A Page of One's Own

listen,

Jun
10

listen,
to the people who built you and lean in,
as they take their last breaths and speak a few words in their minds
buried deep
for you. listen,
to your smallest, tightest values and wonder,
where they came from and why they are so fluid that you ending
and them beginning
is the same. listen,
to the memory of when your grandpa cried over the phone and hear,
the song you played him on the piano
when he missed you and home and never
loved anything more. listen,
as heaven meets earth and you process death and wonder,
how it is that he is whole, that he is beautifully,
wonderfully, perfectly whole. listen,
to your father as he experiences father’s day without and hold on,
to him and the stories and phrases and words
he speaks. listen,
to your sadness and allow it to hurt and step back,
to see that your emotion manifests your depth and breadth and means you have
someone to miss. listen,
to God lifting the burden of a hurting mind and remember,
when you were fourteen and knew this was the last time, just you and him,
talking with perfect clarity. listen,
to how you thought you were special but it turns out everyone was to him,
and live.

Her Hands

Jan
09

January 28, 2016 ushered in new life,
and God smiled.

Her hands touched air for the first time and she felt cold
and cried and reached for my belly but felt instead my face.
Her hands swaddled down tight by the nurse, under the thin blanket with pastel footprints
in pink and green and blue and yellow.
Her hands with ten perfect fingers and ten tiny slivers of fingernails,
her hands new from God to me—
she reached for my belly but felt instead my face.
Her hands touching the minky pink carseat cover for the first time,
fingers squeezing and then spreading out,
feeling carpet and bathwater and sinks and and towels and clothes,
warmth and skin and lips.
Her fingers wrapped around her own thumb, clenching with curiosity and wonder in this world,
her hands holding another thumb for closeness, and then another,
of her grandfather, her grandmother, her aunt, her uncle.
She reached for anything bright and moving—toys, mouths, mobiles, blankets, her curled toes—
and then her hands brought leaves and toys mobiles blankets and toes to her mouth.
Her hands found her soft lamby, pink and new, and she cuddled him close.
Her hands found the ground, and she pushed off and kicked and rolled,
her hands clawed the carpet and she balled up and spread out and crawled.
her hands found the chair, and she struggled and pulled and stood,
her hands found each other, and she smiled and giggled and clapped.
Her hands said “more” and she grunted and reached, and her hands said “all done.”
Her hands waved “hello” to grandma for the first time, and “good-bye” to daddy on his way to school.
Her hands gave high-fives, and she loved the sound, and she scrunched up her nose and squealed.
Her hands found a toothbrush and she would not give it up, and her hands
discovered the cold of the snow and the hot of my breath.
Her fingers felt the piano keys; she played a C# over, and over, and over, again
and her hands found drawers and suitcases and boxes to unpack.
Her hands recoiled with new people and pointed to new friends.
Her hands danced and twirled and imagined and wondered.

Her hands will hold those weary ones and wipe tears of those tired ones,
and they will build a life and a future and legacy of creation
of beautiful things and beautiful people and beautiful thoughts.
Her hands will work, they will plant gardens for the hungry and build homes for the lonely.
Her hands will reach out, and they will reach up.
Her hands will hold a newborn and touch its face, and wonder at its perfection and
those hands will find God and those hands will know God,
and He will smile.

The Things That Made Me

Sep
03

314170_4597077370870_1398264791_nSix Years Old; Miniature Glass Piano

Given to me by a music-loving relative, it equated buried and found treasure to my six-year-old heart. Smaller than my hand, I pretended endlessly to play its sliver-thin, dainty keys. Eager to show my friends the slender glass, I melted to snot and tears as a clumsy boy shattered its precious angel-hair strings and cylindrical bench. I buried its brokenness in an old blue Tupperware, forever fragmented, the form of the one passion I knew at age six. It remains undisturbed in its blue Tupperware casket; thus, I had to move on

Eight Years Old; Baby Teeth

from my glass piano, and was forced to get sentimental about something else. A plastic, lavender fifty-cent easter egg houses them, safe and sound. Yes, they are dead, but for a long time had assisted me to eat chocolate and popcorn, a crucial and defining activity. Through them I whispered secrets never before shared. The tooth fairy found notes throughout the years—“leave the tooth, give me the money”—which she must have found humorous enough to obey. Although attacked by death and replaced with something bigger, better and whiter, I scrubbed all four millimeters of them. Drops of resurrection, dead but living to me, they qualified for a comfortable new home in a lavender egg,

Nine Years Old; Tire Swing

which sometimes I looked at and thought about in my special place. My dad, anything but a handy man, built this beautiful gift, lopsided and dirty, at my bossy birthday request. A tire, cut to fit my brown body, housed my imagination—alive, fluid, wild, still endlessly playing my glass piano. It hung from an ancient oak in our backyard and cracked from the sun beating on it day after day, hour after hour, as the shade moved and the sprinklers flipped on and off. Looking up I saw layers of leaves, endless sky, and my thoughts sparkling and moving in between the cracks of the branches. I am Elizabeth Bennett, Emily Dickenson, Jane Eyre, Virginia Woolf,

Fourteen Years Old; Seven Dove Chocolate Wrappers

Kara Goucher. Professions in the athletic world discussed rituals on the television, and I watched with wide eyes. “Rituals before performances increase mental and physical strength,” the TV man in a suit reports, “as tested and tried by almost every athlete at a competitive level.” As an average runner taking the advice of more competitive runners, I decided on Dove Chocolate as my pre-race routine. A piece of chocolate to pass through my grown-up teeth, to comfort my anxiety before I run until my muscles scream and my lungs burn up. A constant in a changing field of times and runners, I fashioned seven of these aluminum pieces of trash into a picture frame that forever will hang on my wall,

Twenty Years Old; Brown Rain Boots

which wrapper frame I chose to leave for a single suitcase in a foreign country. They acted as the vehicle for my feet, which acted as the vehicle for me, which God chiseled into a vehicle for His words. My mom, grandma and I discovered them in a shop in L.A. and knew they were the ones. Light, breathable, simple, short, waterproof. I wore them through the fog of San Francisco, the mud of Ponta Grossa, and the cold of Curitiba. Frozen in pictures with precious people, they grounded me to something much larger than a picture. How could I ever again scrub them clean?

Twenty One Years Old; Bottle of Pills

And I still haven’t scrubbed them clean, because people told me to leave it behind. But I didn’t because I couldn’t. Everyone said “what happened to her and why did she stop breathing?” and I knew the answer and my doctors knew the answer, but they never would. A half-working heart, blood that wouldn’t absorb nutrients, twenty pounds dropped, nightmares from PTSD, minutes without oxygen, and a fat label the doctors plastered to my forehead. Their answer was simple—it was white and small; tiny, even. It didn’t smell like anything and it tasted like metal. Take it with a meal twice a day and your nightmares will stop, and your heart will work, and your brain will repair, and you can clean your boots finally. On my twenty-first birthday, I threw their solution away, because little white things can’t fix me better than I can.

Pen and Paper

Jul
15

A blank sheet of empty begging to be filled with something
You write a letter but this one is pen and you quickly see
the written is forever and dictated by your own movement
The hand writing is loopy and illegible and silly in its
vibrant and mismatching shades of yellow blue pink green
The hand that is yours concentrates and you write constantly you write
and sometimes you wish it to stop but the words appear if you choose
to not move your hand the words write themselves
although they then become anything but your own
The penmanship ages and focuses as you decide what to write about
Will it be money will it be friends or the Bible will it
be the earth and its magnificent questions or will it be
insecurity shoved and cornered in the dark of every heart
You pick the colors to write with and most pick grays as
they learn about the word adulthood written on their papers
but you try to use orange because we are only given one paper
and to scribble in black all over seems a bit drab and wasteful
How difficult to write a word and look back later and feel
the wrongness of the word or placement or spelling or structure
But oh if you look too long your writing now copies itself in malfunction
so you try to think on each letter now a little longer and write it
with more care and hopefully no less spunk than the line above it
Everyone is writing and no one can stop until the period in the
right corner of the paper but every time you look at his or her story
with an eye of envy or comparison your words your very own words
they are not beautiful or flowery and they drip with waste
Oh the tragedy of missing your precious paper oh the tragedy
You slip and write hate but learn and write love and sometimes
you doze off and the letters become nothing but a solid line
You near the end and want to squeeze every piece of you onto it and you
wish you would have thought of that sooner before the end because now you
finally see that every inchcentimeterhair of this blank page is the reaches of your life.

The Land

Jun
01

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We woke with the sun and the bluest sky. The sky is brighter and bluer when you are in the mountains. The hot dogs taste like steak and the sun is hotter and the water colder.

We woke with the sun and began running the narrow dirt road up the side of the mountain to the reservoir. Branden sang ACDC as loud as he could, between gasps of air, and I ran circles around him. Ever since I accused him of only pretending to enjoy running to impress me while we were dating, he has made more of an effort. Hence the ACDC.

I have never seen more shades of green. Light green of the aspens, lush green of the pines, bright green of the grass, yellow-green of the moss–everything green. A waterfall ran down the side of the cliff to my right.

I jogged in place while Branden ran 20 yards ahead. Pretending like I was on my high school track team, I dropped my hands to the ground and started sprinting after him. His ACDC stopped as he surged ahead, and all I could hear was my breath, now harder and faster.

Ten minutes later, we reached the top. The sun and surrounding mountains reflected off the clear blue lake. Massive pines lined the water, and we ran for another mile in silence. The trail took a sharp turn and the thick trees dissipated for a moment. I stopped in my tracks. Gold danced on the completely still water. The snow-capped mountains reflected brilliantly off of the gold and blue. I could not breathe in that moment.

Later that day, we drove up the other side of the mountain, on a rocky, steep, off-road trail. A grove of thousands of aspens lined both sides, and little bluebells danced beneath. We drove slowly and looked at the carvings of different sheepherders who had left their mark on the land. Marcos, Peru, 1962. Ron, 1973. Juan, Peru, 2013. I began to imagine the stories of these men. Why they came here, what their lives looked like, how they survived on this mountain, what their families thought of them.

We made it to the top, again. Except in the mountains it is never the top; it is a single peak but never the absolute top. We stepped out of the car and spotted a herd of elk running along a mirroring mountain. We looked up and saw more peaks, and more peaks, and more and more. We stood in a sea of land.

Charlotte played with the grass. She grabbed and tried to eat it. Branden lectured me on all of things anatomy and I tuned out and started a yoga routine.

I thought back to visiting this same piece of land when I was five years old. Fishing in an over-sized t-shirt with my dad. When I was seven years old. Pulling down unsteady pines in our campground with a chainsaw and a truck. And then, when I was twelve. Riding a motorcycle and a four-wheeler for the first time. And when I thirteen, princess lessons with my cousins. And when I was seventeen, whittling a piece of campfire wood all day for my boyfriend. And when I was twenty-three, my baby, fascinated by a piece of grass.thumbnail_IMG_8295

The land always changes. It takes years, tens and hundreds and thousands of them, but it changes with the storms and the sunshine and the water flow and the wind and fallen trees and tumbling rocks.

In a few weeks from now, I will visit my grandfather’s land once again; the pristine and majestic thousand acres of undeveloped beauty. I will be different then; I will have changed. Next year, I will come back and ride a horse on that same trail and it will be different and I will be different. Ten years from now, I will be molded into something else and fifty years from now, I will be entirely transformed.

I am not good at change. I like rigidity and schedules. But as we ran to the lake and the beauty took my breathe away, I thought that maybe I should start to like change. If the land never changed, I would not have seen what I saw.

I am not good at change, but maybe every year I can leave my mark on a tree and see where I have come. Kaylee, Kennewick, 2011. Kaylee, Brazil, 2013. Kaylee, Mapleton, 2016. And then I can look back and see, tree by tree, that I am different, and that is good.

Charlotte will play with grass only for a few months. Branden will be in PA school for a short two years.

This moment passed, and now today I am changed.

 

My Grandfather’s Brain

May
21

IMG_2677Everyone discriminates. We choose what brand of peanut butter, what school for our children, what friends and what career. Life is not fair, because people are people and everyone discriminates and nothing is simple.

Disease, however, does not discriminate. Neither does death. If disease discriminated, if it chose who to infect and who to leave be, my grandfather would not be sick. For all of the discrimination, disease and death do not. It is never the nasty people who get sick; it is my grandfather.

I was 14 years old when I spoke with him for the last time. In Washington at a family reunion with colorful t-shirts and video cameras and water bottles and a hike on a mountain trail, we spoke for the last time. The little kids blazed up front and the adults lagged in back, and frozen for a moment in the middle was me and him. I had the looming feeling that this would be the last time we spoke, and I held onto his words. I do not remember them now, but the essence was kindness and gentleness and little talking and much listening.

Then began the

deterioration.

Deterioration and death do not discriminate. They drew his name from a genetically-cursed hat and grabbed him slowly and then all at once.

Last week, me and him searched for his home, this walk mirroring the antithesis of the one we took nine years ago. We walked for an hour, turning down every road and searching and searching and searching and searching for something that exists only in his dying brain. I asked him many times what he felt was the best thing he had done in his life. Although he does not recognize his wife as his wife, he said each time, “The best thing I have done was marry my beautiful wife. She is everything to me.”

And she is everything to him. I have to believe that deep down, his core and his values and his wife are still the same. Untouchable to him for this moment in time, but still the same.

The first phase of his disease was a defeating and devastating self-awareness. He stopped speaking at the dinner table, for fear of repetition. He knew his mind was disintegrating and his humblest prayers and struggles would not change the literal atrophy of the thing that makes us, individuals, individual. Then came depression as he forgot that he was forgetting. Then came complete darkness and confusion.

The deafening complete darkness and confusion. He cannot speak as my grandfather anymore. Allow me to speak for him.

With every person I meet when I am with him, I want to say “He is not him. Let me speak for him.”

So let me say this. He has lived the fullest, simplest life. Every person he met loved him. He did not hold grudges. He was content. He was kind. He was so kind. He was so kind that people felt as if they were the most important person in the world after 60 seconds of talking with him. His deterioration did not discriminate. It would have and should have chosen really, anyone else. He is dying slowly.

Alzheimer’s Disease is death slowly. It is a fading awareness of self. It is a backwards film reel that takes an adult and rewinds back to infancy. The knowledge existing in the brain is the same as the knowledge of an infant, but the adult is left with adult-like emotions. Fear and frustration, and deterioratio…

Complete deteriora…

He is home, but he does not believe that. Constantly searching for his home, he must need something familiar. He stubbornly and belligerently insists on “home.” I think of the things that are my home–my husband, the smell of a vanilla candle, a down pillow, the sound of my dishwasher, the cry of my baby–and I cannot imagine a world void of these things. His world is absent of even a scent of the familiar.

I have lived with my grandfather for two years. Every time I see him, I miss him deeply.

I miss him deeply. My parents named me after him. I carry that proudly. He called me “beautiful” in the place of my name for the first 14 years of my life. I knew he was deteriorating when he started calling me “Kaylee” instead. I wish to God I would be beautiful once more.

He is a mirror. In him I see how I treat people who genuinely give me nothing back and even will not remember what I say or do.

Like I said, disease does not discriminate. He has faded from a human being to a mirror, and now he is a mirror and the rest of us are human beings and maybe that is why it is so damn hard.

He cannot speak as my grandfather anymore. Allow me to speak for him.

Growing Up

Sep
08

10297617_756009224439396_1588060928303431177_nMy family and I were in the car the other day driving through downtown LA to my cousin’s wedding and the song “Never Grow Up” by Taylor Swift came on. I started thinking about how as adults, we sometimes get exasperated with the activity, the energy, the exhausting imagination, the “immaturity” in children. We sometimes seem to want them to incessantly stop asking “why” because we have a million things going on. We want this until they actually grow up, and then we want them to dream again, to be little, to imagine and to walk toward their sunflower family, their sabers and swords and bracelet handcuffs and twirling that is gone all too soon.

I wrote this poem as a tribute to that perfect imagination.

Maturity

They wonder why the kitchen light bulb died and I try to avoid electrocution and say
it just did.
And they ask and bask in their curious questions of
roly-polys and dirt clods and doll dynasties and
it just is, I say, because the internet is down and I don’t have time,
to look it up and discover dirt clods.

They build forts of pillows and chairs and heavy, spilling books as staples;
watch Mulan and mull over sabers, swords, strategies of heroism
and I cringe as they twirl, and I say oh—it just is.
Twirling, whirling, they are the ones who guard their
swiftly flying swords.

Secret strategies of how to reclaim the kidnapped doll being held hostage by the pirate child next door.
I buy glasses to read recipes and elementary math but
when they tell me of the sunflower family taking up residence in the garden,
my glasses are not the proper prescription. Check them, doctor?

Bracelets become handcuffs for the little thief who stole the teacup and
stop, stop shrieking and scurrying about my feet!
Please.

And then he, one of them, walks away one day from dragons and princesses
and my prescription sees his tiny, aged face just fine as he gets bigger and I get smaller, and I cry
as I see him grow;
walking away
from his dynasty,
leaving the sunflower family, Mulan and handcuffs,
walking towards
backpacks and textbooks and iphones;
as I see him know
what I thought I always knew:
it isn’t just what I say, child.

Loss

Jan
19

I keep picturing the hospital room ten minutes after he died. I see his nineteen year old son first alone, and then joined by his former high school coach and friend and I see him begin to crack and then to burst altogether. I picture the father’s lifeless body, still warm and cancer-ridden, and I see his son standing next to him. I see the son cry for the first time tears and then his soul. I see the high school coach 6 foot 3 with swishy sweats and a baseball hat he takes off on entering the room. I see him pause as the son starts to break, walk slowly to his side. He holds the nineteen-year old son, and no doubt didn’t say much of anything least of all the fateful words “it’s going to be okay.” I see three men, two alive and one dead, who are caretakers and providers, who are strong sturdy reliable. One of them too young and too soon, given the torch of responsibility with his father’s last breath unwillingly yet without resistance or complaint.

I keep picturing this because as the swishy sweats coach held the boy who has to be a man, the sorrow was split into a fraction—maybe one half, maybe one-seventeenth, maybe one-one-hundredth—but at any rate, the sorrow split and the coach felt pain for the son, and I hold onto that.

When the father was diagnosed less than three month ago, my sister called me and we spent a sufficient amount of time trying to create silver linings to the ominous cloud. With everyday his body got weaker and his wife got confused and his kids got terrified and the silver linings faded, and I wanted to take back the positive things I had tried to say because maybe I should have said

I don’t know.

One thing I do know: the son needs his dad. The three daughters, ages twenty, sixteen and fourteen need their dad because as much as a man will love you, he will never tell you you are beautiful in the way that your dad does. My dad tells me I’m beautiful and innately I know that it has nothing to do with how I look.

The wife needs her husband. Because as much as other people love you, they will never tell you you are beautiful the way your husband does. He’s the only one who really knows.

But still, the father went downhill fast and my parents swooped to the rescue with cookies and love time and time again, but their kindness didn’t stop his cancer or his wife’s heartbreak or his son’s toughness. Finally it had reached the end, and his son arrived from college two minutes before his dad died. I keep picturing the son run into the room, anxious and frantic but for something awful and frightening, and I picture his dad dying in the middle of saying I love y…

And then my mind goes back to the son and the coach and I keep holding onto that.

I draw circles around the people that I love—little cookie-cutter circles, like when you cut out stick figures from paper or decorate gingerbread men. They are safe in their circles and they are all that exists outside of me. And then Dan dies and their outlines and safe circles are erased by some terrible eraser, and I am forced to watch as the world expands to something much bigger than I first anticipated. It is huge, unbearably massive, growing every passing moment, and its hugeness crushes me.

I got the call that the father had died and I sat on the floor and cried. I told my husband that I wanted to take the pain. I wanted the daughters, the son and the wife to divide their pain among all of us, even you, and I wanted them to feel nothing. I wanted to hurt instead.

The coach entered the room after the rest of the family left, all but the son. And they cried, and I know it wasn’t an accident that the coach was there when the son cried out his soul.

I’m convinced that the only silver lining left about life that I can really figure out is people. It is that beautiful part of sorrow that makes even the worst type of person want to share it with the grief-stricken. It is the most raw vulnerable naked ferocious people enveloped in fervent prayers uttered by those who don’t pray and it is the coach holding onto the boy and feeling a fraction of his pain. And I can hold onto that.