Taken In

My grandfather got taken in by a confidence man, late in his life. The saga was impossible to watch without your jaw dropping.

Dad, we’re buying you a flight to the wedding,” my father said to Grampa.

No, no: not necessary,” his father replied. “Charlie’s flying me down there. He’s got his own plane.

Charlie was flying him somewhere, alright.When Charlie failed to come through, time and time again, you had to wonder why Grampa kept believing. At some point, you grow skeptical. At some point, you must lose hope.

Asheville, NC.

Asheville has a mansion and Asheville has a college. Asheville has rivers and mountains and sand. Asheville has music and Asheville has hippies. Asheville has buskers with good spots to stand. Except for Jeremiah, I really enjoyed Asheville. I met good folks at an open mic night at Tall Gary’s Cantina (Hi, Mike! Hi, Stray Dog!), and played to wild acclaim. For Halloween, I went out as the constellation Cassiopeia. A man at the bar bought my costume (really, just a string of twinkly lights) at the end of the night. A wildly sweet lady bought me noodle soup for dinner (Hi, Linden!). A British couple told me the story of their 7 weeks in America and theme wedding in Vegas. I met kids who walked from New York.Old punks stopped me on the street to tell me how to sing sweeter folk songs. Quixo (my dog) got more attention than he knew what to do with. Overall, it was a fantastic time, except for Jeremiah.

Jeremiah walked up to me second thing in the morning. I was standing outside my van, smoking a cigarette. His curly hair was mostly salt-and-pepper gray. He had a wholesome, L.L. Bean-looking green cotton sweater. His khakis were stained with blood.

“I see that you’re from New Hampshire. I’m with the Bread and Puppets Theater – they’re from Vermont! We played a show last night at the college, and I fell off my stilts. That’s how I got this black eye. Can I tell you three jokes?”

Any sane person would say no.

“Sure!”

He told me three jokes. I guessed the punchline to one of them. He offered to reward me with a joint (no, thank you). He said his friends needed bus fare back to the college. Did I have three dollars? I had one (my last, at the time), but he was welcome to it. He told me he could read auras. He read mine. He told me he wasn’t hitting on me, he had a girlfriend. He smoked the end of my cigarette. He told me he was a member of the Grateful Dead Family. He called me Sister Bear. He said he knew a place to take a free shower (no Planet Fitness in Asheville). He could show me where it was, but he couldn’t give me directions. Could I give him a ride?

If I were watching it unfold on T.V., I would be shouting at the screen. I would be cursing the writers for making the woman a victim again. I’d be thinking, “Oh God. I can’t watch.Continue reading

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Burying The Past

I am standing halfway between two opposing forces, on a field of blood and loss. On the surface, all is calm, although the horizon is dotted with monuments to the past battle. The war is both distant and immediate, overgrown but impossible to forget. Four score and seven years ago: I have come to Gettysburg to bury the past.

My parents were married for 16 years before their divorce. I think they were only together for about five of those years, two of which included me.

Like all adults, their reasons were complicated, and I’m sure they were both doing their best.

Meeting my father’s girlfriends, making room for them in my young heart, and losing them over and over – all without any explanation of the real nature of their relationship with my father – took a toll on me. Worse, though, was the echo of my mother’s devotion on my heart.

Mom told me recently that two days after they married, they arrived in their new house to find a letter from his high school sweetheart, professing love, a sense of missed destiny, and regret. “I think that I never really felt close to him, after that,” she mused. She earned a gold medal of devotion, though. My mother: ever optimistic, ever hopeful, ever faithful and patient. She waited for him to come home and be her husband.

I have done the same. A life spent waiting for men to come to their senses and realize that I’m what they want. I didn’t know anything else. I recreated my parents’ marriage, aware that I was doing so but unable to break the pattern.

My mother gave me her wedding ring when she remarried. My father’s ring is buried somewhere in the concrete of a nuclear power plant, not far from his home. An accident. An early loss. A portent.

My mother and father came here with me when I was a baby. It was one of their last family trips. There is a picture somewhere of my father with sunglasses and feathered seventies hair, my mother looking like Joan Baez. There I was, too, a tiny human strapped to her, tied to her fate.

From the Union line, the Virginia monument to her fallen sons seems miles away. Thistle and milkweed crackle and hiss in the wind as I trudge across this impossible distance, a house divided, a nation at war.

The North’s side is peppered with small obelisks and monuments along the Angle and the Copse of Trees, honoring each battalion. In contrast, at the tree line where Lee stood and directed his men to slaughter, the Virginia monument is a lone monolith. An appropriate metaphor.

I walk back to the halfway mark. Despite being clenched in my fist for the whole two hours I’ve been here, the ring is still cool to the touch. Impassive, striped in bands of multi-hued golds. The sun is close to setting, but has taken on none of the colors of sunset. The light is gray. The wind whips by.

I ask forgiveness for the sins we commit in pursuit of living our lives. I ask for understanding from both sides of this old war. I ask for freedom from old patterns, and I ask for a new way in the future.

Is this the right way? Will anything change? Have I lost my mind? I think of that sunny 1980s day, of the three of us on our separate trajectories but aligned for that moment in time. I think of the blood of the soldiers, how this placid earth holds the memory of so much pain and I know, Yes. This is how it must be done. Such a small thing, with such a heavy burden. A small tomb will suffice, a place from which to watch the world grow old, to weather seasons. An inverted monument to my past. Ghosts will keep company in kind. A new soul leaves this place, quick to the world like the sharp wind through the weeds, like grey sun on granite.

My mother’s wedding ring is buried at Gettysburg.

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”

Brotherly Love

Lord, New York. Honestly, if she never got cold, I’d be there still.

My brother treated me to Prosperity Dumplings (50 dumplings for $11.50, and they’re amazing!) and an old favorite, Waffles und Dinges. So many dinges!

When we parted, my brother gave me a red Moleskine notebook. “Don’t read it until I’m gone,” he warned. In a failed attempt to go to Paddy Reilly’s Music Bar‘s Wednesday Open Mic on a Tuesday, I ended up nursing a Guinness to a cover of the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York”, and cracked the small book open.

Page after page of inspirational thoughts, brilliantly turned into quips and one-liners, all apropos of the life of a van dweller! I was laughing aloud as I read them, and I think the French tourists to my left wanted a copy.

Gems like this:

You can sleep when you’re dead.

You could probably do anything when you’re dead, though. I don’t know too much about it.

Then, after splitting my sides thoroughly open, the text took a serious turn:

Never question your ability as a sister or role model. … You have been a symbol of strength & perseverance in the face of adversity.

And I cried, in a bar in Manhattan. I cried in gratitude for my life. In gratitude for my amazing brother, for the chance at this journey, for the enormous gift of those brief moments when you get to see yourself through the eyes of another, and the view sings in your soul like a view of the Grand Canyon. Thank you, dear brother. The book has already helped me keep my head up when the road got rough. Love you.