Thunder Thighs came home with me yesterday.
Yesterday I drove home with that representation in the passenger seat beside me, and thought about Thunder Thighs. Love. Laughter. How blessed I am to have an abundance of these things, even when my introversion sometimes–as now–make me yearn for more quiet time to recharge.
Although Thunder Thighs is my mom, and today is Mother’s Day in the U.S., mother’s love is only a small part of what’s in my heart today. The larger part belongs not to the love provided by any one person, but to any love provided by anyone who loves–not passively or from a distance, but actively with outreached hand, heart and time offered up to others.
Whether or not you hope to be a mother, once were a mother, are a mother, a grandmother, a sister, an aunt, a daughter, or none of these things, I celebrate you today. I celebrate your acts of love and compassion. I celebrate your phone call to a friend, your donation to a shelter, your vigil with a friend whose father is dying, your care to a friend’s house when she is in the hospital, your watching a neighbor’s children so she can shop for groceries. I celebrate the light that you shine upon those within your vicinity, and thank goodness you are out there shining that light.
Upon my bedroom door there now hangs a reminder to cherish these things. My mom is no longer a phone call away, but there is love aplenty evidenced in each minute every day regardless.
Today I will look for loves’ signs, and I will celebrate each of them, no matter who originates any one of them.
No matter who or where you are,
may your day be full of love,
both received and given.
She didn’t tell me his name.
She didn’t tell me what he did for a living, or where he came from.
She tried not to talk about him much at all, which evoked mild curiosity but didn’t alarm me, even though I’d always known her prior boyfriends by no less than name, occupation, hobbies and demeanor.
It was only when my dear friend fell silent for weeks after dating the new guy that I started to feel a niggling sense of worry.
A gregarious, affable extrovert, she’d always been one to text dozens of times a day, and reply instantly to virtually any text message. I often felt guilty for replying so slowly to her texts; it can take me days or even weeks to reply to a single message.
When she failed to reply to several text messages over a few-week period, I started to worry. I texted her: I get nervous when you fall silent.
She wrote back that she’d moved several hours north of our hometown. When I read him her text message, my fiancee, Anthony, said, “She’s moving the wrong direction! She should be moving down here with us.” I said she’d probably moved with her boyfriend, versus moving just for fun, but relayed his message to her. She confirmed that she’d moved with her boyfriend, whose name I still didn’t know.
I thought, abusers try to isolate their partners. I promptly squashed the thought as the byproduct of an overactive imagination. She hadn’t said anything was wrong, apart from a mild case of moving blues.
A few weeks later, my friend called and told me her boyfriend had assaulted her. She was shocked and shaken, but had quickly arranged alternative lodging for herself.
“You should leave,” I told her. “I think it’s dangerous for you to stay. You can come stay with us for a little.” I coordinated parts of her departure with her, but worried she wouldn’t leave. It’s often much easier to continue enduring known hardship than embrace the idea of enduring unknown, unquantifiable hardships. Indeed, the human imagination for possible woes is endless, so that the unknown can end up seeming much more threatening than painful situations we’ve already shown ourselves we can survive.
When my friend called me a couple of days later and said she’d probably overreacted, I stressed that I didn’t feel she had. Still, she was determined to stay and prove she was strong enough to make a home in her new locale, with or without her boyfriend.
I sighed. I prayed. And I hoped to God she’d call me if anything else happened.
A week and a half ago, I felt a rare hankering to read non fiction. “What was that book El recommended me? And another guy called a life changer?” I loaded Goodreads to scan my to-be-read shelf for the book. “The Gift of Fear. Right,” I murmured to myself. “I’ll give that a shot.”
I downloaded it expecting to read it a chapter at a time as time permitted. I was instead instantly captivated by the author’s clear, articulate description of indicators violence may be imminent. Gavin de Becker‘s career is violence avoidance, which involves finding commonalities in violent incidents and, understanding their clear and almost universally repeated warning signals, helping clients avoid falling prey to violence.
He quickly identified and described predatorial behaviors that have unnerved me for some time, but which nervousness I’ve long suppressed as irrational, unreasonable or silly. (More on that in my Goodreads review.)
Most importantly, he dedicated a huge section of the book to identifying warnings of partner abuse. He stressed that partner abuse related homicide is the most easily averted, if people are willing to read and respond to its indicators.
I was chilled to read the signs, but glad to have the benefit of an expert’s insight.
It’s by understanding a possibility of a threat we can work to prevent it.
I read the book in a day and a half.
The day after I finished reading The Gift of Fear, my dear friend called me. She’d been attacked again. She’d fought back, but she was nervous.
“You should be,” I said. Unlike when we first spoke weeks earlier, my sense of warning signs wasn’t muddy or ambiguous. I didn’t feel like I was potentially making false accusations about her boyfriend by suggesting she was unsafe. “Listen, I just finished reading an amazing book that talks about warning signs of violence.” I told her about the author, and how he immediately puts the kibosh on the idea that most violence is unpredictable or without warning. I explained he’d devoted a huge portion of his book specifically to partner abuse to help reduce horrifying domestic abuse homicide rates. I asked if I could read her a list of risk signals the author had compiled just for situations like this. “If several of these apply to your situation, you’re likely at risk.”
She agreed, and I read through the whole list (paperback pp. 183-184), beginning:
- The woman has intuitive feelings that she is at risk.
- At the inception of the relationship, the man accelerated the pace, prematurely placing on the agenda such things as commitment, living together, and marriage.
- He resolves conflict with intimidation, bullying, and violence.
“Oh, my God,” she breathed after a several-second pause after I’d finished reading the list. “He’s done at least 25 of those things. At least.” She mentioned he’d even come at her with a gun. She said it almost as if an afterthought, but I was terrified on her behalf. I responded with an emotional entreaty.
“Leave. Please leave.” Since I don’t know much about the specifics of doing so safely, I looked up the local domestic violence hotline and urged her to contact them. She spoke briefly to a volunteer there, then arranged a meeting for the next morning.
As we said our good nights to each other via text message, I prayed she would be safe overnight . . . and then, that she would leave.
Uncertain what the future would hold, she cleaned out her apartment, quickly got her affairs in order, and left.
Four days later, she reached Southern California. She spent a night with a friend before showing up at my house. My son, Li’l D, was beyond excited to see his auntie. She read him some stories and assured him she’d be there when he awakened. In the morning, he wanted nothing to do with me. He wanted only his auntie.
After Li’l D was off to preschool, she updated her resume. She sent out more than a dozen resumes and had arranged her first interview within an hour.
Two days later, she rocked that interview; her job offer came only a couple of hours later.
Walking to the store a few minutes later, we shared our elation at how quickly tides can turn when we flow with them. “Just eight days ago,” we mused, “all seemed hopeless. And now, barely more than a week later, it’s sunshine, friends and a new job.”
There’s no telling for sure what might have happened if she’d stayed up north. Was bloodshed inevitable? There is no telling. Thanks to the clear, compelling guidance in The Gift of Fear, a whole set of terrifying could-have-beens became much-less-likely-to-bes.
Will everyone who considers leaving know they have a safe place to go, or find a job immediately? No. But the truth is, it’s only by leaving an abusive, violent situation that a person–usually a woman–will be better able to take her life to the natural end of its years, and to explore all the good that might yet be, if she can even haltingly accept that the certainty of abuse is not better than uncertainty that includes limitless hopeful possibilities.
If you or someone you know is experiencing partner abuse, or you even suspect it, please, please make use of these resources:
You could save a life, or even–if children are involved–many lives.
My twentieth birthday was a life-changer.
There were no epiphanies. No sudden, startling events that illuminated just how important the day would prove in the scheme of my life.
There was only a party–a movie party, to be precise. My sister took me to watch (or should I say, ignore?) terrible movies with her large group of nerdtastic, boisterous, crass guy friends. I was shocked and delighted by the guys’ shenanigans, but more so, how completely and immediately they accepted me. I’d never experienced that before, nor anything like it.
By the time I prepared to leave for South Korea a couple years later, I knew the guys. They knew me. They teased me incessantly but lovingly. I was at home with them, so much that I had mostly forgotten what it was like to be an island unto myself.
The evening of my farewell party, I was presented with a gift: a notebook in which all of my friends, some movie party and some not, had written out their recollections of and wishes for me. On the cover was a dragonfly drawn by my friend Piete, and inside were words that have inspired and sustained me for more than a decade since. Best of all were pages of sweet memories shared by my usually writing-averse friend Sarah, who taught me–and teaches me–better than anyone else I have ever known that friendship is in loving (if sometimes firm!) actions more than in any number of pretty words.
On my most recent trip to Oregon, Sarah, Piete and their twins joined my siblings and me for a romp to the park.
The kids were silly with tiredness as we walked home afterward. “Rock out!” my son shouted as he ran toward Uncle Piete.
With an impish smile, Uncle Piete replied, “Rock out with your chalk out!” I busted up laughing as my son, Li’l D, ran circles shouting, “Rock out with your chalk out! Rock out with your chalk out!”
The movie party felt alive in that moment. Those of us whose ages numbered in the double digits were still the kids we were back then, I saw, just with more experience, more love, and even a few kids of our own.
And now, our kids have each other.
I’ve missed Oregon more than usual recently, becoming downright melancholic at the thought of my family there–my siblings, my niece, my nephews, my godmom, Sarah, Piete and their kids. As if Li’l D can read my mind, it’s in these moments of missing that he grins and shouts, “Rock out with your chalk out!”
I can’t help but chuckle, a chuckle that bursts forth from deep within me. In that silly statement, past and present converge, as do my Oregon and California lives. My Oregon family is my California family, and I can hear all of its members so loudly with my heart that I don’t need to hear them with my ears.
I’ll be back in Oregon before long. I’ll be back with my movie party crew, exulting in the sight of the next generation playing and laughing together.
In the meantime, Oregon remains within me, shining out brightest of all when my son reminds me to rock out with my chalk out.
Preparing for my son’s first flight was nervewracking. I had flown many times myself, but was suddenly concerned about the impact of possible catastrophe on my son.
Not remotely satisfied by the general oft-spoken assertion “you’re safer in a plane than a car,” I did my own research about the safety of flight. What remains with me three years later is not any specific statistic but the four words in this post’s title.
This page documents the last words recorded on crashed airplanes’ black boxes. Most are as you would expect–expletives, queries, statements about unexpected obstacles–but there was this one that diverged.
“Amy, I love you.”
First Officer Warmerdam, who spoke those words, survived both the crash and the resulting fire.
When I am feeling overwhelmed, I often think of those words. I wonder what, if I got a chance not only to choose them but have them relayed, would be my last four or five words. Boiling the hubbub of life down to this single question takes away any confusion or ambiguity.
Those words would be for me son. “Li’l D, I love you.” If I only got to leave a single enduring thing in this world after I pass away, hopefully many decades from now, it would be the truth imparted by those words.
My life is full of many truths, many loves and much bustle. Beneath all that is one singular truth: bustle is bustle, which comes and goes.
Love, on the other hand, comes and grows.
A few days ago, my sisters texted me that they’d be visiting my mom’s grave.
Why today? I wondered, before it hit me: I’d forgotten. I’d forgotten March 4 was the day my mom breathed her last breath. The day she was, as a text message I received March 4, 2010 stated, finally at peace.
I felt terrible. How could I have forgotten? How could I have failed to mark such a hugely important day?
A message from my friend Emily helped me see things a little clearer. At Joshua Tree the weekend before, she’d made a point to have our friend Briel take tons of oops-I’m-falling-off-a-cliff pictures meant to make her mom–who had helped deliver my son into this world–break into a sweat. Every time Emily posed, I giggled, remembering how I used to (mostly) lovingly push my mom’s buttons just because I could. And I remembered my mom, too.
My mom, whose mischievous ways meant she sometimes couldn’t understand how she’d raised such straight-laced children. Who took my brother out for ice cream the only time he got detention. “One of my kids has it in him!” she rejoiced.
Who once pierced her belly button, exclaiming mirthfully, “This way I’m rebellious and no one at church has to know!”
Who always made me giggle when she busted out her superhero antics, and made me want to be a superhero, too.
On Monday, Emily delivered the photoshopped cherry on her panic-picture pie:
I laughed from my belly when I saw it. As I laughed, I felt like my mom was chuckling with me. “I like this girl!” I could hear her saying.
Later in the evening, I got choked up when my sisters sent me pictures of my niece and nephew standing on Mom’s grave. I cried while walking the dog later still, feeling guilty anew to have forgotten. After a few minutes of sniffling self flagellation, I revisited something I’d written earlier in the day:
Feel terrible that I forgot it’s been three years today since Mom died. Feel glad, too; better to remember life & birthdays than a death day.
Seeing those words, I wiped off my tears, loaded Emily’s picture again, and giggled. Again.
Just like that, my mom felt near . . . nearer by far in the laughter than the tears.
Today I got something remarkable in the mail.
I knew it was coming. I’d commissioned it, after all.
And yet, there is a difference between envisioning something in the abstract and seeing it with my own eyes, which are currently full of tears.
There were few traditions in my household growing up, unless you count my mom’s antiquing and Dumpster diving. One tradition I could count on was periodic weekend walks to the comic book store, where my mom would set my siblings and me free with a dollar apiece. She’d buy the comics that interested her, while we’d rummage through the ten-cent comic bins for our personal favorites. Mine were horror episodics, a la Creepshow, as well as Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld and Superman.
In law school, I got my sister the full set of Amethyst comics as a birthday present. I hadn’t had much cause to think of that, or the comics themselves, until a couple of weeks ago. I’d walked into an antique shop in search of a dresser. There were no dressers available, but I did find excellent conversation with the store’s owner, who reminded me so very much of my mom I felt as if she were standing just behind me, too intent in her own rummaging to chit-chat.
Another prospective customer came in and interrupted our discussion with a question. I examined the jewelry in a nearby case for a moment; when I looked up, my eyes landed directly on comic book magic: Amethyst and Superman in the same comic!
I coughed up $10 and decided that, for that single afternoon, I believed in signs.
I still haven’t read that comic. It’s not important that I read it, just that it exists. It reminds me of my favorite times with my mom, my Thunder Thighs, my forever superhero.
Every time my eyes landed on that magical crossover comic, I thought of another piece of comic art I was waiting for. I’d commissioned extremely talented, conscientious comic artist and friend Sina Grace to draw a piece borne from my blog “Becoming a Superhero.”
Because my mom’s life was so full of strife, I struggled to figure out how to do her memory justice. How could I help other people see her not as just a crazy bird lady but as the source of my own love, hope and wonder, not through accident but through emulation? How could I remember her that way, recalling not only her life’s many tragedies but also its victories?
“Becoming a Superhero” was the turning point for me. It was my answer. As long as I remembered Thunder Thighs, I was remembering my mom–my real mom, not not-Mom, the way she’d want to be remembered.
And as long as I not only remember but live the best parts of her, her love and laughter endure.
At some point I decided I wanted not just words but an image to serve as my reminder to remember my mom and use the remembering well.
I described to Sina what I envisioned, though that envisioning was in blurs and blobs. He asked bunches of questions and set to work, sending me a “blueline” (or very preliminary sketch) a few days ago to make sure he was on the right track. I loved it, and I said so. I was prepared to be enchanted by the final product, but again, I couldn’t really imagine what that enchantment would feel like.
Today I received a snapshot of the final image. I laughed and cried all at once, enveloped in the rush of remembered comic book shop visits, Thunder Thighs adventures, and the imagined forays of Dark Moon and Silver Star. My mom would love the image. I sure do.
The print one will be in my hands in a week or two’s time, but what’s important now is that it’s in my heart. Right there with my mom, my Thunder Thighs, my forever superhero.
The Monster’s Daughter is not paranormal romance.
Until yesterday, I failed to understand why people would buy my first novel expecting romance. After all, nothing in the title, cover, nor description hints at romance. See the description:
Ginny Connors doesn’t believe in vampires. There’s totally a rational reason her dad is a lot more bloodthirsty and a lot less interested in food than he used to be. Still, she hangs a cross on her bedroom door. Just in case.
When Ginny discovers people aren’t the guests but the main course at her father’s New Year party, she wishes she could save the day with garlic pancakes. Instead, she must face the limits of her daydreams, and attempt to stop the monster her father has become.
Vampires: check. Dads: check. Daydreams: check. All present. Romance, though? Romantic love? Smoochie-face? Gaga-eyes? Infatuation? These guys had other places to be. Read more…
I probably haven’t left comments on your blog recently.
Or replied to your last email, or seven.
Or tweeted you.
This doesn’t mean I’m not thinking of you, or wondering what you’re up to. It just means my only internet is phone-based at the moment. If I’m posting online, it’s because I have something I really, really want to say before I forget. Or, like now, because it’s 4:30 a.m. and I’ve already streamed my quota of The Mindy Project on Hulu.
I’ve missed being online, a little, but I’ve savored it, too. Instead of constantly wondering what I am missing online, I have been immersed in savoring the offline. Instead of arising and running straight to the computer, I’ve laid in bed and listened to the trio of snores filling the air around me.
I’ve washed the dishes, made my rice, read my daily chapter of Just One Thing, and sat on the living room floor savoring a sense of home greater than the one I felt at my last place. There, two friends anxiously began a journey of seeing if they could build a family from friendship. So much was uncertain then, and is certain now. Read more…
“Mommy, you have pretty hair,” my three-year-old son told me as he reached to touch it.
“You do, too,” I replied.
“No, it’s not. It’s dark,” he said solemnly.
I tried not to show my alarm. “Who told you that?” I asked as I reached to ruffle his hair.
“Listen,” I said calmly despite the alarm still bubbling up within me. “You have beautiful, curly, dark hair. I wish I had your hair.”
“Oh.” Li’l D, no longer engaged in the conversation, got up and ran off toward more exciting endeavors. My heart remained stuck on those two jarring words: “It’s dark.”
I have no idea where Li’l D heard that “dark” is bad. I cannot undo his hearing it. But what I can do, and what I mean to do, is show him as he grows that misguided words are not all there is in this world. There is joy in abundance, beauty that cares naught for superficial distinctions, and the goodness of knowing that no matter what anyone else sees or says, there is a light inside each of us that demands to shine.
I will strive to teach him to see that light–in those who love him, those who dislike him for whatever reasons, and most of all, within himself.
If he can see it within himself, it won’t matter what anyone else sees.
He will be too alight with love to care.
His eyes were closed and his breathing had slowed by the time I pulled my forehead away from his. A toothy grin alit his face, inspiring me to smile, too. I stroked his hair and savored the sound of his slowing breath as he fell deeper into slumber.
It’s been months since I last watched him step into dreamland. He usually wants to keep playing if anyone else is around, so our bedtime routine ends with a couple of stories and him humming himself to sleep, by himself, afterward.
I’d forgotten how magical it is to watch him transform from my little whirling dervish to my little sleeping angel. Something awakened in me last night watching this transition: a yearning to be enveloped in small wonders.
So busy looking for big bloggable events, I’ve lost sight of precious many small moments.
I’m seeing now. With a great big smile, I am seeing now.