Week Fifty-Two: Non-Writer


I am not a writer. Not in the sense of having ferociously studied the craft, or put in herculean amounts of effort, and definitely not in the sense of just cruising along on some sort of supernatural talent. But, I have found that writing is a process that helps me in my life. It offers me a method of grabbing some flighty or unruly thought in my mind and subduing it to a place where it is still. Once motionless, I can, through writing, look at it from multiple perspectives, poke at it, tear it apart and see the material it is made from.

Writing is something we do alone; in our heads, face to face with the mirror of a blank page. I need this solitude. I have to confront my problems solo. I’ve never been able to talk to people until after I first talk with myself. Writing is that conversation and it is a step toward sharing my feelings in the world.

When I decided to do the #52essays2017 challenge, I was excited to have a motivating project, a structure to push up against, a goal that I could meet, or exceed, or ignore. A goal would inspire action either way. I was naïve to think that I could keep up. Of course, life gets in the way. It is nearly impossible to write in a productive way when you are walking for 20 days through the mountains of Pakistan, especially after you lose your pen. (ha!) But maybe the challenge helped me to try a little harder.  I got behind when illness took my attention. I got behind because once you skip one essay it gets easier to skip more. But, the fact that this challenge involved a group of people was a big help. I knew that lots of people were probably behind. People who had more creditable excuses: kids and stressful jobs and personal challenges. Some days these folks inspired me into continuing; other days their commitment contrasted with my laziness guilted me into continuing. And so I wrote.

I’m not going to lie. There is a lot of crap in my 52 essays.  But it’s my crap! And under some of the crap, there is a glimmer of something that shines. Is it a candy wrapper or a coin? Either way, it calls out. That little piece of shiny honesty probably could have remained obscured forever had the writing not churned it up with the crap.  I am so proud that I produced a bunch of noise that revealed a few modest a few modest melodies. The glimmers. I don’t really care that no one else can see them but me. Because doing the personal essay challenge wasn’t about finding my creative genius. Rather, it was about finding joy in doing something that may always be clunky, but joyful for me. It was about accepting the reality that writing for “writers” requires more dedication than I have right now, that it demands more practice, that I could benefit from honing better technique and spending some time reflecting on what my own writerly gifts might be. And that’s me and that’s okay.

In this #52essays2017 challenge, I experienced such a freedom in being able to be ugly, awkward, messy, un-edited, raw, grammatically incorrect, metaphorically lost, fundamentally flawed and/or obnoxiously dramatic (I am pretty sure I was almost always dramatic!) It was okay, because I AM all of those things – and this personal essay writing was about me.  What a revelation! To be free to be these things on the page and therefore be these things in real life and then know that everything I was doing on the page, was something that I could control on the page. And that those pages had a real-life counterpart – in me.  Perhaps I could read, revise, rework, erase, reorder … edit … ME!

I want to thank Vanessa, a person I do not know and probably will never meet, who has given me the gift of this challenge, which is really mostly a space. It is a valuable space filled with this learning opportunity and this sense of freedom. Thank you.

I am still not a writer, but perhaps I am something else … I am certain (mostly!) that I am human – a human engaged in the process of learning about what it means to be living here and now. And I am certain that writing helps me do that. For that reason, I will continue writing. With gratitude.


Week Fifty-One Parent

fire-and-mist-tv.jpgI don’t have any kids. So, I’m often the target of conversational volleys meant to provoke a response about why I have made this seemingly odd decision. I’m pretty used to it, but it struck me this past week that if you take a broader definition of the word, that there is more than one way to parent.

My father needed surgery, and being the child that doesn’t have any kids immediately promoted my name to the top of the two-name eligibility list for caregivers to help him out.  I was a willing volunteer and thought nothing of giving up two weeks of my time to come and live in his apartment and help him with anything that might make his life more comfortable as he was recovering.  Little did I know that my Dad would have many complications in his procedure and need more help than the average person who undertakes this surgery.

So, I arrive in high spirits and with a lot of energy to get started.  And the first couple days were very positive with our quick arrival home and discussions of where to order takeout the first night.  We watched TV and things went well. Sure, there were a lot of pills to take, a schedule that needed to be maintained, physical therapy that was prescribed at regular intervals, and the usual food, drinks, and pillow adjustments for someone who is ill. Then, the nerve block wore off and the real fun began.

Dad, my father, was in a lot of pain. He wanted more painkillers than I was supposed to give him. He didn’t want to get up into a sitting position, let alone do extra exercises. He could barely stay awake, so he wasn’t much for conversation, TV watching, or even telling me what he wanted to be more comfortable. He was on oxygen that he would pull out the minute I left the room. In short, I was scared. I spent the night listening to his ragged breathing. I worried I would fall asleep and something terrible would happen. I became stressed and sleep-deprived.

Luckily, family came after the first three days of this crazy period of fear.  The doctors were no help as it was a holiday weekend, so I relied more on people I knew who had been through this. They had varying opinions from utter crisis and panic to barely batting an eye at my emotional outpouring. I learned that as usual, truth is somewhere in between. And not to schedule surgery over a holiday weekend.

So, things became less crazy. I understand now why they call it “critical” condition and “stable”. We moved from one to the other, but slowly.  I was only getting up every three hours. I was helping more with cooking and less with oxygen. We talked more. Dad wanted to find out what time the football game was on.  I started to have time to nap. I took the dog on a longer walk, past the first corner, and even across the street.  He still wondered why we weren’t going around an entire block.

So, what did I start to think about in these longer hours of quiet. I wasn’t quite relaxed, but I wasn’t totally nervous.  It was a feeling I can only guess that parent have every single second of their day. I felt like I had a dependent. That I needed to be ready at a moment’s notice. I didn’t have a glass of wine for two weeks because it just didn’t seem important. I was feeling a lot like how I guess that parents feel.

So maybe there is more than one way to parent. Maybe if you are the kid that doesn’t have your own children, you parent in reverse. When parenting this way, you see a reverse of what regular parents see.  You see your father decline in ability doing less as he ages, rather than seeing your son grow and attain new skills. Instead of exclamations of discoveries and endless questions of how the world works, you hear reflections on events that stand out and questions of why so much of life is wasted on the stuff that doesn’t matter.  Instead of talking to a child and teaching them, I found myself on the receiving end of conversations, listening to memories and stories that I had never had time for in normal life. I thought about what happens at the end, the fear of the unknown passage into death every bit as fascinating and scary as the thoughts of childbirth and the mystery of delivering a baby into the world. At both ends of the spectrum of our lives there is a need to depend on others.  This is the constant that runs through my new definition of parent.  I can see now what the word means. I can better appreciate what a parent’s life is like day to day. But, there is not one way to be a parent. There are as many variations as there are imaginations in our minds. I have the capacity. I have the heart. I have the strength. Parent can be more than an identity, in my case I saw it for the first time as an action, and one that I could embrace even if I will never have a child of my own.

This piece is part of the #52essays2017 challenge where I will share one essay a week in 2017. To learn more about this challenge or to participate, check out writer Vanessa Martir’s website and post about it.



Week Fifty: Blue Coat

1This isn’t a new story. It’s a tired one that you’ve heard before. You might have heard it a couple times already today. But, it’s mine.

Well, it’s one of mine.

I tend to think of that evening as the night I lost control. I remember it as a blurry, dreadful thing, a memory constantly rubbed in sand, never clean, always gritty. I know I rinsed myself clean. But there was guilt in the water. The guilt of knowing something I insisted I could un-know if I tried hard enough.

I was younger than my college classmates. I only mention this because I forget. Maybe it doesn’t matter that they were all in their 20s and I was 17 that year. But maybe with another 365 days I would have been different. Maybe that’s another mental mechanism.

I was friends with a rock star daughter. Actually two.  I preferred one to the other. I have always chosen the humbler of two options. He was quite humble, as was she. They aren’t really part of this story. Except that I was with her, at his home, a home as extravagant as you would imagine if you conjured a rock star abode in Manhattan.

I thought of myself as no one. Someone as likely to be cleaning the floors in this fancy place, as to be sitting on the rooftop on a summer night. Was I thinking of my own safety that night? Of course not. I have lived with this friend on campus. We were sister-like. Plus, I was still easily dazzled by the gem skyline, I was often lost in my own self-importance that year. I told you, I was seventeen.

I impressed myself sometimes when I was a young person in the city. Walking down 34th street, catching my reflection in the store windows.  Catcalls were a daily occurrence. It made little difference what my outfit was. To this day, I still relish the memory of striding down a city street on a sunny day wearing a miniskirt. I was alive and I was going somewhere. I was alive in the greatest place on earth. I was on my way. I went forth. And my walk had purpose. I was going somewhere.

Other days, wintery days or when I felt lazy, I wore a huge blue coat with a fake-fur hood. The coat covered me from head to knee. It had a shiny, durable coating and it was warm. I could throw it on over pajamas and no one would know. This men’s blue coat from the corner thrift store was my city armor. I wore it walking the dog, running to the bodega, in the morning before I brushed my hair, or any other time I wanted to disappear.  I loved my big blue coat. It was my invisibility clock. My mom hated it. No matter how many times I washed it, she claimed it smelled, “like food”.

That night we were hanging out on the roof. The rock star’s daughter, her boyfriend, another couple, and these two British dudes.  It was fall. They were in town for a visit and needed a place to stay. The rock star’s daughter knew them from the summer before. They had all been on another rich person’s yacht together. One of the British dudes worked on the boat. I probably shouldn’t call it a boat as it belonged to one of the world’s most wealthy businessmen. I knew his name and was appropriately impressed. I don’t know anything about boats or yachts or business. I tuned out of the conversation.

The couples wanted to go out to the bar on the corner and take one of the British guys for a pint. I didn’t want to go. I had walked over in my blue coat. I hadn’t expected company or a night out. I just wanted to return a movie I had borrowed.

But, we had a drink and one of the British guys was mildly interesting. I spent so much time at this apartment, it was practically a second home.  So, when they left, I decided to make a sandwich and chill on the couch.  The British yacht guy stayed, too. We talked a little bit and drank some beer. He wanted to go back to the roof, which was also where the rock star’s bedroom was on the second floor.  Since the rock star was never there, we often hung out in the bedroom. You could see the view of the city, but sit inside, behind glass, warm, comfortable, relaxed. I was all of these things that night.

The yacht guy always had a beer in his hand. We talked and he went into the closet and started trying on clothes. He asked me if I minded if he dressed up in an evening gown that was there. It was, in general, hilarious. I lay on the bed, in bare feet and my crummy clothes and watched a stranger with an accent play dress up. It was something I thought might be in a New York story. I often pretended I was a character in my life. Perhaps reality was never my strong suit.

He kissed me.  I didn’t really consider it to be interesting. He was a terrible kisser. I turned over and looked at the Empire State building. It was purple that night. Then he kissed me again. And I didn’t want any more bad kisses. What did purple symbolize? What was the occasion? I said that tiny, tiny word.


And it was too small. The British guy didn’t even scare me. But, he ignored me. And before I knew it, I wasn’t able to talk at all. My voice was completely gone.  I tried to push him off of me.  He told me to relax. I still despise that word, “relax”.

I never panicked, but there were marks on my body. Even if I didn’t remember it, my body said I fought. My body had continued to say no.

He left to get another beer and I went to the first floor and locked myself in a bathroom. When my friends came home, I refused to come out.  They didn’t try that hard to get me to come out, though I wanted them to. They made a story – that I had probably had too much to drink.

In the morning, I tried to tell my friend. She was cooking eggs, early. It was just us, no one awake yet. She didn’t say anything at first. Then she asked if I was okay. Then she flipped the omelet onto a plate. She said she never would have let him stay if she had thought he was “like that”. Then her boyfriend came down and they started joking about something from the night before.

I didn’t know what to do, so I got my blue coat and took the elevator downstairs to the street. I didn’t know where to go. I stumbled on a curb and wondered what the hell I was doing in such a loud and dirty city. I walked in a circle, eventually arriving on the block where I lived. I thought about when, exactly, I had lost control of my life.

I just want you to know how lonely it is. How silence can be cold. That I love you, my friend. But that you should have stopped making breakfast.

His first name was Nigel. That’s the one other thing I can tell you about him.

This piece is part of the #52essays2017 challenge where I will share one essay a week in 2017. To learn more about this challenge or to participate, check out writer Vanessa Martir’s website and post about it.

Week Forty-Nine: Accompanied


I spend altogether too much time with my ghosts. Back home, they find that spooky is far more marketable than historic. The bed and breakfast is billed as being “southern”, “quaint”, and “haunted”. You can eat your muffins in the morning with the other folks and discuss any strange sounds from last night. I wasn’t in the mood. No, I don’t see them hovering in hallways or doing anything cinematic. They just kind of linger in the air like oily cooking smells. They are far too shiftless to show themselves.  They know everything about me, and I know most of their tired old tricks. So, that makes them irritated. I feel them there, tightly squeezing into triangles in the corners. I know the girl who wears lacy things is fading a bit. She’d prefer to be on a balcony somewhere in New Orleans, but she’s made her mistakes. She ended up with me. Sometimes I can hear a grinding sound. There is one that grits his teeth in his sleep. And there isn’t much action for them to comment on in my daily life. Driving to work, a small boy sits in the back kicking at my seat. At work they hide in my coat pockets and grumble about the air conditioning vent directly above them. They are bored. They hate the middle of the day when the hours stretch. They like nights better when they tend to have more energy. At night some try to ridicule me. Others prompt me with advice. A few of them are drunk and lonely. They want to go out to the bar.  Sometimes I let them convince me to go. I never feel alone with my invisible entourage. These good for nothing ghosts. My friend went to another city and toured a haunted cemetery. I’m afraid I didn’t have much to say. My ghosts are always with me. At breakfast in a city diner. At the forest preserve on a windy day. At Andrew Jackson’s grave. As I weep for all the things I wish I had told my mother. Please ghosts, help me! But they can’t. They follow along. They watch and wait. They judge. They are mine and they are me.

This piece is part of the #52essays2017 challenge where I will share one essay a week in 2017. To learn more about this challenge or to participate, check out writer Vanessa Martir’s website and post about it.

Week Forty-Seven: Narwhal

wallpaper.wiki-Deep-Ocean-Background-HD-PIC-WPB0010225.pngBumblebees. Honeycomb. Cobweb. Corncob. Rowboat. Recidivism. Jolly.  Introvert.  Joust. Interim.

These words coming out as fast as I can type them.  What do they mean that they are on the tip of my fingers?

Horsefly. Palmetto. Wort.  I am writing them down as I come to me. On a mental river, or maybe a lazy spirit stream. What words come to you?

In a lollipop?  In a cesspool?  In a trackball?  I think maybe it is partially the syllables.  The way they come out is part of a musical striving, a leaning toward a sound more than a meaning. We don’t get to do that often, unless we are poets.

I don’t know about tacos. I am tactile. I think that there are textiles in the trapdoor.  I think of tornados, and Toto and there is a farm and a whirling cloud and then Technicolor and why or why can’t I?

Because I want to be there in that farm on the bed with an auntie Em but I also want to be flying and seeing the unusual and I want more than anything to travel away so that I can better know what home really is.  How else to understand anything? Ice cubes melting? Frozen slushies in so many flavors. We went across the street and that started everything.

I thought last night about the spice soup my sister and I made in the bathtub that time the babysitter fell asleep on the couch. It was like I could actually see a yellow painted wall or an archway the kitchen adjoining the bathroom, but was that another house? Mixing. More, more, more! Its getting darker outside. We could reach the cupboard with the shelf that turned around and around.  Flour that made a sticky paste. Singing as we stirred. Laughing we couldn’t hear the TV soap anymore. Those people always crying and yelling. The bathtub was so smooth and so cold. Slippery and pale blue.

We got in so much trouble. Mom said that mixing chemicals could kill you. It was just pepper. I think. Was it a wood floor in that house? It seemed like the ocean that bathroom. The 750 square feet we all shared.  I can’t really remember our room, except that we slept close enough to touch if either of us got scared in the night.  We had fun until it became scary. But no one got hurt that time, so it wasn’t really scary.

We never made spice soup again – though we talked about how we would make it better- not that way, an improved recipe perhaps. I wonder if I was supposed to be responsible for my sister that day. How old was I?

Not as old as that time we were left alone as my parents voices fought a wall away. That was another building. A place with airplane models on the mantel. It was a house, but it was also an office. It was the law office on a busy side street with difficult parking that Dad hated driving to.

The time keeps passing. Parsnip. Pumpernickel. I hope you dream of the narwhal. He lives so deep below. I remember that dream. You told me about it and then I dreamed it, too. Your dream in my sleep. I always believed somehow, we could meet in our dreams. I still hope we can.

This piece is part of the #52essays2017 challenge where I will share one essay a week in 2017. To learn more about this challenge or to participate, check out writer Vanessa Martir’s website and post about it.

Week Forty-Six: Blue


Do you remember a year in your life when you flirted with death? Maybe more than a year? How do we obey the urgent command to simply stay? To live?

I can start with my horse, who I got after taking lessons for about a year. It was a Christmas to remember, because Dad gave me a halter to unwrap and knew exactly what it meant. I was so excited, and more than that, I felt a sense of purpose in my life, even as a nine-year-old girl. Riding Tiger wasn’t just fun. There was all the work to keep his stall and pasture well-kept and the grooming for him and the cleaning of the tack and the bringing in hay for winter, and going to buy the 50-lb bags of grain that were practically bigger than Mom was, and the learning about horses. How they think, what they like, how to communicate. I got lessons from H and because this was a rural area, all the kids had horses. At age ten or eleven we could meet on the dirt road at the junction and then go for miles on our horses. We would ride out in that field owned by the cranky farmer and then we would dip down into in the creek bed. H started taking me to competitions, and so on the weekends, there were shows to ride in and extra grooming and lessons. I basically grew up with Tiger.

I cannot underestimate just how very important that was to me. The truth is that Tiger saved my life. He was so good and kind and that he kept me hopeful about life after age fifteen.  I think back to that year and it is strange how disconnected I was from the entire world. No one had any idea that there was part of me that wanted to die. I know now that I also had a part that wanted to live. But that part might not have won out if it weren’t for the love of a horse.

Do all people experience that desperation at some point in their lives? I cannot be so unique. But for whatever reason in my little experience, I had a need for love and no way to ask for it. But, when I was low, there was Tiger. He was there for me without any words. Words were too dangerous that year, but we didn’t need them. He would say everything in a look of pure love. But he was more than love, he was power and speed and muscle and yes, on Tiger I could run and jump and race and scare people. It was important to be able to intimidate.

Tiger needed me. I knew I couldn’t go anywhere because who would feed him if I were no longer in this world? I mean I knew that my parents wouldn’t let him go hungry, but no one would do it like me. He might miss the Cracklin Oat Bran and the way I made him a special oat bar treat every once in a while, with molasses. Who would keep him from running after women at the horse shows when he got a whiff of a passing funnel cake? I mean you can’t let down your horse. Not after he has taken you over so many jumps and taken you on rides and adventures and has let you experience the freedom of galloping. Not when he plays little horse jokes on you and you understand his personality like no one else. When you love a horse, you have this bond that is so special. One that took so much time to build.  All those times when you really didn’t want to get up early or you didn’t feel like riding or it was bad weather or you were just being a bratty teenager and you wanted be like whatever… But a horse stands at the fence and he looks out over it and he meets your eye and you are never ever going to refuse this honorable, noble, animal who is your friend. Because it is bigger than you and more important that you and even though you feel small and wish you were smaller. Or wish you were gone. Together with him you are something shining and free.

This piece is part of the #52essays2017 challenge where I will share one essay a week in 2017. To learn more about this challenge or to participate, check out writer Vanessa Martir’s website and post about it.

Week Forty-Five: Looking Back at Ghosts

28412508330_012bfd9051_b.jpgQuick, look now or you will miss it! The drip of water in the cavern. The golden hour painting the monastery’s bell tower orange. The lone tree illuminated on the ridge. The sound of the perrito’s nails on the stone as she runs to the door. Little moments, little grace notes in the song of our shared memory.

The hours march on and on and on. There is too much for us to store it all. So, we only keep indexes of the hours that have past. To really remember, we have to slowly comb through the more cumbersome, often mundane things that point beyond: the calendar, the ticket stub from delayed flight, a tattered journal on a dusty shelf, a forgotten souvenir, maybe just a badly composed picture in a phone.

But this is why commemorations are important. Choose any day. And use its hours as a frame. Peer through the frame, looking back through the years. Like rings in a tree trunk we go around and around. Slowly eroding each year like a canyon wall and stones that release after a storm. We run out of space on the page, erase the words, start a new drawing on top of the old.

Birthdays are an arbitrary choice. Perhaps not to the one doing the birthing, but to the born there was nothing that came before. And so, the clock starts at the day we arrive. We come into a world that existed before us, yet how can we think of this world without us as anything but a ghost world? We track our progress by the year as we go forward. But who is to say that the ghosts are tracking their progress moving back? We may only move direction, but time may not.

The Saguaros are said to symbolize people. Elders, souls of the ancestors. We drive to see them, in the desert, the living listening for messages from beyond. They may get up and move when we turn our backs and go home.

Memories accumulate like drifts, shaped by the weather. They can be blown away all together, or solidified into stone. We celebrate in order to created new memories. Yet the new are already connected and born from what came before. A net of memories, a root system that goes unseen.

But, above we have seasons. Outside of the desert the trees are hard at work. Autumn and time to manifest the last little bit of growth and then…let go. The leaves brilliant and bright. Pine-deep greens, Reds that look fiery and charred. Yellows of sunny days past. Bisque-white to gray and dun-colored dust underfoot.  We walk through the forest in fall and it is a walk over and through time.

Nothing is still for us. We move and while mostly we move around a set orbit of daily life some time we break free. Before we arrive in foreign places we cannot imagine. Once home, we do a better job. We remember some pieces. The long bleak drive to the monastery. A smile on a stranger’s face. Miraculous rain in a desert. In the course of a day what is parched can become a lake and then a story.

I want you to remember these places. Not the places, but the sensations that were so sweet that time nearly stopped. The coffee beans we ground by hand at the campsite at Joshua Tree with S and T.  The bourbon in the candlelight in Kentucky. The first blaze of the antique mezcal on your tongue. I remember these as I wander among the moments that made up my day, April 5.

There is a memorial sign, where we pause to consider those that came before us. Here, the trail gets steeper as we get past the first saddle. It seems like time slows down and there is nothing more than concentrating on the next breath. The next step, the small progress that, with patience, will get us to the top.  It is true. We do not need to look backwards to the places below us. If we did, we would never get to the summit. But, as we descend in the fading light the path looks different from the opposite direction.  I wonder if we are watched. Accompanied by ghosts, we continue.

Perhaps the celebration is in the gifting, not the receiving.  The mind is not always a peaceful place. But looking back through the years, on these days, my birthdays, I find there is calm. There are welcoming beacons, like campfires pushing back the dark and the unimportant thoughts. Memories where I can always go and warm myself, comfort myself with the face I love, share a familiar song, become mesmerized by the crackling dance of the flames.

You are my love and our love is stronger than either you or I. A joined spirit. It lives because we animate it. Our memories joined are a strong bond. Birthday experiences, shared memories, reasons to celebrate.

A thank you for all you have done to make my days special. And a gift to you, that is from me and cannot be bought.  All yours, and only yours, as you are the one I share these memories with today, the one I want to celebrate in the future.

This piece is part of the #52essays2017 challenge where I will share one essay a week in 2017. To learn more about this challenge or to participate, check out writer Vanessa Martir’s website and post about it.


Week Forty-Four: Koval Detour

21f00a09da7786d74cd298d6f1580483I’m just about to get frustrated when I catch myself.

I’m behind a pickup truck and can’t see ahead very far, but it hits me in an instant. There are still streets closed a month later. The cops are positioned, lights flashing, impotent, leaning, framed by flimsy yellow caution tape strung along the the streets. There isn’t anything to tie the tape to to in the section of block where my car is idled. It flaps in the breeze, held loosely by the loops around the stop sign. I’ve lost my impatience. It has been fully replaced with guilt. I am approaching sacred ground. This may look like a gravel parking lot but it is the outer perimeter of the most recently blood-soaked soil that reflects America’s deeply flawed love affair with guns.

It is different when you see it on TV. In all the times this happened before, it was beyond a screen. It was through the filter of the news. I saw it and heard it and maybe felt it, too. But I was protected by my distance and my distraction. My heart still reached for those that were lost but I was clothed and fed and busy. When we are busy we are padded from a lot of what happens around us. The selfish notions of busyness when we run around feeling that there is so much we need to accomplish in so little time. And yet these so-called priorities can be shuffled so ruthlessly. The powers that govern fate are not capable of worry. The incidents usually do not compel actions. The web of reactions is faint to us.

In an emergency, we can only move what we can carry with us. We can plan and we can make multiple trips. But we have limited capacity. Ultimately our arms and our hearts can only handle so much. Or so we think, until it happens to us. It is different when it is within earshot. When the shots are actually heard from the back patio. When the sirens are not a momentary annoyance when the they baby is trying to sleep. The night becomes darker when everything is thrown upside down and the unknown stretches the hours. The streets so mundane with trash. The palm trees need a trim. Don’t you hate that place where Koval curves and the speed limit is so low that the cars crawl and the cops wait to give tickets. Jerks. Not anymore.

What terror it must have been to need to run. To want to be faster than the bullets. To fear death was a step behind or in front or just to the side. For it to meet you right there in a line of evil geometry. To be stopped in your tracks.  The ripping of flesh that halted so many. The dragging that must have happened. We must move. This body must not stop breathing, reaching, running. The theft of life. Their whisper was just in your ear. The hand still warm as the life fades. The rip of clothing as they tried to scale fences, tried not to trample limbs. I believe in their terror they all tried desperately not to trample each other.

The fear though. The terror had nowhere to go but out into these streets. Touching these cars, their drivers, the man working in the liquor store. The bachelorettes strolling under the lights. The woman with the accent on a double-shift in the never-dark gas station. And now the curve in the road where the speed limits no longer matter because death borders this place.

We live in a fantasy city. All the years of hating the bright lights and the flash. All the years of this place and its relentless meaninglessness. And then it was here that the news happened. A sinister Sunday night to reshape everything. It was near and it was in my place. Mine, though I had not accepted it.  It was where I lived and where I drove to work and where I could lose people. These people who had just gone out for a night, who deserved to enjoy themselves. This town that I rejected was under the same microscope as so many before. I could not let it suffer scrutiny without me.

Experienced officials from elsewhere descended on us to tell us what to say, how to respond, what to do with the donations. Oh so many! These futile donations. I kept wondering what a blanket could do. They couldn’t take any more of our blood. They didn’t need what we wanted to give, but we gave anyway because we wanted to cover this pain with comfort. But the pain was too big.  The convention center was built to hold a lot of people. We convened there in this huge space with strangers. Where there was grief, there was also a conference room and a police officer and a clergyman. Some of us were local and many were from nearby places. We were chosen by the gun to be family. We gave each other things we had never given to another human being. Our stories. Tears. We were angry. Mostly we were still afraid. And in this world you simply are not allowed to be afraid.

There is a tolerance for emotions, but it is a small window. It is constantly closing and constantly being obscured by newer, worse weather. Emotions are supposed to be a temporary condition. When pain is so deep it is no longer seasonal it doesn’t fit anywhere. It feels like the erosion of a mountain cliff in the course of a rain shower. Please slow it down. This isn’t supposed to happen like this. Not here. Not now. Not me. We cannot believe, so our mind holds on to thing things in a different way. It keeps a record and shows us images later.  We remember the scrawled notes on the table by the phone, the way that she always misspelled that teacher’s name. We remember the lurid pink of a sock gone missing. The cold feeling of the alcohol swabs and a watch ticking. The smell of a funnel cake mixed with grass and blood.

There was a sunset that night like any other. Then there was rain in the desert. There was mud. There were so many tears that we forgot how to cry.

They were souls. Not perfect. But heroic because they are us. The mother who was working in the food stand who cannot go back to her job because she is now too afraid of open spaces. The girl who can no longer abide loud noises. The man who saved one of them and doesn’t know their name. The new employee who started on the day after who we greeted with donuts and scrolling cell phone screens. The city stunned and raw. I am lucky. My phone lit up with messages and I was alive to receive them.

But I am angry. I am unappeased and hungry for justice. I am so tired of trying to understand. And it isn’t enough. The lives lost, the grief and the constant ache. The helplessness of time passing as we drive through a town that has inherited a slogan. We have been christened in horror and now we earn a hashtag. This visibility helps us cope. We expect that we will be strong but this is a word. Only a word. It does not prevent the next one from happening.

As I sit here in Las Vegas, writing, there is breaking news. Another tragedy. This one is in another state, another venue, another troubled person we will never understand, more senseless taking from the innocent. As I write this, the cycle begins again. I can feel the collective sigh across America.

But, it’s so sad. Pray for them. Do this, don’t do that. I can feel the exhaustion as we start over, not having fully processed last month’s mass shooting, we are presented with a new one.

But this time, it is different. It is news and it is tragic and it is somewhere else, but it is also mine in a way it was not on September 30. I am all of them now. I am furious. I am sorry. I am so small that I cannot make any sort of difference. I cannot stop the violence. I can only speak with a whisper.

This piece is part of the #52essays2017 challenge where I will share one essay a week in 2017. To learn more about this challenge or to participate, check out writer Vanessa Martir’s website and post about it.

Week Forty-Three: Walk

874213503-monotonous-order-concept-suburb-las-vegasI got attacked by a bee today on my walk, but aside from that there was no incident and no dogs out walking to distract me. As I was walking I had a mini allergy attack. Sneezing. Saying “Bless You”!  Is that also a type of connection? Is it a deep human hope these ingrained salutations?

On my walk, I usually go one of two ways. I can either go down the official walking path that is an amenity of the housing tract or I can walk around the block which means walking along a wall and not seeing anything, really.  I think it is funny that these subdivisions create these walking paths that are hyped as a nice thing for homeowners to enjoy, but are required by law and are just dressed up flood channels. It is such a hoax, this idea that a subdivision will make something nice for you, but in reality, they are just trying not to flood you in a potential natural disaster.

This walk is nice because there is the chance of seeing a lizard or a small mouse or chipmunk or maybe even every once and a while a rabbit.  There are probably scorpions, but you don’t see them when you are walking.  You can look a bit into the neighbor’s yards on this walk which may be another reason I like it. You can see the backyards facing the path and often people are walking their dogs on the path or teaching their kids to ride a bike. Not far along the path is a “park” which I put in quotes because it is really just a slightly larger green area where they run sprinklers and have a playground.  This is not my idea of a public park, one that has nice buildings and benches and walking paths and places to get a little lost in. Parks should have bocce courts and little old ladies complaining about the weather and grass and lounging areas and also some view that situates you in the city and makes you appreciate the park even more.  No, this is a little placeholder of a park that is supposed to trick your brain into thinking you are happy to be outside and recreating. But it is an evil kind of fake park and not much fun.

After you cross the road which has minimal traffic on it, you go down and wind around a ways until you hit a second park.  This is another plastic playground, more trees, some fake toys and learning activities made in hard plastic that kids can play tic tac toe with or do numbers and letters. This park has a horseshoe sandpit and some benches. It has signs that sternly advise you to pick up after your dog and that remind you that the park is only for people who are residents, those paid up on HOA dues in the fancy neighborhood. I guess I am an intruder. It is not a friendly kind of park. Though the safety of children is paramount. Especially for suburban moms. The children!

Then after going a bit further the path winds through more houses and emerges at the biggest of the parks in the area. This one has some open lawn, tennis courts, bathrooms, parking, and a basketball court. It is big enough that I have to turn and then walk around it. They have helpful paint on the sidewalk that tells me that one circuit or loop around the park is a half mile. This is a very fitness-oriented park and people are doing sporty things in it.  There are also people playing with their dogs and playing with their kids, slacklining with friends, even barbequing.  There are some people walking and others running. There are some people just sitting and it is big enough for all of these people. You can see the grocery store and the pharmacy and some strip malls at the edge of the park as well as the main busy road.  The park is next to an elementary school and then as you round the corner, you are back at the walking path. The path leads to the park, but has nothing more to offer you after you’ve circumnavigated it.

Then we just have to walk back and retrace our steps.  There are not many notable things to see on the walk. Not much shade or vegetation, though there is a glittery, glass fragment-filled patch of raw desert that has not been built upon yet. It is sandwiched between two housing developments. I like this part. It seems a bit subversive. That is my main walking route. Perhaps later I should tell you about the other? No, it is less interesting than this. I guarantee it will bore you and me both.

This piece is part of the #52essays2017 challenge where I will share one essay a week in 2017. To learn more about this challenge or to participate, check out writer Vanessa Martir’s website and post about it.