Walk a mile…

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She said, “Girl,

you need to break out of your comfort zone.”

I was confused.

Comfort zone?
I have NO comfort zone.

She was saying this
in response to my

previous confused look
as she rattled off directions,

in Chinese, of the good store
to buy clothes for my daughter

who is suddenly growing like a weed.

I had only been living in Shanghai a couple of months.

And then I started thinking…

About the first time I went camping around

the state of Arizona,

and then backpacking alone
in Alaska
without a plan,

going to an ashram in the Adirondack Mountains

without a penny in my pocket,

my two years in Peace Corps

sleeping on the floor
in a house I shared

with a 7-foot snake and 2 tarantulas

that didn’t pay rent.

Living with an abusive husband,
and going through chemo, radiation,

no voice, feeding tube,
and not even able to drink a drop of water;

I am a single mother, living in Shanghai

with my two preschool daughters

and this might be the most comfortable time of our lives,

But I wondered how a person’s perception could be so skewed.

And then I thought about Charlie

this guy I met in the ice cream aisle of the store.

We were both buying vanilla ice cream

because we both were recovering from throat cancer

and that was exactly ALL that we had in common.

He said, “I am really good judge of character,”

and then proceeded to tell me how he completely understood

“how I am building walls,”

“How I am cutting myself off from people.”
and “How I am turning away my friends.”

He got the same confused look.

–from me.

I had never been so surrounded by friends.

I had friends paying my insurance bills,

paying my rent,

taking care of my girls,

bringing food and money,

cleaning my house,

and checking up on me

all day, everyday.

George Bailey had nothing on me.

But this man Charlie,
had told the same bad joke 3 times
to 3 different people

and was so negative and off-putting

that I just didn’t want to talk to HIM.

I understand projection.

I understand perspective.

My Mohican friend, Mike, gave me

my third-stage Native name

of “Standing Wave.”

He said it’s that place in the river

where it looks calm as glass on the surface

but below there’s a rapid undertow.  

He always saw me so clearly.

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Adding Insult to Injury

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Adding Insult to Injury

He waited there

in all black

With a copy of Burrough’s Naked Lunch.

He didn’t read it.

It was a prop.

I, in my best work dress, came in

With every pay stub for the past six months

In chronological order,

Proof of insurance, day care bills,

Government assistance,

My lease, birth certificates, social security cards,

And a host of other documents

That I was threatened to have.

When we were brought in

to see the magistrate

She complimented him

For showing up.

She asked him about his unemployment issues

Then likened him to her own son

Who had to move back home with her.

She opened our case folder

With the big red “Domestic Violence”

Stamp across it.

“I really sympathize with your situation.”

She said to him.

“I hope it gets better for you soon.”

She didn’t look at my folders

Painstakingly gathered and formed

By my O/CD and fear

That I didn’t have every required document.

Finally she looked at me.

And awarded me

$50 a month for our two baby girls.

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In God We Trust

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And you have decided that you are some

conservative, NRA card-holding,

xenophobic, homophobic,

misogynistic, chauvinistic,

fearful bully.

You pull out bumper-sticker quotes of

Jefferson, Madison, and Paine,

And you don’t even realize that they were

a)    Not Christian

b)    Out of context

c)    Not even their quotes

Read a history book.

ANY history book!

You argue that the government will take away

your Bible, your rifle, your freedom

–whatever that means to you

but you don’t mind if it takes away

the rights and freedoms of my friends.

You say, “Speak English!”

Did your great grandfather speak English when he got here?

You say, “Close the doors!”

As if the Statue of Liberty means NOTHING?

You say, “take off that scarf,

they all look like terrorists,

You can’t build here,

you can’t live here…”

“But don’t you dare touch my Bible –I have rights!”

And you know “those guys?”

Well, they’re just unnatural.

That’s just not right.

Because our God,

The one who hung out with prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers

And other “undesirables”

–Did you read that book?

Yeah, OUR God, says it’s wrong.

I know back then

it was all about polygamy, slavery, rape and pillaging

–but that so doesn’t count anymore.

And OUR God was ok with that.

–But two men –well that’s just wrong.

So we need to pass laws to save you

From going to our hell.

And so he would preach Christian family values

The way it used to be (segregated and suppressed)

To ANYONE who would listen –and agree…

But when his little girl wanted to say grace in the restaurant,

“Thank you God…for the grasshopper I saw today…

Thank you God…for healing my boo-boo last week…”

He finally interrupted.

“Can you do that later?  I’m hungry.”

Fortune Telling

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Each card was slowly turned over.

The first revealed change.

the second was fortune,

and the third showed reward.

So I said to him that there was

This great opportunity in China…

“It’s dangerous.”

The money is four  times what I’m making now…

“People disappear.”

I’m being actively recruited…

“The state department has travel warnings.”

I will have a prestigious position in a huge company

With amazing benefits…

“You’re not thinking about your daughters.”

OK.  GLOVES OFF.

What?

Explain anything you just said

That doesn’t apply to America

–or anywhere.

I have been sexually assaulted –twice,

Robbed in my sleep,

And beaten right in my hometown.

I have had my wallet, 2 bikes, a TV, camera, 2 phones, and lots of money stolen.

I know 2 college boys who have mysteriously disappeared,

Different years, different states, different circumstances.

There have been three mass school shootings in the metro area.

Hell!  Ariel Castro lived just blocks away!

And it’s the state department’s job to issue warnings

For EVERY country:

Pick-pockets, internet scams, faulty contracts…Cookie cutter

Every country says the same

Except the UK

–check that one out.

Three times the warnings…

(Note to self

–don’t go to the UK

—oops, too late!)

“I thought you said Thailand was going to be

all ‘wine and roses.’” He said.

This position, this possibility, this opportunity wasn’t even

In my realm of understanding.

And it’s being handed to me.

And then, my closest,

oldest friend of about 35 years

unfriended me.

What I really wanted to say was “take the plank out of your own eye

Before you try to fix the speck in mine.”

But instead, I say this:

“Hold out your hand.

One day, you will be given a gift,

A complete surprise, that will bring you joy.

Be prepared to accept it.”

I don’t want to be the one

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I am at this place in my career

My life,

My motherhood,

Where I am at a loss.

I’ve been a teacher for 22 years

And a student my whole life.

I love research.

I love history, anthropology, religions, literature….

I love digging deep into people’s lives

And how they live or lived.

What was it like?

I don’t read —

I DEVOUR books!

Especially history.

I wrote a paper once about how awful it was

That Bloody Queen Mary beheaded Lady Jane.

I mean, everyone knew she was just a teen-aged puppet

And had no interest in the throne.

I sited 10 sources on the injustice.

And my professor wrote,

“You’re too sentimental”

across the top of my paper.

I hated him.

To me, history wasn’t dead and removed.

They were living, breathing people with experiences

I could share,

understand,

empathize…

And I’m home-schooling my girls now

–which I love.

–which I’ve dreamed of

–which I’ve planned for

–in my head –

for years.

But I am at this point

After 22 years, that…

I don’t want to be the one

Who tells them they are different.

That they have a different history than I do.

I find that I avoid certain movies and TV shows

Because I don’t want them

to question why

people don’t like them because

God colored them with a tan crayon.

(That’s what my little one says).

You see, to them,

It’s not black and white,

it’s shades of tan and peach.

I don’t want to explain

Slavery

The underground railroad

The Trail of Tears

Reservations

Jim Crow

segregation

Freedom Riders

Trayvon Martin

Oppression

Suppression

How arbitrary it is that our last name is Womack

Just because it is the last name

of the last white man

Who owned their great-great grandfather

Before the Emancipation Proclamation

And he didn’t bother to change it.

This name,

handed down through years and generations

Means nothing!

We live in Thailand and China

And they are different

Because they have curly hair.

They are different

Because they are foreign.

They get their pictures taken by strangers

20 times a day.

They are like movie stars.

When we buy groceries,

When we eat out,

When we walk around,

“Stop a minute, this lady wants a picture.”

“Stand next to his daughter there, he wants a picture.”

“The waiters want a picture before we go, girls.”

Mostly, the Asians just want an excuse to touch their hair.

So “different” to my girls, means “Special.”

It means beauty.

It means people love you for how you look.

–Shallow, I know.

But I don’t want to be the one to tell them otherwise.

I don’t even want to put the idea into their head

That there IS an otherwise.

I don’t want to be the one to tell them

That once, they could have been killed for how they looked.

Once, they could have been taken away from me.

That before 1967,

their father and I couldn’t even get married.

That even now,

Especially now,

In this second Civil-War-divided country,

people might think

Or say bad things about them

Even though they don’t know who they are.

That not everyone thinks they are beautiful.

I don’t want them to be naive.

And I have ALWAYS been honest with them.

But, I don’t want

To be the one

To teach them this.

Aside

Random

When my doctor told me I had cancer,

He cried.

He had to have said this lots of times.

Why did he cry?

He knew I was a vegetarian for 18 years.

He knew I was a vegan, for most of that.

He knew I was a yoga/qi gong instructor.

He knew I had two toddlers at home.

He knew I was a teacher.

He knew I never smoked,

didn’t drink,

Never even like to take a Tylenol.

“I don’t know why this happens

To people like you.” He said.

“It’s so random.”

I just remember feeling hot and blurry

Peeling off my jacket, my sweatshirt, my socks…

Just a thin t-shirt and jeans,

And I wondered

why did I try so hard

To be healthy.

It didn’t matter.

I could have eaten processed food:

Campbell’s soup and Kool-Aid–

Just like everyone else.

It didn’t matter.

But I didn’t blame God

Like everyone said I would.

I thanked him.

I thanked him that it was me

Because I could have NEVER

Survived watching one of my little girls

go through what I did.

I knew I could handle it.

I could handle anything

Except

Seeing my little girls go through

the torture

the retching pain

the sickness

their curls falling out…

The only “why?” I asked was

Why did he want me silent?

Barely able to bang on walls

For attention.

Why my throat?

I never liked my breasts.

Cut ‘em off!

My ovaries are no longer useful.

Take ‘em.

But my tonsils?

My voice?

Interesting choice.

But thank God it was me.

Random

12 Letters

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“Can we call him?”

“He doesn’t have a phone, sweetie. He lives in a small room with just a small bed and no window.”

“We can’t type on the computer?”

“Nope, there are no computers.”

“Can we visit him?”

“No, he’s very far away and you aren’t allowed to see him.”

“Well, can I send him a picture?”

“You know what? I don’t know. I think maybe you can. Let’s look it up….Yes, there is an address right here.”

“Can you send him this one? It’s a mermaid with wings. Can you tell him what a good swimmer I am, but I wish I could fly. And tell him I miss him.”

“You got mail!”

“I did? What does it say?”

“I miss you too my beautiful daughter. I think about you everyday, my beautiful daughter, and I love your beautiful art. I taped it to my wall. Your beautiful mother tells me…”

“Mommy? Why does he keep ‘apeating himself?”

“I don’t know. That’s just the way he writes.

“Mommy, I want you to tell daddy that we are moving to Thailand, and tell him that we have to fly on a plane for a long time far, far away, and it will be very hot there. And when it’s morning for him, it will be night time for us. But I don’t want to send him a picture this time.”

“Ok. You don’t ever have to send him a picture, and you don’t have to write if you don’t want to.”

“I know.”

“We got a letter.”

“What does it say, mommy?”

“It says that he is happy that we are going, and that we will have a good life there, and that it will be every good for us.”

“Where’s his letter to me?”

“I guess since you didn’t send one, he didn’t send one back.”

“I want to send daddy this picture of a prison, but look, you’re in our kitchen in Thailand making potato soup, and the police smell the soup, and they leave the door open to come here, and daddy escapes, and he comes here too because he can smell the soup…see? But I don’t think you made enough soup for all of those people!”

“That is really sweet! But let’s find a picture of what prison doors look like. You can’t just escape.”

“I was just pretendin’”

“But it was a good story though.”

“This time I want to send him a picture of my birthday. See, I put 5 candles on the cake. I don’t think he knows it was my birthday last week.”

“Sweetie, he was there when you were born.”

“Oh, really? Do you think he just forgot, then?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, send him this one and tell him I had a mermaid pool party and it was fun. Tell him I love Thailand and I can swim everyday, but I still wish I could fly. My fairy wings don’t work. They are just pretend.”

“We got a letter from daddy! I wanted to call you at work, but Pi Mon wouldn’t let me…What does it say, mommy?”

“…It doesn’t have any part for you this time. It just says that he doesn’t want to write anymore, and goodbye.”