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Archive for the category “Memoir”

making things up: names and games

Kalkaska

The first thing kalkaskaI remember making up was a new name for my brother, Mark, who was born when I was three years old. I imagine I was not happy with all the attention he received merely for existing. When visitors thought they were being cute by asking me what my baby brother’s name was, I hissed “Kalkaska” and stomped out of the room. It was the name of a place where my father and his friends went hunting and the ugliest word I knew at the time. A few years later, I invented numerous ways to torture my brother, such as sending him out into the neighborhood dressed as an old woman.

brother-2.jpg

The look says it all: I still don’t get the point.

When my mother was expecting her third child, I was coincidentally agitating for a puppy. She suggested we have the new baby first and get a puppy the next year. I briefly considered the idea. But after my experiences with sibling number one, I decided it would be better to get the puppy first and a baby—if we absolutely had to have one—the following year. Needless to say, that didn’t work out the way I wanted it to. And it was another boy.

a proclivity for morbidity

During elementary school, I was the oldest of the neighborhood gang and both bossy and creative. After our ordinary games grew boring, I made up things for us to do. My parents’ backyard had several features that lent themselves nicely to these activities. The built-in brick barbecue grill, for example, had a large flat surface that proved ideal as a make-believe morgue slab. We kids took turns playing the “dead man” by simulating a deceased person spread out on top of the slab/grill, the cannibalistic aspects having escaped me at the time. Everyone else formed a semicircle around it chanting, “Dead man, dead man, come alive; come and catch me with your big green eyes.”

It was not poetry and it didn’t make a lot of sense, but it was great fun. The rest of us had to remain in place chanting away (there were more verses) until the dead man jumped up and started chasing us. The kid who was caught became the next dead man. As with any game, there were rules. In this case, lots of rules. In fact, we had frequent “rule breaks” to decide important matters, such as which neighbor’s backyard we were “legally” allowed to cross into.

a star is born?

ticketThen there was the wooden picnic table that served as a stage for several variety shows, in which all the other kids performed—complete with costume changes—to an audience of ticket-buying parents and neighbors. I was the writer/director/stage manager/promoter, and general whip-cracker. This was not unlike some of my later roles in life.

The shows were a natural extension of my playwriting hobby that began when I was quite young. I painstakingly printed every word of dialogue and stage direction, completing well over a hundred “great works,” all of which are long gone. I can imagine—although I can’t remember doing so—ceremoniously dumping them into the trash one day, upon deciding I’d outgrown that phase. It’s something I would have done.

and we get credit for this?

Still in elementary school, I volunteered for the Entertainment Committee one year. My co-chair and I were given specific dates—holidays and such—for which we were to provide some sort of entertainment for the class. We could do just about anything we wanted to do—and in front of a captive audience! Our stellar events included three plays that I wrote, cast, costumed, directed, and rehearsed in the coat room in the back of the classroom. We were excused from class for rehearsal. I couldn’t believe what an incredible racket we got to run.

The first two plays were, let’s say, not a complete success. By Christmas, though, I had it down. That play went off without a hitch and received sustained applause. Props included baked sugar cookies, which one of the actors frosted with real frosting I brought to school in one of my mother’s aqua Pyrex mixing bowls.

the unbirthday parties

My favorite creation from that time period was the series of unbirthday parties. One weekday near the beginning of summer, my next-door neighbor and I were trying to get her little brother to leave us alone so we could clean out a room in the basement of her house. I bribed him by promising we would have a birthday party for him later if he would go away now.

unbirthdayHe went for it and left us to our labors. When we finished, we talked my friend’s mother, who was a stay-at-home mom and a good sport, into helping us with the party. I will never forget that cake. I think it was one of my friend’s pre-Easy-Bake toy oven mixes because it was very small. The inside was chocolate and vanilla marble. The outside was covered in Kelly Green frosting and multicolored sprinkles. It was a cake only a kid could truly appreciate—or look at without gagging.

We all bought presents from the dime store and wrapped them before the party, which of course was held in the freshly cleaned and festively decorated room in the basement. It was such a blast that all the other kids wanted parties, too. There were seven of us altogether, so for the better part of two months we had weekly unbirthday parties, each one slightly more elaborate than the last. Both moms had to get involved when it was finally time for my party.

a rose by any other name would still call her brother Kalkaska

Eventually, I developed somewhat of a reputation in regard to my ring-leading nature and choice of activities, especially with my neighbor friend’s father. Whenever he thought something we were into was the least bit odd, he could be heard muttering that it must have been Joycelyn’s idea. Only he didn’t call me Joycelyn because that’s not the name my mother gave me. That’s the name I made up for myself some 40-odd years ago.

the flavor of my reflection

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUnavoidably, time passes, things change, and the end of a year often brings up reflections on the differences between then (whenever that was) and now. I recently came across this post written in July 2009 for a previous blog and was taken aback by just how much things have changed since I wrote it.

rocking my world with nam sod

I found when I awoke on the dirty floor of our garage, with blood coming out of my nose and Zak frantically shaking me . . . that I had a sudden craving for nam sod. —Barbara Fisher, in her food blog, Tigers & Strawberries

Too funny! I was already thinking about nam sod when I came across this line, and it made me laugh out loud. Nam sod—a Thai salad made with ground pork, ginger, red onion, lemon or lime juice, the obligatory fish sauce, cilantro, and chili peppers, garnished with peanuts and served on lettuce leaves—is definitely one of the seven food wonders of my world. It has that combination of cilantro and ginger that transports me to another dimension, at least as prepared by Orchid Thai restaurant in San Anselmo, California. Some recipes call for mint in addition to, or (horror!) in place of the cilantro. Orchid Thai eschews the mint; I’m fine with that.

I got to share an order of nam sod when I visited the Bay Area last month, and my traveling companion, who’d never tasted it before, unfortunately found it nearly as delicious as I do. I would have been willing to consume her portion had she not found it to her liking. Still, half an order of nam sod is better than no nam sod at all. When I lived in the Bay Area, I’d go to Orchid Thai on my birthday to have this dish. Nam sod would be what I’d want as a last meal, although hopefully no one will be asking me to make that choice any time soon.

The name sort of sounds like something you’d shout while raising your fist—or a sword—into the air: Nam sod! Right? Which is exactly how I feel every time the waiter sets a plate of it down in front of me. Nam sod!


Well, I became vegetarian over three years ago, so it’s been quite a while since I’ve tasted nam sod. Yes, the idea of it still kind of makes my mouth water, but no, I wouldn’t eat it even if a beautifully garnished serving were placed in front of me.

In February of this year, I was diagnosed with a couple of heart conditions. The meds I’m on as a result require some dietary restrictions. I’m not, for example, supposed to have any cilantro or ginger. I attempt to be reasonable, but I can’t say I’m 100% compliant.

Even worse, Orchid Thai is no longer in business. On the one hand, that does make it a little easier to come to terms with never having nam sod again, since theirs was the best. On the other hand, they served other dishes that I would really like to taste again. There were definitely more delicious meals to be enjoyed there.

Finally, the traveling companion of this story—my friend, Patricia—passed away last week. We had many good times together after the hiking trip that took us from Albuquerque to the Bay Area and to dinner at Orchid Thai. And as it happens there’s a restaurant in Albuquerque named Thai Orchid that we frequented numerous times. But it wasn’t quite the same. Patricia and I definitely had more adventures left in us, more trips to take, more meals to enjoy.

In the spirit of the original post, here’s to good food, good hiking, and good friends. Nam sod, Patricia. Nam sod!

reflections on a tea-soaked madeleine

How does autobiographical memory actually work—and how reliable is it?

proust madeleineThe scientists are telling us that memory is a reconstruction, and yet we, as people, tend to stick to our old-fashioned ideas that memory works like a video camera, for example, that it just records, and it files things away in mental DVDs that we can pull down and set playing. And in a way, that’s not surprising, because we see memories as foundational for who we are. We commonly feel that we are our memories; our memories define us. So something needs to change. … Accepting that memories are not literal representations of the past as it happened doesn’t mean that we have to forget about them or start disbelieving them all. But they’re shaped by who we are now. They’re shaped by what we feel, what we believe, what our biases are. (Charles Fernyhough, Pieces of Light)

According to neuroscientist Karim Nadar, it may be impossible to bring a memory to mind without altering it in some way. Memories we replay mentally over and over or talk about a lot with others are especially susceptible to such alterations. And when you retell it, the memory becomes plastic, and whatever is present around you in the environment can interfere with the original content of the memory.

What we now know is that our brains happily reconstruct memories, though we are frequently fooled into thinking that the reconstructions are seamlessly recorded recollections. … Even for the sharper memories born from strong emotions (often called flashbulb memories), time erodes the infrastructure, leaving cracks and gaps. Instead of remembering specific, perfectly accurate details, what constitutes memory over time are general impressions of events with spotty details—and the older we get, the spottier they become. (Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow)

There is more than one way to lay down a memory. We’re not talking about a memory of different events, but multiple memories of the same event—as though two journalists with different personalities were jotting down notes about a single unfolding story. … The conviction that memory is one thing is an illusion. (David Eagleman, Incognito)

The world is made of stories, not of atoms.

So said poet Muriel Rukeyser. And she was correct. The world of atoms is composed of facts, details, events, objects, phenomena, information, etc. In the world of atoms, things happen (events take place).

The world of stories consists of our perceptions and interpretations of what happened, as well as the meaning we assign to it.

The things that happen to or around us and our stories or explanations about those things are not the same thing. But because of the speed with which our unconscious brain (a/k/a System 1) processes information—and the fact that we’re not aware of what it’s doing—we think that our story about what happened is what happened.

  • Something happens.
  • We pay attention to selected aspects of it. How do we decide what to pay attention to? For the most part, System 1 (our unconscious) makes that decision for us, based on the model of the world it maintains.
  • We miss most of it! We’re not capable of consciously perceiving everything that is going on around us. Our unconscious can process around 11,000,000 bits of information at a time compared to the 40 bits we can process consciously. There’s an amazing amount of filtering going on all the time.
  • We come up with an explanation for the parts we paid attention to. We have an inner interpreter/narrator whose job it is to maintain an ongoing narrative of our lives, creating order out of chaos, making cause-and-effect connections, and generally leading us to believe we understand what’s going on. Our inner narrator is a great confabulator. If it doesn’t have all the information, it will make something up. And we will almost always believe what it tells us. And we can’t stop ourselves from interpreting or explaining.

A set of brain circuits—usually brilliant, sometimes buffoonish—force narrative structure on the chaos of our lives. Our minds constantly struggle to extract meaning from the data rivering through our senses. … In the same way that your mind sees an abstract pattern and resolves it into a face, your imagination sees a pattern of events and resolves it into a story. If there is no story there, we are only too happy to invent one. (Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal)

  • We assign meaning to our explanation of what we paid attention to or noticed. We decide the meaning of things. And we can’t stop ourselves from making meaning.
  • After the fact, we have a memory of what happened, which is really a memory of our fragmentary perception overlaid by our explanation and the meaning we attached to it. This is not a memory of what actually happened in the world of atoms. Our memory tells us stories. So what we get to keep from our experience is a story. The kinds of memories that make the best stories—and the easiest ones to recall—are of events that had a strong emotional impact.
  • Each time we tell the story (to ourselves or others), we edit it. Talking and/or writing about an experience interferes with our memory of it. We remember not what we have experienced but what we have said about what we experienced. Usually the editing is unintentional, but if you pay attention, you can catch yourself in the act of editing to suit your audience, your purpose in telling the story, the impression you’re trying to make, or even your mood.

We have a tendency to reshape the irregular features of our world into smoother, more symmetrical forms. Inconvenient details tend to be pruned from our memories, and facts that do not fit together in a coherent way tend to be forgotten, deemphasized, or reinterpreted. The process of retelling a story in our own narrative style places certain constraints on what we recall, and these constraints guide our reconstruction of events. (Joseph T. Hallinan, Why We Make Mistakes)

  • What we are left with is the latest version of our altered recollection (and selected perception) of something that happened and what it means to us.

When you’re writing a story from a character’s point of view, you include only what that character is aware of. Unless you’re a really bad writer, you don’t include random bits of information just because you find them interesting or because you discovered them in the course of your research.

Everyone always has a point of view, in real life as well as in stories. We—and our characters—can’t help but view the world subjectively. Everything that happens happens to us.

Your P.O.V. character acts, reacts, and interprets events based on his or her model of the world the same as we do in real life. No one is a completely reliable narrator because we are all selectively paying attention to—or screening out—various things, interpreting what we pay attention to, creating cause-and-effect explanations, and assigning meaning.

Furthermore, our experiences instantly become part of the lens through which we view our entire past, present, and future, and like any lens, they shape and distort what we see. The bottom line is that there is no such thing as a true story. A story can be more or less “truthy,” but never completely true.

the silence of himself sang like a bird

As I was leaving Michigan thirty-nine years and one month ago, I gave myself the gift of a book: Complete Poems, 1913-1962, E. E. Cummings.

It was totally impractical. I boarded the plane to begin again in San Francisco with only two suitcases, but one of them contained the 866-page hardcover book of poetry.

Very few things from that time in my life are still in my possession. So it’s safe to say this book with the yellow pages, numerous scrap paper bookmarks (one with the words “grass” and “picnic,” another with directions to someplace in Marin County, and a third with a woman’s name in red crayon, a phone number, and “day after Easter”), the torn cover, and multicolored Post-it flags has stood the test of time.

One of the poems in that book even generated the name for this blog. And this is it:

one winter afternoon

(at the magical hour
when is becomes if)

a bespangled clown
standing on eighth street
handed me a flower.

Nobody,it’s safe
to say,observed him but

myself;and why?because

without any doubt he was
whatever(first and last)

mostpeople fear most:
a mystery for which i’ve
no word except alive

—that is,completely alert
and miraculously whole;

with not merely a mind and a heart

but unquestionably a soul-
by no means funereally hilarious

(or otherwise democratic)
but essentially poetic
or ethereally serious:

a fine not a coarse clown
(no mob, but a person)

and while never saying a word

who was anything but dumb;
since the silence of him

self sang like a bird.
Most people have been heard
screaming for international

measures that render hell rational
—i thank heaven somebody’s crazy

enough to give me a daisy

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intoxication

Liquor Bottles

The bar in the basement of my parents’ house held all sizes and shapes of bottles; big ones in the back and tiny decorative ones along the side; whisky, gin, and vodka—serious stuff—as well as colorful concoctions like sloe gin and blackberry brandy. The men in my family all drank lots of beer, too. At parties and gatherings, it was carried into the house in cases. Nothing exotic there; mostly Stroh’s and Budweiser, if I remember right.

Once I got drunk on vodka and grapefruit juice in the basement of a girlfriend’s house when her parents were away. We spent the evening listening to records and drinking our vodka mixed with too little grapefruit juice out of paper cups. It was briefly exhilarating. Later, when I felt sick and dizzy and out of control, I decided it wasn’t worth it. Subsequently, I remained sober.

When the wind was red, like a summer wine
When the wind was red, like your lips on mine
It caressed my face and it tossed my hair
You were there.

I don’t recall ever seeing a bottle of wine in my parents’ house. John often brought wine, though, bottles of deep red wine made from grapes grown in Italy. He was Italian. The red wine John brought tasted of other, older worlds, of things mysterious and sophisticated and foreign. It also tasted of him and of this reckless, improbable, and hopeless love.

Does anyone even remember that song? I’d never heard it before I met John. I’d never heard of Chris Connor.

When the wind was green, at the start of spring
When the wind was green, like a lving thing
It was on my lips and its kiss was fair
You were there.

He gave me that scratchy old 78, and listening to it puts me right back inside my dark apartment in 1967. It’s 2 or 3 in the morning, after John has gone—after John has come with a bottle of red wine and this old music, and gone. If the few hours with John were the height of my week, the hours following his departure were the depth. I’d always leave his wine glass on the floor or table where he’d left it, at least until the next day. And I’d sit in the dark for a while and look around the apartment and out the window at the night sky in a kind of pained ecstasy or ecstatic pain, if you know what I mean.

Then came the fall and all of love came tumbling,
stumbling down,
Like leaves that lost to frost and found they were
flying, crying, in a brown wind
dying.

My father knew a disc jockey, and he used to bring home dozens of used 45s. I grew up listening to The Mills Brothers, Patti Page, Theresa Brewer, Gogi Grant. The Gandy Dancers’ Ball was one childhood favorite. And I’ve never completely gotten There’s a Pawnshop on a Corner in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania out of my head. My brothers and I always watched the Hit Parade on TV on Saturday night after we took our baths. Snookey, Giselle, Dorothy, and Russell performing the top 10 tunes of the week.

And of course my girlfriends and I were glued to the TV every afternoon for “American Bandstand.” As soon as I had a disposable income of my own, I invested part of it in growing the collection of 45s, favoring Sam Cooke and Connie Francis.

In college, I listened to folk music and tooled around town in my 1966 Candy Apple Red Ford Mustang listening to a guy with a gravelly voice sing about The Eve of Destruction. What the heck did I know? There was other music around—Sinatra, Streisand, Nancy Wilson. A few of my friends listened to jazz and blues, but the music always seemed too ripe for them. Most of them hadn’t even started to live.

John was eight years older. When he played the blues, it sucked me right in. He filled my head with his recollections of sitting in smoke-filled clubs in downtown Detroit listening to all of these musicians. He brought me No Sun in Venice by the Modern Jazz Quartet. It took me 15 years to track down a copy of that album at Tower Records in San Francisco after I looked for it in record stores all over the country.

In turn, I introduced John to Simon and Garfunkel and The Moody Blues. He said 59th Street Bridge Song reminded him of me. “Feelin’ groovy?” Really? Was I like that? Or was that just how he preferred to see me? For that matter, was he the person I thought he was? Who can say?

The two of us spent so little time together, and being with him was so intense, that all the incidental elements—his cigarette smoke, the wine, and most of all the music—fused together. I couldn’t separate those things from him. He left a couple of his albums with me, the one by Chris Connor and another by Billie Holiday. They evoked such bittersweetness for years and years, long after the end of John and me.

But the winter’s come and we both should know
That the wind is white like the swelling snow
And we’ll never see all the wonderful things to be seen
When the wind is green.

I never drank enough of that Italian red wine to get drunk. I got drunk on John and his music instead. It was briefly exhilarating. Later, when I felt sick and dizzy and out of control, I decided it wasn’t worth it. Subsequently, I remained sober.

Julie

JulieJulie, the youngest of Jim’s girls, was everyone’s pet, easygoing and funny. She was also the girl of many nicknames: Jules to most, Goldie to her dad, and later Wobbles, after one of her sisters teased her about not being able to walk straight. Julie thought that was about the most hilarious word she’d ever heard. When she wrote it down she spelled it W-A-B-L-S, which is exactly how I spelled it—capital letters and all—when I embroidered it in multi-colored floss on a white sweatshirt she wore with pride.

From the time she was a baby, her older sisters and a housekeeper were her primary maternal figures. Somehow she came out perfect, a sunny, energetic child with a great sense of humor who brightened up the room for everyone in it.

night after Julie

Moving in a dream…
I…
Tripping
Through the steamy night…
Blue-gray mystic…
Soft rain dust…
Floating…
Turning inside out…
Touching air
And water
And blonde
And blue-grey child
Touching…
Me.

Julie

Julie2

Julie was a spunky child with love and affection to spare. She seems to have been born equipped to roll with the punches, to take it all in stride. I hope she’s still all that.

Lainie

Lainie3Lainie, the middle of the three girls, was quieter than the other two, both perceptive and enigmatic–and with an air of self-sufficiency. When she spent time with me, I never had to make any special arrangements or go out of my way to entertain her. She liked hanging out with me and was more than content to tag along when I went to the dry cleaner or picked up a few groceries.

Sometimes the two of us spent an entire evening sitting in separate chairs, reading our separate books, barely talking to each other but always connected.  What she wanted was the experience of normal, everyday life with me in it. Nothing special. A few times she called me “Mom,” in a small, hopeful whisper that nearly broke my heart.

whose child?

I have names for you
and metaphors.

Mermaid.
Lily Maid of Astolot.
Elaine.

I look at you and wonder:
How’d the wheat get in your hair?
and the river in your eyes?
Wildflower,
What contents you
to be domesticated so?
Now ballerina
and assistant cook.
Do you include in these
mysterious ingredients:
ritual dances and magic herbs,
delicate sorcery
to cast your spells?

Fairy Princess,
in exile from your majesty,
You look at me
and only want to call me “Mother.”

It’s so simple.
Why is it so impossible to be.

Lainie1

Lainie2

This giggling girl was wise beyond her young years. Wherever she is, I hope she’s happy and has someone who makes her laugh.

P.S.: She really did own more than one shirt, although for some reason she’s wearing the same one in most of the photos I took of her.

Next time: Julie

Leane

LeaneLeane was the oldest of Jim’s three girls and also the biggest handful. A nonstop talker, she needed to have someone’s constant attention. That was why I initially started spending time with each of them separately, to give all of them some one-on-one time.

She was the only one of the three who remembered and missed her mother. How do you get over that kind of betrayal? But whenever she wanted to talk about her, it seemed like no one else in the family was interested. Julie was too young to remember her mother and Lainie, surprisingly pragmatic for her age–or maybe not–had written her off.

Since Leane was curious about sex, I bought a couple of age-appropriate books on the subject and during one of her overnights we spent an evening sitting on my bed looking at the pictures and talking about the strange ways men and women have of relating to each other.

wind chimes

Listen:
These chimes are made of glass.
They sparkle in the sun
And in the wind they make a joyful noise.

Do you know
The joy you reach for so eagerly
Can illuminate your life
Like those prisms of glass,
Or smash into a thousand pieces
Sharper and more painful
Than any shards of glass.

You are a reckless child.

Are you too old for lullabies?
Is that why
I try to lull you instead
With these disembodied words?
Can I hypnotize you into believing
in the natural superiority of reason
in my adult view of things
that everything is all right
and down is up?

So many words.

They circle around your pain
Trying to tell you it doesn’t hurt.
Trying to tell you what to be
Instead of listening to who you are.

Who are you?
Knowledge is a wound sometimes
And people are afraid.
You are.
I am.
But we have chosen each other,
And I can look at you now
And listen to you:
All of you there is
And all there is to come.

Who are you?
Child of love and fear
Wind howling in the night
Love burning a fever
Need tracing a pattern of tears and hopes
on face and pillow,
Daughter of my heart and soul,
I know you–
more than it is easy to know
but not more than I want to know.
You can look at yourself in my eyes
and see someone who is loved.

I gave the poem to Leane. She was old enough. She said she hadn’t known I felt that way about her.

Leane1Leane2Lovely, lovely girl! I hope the world has treated her better since that rocky start it gave her.

Next time: Lainie

Jim’s girls

Leane, Julie, LainieJim was an engineer I dated for the better part of a year. He had three daughters who were, when I first met them, 12 (Leane), 10 (Lainie), and 5 (Julie). His wife had gotten custody five years earlier when they divorced. That’s right; Julie—or Jules, as she was called—was an infant. But instead of taking the girls with her to New York, as she’d promised, she left them with Jim, moved to Florida, remarried, and started a whole new family.

Who could–who would–do something like that?

For a while I spent my weekends at their house, more often than not the one who woke during the night at the slightest sound of coughing or of sleepy, stumbling feet. During the day, I helped them on and off with their snowsuits in the winter and fixed dinner while Jim worked on cars in the backyard with his buddies. It was a cozy domestic arrangement that didn’t last long. I tried to capture Jim in this poem:

aura

Silver.
Softened sometimes
by nightlight:
crystalline
and lustrous.
On rare days
catching the sunlight
and shining.
But hardened mostly,
into metal flakes,
chrome and steel
like your cars.

When we had the breakup discussion, I told him somewhat defiantly that I wouldn’t give up the girls. To his credit, he said, “Of course not,” and we arranged a visitation schedule. He worked in the city where I shared a house with my friend Debbie. Every week during that summer, he brought one of the girls with him in the morning and dropped her off at our house. After work the following day, he picked her up. When I was feeling reckless, I asked him to bring all three.

New School ClothesI left their lives too soon, too, but before I moved from Michigan to California, I took each one shopping for school clothes and shoes. The photo on the right was taken as we were about to head off for a music concert late in the summer. I love how they look like they’re in a police line-up. The day I left, Debbie drove me to the airport and brought Leane and Lainie along to see me off. I remember it being a muggy, gray November day. Julie didn’t come. She said she didn’t want to watch me go. But I gave them a big stuffed animal, a gift from an old boyfriend. The girls named it “Gor,” short for Gordon, the ex. They took turns sleeping with and fighting over it.

I know because they told stories on each other in the cards and letters they sent during the year after I left.  I also saw them when I went home for a visit about 14 months later. But eventually we moved on–or so it seemed at the time. I’ve always hoped I didn’t do them more harm than good by getting so close to them and then leaving. I know I was the lucky one to have had all that time with them.

Next time: Leane

Lost in Space Again

October 18, 1989 (Loma Prieta Earthquake)

photograph of a collapsed facade of a building...

photograph of a collapsed facade of a building near Beach and Divisadero Streets in San Francisco (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sabina held the dress up in front of herself and looked into the full-length mirror. Then she turned to me.

“That’s nice,” I said. “It makes you look like Gena Rowlands.” Gena Rowlands?

Sabina’s hair was much longer and pulled back into a pony tail. The shop we were in consisted of three rooms, sort of large walk-in closets. There were no salespeople in sight. I don’t remember if Sabina bought the dress. She is real, but the rest was a dream.

When I told her friend Lee about it, she said Sabina was supposed to be shopping for a dress for a wedding next month. So I described the dream dress in as much detail as I could. Now Sabina’s trying to find this dress that will make her look like Gena Rowlands.

As for me, I’m trying to find the man who wandered into Sabina’s kitchen while I was sitting alone at her table after our shopping expedition. His hair was full and dark, his skin a light olive. He was wearing a white long-sleeved shirt and dark pants. He sat down across the table from me and started speaking in a low-friendly voice.

I was preoccupied and kept asking him to repeat himself. He told me his name was Roy Walli and even spelled it: W-A-L-L-I. He said he liked jazz and played the oud. When I related this scene to a musician friend, he told me the oud is a lute-shaped Arabic instrument and that playing jazz on it would be difficult but not impossible.

After a short time, Roy got up to go. He apologized, saying he hadn’t meant to bother me. Suddenly, I didn’t want him to leave and protested that he wasn’t bothering me at all. He didn’t appear to believe me. After he left, I drank some white wine through a straw from an oversized goblet. Then I tried to look him up in the phone book. It had an unusually large number of sections, but his name wasn’t in any of them. Later, looking through a second-story window, I saw his name on an old-fashioned sign—the kind an auto repair shop might have—on a red brick building. It felt like a dead end.

Should I run an ad in the Pacific Sun? “Divorced white female, age 43, seeks literal man of her dreams.”

Saturday was the night of the full moon. I didn’t sleep very well. My stomach was churning, my heart was pounding, and my head ached vaguely. I seemed to wake up every half hour. Deep in the middle of the night, I found myself in an unfamiliar large two-story wooden house. I was looking through another second-story window watching the full-moon rise. My friend was asleep, but I called him over to the window to track the huge luminous moon’s ascent behind two distant hills.

He wasn’t much interested in the moon and went back to bed. I continued to stare out the window, maybe a little hypnotized. As the moon rose, it seemed to grow larger instead of smaller, and to cast more and more light. All at once, it was huge and glowing, and I could see splotches of color and texture: mauves and blues and purples stood out against the pearly white ground. A large round white cloud served as a gauzy backdrop behind it.

The moon cast so much light that far-away planets became visible. Everything outside the window took on the surreal appearance of a charcoal sketch. Nothing was in color anymore, and none of the normal daytime landscape was visible. Jupiter, trailing some kind of vapor, and Saturn and its rings were so close I could almost stretch out my arm and touch them.

I was awestruck, but the thought I might be the only one seeing it made me feel very isolated and deeply disturbed. I had a sense of all these huge planets, including the earth, floating in space with nothing to anchor them. It was disorienting and frightening. I felt as if I really could fall off the edge of the Earth.

Gradually, the moon rose higher in the sky, finally becoming smaller, its light dimming. The planets disappeared from sight and the world outside returned to normal. I must have stayed up all night because it was morning by then.

My friend and I woke up around seven o’clock, talked a little, and made love. He got up, but I fell back asleep. When I woke up the second time, alone, I could still see the clear, grey outline of Jupiter in the sky, and that sense of floating freely in space, unanchored, wouldn’t go away.

Yesterday, at four minutes after five o’clock in the afternoon, I was in Mill Valley, working alone at the far end of Sabina’s studio when the earth shook half a dozen marble slabs off the walls and sent them crashing down onto her desk and her paints and the floor. I don’t know where she was—maybe still looking for that dress. And I don’t know where Roy Walli was, either. Who was that guy, and just what was it he was trying to tell me that I was too preoccupied to hear? All I really got for sure was his name.

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