The Tornados That Brought Us to Hickory Hill

We are in our new house now. Our new house. La nuova casa, I keep telling Oliver, because I almost exclusively speak Italian to Oliver. We left ‘la vecchia casa’ and now we’re in ‘la nuova casa’, I tell him, over and over and over again.

Our new house is not a stand-alone house, and Nic is somewhat bothered by that. People love stand-alone homes — they love property and privacy and their names on things. But I love the division of property. And I privacy only some of the time. I revel in the gain you gain from sharing homes and lives and time with others. I learned this because I kept running from my own home when I was young, so I learned it as a result of some kind of lack, but all it did was GIVE BACK AND GIVE BACK.

A tornado dropped us here. It started in the cells of a man across the street from us — a neighbor that honestly lost his mind — due to drug use, perhaps combined with some other issues. As his behavior spiraled, our lives became intertwined in only the worst of ways. Fear became the most common feeling I had at home. So we started thinking. Maybe we should move? Then we started looking. We talked about Iowa City. How much we would love to live in the same city as Hickory Hill.

When I first moved to Iowa, it was to Iowa City, and it was almost 4 years ago exactly.

I came here to stay with a friend — and much to my surprise, I immediately felt a sense that I was home. (I was only supposed to be here for a couple months; I had plans to head off to another big city and to “figure out how to become a writer.”)

I was staying in Emily and John’s house with their two little boys. Emily was a friend from college. I was living amongst her family — and I kept staring at it, wide-eyed, like a little girl. Here are happy people. In a stand-alone house. With CHILDREN. How weird. I had been apartment-jumping and love-avoiding and I felt as far away from their state of being as I could have. Yet: I liked seeing it. It stirred something up within me. A tiny tornado of curiosity.

Emily lived right near a park that was essentially tons of semi-manicured woods: Hickory Hill.

I started walking every day in Hickory Hill. I filled me in ways I hadn’t been filled since I was a girl. I came from the woods. They have always been where I have found the most peace. Amongst the trees, amongst the green.

Then Nic and I fell in love there.

And I think we all know how that story went. Nic and I GOT MARRIED (in Hickory Hill) AND BOUGHT A HOUSE (forty-five minutes from Iowa City/Hickory Hill) AND HAD A CHILD.

And just like that: my plan to leave Iowa, my plan to stay single and childless — my life plans were obliterated.

(and that’s okay.)

**

Life kept spinning.

That child we had needed a doctor, and Emily had a sister who was a doctor (and a friend), and so we took our little baby to her after he came into the world. She measured him time and again, and calmed my fears when I had them.

And we kept living in Marion,  but visiting Emily and her sister in Iowa City, and taking occasional walks with Oliver and Béla in Hickory Hill.

Then our neighbor erupted and we started thinking it was time to leave our home, and maybe if we were lucky, we could get closer to that park…maybe we could figure out someplace nearby. A twenty-minute drive would be nicer than a forty-five.

Then the sister bought a house. With a mother-in-law apartment in the bottom of it. A home, underneath a home, with a separate entrance and a separate outdoor space, yet tied together with walls. Our ceilings are quite literally their floors. She has two children, too, and so, all together, we have three — Oliver has two brother figures built into the foundation.

And — well, the location could not be better.

Because.

THE BACKYARD IS HICKORY HILL. 

**

We moved in last weekend, and boxes are strewn about still. It looks wild in here.

But this is merely the calm after the storm. This is the calm after all of the storms.


 

if you want to page back through my blog, you can read the blog post I wrote when I first moved here — Iowa 75% Vowels, 100% Awesome  — and the one I wrote when I finally admitted I was in love with Nic — Fuck It; I’m In Love. I have no idea how to link them here bc I am not technologically advanced enough to even link my own blog to my own blog wtf

 

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The Non-Subtlety of God

I am supposed to be busy right doing some very important things. Things like “de-personalizing” the home [for sale purposes], walking Béla (but it’s hot as shit, she doesn’t want to, right?) and editing a piece I wrote that I really need to resuscitate.

But something happened this morning while I was working at Starbucks and I’m just sitting here, thinking about it.

I was leaning out of the drive-thru window, talking to woman in the driver’s seat, when she raised her head to the back, listening to her children speak. The windows were tinted, so I couldn’t see their faces. But her face. All of the sudden, her face sort of tilted to the right and she drew a tiny, hiccuped breath in and, looking shocked, revealed what they had wanted.

“They want to know…   [she paused] ….. if [short pause again] …you know God.”

My chest was leaning against the metal shelf that provides the bridge between the in- and out- of doors, and had my weight not been so properly anchored, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have slipped. It felt like the floor dropped from beneath me. My ears rang with the blatancy and directness of their question.

Do you know God? 

**

I met God when I met Béla and I met him again when I met Nic and again when I met Ollie. I meet him on the street twenty times a day, in the face of every dog I see. I meet him in the eyes of people on the sidewalk, in line at the grocery store. I meet him when my friends bring me into their homes and feed me and love me, like two dear ones did this week alone. I have talked to God a thousand times before bed, and in the middle of the day sometimes, and the night years ago that I asked him to give me a motherfucking sign if I was seriously in danger of dying ((and he did — and I was. I got to the hospital when a good portion of my left lung was already dead and both lungs were filled with blood clots)) So, yeah, I know God. He’s been a total homie and my saving grace and I have found him in the stars and the grass and bugs and flowers and trees.

And those little kids? They knew I knew him. They were just reminding me.

We all do it. We ask people if they know someone when we have a hunch they do.

You know — when you’re like — “Oh, hey — do you know Macy? She lives three streets up and has brown hair and a little beige dog and…”

We’re looking for confirmation, to know that our hunch is right and true.

I’m not looking for confirmation that I know God anymore. I’m done. This life has all been too sweet and too good.

So to the little angels in the backseat today — yes, I know God. Of course I do. He’s right in front of me. He is every last one of you.

Déjà Vu

I have been crying all day.

Like, all day. (The very worst moment was when Oliver looked up at me and saw tears in my eyes and immediately said, in his tiny baby voice: “Sowrry” like he had caused it.)

Because there are a whole bunch of changes upon me and I didn’t really ask for them or want them. And I feel them. And they are coming for me.

But I am comforted by one thing. And that is that I experienced déjà vu — not once — but twice, today. Twice. 

There are some scientific explanations for for the how and the why déjà vu occurs – and I’m not contesting any of them, but I have my own explanation. And that is: that it happens to let me know that I am on the right path.

Like, I’m suddenly experiencing something I have never experienced before — but that I have completely experienced before. When I first realize it, I get really quiet, just for a second. I drop my eyes and put my lips together, and I don’t say a word. It’s in my nature to yell out, “OMG THIS HAS ALREADY HAPPENED!”, but it’s like the shock of knowing what I am in the midst of takes over and silences me all the way through my body. I am silenced, by the magic of life unfolding in front of me.

**

This morning, I was itching to get a move on when my darling neighbor, Ginger, appeared. I haven’t spoken to her in months, I tell you; winter comes along and shuts down the block. So I wanted to ask her things and tell her things and just be with her a bit. Suddenly, Oliver took off and ran around the house. I called for her to join us in the backyard, but she did not hear. I considered grabbing him and heading back up, but I yelled to her louder, instead. She rounded the driveway and joined us. Oliver wanted to ride his tricycle (which means, have me push him while he yells ‘wheee!’) and beg for popsicles and scream unknown combinations of syllables at my face. He was ticked off about everything. But suddenly, he grabbed a bouncy ball and threw it to Ginger. Though she was balancing a tiny poodle in her arms, she reached up with her left hand and PALMED. IT. And so on, and so forth: Oliver and Ginger played a game of catch. (I want to say Ginger is in her 70’s, so palming a ball while balancing a poodle was wildly impressive to me. I suppose it would be at any age, really.)

I was crouching above the cement, staring into the sunlight and smiling when WHOOSH. Ohmygod, this moment is a repeat. This has happened. We’re here now. I’m on the right path. 

**

Hours later, I walked into a room for an interview for a job I didn’t particularly want. Not that the job sounds unappealing – it’s more so the fact that the job isn’t a writing job. (I want to be paid for my writing. It’s not just that I want to be paid for my writing — it’s that I want to be allowed to be writing. And that happens by way of being paid for writing. Because otherwise, you’re just sitting, writing, no paycheck in sight, with bills for food and daycare and house needs and you’re like bitch I have to write it feeds my soul isn’t that enough? and the answer is no.)

So, anyway, I walk into this interview and it is a small, intimate room, and they go to shut the door behind me when two beautiful dogs come bounding up to me. They approach, and sniff me, and one makes a snorting sound. I look down at it, delighted, puzzled — and then the woman on my left speaks. “Thank you. You may go now. That was the interview.”

She was kidding but holy shit how fantastic.

And —

WHOOSH. Ohmygod this moment is a repeat. This has happened. I’m here now. I’m on the right path. 

**

I’m not done crying. And I don’t know if I’ll get offered the job or if I’ll take the job or if we’ll move and where we’ll move and if I’ll ever get paid enough for my writing to cover my car payment, etc, but I’ll be damned, it feels so good to know that I’m on the right path.

 

Fight or Flight.

I FUCKING HATE ADDICTION.

I mean, no one likes it. But I hate it. I don’t blame the addict, but I hate it. I will avoid it – and the person it has affected – at all costs. Why?

Because addiction kills humanity. It just smashes it to smithereens.

It strangles it – and wrangles it – to the ground, and gets high off of the steam that rises.

My first name means Warrior Maiden. I have known this since I was roughly fifteen. It sounded a little cheesy, but also badass, so I committed it to memory. It did feel like me. I loved challenging people and ideas. I loved to fight.

I’m not fifteen. I’m done fighting.

I’m at the point where I’ve started running.

Last night, I ran away from home.

Homes don’t have meaning. Safety has meaning.

  • Are you free to be who you are?
  • Are you comfortable falling asleep?
  • Does your heart beat louder than it should?

You should have checked yes to the top two and no to the last question. If your answers were any other than this, please step out of the line and exit the building. You’re not good here. The air’s not right. You won’t be able to grow.

I’m writing this from the same home I moved into three and half years ago when I reached the shores of Iowa. You can even follow my blog back that far, and read the changes as they were happening. I had run. From a bad situation to a new one, and I was busy learning what that meant and how what it might feel like to again be free. Last night, I grabbed diapers for my baby and a leash for my dog and almost nothing for me – and I drove back here, to Iowa City. There’s a situation across the street from my house that isn’t safe for me. For us.

The neighbor on the other side of us is carrying a gun. I won’t carry a gun. BUT I WILL RUN. 

I will run every time something bad threatens to swallow me. I will never stay put, as long as I don’t feel free. I feel vulnerable, and pissed, and sad, and like I want to walk back home and cross the street and FIGHT. But I’m done. Because this, too, is a fight – the running. It’s a fight for a free and happy life. It’s a fight not against anyone else — but FOR ME. 

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happy birthday, baby.

IMG_6141Two years ago today, Oliver came into the-and-my world. I will never forget the first time I heard him. There was a child wailing in the delivery room, and I heard it as if it were far off in the distance. I did not believe it to be mine. That can’t be mine, right? There must be someone else in here. That shouldn’t be mine. 

**

I was sure I didn’t want a baby. I was sure I didn’t want a dog of my own. I was sure I didn’t want a husband.

Babies cry, and sometimes grow up to hate you. And sometimes get addicted to drugs. Dogs die. No matter how much they love you. And husbands? They treat you like shit. The ones that don’t end up leaving you are the ones you really want to. THIS. Was my worldview.

It’s six a.m. In Iowa. March 25th.

I crawled out of bed a little after five, and went into the living room. It was dark, aside from the yellow glow creeping in from the front porch light. Layers of darkness. You can make out the shape of the lamp, and the shape of the rug, and you can step around the table and over the dog because there are varying degrees of darkness and shade. You can work around them because you can partially see and because your body has learned how to know a space.

I didn’t want things because I couldn’t see around darkness and my body only knew a certain kind of space.

**

I remember the first time I saw Oliver, too. On the screen during the ultrasound. Nic was standing on my right side. And suddenly, there he was. In black and white and up on a screen high in front of me. A baby. My baby. Without any sound, and still filled with fear, my eyes started leaking. I was not crying. Believe me — I have been crying at least once a day every day since I was born. This was not a cry. This was…my body, leaking. Overflowing. In shock. Oh my dear god what have I done? 

**

I have learned a new way to live. A way that sees darkness and acknowledges darkness and knows how to walk through darkness — but that seeks light and gives power to the light and prefers the light. 

There has been so much light these past two years. It’s like there’s a hole in the top of our roof  — where those sun rays that you see sometimes that look like ladders or lines straight to heaven — are coming directly through. Sometimes, I stop and gasp. My life wasn’t supposed to look like this. It wasn’t supposed to feel so good. 

**

I don’t write to Oliver, which…strikes me as odd. I thought I would. I’ve written to him only once, shortly before he was born and it was a tiny little springtime poem.

But, Oliver, my son: thank you. For helping my eyes adjust to the light. 

The Scent of Chocolate Cake

I really like cake. That’s sort of a duh, but it’s still shocking to me because I have never been huge on cake — more of a candy girl — but now, I can barely see one without grabbing a fork. I usually push the majority of the icing off (especially if it’s store-bought), and focus on the airy stuff. Sugar, mixed with flour, mixed with just the right fats, to come together…to rise up and stand, tall enough to be taken down with four tines. It’s marvelous.

But even more than the actual ingestion of the cake — I like the scent of it baking.

A house that smells like food is not one I am used to. Neither my mom or my dad did much from the ground up in the kitchen. I don’t begrudge them of this — because, shit, it’s hard  — but I am not one accustomed to the smells of a home-cooked meal or freshly-baked sweets. Which is what makes those scents all the more enticing to me.

When we toured this house, there were freshly-baked cookies on the stove. Fuckin genius, man. I had so many warm thoughts when I walked through. I asked Nic if people were ‘supposed to’ eat the cookies on display, and he came back with a ‘Well…‘ kind of response, which means I grabbed one immediately. And another before we left.

We put an offer in about fifteen minutes after we saw the place, and they had accepted by the end of the day.

I try to cook here, sometimes. I have baked a couple times, too. But it always overwhelms me. When I do gear up for a recipe, I make sure that the steps are super simple, and that there aren’t too many ingredients. I have made muffins a couple times for our carb-obsessed toddler, but I tend to stray away from pies or cakes. They just seem…kinda hard.

Chocolate cake has always bored me. It just seems so one-note. Chocolate on chocolate. Bo-ring! Life is too big for such mundane things! Give me lemon with berries – red velvet with cream cheese — give me the spice of life, my dear — variety.

But. I tasted a cake in Chicago once and it threatened my prior way of life. It was chocolate on chocolate on chocolate — a layered cake with chocolate frosting in between the layers and on top — and while I couldn’t believe it, I was smitten.

So when Nic asked what I might like for my last birthday, I told him of this cake. We found an internet recipe and he went to work. I came home to the cake on the stove and felt like I’d been hit with a ton of bricks. Someone loved me enough to bake me a cake. And if we’re being honest here — it wasn’t just the ‘someone’ part. It was that that someone was a man.

I didn’t think men baked cakes very much. I didn’t think many people did, in general. To think that he would mix a batter, crack in eggs, use a toothpick to check doneness — frankly, it all took me by surprise.

It made me feel astoundingly loved.

**

When we first met, I was determined not to fall for him. I avoided holding his hand, and allowed his arms around me for short bursts of time, certain that I wouldn’t be caught, wouldn’t be engulfed by love.

Now, I chase him around the house, trying to make him hug me for longer than twenty seconds (*I read some damn study that said the twenty second mark was where something magical happened in the brain or some bullshit,) I grab his hand while we’re watching t.v., I pat him on the ass every time he walks by me. Now he’s the one who doesn’t need his arms around me all evening, and I’m the one who would be fine with it. Sometimes I sass him, saying ‘How did this come to be?’ and ‘Do you really even love me?’

He doesn’t need to say much. I can meet his eyes and know all I need to know. And I can find him in the kitchen, frosting a chocolate cake that he made for me on a Sunday night, just because.

What the F*** Did I Learn This Year?

So much. So much, that I’ll never be able to encapsulate it here, but I’m still going to make a little list of highlights for the hell of it.

That our country is lost. 

I mean, I will probably never get over the shock of Donald Trump “winning” the election. But.

It’s important to remember that our country is lost because people are lost, and when people are lost, it is our job not to beat their fucking asses because they’re lost, but to take their arm, gently, and guide them, in whatever way works best for them (*trial and error required) towards love. We will NEVER be unified without love for every person — every last asshole. I know that is scary and seems not fucking fair and not right, but it’s true. Love unifies. Hate and fear divide and they divide with IRON FENCES. They must be melted down. With love.

That our self-image informs how other people see us. 

I knew this one before, but never so deeply. Do your very best to see yourself as valid, worthy and even awesome. Because everyone around you is picking up what you’re throwing down. Show them you are gold. And they will only see your sheen.

That I’m not a great mom, and I’m not a shit mom. 

I’m just a person. Who now has a child. One that hits the dog and doesn’t eat anything except crackers and challenges every last bit of my sanity and decency and yet has completely softened me. I am a person who is trying to be a ‘mom’ — whatever the f*** that means, and there in lies the problem. Oliver will become who he becomes partly by way of the person he is, and partly by way of the person I am (and Nic duh). I need to kill the mom guilt, the mom definitions. Or I will doom us both.

That my privilege – and my disadvantages – have informed every stance I have.

TRY TO REMEMBER THAT THIS IS THE SAME FOR ALL.

Empathy, Empathy, Empathy.

That I am one happy motherfucker.

Sometimes, I think, maybe I was always this happy, and sometimes I think, no I think it has increased and is situational and sometimes I think I should stop thinking about it. I am SO HAPPY. So, SO happy. The other day I heard a girl say how much she wanted to slap really happy people across the face and I almost turned around and slapped her in the face and then I realized the irony of that and just said, ‘I really like  happy people’ and let it go.

I am so scared to be in the world every day — and I am so grateful to be in the world every day — and that is the deal. That is the gist from this past year and for all the future ones. We are so lucky to be here. Love. Love everybody. Try to find the things that make you happy. You will beam when you do and some people will hate you, but most people will love you.

 

wow. I intended this list to be funny.

happy new year.