Fluff & Mold

Sometimes, because of all the events that have happened with my mom, I forget to remember my dad. Which is a shame because he’s probably the most genuinely good person I know. I’ve heard it said that daughters look for men like their fathers. I really hope that’s true. It used to kind of freak me out a little, I’m not sure why but it did; the idea that I’d be with someone like him.

When you’re little, it’s so easy to see the faults in a person, especially family. When you get older, I suppose the only thing you really try to overcome is that stupid voice in your head that gets judgmental and cynical, the one that tells you what you should and shouldn’t do based on even sillier reasons, ideas you develop about someone when they’re based on nothing but fiction.

I’ve had this anxious voice in my head telling me who I should be and what I should do for most of my conscious adult life and the strange part is my dad is nothing like that. I have no idea where that voice came from. I’d like to say it’s my mom’s fault, but I really don’t know if I can blame that part on her. He’s the only one who’s never hurt me. He’s kind of dork sometimes but as the years go by, I’ve come to cherish that about him. His heart is so kind, so understanding, so sweet.



When I was around five, I stole money from the man who cleaned our fish tank. My mom wasn’t looking and I’m not sure why I did it but the minute I was alone with the stack of twenties on the table, I grabbed a few and stuffed them between the couch cushions. When the man counted his money and asked my mom why she’d shorted him, she was probably so embarrassed she gave him a fat tip to compensate. I don’t know how much money I took or why I did it but I do know that my mom was furious. Her lips curled up in a snarl when I finally fessed up and told her, they turned white around the edges like they did the time I told her I hated her for throwing away all my toys.

She did that periodically, decide we had too many dolls and throw them all away in giant white trash bags, calling my sister and me spoiled brats for manipulating my dad into buying us things.

Manipulate was one of the first “big” words I learned. “Don’t manipulate your sister” “don’t manipulate your dad” “don’t try to manipulate me”. To this day, I still have a problem with manipulation. I can twist any story to make myself the victim, I can use every excuse in the book, I can even look someone in the eye when I do it. Because I was always taught that lying by omission wasn’t actually lying. So I learned how to fluff and snip out the parts I liked or didn’t like. I could just learn to laugh at jokes I didn’t understand so I wouldn’t have to feel stupid asking questions.

When she dropped me off at my dad’s house later, he picked me up and asked me why I was crying. I had to tell him what I did and express my shame. The only thing he said was “don’t worry honey, you don’t ever have to steal. I’d rather just give you money than have you feel like you’d need to steal”.

I think that’s when it started. When it occurred to me that my dad was a softie and I could go around twisting the truth. If I could logically reason out to him why I didn’t deserve to be grounded for yelling at my sister, he’d acknowledge it and let me off the hook. His only exception was violence. You kick your sister, you’re dead and there’s absolutely no way of getting out of it.

So I learned to give the world’s worst guilt trips. I learned how to say the meanest possible things I could think of to make you wish you were wrong. I learned how to snarl just like my mother and I want to say it’s genetic, that snarl, but really I think I never forgot how small it made me feel to see my mother’s lips curl in such a way, to see the blood drain from the edges as her eyes turned into slits and all I wanted to do was curl up in my closet and forget I was alive.


And yet, all my dad was trying to do was get me to use my words. What a shame the things I did with that lesson.

I learned cruelty all by myself.

Willfully inflicting it on everyone around me because I was angry. Slashing my father’s heart when it suited my fancy. Vomiting up derision just because I could.

And for all the things I wish I could have done differently in my life, I am grateful I can see the malice in that part of me, that cold bitch that lives deep in there somewhere. And I think it’s because of the warmth and innocence in my father’s face that I’ve come to detest that nasty side. I think it’s because of his kindness that I fight everyday to be a better, nicer person.

To this day, I don’t think you’ll find me go a day without smiling. It took me a long time to embrace that teaching but it’s taken me quite a long way.


I was me and she was she

            I visited my mom today, one on one for the first time in ten years. I knew even before going into it that I was building it up to be bigger than it needed to be so that when I finally got there, it would be better than I expected. I do that a lot, spice up the mysterious and end up finding out reality is a lot better than I could have hoped for.


            I was scared to see her. When I finally got there, I must say I was strangely peaceful. I cried a lot today. I can say truthfully that not a single tear was shed in sadness. It was all out of gratitude. I am grateful to say she’s my mother.

            We sat down next to each other and talked for a few hours. Those hours are more precious to me than anything I can try to explain. I didn’t have any roles to fill. I wasn’t the older sister, the middle sister, or the friendly one in the group. I was just myself. I was just my mother’s daughter. She wasn’t just an inmate either, she was my mom. I was me and she was she. Which is more than we’ve ever been.

            I have this fantasy for when she gets out that we’ll own a horse ranch or some kind of autoshop out in the countryside. We’ll work on the horses or cars or bikes together and she’ll get a big dog and name him Honey or something and we’ll spend our warm summer evenings sitting on the porch drinking lemonade and talking until the moon is well in the sky.

            I can hear the crickets and smell the cold soil and I can even feel the blankets we’ll have wrapped around our knees. The lemonade is perfectly sweet and I can tell it’s not from mix or a can. It’ll be fresh squeezed and homemade.


            When I visit, the most profound thing that I have come to understand is that once I enter those doors, everyone around me is exactly the same. There is no social, economic, or political status to be found. Age? What age? We’re all protected by this filmy prison layer that joins us. Families coming to see loved ones, inmates waiting to be visited. We’re all just people trying to pass the time together. There is no need to create more barriers than the ones that already exist. It’s unfathomably humbling.

            Some people find that feeling in nature, or travel. I find mine in prison.

            I took a couple years away from her when I turned eighteen. I’m glad I did because had I not, I don’t think I’d ever have come back to be where I am right this moment. I write her now, I look forward to her phone calls, and I cherish the moments we have together. I miss her less because I don’t hate the world for taking away the mother I once had, but am grateful for the woman I’ve been given. She’s grown so much and she’s so much nicer and I can’t say she’d have turned out this good if she wasn’t forced to change. She never would have changed if I hadn’t taken the time for space. So all things lead up to now and I wouldn’t want to imagine it any different.

            I have the chance to learn from her mistakes and actually be grateful for my parents before they pass. I’ve been given the gift of living for the moment.

            So for today, I’ve got to say I’m happy. I’m happy to be alive and I’m happy to share it with everyone and I’m happy. I’m just really frickin happy.


Tiptoeing Comfort

I had a day today. Usually I can handle the world, but today it just kind of felt like the walls were crushing me. I have a family friend I usually call for advice but she didn’t answer. She’s had quite a bit going on in her life for about two years now and I can’t say I didn’t expect to get her voicemail.

The strange thing is, my mom called me. She called me three times while I was grabbing coffee and I didn’t see the calls until I got back to my car. I kind of broke down a little. I hadn’t realized I really needed to hear her voice, listen to her tell me I’m a good person.


My hormones are totally out of whack. I’ve seen a few specialists who at first didn’t believe I had a problem. Recently I found a woman who’s totally awesome and sent me out for all the right tests. So for now, I’ve got support in that area. So sometimes I have rough days where my hormones play a huge roll in what I feel. Turns out, it’s the same for my mom.

Because we weren’t very close for a period of time, I think I forgot that she and I are so similar. When I was little, we used to get sick at the same times, have bad days and good days at the same times. She’d call and say “hey bug, today is just one of those days” and I’d know exactly how she was feeling because I was too. We’ve always been connected like that. Part of me used to hate it because it meant my other half was over 500 miles away and she couldn’t be there when I needed help or a hug. I had to do it myself. It was really hard to learn how to do that. Especially when my little sister had no clue how to handle her own problems. I couldn’t let her do it alone so I became her mom for a long time. I made sure she always knew she was beautiful and had a good, warm heart. That there would never be a thing she could do that would be bad enough that I would stop loving her. I made sure she would always know that I would step up to bat for her at a moments notice. We’re sisters though, so it’s a little bit more difficult with the fighting and the rebellions in between. Nonetheless, I did my part.

Tomorrow I will sit down with her one on one for the first time in ten years (my dad just informed me it’s been ten, not nine like I thought). I will be completely unchaperoned and completely vulnerable. There is no one there to act as a barrier between us and keep the conversation light. She will just be my mother sitting across from me.

It scares me. It’s like some kind of twisted first date. To think that I haven’t been left alone with her in so long. It’s mind blowing to me. I don’t even know what that feels like anymore.


I was so glad when she called me back. I get so frustrated when our phone calls get shut off and the recording comes on telling us we have 60 seconds, 30 seconds left. And now I’ll have a full five hours or so to talk to her about just me. Which is just so foreign I don’t know what to do. And I know she’s scared too because when I’m scared, she’s scared.

I Just Keep Coming Back

For the longest time I was afraid of people. As I get older, I realize that’s a pretty common experience for most.


            There’s always been a part of me obsessed with finding out everyone’s backstory, their personal history. When you look at me, you see a very white, pleasant girl. I made it my goal to find a way to shut out all my history and just live in the present. It’s really hard to dwell, seeing as all it does it taint your experiences with everyone around you. You can’t see past the fog of your own problems.

            When I write short stories and other things, I always try to explain away the reasons that people act the way they do, make up reasons for why they might be acting standoffish, why they feel the need to make everything into a joke, how I might do some of the same things to protect myself. I like to make everything a joke, but I’m also incredibly sensitive. Especially when it comes to anything creative.

            In psychology, I’ve heard about the famous comfort test. Where they took two baby primates and tested whether they desired comfort in the form of a mesh mother, covered in soft material, or a hard wired mother without the soft fabric, that held a bottle full of milk. The baby monkeys reached over and drank the milk off the hard-wire mother while they clung to the soft material of the other wire frame.


            I know there are a lot of things I will never understand. I’ve never had someone there to teach me how to wear make up, so I don’t wear any. I’ve never understood people who can touch others without thinking twice, even if it’s just a brush against the shoulder. It took me forever to understand that a hug when you’re sad was a good thing. It doesn’t help that my dad isn’t an overly affectionate person. When I turned 13, he stopped ruffling my hair or touching my shoulder, suddenly afraid that I’d think he was weird if he showed me affection.

            For years I thought he didn’t love me because I could count on a hand how many times he’d hugged me in a year. I couldn’t remember the last time he’d held me when I cried. I couldn’t remember the last hair ruffle because it’d been so many years since.

            My mother told me it was a generation gap and that the way he expressed himself was through providing for his family. I don’t think he understands how to get close to people either. It took me years to comprehend how much like him I am even if he claims I’m a clone of my mom.

            My mother was shipped off to live with her grandparents in Indiana when she was four years old and yet my grandmother chose to keep her younger sister and older brother with her. My mom got pregnant at fifteen with a half black child and was effectively cast out of her religious and racist household in Indiana, forcing her to move to California to live with my grandpa who had a crazy new wife and evil stepchildren. She broke into those storage cabinets that hang in apartment garages with her newborn baby, my brother, until she found a safe haven with his dad’s family. She did a lot of drugs, was very violent, and completely unstable.

            I could keep going, and there’s really so much more I could say to explain away her actions, make excuses for her being so selfish and so ungrateful for the awesome life she once had. I could fill you in on her backstory to make you see.

            The adage, “a picture says a million words” isn’t why I love photography as an artistic medium. I love the kind of photos that make you wonder why. They make you wonder where the person came from to make them like that. It encourages you to see their story.

            I used to let the fear of loss consume me, fill me up with anxiety and worry and regret all the moments I couldn’t control. I felt like I needed to give her back as much of the time she lost as I could. So now, I freeze as much time as I can for her. I document my life and the people I come across so that when she gets out, I can sit down with her, in a room that isn’t grey and filled with other inmates or guards, where people aren’t counting the minutes they have left with their loved ones, and I can actually show her the life I’ve lead.

            So it’s strange to realize that even after all my work to shut out my history, all roads just lead me back where I’m forced to acknowledge that my history does not only define me, it empowers me.



Spring Cleaning


For several years it was really hard to get through all the letters. Most people relish the idea of receiving snail mail and it’s because it’s probably pretty rare nowadays to correspond with paper and pen. Now I let them pile up until there’s a decent sized stack and subsequently read through the cards, letters, and sift through the pictures I can’t display because they’d stir up too many unwanted questions.

When I used to go off to sleep away camp for those two brief weeks every summer, I checked for letters everyday. Before my mom went away, I think I got a handful over the course of 6 years, most of which from my dad.

Today, I have bins and boxes filled with letters and envelopes (because I keep almost all of them). I have hand stitched purses dyed with pink koolaid. I have really old plastic baggies of cakes, so far crushed that they resemble brightly colored cookies, from all the birthdays she sent them to me.

I have more bibles than I can ever need, all dog-earred, annotated and highlighted. She’s converted a few times so there are more than a few I don’t know if ill ever flip through. I have scripture cutouts, pamphlets, and bookmarks. More bookmarks than a Barnes & nobles. I could quite literally start making money selling them wholesale to various religious sects around town.

For a few years she sent me these plastic cups. We use them for cat food and other random tasks now but for a little while, I treasured them. They were detailed with little logos or phrases that she paid other women to do for her and in exchange she traded food or coffee or sandals. Every holiday I had to tell her through gritted teeth, which new design I’d like. I have tinker bell, surfers, cars, basketballs, footballs. I think we both ran out of ideas eventually.

I used to keep all of her clothes. My mother had a walk in closet, so there were QUITE a few items. They smelled like her perfume that mixed in with the smell of cedar like the big door framing the room. I’ve since thrown most of them out. Her old living room couch still sits in our yard, moldy from months of rain.

I have boxes for the jewelry she sends me. The only things I actually use. She sends beaded bracelets and earrings but the earrings are so big and dangly I’d never wear them. The bracelets are delicate and beautiful.

My brother doesn’t wear the ones she sends him but I keep them secretly and add them to the boxes. I never realized I’d have so much stuff I could never throw away.