This is Joe looking especially handsome in Yard House.
This is Joe looking especially handsome in Yard House.
This is Joe looking especially handsome in Yard House.
This is what I see in the morning when I fire up my computer. This guy. I mean, I also see the live version walking around the house, so in that respect, whatever, but when the live version is at work, it’s nice to have this version on my screen.
i looked up and you were staring at me,
your eyes were a little too wide,
your lashes long and dark.
i love you like crazy, i said,
and you suddenly smiled, looked down.
you packed at the last minute
throwing things in a duffel
it’s your way, it’s a good way.
i love you like mad, i whispered,
and you squeezed my hand, grabbed your toothbrush.
you wrapped me up in warm
kissed me hard, again, then again
the airport doors shwapped open and ate you whole.
i love you so hard, i said, you’re my favorite
but you were already gone.
Take me to the beach, I whispered, silky soft in his ear.
He wrapped me in his warmth beneath the covers.
I need to see the waves in every shade of green and blue and frothy white, I told his mind without uttering a sound.
He padded down the hall, got his sandals, keys.
We drove five miles, wind whistling through the vent, the heater waking up.
Ocean water swirled and raced, bubbled, then calmed and went away.
Surfers danced on ten foot waves through the pilings, praying their religion under the pier.
Grit between my toes, pulling my sweater close, I took a breath and then another.
He took my hand, pointed out evidence of birds, busy as on every other day, beaking mites from the sand.
Today is different, I told them as we walked. Today I’m in remission.
The wind whipped my words away before they heard me.
They wouldn’t care, even if they knew.
We went for eggs, forked avocado and endless coffee.
Across the table, he smiled, wrapping me in the warmth of his eyes.
I smiled back.
Something caught my eye. I looked up and to the right and saw a woman in her late forties trying to help her aging mom down the stadium steps. Her mother was petrified. She was shaking her head no and holding on to the safety banister for dear life. The daughter pulled her mother’s arms, trying to get her to budge.
It was her feet. I couldn’t stop looking at her feet. Pink Keds with white laces folded around white ankle socks. The way the foot tapped around looking for some safe place to be, the feet of someone older, someone less steady. I saw Grandma Jean in those feet.
Joe turned to me and asked, “Should I help?” “Yes! Do it now!” I replied.
I remembered how Grandma Jean had been scared to fall. How Joe and his aunts and uncles had at first helped her move from chair to walker, walker to car. One person in front, one on the side and someone in back so she would feel safe. Then it was chair to walker to bed. And then there wasn’t a lot of moving anywhere anymore.
I heard the older woman murmuring in a small voice and I wondered if she had dementia. Something about how she didn’t seem to recognize her daughter or the place or what they were doing. She was just afraid to the exclusion of everything else.
I thought about my dad. His dementia has made it nearly impossible to carry on a phone conversation. I miss him. I miss the old him that would get into a lively discussion about pretty much anything and told the corniest jokes in the universe. The kind that made you groan so deep you could cause an earthquake. I love this latest version of him, this softer, gentler version, I will always love however he is, but I hate the disease that makes him unsure of how to speak to someone in case he just asked that question a minute ago or makes him forget who those nice people are in his home, my kids. I hate the uncertainty on his face knowing he’s worried on the inside and aware enough to feel scared or stupid or ashamed.
In an instant Joe jumped up and went behind the older woman, grasping her around the waist and telling her in her ear, “I’ve got you. I’ve got you. You won’t fall. I’ve got you.” And I watched my husband help support her weight and walk her down those steps to sit by her husband, who this entire time had been standing in the row, waiting for his wife, with a look of frustration and love on his face, having been told to stay put by the daughter, realizing his older body wasn’t going to be of much help getting his wife down the stairs, but being unable to sit down and relax until she was next to him, his fists clenching and unclenching.
It was awkward, that walking down the steps all together, the daughter in front showing her mom the way and Joe in back supporting her weight. They jerked down one step at a time. People were starting to stare. Joe kept encouraging her, never stopped talking in her ear. Slowly the procession made it to the row and there was profuse thanks from the daughter and her father to Joe as they all sat down.
I was overcome with so many feelings and started to weep a little. I saw Grandma Jean, my dad, myself in 40 years, and even Phyllis who was loved by everyone but especially her family, just as this woman was.
And I fell deeply in love with my husband all over again.
If they came and kidnapped me right now and blindfolded me, gagged me
stuck me in the trunk
I would stay calm
because I know the roads.
I would know where they took me.
Quick left, quick right, quick left
to the freeway
or the other way.
The slow S shape
winding back and forth.
They won’t go 35 and 45.
They are in a hurry.
They will push it and speed.
And when the orange sign warns that going over 30 round this turn will lead to death and it will be your own fucking fault
they won’t listen.
They will go as fast as they want.
But the car won’t flip or crash because the guy driving the car is a professional.
I’ll use my nose to figure out where we are.
The smells go like this
Less city, people
Rich, rich soil
Soil and garden
Cars, industrial stink
And Joe says
You Don’t Ruin Everything
Don’t say that anymore, Leah, it’s not true.
And I hear him from far away.
I’m not really in the trunk
but I am bound and gagged.
The buildings and the streets
they are neon pink and orange
It’s not true, I know.
But I still see it.
I’m not in the trunk.
I know I’m sitting next to Joe in the front because from my vantage point in the back seat
I see him holding my hand.
There are tears running down my cheeks
for no reason at all.
But my mouth is trying to smile and feels like nothing is wrong.
They aren’t connected to each other.
My mouth says
milk and I smile
and my eyes cry
for some unknown reason until I need a hankie or tissue.
In the isles I can’t stop staring.
The boxes, the floor, so sharp, so blurry
all so beautiful in neon.
The colors are almost overwhelming plus I know they aren’t there but, they are and I can’t stop staring.
Everything should cost a dollar.
Things are so expensive.
Joe gently guides me along
and when I say to no one except the cereal boxes that I like Honey Nut Cheerios
Yes You Do. You Like Them.
And grabs my hand to look at canned beans.
There is a family with four kids.
Both parents are wrangling two.
Line the kids up and they make a stairway just like my kids did.
But my kids are old.
I don’t get to nurture them like that.
And I can’t even have a dog.
Would my pet dog be neon red, too?
And glow and look like fire?
The dad looks at me in surprise
and then pity.
I’m walking next to me
and I see what he sees.
I have the look of a crazy person.
My hair is unwashed, clumped and stuck in all kids of directions.
I’m wearing Joe’s Hawaiian shirt that has the same leaf colors as the bird’s poop and it hangs over my bra-less front.
My jeans are sagging, top button undone.
and my eyes are puffed, tearing and have red rings like clown makeup.
Next to myself I see this.
Back walking in myself I don’t know it or care.
And the floor is orange now.
The air smells so good on my face on the way home.
I love air.
I tell Joe I Will Be Better Tomorrow. Joe says I Know.
And Joe is helping me make nachos with cheese and black beans.
I eat them.
I vomited all morning.
My tummy feels humming but it doesn’t kick the nachos out.
And Joe gives me warm kisses on my cheeks and eyes and lips.
I feel them.
And I feel them.
My leg is touching the door and I can feel the vibrations of the music through my knee cap. I’m not thinking. I’m just feeling the bass line and mouthing the words. My mouth opens and closes with the words but no sound comes out. I don’t think I know this song. If I was the passenger in the car to the left, I would think I was singing. But if I was the passenger in the car to the left, I wouldn’t be me. I would be him. I think about this for awhile, forgetting to mouth along to the song, my jaw slightly slack.
What if I was him? That guy to the left? I wouldn’t be me. Or I would be both. I would have his feelings. Or they would be the same as the ones I have now, just his. Or they would be different. And I would look over and see me and wonder about the lady driving in the big black van and hope she had at least one other person in the car to make that beast worth while. And I would know that she wasn’t really singing because I didn’t really sing, either. Orange would be slightly different, but how, I couldn’t say. I would like the air slightly warmer in the cab of the car while driving, but my wife would want it cooler and I’d wear gloves to keep my hands warm, even in the summer. I’d hate the birds that shit on the car under the palm tree. I’d love orange suckers and I’d do ceramics on the weekend as a hobby to calm my nerves. Or are they my nerves. Or mine. I don’t know.
My shoe is near the speaker and I can feel the vibrations of the music climbing up my leg. I turn the bass up and look up to notice the sign that says the name of street I know, but isn’t on my route home. I’m confused for a moment and then I realize I passed my exit about twenty minutes back.
I wonder where I’m going.
I’m driving as if I don’t care that I’m not headed in the right direction. I just passed an exit where I could have turned around. And another one. And another. I’m not changing lanes to get to the right. I’m just going forward at a steady 73 miles per hour. Maybe I don’t care. But I don’t know where I’m going.
I’m out of water. My mouth is dry. I have a headache. I get off the freeway and get back on, heading west.
My hands are on the steering wheel and the vibrations are coursing through my fingers and into my wrists. The music is too loud and I turn it down. Then off. The car on my right is driving right in my blind spot. When I speed up, he speeds up. When I slow down, He slows down. I punch the gas and hit over 80, moving away from the irritation. The road is bumpy on this stretch and the van bobs up and down violently for a few seconds. The Santa Annas are blowing hard against the windshield and I can hear the whistle it makes as it leaks through the seams around the doors. It’s high pitched and screaming. All it would take is my not handling the wind very well. Just a tiny mistake going around the right bend of the hills. The tire would hit a pothole and explode. The van would flip over and over, jumping over the guardrail and into the middle of oncoming traffic. I could even take off my seat belt first. I look at myself in the rear view mirror. And then I look away. My foot comes off the gas pedal a little and I slow down to 68 and hit cruise control.
The wind whistling through the doors grows deeper and less insistent. It sounds more like a hum and less like a shriek. I take a few slow breaths and turn the music back on, but softly. I click forward through the songs until I find something mellow.
I’m close to home now. And I think I’m glad. The thoughts and feelings I’ve been avoiding come rushing at me. I’m a horrible person. I’m so unworthy of love. The world would be a better place without me. My kids deserve a better mom. Joe would have a better life without me. I imagine saying that out loud to Joe and I can hear his voice in my head. I would say, ‘I’m too broken. It’s never going to get better. How many times can I say I’m sorry before I get on your nerves? Once a day? Twice? I should just leave.’ and he would say, ‘Only say sorry if you commit a sin of commission or omission against me. You haven’t. You don’t need to be sorry. Your existence is not a sin. I love you. I hope you don’t leave. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.’ And then I’m crying but I don’t know if it’s happening now or yesterday when he said it for real.
The car is stopped and parked in front of the house. I’m home. Home. The thrumming I feel isn’t music. It’s my thoughts and I’m trying to get them under control before I walk in the house. I’m numbing out my mind, creating a buffer around my body and settling in the center where it’s calm and one tiny bit of what I hope is reality comforts me as I gather my things and head up the walkway.
Your existence is not a sin. I love you.
My good friend Chuck and his soul mate, Randy, got married a few months ago. Joe and I were lucky enough to be invited to their wedding celebration in San Diego. We are truly so happy for them. Here you see them on the grassy beaches of Mission Bay, filled to the brim and overflowing with marital happiness and joy.
We are blessed at the present time to have equal rights for everyone in California. Both heterosexual couples and gay couples can marry the person they love. If you live in California, Please vote No on Prop 8 on November 4th and keep equal rights for everyone.
Christmas came and went as well as New Year’s Day and while they are important days to me, there is one day that came and passed that I didn’t acknowledge that burns in my fingertips to be noticed. That day is my wedding anniversary. Three years ago on the 21st, Joe and I decided to drive to Vegas and ask a midget in a bad wig and too much makeup to integrate our programs together and create a new product – a better product – a life-long product called Marriage.
This past year has been one of the hardest years of my life and subsequently caused quite a bit of strain on our relationship from time to time. Jobs have been hard. The situation with my kids has been hard. Our living quarters have been hard. And when you seriously consider suicide as an option, you know that life in general is hard.
I think it’s safe to say I wouldn’t have made it through this past year without Joe. Even that might be being a bit too generous to my own abilities as I’m leaving out the part that on more than one occasion he’s had to pick me up by my bootstraps and assemble me back together using nothing as a guide except my own distant sighing.
And while I know that I’m more of a partner since the medications have kicked in and I won’t always be having this hard of a time and that there have been times when Joe has needed me in some of the same ways I’ve needed him, I am certainly looking forward to being on equal footing sometime soon.
One night, as we were driving to or fro and discussing one of the many subjects where I feel less than equal and we were getting into that dangerous territory where it’s no longer a discussion and more of a land mine situation where Joe can’t say anything right because my angst is so great, he said, ‘But, Leah, I know all of that – but I love you. I LOVE you. And I don’t think you are hearing me when I say it. I LOVE YOU.’ And something about the way he said it made me stop and pay attention to it. So I thought about it and realized that I wasn’t listening and when I just sat there for a minute and felt his love for me, the rest of everything kind of settled down for a bit and stopped pestering my brain.
Thanks for that, Joe. I feel so incredibly lucky to have you for my partner. Thanks for three years of marriage and five years of being together, that while hard and trying have alternately been wonderful and worth it and mostly have been full of love. Thanks so much for that. I promise to keep trying and keep keeping my body on so I can keep trying. I love you and I’m looking forward to what our 4th year brings to us.
Joe and I don’t go on many dates. I mean the kind where you have a destination, like the opera, and you spend time primping yourself and curling your hair and wear lipstick. Our dates usually consist of jumping in the car and spending time getting ready by taking a shower, if we feel like getting really crazy.
This is fine. I’m not one for exerting all that energy too often to look a certain way. I prefer my jeans and a sweatshirt while we drive around and talk. Sometimes we stop and get a coffee. Sometimes we don’t. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy a nice dinner out with friends or something, because I do. Just not every week.
This short recipe for our dates is one of my favorite parts of our week. So much time is already taken with day jobs and freelance work. With mundane things like grocery shopping and the post office. And trying to plan some elaborate date for Friday night was just not happening. So somewhere along the line, we instituted The Drive.
“Wanna go for a drive?” Joe will ask. I’ll smile and say, “Sure.” And we grab the keys and go. And for the next hour, all the things that we haven’t found time to talk about for the last few days will come tumbling out, possibly out of order, but the jumbled nature doesn’t matter. We talk. And we talk a lot while we hold hands and listen to jazz on the radio in the dark.
Last night, as we drove around all the parts of our town and never reached any burned or charred fields or scarred skeletons of where a home used to stand, I felt so incredibly lucky. So fortunate. My heart aches for all those families that have found themselves homeless and who are hoping for the best case scenario to be that they had good insurance that will actually cover the fire damage, although so many things were lost that can never be replaced. I hope along with them. And I was thankful that we had a car and a bed at home. And that the air was clear and we could roll down the windows and not choke on scorched wind while we drove around and counted neon signs that were broken and missing letters.
By the time we’re done talking, the road will bring us home and scoot us into the driveway. We’ll kiss and grab the trash and head into the house. Dating in your thirties might not be the same as dating in your twenties. There is definitely less hairspray. But I like it.