A Lifetime in Six Years

August 6, 2018 2 comments


Tomorrow, it will be six years since my mom died. It’s an unasked for tradition that my brain runs through the events of the weekend before her death, lingering in the heavier moments without permission. Grief, you will learn or will have learned, does not ask for permission. It is a feeling that simply exists, wailing of its own free will, corralled by nothing, but transformed with time. It never ceases to exist; it simply changes shape, twisting into something new. It is never something anyone can truly brace for, springing up at odd moments, without provocation or warning. What triggers the feelings can be predictable, but it’s the unexpected ones that leave me breathless. But, for this moment, I do not want to dwell in the pristine bits of sadness, whirling about.

This year, perhaps in an effort to combat all of that, I am choosing to remember the moments of kindness. Because in life, catastrophes are unavoidable, and you cannot run from the fallout, no matter how much you may try or wish you could. But there’s a lot to be said for the kindness of the people around you, who shows or steps up. In the intervening years, one person who mattered to me then is no longer in my life. While I could dwell on that fact, I won’t. A person’s absence in the present doesn’t dim the way the shined in the darkest moments of the past. For this particular instance, I am holding to the kindness.

My best friend, Kim, let me cry on her couch, drink her wine, and generally be a mess more times than I care to count—not because math is evil (it is), but because that’s not a debt I’ll ever be able to repay. Right now, reading this, she’s mentally telling me to shut up, because that’s not how we work. But I digress. Kim, after working overnight, came to the hospital and didn’t leave my side. I honestly don’t know how people exist without a best friend like her, because I would less of a person without her. She’s family. And she’s not only kind, but she’s also good. Plus, she’s seen me at my absolute worst—and seen me through it. Trust me, I’m a handful.

My insanely amazing friend Liz (and her sister Catie), who drove all the way from Montreal to spend a couple of hours at my mom’s wake, only to have to make the long trek back. It was the most amazing thing—a stunning gesture and effort, really. I mean, who does that? An exceptional human, that’s who. It was especially meaningful given that there were people who lived much closer who couldn’t be bothered. And Liz just showed up, like it was simply across town, and didn’t require a passport, a hotel stay, and an insane amount of driving. Liz is also family, and I do not say that lightly.

Lastly, I suppose, the person I don’t talk to anymore, whose voicemail I cried on (and I hate to cry), who called me at the ass crack of dawn to comfort me, and who keep an eye on me for a whole two weeks afterward. This person gives good hugs. Despite the ocean of nope between us (something that hasn’t really settled all that well, some days), I would’ve been even more of a wreck without those gestures, without the sweetness. They mattered then, and they still (even through the chaos) matter now.

Tomorrow, it will be six years since my mother took her last breath. I have learned a lot since then, some things I could’ve done without. I am definitely not the same person I was before that day. In certain ways, I am stronger. In others, I am not. But in looking back, the goodness of others still breaks through the dark. The people who made me laugh, when I didn’t think I could. The people who made me feel loved, when I was aching. The people who were sweet and patient, even when I was fragile and difficult.

Love you, weirdos. And that is the lesson, really: love. Love, when you feel it, when it seems impossible, even if it is difficult. Love is the one constant thing that cannot help but light up the dark. Not simply a lighthouse, love’s more like the sun: warm, illuminating, shining because that’s what it does. It simply is, asking for nothing in return.

And one last thing? There’s something Mr. Rogers said about looking for the helpers, when things go sideways. He meant it in a larger context, but the same applies to everyday life. When life turns to chaos, the people who don’t waver? They matter. It’s a reminder, too, that kindness is a type of superpower. It doesn’t come with a monetary value, but it’s damn near priceless.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Devil Whispers

June 25, 2018 Leave a comment

You start by taking—
small acts:
a shoelace, a ring,
a tiny belt. When the crying
begins, steel yourself
against feeling—
your orders are what they are,
and what happens
if you say no? Chaos,
anarchy, danger.
No, do not look into the eyes
of children, breaking
and broken, brown
and full of grief,
do as you are told,
follow the law
of the lawless—
do not waiver,
do not bend.

Begin then by building the wall
in your heart, brick by brick,
fill up the emptiness
with more hollow,
let what’s missing
become a solid thing:
soul, trickled down to nothing,
a riverbed gone empty,
a well dried up—
this is your legacy.

You start by taking,
until you see what you’ve lost,
what you have stolen,
what blood you have spilled
in the form of tears,
putting miles between
a child and her mother,
the unquantifiable distance
of grief far, far worse—
a wound so deep
that it has no measure,
and you have done this
and lived with it,
looked at your face
in the mirror and smiled,
laughed with your own children,
held them close,
sat at the kitchen table
with your own father,
playing cards,
as if there are no consequences
for your quick hands,
your loyalty
to the disloyal—
thank you.

You have done my work,
called it good,
labeled it just. God
may have created the world
in seven days,
but look at the heartbreak now,
and see what we have destroyed
isn’t it beautiful?

Categories: poem, Poetry, Uncategorized

How Horrors Happen: The Milgram Experiment

June 19, 2018 Leave a comment

Lately, I can’t stop thinking about the Milgram experiment conducted by Yale University. It’s been a while since I’ve studied psychology, but the details have stuck with me through the years. It was designed to test obedience to authority figures. Volunteers (teachers) were assigned to “shock” a learner—a person on the other side of the glass. For every wrong answer the learner gave, they would be shocked in 15-volt increments. The teacher was accompanied by an instructor who would prompt, coercively, the learner to always continue the session, no matter what. The learner on the other side of the glass (who was always noted to have a heart condition) was, in reality, an actor. No shocks were administered in reality, but the learner did not know that. (You can read more details here.)

The study essentially showed how people became Nazis—that the “just following orders” excuse was an unacceptable justification for atrocities. Decent-seeming people were not only complicit, they were active participants, accomplices in committing atrocities. Very few participants in the experiment (the teachers, the ones doing the shocking) halted the horror show. The goading from the teacher was enough to make a person commit the unthinkable—given that they thought the experiment was real. If given the full voltage, the learner effectively died. Ordinary seeming people committed atrocities not unlike those in Germany.

I’ve been thinking about this for days, seeing children torn from their parents. I’ve seen the photographs, and I’ve read the firsthand accounts. I’ve watched the response from different person in our government. I’ve seen a lot of flat out lies. “It’s the law” has become a common refrain, except the policy was only recently implemented by Sessions. Children are currently being used as a bargaining chip (we’ll stop enacting this policy, if the border wall gets funded). Some have even gone so far as to say what’s happening totally isn’t. And damn, that’s one thorough collective hallucination, right?

There are times where people are tested, and I’m afraid this is one of them. Anyone who justifies horrible, unforgivable actions (especially those perpetrated against children) as being some kind of Us vs. Them situation is not someone to be trusted. Children are not bargaining chips. Asylum seekers are not criminals. And playing fast and loose with the emotional wellbeing of parents and minor is unfathomably terrible.

Right now, this is all happening. And it needs to stop. We can be better than this. Remember that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Don’t do nothing. If you have questions, ask me. I’ll try to help.




Points of Change

April 13, 2018 1 comment

A few weeks ago, a weird confluence of things happened, and it made it think about some things. It made me wonder what-if, and it made me start to daydream. There are times where I have to remind myself that things don’t happen like they do in the movies. And even if they did, John Hughes isn’t directing my life. I don’t know if that happens to anyone else—a few moments of incredibly impossible maybe—but it happens to me.


No matter what, I’m a hopeful person. I cannot turn it off, even though I have tried. I don’t really know how to give up on dreams or people—especially people. Unless you’ve gone the way of Manson or been mean to someone I care about, I’m yours for life. I don’t waffle, except under extreme circumstances.


Depending on the person, extreme circumstances vary and are relative. There are social pressures, stigmas, concerns. When making choices, people often worry what others thinks, because society tends to be mob-like its viciousness. By which I mean, people fear change and dislike what they don’t understand.


But here’s the thing: people don’t have to understand the things you want in life. It’s not a requirement. Why? Because those in your life only need to accept your choices. It isn’t necessary, or even healthy, for everyone to agree on them. And I’m always reminded that we get one spin around this crazy hunk of rock. Tomorrow doesn’t come with a promise. The next second doesn’t. And in our lives, there’s a tremendous amount of power in our choices.


This brings me back to extreme conditions, or points of change. Moments—really, a series of moments, because nothing is ever one thing—that makes us stop walking a certain direction. Circumstances that shift everything, with one choice, whether it’s, “I’m not going to stay in this job anymore” or “I don’t love this person; I need to break up with them.” Fill in the blank with your current question mark. I suppose I’ve wondering a lot about what makes someone give up—on a dream, situation, or relationship. When is enough enough? There’s obviously no easy, clear cut, or standard answer.


This made me think about someone I used to know, someone I used to be close with. He could be the strongest person, but he was also the most scared. He kept his fear close to his chest, tethered, feeling it but rarely letting it be seen. Sometimes, he’d start to make strides in one direction—to go after what he wanted—only to put himself back into the muck, hitched to that anvil of terror. Over and over again, he’d make the same choices, the same mistakes. It was sad to watch for a lot of reasons.


I think the most frustrating thing is that it wasn’t that he didn’t have the courage. He simply allowed the fear to make his choices. There’s something so heartbreaking about the idea of what might’ve been. Potential, not snuffed out, but simply unseized.


I miss the person he could’ve been, but not as much as I miss the person he was, underneath all the armor and the mess. In those rare unguarded moments where he allowed himself to breathe. Sometimes, I wonder what might’ve happened if he made a brave choice and stuck with it. But like I said earlier, life isn’t like the movies. Jake Ryan doesn’t show up unexpectedly. No one is holding up a boom box playing Peter Gabriel.


But there are instances, however fleeting, of ordinary magic. And those are the surprises I live for, honestly. The swirling chaos that results in something truly miraculous. The raw honesty, the stumbles, the mistakes. The recognition that feels like a jolt, seeing and being seen. It can be terrifying, can’t it?


But we live one life. This life, right now and here. No one can reconfigure the past, scoop it out and make it Not True. Connections are never as simple as we try to make them, or unmake them. But that’s not the point. No, my final point is this: hope is a terrifying creature, unmistakable in its persistence, unflappable in its truth. There’s nothing unremarkable about it. It’s a thing that shines. And it sometimes finds us at the strangest time, years after the fact of a thing.


And just when you least expect it to, it starts to sing.

Categories: Uncategorized

but claimed, once

March 27, 2018 1 comment

These days, everything is under construction:
this street, my body three days a week
when I try to outrun myself,
the texts I write, over and over,
but don’t send,

The past, untethered, one moment
slipping down another,
pulled away, discarded
like old bones,
something unnamed
but claimed, once.

Now, everything starts
again, tentative
as a fresh spring,
new scaffolding
in the old foundation,
the blueprint of a spine,
the heart a map
of forgiveness.

Too many mistake softness
for weakness, chide the offering
of a struck match
for its ash
instead of its light,
but these days,
fragile and small
as an open hand,
pale as the first slant of sunrise,
things break,
but also chains—
here, listen:
something is calling,
a name on the wind,
lingering like a dream
you feel
more than remember.

Categories: poem, Poetry, Uncategorized

old love letters

March 22, 2018 Leave a comment

Is there a word
for the impact
of old love letters?
For the sucker punch
of a standalone
I miss you
that hits like a meteor,
playing all the old songs
across my skin, until
it is impossible
to think around
the feeling.

There you are, solid,
in writing, declarative
and definitive, vulnerable
and honest—
love full of chaos,
what never became nothing,
what always,
what still.

Is there another word
for silence
so loud
that it screams?
The way everything
across a heart, time
devouring itself,
a revelation
of unruly
and mess,
unraveling every pretense
of defense.

Here I am, looking
for you, as if I haven’t
always been. This is
the give in, the lean in,
the question unsaid
with a kiss—
tell me,
I can take it:
what do you miss?

Categories: Uncategorized

there are things I shouldn’t say

March 7, 2018 Leave a comment

At some point, you wake
with my name in your mouth,
a spark in a forest
long since burned,
a haunting of bones,
a car crash kiss,
stolen light
woven into the ghost
of longing,
you and I,
an arsonist’s lullaby,
every note, a sustenance
of stars, the curve of the moon,
hearts too big
for the night.

Let the memory fog up
like windows in summer,
the catch of an indrawn breath
obscuring all view, all thought—
why not take
with both hands, here
this trespass, there
the impossible,
always this
sacred space,
a blessing of salt,
a benediction of hip,
a reckoning prayer.

We are new reflections
of our old selves, imperfect
as every photograph
we never took, happiness
caught up
in the trap of time—
tell me, do you still love me?
Tell me, have you learned
to love yourself?

There are things I shouldn’t say:
I crave your mouth, your eyes
full of mismatched feelings,
our silence leaning
away from our hearts,
all the noise rushing in,
your voice carrying
further than it should,
something snapping
in my chest, a spell
breaking, hope
from a cruel curse.

It would be easy to end this,
to begin it again, possibility
spinning like an unsatisfied compass,
we could pretend
bending toward joy
is an unforgivable sin,
let the dust settle again,
familiar and easy—
but what is dust
except a reminder
of what isn’t there?

Categories: poem, poems, Poetry, Uncategorized