Those You Are With–A Prompt

April 19, 2017

I have no words. I ran out. The kettle is empty. I’m spoilt.

I don’t want to write so Nellie Negative.

I feel time’s ticks.

Any free moment I have when the house is empty—Claudio or Gilma take my love monkeys away—I crawl in bed, my soft sheets, a bed in daylight, and cry for her. Momma Bean—only since August, I grieve so much for her, not her death as much as what she left undone. She was undone. Her last years—let’s say her 24 last years she was already gone, but not gone, Momma Bean grief—it is slow and relentless and winds its way down, around and through me. My busy life can’t hold it. It sneaks in sideways, comes upon me on awakening, more so after a mid-day nap: Momma Bean is gone.

It still takes my breath away. I feel both hurried and calm—it won’t stop. She’ll be gone now. She’s gone. I’ve lost folk before, but she was gone so long before she ever left—I grieve her gone-ness, how she was already past due after Floyd died.

Or maybe the truth of it I was gone, a latch-key daughter in California: I was long gone.

Those I am with now are my three, my trio, my triage, my trinity: Claudio, Sofia, Lily. Our home has so many windows, such light, I sleep in with them, guiltlessly. I should be up and doing yoga, writing, walking the dog, writing. I should. But I luxuriate, I breath in, I pull the covers to my chin, all white sheets, soft and cool. I watch Lily sleep. I rest. I quit coffee because last week my writing sounded so jagged and when I met a friend in Whole Foods the way she quirked her head at me while I spazzed on about something made me realize I crossed a line: seven shots of coffee are too much.

I ask God for guidance and help, I pray in a constant conversation, but really, my Ruby Slippers shine.

“Claudio,” I say, “I hope we both realize, as far as incarnations go, we hit the human jackpot.”

Maybe I’m too easy on myself. I should jog, join a grief group, cry more. I try to sit still for thirty minutes when I first wake in a prayer meditation, calm the detoxing-caffeine brain, come home. Lily bloodhounds me, puts her head in my lap, prays quietly while I meditate.

Sofia wakes and yells out, “I dreamt I was a white slave, mom! A rich girl helped me survive by unlocking a door, hiding me from the mean master. You were at an Alanon meeting and I came to find you and told them all how the stranger saved me. She didn’t’ say a word. I was so grateful, Mom. I was sobbing. A total stranger saved my life. Isn’t that amazing?”

We four dress, put on merry hats, the Pomeranian on a leash and Lily leads us on a walk around the hill. It’s how I live in this moment with a kind husband, he apologizes, he is courtesy itself, he leads the pack of us from the back, as all Wolf leaders do. A stranger in a mini-cooper calls out, “Watch out! Move!” when a car could hit us on a blind corner, saving our lives.

Claudio carries his morning coffee, teaches Lily not to take all the neighbor flowers for her fairy garden, Foxy Pomeranian needs a bath when we arrive home so we put her in an industrial cow-looking thing we put ice in with pop cans at parties and Claudio runs warm water from the faucet.

So much life I can’t stop to write or do much of anything, save my family, save my family.

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Momma Bean in the House

She’s been here in the house since she died. It is freaking out the kids, her visitations. We see her in our peripheral vision, a shadow where there is nothing blocking the light source. A displacement of air in the bottom bunk bed. A floor board creak. A heaviness in the upstairs of our home, as though showing off that she now can make it up all sixty stairs from the street, and the ten more inside our home. Claudio and I call our home “The Mother-in-Law Free Zone” since neither of our mothers can easily climb stairs. We don’t get Avon ladies or Trick-or-Treaters or Politicians here, but ghosts, Momma Bean’s floater got no issue with stairs.

Bedtime, never easy, has become impossible.

“NO! Grandma Beanie climbs in Lily’s bed at night and it totally creeps me out.”

“Ok, I will deal with her!” I say. “Next time it happens, wake me up.”

A brokered peace and we are all tucked in for about 45 minutes when I hear Sofia scream: “She’s here!”

“She’s HERE, mom!” she yells again. It wakes me out of my drifting pre-sleep, that sweet place it’s so painful to be wrested out of, so I say, “Okay, honey,” because I agreed to come and because the pronounced sense of a body plunking into bed, her dead grandmother, must be unbearably creepy to deal with alone.

I leave Lily in my bed with her dad, her sleepy voice saying, “Don’t go, momma, I need you.”

“It’s my Momma, Lily. I’m going to sleep with her one last time.”

I crawl in between Lily’s pink llama flannels, say, “Momma, I get why you’re here, but I’m okay. You can go rest. You’ve done so much for me; you of all my loves deserve a rest. I spent hours on google looking for a box for your ashes. I ordered you a mini-wooden cabin with an outhouse option. I couldn’t imagine you in some hokey box with a quotation and outline of an eagle or mountain range. I ordered two crafty cabins, one for each Bean sister, we split you even-stevens.”

The bed is quiet, I get no response, no shimmer, no whisper of a breeze, but I believe Sofia. She is not the child prone to woo-woo, not like Lily and I. If she said Momma Bean is here, she is, even if I can’t sense her much, other than scanty hope. I’d like to see her ghost. I’ll stay in this bed all night, even though my toes hang off the edge, even though Lily has more than 25 stuffed bunnies in here so I can barely move between the ghost of Momma Bean and all the stuffed animal clutter. I’ll follow Momma Beanie to the moon and back for one more moment with her, my sweet, deliciously odd Momma Bean.

Kristi said she felt her after she passed also, she came to her during a nap, also in bed.

“How’d you know it was her?”

“I had the sensation of so much irritation I could barely breathe. It was her.”

“Momma,” I continue. “I know you know how I feel, because you used to tell me how much you missed your mom after she died. I got to have so many conversations with you in this lifetime. You were so kind to me always, even when I was such a shit, and I love the parts of me that remind me of you, even my ability to go to Whole Foods looking like crap warmed over because you gave me nare’ do care about my general lookiness. I’m able to go to lunch in Beverly Hills sans Botox because you were my Momma. I know little girls love their mommas, but I have to say, I think I love you more than most. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to talk to you often or look you in the eyes. I wish I was able to look at you more when you were alive.”

The last Thanksgiving, we spent together was during the heat of Claudio’s madness, my own madness, and I was a gimp of a person. Momma Bean sat opposite me at the round table Kristi served dinner on. I hardly said two words to her. Kristi later told me Momma Bean peed on the chair-—her body had been shutting down for years, YEARS, it’s why I thought she’d never die, Momma Bean, who broke a wine glass with her spazzing out hand at our wedding, some nerve reaction that caused her to crush two wine glasses in her hand. It was the last time she visited here at our home. I think she willed herself up our stairs. She gave me away to Claudio. My mother-in-law called the day after the wedding to tell me she thought my mother was a drunk.

“She’s not a drunk. She’s Momma Bean. She’s constantly dying.” It’s hard to explain to new in-laws.

After the funeral, mortician John who buries all Beans hands her to me. “Not much left, is there?” She is inside a white paper bag with little white handles, something light enough to carry a lunch in. It has the name of the funeral home on the outside, and inside there is a cardboard box with my half of Momma Bean in it. And a death certificate so I can fly with her.

I fly out of Ketchum and she keeps setting off the TSA alarms, they have to open her box and put a metal screen over her, I suppose to make sure I’m not bringing something terrorist-y on the plane. The Idahoan who has to keep scanning her keeps apologizing, he knows. I hear him whisper to the younger guy, “It’s her mom.” I don’t cry. I don’t feel anything really, other than sorry for him because it must be pretty awkward to scan and rescan someone’s Momma. I think about the time Momma gave me a jack-a-loupe at the Boise airport, wrapped in a pink flowery pillowcase and how the TSA guy there also let me fly with it, because “it looked tame to him” and how odd and lovely it is that my inheritance from her is a jack-a-loupe, bones and ashes, and all her sweet small town Idahoness. Her hokeyness. Her non-Los Angeles fabulousness. I wouldn’t trade her for anyone. Not anyone, anyone, even someone with a $500 haircut and a Chanel pantsuit, what she often accused me of wanting in a mother.

She’s on the top shelf in my office next to my AA big book. I sold the jack-a-loupe at a yard sale ten years ago because Claudio couldn’t stand a dead animal in the house. We disagree on the artistry of taxidermy. I ordered a new one yesterday from an online retailer.

I fall asleep in Lily’s bed talking until sleep like she used to do for me when I was little. I wake hours later and pad back into my own bed.

She’s not been back since.

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Calm the Serenity

I am overwhelmed with homeschooling. I have these days occasionally, when I question my decision making–WHY did I think it was a good idea to take over my children’s education? Lily can’t yet tie her shoes. Sofia struggles with her multiplication tables. She hates math. I agree. I can’t do 6th grade math, so I hire it out, but still.

I consider climbing into my closet, layering the floor with cozy blankets and refusing to come out, hiding from everyone, regressing to my childhood ways. I used to climb into my closet in 2nd grade, open the floor board and hang out in the crawl space under the house. It’s quiet under the house. There is dirt under the house, spiders, unkempt, unmanicured space, the outline of the house but empty with possibility that just around that beam: Narnia. And no one can find me.

Instead I wake Claudio at 2am and ask him to do a Meeting of Two with me. It’s an offshoot of 12-step meeting culture–we take turn sharing our feelings uninterrupted and without cross-talk, solution fixing or shaming. The mere fact that he’ll wake up and listen to me say the Serenity Prayer and then share my experience tells me I married someone extraordinarily kind. He says only about knowing what it’s like to be overworked,and that gives me comfort. And then he tells me to get some rest. I need that simple wisdom. “Go night night,” my dear friend Barbara says to me when I call her with a worry late at night. “Nothing is worked out after 10pm.”

Lily still ends up in our bed, so I go to her bed. Musical beds. Claudio finds me there at daybreak, in the pink llama sheets with her curtain that wraps around her bed tightly shut, a cocoon.

I cry some. “The kids are too quiet. They’re downstairs reading Garfield, rotting their brains,” I say. “I’m too tired to go down there right now.”

He goes downstairs.

“ANYONE WHO IS READING GARFIELD NOW HAS A CONSEQUENCE!” Tears from girls. He stomps upstairs, I hear him open my office door, toss in two Garfield, slam it shut.

I have a protector. I beam.

“Do math!” he yells.

Lily comes into her room. She has on a pink silky long nightgown with a black choker. Hard and soft, a family inheritance.

“I want to cuddle.”

“Do math.”

She ignores me and climbs in beside me.

“It is my bed.”

Her toes are icicles.

She finds her spot under my arm, flops her leg over my body, clamps me. “CLAMP!”

I sigh, a large breath. She does too. I feel her heartbeat, think about how she’s done this her forever, how she used to fit in my belly, then on my body, now, seven and a half years old, she can trap me.

I cry quietly. I’m so grateful and so tired. She doesn’t say anything. I hope I’m hiding it from her.

She looks up at me, the one hunk of hair shorter than the rest over her right eye. She cut it herself six months ago. No one else would know that about her, I think.

“Mom, when I grow up, can I be a writer like you?” She has brown eyes, french-girl short bangs, a face like the moon, round and still baby enough and morphing by the hour.

No. I want to say. Be a writer who writes! Works! Is successful!

“You can be anything.” I smile.

“I’m going to be an actress. I’m very good with feelings. I use sad music to really feel things. And I already have ten books.”

“Tell me.”

“One is called ‘Lucy’s Box.’ It’s dedicated to you and Dad. One is ‘A Boy Named Max.’ There’s ‘Christmas Eve is the Best Holiday.’And ‘Calm the Serenity.'”

“Curious. Tell me that one.”

“It’s dedicated to you.”

“You don’t say? Plot?”

“It’s about a lady who goes to Alanon. You know how all they talk about at Alanon is serenity?”

“Yup.”

“Well, this lady is stressed. She’s trying so hard to be serenity, to be so perfect that the serenity is stressing her out. No one’s perfect mom. She’s looking so hard for serenity it’s making her nuts. So–Calm the Serenity. It’s a good book. I don’t want to ruin it. That’s all I’ll say.”

I think about grace. She takes my breath away, like seeing the exact right billboard on the side of the road, or a vanity plate, or a song on the radio right when I most need it. Grace. Lily has always been my God Whisperer. She asks, “Why am I the only one that knows that when you break something down and down and down, smaller and smaller, all you find is light?” She tells me about the meadows in heaven where she spent so much time between lifetimes. She has God Stories, remembrances of her pre-life, and I beg her to tell me as many as she can remember. She tells me about sitting in God’s lap, a big, fat woman, so kind, so loving, and how she screened for her all the possible mothers she could have.

“Mom, when we came to your picture, God said, ‘Pick her. She’s my favorite.’ So I did.”

Posted in Homeschooling | 3 Comments

Rocket Man

Try as I might, I can’t find anyone in my life who’ll tell me not to write. I keep reading about memorists who have complete family holocausts from their writing, breakups, stale-mates, therapy sessions with declarations of disinheritances and threats of lawsuits.

I ask my husband, “Do you care if I write about your infidelity?” He was quiet. “It’s totally up my alley of material. It’s all over everything in my history.”

“Write,” he says. “You should write more.”

He texted me three days later. “What can I do to help you get time to write. You should write.”

Even my mother-in-law tells me, “You’re a good writer Kelli. When you write Claudio, I hear his voice exactly.”

I think my husband is Aspergers. Has Aspergers? I’m not sure of the way to phrase it. He has told me not to call him that, but he’ll allow me to write it. I don’t understand why I can’t call him this. After his affair came out, after I filed for divorce,I then dragged his sorry ass to therapists galore. We’ve had three marital counselors call him “Alien,” one Hollywood coach call him a “Sociopath,” and one married couple therapist stopped us mid-session and said to me, “Kelli, you should divorce right now. You should leave him this second.”

I always called ahead before our sessions to “prep” the therapists, told these therapists I thought he was an Aspie, and the response was always the same: “Every woman thinks her husband is Aspie.” I was sick of Los Angeles therapists, so we flew to Texas and did twenty-seven hours straight with the author of one of a self-help book about emotionally unavailable men.

On the last day of our back-to-back sessions she sent Claudio to the waiting room and told me to read every book on Asperger’s, on marriage between Aspie and Neurotypicals, or NTs. Normies. Eighty seven percent of NT/Aspie marriages fail, compared to the usual fifty percent of Normie marriages. She told me she wasn’t sure, but he seemed Aspie-ish. She said loving him would require me to focus on the positive, to understand his brain isn’t like other people, to find what is worthwhile and special, and also to learn to take care of my own needs in a way I might not in a NT marriage. She told me not to tell him about this, but rather to just sit with it and learn everything I can.

Then she said, “Don’t you think Claudio is worth saving?”

I remember the shock of that query. Saving? Did she mean to not just throw him away because of his two-year long affair? People are not disposable, is that what she meant? I took vows, for better or worse? The question froze my brain. Saving? I have approximately 3,295 books opposing the notion of saving someone. I attend 12-step groups unfolding the octopus enrapturement of codependency. I am no one’s savior. Save his own damn self, I thought.

I read the Aspie books. I wept alone. I grieved. I watched him like he was my science experiment. I was horrified-—what could be so broken in me that I’d choose an Aspie when I had the pick of the litter?

Then I remembered years ago telling Claudio that if ever he died, I would go hunting at Cal Tech for my next husband-—gonna get myself a rocket man, and realized with my newfound knowledge that the ratio of Aspie to NT on that campus must be abominable as a snowman.

Last night Claudio told me, “I started crying today Kelli. I don’t know how to do any of this. I’m so confused.”

I had earplugs in.

“What’d you say?” I’d been annoyed at him for two days. I pulled in, turtle like, not silent treatment, but not dancing for him anymore.

“I don’t know how to do any of this. I’m always failing you.”

I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to fix him, to swoop in with mothering words. I just sat quietly, which is so unlike me.

Finally I said, “What do you mean?”

“You seem so mad at me.”

“I’m not mad. I’m just-—I’m trying to figure out how to be married to you.”

“You say that and I think you’re leaving.”

“Nope. I’m just thinking about what’s mine and how to be happy. It’s hard.”

“I got weepy today,” he said.”Thinking about you”

He never used to say things like this to me. He never used to cry. We also never used to fight, until all we did was fight. He cries sometimes now. He’ll burst out, like something held in for decades and say, “Kelli, you might feel it’s a good idea to leave me, but it’s not. Please don’t ever leave me.”

I gave him an online test for Asperger’s about a month after the Texan told me. She told me Aspies are particularly uninterested in having a diagnosis, and to keep it to myself, but when have I ever been good at keeping a secret?

I had taken the test first, to see if it was accurate. I scored Neurotypical, but with a high percentage of Aspie-like qualities. This didn’t surprise me. I loathe small talk.

He passed the test with flying colors, as I knew he would. Questions like, ‘Do you have odd hair?’, ‘Do you get an urge to jump in front of a moving train?’ ‘Do loved ones find you callus or unfeeling?’ Or Alien, I pointed out.

Each yes he had a quirk, his head turned sideways, a Labrador of curiosity.

I told him his score. He jumped out of bed, went downstairs, and came back in an hour.

“Don’t ever call me that,” he said.

I mostly don’t, but I’ll toss it in a conversation once in a while, a crouton, and sometimes he’ll discuss it briefly, sometimes he gets quiet.

Last night I asked him why he’s so opposed to his Aspergerness. He said, “It means I’m retarded.”

It never occurred to me he’d feel slow, broken, shamed from my internet/Texan therapist diagnosis.

“Is that what you’ve thought? You’re not retarded. You’re an Alien.”

“I don’t want to be retarded.”

He’s never felt so human to me.

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Sofia learned the “C” word and I’m a crappo blogger

She is obsessed with “bad” words, collects them, and has ever since she learned to spell. Claudio and I used to spell to one another when having a conversation in front of her we didn’t want to hear.

“I think that guy is in P-O-R-N,” I said.

“Porn!” Sofia screamed. She was 4. She has never forgotten it.

In the back of her journal she has a list of all the biggies: The F-word, A-word, S-word. A dude cut me off in traffic the other day. We rarely curse in front of the girls. When C and I met, I had a potty mouth and he said he didn’t like it so I stopped cursing overnight, cold turkey. With an occasional slip.

“What a dick.” I said.

“DICK!” And she wrote it down.

I can’t have her cursing; she’s 8. But when she does try them on for size, they come out all wrong. She has no context for them:

“He’s a dick porn.”
“What a god-damn ass shit fuck.”

I’ve put the kabash on cursing. I’m old fashioned, or maybe a hypocrite.

So, she only had one big hold out. “You don’t know the C-word.”

“Tell me the C!”

“Never. I’ll save your innocence.”

Tonight we were watching clips from Bridesmaids, because she asked me what I’m like when I drink alcohol. I showed her the clip of the girl sneaking into first class. I know, Bridesmaids. But I needed her to know about what I look like drunk, and I couldn’t think up any other great movie moments. (Feel free to comment if you have a goodie.) Then I clicked to the jewelry store scene with the C-bomb. I didn’t see it coming and couldn’t mute in time.

“Cunt! That’s the C-WORD! My list is complete!”

Bridesmaids. Not a teaching tool.

Sofia finished 2nd grade today. She wrapped up math 6 weeks ago and last week she finished history; Grammar was the holdout. Ask her to tell you the list of all prepositions, alphabetized and she will rock you through aboard, about, above, across…all the way to with, within, without. Who knows if it will do her any good in life, but it’ll be fun to scream drunk at a party if she takes after me, and if she doesn’t, still, 2 hours a day and she can name all the parts of speech. I freaking love homeschooling the girls, and if anyone gives me guff about it, I’ll have her scream out all the helping verbs and then drop the C-bomb when the socialization question comes up. How’s that for socialized?

I love reading homeschool blogs. My fave right now is this family from Vancouver who are sailing and homeschooling on the open sea. The Wet Edge inspires me and also makes me feel small. They’re at sea! With kids! But hell, I’m on another world-wide adventure with Claudio. And my love for their blog makes me remember I have a blog! A sad, neglected, sorry-ass blog. So here I am.

Check them out:
http://thewetedgeadventure.blogspot.ca/2013/06/homeschool-un-school-fun-school-its-all.html

Sofia is sitting at her altar now. I hear her banging her meditation bowl and chanting. I did not teach her how to do this. I hoped to get her an altar and to somehow bring reverence into some conversations, but without prodding, she has gathered rocks, fairy statues, buddhas and takes the altar with us on the road. Lily is asleep and hogging my whole bed. I’m in a slice of heaven.

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Drunks

DRUNKS
for my father, and the people who almost saved his life

We died of pneumonia in furnished rooms
where they found us three days later
when somebody complained about the smell
we died against bridge abutments
and nobody knew if it was suicide
and we probably didn’t know either
except in the sense that it was always suicide
we died in hospitals
our stomachs huge, distended
and there was nothing they could do
we died in cells
never knowing whether we were guilty or not.

We went to priests
they gave us pledges
they told us to pray
they told us to go and sin no more, but go
we tried and we died

we died of overdoses
we died in bed (but usually not the Big Bed)
we died in straitjackets
in the DTs seeing God knows what
creeping skittering slithering
shuffling things

And you know what the worst thing was?
The worst thing was that
nobody ever believed how hard we tried

We went to doctors and they gave us stuff to take
that would make us sick when we drank
on the principle of so crazy, it just might work, I guess
or maybe they just shook their heads
and sent us places like Dropkick Murphy’s
and when we got out we were hooked on paraldehyde
or maybe we lied to the doctors
and they told us not to drink so much
just drink like me
and we tried
and we died

we drowned in our own vomit
or choked on it
our broken jaws wired shut
we died playing Russian roulette
and people thought we’d lost
but we knew better
we died under the hoofs of horses
under the wheels of vehicles
under the knives and bootheels of our brother drunks
we died in shame

And you know what was even worse?
was that we couldn’t believe it ourselves
that we had tried
we figured we just thought we tried
and we died believing that we hadn’t tried
believing that we didn’t know what it meant to try

When we were desperate enough
or hopeful or deluded or embattled enough to go for help
we went to people with letters after their names
and prayed that they might have read the right books
that had the right words in them
never suspecting the terrifying truth
that the right words, as simple as they were
had not been written yet

We died falling off girders on high buildings
because of course ironworkers drink
of course they do
we died with a shotgun in our mouth
or jumping off a bridge
and everybody knew it was suicide
we died under the Southeast Expressway
with our hands tied behind us
and a bullet in the back of our head
because this time the people that we disappointed
were the wrong people
we died in convulsions, or of “insult to the brain”
we died incontinent, and in disgrace, abandoned
if we were women, we died degraded,
because women have so much more to live up to
we tried and we died and nobody cried

And the very worst thing
was that for every one of us that died
there were another hundred of us, or another thousand
who wished that we could die
who went to sleep praying we would not have to wake up
because what we were enduring was intolerable
and we knew in our hearts
it wasn’t ever gonna change

One day in a hospital room in New York City
one of us had what the books call
a transforming spiritual experience
and he said to himself

I’ve got it
(no you haven’t you’ve only got part of it)

and I have to share it
(now you’ve ALMOST got it)

and he kept trying to give it away
but we couldn’t hear it
the transmission line wasn’t open yet
we tried to hear it
we tried and we died

we died of one last cigarette
the comfort of its glowing in the dark
we passed out and the bed caught fire
they said we suffocated before our body burned
they said we never felt a thing
that was the best way maybe that we died
except sometimes we took our family with us

And the man in New York was so sure he had it
he tried to love us into sobriety
but that didn’t work either, love confuses drunks
and he tried and still we died
one after another we got his hopes up
and we broke his heart
because that’s what we do

And the worst thing was that every time
we thought we knew what the worst thing was
something happened that was worse

Until a day came in a hotel lobby
and it wasn’t in Rome, or Jerusalem, or Mecca
or even Dublin, or South Boston
it was in Akron, Ohio, for Christ’s sake

a day came when the man said I have to find a drunk
because I need him as much as he needs me
(NOW
you’ve got it)

and the transmission line
after all those years
was open
the transmission line was open

And now we don’t go to priests
and we don’t go to doctors
and people with letters after their names
we come to people who have been there
we come to each other
and we try
and we don’t have to die

JACK MCCARTHY
May 23, 1939 – January 17, 2013

Posted in Spirit, Writing | 3 Comments

God Save the Queen, the Text

I.

I was 18 years old when I was crowned Miss Idaho USA. Sometimes I say this as an excuse: “I was only 18.” My mother, Momma Bean, two minutes after I was crowned hugged me, whispered in my ear, “You’ll always be a former Miss Idaho.”
I decided on a whim. Some rich kid golfer I was dating suggested in an off remark, “You’re hot. You should run for Miss Idaho. You’d win.”
I was tired of fighting with my father, Floyd. The first time I saw “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” I was shocked. Martha and George were married, not father-daughter, but they described my life with Floyd completely; fighting for the sheer joy of it.

Floyd: “You’re a god-damned pain in the ass, Kelli.”
Kelli: “You drink too much, FLOYD.”
Floyd: “I oughta sell you to the gypsies.”
Kelli: “They’ll ask for a refund.”
Floyd: “I sold a car to the gypsy king last week.”

Mom’s voice from the other room: “Floyd. Kelli. Play nice.”

I used being the queen of Idaho like I did getting straight As, becoming a cheerleader, class president and a born again Christian: as a way to get Floyd’s goat.

“You’ll be sorry, Floyd. I’m going to win Miss Idaho and rise above this shithole.”
Long drag on his Marlboro Red: “Oooooh, doggies. You’re going to make some man’s life hell on earth.”

I started drinking a month before the pageant.

II.

The Miss Idaho pageant took place on a stage decorated with a taxidermied moose. This fact should give you a feel for the competitors—Idahoans are not queens in the way that, say, southerners are queens.
I was still backstage, standing along side the other four top contestants, when I felt it as the judges’ final score was tabulated. I just knew. It was a physical sensation, an internal earthquake. I won. I turned to tell the girl behind me that she just lost, or to see if she felt it as well. I stopped myself: that would be so unroyal. I wanted to tell someone and I couldn’t; the only ones around me were the losers, and I felt at once the unbearable solitude of the champion.

We top five tromped to stage. I floated. The emcee tried to drag out the tension when it was down to only two of us, but I was giddy. I motioned him to move along, get on with it, I knew. But when he said my name, that mythic thing happened to me: tears sprang to my eyes, I covered my face. The outgoing queen put the crown on my head. I looked up to God, I mouthed the words ‘Thank you’ to the judges, I waved ‘Hi Mom’. I waggled my legs like a football dude in the end zone. I gave a Nixonian thumbs up. And then I didn’t know what to do and I walked back towards the twelve losers and waved at them.

And then I laughed hysterically as I walked the plank that went out over and into the audience.

III.

I thought being Miss Idaho would class me up, stamp me with greatness. I thought Floyd would finally respect me and see me as his pretty, pretty, pretty sweet daughter. I thought it would fix him, get him to stop drinking, simmer down and be the family man father I always wanted, not the guy sleeping in red silk briefs on the family room couch, sweating out a hangover.

The morning after winning Floyd said, “Didn’t take much to win in that crowd. All you needed was two nipples instead of six, all your teeth and to walk on your hind legs.”

People have a lot of opinions when I describe Floyd to them. Why would I ever think that he would be that kind of dad that I was hoping for? Once when I was ten years old, at riding the monorail from Disneyland Hotel to main gate, Floyd was standing in the aisle. I had a seat and kept trying to get his eye to tell him I’d share. I finally did, and I sat on his lap the whole way to Disneyland. He sang

Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown,
Baddest man in the whole damn town,
Badder than an old king kong
Meaner than a junkyard dog

in my ear. He had a crunchy beard and his breath smelled like the Marlboro Red he tossed away before loading up on the god-damned bus, as he put it, but for a moment I felt so welcomed by him and I knew he had it in him to be a sweetie pie. I know it’s difficult to understand for a family outsider. I loved that Floyd Bean with all my heart.

IV.

Being a queen didn’t make me feel prettier. Even though Floyd made six figures a year selling Chevrolets, it occurred to me one day that I was white trash. My mother wore sweatshirts that had a pig face on the front and a pig butt on the back. She’d give me her whole paycheck from her job at Boise Planning Association to buy me prettier dresses than even the one she got married in. The look in her eye, pure love and wanting so much better for me than the life she had for herself, kind of killed me while she sat there in her Keds tennis shoes and her Roseanne Barr football helmet-hair and pear-shaped body.
Instead of getting a nose-job and boob job, as advised by pageant people, I drank till I blacked out and screamed at people in bars, “You mother fuckers are drinking with Miss Idaho!” They flew us to Mobile, Alabama and locked us up for a month of rehearsals for the Miss USA show. We went everywhere with a police escort and changed clothes three times a day. The only way I got through it was by buying up all the Nyquil in the hotel gift shop.

The opening number of the televised show required each contestant to dress up as something representative of her state. Most of them looked like Vegas showgirls. I didn’t know what to be: The Yellowstone National Park or a Baked Idaho Russet Potato.

“Stop bellyaching,” my state director, Barbara said. “I’ll put some strips of glitter on a blue leotard and we’ll get a feather headband. You can be the Idaho State Bluebird. Wear heels.”

I was a very tall bluebird.

I remember standing back stage as the Idaho State Bluebird. I was broken. It was right after Top Ten had been announced. The sounds of quiet sobbing cascaded around me, all us state queens who hadn’t made it to the next level. I was standing at the craft service eating Oreo after Oreo, hoping the camera would get a glance of me with the black gunk in my teeth. I was high on Nyquil and thoroughly disgusted at myself.

“Kelli,” Miss South Dakota said, “stop. You’re going to hate yourself if you get fat.”

“Sweetie,” I said, “don’t you hate yourself yet?”

V.

Ten years after the Miss USA pageant I was waitressing at the Malibu Chart House. I lived in the Pacific Palisades. I covered every mirror in my apartment with black fabric because I couldn’t stand to look at myself. I had the Suicide Hotline on speed dial. I drank till I could leave my body and float around the ether, deciding whether to stay or leave this earth.

I ended up in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. I identified externally as an Alcoholic, and internally as a Recovering Beauty Queen.

My first sponsor had been a Beauty Queen’s chaperone down south where Beauty Queens were for real, so I knew she could guide me. She knew Beauty Queen pain. As an amend to myself she made me sit in front of a three way mirror in my closet and look into my own eyes. That was it, just look into my own sweet eyes. I must have sat there for a good hour, and after looking into my own eyes for some time my face started to morph. My own face disappeared. I was an old Indian man. I was an ancient Chinese momma. I was a black cleaner woman. I was a thin Australian rancher. I was a sweaty old priest. I was a thirteen-year-old boy with acne. I was an Iranian princess and a Zimbabwean slave; I was a Scottish garbage man, and a Native American mother. I was a Buddhist monk. I was a French girl. I was Floyd C. Bean.

“Gorgeous, I tell you, gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.”

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God Save the Queen

A fun night with flashlights, kids, dad and the QUEEN!!!!

This Youtube link only plays in some countries and in the US only on a computer. The below link plays everywhere.

GSTQ480p

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Happy Birthday to Me

From the Kabbalah.

And then there’s the story of the man whom God tells to push the rock. He tries over and over, pushing as hard as he can for weeks, months, even years, then finally comes to God and says, “I’ve tried as hard as I can! The rock won’t move.”

“I didn’t tell you to move the rock,” God answers. “Just push it. My job is to move it, but look how strong you have become trying.”
____________________

Kelli, look how strong you’ve become, throwing your body on that rock, again and again and again.

It’s so sweet of late. Last nine years have been bliss, upon bliss, upon bliss.

I don’t write, not much. Momma Bean keeps saying, “Write it down. Write it.” I don’t. I’m enjoying it all so much, soaking in it, my marinade life, so rich, so called, so asked for and intended and given to me so freely.

I wake up morning after morning, years of mornings now, and I don’t want to kill myself. All these years after the fact and it still is a shock every morning. I want to live.

I want to pay attention, deep, full-soul attention to this now–our girls, Lily, three, who wakes me up by holding onto my neck as tightly as she can, pushing her face into my face, my cheek, my cuddle spot in the middle of my neck. “I miss Mommy milk,” she says. “Do you?”

I tell her I indeedy do miss giving her milk, and she pats me on the head like a dog. “You good Mommy. You best.”

And Sofia, Sophia, Sofie Sunshine. I stare at her, still hardly believing she is really here. She is bright, so long, limbs for hours and so sparky behind her deep brown eyes. She takes my breath away. “Mom, you’re staring. You’ve got that look.”

I think about how I used to smoke-to-die, drink-to-drown, mope to beat the dead. I think about how I used to drink till the floor was waves, how I’d look at my pretty-skinny body and hate myself. I remember wondering how many days I had left on the earth and how to lessen them, or toss them, or spit them back at so generous my God. I remember this like remembering some former life, some person who may have been me, but doesn’t feel at all like the person I wake up to every morning, 43 years old now, 15 years past my last drink, Claudio’s wife and mother to these girls.

I’m not so important now–not important like I was when I wanted to die, the cycling swirl of my addiction years, Gin-Tonic Times, Tangeray Queen, when oh, I wanted the Merry-go-Round to break down and burn out and flood, music silenced.

I don’t matter so much. I’m not so loud in my brain. My fever broke. I’m no saint, but morning and night, inside my rambling, watery brain, this side of the rock, I say, “Use me, please use me,” and more than that, “Thank you.” I will never say thank you enough for this life. Light me, burn me strong. I will shine the brightest I am able. I really don’t matter so much. And oh, I love my girls. I love them more than I ever considered. I’m everyday in heaven, heaven, heaven and I’m so thankful I did not die.

Written for Momma Bean, wrote it down, Momma. Wrote it. I’m so glad to be 43 today.

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Putting Sofia to bed

Tonight I was putting Sofia to bed and I gave her ten kisses, all over her face, like I used to do every single night. We fell out of the habit once Lily was born. After I gave her the ten kisses I ended with one on her forehead, “for good luck.” Then I said what I always used to say, “I love you to the moon and back, the stars and beyond, and more than that. And more than that, too. And I always, always will.”

She looked at me with a look I’ve never seen on her before. She looked right into my eyes and neither of us spoke.

I said, “What are you thinking about?”

After a moment she said, “I am thinking about how when I am a grown up I will remember everything you ever taught me.”

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