Looking For Milo on Samish Island


“Is she gonna say it?” I wondered out loud as we passed the Leaving Oregon sign posted halfway on the bridge over the Columbia River. 

“Is who gonna say what?” Asked Benny from the passenger seat. From the backseat I heard my mom and Mina ooing and aweing about the river. The water sparkled in the morning light and a few boats dotted its surface. It was still early- we had managed to leave at 8:30 am, only half an hour later than our goal, after the obligatory bickering between Benny and I about the process of loading up the Subaru. 

Welcome to Washington,” said the robotic female voice of Google Maps, briefly interrupting the twanging banjo solo of a song by The Steeldrivers. 

“There it is!” I rejoiced. 

“Oh, you knew she was gonna say that,” said Benny, laughing. 

Although the state line is only a ten minute drive from our house, we rarely cross over into Washington. This time we weren’t stopping at Lewisville State Park where we went swimming this summer, and we weren’t even aiming for Seattle as a destination. We were headed to a place an hour and a half North of Seattle- a little peninsula in the San Juan Island area off of Washington called Samish Island. We were headed to Camp Kirby. 

Back in the spring of this year I saw a post by Camp Kirby, who I started following on Facebook when I put together the Venus de Milo story. They announced that they would be open for Family Camp over Memorial Weekend and Labor Day Weekend. That meant that we could stay at Camp Kirby if we wanted to, even though we weren’t staff or campers. I was thrilled and immediately booked a cabin for Labor Day weekend. (Unfortunately all the tree house cabins had already been booked.) So here we were, loaded up and headed North, to a place I hadn’t been to in 19 years- a place I thought I would never see again. 

Half an hour after Seattle we drove past Everett, and I kept taking quick glances out the side window to see if I could spot anything recognizable. I remembered all the walking I did through the town, trying to avoid spending too much time at the cramped apartment with Scott’s family. I remembered fondly the library, the sunny parks, the natural food store where Scott worked. 

It was a relief to divert from the 5 North after almost five hours and cruise along the winding, solitary highway through farmlands, getting closer and closer to the water. We saw fields of corn and cabbages, big horned steers, farmhouses and little markets. One stretch of road was a popular parking spot for fisherfolk, and we saw many people in big rubber overalls and floppy hats, carrying poles and nets. “Share the road,” said one sign with a picture of a tractor. 

We turned off the highway onto a residential road, and eventually caught sight of the shining expanse of the bay through a line of trees. A little further and we came to the narrowest part of the peninsula where you can see water on both sides. A left, a right, and then another right, and there was the wooden Camp Kirby sign on the top of the hill. 

As we descended the hill we saw the archery range on our right, and beside that a new rock climbing wall that wasn’t there when I had been there last. We kept creeping along the narrow dirt road and the treehouses came into view on our left, looking pretty much the same except for some new wooden steps up to the cabins to replace the ladders. Then down the steepest part of the hill into the main area of camp- the dining hall on the left, the basketball court, the big totem pole by the flagpole, and the various cabins scattered around the area. 

We found Sandpiper, our cabin, which was located between Tayito, the counselor’s cabin, and Woodpecker, the cute little A frame. Our cabin was pretty basic, but it did have electricity and our own bathroom and the pads on the bunk beds were fairly comfortable. As soon as we parked and got out of the car it started to rain in big, haphazard drops. Mina fled to the safety of the cabin while the rest of us unloaded the gear. 

We were visited by Kit Kat, the camp director, and she gave us a rundown of things and asked if we needed to buy anything. We needed propane and ice, so I followed her down to the little store. After buying the propane we made a stop at the Dining Hall where the ice was stored. It looked exactly the same, and even smelled the same- that smell of an old building, years of food cooked in huge batches, mop water, and cleaning supplies. 

“What year did you work here?” She asked. I had mentioned that I had been a counselor here a long time ago. 

“2002,” I replied.

“Did you make a wall plaque?” She wondered, peering up at the beams where there were painted signs posted.

“I don’t remember…” I said. “Oh wait, here it is!” It was a round board painted with a sunset and included the names, both camp and legal names, of all the staff that year. Many of the people I had little memory of, but I lingered on the names of Water Rat, Feika, Maxx, Turbo, Luna, and of course Milo. For some reason it gave me comfort to know it was there, proof that I had made my mark on the place. 

I headed back to the cabin with my supplies. Mom, Mina, and Benny were getting settled in. After getting unpacked, the first thing I wanted to do was head out to The Point. It had stopped raining but it was still a bit cold and windy so Mina wasn’t up for an adventure yet and Benny had forgotten to bring a jacket so just Mom and I ventured out there. 

We walked along the gravel road that leads out there, passing Herman’s Hut, the last building before you get to the water. I remembered that that’s where Brian/Water Rat had stayed that summer. After that the finger of land gets narrower and closer to the water level until, if you go out far enough, you can stand on the very tip with water all around you. The ground is covered with an incredible variety of gorgeous little stones- spotted, striped, and plain- of all different colors. And shells everywhere- mostly big clam shells and some spiral ones too, a lot of them covered in little white barnacles. Seaweed and sea grass were clumped up in big piles from high tide and driftwood was strewn about everywhere. One big log I thought I recognized from when I was there before. Mom was delighted by all the shells and started collecting a few. 

I kept looking around, trying to reconcile the fact that I was here in this place that, for many years, existed for me only in my mind. I kept flip flopping between feeling like it was normal to be here, and feeling like it was totally surreal and strange, like walking around in a memory. I couldn’t help feeling like it wasn’t as beautiful as I remembered, but I figured that was due to the fact that it was cloudy, making everything look flat and gray. 

“It’s a lot more stunning out here when it’s sunny,” I told Mom, feeling like I was almost apologizing for the view. 

“It’s a lot more sunny here when it’s sunny?” She asked, with a little smirk on her face. 

I laughed. “No- it’s more stunning when it’s sunny,” I repeated. I remembered the sunsets out there were just otherworldly, beauty magnified by the flat mirror of the water, the rounded islands adding the perfect composition. I hoped tomorrow would be clear enough to allow for a nice sunset. 

Out in front of the Dining Hall were a couple of ping pong tables and foosball and we had fun playing those. Mom was hilarious at foosball because she’d never played it much before and made a lot of wild noises and ridiculous moves. 

In the evening I whipped up a nice fire in the fire pit, feeling pretty smug about my fire building skills. (Although I did cheat a little with a fire starter “tumbleweed”.) I thought about how Camp Kirby was where I really got good at building fires, where I developed the identity of “good fire builder.” It was one of the more useful skills I left the summer with. 

For dinner we made a “shrimp boil” by filling foil packets with shrimp, andouille sausages, potatoes, and little ears of corn, and plopping them on the coals. We had a bit of a challenge pulling them out when they were done, because of the deep fire pit. We ended up hoisting them out with a shovel, puncturing one of the foil packets and losing a few potatoes in the process. And one of the packets had overcooked, revealing a pile of incinerated chunks- but overall, a pretty good dinner. 

After dinner we got in our pajamas and played Go Fish in the cabin, listening to the cozy sound of wind and rain on the roof. Later I read to Mina from The Hobbit as we snuggled up on one of the top bunks. She fell asleep while I was reading, and I slowly climbed down into the bed under her and read from a book of stories called Tales From Nowhere– real travel stories from people who found themselves in remote, isolated places. I kept thinking my summer in Coldfoot would fit in perfectly, and wondered how I would condense it down into a much shorter story. 

I slept deeply that night, and wasn’t quite ready to wake up when Mina climbed down and announced, “Good morning, Mom!” I groggily got out of bed and got her a bowl of Panda Puffs with milk which she ate in the cabin. I found the French press and bag of coffee, mugs, kettle, and lighter, and went outside to the picnic table to make coffee. The storm had passed- the ground and cars were wet but it was a nice day, partly cloudy with no wind. As I waited for water to boil Benny and Mina emerged, ready to go explore the beach. I wanted to go with them but stayed behind to make coffee, mostly just glad that Mina was up for some adventuring. Sometimes she can be stubbornly insistent about just holing up somewhere cozy and not going out. (That’s partly why I wanted to read her The Hobbit- I thought she’d be able to relate to Bilbo and his resistance to adventure.) 

When the coffee was ready I handed a mug to Mom who was in the cabin writing in her journal. She gasped and said, “I love you!!” As she reached for the mug with both hands. “I mean, I loved you before too.” 

I picked up the other two mugs and went after Benny and Mina, thinking it would be nice to drink the coffee out at The Point. We spent a good hour out there, inspecting shells and rocks and just walking around. Benny was awestruck by a crane that was fishing in the shallow part of the water, surrounded by seagulls, and Mina gathered more treasures than she could carry. After a while we went back to the cabin and cooked up some egg, cheese, and sausage burritos, then the three of them went to play more ping pong while I got dressed and did some journal writing. 

I wrote, “I’m not sure if I feel more connected to my past self here or farther away from her. Maybe more connected, actually. Like the land is a direct tie between us, without the intervening space and time. Like I could run into her here.”

It was true- I found that when I was alone for a few minutes, away from my family, I could easily trick myself into believing it was 2002. The camp looked almost exactly the same as it was 19 years ago. I kept seeing the ghosts of kids lining up outside the Dining Hall, or marching up the hill arm in arm back up to the treehouses. Out of the corner of my eye I could almost see my 20 year old self, lugging a bag of laundry into the laundry room, balancing on a log by the water, emerging from Tayito with a stack of letters. She seemed like a physical presence, not just a wisp of memory smoke. 

I wrote about half a page before they returned from ping pong. After hanging out at the cabin a while we packed some snacks and headed up the hill to explore the forest trails. I was delighted when we arrived at Chapel- I had almost forgotten about it although it had been one of my favorite spots in camp. It looked the same, of course- rows of log benches arranged in a half circle facing a breathtaking view through the trees of the bay and land across the water. Mina found an injured moth and made a little twig house for it, while we sat and snacked on apples and I drew the scene in my journal. Before we left I remembered the Chapel ritual of wishing on a rock, so I found a rock and we sat side by side, each holding the rock for a moment to make our wish, then Benny tossed it over the railing to the water below. 

“I have too many things to wish for,” I said, thinking of all the problems in our lives and the catastrophes of the world. But I wished for the first thing that came into my head which was, “I wish to be outside in the morning more often.” Which is kind of a funny wish but I’ve found that if I can get outside early it just makes for a better day, and in turn, a better life. It connects me to mindfulness and gratitude. 

After a lunch of crackers, salami, and cheese by the water I was feeling strangely lethargic. I’d had a mild headache since we left Portland and it seemed to be getting worse. It was still cloudy and the air was heavy with moisture. It felt late in the day but when I checked the time it was only 12:30. “What are we going to do the rest of the day?” I wondered. We had already done the two things I was looking forward to- hanging out by the water and hiking the forest trails. I was also feeling like I desperately needed some alone time- I found that I was getting cranky around my family, tired of talking and interacting and making decisions together in a group.

“When I was a counselor I thought a two hour break was nothing,” I thought grumpily. “What I wouldn’t give for just one uninterrupted hour.” 

“I’m going to go take a nap,” I announced, leaving the three of them on the beach. 

Mom and Mina ended up playing ping pong and Benny came back to the cabin to nap also. I felt better after the nap but we were still sort of just aimlessly wandering around, not sure what to do. There were other families nearby playing volleyball, going kayaking, biking around. Part of me wanted to make friends with them, wanted Mina to find some other kids to play with. But I also just felt tired and sort of vacant. I realized that, although I planned this as a family getaway, my main reason for coming here was some kind of self reckoning, a hope of gaining a bit of closure with my past. I wanted to have a moment with my past self- not a goodbye exactly, but more of a “Hey- thanks for everything you’ve done for me. Now maybe can you give me some space and let me live my own life?” But I wasn’t sure how to invoke her or create that moment. I knew she wouldn’t approach me if I was around my family, but at the end of the day I still hadn’t given myself enough time alone to fully allow for her presence. 

That evening after cooking pizza sandwiches over the fire in our pie pans we walked out to the West facing beach for the sunset. The sky was somewhat clear but a big chunk of cloud was wedged between two islands, blocking the sun’s final descent. The sun itself wasn’t so spectacular but the clouds themselves were lovely, smeared across the sky in rippled patterns reminding me of a salmon filet, pale blue and lavender, wispy white and hints of pink. After the sun had set, the low hung clouds burned like embers, a sizzling magenta glow. 

Even after my nap, I was spent. I felt sedated, drained by the sun even though it had been overcast most of the day. I tried to write in my journal before bed and my hand felt stiff and heavy, laboring over the forming of words. I wondered if I was experiencing some kind of emotional fatigue, the result of coming to terms with my present overlapping my past. I curled up in bed early, before 9:00 even, reading my book. I begged Benny to do book time with Mina because I couldn’t imagine getting out of bed to climb up the ladder and reading aloud for half an hour. I fell asleep listening to Benny read about swords and goblins, and Bilbo lost in the damp darkness of caves.

In the morning I woke up fresh and alert, with new resolve. I would find some time to be alone this morning, after breakfast and before our archery lesson at 10:00 am. So after instant oatmeal, coffee, and a shower, I announced I would be taking a solo walk and would be gone 30-40 minutes. I encountered no opposition from the group. 

I know I have to go out to The Point. We’ve spent a lot of time out there on this visit but this time will be different. I will be alone. It’s sunnier than yesterday- the sun warms the left half of me as I walk along the gravel, lifting my hand to wave to a man on the porch of Herman’s Hut. As I walk along I see a man and his daughter on the beach to my right. I think it would be nice to walk that way but I don’t want to risk having a conversation with anyone, so I continue on down the middle. On my left are two women walking together in the distance, causing seagulls to flap leisurely away from their fishing spot for a moment. The tide is very low, I can tell by the long expanse of exposed mud and seaweed between the shore and the water. Because the tide is so low, the tip of The Point extends much farther out. I keep walking, my boots crunching the barnacle covered stones. I hope I’m not hurting the barnacles. The tip of the land is covered in white seagulls, all loitering there just looking around. I don’t feel compelled to disturb them so I stop before I get too close to them, then turn around to head back. 

There’s that view that feels so achingly familiar. This is the way I most often remember this place- the widening strip of land with the water on either side, the speckling of half-hidden cabins and the dark green background of the tree covered hill. As I slowly walk back, I see someone coming towards me in a direct path. Even before she is close enough to recognize, I know who it is. She’s wearing the dark blue, green, and yellow Raffe ski jacket that I bought at that vintage store in Chico. I wore it so often I got sick to death of it and ended up leaving it in Brian’s truck when he dropped me off at the Greyhound station in Portland. I’ve thought of that jacket many times since then, wishing I hadn’t given it up so impulsively. 

When she gets near enough to see her face I stop. My whole body tenses up and my face crumples, hot tears sliding fast down my cheeks. Her expression is soft, loving, and a little curious. She comes even closer, stopping in front of me. 

It’s nice to be eye to eye with someone, I think, as I look her over- her unlined face, her un-grayed hair. My hair is about as long as hers, actually, though mine’s more of a mullet. Her slightly askew glasses- she needs to get new ones. Her cheeks and nose are pink with sunburn. I know she’s looking me over too, seeing how well I’ve fared over the last 19 years, reading between the lines of my wrinkles.

“Hey. You ok?” She asks. Her face blurs as my eyes keep welling up with tears, and I know that I’ll have a hard time stopping, especially with her looking at me with such love and concern. I feel a little embarrassed, like I’m supposed to be the one who has it together, who has the answers. I’m supposed to be helping her out, right? I should have some advice for her, something she can think back on during hard times. But at the moment I have nothing. I’m just so glad to see her, but I also don’t want her to know that her future self is so broken and unstable that she can’t withstand an encounter like this. I’m worried that she’ll think that there’s some upcoming tragedy to worry about. 

I sniffle, wipe some tears away. “Yeah. I’m ok. Don’t get me wrong, everything’s fine. Life is fine. I just…” I search for the right words. “I mean, I guess I’m just struggling with getting older. I want to maintain my sense of freedom and adventure, you know? I want to stay wild and alive but it’s hard- it’s a constant battle.” 

She looks at me wonderingly, like she’s not sure what I mean. 

I try again. “When you’re younger, staying alive is like breathing- it’s just something you are, you do it without thinking. When you’re older it feels more like drowning, like barely staying above water. Life becomes less about enjoyment and more about survival. It’s exhausting!” I break down, sobbing this time, not even able to control the flow of tears. I cover my face with my hand, trying to hide. She shouldn’t see me like this. 

I feel her step even closer, put her arms around me. I feel the heat of her cheek against my damp, cool one. Our bodies fit together perfectly, like no embrace I’ve ever felt before. I breathe in her musky, earthy scent. Our hair mingles together, black curls around black curls. 

“It’s okay,” she tells me soothingly. I feel her breath on my ear. “It’s going to be okay.” There’s no way she could know this- how can she say it with such reassuring confidence? And yet somehow I believe her. For some reason she seems to know things I don’t, or maybe I just don’t remember. I wish I could help her too, like she’s helping me, but she doesn’t seem to need it. Even if I did have advice for her, it wouldn’t do her any good. She’s going to learn just the way I did- through experience. 

“I think you’ve forgotten,” she says. “It’s not so easy for me, either. Staying alive, I mean.”

She’s right- I had forgotten. It’s always been a struggle, a fight to keep my head above water. My whole life has been lived in pursuit of authenticity, in the hopes of living a true, genuine, fully lived life. The nature of the obstacles changes, but they’re always there. 

My crying subsides and I’m able to take a deep, slow breath. She takes one too, then pulls away, looking at me. “I have to go,” she says with a soft smile. “My break is almost over.” 

I nod, wiping away tears. “Ok. Good luck with those kids.” 

She grins and winces, gives a little shrug. “Thanks.” She puts her hands in her pockets and turns, starts walking back. As I watch her form get smaller and smaller I again take in the composition of the scene, the way it’s split into three- water, land, water. It’s like the solid, grounded present flanked by the fluid, shimmery past and future. It seems like separate elements until you turn and realize it’s all connected- the past and future flow into each other with the present rooted in between, a stable place to rest your feet. The past is bright with morning sun; the future is subdued and layered with silhouettes of islands, waiting to receive the sun as it makes its way across. 

As I walk back to the cabin I think, “I don’t want to be a bitter old woman, mourning my lost youth. I want to be someone that my younger self would be proud of. I’m almost 40- it’s a good time to restart. It’s fine that I’ve been reliving these younger years, but it’s time to move on, make some new stories. I’m still young- I’ve got some adventure left in me somewhere.” 

I get back to the cabin just in time to gather everyone and march up the hill to the archery range. The archery instructor gives us all a quick lesson and then we each choose a bow and step up to the firing line. I hold the bow out straight in front of me, notch the arrow and pull back on the bowstring. I feel strong and steady, enjoying the way that this pose requires your shoulders to open, exposing your heart as the muscles in your arms go taut with effort and focus. I’m surprised that my first few arrows make it to the target at all, since it’s been 19 years since I held a bow in my hands. I do even better on my second round, although my arm that holds the bow is getting tired. 

Finally on my last one, I give it everything I’ve got. I hold my body still and strong, breathe in as I pull back on the string as far as I can, aim- and then breathe out as I let go, watching the arrow sail straight and sure, glowing for just a moment in the sun, to the bullseye. 

Digging In

 

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I’m working on a piece of writing and it feels big.

It started the other day when I was reading a memoir by Jill Soloway, creator of Transparent and I Love Dick- both radical, feminist, paradigm shattering TV shows. Their book is called “She Wants It” and it’s about their journey as a TV writer and director and how it’s tied in to their journey to find out their identity, sexuality, and voice.

I was reading this and thought, “Hey, I have a story like that too. I wonder what my story is. I wonder how it ends.” It occurred to me that my body has a story. I thought about what the story of my life would be from the perspective of my body. Luckily, I had the luxury to slip away not long after being struck by inspiration, and tap out a beginning to my story. I decided to write it on the computer, not in my journal, so that it already felt special and more like actual “writing.” That night after my family went to bed, I continued.

I’m using writing to explore my life in terms of identity, gender, and consent. The words are coming easily to me, that feeling that the thoughts are rushing at me faster than I can type. I think I’ve been preparing to write this for a long time, I guess my whole life. It’s the first time I’ve written memoir with a purpose in mind, a question.

My question is, who am I? Who am I in context of my family, my friends, my society? What does it mean to be a woman? Am I a woman? I like the term “non binary” but do I want to adopt that term for myself? What is consent exactly and what has been my experience with knowing what I want and don’t want and communicating that? How do I teach my daughter what wasn’t taught to me? What does it mean to have a body in this world? What does your body and how you use it say about you? What about me is the same throughout my life, and what has changed? How do I protect myself but also stay open and vulnerable? What does it mean to live authentically?

I’m not cracking open old journals yet, just drawing on memory and my recollection of my writing, but I think as soon as the words run out I’ll start looking back for entries that focus on identity, body, and consent, to fill out the writing and give it even more truth and detail. It started out as a blog post but it’s turning into my life story.

 

The Living Wind

You know how I was talking about how sometimes your past self has something to teach you? Well, once in a while I find some old writing that reminds me who I am in my best moments and it’s so reassuring to find it and meet her again.

Since looking for that last entry about The Vagina Monologues I’ve had a stack of journals on my desk and I thought, since they were out, I’d flip through them a bit and see if there was anything else interesting. I found a journal from the spring of 2001 and found myself engulfed in my tragic and tangled love life, when I was involved in not so much of a love triangle as more of a love hexagon. It’s so clear to me now what I needed to do then, but of course at the time I was completely confused. I was foolish and so selfish, I thought as I read through it. My past self teaches me so much, I wish I could return the favor and whisper a little advice backwards 17 years.

“Tell the truth,” I would say to her. There was so much unintentional deception happening, as a result of trying to protect everyone involved. It just made it worse, of course, but I didn’t see that then.

When I came across this entry it was a relief, a moment when I felt complete pride and love for my younger self. She reminds me how to be open and present and alive.

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(No date, because I didn’t date any entry in this whole journal because, well, I didn’t think the date would ever matter?)

Today was haunting as I stepped outside though it took me a while to notice it for what it was and not just an inconvenience. I think it was when I went into Cafe Max and took off all my jackets and scarves and bought a cup of coffee from the morose, goatee’d guy behind the counter, I realized there was no way I could stay inside- I just couldn’t do it for some reason even though it was raining and gray and windy as hell out there. So I went back out- there were no tables or chairs on the sidewalk anywhere so I sat on the church steps and sipped coffee and watched people walk down the street.

I noticed that some people marched with their heads down, hands in pockets, everything wrapped around them and shut off, protected- and some people walked with their bodies pressed against the wind, their heads up, necks exposed, welcoming it and moving with it. I realize that on my way to the coffee shop I’d been walking the first way, as if the wind was an obstacle or an enemy.

So I got up from the steps and continued on down the street, learning how to feel the wind move through me- I took off my scarf and let the wind be my scarf. I took my hands out of my pockets to embrace it. I was drawn to the trees-

stood underneath a pine tree, pressed my back against the trunk, looked up into the monstrous thrashing branches as they dipped and danced, deafening roars of wind through the trees, all over. I could feel the movement and energy and even heat through the trunk- I hummed, throat vibrant, as the tall beings bent and sang. The grass rippled in shining waves as if bristling with a life of its own, and leaves chased each other across it.

Suddenly, a crash- and scanning, I saw a fallen tree, gray branches reaching sideways and thick trunk heavy on the soft ground. I gasped and ran to it, heard a siren in the distance, imagined it was an ambulance coming to save it-

thick knot of mud-choked roots, dripping, what used to be in dark wet warmth now cold and exposed, oh its long body, sad and sprawled, oh its bright white wounds of underflesh that I took off my glove to touch, moist and young. Caked and crumbling mud that I pulled a chunk from, held it in my left hand as I walked away, softly forming it into a ball.

I was late meeting up with Nate at the library, but he was late too. When he showed up, he shouted, “Let’s do homework later and go for a bike ride! It’s beautiful outside!”

I felt alive

Like a challenge, like a fight, like a test.

We ran into Crystal and Justin. Justin was still wearing his pink hat. We walked, the four of us. I left my jacket open to help the wind in. I took off my glasses to fall more into the world- couldn’t discern between this and that, couldn’t discriminate, waved to everyone thinking I knew them, didn’t care about my reflection in the glass. Who knows where we are.

Fences are fallen. Misplaced possessions. Parts of roofs on sidewalks. Bleeding oranges on the street. At Crystal’s house, there are large branches in her yard. Her grass is smooth and long, undulating. The playground across the street was built over a cemetery. Inside her house, my skin feels swept and clean and swollen, like I’d just gone swimming in the ocean. She fed us soup and tea. Justin and I ventured to the haunted playground and Nate climbed high into the redwood tree, so high all I could see was the yellow of his jacket.

Later, we went with Crystal back to the library to look up a photographer named Brassi- marred recollections, shining black and white images of large ended pale women posing in Paris, in the wet brick streets, in the misty night, with fleeting expressions now caged in a heavy book in a heavy library

on a windy night, somewhere else.

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Who’s In Your Mirror

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I was 20 years old and on a Greyhound bus from Seattle to Denver, for no real reason other than I had taken a semester off from Chico State and wanted to head East for once. The drive took several days, and at one point during the trip we were stopped at some random town somewhere, it was night, and the interior lights went on. I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the window across the aisle, and after so much time of being alone among strangers I was struck by the familiarity of my own face and overcome with an aching love for myself. I suddenly came to the realization that one day I would be gone from this earth and I missed myself fiercely, wishing that I could stay until I decided, on my own terms, when to go.

When I think of that moment now, it’s about confronting one’s own mortality but also about how we’re always saying goodbye to some old version of ourselves, often not realizing it in the moment. That was a self that was single, childless, still searching, still constructing my own version of the world and what about it was important to me. Part of me feels like that was the truest version of myself and always will be. Sometimes I think about that moment as a goodbye to the girl version of me, who still had so much to learn.

Here’s the thing: I have this dichotomy happening in me right now. Since Mina’s birth I’ve been grappling with this question of who I am now. When I gave birth to a child, my old self died. So suddenly and completely that I can’t compare it to any other event in my life. For the first time in my life, I felt that I didn’t matter. It wasn’t about me anymore. I stopped looking in the mirror- Mina was my mirror. When someone asked me how I was, I would respond with Mina’s state of being. For a while none of my needs were important to me, except to keep myself functional so I could care for my baby. In some ways it was liberating- so much of my life up to that point was spent focusing on myself, my wants and needs and feelings, my appearance, my identity; how freeing to feel selfless for once, without ego, without ambition aside from being this child’s mom.

But every day it got a little easier to remember my self and put energy towards doing those things I used to do. As she gets older I am remembering how to be an individual person; but now I have to get reacquainted with myself, like seeing an old friend again after years of living overseas. I slowly got back into art, music, writing, reading, biking, friends, time with Benny, time alone. But of course it was different. Motherhood has changed every single thing about me. I feel like there is still an umbilical cord connecting me and my daughter. She is still my mirror.

The funny thing is, I’ve gotten used to the feeling that I don’t matter. When I became a mother, my vision suddenly zoomed out- I saw the whole world in her, every person who has ever lived and ever will live. I saw my place in the cycle of life, I saw her place in my family tree and the family tree of all humanity. I understood my parents better, and I understood my childhood better. The combination of motherhood and growing older has given me a much bigger view of things. So much so that it’s hard to stay within the confines of my small self and my small life- I find myself often looking down from above, trying to make sense of the whole ecosystem. I’m often struck by the strangeness of the human experience, how lucky and how cursed we all are. How complex and intelligent and how foolish and weak.

Part of me wants to figure out who I am now and establish a fresh identity, and part of me thinks, “Who cares?” I don’t matter and I kind of like it that way. Working to establish an identity is the work of someone younger. I’ve heard it said that the first half of your life is for building your ego; the second half of your life is for dissolving it. I want to be pliable, flexible, open, unguarded. I want to keep a loose grip on who I think I am and what I believe in. I want to flow in and out of everyone, hear and feel others, go by different names, find kinship with the changing seasons. I want to feel comfortable saying goodbye to an old part of myself, knowing that being a part of this world means that she was never meant to stay.

 

 

I took this self portrait at Burning Man when I was 20. This was supposedly a mirror that showed your “true self”- not a mirror image but the way others see you.