Month: July 2015

Snow White Syndrome: On Listening to the Birds

I had the dream again: the one where I meet my ex-in-laws again by some form of tragic accident– a flood, the apocalypse, earthquakes.  And we sit down to discuss the matter of me being not forgiven before the potential end of society.  Through a few indistinct words and mutterings, my ex-mother-in-law dutifully concedes to not hating me forever, and I am taken into a warm embrace by my father-in-law, who is now about a foot taller than I remember, and I cry and say I wish we had all been friends all along.  This is the way in which my brain has been telling me that I am tired of enemies.  This is the way my brain is telling me to take heart and to learn something.  This, and the birds.


Like a purebred hipster, I have been noting the rotation of birds as I touch my feet from one ocean to another in these months with the pinprick of an idea to commemorate them in tattoo form.  This week, it’s orioles– the contrast of their bright mark to their otherwise ominous tiny crow exterior.  A few weeks ago, bluebirds.  Magpies consumed nearly an entire season last year (and maybe still do).

My father had a blue heron as far back as I can remember.  Early in the morning, I would catch him walking around the pond he had dug himself at our cabin in the Allegheny Mountains.  Swaggering slowly, he would stop, turn his eyes, and stare still and struck at the tallest dying oak that contained the heron’s perch.  The heron, responsive to my father’s courtesy, would arch its neck and showily circle into a dive in front of him into the water, gliding out with an imperceptible wink into the woods.  Occasionally, the bird would show itself as we sat watching from up the hill.  My father, the ringmaster of this prehistoric looking bird, would hush the crowds and speak only in whisper, narrating with the earnest anticipation of an Olympic games commentator pre-winning jump.  The concentration nearly ripped my guts in half before the heron, deeming the situation proper, would take its dive.  We would delight in its descent and applaud its catch, and then I would happily move on to trying to coax a baby deer into being my pet.  But for a minute, my father’s bird taught me silence.

To my father’s regal blue heron, I got myself a fluffy brown bird.


My porch wren came back the day I cancelled my marriage subscription.  Her round, crouched body faced beak to the corner while her soft feathers fluffed into a mousy fur ball.  We had met the previous summer, when her first appearance got me up on a chair to take a closer look.  I named her Bird, and she named the ledge on my inner porch column her own through the summer until late in the fall.  She occasionally brought home a friend, a nearly identical wren who slept on the opposite column of my Craftsman house and erupted in a drunken flap when the front door would slam.  I named her Birdie, Bird’s louse-of-a-friend who was often kicked out of her parents’ apartment due to her taking to the bottle too often.  Bird was generous to Birdie’s crashing, and would occasionally scoot herself so they could share the same corner.  Heads together, tail feathers out.  How Bird could stand the boozey musk of Birdie all night was a mystery of loyalty.

My sleep had been dwindling by this time to nearly four hours a night, so I began leaving the porch light on to monitor my new roommates.  Bird was always responsibly in by 10PM and gone by 3AM– I assumed to get the worm.  Birdie’s sporadic visits generally began around midnight, but would dutifully leave when Bird did, hungover and begrudging.


When Bird didn’t return the following summer, I was convinced that she knew– with the yelling and the slamming and the long nights of pacing, it would be nearly impossible for a bird to get a good night’s sleep at that residence, anyway.  I grieved my tiny companion’s absence, as I grieved being left alone by anyone in that house, as not even a set of Venetian blinds could cover up the crumbling mess inside.  Then, after the pen strokes were completed on the papers, a mound of cigarettes still smoldering and two empty glasses on the front porch table, she came back.  She left, again, the day before I did a couple of weeks later.  My humble fluff taught me the value of knowing when to leave, however gracelessly.

My friend Kelsey once old me that when an elephant falls down, she can’t pick herself up.  It takes the entire herd to turn and surround her to lift her to her feet.  Kelsey moved back to Michigan shortly after, as I nestled myself in the Blue Ridge Mountains to sort out my early 20’s.  That was when my mailbox took to filling with elephants, return address marked by the mitten state.  You have a herd, she was hollering at me through the U.S. Postal Service.  You have a herd, you have a herd, you have a herd…  


And sometimes, I am finding, the herd is a bird.

Ceiling Fan Demons: On Putting Faces On Fear

I miss their squishy half dinosaur faces, bellies pulled taut and cherub-like, always with outties instead of innies.  I miss their pointed gargoyle beaks, or their wide, silly, sharp-toothed smiles.  I miss the twinkling mischief and their phony fingernails, and the way they accidentally set off sparks as they skidded out the doorstep into the cover of darkness.  I miss the fearful hide-and-seek of their glowing eyes between fan blades on long winter nights, or their shadow cast creatures more ominous than themselves streaking across car lit walls.

I miss the demons.


For being the goodliest of all the goodly Christian girls there ever was, I had a curious tendency to tamper with the wrong side.  It was early on by accident– like purchasing a pretty pendant from Claire’s alongside more Hanson paraphernalia, finding out through the horrified gasp of my parents that I had, in fact, acquired a pentagram (and more Hanson paraphernalia), of which long talks and informative videos on Satanism and Wicca ensued (as well as a calm bargaining for just a few of the boy band posters to be removed).  But the tick in my fiery imagination had been tocked, and the funny creatures started to seek me out, instead.


Some will tell you that this is precisely how the Devil works, and, affirmatively so, I was terrified.  They would creep in the back yard just as the train rolled through, before bedtime was called on early fall nights.  This particular night, I didn’t wait for the call.  I rushed into the kitchen tearful and wallowing how the demons had flashed a light before my eyes, and when I turned around, the beautiful flowers leftover from summer had been instantaneously smothered to brown crisps.  In seconds.  I could still hear them crackling in death and defeat.  If they could do this to an entire garden of flowers, how much more could they do this to me?  My parents, patient and soothing, assured me the flowers were long dead before this (my mother does not pride herself on a green thumb), all while exchanging questioning and disturbed glances to each other.  I found no consolation.


The fear grew bigger than perennials, and slithered up dark sanctuary stairs until it culminated into a minor hysteria among my ragtag group of church friends, authored nearly entirely myself, but empowered with an eager audience.  We spotted them after youth group hours while we waited outside on the small city’s church steps, at the bottom of swimming pools, in the backs of cars.  These insidious creatures knew no bounds, and we were on the front lines of scouting them, with little game plan for their extermination.  We were Ghostbusters with Bibles and only the canisters of our fearful little hearts to hold these detestably anti-Jesus monsters.

The night that my particularly persistent demon fella gazed unblinking from my ceiling fan, I had enough.  I had warned my co-devil-catchers that there would come a time when they would do more than just scare us– that they would try to take us down.  And I was curled to the corner of my bed, preparing that my prophecy may start with me.

I made a break for it.

I pounded down the stairs and around the corner at the midnight hour and cried at my parents’ bedroom door.  And there, I told on him.  I told on the demon to my mom and dad.  Jesus Christ would have done the same.  In fact, I think he kind of did.

Dad walked me back up the stairs, voice low and strangely understanding.  Even in the height of my panic attack, I still anticipated a stern talking to and a negotiation that would end with, Now go back to bed!  But it wasn’t that at all.  My father, needing to be awake in 4 hours for another 15 hour work day, glided over to where I slept and sat attentive at the end of the bed.  I sat next to him.  And then, he pointed at the possessed ceiling fan.

“There?” he asked, pointing at exactly the spot that had previously housed the glowing red eyes of my enemy.

“Yes,” I said, amazed at his certainty and precision.

And then my father, who grew up in the same house, proceeded to tell me about the demons who lived there, how they haunted him when he was my age, and how he knew where they slept and where they watched us from.  He told me how they would keep him awake at night, but how they had never been able to escape to touch a hair in his nose.  We followed it up with something super Biblical, and I weighed in a nervous prayer in a shaky voice to his confident soldierly one.

My father is the master of getting children back into their beds.  But maybe, he believed me.  And that’s enough to get this kid to daylight without peeing herself.


Those little shits kept popping up all the way through my teen years, through high school, through early college until… they stopped.  And now, I miss them.  It’s not so much the intense paralysis that overtakes my intestinal tract and the sudden feeling of having a bat lodged in my throat, flapping its way through my bloodstream, as it is that these creatures are meant to scare me.  It’s their job.  And they animate and grow big ears and pop into comic books and Neil Gaiman novels.


What I am afraid of now is not their tiny, mutilated faces, but the bearded face of a man 14 years my senior who took advantage of me as a fifteen year old.  And the smooth face of an angry ex-husband who won’t love me.  And the faceless push of time who tells me I am nearing ever closer to the end with nothing to show.  And masses of faces who are killing each other on TV.  And car accidents.  And syringes.  And a world without super heroes.

And with a list like that, I wish more than anything to have those little underworld buggers back again.

Dates and Heaven: On Being Rich

“I don’t know what it is,” she told me, “but I just feel so damned rich when I have a package full of dates in my pantry.  That, and a rack full of wine.”  Sherry had been teaching me how to be rich for months, toting clementines and apples, blending dates with lemon juice and cinnamon and leaving these feasts on the table as we worked.  And she rarely put them away until the containers were empty.  Being the newest employee at our little vegan kitchen, I was hesitant to partake.  I didn’t want to seem grabby.  I didn’t want to offend.  Or maybe I didn’t want to share my own stash.  I was still learning how to claim what was mine, and I was busting my bank to keep the giant refrigerator at home stocked.  That was how I was rich.  Endless options for endless meal possibilities.  And it was breaking me.


I don’t believe in my parents’ God, anymore.  We split a while back on issues of loving your neighbor, although I’m sure that’s always the issue that separates someone from their respective God.  I’m pretty sure that makes my parents richer, because this particular strain of deity is one who thrives on exclusion.  He is what gives them permission to do good deeds for people in Haiti and for children in their church.  They have been storing their riches in Heaven for years, which means that they can’t bask in their golden ponds until after they die.  I like this spiritual squirreling away– intangibly hiding each charitable donation in the nook of a tree just beyond the clouds for the Later.  I worry that their unwavering silent standoff with their son and daughter-in-law will demerit their strong sycamore storage down to a thin birch’s cranny.  It’s too much for me to wonder which deed will win me a bigger crown, and which will potentially send me packing, ragged and homeless, to the pits of Hell.  I keep a safe distance from knowing my eternal destiny, and maybe it makes my parents richer.

Instead, I trail myself around the regions of God that the damned and confused seem to also be, concocting possibilities that may be a solution to poverty and eternal damnation.  I am testing theories over campfires or in Walmart parking lots at night with my Someone, trying to crack the firmament that is encapsulating a place where everyone can live after we die and be rich.  And choose to be rich.


Maybe when we are born, for a split second, everyone sees life and finds the one thing that makes them most curious, and they have to try and resist it as long as they can, because as soon as they learn it, they die.  Curiosity killing cats and stuff.  It could be anything– candlemaking, or the name of the fourth Beatle, or who their true birth mother is.  This way, always, we have a small idea in each of our brains that we will one day be wealthy– that our final itch is still unscratched, and when we scratch it, we can be content with all we’ve been given.  Which may explain why so many of us are afraid to learn something new.  It could be the death of us.


My friend Bryan and his love recently became rich with a decision from the Supreme Court.  I celebrate with them, because it makes them richer, which makes me richer.  But it seems to make much of the Republican party feel poorer.

Maybe it is like this: that all this time that we have been supposed to store our riches in Heaven, God has been storing them in us. S/he places tiny bits of what s/he wants to remember in our brains.  As we forget those things, someone else remembers them for us.  For every death there is a birth, a new memory keeper, a new storehouse of riches.  So many of us have to remember that the sky is blue, because the sky is so big, and God needs as much memory for that as possible so as to keep it from crashing down on us.  And these sort of things make us rich together… if we take the time to share them.


I still keep our refrigerator stocked full, but I shrank the vessel to 1/5th its original size.  This has made me exceedingly wealthy, particularly as people enter our little camper and are greeted with a home.  The day that Sherry traded me a bag full of dates for a Yonanas blender I was hoarding, and now needing to get rid of as I made the transition from house to full-time camper, I became rich, too.  Sherry’s rich was not abundance, it was in the belief that there is enough for everyone.  I keep our pantry stocked with dates, now.  Because they make Sherry rich.  Which makes everyone rich.

Black Fly Mountain Hills: On the Big and the Small.


The age of these mountains does not astound me.  I am not impressed this morning by the looming darkness of the Black Hills of South Dakota, as I perform a stare down of the pokiest one across the reservoir.  The years or centuries they have seen does not shake my yoga pants off.  Their long secrets don’t make me sit back in wonder, gaping small and open and synchronized with the presence of presence.

This is how I am still so young.


Mountains don’t make me ask their age because it isn’t a surprise– most things I know are older than I am.  Also, it’s impolite to ask.  And I don’t seek out their age, because I wouldn’t know how to hear their answer.  I can only count to 29 at this juncture.  In a few more months, my ability to measure will only be at a measly 30.  And I can climb only in these small increments year after year.  Even my longest day brings me only to the end of one day.  30 minus plus another day.  It’s the best I can do.

The black fly on this boulder that partially blocks my view of my face-off mountain each time I downward dog– that life I can’t get over.  If I remember science class, this little vomit machine is my age minus my age plus a day.  And he will be gone before I close my eyes tonight.  If not by the speed of aging, then by a frog’s tongue or by a flyswatter built just to do the deed or by a windshield of a speedboat below.


This is how I am becoming so old.

Black flies don’t make me ask their age because they can’t spare the second.  We stare at each other in a panic of time climbing on itself and curling up and flying away.


And then there is me, caught in a rack focus between black flies and mountains, pushed by a fear of death and rattlesnakes, and pulled by a love of love and cute snails and dirty gin martinis.  Here, the black flies are making me feel so small and the mountains make me only bigger.