Journal

Those four years, I wrote compulsively, afraid I’d one day forget the details of days that were starting to melt and months that were starting to blend. At 18 I started marking time by reference to days out drinking and categorizing eras according to romantic interests of the moment. In between the bleeding, blurry, evenings, I documented the color of the leaves in my morning tea, described the exact shade of gold flecks found in his eyes only in a certain light, and recorded the pattern of sunlight creeping in through the pergola on the cafe patio. I was wearing a plaid skirt and fishnet shirt that day, and carefully noted clouds in my coffee on lunch break. This was the summer I worked in a teeny bopper retail store; on this particular day, my friends had gone skydiving.

I did not know that when I was 33 I’d read the deliberate loops and lines and still could not remember anyway; familiar though the handwriting may be, it was as if it was written by a stranger. This stranger was a bit neurotic and disjointed, vaguely touched by hackneyed angst. The whiskey-laden scrawls on some of the pages were less grand than Jack Daniels would have you believe, but rather, vacillated between nonsense and maudlin nostalgia. The stranger woke up at 9:00 in the morning on a Saturday one weekend (early for her), to a phone call from an old man from the coffee shop who wanted to talk about nothing in particular. She thought he had meant to call her friend, but she ended up talking to him anyway, after taking a seat on the kitchen counter of the sorority house, apple in hand.

The next time I saw the old man, he told me the tragic tale of his wife inexplicably leaving him, fleeing to Japan, and absconding with their child, when in reality he had been convicted of possession of child porn.

I eventually went skydiving, and it felt like flying, but I didn’t write about it.

 

Moon Shadows

Her shoes were the color of sunshine and she radiated beams from her forehead

After a night of boxed wine and vodka

She lost her fading resolve in the moon shadows and fog while seagulls flaunted their freedom and mocked her

And the waves sighed like tired gods at the resignation of human existence

Taking cold pizza out of the refrigerator at 2:00 a.m. she heard him say

Hey Beautiful and she smiled at what she felt to be a hidden bitterness in the kitchen

She sat on a boy’s lap, twirled a strand of pearls in her palm and her friend said

Remember us, the bunny girls? We are notorious for last weekend 

And another voice told her

I can smell your pride from a mile away

 

Boy

He puppets her so that she flushes every thought from her head and

Forces all other sensations from her flesh

Until she falls asleep against his warm chest

She would see him in heaven if she were allowed in those ranks

But one’s own destruction is always more invigorating than another’s

So she continued drowning Tuesday in a silver pool of bitterness and bottled disasters and

In time she will find herself swimming to him, a red salamander in her nostalgic pond

Alcohol III

Johnny, Jack, Jim, and other insidious lovers waited restless and lonely on the shelves

Until they came to the rescue with acts of self-sacrifice

Painting the night into an unforgivable haze

After scouring the concrete wilderness all evening

Swimming in people and singing of death

She awoke next to a boy and the night had been thick and hot

He had called at 3:00 a.m., said

Of all the carousers in Los Angeles, I had a feeling you would be up at this hour 

The many hours of semi-consciousness and flirtation with a demoted deity were questionable

But she sensed in an alternative universe her other self was trudging in dark blandness and purposeless amnesia

Drowning in indifference

The Week

Monday she woke up still drunk at 11:30 and called people to confirm her friend’s brother had indeed showed up at her ex-boyfriend’s door and together they finished the Johnny Walker Red, spiked a carafe of orange juice at Denny’s with cheap vodka, the color of light sunshine for a heavy heart, bottled oblivion. They stumbled around the lake until the sun came up and she would not see the brother until her friend’s wedding over a decade later, when she was slower and less angry. She was not old enough to have hangovers but the day was restless and heavy and she let it slip by at Vincent’s house in the form of a horror movie; 10 years later the plot would suddenly surface in her mind, while the name of the film remained elusive.

Tuesday she complained of transience, and dreaded Los Angeles’s siren song of hazy nights and rushed minutes. She declared selfishness a virtue some 12 years before she read Ayn Rand’s so-titled essay. Ex-boyfriends fed her conceit and let her talk up storms of emptiness as cigarette smoke floated by on the cafe patio. The day was gray, and the skinny blond on telly condemned the rest of the week to rain. Her friend came by wearing an expensive pea coat and she vaguely felt she would like a boyfriend who favored pea coats.

Inner Senses.

Wednesday, she wore angora and hoped it had not necessitated the killing of rabbits. She misplaced her journal and thought she might die without it. She was frantic and tried to steal books at the bar, but Chad stopped her. A Georgian told her Southern Californians were cold, suspicious, and self-involved. She laughed and told him to get used to it. She left the bar with Tuesday, put her hands around his neck, and afterwards her hands smelled like boy.

Thursday, she skipped Astronomy class because whether the white-haired, bearded man’s description of burning blue stars and fiery planets was fascinating or painfully dull was always a gamble. She watched Tuesday sleeping next to her and imagined swift irrationality stirring and boiling over like coffee. She slipped out of his bed. Her temporary preoccupation paired well with the pulsing in her head and she walked slowly to work.

Friday, her ex-boyfriend lectured her about being devious and self-centered but she only cared for her coffee and bagel. He left her on the patio in the rain and her prideful, clear nights opened the skies and gave way to the heaviest deluge, despondent clouds, and wet wretchedness. A stranger, a Geology major, shared his umbrella with her and she was grateful as she watched the sloppy crystals fall out of the sky, blurring her vision. When the kind Geologist and his umbrella left, she considered her numbness and her alcohol-based romance: 3 parts booze, 1 part unspecified attraction, drowned in slate.

Saturday, she ran in the rain while thin shadows of trees chased her. The city was drowned in the angry tears of some heartbroken god and it came down so violently she could barely see. At night, after the torrents receded, she sat on a large rock, hiding under a tree, and waited for him, her toes grazing a pool of ivy. He came stumbling around the corner shortly, and she remembered that when she thought she’d lost her journal she felt she would die, her trite thoughts floating among the unknown, abandoned in the corner of a bar, pages disintegrating and burning in golden whiskey, but her friend had sneered.

She blinked, she melted, she slept soundly in his bed, and it was Sunday again.

Books for Children: Reviewing the Moral Lessons of the Giving Tree

I’m going to a baby shower tomorrow, and I actually remember what I bought off the registry. Typically, when I browse a baby registry to decide what to buy, my head starts swimming at the unfamiliar, and admittedly boring, products: bottle warmers, bottle brushes, diapers, nipple cream, butt cream, baby shampoo, drying racks, other products I could not even begin to explain if I tried, etc. This has not changed since I became pregnant. I can feel my eyes glaze over as I scroll through these items, and I vaguely dread the day I will have to make a list of my own. How do you know what you really need? This shit is hard!

Except, for the baby shower I’m attending tomorrow, there were some items that got me excited: Books. There were many fantastic ones listed, and I ended up getting The Giving Tree, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and Where the Wild Things Are. Aside from these books, I also bought one other thing. A mat or seat or tray or something that might go in a car possibly. I have forgotten already. But that is of less importance.

Seeing children’s books had me contemplating what messages these books actually convey. While I love both The Giving Tree and Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, the contents of these books differ drastically. Where The Sidewalk Ends is a collection of short, fun poems that serve as a lovely introduction to poetry for children. My own father, who writes poetry, bought me this book when I was 7 years old.

The Giving Tree is where things get a bit more complicated. It’s wonderful in terms of illustration and story telling, but I do have reservations about the message it imparts at times. I remember being 15 years old and loitering at a bookstore with my best friend (one of our favorite pastimes), when I came across this book after not having thought about it in years. She told me she loved it and that it always made her sob. “Really?” I asked incredulously, because I literally had never cried from reading a book, much less a children’s story. She must have thought me equally strange, because she looked at me like I was the weird one for being skeptical of anyone crying at this book.

“I don’t believe you,” I insisted, and I opened the book and started reading aloud to her in the middle of the bookstore. Sure enough, to my genuine surprise, by the end, she was in tears and her face was red and puffy.

“Dude, fuuuuuck you,” she said. I looked around the bookstore awkwardly and felt pretty bad.

The Giving Tree is compelling because it is a tale of unconditional love and giving on the part of a tree, over the lifetime of a boy who eventually becomes a man. The boy/man takes everything the tree has to offer, until the tree has been stripped of her fruit, her branches, and her trunk, and she has nothing else left to give. Her love is apparently unrequited, because he never gives her anything in return. Seriously, he is sort of an asshole. I don’t think the book so much as depicts him watering her or providing fertilizer or anything.

When he is old and decrepit, she is nevertheless happy to see him, but laments she no longer has anything left to give. He states he does not need much at this point, and simply wants a place to sit and rest, to which she cheerily offers the only part of her left – the stump of her trunk that remains.

The ostensible moral of this tale is one of giving love without keeping tabs, which no one can deny is a positive way to go about life. Yet, something about the story never sits quite right with me, perhaps because the cynical part of me thinks this story glorifies suffering, martyrdom, and maybe even victimhood.

We are moved to tears until our hearts ache when we read stories or watch movies about unrequited, unconditional love, whether on the part of a lover or a parent, but the way it plays out in the real world is sometimes painful and ugly. Healthy relationships cannot endure an insistence on rigidly or constantly keeping score, but I would never want my child to be on the giving end of such a one-sided relationship. It’s not a recipe for a happy or healthy relationship of any sort. Letting someone constantly take without reciprocation at some point becomes a form of emotional abuse, doesn’t it?

Of course, this does not remotely mean I won’t buy this book for my child. In fact, I probably will, because it is stories like this that make life a bit more colorful. But as far as moral lessons go, it does leave one something to think about…