Fragmented Family Memories

Nobody wanted my grandmother’s sewing table when they were splitting up her belongings. The table she painted sage green decades ago; the old paint chipping off in fragments. 

And so, I inherited her table by fate.

Unwavering, shapely legs lead to carved, mandala stars at its knees. A flip drawer that still contains the two buttons, eight tails of thread, fourteen pins, and two clasps — just as she left them. A ridged lip with dark freckles leads to a splotchy top that I discovered, like a secret passageway, unfolds into a workspace. Nestled inside: a heavy, black, sewing machine embellished with gilded calligraphy. The hardware and craftsmanship of a bygone quality that was made before capitalism said things could not outlast their owners.

I wonder how it came to her. Was it a gift from her mother? I never thought to ask about her sewing table, inconspicuously housed in her upstairs room, in the corner she claimed as a painting nook. Now, it is in my art studio — a yurt to myself, a room of my own. 

Her table found its way to me.

I graze my fingers across the top, scattering the flecks, and I see her. Covering over the somber wood to make it bright and cheerful. Like her paintings of fluffy clouds above pastoral landscapes; children and butterflies; daffodils, deities, and stuffed animals. 

Studying her brushstrokes, I see her hands — elegant fingers I only knew in photographs — knobbed by the time they reached my memory. I see her transforming the gloominess. Giving it a delicate, whimsical shell.

Flaking the paint with my gentle touch, I remember hearing, after her death. Uncovering. Thirty years of anti-depressants that explained why she always seemed far away.

And how could an artist be happy in the confines of conventionality? Days regimented around care for others. The dreariness of living second-class to an upstanding member of the community, high-functioning — until it came to her indigo child. For whom being locked in the windowless, brick-lined basement was better than the alternative. 

My fingers reveal more of the stoic wood underneath. And I feel her artist soul alive within mine. A creatrix of beauty. Only now our work is not of covering over, but of returning. To our truth, our power, and our freedom. 

Because I can hold it all — the antique treasure, her long brushstrokes, and the dark spots.  

Yellow Ribbons – with Audio

This piece looks back at my coming of age that coincided with the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001 and took me from disconnection to understanding, West Coast to East Coast. Balancing light and dark, I reflect on my own history and see the striking difference between then and now in American solidarity to honor the dead and pay homage to the grieving. Click play on the icon below to read along with me:

Yellow Ribbons

Floating gold-leaf words, astrologists and new-age back porch philosophers say these are the birthing pains of society entering The Age of Aquarius.

Let the Sun Shine!

When do we get to the part with dancing and laughing in flower fields under clear blue skies? Not a toxic airplane trail in sight. Or is that now? Is it — now?

Maybe for me. Walking along oceanside cliffs, empty of tourists, covered in pastel green bushes with leaves like hands in praise. Intoxicating sweet and fruity perfume emanating from purple popped corn on the stem. Up and over the hillside, I’d never seen so many together and grazed my palms across theirs. I tiptoed to a clearing between their round, decorated bodies and laid back to look at the sky, perfectly blue, without a pollution-trail in sight.

Three thousand miles away, my sister, cloistered in New York City. You could say we look like twins, though her life, in some ways, is the opposite of mine. With two children at the cusp of adulthood, their grief has been once removed. A friend’s loved one. Thousands of families left behind. Unable to hold hands as they died. FaceTime for the fortunate. Keeping distance as they mourn. Concrete and planted parks for comfort.

I entered adulthood almost twenty years before this virus. At the dawning of my independence, my mother swung open my bedroom door. Gasping. I dragged myself to the living room and watched — live — as the second plane hit. And then the replay. The replay and the replay of impacts that took 2,753. It was far away. It was barely real, but my mom said it would change the world. I went back to bed. That afternoon, I got a haircut.

Under a red terror alert and below redwoods, with an ocean view, my parents moved me into the dorms. It was just before the Fall Equinox and, during orientation, they said they had grief support. But I wasn’t affected.

The next summer, years of discord in high school dissolved during road trips to Santa Cruz with my sister. Bored of familiarity, we moved to New York City into a Lower East Side apartment with a few of her friends. We went to flashy bars for table service those warm nights as the promoter’s guests. I used her passport to get past bouncers.

For convenience, I enrolled in a college just blocks from downtown chainlink fences with green fabric holding the awful scar. On the one year anniversary, the busy streets were empty aside from a howling wind and the trash it carried. I will never forget the howling. From the second story of my school, I watched barges carrying debris along the Hudson River. And my new friend told me he saw, from the school steps, a woman in a blue dress at the edge, every detail of her face, the violent wind blowing her hair. The air that could not save her as she jumped from the burning building. He was with her as she fell. Another friend, in her Brooklyn schoolyard, had thought for a moment it was snowing that morning, but holding out her hand, realized it was ash, floating and landing in her hair.

Back then, people across the country hung American flags and tied yellow ribbons around trees. They hung signs saying United we Stand. United we Stand. They chanted and chanted until it awoke the war machine.

Divided We Fall.

Today, six weeks after the first death, over 19,000 taken by the virus in New York City alone. Amidst drive-by funerals and trenches for the unclaimed, terrorists parading as patriots fly flags of our enemies and carry assault rifles into capital buildings. They call for their right to infect and be infected, carrying signs saying, “I need a haircut.”

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