I have been living the dream in California for 7 months now. But recently I got a chance to go back home to Wisconsin where the dream began.
After a 15 hour bout of traveling, an emergency landing in Lubbock Texas, and a 3AM drive in the yellow convertible VW, I was finally home. . .
My mom peeking out from the top of the stairs enveloped me in her arms after I climbed the stairs. We spent the rest of the morning along with my sisters laughing and smiling over freshly baked blueberry muffins. I remember thinking it couldn’t get better than this, as I slipped into a late morning slumber.
But before I eased into my mostly subterranean childhood bedroom, I padded around the house to the lovely and warming voices of my family echoing from the kitchen. . .
And so begins the journey, part one of a multi-part series that I hope to bring you over the next week. We start here at home inside the walls where we come to relax, kick back, and share our stories from the day.
Guess who showed up again.
It was the visitor from another planet!
When we first met, he never hopped away from me or acted scared and eventually strolled off to another part of the yard.
Does this guy eat spiders? I wondered.
He seemed to have a cobweb mustache.
No, I learned that he is a herbivore, hence the jaws made for chewing.
I wouldn’t see him again for another 2 months, when he had made his way to the backyard and was sunning in the apparent safe haven he had found.
Unbeknownst to him, since his last visit a cat had become the newest member of our household.
The birds that came for the buffet in my yard had figured it out quickly.
All, except for the brave hummingbird, who still hovers dangerously close to my cats jaws, which were not made for chomping plants.
I have tried to keep my cat relatively an indoor cat, but can’t bear to keep her inside when we have such a lovely yard. Despite, my desire for the cat to feel somewhat free, I still dread that day when she will drag in a lovely, beautiful bird, and I will have to deal with the carnage.
A silent thank you I will have to say to the cat who will proudly believe she has brought me a gift. Or maybe she will just play with and torture it, only to grow tired when the fight leaves the bird. I will have to finish it off so as to cut short the suffering.
Will I do it? Will I have to courage to break the little bird’s neck? Will I hold it against the cat, humanizing the experience?
Well months have passed. The birds still visit the yard, less so than before. But they seem to have the upper hand on the cat. They go to the tops of the trees, visit the feeders, and squawk and scream wildly at the cat.
She stews and her tail shakes.
She imitates the bird’s chatter as her whiskers vibrate.
Once she got so fed up, she leapt for the bird feeder. The bird swooped away from the tree to the top of the fence and danced left and right, singing happily as the cat hung from one paw.
As for that hummingbird, I once witnessed a scene, that might explain why it hasn’t found its way into the cat’s mouth:
As usual, the hummingbird hovered around with the cat no more than a foot away. As the cat cowed down with her backside wagging, readying the pounce, a huge crow flew past the yard cawing loudly. The cat stopped and backed off. Still the crow circled again, making its presence known with extreme sounds of warning emitting from its beak. Since that day, it seems the cat has never gone after those low hovering beauties. The bird kingdom is certainly more powerful than we can imagine.
Either that, or the talk I gave her about how sad I would be if she killed a hummingbird worked.
So the birds seem to fend just fine for themselves. They have must have bigger things to worry about then a scruffy little house cat. But the cat, she gets salty from time to time. And despite myself I wish she could catch something to satisfy her primal urge.
when the visitor from another planet found himself safe in the backyard and leapt through the air in fabulous gusts of confidence, I did not rescue him from the cat’s attentions.
I have to let nature run its course. Besides he looks like he is made of armor, maybe he can withstand the cat’s curiosity.
Little did I anticipate the horror that the cat would bring to the visitor for the next 2o minutes. She did it slowly, and the visitor put up a good fight even as it lost its limbs one by one. Finally he quit hopping around enough for the cat to forget about him and casually go to the next thing.
Meanwhile, the visitor was dying slowly in the sun, left with only one leg.
This was it, my big moment. Time to finish off the job. Gotta do it, it’s the way it is.
I stopped short: Maybe he’ll make it and go on to live a good life, grow his legs back, or maybe a bird will come right now and eat it, continue the cycle of life.
My mind denied the inevitable killing, thinking of the most unlikely of scenarios, soon after thankfully my brother in-law came in from work and asked me how I was doing
As I paced around in my apron trying to act natural, he walked in the door and took off his jacket
“Oh, I’m fine. Good good, yes…how are you?”
Good, a little tired. (puts his briefcase down)
Oh that’s fine, yes work, right…THERESaGRASSHOPPEROUTSIDEWHOisDYINGINtheSUNtheCATKILLEDITandiKNOWitsJUSTaBUGandIHAVETOKILLITtoSTOPtheSUFFERINGbutIDIDNTdoITandIWASWONDERING…(wanting to continue with ‘if you could kill it. Just squash it or something no big deal’ but the voice got lost into the pit of my stomach dropping down the esophagus, and the words only mildly echoed out.)
(Smiling a little but serious nonetheless.)Where is it? Why didn’t you kill it? Where is it?
I lead him to the site where the grasshopper was.
Everything spinning through my mind at this point, I knew I was acting crazy, more like weak, making such a big deal in my mind about this event of death. I should be fine with death by now, I’m an adult.
Similar thought goes through my mind when I am digging the guts out of a chicken.
A scientist, my brother-in-law, showed me how to most efficiently clean the guts from the chicken and would do so with an almost surgical aire about his tactics.
Oh yes I see, I thought the chicken is a body after all and I’m simply removing its lungs, heart, kidney. . .okay I got it now! 🙂
I tried to go with it but I found that just to get through the process, I had to tell myself that I’m looking at a mash of the garbage meat within this meat that we have to eat to survive.
It was not really an animal, okay it was an animal, but then what?
So I continue to just rip out the garbage meat as fast as possible and try not to think of it beyond getting it done…
Okay, can you please get me something to kill it with? He asks, interrupting my frenzy of thought.
I turned and buzzed somewhat frantically around the house, looking like a Bond character in 007 for Nintendo64. Where am I supposed to find a weapon for killing this suffering visitor?
My mind went immediately to the machete.
“The machete should do?” I called from the kitchen as I peeled a page from the notebook sitting on the table, knowing I would offer that and a shoe but not admitting it just yet.
I see him from the window considering it. (I told you this visitor was big, armored, strong, stoic, leaking no blood and his leg was a foot away-in its striped glory and teathery flesh.)
No this will do, he takes the paper and shoe, and with analytical coldness combined with an evidently beautiful faith in God, he smashes it and lifts the paper with a gentle smile to marvel at the smashed body and guts. He bleeds green.
Yes, he did in fact, his blood looked exactly like that of the Predator.
A few weeks later I get wind of a tragic event at my cousin-in-law’s house up north an hour or so. Two of her three cats were ripped apart by raccoons. One of the cats was pregnant.
Images ran through my mind of the time (17 years ago) when fellow campers captured turtles and decided to keep them as pets. They left them in their box, so in the morning a massacre scene was born to haunt my life ever since:
Every soft part of the turtles had been strained through the raccoons’ teeth and their inside were left stringing from the shells and forming a labyrinth of cloudy, mucousy red and blue all over the site. Blood and guts, everywhere.
The cats similarly had their heads and backsides ripped off.
I imagined in horror, of cleaning up what was left of the cat you had gotten to know beyond human terms.
We only have one cat now, but he is terrified, something frightened him terribly, said the cousin, shaking her head and looking beyond me.
We knew it had been raccoons but she meant something else by her statement, and I imagined the event through the cat’s eyes.
A few days ago, I picked up an old educational psychology book called something like Fantasy and Feeling in Education.
I read about how these teachers designed a summer program for kids in order to study the best ways to get through to children; essentially educate them more thoroughly by incorporating feeling into the education.
The theme for one of the main lessons was centered historically on indigenous people of the circumpolar region. They mapped it out, executed, and changed it according to what their observations told them:
They told the children mild facts about how the people depended on the seal meat, skin, fats, etc, in order to survive. They told them how families lived together and they had to travel from place to place.
They showed them a graphic video of a seal being harpooned through an ice hole.
Blood and resistance everywhere.
Based on observations after the lesson, the teachers had decided that they successfully showed them the death scene and contained their feeling into a more critical, scholarly approach, so they could continue on to the final part of the plan.
They told them about the infanticide and senicide that was part of the people’s past.
Among other illustrations, they were shown a video in which grandma was left to die, the one they had seen in the other video, the one who had bumped her head on the igloo causing the baby to delight in a fit of laughs.
The children were to contemplate their situation and think constructively about their own.
Of course the students come up with too many questions for the teacher to address logically with the time thing and all getting in the way. So the teacher designs a box for the kids to drop in all their questions, so she could give each one the time it deserved.
Until the next lesson, time for one question was allotted: “Why is the baby who has a whole life ahead of them have to die over another in the family”
The teacher said that in order to come to terms with it herself she had to keep seeking facts that could explain phenomena. For example, she told the class that she found out that they never killed a baby if it had been named.
This gave her some understanding, which in turn gave her some solace.
It seemed to me that the teacher was hoping that by gaining more knowledge about things, the children could only increase understanding, and this was the only way in which to effectively channel their feelings. There are no answers really, but only questions and musings.
This is the lesson that I consistently arrive at: Keep on gathering facts and observations so that I can have a peaceful and fruitful understanding of life and death.
I look forward to the day that I can bring down the machete over the head of the visitor from outer space ending its misery when there is no other choice.
Well for starters, at least I can rest easier learning now, upon further investigation, that he is(was) indeed a straight herbivore, and as you can see, he was getting dangerously close to my garden…
– He’s dead. He’s dead.
– He’s dead?
– The rocks killed him.
-You’re bleeding like crazy.
FRANCIS: Peter! You okay?
-I didn’t save mine.
-(panting) What’s his name?
(animal bleats) (bell tinkling)
This California sun is getting hotter by the day. One particular sunny day I sat outside with my book.
A heavy read but well worth it. As I sat roasting in the sun underneath my giant hat, a bug flew into my face. It was then that I knew I needed something to protect against the elements. But what could I do? I didn’t need something to protect me of the rain that seems in short supply these days.
No, I needed something luxurious. Something to sit under that could make me feel like a queen.
I ventured inside and gathered all the sheer scarves I could find. Using my clothesline, clothespins, and a tree freshly full of leaves, I began to pin up a shelter.
Oh well, that seems nice, doesn’t it? I sat down and dove back into my book. But alas…That lucky old sun was just too hot, and a rare bumblebee still found me. Well the view of my little garden was sure nice, but I was going to need to do a little more work. So I went back to find more scarves.That ought to do it! I stepped back to admire my work.Before I could step inside and get back to my lovely read, someone else found my shelter.
Well, I think there’s room for two.
Prepare for the visit of your one and only father. Since you are a wife now, and there are new family to meld, don’t worry about anything except getting those sheets washed and toilet bowls clean. Any other worries will be in vain, as everything will go beautifully…That is until dad leaves and you realize the floorboards are full of dust which could have been the reason he was sneezing so much…
Pick dad up at the airport and have a hot meal ready. Since he has traveled all the way from Wisconsin in February, he is going to be cold and could use a warm welcome.
Take dad to a church nestled in the hills and valleys that will give him respite from the busy world. Steal him away for a lunch of Oysters Rockefeller overlooking the ocean, followed up with a cloudy walk on the beach. Collect a few rocks and talk about life. Catch a surfing competition alongside a curious seal. Head home to give the guy a nap. He is going to be tired of course, so cook him something he can write home about.
Its cloudy and cold today. So uncharacteristic of paradise, but that won’t stop you from having a great day. Head to Seaport Village where he can buy his favorite cigars for dirt cheap. Just before the weather takes a turn for the worse, take him to the top of the city and watch the rain clouds gather. Stop for donuts and coffee and check out the location of the shop your husband is opening up soon. Head home for leftover and listen to rain/hail pound on the windows until daybreak the next day.
Its a beautiful day, perfect for wearing the new beret dad bought for himself at the hat shop. Dad will come down wearing the shirt your husband’s father bought for him. Your husband’s father will be wearing the same one, and when you visit your husband’s brother at his place of business, you will realize he also will be adorned identically.
Family solidified, check.
Uniforms for the ride, check.
Everybody is happy so celebrate with a quaint lunch.
Spend the afternoon at the lovely Balboa Park ducking in and out gardens and free museums. Hold off on the Japanese Friendship Garden until their renovations are complete. Your husband’s father will have spent half the day with the butcher making sure the Kofta is fresh and mixed correctly for dinner tonight. Dad will marvel at the Arab cuisine and its use of all the food groups that the body needs. Reintroduce him to dates so he can fascinate about the potassium content. Did you know that potassium is an important part of your diet because it harmonizes your pH levels and balances the fluids in your body? Imagine you are one part salt and the other part potassium. Keep in mind the salty diet we tend to digest and it is easy to see how important potassium is for the healthy function of the heart and muscles, and the brain and nervous system. They are most exquisite in taste too.
Accompany your husband to class today, so you and your dad can visit the campus. Browse the art gallery and peruse the library.
Cap it off with a game of tennis just below a giant hawk’s nest.
Rendezvous with the husband and rest over some delicious frozen yogurt. Decide you want one last visit to the beach and end it with a bang at La Jolla Children’s Pool.
There you can view the real babes on the beaches of San Diego.
Let dad treat you and the family to a farewell of dinner of seafood… the smell of the seals baking in the sun has surprisingly not deterred you.
Send dad home dead tired so he can sleep on the plane ride. Get moving a little earlier than usual today and scale a mountain. Take dad off trail so he can do some real climbing…where the only sound you can hear is your heartbeat, if it weren’t for the vultures circling and screaming above your heads.
Take dad for the best secret in La Mesa: Schawerma sandwiches worth the drive.
By then it will be time to say farewell…
And dad must head back home to his studies in the priesthood.
But you will always have each other, no matter the distance.
I could feel it coming; that daily blah feeling that relentlessly follows me around. It caught up with me at about 3:30pm today. I looked at a small pile of papers on my desk and a few items seemed to me a mountain of work I could not possibly deal with. The only thing I could do was stare at the wall and worry that the dullness overtaking my light was permanent.
The only thing to do was do something, but nothing was the only thing I could do.
So I sat, and finally a half an hour before sundown I dredged my way into the kitchen to prepare something to eat…but my legs had other ideas.
They took me to my bike and started cycling around the neighborhood.
My brain protested:
You are not 10 years old. No.
You look like a crazy person riding around.
Smile at the lady with the dog…no return smile, she thinks you’re crazy, look away, there’s an orange tree..
…and a lemon tree?
Wow this foliage is not bad at all
And listen to all those birds
Look at how much food there is for the birds, berries, nuts, flowers…
You look like a fool, don’t grin.
You have nothing to live for
Whats the point
Look at that dad putting together a kite with his 7 kids
And then here’s me, no kid to take along so I don’t look crazy enjoying a sunset cruise in suburbia, CA
The wind is making my eyes water
I’m not crying but my eyes think I am, and it feels pretty good
Rounding the corner…must have been about 20 min or so…home
Feeling better, 100 times better probably
Not jumping for joy or anything, but I’m feeling more logical, like I might have a little inspiration that was too scared to come out and play, but now it must have felt it was safe to come out, even just peek out a little.
Enough to think – You’ve been wanting to write that Beat the Blues article, what better time after you somehow found your way out?
So, I haven’t done my research but after today I can offer a few things that might help you:
1. Exercise: But, don’t even call it that, don’t even think about it again. Just do it the way you drink a glass of water when you’re not even thirsty. Go outside no matter how cold it is and walk, run, stretch, breathe, whatever. Just get some fresh air and move your body.
Let your mind go where it will, and eventually maybe, you can just be.
2. Of course the sun only shines so often, so you must light your flame within. To do this, you must find something that is just for you. Recently, I have found this blog which is a pastime that has given me the opportunity to be me, however I want to be. And so, to face the dark as the sun sets on another day, I find my way to the laptop to write something eternal. I worry not about who will read, who will like, who will comment, but I think of me, and what keeps that flame going.
Find what ignites the light inside of you. Is it as simple as a walk? Strumming on your guitar? Taking some pans and buckets and setting up a percussion jam? Reading a good book? Kicking some major butt in your self-defense class at the gym? Drawing pictures that make you laugh? Writing a poem? Baking a loaf of bread or chocolate chip cookies? Mixing beats? Putting together a film?
Whatever it is, remember, that it is something simple that will keep you going. It’s not something you can buy, no one can sell it to you. It’s not something to eat, no one can feed it to you. It is something very simple, very beautiful, and it requires no talent at all. Its inside of you and every one of us. It is one of the few things in the world we have choice about; to see the light inside of yourself and let it shine. Let it wash away the worries that weigh you down and make you so tired, you are sure there is nothing that can help.
Or at least put them on hold for a little bit, so you can enjoy life the way its meant to be enjoyed.