Thursday, November 20, 2014

playing possum.

Back before all the trouble started, and for years and years, I woke up each morning with such delicious expectation of the gifts the day would bring you would have thought I had been raised on nothing more than bare-back unicorn rides and Mallomars. Even if there was some petite crise on the table, the dawn always seemed to wash away the grime and bring the shiny bits to the surface. I liked that very much. Liked that I was someone who sought out the golden hue and who always believed life (and people) were wonderful. Then, well, you know, things got shitty. For a long time. 

In Angels in America, Tony Kushner talks about a “painful progress.” How we’ll get there in the end but, boy, it ain’t gonna be easy. I thought about this a lot while wandering through my wilderness and kept wondering when the painful part would end and the progress part would begin. As it happens, they walk hand in hand for miles and miles but then yesterday, out of the sunny, shiny blue, I jumped out of bed like a gymnast and expected again. Expected love and magic and a hot cup of coffee. More progress than pain, I finally felt like myself and skipped outside to see how my roses were doing. That’s when I saw the possum. 

The dead possum. 

He’d clearly put up a good fight but had lost big and we were both bummed out. Him because he was dead and me because I had to deal with his deadness. I sat down with my bad cup of coffee (seriously, can anyone tell me how to make coffee? Feels like something I should be able to do by now) and tried to figure out what to do. 

I thought about waking up Dash and, under the guise of a “teaching opportunity,” have him deal with it but it was still pretty early. Plus, he was wearing footsie pajamas and looking far too angelic to do any “cycle of life” type stuff so I went back inside for another cup of coffee and checked all the rooms to see if maybe there was a boyfriend somewhere in the house that I had forgotten about. That’s when I remembered that my boyfriend Derek had moved to SF a few weeks before and I had yet to replace him. 

I went back to my perch and resumed staring at the possum. I remembered Derek telling me a story about finding possums in his garage a few years ago and I mined my memory for a salient tidbit that might help but all I could remember were the words “possum” and “garage” and they are not as helpful as you might imagine. 

Hyped up on caffeine and adrenaline, I gathered my strength and jittered over to get a closer look. I was surprised to find that the possum - eyes wide open in fear and locked in rigor mortis - looked familiar. He looked, actually, a lot like me. 

A while ago, when things were bad, I tried hard to keep up with the greeting of the dawn but eventually all I could see was the underbelly of the worst parts of being here and that’s when I gave up. Everything was just too hard and too hard for too long so I shut out the sun with bamboo blinds and settled into a matte-finish existence. I got into bed, curled up and played dead - staring blankly at the walls like a mental patient. On the days I had to (shudder) do something, I was more zombie than human – dead-eyed and aimlessly plodding from point A to point B in holey hand me downs. 

The only good thing I can say about this time in my life is that I wasn’t ever truly alone. Penniless, heartbroken, sick – I met zombies of every stripe out there in the night and like Carnies, we roamed together in search of flesh, a lighted house and a nightly occasional glass of wine. We patched up each other’s holes, lent the same $200 around to whoever needed it most and told each other everything would be okay even when we didn’t know if that was true. Then, a few months ago, I realized that the lights were still on at my house so I went home, drew the blinds and let the sun come rushing in like a lost love. 

In the last three years, I’ve had to deal with actual poverty, the changing room at Target and a heart that’s twice been used as a whoopee cushion. I have overcome a lifetimes worth of family tragedy, a kid begging to be sent to a military academy, and a couple of moms on the party committee at school who have ruined the word “cupcakes” forever. Everything that can break has broken in the house. Same with the car. And my hair. 

In the end I had no choice but to MacGyver myself back to life. Using nothing more than a glass of water and a ball of twine, I held on by believing that the beauty of every single thing falling apart at once is that eventually there’s nothing left to break. That’s when you start to build again. You get Amish in a hurry and build the damn barn. Plus, I’m stronger now than I ever thought I’d be. I’m talking strong. Bring it on strong. High five oak trees when I pass them strong. 

When the dryer makes that weird noise or the pipe in the bathroom gives way or the car gets a flat on the freeway or a man tells me he loves me but “can’t” or the phone rings in the middle of the night, I no longer turn around and ask someone to take care of it. I grab the wrench, the manual and the rosary and get the fuck on with it, thank you very much. Besides, who cares if I don’t know how to make coffee? I know how to make a Gin & tonic. 

I looked at the possum and said, “I got this.” I’ve been trying to show my son that his mom can do anything and that strength is the true magic so I wasn’t gonna let a possum undo all my can do. I put on a pair of goggles, some rubber gloves and grabbed the shovel. 

I felt amazing. Look at me! Strong Alex. Oak Alex. Protecting her land AND wearing cute boots! I was high as a kite and then… I couldn’t do it. The thing was just too gross. I ran back into the house and spent the rest of the morning going to the window, hoping each time that the possum would magically be gone. Carried away by a coyote or a twister or that perhaps he’d merely been playing possum and threat over, had skipped away to re-join his people, stuff the turkey and count his blessings - there’s nothing like dodging yet another bullet to bring the meaning of cranberry sauce into sharp focus – but he was still there.

Countless times I headed out to be triumphant. Couldn’t wait to tell Dash how cool and fearless I had been but each time I went back inside and put the goggles away. If my son was going to learn a lesson about strength that day he was going to have to learn it from someone else. 

Eventually he woke up and the neighbor kid, Jorge, came over for breakfast. I told them about the possum and they ran out to look at it. They thought it was gross too but also cool. Cool gross. They yelled for Dean & Karen over the fence and told them all about it. Dean said, “What? You’ve never had possum and sweet potatoes before?” Me and the boys squealed with disgust. 

I’d love to say that I handled it in the end but I really, really did not. Dean talked to Dash about being the man of the house and that the task ahead was for men. I was fine with that. I know my mom marched for equal rights and I know that I can fix a bunch of stuff all by myself now but I am positively 1956 when it comes to this kind of thing so I stood on the porch with Karen and Jorge and watched Dean and Dash put the possum in a bag and throw it away. 

When he was done, Dash came inside, stripped off all of his clothes and threw them out the window. He didn’t ever want to wear them again but a rite of passage had taken place and for the rest of the day he walked around like he owned the joint. I watched his face as he recounted the story later, saw how proud he was of himself and realized I don’t look like the possum anymore. I look like Dash.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

second acts.


The theater is dark and packed. Outside it’s a hot and cloudy afternoon in New York City but inside dawn is about to break over the English countryside.

From the moment the curtain lifts and Mark Rylance begins to act the acting out of his role as Rooster Byron in the play, Jerusalem, the audience leans forward and this is where they stay - edgy, open, grateful. Two and a half hours in and they’re a mixture of exhausted and exhilarated and everyone wants more.

Rooster, who the playwright has put through hell, is banging on a drum and bleeding from every orifice. His home is about to be bulldozed, all of his friends have left, his child has given up believing he will ever be the man he’s meant to be and his last hope - that a giant he’d (maybe) met near Stonehenge will appear to save him - is nowhere to be found.
Literally beaten and spiritually broken by circumstance and his own failings, Rooster calls forth each of his ancestors by name, demands their assistance at the top of his lungs and drums until his palms are as purple as plums. He is stripped down to his most human self, desperate for transformation and, somehow, impossibly, filled with hope.Then… the trees on the stage start to sway wildly in an off-stage wind. Then… heavy footsteps - a giant’s footsteps - loud enough to rumble the theater - can be heard approaching. Then… the curtain comes down. Hard.

It takes me a second to realize I’ve stopped breathing and started cryin
g. Everyone has. I’m swept into the thunderous applause - hooting and hollering for a standing ovation that lasts FIVE minutes. I look to the man on my left, a stranger before that moment, and we clasp hands, beaming at each other like a couple of headlights.I’d forgotten how community is always thisclose, just waiting for me to show up. I tell the stranger this. He nods and smiles. I yell over the audience, “Everyone is just waiting for everyone to show up, right?” He nods again.

A few minutes later, while washing my hands in the ladies room, I catch my reflection in the mirror – red nose, swollen eyes – and think of the horoscope I’d read two days before:
“A journey or a meeting takes you back in time and you may be surprised what you find buried under years of neglect…”


The biggest surprise was the journey itself. Because of the terrorists and their big bag of bullshit I have a fear of flying so crippling that I haven’t left the state of California in a very, very long time. If I can’t get there by car, it’s off the list. In my microscopic corner of the universe, they really did win and I hate myself for letting them take what had been, up until then, an incurable case of wanderlust.

For years I was always just getting back from somewhere or just getting ready to go. I see photos of myself, each dated before that Tuesday morning – Vietnam, Paris, Austin - and
squint to make out the woman who believed the world was tiny - the one who wanted to see every centimeter - and I barely recognize her.

In place of actual travel, I’ve spent my time logging on to airline websites and planning routes to places I’ve yet to see, knowing full well I won’t buy a ticket. I look at my friend’s Facebook pages stuffed with photos of their great lives until, utterly disgusted with myself for being such a pussy, I eat entire tubs of whatever I can find that comes in tubs.You see, the thing is, I used to be kinda cool. Now I’m not. 

During the early days of the blog I set out to accomplish a weekly challenge so I could go back to being cool but I haven’t been able to keep up with it because I’ve felt like a fraud. How can I write about the glory of this life and the big banquet we all have to eat from if my only daily activity is walking to the mailbox and back? My “existence” has been equal parts fear, poverty and terrible luck - luck that can only be attributed to a lifetime of bitch slapping leprechauns – and I’ve had nothing to say.

But then, out of the blue, Roni called and offered me a trip to NY. She has always been positively Amazonian in both her generosity and her lust for life and she’d been worried about me for a while. She’d wholeheartedly supported the divorce and the writing but had grown weary of my recent disappearing act.

“I’ve had it with you,” she said when she called that night. “You’re coming and I don’t want to hear any of your bullshit excuses. Waa-Waa to someone else, just get your ass to LAX and I’ll take care of the rest.”
My fear of flying is nothing compared to my fear of losing Roni’s respect so I tried to remember how to pack a suitcase, lubed up for my TSA search and found a seat at the gate with a view of the bar.

I took one, two and, finally, three (they were small) Valiums and in a dreamy haze I saw the writing on the wall. Literally. A part of the terminal was under construction and on a dusty support beam someone had spray-painted: Ub4. I stared at it forever (I was really, really high) and burst into tears. Some of the other passengers eased away from me or pretended not to stare as I tried to make sense of what had happened to the b4 me.

Who was I before Dash or the troubles with Slim? Who was I before the bust up of the family? Before John broke my heart? I’d gone from a globe-trotting, table-dancing bon vivant to a woman too self-conscious to go to the market because there was no
money for an eyebrow wax. I’d stopped having sex and stopped dreaming. I’d started chewing my nails to the quick and stopped writing. 

They called for us to board and by the time I found my seat in the seventeenth-hundred row,
in the middle of two smelly fat guys (fuck you, leprechauns) I not only didn’t care if the plane went down, I was kinda hoping it would. I ordered a Gin & Tonic and assumed the crash position.

Once airborne I pulled out the computer "to journal." I decided to use the 5 hour flight like an
archaeologist at a dig – sweeping away the dust to uncover the bones – and the hope was that by the time we landed, I would have answered the riddle of my own antiquity and emerge from the skies re-born.I drank the gin in one swill. It reminded me of my flight to Europe the summer I graduated from high school. It was the first time I’d had a grown up cocktail. Before then it had been rum and Coke (without ice) out of someone’s trunk at the Marina Greens in San Francisco but suddenly drinking was less about unprotected sex and throwing up into the bay and more about pretending I was French. I thought about my cousin, Taj. He and I had gone on that trip to Europe together and in a few hours (God willing) I would be at his apartment in Chelsea.

I tried to write, tried to sweep away the dust, but mostly I stared past the gut of my fellow passenger and out into the inky black sky. There is a piece of evidence missing from my memory, I know it, the one that will crack the case but before I had the chance to figure out
how to get the me before to merge with the me now, I passed out.


I’m on the rooftop at Taj’s apartment. The deck is covered in silver paint and when the sun bounces off, the reflection clears up everyone’s skin. We’re all so beautiful. I’d forgotten. Flowers of every conceivable color and shape bloom in big pots. There’s food and wine and easy conversation. Taj and his wife, Rey, embraced me with such force upon my arrival that
I haven’t been able to stop smiling.I can see the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building from my perch under their painted umbrella. The city sounds like summer. We sit around a table holding hands. It’s hot out and my face hurts from all the smiling and I can’t remember the last time I was this happy.

Taj and Rey live life out loud and this enthusiasm emanates in every thing they do – how they speak, love, cook, decorate – everything a wild mixture of Dominican, Pakistani, Italian, French and American. No sentence commits to a single language. We yell across the roof to
each other (and to our friends who have joined us) “Tu quiero, caro mio! I am so happy to see you. Basta – it’s ridiculous but, you know, Je t’aime, mija. Really. Mangiare, tutti.”

It’s. Heaven.

We stay on the roof for 10 hours – from the moment I arrive until we force ourselves to go to bed. They tuck me in with kisses and as I fall asleep I realize that Roni has given me the most extraordinary gift – she has forced me home to find myself even without knowing that is what I’ve needed the most.

Over coffee the next morning, Rey shows me a book called Color, by Victoria Finlay. “Alex!” she says in her delicious accent, “You MUST read this book! You must!” Everything Rey says has an exclamation point at the end of it. I curl up on the sofa with the book but first she says she wants to dress me up. She has a major job in fashion and the closet to prove it. She’d taken a pass at my suitcase and cocked her head to the side, confused. Didn’t I used to dress with some panache? What are all the jeans doing here? Why so many t-shirts? She looks
at me with sympathy. “Oh, Alex! Cos'è successo, mi hija?”

She brings me an outfit and begs off for a live out loud day in the city. I’m to dress and head out too. I’m to explore and feel the sun on my face. “Cara,” she says, “it is what you NEED!” I do as I’m told and I have to say, I feel great. It’s been a hundred years since I’ve worn something that wasn’t utilitarian and a strut appears in my step.
Like the THUMP-THUMP bass from a lowrider's speakers, the city is vibrating with activity. Everything and everyone synchronized. The cobwebs begin to loosen.

I take the subway to where it all began, the house I lived in when I was a little girl. I stare up at the façade, look down the street and see Slim toddling behind me calling me Ax. It’s not easy to
remember something so sweet in the context of knowing what would happen later but I keep breathing.

In her book, Finlay tells the story of visiting the cathedral in Chartres when she was a little girl. Staring up at the stained glass window, her father told her, “It’s 800 years old and now we don’t know how to make that blue.” I know about this. The lost formulas, the terrible yearning for a hue.

I walk to the apartment I was living in at the height of my bon vivant-ness only to find that it’s no longer there. The symbolism is not lost on me. I remember the Feast of San Genarro – how I used to watch it from my fire escape. Eating hot zeppoles out of a paper bag, I would watch the neon lights
from the Ferris Wheel bounce across my legs.I get a coffee from Dean & Deluca and see myself coming into the store the day before Thanksgiving in 1992, the first time I ever made the meal on my own and remember how much everyone loved my pumpkin cheesecake.

I hop on the train to midtown and swing by the old showroom building. I used to work in fashion and as I step into the air-conditioned lobby, it all floods back – the trade shows and sample sales. I remember a fake fur I bought, how I used to wear it like a robe after baths and how I can’t remember the
last time I let myself be naked. I run to meet Roni at the theater.
At the curtain call, Mark Rylance, still out of breath, told a story: “One night after the show, a woman came up to me backstage and said, 'The last time I was covered in blood, listening to a drumbeat and waiting for the giants to arrive was the day I was born.'”

When I leave the theater the skies have turned yellow and it’s started to drizzle. I'm more grateful for this than I can say. The rain has always been special to me and tonight it feels like a gift. Even though I’m dressed for a runway, I decide to walk back to Chelsea.

Along the way, I see a writer at her computer inside a Starbucks. For some reason she looks up at me and we smile at each other. I'm so glad I’m a writer. I see a woman with her son. He’s about 9 and she’s dragging him behind her, trying to keep him under their umbrella. I miss Dash, fiercely. I'm so glad I'm a mother. I see a woman in her early 20’s screaming into her iPhone at a boyfriend. She’s drunk and her friends are trying to calm her down. I’m so
glad I’m 43.

After months of feeling like my personal soundtrack has been scored exclusively by cellos, I start to hear new music. Specifically, Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone only - because of the
weather and being in NY and wearing a necklace that costs a year’s salary – I hear it in some dance techno beat. “How does it feel to be on your own?” Fucking amazing. 


By the time I get back to the apartment, I'm giddy with anticipation. For what, I’m not sure.
Taj and Rey are gone for the night so I decide to go on to the roof and enjoy the view. As I walk through the door, a huge gust of wind comes up and slams it shut. The clouds open and it begins to pour down rain. I turn to go back in but the door is locked. It’ll be hours before anyone knows I’m here and the umbrella is gone.


I have no choice but to find a chair and embrace my predicament and in that moment of resignation I find the missing evidence. Yes, my life used to be different but it wasn’t necessarily better. It was exactly like it is now. Good and bad. Mourning for any moment before this one stops making sense and the road I’ve been on to find myself forks to the right.I tilt my face skyward and recognize this for what it is. Baptism. Then... footsteps. Heavy footsteps.

A giant's footsteps.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

shake your booty.


I was on the phone with a friend this morning and he told me he'd hurt his arm at the gym last month, “My shoulder’s still really bad. It’s been like this for weeks and now, well, you know…” His voice trailed off but I knew exactly where he was headed. “And now you think it's cancer, right?” I said. He let out a big exhale and whispered, “Yes."

I was understanding and supportive because
irrational cancer scares based on nothing more than the wind and some article I just read are my thing but I had to ask, "Is there such a thing as shoulder cancer, honey?" Because that's a stretch - even for me. "Since when does something have to be an actual thing for you to invest in it?" He had me.


As anyone who knows me can attest, I have a flair for the dramatic that borders on the Victorian and am unbelievably susceptible to the power of suggestion. Life has been heavy with drama for the last 40 years so now I live in a perpetual cycle of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Also, my shoulder has been hurting ALL day.


I told a friend about my shoulder and she said, “Now that you mention it, I’ve got some stuff happening with my stomach that I’m not crazy about. Think I’ll see if I can get in to see my doctor.”

Wouldn’t it be great if doctors were just always available and close by? I mean, technically, they are but I wish I had one sitting on the end of my bed at all times just waiting to answer questions cause I'm multi-symptomatic, as a rule. My doctor’s all the way over in Century City and all he ever says is, “Will you please stop diagnosing yourself on the Internet?”

He also refuses to let me have a supply of antibiotics on hand just in case, refuses to give me a blank prescription pad AND he doesn’t work on weekends which is the only time I ever think I have something.


Just got a call from ANOTHER friend who’s worried about some blood work she just had done and now we have to wait until Monday to hear the results. I groaned and said, “What's wrong with you? You know you’re only supposed to get tests done on Mondays so we can spend the following weekend celebrating your clean bill of health with booze, cigarettes, Xanax and cheese.” I swear, some people.

Shoulder still hurts and now my knees are doing this weird crunching thing whenever I stand up.


For most of the 90’s, I was totally convinced I had AIDS due to my heavy dependence on hysteria so, one day I called my therapist for an emergency phone session. “I don’t know,” I said, “I just feel funky.” I listed my symptoms and recounted my sexual partners (and the deviant histories I had made up about them) and said finally, “I know it. I’ve got AIDS.” She said, “You. Wish.” Then she hung up on me.


Woke up feeling like we’re all ridiculous - myself, most of all. I don’t know why I’ve spent so much of my life MSUing (making shit up) but I'm getting kinda sick of it. I want to fully embrace a relaxed and groovy approach to life (and somehow instantly have a yoga body and poised demeanor) instead of just dabbling with the idea but, God, it's hard to change these stripes.

I'm thinking of this because my friend Piper is coming over this morning for a visit. We haven’t seen in each other in years and just reconnected on Facebook. I'll tell you, all the "what ifs" are kinda hilarious until you make a plan with a friend who actually has fucking cancer.
Which she does. I just found out.


We had a really nice visit. We caught up and laughed and for a while avoided the whole cancer topic altogether but then we took a breath and just dove in. I’m glad. I’d hate to be one of those friends who can’t handle talking about what’s going on for her because of narcissistic concerns about my own health. I listened and asked questions and was generally there in the room with her but a couple of times I caught myself thinking, “Oh God, what am I going to do if I get cancer?”

So, turns out, I’m one of those friends after all.

Later still.

Been listening to LeAnn Womack sing, “I hope you dance,” for the last two hours. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.


Went to go visit my “blood work” friend at her office to wait for the results and everything came back clean. Huzzah! Apropos of absolutely nothing, her co-worker was wearing a blue bracelet that said, IT'S ALL GOOD, and he gave us each one to wear because he said they were lucky charms.
I put it on immediately.


Got the gig to write short stories from an ad I answered on Craiglist. Can. Not. Believe. It.


Just found out I booked a commercial I auditioned for. Can. Not. Believe. It.

This week is like the complete opposite of that week I had last May. Never taking the bracelet off.


Piper and I were supposed to meet for dinner but I begged off so I could work on the short stories in an effort to meet a deadline for once in my life. She said she was fine with it but something in her voice told me that it wasn’t actually fine so I changed my mind and we met up for a smoothie.

Turns out, after some hope-filled months, she went in for her regular treatment today and the doctor said he was “worried about something” and now she has to go in and get a different kind of scan. FUUUUCCCCKKKK!

She is so upbeat, even though she’s stressed about it, and I just don’t have a clue how she does it. I fall apart when I have to get a routine pap smear so, yeah, I’m basically just retarded and pretending (badly) that I’m not while she is just about the coolest person in the history of persons.
I took my bracelet off and gave it to her with instructions not to remove it until the scan results come back. 

On the way home I found myself running some kind of complicated algorithm in my head: how many friends I have x how many friends have cancer x what the National figures are x what my odds would be in that group but I’ve always been shitty at math (and now friendship, I guess) and didn’t come up with anything. When I went to brush my teeth, I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. 


I woke up this morning and had an epic panic attack. I barely made it to the wardrobe fitting for the commercial but once I got there I started to calm down until…
I got a phone call with bad news about Slim followed immediately by an e-mail with bad news about Dash. It was clear I wouldn't be breathing normally for a while.

I’m not going to lie, I thought about getting the bracelet back from Piper because it was kind of amazing how soon things got wonky after taking it off but I’m not calling MY FRIEND WITH CANCER to ask for the bracelet back. I mean, after you make a call like that, what’s next? Slapping babies? Teasing kittens?


Today was the first day on the commercial and I found out I wasn’t going to get as much money as I originally thought, which meant that paying rent would be, um, hilly. I eyed my phone, pre-set to Piper's number, and bit my lip. Instead of making the call, I took a walk over to craft service because my Jordan Almond addiction is getting pretty serious and that's when I saw the penny. 

The skies had been overcast all morning but at that moment the sun slivered through and made the copper sparkle. I don't know why but a wave of calm came over me so I picked the penny up, put it in my pocket and decide it would be my new lucky charm.


I called Piper and told her the story about my run of bad luck. I wasn’t going to because I didn’t want her to feel self-conscious about being totally greedy in keeping the bracelet to herself but telling it was also proof that the bracelet really was a good luck charm and that's news she might want to hear. Plus, there were some funny bits and I knew she'd laugh. She did.
She laughed for a long time on the phone and then called back later to say how much she appreciated the break from all the shit her brain is telling her.

I think that maybe one of the reasons we’re back in each others lives is that she reminds me to get my head out of my ass and I make her laugh. She won’t know this until she reads the blog but she’s actually the reason I went on that audition in the first place. She’s showing me a different version of how to live. One with more pep. And more grace.


Still don’t know when Piper's going in for her scan but now we’re thinking that the doctor may be the actual drama queen in all of this cause all she has is back pain and everyone we know has back pain. I've been thinking about booking on our friendship the last few days because there’s a big difference between getting together for a quick cup of coffee with an old friend who's suddenly very sick and signing up to stick around for the duration. Staying put and witnessing the unfairness of her situation is sometimes maddening enough to want to pull all your teeth out in protest but I’ve wholeheartedly decided to stick around and here’s why:

She was awesome long before she got the diagnosis and she’ll be awesome after she kicks it’s ass. She is exactly like all of my other friends – twisted and kind and smart and open and talented. I'm crazy about her. I have no idea what she sees in me but I’m psyched that we got thrown back together again. Life is better since she reappeared because that’s how it is with great people... they improve the conditions.

She recently told me, “My doctor’s don’t think I’m gonna make it, but I do.” And that right there is the most extraordinary thing I’ve ever heard. Ever. So all we have to do now is let the bracelets and the pennies do their jobs and get on with it. I think she’s gonna make it, too. I really do. 

In the meantime, there’s life happening every day and no one's life wants to do all the work. We must chip in. Instead of staying in the what if (fear, fear, fear) I want to reinvigorate the abandoned campaign of ravenous living. The shoulders and blood tests and stomach ailments and funky knees and panic attacks are distracting us from the banquet. Not to get all “I hope you dance” on you but seriously you guys...

Let's dance.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

the winter ball. the responses.

Despite my assertion that I could, in fact, live another day without seeing a crotch shot, the penis pictures continued to stream in unabated – all of them attached to email responses of every imaginable sort. Poets sent verse, misogynists sent rants, men still living with their parents, or stuck in loveless marriages, sent missives akin to an SOS.

Despite the many differences of my would-be suitors, most fell into one of the following categories:

THE GRAMMAR DENIERS: Men who adore commas, misunderstand semi-colons and are absolutely terrified of their space bar. It also bears mentioning that the bigger the penis, the worse the spelling.

THE “TIRED OF THE GAMES” GUYS: Never got a clear answer on what games they were referring to but my God they are SICK of them.

THE NO BS GUYS: See above.


THE MASSEURS: If I weren’t afraid of the whole barrel thing, I could be getting massages every day for a month, in the privacy of my own home, for FREE and still not run out of offers.

THE BENEFACTORS: Lots of offers to help pay my rent and bills in exchange for candlelight dinners, a couple cocktails and “lots of laughs.” The only catch being that I must stay “open-minded” because “who knows?” I looked at the tower of bills on my nightstand, covered in cobwebs, and bit my lip. I called Shauna and said, “We all knew it was gonna come down to prostitution eventually, didn’t we?” “Yes,” she said, “yes we did.”

THE NATURE ENTHUSIASTS: They all love the beach. Ditto, sunsets and mountain streams.  These places are their “power spots” and where they feel the “most connected.” I tended to delete these almost immediately because, buddy, who doesn’t love the beach? Ever met anyone who said, “Sunsets, my ass. Every night with the beautiful colors and the overall sense of well-being. Enough.”

THE POT SMOKERS: I had NO idea so many people smoked pot. Or how many smoked pot while also insisting that I smoke pot, too. Some of these guys were super handsome, which I imagine is very important since we wouldn’t be able to do much but stare at each other all day through heavily-lidded eyes after calling in sick to work, eating bags of Funyuns and watching re-runs of Ren & Stimpy.

THE FETISHISTS: By far the most spirited group. One wanted to tell me what to wear and what to eat and I have to say, that sounded kinda great. As chief decider in these parts, the idea of having someone lay an outfit on my bed AND save me an exhausting twenty minutes weighing the gnocchi against the steak, seemed like a vacation. One wanted me to dress up like Marie Antoinette. Another wanted me to dress HIM up like Marie Antoinette. One wanted me to wear panty hose and that’s where I had to draw the line. Amirite, ladies? One asked, “So, where do you stand on the whole rape fantasy thing?” I have to admit that I didn’t know it was a thing and, without even thinking about it, I realized I stand rather firmly against rape. One wanted to go pacifier shopping (don’t ask) and another asked me how many gag balls I currently had in my “collection.” Anyone who’s ever met me knows that this is a ridiculous question as I’m not sure I’ve ever gone longer than five minutes without chiming in about something or the other. I’m sure there are people who would welcome having a gag ball in arm’s reach while hanging out with me but volunteer for silence? Um, no. Anyway, like I said, they were just a super fun group of guys and I wish them all the best.

THE “I’M ONLY HERE FOR ONE THING” GUYS: My favorite being the one who wrote simply, “Wanna get licked and get paid?” Golly, SURE!

DEREK: His email arrived sans photo or fanfare. He was funny and could spell. We had both lived in the same small, San Francisco neighborhood. He had kids, too. After forty-eight hours of reading what basically amounted to the same soft-core porn novel over and over, his lovely and straight forward email floated gently to the top of my mind. Him, I wrote back.

Next up: The Dates.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

thanks giving.

I couldn't sleep last night, partly due to Dash who, having run into my bed after a nightmare, dug his elbows and knees into my ribcage and snored in my ear - quite impressively for a 6 year old. But even if it had been quiet, even if I'd had more than an inch of bed space, it wouldn't have mattered cause the truth is, I was awake when he arrived. After receiving crushing financial news the morning before, and spending the rest of the day trying to figure out a way to make everything work out, I laid there, eyes as big as the half-dollars I no longer had, and panicked.

I finally gave up the ghost at 4 am and decided to start the day. The house was as cold as a Russian novel so I lit a fire and made coffee. I stepped on, and broke, a Christmas ornament and swore like I was raised at a truck stop. I went to make toast but only found two heels and worried about how I could sell them to the little prince when he demanded toast with his breakfast. I laid out our Thanksgiving getups and checked the progress of a zit that had taken up semi-permanent residence on my chin. I cleaned up a room I had cleaned up 60 times in the last 24 hours and finally sat down to stare, dramatically, into the fire. A quick assessment of my life confirmed my fears: I am not where I want to be in my life in the three big areas: career, love, abs. I sighed for an hour and then pulled my knit cap over my ears to drown out the sound of my pity party.

I went into my room on tip toes and sat on the edge of my bed to watch Dash in the moonlight. As much as I wanted (and needed) him to stay sleeping, another part of me wished that he would wake up and say something that would shake me out of my Dickensian funk. He cradled his new teddy bear, the one I bought him for his birthday and my heart started beating again. All the black sludge that had been masquerading as my blood got washed away cause I remembered what Dash told me before he went to sleep. "Mama," he said, "this bear is crazy about you."

Smiling from ear to ear at the memory, I went into the living room and did the only thing I could think of: I made a, VERY partial, list of everything I am thankful for, today and every day:

Afternoon naps in shafts of sunlight
Lint rollers
VivaldiLadybugs on blades of grass
Elbows and knees


Christmas lights at dusk
Full tanks on long drives


Lingering eye contact

The flower market



Hot baths

Sleeping babies
Laughing sons

Soft rugs and smooth rocks

Cold water in July

Lemon curd

Long shadows

Rocking orgasms

Aretha Franklin singing Nessun Dorma
Big clouds
Skating rinks

The SF Bay


and on and on and on...

Life. Is. Good.

My financial picture is as confusing as a Pollock but everyone I know is having the same hard time. I have friends whose homes are being foreclosed and whose cars are being repo-ed. Even the friends who are doing okay are struggling so, you know what? I've never been in better company. Everything will turn around. The only thing we can depend on is change and this - sleepless nights and debt collector avoiding - will give way to something sunnier. This is not a time for fear. It is a time for faith. There is work to do.

This morning, Dash asked for a dog. I told him that as soon as I get a job, we will get a dog. Dash said that would be fine. He also said that I could get a job as a fry cook "like Spongebob" or as a "worker at Staples" (I have no idea) or in an office building "cause those are the fancy jobs." So, I guess I'm all set.

Yes, there are doors closing but there are windows opening and even if that makes life sometimes feel a bit drafty, there is always something to be grateful for. If true wealth is measured, and I really believe it is, by health and good friends and smiling kids and a loving family, then I am, for the 43rd year in a row, a very rich woman indeed. In the words of Maya Angelou, "... wouldn't take nothing for my journey now."

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

the winter ball.

In January 1983, the halls of my high school were abuzz with talk about our upcoming formal dance, The Winter Ball. We were excited – booking limos, asking older siblings to buy us rum and going to Macy’s after school to try on taffeta dresses. Since I was only 15 and did not yet have a boyfriend, my friend, Doo, set me up with a guy her date knew, sight unseen.

On the night, Doo and I got ready together and the guys arrived to pick us up. I don’t remember their names but I’ll call my date, Mark. Mark, the asshole. From the instant he arrived, he made a few things very clear: I had given him "lousy" directions to the house, my dress looked “Victorian” and like something his “grandma would wear” and, even though he didn’t say it, he wished he was on the date with Doo instead of me. I know this because after we got to the dance, if I wanted to actually lay eyes on him, I had to figure out where Doo was. Find Doo, find Mark.

In the end, my girlfriend, Ayn, saved me from the debacle. Her date was equally gross so she and I took off in her mother’s car, went to a diner and, corsages wilting, ordered onion rings and milkshakes. We had a ball.

Now, at 44, I can tell you that Mark had the entitlement of Kim Jong-Il, the defensiveness of a hedge fund manager and a pasty, moon face very popular among serial killers. In short, the kind of guy I would cross the street to avoid but, back then, I was just a girl made up of insecure atoms so I thought this is what dating was like and vowed to avoid it like the plague.

While I didn't actually manage to avoid it, I'm happy to report that Mark is STILL the worst date I’ve ever had and I am grateful, really, that I knocked that one out early. As for my best date? That would be the time my soon-to-be boyfriend, John, asked me on our first date, if I would join him for part of his upcoming European bike trip so, on what would’ve been our third date, I flew to Munich. Despite the obvious "international escort" undertones, it's still one of the best decisions I've ever made. The rest of my dating life has settled somewhere in between - not quite horrific but seriously lacking in passports.

I’m thinking about all of this because I just recently launched into an experiment: online dating. After an eye-opening week on wherein the ONLY specification I listed was a height minimum of 6’, I received e-mails from every man in America under 5’8.” So, I did what any sane woman would do, I canceled my account and headed over to craigslist.

The term, “eye-opening,” takes on a whole new meaning over there at old craigslist. I don’t consider myself a prude at all but my holy goodness, I saw more penises in my first three hours than a porn director after a week of auditions. I thought that eyes were the windows to the soul but maybe I’ve been wrong.

Now, we’ve all heard the scary stories about online dating, and craiglist in particular, so it’s important to note as I regale you with my experiences that I am not giving anyone my real name, e-mail address or phone number. These early days are as private as can be and if I do decide to go on a date with anyone, Kathlyn and Denise are already on deck to accompany me, chaperone-style. Also, while there is no doubt that some people out there are nutjobs who wouldn’t know a boundary if it slapped them across the face, most people are decent and kind and, like me, aren’t sure exactly how to go about dating while also having kids. And a case of the olds.

Here’s the post I put up and now we will wait to see who turns up:

After 2 years on my own, post break up, I think I'm ready to explore again. Not sure what I want, relationship-wise, because I dig having my own space but I don't feel the need to do ALL of it alone anymore. I'm truly new here and after a day of research it's starting to sound like there are a LOT of people pretending to be one thing and actually being something else altogether. That's not me and I don't suffer fools BUT If you're funny and smart and can tell a good story, send me an email.

For the record:

I have brown hair.
I live in a cute Craftsman.
I'm funny.
I love the rain.
I love fireplaces.
I love everything (well, not EVERYTHING, but I see beauty wherever I can.)
I'm a writer.
I want to learn how to make cheese.
I sing all the time.
I have a terrific kid and crazy, lovely parents and tons of friends and a whole life.
I have big eyes and marvel at most everything they see.

Also, for the record:

I don't want to "hook up" today or tonight.
I like massages but I just had one so, I'm good.
I'm not going to start off by telling you where I live or giving out my number because I'm not insane and don't want to end up in a barrel.
I will trade e-mails and see what's up.
I’m a 100% real person.
I know you love your penis and, you know, awesome, but I’m not interested in seeing it quite yet. I’m sure it’s terrific but I’m willing to bet it’s not your best feature.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

the slide

“I don’t think I want to do this, mom. It’s too high.” My 8-year old son Dash is staring straight up in the air watching chair lifts transport skiers up a very tall mountain. As if embarrassed by it’s height, the mountain’s top half is completely shrouded in fog, lending an ominous feel to the whole enterprise. I follow his gaze and bite my lip. I don’t think I want to do this either.

We're in line to get on a chair lift that will take us to the mountain’s mid-point where a ride called The Alpine Slide awaits. It’s hard to tell from where we stand but it appears the ride consists of sitting on a sled no bigger than a cracker and rocketing down a track at breakneck speed to what I can only assume is doom. I’ve got a headache begging for an emergency room but I give Dash a smile and a shaky thumbs-up. The line lurches forward so we do too.

The thumbs-up thing started when I got divorced four years ago. I gave Dash the first one as soon as the movers finished bringing the last of the boxes into our new place. It was a sweltering, draconian day and the neighborhood smelled like fish but the next thing I knew he put his thumb up too and that was that. Ever since then, when words have failed, this has been the way we communicate. My thumbs have been total sluts the last few years, sometimes shooting up several times a day, but Dash is more discerning. I only see his when he really is okay.

I look down at his hands, they’re balled up into little fists. I say, “I’m so happy to be having an adventure!” He looks less sure, still scanning the skies looking for a loophole. I don’t blame him, I’m looking for one too. As a rule, Dash and I are not adventurous people. We don’t sky dive or trapeze. We don’t go into the ocean past our ankles, we don’t kayak and we don’t rock climb. When he was a baby I taught him some simple sign language - mama, boy, outside, martini - and it occurs to me standing here now that that may have been the last time I asked him if he wanted to go outside. We’ve shared a pursuit of indoor activities that borders on the Victorian but I’m trying to change all that.

I mean, to be clear, there’s been some adventure. There was “adventure” when I took him away from his house in Beverly Hills and moved him to an apartment in Chinatown. There was “adventure” when I took him to the food stamps office to apply for emergency aid when the child support payments suddenly stopped. There was “adventure” the night he held my hand when the man I thought would stay decided to leave. But adventure that leaves us with beating hearts and a smile on our face has been thin on the vine so when my best friend Renee proposed a trip to the snow with her friend Doris I saw it as a way to kick start a life lived more ravenously and agreed on the spot.

The chair lift operator waves for Dash and I to get on the next chair and suddenly we’re the Keystone Kops. I hit my head on the metal bar and Dash falls down. We’re hopeless. I pick him up by the scruff of his neck, as if he were a polar bear cub, and the chair jerks us up, up, up. Renee watches us ascend. I wave to her but she doesn’t wave back. I wave again but she just looks at me strangely then walks toward the line. A wave of dread and nausea washes over me. I feel like shit.

As high as it looked from the ground, sitting in the chair lift is akin to a circus act. It’s a long way down and the chair itself is nothing more than some 2x4’s MacGyver tied together on his lunch break. I can feel the color drain from my face and I’m shaking head to toe. I can’t discern if the fear I feel is related to the height or to the look I got on the ground but I’m a swinging, rickety mess.

Dash looks mildly terrified too so I pretend to get interested in our surroundings. I point out everything I see. He nods his head vigorously but doesn’t say a word. He inherited his big eyes from me and right now we look like a couple of Keane paintings that got dropped into the movie Saw. He says, “Let go, mom. You’re squeezing too hard.” I apologize but don’t release my grip. He sighs. I’ve been holding on to him too tightly the last few years, sometimes unclear about who exactly is supposed to save whom.

A ride employee stands on the side of the mountain, yelling toward us, “WHEN YOU GET TO THE PLATFORM, JUMP OFF AND RUN TO YOUR RIGHT!!!” Dash and I yell together, “WHAT?!” The employee repeats himself and so do we and it goes like this until we actually get to the platform. We disembark as awkwardly as we got on then grab some sleds piled on a snow bank and plod toward the track.

We place our sleds on each of the tracks, Dash on the left, me on the right, and wait our turn. A man in line ahead of us asks, “You excited, buddy?” Dash nods enthusiastically and I see a smile forming. His fear is giving way to anticipation and I’m so proud of him. I don’t want him to be as scared as I’ve been. We shimmy on our sleds to the track’s start and get a quick tutorial from a teenager who is Adonis beautiful and bored as hell. “Push the lever forward to speed up,” he says, checking his watch. “Um, excuse me,” I say, “How do we stop?” He doesn’t hear me so says only, “GO! GO!” And we do. Very, very slowly.

It takes about ¼ of the track for us to get used to the sled then I see Dash push the lever and start flying down the hill. Even though I’m only going about 5 miles an hour, I feel exhilarated and some of my cobwebs start to loosen. This isn’t bad at all. In fact, it’s awesome. I push the lever, increasing my speed to 15. Look at me! An adrenaline junkie! Athletic! Strong! I look around for an oak tree to high five and start planning trips for Dash and I to zipline over rainforests and bungee jump into Colorado gorges. When I get to the bottom Dash’s already walking back to the line yelling over his shoulder, “Let’s go again! Let’s go again!”

We get back in line laughing and dare each other to go faster this time. “Let’s race!” he says. “You’re on!” I say. Our smiles are huge. I hear my name being called and turn to see Doris, the owner of the house we’re staying in. She looks at me like she wishes she wasn’t and says, “Alex, do you even remember last night?” I look at Dash. He looks at his shoes.

I’ve been an alcoholic since my first sip 30 years ago so I know immediately that I must have had too much wine the night before, but the rest is shaky. I wait for memories to start rushing in like a river after it floods - complete with snakes, lawn furniture and do-gooders in small boats - but nothing comes. The harder I try to remember the blanker my mind becomes.

Doris wants an answer but I can’t speak. All I can think about is a woman I saw at a party once. Her name was Tammy and she thought she was the life of the party – drinking too much and laughing too loudly and hanging on the shoulders of other women’s boyfriends. Every time she poured herself a drink she would drop it after a few sips and teeter back to the bar, saying “whoopsie” over and over again. My boyfriend put a broom where she was standing and the guests called her “Tammy Tippy Cup” behind her back until her boyfriend yelled at her to “get in the fucking car.” Right now I’d give anything to know what happened to her.

Renee walks over and she and Doris share a look. Doris says she wants to go for a walk with me so Renee tells Dash she’ll take him on the ride with her. Dash doesn’t know what to do and neither do I. We can’t look at each other. I’m filled to the brim with remorse and fear and I worry that if we move, we’ll evaporate. Renee says, “I’m not ready to talk to you yet,” and guides Dash away. Doris says, “Let’s go.”

We walk around the village while Doris shakes her head. She and I have known each other for 15 years but at best she’s an acquaintance. I’ve helped her kid get work on a couple of occasions and we’ve worked side by side many times helping Renee put on her famous parties but we haven’t crossed into friendship. She’s never been especially kind to me so it makes me angry now that she’s the one “being a friend.” I look for Renee. 

Doris says, “You were so hostile. Your poor kid.” I walk a few steps behind her like a Japanese wife, my head bowed, and take my public shaming. I’m half desperate to hear the details and half hoping I never do but Doris doesn’t really offer any specifics, just makes it very clear that she’s disappointed with the way I treated her. She tells me I threw a plate toward her. I breathe a bit easier and think that doesn’t sound THAT bad - I mean, I’m Italian and plate throwing is kind of just Tuesday to us. She says, “I don’t know you very well so maybe this is just how you are.”

When I was pregnant with Dash, the most popular shower gift was a book called, The Three-Martini Playdate. I got no less than 5 copies. The book suggested that in no way should children interrupt the party. With a little creativity, one could be a stylish mom AND drink like a Fitzgerald. This was exciting news and my pregnant friends and I spent nine months lapping the book up like oxygen. We stopped talking about due dates and instead circled the date on the calendar when we could have a cocktail again.
After our kids were born, from 5-7pm every night, the wine came out to help us get through the dinner, the bath, the story, the third diaper change in an hour, the monotony, the depression, the whole general soul crushing, WTFuckness that comes with having an infant in your house. We all complained about the horrible 4am, panic driven wake ups that we knew came because of too much alcohol but who the hell was sleeping anyway? We vowed to amp up the drinking, put the kids up for adoption if they didn’t pull it together and the whole business was just, sort of, hilarious. Until Diane Schuler. Any drinking after that was done less publicly and with a lot more shame. That’s the room I’ve been locked in for years.

I apologize to Doris repeatedly. I’m still not entirely sure what I’ve done but I’ve known myself for a long time and I’m sure I fucked up somehow. Or several somehows. I thank her for talking to me because she’s the only one who is. She’s a bitch but she’s a brave bitch. I turn and go back to the ride to find my kid. He’s standing next to Renee looking orphan-y. His hands are balled up again.

We slink onto the next chair. I say, “Look at that lake. Pretty, huh?” He just swings his feet. They look tiny above the trees. He leans against the bar and looks down. I realize this is exactly what it feels like to have an alcoholic mother - the ground underneath you disappears and all you can do is hang in the space and hope that if a fall comes, it isn’t too bad. I know about this - my family crest is a bottle of gin and 911. I say, “Did you have fun last night?” It’s an embarrassing attempt to absolve myself and I get exactly what I deserve when Jack says, “Yeah, until you started drinking alcohol.” I look at him and think of my mother.

When I was 7, my mom and I lived in a run down section of San Francisco, right next door to a car repair lot whose only redeeming value was that it doubled as a place to ride my bike when it closed on Sundays. One particular Sunday, the sky earthquake yellow, I headed out for a ride on my bike – a banana seat with glittery tassels and five Jaws stickers emblazoned on it's side. I was as proud of it as I was of my new sweater. The sweater was white with little, embroidered flowers and had come, not from Goodwill or a cousin, but from an actual store. A recent gift from my grandmother.

I rode around for a while showing off my wares but soon got distracted by the mural of Frida Kahlo painted on the side of a Mexican bakery across the street that sold the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. The car repair lot was filled with landmines in the guise of oil patches and you had to be really careful or else you’d skid and fall, which I did, moments later. The fall was worse then usual and I went to tell my mom, holding my hurt arm.

She opened our door, a brandy in her hand, and yelled at me because “the grease will NEVER come out!” Then she slammed the door in my face. Everything after that was sped up and in Technicolor. The glass from the door’s window shattered and fell into her arm and hand. Her drink crashed onto the floor. Blood splattered everywhere. I wrapped her cuts with toilet paper. She got pale. The ambulance came and took her to the ER where they sewed her up. The bloody paper sat in the trash for a week. No one looked at my arm.

Years later I was on a cruise with my cousin, Taj. One morning in our stateroom, after a very long night of heavy drinking celebrating something (the ocean, maybe?) he said, “You’re different when you drink.” He said it with concern and confusion but I took it as a green light to increase my drinking, tout de suite. Ever since the bike day, all I wanted to be was different than I was and if drinking was all it took, cheers.

And for years it kinda worked. I managed to live in a way that made it impossible for me to ever run into myself. Plus, drinking is fun. You get to pretend you’re limber and can speak French. Your powers of observation are super charged and abilities that generally require some kind of training or education bubble to the surface without provocation – Juggling! I can paint! Also, nothing in the world can mimic the feeling of omnipotence that comes with the second drink. If I could live in that space forever, I’d start packing today.

Alcohol has been my passport to living with more daring, which is exactly what a scaredy cat like me needs. I’ve splashed in Roman fountains and teased Beefeaters. I’ve had sex with handsome strangers (this one perhaps a tad too many times) and flown to Vegas for impromptu games of Blackjack. I charmed an Italian village from a train window. I sang the full version of American Pie at a gay bar. Twice. I was beautiful, witty, ribald and the person people liked sitting next to at dinner parties. At least that’s what I’ve told myself but for the last few years that story is harder and harder to sell. I think all that time I thought I was fabulous I was actually just Tammy.

I get to the top of the track and the Adonis says, “Do you know how to use the brakes?” “Apparently not," I say and start laughing really hard but he gets busy talking to a coed with pink glitter in her hair. I give myself the go ahead and slide onto the track. I feel exactly the same inside as I do outside: terrified and heading straight downhill. I push the lever as far as it will go. I want fast. I want to outrun myself.

Suddenly I remember something from the night before - putting flowers in a vase. I got them for Doris as a thank you for letting us stay at her house. I bring the flowers out to the deck where the women sit drinking wine, getting stoned and laughing. I feel totally out of place - like the help. I’m blinded by their diamond rings and made deaf by their stories of wonderful husbands and second homes. I walk back into the house and pour myself a huge glass of wine. I get really interested in what the kids are doing. I pour another glass of wine. I make a platter of food I brought from LA and bring it out to the deck. I listen some more and talk too loudly. I go back inside and pour another glass of wine.

Back on the sled, I remember something else. Me, crawling into the guestroom bed and angrily adjusting the pillow while Dash said, “Perfect storm, mom. Okay?” I once told him, after drinking all night and yelling at him twice the next morning that he is the Hurricane from the East, I am the Tornado from the West and on bad days we become the perfect storm. He said, “The next time you want to yell at me, I’ll say ‘perfect storm’ and then we’ll laugh instead.” 

I once read a book called Color by Victoria Finlay. In it she tells the story of visiting the cathedral in Chartres when she was a little girl. Staring up at the stained glass window, her father told her, “It’s 800 years old and now we don’t know how to make that blue.” I know about this too. The lost formulas. The terrible yearning for a hue.

On the last chair lift ride, I tell Dash that I’m sick but that I’m going to go to the doctor and make myself well so that a night like the one before never happens again. My mother was an alcoholic on welfare raising a kid on her own and despite all the times I promised I would NEVER let that happen to my kid, here we are, trying it again. But the cycle needs broken and it’s needs broken today. “Let’s go to the doctor right now,” he says, “so you can get better right away.” There are no words after that and the fog is coming in so I wrap my arms around Dash and he hugs me back. I whisper, “I love you from the earth to the moon and all the way around the moon and then to Jupiter and all the way around Jupiter and then to Venus…” He interrupts me, “Can we have cheeseburgers tonight?”

Dash and I sit on our sleds and wait for the Adonis to give the sign. I feel something I haven’t felt in forever: hope. We push our levers like a couple of pros and go faster than we ever have. We’re neck and neck but I quickly lose sight of him. I realize that in an instant, he’ll be gone. They say about parenting: The days are long but the years are short. I want them both back.

I ask myself repeatedly, like a mantra, “Can we forgive?” I get my answer on the next turn. Through the fog, barely visible at first but then unmistakable, I see the thumb of an 8-year boy, the most beautiful thing in the world, pointing straight up.