If a woman is not Cleopatra, who owns Egypt?

On March 21, 2009, a sweet old hag of a good girl whispered goodbye to su hijo in the East Los Angeles apartment that echoed as hollow as the heartbeat that stopped right when she wanted it to, regardless of whether or not she knew it was what she wanted.

She wrote a poetry chapbook and published in 2002.  Alane Rollings helped her edit it and so was gifted a signed copy – could anyone give a more personal gift?  (Did not J.K. Rowling have the same idea when she turned a book into a piece of a soul?)

Alane was the second wife of writer Richard Stern – not that anyone outside of academics would know who he was since he basked in the shadows of his fellow friends and writers (he said after all, that he didn’t need to write, only that he wanted to do so). But Richard too died and Alane survived him, although she moved out of the house that reminded her of him.

And she left all her books.  Once the writer was gone, the writing never mean anything to her either.

And so it came, that a poetry chapbook by the name of Good Girl was given to Wilson. Wilson owned an antiquarian bookstore in Chesterton, Indiana.  And like a good girl, it sat quietly on the shelf, gathering dust but holding back the sneeze.

Until one very normal August Saturday morning, when I nodded to the accordion player at the European Market and ducked in the bookshop to avoid the piercing glare of the sun AND and the florist who heard me say that buying bouquets of sunflowers were a waste of money.

And finally, such a chapbook finds a home on my own bookshelf, awaiting the day when I can read it to my baby girl.  Because she needs to know that womanhood is ugly and that some people add mascara and blush to the title of “mother” to disguise the pain that comes with it – the heartbreak that I’m sure that same baby girl will inflict upon me before too much time passes.  Because all decent human beings need to know who Lee McCarthy is.

And just to give you a tease, here’s a stanza from a poem called “Conrad’s Mother”:

A woman who lives alone

will go out at nine o’clock at night

to buy ranch dip for the carrots, cappuccino

truffle chocolates for the office, and yoghurt

even though they’ve taken the h out.  

Make your anger so expensive no one can afford it.

They say that drowning is the worst way to die.

I used to think I was drowning. In “wet anger.”

“Wet anger” is when you barely scurry out of work in time to dive into your car, as the tears turn into steam on the dashboard because you couldn’t take a few seconds to turn on the air conditioning before breaking down.  “Wet anger” is when your husband asks you how your day was and your lip starts quivering before he can even sneak in a kiss.  “Wet anger” is when your co-workers ask you how you are and your shaking hands have to pretend to write that email, which is somehow more important than their question because you don’t want them to know that this job is draining the life out of you.

“Wet anger” is when the emotions pound against your head in the shower and whisper degenerate nothings amidst the steam.  “Wet anger” is when you wonder if your water bill is actually paying for salt water because that’s all you taste on your tongue when silent sobs to God bubble forth.  “Wet anger” is falling against the tub in the fetal position while you utter polite excuses like “I dropped the shampoo bottle” or “It’s nothing, don’t worry!” to your husband who has his ear pressed to the door.

But he does worry.

Because it’s not nothing.

Because even though you haven’t eaten as often or as much as you should, you still weigh a little more than a shampoo bottle.  And the bottle never whimpers on it’s way down.

That’s what drowning feels like.

They say that drowning is the worst way to die because you can’t breathe – no matter how hard you try – and all the pressure pushes against you like someone ramming you into a brick wall with a car and ever so s-l-o-w-l-y stepping on the gas pedal.

But in the end, it’s not so bad.  In the end, when the bubble gum has reached it’s bubble capacity, the translucent membrane shudders and surrenders to the pressure.  Like the sudden relief of an anticipated sneeze.

And that relief – well, that’s “dry anger.”

“Dry anger” is when you crawl out of work, slither into your car, and melt in the convection oven that every car turns into in July.  The keys are in your hand, but it’s too much effort to put them in the ignition and turn on the air conditioning – why not just sit and be miserable in the heat?  Because then at least you have something else to be miserable about.  “Dry anger” is when you husband asks how your day is and tries to kiss you, but you look right past him when you mutter your answer and you forget to kiss him back.  And maybe, you even forget to ask the same question back – but also you forgot to make dinner or wash the sheets or pay the electric bill, so you can just add it to the list of things that probably won’t happen.  “Dry anger” is the crack in your voice when you respond to your coworker that you don’t acknowledge and they try to ignore.

“Dry anger” is as bitter as the grounds in the bottom of the coffee mug that you’ve tried to sip for days, but keep putting in the microwave because it seems to never end – kinda like your life.  “Dry anger” is when you lay down in your unwashed sheets for 8 hours with your eyes closed, but when you open them, you feel even more tired than before. Like you haven’t slept at all, except apparently you did because of the sleep encrusted on your lashes.  “Dry anger” is when your husband tries to coax you into the shower and you can’t remember the last time you took one.

But don’t worry.  At least you’re not drowning anymore.

 

Cupcakes are muffins that believe in miracles.

“On Saturday, we’re going to walk downtown.

This Saturday, we’re going to get ice cream.

By Saturday, I’ll have done the math.

I’m so nervous that I’ll have to talk a walk before our walk – a pre-walk, if you will – and maybe settle the butterflies in my stomach with a different flavor of ice cream (cookie dough is my go-to but mint chocolate chip is my anti-anxiety self-medication) and maybe then, I’ll be able to process the math of it all.

After all, I’ve only ended up in a relationship with 18.4% of the guys I’ve gone on a date with – although that number might be lower if you distinguish between a “casual date” and “official date”.

But if you exclude relationships less than 4 months in length, it’s 12.7%.  1/3 of a year doesn’t count, does it?

It gets sketchy if you also exclude long-distance relationships – it’s 6%. I’m not bitter or discontent about it, but I am just trying to be realistic.  I mean, that’s what I do as a data analyst. I analyze the data.

Looking at my stats, it probably won’t go anywhere except downtown and back again. Nevertheless, it just takes 1 person to make the stats entirely irrelevant – another annoying truth of the fragile fickleness of data analysis.

And if these are my thoughts over a chocolate cappuccino crunch muffin, I wonder what they’ll be over ice cream?

*This was adapted from an email from a sweet friend of mine who does have these plans for Saturday and who actually is a data analyst.  I’ve tweaked it for humor’s sake – although her thoughts brought me such joy when I read the original too.

No one ever told me that emptiness weighs the most.

Over 99% of this universe is dark matter.

I’ve heard it said that one can only know happiness after they’ve known sadness.

I’m sitting underneath a blanket that weighs 25 pounds because I’ve also heard it said that these types of blankets can help with depression since it feels like a hug – and hugs release oxytocin.

I don’t know the side-effects of an overdose on this kind of oxy, but I think I could use it right about now. And so could most of my friends. And also the sky, based on the number of days in a row that it has thrown it’s thunderstorm tantrums.

I just started a new government-regulated job and they are teaching me to write the letters “MT” on empty vials that will be cleaned and recycled.

I’ve found it incredibly ironic. And useful.

Absentmindedly, I’ve been scribbling those letters on everything: the spaghetti sauce spattering from my lasagna, the soap suds in the shower, the lipstick smeared across my lips that echo those same letters.

I wonder – with everything that has happened – why I feel this way. I shouldn’t. I should be full, filled to the brim with exuberance, cupping handfuls of excitement for the future, bubbling over with dreams and opportunities and choices. And maybe late at night, if I scoured the corners of my heart and peeked under the dust that’s starting to settle back down after the whirlwind of the past few months, I still might be able to trace remnants of those things.

But I always clock in at 8:00am with the rest of my coworkers and I grab my pen.

MT.
Emtee.
Empty.

There is strong shadow where there is much light.

It’s been a long time since I’ve visited this place, this secret cave that has become my online home where I can hide all of my vulnerable pieces in one out-in-the-open spot.

But it seems that I have roommates.

Whenever I come back to this blog and take a careless glimpse at my stats pages, I’m always taken aback at the number of days that pass between posts punctuated by the number of people who have rifled through the words here.  I don’t mind! It just feels like someone has moved things three inches to the left – there’s just enough of a difference for me to feel awkward stumbling around, but subtle enough that I don’t realize it.

What could you possibly find interesting about this place?

I come to this bean-bag chair of a blog with the fuzzy blanket posts because I’m lonely, and I need to spend some time alone with myself, cuddling with the words of a girl who doesn’t exist anymore.

I come to this infirmary to treat the poison ivy of my soul, because out there, I scratch until I bleed and the scars freckle my skin.  There are no mirrors in this place because ugliness is part of the charm.

I come here to multi-task and cry such gut-wrenching sobs that it turns into an ab workout.  Sweat and grime only add to the decor and sweet stench of the place.

What would you possibly find interesting about that?

But to that loyal follower in the Philippines, to the fellow tea-sippers in Great Britain, to the reader who lives in my namesake city in Australia, to my remarkably large clan in India, to the salt-and-pepper shake of people sprinkled in the Middle East, to all of my silent and shadowy roommates from across the world, I say thank you.

Thank you for helping me pay the emotional rent of this place.  You’re welcome to stay as long as you’d like.

 

 

.

I’m not tired – I just want the world to be quiet for a bit.

The writer came back.

Of all people, I should’ve been the one to know better.

I asked him how he was after he already told me.  How rude of me.

The caverns under his eyes whispered the secrets of his nightmares while his coffee breath murmured quiet confessions about his drug addiction.  Multiple hangnails on his thumbs turned away shyly, dripping evidence of his stress-filled days as the sunshine leaked through the window and splashed across his desk in his tiny NYC studio. Straggling hairs crept out his ponytail, ashamed of their existence that rivaled the tangles of thoughts that bounced – no, pounded – like hammers on anvils in that rugged head of his. The charcoal eyes had lost their spark, and I worried for him as much he worried his lip with those aching teeth that sorely needed brushing.

He smiled. How sad he was.

He reached out his hand.

I panicked.

I was too weak to be his lifeline!  Don’t ask this of me.   I stared quietly at the fingers shadowed with ballpoint smears, shadows of his soul’s troubles quivering there.

“Two years ago, I thought you were an asshole.”

No, that wasn’t my script.

“For two years, I hated you.”

Well that wasn’t much better…

He laughed. The sound of such an empty emotion echoed as John 11:35 veiled my thoughts.

But this drama was far from over and I steeled myself for the rest of my monologue.  My elegy distracted him from his own troubles for awhile and he cried tears – not for himself but for me! – by the time the tale had trickled so slowly from my lips that it reached it’s end.   Despite the clownish makeup on my face, he recognized me beyond the costume.

When I bowed and walked away, I thought the play was over.  The look on his face made me wonder if there would be an encore.

I will never see him again.

Except when I look in the mirror.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How helpless I feel with a full cup of coffee and the urge to sneeze.

“I got a full, doctor and psychiatrist-recommended, fully-functional human being requirement of 8 hours of sleep last night. It rained today and the autumn wind nibbled at the edge of my turtleneck and flirted with the goosebumps sliver of skin above my ankle boots. 

The night before that, I fell into the company of bar flies, procrastinating college students, and penniless writers and went to bed at 2:30 to wake up at 7:15. It looked like a country song: sunny and 75 with girls in short shorts carrying overpriced sugary bean water in cups with a green mermaid printed on the side

Not that it matters what the weather was like – welcome to October in the Midwest. But thus begins the cycle of waking and wanting.   

I take my coffee like myself.  Hot and slightly bitter.  

I take my tea the same way.  Stronger than it needs to be. 

And yet I can wake up in the morning without actually drinking what’s in the mug that warms my hands.  It’s the experience.  It’s the standing in line at the coffee shop, admiring the way the barista expertly pushes buttons, pulls levers, and drips coffee into paper cups but not envying how early they had to get up to do so (they have to be earlier to work than even I!).  It’s simply carrying it to class and having something comforting to wrap your fingers around, the warmth slithering to your veins. It’s the smell and knowing what you have to look forward to, the anticipation of putting the mug to your lips and feeling the slight tink of the ceramic against enamel. 

Take it a step further. It’s the first sip that burns the same place on your tongue over and over, forgetting how hot it was the day, week, month before.  It’s the bitter bite of the flavenoids on the back of your tongue and the churning of your stomach as the acidic coffee hits the chyme. It’s the jitters that course though your fingers and the shake of the pen as you take notes for your caffeine-logged brain to register later.

Like all things, the experience is almost better than the thing.  The relationship is always better than the person.  The person is imperfect and selfish, a student and a tutor with pimples on her nose because she was too tired to wash the makeup off, a student teacher with too little motivation and time to invest in things other than the class schedule.  People are messy but it’s the relationship itself that makes it worth it.  

Coffee leaves stains but it’s the experience that I need.”

She nodded, satisfied as her eyes flitted across the lines once more.  One hand slid on the keyboard to publish the post and the hand wrapped tightly, possessive, and slightly neurotically around a mug of black coffee that glimmered seductively in the low lamp light.

The experience, indeed. big_thumb_f58f2692810eb6f9a6f06f3d5224aea5