Thursday, June 9, 2016

My heroes have aways been...human

When I had my daughter, I felt like a kid myself. A kid raising a kid. I had all of the skills one DOESN'T need to take care of an infant. I could run for miles up a mountain, I could open a beer with a lighter, I could make etouffee with my eyes closed. I could translate ancient Confucian texts...drunk.

Changing a diaper was...something my older brother had to demonstrate to me in the hospital. Swaddling a screaming 9-pound human, again, I had no clue. The first six months of that child's life were the most terrifying six months of mine.

I did the only thing that I knew to do. I remembered. I called up the strong memories of my grandmother, who passed away a year before I discovered I was pregnant. I figured, she kept her six kids alive into adulthood, and a couple of grandkids, too, so she'd know. I had long talks with her, wherever she was, about what I should do. I thought back to the times that she held a baby, disciplined a wild toddler, and nudged a reluctant teenager to make the right choice. I had daily 'talks' with this woman, who in life didn't hardly stand five feet tall. (She thought I was a giant at 12.) She was my hero. Her get-it-done attitude, her unashamed pursuit of knowledge, her skills as a gardener, a cook, a master knitter, a patient badass mother, her love of Elvis...she worked nearly every day of her life. One morning she didn't get out of bed to go to work, that's how anyone knew something was wrong.

One of the last times I saw her, she told me that she always knew I'd surprise everybody. That meant everything to me. And then, in a blink she was gone. I named my daughter after her, because it could be no other way.

A hero is not a god. A hero has flaws and makes mistakes and hits low points. A hero is human, and yet they rise above their humanness, and still manage to peek over the ledge of impossibility and
see something greater than themselves.

Imagine that. Having the bravery to see through the thick fog of life as we know it, to the unknown greatness. That's scary shit. 'Cause you really don't know what's going to happen when you step out of that fog, but you're eager to take the leap.

Maya Angelou, another hero of mine, was unashamedly herself. In fact, she reminded me of my grandmother. Grew up in a desperate way, had a baby too young, faced unthinkable abuse and bigotry...yet, she jumped. Every time she put pen to paper, she jumped through the everyday nonsense and straight into the abyss of truth. She even wrote a cook book. And shared an anecdote about a day when her own mother turned to her and said:

"'Baby. I've been thinking and now I'm sure. You are the greatest woman I've ever met.'"
At that moment...I decided the time had come to cut down on dangerous habits like smoking, drinking, and cursing.
   Imagine, I might really become somebody."

Just the audacity of that thought. Of becoming 'somebody' in a life of nobodies. It's brave. Sometimes people don't like it. They don't like the ambition, the 'arrogance' of having honest-to-god dreams, and the sheer tenacity to live those dreams out. Some would even call it lunacy. People think that kind of self-assuredness is dangerous. And it is.

Maya Angelou died just two years ago, and it was the first time I wept, openly, over the death of a 'public figure.' I felt like I knew her. I felt like she knew me somehow. Like we were on that same road together, toughing it out against the haters.

The second time I have wept openly, was just a few days ago. When, in the deep dark night I couldn't sleep because I was so sore from five days of non-stop training and, to be honest, way too much boxing bullshit, I learned (thanks social media) that Muhammad Ali had succumbed to Parkinson's disease. 

"No. No, no, no..."

Who could sleep after that? I sat out on the back steps in the pitch black and was shocked at my sadness. Like a big hole just opened up in the world, at least in my world, and what if I fell in?

Ali had a lot to say. And people didn't like that. They didn't like that what he said had the dagger of truth in it. Of course, his boxing was impeccable. He was easy on the eyes and his work ethic and odd grace made him legendary. But it was his unabashed forward momentum, being only himself, that made him a hero to me, to my daughter, my son...

"I know where I'm going and I know the truth, and I don't have to be what you want me to be. I'm free to be what I want.”

Of all the great things Ali has said, and all the quotes and talk show reels I've memorized, imagine that. I don't have to be what you want me to be.

Heroes are incapable of being anything but themselves. The compulsion to move forward is too great. A hero doesn't just clock in a 10-hour day and quit. A hero is smart, they have vision beyond what the rest of us can see. When a hero is 'too tired', well that's too fucking bad because there is greatness to be achieved and truth to be told, so tired isn't an excuse for not being the thing that you could become. Despite being...made of flesh and bone.

"You have to be willing to sacrifice what you are for what you will become."

I am all out of heroes now. They live in the clouds. I won't stop reading Maya's books, or stop watching old clips of Muhammad Ali floating his way to victory and railing against the hypocrites of his time. I won't stop 'talking' to my grandmother when I can't hear her on the wind. But it's sad. These ghosts of greatness.

Yet, the other day I was watching my daughter from a distance while she played soccer with her brother in a wide, green field. A few kids came and joined the impromptu game and she teased them and played and did foot tricks with the ball and the other kids laughed, never taking their eyes off of her. Even her brother seemed a little mesmerized.

Maybe it was the sun shining behind her. Or the wild shock of her Afro bouncing on her head, or the gleaming white smile...but it caught me in my chest. And I wondered about this powerful young woman living under my roof...

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

New Year, Same Me

Our MMA class was full to the brim last night. Everyone was in high spirits at the beginning of the class. What a turnout. Some were there on a bet, others were there to make good on their physical promises to themselves. Promises that are made all over the globe the second that ball drops to mark the beginning of the New Year.

The bitch of it is you've got to sustain. Without looking around me, about two minutes into the jump-roping warm-up I could feel the reality setting in. The collective ‘holy shit, this is going to suck’ of the new students. I felt their pain. Just over a year ago, I was that guy, quietly dying inside and fighting the urge to puke. Any trace of cockiness at being a trail runner, a dancer, a former athlete and lifter, falling into the puddle of sweat on the mat below me. What the ever-loving fuck was I thinking?

“Are you making any resolutions this year,” B asks me sarcastically. She knows.
“Fuck no. What for? I’m always trying to do better and to take it to the next level. If anything I should resolve to take it down a notch.”

“Maybe be normal…less…intense.”

“There’s not enough hooch on the planet for that to happen.”

Resolutions are things that happen as a result of circumstances. At least that’s been my experience. And they’re usually terrifying ones. Life-changers where you pound at your chest, pray, let tears fall, beg…and then resolve right then and there that this, whatever this is, is how it’s gonna be, how it’s gotta be from now on.
A few months ago, my father had open heart surgery for a deformed valve and an aneurysm that had formed and was on the brink of exploding in his chest. From the day of his diagnosis to the day of his surgery (and even now) he was a time bomb. If the aneurysm ruptured, he would most likely die in 45 seconds. Maybe a little more because he’s a stubborn bastard. Some days, I half-expected to find him dead on the kitchen floor. I had nightmares that I would discover his body and his eye sockets would be flowing unstoppable rivers of blood.

I could not sleep with these images. I was building my resolve. It was a reckless promise to myself.
The morning of his surgery, as we were saying our goodbyes before he went under I leaned over his hospital bed and quietly begged him.

“Please, please don’t leave me here by myself. I got nobody if you go.”

He nodded his head. He knew what I meant and he promised that he wouldn’t. He probably doesn’t remember any of this.

Fourteen hours passed before my father came up from that goddamn operating room. Gray and small and totally unconscious. My mother and aunt and I went to ‘view the body,’ the only proof of life was the noisy whirring of the breathing machine. I felt my legs lose their solidness and I dropped to my knees by his little gurney. Like God had pushed me down.

“I had a revelation—well a lot of revelations—while we were waiting for him to get out of that surgery.”
“Oh, about living healthier, meditating, stuff like that?”

“Fuck no! This me we’re talking about. No, no. I’ve decided I’m going to do what the hell I want when I want and how I want. You never know.”

“That sounds…dangerous.”

“I’m just following my heart. The only one who has to live with it is me in the end.”

“Yeah, ‘cause there will be an end. Especially if you live like that.”

 I can feel how this resolution has changed me. How that moment has liberated me and wrecked me at the same time. Just like those other pivotal times, where I just plant my feet harder on the ground and whisper in my head.
“This is how it’s gotta be.”

Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters
Long before dozens of schoolchildren were slaughtered in their classrooms by a psychopath, there should have been a resolution. Yet we wait, with no resolve with eyes to the fiscal calendar.

Long before a 12-year-old with a toy gun was snuffed out by an unstable cop, there should have been a resolve to end this one-sided enforcement of ‘the laws.' Yet we wait, and deliberate and ‘have dialogue’ where there should be action.

Long before…we should have resolved not to displace more thousands of Syrians from their homes with a war that has no end, then tell them that there is no room at the inn while we watch their dead children wash ashore on the beaches of Greece.

 My resolutions are a direct result of circumstance, not Roman calendars and religious holidays. I don’t wait for April to start working on my ‘bikini body,’ whatever the hell that means. I won’t wait until I’m 65 to finally enjoy my life. It’s too late.

When I was 12, my very close friend died. She was 12, too. We were totally silly, all of us. When we buried her, I could feel that do-or-die beast being born inside me. I resolved to be less silly, to get shit done. I was madder than hell. But that’s the year I got serious about music. And I’ve been playing now for more than two decades on stages, at bars, in my living room.

There was this boy, a man actually, who I stupidly fell in love with one summer. I was 17. I wrote him poems and we talked about Greek mythology and went fishing and mulled over his obsession with Ireland…then the summer ended. And he disappeared, cruelly removing me from his life but not before turning me into a lovesick puppy. I resolved to get to that green island before he could. And I did, the very next year. It was a drunken journey to a war torn country, practically dripping with danger, heroin, and violent romanticism. (Don’t worry, I met another man there, a few actually, took my mind right off that fella.)

Once the excitement of the New Year wears off, which it will—it always does, what then? What’s going to sustain these promises we make to ourselves? Nothing. Not unless somewhere deep in that promise, is a raw memory, a moment where the sky cracked open and you had to negotiate who the hell you were, who the hell you are, to be able to take the next step.

And still be able to look yourself in the eye.









Monday, November 16, 2015

Luck of the Draw

"You're really lucky to have the body to wear that."

"Lucky?" I took another bite of the obscenely large sandwich that I would most likely finish. And the pickle. I would eat the pickle, too.

"Yeah. I can't wear a dress like that."

"But you could. You can wear a dress like this anytime you want. Nobody's stopping you. Except you." More chewing. God, I can't get this sandwich in me fast enough.

"But it wouldn't look the same."

"Do you even know...what I do...during the week? To my body? Like really know?" I started lifting my hem to show her the shins that were peppered with bruises. I started taking my shoes off to display the medical tape wrapped around each foot and a big toe, to show her the jammed up bones and the knotted arches. She stopped me.

"Still, you're lucky."

I tapped at the yellow bruise on my cheekbone, covered by make-up, wondering how this conversation would go if I had a dick dangling somewhere from the middle of my body.

"Hey brah, looking good. Taking care of yourself. Your arms are sick, man."

"Thanks, man. I've been working hard."

"It shows man, it totally shows. Keep it up. Proud of you, buddy."

Fucking lucky...

It's a cultural disease, this thing...this fantasy of luck that follows the female species around. I am lucky that my kids are polite. I am lucky to have a pretty thriving freelance business. I am lucky to be able to play music. I am lucky to have all these opportunities. Because when I was born, God shit charmed glitter all over me and determined that I should be lucky.


And I should be grateful for all this luck. Grateful to the universe. What a good life...

"Everything will fall into place, babe. It always does."

My husband has stopped saying this to me. He knows not to say this anymore. The last time he said it, I was marinating in sweat, hallucinating with hunger, bleeding from my knee, and eating unwashed carrots over the sink freaking out about not getting three major checks that were more than a month late.

"Of course it will fall into place," I growled, spitting out hard peels. "Because I always make it fall into place. I work like a burro to make it fall into place. There is no magic wand. I am the fucking wand, man."

I have never said to my little brother, who has no body fat on him and can eat like pork rinds and cupcakes all day and not ever look any different, that he's lucky. It's an insult. He's a tree climber. He literally hoists his own weight all day long up giant gnarly trees. And he suffers for it. Every moment of every day. If I told him he's so lucky to be so lean and muscular he'd flick a lit cigarette at me and tell me to get fucked. Then he'd eat a hot dog and something from a box while limping to his truck.

"You're so lucky to be a freelancer. To work from home."

Yeah? That right? Cause the work just floats to my inbox every day and all I have to do is write the story and voila, the check comes within the week. Like magic. Other writers know. That to make a living doing this, an actual living, you gotta be a hustler. I mean an honest-to-god hustler. Same rules apply. Right down to getting paid.

"You gotta make it rain." That's what I say to the kids when I'm depositing checks at the bank. That I've been waiting on. Some I've had to wrangle like a mob boss--street style. Right as my account is about flatten like a dead balloon. Lucky me.

And the kids. I can't imagine someone saying to a single dad or even a married father, "You're so lucky to have such great kids." Maybe, but I doubt it. Mostly it's "You've done such a great job being a role model to your kids." Or, "look at you, doing your daughter's hair. What a great dad."

You know who's lucky? My kids. Especially my son. HE is lucky that I have watched him like a bear-hawk for most of his formative years, not taking an eye off him even to take a piss. Because seriously, he would have killed his own self. We are talking about jumping THROUGH glass windows, trying to drive cars out of the driveway, multiple knife and choking incidents (I have fished more food out of that child's throat...oysters and cheese still terrify me), jumps off of hay lofts where I have caught him literally by the loose threads of his clothes. When he told me they got a laser cutter for his inventor's club at school I almost fainted.

We, all of us men women boys girls people personas whatever, need to get it out of our heads and our mouths that women are lucky for their success. Or anyone for that matter. I have never equated my hard work with luck. That's a dangerous thing. Because that means I am waiting on chance to get me where I want to be, not my own ability and capability to get shit done. If luck is a major part of my equation, then hope is not.

I can't have that.

Getting an extra nugget in a 6-piece is lucky. Finding $20 in the parking lot is lucky. Winning at roulette is lucky.

Having a strong body and endurance is the result of hours of hard work and pushing through the urge to just give up. On one occasions I distinctly remember whipping my water bottle across the parking lot, which was dangerous because I used to be a pitcher, then sitting in my car after a jiu jitsu class. I threw out every insult about every mother I could find (in French) and swore I was never going back to "that goddamn fucking class" and "I'd like to see them push through a dance routine or keep up with me on the trail and do this training, too. Connard!" It was vicious. And stupid. But I went back. And I still keep going back. It's not luck that drives me to that class.

Luck didn't show up for any of this. There may have been some lucky moments, but I am owning the rest, so I don't lose it. Serious, dig-deep, bitch get your ass out of bed cause you ain't done yet, hard work.

Just one more mile.
Just one more roll.
Just one more punch.
Just one more turn across the floor.
Just one more hard lecture about real respect.
Just one more early morning drive to the school.
Just one more paragraph.
Just one more night burning the midnight oil.
Just one more day where the pain is unbearable.
Just one more turn with the medical tape.
Just one more payment this month.
Just one more lunch to pack.
Just one more trip to the hospital.

I can do this. Luck can't. Luck is a little bitch. But I can.

Aren't you all lucky?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Dolo toujou couri lariviere...

I don't know if it's the beignets, the swamps or the voodoo that first drew me to New Orleans. Probably the voodoo. I was at home with the wildness of the place--a place literally floating with the dark history of everything we try to forget; slavery, Santeria, mixed blood, gluttony. I understand these things well.

There is something so honest about New Orleans. Almost no one is native to the place. Somehow they've wandered in, maybe stumbled upon a big Mardi Gras and never left. Fell in love with a girl reading Tarot at night. Wanted to get away from the social stocks of small town gossip.

"This place is a fucking mess," says Chris. A big 20-something kid from Jacksonville. He works the front desk of Electric Ladyland Tattoos on Frenchman Street. He looks like a thug with his big black T-shirt and gauged ears and bronchial cough (he doesn't smoke). But really, Chris is a foodie. He has a seasoned chef's palate. He tells us where to go for the "real shit." He is excited about my tattoo.

"That's sick," he says. "Definitely not something a girl brings in here."

I tell him about our trip to the French Market that day. How it was depressing. How I was so desperate for fresh vegetables, I bought a bunch of unwashed carrots, wiped the dirt on my bare thigh, and started eating them, one by one, while my husband looked on in mild horror.

Chris laughs. He tells me where I can get Brussels sprouts that are better than sex. Seriously. Then warns against going to the market again.

"That place has bad fucking juju," he says.

"I could feel it. Crawling all over me."

"It was the slave auction."

"That explains it. Down the river."

"Last stop before Mississippi. People are fucking terrible."

He takes me in to meet Scott, the tattoo artist. Another transplant to this bright, chaotic place. He's excited about the design, too.

"Not very girly." He confesses that he is relieved.
"She's not a girly girl," my husband says. "She'll kill you with her bare hands."

I lay flat on my belly, lift up my skirt to just barely decent and the three-hour session begins. Gawkers begin to gather at the window. They are watching the process, taking pictures. I can't make a face, I can't wince. I have an audience now.

We wander through the streets a lot, at weird hours. My husband is faithful in his quest for finding me decent coffee, undiluted by chicory.

"Chicory reminds me of being poor," I say, after my first bad cup.

I get just drunk enough to heat my blood all day. Just drunk enough so that I don't notice when he leaves the hotel room in the morning, but do notice when he comes back with a rich espresso concoction injected with bitters--my request nearly every morning of the trip. The door creeks. He sneaks into the room, sees that I have one eye open and sets the coffee on my belly. I pick it up before my next breath topples it.

"I figured out what that smell is on Bourbon Street." He is almost gleeful with his recent discovery.
"The puke," I say.
"I was trying to figure out why the street was always wet. It hasn't rained since we've been here."
"I just saw a whole fleet of little pressure washer trucks."

The little battalion of green vehicles converges on the French Quarter--while the red eyes are sleeping in other people's beds and in the marble stoops of elegant shops. Washing away most of what happened the night before.

If only.

It's nasty, yet there's a certain allure to Bourbon Street to the good time mayhem. It's 1 a.m. The good times are still rolling. I yawn. A handsome, slicked-up college kid flicks my shoulder.

"No, no," he says, drunk on rye and youth. "You can't be tired yet."

"I'm old," I laugh. He sizes me up.

"Not a chance," he winks, points to my husband and is swallowed by the throng of bad decisions that eat him up.

"Every night is amateur night, here," my husband laughs. Yet, looking in the steamed up windows of blues clubs and strip joints and little gambling pockets, a tiny part of me wants to be lost in there.

We get into the habit of searching out the street bands we like. There are so many. But I like to stay and listen. I have no interest in shopping. I stay, baking in the heat of midday, balancing myself on the cobblestone, slapping my thigh, drunk on bourbon, smoking a cigarette and just letting this be life. The bands play old hymns on worn out tubas, high jazz on rusted trumpets. It's a miracle. To even be here. Along that horrible, wide mouthed the guts of where sin and redemption dance every day.

"I don't think I can leave," I say. It is our last few hours in the city. My husband decides to double check some of the streets and smoke his last cigar before we get on the plane. I sneak into the bookstore across the street from our haunted hotel. A true Cajun bookstore. Books stacked high above my head, some in French, some in English. The shopkeeper is hidden in the back.

"Bonjou. Komen to ye?" He is an older gentleman. Dressed formally, even for this warm day. He seems excited that I have wondered to the music section. None of it in English. I am strumming an imaginary banjo when I tell him I don't speak the dialect.

"Je suis desole, monsieur. Je ne parle pa creole." I say I am sorry once again, for my lack of the language, and continue to rifle through the music, picking up paper as thin as rice, old songs by old people, from some deep place in the bayou.

He can't resist following me around the shop, at a distance, commenting on the books I pick up. I like his French. A customer comes in, and they speak to each other in that same refined roughness. I pick up some of what they are saying, I'm not Parisian after all. The customer is obviously an old friend and the shopkeeper hushes him just before the conversation takes on a raunchy lilt. The visitor looks up mischievously at me and gives a little wave. Then he exclaims to the dust in the room.

"Mais elle a les zye gri!"

That part I understand. They are picking apart my heritage. I cough in the back of the store to make it known that I was still in the fucking room and the visitor leaves. I bring my purchases to the cluttered desk.

"So you like Cajun music?" He seems amused, even smug.
"Of course, why would I buy all this? For my mother?" I laugh. He pulls two CDs out of his desk and throws them on the pile. Rare recordings of women singing in the swamp.

"For you."
"Revenez bientot a la maison."

I wave. And blush a little. He thinks I'm leaving home 

We get one more coffee for the cab ride to the airport. This time, I ask them to put something stronger in it. Something that will swallow the  sadness in my chest. Leaving Treme...leaving the vastness of Lake Pontchartrain, leaving the wrecked neighborhoods by the cemetery, Katrina's signature, human failure.

The cab driver is from the Ukraine. He talks about the house he lost in Katrina. He talks with such bitterness about this crazy place. The heat, the partyers, the bums, the dirty-as-a-shoe-bottom mayor and the crooked construction bids.

"Why don't you go back to Ukraine, then," I ask. Maybe slightly defensive, I don't know.

"Nobody can leave this place. Not really."

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Killer Bikini

We have been on the hunt for a bikini for my 14-year-old daughter. She thinks she has found one. I am trying not to be one of those creepy "virgin protector" parents, and yet, she's my baby and it's hard to watch your baby grow up, no matter how progressive...blah, blah. She doesn't want to draw too much attention to herself but she's proud of how hard she's worked this year. She is a beautiful young woman, athletic, tall, a little clumsy.

"Get a sporty one," I say. "I'll get one like that, too. We can be twinsies."

She gives me a sharp look. As if you are this tall. As if you are this tan, as if you are this young and have the entire universe in front of you to crack open however you see fit. She doesn't say it. She has better manners than that.

She picks a bright aqua.

"It's a perfect color for you," I say. It will be a graduation present for making it through 8th grade. Along with driving lessons in an open field with our old truck (me with my rosary that the pope blessed more than two decades ago; I'm not even a practicing Catholic, but still, you should see how she steers the riding mower).

I went online to order the bikini. It will be a surprise. And an admission that I realize that she is growing up and that I'm cool with that. And that I trust her to make the right choices. And that I think she should be proud of who she is and how hard she trains at soccer, tennis, MMA, school, life. Kid deserves a bikini at the very least.

Image: Valley News Live
Before I click the shopping site (she has it bookmarked, of course), I do my Monday news troll. And the video appears. There is a girl, she's wearing a bright-colored bikini. She has long legs like my daughter, strong shoulders, bare feet. This girl, who could be my girl, is face down in the grass, screaming for her mother, while a barbarian with crazy eyes and a charlatan's uniform jams his knee into her spine while pulling on her thick, rope braids.

I need to stop here, because I can barely think about this. The bile is lurking at the bottom of my throat. I see her lying there, with her head turned, still as death, and I see vividly the girl I taught to swim. The girl I taught to stick up for herself, the girl who is still the most vulnerable child as much as any other child, and I want to kill that man with my hands. I want to crush his wind pipe and kick his face until it sticks to my shoe and he turns to blood-colored dust. In my mind, he will blow away in the fatted wind of injustice with all of the other pigs who wave their guns at children and see the world as dogs see the world.

A few days ago, I took my daughter to a self defense class for women. We have been training in MMA together for 8 months, but even I know that you can't punch the lights out of a 250-lb man intent on doing you harm. I'm an extreme, aggressive, confident woman and even I know this. For a fact. My daughter does not understand.

"Why are we going to a self defense class? We already train? You could kill somebody with your kick."

"Babe, the street isn't a Jackie Chan flick. Besides, you need to know that there are other ways to skin a cat."

She is my partner. We take turns being attacker and attackee. She is definitely a fighter. She is stronger than an ox when I try to move her off of me, like lead. But she is a child horsing around with her mother. I am not a pig with a gun pulling her hair and crushing her spine and her youth.

In my version of the story, I would be there. I would protect her from this vapid evil that keeps her just a little bit more guarded than her classmates and giggly best friends.

I see the bikini, I try to disassociate it with what I have just witnessed as a mother, a human. She will love it. Other mothers are ordering their daughters this same bikini without a care in the world. They see their gleaming young skin and all of the family fun they will have this summer at the pool and the campground and the ice cream shack.

I see the vulnerable patch of brown skin along the spine that is always in danger of being crushed.

Friday, May 29, 2015

All growed up...?

My son's face is flushed that familiar rageful pink. He does not like being told what to do, yet, he really needs to be told what to do sometimes. Otherwise we'd have cockroaches playing poker tournaments in his room and we would never have hot water. This particular moment, he is being told to apply sunscreen to his transluscent Scottish complexion before spending an entire day in the blazing sun for his school field day.

"But I don't need sunscreen, I have a hat." He makes a show of flinging his cap to the ground and glaring at me. I am used to this. His older sister has hardened me to these stare downs. I am a rock, I don't blink. Do your best, kid.

"That's fine. You don't have to wear sunscreen. You have choices."

"I do?" He is smart. He knows me. He knows this is a semantic trap, but he walks in anyway. Why the hell not, what's he got to lose?

"Sure. You can skip the sunscreen and go to school and stay in the office all day while the other kids do field day...or you can shut your mouth, put the sunscreen on, and have a great day outside with your friends."

Just then, his sister smugly interrupts. "They will probably have an essay assignment for the kids who don't go to field day."

He begins to slather himself with SPF 50. I give her a dirty look.

"I can't wait to be an adult," he says, angrily smearing the white liquid chalk across his face. "Then I can do whatever the hell I want."

"Are you nuts?" His sister squeezes about a thousand tablespoons of honey into her Superman to-go mug filled with cinnamon tea. "Being an adult sucks. You've gotta do all this stuff. Like take care of little shits like us."

"You know, honey is actually a form of sugar," I say, making a cutting motion with my finger across my throat. "It will rot your teeth. As for being an adult. It's awesome. It's awesome 'til it's not."

"So what is being an adult all about?"

"I think it's about doing the right thing...every day. And figuring out how to enjoy life in a simple way."

"Was there anything surprising about being an adult?" This conversation was getting pretty deep. I wasn't even into my first sip of coffee.

"I think the biggest surprise is that other people who you think are adults, are actually not making adult decisions. It's...pretty tough when that's what you're up against."

My daughter nods her head slightly. "Yeah, the grow-ups are the ones doing the really stupid shit lately. Guess we're going to have to follow our own lead."

It's a wonder I don't put whiskey in my coffee. But then, that would be a pretty bad decision right before I drive them to school. I'm sure people do it. I know people do it. It's un-adult. They're in denial.

Of course, who hasn't wanted to check out sometimes? Especially the adult population that is responsible for smaller beings. We all know, but some may not admit, that this parenting thing is's sucking the life force right out of me. These little monsters are expensive. And they're not even little anymore. I was talking with a 747 pilot the other day about the 26,000 gallons of fuel that that giant beast eats up on long distance flights.

"Try feeding teenagers," was my response. He laughed.

In addition to the food consumption, which, if you are raising two VERY active human beings, is abysmal on the wallet, there is the occasional attitude injection at the most timely moments. Like, right before we get in the car, or, just as I am waking up or trying to head to bed...always some little snotty comment drenched with entitlement and arrogant (faux) wisdom. The boy just asks so many questions I finally end up whipping around, coffee in hand, my face twisted in horrible wrath.

"Judas Fucking Priest, that's your last question for the day. That's it, you've met your quota. And how am I supposed to know how many fire ants it would take to eat a man whole? Who asks these things? How do you even think this shit?"

My language is admittedly not adult. It is shamefully un-adult. I am working on it. There is an elaborate ticketing system that will take effect June 24. It excludes my language in the car.

It's a delicate balance and I am watching adults tip the scales in the wrong direction. They are giving in to the self-destruction that ruins whole families generation after generation. I can't tell you if this is a phenomenon that is happening only in this generation, or if it just that we see it more in the news or on social media or in a louder consciousness. But it's there. Very loud, and very clear. We are letting 'the others' make the decisions for us, trusting that, well, they must know best.

They don't know best. Adults make mistakes all the time. But are we learning from the mistakes? It's too easy to blame something else. The addiction, the depression, the desperation, the crappy job, the bad husband, the bad wife, the catastrophically stupid teenager, the coaches, the government...

So, who's gonna make the right decision then? A cruel grandmother marches her 9-year-old granddaughter around the neighborhood until the kid finally dies of one notices? No one speaks up until it's too late? Where are the adults?

A teenage boy prays on the innocence of his younger sisters...and instead of in jail, he ends up on a major television network...expecting his fourth child with his wife. Why didn't anyone step in? What about the girls? They are marked for life. It is a life sentence enacted on them by their older brother. And he's no longer a predator? Bullshit. Where were the adults?

It's 8:30 at night, you've just walked in the door after a full day of work, watching your kid's baseball game, piggybacked with your other kid's tennis match, and you know you have to sign two permission slips, make some kind of a nutritious meal because they're starving, make sure they check themselves for ticks...Do you hit a 30-pack and let them lick the wounds of the day? You could. But you're an adult. I'm an adult. Being an adult means you don't give in to the destructive whim. Of course you want to, we all want to. We all have tendencies.

There's a monster child lurking in every single one of us. Do we let it win? People are waiting for us to do our job. Small people. People who will do whatever we say. If that's not the most frightening thing in the world, I don't know what is.

We've had a few 'situations' here, that kind of shit happens as your kids get older by the way. They come home with problems like "my friend isn't eating," or "so and so says he wants to hurt himself..."
These are burdens too big for a child's shoulders. Then they say, "but don't tell anybody, OK?"

Not OK. I want to pretend I didn't hear that an 8th grader might be contemplating suicide. But I don't. 'Cause I'm a fucking grown up and shit is real now.

I just tell my daughter, "You're a good friend, but this is too much for you. You're not responsible for fixing this. It's on me now. Let the adults handle it."

I pick up the phone. She sighs, relieved.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Why I Fight

I’m looking at my right index finger, and it is throbbing and stiff at the knuckle, which I have just noticed is pushed down into the joint. Barely a knuckle at all. I knew this would happen.

I need to get wraps, I say to myself mumbling over sugarless coffee that is laced with coconut oil and honey. I have already devoured two nearly raw eggs like a rabid dragon and am still hungry. I will wait another hour, once I have finished my coffee, for “second breakfast”. What you all might refer to as a coffee break. It could be a giant bowl of raw spinach with olive oil and any kind of nut imaginable and more eggs. Maybe some cheese and flash sautéed carrots. I try to make it all count.

But who am I kidding, I’m still shoveling it in like the excavator on Bob the Builder.

Sugar makes me shake a little. Junk food gives me heartburn (always has, but now it’s just a torture not worth even a taste) and booze gives me acute insomnia.

Also, I am usually covered with bruises.

“What in the fuck happened to your elbows?!” That was the general inquisition at Thanksgiving. I hesitated and gave a desperate look to my daughter, who knew exactly what happened. She had similar purple/yellow markings on hers.


“What class?”

“Fight class.”

The disapproval hung in the air just for a second before the turkey came out. It was nothing compared to the tension in the emergency room a few days before Christmas when a doctor with a thick accent told me that not only did I have two ruptured ovarian cysts but also a contusion on the left inner wall of my abdomen that went from my ribs to my…Southern States.

“Do you know what this could be from?” The doctor was really skeptical. Possibly already writing up the abuse report in his head.

“It’s that damn class!” My mother said. Despite numerous “I’m fine, I’m driving myself to the ER, Just wanted to let you know” texts, she was hot on my tail and would not leave the hospital.

“What class?”

“It’s…it’s an MMA class,” I said. “It’s MuayThai-style fighting and a lot of conditioning and…”


“Yeah. Kickboxing, but more intense. Way more.”

That was the first doctor’s note I ever received with ‘no contact sports or combat situations’ underlined in the first paragraph under the treatment category. I was out for two weeks. It was awful. I should’ve been out for four but who can stay away? I could feel myself getting weaker by the minute. I could feel myself losing the edge that I fought so hard to gain.

Also, my fight partner is my 14-year-old daughter and we are incredibly competitive. The thought of her gaining ground…on top of already being in really good physical condition…na-ah. Wasn’t gonna happen. Especially when the only thing standing between a good ass-kicking from your kid is a giant mountain of pride and maybe a little more speed.

MMA is not for everyone. It hurts. A lot. But for me, what hurts more, is sitting on all of those years where I wish I had known how to fight for real. Or more importantly, how to control the fight inside of me. Because there is always so much of it.

“You should’ve been a lawyer.”

“I should’ve been a judge.”

I’ve been fighting for 38 years, to the day. Some of them were totally unfair rounds where I was too young to even think about defending myself. I try to forget those fights. God and karma will handle those fights with those monsters. They will seem like ants in the ring…

Some fights should not have come to blows. Metaphorical or otherwise. I should’ve been the better woman and walked away or just put my hands in front of my face and recognized that what my partner needed was to throw a couple of punches and be done with it. That I didn’t need to take any swings or kick with my dominant side. I know better now.

The physical price of the training is…well, let’s just say today I’m having trouble managing flights of stairs and using my legs to get up (and down) from a seated position. That includes visits to the bathroom. My toe has a mysterious gash that won’t heal. My feet are so calloused and unfeminine I can barely stand to look at them. My shoulders, which were already wide to begin with, are ropes of muscle around bone. My nose has finally stopped throbbing from the “accidental” contact my daughter made with my face a few weeks ago.

Literally every single bra I own is too big. And I pee all the time because all I do is eat eggs and down water…all day. All night. In fact, it’s dangerous for me, this class. I take a medication for seizures that prevents me from sweating. Do you know what that does to a person in the middle of a brutal conditioning session? I can almost feel the acid taking over my blood. I’d rather sweat to death than wonder if this is gonna be the night I overheat like a 20-year-old Pinto in the middle of Vegas.

Thankfully, my fight partner recognizes the signs and even while she’s kneeing me in the chest she’s asking if I need water. Or a band-aid. Or a break.

“Do you feel sick,” she fusses, in a whisper. “How’s the sweating? Your face is getting white. Maybe you should stop.”

Each time, I tell her I’m fine, and that I really will let her know if I’m not. That is the irony of the bruises, the aching muscles, the cracked skin. I will always finish the fight in there because it’s worth it to me to know that I can do it. It is giving me the grace, slowly of course (because I’m more stubborn than an old jackass, this I’ve been told) to pick my battles once I take the gloves off. Fighting is so hard, gaining ground takes so much effort…it had better be worth it.

With a teenage daughter made out of fire and a son made out of wind, both living under the same roof with a mother made out of timber…it has to be worth it.