bags so they will be easy for me to carry. I like when I have everything tucked into two bags.

SF soup kitchen - santa cruzNo later than 1:15, I take everything to the local soup kitchen. I walk it up to the back door for drop off.  There’s always someone different when I go, perhaps circulating groups of volunteers.

The kitchen was founded by a Jesuit priest and named for Saint Francis of Assisi. I read an online blurb where this priest talked about how the broken and starved can be healed by being brought in from the cold and fed. I believe him.

 

Epitaph for a Dildo

“A moment in our hands, a lifetime in our hearts.”

              — Ancient Chinese dildo proverb


I was gingerly picking through my hamper when I found it, lying on its side all alone at the bottom. There were several mouse turds scattered around its head and a yellow stain of dried urine on the fabric by its side.

I stood looking down at the scene stunned, and in a state of disbelief. How had this happened? How could I have forgotten it here and put it at such risk? We had been together for more than fifteen years and I was going to lose it this way? Dammit! But there was nothing I could do to save it now. That much I knew. My poor pink dildo was going to have to be unceremoniously buried in the recycling bin.

During a move earlier this year, I had stashed my dildo in the bottom of my clothes hamper, under some bed sheets. The spot had been chosen on the fly, in a last-ditch effort to spare the college boys schlepping my stuff any knowledge that mom-aged women masturbate. I had forgotten I had done this, and tragedy ensued.

The hamper had been relegated to the garage in the new place just long enough for a mouse to discover the flannel sheets and shit all over them. My poor pink dildo lay below with no way to protect itself from the onslaught of urine and feces from above.

By the time I discovered all this I didn’t have the courage to save the sheets or the dildo. My vibrating friend may have been a gift from my uncle, but no one with an ounce of self-respect is going to masturbate with anything that has come in contact with mouse turds. Life has rules. There just isn’t enough bleach—or libido-induced desperation—to come back from that.
We had been through a lot of batteries together. I was so sorry things had turned out this way.

poor pink dildoOver the years, I had come to love my dildo for three basic principles: it was pink, it was reliable, and it was there.

Even if you had never met my dildo, you might easily discover how much I like the color pink. It is in fact my favorite color. Neon pink with glitter isn’t necessarily the ticket for me being that I am not a Rainbow Brite doll or a cabaret star in a gay club, but it still worked. I am of the mind that a little glitter and flare in the bedroom never hurt anyone.

My dildo was intrepid and down-to-earth. It almost always had something to give. I rarely had to abandon anything we planned together to go dig up fresh batteries. When things we’re winding down to fresh battery time, it would gently let me know by lacking a bit of joie de vivre on the higher end of the dial, but I was never fully abandoned. That was really nice of my dildo. I also appreciated its simplicity. Turn the red dial for increasing levels of vibration. Done. Shaped and veined like an average North American dick. Done.

I was once gifted this sleek, high-class lavender dildo. It was a real beauty and it made me feel like a dummy. It had a control console, beaded independently gyrating mid-section, and girthy user’s guide. I was dating way out of my league with that one. I never could build up enough confidence to go to bed with it. Instead, I popped it back into the original packaging and paid it forward by donating it to the Goodwill. I hope it found a new home with someone who was able to really appreciate all of its bells and whistles.

You gotta love the one you’re with. I was a twenty-something when my dildo and I found each other. I was thrust suddenly into the relationship on the filthy steerage care of an Amtrak train. It all happened very suddenly. No words. I had no say in the matter. I thought I was opening a benign travel gift from a relative and next thing I—and the 86-year-old widow sitting next to me—know is that I was ushered into the adult responsibility of sex toy ownership.

I am sure I was convinced at first that I was throwing the thing away as soon as I could. Next stop, dumpster! But somewhere along the way, I just didn’t. I don’t remember my rationale anymore. I know time can make us humans pretty damn complacent with shit we thought we would never stand for. After a while, you get used to things, even pink garish glittery vibrating things that your uncle gave you. Doesn’t seem so bad anymore. Already had a maiden voyage set of batteries in it. Was in a plastic sheath. Looked new. I was all alone. No one would know (unless I blabbed about it on a blog years later)…why not?

And now, after years of asking myself, “Why not?” I was in the garage preparing to say goodbye. I don’t know if loss is any easier when we have a chance to prepare, but I do know that the suddenness of it all sucked. But I did what I had to do. My dildo deserved that much. I picked up my pal. No more mouse turds, no more smothering bedding stifling its style. Time to cross over, rest, maybe find a new companion, someone with seriously low standards and high “Eww!” tolerance factor.

I felt gratitude for our time together and a sadness that it was all over. I also felt a bit of nervousness that someone was going to come up the road as I was making my funeral procession to the recycling bin. This was a private and solemn time. I didn’t want to end up having to wave to anyone with my hands and heart so full.

And when time has healed me and hormones have sufficiently motivated me, I am going to have to go through the work of finding a new dildo. Life gives us no guarantees. There will be no way to know if I would find another as well suited for me as the one I have bid farewell. Then again, perhaps my dildo knew it was time to cross over and leave me to a new toy and it had all worked as it needed to.

Rest in peace, dear friend. May you find fresh batteries and warm hands on the other side.