Tag Archives: nonfiction

Catching wind

When I was eight I locked the wind in a box.

It didn’t weigh much, made no noise if I shook the box, and looked rather a lot like a handful of dandelion fluff. I’d toss a pinch into the air and a breeze would whisper secrets in my ear. Other kids had soccer trophies and name-brand Keds; I had the wind in a box. It made me feel powerful, strong, magical. Special.

I don’t know what happened to that box, but the wind remembers me, I swear it.

Do you know that feeling, when you walk out your front door and there’s no traffic, there are no people, there’s only you and the sky and the trees and you wonder, where is everyone? What do they know that I don’t? That’s when the wind speaks to me. Sometimes the wind is that lover who rents out an entire restaurant just so you can have a quiet conversation.

In Burlington, Vermont, the wind cuts across Lake Champlain bringing cold air and snow from the Great Lakes region into the valley. That never stopped us from spending New Year’s Eve on Church Street. We’d duck into bar and restaurant and cafe, one after the other, to listen to music – and to escape the bitter cold – until finally, our noses and ears aching, our fingers painfully numb, we’d hurry home to our apartment and the pot of mulled wine on the stove. Sometimes the wind is the voice of reason, the good friend that pulls no punches when she says, this relationship is no good for you; it’s time to leave.

The very first night I spent in Michigan, I dreamed of tornadoes: great, towering funnels of malignant air that chased me across broken staircases and swallowed up the people I loved. I’m not one to believe in signs, exactly, but I like to think the wind was giving me a hint. I don’t want to hurt you, it said, but this isn’t the place for you. As though the flat landscape and flatter stares hadn’t already given that away.

This time of year, the wind comes howling out of the Columbia River Gorge and lodges itself in the great Douglas fir in our backyard, scratching at our windows and shaking branches like fists until the pine cones rain across the roof. It sounds like someone trying to break in, and I understand why my kids can’t sleep.

It’s just the wind, I tell them. It’s telling us we’re safe inside.

They want me to make it stop, but I’m not strong enough for that. I only listen to the wind, I don’t control it, not anymore. If I could, though, I’d catch the wind, put it in a box for them. I’d tell them to keep it secret, to take it out only when no-one is watching. At night, I’d say, if you tuck it under your pillow, the wind will tell you things.


Shields

Right now, my kids are watching the news. To be specific, they’re watching election results roll in. They don’t understand the full scope of things, but they know that Mama likes the blue people. That she supports health care and education and gun control and protections for people who don’t look like her or them. These all sound like good things to my elementary-school-aged kids.

I really don’t like it when they glue their eyes to the screen. The political ads lately have been hard to take – on both sides. My kids are confused by the name-calling and the bullying. Right now, they are earnestly trying to parse the politispeak, cheering every time they see a blue name with a checkmark next to it. Don’t tell me I brainwash my kids. We try to be circumspect and as honest as possible when we talk about politics, but kids aren’t stupid. They know what bad behavior looks like. They know what fairness looks like. Not just my kids; ask any kid on the playground. They know when they’re being lied to. When Trump won the 2016 election, my older son cried.

I don’t have the heart to tell them how little I believe this particular mid-term election will change things. I’m trying to stay positive for their sakes. I’m already talking to them about the next election – if there even is one. Sometimes I can’t make myself believe there will be. My rose-colored glasses are foggy and cracked.

A friend posted something the other day about how if we love our country, we need to stay and keep working to make it better. I do love my country, or at least the ideals that have been drummed into our heads since we were kids, that are being drummed into my kids’ heads now: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I’m grateful I was born here and not someplace scarier. Right now, there’s a caravan of refugees heading toward our southern border because they believe in those ideals too, or maybe they just believe it must be better here than where they came from. That it must be safer here. One can only imagine.

Sometimes I dream about packing up my family and moving someplace safe, too. I have a stack of paperwork that says we are a family: me, my wife, my children. Name change documents, marriage documents, adoption papers, birth certificates. But I don’t believe in paperwork anymore, not when children are being taken from their families all along the border. Don’t tell me, those aren’t American children. Does it matter? They’re children, and this is America. Paperwork is a thin shield against the potential erasure of your family.

Right now, I’m watching the news, and I don’t feel safe.


How to plan a funeral

Message your family first. Call your wife. Tell them, she’s gone.

Sit vigil by her bedside until your brother arrives. Her brother brings espresso; her sister brings a cake. They had promised her something with flavor, near the end. Her brother touches a cup to her lips.

Go to her house. Start to assess what needs to be done: estate sale, house cleaning, realtor. Spend an hour or two catching her cats.

Collect her ashes from the funeral home.

Go to dinner with your family. She would have liked that. Order tequila shots all around; she would have liked that, too.

“She didn’t want a funeral,” her sister says. Try not to hate yourself for being relieved.

Swallow your tequila. Start planning something else: a vacation, maybe, to scatter her ashes somewhere she loved.


The boys next door

The knock at the door came at a bad time.

I’d driven for two days straight with a car full of things from my dead mom’s house–on the anniversary of her death, no less. One kid was in the bath, the other was clamoring for dinner. The neighbors were having a Sunday evening backyard party despite the drizzle and we had to shut the kitchen window because it was so noisy. The Kavanaugh debacle was still fresh in my mind and I was still angry. All I wanted was a glass of wine and to shake the knots out of my shoulders.

“It might be someone we know,” my wife said, and so I stomped to the door, ready to snip at whoever was there, and yanked it open.

“Hi,” said the rather good-looking young man on our porch. He was barefoot and held a can of beer in his hand. “We really need someone to take a group picture.”

I wasn’t exactly dressed for a party in my yoga pants and over-sized elementary school sweatshirt. I wasn’t even wearing a bra. Still. “Let me get my shoes,” I said.

The boys next door had strung up lights. Food was laid out on a red tablecloth, and music was playing. Fifteen or so early 30-somethings crowded the small backyard, trying not to step on each others’ toes in the damp grass. Jake and Patrick wore matching Hawaiian shirts; Patrick had their dog, Girlfriend, in his arms. A cheer went up when I came through the gate.

A blonde girl in a red dress handed me her iPhone and scampered off to join the group.

“Dude, did you knock on the neighbor’s door?” somebody muttered.

“I mighta,” said the barefoot beer-drinker.

“Hold on, I’m gonna take a bunch,” I said. “Hopefully one of these will turn out.”

I snapped five or six shots, hoping that everyone’s eyes were open in at least one of them. Girlfriend barked the whole time. The blonde girl came for her phone and squealed at the photos, so I guess I did okay.

“Is there an occasion?” I asked, mostly out of politeness. “Somebody’s birthday?”

“They got married!” someone called out.

In the midst of social chaos, when white supremacists and Nazis speak freely and without repercussion, where passports are being revoked and protections reversed, halfway through the reign of Donald Trump, Jake and Patrick got married. In their backyard on a Sunday night, surrounded by their closest friends, their chosen family. It was a surprise wedding, somebody told me. Everyone thought it was just a barbecue.

“You guys,” I said. “I’m gonna cry.”

“It’s okay,” said the blonde girl. “We all did.”


News: How to remodel

I am pleased and honored to share that my short essay about my mother, How to Remodel, has been published by the lovely folks over at Dead Housekeeping.

About Dead Housekeeping (from their website):

When people die we can still clearly picture the way they did things. We don’t remember our departed in a vacuum, but in motion, in particular. We can still see and sense “how they did it” years after the doer’s deaths.

This is a heartfelt look at loss through the lens of the home.

I highly encourage you to spend some time reading through the essays published on their site. Touching, funny, poignant, and raw – these stories will not disappoint you.

Photo of myself (age 21) and my mother

My mother and I in 1995 or so