Poustinia

It is raining outside my “poustinia”. A poustinia is Russian for a very sacred, secluded, secret place. A personal desert. A hermitage.
Preferably in some wooded glen. Enchanted. Lush with fairies and gnomes. A poustinia is where you pray. Where you dream. Where you sleep, while God tenderly watches.
A poustinia is simple, perhaps a precious shell for adornment. A daddy-long-legs for company.
A poustinia is where you are deliciously anonymous. Hidden. No mirrors - no age. Young as your next fragrant rose. Fresh as the rain on the roof. No clocks - no expectations.
Staring out the window forever. Blue jay way. Sleeping by starlight. Midnight lovesongs flung heavenward.
A poustinia has it’s own rhythm. Spring unfolds and is gone. Memories surface and release. I am free.
The thread of a song haunts into gentle denouement. I am lulled awake.
Who am I here that lives no where else? That thrives on a solitary spark? Is this my soul? The part that lasts when spring is gone? The part that travels like a pilgrim homeward bound? 
These days, I grab my poustinia where I may. Lunch alone in my car, watching clouds. Late mornings in a locked room, family off to their respective tasks. Lost in a beckoning book.
This journal, this page, also my poustinia. Throwing thoughts and emotions to a stranger’s breeze! Sprouting a unity of vagabonds! Whispering, “Shhhhhh!”.
Do not reveal my whereabouts to those who know me best! Leave me here, just you and me and God!

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Child Bride

So there I sat under the pink tree, crying and writing poetry. Eighteen and not a clue what to do with my life following one virginal walk down that dark Catholic aisle an ill-fated Friday night in January.

I remember waking up the next morning, looking at my finger and praying it was all a dream. But there was the ring that told me in no uncertain terms that I was to dance no more.
A housewife at 18. Ring around the collar, my new prescribed concern. Married to someone I barely knew because I didn’t want to hurt him by saying no to his unexpected proposal, breaking my parents’ hearts in the process. Who would believe that? It sounds incomprehensible to me.
Work? Not an option, given my young bridegroom’s traditional values and strict definition of “head of house”. He was threatened by my parents’ “spoiling” me with an occasional dinner or a nightgown from Zody’s, reminding me that we “do for ourselves”.
I listened to a lot of Dylan back in the day. Queen Jane approximately was my favorite really cynical song. Once (I swear) I made myself a construction paper crown, sat in full lotus in the den & played that song over and over and over. I was a bit of a mystery to my young curmudgeon.
Every once in a while, I would get an unexpected surge of estrogen and make parfaits or something. But mostly I cried and wrote poetry.
Feeling abandoned by God when I learned at nineteen that it was unlikely I would ever get pregnant. Scar tissue in the fallopian tubes. Having been a virgin, it never made sense to me.
It thrust my Catholicism and any sense of a loving, benevolent God into a tailspin. After my husband went to work, I would eat potato chips and watch Lucy coyly telling Ricky that she was “expecting”, crying inconsolably. I felt less than a woman. Less than nothing.
I made the decision to be “a really good person without God”. Seriously, that’s what I did.
I remember sitting over ham and hashbrowns at Don’s on Glenoaks when I looked my husband square in the eye and said with a completely straight face (because I was too weird to know how weird it would sound) that I was going to be “a really good person without God”. I’d show Him all right.

Not only was that bizarre, blasphemous and incredibly narcissistic, but profoundly geeky. I mean, who makes a decision like that? But decide I did.
Trying to find meaning in life, I called for a list of volunteer opportunities. I was allowed to work as long as I didn’t get paid. I hoped that working with children would help assuage the pain of that pesky “barren” thing.
So I chose a program called Head Start. It was set in the heart of the ‘barrio’ in Van Nuys. My secret hope, looking back, was that children would not be able to detect how horribly flawed I was. How incomplete. How empty. How invisible.
Not so. Children are much more adept at that than practically anyone else (except, perhaps, the mentally ill). But, gratefully, they took to me (as do the mentally ill).
Every morning, I would arrive in my 1970 Volkswagen the color of cafe au lait. And thirty kids would screech with delight and adhere themselves to my body as I opened the gate.
I acquired the Spanish vocabulary of a four year old (actually, it was what is now known as ‘Spanglish’). Phrases like, “Pusha me” (while they looked pleadingly at me from the swings with beautiful dark eyes) were music to my childless ears.
I felt seen, wanted, almost happy when I was there. Tirelessly, I patted tortillas out of Playdough. I served juice & cookies. I even swept the courtyard (brooms were not my strong suit). I felt like I belonged somewhere and it was not that house that held me captive or the family that couldn’t understand why I would ever want to do something so stupid as to give my time for free.
There was a whole new cast of characters to fill the void I called my life. There was “Teacher Lorraine”, a big boned, confident Jewish lady with a broad smile and no make up (I was too insecure to go to the 7–11 without at least eyeliner).
There was “Teacher Margarita”, who had come from Cuba when Castro took over. She would tell me colorful stories so vivid that I could feel the tropical breeze on my skin.
Then there was “Teacher Ofelia”, a woman of a certain age with the eyes of a saint. Clear and penetrating. She was from Mexico.
I felt part of a family that cared to actually know me. That recognized me as one of their own.
One summer day, like any other, I was sitting at a small metal table, surrounded by chattering kids. I was busy producing various animals out of the pastel dough to the delight and astonishment of all.
Suddenly there was a shadow momentarily blocking the sun. I looked up to see him silhouetted against the light. I squinted as he came into focus.
There are pivotal moments in life when everything could easily go one way or the other. Moments that can never be retracted. Moments after which we are never the same.

Moments that quite possibly alter and define the rest of our lives. Moments when secret decisions are made inside and we do not even know of them.

Moments in which we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the eyes of another and do not recognize the person that we see but only know that we want desperately to be the person that we see. And this was such a moment.
“I know what you are capable of,” Jose delivered ever-so-casually, looking intently at a place in my soul that had never been seen, as if it were just a penny on the sidewalk.

He was what would have been known in an earlier day as a ‘cad’. He didn’t so much walk as swagger. He had a shock of black hair sweeping across his wide brow, a thick black mustache grazing full lips and black, black eyes that could expose and cultivate an underlying wantonness otherwise dormant for a lifetime.
He was Mexican and Lebanese, everything about him exotic. Shamelessly he bragged about his “womans”. One of his “womans”, Pat, he had married several times. Legend had it she had tried to crush him against a chain link fence with her car. Burned his hand with a spoon. She was the mother of his two girls, Elvira and Elisabeth. She would follow him and show up unexpectedly everywhere. His watch was engraved, “Mi Vida” (My Life), a gift from her.
He was a self-professed Marxist, but not an atheist. Once I asked if he believed in God. “Yes, my dear, but we are not His priority”. Nothing was sacred, especially my baby heart. I would lock my ’70 VW Bug outside Head Start. “We don’t want your lousy car”, he would remind me. “We” being the collective marginalized masses he presumed to speak for, “la raza unida” (the people united).
I lived to be in his presence, even from afar. I would stand on the classroom steps pretending to sweep, waiting like Cinderella to be invited along on one of his ‘social worker runs’. Maybe once every twentieth time, he would motion for me to join him and life was everything it had ever been cracked up to be.
I enrolled in Conversational Spansih, but he mocked my efforts to communicate. “Hola, que tal?,” I would say with my Gringa accent and he would laugh that deep lusty laugh that made me at once ashamed and exhilarated.
Once while riding in his old white Mercedes, he suddenly screeched to a halt and jumped out. A woman came running up to him, grabbed him by the front of his shirt and shouted in Spanish right in his face. Since it was clearly not “que tal?”, I had no idea of what he was being accused.
He always wore these thin pastel shirts, a pack of Lucky Strikes and a twenty or on a good day a fifty showing through the pocket. The Head Start kids loved him. He would paint handlebar mustaches even on the girls.
We would trail behind him on the way to Smart & Final, where he would buy everyone watermelon candies. He did magic tricks like pulling coins out of the kids’ ears. They were mesmerized.
Once, gently holding the translucent orange tail, he breathed life back into a dying goldfish and I discovered that I loved him.
If love meant that you could see the very atoms waltzing in the air. If love meant that every breath was laced with helium. If love was a secret that animated every random thought.
If love was less like pulling an elephant uphill and more like fireflies swooping in sultry circles on an Indian summer night. If love was being seen for what we are capable of, not for what is expected of us.
From the moment I saw him, there at Head Start, that he eclipsed even the August sun. Every poem I wrote was for him. And he would read them all and I could tell that he was pleased.
We would sit across from one another in a blue booth at IHOP. He would order me a Sweety Pie (apple a la mode) and for an hour, I was a poet.
One day I happened to bring a small piece of driftwood I had found at the ocean. He took it, varnished it and gave it back to me. For years, we would exchange it from time to time, an unspoken pact between us.
I wanted him to love me but he would say, “I care for you. I am not your husband or your father or your brother, but I care for you”. And, looking back, I believe he did. One day, bold and frustrated, I told him, “Sometimes I feel like taking off my ring and coming to you”. He laughingly reminded me that, if I were coming to him, I’d better bring the ring.
But I never went to him. I would simply lie in the grass on my front yard waiting for my husband to pull in the driveway, looking at the cloudless sky and marveling that the very same sky covered Jose. And time, as it will, passed.

She

Okay. There’s that weird feeling again. The one I haven’t had for so long. The one I thought was gone. Chased away by a finally truly joyful marriage. That feeling of exclusion, isolation, loneliness, yearning. Being on hold. Waiting like a fool. Why does waiting make me a fool? And what am I even waiting for?

Why did I go again yesterday to 11800 Kittridge. I sat outside just staring. Remembering what it felt like to walk in that entry way. Go up the steps by the pool. It has bars all around it these days. It was a dangerous neighborhood even then. My mom used to call it Fort Apache. It is all the worse now.

If there had been a “For Rent” sign, I would have dared to go in the courtyard, pretending I was looking for an apartment. Just to see my old place.

“My Love” was playing the day I moved in. In my head, that is. What year does that make it? ’72? Paul McCartney’s new song had just come out.  I guess I was humming as I watched Al lug furniture up the stairs. He claimed to be Cajun and separated. Probably neither. He kept asking why I was singing the Star Spangled Banner. He called my place “Kittyridge” in that slow, southern drawl, his own play on my street name. My ne’er do well “boyfriend” du jour.

I can still see the dark green sofa bed. Naugahyde. Stiff and cold with scratchy seams.  It weighed more than several refrigerators and had once belonged to my parents. I can just feel how it felt to open it up, with those heavy black accordion wrought iron appendages that sprang out to magically turn an uncomfortable sofa into an even more uncomfortable bed.

My sheets were amazing. Cartoons of Noah’s Ark everywhere. I didn’t know from Bible. I just knew they were incredibly colorful, cool and crisp as a fresh start. When I put my head on that animated pillow at the end of a day, all was right with the world.

Ironic that I had shown kindness to strangers on those Biblically inspired sheets. I had no idea that Noah and his ark had been spared from the destruction of the world because of sins just like the ones that took place there on those kitschy sheets. No idea. I slept like a baby no matter who had just come or gone. How can that be?

I would take my phone off the hook at will and be incognito, unavailable. Mysteriously mysterious. Light shone everywhere! Was the carpet green? How can I not know?

How can I not know the number of the apartment where I came and went so often, that happy sad year? Yesterday, happy as I now am, and I really am, I wanted to walk right in there and sit down on that green sofa. I wanted to draw strength from that crazy girl who lived her life so innocently wrong.

Who played Alice Cooper and David Bowie on the $29 Akron record player. Who felt so free floating. Free fall. Free. What did she know that I have forgotten? What do I know that she couldn’t possibly have known? Who was she that I am still, somewhere inside? Who am I that wraps around her like a costume?

I am still her in so many ways. Yesterday, I ate at that Jack in the Box. The one on Kittridge and Lankershim. Some things never change. I didn’t get one, but I’m sure the Jumbo Jack would taste exactly the same. The yearning inside was palpable. Like an open wound. How is that possible? That a leering clown and the innocuous words “Hi there, may I take your order?” could evoke such angst. A visceral longing.

I want to find her. Hold her tonight. I want to learn from her. Teach her. I want to see the world through her eyes. Tell her about God.

I want to befriend her. She is so lonely tonight … and she was hardly ever lonely. I want to let her know that it all turned out so well.

I want to ask her what she continues to dream. I want to reclaim her. Invite her home. Go home with her.

I want her to soothe me. Remind me that it is not that serious. I want to protect her, but she will have none of it. She wants to tell me that the world is not such a scary place. I know better, but I want so to believe her.

I want to tell her … “Guess what? I’m a therapist! I really did it!”. She wants to tell me that she taught me everything I know. And she did.

She invites me to come and play. I look both ways before crossing the street. How can we reconcile these differences? Her perspective draws me like a powerful magnet. I am cautious.

Where does this feeling come from? Maybe she knows. This weird excluded lonely pain. Can she trace it on the palm of her hand? What sends me here? Tonight.

It is familiar and unrecognizable. It causes me to push aside the one who loves me when I want and need him so. What would she say about that? That blissful girl on the Noah sheets. I know she knows.

But her phone is off the hook for the night. She is dreaming of someday becoming me. I want to tell her it is not so bad. I want to tell her that I miss her. Desperately. Desperately. And I know her address.

God Rant

I don’t want God-in-the-box. The God who jumps through hoops like a trained seal to make us love Him.

The Vanna White God who turns the letters and we have to guess the message. The One who spins the wheel and some get parking spaces while others get cancer. The God who cares if we genuflect. The God who prefers we wear pink. The God of perky. The God who wants us to preface every sentence with some Tourette’s tic of praise. The God I can contain and tame and appease and please and bargain with and promote and read all about.

I want God. I yearn for God. The God for which nothing else matters or else it doesn’t matter at all. The untamed dangerous undomesticated burning bush be still and know God.

David’s God. God. Passionate blood sweat and tears God. Not easy answers God. Not select the volume God. God!. God in unexpected places. Angels unawares. A cup of water for His least. Cleft of the rock God. Touch the edge of His garment God. The God who can tolerate a doubt.

The God who exists whether or not I wrap my finite mind around Him. The God who holds me in the palm of His hand lest I dash my foot. The God who will not let me go no matter how hard I try to escape.

The God who comes for me. Before I call. The God who is not afraid to withhold the sumptuous poison for which I beg. Who cherishes my wavering faith.

The real God. Who would rather be despised than half loved. The God who is not put off by despair. Who will never leave nor forsake me. The wild fomenting tempest that splits the Eastern sky God. Who forgives me for I know not what I do.

Her Room

Yesterday, I dared enter the quietest room in the universe. The room so still it is almost airless. The room so full of memories, so devoid of laughter.

The giant tv has not been on since she forgot what it was for. In a sudden sweep, I threw away the tools associated with her decline. The baby wipes and dry shampoo and things unspeakable, designed for those trapped inside bodies betraying them in increments at every turn.

I pulled the curtains open, letting light back into the room that is darkness itself. I put the bunny I cheered her with, as she regressed from my mother to my child, on the bed. It seemed to know.

I pulled drawers in random fashion, trying on a ring or two. Tearless, I roamed the landscape of slow despair, now a desert. A dried rose petal mocking life. A dresser mirror offering no proof of her existence. The carpet, black in places from who knows what. A useless container. How like a body, at the end. Battered with use, unable to scratch one’s nose.

How I loved her, this complicated one. How I wanted to spare her pain. How I wrestled with her, decades on end. To understand. To be understood. How we came to know, underneath it all, the love that survived all as all was stripped away.

Do I miss her? Which her exactly do I miss? Certainly not the one writhing in pain, calling for her own mother, long long gone. Her face, a horrific mask of bewildered, senseless pain. The guilt of watching her languish. Of making decisions, only to scramble for some giant eraser. Begging a cosmic do-over from the God I trust. Yet I miss her. All of her. Yes, even that one.

Her room is empty. I think I am numb. I keep writing August, although it is October. I was just handed a paper to correct here at work. This time, I had typed August onto a form. The world as I knew it stopped in August. No wonder I can’t conceive of October.

She is with God. I know it is “a better place”. She is at peace, while the bunny on the bed looks lost, purposeless. I am afraid to look in its knowing eyes, afraid I will resonate beneath the anesthesia of activity and distraction. Afraid to feel the guilt, so I shun all feeling. Mostly, I avoid this room that won’t let me forget. Useless as a stuffed rabbit, listless on the bed.

Ode to Strangers

There was a time I lived inside a can of Picnic potato sticks. Comfortably. I lay on the couch like a cat, ordering people with my eyes. They waited on me, as if by remote control.

Treasures my Daddy picked up haunting auctions on Hollywood Blvd accumulated at my feet. Rolls of paper tape, lemons with salt, a small cross with the Lord’s Prayer stuck inside and magnified when held to the light, miniature tea sets, ballerina books, bug brooches, a doll with a smooth face and special crayons so I could change her mood with mine. This was routine.

I lived in Hollywood, of all places. Five years old and walking the boulevard, in fringe cowgirl garb, with my Mom and Dad. That’s just the way it was.

Outside the magic circle, strangers marched like Central Casting walk-ons. They had no lines. They seemed unreal.

I loved the rain and drew the Roosevelt Hotel, always at the same angle from my damp front lawn. Life was unimaginably and vividly predictable. Sundays, I genuflected just right. Later, as if on cosmic cue, I’d get nauseous just before Communion. I thought God didn’t want me there, but my Mom said the same thing always happened to her at my age. And I knew God wanted her.

We moved to Burbank and things seemed to unravel imperceptibly, like an old reel to reel where you could swear the voices are too fast or too slow, but can’t get a fix on it.

No doubt my Dad noticed that I noticed that the boy across the street was cute in a head-under-the-hood kind of way. My Dad was the first to noticeably change. I don’t know when exactly I stopped being his ally, but when I came home engaged at eighteen, not because I was in love or knocked up (I didn’t even understand “dirty jokes”), but because I could not say “no” without hurting the feelings of someone I barely knew, I ceased to be his daughter and became a threat. An enemy.

I was so scared. I developed a constant flu. Why didn’t they see through me? They freaked and I freaked as I walked somberly down that endless aisle and that was the end of safety as I knew it.

Family has seemed a nest of thistles ever since. I have uprooted marriages, running from the idea of family. Running, to my own hurt. Leaving trails of those whose crime was attempting to love me, to form a home.

Home, for me, was a hive. Alive with unspoken rage. Swarming. The hum of accusations under the breath. Sideways glances with no explanation. Undercurrent. Undertow. Pot shots in the dark. Out of nowhere. Devils unawares.

I have since relied on the kindness of strangers, familiarity repeatedly breeding contempt. I am married again, just four years. He is kind and good to me. Good for me. In my mind, sometimes I run like before, but now I know enough to disengage my feet. I simply unplug them, while my spirit floats free. I try not to hate him for loving me.

I am in my childhood home. It’s a long story. When my Dad died, I came back to be with my Mom. I couldn’t conceive of how she could conceive of life without him. And she couldn’t. But she eventually did.

I fell in and out of the arms of the same wrong man several more times and then married my best friend. He joined me there and she loved him unreservedly. And now she has gone. Evacuated this bomb shelter of a house, where we all managed to survive and come out loving the fragments of one another that were left. And it was good.

God shakes what can be shaken. What survives is gold. Real gold. It is His. I am shaking in the dark, waking up and putting myself back to sleep whispering His name. It is different than when I was a kid, back in Hollywood. Now I know Him. I know that He wants me enough to woo me hard and daily. He speaks to me, mostly through strangers. I am welcome at Communion.

Childhood Blueprint

I guess my story starts with a man. I have studied so many black and white photographs of that very first man. Perched in a small bucket of water with his “Buster Brown” haircut. Lifting weights with his skinny arms and shy grin. Fresh from the war, handsome in his tan uniform. Cutting the wedding cake with the pretty girl across the street.

He was, for me, a legend. An icon, although a common-enough presence in my little girl world. He was not an absent father. He was my very best friend. So many urban legends surround the amazing “us”.

I have heard many times about how I almost died of virus pneumonia. In my first memory, I am wrapped in thick blankets and carried into the night by this frightened, heartbroken man. When I finally came home from the hospital, weak and bewildered, I am told that he slept in the crib. Vigilantly guarding my every breath. Daring God to take me from his fervent clutch. He was that intense.

I am telling you this because I believe that our “childhood blueprint” strongly influences, if not determines, our choices thereafter. I have found myself drawn, throughout life, to frightened, heartbroken, very intense men. Men who will make me the center of their life. Men who will cherish, protect, control.

When my friends would “run off” on me (“three girls just can’t get along”, my mother would say), my Daddy would begin some fascinating game there on the front lawn and soon they would be back, wanting to be part of the magic circle of “us”. Everyone coveted my childhood. My best friend once ran away from home (two doors down) and showed up on our doorstep with her suitcase. My dad was that compelling.

All of this transferred verbatim onto my “childhood blueprint”. Gifted but cautious, moral but irreverent, charming but reserved. My Dad was funny. He brought life into the house every evening around five, when he would return from Lockheed, where he worked his way from the assembly line to negotiating contracts with the Navy.

My Dad was smart. And responsible. If he said he would pick me up at six, he would be there at five thirty. Always. He never left me waiting. Never let me down, not as a child, anyway. And he was funny. In the mornings, at the breakfast table, he would do his great impression of Stan Laurel. Dark hair sticking up in all directions, he would scratch the top of his head and apologize to Ollie through covincing mock tears.

My Dad was a great writer who didn’t write. A philosopher who, later in life, professed that thinking was dangerous. He was an enigma. Larger than life. There was nothing he couldn’t fix. He supplemented our income fixing radios, although he’d do it for free for all our neighbors. He enjoyed fixing things. He always knew just what to do to put my little girl heart back together.

When I became a teenager, it wasn’t so easy. He found me remote. Frightened of being replaced, he changed. He withdrew. My “blueprint”, irrevocably altered.

“Bunny”, a Life

I am a ghost. Wafting useless. A gnat defiling the holy moment. She is gone, but not. She breathes like a machine gone wrong. She is fitful. I am broken under wheels careening uncontrollably towards eternity.

She is private, as always. I am pressed against the glass. She once said, “My life is not an open book.” And now the book is closing forever, illegible as ever to my clumsy need. Denouement mixing with climax. Abandoning form.

I am on my knees begging for the very thing that has frightened and haunted me from birth. Her absence. She is out of my grasp. I cannot protect her. I cannot even rage against the dying of the light. I am BEGGING for the dying of the light.

She is God’s and not mine. She is gone to me. In some ways, she has always been just out of reach. I am begging Him to take her out of pain and into His light. To be with my Daddy. Singing songs of the 40’s.

He will greet her with their private signal, bunny ears. She wore her hair like bunny ears, he thought, and called her “Bunny” ever since. He wrote her daily letters from the war, addressed to “Bunny”.

Please, God, kiss her Home. Send your angels and my precious Daddy to scoop her from this hideous bed of pain. Please, God.

Freedom’s not just another word …

I would take my phone off the hook at 8:00 p.m., just because I could. I would order pepperoni pizza in the middle of the night. I would set the thermostat at 80 degrees. I would frame my watercolors and hang them in the bathroom. I would walk around in a white ribbed men’s tanktop over panties. I would sit on the rug pressing rhinestones onto the pockets of my bell bottom jeans, watching Mod Squad reruns and feeling brave and lanky like Peggy Lipton.

I would wear silver and turquoise jewelry. I would take my son for chocolate dipped cones at the Tastee Freeze. I would read to him all about the Grouch and the Cookie Monster and we would play Candyland and Fish until bedtime. I would write poetry for no eyes but mine. I would buy Playgirl magazine. On weekends, I would go to clubs alone and stand close to the band, moving to the music. I would never be alone for long.

That first Easter, my parents were not speaking to me for some reason I do not recall. So I floated some checks to cover baskets and bunnies and we had our own egg hunt without anyone’s help.

I applied for welfare and felt edgy and dangerous, waiting for my number to be called in a room stuffy with the disenfranchised. I got food stamps and bought a week’s worth of steaks. The market checker said snidely, “You people are the only ones who can afford steak” and I felt resourceful and proud and not a bit embarassed.

I spent any spare money on make up and hair stuff. I took classes at community college and met a French girl who taught me to play pool. She had fuzzy underarms and ate cold asparagus dipped in vinegrette. She said she enjoyed natural disasters, like earthquakes and electrical storms, and I felt sophisticated and worldly.

One Sunday, I met an unattractive guy with stringy red hair walking on the beach. He told me I was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and so I drove with my son to visit him all the way in Carmel. I got on the I-5 instead of the 101 and we ended up in Fresno. I was crying in the middle of the highway when some guy whose face I couldn’t really see for the helmet rode up on a motorcycle, helped me with the map and casually rode away. Life was honestly like that then.

Later the redhead clarified that of course he had meant “beautiful inside”, but what difference did it make? I didn’t need him to tell me who I was. Obviously he didn’t have a clue who I was anyway, because he had purchased a Porche Targa in the hopes of impressing me. I found the gesture needy and distasteful and encouraged him to sell it which he abruptly did. Soon after, I left.

Looking back, it is incredible to fathom the kind of power I had with perfect strangers, feeling invisible for so, so long. No doubt in utter defiance of my parents, I showed disdain for demonstrations of wealth and status. If a guy turned out to be a law student or something like that, I would simply find someone else to dance with.

I preferred patches on jeans and scarves on lampshades and madras tablecloths and feathers on straw hats and cotton peasant blouses and writing a bum check rather than feeling obligated to any guy ever again. Above all, I was suspicious of the ones with predictable futures and determined career paths. The ones who would situate me in some beautiful cage until I forgot how to dance. The ones who maybe wanted but didn’t need me.

I took pride in the fact that I could give myself to whomever I chose, but I could never be bought. And so, nearly a year passed exactly like this. Eleven months after my divorce of finding out which forbidden items on the menu I just might enjoy. What I would and what I wouldn’t do. Who I was and who I wasn’t.

Sitting on my favorite patch of grass in Echo Park and drinking my favorite Annie Green Springs Peach Creek wine, I watched my son ride his Big Wheel. As the lotus blossoms floated gracefully on the lake, over time I came to know. And that which I know, I can never again pretend not to know. Try as I may.

Center of the Universe

Or at least that’s how I see it. He would undoubtedly tell you something different if he hadn’t died in 2003, leaving me with my crazy childhood blueprint and a stewardess cap he sewed by hand when I was maybe seven.

My mother and I had taken a plane back to Rhode Island for a brief visit. Fleetingly, I thought I wanted to fly. My Dad made me an entire stewardess outfit, complete with the tin TWA wings they give kids so they will be brave and not cry or throw up.

What I really thought I wanted to be was a ballerina. Later, they said I never told them and maybe I didn’t. Suspecting they didn’t have money for lessons, I would wake up around 7 on weekends and practice my ten contorted positions from a ballet book. I would walk around the block with my ballet bag, returning late enough to convince my friends that I was “taking ballet”.

I like to think that I was robbed of this vocation by a misplaced, but noble respect for my parents’ imagined finances. In truth, I was awkward and shy, not at all an athlete and hopelessly lazy. I would lay on the couch like a pudgy queen, ordering my mother to bring me lemons and salt, potato sticks and peanut butter. And she would do it. I was the center of their collective universe.

We lived in a small duplex on Orange Drive in Hollywood, relocated from Rhode Island’s snow and lack of employment. The owner was a retired teacher, Mrs. Rowe, who loved the sound of children’s’ laughter. The backyard was truly enchanted, surrounded by morning glories.

I had an imaginary friend named Marianne, who lived in the laundry shed, and two real friends, both named Susan. They were carefree. I was rather serious, in my taffeta First Communion dress and mother -of-pearl crucifix. At least, that’s how I best remember that little girl, with the long braids and too short bangs. Trying to perfect her genuflect, trying to fly under God’s radar.

Blessed Sacrament Church was a little scary, with it’s cold marble walls and mesmerizing Latin chants. God loomed above the altar, taking notes. I didn’t know Him then like I do now. I didn’t know from grace.

I had my god and he wore a Lockheed badge. Like I said, he could fix anything. If need be, my father could petition for me, complete my homework, do my penance. Even though my father never set foot in a church, certainly God would have to respect his initiative and take my part.

One Christmas, Susan D. got a brand new 19″ Schwinn. I watched as she fearlessly flew up and down the street, skinny legs resting on the shiny handlebars. I got a 14″ second-hand bike. My Dad had painted it purple and plastered it with decals. Susan watched jealously, as he held the back of my bike seat while I struggled to achieve a cautious balance, trying my best to trust God, my training wheels and true north, my Dad.

I was loved beyond question, in that Garden just west of Eden. Even the air was somehow different, fragrant and alive with the low lull of whippoorwills. It sinks like India ink into the soft folds of my blueprint, stirring expectations impossible to fulfill.