This is a simple column by a complex
Dumb-asses need not apply.
If you flatter yourself to be a bright spot in the universe
and aren't offended by "psychotic breaks," welcome.
If you're a little frightened, well, all the better.
We kinda like you like that... with hot sauce.
Joy can be traced back to a handful of scenes, from my basic, if hazy,
A late August afternoon across from the field next to the theater in Ft.
Shafter, Hawaii, 1973, a rolling green hill backdropped a mountain above
which sat the church, its steeple and higher still, the NCO Club. I sat
hunched over, arms about my scabbed knees, cut-offs and tees, trade wind
billowing on my eight-year-old face, absorbed in the cheerleading tryouts
of the older, high school girls before me, set out in teams, skirts of
blue and white flicker, sound and fury and clean precision cartwheels.
Riding shotgun past fireflies, cattails, blackberry bushes on the way to a
picnic in the middle of Louisville, Kentucky, fruit pies on the table,
Pepsi and 7-Up in the cooler, cat fish on the line and the early ‘70s hit,
“Me and You and a Dog Named Boo” playing on the AM. I ate so many cherry
pies, to this day, I can’t even look at red filling with gold crust
without the dry heaves. But the blackberries were sweet in my milk as the
grown-ups patted my five-year-old, long, lush, threaded hair and my mommy
would sweep by in her silk, French perfume and bouffant wig to hug me,
Somewhere after these two defining moments, I lost track of myself, my
surroundings and ... I guess, my joy.
My father suffered his first heart attack in the middle of the night
shortly before the Fourth of July, in the summer of ’77. Our next-door
neighbor, Ruth Dobbs, slipped into my bedroom, whispered me gently awake
with the news that he would stay in the hospital for a few weeks, my
grandparents would come to babysit for the duration, then whispered me
back to sleep (paid handsomely, of course).
Or maybe slightly further back, when I could ignore my parents’ arranged
marriage no longer, when their fights became brutally honest and brutally
violent and brutally final, when in a calm the size of a two-minute
respite before the tornado, my mother walked in, announced, “I’m leaving
you, and leaving with the children,” and walked out, precipitating an ugly
custody battle, insert stereotypical backlash here.
Used to be, I could ignore my accidental origins, my doomed inevitability
as the bastard of divorce, her mistake, his failure, and me, just here
resembling a shadow, waiting for distraction. I always felt the
In the fact that other little girls my age, from age 3 to 14, recoiled
from me, hovered against me, pointing, giggling, mocking faces. They did
so at my birthday party in Japan, my first, three candles, a calliope, a
carousel, faded white-framed pictures of me in a yellow plaid jump skirt,
pigtails pulling my face flatter, my eyes slanted into slits, forcing a
smile to please my parents, to fit in, while those girls clustered as
close as they could get away with, smiling amongst themselves their secret
disdain and repulsion (forced the invite for cheap bourbon).
Little boys found me inconsequential, wallpaper, soiled underwear, branch
broken at the stem while playing doctor, daydreaming of little blonde
girls. Billy liked my long dark hair, until mommy cut it, pulled it back,
accentuated my flat face and slanted eyes, and Billy went away. I can
still see the sunlight filtering through a wall of evergreens surrounding
this two-story Redwood stilt house lodged through a pebbled driveway in
the woods, an early evening barbecue, my mommy dressed for waitress work,
dropping my brother and I off with friends, sticking around for 20
minutes, before taking off—the story of my life—and the boy I had a crush
on, pushing me away, his eyes constantly following this cute little blonde
girl, saying out loud in my vicinity, “You’re not blonde like her.”
There’s even a picture my mommy took of that very moment.
Spiral notebook tears, instead of clean holes punched. New school post
separation, a little Hawaiian girl threatening, “What are you staring at,
ugly?”, another new school Mayday, my mommy bought red print instead of
red to sew my hula outfit, more pictures of me sticking out, another
incomplete assignment, ninth grade introductions made with a rock hit the
side of my skull while waiting in line in front of the Aiea High School
gym, from a Japanese girl to a Korean me, “Jap!”, they keep coming,
shoving me aside, pressing my face on the feces of shit myself.
So I know the opposite of joy. Yet I’ve discovered pockets of respite,
watching people unaware, feeling the entire boundary of color, sound,
mood, and feeling give in my vast array.
It’s been awhile, as I cheer to the good news of several online
acquaintances. Sage has found love, beauty, redemption and his mother
again, after so long of sacrifice, suffering, silent harbor in the refuge
of e-mail and websites. Katrina has found the economy of the 11th hour
relief of kindness, timing and faith, with her husband in working order
again, her family staved of homeless burden. Robb has found community,
activity, passion and, slowly despite himself, love in the rock climbing
that so consumes his every waking hour, he gives of himself to others
where once he took and hid, seething from regret at a broken marriage.
My son slipped on an embankment up a slight incline at my husband’s
friends’ son’s third birthday party a recent Sunday. He looked
embarrassed, tried to hide his fall, by gamely climbing back up and
smiling for the camera the entire time, but took note of no one
cushioning, preventing his fall, least of all me, a mother torn between
letting him learn and protecting him. When he walked toward me, it was
faltering, favoring his left leg, and I feared the worst, at least a
sprain, maybe a fracture. Alone in a backyard full of smiling, laughing,
chatting friends from church, I whisked James inside, wanting to see for
myself in the privacy of a corner window, that he still walked with a
limp, he did. Unsure of the ER, the charged nurse call, or ...?, I grabbed
the diaper bag and the stroller, threw them in the car, thought briefly of
trying to reach my husband, on another gig, then thought again, grabbing
James and about ready to head out to Stevens Hospital when—
—someone suggested I ask a guest who was a nurse, who promptly reassured
me his face says he’s fine.
Mine did too, back when I pricked my finger on a bobby pin, but my daddy
and mommy yelled at me to shut up, stop sniveling and smile for the formal
family portrait. I hid my bleeding finger in a knuckle beneath my yellow
The birthday party seemed right with the world. The mothers watched out
for each other’s precious children, the fathers talked golf, camping,
music. Burgers, corndogs, chips, cake, presents, although I missed the end
to change James’ second diapers.
A perfect scenario for joy over loneliness. I suppose.
For James, I pray to God he was invited.
Me, I merely wish for someone to stay. Because I am enough.
And because I am not blonde.