Tuesday, July 5, 2016

a story

It was overcast, and I was uncomfortable.

Let me tell you a story, he said.

“When I was fourteen years old, my parents sent me away to a foreign country where I couldn’t speak the language at all. It was scary, but it was good for me, in the end,” he began.

“I haven’t told anyone else this story after all these years. A friend of my father’s was supposed to meet me at this hotel once I arrived to town. He was supposed to help welcome me and get me situated, show me where I was living and help look after me. I got to the hotel and waited for him all day by the big window which overlooked the streets below it. I didn’t know a single person in this city. A day passed. Two days passed. I began to worry. I was so alone. I had no phone number and I had no address for this man. And I didn’t want to upset my father with the news that nobody had come to get me. So I just waited there. I was a child, but I remember it very well, knowing no one, having no idea how to speak or who to speak to. I remember I didn’t have the right clothes; everyone else was wearing boots because it was winter. They made fun of my sandals and laughed at me because they knew I didn’t belong there. Three days, four days passed. Nobody came. I didn’t know what to do so I stayed in the hotel for as long as I could every day and then went outside for a chilly walk when I couldn’t take being inside anymore. Finally on the fifth day, my father’s friend showed up at the hotel. He was held up by a family emergency, he said, and he was sorry. I never told my father that I had waited for five days without anybody; without even a phone call or note. My father would have been furious. And I never told anybody else, until now, I guess. When you’re a child, feeling afraid can feel more like a secret you should never tell.”

Telling this story shook him to his core. It wasn’t your typical horror story – no bad guys, no malicious intentions, no violence – it was simply, significantly, an account of scarring loneliness. In those few minutes, looking at my own father, I saw him become the child in the hotel room. I could feel the trauma, the aloneness, and the kind of unforgettable fear that haunts a lost child in a big city. Spine-chilling, this story was, even though fifty years later, here we were in none other than Southern California suburbia, on what should have been a properly sunny day, driving around in a Toyota Camry.

Thank you for sharing that story with me, I said quietly. I can’t believe you were just fourteen, left alone like that for almost five days.

He tied it back to his original point, which was about resilience. It had transpired from harrowing and incredibly personal to a generic father-daughter lecture in no time at all. But I didn’t forget the story. I couldn’t forget how his face looked when he told it. I wondered about what else in this man’s life I didn’t know about. He was always shielding me from anything too painful.

Not long after that, we got out of the car and went to church. I found myself enjoying the uniqueness of the pastor’s voice. It had a musical quality to it. The church had aged, though. The carpet was worn, the choir was significantly more geriatric than I had remembered, and the pews had tape stuck on the back of them from years’ worth of Christmas decorations and perhaps mischievous, bored children. It was less majestic than my childhood memory recounted. More human, with bumps and bruises just like everybody else. It was odd to see the church looking this way – vulnerable.

“Please bow your heads,” the pastor’s voice rang out warmly “and take a few minutes of silent prayer to reflect on all of God’s blessings. If there is anything weighing on your shoulders this morning, offer it up now to the Lord, and feel that this weight you’ve been carrying has been lifted.”

I bowed my head, closed my eyes, and squeezed my dad’s hand, responding intuitively to a feeling that something important was happening around me. I opened my eyes quickly, in that sheepish, sideways way we do during prayer, just in time to catch my father wiping his eyes. Were those tears? What was going on here?

I spent the rest of the sermon tuned out to everything; the Pastor’s sing-songy voice long gone, no more than a distant memory. Instead, I thought a lot about the aging church, once a symbol of idyllic, idealistic perfection, once unwavering and strong. I thought about my father’s story, about these never-seen before layers of vulnerability, and was reminded of how different our perception of life is as a child versus as an adult. And just as the sermon was ending, as the slow, graying choir made their way back up onto the creaky risers, I thought about how harsh the reality can be when you are newly grown up, somewhere in California, face to face with those differences.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

nothing + everything

We walked uphill for a while. The tall yellow Aspen trees were striking against a backdrop of a confidently blue sky.  It was like all of the magical places I read about as a child – the Secret Garden, Narnia, Oz –  had unified together to create this extra-fantastical place. I felt quietly happy. This must be what true happiness is, I thought. Peacefulness.

Finally we stopped and looked at the trees around and above us, coming together like a roof over our heads, protecting us from nothing and everything all at once. It was a moment that I’ll try to remember forever. Two enchanted friends brought together in life by some extraordinary being – some higher power – or maybe just by coincidence.

The occasional rustling leaves were the only sound we heard for a while. We were unnaturally still in this natural setting, stunned by the silence and humbled by the beauty in everything. After a minute or two she turned and looked at me, her smiling face shining and exuberant in the golden light. “Should we put something out into the universe?” she asked. She had a way of challenging me, even when she wasn’t trying to.

Yes, I smiled, feeling overwhelmed. Looking at her carefully, as if to warn that I would pose an even more challenging question, I quietly asked:  

“But what do we want?"

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

this is where

Fall is so romantic, isn’t it? It’s so romantic. 

Something about winter being on its way but not quite here yet is romantic. Like the honeymoon before a marriage. It’s all fun, right now. It’s just fall, and it’s just fun.

I also love the fall colors. The reds and yellows and oranges make me want to cuddle up with you and give you a big squeeze and fall asleep on your shoulder before you start snoring and I have to scoot away.

Also, you look horribly mismatched in this season. What is with the green flannel underneath the size-too-small black cashmere sweater? It’s not a good look, but it makes me think I could love you forever.

You are out hunting but I still hate duck. I will always remember a few nights ago at dinner at our friend’s house when you asked me to try some, and reluctantly I did, and right before we went to bed you whispered, “Thank you for trying the duck.” I will remember that forever because it reminded me of that Jonathon Safran Foer quote. “I am doing something I hate for you. That’s what it means to be in love.” I didn’t sleep at all that night. Only because I was afraid of the quote.

I have some bad news. You know that book, titled This Is Where I Leave You?

Of course you don’t know the book. I could fall in love with that, too, and we could laugh about it in the cold air, as the wet yellow and red leaves stick to the bottom of our boots, my frozen hand in yours.

The title of that book makes me want to cry. I didn’t mean for you to fall in love with me. I never thought you would.

Maybe it’s just the season. Fall is so romantic.

This is where I leave you.

Friday, September 25, 2015

beautiful ruins

-I don’t know, she said. Sometimes I don’t feel special at all.

-Nonsense. You are special. Everybody knows that.

-But I just read this book, she said, about these magnanimous characters whose lives were reduced to nothing. This famous actress lined up for greatness. Ends up a widowed theater teacher in small-town Idaho, dies of ovarian cancer. You know, all these larger-than-life characters – these people in their twenties – thought they were going to live big colorful lives, on the coast of Italy or on stage or in Hollywood or something, because they thought that they were different, and they WERE different, but… Take me, for example. I used to think I wasn’t ordinary. In fact, I used to be sure that I wasn’t. I am so obviously different, I would think. But these days, I have to ask how many people, how many “burn-outs,” thought that that they were different, special, extraordinary, and now they work a day job and are in retail or insurance or some other silly, shitty, arbitrary, black-and-white, colorless thing, and they never

(He interrupts her)

-You are very important. I have to think that you have some substantial impact on everyone that you meet.

-That is really nice of you.

-It’s true.

-That makes me feel better. I think I am sad when I feel ordinary, so thank you for making me feel special.

-You are special.


No... you are extraordinary.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


And just like that, it was summer.

It’s the greenest I have ever seen this place. The air is cool at night. The sun stays out past curfew, striking the sky with defiant yellows and oranges. There is live music everywhere, all the time. It’s not even good, but I want to cry with happiness. I want to break all the rules. How I forgot about the cricket buzz, the chirp chirp chirp, the late-night energy and the drinking, the vibrant life in everything, the new friends and the old ones, that early morning sunrise. I have freckles again. And I'm sweating through my dress, sticky with booze and heat and easy, breezy laughter. “Cute freckles,” he says. “Welcome back,” I laugh.

We have new neighbors. Everybody says hello. It's nine thirty p.m. and there’s rap music coming from that place a few doors down. The dog is barking. The kid is crying. That couple is holding hands, radiant with the exciting newness of their sweet, comforting relationship. “How ya doing?” they nod as they pass our porch. “It’s summer,” I shrug, smiling and embarrassed. They’re charmed by my sincerity.

Is the red brick on those houses always that red? The trees always this glorious? The sky so captivating / the air so airy / and the roses oh-so-rosy?

That weepy Ben Harper song. She’s only happy in the sun.

And all of God’s people said:

Hallelujah, Amen.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

twenty four

The funny thing was that I had everything I wanted. It started with my room. I had a room of one’s own, a room that I’d always hoped to create. So much white, so much simplicity. “A place where I could really write,” as the writers say. And I had the kind of friends that people die for, the kind of friends who constantly surprise with what life has taught me must be pure, unconditional love – friends who cooked me dinner and thought I was spectacular and answered the phone on the third ring. I always thought that was a testament to my friendships. My friends answered the phone when I called.

But the amount of “more” that I wanted was scary, and so juxtaposed the sweet, easy simplicity of the room I loved so much. In theory, I was happy. “She designed a life she loved,” the gift said, and I suppose by then I had. But I wanted the traditional idea of more: the fancy car, the important job, the expensive hair lady. How predictable I had become, a misguided rat late to the never-ending race. But not too late to join it.

My sense of self-disappointment was real and deep and foreign. So much so that even now it’s easier for me to write about it as if it is part of my past, and not actually, truthfully, part of my present. I wonder about becoming a very specific type of bored and tortured old woman, the kind who orders an old old fashioned because – to hell with it, an ordinary and defeated layer of the person I used to be, with no real stories to tell and no real experiences to hold onto. I ask myself if one day I will read this and just wish I would have been content in the now. That I would have just written in the present, forgotten the past, disregarded the future?

The funny thing is that I have everything I want.

(Almost everything.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Spring is two days away.

As I get older, I’ve started to feel that either the seasons are changing with me, or that I am changing with the seasons. I can feel the difference in the air, and in the way that I laugh. You'll get a giggle in the summertime, on a warm evening with a roof deck somewhere that’s trying too hard to be trendy, with marquee letters that spell out BAR and all of those waiters with their silly gingham bow ties. It’s getting late, and your hardly-funny joke solicits a reserved giggle with just enough authenticity to suggest that maybe I laugh easily, that maybe I am not just humoring you. You'll get a loud, deep-down-in-your-belly laugh in the winter. An embarrassingly honest, uncontrollable laugh that surprises even me with its transparency, prematurely revealing everything you need to know because it’s a fearless laugh that is not trying to hide. Laughter comes and goes with the seasons. I swear that’s just how it is.

Someone special (you) told me once that they liked the way I laugh because “it comes from here.” I wonder if you remember that. I wanted to say that that was my winter laugh, even though it was summer.

You should know that I'm onto you – that you are so predictable in all your senseless, roundabout unpredictability. I knew to watch out when you said you didn’t eat seafood or that you didn’t believe in the stock market, that my electricity bill seemed really high and maybe I should count the math. (I’ve never been good at math). But spring is two days away, and you better believe I’m counting.

Because my springtime laugh says, goodbye.