-The Two Adieu Haiku-
They would never mind
That I exited their lives,
Not one relative.
A rift in my soul
Crying with my reflection,
Am I an island?
-The Two Adieu Haiku-
They would never mind
That I exited their lives,
Not one relative.
A rift in my soul
Crying with my reflection,
Am I an island?
I scurried around the room knowing I had to be forgetting something. Oh wait, this poetry anthology or this collection of short stories? And what about shoes? This pair was practical, this one sturdy, ohhh but these have always been my favorite! It should be okay to have just a few extra things right? Maybe I just won’t choose.
I stuffed all these beloved things into my army surplus frame pack, ran my hands over the necklaces hanging on their hooks, the bindings of books still resting on the windowsill, my giant collection of dresses is all colors, materials and lengths. I had spent all my time after the dismal period of being under my parents’ iron fist surrounding myself in items I felt reflected my once deflated soul. All these things in which I saw myself, in ways I hadn’t been allowed to express in my parents’ house. “I’m not materialistic,” I told myself. “These are just deep expressions that surround me with much needed light and peace.”
Explain, explain, explain, rationalize, rationalize, rationalize. You know where none of these words mean shit? On a trail, uphill, for a mile through the forest. We had met up with some other travelers and next gen hippie types (Rainbow Family, they’re called, or just Rainbows) and joined them for the final night of their gathering in the Shawnee National Forest. And here I was, with my fifty pounds of “much needed light and peace.” I didn’t want anyone to know what an awful mistake I was realizing I’d made. One foot after the other, shifting the pack, bent forward to compensate, muttering in my head, “Oh shit, I can’t do this! Shut up, it’s fine. You can. You can. You can. Oh god, this thing is like fucking half of me! This is not gonna work. Shut up! Just walk. Walk. Walk. You love every pound of this stuff.”
When we made it to the top I thought I was going to die. I went for three weeks with that overloaded pack, hardly touching three quarters of the stuff in it. Then, the following summer, we moved to Washington, making the trip with a westbound friend who had a van. We had a Chevy Cobalt. I packed pretty much the same as last time, but for three people. I’m pretty sure every single one of us was sick of my shit by the time we arrived. We transferred it slowly from the smaller vehicle into the larger, our friend being gracious and accommodating regardless of having to dig around all my things, shuffle and rearrange to get to her own things. Someone finally tied my bags to the roof of the van. One fell off and no one noticed till it was too late. Every coat, jacket and blanket I owned was gone. On the last leg of the journey my daughter’s bag of clothes fell off. We were driving behind the van this time and stopped, laughing as we collected colorful dresses and leggings off the side of the highway in the moonlight.
Then, the next year, we’re headed somewhere new, this time with only the Cobalt. I laid everyone’s clothes out on the living room floor, separated out our favorites and sentimental items (like tie dye we made, and the jeans myself, both my sisters and both my children had worn as babies), then started a thrift store bag. Things too big for the car (the rocking horse, the kitchen table, the three story dollhouse grabbed up from Ross for 50 cents after Christmas) automatically enter the “get rid of pile.” I did draft after draft after draft. The kids participated, going around the house throwing toys into a box “for other kids to enjoy.” We had the conversation that led to one of my many mantras, recited with tiny rolled eyes and sighs. “What doesn’t matter?” I ask. “Stuuuuuff,” the kids huff. “What will you have forever?” “The love of my family.” My youngest at the time, then two and a half, tried to roll his eyes like his dramatic sister, but giggled in spite of himself.
They were huge sports, even going out to the sidewalk to greet kids who came to our yard sale to give them the guided tour of toys they could make their own. I did end up replacing my daughter’s dollhouse with an “on the road” version, mostly out of guilt. I think I cared more about the whole thing than she did. She now has the Calico Critters Camper (without the tuxedo cat family or Cherry Cruiser. That stuff is stupid expensive!). We made it out of the state without losing anything. I went from a ten years’ accumulation of clothing including twenty six pairs of shoes, to nearly the bare minimum- a pair of boots, a pair of tennis shoes, a pair of moccasins to solve the “what shoes do I wear with this dress?” problem I have, as a tomboy who wears dresses. Nothing with a heel. Ever. I own one drawer full of shirts, one pair of pants, one pair of shorts and, although my enormous dress collection awaits my settled down days in a trash bag at my mother in law’s, I take three dresses around with me.
When we finally got our bus I did it all again, this time with one more kid. The dog always wins at giving the least fucks. I’m getting better. My kids no longer roll their eyes when they tell me stuff doesn’t matter. If we’ve learned anything it’s that no matter how much you get rid of, or lose or pass on, something else will always take its place. And then, that thing will go too and likely get replaced. When we say, “Stuff happens,” in this family, it’s not a euphemism for “shit happens,” that we just say. It literally means that Stuff, junk, possessions, things, will always ebb and flow through our lives. The only constants are our family and the experiences and memories we have and build together. I needed that lesson just as much as the littles, and we’ve learned it side by side. It’s not a trend we follow to be on an HGTV show. It’s not sleek wood shelves and plants hanging in glass spheres. It’s just as much an amalgamation of others’ unwanted items, picked up from thrift stores or given to us by strangers we meet on the road, as it always has been. Just far fewer of them now. I tell people fairly often, “All you have to do to be happy is give up everything. It’s so much easier than it sounds.”
When we meet other travelers one of the questions we always ask is, “Is there anything you need?” And, of course, I’m the queen of baubles and trinkets, when I know where I left them. I’ll pass on a galaxy rock or a pin to remember us by and the people we pass things on to may well pass on those same items. My husband once gave away a jacket, only to have an identical jacket given to him within a couple months. The universe knew he really liked that one…Or maybe I did. I found out it wasn’t waterproof the day my daughter and I went out to see how far the creek had risen in the middle of a spring downpour. We carried a bleeding toad to safety in my soggy pocket.
I grew up being made to feel guilty for even the things I needed (showers were timed, lights were to be off until sunset, one pair of shoes were allowed at the beginning of each new school year) by a man who never wanted children and resented giving up his own desires for us. This created a handful of complexes in me, one of them the, “I want better for my kids than I had,” thing. What I failed to realize for the longest time is, it was my father’s attitude that caused me to lose out, not the items I was denied as a result. And children who are given every material pleasure are simply harder to please, as their baseline is so much greater before they feel they have even achieved “normal.”
Now folks, please don’t do that thing where you talk about the underprivileged and make your kids donate a toy to a poor child, just because the child who goes without is the worst thing you can imagine. You just reinforce the same negative ideals in the other family by giving in to that attitude. Not to mention, you’re in fact reinforcing in your own child the opposite of the value you were likely seeking to instill. That is, teaching them the other kid is less well off because they have fewer things. Volunteering is a far better way to teach compassion and empathy and show your child a slice of the other side. The worst thing people of privilege seem to be able to think up is not having their precious stuff. Do you remember that we’re animals? Have you ever seen a rabbit with a purse full of things it just can’t leave the warren without? Breaking up with stuff is one of the most freeing actions you can take for yourself.
I started this piece on my phone in the back yard this morning. My youngest and I discovered a secret lady bug village in the thickest part of the unmown grass. The ladybirds were reinforcing my message. Since childhood I have never succeeded at feeding a lady bug and, other than aphids, I’m not even sure what to offer. I watched a particularly red little guy crawl down a blade of grass and pick up a dew drop in his mouth, which then slowly disappeared into him as he walked. Another had one on his back, maybe for later, maybe to take home to his thirsty mother. Or maybe, the sun had hit it just right and he saw all the colors reflected in it and knew, this was all he needed, until the sun or perhaps gravity took it back.
I want to be concise but I’m on one. I often feel overwhelmed in what I now realize is un schooling. I just thought I was a sloppy home school mom. Ironically, lots of families strive for what we have. Now, our lifestyle is a bit extreme for most. Right now we’re housed up due to technical difficulties but, ideally, we live in transit, largely in the Pacific Northwest. My husband plays music and I’m working on picking a saleable item to make. I’m a bit all over the place and led by whim. (I’m a Capricorn and capricious sure can be the name of the game.) Okay, all over the place intro almost done. All this is to say, I started looking at the sites of other un schoolers, getting some perspective and just a bit of comparison. It was actually really amazing. Like I said, I just sort of saw what we have as a bit chaotic but turns out I’m just having a case of the Needless Self Doubts. Why would I be doing what I’m doing if I didn’t start out believing it was the best thing?
Well, I was reading this https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/54319157/posts/1169903944 and not only is it amazing, inspirational, and resonant, the comments really got me thinking!
So many people, especially single mothers, want what we have, but the simple need for food and lodging make it impossible, short of moving in with an accommodating relative or lowering pride to go on assistance. So I’m thinking, there have got to be single mother home school collectives, right? I’ve bumped into or been around people who were involved in extreme versions (a pop up community in the woods, a punk rock house with a couple moms in the mix, a squat house) that aren’t for everyone. Is there a middle of the road here? I’m seeing so many women express the same sentiment, there have to be enough in many communities that these women, if they’re really all in, super committed, would-do-anything-to-make-this-happen could pool resources to share a space, split time working and time educating/cooking/cleaning/etc…right? There was a time when I craved something like this, but we already have a formula and, so far, it’s going great for us.
I guess all I’m trying to accomplish here is to put the idea out there. Is there anyone here right now who has thought about this? Do you know anyone who needs to have it pointed out that others feel the same way?? I keep saying the whole “it takes a village” thing, but I see it as a utopic dream. Utopia literally means “no place.” Does it have to be utopia? Could it happen? It must be happening somewhere, but how do we find out more??
It was sprinkling, not enough to be considered a drizzle but more than a mist. It was quiet and humid in the car. Despite the precipitation we rolled the windows down a bit and breathed the tangible air. My life was absolutely shattered at the moment, I was a husk of a human being and reeling, experiencing at once the sensations of freedom and fear, loss and joy, hope in a hollow heart. It was incredibly hard to be in the moment, and as we drove through the Appalachian Mountains, on towering road bridges like a castle keep over the forests which were just past the stage of looking as though they’d been splattered by a paint brush with warm hues, one place blurred into the next. Tiny mountain towns where we weren’t sure we would find a gas station, restaurants with “Mama” in the name, tourist shops built of logs displaying furs in the windows. I couldn’t tell you if we fought in the cemetery in Ohio or Indiana, or if the town where people only helped us to get us to leave their town was in Pennsylvania or West Virginia.
I was steeped in sadness, and not the kind that had become an almost comforting familiar face throughout my shadowy upbringing. No, this was heavy and sharp and unnatural, like a chunk of asphalt broken off in my chest and all I could do was replay everything I had done to bring this on myself. I was with the man who would become my husband, patient, compassionate, trying to lead me through sun drenched forests, over stretches of highway far from any of the horrors at my back, but I couldn’t talk to him. I was disgusting. Pathetic. Fragmented. I had nothing good to say.
We went a bit too fast, not stopping as much as we should have and learning that, in the East, “My Cows” is nearly impossible to play, cattle farms as infrequent as they are in the oldest settled part of the nation, but thousands of corpses to lodge in fields that grow only stones and polyester floral arrangements. You would wait an hour, scanning the horizon intently for the chance to shout, “My cows!”, only to lose them as you passed yet another graveyard five minutes later.
Although much of this trip is lodged in my memory as a blur of blacktop and trees, I remember a handful of things distinctly. The covered bridge in Confluence, Pennsylvania was my first experience standing in the middle of a calendar page (outside my time spent in wheat fields in early summer, which are photographed for their pastoral quaintness, appreciated only by people who never leave the city.) The river tumbling over stones, its temperature measurable just to look at it. The red bridge, bright like a barn, but with a more exciting job, doing an eternal plank in honor of the people who lived in the woods on the far side. It may have been that same day, I’m not sure, my future husband warmed slightly by the rare glimpse of a smile on my face at the bridge, wanting to see it again. We stopped somewhere I can’t recall the details of now, it may have been a state park.
It was in Pennsylvania too, a historical site in the woods. The trees were tall and thin, grass carpeting much of the wood, giving it the feeling of a meadow full of trees as opposed to the closed off hide out feeling of the western forests. (Although I hadn’t seen those yet.) This day was grey, my favorite. Somehow bright, sunny days had more of a melancholic effect on me, as though baring the opposite nature of all the experiences and memories that have filled my existence. On cloudy days there’s a sense of excitement, secrecy and the promise of life. I bounded from the car, ready to jump over stumps and brave rain slick, moss covered logs. We read the sign at the trail head. A Civil War battlefield. I remember the log hut in the first clearing, stopping to snap pictures of its roof becoming host to creeping organisms, the small flowers gracing the ground, their leaves edged in my favorite autumn hue- that explosive shade of orangey-pink that glows around the sides of still-green undergrowth. Every inch within my site was teeming with a feeling bordering on mysticism. Every plant; every tree both fallen and alive; every standing crystal droplet, holding onto its individuality before melding with the landscape; they sang of secrets I didn’t think I had it in me to access.
My love and I discovered the mirth of shaking thin trunks so that the rain drops resting far above our heads would come toppling down on our shoulders. I could feel the spirits in the clattering leaves. All the young trees here had fed on the blood of soldiers. The ferns had sprung from soil made of men. Men who believed fiercely in the creed of their homeland, or men who had to take a side to protect all they held dear. I admit, I wasn’t mentally present through most of high school and in middle school I just didn’t give a shit, which results in very spotty historical memory. I don’t know on which platform the men of Pennsylvania largely died. And that day, in my bones, it didn’t matter the most minuscule bit. What did matter was the wisdom their ghosts imparted, the simplest of messages, that I so desperately needed to hear. The message that had spurned my golden hearted love towards the road with me in tow, this time around. He just has this way of pushing me into living the answers I need and discovering them myself, without being told. The fallen soldiers whispered what he wanted me to see- “You are alive,” they intoned. “You are alive, you are alive, you are alive.”
In that moment, racing between the trees, scrambling over disintegrating logs and rocks whose lovelier colors the rain had released, I felt what I had always longed to feel: Endless possibility. I did not explore under my father’s crooked eye. I had no rotting hole to return to when we called it a day. My adventure was not piloted by judgement, control or fear. Anything, from that day on, was achievable. The stench of my past still clung to my clothes and hair, haunted my gaze and stooped my frame, but that was not my final state. This was not the end of me. I did not die defending my freedom. I broke out, of both the shadow I was born into and the darkness I stumbled into afterwards, unable as I was to see in the light when I was released from the cage of my youth. My naivete could have been my ruin but, though I live now with the scars of blind trust and the desire to see good in anything, they did not manage to own me. I did not pen the introduction, only scribbled unsanctioned bits in the backstory when I could rend the writing implements from my captors. I did write the first chapter, poorly at that, and full of unnecessary ills, but here I was, standing firmly in the next installment. I had lived as though it would never come, nearly resigned myself to defeat, but blood coursed still through my veins, not in the roots of trees over a century tall. I belonged, at last, to myself.
I have the money in my pocket, a limited amount
so I’ll have to try my best to make every penny count.
When we’re on the road it’s non perishables
I scan the aisles for,
as much sustenance and variety
as dried goods and cans can hold.
When there’s a kitchen
somewhere in my life
the choices are more abundant but still,
I have to pick and choose,
stretch a buck and do my best
to read each and every label.
Corn syrup, red 40, GMOs,
sugar, sugar, sugar,
“some artificial flavors added,”
what the heck is anhydrous dextrose?
How can I make the right choices
and still keep everyone fed
So, we started reading labels
and I’m more confounded than before.
Why does everything red, purple or orange
have to have red 40?!
Even my blueberry newtons,
fruit snacks, goldfish crackers too?
Would it be so much harder to use beet juice
than this brain invading goo?
Big business is the bottom line,
and healthcare doesn’t mind
if my family gets a little sick
or takes years to slowly die.
My budget is my own problem,
my family’s health my concern alone
and things are constantly slipping
farther and farther from progress.
So I’ll stroll the aisles and I’ll try
to do the best I can
and maybe someday someone
will let me plant a garden on their land.
An absolute favorite, perfect book to read before bed, or before searching for rocks. This is not my original work. This belongs to Byrd Baylor. And she’s a genius.
I’m sorry for kids
who don’t have
a rock for a friend.
I’m sorry for kids
who only have
AND THINGS LIKE THAT-
they don’t have
for a friend.
Fierce and beautiful planet,
Fools believe conquered.
Human pride will not survive. 🌎