Thursday, March 29, 2012

and then

And then it's time to pick yourself up, at least a bit. It's not easy. My darkness is deep and it loves an excuse to ruminate. Yet my brightness is effervescent, loves to leap, even has dimples. So we play this game, me and me.

I just had to have something new on this goofy blog of mine. So here. Something new. We hit the road manana for another much deserved, much earned, ever epic, Kessler vacation. On the road for Seattle after school and then hop a way early flight to our favorite little Mexican town. Then it's sun and sea and long, indulgent days, us together, us present, all day, every day. I'll continue to work on integrating the dark and light, giving myself time for music and journal-fests, but trying to control the consumption that has been this death over the past two weeks. I really, really loved him. And he's gone. He's been gone from my world for a long time. It's still hard.

All Soli said this afternoon was, "Ocean!" He knows what he wants. Eliana is a bit more complex; an amazing, intense, nutty piece of work who seems to have a bit of her mother's dark/light duality happening. Lord help us. We generally do well when we're away from it all. Let's breathe in deep and stay focused on our blessings.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


And then you are going through your life, your week, your day, replete with your drama and exhaustion, excitement and routine. And then a call comes in. And things change.

My friend Brandon took his life. I don't even know how to write about it. I sit here with music piping into my ears that reminds me of him. The most perfect harmonies, dramatic lines, intense guitar licks. Those all belong to him. Always have. Those purest of memories, long days listening to loud, loud music, watching him slip and slide in his white socks across the marble floor, long, stringy hair that whips back and forth, or, if if was long enough ago, long, brushed hair that smells of PertPlus, black sweats, a favorite white tee shirt. Brandon in his room with his Rolling Stones magazines, drum set, guitars, tapes and books and Cd's strewn about. Bed unmade. Alone in his musical world. Always ready to play us something new. Plays us a new clip from something tremendous. Talk about Steven Sondheim or Axel Rose or tell us how Lea Salonga was singing on the latest Disney soundtrack. There was always jasmine rice and toasted coconut in the kitchen. How I loved that. Just last week when Solomon gobbled down a rice cookers worth of jasmine rice, I had a sensory memory. He's always been there, Brandon. Pieces. These sorts of things don't come along but a few times in a lifetime.

And it's so hard to classify. He wasn't just a friend. He was more like a brother. But then for a while, like a boyfriend. Broke my heart harder than ever. Left me in a million little pieces listening to his tapes in my tiny, stuffy dorm room, longing, longing for home. The flower scented streets of Pasadena, our parents houses. Safety and swimming pools and music that we could play as loud as we wanted, whenever we wanted.

But heartbreaks generally mend, especially when you're eighteen. And we moved on. He came north and our friends joined forces in the Bay. Our memories begin to get hazy here. Life turned experimental, bohemian, loose, wild, unfiltered. But there were through lines. Music. Creativity. Attachment. Family.

After we'd all earned a few new notches on our "experience" belts, we found ourselves back home, a motley crew of old and new ready to try anything at a moments notice. Jeff was introduced to the group. When we've talked about Brandon these past few days he's talked about him being a, "really good guy." I like that. Because Brandon was so much. An artist. A genius. Intense. Beautiful. Brilliant. Creative. But he was also really, really good. He had such a good heart. He was loyal. Perhaps in a way more elevated than the rest of us. Brandon was pure. I remember how purely he loved me. Loved Hilary. Loved Patrice and Jason and Azure and Arpi. How much he loved our wild familial adventures. I have to believe that. That we filled him up. At least a bit.

Songs poured from Brandon. As technology advanced, his tunes became more layered, hours and hours on end spent in a dimly lit room, piecing together chords and drum beats.

But I digress. Sunday in the Park with George plays into my headphones. I remember how we could listen to show tunes together for hours on end. He was responsible for half of the things I studied in college -- dramaturgy and psychoanalytic criticism, poetry and the "eleven o'clock lift." The irony is, I've been trying to cultivate that part of my life again. After marriage, two kids and sixteen years teaching school, I crave to embrace that artist again. Hours spent in a studio, at a typewriter, images and movement and rhythm. Art. Brandon was art.

So we move from Sonheim to G 'n' R. November Rain pours into my ears. I have to look away from the screen just to catch a glimpse of Axel's very, very earnest expression on my YouTube. Oh how technology adds a technicolor element to grief. For the past few days I've been able to type in any number of song titles into my phone. Within moments I'll hear a note and whatever is happening will stop. Elie and Sol banging on pots and pans this morning when they were supposed to be eating eggs was completely swallowed up by Jeff Buckley. I cried, all pressed in close to the ipod docker and they banged and banged away, eager for a few more moments before I would needle them to get on their boots and grab their lunches. That's how this grief has been. Intermittent and wholly intense. Exhausting and rejuvenating. Some moments I feel so damn lucky to have this life. To have made it past my own demons enough to fully engage in this beautiful, blessed, day to day. Others I feel so pissed. So pissed that he cut us all out. So pissed that such a talent, such brilliance and goodness is gone from my world. Even if I hadn't heard his voice in years. He was there. He was so a part of who I am. There are only a few people who come into your life like that.

I pour through songs and pour through photos. It's ironic because the same pictures that I return to now are the ones that got me through that first year in college. Got me through or tortured me, one of the two. Those ones that showed our most pure moments. Our innocent and strange and unique love. Harmonies and shoulder rolls on the stage. Oh how I love how he moved. So very unique his head and shoulders and knees, feet ever firm on the ground until he got really excited and found himself on his toes.

I wish our fate had been different. He was so not the guy I'd reconnect with on Facebook. Our friendship didn't have the easy click of "Friend" to provide some sort of superficial closure. Some arc. Some return. Our friendship was lost in time and complexity, medications and moves, boyfriends and sisters and space and distance. Show tunes. Or lack, then, there of.

All I want now is that closure. That opportunity to hold him, touch his soft, soft skin and say, hey. Thanks. Thanks for all you taught me about the world. Thanks for your friendship. Thanks for the adventure.

I want to tell him that he had it all. That he was so much, so much, so much. Convince him that this world is full and brilliant and shining and he could make it. But I've always been an annoying optimist. I fear death more than anything. I fear being out of control, violence, darkness, grief. Maybe Brandon didn't. Maybe he craved to see the other side. God knows he's been thinking about it for years. The ultimate act. Morning glow.

So he's gone. And the closure that I thought I'd hoped a memorial would provide is not going to happen for me. But I'll go home. I'll sit with my sister and my parents and some friends. We'll listen to music and watch videos and share stories. We'll process. And next week everyone will gather in a more formal way and Brandon's life will be appreciated by all the players. I had him for a solid fifteen or so years, but the guy, the man, was thirty seven years old. There was Brandon the baby. Brandon the child. I thought about him when I was in the bath with Solomon and Eliana today. Thought about his baby pictures. Thought about his mama. His dad. How absolutely, unbelievably devastating it must be to lose your boy.

I thought about his sister. Their birth order and chronology so similar to my own children. I have lots of deep fears in this life. Losing one of my children is at the top of the list. Losing my sister is second. To complete someone like that, in that very, very unique way. I can't even bear to think about it.

So I look up from the computer and type, "Metallica" into my YouTube. Surely would not have seen that pick a few days ago. Good jesus these opening bars. I remember rain and tears and night time and sadness. The way music sounds when it's played really loudly on a cassette in a small, hatchback Honda. Or even louder in an old Cherokee. Which reminds me of how Brandon drove. Good god. I love that guy.

So many roles we played for each other. There was the time I found out my college boyfriend was a pathological liar. We were driving on the Bay Bridge into Berkeley. We stopped at a light. I jumped out of the car, found a payphone, called Brandon. He was there in minutes. And that was that. Saved. Drama-meter, high as ever.

I can't really handle Metallica. Too much. I'll take a little Poison. The cheese and over-done familiarity of the roses and their thorns makes this one a bit easier to stomach. It's been a long fucking day. This reminds me of the cheeseball in Brandon. The Brandon that I wish I could see messing around with my kids. Good lordy loo would he love Eliana. Her costumes and nappy curls and uber drama. The way she learns the lyrics so damn fast. He'd appreciate Soli's soul, the way he's such a goofball, solid, meathead. He could stay in the basement room and be all at home because it's kinda dark, but super cozy. He'd love Missoula and get off on how quirky and random it all is. He'd appreciate the talent in this town. How real and heartfelt. He'd come every year. Uncle Brandon. He'd probably love coming in the winter, his maudlin tendencies would savor the short, bleak days. Or he'd love the summer. A long tube down the twisting Blackfoot, PBR's and a bandana to hold back his greasy locks. We'd laugh that he was the only Asian in town, blast music, eat thai food, Panang and Pad Thai. He always liked Jeff. I'd appreciate his stamp of approval. It wasn't always easy to come by. But I always trusted his judgement.

Almost always. But I never really got that place in his brain. The depth of his darkness. And that's a whole other piece. I need to do some reading. I need to get it.

Right now all I can do is appreciate. Appreciate that I had someone like that in my life. Hope that he has found light and sunshine and the most perfect harmonies. Dear, beautiful, old friend. I hope it's really fucking amazing.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

38 and 108

I started my day with another 108 sun salutations. Spring is here, though snow dusted the rooftops as I moved through breaths. Yoga is stronger than ever in my life right now. It serves as this lovely lens, this perfect insight into what's happening inside of me. Some days my practice feels fluid, I feel strong and grounded, mind clear, heart full. Other days my legs are like lead, I keep thinking, wow, this is really, really hard, my neck sore, my shoulders too close to my ears.

I didn't think much about what I was getting into before I left the house this morning. After achieving my little goal of 108 sun salutations in honor of each season, the year after Sol was born, I've kind of not been too concerned about it. I'm realizing that I have really strange standards and goals for myself. The older I get, the more content I am in my own skin, more easy-going I am with just being however I am right then. Oh, and I turned 38 last week. So far, not bad.

So it was fun to track my mind this morning. I wanted to be in my own space, so I etched out a little area for myself in the back of the room. Two young guys who had never been to the studio were my closest neighbors. It was nice energy to be around. Light and spontaneous. Free of expectation.

We began and I stayed pretty present in my body, in my breath. Brian began with mellow, yogic tunes and that fit the gray morning vibe. But at the halfway point, he took things up a notch, as he likes to do. There it was. The song that starts my every morning, every return to the home, every post bath request: "Sunshine?" Soli rivals Brian for the who loves Michael Franti the most prize. The song began. The song that Jeff and I have already talked about will be that song we need to hear when we miss our children, their infancy, their early years. Soli could listen to, The Sound of Sunshine, all day long. Really. He waves his arms in the air and spins. He sings along at the beginning, "One, two, three...uh huh." He even has Caroline on board (well, I guess I could have helped with that a bit) so now he gets Sunshine at his day-care as well.

The new beat invigorated me. Made me laugh at the irony of my life. That even when I'm trying to do something for myself, I so totally cannot escape my children. With Sol's soundtrack in the background, I began to get lost in images of my boy. Just last night at the Mudslide Charley show, the way Sol stood at the foot of the stage the whole time, bounced with complete focus to the bass player, attracted smiles and comments and photos from all the other brewery patrons. By the end of the set, the bassist was letting Soli strum, would get on his knees and look him in the eye, play just for him.

I saw this window into the soul of my child last night. The soul of this boy who so loves rhythm, who feels it. I thought about how we don't have a single instrument in the house. My mom always tinkled away at the piano, my dad sang to us from his guitar. Sol's had a fraction of the singing from me that his sister had, poor second born. Yet he has this other worldly attraction to music. He does not focus for long on much, pinball machine's around the house like a little silver ball, destroys things, takes them apart, laughs and makes a tremendous mess. But not last night. He didn't even need me around as he was totally lost in his own world. A world of guitars and rhythm and blues.

So I let his world permeate the second 50 or so of my salutes. I got lost in the music. These songs that I know so damn well because, whether I want it or not, they inevitably start my day. Listening to them without the chaos of the morning -- the poached eggs in the pan, the mismatched socks, me frantically trying to brush my hair while they play tag between my legs, the dog rubs against my hip -- was a new indulgence. It was like being on vacation or something. On vacation with full appreciation for the life you'd taken a break from.

I think that's how I'm feeling right now. I've done a lot of work to get through this second year of Soli's life with some semblance of grace, this second year of life with two children, three jobs, a husband who I work with, ailing in-laws up the road, friends I yearn to see, dances I yearn to create, books I yearn to read, sleep I yearn to have. It's really, really intense. But then it's not. Because it's all I know. It's my own wild creation. And grace comes when I just fully participate in the moment that I'm in.

I had a nightmare last night. It involved Solomon and my in-laws and this huge sense of vulnerability that I feel sometimes. I think I was dealing with some post-traumatic stress residue from Friday morning. It was one of those chaotic, "Sunshine" mornings in our little house. We were all dragging, as by Friday's, we're usually pretty exhausted by the whole thing. I kept pestering the kids to get dressed. Then I looked at myself, still in my flashdance night shirt and pajama pants.
Okay, guys. Mommy's gonna get dressed while you two play.
But when I come back in here, it's time to move.
They were playing some goofy game in Soli's crib where Elie was pretending to be the mama. She'd cover him with blankets and tuck him in and then nimbly climb out of the crib to pretend to go about other mama business. Of course Sol, being the younger, less capable child that he is, wanted to crawl out of the crib too. In my rushing haste, I scooped him up and put him on the ground. No. Soli. Myself. He said. Oh, okay, you want to try it too? Okay. And I picked him up and put him back in.

About 15 second later I was peeing and I heard an enormous thud followed by hysterical crying. I walked in and saw my boy in a bloody heap on the hardwood floor. He was wailing. Wailing like he never wails. I started panicking, picked him up, paced around, kissed him madly while his blood gushed over the work clothes I'd finally managed to put on. I shouted at Eliana: Get dressed NOW, Elie! We have got to go! I couldn't tell if the blood was coming from his nose or lip or both. I was pretty certain it wasn't his head, though I had no idea how he'd landed. I couldn't get Jeff on the phone and wanted to see him. Thankfully Caroline picked up, so I was able to talk for a moment to someone whose judgement I wholly trust, someone who could tell me what to look for. Sometimes even when you know what to do, it's nice to hear someone else tell you to do the same thing. I got ice and a towel, bundled him up, and took off around the corner for school.

I needed to get Eliana into her classroom so I could actually focus for a second on Soli. When she was out of the mix, I let myself crumble. I cried and felt so much sadness for my little boy. My baby. My baby who I had put back in his crib just so that he could hurl himself out. Of course, in my wildest dreams, I never thought he'd actually attempt to throw himself out of his crib. But I shouldn't have put it past him. My kinesthetic maniac. My soulful mover. Of course he'd want to attempt what his sister did.

Sol, thank goodness, was fine. But I couldn't escape my funky place for most of the day. It was that return to the early months with Eliana. That uber new mama time. Those months when everything is so unknown and disaster seems inevitable at any given moment. We are in such a calmer groove now. Sure it's messy and loud and chaotic, but I don't feel so vulnerable. I feel like I've got a pretty good sense of what's happening. Until I don't. And then I crumble.

So, I had a nightmare last night. It involved my ability to keep Soli safe, even when scary people lurk around corners, knock on the door, bring their wounds into our personal lives. I was so shaken that I couldn't really be present in my morning. It was a dream, babe. Can't you let it go? Poor Jeff. We are such different creatures sometimes.

But there I was, a few hours later, listening to Franti, grooving, finally, through my salutes. I'd let it go. I thought about my strong boy. My boy with the beat deep within. Just like his mama.

Monday, March 5, 2012


This blog has been full of firsts, so it seems like a good place to start. But this is a new kind of first. This is a first when my child -- the girl I grew and fed and helped walk and talk -- surpassed me. Just started in her completely brand new way and, in a matter of weeks, conquered something that continues to completely allude me.

My daughter can ski.

My daughter can ski faster than I can. With more confidence, with a giant smile, while singing Disney songs.

I am dumbfounded.

She's been in lessons every Saturday since the new year. I haven't been too involved with them, as skiing is really Jeff's thing. In fact, it's really not my thing at all. I seem to return to skiing in some symbolic way again and again. It represents all sorts of things that seem to cause me anxiety and fear in a deep and profound way. Fear of being out of control. Fear of being cold. Fear of injury. Fear of not being able to do something that everyone else can do. Everyone else loves to do. Fear that there is something just a little bit wrong with me because I just can't seem to suck it up and go for it.

It's been nine years of this crap. Nine years ago I began my first series of lessons. I was a teacher, learning with the kindergarteners. Really. I remember so vividly following them down the road that I followed Eliana down yesterday. I remember how narrow and short the switchbacks seemed. Do you even call them switchbacks? Runs. I really don't know. I really don't care. But I do. Or I wouldn't be writing this.

So I'm going down that road. Wait. I have to back up.

I'm headed up the chair lift on a sunny Sunday, sitting behind my daughter. Watching her tiny, short legs dangle down, Jeff's arm around her waist. I'm content breathe in the blue sky, my first time on the chair lift in a year, I feel strong and fine. I'm not really thinking that much about what's about to happen.

And then I see the yellow sign that reminds me to keep my tips up and I start to feel that familiar anxiety in my belly. Shit. Do I put the tips up now? What if the next chair hits me from behind and I fall over. What if I get hit in the head with that big blue metal bar and I can't go to work tomorrow. What if I can't...

And then Elie and Jeff are off and...phew...I'm off. Jeff wants to go to the next chair and head to the tippy top of the already very steep mountain. I'm thinking of all the reasons why we should just head down. But I want to act cool and show Eliana that I'm totally down with this whole thing. That I'm just like her.

For whatever good reason, we decide to head down. I like this little stretch of the mountain. It's wide and familiar and I've had positive experiences here. Eliana and Jeff take the lead. I'm kinda watching her, kinda trying to get back my groove and then, before I can really process anything, she's gone. Just like that. She's flown down some, dare I say, cliff like thing and is just rocketing down the mountain. Little short legs, all squatty and weird like some freakish snow creature. It's really, really wild to watch. And there I am, literally shaking my head, literally jaw dropped, making my annoying wide, careful turns, trying to keep her in view. Until I can't anymore because I'm too damn slow.

So we continued like this. And as my amazement died down, as I got more used to seeing my child kick my ass, my anxiety grew. At first I thought I was worried about her, but then I realized, I had supreme faith in her. It was me that was causing the tick. We came to the aforementioned road and I felt so frustrated with my fear that at the end of every stretch I'd just fly off the side if I didn't screech to a halt and turn around. I became annoyed that I wouldn't just let my self fly down the road like my child, belt out a show tune, let my hair soak up the sunshine. I became annoyed that they wouldn't wait for me, that I was so lame and old and, well, lame.

But really it was still about Eliana. She was amazing, this was for her, she was rocking.

Then we came to the part that I really abhor. Abhor is a super strong word that does not enter my vernacular with any frequency. I don't abhor much. But this last "bowl" starts out really, really steep. You can see the lodge from the top, you know you are almost there. It also feels super public and exposed and I'm supremely self-conscious while on downhill skis. So I'm at the top of this bowl and I watch Eliana launch her little body. Hurl her little body down the side of the mountain. She eats it, laughs, eats another fist full of snow, laughs again, donkey's her way back to standing. I'm more focused on her than on me, though I'm kinda using her as an excuse not to move forward. Each time I think about getting closer to her, I realize how steep it is and just sort of halt. I begin to side step down the mountain. I begin to panic. I begin to curse. I think I said, "I hate this! I hate this! I hate this!" just a few times. And she continued to fly and flop and laugh. Sol was waiting at the bottom. Elie and Jeff were halfway down. I had to make that first big, scary turn. There was no choice (short of taking off my skis and sliding on my bum which, I have done). So I took my first, tentative turn. And another. And finally I was making my lame ascent towards my daughter.

When we finally got to the bottom, I tried to look all cool gliding up to the lodge, I took in the confidence that my girl was exuding. She was like an old pro. She was so in it. In her body, in her skill, in the moment. There was no anxiety, trepidation, fear of injury or failure or extreme frustration.

Just supreme presence. Joy. Energy. Pulse.

I want to say that I learned this huge lesson from her. That once I saw my four year old tear it up down the hill, I too followed suite. But this isn't how it happened. Instead, I began to accept that maybe, just maybe, I'll never feel the way she feels. I'll never not have anxiety or fear or a feeling that I just so don't belong. I feel the same way playing most team sports. I was the last o be picked in gym class. I've always known what I can do well and stuck pretty closely to variants on the same equation. That seems to be my style. I've always liked my style.

What I can say, is that I am incredibly proud of her. I want to honor this first of my daughter's. Celebrate her. She humbles me. Makes me take pause. Floods me with deep and unwavering pride. It is an honor to be her mama.