far away from where we started

Good damn morning, San Rafael – thank you for the incredibly loud noise, the jackhammering, the slamming doors.  Now, yes, I get it: wake up early, Jen, and you will be able to focus before all this starts.

San Francisco graffiti - circle dance. (mpujals' photostream)My sister and her sweetie are here and we were up talking until 1:30, about relationships and friends, about addiction and getting help of all kinds and more.  I set my alarm for 6:30, hopefully, but of course completely ignored it. And had dreams that were sort of about crime again, about being a part of a crew who were escaping, or helping a group of folks escape. Or maybe I was pat of the group that was gathering to bring those folks back in, but they were friends of mine, the folks who had escaped, maybe I was sort of a traitor but they didn’t know.  At the end of the dream, I’m trying to dance up the stairs like/with a teenage boy who’s just sort of learning to pose and preen, and he and I are posewalking. We’re strutting up the stairs to The Miami Sound Machine’s “Do the Conga.”  I can’t really dance, can’t make my body do what it feels, it’s like I’m constricted.  Which frustrates me because I really start feeling the music, or maybe what I start feeling is the dancing.  There was stuff in the dream about getting taken in, caught – somehow I knew that the authorities were coming, and I was a part of the group getting caught.  We some of us went and folded down when the authorities came.  Is that right?  The one authority person who came in first was a tall lanky dyke, and our friend gave herself up, she went and bent down for her, and when she bent over her dress fell over her body, and she was skinner than toothpicks, she had no fat anywhere and hardly any muscle, she was barely sticks, emaciated, starved, gone.

Last night I was looking at my sister while she talked and she sounded like she always has, like my little sister. As though her voice hasn’t changed since we were small.  It’s her forever voice, the one that lives in my body, and I get to have that pleasure because I was already here when she was born, and so I have known her voice since it came to be in the breathing world. So there’s this sense that we’re still small, we’re still young, we still have time – and then I look at her face, and see these small crinkles around her eyes.  This isn’t about calling out age: this is about realizing that small girls don’t have those particular crinkles.  Those are a woman’s crinkles.  We are aging.  I thought, we’re running out of time.  What if we don’t make it before….?

But what does it mean to make it?  We got out, we got help, we have survived new.  But still: I want something else for us, for her.  Extraordinary, untethered, unbounded, unbroken joy.  Places where she’s free of her/our history, moments when we know we did more than survive or get beyond what was done to us – moments when none of that matters anymore.  Days when we go unaffected, when we don’t think about it, that history, that past.

I’m not saying we don’t live joy-containing lives, lives with curiosity and wonder, lives with big smiles and gut-splitting laughter.

Looking at here, for a split-second, I felt like we were running against the clock (still). Like we’re still racing, trying to get out from under him, that past, our separation.

But look at where we were: in F!’s & my home in northern California, eating ice cream and popcorn, me and my sister, here with our loves, together, far away from where we started, and talking honestly about our lives. With no sense that the world would shatter if we told our true stories. With no fear of honesty (or, ok, less fear — maybe different fear).

Look at where we were: 15 years since we both got out, embracing one another at the airport without shame.

Look at where we were: telling our true stories in the dark with our sweethearts at our elbows and nobody was afraid of dying in that moment.


Don’t forget: tomorrow, Saturday, July 17th, is this month’s Writing the Flood. 1-4:30, downtown San Francisco.  Let me know if you want to join us – there are still a few open spaces.  This is a fun and open space where you can do the writing that you want to do, even if you don’t know what that writing is, exactly, when you step into the room.  If all you know is that you really want to get some words on the page, and (even more) you’d kind of like to be surprised by those words: come on down.


Here’s what I wrote, several weeks ago, at the last Art for Recovery workshop meeting for the Summer session.  The prompt was a small round mirror that fits in your hand:

She can’t help looking in the mirror, watching the age come.  She knows she should look more toward imporant-er things–the state of the union, the state of her community, the state of her laundry–but instead she peers into the magnifying mirror, peers at hairs that have appeared, peers at new lines and smudges beneath her eyes that makeup doesn’t erase.  And so, in seeing the age and the history, she lets herself see the beauty, filters through into the child face that used to appear in that bathroom glance, the teenagers tearstained smear, the young woman’s rage, the complexifying sadness. She recollects hairstyles and reasons for looking, putting on makeup or using a set of clippers to square off her hairline – her memory of mirror is her memory of herselves.  This is what she sees when she looks in the mirror: the same eyes that have always been there, the same dented nose, the same too-big grin, the legacy of scars that life has left her with, and the possibility and rapture of change

This is what I want to say about mirrors – they can never be fact, because we always experience them through our eye’s interpretation – and vision, as we know is not what, is not a sure thing, not objective or clean, and yet always and momentarily there.  How can we live with these contradictions of self, how can we see in the mirror the legacy of our change and the stunning beauty of our right now bodies, these fragile tender knotty knobby wrinkling cascades of nerve endings that we walk around in, that carry us to our doom, which is every glorious minute of life, and we can accept the flash in any reflecting surface because that sight reassures us: we are here, now. We have to see it to believe it, to believe in self as well as other, believe in now as well as yesterday, believe in the fierce and necessary beauty of our present selves as reflected very clearly and every day in that terrible and terrific friend, the bathroom mirror.

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