Two Years and Four Months Ago, In Medias Res

Tuesday, April 3, 2012
I am driving to the hospital, and I am feeling guilty. Yesterday, I ignored a voicemail from an unknown number. My father suffered a ministroke on Sunday, and I couldn’t bother to listen to the message. It is his third hospitalization in a year.

I arrive to a quiet room. My dad looks small, and I feel old.

Eventually, we are joined by his wife and my sister and brother. We greet each other with the perfunct kindness of a blended family.

“Here, I brought your glasses,” his wife says as the entire room stares at the glasses perched on his face. There is a loud, silent beat. “Where’d you get those?”

“Oh, Sarah brought them,” he answers.

I recall my father asking me to have a friend of mine sign two books for him and a mystery friend named “Sarah” about a year ago, a favor I had resented but obliged. I study the ceiling panels and wait for someone to change the subject.

Soon, I am telling jokes that feature myself as the punchline. I do well with anecdotes.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012
I work at a Southern Baptist church. My boss has plans to make a hospital visit to a member of the congregation and asks if he may stop in to see my father. He is on his way back to the church as I am leaving for the day. While in transit, I receive a text:

“Met your dad and Sarah.”

Sarcasm is my best friend. “Interesting! You’ll have to tell me all about her (I think that’s his mistress.).”

“Kinda thought that might be so,” he replies.

Although I’ve previously shared with him the briefest details of my family’s special take on dysfunction, I am ashamed. I am also energized and begin driving with focus.

I see a female visitor with my father as I approach his room, and I prepare myself to meet Sarah. Except this is not Sarah. This is Cynthia. It seems I am being treated to my own private daddy girlfriend parade.

Thursday, April 5, 2012
My dad has been transferred to the Rehab Hospital of the Pacific. His new digs are much more cramped. His wife, my siblings, and I are doing our usual routine of musical chairs, when a woman bursts into the room.

I recognize her immediately. Years ago, I saw the two of them together in the parking garage of my old work building. Because I am a crazy passionate person, I followed them in my car, before rolling down my window to shout, “Hey! I work here!”

The object of my chase now extends an enthusiastic hand to my father’s wife. “Hi, I’m Sarah!” she chirps. Much like the day of our parking garage encounter, she ignores his offspring.

Later, my cousin will ask what Sarah looks like – “Is she young?”

“Not fine. And if she’s younger than his wife, then she’s like, maybe 58,” I spit.

We will joke about the unfine 58-year old slut flaunting her young age, because laughing is what I do, even when my heart is crumbling.

I have long fancied myself to be like the biblical Sarah. Sarah, who wished for a child but figured she was too old. Sarah, who laughed when the Lord promised He would make her secret desire come true.

And this woman, with her dash of self-deprecating humor, who dared to giggle at the power of God – He still rewarded her. Oh Father, when will my prayers be answered?

It has been over five months since my father died. “How are you doing?” everyone asks. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine” is not the answer they want to hear. People seem to want tears, wringing of hands, and confessions of sleepless nights.

Of course, I know that I am probably not fine. But when my father died, I still can not figure out if part of me died, too, or if it had already been dying for a very long time.

Hunter and Gatherer

I look at a fresh piece of paper. I open a new document. I stare and wait for the words to come flowing out of me. And I’m stuck, horribly, painfully stuck.

I can’t pretend it doesn’t hurt and frighten me – the idea that I’ve lost the part about me I loved most and made me feel most beautiful.

I’m on the hunt for the lost poetry of my soul.

When I Was Under You

Reposted out of nostalgia, not for the person but for my innocence. Part 1. Originally written May 26, 2002.

“I love the way you walk.”

Startled, I looked at him. I have gotten used to the staring, but I am not sure his random comments will ever fail to surprise me. “What are you talking about?” I asked.

The exact words escape me, but he spoke of grace. In my usual manner, I blamed new shoes which forced smaller, more lady-like steps, but the compliment echoed in my head all evening.

In truth, I am an everyday klutz. I constantly bump into walls and knock into coffee tables. My shins bear the black-and-blue evidence. When I was in first grade, my hula teacher presented me with a certificate for being the “Most Graceful,” but fifteen years have passed since then.

I could brush it all off as a corny line, but I think my cynical act is getting a little old. I could be grateful to him for noticing something about me that no one else has since I was six, but as I mentioned, my clumsy nature did not really deserve this particular praise. Rather, I give him credit for bringing something out in me so skillfully and softly, I didn’t even realize it was happening. So perhaps I do move with a lighter gait; the awareness of being effortlessly beautiful in someone’s eyes has made me less self conscious.

Goodbye was quiet. We chuckled about our mutual and shameful love of Carrot Top and discussed the trivial things that would bore anyone else. There were no tears. “I miss you already,” he whispered. And in a breathless moment, I said I’d be back in the fall.

Today, I listened to my mother and her sister sing in church, their voices in the choir rising sweetly in praise. Today, I sipped guava juice on the ocean front, with Diamond Head in full view. Today, I felt my heart sigh more than a few times.

I wrote this a few weeks ago, and at the risk of seeming pretentious for quoting myself, I’d like to post it here:

When the seeds of love are beginning to take root, but you know that it doesn’t fit in with the landscape, what do you do? Continue to water it for the sake of a beautiful plant? Cut off its sunshine to preempt the pain of someday having to repot and resoil? Let the weeds do the job for you?

Or do you change your vision of a garden?


Part 2. Originally written 11 months later on April 23, 2003.

This entry has been waiting for almost a year.

It’s been written and rewritten in my head several times. I’ve pondered proper phrasing and searched for delicate prose. What diction could possibly convey these vulnerable feelings?

But tonight, I realized the secret – words. You see, I build with them and am built by them. I was shaped by your adjectives and desired to be your every noun. And when we separated, I feared I would never verb again.

So I’ve been trying to construct my castle of love on these soft sandy shores. And when one structure after another collapsed, I’d simply begin to rebuild on top of the rubble. I could not figure out what was wrong with my drawings.

Silly me, I’d forgotten about the foundation…

Tonight, you tore me down to my essential building blocks. And although I was careful to use the past tense, just like I was careful in the past tense, I think we both know that there are still raw materials left behind and that they must be taken care of properly.

So whether we put away our blueprints of love lost or gingerly make plans for a new edifice, I’m going to put it in writing tonight that I will never regret our time together. Because yes, it was wonderful, and maybe these words will keep it that way.


“There are words burned in my heart that I try to forget, and it’s not because I want to forget you, but because I want to forget losing you.”

Busted Tires and Broken Hearts

A few years ago, the adage “bad things come in threes” was proven true in the most inconvenient way imaginable – three flat tires in the span of three weeks. Each incident was marked with a frantic phone call to my father, who dutifully rushed to my rescue. Watching him change my punctured wheel, I remarked that I should really learn how to do it myself.

“No,” he admonished. “You can always call me.”

Recently, my dad had a pacemaker inserted. I took him to his surgery, a relatively simple outpatient procedure. In theory, its presence should provide comfort, making sure his heart maintains a proper rhythm. In truth, its necessity made him realize his mortality. One night, he called to ask me to come over. This was no health emergency. He just wanted some company.

With Japanese police dramas providing background noise, he doled out advice. He mentioned that he would be able to give me some money for my upcoming wedding. With much guilt, I belatedly informed him that it had been called off months ago. Through words spoken and not, he sought forgiveness for the times he had not been there. I granted absolution. And although he seemed physically fine, he spoke like a dying man.

I had no idea my father watched Japanese television shows.

A week later, I found myself with a car that refused to start, no cables, no idea of how to jump my battery, and the awareness that summoning my father at midnight would be an unforgiveable act of selfishness. I cursed my vulnerability and my stupidity. I watched my tears hit the steering wheel, unsure of whom I was crying for – me or him? Was this pity or true sadness? Did it matter?

There’s no neat conclusion here, no big epiphany or lessons learned. Just my quiet sorrow, our shared regrets.


Originally written December 10, 2009. Posted with minor revisions.

“So how do you like them?” my mom asked nervously. I was seven and had just been outfitted for my first pair of glasses. An elementary school teacher, she was familiar with the possible teasing I would face.

“They’re great,” I exclaimed. “I can see!” She smiled, confident that I would be able to make lemonade out of genetic lemons.

Several weeks later, my own teacher tasked our second grade class with creating self portraits. I was a serious student who loved art, and I dutifully began to sketch what I felt was an accurate depiction, complete with my new spectacles. As I began to add color to my drawing, I felt a small tap on the arm. I looked up into the smirking face of a boy named Rolin and braced myself for one of his standard attacks about my weight or my hairstyle or my clothes.

“Did you get glasses because you need a shield for when your mom and dad punch each other out?” he asked. A natural crybaby, I responded with tears. I’ll assume he was punished. It was the first and last time I publicly cried about their separation.

When my parents split up, there was no nasty custody fight. By the time I was nine, my father had moved back to the suburbs into a house about five minutes away. After they decided that I should be sent to a private school twenty miles from home, he drove me everyday. I probably spent more time with him than many children whose parents were married, but the world viewed me as the product of a broken home.

In seventh grade, my class counselor formed a support group of “divorced kids.” I resented having to give up a study hall for such a banal exercise and spent most of the sessions gabbing about my parents’ friendly relationship (true) and their divorce’s total lack of effect on me (maybe not so true).

Privately, I dreamed of having my own family someday – one that would be whole and complete. While my parents made their separation as easy on me as possible, I was determined to spare my future children the awkwardness of answering seemingly simple questions such as “do you have any siblings?” with paragraph-long explanations.

(For the record, I have a step-sister, a half-sister, and a half-brother. But I grew up as and have the classic demeanor of an only child. No, my step-mother is not evil, even if I won’t call her “mom.” Yes, I consider them to be my real siblings. And…)

Years later, I discovered that my elementary school tormenter was more accurate than he realized: physical abuse had been a part of my parents’ break-up. Undeterred, I dedicated my life to finding love, occasionally stumbling upon its approximations. In my desperation, I often ignored obvious warning signs, refusing to trust what I and everyone around me could plainly see. After all, who was I to say what real love looked like?

While I certainly hope that Rolin matured into a kinder and gentler man than his childhood self would otherwise indicate, I learned that not all boys outgrow their bullying. And during an especially cold New England winter spent trying to camouflage the bruises, I realized that poor vision may not have been the only thing I inherited from my parents.

Since I prescribe to the cliché of hindsight being 20/20, I find it appropriate that it has taken me over twenty years to recognize the accuracy of my seven-year old instincts. If I could, I would stop into her second grade classroom and admire her drawing. I would make sure she ignored the bullies, give her a hug, and tell her, “Sweetheart, you were right all along. You can see.”


Hawaii License Plate
[ Source]
The other day, a young punk in a BMW drove by with a vanity plate that read “PEN15.” I rolled my eyes at his immaturity and expressed my outrage. “What a pervert.”

Later on the road, I saw another car with the license plate “SMWHRE.”

“Oh, great!” I remarked to my mom. “Look:  S&M whore!”

Before I could begin a diatribe on the ever-declining state of society, she interrupted me. “Um, I think it’s supposed to read ‘Somewhere.’ As in ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’ Because there’s a rainbow. Get it?”

Oops. What’s the takeaway? Judge not lest ye be judged…a pervert.

Girl Disempowerment

Whenever I tell people that I work in an all-female office, the responses are always somewhere along the lines of, “Uh oh!” It invokes images of cliques, back-stabbing, endless gossip, and of course, PMS-induced fits of rage and hormones. Apparently, the women’s movement has not done much to quell the pigeonholing of females as irrational, over-emotional types.

Unfortunately, at least in my personal experiences, these folks are correct. Furthermore, many of the people making these assessments are other women. I have known countless amazing women – women who are smart, successful, capable, supportive, warm, and confident. Yet, this tendency to have trouble when dealing exclusively with each other is real and problematic. It is a phenomenon that puzzles and saddens me, even though I am completely guilty of many of these unhealthy behaviors.

In contrast, my other half works with mostly men (engineering/construction). There is a definite maleness at his job site. But somehow this testosterone overload does not seem to inhibit or disable the work environment. In fact, it may even be beneficial.

When conflicts arise in my office, they are “solved” by people sniping behind each other’s backs. Problems at his job sound more like, “‘F@#$ you!’ ‘No, eff you!’” The first scenario may (or may not) have fewer expletives but seems to engender a more long-term cycle of resentment, hurt, and anger. Truly, both ways are unprofessional and inappropriate, but at least the second is honest and straight-forward. Perhaps that’s why, in its own crass way, it works.

I love being female and all of the stereotypes that it may imply. The option to wear high heels and makeup thrills me. I cry freely during commercials. Getting my period may be a pain, but it is a reminder of what my body can do. Silliness aside, I value the openness of other women and the sense of community we share.

I have worked in several women-only environments, and each time I leave, I swear I will never do it again. Yet somehow, every few years I find myself drawn back in, seduced by the awareness of our incredible power and the hope that I will find an environment where we translate our best qualities into a way that inspires admiration instead of apprehension.