Sunday, July 22, 2012


I am in the dark in bed against the wall. My parents are downstairs, far away. I lie here against the wall in the darkness.

In the afternoon I lie here with a story book my grandmother sent. I turn the pages. My mother is downstairs. She feels very close, not like when it’s night and my parents are all the way downstairs at the bottom of the house. She is just below in her bedroom and if I call she will say something back. I have to stay here though as long as I can bear it in the quiet of the afternoon, turning the pages of the book, telling myself the story by looking at the pictures.

My father brings home presents from his business trip. Toys. I like when my father comes home. It is exciting. There are presents. He is laughing. He gives my sister a wooden house, brightly colored. Hours later my sister makes me very angry, very very angry and I take the new wooden house in both my hands and I drop it from the window at the top of our house, the window that fits right into the V of the roof. I drop the toy house from the window where it falls all the way down to the ground and smashes, right below the big spreading maple.

My little sister is blonde with round cheeks. People say when they come to visit that she looks like my mother and they say I look like my father. I don’t see what they are seeing, but it happens every time. This is fine with me. I like my Dad best.

My mother on the phone two nights ago asks me about my life. She really does. And I hear myself telling her things, speaking for a few sentences at a time. It is unusual, her holding the door for me like this, and holding it still longer so that I really step through. It feels different. Most of the conversation is about what I am doing, and I feel her hand on the rudder gently keeping the direction of the conversation in place. This is brand new. And she tells me of a conversation she had years ago with someone who was describing me, something she remembered, and she told me what the person had said. I don’t remember receiving like this from my mother. 

My mother made sure we ate three meals a day. She made sure our clothes were clean, our bed was made, that we had a warm sweater and enough blankets. And then when most of our contact became phone conversations – decades of them – I kept quiet. I let her talk. And when I got bored I said good-bye, and then I would miss her and call again. 

When I miss my mother I miss her voice most of all. “You’re so private!” she said once, teasing. Her other kids, she said, tell her more than I do.

I didn’t feel room to talk. I didn’t want to talk. When I tried, the words felt like heavy stone blocks, not worth anyone’s effort.

But two nights ago it was different. I felt my mother’s fondness for me, as if she might really like me, miss me.

She lives now in a northern California town. It feels so alien, like not a place where my family tribe would live. My sisters put her there, she, the 88-year-old who grew up in the wilds of frontier British Columbia is in a one-bedroom apartment with an air conditioner and yes, it’s comfortable, and yes, she has made a new life there, but it will always feel like an uprooting to me. 

Before she lived in a small house that I found for her that seemed perfect, and was, but not permanently so, and this is what took me by surprise.

When I visit my mother now I sit at the small round table in the kitchen half of the long room that is a living room in the other half. I sit while she stands, stooped, over the stove, stirring, peering. I take in her familiar gestures. They have become precious to me. There is that and there are also glimpses of other moments.

I sat, we were talking the last time I visited, disagreeing about something. I felt her rock-solid wall, an obstinancy that refused anything coming in from outside. That hardness I remembered and I knew my father knew that irrational closed door.

There’s little cause these days for seeing that part of my mother though she hinted at it the other night. Referring to the surgery she’s about to have she said “and I’ll take plenty of drugs because I get very crabby when I’m in pain,” and as she said the words I could feel the anger behind them, or maybe I imagined it, but I felt the ball of fear inside of me at the thought of my mother’s anger. 

Friday, July 20, 2012


There is a grey cat who has started to pass through our yard almost every day. He is a dark tabby with only half a tail. I said to Fred the other day that I had glimpsed him. “He showed himself to you,” Fred said, implying that it’s up to the cat who sees him and who doesn’t, and it’s true, I see him more often, and I want to offer him a home if that’s what he wants, the whole 9 yards.

Two weeks ago the cat with half a tail sat on the back deck and talked to me through the screen door so I put out a bowl of dry food. He dashed away. A few minutes later I looked out and there he was, eating. I went for my glasses to get a better look. It wasn’t my grey tabby. It was a large, plump raccoon.

Someone says that my dog Tamar is going grey. I wonder if they are right and this morning, putting away the old – decades old – sepia photos my aunt just sent from Hungary, I study a photo of Tamar when she first came to us eight years ago. With relief I see her nose in the photo is no less grey than it is today. But she no longer likes to go for a walk with me in the mornings. She still will chase the ball, but she’s content to stop after two or three rounds. I used to never be able to throw it long enough to suit her.

And I have been with the same person now for 12 years and we look the same to me each day, but I see old photos and yes, I suppose, we look a little younger there.

I have started to draw. Last week I did not go to the office, and I didn’t travel to a distant place. I wanted to be home with nothing to do.

I have started to draw. It is a bit of a miracle, drawing, looking at something – the wheelbarrow, the bricks – and making marks on the page with the black pen, the marks so different from what I am looking at, but making them anyway, and then there is a drawing.

I stopped drawing when I was 9 because Nicola could draw so well. Her horses and dogs were perfect.
I’ve started to draw again though, like writing, the hard part is stopping doing other things, and wondering each time: will I draw again?

I sat in a cool, shaded place near my home with pen and pad, a place I had never realized was so perfect for sitting. It’s been there all along, just yards from my house, and I had never sat there before.
Another morning I walked into town, early, bought an iced coffee then -- as a real, unusual treat – a New York Times, lingering, sitting outside, paging through the paper though I had seen its headline online two days before.

The next day I took my laptop, entered the manuscript where I had last left it a month or two ago and continued each morning – the early walk into town, the iced coffee with half and half, $2 and a quarter into the tip jar, outside with laptop, describing the time in Greece.

The first day back at work I walk first into town, get the coffee, sit not for an hour and a half, but for 20 minutes, and then don’t make it back the next day.

Friends post an article on Facebook about how being busy isn’t good for you, but I don’t read past the headline. I know this already. I want my time at home to be like my childhood was in summer – the idleness part. I want my brain to get off track.

I clean a room that has been neglected for months, but I don’t clean it down to the ground. I clean up the major messes, and leave it at that, and don’t get to a bunch of projects I thought I might.

Often, in these years, I contrast choices I make now to how I thought things should be those many years I lived with Natvar where if you cleaned something it meant there was not a dust mote left when you were done, where empty time was a selfish sin, where everything that was not strictly regulated was dangerous and at fault.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


I hated the air in L.A. To my New York senses, there were no seasons there – no fresh Spring, no crisp Fall – just some kind of glue air, a glue that seeped into my brain and bones and made it very hard to feel that anything was ever working.

I used to think if I could just walk down Broadway for half an hour everything would be all right, but driving through the lights of La Cienega or past the billboards of Sunset, the Hollywood hills hung in the background, hazy and green, old dead green, not fresh alive deep-breath green.

And after two years when I finally slammed the door on the cottage with the lime-green-and-white shag rug and drove in the middle of the night to a new building, to the furnished apartment where I would live by myself – then I thought maybe Spring had come, maybe there would be newness now.

Back in the cottage, the boyfriend was always so occupied, his time filled in a way mine never was, where the best I could do was say, “Today I’m going to make a collage.” Someone must have said something about making a collage, someone I admired, maybe Thea, the friend back in New York who I wanted so much to be my friend because she was beautiful and because she longed for art, it seemed, the way I did, and maybe she mentioned collage and there was one day when I tried it – determined – I will not break down, I must make something, if I cannot write at least I will make something called art and it will mean I am somebody I want to be.

And I sat on the lime-green carpet in the small square living room, in a patch of carpet Jeffrey did not inhabit – it had nothing to do with the brown couch and the color TV or the coffee table with the round ceramic ashtray and the long blue pipe. It was a piece of floor where I stacked those magazines and went through them and glued bits down and made something – not large, 8x11, and I put it on the small shelf that was mine, propped it up there next to the hand mirror with the stem and the curlicue initials I had bought at the Salvation Army, but it didn’t seem like anything compared to the screenplay Jeffrey was typing up on his IBM Selectric or the music tape he was making with headphones and precision, he who made things without hesitation and loved what he made. I could say to Thea that I’d made a collage next time we spoke on the phone, my words like a paper airplane that sinks to the floor. 

Perhaps in the new place with its robin-egg blue paint, maybe there.

I took myself to art galleries often on Sundays, alone, wanting to understand this impenetrable foreign language. I tried turning the boy next door into a boyfriend. I tried turning the women I knew into friends. I bought a stereo because it seemed important to have one, but it was an effort to turn it on. 

And when, eight months later, the job asked if I would move back to New York with the company, a publisher of bodice-rippers, men’s adventure and something good thrown in now and then, I didn’t hesitate for a second. How perfect. I could leave. And they’d cover the cost of my plane ticket, something I had never figured out how to do. 

But the boyfriend, still hovering, was furious. “You didn’t even ask me,” he said, blindsiding me, making what had seemed so unquestionably easy into a minefield. 

Sunday, July 01, 2012


I knew where I would go when I slammed the door. I had seen the sign a few days ago – Furnished Apartments – on a building on a street sloping up to the Hollywood sign.

I drove my orange and white Pinto there. It wasn’t far, but it was 3 in the morning. I parked, set the seat back as far as it would go, and slept.

I had gotten out. I was alone. And Jeffrey, the boyfriend, didn’t know where I was . I’d gotten this far before. I knew this sweet ecstatic feeling of finally being alone and able to move, speak, think freely. I knew too that he was lurking, not just over in the Fountain Avenue cottage, but in my brain. He was there, wanting to come back in. He always had before, but I had the door chained right now, there wasn’t the slightest chink he could look through. I was all alone.

I slept, parked on the street, the front of my car higher than the back, until early morning – 7am or so – when I rang the bell.

A small old woman in a dressing gown with dyed red hair and a burning cigarette came to the door and walked me up the stairs on bare, thin carpet, down a dark corridor to the second door on the right. It was a long sunny room with two windows at the end, a couch, coffee table, a long low bureau. I liked the small bathroom  painted a robin’s egg blue, and I liked the built-in wooden table and benches in the kitchen, painted the same bright blue. The bed pulled out of the wall. It was fine. It was my place.

I bought a white bedspread from Pier One to cover the couch. I lived here.

There was a black and white TV on the floor. It was a pleasure not to have it on the way the color TV had always been on at Fountain Avenue. I watched it just enough to find out that Reagan had been re-elected, which took me by surprise. I had assumed a bad thing like that would not happen.

I liked the oversized black pullover I had with the V-neck. I liked its artsy look and on a day when my hair was long and dark and wavy I took photos of myself in this sweater in a mirror that was also in the main room.

It was hard to fill my life now that Jeffrey was not there, taking up all the space.

I wanted this to be a place where friends came. I didn’t really have any, but I worked with what I had.

I baked granola on cookie sheets in the oven, this wonderful new concoction that Muf, Jeffrey’s sister, my age, had learned with me, both of us happy to find something that the new health food books said was good for us that was also addictive.

In some ways, Muf was my friend. “But you probably wouldn’t be friends with me if I wasn’t Jeffrey’s sister,” she said sometimes, as if trying to pry the lid off of me and get to some buried secret that would be the truth, a good painful truth that would hurt her and hurt me.

But I did know her better than anyone else in L.A., and although she had the hardness that Jeffrey had, it was softer than his and I was usually ready for it, and I bought her a chef’s hat for Christmas and we bought our first Nikes together and tried this new thing called jogging, did it on Sunset Boulevard where it starts to get grassy.

And I invited another woman over, a woman with strawberry blonde hair who was a few years older than me. She had a house and a husband and there was something serious about her that made me feel that maybe we might be real friends. She came to my Hollwood-sign place and as we sat on my couch she told me about how her baby had died. From something she called crib death. I listened as best I could, but a baby and a baby dying seemed something out of my reach.

And Michelle came over to smoke pot and she said, “I can tell you don’t smoke cigarettes by the way you hold the match. Any smoker knows to hold it upright. See? It doesn’t burn so fast this way.”

And my father visited me here, after I wrote him that letter, the letter that wanted to break and break through all that had come before, the letter that told him how I really felt.

Jeffrey had pushed me to write the letter. Not directly. But in the five years with Jeffrey I had found out what it was like to be with someone close up, to have to say things sometimes, to be with someone who noticed you and asked you questions and put you on the spot. And it made me want to say some real things to my father, to say things that were different from all the make-believe things we usually said. “I’m going to be in Texas on business,” was his response. “How about I come to L.A. and visit you afterwards.”

He came to my place on a Friday night. He said he had already driven around and found the place he wanted to have dinner, a Japanese place, he said, with a beautiful view over the city.

“Do you mind if I get high?” I asked because this was who I was and this was the point of this meeting. Jeffrey got high with his various forms of parents, while mine didn’t know that pot was as close to them as it was.

My father wrinkled his nose, and said in some kind of cartoon voice, “Oh, no, I don’t think that would be very nice.” I deferred.

And as the dinner progressed – all lovely and to my father’s taste – I asked, “Well, Dad, do you want to talk about my letter?”

“Oh, let’s not do that now,” he said, leaning back and sipping his Scotch and soda. “We can do that tomorrow.”