Quietly Waiting

“But I don’t have any stories that aren’t awful,” I whined.
“Then be quiet and listen,” he said. He promised one day I would have good stories. One day, the life between the shit and the present would have had time to grow, slowly stretching out into my childhood dream of just being free of my cage and doing as I pleased.
The truth is, a lot more shit happened, but not only shit. Some really amazing things happened too. But… I realized, in the midst of accomplishing long standing goals and seeing years’ worth of plans become reality, I never really learned to be happy and some of the shit that still happens is a direct result of my mentality.
This is the phase we’re in. I can tell better stories now. I have experiences aside from the ones that make people’s skin crawl to hear about. There was that time we got sucker punched by the ocean. The time we met that other family that lived in a bus and we got our own sugar gliders. There was the guy in the middle of nowhere Wyoming who gave us a thousand dollars. I realized acid isn’t scary at all and, in fact, my beloved mushrooms are far more sinister. I learned there are girls who hold their liquor far more classlessly than I, and that even a little wine can lead to shattered elbows, or something like that.
But in the midst of living, you have to be able to “sit with your feelings,” as they say, and I still hate that. And past damages and decisions reverberate and, until I learn to deal with old trauma without being traumatized anew, this is cyclical.
How do you learn to live with certain consequences? Certain reverberations. I live right now in a state of mourning the way things are. We’ve reached self loathing, I think. I’m grappling with my brain misfirings and yes, I know, as much as it feels like more acid will make everything just make sense, that’s far from the truth. I’m back on the medication ship with a cbd lifeboat and now what I feared in the beginning is another part of my new reality – not having the pills now is way worse than the pre pill worst. And the bad parenting I so loathe? I’ve done plenty of that.
How do you live with That?? Genetics are a beast too, but hot damn how does one recover in the midst of fucking up a child? In my experience, and my husband’s and pretty much everyone else we know, the adults barrel forward, admitting nothing, until the kid in question is old enough to be blamed for everything. We’re improving on that method, but every angle of working through parenting fuck ups and plain old, “I’m too insane /depressed/manic/exhausted to parent right now, just eat the Lucky Charms for dinner and wait it out,” is miserable. Spoiler alert, when you’re eighteen and think creating the family you wish you’d had will make your life all better, you’re Wrong. And, if you’re a decent human being in spite of being debilitatingly stupid (or just naive, if we’re being generous), round about your mid twenties you’ll fall onto the rough patch of, “Dear god what have I done?”
Sorry can be a really big word. No one ever really used it at me. It’s one of my only comforts-I am a mother who says she’s sorry. I am a mother who is always honest. It’s the least I can do.
And while I’m stumbling along, trying to figure out what “mental health ” and successful parenting look like, I’m quietly watching for the good stories. They’re waiting in the elephant plants where the kids like to dig, in odd places amidst bus breakdowns like Kaycee, WY, and right now stories are just days away on the Pacific coast or, at the very least, more practice sitting with my feelings is floating on the surf.

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Anxiety Fangs

I feel like such a douche with my coffee cup and my vape taking up both, white knuckled fists like a terrified child clutching my comfort objects. I’m going to be late. Puff. I took the wrong bus again. Chug. What if the bus I’m expecting isn’t actually coming? Puff.
I wish there were vape pens specifically for cbd, so when people saw they knew I wasn’t just another trending smoker. This is medicine. Puff. And the coffee – chug- well, that’s an addiction and it surely doesn’t help with the neuroticism. Chug.
Medication has helped a lot in the past year but we came out west and I haven’t established medical care yet and now I’m out of pills, and as I stand here, sucking down canabinoid vapor and gulping caffein, I’m remembering one of the reasons I was so anti meds. The anxiety from before is now full on fear. If I stop and focus on it it’s easy to see there’s no real source, no horrible outcome looming one false step away. But that knowledge doesn’t make me less afraid. I feel like I’m in a horror movie – the part where they’re establishing the characters and setting, and we watch these ordinary people having ordinary days before the meat of the story, not knowing it’s all about to unravel and disintegrate. I don’t even have to catastrophize. Although, recent worst case scenarios have run through my head as I walk past pit bulls and that screaming guy being chased off campus by security, so today I’m wearing my steel toe boots. Composite, actually, but they got a dog off me once.
I wasn’t always like this. In fact, it took me nearly 30 years to feel so much fear. I guess, as a child, my dad kind of had the whole monster market cornered. It didn’t seem like much could be scarier than him. I left home at seventeen and told myself those fears were behind me. Little did I know, not facing old nightmares leads directly to new set ups for failure and trauma. Well, I learned that lesson, and then I started to get honest with myself. That’s when things got scary.
Imagine running from a cougar in the woods. You fall, break your leg. You know your life is on the line and you have to keep moving. Your brain will deaden the pain for you a bit so you can survive. But you stop. You look at your leg and think, “This is fucked.” You can feel it. The more you look at it the more aware you are of the damage and just how badly it actually hurts behind the adrenaline. You have two choices now- try to remember how you weren’t noticing before, try to forget and limp on ; or turn and face the creature in the forest, whatever new injury that might mean. Either way, if you survive, you have to drag yourself out of the trees bearing these wounds.
That’s how life feels now, except I’ve exhausted option one. I can’t forget. I can’t keep blocking out the pain, one because it leads to a compound injury and two, because the trauma has now piled on too great to ignore. Feeling the breakage is now a defense mechanism, there to remind me not to let myself be attacked again. The thing is, after people close to me turned out to be hungry mountain lions, anything could be, as far as I can tell.
‘How would I know?’ My throbbing “leg” asks me.
And the forest is just the world outside my bubble. The grocery store tends to feel pretty safe, but if I have to talk one on one with anyone in the street or, heaven forbid, in a professional setting, they could bare their fangs at any moment and reveal themselves to be one of the beasts. I much prefer the larger toothed variety, the type that can’t hide their monstrosity. At least the creepy uncle is obviously creepy, the bitchy customer clearly ready to snap. It’s the passive aggressive grandma, the gossipy friend, the fake charming suitor who eat your soft parts.
See, my eyes are open enough to know danger is everywhere, evil is anyone, but I’m not fluent in the secret language of the universe that tells you, without a doubt, who is who and what is what, so I slink around like a shell shocked soldier, ready for a blast at any moment, a pack of shadow cats at my back, ghosts that followed me out of the woodlands. Facing them is necessary, but each new battle leaves me more beat down for the walk ahead.
If you ever met a nervous basketcase who told you they were this way because of anxiety, maybe this gives you some idea what they truly meant by that one small word. Maybe you understand why they thought they saw bared fangs when you smiled. Maybe you regret taking a bite… You didn’t realize how much a nibble could ruin.

Go West

It’s on. We’re in snow fence country again. Tumbled boulder and bluff country. It’s cold and rainy, yet the air is electric with the feeling of Finally having hit the road. We’ll have summer out West.
Four years ago I had my first summer in Washington. We moved at almost this exact time. It was cold and rainy then too, everywhere we went for nearly three weeks. I was antsy and miserable. There was so much I didn’t know.
I was surprised how chilly much of the summer was, and at the temperature difference between shade and sun on warmer days. You’re so much closer to the sky out there. It’s easy to feel ephemeral and connected.
The universe has been sending me messages. I will heal. I will overcome the shadows I had become used to. And the farther I progress, the more I’m able to open myself to shared knowledge; all that is or ever was or will be.
I’m ready to ignite. I’m ready to return to the mountains and the ancient forests of mystical alpine giants. There’s so much I know now. The rain doesn’t dampen my spirits this time. I stood outside until I was soaked this morning, and then kept standing. The wind whipped under my umbrella and tried to make me give up and I felt love. This is my world, wet or warm, cloudy or bright, playful or antagonistic, it’s mine for the joining. It is me and I am the dirt and the rain and the cold, mischievous wind. How can I be angry? I haven’t always seen life as a privilege but right now I’m a bit breathless at my existence.
Everything I’ve wanted, everything I’ve believed, everything I’ve dreamed for years, is becoming my reality Right. Now.
I am alive. I am all things. And I am in awe.
I love the open road.

Winter Sleeps…

… In the stratosphere,
Planning next year’s attack
On spirits and leaves.
The ice and winds
Hung long beyond my strength
And, though I tried to sleep,
Dreams evaded my hidden cave
And sent me wading into the snow,
Chest deep,
Freezing my heart
For months.
I hate the plains
And I hate my inner banter
And maybe I’m not so keen
On the girl in the mirror
But winter is finally passing
And she’s still there,
Staring me down from behind the glass,
Refusing to thaw
And seep into the ground.

Can’t Not Cry

It’s impossible not to revisit over and over and over and over and…..The trees are desperate to be heard before all they’ll have is the rasping of branch against branch, summer’s exuberant chatter fallen to gasp into gutters and trash bags with jack o’ lantern faces, if they’re lucky. My house was small, the carpet smelled and I left it with fleas, like a true impoverished champion. I slept on floors. Slept, angry in the car. Slept in a tree house. I always bring that one up. I could smell the ocean, cold and seasoned but we didn’t go. We were always in a hurry, rushed dully from one place to the next by discontent and a bubbling brew of mental illness I still refused to acknowledge or name. Only the dog was nonplussed, so long as she had trees to race between on a fairly regular basis. He didn’t stop me from drinking then, because everything was a fight, and I just wanted to be drunk and broken. I refused to lick my wounds because I deserved the infection. I was sure of it. He still tries to talk me out of that thinking. I didn’t celebrate Halloween that fall. I remember sitting on the floor, looking out the window at the glooming dusk and hating his back at the desk in front of me. If I owned the failure I would just kill myself. I tried. He was more willing to let me pin it all to him, nail him up and let him carry as much as I couldn’t handle, so long as I carried some, built up my strength and slowly let him return what was rightfully mine. I could never see what he was doing for me. All I saw was his unavoidable anger. I blamed him for how I made him feel. He handed me glory and I used it to slap him across the face. His heroes always die. There’s no place for them, for their wisdom, bottled like a pressured geyser that has to be opened with desire that never comes. Even while I was bleeding him out I was his place. When I kicked him, I kicked at the dirt crusted over the spring. Whole blocks of that autumn are missing from my timeline. I didn’t confess to him until last week that when I tried to kill myself it wasn’t so much defeat as it was poor impulse control. That phrase has always seemed so vague to me, but now I know it’s the name for the teeth in my soul, that won’t tell me what to put between them when they set to gnawing. Maybe they just need to chew through my guts; that’s the one thing I haven’t tried. And what’s with trying to turn the semi colon into some kind of hopeful pity party? I can’t look at them the same anymore. They used to make me think of cinnamon buns, but now I just see doughy girls who identify as the need to be seen as broken. It’s not an identifier that’s desirable. Most of us with that badge are trying desperately to tuck it under our tattered lapel. The lady who redefined the semi colon as an anti suicide movement killed herself. Why does every episode of my self expression turn into some kind of hate speech? Can I just own the hate without apologizing for it? I hate you. There. There it is. I hate your social media. I hate your attempts to mask your emptiness. I hate your false unity. I hate your lives; none of them matter, regardless of their color or pronouns you’d be mad if we guessed but you hate clarifying. I hate your bumper stickers and your willingness to pay five times the worth for a cup of coffee. There are plenty of things I hate about myself too, which began to crystallize that immortal autumn. I found the poems I don’t hate the very most. I got rid of three quarters of my shit and I don’t remember what most of it was. Then I tried to carry the rest of it around in a giant back pack and realized, to lose the attachment to that insurmountable weight I saw as need, this idiot sheep needed to be shorn. If you leave the flock do you gain the ability to shift forms into some other animal? Or were you always an “x” in sheep’s clothing, you just had to notice the clothes to find the critter underneath? There’s a lot of significance to goats that was lost on me before. The church picked them for a reason. Dirty little bastards. They don’t eat trash like people think. Well, they do, but moreso they figure out what things are like sharks- with their mouths. Capricious. Caprine. Did you know that’s where they got that word? Maybe you did because you know about that goofy sea goat that owns most of January. Also applicable because January owns my genesis. September owns my exodus. The first of many. Maybe it was just some inspired Jewish gentleman, but if it wasn’t their idea the church certainly ran with the concept of the evil goat. Cloven hoofed, behorned Satan. Did you ever wonder if there were things in Hell enjoying themselves? I got in trouble as a child for voicing curiosity on that subject. There are a lot of questions my parents couldn’t or wouldn’t answer, but mostly the former, so they taught me how irreverent I was. I now know I particularly treasure things described as “irreverent.” Of all the word policing in our present “culture” how do I not hear all the religious colloquialisms being challenged more often? That shit is everywhere and a lot of it goes unnoticed. So much is ruled by pandering to religious sensitivity. We know more than ever that it’s pretense but it’s some sort of enduring obligation that sleeps under every political bed. It’s the brick wall someone can throw up in the middle of any road they believe has gone too far from their camp. There’s so much verbal exorcism, like sitting in the college computer lab, belligerently denying the role of the lab moderator when he told me to go at midnight, because I was realizing. In general. I was seeing. Everything and it came over me in enormous waves, filling my nose and eyes and lungs and I couldn’t possibly stop in the middle of figuring out whether to learn to swim or just be pulled out with the tide. I’m more in the camp of the latter lately but that fleet is halfway across the world now. So many ships. I decided to start, to begin the chronicle I’ve long been talking about, but now we’re at the point where I realize I will never be ready. I thought it was a sea but I have to withstand the tsunami before I can begin more oceanic metaphoric considerations. Every time I open the door I see more than I saw the last time, and this has been happening for years. The disease had to spread for me to admit its severity. That fall I decided to attempt a temporary surrender, but I can’t. And, the truth is, he was right. I said, “I’m not fighting to give up.” But that’s all I’m doing. I know it’s not an option and I keep focusing my energy on trying to find a way to make that less true because trying, REALLY trying and doing all that entails will break me and I know it. The liberation ended in death. We were listlessly watching I Know What You Did Last Summer and eating nothing but peanuts in the rooms where the shower water came in from the stinking lake. It wasn’t even a phone call, just a casual, “did you hear” text message and the next morning we’re running back to the city we spent most of our lives in to watch an empty body be surrendered after its owner ditched the brain with a bullet. Weird how entirely separate some bodies, minds and spirits conduct themselves. Not everyone’s though. I wonder if his new blushing bride got a semi colon tattoo before she started fucking his friends? He couldn’t find his place and he was too young to believe if he got older it could be better. Where were we when we heard about Maestro Mischief? Washington? We all sat in the van and there was that picture of him with the opposum and I cried when I read it was his wife who had to confirm his missing persons story ended in death. For some reason no one wants to say he did it on purpose. I’m listening to his music right now, and all of this started because I can’t not cry hearing everything he ever said now framed by his surrender. imgHome-Squatter-EnvyIt was…what? Couldn’t have been a month after that the DSC died. Dead in the alley behind the liquor store and no one else seems to see the perfection in that. When a free climber falls to his death, at worst it’s, “What did he expect?” and at best, “That’s how he would have wanted to go.” But the guy that gave up family and beds and food to be drunk on the street corner outside the drive through coffee place- they all say it’s so sad. I will never be done. There’s always something else to say. A place is not so much a stationary location as it is a state of being. As in Your Place. A frame of mind. An emotional condition. A safe place. To be put in your place. To put into place. I am his concept. And he is mine and a lot of people never get to have that, don’t know where to look. I don’t think you can look, and some people get tired of drifting around, waiting for it to happen to them.

A Poem Always Loved, Never Truer

Love Song: I and Thou

BY ALAN DUGAN

Nothing is plumb, level, or square:

the studs are bowed, the joists

are shaky by nature, no piece fits

any other piece without a gap

or pinch, and bent nails

dance all over the surfacing

like maggots. By Christ

I am no carpenter. I built

the roof for myself, the walls

for myself, the floors

for myself, and got

hung up in it myself. I

danced with a purple thumb

at this house-warming, drunk

with my prime whiskey: rage.

Oh I spat rage’s nails

into the frame-up of my work:

it held. It settled plumb,

level, solid, square and true

for that great moment. Then

it screamed and went on through,

skewing as wrong the other way.

God damned it. This is hell,

but I planned it. I sawed it,

I nailed it, and I

will live in it until it kills me.

I can nail my left palm

to the left-hand crosspiece but

I can’t do everything myself.

I need a hand to nail the right,

a help, a love, a you, a wife.

Alan Dugan, “Love Song: I and Thou” from Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry. Copyright © 2001 by Alan Dugan. Reprinted by permission of Seven Stories Press, http://www.sevenstories.com. Source: Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry (Seven Stories Press, 2001)

Mama Wolf

It was a good house for a breakdown;

A little too big

But with just the right kind of light.

I seem to remember a different view

Out the back bedroom window

Than the one I know is real,

But in the memory

There’s a giant elm tree

Reaching up to spread its arms

And protect that space

With the awful zebra gum striped wallpaper.

The truth is

The root of today’s evil

Is in that room

Where my children sat, alone,

Wondering when the doorknob would turn

And a friendly face would arrive

Bringing the promise of food

And dry diapers.

But I didn’t come

When they needed me.

I couldn’t bear to climb those stairs,

Look into those tiny faces

And pretend that I wasn’t the wolf

They needed protecting from.

There was no one for them,

Not even whispering leaves

Outside their window.

Dinner was often after dark

And their mother didn’t look at them,

Didn’t eat,

Just looked at the wall and cried

Until the dishes were ready to be washed.