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Letter from the editor

20 Jun

Dear men in my life,

I recently ended communication with all of you to commit to one person. I have decided that one person is me.

Tower—this is One Niner-Seven-Three requesting the option.

I am requesting the option—the privilege—to find out more about you, explore your life, your interests, your values and allow you the privilege to explore mine too. I value you as a person. However, I will not commit to anything but me at this moment, my responsibility to be safe and treat others how they would like to be treated and this is totally fair and normal and healthy.
You value me because I am my own person, free-will intact, with an abundant life that I created for myself despite the obstacles we all face.

I spent the last ten years of my life with a man who almost made me believe that everything you find so endearing about me is bad, wrong and crazy. I’ve spent the last six months undergoing a major life change, the last four months in therapy two times a week and my entire conscious life in pursuit of self-awareness, knowledge and happiness. I would say I have been lucky to do so or that it is a luxury but the fact is I made it a priority in my life. I am grateful for the reality I created for myself.

I am not a psycho-path or a sex-addict. I am a woman who has been loved, honored, befriended, abused, controlled and driven to the brink of insanity by men who wish to impose their will on me for the last 38 years. No more. I am taking control of my life back.
I’ve struggled these last few years and made mistakes but I can’t regret it because it got me where I am today.

No matter how you may have known me in the past, today I am a mature woman with a secure sense of self who knows what she wants and constantly strives for personal growth. I am a confident individual capable of providing myself with everything that I require. I have a healthy appetite for food and sex and love and companionship in moderation and I embrace and adore these things about myself regardless of what you or god or society has to say about it. I am also human and fragile and require support from others at times. I am grateful to you for that.

You like these things about me, but can you accept me for who I am? You claim to have this modern view of a woman’s right to be exactly who she is and be with whomever she wants and then you try and claim me for yourself. Just stop. Stop trying to change me into something I’m not. That girl will make you want to run for your life. Stop trying to win me—win abundance in your own life. That is more attractive than anything to me. Be yourself. You are an amazing man just as you are. Be with me when we are and be happy alone when we aren’t. You like me best when I take care of me. I like you best when you do the same.

Respectfully,
Woman in your life

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In the Pink

19 Jul

Licking the powder from her lips with a white coated tongue, she reaches for the strawberry milk – Kwik of course. Does anyone else make strawberry milk? They may, but none so well she was certain. She’d always had a good eye for merchandising. The infomercialists wet dream and a credit limit to match. She had limited herself to a degree. Purchasing only items she knew would benefit others if not directly then by the divine knowledge that such an item as a cure-all phyto-chemical or a no-snore pillow made of husks was available if only for the asking. The milk was good. She took a big gulp from the carton that she had begun to open from the wrong side until she noticed the print on the other. “Open this side.” The pink dribbled from the corners of her mouth and onto her chin where she amphibiously and instinctively flicked out her tongue to keep it from traveling any farther. The side that open is always either too narrow or way too wide for her tiny mouth. Always. Just like her shoes, a size five on a hot day, smaller in the winter when she gets to shop in the kids’ section.  Everything is less expensive in the kids’ section; as if they actually charge by how much raw material gets used. How did those kids get so damn big anyway? Must be something in the Cheerios. They’re heart healthy and nutritious!

Are we almost there yet, daddy? You know how you can tell if we’re almost there, sweetheart? You see that big dog off in the distance? Looks like he’s howling at the moon? That’s Picacho Peak. Site[DM1]  of a great civil war battle and folks say the ghosts of the men in blue and gray still haunt the place. Now when that peak is on your right and it doesn’t look like a dog anymore, you’ll know that we’re almost there and if you keep your eye on him as we pass he will become a dog again and then before you know it, we’ll be there. Well dad, it’s not the same from the rearview she speaks aloud to herself as NPR fades out and she is forced to listen to some frivolous rock music. That’s when she knows she’s almost there.

Her stomach starts to flutter. She’ll see him soon. It’s been so long. He’s going to tell her why after all these years. She never asked, she never wanted to know and now she would and she is scared. Scared to find out what she has feared most. That he made another woman feel the way she had felt the night that her life changed seemingly forever and made her a prisoner of her own body. She has driven 300 miles to see him with only one tape cassette in the car stereo and she is sick of it. Sick of hearing the same old lines over and over and over. So sick, even the deejays on the FM dial are entertaining. It’s mindless chatter and a few oldies thrown in for good measure. It’s exactly what she needs to take her mind off of what awaits her at the next exit. She passes an official looking green sign. She doesn’t have to read it. She knows what it says. It is a warning. Do not stop for hitchhikers next 10 miles. Arizona State Prison Complex, Tucson. 

She’s been traveling quite fast now for quite some time and it’s slow going on the last long stretch of road out into nowhere land and her stomach reminds her of how long it has been and shy she has come to see him one last time. She parks the car and rolls herself out like she did out her bed on Sunday mornings as a child when the church bus came to pick her up and she had overslept again and they would honk and honk and make sure she knew that they were outside waiting for her, waiting to take her away. She was a quiet girl especially in Sunday school. She understood the concept of forgiveness right away and also how to forget. She secretly loathed the question askers who seemed positively dumb and who prolonged her suffering. The offering of Tang and rock hard sugar cookies was no consolation. It was all too much for her ambulatory sociopathic seven-year-old mind. She developed a small hate for her mother and her father, then later she would call them martyrs but she did not know yet of patriarchy. She forgave and she became extremely forgetful.

Now stretching her fully grown arms into the clear blue sky and checking her reflection in the passenger window, she dips her hips a little back and forth. Let her shirt ride up over her navel and stretch tight across her chest. Pulls her hair back from her face, remembers where she is and wants to always remember because this is the day. This is the day. She gathers up the stuff she could bring inside. Five dollars worth of quarters in rolls for the vending machines, one pack of unopened Camel cigarettes, a disposable lighter, her i.d. Then the stuff she can’t bring inside. A book “All Souls Rising” for the wait outside the fence and the huge mechanical double door that could crush your body like you always thought those doors at the super market could until you finally got caught one day and it was only embarrassingly fatal because your new training bra left marks on your back before you even knew a thing about cleavage but knew enough to be thankful. Her compact, her sunglasses and a single stick of marijuana that fell into the hole in her pocket one day but didn’t fall out. It gave her highly illegal ideas that of course, she’d never think on her own. She wore black pants because the residents all wear denim. That’s how the guards know who to aim at. She looked good. Like a night out on the town. Right down to her square-toed high heel boots. She knew he would like the way she looked. As she stepped on to the open-air shuttle and sat down in the first row right behind the driver she realized he liked the way she looked too.

Even though she was not an especially social girl and this guy was obviously not a very social guy, she breaks the ice with a question she had been wondering about all day. Just how far is it around the perimeter of this place? He grunts, I dunno. She wonders passively what he’s in for and decides to take it all the way. Sure is a long drive from Phoenix she says, and sighs unambiguously. Seems like you could have driven to the moon and back just riding around in circles on this little bus all day. You think? Uh, huh, he grunts again as he brings the bus to an abrupt halt. She hops out jubilantly, assured that she has won the game. See you a-round, she cat calls defiantly in his general direction and shakes out her hair in the wind. Turning her eyes back to the bus, she uses two fingers to drag a strand of shiny copper quickly, coyly from her mouth and flip it around her left shoulder to lay in waves with the others on her back.

She feels good as the guard reminds her to remove all of her jewelry. Could you help me with this one? Thanks. Once you’re in, you have to board another bus. This one drives the bumpy dirt paths past the guard towers to the medium security yard and she can smell the anticipation of loved ones mingled with the stench of summer sweat and dirty diapers. She thinks, I can’t take this turn around. This is too much. But then the bus stops and the door opens and the air comes in a rush to dry the sweat on the back of her pale, slender neck. She dramatically lifts and drops her thick hair a couple times and fancies herself equestrian. Then the mirage of security is revealed beneath the shadows of a giant overhang designed to shield her from the desert sun or possibly bullets. It’s nothing more than a colossal outdoor cage. A cage that she will enter willingly and be locked in with all the others. There is no sound as deafening, no sound as heavy or as dismal as the sound of those cages closing in around you, maybe forever.

One can never tell when the apocalypse might suddenly come and where will you be? What if you’re just visiting and they never let you out? After that you go through a metal detector and they sit you all down at different tables arranged just so the residents will be back to back which means you are directly facing of these others while you wait for yours to show up, be called is what they say. There’s no hugging that room, you can hold hands on top of the table. You can stare, but can’t kiss. In Tucson they let you pick where you want to sit and wait but have to sit until yours is next your table then can stand and hug and kiss but not too much. My guy is walking that walk the walk that is just a hop-skip away from a full-out sprint and practically collide into each other like freight trains with the momentum I’ve gained just standing up from my chair. God, I miss you. He’s tall and my head rests on his chest and yes, we remembered at that instant what it had been like to hold each other similarly in a different place to fall from the sweet embrace on down to the soft grass of the park where we always walked for miles and miles just waiting for the sun to come up and it’s hard to let go so I look up and he looks down and the kiss is quick and wet and it wants to last forever but were like two school kids and this is our first time and we are sure that we will be caught. Caught up in the fire that would surely rise up from our loins and ignite the touch of our lips like flint to flame.


 [DM1]Civil War in Arizona

The most significant Civil War battle in Arizona took place near Picacho Peak on April 15, 1862, when an advance detachment of Union forces from California attacked a Confederate scouting party. The battle lasted for 1-1/2 hours, and three Union soldiers were killed. Every March, “The Civil War in the Southwest” comes alive again as over two hundred re-enactors converge on Picacho Peak on foot and horseback. Visitors enjoy viewing exciting mock battles that took place in Arizona and New Mexico during the Civil War. Also on display at the March reenactment are recreated military camps and living history demonstrations.

http://azstateparks.com/Parks/PIPE/index.html

Too Much?

21 Oct

When your deft fingers

Pound out the rhythm

Of an infectious beat

On the taut muscle

Of my left thigh

You enter me.

 

You’re proven

Your stamina, your virility

Are legend carved in stone

As you chisel out

A two-minute drum solo

On my shoulder

And let your fingers fall

Spent, where they may.

 

When casually almost

Dreamily, you tap out

The chorus to our favorite song

You are the Morse code operator

Deep in enemy territory

Delivering a message of impending peace

That comforts the dying soldier

And calls the living to quiet action.

Living the Bardo

21 Jul

I know it’s just a date on the calendar, but it was one year today that my heart sank, my knees buckled and my body literally fell to the ground under the weight of it all. It wasn’t the burden of telling my sisters, their kids and the bill collectors that my father had died. I could handle that. I am the strong one, after all. It wasn’t that my mom was finished either. In the last months of my father’s life the VA had given him an unlimited supply of methadone which he generously shared and which my mother would now have to recover from and fast, as the sheriff pulled every single bottle of anything he could find to report to the coroner. I know about withdrawal and I knew we would need help, so I got it. It wasn’t the bills my father had neglected in the last month of his life or the suddenly vital auto repairs both of my sisters required—my credit card was accepted by phone in most cases. It wasn’t even the funeral arrangements. The VA would send a memorial plaque, flag and certificates for my mom and sisters to be presented with at the service. I made sure that everything was taken care of and we were, as they say, as good as can be expected.

My five-year old niece Janaya and I were sharing a fruit bowl for breakfast the day after burying my father when I got the call about James. It had been a trying three weeks, but life was definitely beginning to look up. We smiled at each other as we shared tiny bites of watermelon and honeydew – our first real food in days and my last for another ten. An almost inaudible little giggle escaped our lips simultaneously, as if it had been waiting for the guards to turn their backs—no guilt, just a bit of happiness shining through the bars of grief at long last.  I should have known not to answer the phone. Not on a Sunday before noon.

When I fell, I fell alone. My youngest sister Jackie found me crouched in a ball outside on the porch, my nightgown torn where it had been dragged across the splintering wood. Bare skin pressed perilously close to the slats between the floorboards we all scrupulously avoided. We had been warned that the dark, cool recess made a perfect home for scorpions and rattlesnakes, but I no longer cared. I lay there prone now, practically daring them to strike. She held my head as I sobbed—limp, half in, half out of her arms and she stroked my hair until the convulsions subsided a bit. I remember this as if I had been observing it from above. I cannot actually feel the warm wood beneath me anymore.

I suddenly wish I would have been there to hold her and comfort her instead of having to tell her over the phone. She’d had the same reaction to our father’s death I’d had with James’. All I could do was cradle the receiver as she wept, and cried, and shouted in protest. I pressed it hard against my cheek and lips as she finally succumbed, but I could not kiss her sweet head and make it all go away. Her tears fell silently into the tiny holes of the mouthpiece. I tasted them in mine.

Janaya cried with me that Sunday; our fruit bowl now abandoned for each other’s arms. Her for the loss she hadn’t yet comprehended. Me, for the men who I know now were my source of praise and pride—founding fathers of my autonomy, protectors of my sovereignty, replenishers of the well. I carried her outside and we sang to a storm cloud looming in the distance. “Rain, rain come today. Rain, rain come today.” We basked in the last refuge of sunshine as dark clouds threatened our playful lament. Shouting, we raised our fists to the angry sky. Fervently now we chanted, “RAIN, RAIN COME TODAY.” A torrent of rain under a cloudless sky abruptly reprimanded us for our insolence and we opened our palms to the raging wind in apology. The drops fell swiftly and stung our cheeks like a virtuous old nun chastising us our paganism. We spun in circles, wailing, holding each other sometimes, sometimes spinning apart into our own private vortexes of anguish. We imagined a gust of wind had swept us up face to face with our loss and we said goodbye. Goodbye forever. Goodbye. We waved our arms in the air like mad women, screamed a banshee duet that spooked the horses and finally, laid ourselves down to the storm. Side by side spread-eagle in the grass, we waited hand in hand to be rinsed clean of the venom our mothers had warned us about.

Only hours before we had knelt down next to each other in a field of glorious wild flowers and now a gossamer poison rushed through our veins so forcefully we could only wait with the pain and wonder if it was enough to actually kill us. It wasn’t. But we didn’t know that then. We only knew that surrender was inevitable and that we would be facing it alone. With surrender came peace. That comfort was not our right, it was our ambition. For my part, I have come to realize that I may be alone for the rest of my life. For Janaya’s sake, I’ve hoped the insight false.

I awoke Saturday afternoon with such a start that my mother rushed to my side with a succor she has not possessed or shown to me in more than a decade. It was 2:47. James was pronounced dead at 2:51. But I didn’t know that then. There were other signs. I see them clearly now. At the park that day, a violent summer storm blew in from the north. The squall composed itself of sand and rain so thick and wide we shuddered in fear as it approached. The temperature dropped more than ten degrees in a matter of minutes. All of these things had happened before. It was a typical monsoon season in the high desert. But then something else happened. My mother the storm chaser calmly and quietly suggested we leave. There was urgency in her voice that scared me. She was trying to protect us. From what? I took a picture with my phone as we retreated to the safety of my father’s truck and sent it to James’ phone. We were finally in the same city, seeing the same sunsets, watching the same storms. The message sending failed.

I discovered right away that sole-proprietorship means much more than conducting business under your own name. I had taken the day off for my birthday to spend some time with my nephews, Michael and Bryan when the calls began. Expecting jubilant singing and celebrating on the other line, I hastily answered and instantly regretted it. The very next call was from a client who desperately wanted his paper to go out before he left for vacation. In a state of shock, I complied. I hadn’t even made the calls to my sisters before I finished his publication and sent it off to the printer. Later, I resented the bastard for even asking and for making me say the words, “my father just died” over the phone in a room where I’m sure Michael must have overheard me. He didn’t react. In fact, even after we sat down with his mother and she told him that grandpa had gone where his dogs Brave and Blondie had gone when they “left” he only sighed and asked if we hadn’t made a mistake. Maybe grandpa was just sleeping, did we ever think of that? He had listened to me crying on the phone all day long and finally he came to me and said, “Jessie, don’t worry. Dave will come home.” He thought that my husband had left me as his mother’s boyfriend so often did to her when things got rough and she cried on the phone a lot.

Dave did come home. He had been away on business in Seattle. I had just returned home a few days earlier from a meditation retreat in the mountains of northern Arizona with James. We were all but strangers then. Living as room mates in reality and as a couple only in public and only with people who knew us. We were thrown together by tragedy, bound together more by our families than our vows, not to mention by love. We did what was expected of us and we each took our responsibilities very seriously. For this assignment, I was the strong one and he was my driver. He initiated conversation only once in the 14 hours it took to travel by car from San Antonio back to my home in Arizona. It wasn’t unusual for him to be so silent, especially driving long-distance. When he finally spoke over burgers at a rest stop at the halfway point, I was leveled, disheartened; finally and conclusively devoid of any hope for our future. He wanted to know if I had slept with James. Internally, I mulled over my rebuke. How dare him! Didn’t he realize my father had just died? And, more wistfully, wasn’t there anything else he could think to say to me at this very moment? I felt him fidget after a tenacious silence, figured my penalty sufficient and very simply replied “No, I did not sleep with James,” taking care to look him in the eye without spitting in it. We saw fireworks in three states that Fourth of July.

There were still deadlines to meet and clients to serve and I did so the best I could, borrowing a small office in town from my previous employer and closing the thankfully heavy oak door when I needed to. I was fine most of the time. Exhausted and mentally drained but fine. My dad’s death was sad, but I’ve never been one to cry at funerals. I’m just not that selfish. That and I’ve never found death to be a particularly bad thing. Usually someone is suffering and it is simply a release. In this case we all knew that he was sick and it was time for him to go even if some of us had a harder time letting it happen. I had coworkers to socialize with on my breaks and they were all very comforting. The worst part was wondering if I would ever be able to function normally again at work. I always knew in the back of my mind that I would. I freaked out about not being able remember editor’s marks or how to make a color separation because it was easier than freaking out about the fact that only weeks earlier I had wished my father dead. But I didn’t know that then. I called on James for support and he always came through. At one point I was so frustrated with the incompetence of my relatives that I wished I was dying. Without a moment’s hesitation he said, “You are. We all are.” And that was that. I even managed a laugh.

He placated me with words but never useless platitudes. He questioned my lack of guilt and listened without judgment as I explained the sordid story of an abusive past that I hadn’t cared to remember or relate to anyone since I left home at 15. He never advised. He simply sighed and said, “Sounds like you need a new perspective, sweetheart.” He was the kind of man who could call women pet names and still sound genuine. I guess it was because he never used the same name twice. Late one night, emboldened by remorse and a superior vintage merlot, I told him that I would no longer be a victim. He clapped and slapped his knees and said, “That is so sexy.” What a strange and wonderful thing to say. I never felt better.

The day after James died; I went into work knowing full well that everyone would be expecting progress and perhaps even eye make-up. It had been three weeks since my father passed. He was safely planted in the ground under a mulberry, a mesquite and his favorite ironwood. Hence, it was time for me to carry on. As I unlocked the door, I noticed the queasy smell of the sympathy flora kind-hearted people had sent to me at the office. They showed definite signs of neglect and I questioned the tradition of buying something so impermanent for a person who had just experienced such a loss as I retraced my steps backward and silently away from the responsibility of caring for another living thing destined to die regardless of whether or not I cared for it.

Instead of going straight to my work as I had planned, I took a detour to a neighboring cube and said only this. “James died yesterday and now I am dead too.” The sturdy guy behind the green fabric façade took me in his arms and suffocated me so thoroughly I had a thought that if he killed me, it wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen. He wasn’t malevolent. He just didn’t know what to do. I didn’t either. We had shared the kind of things we each felt safe sharing behind a veil of modesty so thin that neither of us had believed it existed until now. In ten to fifteen minute intervals, once or twice a day over the past five years we spilled the plots of our lives like bad movie trailers, spoilers and all. I sniffed, picked my chin up, turned my back on him and went to work.

My screen had been a blur with tears for weeks already. Tasks that should have come easily to me became increasingly complicated. The confidence I had in my own recovery was waning and my mind suffered delusions of permanent disability, my family in financial ruin, destitute, beyond repair or recall and all because of me. This time it went way beyond forgotten symbology or technique. I didn’t open the door anymore. No one asked why. Neal related the story for me so I wouldn’t have to repeat it over and over and over and just when I thought it was really all over, and I crawled under my big cherry desk to carve my name into the pungent underbelly of the varnished wood worn smooth and permanently polished by decades of use; wondering if anyone had ever been under there before, he knocked on my door. I jumped in fear of being discovered under the desk and hit my head. At that moment I just felt stupid for even thinking I could end it all in a corner office with a courtyard fountain view. That feeling trumped grief only briefly, but it was something. Something different, something new and I could use new. No one had ever knocked on my door before. “Wanna go to lunch? You’re not eating? I know. Come here.” I never said a word. He held me in his arms as if to confirm the fact I was still there and not just some sylph sent to retrieve the immortal soul of a human he had come to know as Jessica.  He put his head on mine, as if to say, I know you want to run but it’s safer here and I stayed. I wanted to go, but I stayed. I know that when I die, it’s going to be just like that. A grip of love so tight that you want to run but you can’t and pretty soon you don’t want to. You’ll just give in, but you won’t know it then. You’ll just look up one day and sigh and say merrily, “Well, this is a new perspective.”

Jackie spooked much like the horses after Janaya and I returned from the fields. She shuddered at the sight of us and if she’d had a mane, I’m certain she would have flicked it at us or stomped a shoe. Whatever is that horses do when they’re frightened. She sensed and rightly so that we had made a connection far beyond anything she had ever imagined possible, and with her own daughter no less. So I stayed back, allowing them some time to reacquaint themselves with each other. We continued on like this working the ranch day after day for another week until finally one day when I had stopped to take a rest and have a fit of mourning Jackie stopped too and came to me. The wind was blowing furiously again as I sat in the porch swing and stared out into the vast desert, willing myself to the top of a far away vista in search of James. “The wind always blows harder when you think of him,” she said looking down at her shoes, dusty and worn with bits of tumbleweed still attached. She could have been a wild animal. My eyes were still wet even in the heat of a summer afternoon in July. The intensely dry Arizona air could not make a drought of my constant tears, more like pools now than rivers. “I know,” I say and rub the goose bumps on my arms. It was 118 degrees in the shade where we stood, hugging each other. For a long time we stayed that way, forgiving each other for past transgressions and as yet unknown future foibles. And then it was over. We went back to work as if nothing had happened but let it pass that something in both of us had been touched and tenderly. I haven’t tested it, but I don’t think we could ever fight again or love each other more.

The wind never stopped blowing that day. Sometimes still, a wind not of this earth comes to me in fierce waves and gentle breezes. It caresses my cheek with a kiss like silk pulled across my skin or pillow soft lips. It swells over my entire body causing me to raise my arms in rapture and feel the air force itself between my limbs. With nimble fingers it winds my hair into its grasp and tenderly pulls my head back to expose his favorite part of me, stretching my reality so completely that I question my sanity. Those are the good days.

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