Conversation with My Mother

My Mother: And how was the wedding?

Me: Really beautiful.

My Mother: How nice.

Me: Yes, and it was rather interesting because my father's wife was there and also his first wife and also his third wife!

My Mother: Well, my goodness, I can't understand why in the world I wasn't invited... It's like breaking up a set!

Conversation With My Mother about Ceiling Fan

My Mother: Where are you going? Me: I’m on my way to Lowes to get a new ceiling fan.

My mother: Oh no... What happened?

Me: Well, at two in the morning I decided to turn off the fan at which point the light went on full blast and it woke up Brautigan who was very upset, yelling for the sun to go down, and then the fan started smoking and I must have dropped five f-bombs waiting for Chris to take the damn bulb out which was so hot he had to use a cloth, a cloth that wound up being Bruatigan’s brand new white training undies.

My mother: Oh, no... Well you listen to me, Jessica. You need to call that company first thing Monday morning and tell them that their fan almost burned your house down.

Me: Well I would, but I can’t find the receipt, so I’m not sure what to tell them.

My mother: Oh Jessica. If there is something to worry about, I can count on you to scour the universe and find it. Here’s what you tell them... You tell them that you shoved the receipt up your husband’s ass. Jessica... You don’t need to explain yourself to anyone. Just tell them you want your money back. That the fan almost caught on fire. And that you have a toddler. That’s it. Why on earth do you think the entire world is your jury?

Me: That’s a good point. I suppose you’re right.

My mother: Of course I’m right. So stop worrying about every goddamn thing. Or else you’ll have me to worry about. And you wouldn’t want that, would you.

Me: No, Mother.

 

To Be Happy

…And she realized she was old and alone. She wasn’t old really. And she was still beautiful if you took the time to notice but she was pretty sure most people didn’t have that kind of time. And there she was, walking down the street, holding tightly onto that tiny little three-year-old hand. How she envied his way of being alive. His other hand happily strumming along the slats of the wrought iron fence they were passing, giggling at leaves dancing in the wind. And yet she still couldn’t erase the image she’d seen of herself in the tinted car window they’d passed. So old so sad so damaged. What had happened to her? She gave herself the usual pep talk- there's only two ages, alive and dead. And she knew it was true. But still she wished for things to be different. How she envied her son, waving hello to slobbering dogs, stopping to celebrate a garbage truck a tow truck a dislodged chunk of concrete. Not needing to know there was anyone else doing anything better. And she felt ashamed for wishing things were different. It was such an old habit really. She’d been wishing for things to be different almost her entire life. Since the very first time she discovered all the other people who had so many more reasons to be happier than she did. And somewhere along the course of her life, she’d lost the ability to feel what felt good and mostly anguished instead about whatever she’d happened to be thinking about. No, not thinking. More like obsessing. Or strategizing. Well whatever it was, it rarely accomplished anything other than interrupting whatever pleasant feeling had already been there. Always reminding her of all the good reasons why she should be working harder to make things different. And there was her little boy, his little nose sniffing high into the air, announcing so earnestly how he could smell every single flower on the earth. And she was grateful for him, for reminding her to feel the spring breeze. And it did feel delicious. And she smiled. Even though in the background she wondered if anyone passing by still thought her smile was pretty. And then she no longer felt the breeze, only embarrassment and shame to still be wondering how she looked in profile to men half her age that she didn’t even care about anymore. Another old habit. To exist in the glances of others rather than through her own experiences of the world.

Her mother had told her that when she’d been her son’s age she used to say hello to everyone. Wanted to be friends with the whole world. Even she could remember being that way. Always wanting to connect with everyone, experience the beauty of life together. That was the original reason behind her beautiful smile. Not to lure the opposite sex into her bed. These people who'd been lured to her bed in the past had just been the only ones who’d noticed her smile or at least the only ones who had answered the call to connect to the best of their ability. But what she’d really wanted and still longed for was old-fashioned company. Nothing resembling the sad days of her own childhood but the kind of company she imagined from lifetimes ago when she'd laughed in meadows gathering things like nuts and berries with other women while their children happily played together nearby.  Way back when, before someone introduced the idea of something better to do and ways to make life so much easier in the meantime; back before everyone had thought themselves to death.

And this is what she thought about while being dragged by the arm by her excited little boy down the stairs and into the library playroom. To sit amidst all these other moms and nannies who didn't formally know each other but who looked so very much the same checking their emails in between smiling at whatever victory their offspring had achieved, getting up only to resolve the occasional tug-o-war over some prized piece of wheeled plastic, or to rescue their little one from some snot-filled potential case of measles. She felt badly for being one of those germ phobic moms. Hated her under-the-radar messages that other people were contagious. Yet how fiercely she needed to protect him from these others- from their ways of oppressing innocent souls with their criticisms their judgments and their germs.

Her own mother had never let her play with others.  Her own mother had never let her play outside for that matter. From the parking lot and into Saks was the extent of her outdoor experience. This was probably one reason she’d chose to live in the woods. In a rural area. Besides the fact that she’d found some miniscule amount of peace amidst the beauty of nature amidst the absence of people and her preoccupation with wondering whether they noticed or did not notice her existence, her potential. And she was able to appreciate her son’s love of the outdoors, digging till his nails were black, rolling down grassy hills smiling through dirt and leaves without pain, without fear of animals or bugs or their excrement. But still in the background she felt alone in the woods just as she had in the city. Just as she felt no matter where she was. Abandoned by everyone. Forever fantasizing about some grand elsewhere amongst people she felt connected to.  Truly connected to. People she could sit with on a giant gingham tablecloth spread out on some community patch of grass delighting in each other’s aliveness. A dream she’d held onto for years. And yet could never get close enough to see with her own eyes. And now time was slipping away. She could feel it.

When had she gotten so old?  She remembered so clearly wanting desperately to get older- longing for real homework, for her driver’s license, for college, to graduate from college. And then she’d finally entered the real world, armed with such a beautiful collection of meticulously carved out plans for her life. Plans she treasured and with secret confidence, secret assuredness, knew she’d turn into her future. But once she’d found herself surrounded by the world, she didn’t quite know how to let her secret out. And others didn’t quite have a clue it was even there. And she began to wonder and then doubt if she’d really had anything as glorious as she’d been so sure she’d had after all.

And then somewhere along the way, she realized time was passing. And quickly. She could literally feel it speeding up, the seasons spinning around and around as if down the drain of a flushing toilet. People all of a sudden began treating her differently; her grandmother who’d been so sure she was destined for Broadway was now asking how she was going to pay the bills. And then there was the time she’d mentioned to her mother how a friend had started stripping to make some extra cash so she’d still have time to do her own thing during the day, and her mother had gasped, She's too old for that!  But they’d been the same age. It was the first time she’d been too old for anything. And it hurt to imagine it was true, that even something as ridiculous as taking off her clothes in public had become out of her league. And so she’d tried to slow things down, to find whatever brakes she could and screech them to a halt. But things still went faster. And there came a rush to live life. To hurry and make those secret dreams come true before it was too late.

And then she'd met her husband. Who didn’t really have any dreams as far as she could tell. But who could still feel the breeze, and didn’t need to make sure another knew he’d experienced it to make it valid or beautiful. And he’d driven her to the mountains Upstate and to the woods and they’d hiked barefoot over rocks and roots and she’d fallen in love with the wildness of her own feet traipsing along the earth and yet she’d still been obsessed, wondering if she was pretty enough charming enough. Thankfully she’d had the self-control not to ask and she laughed to herself years later when he’d told her how much he appreciated that she’d been able to quietly enjoy his favorite places with him. And then one day she'd overheard him telling a friend how he'd designed a ring.  And she'd felt so sorry for him, for not noticing she’d been close enough to hear. For his inability to notice anything going on around him, really. To even see who she really was. Or that she’d been suffering. And because of this, she hated him. Not entirely. She’d eventually had a child with him after all. This little boy she adored more than anything, more than even all the glorious plans for her future. This little boy who was presently running so self-assuredly over to a crying little girl on the other side of the library to ask what was wrong, if she was ok, if someone took her ball. How she envied her son. For already being so aware, but with the autonomy not to make everything about himself. How she wished she could be more like him. More present. More content with what already was. More than anything, she wanted him to be proud to have a mother like her. Maybe it wasn’t too late to make her dreams come true after all.

But if it never panned out… then what? Maybe it wouldn’t be such a nightmare. She did love so much about her present life. She loved being a mother, loved that she and her son still slept together, cuddled and whispered jokes that only they could understand while her husband snored in another room. And she was grateful he was ok with this arrangement, grateful that he adored the relationship she had with their son and grateful he knew he was always included. But yet she was secretly starving. Not like the people her friend had been feeding in West Africa but starving in an American way. Stripped of her connections to the earth and to all the others who lived there until she couldn’t figure out where she belonged or who she needed to be to feel worthy of spending time with. The people she called family were all a tedious phone call away.  And they never seemed in a hurry to visit, preferring to send checks or gifts instead. She couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t have wanted to be there with her. Why they so stubbornly refused to be the family she wanted and needed them to be. And yet she felt ungrateful to want more. But all she did was want more. And she hoped her son wasn't picking up any of it. Thankfully it didn’t look like he was, playing so beautifully at the train table with a boy around his age, saying excuse me instead of pushing him down as they vroomed around and around, singing together – choo choo! Perhaps his joy made him immune to all negativity. At least so far.

And in a chair nearby, sat this boy’s mother, smiling, asking how old her son was. Wow, almost the exact same age. It was so hard for her to make friends with other moms. And yet there they were, talking about diapers. How both their sons were still wearing them. She’d decided to be herself, she was too tired not to, and so she shared her horror of public restrooms and to her surprise this other mom not only laughed but pulled out of her lovely diaper bag a portable potty and then unlatched it so that it popped up into position right there. And they’d both laughed. Maybe they could be friends, she’d thought. Maybe they could get together for a weekly play date. And then she felt ashamed. To feel so desperate for companionship. Not only for her son but for herself. She was too old for these feelings. And besides, this woman used a straightening iron and lipstick. How could she be friends with someone like her? She hadn't used a blow dryer since before she'd gotten pregnant. And there she was again canceling out a possibility before trying.  She did this constantly.  Her best ideas took only a few more thoughts before she realized they would never work out. She was incapable of making friends. She’d become too strange, too damaged from too much time alone. But what about her son, her son who just put his pudgy little arm around this other little boy and said, You know, I used the big boy potty this morning, while this other little boy said, Wow, looking so very impressed.  She had to laugh. And the other mother was also laughing. They’re so precious together, they both agreed. And then she did it. Suggested they get their boys together sometime. And she’d agreed. And they entered their numbers into their little phones they’d both still been holding onto and she felt a little lighter washing her son’s hands in the bathroom before heading back upstairs and back outside.

And her son ran down the long ramp that he ran down everyday because he loved to run. Loved it so much that he laughed out loud the whole way. And she wondered, what did she love?  She wasn’t sure she even remembered. She'd long ago forgotten how to play. She had only a memory of shiny brown buckeyes, wanting to touch and gather them and bring them home, but having her arm pulled nearly out of its socket by her mother who always had something better to do.  Had she turned into one of those women? One of those women whose todo list had gotten the best of her?  Who became furious, almost murderous every time her husband left a mess? But who could blame her, really. She could hardly handle that her dreams had all but fallen apart; she was not about to let the one thing she did have, her home, turn into anything less than perfect. And she called out to her son, reminding him to stop before the street, and he stopped in his tracks, out of breath, Did you see me, Mama, did you see me running so fast? And she was glad that she had seen. Glad she could multi-task between the incessant narrating of her pain and her pure delight with this little boy. And she smiled and kneeled down to kiss his nose. I love to see you run, she told him. And he took off her glasses and stared so sweetly into her eyes with kissing noises that she returned. She was always happier when she couldn’t see too far. When she was physically unable to see the everything beautiful and happy out there that she was so sure she was lacking, the only frown in some giant dance of laughter. Maybe there was a reason she was born nearsighted. So she could focus instead on her son’s beautiful face, those bright blue sparkling smiling eyes that looked just like her own. And she realized she was happy. Yes, she was happy too.  And suddenly her heart felt so full she didn’t know what to do with herself so she started to worry about losing him. The most terrible horrible thought she could imagine. Maybe that’s why she chose to think so much. Thinking was the cushion that protected her from the unbearable pleasure of the present moment. And she held her son. Told him how much she loved him, cherished him. And he said he loved her too. So much. And she thought about what her mother had accused her of the other day while they’d been on the phone, after she’d finished broadcasting yet another stream of worry. “You’re guilty of dissecticide,” her mother had yelled. “Off with your head!” And she smiled because she knew her mother was right, even if it was probably all her fault. And she took a deep breath and felt a space inside herself; the space she’d abandoned. And so she took another breath. And another. Until she was back beneath her flesh instead of out there, in some no man’s land looking at herself through all the imaginary critical eyes from her past. And she was grateful to remember that through her own eyes her life was beautiful. And she prayed not to forget again that she was worthy enough to be alive, to feel happy right where she already was. But of course she did forget. And then she remembered again. And then sometimes she’d forget to remember…

 

Conversation With My Mother

My mother: ...Well, if he wants to come over to my place and give me a quaalude, I’ll gladly take one. But he’d have to leave me the fuck alone. Me: That’s terrible, Mother. And besides, I don’t believe they even make quaaludes anymore.

My mother: Xanax will work.

Me: Oh boy.

My mother: There’s nothing wrong with a little Xanax every now and then, Jessica.

Me: If you say so.

My mother: Darling, we live in a world where sharks are falling from the fucking sky. I think it’s the right of every human being to take a Xanax if they feel they need one.

Me: Well I think there are more natural ways to calm one’s nerves.

My mother: And I can tell they’re doing wonders for you, my dear.

Me: I’m not taking any, Mother. 

My mother: Well maybe you should.

Me: Actually I was thinking of trying some kava kava.

My mother: Don’t. I read something about kava… it can be very dangerous.

Me: So you’re telling me that kava kava is more dangerous than Xanax?

My mother: Yes, I believe so. Because by the time you take enough kava to calm your nerves, you’ll probably have consumed the entire bottle, where as if I took a single Xanax, I’d be able to sleep the entire night.

Me: Maybe, somehow, you have a point.

My mother: Oh, you are so green.

Me: If you say so, but I’m at the store now, so we’ll have to continue this conversation later.

My mother: Very well. Be careful, darling. 

Me: I will.

 

Bounce House Hell

It was inevitable. I crossed paths with one of those bouncy houses. Brautigan took one look at it and nearly fell on his knees begging to go. Since he’s only three, there was no way in hell I was going to let him in by himself which meant it was going to be the two of us. We waited in line behind this six-year-old who couldn’t keep his hands to himself, kept ear-muffing the kid next to him with the palms of his hands.

Finally it was our turn. It was no big deal. We bounced for three minutes and it was over. But then he spotted the bouncy house next door. This huge thing with a giant bouncy slide. Brautigan had to go on. There was no changing his mind. So we waited in line. The guy who was supposed to be in charge was flirting with some teenage girl. I asked, ‘Should we go in now,” and he said, ‘Yeah yeah, it’s fine.’

So we crawled along this maze thing until we arrived at a little foam climbing wall. We climbed up without much trouble and slid down this little slide. Not so bad. Then, we crawled along this other maze and arrived at a big climbing wall, like 8 feet tall, and that’s when I said to myself, ‘What the mother fuck was I thinking?’ Brautigan took one look at it and turned around. I said, ‘Where are you going?’ and he said, ‘I’m not doing that.’ Little kids were coming at us, charging up the climbing wall. And I knew we had no choice but to turn around. There was no way I could heave myself and my child up that climbing wall. So we backtracked till we got to the little slide and I hoisted Brautigan up to the top without much problem but then there was me. I couldn’t climb up. I kept slipping down. I tried again and again all while holding Brautigan steady at the top so that he wouldn’t be trampled by the scores of oblivious kids siding down. Brautigan looked worried. And that’s when I realized I was in a life/death situation. So I made a growling noise and tried once more with all my might to climb up that slippery germ infested foam wall but I still couldn’t do it. Brautigan’s eyes got wide. ‘Can’t you get up, mama?’ he asked. ‘Of course I’m going to get up, my love.’

As a last resort, I dismantled a piece of the velcro foam that held the slide together and finally, heaved myself up. By this time, I was sweating and shaking but I grabbed Brautigan and finally we escaped into the sea of smiling crazed looking children at which point Brautigan saw the giant Bouncy slide again and said, ‘But Mama, I thought you said we could go down the big slide!” Thankfully at that moment an airplane appeared in the sky so I said, ‘Look! A plane!’ and as he said, ‘Oh, wow!’ I picked him up and ran him to the car.

Conversation with my mother on Mother's Day

My mother: I thought of an idea that you need to write about. Me: What?

My mother: What if… on your birth certificate… it not only stated the day you were born but also the day you will die.

Me: Mother, that’s a terrible idea!

My mother: Why? Don’t you think people would live their lives differently knowing how many days they had left?

Me: I don’t think so. Personally, I’m feeling completely anxious just hearing about your idea.

My mother: Oh Jessica. Is there any thing that doesn’t give you anxiety?

Me: No. Not really.

My mother: Well, you know what should also be written on your birth certificate?

Me: What?

My mother: That you will be anxious every single day of your life. That you will never know what it’s like to wake up in the morning with a sense of well-being and peace. And because you have longevity in your genes, you will be living a longer than usual life with this horrible anxiety encompassing your every single day.

Me: Now, that I could handle.

My mother: Figures. Well, my darling, I need to start heading over to St. Vincent’s DePaul’s before it gets too beastly hot. So go and enjoy your mother’s day. Because you are the world’s most wonderful mother, as well as the world’s most wonderful daughter.

Me: Aw, thank you, Mother.

My mother: Don’t thank me, Jessica. You know how very unfond I am of your thank yous.

Me: Well, Happy Mother’s Day to you too, Mother. I wish we could be together.

My mother: There’s nothing I would want more.

Getting Out of Things

You know what I’m good at? Actually, let me cut the modest crap. You know what I’m a genius at? Getting out of things. I’m not kidding either. Late fees, library fines, parking tickets. Here’s a true story: I’ve had 43 parking tickets dismissed, including four tows to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  I’ve been getting out of things my whole life, really. Appointments, exercise, meditation, you name it. I think it stems from post-traumatic stress, from being addicted to the feeling of sailing away from something I dread. It makes sense. For most of my life, I never liked being where I was, so I became an escape artist to get out of what felt intolerable. But the trouble is— if you get out of everything, you never really find yourself in a world you’ve gotten into. You just swirl in some ethereal circumference, zoning in and out of the past and dreaming up marvelous futures that somehow never arrive. This all changed though when I had a child. A precious baby boy who was handed to me and placed upon my breast like a little sandbag, forcing me for the first time in my life into the present moment. I think I held him the entire first year of his life. Really, I think I was afraid to put him down. That I’d start running again. And I never ever wanted to run away from my baby. To get out of being a mother.

One of the first things I noticed being present is that most of my moments were filled with this unpleasant sensation like something very wrong was happening but I couldn’t remember what. And I’d have this intense urge to get rid of that feeling. To reach for something chocolate. Something bready. The phone. Amazon.com. Facebook. All the things that pried me out of my moment but left me homeless in a manner of speaking, with only places to feel better or worse inside of, yet none to feel cozy in. But with a sleeping baby in my arms, I couldn’t leave so easily, and slowly, I started to surrender. I’d still feel uncomfortable and reach and pry for a way out, but after the 200th time checking my email, and the 200th time checking that my son was breathing normally, and the wondering if I’d ever make any of my dreams come true or if it was too late, I’d look at my baby’s sweet face and remember: There’s nowhere to go. And I’d climb into the moment with my child and stay there, and enter a richness that was too fulfilling to leave. And in that moment, my heart felt so full, like it did when I was real little, before I’d been hurt by life. When I used to feel excited to wake up in the morning, not because there was something particular going on, but because I enjoyed the feeling of being alive. And it felt so good to have that feeling back and to share it with my precious child. And I’d pray for the moment to never pass, which of course it always did. But I’d meet up with it again when I surrendered on some other occasion to the seemingly cruel truth that there was no place to go.

I’m still not present all the time. I’m hardly present at all, really. The land of right here/right now is still a tropical island that I only vacation to occasionally when I forget that I don’t need time off or any plane ticket to get there. But I pray to visit more often. Because if I can give my presence to my little boy, then maybe he will feel cozy here and never try to get out of it like I did.

 

The Origins of Happily Ever After

Once upon a time there was an anguished cave mother who finally couldn't take it anymore. Every night, she’d arrive back to her cave after hunting and gathering all day long, ready to fall asleep on her cozy boulder, but every night, without fail, her little ones would insist on a story before bed. And back then, without a book to close, a goodnight story could go on and on until almost dawn.  In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for poor prehistoric mothers to miss out on sleep entirely because of little ones begging and pleading for the thousandth time, “Please Mama, tell us what happened next!!! Please, Please, Please!!” But one day, this particular anguished mother just couldn’t think of what happened next.  “But Mama,” the children cried. “You have to think of something more!!!  We need to hear what happens next so that we can fall asleep!”  And so the mother furrowed her bulging brow and tried to imagine what in the world she was going to say, and a moment later, through her lips, a very hoarse voice uttered:  “What happened next, my precious ones???  They all lived Happily. Ever. After.”

After this, she waited, saying nothing more.  She dared not to move even a finger for fear of stirring these blessed creatures.  She just held her breath and waited.  And waited.  And finally, she heard a snore.  Yes. To her utter amazement, the children were asleep. And she tiptoed with delight back to her boulder and also went to sleep.

Of course, in the back of this mother’s prehistoric brain, she knew very well there was no such thing as Happily Ever After.  All of her other stories confirmed that life wasn’t so simple as to be lived Happily Ever After.  Not even grass lived Happily Ever After.  But instead of feeling guilty, she told herself it was just a story, after all.  And it put the kids to sleep for God’s sake.  And everyone needed some rest.  And so she did it again the next night.  And the next night.  And from then on.  And slowly, this mother’s bright-eyed and bushy tail got the attention of other cave mothers in town.  And so she began to share her success.  And pretty soon the entire village began ending their stories the same way. And pretty soon, all the children were going to sleep at a decent hour.

But… there was a minor problem.

All the kids began believing that everyone was going to get their very own happily ever after, too. And the mothers became anguished once again.  Day after day, they cringed, watching their beloved little ones aspiring to such rubbish, talking to each other about what their happily ever afters were going to look like.  And so these mothers decided to get together at a secret town meeting.  “You know what,” one of the well-rested mamas said. “Maybe these little S.O.B’s really will figure out how to live happily ever after—why should we ruin a good thing??”  And before the meeting was through, all of the other mothers nervously agreed.  And so, it was settled.  Happily Ever After lived Happily Ever After.

And from that day forward, generations upon generations of children continued to regurgitate this very flawed concept to their offspring, without ever even imagining it was just a great big lie to get a poor mother some rest.  Little did those ancient mothers know that one day, the whole globe would be paved, often times burying whatever was already there, by people looking, with bleary-eyed hope, for some semblance of that Happily Ever After they really and truly believed in.  Good night.

by Jessica Kane ©2015

Conversation with my Mother About Ebola

Me: I’m upset.

My Mother: Why?

Me: I’m embarrassed to tell you. But I have to get it out of my head.

My Mother: Go ahead.

Me: I was in Starbucks just before and I used the public bathroom and after I had been in there a minute, I realized that the whole room smelled of vomit and that the floor was wet and now I can’t stop thinking that the person had Ebola and that I’m probably going to get it and give it to Brautigan.

My Mother: (Laughing.)

Me: It’s not funny. My Mother: I know it’s not, Jessica. I’m not laughing at you. I’m just laughing at how fucking hysterical the news is making everyone. It’s not you, ok??

Me: Ok.

My Mother: But I want you to listen very carefully. This is your germaphobe mother speaking.

Me: I know it is, that’s why I called you.

My Mother: You are not in Texas. You do not work in a hospital. You have not been on a plane. It was probably just some bulimic who ate too many pieces of cake.

Me: Ok.

My Mother: And if you really are the sort of person who cannot handle putting themselves into situations that could… not likely, but could potentially make you sick, well, then you do like me and you use the bathroom before you leave home.

Me: Well I live an hour away from civilization.

My Mother: Well, then this is what you will have to do. Go and buy yourself some latex gloves, some really large latex gloves, and every time you go into a public restroom, put one over your head, and don’t forget to cut the thumb off so that you have some air to breathe. What are you laughing at?

Me: I don’t think I’ve laughed this hard in months.

My Mother: I’m not kidding, Jess. In fact, I think you should call Playtex. Well, first get it patented and then call. The thumb could even have a little filter on it with room for a little charcoal tablet. You just have to hope that nobody comes into the bathroom while you’re wearing it.

Me: Thank you, mother.

My Mother: Laughter is the most powerful antioxidant. Never forget that.

Me: I think you’re right.

My Mother: Of course I’m right. I’m always right. Now stop listening to the motherfucking news. And think instead of those poor, poor people in West Africa. I mean, can you fucking imagine??

Me: No.

My Mother: Neither can I. So let’s hope and pray that the angels who are over there risking their fucking lives to transform this fucking hell stay healthy, and let’s hope that all the greedy politicians and profiteers get the hell out of their way and quit convincing themselves they’re doing equally important work. And let’s hope and pray that humanity as a whole will finally realize that until every single human life is valued, there will be no motherfucking peace for any of us. Every human being deserves the right to live a dignified life, don’t you think?

Me: Yes, I do.

My Mother: Of course you do, darling. Now go and bleach your head and call me when you get home.

Me: Ok. Goodbye, Mother.

The Veteran

There’s this man who comes to the local general store as often as I do. I come to write. And he comes to eat, read the newspaper, and talk to people. At first, I dreaded seeing him. He is old. Wears a Veteran’s hat with pins and stripes all over it. And the way he masticates his liverwurst sandwiches is enough to make me, if I didn’t care so much what others thought of me, hurl something at his elderly liver-spotted head. He always forgets his hearing aid and is always talking about the Decline of America in a voice made for at least 30 people to hear. And he licks his finger to turn the page of his newspaper and then touches things I could potentially touch. But it’s funny. As time has passed, seeing him every day, he has become someone familiar. And the something familiar he’s become has become a source of comfort. I’m ashamed to say I used to sneer at him when I’d hear his phlegm-ridden cough with little bits of animal organs flying out in my midst. Now, I feel a softness about him. I hear his stories. Every time I’m in here, a new one. People sit with him to listen to his stories. He’s had a life. A long life. He’s got great grandkids. A dead wife. A government that never appreciated what he’d really wanted to do for his country. He’s real. He’s more than the liverwurst that could have gotten on me.

How to Have Manners in your Marriage ?

The people I get along with best are the people I am polite with. Manners almost always ensure a hospitable relationship. I used to be inclined to imagine that good behavior in general was inauthentic. Mostly because of the fact that you can be polite with someone and still despise them in the privacy of your own thoughts. But these days, I think of manners more like posture. A deliberate necessity to avoid offending others with our various forms of slovenliness. The problem though, is how to be on good behavior with someone you live with and conceivably love? It takes a lot to be on good behavior all day, but then to do it all night? When my 3-year-old finally goes to sleep, sometimes all I want to do is blob out all over the place, stand at the counter and shove whatever I can find down my throat, and give anyone who comes near me the finger, especially that son of a bitch I married.

I think that’s why most relationships end. Because most of us, at least me, rarely practice good manners with our spouses. Well, unless we’re around other people. I can understand how it happens. The whole reason I got involved with my husband in the first place is because I wanted to have at least one person in the world I could be myself with. Someone I could share everything with- all my childhood stories, my secret wisdoms, my fears; someone I could feel relaxed with, vulnerable with, comfortable being naked with in every which way. But as you get deeper with someone, how do you put the brakes on before the other person discovers that secret fierce fucking animal within who will shit in your proverbial boots if you fuck with them? I just don’t think it's possible.

You can’t live with someone for any extended period of time without this animal emerging. It’s just what happens when we take off our designer clothing (or in my case my pajamas). When we are naked, it’s inevitable that we will release unthinkable things from our depths. And it probably won’t take long before those things get flung at each other.

I think resentment in relationships probably begins when one person first bears witness to another’s beast within. We think, ‘How could they treat me like that!? Have they no manners? Everyone else gets to see them at his/her best, and I get this… monster?’

My husband and I both know we should behave with dignity towards each other. We have both attended seminars, read brilliant wisdom-filled books and articles about conscious relationships, but our animal sides could give a fat shit. When my animal within sees my husband at night lying on the bed with his computer like a side of butchered beef instead of taking out the garbage or at least asking if I’d like a massage, I’m not thinking not to take him personally. I'm not thinking, "The light within me bows to the light within you." I’m already saying out loud something like, “You are a fucking slob. I can’t believe I married such a lummox!” And then he’ll look up at me and say, “Me? I’m a slob? Let’s not forget when I first met you, you had fleas in your bed!” And I'll say, “Well, isn’t that funny. I didn’t have fleas in my bed until you started sleeping in it!!”

I think my favorite moments with my husband are the ones where we treat each other as strangers. Not passing strangers. But more like two people who maybe have been stationed at the same refugee camp. We are on the same survival team. We have good ideas for how to get things accomplished. We are resilient. We are busy. And can make each other laugh really hard recounting all the trials and tribulations we overcame at the end of a really hard day. It doesn’t happen often, but these are the moments I’d want more of, if I could figure out how to have them. When we are polite enough to give space for the animals that we are to roam peacefully.

Thought on World Peace

When I hear people baffled and horrified about the Palestine-Israel situation, it makes me think of that expression, they are the way they are, because I am the way I am. It makes me think of my own much smaller scale Israel-Palestine conflict. The wars I wage on a much more local level. Where words and grudges and judgments are bombs. Where secret moments of dishonesty and manipulation are my strategy. I think about how long my own peace treaties last. Not long. And I wonder if I had more resources at my disposal, and more people pissing me off, if I could be capable of sending larger bombs, if I could be capable of figuring out more complicated ways of burying people. Peace is easy for me to imagine on a global level, but it’s hard for me to mandate in my immediate vicinity. I see myself protecting what I’ve fought for years to claim as my own, spiritual and psychological and emotional things that mostly exist beneath my own flesh. And I’ve been an emotional terrorist, secretly wanting to wipe out everything about another person that is getting in my way of being free. Even if my battles involve the people who share my blood, or the roof over my head, it still prevents peace from happening. And if there isn’t peace in my own home, or in my mind, how can I expect there to be peace in the world?

Love Thyself

Last night, I fell in love with myself for the first time. I’m convinced that this falling in love with myself had to do with a suffering, near-corpse of road kill that I passed by earlier last night.

It was on the Northway, this large black furry object, with a heartbeat so terrified, that it moved the whole furry thing up and down like someone was pumping air in and out of it like a balloon. And my thought about it was sadness. Because I realized that he didn’t want to die. And as cars were roaring past him, laughing, and throwing their McDonalds out their windows, this single creature on earth, on the side of the road, was struggling to survive, to catch his breath, and his life.

And the surge of this something that I was feeling became embedded deep within me. I’m not sure it was embedded physiologically... but certainly into the meat of my spirit. So that perhaps now, I have, as part of my core, the remaining fire of the black-furry-corpse on Interstate 87.

But anyhow, late last night I was in bed when it hit me, this profound experience of falling in love with myself. And it wasn't one of those conceptual experiences that I’ve had while eating chocolate croissants and drinking coffee. It was one of those profound experiences that shifted my perception and the colors of the room. It began with a realization: Oh my God, I’m not going to get to be with me forever!

Previous to this moment of falling in love with myself, I had spent much of my energies hoping other people would take on this vocation. (And spent hundreds of hours shedding tears when I wasn’t successful in these endeavors.) But last night, when I was alone with me (and perhaps the fiery remains of the soul of the large black furry corpse) I realized I had never tried to get me to fall in love with me before… And I had to chuckle.

And it was at that moment that I became to myself like a wife of a soldier going off to war. I wanted to hug myself and appreciate myself and be there for myself before something horrible happened and I’d never get to ever again. And I exclaimed to myself, I love you! Never have I said such a thing! And don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t out loud so that my husband could hear. But I exclaimed it inwardly and felt myself sink down into myself, till we were resting under what felt like an apple tree on a beautiful breezy spring day. And yes, I loved myself. And generously shared space with myself. And I am still sharing that space with myself. At least I think I am… It may have worn off just a bit at the moment… Perhaps because I’ve always kind of thought that to love oneself is a silly and indulgent thing to go on and on about. Better to talk about loving thy neighbor instead. Perhaps, though, this is because I never really understood the importance of loving thy self. But maybe it’s as simple as this: “Love thyself, because one day thoust won’t have a self to love.”

An Emergency at Starbucks

I’m at Starbucks, where I occasionally find myself when my husband has a day off to play with our son. And everything was normal. The air conditioning was on. It was cold. I was working on a section of my book. Trying to get creative assistance from chocolate and almonds and green tea. Basically, I was one of several people doing what we usually do in our status quo Starbucks moments. When all of a sudden, there was a siren. A loud siren. The fire alarm. Suddenly everyone’s realities were interrupted and we all looked around at each other, smiling in a way we wouldn’t have without this sound of emergency. We had curious eyebrows, wondering if it was a test. But the alarm wasn’t going off. And it was loud. Everyone was covering their ears. And then, we were all asked to leave the café right away. And I wondered if this really was an emergency. Immediately I felt more grounded than usual. I imagined this must be common for people when something very important is about to happen. Not important like an email sent on accident or a business opportunity gone awry or a toddler running like crazy instead of sitting still. But really important, like the difference between living and dying. I thought about the man who’d been in front of me in line while I was waiting to order my green tea. He’d been talking to his woman friend in a really serious tone about how the last time he’d been in another Starbucks, there’d been a woman in front of him who’d asked for a ‘medium’ instead of a ‘grande’ and that the barista said to her, “Are you kidding me?” I wondered who this guy would be in a real emergency. If he’d finally have something more substantial to use his seriousness for. I imagined he’d probably be the one covering the small toddlers with his big belly to save them from falling debris. Now we are all outside. The manager is panicked, trying to explain to new customers who want lattes that the Starbucks is temporarily closed. The crowd is growing. People’s conversations are meandering away from this potential emergency and back to real estate, stubborn husbands, and the weather. And now it’s just been confirmed. There is not an emergency. The manager has just explained that one of the baristas accidentally leaned on the fire button when she was reaching to throw away her leftover chai. And that the fire department should be turning off the alarm any… ahh, now it’s off. He has unlocked the door. Everyone is getting up, ready to return to their seats.

Now I’m back in the air conditioning. And I kind of miss the siren. By all means, I’m not saying I wish it had been an actual emergency. It’s just that sometimes, it’s refreshing to imagine being called forth toward a larger purpose than just having a good attitude amidst all this American status quo.

Mouse Poo

There is no wrath like a mother discovering mouse poo in her child’s car seat. Living in a rural area, having mice in one’s car is nothing unusual. They can fit into a quarter-sized space and can smell a leftover puff or piece of dropped banana a mile away. We used to have all these wonderful owls on our property and I hadn’t had a mouse in my car since before I got pregnant. But for whatever reason, those owls flew the coop and those pesky mice came back. I was so upset when I found the little black dollops of their presence. I shook my head in disgust and my two-and-a-half year old asked if I was sad and I said, “Yes, I am a little sad, my love, because mice were in our car.” “Mice? What did they do in here, Mama?” “Well, if you really must know, darling, they poo poo-ed.” “Poo poo-ed? They should wear diapers!!” “I agree!” Though I have never been a fan of killing my enemies I would have had no problem setting as many traps as could fit in my car, but after some research, I learned that killing mice rarely solves the problem, because there are always more mice. But I learned there is a way to keep them from your car or home: mice despise the scent of peppermint. So, I bought a bottle of peppermint essential oil, dripped some on some cotton balls, scattered them all over the car. The following day, there were only a few drops of poo, by the floor vent in the passenger side of the front seat. And sure enough, the following day, it was the same thing. And I realized that’s where they were coming in! They must have been entering in their usual way, and upon smelling the peppermint, shit their little britches and about-faced! I can’t count too many things that have given me as much satisfaction. And, since then, all I do is dribble some peppermint oil right on that little floor vent, and we have been mouse-free. So far.

The One-Eyed Crab

Do you ever have one of those moments when you inadvertently disturb your own child? A man at the park gave my two-and-a-half year old a stuffed animal. It was in our small town so nothing disturbing there. Except when we used it a short time later to dry a wet swing and noticed it was missing an eye. My son got so upset and so I said, “I know he only has one eye, but I think that makes him special!” And my son looked at me with curiosity so I continued, “He’s special because he’s got a story to tell! Don’t you want to know what happened to his other eye?” He nodded, still looking curious so I went on and this is what came out of my mouth: “Who knows what happened… maybe a mouse came and ate it!!!” Poor Brautigan, he immediately dropped the toy, held his own eye and looked horrified beyond belief. I tried to tell a better story to fix the first one but nothing redeeming was coming out and I kept laughing at my own stupidity which I’m sure only made the situation even more confusing to my poor boy, but thankfully, a low flying goose came by and I was able to divert his attention.

Conversation with my Mother

Mother: (after diatribing for five minutes) …I mean it, Jess, you must cleanse your lymphs… It could be the difference between life and death… And it’s so damn simple. All you do is stand like a scarecrow and flap your arms and… Brautigan: Oh, bother.

Mother: What did he just say?

Me: Tell grand-mère what you said, baby.

Brautigan: (smiling) Oh, bother.

Mother: Well!

Conversation with my Mother

MOTHER:  I spent a dollar today. ME: What did you buy?

MOTHER: A china cock.

ME: A china cock?

MOTHER: I believe that is the correct terminology for a male chicken.

ME: You bought a porcelain rooster?

MOTHER: I did. And you should see him, Jess. He’s wearing all hand-tailored clothing.

ME: Sounds interesting.

MOTHER: Very. He’s wearing this wonderful, wonderful pair of overalls that crisscross in the back, and a long-sleeved cotton shirt, with a collar that’s buttoned all the way to that thing… that long red thing that hangs under a cock’s neck… and he’s got a big orange beak and a big red comb on his white china head… and black china talons.

ME: Sounds like a real find.

MOTHER: Don’t knock it.  It is. And I’ve placed him in the most prominent spot of my kitchen. It’s a good day, darling.

ME: Well, that makes me happy, Mother.

MOTHER: It will be in Brautigan’s inheritance.

ME: You know I hate when you speak like that.

MOTHER: Well, I’m not going to be around forever.

ME:  Aww, you know what Brautigan just did?

MOTHER: What?

ME:  Lately he’s been taking my glasses off and putting them on Chris’s face, and he just put them on yours, well, on the telephone!

MOTHER: Poor thing.  When he finally meets me in person, he’s going to be traumatized.  I’ll have to hang a cordless phone around my neck.