Monthly Archives: May 2010

Holding up around the bones and breath of me

This is a write from Monday night’s Write Whole workshop — the prompt was a Band-Aid!

Band-Aids are super sterile now — they just smell like air.  They used to smell like something, I think, they used to smell like plastic and medicine, they used to smell like a wound and its healing, they used to smell like recovery or its possibility. And there was always a box of them in the hallway closet outside the bathroom, where the overflow toiletries and first aid stuff lived, and the box had a hundred different sizes of Band-Aids, the big elbow-sized ones and the ones with cut-outs for knuckle or thumb (those hour-glass shaped ones ere always the last ones left in a box), then the tiny, pinky-toe ones and the circle ones that really only ever got used when you go to the doctor and have to get a shot.

As a kid I was constantly covered with scratches and scars and scams, having stubbed this or fallen off my bike and scraped that or dug in rocky soil with my fingers and jabbed something else — but I don’t remember being especially band-aid-covered. Maybe when an opening in my skin wouldn’t stop bleeding after the application of paper towel or toilet paper and pressure — ok, there’d be a good time for a band-aid.  But otherwise, I preferred to let air and skin and coagulants (although I didn’t know that word then) do their thing.  Bandages got ragged and dirty on me real quick — I didn’t like having to keep something clean.

When my sister cut her foot during a trip to the Henry Doorly Zoo, when she slipped while we were walking on the raised concrete at the edge of the path and the sharp bottom of the metal cyclone fencing snagged into her ankle and she got rushed to the hospital (thereby, I think I’ve mentioned before, ruining our zoo trip, which was all I could focus on then), she had to get stitches and then wear a bag on her foot for forever, whenever she showered, until they healed — that just looked like torture to me.  I wouldn’t have done very well with the stitches.  They would have got pulled out of me torn and dirty, I think.

I trusted my skin to do its job, and mostly it has, holding up around the breath and bones of me, seizing its chances to throb and moan and rest now and then, when I’m too rough, healing up around itself again and again and again.

chard like a windbreak

The prompt was an avocado: I split it in half, handed everyone a spoon, and passed the halves around the room. We could each take a taste, savor the scent and texture, and then we wrote from whatever came up for us in response:

sprouted avocado seedMy mom grew avocado seeds in the windowsill, always had a clear glass or jelly jar mostly filled with water that had, perched on top of it, a bulby brown seed with three toothpicks stuck into it to hold only the bottom half into the water.  We’d watch, my sister and I, til the seed split, and you could see the cream-white insides beneath the shallow brown topcoat.  Then the root would push out, like a tail, diving down into the water, separating from itself, over the days, into many roots tangling inside the glass.  The top would grow, too, the true oblong-almond leaves taking over a corner of the kitchen window that looked out onto our back yard and her garden.

My mother could make anything grow.  She sprouted alfalfa seeds, threw mint seeds out the back door and a Jack’s beanstalk-y thatch of strong herb would take hold. She raised gardens that seem, to my little kid memory, like they were acres long and wide — like they honestly went on for miles.  I could get lost in them, remember being as high as the bean plants, the tomatoes towering over me.

I have stopped sticking toothpicks into my avocado seeds — I can never remember which side is supposed to go in the water, which side stays out.  I forget to refill the glass, and the seed shrivels dry, or I keep it too full and the seed gets slimy with the wrong kind of growth, or else I set it too precariously somewhere and tip the whole set-up into the sink, or onto my single pair of unstained dress pants.  When I prep for gardening, I get leggy seedlings where my mother gets strong stocky new plants, and there she is tending her lieblings in the weak Nebraska early spring sun while I’m out here in California where you’re supposed to be able to spit and grow a garden up of whatever if twas you ate for lunch.

The truth is I’m tired of trying to grow my mother’s garden, and I’m desperate to — I want all the wild miraculous over-growth, the yarrow full and stalked like queen anne’s lace, the thick red rhubarb, the tomato plants that go on for days, the chard waving like a wind-break — and more.  I want to show her what I can do, have some tender hopeful ground that we can meet on, ground that I’ve loved something good into, that I’ve worked alongside the bees and spiders and jays, and have her squint her brown mamagirl’s eyes at me the way she does when she’s smiling so big and say, “Well, this is just wonderful, Jen” (and hear how we both want her to say “Jenny” still). And I want it not to hurt, like someone’s yanking at all the breaks in my heart, whenever she smiles.

Turn story under story

This is a write from the Monday night Write Whole workshop.  The prompt asked each of us to create two lists, one of the stories we tell often, another of the stories we don’t tell.  Here’s my response:

There are stories I’m desperate to tell / the backhand side to my coming out-incest story / stories that are all interwoven in someone else’s pain / the truths other people aren’t willing to spill yet / I mean, people in my family, I mean / people I love.

There are parts that involve my sister, my / dad, and I don’t just want to write them in my notebook, I want to write them to share / but because I can’t share their stories / I don’t write them at all.

No, that’s not true.  I don’t write those stories at all because they shred me / those parts / those are the worst parts — the parts of the story where I touched someone else tender and fragile and we broke each other.

There are other stories I don’t tell.  This most recent visit to Mom’s, at the end of the Tour, she and I sat in her tiny kitchen and she asked me why I write about sex, did it still have a connection to my stepfather?  She knew part of the story.  She knew (how did she know?  when had I explained this to her?) that he wanted me to write sex stories for him, when I was in college. There’s an official line: I told him yes  sometimes, and then I did it.  I emailed him these stories of fancy girls just coming out and learning to have sex with women, stories about two gay men letting a girl, a woman, into their sex just that one time. They were good and ridiculous stories all at the same time. I don’t remember what he said about them. I don’t want to tell you about the story he sent me.  It was entered into evidence when we filed charges against him.

This is what I want to tell you: when I was writing, I didn’t think about him.  I didn’t make it for him.  But I did make it a stand in. I created something that could replace my body, my voice.  I told you that this was when I was in college.  Here’s the story you don’t know.  He started abusing (and what a story lives behind that word) me in jr. high, and by college — what — this is my shorthand: by college, he thought he had us, me, trained.  And he did.  Kind of.  I was 1400 miles away and he wanted to hear orgasms over the phone and he got them. Sometimes.  And then later, when I started writing stories, those could take the place of the tele-gasms, the phone-based ministrations, the dial-a-devastation.

Can you imagine?

I explained this to my mother, I said, writing the story was easier, was preferable, to masturbating over the phone. (It looks almost like a normal thing, that sentence, so calm:  This is why writing makes me crazy.) My mother started to cry, her thin body got all wobbly, these are the stories we don’t remember, we’ve heard before.  We sat in her white painted kitchen with tchotkes on ever surface and though I could not peel myself vulnerable for her, I did begin to understand how those stories had done work for me, had begun to do the heavy lifting — I let them take his violence, and then I let them, later, with others, seduce and flint and cajole and swelter.

I learned the physical work that stories can do.

I didn’t describe all this to my mother.  It feels like a kind of violence now, this awareness, how I saved myself at the expense of these characters — how I learned to turn story under story, take space back through words, let these things under my pen and fingers do the labor that my body had just grown too damn weary for.