Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Seven Months: The Second Act

Recently we decided to attempt the dreaded long drive with Quinn. Since we've gone the parenting route with Lucas, we've already dealt with some of these situations that you must avoid at all costs. With a baby under two, it's inadvisable to take a road trip that may last longer than a couple of hours. The air can turn foul very quickly. Quinn is no exception and our recent trip to Mammoth Mountain and back was a firm reminder of this vital truth.

Quinn doesn't have a thermometer that measures incremental progress. She simply goes from a pleasant seventy-two degrees most of the time, then accelerates rapidly to scalding. We'll we made it most of the way down the mountain but about 100 miles from home she suddenly grew tired of her carseat. She started moaning, then proceeded to grunts and bursts of disdain, after that came the baby cursing between cries, until finally plummeted into madness; the wail of the lost. Now, that entire progression only took about eight minutes to come to completion and there was no consolation or games involving cute voices that would bring her from the depths. She had reached maximum capacity.

After a few minutes of pointless shushing followed by another ten minutes of "God, I can't believe that we still have an hour until we get home!" racing around my head, I noticed that Xtimu, our fearless driver, was chanting in the front seat (it was actually difficult to hear beneath the airhorn). I suddenly realized that that this was the best recourse, so I started to chant as well. Then, before I knew it, Lucas started to chant and it wasn't until Lucas began, that Quinn actually stopped her drama to listen to him.

It went like this. Lucas chanted and Quinn stared at him like he was a message of stunning clarity and then she noticed that I was chanting and she stared at me for awhile. It was a weird, kinda spooky, moment in the dark, with the night lights cascading across her tear-stained cheeks and the voice of the universe accentuating each hitch of a sob that caught in her throat. She was mesmerized and it was mostly because her brother was chanting for her.

I've been a Buddhist for almost ten years now and the words that we chant are Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. They are the title of a the Lotus Sutra, which is one of the final teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha (Siddartha), the original Buddha from India whose philosophy is the foundation of all forms of Buddhism throughout the world. The branch that I follow is Nichiren Buddhism, based on the writings of a Japanese monk from the thirteen century who expounded on the tremendous value of the Lotus Sutra as a doctrine for all humanity. Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo means to connect to the mystical aspect of the universe that is based on a cause and effect. We do this through sound. Chanting these words help me to understand myself and become in tune with the rhythm of the universe.

For a brief period, I saw these words have a profound effect on my daughter and although I can't recall Lucas being affected by these words in such a way when he was younger, I don't think that it is a coincidence that it was his voice that helped her calm down. Quinn has a special soul (don't we all?). It's very apparent when she smiles or the way that she holds herself. She has a sweet calm awareness that brightens the room. I feel my heart swoon when I'm around her, I grow softer inside and begin to appreciate the small things. She loves kisses and hugs and baths and sleeping right up nest to you. She embraces everything around her with wide open eyes and an eager searching that comes right out of her core.

She also loves her brother immensely. She stares at him with such intensity, it amazes me to watch them quietly at work; Lucas playing with a puzzle, while his every movement is scrutinized hungrily. She adores him and I have a feeling that as they grow, she will be a doting sibling that will do anything for him. This is both beautiful to me and a bit scary, since Lucas is both a sweet angel and a mischievous imp but this is the exact reason that I wanted to have two children in the first place. I wanted them to grow together, to carry a special bond between them that cannot be touched by anyone else. I wanted them to share their hearts from these primal moments of awareness that infuse our lives with a richness unknown, beyond memory. I wanted them to cherish each other until their dying days.

I never was able to feel any of these things and there's a part of me that misses it, though I can't even imagine what it is I miss. That night, on the road, I glimpsed it for a moment as Quinn's eyes searched her brother's face, drinking in the steady rhythm that flowed from his lips.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


Part Two

Smothered again, in his choices, in his demands, in his fleshy stench, in his horrible opera, in his privilege. The smooth beast of a machine that exemplified their wealthy aspirations delivered them to an aphotic asphalt parking lot that requires you to slip a folded five dollar bill through a slivered hole in a wood box, not the valeted reception they were used to. Sylvia almost felt sorry for the car as she perceived its futile attempt to blend in with the unexceptional variety of vehicle that shaped the spaces in the lot. For a moment, she almost demanded that he take her home, unsure of whether she could stand the adventure that they'd likely discover once they returned to find the mammoth automobile stolen but the pure joy of witnessing his savage anger was enough to clamp her mouth shut. She rarely had such happy moments nowadays.

They walked down a busy thoroughfare for two blocks but couldn't find the place. The street was lined with derelict bars, liquor stores, independent boutiques, dentistry with a foreign scrawl, shackled storefronts with padlocks firmly clamped shut and rundown apartment buildings. So it seemed unlikely that an elaborate restaurant would be hidden amongst these sad displays. All that Sylvia could see was a dirty tacoshop and a Vietnamese place with a picture of a cow next to the elaborate script. When she tried to point out that maybe that was the steakhouse, the damn fool turned on her with lances in his eyes, the sweat quickly beginning to flow from his bald pate into them, a futile attempt to extinguish his rising anger. She diffused his flare quickly with an enormous bout of disdain.

He faltered.

“It's supposed to be right here.”

He was motioning at a dark storefront that offered cheap tuxedos and when she turned to follow where he was pointing she saw something in the shadows. It couldn't be? But her idiot husband was slowly moving forward to look down the pathway that squeezed between the two buildings. Hardly two feet wide, it ran cryptically into the darkness, a black well that swallowed her husband as he stepped into it.

Christ, he wasn't going down there, was he? Sylvia waited for a brief instance, then looked over her shoulder at the world, trying to see which way was the more enlightening path. A young man with overstuffed tennis shoes paused in his step and watched her intently from across the street. From her perspective it seemed as if he was leering at her then her husband's raspy voice rose from the depths curtly.


She lurched forward into the dark passageway but for a second a voice came to her, a desperate plea of warning and when she glanced back at the young man across the street, he was slowly shaking his head. Sylvia stopped and watched him as he began to walk again, moving with a soundless rhythm and she had such a strong urge to curse her life, to bolt from the shadows and accompany that youthful spirit who was chasing the night that she actually turned to go back out into the light of the boulevard. That's when she felt her husband's clammy hand grip her wrist and pull her back.

“I've found it, right down here. What a strange place. You have to see it!”

There was excitement in his cadence and Sylvia found that she did want to see it, like the urge to see the grisly details of the accident on the side of the road or the pleasure of pressing deep on the ache of a bruise. She wanted to know what had stirred a fire in him and what was skipping her own heart with fear.

They emerged into a dimly lit courtyard with a couple of sputtering heat lamps covering the small area with their warm rusty film. Sylvia's husband was sweating courageously now and dampening his handkerchief with a continuous wipe but when she looked at him she wasn't sure that it was from the heat. It was like a fire from within that burned with excitement off of his shiny forehead. He was a constant embarrassment in her life and it appeared that tonight would not provide her with a change of pace.

There was no sign above the nondescript door that he pulled open for her, at least he retained some of his manners, but you couldn't mistake the aroma that flowed out from the labyrinth. This was the place all right, the sickly sweet smell of meat filled her nostrils and though Sylvia's stomach turned at the familiar scent, saliva also cascaded into her mouth. Instantly she craved what lay in the darkness behind that door, like a mad starving fool who pressed with greed to the front of the buffet line. She wanted to taste the meat, to feel it in the grind of her teeth, awash with the promise of a delicate and nuanced flavor found nowhere but down this tiny alley. Yet, when she stepped inside, the growl in her abdomen quite audible, the tender room reminded her of every modest place she'd visited over her life, nothing special, no drama to call her mother about, just an ordinary steakhouse...except for that aroma wafting from the kitchen.

A young gentlemen who was calmly chatting with a couple in the corner booth spotted them right away. He waved, made an amusing comment to the couple, which caused them all to chuckle and finally approached Sylvia and the puffing man beside her.

“Good evening, do you have a reservation?”

Their host pulled a small notebook from his back pocket and regarded the tiny script inside. Sylvia was flummoxed. Besides the couple that he was speaking with a moment before, there were only two other tables occupied. One with a group of hearty American men types, probably in town for a convention of some kind, here to spend their money on good food, good drink and good women who most definitely would not be their wives. Sylvia pictured her husband fitting perfectly among them and this was most likely the very image of him and his cronies whenever he went out of town on a business trip. The other table had two elderly women, skinny as sin, seated properly as if they were in a class run by Miss Manners. Both of the women were staring at the new guests and Sylvia instinctively smiled in their direction but the edges of her mouth soon creased back toward confusion. The looks that they gave her and her husband were far from inviting and there was also something else beneath the naked sheen in their eyes, something cold and eager.

She turned to look at the boisterous men who occupied the other table as her husband floundered before the maitre d.


He too, was confused but then he remembered his whore.

“Oh, yes, I almost forgot. I was supposed to mention that Nora referred us.”

He glanced at his wife with unease guilt in his eye but Sylvia wasn't even listening to him, which was strange because she lived for moments like these, when she could make her husband look like a total ass in front of others. The reason for her dismissal was that even though the four men across the room were having a perfectly fun experience, one that normally wouldn't arouse suspicion, one of the guys was staring right at her as he laughed along with his friends. But his eyes weren't laughing, they were devouring her and for the first time in years she felt desire stroke beneath her heart. This man was looking at her like he wanted to take her in the back room and bend her over the sink with raw animalistic rage, the kind that was stored for blind fucking. Sylvia was terrified and curious and stunned and pissed off all at once. Anger was the emotion that finally took over her catatonic brain and she sent a ruthless, fiery look right back at him. He was a pig! God, he was hardly worth looking at, he was so unattractive. The disdain she'd so immaculately perfected flooded out of her pores and washed over his hateful stare but all it made him do was smile even more, an absolute piggish grin crossing his face.

She turned back to her husband prepared to demand once again that they leave this place but apparently his codeword had allowed them a spot in this prestigious establishment, as their host was leading her husband to a quiet table near the center of the room. Directly within sight of all the other tables, of course, but Sylvia knew when the moment for escape had passed. She was a master at keeping her dignity and no one would ever take that from her, not her husband and certainly not that swine of a man.

The maitre d addressed them as he pushed Sylvia's chair beneath her rear.

“How about a nice bottle of Chianti to get you started.”

Sylvia frowned. She hated Chianti but it was like he could read her thoughts.

“A delicate grape to be sure but we have the finest blend in the city and since it's your first time here with us, the first bottle is on the house.”

“How can we say no.”

Her husband was the least charming person she'd ever met, even when he was trying so hard.

“I can assure you that you will not be disappointed.”

The man left and went into the kitchen. Sylvia felt eyes on her but when she tried to look through the room it was apparent that they had somehow managed to set up the lighting so that you couldn't see the other tables clearly. The people were shadowy puppets playing in the dark and though she could hear their minced conversations and continued laughter, they were suddenly discorporate sounds that gave her the creeps. But, if the lighting was designed in such an obscure fashion, why then did it feel like all the others were watching them?

“Don't you find this place strange?”

She asked her husband but the look she got in returned was disapproving.

“Don't start with your issues. I won't allow you to ruin this experience for me. Of course it's strange but that's what makes it so interesting. Besides, do you smell that steak?”

A dreamy blanket floated over his face and Sylvia knew that she'd lost him. So she tried to put the other patrons out of her mind, especially that fat bastard with evil in his grin, and focus on the reason they came to this place. The food!

Yes, she sensed the aroma again and found it enticing, but there was something about it that she couldn't quite place. It seemed obvious, as her mouth began to water once again, that they knew what they were doing here but what was it about that scent? It was steak of course, a thick cut cooked in it's own juices, sizzling under intense heat but there was something...her memory was full of fog but if she swiped at the smoke, she thought that the wanted vision would be revealed. It was there, at the edge of her mind...

“Ah, here we are.”

Their waiter was back, apparently he was the only attendee in the dining room, a jack of all trades. He was holding out a beautiful bottle filled with red wine. Sylvia's husband was nodding smugly, as if he knew what he was looking at, which made her scoff. The glare that came from across the table was disheartening but before she could sneer back, their host passed the bottle across her vision. The liquid danced delicately and the shimmer that swam in the reflection pulled all the hate from her bones. If there was anything that she was meant to do that night, she had to taste that wine. She looked up into the maitre d's eyes and found comfort there. He nodded at her as he pulled the cork from the bottle.


Then he filled her glass one-quarter full. Sylvia scooped the wine glass professionally and held it before her nose. All of the disgust in her life vanished, especially that which was embodied by those in that very room, then she breathed red. It was funny because it hardly smelled of wine, no berry, no sweet caramel, not even the bitter hint of moss, but it was rich with delight and her body hungered for it. She gulped it down, the residue catching the back of her tongue. It tasted alive, as if the grape were still plump with moisture, swallowing the days of rain. It was full and wealthy and eager to ensconce her in its cocoon. She grew dizzy suddenly and the smoke in the room became too thick for her to breathe...but the flavor was remarkable. She could barely turn to smile up at the young man who was filling her glass again, she felt so drunk. She reached thirstily for the glass to quickly consume what she could before the world collapsed around her, then her stomach flopped. It was like the drop-off, her innards shrank to the floor in one vicious lump and it was all that she could do to keep the contents of it behind her teeth.

She lurched up out of her chair and scrambled for the bathroom. There are some people who simply have an innate awareness of where to find the bathroom in restaurants. Sylvia was one of those people and by the time that she pushed through the double-hinged door, the nausea was beginning to pass. She went to the mirror instead of one of the stalls because she hoped that the vomit would stay down, if not then a sink would be suitable, it was only wine after all. She quickly splashed water on her face and let the drops cascade down her skin, coursing through her base. For the first time in some while, she didn't care about her appearance. It was such a relief and joy to feel this cool presence on her skin. She held the moment of it and a brief vision entered her mind.

She was on her honeymoon, her body years young. She was swimming in the clear blue of the Hawaiian shore. It was absolute bliss to swim in that water, to feel it on her skin. The two weeks that they stayed in Hawaii, all that she did was spend time in the ocean. It was the only thing that she wanted to do. Her husband tried to get her to follow him out on his touristy adventures but she wasn't going anywhere, sending him out alone while she pushed her body through the blessed liquid.

It made her shiver now, to think of it. That was where she belonged. She knew it in that instant and that was where she would go, leave tomorrow, leave this life behind. It was all so suddenly clear.

She opened her revelatory eyes and looked at her ghastly face in the mirror. Oh God, how had she ever gotten to be so ugly, so miserable? She had to escape. She had to get beyond this life and discover the beauty in the world again. It was out there somewhere, waiting for her. She needed to feel it in her grasp, cling to it with a full heart. She wanted it so bad.

But first, she had to get through this wicked, wicked night.

(go to part three)

Labels: ,

Summer's Waltz

My new Muxtape is a sweet blend of music that will fill your summer nights with cool bliss. Chill out with this lineup:

Milosh - You Fill Me
Ting Tings - We Walk
Ray LaMontagne - Empty
John Vanderslice - Peacocks in the Video Rain
Jens Lekman - Your Arms Around Me
The Submarines - Swimming Pool
Duffy - Warwick Avenue
Headlights - Market Girl
Yelle - A Cause des Garcons
Metric - The Police and the Private
Beach House - Gila
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba - Lament For Ali Farka

Just some of the sounds that I've been absorbing lately. Please enjoy and don't let the heat consume your precious hearts.


Monday, August 04, 2008

46 Months

We had a really heartbreaking moment with Lucas this past month. He faced loss for the first time and it was rather dramatic.

Ever since Lucas watched the movie, "The Red Balloon", he's had an incredible affinity for balloons. If we are at a birthday party, he must have one. He spots their presence in the world faster than anyone else around him. He simply loves their buoyant entities. So when we went to his cousin's birthday party he immediately adopted a red balloon, brought it over to me and wanted me to tie it to him. I connected it to his wrist and he bounded off to play with all of the other kids, his new balloon buddy eagerly in tow. He spent the entire day with that balloon following him around and it was the cutest experience to witness.

Late in the day, I noticed that the string had wrapped itself around his neck and while he was swinging and sliding and running around, I pictured his new friend silently cutting the life from him. I quickly went over and pulled the balloon from around his neck, then I noticed that the ribbon on his wrist was cutting deeply into his skin, apparently because I tied it too tightly earlier. I loosened it as well then sent him on his way.

As we were leaving my mom, Lucas' Grandma, made some snarky comments about the grooves in wrist and proceeded to loosen the string even further. Well, I guess she untied it completely because the moment we went out to the car, Lucas lost the balloon. It floated up until it touched the clouds and it was the most devastating thing that ever happened to him. The grief welled up within him until he could no longer bear it and it burst forth from his tiny frame in tears and escaped from his lips in anguished dismay. It was pure sadness, loss that he released that day.

Xtimu, Lucas and I sat down on the grass and watched Lucas' friend fade into the blue of the sky. Xtimu quietly told him a tale of magic and mystery. What he didn't know was that when balloons floated away to the point that they can no longer be seen, they turn into birds and fly down to comfort those who grieve. So, when someone lets a balloon go, they are sending comfort to another person somewhere out there in the world who desperately needs it. Lucas actually helped another person by sharing his friend with the world.

I thought that this was such a wonderful, beautiful tale and my admiration and love for my partner increased tenfold that day. Her heart has the ability to touch heaven and take whomever she cherishes with her. Lucas needed her at that moment more than anyone and I was so grateful that she was his mother.

Lucas ended up carrying his sadness around with him for a few days. He was delicate and turned to tears quickly, but we held him like an egg and loved him with all of our hearts. He is such a precious gift and he expresses himself with quality. He was drawing a few days later and on the paper he drew a squiggle, which is basically what he always draws, just different versions of squiggles and lines. Well, when I asked him what it was, he said that it was a balloon. It was at the top of the page, then he turned back and drew another squiggle at the bottom of the page and said that was the person who lost the balloon. Now, most of his drawings are loud and broad and dramatic, but this one was small and delicate with the expanse of the page between the two subjects. When I looked at his picture, I could clearly see exactly what he was striving for and even though it was two simple squiggles, it was also an incredible vision of his pain.

The creative spirit is the most magnanimous aspect of our souls. It is the healing personal salvation that we can harness and use for any purpose necessary. Through art we have the power to express ourselves beyond words and understand the conflicting universe that embodies each individual. It is beauty and sadness and anguish and strength. It is the dream of the world to discover a thriving community that respects the essence of life, the broad majestic spirit of expression. It is the whisper of every person's heart as it reaches for another. It is a path for those who wish to communicate, to touch the cosmos. It is a way for a child to search and discover themselves, to learn more about what it means to be alive.

Lucas is learning about harnessing that creative spirit. He is learning the nuances of himself and as a parent, all I want to do is help him focus his energy in a profoundly productive manner.

Labels: , ,