Saturday, April 30, 2005

Fiction: Tijuana

The balcony at the front of my aunt’s apartment will always be unfinished and her home will always smell like the permeating sweet of the golden-green Mexican mango.

I climbed the concrete steps to the screen door of her apartment and rang the bell. The air was dry and the street quiet, the dirt road absorbing the city sounds mere blocks away. The ring seems disproportionately loud. The noontime heat wasn’t enough to make me sweat, but the black vinyl of my 1975 Buick was, the traffic crossing the border into Tijuana, Mexico, was. While I waited on the balcony with no handrail, avoiding the trecherous ledge, I glanced across the street at the other duplexes, their heavily adorned iron gates painted a variety of whites and blacks, their front gardens untamed masses of green, freckled with sunflowers and hibiscus flowers.

A deep breath soothed me a little, the knowledge of the panaderia a few houses down tempting me to take a walk to see the young girls who worked behind the counter selling pan dulce. They were as much a part of Tijuana culture as anything else. A dog’s relentless bark however really told me I was home one more time.

Tía Rita reached the door and opened it. She was a whirlwind of chirping Spanish and soulful laughter and like the storm she seemed, she swept me easily into her arms, squeezing tightly and making me feel small and insignificant. She released me, cupping my cheeks in her warm onion-smelling hands and narrowing her eyes, her face full of curiosity or suspicion or questions, because I’d surprised her.

“What are you doing here so far from Los Angeles, my daughter?”

Although I wasn’t her child, she called me that because she loved me like one. She practically raised me. Perhaps it felt that way more than it was actually so – perhaps she simply knew me in a way only a mother knows a daughter.

“Who is the bastard and what did he do?”

I opened my mouth to speak, to deny it, to say I just wanted to see her. Nothing came out other than a broken sound, an audible crumpling of my heart. I adjusted my sunglasses and shut my eyes, shaking my head and pursing my lips, pressing them tightly to keep everything inside. It had never been my intention to tell tales of agony. I’d planned on simply enjoying my aunt, absorbing her bravery and impenetrability. I needed it.

“No, no, no,” she said, “Stop it. Enough.”

She held me again in her arms, her clothes the scent of a flowery perfume, one she’d worn forever, a repeating gift from her unofficial lover, Señor Salvador.

“Men are peanuts to be shelled,” she whispered. “Salted, eaten.”

The walls of her place were adorned with portraits of Jesus and Mary and her mother, the three occupying spots on the wall, equidistant from one another, all at the same level. The coffee table and couches were covered with handmade lace. The colors of her apartment were muted, subtle. The complete opposite of my Tía. She was over 60 and she’d never been married. She never let that moral barrier stop her from enjoying her life in every way a woman can enjoy her life. So contagious was her goodness and daring everyone who was important in Tijuana knew her. She needed a permit to add a room to her apartment building? The mayor of the city pushed it through, high priority. She had a friend who had a run-in with law enforcement? The Chief of Police clarified the trouble, arranged the District Attorney see things more in favor of the law-breaker. She had problems with thugs on the street? Señor Jesus De Moreno, a person of questionable papers, saw to the clean-up.

My aunt put a pot on the stove to make percolated coffee and took two bowls from her cupboard, placing them on the green-flowered tile counter. Using a large stainless-steel spoon, she filled the bowls with albondiga soup. I didn’t want to tell her she was wasting her time. I could not eat the wonderful rice meatballs in chicken and vegetable broth – my hurts would not let me speak, much less eat.

While she had her lunch, while she drank from her coffee cup, she saw my untouched meal, my hands folded on my lap, my sunglasses still covering up my weeping. She wiped her hands on her apron and lay her hand gently on my arm, repeating an old Mexican saying, “They say the devil knows everything not from being the devil, but because he’s old.” She’s telling me she knows it all, that there is no story unfamiliar.

She smiled at me and took more sips from the coffee. I sniffled and planned my days ahead in my mind. I would sleep in her bed. I’d be treated to music at night coming from her record player. I’d hear her talking on the telephone or to a neighbor through her window. I’d hear the city late at night. I’d remember my years of living here.

“Your Tío Nestor has moved to Mexico City like he always wanted. The good thing is he’ll be living near Lela so he can take care of her. She has not recovered from the accident. He’ll get her on her feet again.”

Lela, my cousin, had lost her home to a fire started by faulty electrical work. She survived the fire with only minor burns, but the building completely collapsed. When she went back to retrieve what was left of her belongings, she fell in the wreckage and broke her leg, severely. The place had been rebuilt – whether it was safe now was not guaranteed. People were contacted, contracts were made, and bribes were paid. Work was done but again, there was no telling. A tremor or another fire would reveal the sanctity of the construction. Nobody really worried about another catastrophe. What happened was in the past. Who’s to say about tomorrow? We were born to die.

“Do you remember my telling you about Señor Jimenez?” She turned momentarily to listen as someone came up the stairs. If the noise stopped after the first flight, the visitor was for the neighbor. The footsteps ceased and so my aunt went on with her recollection.

“He used to serenade me under the moon, at my mother’s house. I pretended to sleep, not getting up, not acknowledging him. She would come out to chase him away, threatening to throw the molcajete at him. And she was strong enough to do it. To not miss. Later, when the night was darker and the coyotes were singing, he would bring a ladder and sneak into my room and we’d make love. Afterwards, he would walk out of my bedroom naked, his clothes in his hands, whistling. Right as the sun was coming up. Right past my mother's room. I think he wanted to get caught. We wanted to get caught. Mamá would have killed him.” She laughed. “We were chickens, my daughter, strutting in front of the farmer who stood there swinging his knife, ready to cut our necks. I don’t know what we were expecting.”

She laughed and sipped more coffee, her gaze dreamy.

“Whatever I wanted, I took,” she said. “What do you want, mi chiquita? Who has slapped your reaching hand?”

I glanced down at my soup, at the rice floating along with cilantro leaves. God has slapped my hand, I think. I tried to pocket more love than what I was entitled to, I tried to keep it, but I got caught like a common thief. My lover had left me with no explanation. My husband had no idea of my pain. My children were shining displays of guilt in the form of innocent neediness. They were little birds in a nest, their mouths open and calling and calling me. And there I was, lying on the ground, still…still. Through my tinted lenses, I looked at my aunt, a woman who went through life wielding a sword rather than hiding behind a shield. She was unapologetic.

“I know what you’re going to say, that I didn’t get hurt.”

Shrugging, I let my voice stir a bit, shudder into motion, “That would not be realistic.”

“Correct. Men have hurt me. I have loved and I have lost, my heart torn to shreds. I have lost love to death.” She paused and I licked my lips and sniffled and adjusted my glasses. I rubbed my arms, feeling the sweater beneath my fingertips. Feeling cold. “I accepted the pain as a part of my life, I saw my pain as nothing in comparison to what my mother experienced, as even less than what my grandmother experienced. I rode a sea of ancient sadness and floated on their tears.”

At that, I lifted my head and took my sunglasses off. With an empathetic chuckle coming from deep inside of her, she rubbed the wetness across my cheeks. She said, “The salt, my daughter, is good for your skin.”

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Flight into Fantasy, Television, Blogging

Stealing artifacts from the tombs of imperial Shalala enriched the rebellion, no doubt. Princess Lamama and her troops gained much needed credibility amongst the farmers. The reality of war left Her Highness contemplative, bordering on a spasm of indecision. She would never let on, though, because she refused to let her people down. No...war was inevitable.

Princess Lamama appreciated the wise, but no less daring, negotiation strategies offered by her best officer, the Flying Rakoko. She worried secretly, however, that his bindings to his unworthy family, the Stringsoms, would prove his undoing. She needed more time, a limited commodity.


M and I built our own kite yesterday to take advantage of the windy afternoon. To our delight, the little guy flew! We learned that a tailless kite means no flight, but a tail, weighed down by ribbons made from a retired pillowcase, leads to flight. We were definitely empowered with the knowledge, buoyed even. We’re gearing up to helping J with his science project about kites. The above are pictures I uploaded last night to a gallery of mine, along with some built-up captions, explorations of fantasy, about a lone Princess battling dark forces. The first picture is from earlier in the year…sorting cans from bottles for recycling, the second is our kite.


I move on to television, thinking about Simon’s very interesting response below which I can appreciate. I won’t argue against the premise that no household is improved by television. Flying a kite, reading books, building Lego houses, drawing, writing, playing tag outside, talking to one another, etc. are all preferable activities to be sure.

But…but…I love television, nevertheless. I record lots of dramatic programs and mysteries, as well as the occasional episode of “Supernanny” (for research purposes, you understand). As a family, we watch the latest movies, M and A watch their special programs, and J watches anything to do with skateboards. We do this in addition to all our other stuff. It's part of our family life.

First, it’s a learned habit – television was big in our house while I was growing up. We watched often, during dinner, in the evenings, with or without my parents. My favorite ritual took place on Sunday nights when we’d see the Disney hour, Lawrence Welk, and the National Geographic specials. We had the best time together, all five of us. Because of the t.v., my parents’ bedroom became a bastion of pleasure for us children. My mother spent a lot of time there reading, napping, knitting, crocheting, rug-making. Always with the television on. Years later, when my parents were on the verge of divorce and my father would spend time away from the house, when we children were all in college with one foot in the real world and one foot still at home, my sister and I would get food from our favorite Chinese restaurant, bring it to the house, and then arrange ourselves with drinks and dishes and sit with my mom in her room to watch whatever show was on. “Golden Girls” was our favorite program. We also had a weakness for made-for-t.v. movies. In fact, those movies were great relief for me during law school, as a break from the intensive studying.

So was born my television habit.

Secondly, it’s equivalent to comfort food – I am comforted, I escape, when I watch television. The kids go down and D and I flip on the t.v. to catch our favorites. We laugh, we cry, we snuggle. When my father died, I had a hard time sleeping so I’d turn the television on as company. I’d take a leave from grieving for just a little while that way. I continue to use the television when times are difficult.

Lastly, it’s pure entertainment. When you can’t go outside, when you’re too tired to read, it’s nice to simply “veg” and enjoy the stories.

Educational? Sometimes, but I won’t kid myself or anyone who asks. I’m rather unabashed in my love for television. Perhaps you can tell, perhaps my vocabulary isn’t as sophisticated because I’ve abandoned heavy literature or non-fiction studies for “Desperate Housewives.” Perhaps I can tell when I give up the deeper thought in writing for a lighter, shorter version. I don’t know…all I do know, is that Simon is right. I don’t kill the television because *I* can’t give it up. So there.


On blogging…why? As I said before, I like to practice my writing, to keep it up, no matter what it is. I’ve totally been enjoying the comments I get (I won’t say I’m a comment-a-holic, not yet). I see this blog as a place where I get to explore “me” in my rather challenging environment. It’s a place to vent a little. Perhaps, ultimately, I just want to wave my hand and jump up and down…much like people sometimes do in a crowd when a television news camera aims in their direction, while taping a reporter.

Hi! Yoo hoo! Hi everyone! Look at me!


Princess Lamama gave up her dreams of war when she lost crucial support from the farmers - she couldn't fight what amounted to a cult mentality. The Valley Shalala would have to wait for freedom.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Serial Metaphors

I've spoken of my oldest son and his running into the social world of junior high - how he's on the verge of puberty - how he's like one of those horses at the horse races banging against the steel gate, so anxious to get on with growing up. D and I tell him over and over to slow down, to think, that life is about making choices, about making good choices in order to have a wonderful, joyous life. We cover the natural inevitability of making bad choices. We say, if you make the wrong choices you will bear the consequences, you will lose opportunity, fail, you will not get where you want to get. We say you can learn from those mistakes. Improve. Most importantly we will always love you no matter the choices you make.

It has become clear to us however that he enjoys too much the negative attention he gets at school due to his bad choices. As such, he continues to make said bad choices, the wrong choices. Before our eyes, we see him carving out a path for himself that might very well lead to a deep well of unhappiness.

I am at a loss, to tell you the truth, I feel as if I've hit a brick wall, a stone fence. I feel as if I've been in a park and have stepped on a rusty nail. I'm down on the ground now, watching...almost helpless. All the positive energy, the positive talking, the privilege-giving, all the groundings, the restrictions on contact with friends and/or video games, television, etc. have gotten us nowhere. I've even tried exposure, i.e. telling an aunt or an uncle about a particular incident thinking that another voice might help. Now, I'm considering private school and I tell him so. He tells me, "I'll just be the baddest kid there." I tell him he'll do sixth grade again and he says, "I'll run away."

I am at a loss.

I tell D that perhaps we need to let him fail, that perhaps he's no longer ours to control. Let him lose. His life is just that, HIS life not ours. His choices are HIS choices which very well might not lead to unhappiness. Let him decide what to do. We settle back on our laurels for oh...five minutes before we're back to hand-wringing.

I'm switching my analogy now, changing the's not the horse race he's ready to take part in, we're not facing a brick wall, I'm not nursing a bloody sole. Instead, we're staring into the mouth of a crater - one I remember seeing in Mammoth, California. A large, open, beauty-rimmed crater that goes down hundreds of feet. At the bottom is a crisp-looking, lovely patch of blue water. The openness is inviting...all those feet away. I remember one time holding onto J because I was so afraid of him falling into the pit. I can still feel his tight belly under his little shirt as I pressed him to my body, as we both peered over the edge. He's perfectly safe in my memory, my feet are securely on the ground, he can pull all he wants, and he's not going to tumble down the cliff.

Fast-forward eight years and suddenly, he's many pounds heavier and he can definitely get out of my clutch. He can even do worse, he can pull me down, too.

D and I simply take a deep breath and ignore his drama. D sits down with him at the table to do the math homework. I call the private school to set up an appointment for a test. I turn and try to help A with clocks. I click on the television for M so she can watch her favorite Max and Ruby and suck on a popsicle. I retire to my office to write. Maybe, I think, J will float the way down into the crater, float and drift and dip his fingers into the sweet blue water. With a gasp and a thrilling rush maybe he'll move upwards, like a bird, and fly past the craggy rock walls and brush and head into the blue of the sky. The crater perhaps isn't a crash into unhappiness, but a pot hole in a road to a brilliant future, a dip in a roller coaster, a step into a circle of mud. A mere step.

Tonight, I think, I'll be seeing my brother and sister for a game of poker. A game of chance and skill. Ultimately, it's a matter of luck.

God, I hope I'm lucky.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Catching Up, Getting Behind, Pope Benedict XVI, and Flowers

I'm just going to write - I'm not going to compose, I'm not going to orchestrate, I'm not going to swirl a stick in the sand to make a picture. Just going to hit the keys.

Last week we took some days and went to the beach, to Legoland, just D and I and the kids. We had fun - D and I were surprised at the kids' getting along that evening in our one hotel room. A sheer miracle. We had thought, last time out, that we'd always have to get two rooms. They managed to pull it off without driving us off the balcony, lemming-style. The weather was perfect - sunny, a cool breeze, near-cloudless. The entire time we were out there, we lived in a lovely bubble of ignorant bliss - we heard no news, we didn't watch any television other than some wrestling cartoon (Mucha Lucha) on Cartoon Network (I think), we read no newspapers, the radio was off. Nobody died, nobody cheated, nobody lied, nobody bombed any countries, no insurgents bombed themselves and/or others, no natural disasters happened, no calamities whatsoever, no robberies, no murders, no illegal trades of stock, no governmental errors, no negligence, no major mergers, no major closings, no layoffs, no shocking drops in the DOW.

I got behind in my grading though. I have a lot of catching up to do. But the pain is worth those days, a bunch of happy moments sitting side-by-side.

We took a walk on the beach in the morning, A, M, and I, seagulls accompanying us along with the roar of the ocean, the roar of other travelers on the road, a breeze that called for a kite, our own voices. M didn't like the sand in her shoes but A held her hand while I took off her shoe and emptied sand. A repeating process nobody minded. We talked to a stranger who'd set himself on a folding chair and cradled a thermos of coffee while watching the waves. He answered our questions about the birds on the sand and about the best places to walk. He smiled and went back to his watching.

We continued our walk until it was time to get to Legoland. Our time there in the amusement park was equally slow - we hardly hit any of the expected rides. Both days were were there, we lingered, playing in the open spaces and in the fountains when we could. There just wasn't any rush.

When it came time to leave each day, we tumbled into the car willingly, looking forward to a dinner, a drink of soda, a little bit of shopping. The ride home at last was quiet, the boys listening to their cd's and M sleeping. On Sunday, D and I agreed, we can't wait for summer.

Today, M and I watched the announcement of the new Pope, il nuevo Papa. We listened to those bells and I could almost feel the thrill of being there. I was reminded of my mother's absence - my sister called and reminded me of what Mom would be saying on the phone to us, "Are you watching?" She loved Pope John Paul II - as a Mexican woman, she had a special relationship with the Catholic church. Sure, she disagreed with some of the ideas, but in her heart where it mattered, she loved the church. So...yeah, she'd have been watching. We'd have been over at her place.

I went to the store and still have bags of food waiting to be put away. M is sleeping on the couch - the house is quiet, quiet. More happy moments.

You know, if you set those moments of happiness next to each other on a field, picture them looking like flowers, planted all over the place in rows or not, and fly upwards, pulling away like a bird, eventually the moments will all blend together into a single, hardly uninterrupted carpet of color. I think of impressionist paintings or that newfangled computer thing where you have an image, a portrait of a person, that's actually made up of thousands of thumbnails of individual pictures. It's the little things, the single moments...eventually they'll create a harmonious flow of nothing but joy.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

On the Difficulties of Writing

The books said, change the writing environment and writer’s block will be catapulted into the violet skies of the absent. The writer took the advice and left her cluttered, document-filled office near the rear of her house to try sitting at the kitchen table with pen and paper, a tiffany lamp swinging above her and a Beta fish swimming round in a bowl next to the icebox. Sugared strawberries sparkling in a plate next to her pet fish, however, taunted her into eating them, the sweet so delicious she licked the porcelain clean and chewed the green leaves at the bottoms of the fruit. The paper remained wordless, red clouds staining the upper corners.

Moving down the hall, the bedroom’s bed offered a place for her to recline and think. She poised the pen inches from the paper. Except, the oceanic candles on the side tables teased her into lighting their wicks and the wool blanket featuring forests of pines convinced her to unfold it. Before long, the lights flickered due to her snoring and the lower corners of the paper got a good blue waxing, wordless still.

The bathroom’s shower then coaxed her in and as the water warmed, she relaxed on the countertop, knees up, paper and pen against her thighs, but still the paper drew nothing from her.

Calm, she told herself. Breathe, she said aloud, let it all flow out of the pen because I am following the book’s recommendations to the letter.

Nothing still poured from the pen.

After soaping and shampooing and rinsing in cold water (she spent far too much time staring at her face in the foggy mirror), when she emerged and faced the paper, the only thing she saw was a glob of dried lavender scrub smack in the center. No words had come whatsoever.

While her hair dried into black curls, the locks their brightest in the sun, their dullest when smashed against cotton pillowcases, she walked into the garden, naked as the day she was born, and sat on a chair. Citrus trees surrounded her, the oranges and limes and lemons rotting on the branches, the scented air sickeningly pungent.

Her dog, a smart beagle named Cocomo, hopped up onto her lap and buried his nose in between her breasts for the briefest of moments, and then began to lap up the scrub, the red, and the blue, right off the paper. He looked at her and panted, happy and smiling as if he’d just eaten chicken on the bone against all the rules.

The paper was blank once again, white and crisp and ready.

The bees buzzed, the flowers flushed, she shushed.

At that point, and at that point particularly, she went to a new place, a place slightly to the right, not left, and easy to the southerly west, inside herself, in her head, bringing forth a 1920’s steam engine pulling an 1842 passenger train which roared towards her house, swung around the corner, and ripped upwards from the bottom of the paper to the top and off.

With a screech that was not to be believed, the train stopped and a man in a purple fedora hat, a velvety black cat suit, and alligator boots stepped off, saying something in a language that no doubt was Portuguese in origin with a hint of Swahili. Exhaling in an exasperated huff, he gave a careless wave of his hand and reached forward gloved, grabbing hands. She was perplexed, but then she saw what he wanted. Without so much as a please, he grabbed Cocomo, turned on his heels, and got right back onto the quickly departing train.

The shock! Of all the soft things to grab, why Cocomo!

The writer immediately jumped up (after an obligatory scream), got on her pinkest, thinnest coat lying lazily on the lounge and took hold of her widest umbrella because the rainy season was coming. She pounced into some rabbit slippers and downed a waiting shot glass of a generic cola soda. The caboose of the train was still about to come through. There was time and she had the impetus.

At last, for Cocomo, she was to embark on the trip of her life, deep into the jungles of her imagination, the only place where one can write, truly. Only then, as she hung on for dear life to the railing of the speeding caboose, could she shake off the writer’s block that had been strangling her for years.

Monday, April 11, 2005

A quickie on the world in the news...more updating entry.

I was actually touched by the death watch for the Pope - I was impressed with him as a man, impressed by the seemingly genuine love people had for him. I was moved by the honesty I saw in the people who were willing to put up with hours and hours of waiting, the worst crowds, having the most incredible patience I've ever witnessed, just to see a glimpse of him lying in state. What a contrast to people who can't wait a second for lesser things, to people who will kill others for minor intrusions into their space.

Michael Jackson (no link...I just offer that you check out any news link) is going DOWN. I do not see a jury being swayed by a conspiracy theory among so many people testifying to pretty much the same thing. The sad thing is that Jackson's freakness, his arrogance, is what's killing him.

Update: A great article about a volatile voice in female/male studies, Andrea Dworkin, who passed away April 9, 2005, at age 58, the article and death mentioned by Professor Althouse. With reason, Andrea Dworkin pissed a lot of people off. I studied her in law school and I was fascinated by all the noise she made, by all that pot-stirring and pot-throwing she did. She said outrageous things, hateful things. Crazy things. But one thing she never accomplished was the state of being ignored, like so many female voices that attempt loudness. It's the state of "not being ignored" that makes me forgive Condoleezza Rice and Ann Coulter their conservatism, Hilary Clinton for her imperfections. While I may want to, on occasion, thrown them to wayside and pray for them to switch sides or mainstream, I never stop admiring their loudness, being outright thankful for it.


My 41st birthday arrives with a bang, a bell, waking me at nine a.m. sharp as the family has plans to attend the horse races at the Santa Anita racetrack, in the infield, promising fun, lost bets, a blast, on this bright and sunny day. Auntie’s Day Out, my sister, takes the lead right off, calling me to make sure I have everything in place, the picnic foods, the kids, the husband, the right clothes, the shoes, a hat? Sunscreen? Yes, I say, moving firmly into second place because I have everything I need, but one never knows for sure because things happen just like that time we wanted to go to the mountains and none us ended up going because Darling Spouse With a Hat had a last-minute meeting to attend and there was no way I could go with all three kids? I’m holding back, I know, but I can’t help it, I’m second guessing, double-checking, and thrice looking. At that point, I’m surprised by Darling Spouse With a Hat coming forward, all smiles, singing birthday tunes, and getting the kids dressed, brushed, and punished for misdeeds as usual, and the children are blossoming and damn if I don’t fall back into fourth place, Auntie still ahead, Darling Spouse with a Hat coming into second, the kids, All The Kids, in third. This is when, I, Forty First Birthday, hop into the shower and hop out to dress, dry, and dream about pictures I’ll take with my new zoom lens. My normally in first place brother, Lucky Brother Every Day, shocks me by calling and saying he’s stuck…stuck in fifth place because Trouble in a Tank Top, his wife, in sixth place, is exhausted from her business trip and is still sleeping and he doesn’t know when he’ll get to the finish and doesn’t, he notes, doesn't the finish seem oh so far away and maybe he should just call it quits? Maybe he’ll have to fall back even further and meet us there at the end rather than at Auntie’s house or worse, maybe end it altogether and never get to the finish. No, I say, keep on! Rush, boy, come on, boy, we have to meet at Auntie’s, that’s the plan to meet at Auntie’s, don’t let us down, Lucky Brother Every Day! At which point we all fly forward out of the neighborhood, tearing through the town, onto the freeway turf, until at last we see Auntie’s house, the final stretch towards the finish line, but then tragedy strikes, with the next-to-youngest member of team All the Kids, M, as she vomits all her strawberries into her lap, the rest of the Kids team members gagging and screaming while me and Darling Spouse With a Hat simply look at each other, crippled and limping back into fifth and sixth place respectively, watching Lucky Brother Every Day pass us by, Trouble in a Tank Top waving and looking sympathetic but having no choice in taking over second and third place, Auntie still dominating. By the time we roll into the final stretch, Darling Spouse with a Cigar comes up from seventh place with the hose so we could rinse M’s clothes stripped off, the blanket, and the car seat. At this point, Auntie packs her car, I give M a bath, the Darling Spouses come up from the rear and finish the packing, getting the kids buckled, getting the dogs locked away, locking the house. I then tear out of the house, stick M into her car seat and finally, lastly, we all shut our SUV doors and race towards the finish, for a photo finish, just happy to have made it to the track in one piece.

We were all winners that day. We had a lovely time in the sun, watching the races while the kids played on the slides, played the games, and ate the best picnic food. Only T, my brother's wife, won a significant number of races making her the one with the most accurate instincts. We definitely want to go again.

Happy Birthday to me, this past weekend. Happy Birthday to all my family and friends and fellow bloggers. Happy Birthday to everyone whose birthday I’ll forget this coming year.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Cliché Revealed - Life as a Roller Coaster

I’m waiting in line for a roller coaster at an amusement park and it’s hot, making me sticky and thirsty and impatient with overheard talk about a movie I’ll never see and a person’s sex life who shouldn’t be sharing those things out loud for my sake, let alone God's sake. I hear the rush of the roller coaster and watch the cars filled with screaming people who are throwing their hands up in the air, an act I won't do because I'm afraid my wedding ring will fly off. Butterflies in my stomach no longer apply – I’m far too old, I’ve been on these things far too many times. This one is new though and promises terror and I laugh with my kids and my brother over the “impending doom.”

I glance across the people and down an incline and can see the lights of the merry-go-round, reflecting on the cliché that one would prefer the highs and lows of the coaster to the dull, round-and-round of the carousel meaning real life ups and downs are preferable to the safety of smooth, non-risky living.

But I don’t know about that because I love the carousel – I love the fine painted horses and the giggles of the preschoolers and the flashing by into a blur of the world as you tilt your head back and eye the sidelines. There’s a subtle thrill there, the kind of thrill that’s dizzying in its apparent safety. The mirrors in the center reflect others, not me. I’m hidden and ghostly among the colors. The music is loud and unchanging, pounding up and down in a whimsical frenzy, the tunes one associates with knife-wielding clowns and visions of the insane and phobic. If I slip, if I fall, I’ll have to scramble, the horses moving and dominating, the feet of the kids dangerous and unhelpful. If I fall off, I’ll get hurt for certain, forces sending me outwards, maybe causing me to slip beneath into the mud and muck and gears. And it's possible to fall because it's not unusual to walk the floorboards while you're going round, walk the floor to find another seat, to tend to another child. If I think too much about it, I'll wake up in a cold sweat, the terror of a memory perhaps, or just twisted imagination, palpable in the night air. If I get on a horse, I’ll feel the soft sway of the rhythm, I’ll feel the warm gold of the pole, I’ll touch the leather of the strap that has a far different feel if whipped against bare skin. You see, it’s the false representation that’s terrifying, just like suburban safety, like the safety of marriage, the safety of a four-year-old grasping your arms and neck in bed.

No, no…the merry-go-round is terrifying. Real life resides there in a way far more treacherous than the roller coaster. In the round about we’ll see the hidden dangers of a peaceful blow of a breeze on a quiet day, in the gentle swell of the sea and ebb back into the horizon.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Salsa for Lunch

Yesterday was sweet, like honeyed iced tea on a summer day. M and I met my sister and two of her kids at my maternal grandparents’ house for lunch and nurturing and talk. The house hasn’t changed much since the day they moved in during the early 70’s. Down the street sits my childhood home which changed owners when my parents divorced in the 90’s. I rode my bike to my grandmother’s house more times than I can remember – the ride without my dad, in fact, was one of my first expressions of independence. We had Kentucky Fried Chicken. Salsa and fruit were made, cut, arranged, with the deepest attention, with love for us. Mama Nana, the term of affection we use, moves slower now since my mother died. She’s aged to her full 86 quickly in the past few years.

I also think, though, I never saw her age prior to these recent years. My mother was the buffer – Mom tended to dominate the scene when we met all together, wherever. My grandmother reads all the time, she thinks all the time. She always has something pithy and important to say and often brings something out from her readings to show us. She’s fiery – she gets in trouble with her sisters because she says what’s on her mind with no regard to tact. I always tease her on that point. She shrugs it off now – she used to get more indignant.

We sat outside in the warming spring sun with my sister, seven months old baby B sitting like a peach waiting to be eaten up with love kisses. T and M ran under the lemon and orange and grapefruit trees way in the back of the yard. Mama Nana talked to them and picked the fruit and showed the kids how to eat the orange “Mexican style”: a bite out of the rind, opening a hole so you can suck the juice and pulp out.

A, my sister, and I sat on the towels used like blankets and talked about her upcoming trip to Mexico on a cruise with her husband’s family. My brother-in-law’s parents treat their kids to a family trip each year. I’ll miss A during the week – we talk to each other constantly so I’ll definitely feel her absence. I’ll see Mama Nana more than normal, I’ll talk to her more. My sister lives closer to her and so she usually takes on the “checking in” of our grandmother. I’ll step in her shoes this week.

I took pictures. I always do, I’m always after the ideal portrait of my grandmother and her house.

The afternoon closed quickly, my having to leave to pick up A from school. I hugged my sister goodbye and we made sad faces at each other from our cars as we drove away. I always wave at my grandmother as she waves at me, standing next to my grandfather by the side door. M fell asleep on the way home. A large, luscious lemon rolled on the passenger seat, back and forth, shifting with the turns. The boys will love it – it’s a perfect lemon.