When she leaves.

The trees have given us their yellowed love letters of autumn. In their gentle flutter to the ground, there have been whispered secrets of a life now finished.

This is not the bright yellow of lemons, sunshine, or daffodils; this is the yellow of decay.

Walking alone through the woods, I can hear the trees mourn their loss. These tiny extensions of themselves, so perfect, so brilliant, have left the nest to die, not thrive. The wind sings for them while their branches wave as my hands were wrung. But they are stalwart, bowing down to Mother Nature’s intuition.

This is a yellow that gleams; it glows brightest before it burns to dust. It is a gasp of glory, a treacherous promise, a trick. So much life in the light leading to death.

I mourn with them, standing still with my sisters in the wind, feeling time pass through us. We cannot stop this golden moment, so we watch it go with dignity.

The glowing citrine of the birthstone she won’t wear glitters near the end of the path; lost jewels found before they descend to their resting place, nestled against the glimmering peridot eyes that will never see.

Hush, now, the bough has broken me.

Down will fall baby.

Digging Around Inside a Cow

My memories of Dad’s veterinary clinic are hazy yet unforgettable. The building seemed huge to me, though really, it was a small practice. Everything seems enormous when you are a child. There were giant pecan trees out front, and we’d go around collecting the nuts in the early autumn when they started to fall. I think they were my father’s favorite nut, but then again, his enthusiasm may have just been because they were free.

He had a homemade nutcracker he’d eagerly dig out at the beginning of pecan season. It was some sort of contraption made from blocks of salvaged wood, scrap metal, rubber bands, and a syringe cap. He’d somehow managed to screw down a solid block of steel into one piece of wood, but it was too heavy and kept falling over. To solve the problem, he kept nailing down more wood to various sides of the first block in order to stabilize the base. Once the wood had been cobbled together, he placed a concave piece of metal, such that you might fit a nut into, on the other side of the wood. Exactly how he made some of the parts moveable after all that, I’m not sure, but the next step required the thickest, tightest rubber band ever manufactured. He tethered the rubber band to a syringe cap that had been secured to the block of steel via methods I’d rather not consider.

When it was ready, it worked by placing the nut into the little concave piece, holding it in place with your fingers while your other hand pulled back the piece with the steel block against the tension of the rubber band. When you saw that rubber band get thin as a thread, you let it pop back and hoped to God that you got your fingers out of the way before it crushed the shit out of the nut. The sound of that steel slamming together with unreasonable force was so loud that I’d clap my hands over my ears during the whole process and probably leaked a bodily fluid or two. There were a few blackened fingernails over the years on the unlucky victims who were given little compassion but only reprimanded for not being quick enough. Dad’s shoulders shook with silent laughter at these misfortunes, yet no one ever blamed him for this because really, you had to assume a certain amount of responsibility when operating this thing.

Dad pulling out the nutcracker was a family event. We sat around the table to watch, and probably should have been wearing safety goggles. I’d wait eagerly for my turn to snatch up some crumbs of nut meat, because that’s all that was left by the time that steel block pulverized whatever happened to be in there. I mean, the meat was all embedded inside the shell, and vice versa. Just a huge mess that probably cracked a tooth or two because it was impossible to eat one without the other. Once in a blue moon, you might have managed to get an intact quarter or half of a pecan and hold up your trophy with pride to show the members of your clan, like some sort of ancient tribal sacrifice.

The pecan trees were out front, and the crematorium was out back. I refused to go out that way if I could help it. Sometimes Dad would take me out the back way to his truck, forgetting my aversion, and I would just sort of close my right eye so I wouldn’t have to see it in my peripheral vision as we walked by. While I never saw any animals being cremated, I was cursed with a vivid imagination and the very idea was more than enough.

In the front of the clinic was his waiting room, a collection of mustard yellow chairs lining the walls and an elaborate desk system in one corner. My first duty as helper was to take a can of foamy Lysol (or more likely the off-brand equivalent) to the chairs each day before wiping them down. I wasted way too much of that stuff spelling out my name and other naughty words across all the chairs, and I was soon moved on to other duties.

Through another door was his exam room, with a large table covered in gold-flecked, white formica. A row of cabinets divided the exam room from the surgery. Behind the surgery, he’d constructed a tiny office for himself. It was the one place I wasn’t allowed to venture into unless there were clients around and he wanted me out of the way.

My favorite place, of course, was the kennel room at the back of the building. I would talk to the sick animals as they recovered, and was allowed to play with the ones who were healthy enough. Sometimes I’d help the groomer, and watched in fascination as she would paint a black poodle’s toenails a bright, fluorescent pink one could only find in the mid-80’s.

While my father let me help out around the clinic, he didn’t like me to see him in action if the animal was particularly ill. In his gruff, stern way, he was protecting me from heartache but I was too young to understand that. He knew I was too sensitive and it’s true that whenever I would see an animal in severe pain, I’d cry for hours. I once read a book about a dog for school, and the dog was hit by a car several pages from the end. I started sobbing and threw the book to the other side of the room, never bothering to finish the book and whatever twisted moral there was at the end. By the way he clenched his jaw sometimes, I knew he was really just as sensitive but had years of practice in hiding it.

Most of his patients were small animals by the time I had clear memories, but I do have one vague memory of my mother and I accompanying him to birth a calf out on a Texas ranch. I only remember that it was late in the day, close to sunset. It was hot, dusty, and I was sitting in my mother’s lap in the pickup truck. While I’m sure she tried to distract me, there was no way to prevent my eyes from locking onto my dad with fascinated horror when I glanced over to see him suddenly plunge his fist into that cow’s ass. And the thing was, it just kept going in. He was up to his elbow in bovine splendor and I could not look away. The cow screamed in a way that made my scalp tighten, the eyes of its eyes bulging out from the sockets. When he pulled his arm out, he brought with him what I can only assume today was amniotic fluid from a cow in birthing distress, but all I saw was a colorful waterfall gushing out of a cow’s ass and I was just never the same after that.

Mom used to joke about my dad’s refusal to wear a wedding ring for most of their marriage, saying he was afraid he’d lose it in a cow. After seeing that, I never once questioned her hypothesis.

My Favorite Poem


By Ted Hughes
(from Birthday Letters)

Red was your colour.
If not red, then white. But red
Was what you wrapped around you.
Blood-red. Was it blood?
Was it red-ochre, for warming the dead?
Haematite to make immortal
The precious heirloom bones, the family bones.

When you had your way finally
Our room was red. A judgement chamber.
Shut casket for gems. The carpet of blood
Patterned with darkenings, congealments.
The curtains — ruby corduroy blood,
Sheer blood-falls from ceiling to floor.
The cushions the same. The same
Raw carmine along the window-seat.
A throbbing cell. Aztec altar — temple.

Only the bookshelves escaped into whiteness.

And outside the window
Poppies thin and wrinkle-frail
As the skin on blood,
Salvias, that your father named you after,
Like blood lobbing from the gash,
And roses, the heart’s last gouts,
Catastrophic, arterial, doomed.

Your velvet long full skirt, a swathe of blood,
A lavish burgandy.
Your lips a dipped, deep crimson.

You revelled in red.
I felt it raw — like crisp gauze edges
Of a stiffening wound. I could touch
The open vein in it, the crusted gleam.

Everything you painted you painted white
Then splashed it with roses, defeated it,
Leaned over it, dripping roses,
Weeping roses, and more roses,
Then sometimes, among them, a little blue

Blue was better for you. Blue was wings.
Kingfisher blue silks from San Francisco
Folded your pregnancy
In crucible caresses.
Blue was your kindly spirit — not a ghoul
But electrified, a guardian, thoughtful.

In the pit of red
You hid from the bone-clinic whiteness.

But the jewel you lost was blue.

Hand of God

Saturdays were different. The work week was survived in a haze of stress and fatigue, while Sunday I waited around anxiously for it to begin again.

But on Saturdays, I let the Earth heal me. After waking at a luxurious hour, I’d sit and look out the window with a cup of tea. Cats would curl into my lap, purring our mutual content. The tall pines swayed in the breeze coming off the ocean, the sky was the purest blue found anywhere, and the gentle sounds of the island settled into me, calming, lulling, reminding me of why I was there.

Instead of make-up, I wore the sun on my face. Jumping onto our bicycles, we raced the island wind to reach the beach. Dropping our bikes into the sand, we walked down to the water, hands clasped, keeping each other afloat as the ocean consumed us. Wading out into the murky depths, we capsized our bodies until we were bobbing in the water as though cupped in the hand of God. The warmth of the salty water held us safe from any dangers lurking below, and voices from everyone else drifted away on the wind. All we heard was water slapping against our legs and our happiness. Lifting our wet faces to the sun, we were coated in a protective layer of brine that was nibbled on by unseen lips.

In those moments, joined together with each other and the womb of the earth, tiny grains of sand stripped us of our worries. Just the two of us, no longer against the world but with it, part of it, nurtured by it.

Eventually, we emerged and returned to the sounds of children playing, couples laughing, retirees speculating. We washed off the sand, slipped our clothes on, and slipped back into the week.

Colorado Smokehouse

While on our grand adventure to California earlier this summer, we had some wonderful conversations in the dining car of the Amtrak train. Because space is limited, you are required to sit with other people if your party is less than four — and it’s a fantastic tradition. I’m one of the most socially awkward people I’ve ever met (though I’m still getting to know myself), but I still found this aspect of the trip to be one of the most positive.

One day for lunch, a retired couple from Colorado sat across from us. Mrs. Colorado was quite cheerful and outgoing, while Mr. Colorado had a dry wit and reserved most of his remarks for when it could be put to good use.

We had absolutely nothing in common with these people, but I found them inexplicably charming. Mrs. C seemed content to chatter away about her children and grandchildren, which kept the lulls to a minimum. We explained that we are vegetarians, and Mrs. C said enthusiastically, “Me too!” which I thought gave us something to talk about until she ordered a veggie burger with a side of bacon. Mr. C was determined to involve my husband in a spirited discussion of sports, which was a lost cause. Our only saving grace was having just been to a Giants came while in San Francisco.

They were obviously conservative, while we are as far left as you can get without going off the deep end. Mrs. C had her curly hair coiffed just so, and wore a cutesy sweatshirt adorned with animals, while Mr. C had on a Broncos shirt and a cap indicating he was fond of hunting. So you can imagine our surprise and amusement when they suddenly expressed their support of the legalization of marijuana. As it happens, they are quite happy with their state’s new laws and the benefits they are seeing as a result of the tax dollars coming in.

Mr. C leaned forward in a conspiratorial tone and said in a voice that still managed to project across the dining car, “Yeah, you know, I like to smoke my own meats, so I got a smokehouse. Used-ta be, I’d say to my buddies, ‘Hey, come over this weekend and we’ll smoke.’ Well, can’t say that no more!”

Then Mrs. C giggled as she told us of how they thought they’d try “the marijuana” for Mr. C’s knee pain. Not wanting to smoke it or eat it, they chopped it up and added it a cream to be applied topically. “Well, that didn’t work at all,” said Mrs. C. “Yeah, what a waste of a hundred dollars!” exclaimed Mr. C.

The whole lunch was delightful and unexpected. This is what I love about long-distance train travel, and I can’t advocate for it enough. For someone like me, who loves to observe people, it was one of the best trips I’ve ever had.



The eyes have it.

It’s our eyes that keep us connected. The visits have ceased except when I look into a mirror.

Conversation was what kept us apart. We connected in the silences, the pauses, the words we never spoke. Death has given us a chance to speak in our own language, secrets unfolding from the time we lost. Inside the DNA are the inaudible whispers that teach us what we always knew.

They are windows into the journey of the soul, if not the soul itself. The infinite immersion in the universe, resonating in what organic material remains: mine.

These glimpses are a trail I follow, a course with no grade. With my eyes shut, I see them more clearly, the images in the pupils that guide me. Inside the window is the path to knowledge; blazes on the trees illuminate the text of our heart.

It’s true that we have only to look within to find our way. But when we take time to read our bodies in silence, we hear a message of which path to travel.

Well, why not?

In 35 years, I’ve lived in two countries, nine states, twelve cities/towns, and have had twenty-three addresses if I’m counting correctly.

No, I’m not military. Yes, my dad was military but that wasn’t why we moved.

I’ve traveled across most of the continental United States, and it’s easier for me to tell you which states I haven’t been to rather than the ones I have. My early life was spent traveling and performing, an opportunity most people think is spectacular and glamorous but it generally involved sleeping in the car at rest areas and more anxiety than any child should have. So I hate to burst your bubble, but no.

I have been to many places and have had an opportunity to be familiar with a lot of different cultures, which was always the most enjoyable part of my early life.

When my husband and I decided to move from The South back to the Mason-Dixon line proper, I was ready to settle down. (To be fair, I’ve been ready to settle down for the past 10 years, it just never ended up happening.) In January, we started looking at houses to buy, and were quickly horrified by what our budget would get us when it came to single family homes in the area. But we did settle on a nice town-home style condo, and signed papers authorizing a mortgage company to scrutinize our every move for six months while the place was being built.

But in the first week of March this year, we sat at home during yet another snowstorm. As always happens with me when it comes to big life decisions, a switch was flipped that was never going to be switched back.

My husband is in the tech industry, having jumped from the constant struggle and stress of classical music to the stability and innovation of programming/design. Of course, he has said for the past two years that being in the San Francisco Bay Area would grant him so many more opportunities for career development. Even before that, he had interest in some cities on the West Coast, and I was having none of it. The one and only time I had any say in his career as a musician (despite the popular belief that I’ve made all his decisions for him — geez, just because I speak my opinions for everyone to hear doesn’t mean he doesn’t have stronger ones that simply aren’t aired out to the general public!) was when he wanted to audition for an orchestra in Oregon. While I would never tell him “You can’t do such-and-such,” I did refuse to consider it as a possibility for myself. Since we were already sharing a life and home together, he decided to not risk losing me and did not pursue that particular opportunity.

So when we were already married and he switched careers, his desire to go out to California to seek employment has been repeatedly shot down by me.

I’m not a West Coast person. I have nothing against the West Coast, it was just generally always seen as this gigantic blob of weird, earthquake-y, laid-back mess I wanted nothing to do with. I still think of myself as a New York type of girl, even though I haven’t lived there in over ten years. I’m an East Coast person, despite having been born and raised in Texas. I like the mentality here. I like that people are rude because they are too busy to give a shit about you. I like that there are seasons, and that there is intense culture, with the museums and the neuroses fueling creative types into public tirades and performance art involving bodily fluids. This level of ambition, drive, and expectation of success appeals to me and I find comfort in it. There is routine here, with everyone waking up earlier than the sun, huffing it out at the gym before racing to be the first one on the train for their long, two-hour commute into the city to their job in politics, government, higher education, or medical science. They come home at the end of a long day to these suburbs, eat dinner, watch the news, and go to bed early to begin all over again.

It’s comforting to me because I grew up with it. My father was born in 1928 and had the same work ethic in D.C. that he had on the dairy farm in Wisconsin during his childhood. Of course this was the perfect area for him to live in, because it made sense to his brain and he fit in so well with the rigidity. My mother loves it because this is her home, and when you have lived somewhere consistently for decades, why would you want to go anywhere else?

And that’s why I have to leave before that happens to me. Because I am not my parents. I have deep respect for them both, but I am an entirely different species. I do not like mornings. I hate mornings. I hate anyone who ever gets up in the mornings. I hate anyone who is alive in the mornings. I hate routine. I smash routine to smithereens because I can. I hate schedules and can never get any work done within one because my GOD there’s a time limit, what the hell am I going to do with a time limit? My brain wars with itself, having liberal and equal doses of logic from my father and creativity from my mother, causing incessant cranial implosions of frustration. Give me a quiet day with no schedule, no time limit, and I will produce some extraordinary work that most people take weeks to parallel. But put me on a schedule and I cannot accomplish a damned thing. The logic side of me demands the structure of the freedom my creative side would asphyxiate without.

After growing up in Texas, snow became a rare and precious commodity that has been treasured since moving at the age of eleven to areas offering regular dumps from the sky. While I was madly in love with our last location (South Carolina), I found that I sorely missed the cold snap in the air when autumn arrives, the trees turning vivid shades of orange and yellow (colors I otherwise hate), and that unmistakable smell of home when the holidays roll around.

So we moved back, hoping to forge a family and be closer to the ones from which we originated. It was all such a romantic idea that it hurts the heart to even think about it. Everything about the idea was quaint and perfect — two things no one could ever use to describe either of us.

We came back in January last year, and froze to death until June. Then we boiled until September. Then we went back to freezing. I spent this past winter pressed up against my space heater, drying my skin into indoor snowflakes, causing miserable cracks and rashes. Nothing helped me stay warm. My husband was similarly miserable. We both suffer from seasonal affective disorder and are only now beginning to feel more like ourselves as spring has slightly warmed things back up. I hibernated from October through March, refusing to go anywhere unless absolutely necessary because goddamnit, it was too freaking COLD.

It was easily the twelfth big snowstorm that first week of March a couple of months ago when I joked that maybe my husband’s idea of moving to California wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

Then suddenly, it wasn’t a joke. Just like that, a switch flipped in my brain, and I started to wonder why I have been so averse to this idea for so long.

Truly, I lumped everything out there into one big smoggy Los Angeles bump that surely will some day fall into the ocean. I have a long-time blogging friend who lives right in the heart of San Francisco, tells the most wonderful stories of his life there, and it never registered in my brain that it was its own beautiful place with no affiliation what-so-ever with the cesspool of L.A. My apologies to anyone from Los Angeles reading this taking offense, but then again, I have no idea why you would be reading this to begin with so screw you.

Oregon and Washington seemed like nice ideas to scope out some time — in fact, I fantasized about moving to Seattle when I moved back to the States from Australia, but took one look at the rent prices and skipped that idea — but it was all that big lump out there. Out There. The West Coast.

Then I looked out at the disgusting dirty, icy, snowy, freezing cold and wondered, “What’s out there beyond this crap?”

Personally, I’ve never enjoyed going past, oh, the Mid-West. I’ve never lived past the line going from Texas to Minnesota, so why bother? I went to L.A. a few times as a child and again as an adult, hating everything about it every time. So why would I be interested in going back, particularly to live?

And how could I move again? Why would I want to? I’m tired. I’m old. I want to settle down. Or do I? I thought this was the end of the line, and I would get all set up the same way my parents did and live in small-town splendor quite happily for the rest of my days.

But oh em GEE, it suddenly hit me how not me that is.

I was apprehensive about dealing with all the happy people out there. No, really. I don’t like that. I’m a morose person with dark humor. Too much sunshine gives me the creeps. I’ve been mistaken as Goth for decades simply because I have dark hair (with some help since turning 30), skin fairer than anyone actually living should have, and a tendency to wear a lot of black just because I am a no-nonsense person. I don’t even know what a real Goth is, but I’m not that. But I am a bit too serious, a bit too ridiculous, a bit too neurotic. The idea of being out there with all those laid-back, happy people just wigged me the hell out.

Maybe it was the impending commitment of buying that condo that did it. I mean, you can get a divorce but good luck ever getting out of a mortgage.

Then the fear of earthquakes was overwhelming. There’s no warning when they hit. You have time to hide from a tornado, and you can always just get out of the way of a hurricane. Even a volcano you can run like hell and be out of the path of destruction. But an earthquake? One second you’re lounging on your patio petting your cat, the next your cat is eating your dead face from under a pile of concrete.

But I looked around the beloved place I consider my hometown. I was not born here, but I grew here (I refuse to say “grow up” because duh). I love the old row houses downtown, and the quiet charm of the people, the beauty of the blossoming trees in the spring, the timeless glow every winter holiday. I looked around and saw it through my husband’s eyes, the man who has selflessly agreed to support us both while I work reduced hours in order to spend more time writing. I looked at it through my adult eyes and saw that as much as I feel absolute love for the people here I have known for decades, I do not have one friend here who I can call when I need someone to talk to. That is not just because of moving around so much only to return to the place where I heal and regroup, but because I am not part of this. If anyone my age is still having children in this area, it is because they are having their sixth or seventh child. I don’t know anyone experiencing the heartbreak of infertility, the rawness of creative chaos, the confusion of abandoning a forced career to restart something else to feed my soul. I know people here support whatever I choose to do, but I also know that no one can understand it.

I saw the limitations of my husband’s career, the walls he will continue to run into as he tries to develop an entirely new art and career for himself in an area uninterested in the artistic side of technological innovation.

The bald truth of it is that I realized we aren’t needed here. There is no niche for us to fill because it has no place here. And the fact is that it’s perfectly all right for that to be the case, and for us to embrace that and move on to where we are needed.

So I started investigating this California business. San Francisco seems like a pretty amazing place, I have to admit. There’s no way of knowing if that’s where we will end up, but it’s a starting point to begin looking into other options.

It has been suggested to me that my restlessness in moving around so much is a result of something unresolved inside my soul, and when I find out what that is, I will stay wherever I am because I won’t be looking for something.

But I disagree. My husband and I are both people who love to evolve. We love to constantly learn new things, to explore, to take up new interests, and to embrace change. I think we’ve found ourselves by not feeling guilty about this driving need to roam and seek out new experiences. Maybe it’s not a symptom of being broken so much as a nod to our intelligence. While certainly some of my moving around has been driven by my desire to find something, sometimes all I’m looking for is something to stimulate my senses.

I love to live life as much as I can so that I have more to write about. Though I don’t know where life is going to take me next, I do know I’m ready for a new adventure. And I can’t wait to tell more of the story.