Bare

I took the pictures down
frame by frame,
leaving behind nothing but a bare wall.
Vulnerable. Naked.

Like peeling a bandage back,
revealing a healed wound,
still raw and sore,
I spied my forgotten injury.

Scarred,
the skin is still healing,
mending,
I then remember.

So many scrapes and bumps
covered and hidden.
Tears cried and hearts broken.
Now dug up and exposed.

Through the pain(deep breath)
I strip away my protection(closed eyes)
and move forward(exhale)

The walls are bare and the future bright.
No more history crucified to the wall.
No more dark and concealed past.

Just faded memories.

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Fall Memories

Today I’ve been hit by wave after wave of muted memories. Scents and feelings and visuals all played a part in bringing forth things I’d long stowed away at the back of my mind.

Memories of a sweater bought by  my dad. It was large and colorful in the rusty hues of fall. It was during our beginning of school shopping that he got me this monstrosity of fall colors to wear on the weekends when the winds were chilly and the skies overcast.

The wind blowing against my face as I took my walk at lunch brought back visions of our yard strewn with leaves and cloudy skies hanging above me. There was a storm, once. I was much too little to remember the big details but I remember standing outside, surveying the damage.

Pumpkins and baking and visits from Grandma and Grandpa for Thanksgiving all played across my mind. Trips out to my great-grandmother’s home where she would can jams and preserves in the warmth of her golden and copper colored kitchen. The tastes of cinnamon and cloves dancing on my tongue as she hugged me goodbye against her cushioned bosom,

So many memories of the years I’ve lived, switching from summer to fall, from shorts to pants, from sandals to tennis shoes and warm socks. To the dying hum of the fans and air conditioners and the crackles and pops of the lit fireplace.

Soon I felt dizzy, my mind and body swirling with the memories coursing through. Some were only partially formed in my mind while my senses took over, reliving that moment, those feelings. I could taste and feel the memories more than I could see them. The crisp winds, the sprinkle of rain on my face, the fresh grass beneath my feet on a soccer field. The slicing of a knife through the thick skin of a pumpkin and the hours spent drawing in our warm living room with the fire burning and my dad playing the guitar.

Then I remembered fall when my son was a baby. The walks we took on chilly mornings, bundled in blankets and hands and gloves. The pumpkin patches we visited and the carvings we made in the tiny kitchen of our first apartment.

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I remember rain puddles and his little boots that looked like frogs with oogly eyes. Cold mornings with his tiny toes tucked under my legs. The way the sunlight changed in fall to more of a golden honey and the way the air smelled so fresh and clean in those foggy mornings when we walked together.

My memories are so wide and varied from my own younger years to my son’s that it’s tough not to stray down that path and relive them. The path lined with changing leaves and hot cocoa. Shorter days and glorious sunsets. Crisp apple cider and hearty stews.

I welcome fall and all the changes and good memories it brings.

Inheritance

When I was a young boy, like all other curious children, I was attracted to my parents’ bedroom. Whether it was the larger than life bed made perfectly for bouncing on or the whispering darkness of the large closets housing my mother’s long sweeping dresses and my father’s perfectly ironed fancy shirts, I was always fascinated with all the mystery and magic that was held within the four walls of their master bedroom.

Coins hid beneath the neatly folded towels waiting to be stashed away in the hallway linen closet. My father’s large, shiny dress shoes lined the wall for me to hope from one to the other like I was in a military boot camp making my way through an obstacle course. Even though I was a boy through and through, I was very intrigued by my mother’s makeup vanity in which I would sit and powder my nose like a vaudeville actor about to take the stage. So many colors and tubes and wands of magical elixirs drew my attention on many trips into their room to wait while they dressed for a date.

But what attracted me most was different than most boys. Many would share stories in our middle school years of the raunchy girlie magazines they’d find tactfully hidden in a nightstand or under the bed on their father’s side. They’d boast about pages of women wearing next to nothing with large breasts and suggestively placed hands down panties of lace and silk. We all listened with our full attention to their harrowing stories of sneaking in to get a better look at the cover of video boxes and other adult items stashed away. And the best part was always when someone got too close and was almost caught in the act by their mother or father. It was in their narrow escape that we all held our breath, waiting to know if they would be caught and punished or if they would live to see another day of freedom.

When it came time for me to share stories of my adventures into my parents’ room, I shrugged and said I had nothing exciting to share. But that wasn’t true.

I never found scantly clad ladies or men taking advantage of large breasted women laying carelessly with their bodies exposed as if they were a Siren sending out an enticing call. Instead my discovery was a stack of comic books lying on the top shelf of a shoe condo tucked off to the side of my mother’s closet.

When I first discovered them as a young elementary school child, it scared me and drew me in simultaneously. The gory pictures of horrific demons and brightly illustrated superheroes both stunned me in their beauty and repelled me in disgust. The pages and pages of images drew me in and I found it hard to look away. I became afraid of the upstairs rooms at night and put my parents’ through many painful nightly battles at bedtime. I’d ask that they read another story or leave lights on throughout the hallway so that I could see the demons and aliens from my mother’s comic books as they came to life from the bowels of her closet.

My father’s poor haggard face still swims through my memory as I relive the nights that I cried for comfort and complained of monsters beneath my bed, all very real to me. My parents never stopped tucking me in and reassuring me that things were fine. My mother always kissed my forehead and held me close, reminding me that everything was ok and that they were always just around the corner, never far away. And yet I never stopped myself from leaving my warm, comfortable bed with my flashlight in hand to seek out the terrifying stories I knew were the origin of my nighttime fears. Those books, piles of them, called to me even though I never wanted to see what was inside again.

I tortured myself for single summer, flipping through the pages of stories laced with gore and violence and death. I’d sneak into her closet and claim a book to read. As I crouched down beside their large bed I’d listen to the sounds beneath me in the living room, checking to make sure they hadn’t caught on to my missing form from my room. I’d light the pages before me with a flashlight I kept under my mattress and I’d soak in every detail, making sure I missed nothing. It was like watching a train wreck. You didn’t want to see the carnage but you also didn’t want to miss a detail.

For months my parents would put me to bed and fight with me about the lights being left on or allowing me to sleep with one more stuffed toy. It got to a point where they started interrogating me and my sitter and grandparents, asking what I was watching or reading. Then, I cracked one night after a long drawn out battle of tears and frustration. I blurted out that I had found my mother’s Hellboy comic books and I was afraid of the bad guys comings up from hell to steal away my soul.

I remember the silence that followed my shameful confession. My heart steadily beat faster beneath my dinosaur pajama shirt as I waited for them to respond. Yet, as I sat there hiccupping with emotional exhaustion from arguing, I tried to read their expressions, to figure them out and know what to expect next. Were they upset? Disappointed? Ready to loan me out to a labor camp to break rocks? Were they about to start yelling at me? Would I be spanked and put to bed with a promise of no TV or freedom for a week? Maybe even two weeks?

Then they started to laugh. It wasn’t what I was expecting and I suddenly felt very afraid. My parents had snapped. My mother doubled over, clutching her stomach while my father placed a large hand on her back and wiped at his steady tears with the other hand. I didn’t understand and I wasn’t sure if I should laugh too or if I should just keep on crying.

After that night and my confessing to secretly reading violent things far above my maturity level long after I was supposed to be sleeping, the stack of comic books was suddenly nowhere to be found. I spent a few nights venturing from my bed, armed with my flashlight, in search of them, the craving to be terrified still aching within me. But I never found them again. And soon I was sleeping through the night without an issue and without any extra lights to comfort me.

It wasn’t until I started high school that I mentioned the comic books to my mother. One day, as we sat in the kitchen together, I asked her what had happened to all those issues of Hellboy after I confessed to reading them in secret. She smiled at me and shook her head, the memories of those long forgotten nights surfacing one by one. She told me they had been stored away for me one day. That they were always meant to be mine when the time was right.

I stared in awe. This wasn’t the answer I had been prepared for and I still didn’t quite understand. With her long fingers that played the piano almost as beautifully as she played the guitar, my mother brushed the hair from my eyes and kissed my forehead, promising me she’d tell me all about it after school.

That night, after football practice and dinner, I went off to my room to finish my homework in the steady quiet of my sanctuary. There, on the edge of my bed, was a box. It was taped shut and marked in black ink. “For Jacob” it said. Slowly I lowered onto the mattress next to the box, staring at it intently. I knew what it was. I knew what was inside.

Carefully, I lifted a loose corner of tape and began to pull, gently. As the last corner of tape came free, I reached over and opened the nearest flap. And there, in the slant of light filtering down through the flaps of cardboard sat the books I remembered and a few I didn’t. One by one I pulled them out and stacked them beside me on the bed.

Memories of the long forgotten nights in the dark flipping through pages of these comic books flooded back with an intense rush of emotions. The fear the demons created in me was palatable yet the love and trust in the heroes and heroines wrapped me in comfort. As I lifted the last edition and placed it on my lap, I realized my mother was leaning against the doorjamb. The mother that dressed up every Halloween and could cook a gourmet meal with anything she found in the kitchen.

There she stood, the same loving mother I’d known all those years and yet she looked different to me in that moment. I looked at her and suddenly I wondered what she was like at my age. I wanted to know her beyond her role in my life as my mom. I wanted to hear her stories and know why these books and characters meant so much to her. I suddenly wanted to know everything about her.

She smiled and chuckled to herself.

“The night you told us that you had been reading these books in our room,” she began, “we couldn’t believe it. All that trouble to get you to bed and it was because you were doing it to yourself. It was even more hysterical to us because I had been telling your father that one day I wanted these to be yours.”

Stepping into my room, she made her way to the bed. She walked around my duffle bag ready for practice tomorrow and a pile of clean clothes needing to be put away. When she made it to my side she sat down and leaned against me, playfully ribbing me with her elbow.

“We didn’t mean for you to find them then. We thought we were being clever keeping them in my closet knowing how afraid of the dark you were. But you foiled us and found them. I was worried you’d be ruined forever and wouldn’t want them when you got older.”

She watched me intently as I fingered the pages in my hand. I flipped steadily through from beginning to end, watching the flicker of reds and blacks and yellows and deep greys file past my eyes.

“So?” she asked. “Do you want them?”

I looked away from the glorious stack of action packed pages and nodded. Yes I wanted them. They were my inheritance! A part of my mom that would always remind me of those nights that she comforted me and tried to calm my fears. They would always be the key into the mystery of who she was beyond her motherly duties and a window into her interests I would never fully understand but would try to replicate in myself.

These stories and characters were us, our bond.

“Good,” she responded, smiling from the corners of her mouth to the lines at the edges of her eyes. “Enjoy!”

Standing she walked to the door when I called out to her, stopping her from turning out of my room. She turned to faced me with that calm waiting look that I knew so well. I stood and crossed the room to her, taking her into my arms and hugging her with a thanks. Her voice stumbled and she squeezed me tightly. Stepping back, I saw a mist circle her eyes as she drew a breath and held me out at an arms length.

“You are very welcomed, hun,” she forced out. “And don’t forget to use this.”

She pulled from her pocket a small keychain flashlight and placed it in my hand. Then, she cupped my face and looked straight at me. There, in the deep brown centers of her clear, bright eyes I saw myself. It was then I knew that she understood the pull of these imaginary worlds and characters. We were one and the same, two peas in a pod.

That night she gave me a part of her. That piece of her that kept her young and fresh, full of creativity and fancy. She gave me her inner whimsical child and made it ok for me to cherish my own larger than life imagination.

She gave me my inheritance.

Grape

Grape is the flavor of my childhood.
The sticky sweetness that runs down your arm
as you suckle at a pop from the freezer
made with the Welchs from the store
bought just the day before by Mom.

Grape is the flavor of my summers.
The sweltering days of bike riding
and searing hot concrete beneath our Keds.
The lava hot black heat
beneath our feet
licking at our soles as we dash from yard to yard
trying not to meet our fiery demise
only to snag some ice cream and candy from the
jolly van of treats trolling our neighborhood.

Grape is the flavor of my bravery.
The courage found in my small body
as I stared down the high dive
at the local pool,
my friends waiting below.
Where my mom bounced a baby sister
or brother
in the wading pool
enticing me with a treat if I jumped.
There they all sat, treading water,
splashing about while I toed the edge
then fell
to make a ripple in the waters around them.

Grape is the flavor of my freedom
on that last day of class
as we celebrated with sweets and goodies
brought by the doting mothers
dreading the end of school days.
While they planned and executed our last day soiree,
we signed each others’ books:

Keep In Touch
Have A Great Summer
See You Next Year…

Grape is the flavor of my memories.
The soft edges of my blurred inner eye
remembering the bike rides down the hill;
pool days and bloodshot eyes from
too much chlorine;
Otter Pops; Kool-Aid; Jolly Ranchers;
frustration at my parents for sending me to bed
while the sun still hung in the azure sky;
playing for hours in the sprinklers till our hands
– prinkled and wrinkled with joy –
became the excuse of our mothers’
to turn the water off.

Grape is the flavor of my too short summers,
my too long school days.

Grape is the flavor of my childhood.

Wandering

Trucks rumble by on the road just beyond my window. The sun lights up the room as the cool air from the vents above filter into the office where I sit and stare.

It’s been slow lately and that lack of daily activity for a good stretch of time leaves my mind free to wander. Sometimes I day dream to a time and place in the future with what I hope will be. Other times I create scenarios in my mind, almost like a test to see how I’d manage such a situation.

Then there are those times when I travel back and open the door to those memories closed away in a dim, stuffy corner of my mind. I trip and stumble through boxes of pictures and notes, smiling faces of people I no longer speak to peaking through the dust and clutter.

It’s easy to sit down and begin to rifle through these memories. To read the notes and hear the voices of past acquaintances, the laughter we once shared ringing joyful.

Suddenly the mind whirls into action and shuffles off all of the negative memories, allowing only the good and happy times to float forward. Your mind clouds over, seeing only the reasons the friendships had started, forgetting at once why they needed to end.

Like a rinse cycle spinning away the dirt and dust from the passage of time, all that is left are the purest remembrances. The stories, the smiles, the laughs and the bonds made over common dreams and wishes. As the pictures flip past your eyes, the moments that were cherished so much flickering faster and faster, the confusion sets in.

Why did it have to end? Do they ever think back and remember me? Why did it have to hurt so much?

Then the pictures slowly slip from my hands and fall to the floor, covering the ground around me in mental images from a life I no longer live but a past I can never out run.

It will always be with me, in my shadows, wandering beside me.

Letter To My Son: Another Year Older

Every year, I tell your birth story. The story of how you were born. Every year it begins the same and ends just as it did the year before and the year before that.

Your birth story begins with uncertainty, fear, and worry and ends with love, pride, and joy.

The best part is that your story, at its end, is only just beginning.

You were born on a drizzly day. It had rained much of the night before on our way to the hospital. We worried about your Aunt Jen making her way up safely from San Diego to be there to welcome you.

Not long after you entered this world did you begin to explore. With your eyes wide open, drinking in every sight, every sound, you looked around to see what was going on. The nurses worried because you weren’t crying. They needed you to cry and clear your lungs but you were calm, peaceful.

Fascinated.

The warmth of a body and the beat of a heart put you to sleep easily. You never took to your crib and always found your way onto someones’ chest to sleep away your baby cares. Listening to the steady rhythm of their heart.

We were in awe of you, you and your dark hair, long fingers and long feet. Your full lips and your strength. You never ceased to amaze us.

As you grew, your personality began to blossom and the strength you showed while in my womb with all your movement translated into pure joy and happiness as a baby. And a very strong will.

You laughed, giggled, snuggled and smiled your way through your days. A silly boy, a willful explorer.

My wish for you my little love as you turn 6 years old is that you never stop smiling. That your inner joy always shines through and that your eagerness to see everything and understand all there is in this world and beyond continues to guide your learning.

I hope for you a life of imagination, pretend and of make believe. To see the world as it is and as it could be. To guide your strengths to build a better future for yourself and for those around you with the help of your wild spirit and your determination.

You are more than I could have asked for in my first child. You bring me joy and lots of room to grow as both a parent and as a person. Through you, I’ve healed my past and built a future with you that I could have only dreamed of. You woke in me the little girl who believed, just as you believe.

Happy Birthday my little dragon.

And here is to the many many years ahead.

With love,

Mama

The Void

In between love and hate is the void where memories are stored.

There they live forever, happily reenacting the moments and magic that transpired within the bookends of time.

I’m in that void now and it’s with a mixture of feelings that I relive the moments over the past year that have come and gone before me.

There are the sweet memories. The ones that cause your skin to prickle and tingle with that sense of excitement that only a first kiss, a warm hand brushing your lower back, the tender touch in the middle of the night brings. All those firsts that grip your heart and squeeze just a little, making you feel like you are dipping down a speeding roller coaster feeling both anxious and excited to see what is around the next corner.

Then there are the comfortable memories. Ones where the silence stretched between us and nothing needed to be spoken. Nothing needed to be said. The air fit in between the spaces where words usually lingered and instead the cool night air and the music thumping along wrapped around and enveloped the moment in a soft and peaceful blanket of comfort. Those moments when it felt right and nothing else mattered.

The void is filled with memories of different kinds. As just as the sweet memories reside there, so do the painful ones. The memories of broken promises and long nights wondering if the dawn would bring a better view. If the good times were to only last for that split second.

For now I find myself sleepless at night, stuck in the void of memories and questions and waking tired and forlorn. And during the day, throughout my tasks and responsibilities, the void sneaks up and ensnares me.

I can’t take back anything. None of the good or the bad. Everything has happened and nothing can change that. I just have to wade through the void for now, longing for the moment when I’m free…again.