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Green flash/blur

I’ve always had a very good memory, apparently gifted to me by my astrological sign (cancer, scorpio rising), my personality type (INFJ, enneagram 4), and the crinkles in my brain that created nice clear pathways to all the boxes of facts and records and impressions of my life. I remember my favorite dress in first grade (white knit turtleneck dress printed with tiny cupcakes), riding in the back of a pickup truck on our way home from preschool, my parent’s work phone numbers from 1981 to 1996 (Western Medical Center, Southern California Edison), home and relatives’ addresses flung across the western United States. I remember the details from our old houses and the moment each of our animals died and being at eye level with the front counter at Angel’s Hardware in Huntington Beach on trips with my dad to buy nails. The taste of orange frosted donuts on Saturday mornings, the supreme comfort of lying on the beach wrapped in a quilt while my teenage sister was out surfing, blissfully floating out of my body while accidentally kissing the lapel of a button down shirt the first time I lay down to make out with a boy.

Now there are times in a space of a year or two that have been smudged out of focus, white and soft like overexposure in a photo. I try to knit the timeline back together to make a straight line but am unsure of the exact sequence. I don’t remember how I got to the hospital the few hours before my mom died, but I do remember canceling a dentist appointment from the airport gate in Portland in anticipation of something happening. I remember every minute in the hospital when we were called to come in. I don’t remember Michael arriving in California that week for the funeral, but I do remember the terrible stucco hotel room we stayed in and that I couldn’t sleep in the bed; I had to move out to the tiny love seat in the living room area and watch cable and breathe recycled air.

Kelly and I went fishing with my dad on the San Clemente pier. Or it might have been Michael and I with my dad. Or it might have been the four of us. It might have been slightly earlier on the timeline, with my mom home watching garden shows and breathing in, breathing out, machines on lights on timer on to signal her next medication. It might have been slightly after, with her bathroom drawers barren and clothes neatly folded in black trash bags in her closet.

At sunset on the pier we might have fished using my dad’s poles, the same poles we used as children on a boat back when my mom was home watching garden shows but breathing freely, moving freely, luxuriating in the peace and quiet and freedom to feel angry over such inconsequential annoyances as discarded socks or dried food stuck on the tine of a fork. But I don’t remember casting out the line with the pole; I don’t remember baiting a hook with the same pride and confidence I felt at age 8 — pushing the point through the rubbery flesh of squid or half-frozen anchovies. We might have just thrown out a few crab traps as an excuse to sit on the pier and wait and look out at the water, creating space to talk if we wanted to, our eyes all equally focused on the horizon. I do remember walking away from the pier, maybe on my way to the restroom or to grab a sweater from the car, and turning just in time to watch the sun dip completely into the water. I think I stopped to watch, not even able to form the thought as it happened: the sun disappeared and the sky flashed lime green. Not enough to notice if you were in the parking lot or paying for french fries at the snack stand. But enough if you held the possibility in your head and were looking toward the sun. I vaguely remember running back to my dad to yell that I saw it, but I don’t remember whether he had too, if anyone else with us had. And I don’t remember if he missed his big chance, whether he had ever seen it in the 60+ years of his life, at least 20 of those spent daily on the water or with his feet in the ocean as a bait fisherman, or on one of the trips with my mom on cruise ships (the only way she’d be on the water) on which they sat dutifully at sunset each night waiting to see the flash. I don’t remember.

What you were like upon turning 7:

  • You still prefer wearing only your underwear while at home. If it’s very chilly, you’ll drape your “cozy blanket” around your shoulders, but you’re usually active — doing cartwheels, doing handstands, dancing — so only unders it is.
  • Right now your favorite music is Angel Olsen, the B-52s, Shrek the Musical soundtrack, Annie soundtrack, Moana soundtrack. You sing them all unself-consciously, sometimes so soulfully I have to sit down to listen.
  • You pull your gym mat out almost daily to do cartwheels or handstands.
  • You draw women and girls all the time. You seem to be most interested in their fashion. Right now you love a “look book” workbook that has pre-printed women’s faces and bodies on which you can draw hair and make-up and clothes.
  • You went through a serious sewing phase, both by hand at school and using your Christmas present machine at home, but it’s cooled lately.
  • You’ve been trying out the word “fuck” lately — to yourself or carefully surrounded in quotes. Last night I made the bad decision to let you yell it several times while I drove you in the car, thinking it would help to release them all, but I think that probably just makes it stronger.
  • You self identify as a brown person. You perceive me as different from you because I am fair skinned. It sometimes places a barrier in our family: you and your dad vs. me. I don’t know how to navigate that.
  • All of the sudden you are sophisticated in a way I didn’t expect until your teenage years: you believe you know best. I am uncool. I am here to embarrass you. You don’t need help and are exasperated when I offer it.
  • You do not regularly brush your teeth.
  • You are not a tidy person. You hate cleaning/tidying up your room more than most anything and will do anything to postpone it. Somehow you are much more likely to get injured/suddenly feel pain from an old injury once I’ve asked you to clean your room.
  • You and your dad wrestle several times a week. You are usually in your underwear; your further occasionally changes into jogging tights and the Encinitas tank top given to him as a gift. He usually plays the “Let’s get ready to rumble” song, and you two spar on our bed. You hit your head on the wall/kick your dad in the face/fall funny/knock something against the bed frame corner 70% of the time.
  • You and your dad dance several times a week. Lately you’ve liked “shadow dancing” the best, in which you stand on the high chair in the kitchen in the dark, and your dad shines a flashlight and plays songs for you.
  • I like going out with you the best. I like walking down a sidewalk holding your hand and stopping to sit at a little table with something to drink or share. I like embarrassing you by hugging you too hard at stoplights or forcing a dance step in public. I like singing with you in an aisle at the supermarket or fake fighting.
  • You have the uncanny ability to detect when we’re upset. You ask for a hug when I need one or something doesn’t feel right between us.
  • You still won’t take any classes. You say you already know how.

Houseguests

We’ve been hearing something scratching away in the middle of the night. I think it’s coming from a wall or down below; Michael’s convinced it’s in the attic. At night we cock our heads in opposite directions and hold still in the dark, like birds. He lies back down to drown out the sound with snoring. I push my ear to the wall. I wander out in the dark to lie on the dining room floor and listen. I did the same as a kid when sure my parents were discussing me, and the sound was similar: muffled, soft at the edges, hard to make out, more than casual eavesdropping. Are you just making a nest for yourself to ride out the cold snap, or are you chewing a gaping hole to let your buddies in? Do you have a taste for electrical wire? Are you rat, mouse, squirrel or raccoon? Michael would give raccoons and squirrels free passes to stay, at least until it got warmer. Rats and mice must go.

The other night Michael opened the kitchen door leading to the garage, turned on the light, and saw at least 4 rats scurry into the corners. “This is war!” he said. I stood in the doorway to find out what he was up to. He started walking into the garage and one ran past him. He pushed me out of the way to cower in the kitchen. “I’m buying traps!” he yelled half at me, half at the rats. “And we’re getting rid of all this stuff so they won’t be able to hide,” he said, waving his arm at everything stuffed into the garage: neglected scooters, emergency rations, Tupperware boxes of my childhood, stand-up paddle boards, toolboxes, forlorn beer-making equipment, sleeping bags, bags of quilts, art supplies. To punctuate this he opened the garage door to see if they would run out, turned off by the threat of dismantling their broke-down palace. It just let in a lot of freezing air and forced the rats into tighter hiding spots.

Last night Michael asked me to go up in the attic to look for animal evidence. It isn’t clear why he wouldn’t do it himself, although 1) he’s afraid of heights, 2) he pulls the “you’re a feminist, why don’t you do the house maintenance” bullshit regularly, 3) seeing a rat causes him to scream and run. I zipped up a parka and put on the hood and put on a headlamp and hoisted up my dress hem to climb into the attic . Because I was wearing a work dress and tights and slippers, which seemed important to retain for some reason at the time. The attic is about 4 feet high in the tallest parts and covered with insulation circa 1954. I walked along 2x4s and wooden boards, tracing the flashlight beam along the corners. Michael and Mari stood below in the hallway, looking up, asking if I saw anything. I lost the fear that something would fly at my head; there was nothing. I stayed up a little too long just because I wasn’t at all afraid and knew Michael would be. I set a trap. I climbed down the ladder with dust clinging to my tights.

This morning Michael yelled from the kitchen, “one down!” I asked him if he threw it out. “After I eat my breakfast,” he said, shaking his head. Mari ran in to the garage to get a good look at it — curled, small, dead.

Things I have been doing while it feels like the world is falling apart

I drink beer. I drink wine.

I stopped looking at Facebook. I’ve been looking at photos of my daughter when she was a toddler.

I bought a subscription to National Geographic Magazine in my daughter’s name.

I bought a subscription to New York Times online.

I donated to Planned Parenthood.

I donated to Southern Poverty Law Center.

I watch benign reality TV: Rupaul’s Drag Race, House Hunters International, Skin Wars, Project Runway.

I eat a lot of candy.

I’ve been wearing predominantly black.

I regularly trot out all the surefire, tried-and-true things that make my sad: mom ghost, cat ghost, global warming, relationship with my dad, cancer, financial crap.

Yesterday I wore my high school Doc Martens to my job as a professional lady. It gave me so much comfort to wear them, like I was easing back into myself or touching a truer sense of myself. Or subtly flipping off my job as a professional lady.

I really want to quit my job.

I find most comfort in drawing. Hours go by and I then I slowly drift back down to earth.

When I lie down to sleep I miss my daughter so much I want to get up to sleep beside her.

During the day I just want to be holding my daughter.

I left my friend’s birthday dinner early because I couldn’t curb my crying. I instantly regretted it but knew I wouldn’t be able to keep it together. I drove home and sat at the living room table and drew for an hour, then got back in the car to pick up my family still at the birthday dinner. My family was waiting on the front porch for me when I arrived.

I thank my lucky stars for Michael.

Stations of the cross-stitch

Every year in April it creeps in with a sense of duty and purpose, more significant than the random reminders and memories: a woman’s voice on the radio and a woman standing in line at the grocery store with the same haircut. Viburnum blooming. Your pajama top making its way to the top of the stack in my drawer. Mari noticed your perfume bottle for the first time atop my dresser this weekend, and when I sprayed it we let the scent hover in a ghostly cloud between us for a few seconds before leaning forward to breathe you in.

Every April I run through each station:

Something dissolved in you so that impending death could flow freely through your body, among platelets and oxygen-deprived cells, through the organs that labored to keep up. You stopped fighting over the fried chicken and cake you wanted for dinner but couldn’t have thanks to a recent diabetes diagnosis. You chuckled at the concept that your body was giving out and even then, even still, you weren’t allowed to have a fucking piece of fried chicken and cake.

You started having extraordinary dreams. Dreaming of flying. Dreaming of swimming in the deepest jewel-blue water with your long mermaid hair surrounding you, with the babies that were never born falling in line beside you like dolphins. Never mind you were terrified of water. Never mind you hadn’t properly swum since age 7.

I came to visit for a weekend. I could sense the change in you, and while there was resignation there was also peace. I can only think of two times when you grabbed my hand as an adult: once while terrified and riding in the backseat of a car as Uncle Nick sped up on corners of winding San Francisco streets, truly fearing for our safety; and while lying in your bed watching television that night. In both cases the handholding connected us amid outside dangerous forces — we were in it together. You’re my mother. Your body is more familiar to me than anyone’s; I know the path of the blue veins along the backs of your hands better than mine. We lay in the dark and held hands and I couldn’t feel the velocity of the outside forces at the time, but you did.

You woke up in the middle of the night, and I don’t know the entire story, but maybe you couldn’t breathe anymore (despite the yards and yards of tubing connected to the tanks and tanks taking up space in the living room behind that folding wall) or maybe you had a stroke or maybe you saw something extraordinary, but that was the last time you ever saw home or your robe hanging on the bathroom hook or the potted flowers and tomatoes in the backyard that we would kill the following week from neglect and unseasonably warm temperatures, all from the vantage point of a gurney with an oxygen mask strapped to your face.

Maybe you knew this was it. Maybe you were thinking about fried chicken and cake as they started up the morphine drip that met up with impending death in your veins, and you smiled from behind the even larger, full facial oxygen mask they strapped to your head. You held Dad’s hand and squeezed as social workers stage whispered planning for hospice care, the option to place a hospital bed in the living room where we once placed Christmas trees.

Dad finally called me on Sunday morning, a day and a half after your being admitted. He left a voicemail message while I ate waffles at J&M Café with Michael and Lael. Standing on the corner in the sun, I listened to a recording of Dad crying but didn’t connect that this might be it. Michael and I walked to the car and I called the hospital room to tell Dad I was coming. He put you on the phone, hilariously, and from the whoosh of oxygen and morphine I heard you say “okay” in a sing-songy voice.

At the airport I called my dentist to let her know I likely wouldn’t make my appointment on Tuesday because my mother was dying. I told my dentist but I don’t think I told myself. I don’t remember the plane ride or getting a car or how I found my way to the hospital room.

You were awake with your catcher’s mask on, and I don’t remember what we could have talked about, but I didn’t think this was the last hour I would see you. You did.

Dad went home, exhausted, and Kelly and I stayed while they got you ready for sleep. I remember having to hold your mask on your face as they gave you pills? Or your nebulizer? And I was so afraid of your losing oxygen that I pressed the mask to your face altogether too hard, and then I kept thinking of your skin and cheekbones, your face, how you were slowly leaving your body. You asked for a sleeping pill and we watched you take it. We hugged you. I tried to find a patch of face I could kiss but it was taken up by the mask. I might have held your hand. We really didn’t think to say goodbye.

You died about 2 hours later. I hope at the time you were swimming in jewel-blue water.

7 years ago today.

Before child, before ghost mom. April 8, 2009:

50 LITTLE SECRETS –
Be honest no matter what. Then tag at least 20 friends.

[ONE] Who was your last text from?
“what’s the rumpus? you catchin some rays?” -Lael

[TWO] Where was your default pic taken?
Buffalo, NY, 1979

[THREE] Your relationship status?
He makes dinner; I wash dishes. He pays for Internet; I pay gas and electric.

[FOUR] Have you ever lost a close friend?
Yes.

[FIVE] What is your current mood?
Taxpayer’s remorse. My heart is heavy and my bank account feels gutted.

[SIX] What is/are your brother(s)/sister(s) names?
Breasts of fury

[SEVEN] Where do you wish you were right now?
Under quilts in an enchanted beach house. AM radio + English breakfast tea + noisy heater + open windows

[EIGHT] Have a crazy side?
The extent of my crazy is doing cartwheels indoors.

[NINE] Ever had a near-death experience?
I thought I was going to drown once and was surprisingly okay with it.

[TEN] Something you do a lot?
Now that my hair is longer, I find myself twirling it a lot. Totally annoying.

[ELEVEN] Angry at anyone?
There was a fella playing a game on his cellphone while driving (he had the phone balanced on top of the steering wheel) that really got me going. I want to invent a carhorn with different honks to fit the occasion, such as the “I can’t believe you’re really going to play a game on your cellphone right now, bub” honk and the “no parking on the dance floor” honk.

[TWELVE] What’s stopping you from going for the person you like?
A deep, deep insecurity spanning 28 years.

[THIRTEEN] When was the last time you cried?
I cry all the damn time.

[FOURTEEN] Is there anyone you would do anything for?
Meatloaf. Dude could use someone on his team.

[FIFTEEN] What do you think about when you are falling asleep?

[SIXTEEN] Who was the last person you talked to on the phone?
Conference call with Ma and Pops. I love them.

[SEVENTEEN] What is your favorite song?
I’m bad at picking favorites. I really have no idea.

[EIGHTEEN] What are you doing right now?
Sitting at my desk. Plucking a white hair from my dress. It’s mine.

[NINETEEN] Who do you trust right now?
I’m a pretty trusting lady.

[TWENTY] Where did you get the shirt you are wearing?
Totally shirtless, dude.

[TWENTY-ONE] Have you kissed someone in the past week?
And he kissed me back!

[TWENTY-TWO] Who is your friend that lives closest to you?
Michael?

[TWENTY-THREE] Describe your life in one word:
Pudding.

[TWENTY-FOUR] Who are you thinking of right now?
I had a dream Grandma Far Away was on a road trip with a whole bunch of us, and she kept escaping out the window to stand on top of the van ala Stiles in Teen Wolf. I just remember seeing her beige orthopedic sandals balancing on the window sill.

[TWENTY-FIVE] What should you be doing right now?
This is really cutting into my daily breakfast blog-a-thon.

[TWENTY-SIX] What are you listening to?
My cubicle mate is eating something crunchy and it sounds like his teeth are SHATTERING.

[TWENTY-SEVEN] Who was the last person who gave you a hug?
Michael Bland

[TWENTY-EIGHT] Who was the last person who yelled at you?
Michael Bland? He was kidding, though.

[TWENTY-NINE] Do you act differently around the person you like?
I use a British accent and bow a lot.

[THIRTY] What is your natural hair color?
Dishwater

[THIRTY-ONE] Who was the last person to make you laugh?
Michael Bland

[THIRTY-TWO] Who was the last person to make you sad?
The lady behind us at Fred Meyer last night could have really used a hug.

[THIRTY-THREE] What do you hear?
Rampant typing.

[THIRTY-FOUR] Is your hair curly or straight?
Pretty straight.

[THIRTY-FIVE] Has anyone ever called you “scrumptious” before?
Every day.

[THIRTY-SIX] Do you have a best friend?

[THIRTY-SEVEN] Held hands with the opposite sex in the past 3 days?
Sometimes in the dark.

[THIRTY-EIGHT] Do you use smiley faces on the computer?
Staunchly against.

[THIRTY-NINE] Have you ever changed clothes in a vehicle?
Not in a long, long time.

[FORTY] Are you happy with life right now?
Except for that whole tax business. I could have gone to Australia with the money I just sent off.

[FORTY-ONE] Are you currently jealous?
I saw a kid this morning with the most delightful bowl cut, and lord help me I coveted it.

[FORTY-TWO] What jewelry are you currently wearing?
Wedding ring on left hand, pearl ring on right. You should take a look at this belt buckle, though. Humongous enamel leaves that latch together to create good vibes all over my midsection.

[FORTY-THREE] What were you doing Friday night?
Drinking wine out of a coffee cup while sitting on a park bench overlooking the sea.

[FORTY-FOUR] Have you ever had your heart broken?
A couple times.

[FORTY-FIVE] Have you ever broken someone’s heart?
Afraid so.

[FORTY-SIX] Is there anybody you’re really disappointed in right now?

[FORTY-SEVEN] What was the last reason you went to the doctor for?
I’m going to the dentist in 20 minutes. I haven’t been in 4 years. I’m really nervous.

[FORTY-EIGHT] How late did you stay up last night and why?
Midnight? Michael was making kugel and knishes into the wee hours. Which has nothing to do with how late I stayed up I guess.

[FORTY-NINE] Have you ever dated someone longer than a year?
Yes.

[FIFTY] If you had three wishes, what would you wish for?
1. My mom to be healed
2. Animals can talk
3. World peace