Monthly Archives: May 2010

You Can Never Go Home, But I Keep Trying

And yes, I’ll be trying again this weekend.

The first time I learned we were leaving Crested Butte was the morning after my mom was on the phone to my Dad in the middle of the night again.  Dad was stationed in Thailand.  For months the whispered calls at 3:00 a.m. were full of tears or raised voices, or both.  It was 1973 and the war was winding down, and with it, their anger at one another for how each felt about, and reacted to, Vietnam and each’s various affairs, probably not in that order.

Mom was tired of trying to raise three kids with no money and no help.  Jobs for unreliable, somewhat heavy drinkers who took a lot of drugs weren’t easy to find and always harder to keep, especially in a tiny resort town.  Paying for groceries at Stephanic’s with food stamps always made me feel ashamed, and I know she felt the same, or she would not have sent her ten-year old to do the shopping.

Mom said Dad was the youngest full Colonel in Southeast Asia, barely forty and already a decorated squadron commander.  He was still in love with her and, I believe now, missed all of us in his own way.  But I was a suspicious ten-year old, full of worry about the future, and this pending reunion did nothing to sway that.

Still, whatever I did or didn’t do, they were remarrying one another in Denver and we moving to the Philippines.  Their decision was fortified when he arrived in Crested Butte directly from Khorat Air Force Base in Thailand, or as directly as one could at that time.  That meant a C-130 to Guam, refuel, land at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, refuel, land at Travis Air Force Base in California, catch a civilian flight from San Francisco to Denver, then a tiny plane to Gunnison.  When he finally made it to the Gunnison Valley, still in his uniform, two straight days after leaving Khorat, it was just as summer began its shy foray into the high country, around the time when the glacier lilies bloom so quickly and die even faster.  Hopeful days where summer passes in a blink of an eye after nine, long months of winter.

The two of them disappeared into the greening hills up Kebler, near the Beckwiths, for almost a week.  I don’t remember who took care of us; it might have been Mike at age thirteen.  Mom brought some freeze-dried food from the Alpineer, fruit and a lot of LSD.  Somewhere in the West Elk Wilderness they made camp near a rushing creek, and she built a sweatlodge.

She said you should never kill anything to build a lodge, and she didn’t kill anything then.  She bent the willows growing out of the ground over on one another and tied them, until she had a tiny shelter.  Then she covered that with Indian blankets, their edges anchored with stones.  With her Swiss Army knife she cut large, eagle-wing-sized sage branches from the sage bushes everywhere.  A big fire was built with deadfall and those dangerous, explosive river rocks were piled into the coals.

They were tripping and naked and hardly any food was eaten.  They drank big gulps of water from the tin camping cup right out of the rushing stream.  Mom said they filled the pit in the sweatlodge with glowing river rocks, and then placed the sage branches over the rocks so that if one exploded, which inevitably happened, the river rock shrapnel would be stopped by the layers of branches.  Also it made everything smell so good.

She said they both needed to cleanse their souls, especially him, to go back to, and be forgiven by, Mother Earth.  She was sure he knew deep down he must have killed women, children and old people, dropping all that napalm on Vietnamese villages.  After the sun set they lay under an astonishing canopy of shooting stars until the acid wore off and they passed out.  In the mornings they took more acid, drank freshly picked chamomile tea and stirred the coals until they had another raging fire, piling it once again with river rock.  Years later, even in the worst shit storms of their relationship, Mom would say, if she remembered, that, no matter what, there was a week of healing in the West Elks neither could ever forget.

When they came out of the mountains, they came out together and for a little while they seemed happy.  We all piled into our 1971 Toyota Landcruiser and drove to Denver where they were remarried in a tiny ceremony at a church I don’t remember the name of.  Dad left to go back to Thailand.  Khorat Air Force Base was closing, and he would be stationed in the Philippines soon, where we would meet him.  For us kids we had just a few, precious summer months left in the mountains, but the living was easy because he was giving her money again.

I still didn’t want to leave Crested Butte, but Mom didn’t want to hear that from me.  When I told her I didn’t want to go for the millionth time, it was in an ill-timed moment while she was scrubbing the bathroom in Matt Kapushion’s old house on First and Whiterock.  Her back was to me so I didn’t see her flicker into one of her rages until  she whirled around red-faced with crazy eyes, grabbing at me wildly.  I was cornered in that small space, and she grabbed my arm so hard it left her purple hand print for days.  With her other hand she grabbed the Mason Pierson hairbrush on the sink and hit me on the head so fast and so hard the hairbrush broke in two after the second blow.   I stopped talking about staying after that.

As the day of our departure neared, Mom said we weren’t going to get to take our dog Bofer, a golden retriever-Saint Bernard mix who was only about a year old.  I didn’t understand and the anticipation of that parting made my heart ache every night while I tried to fall asleep, worrying about the unknown, about life on an Air Force Base where all the boys would have crewcuts and the girls would probably be prissy as hell.  And not like me.  I didn’t understand Mom was out of options, desperate and overwhelmed.  And hoping that this time with Dad would be different.  I hope I understand that now though.  I remember she just kept saying Bofer wouldn’t like being a big, giant, furry boy in the tropics of Southeast Asia, that he would be miserable, that there were no Saint Bernards in the Philippines.  I wanted to scream I’d be miserable without him, that he was only half Saint Bernard, but I didn’t want to face another hairbrush beating.

Even though I was only ten, after a year in Crested Butte I felt I was finally in a place I really belonged forever and ever.  A beautiful, magical town where all 63 school kids, from kindergarten through seventh grade, got to go skiing every Tuesday afternoon on the mountain.  Season passes were $50 but even the poor children whose families couldn’t afford it, and the ranchers’ kids who had to do ranch work instead of ski, were bused up on Tuesdays, fitted with rental equipment and broken out into ski groups based on ability.  It was a blast.  On Thursdays we had the afternoon off to go cross-country skiing with the marshall.  He taught us survival skills like what to do if we had hypothermia.  Our pot-smoking, LSD-dropping parents were naturally suspicious of him, making constant jokes about dosing his coffee with some “loaded” sugar cubes.  But every Thursday afternoon he made our lives really fun and adventurous.

In my ten years on Earth at that time I’d lived in Weisbaden, Germany, Chicago, Illinois, Norfolk, Virginia, Williams Air Force Base, Arizona, Winslow, Arizona, Misawa, Japan and Flagstaff, Arizona.  I’d been to a few different preschools, three kindergartens, two second grades and again changed schools from third to fourth grade.  I just wanted to stay somewhere for a long time and not be the new kid again.  And that somewhere was Crested Butte.

So my friend Melissa and I hatched a plan.  My friend Kitty may have been in on it too.  Since it was summer, and we were not town-bound and could roam almost anywhere except down the highway to Gunnison, we decided I should run away just west of town.  With a loaf of bread and an old canteen, we pitched a tent overlooking town, just west of my house off Kebler Pass.  I could see the Don and Adele Bachman’s house and maybe go knock on their door in case of an emergency.

It’s funny now to think I didn’t think anyone would find me.  Melissa agreed to bring me food.  I thought Bofer could move with me too.  I didn’t plan as far ahead as winter.  Or even the fall, because I was a little scared about hunting season.  A few years earlier, in 1969, a hunter shot a couple of kids riding a small motorcycle, killing one of them.  He might have been drunk.  Otherwise how do you explain blowing the head off a six-year old while he’s hanging onto his older brother on a little red motorcycle?  Word around town was that the hunter got off with probation.  It was a highly political case and the judge and jury didn’t want to discourage out-of-state hunters from enjoying the Colorado high country.  I don’t know what happened to that poor family.

As August settled in and the date of departure for Southeast Asia loomed, Melissa and I tried to get more organized about my running away.  Then a grown-up got wind of the plan and the tent was taken down.  And I thought about the hairbrush and of course kept quiet, resigning myself to what lay ahead.

The movers came to pack the house up, drive our belongings out to San Francisco and load them on a ship bound for the Philippines.  Bofer was tied up in the back yard on First and Whiterock, with assurances a nice family was coming to get him.  Melissa told me later he howled and howled for days in that back yard before she came and got him.  I hate to think Mom just left him.  I’d rather think there was someone coming to get him who flaked out, and hippies were famous for flaking out.  I will never know the truth, except that she was overwhelmed and trying to patch up a shitty marriage and worse divorce with this new marriage to the same man.

Eventually Melissa’s aunt took Bofer to Aspen where he lived a long, happy life, dying in the early 1980’s.  I’m so glad I got to see him one more time in the spring of 1976.  He was a good dog.

So yes, we moved back to Crested Butte in January 1976.  Left again in 1978.  Came back for full summers in 1978, 1979 and 1980.  But by then Mom had cancer, and she moved to the Mexican border for her controversial, natural Gerson Therapy cancer treatment.  I came back to Crested Butte for visits in 1982, 1988, 1990 and 1992.

Then in September 1992, I moved from my tiny, studio apartment in New York City back to Crested Butte, this time as an adult.  I thought I might be a tweedy country lawyer there.  It had a nice ring to it.  I landed a weird little job at a weird little law firm in Gunnison, but I had no place to live, no car and no money to live on.  It seemed harder to be there without money than even Manhattan.  I left again in 1996, heartbroken for other reasons but determined not to let any of it show, and exhausted from my self-induced struggles, financial, emotional and otherwise.

A year later, in 1997, I moved back with the love of my life, and he bought a house in Crested Butte South.  We agreed to a two-year experiment there in the Valley.  But at the end of that two years, he was not offered a job as a teacher, even after all the substitute teaching and coaching basketball.  I was not yet working as an attorney.  It was over, but I was finally ready to really leave.   I think.

So we moved to a place where we could be self-supporting, build careers and really start our life together.  Neutral ground.  It couldn’t be Crested Butte, my hometown, and it couldn’t be Bath, Maine, his.  Now I’ve been in one place for nearly 11 years, for the first time in my life.

Still, Crested Butte remains my hometown, a place where I get to mythologize my childhood, adolescence and even my thirties.  But sometimes I get to tell the truth about it too.  And the town is different every time I go back, with more real estate offices and t-shirt shops, and less empty lots where kids can play.  The cars are more expensive, the houses nicer, the restaurants pricier, and I don’t know everyone anymore.

Still I go back, and I love it there.  The people who do know me, have often known me nearly forty years over the patchwork of my comings and goings.  Even my friend Melissa, who helped plan my escape into the field near Adele and Don Bachman’s house back in 1973, is still there, now with her own family.

I have always had this longing to be from somewhere, and once I was from Crested Butte I had that, a place that called to me and mountains that healed me, that still heal me.  So what pulls me there still is not just seeing all the old friends and acquaintances, laughing about the latest small town gossip or sitting next to Coal Creek on a sunny afternoon having an icecream cone.  No, it’s those mountains.  And I like to think of my parents in those mountains, healing each other in a sweatlodge by a river, letting go of that goddamned war and what it did to them, and whatever shit they did to each other, finally willing to walk their road again, hand in hand, even if it wasn’t going to last.



Filed under Backstory

A Partial Bucket List

Travel Europe.  I did this while living in Paris 1983 to 1984, even going down into Morocco on an epic adventure.  I went back a few times in the years after, once for an ill-fated semi-blind date with a Mr. Wrong.  We made the best of it though, driving from Brussels to the border of then-Yugoslavia and Albania (and back), alternating between screaming at each other and nodding off in drunken stupors.  Heaven it was not.  I want to go again, this time with Mr. Right and he wants to go too.

Live in Paris. Well I did this but I want to do it again, even if it’s just part-time.  I love it there.  I am the giant Ugly American who sticks out like a circus freak among the tiny, chic women of that city.  I want to walk all over the city and sip espresso and write.  It’s not that I don’t love Paris in the springtime but I especially love it in the dark, rainy winter when there are few tourists and all the side streets seem full of mystery.

Own a dog rescue place. This makes traveling to Europe and/or living in Paris problematic.  It would also mean moving out of my townhome and possibly my town, given the municipal ordinance that limits domestic pets to 3.  But I go to the website “Big Dogs Huge Paws” at least once a week and wish I had 17 22 or so Saint Bernards to take care of.  Naturally I would outsource the dog shit cleanup.

Kayak Prince William Sound. I did this once with a nice man.  It was 1992 and I thought he might be The One but after we rafted a fly-in glacial river 100 or so miles it became pretty clear we were not all that compatible.  Also when he and his friends drank they tended to pitch forward into the campfire singeing off eyebrows and other facial hair and I tended to be the only one to pull them out of said fires.  I would like to go back there, again with Mr. Right this time, and maybe kayak again and see that amazing place.  Might skip the 100 mile rafting trip because after a few days in a dry suit romance is the only thing that is sure to evaporate.

Raft the Grand Canyon from Glen Canyon Dam to Lake Mead. I got to do this a year ago and it was amazing.  Even all of the Mormon Eagle Scout guides were wonderful.  Not a polygamist among them.  My brother, his wife and their daughter were the best part of it, oh and the incredible healing that occurred while we were completely unplugged from computers, cell phones and electricity of any kind.  Something about being deep in the great gash of Mother Earth’s holy crotch split us all wide open.  I connected there with something that moves me 12 months later and I will always love my brother Mike for taking me on that trip.  I want to go again, this time with not only them but my sister, her family and Fred.

Tell each and every family member how much I love them.  I try to do this as a matter of course as much as possible but I can always do it more.  It is the truth, even in the complexity of our dysfunction and I hope they all know that.  I will just keep saying it.

Show it too.  This is the great rub of it all isn’t it?  So I need to do the little things.  Offer to pick up my nephew when my sister is pressed for time.  Empty the dishwasher instead of plotting how to manipulate Fred into doing it.  Listen to my dad instead of plying him with solution after solution of what he should do and be doing for his knee replacement.  I am supposed to be of love and service.  That is the great launching point, and one I forget the fastest.

Run a railroad. OK, I just like the way this sounds.  I don’t really want to do it.  Seems like a big hassle and kind of a dirty job.

Run for president.  Well I did and it was a disaster.  I was drunk with power from the get-go, arbitrary and capricious, Kim Jong Il without the giant standing army and all the starving civilians.  You see, some years back I was president of my homeowner’s association.  I pulled a Sarah Palin to everyone’s relief  and bowed out after completing only 2 years of my 3-year reign of terror.  In my 16-town home community those 2 years are still known as “The Dark Time.”

Be a Rockette.  There are no 6’1″ 47-year old Rockettes except on Halloween.  I didn’t say I wanted to do high kicks at Radio City now did I?  I also understand the window of possibility regarding me doing high kicks at Radio City may have closed some time ago.  Besides, the tallest ones are shrimpy 5’9″ types.  Bastards.

Sky dive.  Fred does not like the idea.  Also when I’ve mentioned it to the Colonel he tends to raise his voice and say, “I’VE HAD TO POUR GUYS OUT OF THEIR BOOTS BECAUSE A ‘CHUTE DIDN’T OPEN SO KEEP THAT IN MIND.”  Thanks dad.

Do something in a band.  I am unable to sing except off-key and do not play an instrument although I owned castanets for a short time as a child.  Maybe being in the First Annual Crested Butte Air Guitar Contest in 1978 counts for something.  During that award-winning performance (my band was the only entry), I, as the drummer, fell backwards off the flat-bed semi truck stage nearly pulling off a Keith Moon but I didn’t die from my alcohol poisoning.  The lead singers, my sister and Brenda Bundy, were wonderful.  Our signature song was, “You Don’t Have to Live Like a Refugee” which was perfect for Crested Butte at the time.

Run from Gothic to Crested Butte on the 4th of July.  I may be walking a bit of it but I will be doing this on July 4, 2010.

Run the Chicago Marathon.  I’m signed up for this 10/10/10 race.  I managed to get to only mile 18 in 2007 when the mayor and the race director called the race due to heat and over-flowing hospital emergency rooms.  Pissed me off.  I have the stupid medal but it’s like a Barry Bonds medal, with a giant asterisk from a Sharpie because I couldn’t stand having it say “26.2 miles”.  So I’m going to finish it this year.

Cook a perfect souffle at high altitude.  This sounds good too and my mother did it once, in the fall of 1972.  The chocolate souffle blew our minds but as she was lifting it out of the oven she dropped in a big pan of dirty dish water.  Her reflexes were like that of a cat, or at least a cat who wants chocolate souffle, because she snatched it out of the water, rinsed it quickly, dusted it with powdered sugar and served it up.  I remain impressed by this feat and hope to repeat it, minus the detour in the sink.

Travel through Southeast Asia.  We spent two and a half years in the Philippines and went to Thailand during that time but I was a kid so I want to go back.  Maybe skip Thailand until things calm down there.  Also they just discovered a new species of monitor lizard on the main Philippine island of Luzon, and this spotted, fruit eating creature averages 6.5 feet in length.  I’d like to see one in person.

Scuba dive.  I was certified at 12 and went with my dad and brother to the South China Sea for 3 days of diving in another epic adventure I will never forget.  Somehow I let 32 years slip by without donning tanks and a respirator so I’d like to give it a go again.  Scuba is an expensive sport though.  Also I may have to get re-certified even though I still have my PADI card.  I think equipment may have improved in the last 32 years.

Be really good at something. I know I need to be more specific here.

Write a book.  I thought I did this but all I did was get a draft on paper.  So really I’m at the very beginning of this one.

Become completely debt-free, including the mortgage.  We’re on track to have this happen in 7 or 8 years which seems unbelievable.

Not be an asshole.  I was on track to be this for a while and then I was an ass to a fellow ass on the other end of a case yesterday.  He started it, the sexist bastard.  OK, I will continue to work on this one.  I would like to point out that it’s 5:45 p.m. and I have been a non-asshole so far today.

Have excellent posture. This is getting better with yoga and also because now I know how much of a visceral reaction I get standing tall from short, sexist assholes like the one I dealt with yesterday.  So standing up straight is a weapon of choice against these misogynistic throwbacks I run across in my profession.  Have I mentioned how much I love size 11 designer heels lately?

Be accepting with the way my body looks.  I’m not there.  I don’t think I ever have been there.  I don’t know how to get there.

Live in the moment for more than a moment. Again, I’m not there.  I don’t think I ever have been there.  I don’t know how to get there.

Run Marathons on all 7 continents while I’m still continent. I just like the way that sounds.  Also it would mean a lot of interesting travel.  I am not planning on ever losing control of my urethral sphincter.

Paint something I’d like to hang on a wall.  This, like writing, requires a lot of practice, meaning more than 1 Bob Ross wet-on-wet painting class at Colorado Free University.  I hope it happens.

Win trials without second guessing myself. I win a lot but not necessarily because I’m very good, I just have good facts.  Afterwards I always feel like I suck or at least could have done a lot better.  I wonder if I’ll ever just have the easy confidence of, say, a TV litigator like Glenn Close in Damages, minus those pesky ethical problems that follow her around.

Run an ultramarathon. This is just a race that is more than 26.2 miles long.  So there are 50ks, 50-milers, 100ks and 100 milers.  I decided there’s no time like the present so I am eyeing the American River Trail 50-mile race in California in April 2011.  I will have trained for 16 months by the time it rolls around.  I have read ultras are much more mental than anything, which bodes well for me since I am a slow, somewhat shiteous runner.  I do like having that ultra goal in the back of my mind plus the race is near where my brother and his family live.  Although they don’t know it yet, I’m planning on making them crew the race for me.

Do backbends without feeling afraid. I remain mystified why opening my chest and, ultimately, my heart, in this simple yogic way, feels insurmountable and even terrifying at times.  But I will keep trying.  There are lessons there for a tall, stiff woman who sometimes hides her true heart even from herself.


Filed under Here and Now

Other Mothers, Other Days

There were so many but I guess I’ll start with my Aunt Gloria, my dad’s older sister who will be 80 this year.

She is my godmother.  Goddess mother.  My oldest living female relative.  Funny and smart, she seems almost always filled with a deep sadness that never really dissipates.  She had 10 children in 11 1/2 years and her oldest died at 28.  You’re not supposed to outlive your children, but she outlived Patty, now for nearly 30 years.

Aunt Gloria found out she has breast cancer about a week ago.  Because they caught it very early and and she is very old (she’s been known to sign her emails, “Love, Methusulah”), her prognosis is excellent.  Still, I wish she didn’t have cancer.

Aunt Gloria went to graduate school in psychology in her 50s and 60s, and became a certified Jungian psychotherapist in her 70’s.  She recently told me she’s thinking of retiring this year but doesn’t want to retire just because she has cancer, so she might work for a while longer.

When I came to Chicago for a visit in December 1978, my dad hoped I would leave having changed my mind about staying in Crested Butte no matter what.  He wanted me to move in with him on the Front Range .  I stubbornly held on to my Crested Butte dreams, even though I was living on my own in a trailer behind Takeaway, a small grocery store in town.  I’d been living alone for months and I was just a freshman in high school.  My mom had long since moved to a tiny, 1-bedroom, eight-sided log cabin outside of town, owned by her new boyfriend John Newberry.  There was no room for me and although I never let it show, my feelings were deeply hurt.  I didn’t want to move and I didn’t know where I fit anymore.  Kate lived with dad already and Mike left the state earlier in the year.  I was the one holdout, clinging to Crested Butte like it was the last piece of floating debris in the sinking wreckage of my family.  Plus I knew people in Crested Butte who loved me.  People who had known me longer than anywhere else.  And I felt glimpses of something like spirituality there, especially if I was hiking above town in my beloved mountains.

But at 14 I’d already been drinking in the bars for about 2 years.  I had a job dishwashing 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., but I still ran out of money all the time, didn’t have enough warm clothes and monthly rent on the trailer came due too often for my wages to keep up.  I slept in my down sleeping bag because I didn’t own any sheets.  I was stubborn and tough on the outside, but I was still just a kid, trying to act older than 14, but really scared shitless and eating a lot of ramen noodles when I didn’t have a restaurant shift.

So with hairline cracks spreading through my tough facade I agreed to fly to Chicago to see the shrink my dad and his family kept saying I should see.

He turned out to be a defrocked Jesuit priest-turned psychologist with, luckily for me, a predatory penchant for young men.  He also had  a deep hatred of all things female and it wasn’t hard to peg him as a mysogynistic asshole.  Still, everyone in Chicago seemed to hold him in high regard and there I was.  What he told me after an hour was that I would end up a junkie and a whore, just like my mother.  But since my mother was neither, I didn’t find him particularly credible.  I was coming around though to the idea that I was going to have to leave Crested Butte.

When I met with Gloria’s kids, the Weiss cousins, I was quiet, overwhelmed by the noisy mob of them.  Aunt Gloria told me her kids thought I was a snob but she explained to them after I left that I wasn’t aloof, just shy.  I was glad she stuck up for me.

At Grandma Marie’s, Aunt Gloria came into the guest room while I had my suitcase opened.  I don’t know why but she noticed I didn’t have any bras and I only had 1 pair of raggedy underwear that was too big for me.  It sounds pitiful now, but I just wore that one pair right side one day and inside out the next and then every other day I washed them and hung them up to dry overnight.

Aunt Gloria took me shopping at JC Penney’s then and there.  She bought me a few training bras and enough underwear to last a few weeks along with some regular clothes.  I offered to pay her back and she looked at me hard and just said she’d talk to my father.  She tried not to say anything bad about my mother but I could tell she was mad at her that I had just 1 pair of underwear.  She was mad at her for a lot of things.

I remember looking at all the new, white underwear on Grandma Marie’s lumpy twin bed with the nubby cotton coverlet and it felt better than Christmas.  By Aunt Gloria’s simple, protective, motherly gesture, I knew, even with her 10 children, full-time job and graduate school, that she had my back.  And now, even with cancer, it feels like she still does.


Filed under Backstory