Moving Insanity


We’re having one of those times. You know, when we look at 20+ places to find a temporary living situation, and the paperwork to Canada keeps getting lost in the mail, and our jobs are the most stressful they’ve been, well, ever, and the people that say they want our furniture continually renege, and we’re throwing away so much stuff it’s like having our life histories stripped away.

Until there we are, looking at each other.

Each morning, we get up, she takes a shower while I either groan, sleep or play with social media. And then we meet in the living room, where we do 10 minutes of yoga stretching, followed by 10 minutes of meditation, followed by a brief share on where we are, and then we just stare into each other’s eyes for 3 solid minutes. I’m not kidding. We call it present time. We make each other the object of our waking meditation. If we zone out, we close our eyes until we can zone back in.

I am hanging onto these times in the morning, when I see my partner, when I feel her beside me, moving her body, groaning about the strains from shoveling, when I listen to her, when I focus only on me. when I say metta.

We keep catching our own insanity. This is what meditation does. And every time one of us catches ourselves taking shit out on the other person, or leaving the sense of teamwork, and comes back in, trust builds back from all the terrible moves culminating in this, the worst move of all, except for the us of us.

I told my partner the other day that I married her so I could watch that bowlegged walk she does for the rest of my life.

We are dropping out of the known into some other thing. We know not what.

I have thrown away so much stuff! So that I feel unburdened and untethered. I have thrown away copies of manuscripts, I have donated books I love, I have given away clothes…sometimes it physically hurt.

Then I look at this person. See her. 30 years, we’ll have on June 8. We watched our wedding video yesterday. We are truly not those people any more. She has a different gender identity. I have a different name. Those 30 year olds were gorgeous. And we are wise, and love with a knowledge of everything it take to love and break, and rebuild, over and over.

I am beginning to admit that I might not change anything, even though I’ve screwed up so badly at times that I myself find it hard to believe.

I let go. Of everything else. But me. And her.

With no idea what’s coming.

I wrote a short novel about love and grace in our times. You can read it for free on Amazon until March 11.


Saint John the Divine in Iowa, my screenplay that won the Meryl Streep-funded Writers Lab, told the story of an Episcopal Priest fighting to balance the needs of her congregation and her gay daughter. Priest Kid tells the daughter’s story…of having a mother who’s a saint, but who loves humanity as much as she loves her. It’s about good people, about hope and politics in families, about redemption. If you want a break from hate, as I do, this is the story.

Priest Kid

Screen shot 2017-03-08 at 1.45.34 PM

Just a Day with My Partner, Who Shall Remain Anonymous


My partner is in her room on the unmade bed with all the laundry, doing the questions for the Brene Brown course we’re taking on line. I already finished mine. That’s how things go around here. I am the type A who gets it all done yesterday. But get this…usually I would write a novel in answer to said questions, and she would write, oh, maybe three phrases. But I snuck a look at her answers and there’s at least half a page full of her cramped lefty hand writing.

I’m having a little trouble breathing. I don’t know whether to feel completely mushy and grateful or totally threatened.

Hey, no one said we were sane.

Last weekend we were out with another couple who just passed their 10 year anniversary. They asked if it gets easier (we’re hitting year 29 in June). We kind of looked at each other, and then my partner said, “No, not really.”

I made a face. I could tell she started getting nervous we’d have a fight about it when we got home, because she backtracked like nobody’s business.

“I mean, it does, but then it doesn’t,” is how she started said backtracking.

I love being married.

Except when I don’t.

It’s complicated.

But right now I love it. We lie around comparing the effects of menopause. We talk about everything from politics to why she uses the word, “pumpy” as an endearment and what that’s supposed to mean. We go to yoga and we argue about movies.

She comes up behind me and kisses my head. I mean now. She did that right now. For no reason.

We even had our friggin’ torturous mammograms on the same day.

I said, “You are my twin.” She is. Except that we look nothing alike and I’m a femme tomboy and she’s gender non-conforming and she’s Jewish and I’m an ex-Catholic pseudo Buddhist and she’s a tech nerd and I’m an edgy artist and she’s all about the details and I’m all about the big picture concepts and we do everything exactly the opposite from each other.

Outside of that…

I guess it’s just love.cropped-25th-anniversary-crazy-people.jpg

 

What I Know About Marriage and Homicide


I wrote this for a friend when she got married.  So she’d know what she was in for.  Enjoy!

 

What I Know about Marriage and Homicide

By Lyralen

  1. Being known is great. Except when it’s not.

 

  1. After 26 years, I’m still waiting for her to turn into the suave, handsome, rich doctor or lawyer I was supposed to marry, instead of this completely authentic, loving, neurotic putz who makes me laugh.

 

  1. Loving her so much challenges all my fears. So I try to be friends and keep getting back on the same side. Otherwise I might kill her.

 

  1. I can only do as much intimacy as I can tolerate—so I don’t open my heart all at once. Or I might kill her.

 

  1. It’s better to tell on myself than to confront my partner. Because then she won’t kill me.

 

  1. I have a part of me that sees her as every monster from every nightmare and thinks my survival is threatened. When this happens, it’s time to go in my room and hide. And then try to soothe myself. So I don’t kill her.

 

  1. Marriage is a disappointment factory. I keep creating expectations or recycling old ones, just so I can learn that she’s not here to take care of me. (This makes me want to kill her.)

 

  1. For 28 years, she has told me, over and over again, that we don’t have to do anything I don’t want to, that we can go as slow as I need, that she never wants to hurt me (even though she does), and I forget this the minute she says something stupid. (And then I want to kill her.)

 

  1. When the voice that tells me I’m better than her, and she doesn’t deserve me, gets activated, it’s better if I don’t share that with her (so she doesn’t kill me), or believe what that part of me is telling me (so I don’t kill her).

 

  1. Once in a while, we get close, and no one freaks out, and I notice, one moment at a time, the way her hands seeks for me, the way she touches me as if I am the most precious person in the world, and the way I explode with joy (and make inappropriate jokes) at all of it, so grateful to be alive and know what this feels like.

 

Obergefell v. Hodges OR Dear Jude…


I didn’t think I’d see equality in my lifetime.

Imagine that.  Thinking you’d never be equal under the law.

And now we are.  I have nothing political to say except that equality and justice are my goals, now and always.

But I do have something to say.  Does this really surprise anyone?  Maybe only me, that this is how I want to mark the day.  The personal made political, once again.

Dear Jude,

When you came back into my life in 1987, I had just gone to my first Pride Parade.  Maybe that opened the door to the gift of you.

Because there I was, coming out of the closet yet again as bi-sexual, terrified of the consequences of being out–I’d seen my mother’s closeted relationship destroyed by homophobia and had been gay bashed and sexually harassed.  So I was self-hating and ashamed…and just ignorant, the way only someone who had never fully entered the gay community could be ignorant.

And there you were, so butch that standing next to you outed me.  There you were, taking my hand gently in yours as we walked down the street in the 1980’s, so not afraid, so proud to love me.  It cracked me wide open, and if that wasn’t enough, when I said, “I’m too scared to hold your hand right now.”  You said, “Okay, just let me know when you’re ready.”

When I said, “I don’t know if I’m bi or lesbian,” you said, “Well, we know you’re not straight, and that’s good enough for me.”

The tide of gentleness coming in to hold my fear without judgment, without any demand or push that I be better, without complaint for how it must have made things harder for you…the funny thing is, it made me better.  In the truest way.  I am the queer daughter of a lesbian mother who hid what made her happy.  I have a stepmother that not one of my siblings would admit parented us.  You reached into that hurt place and told me I could be exactly who I was…and that let me look at you and see pride and what pride had to offer.

I came out to my classes, I came out at church, I spoke publicly, and that was the gift you gave me.  To stand up and claim myself and my part in our struggle.

When we got married, you came over to hold me the night before, remember?  When we got married, you talked about the challenge of our then ten year relationship in front of all our friends, and how in spite of everything, we have always been able to laugh.

There is no unequal in loving you.  There is only how grateful I am for the way you give me back to myself…and the irritation at the very same thing (yes, I’m not going to stay all sweet much longer as you well know).

Today we are equal under the law.  You always seemed to know that we deserved it.  And so I unlearned my mother’s tragedy, and learned my own freedom.

If I could marry you again today, I would.  And tomorrow, and the next day, and then next.

Thank you for being my big-hearted, passive-aggressive, neurotic, gentle, out and proud renegade

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

spouse.

And no, you can’t remind me I said this the next time we argue.

I love you madly,

Me

My Brother


I published this poem at least 20 years ago.

Whispering to Each Other in the the Darkness

I turn off the car radio and sit
with my brother in the darkness
of a Pennsylvania winter. He is crying
and I am looking at the moon. He asks

me to stay, he begs to come with me.
Across the stiff grass is tin shed
that protects him from sudden beatings.
I have been the one to find him, his knees

tucked beneath his chin, dark hair swept
over his forehead, legs that won’t stop
shaking. I have led him inside, my arms
hung around his shoulders like a shawl.

Now, we sit without speaking, and I
am thinking of the warmth of milk
tested against my wrist, the brushes
he pulled through my hair, dolls caps

I placed on his head. “You are my real
mother,” he says. Fingers of streetlight
briefly touch our wet faces,
shadows clasped tight in our arms.

What I Know About Marriage and Homicide (For a friend, on her recent nuptials)


1. Being known is great. Except when it’s not.

2. After 26 years, I’m still waiting for her to turn into the suave, handsome, rich doctor or lawyer I was supposed to marry, instead of this completely authentic, loving, neurotic putz who makes me laugh.

3. Loving her so much challenges all my fears. So I try to be friends and keep getting back on the same side. Otherwise I might kill her.

4. I can only do as much intimacy as I can tolerate—so I don’t open my heart all at once. Or I might kill her.

5. It’s better to tell on myself than to confront my partner. Because then she won’t kill me.

6. I have so many parts of me that see her as every monster from every nightmare and think my survival is threatened. When this happens, it’s time to go in my room and hide. And then try to soothe myself. So I don’t kill her.

7. Marriage is a disappointment factory. I keep creating expectations or recycling old ones, just so I can learn that she’s not here to take care of me. (This makes me want to kill her.)

8. For 26 years, she has told me, over and over again, that we don’t have to do anything I don’t want to, that we can go as slow as I need, that she never wants to hurt me (even though she does), and I forget this the minute she says something stupid. (And then I want to kill her.)

9. When the voice that tells me I’m better than her, and she doesn’t deserve me, gets activated, it’s better if I don’t share that with her (so she doesn’t kill me), or believe what that part of me is telling me (so I don’t kill her).

10. Once in a while, we get close, and no one freaks out, and I notice, one moment at a time, the way her hands seeks for me, the way she touches me as if I am the most precious person in the world, and the way I explode with joy (and make inappropriate jokes) at all of it, so grateful to be alive and know what this feels like.

Being Persephone


This morning I had one of my little fits.  They come on me this time of year, as I enter Hades–Halloween, then Thanksgiving, then the winter solstice and boxing day.  I emerge in January, and sometimes all the lights come on at once.  It’s beautiful, then, my own early spring.

I’m Persephone.

So, back to the fit.  This particular fit holds the title of, “You don’t love me.”  It’s really amazing how I can apply that title to so many situations.  My partner said to me this morning that if I didn’t know how much she loves me after all the work she’s put in trying to show up or learn to show up she didn’t know what else she could do.  I was like, “Accept me for who I am.”

And therein, as the man says, lies the rub.

Every fall, we come to this.  We both know I will turn into Persephone; and she, boy-girl that she is, will ravage the earth like Demeter, demanding my return.  We grow into our imperfections so deeply at this time.  I suppose every couple has this–their impasse issues, the place they return to, again and again, trying to learn how to grow.

My little trip to Hades will happen no matter what.  I am broken as well as strong.  And here’s the thing–it’s the trip and what I do with it that makes me.  I wrote a blog a couple days ago about the fault in our stars, and this is the true making or unmaking of every human being–not how the stars aligned, but how you relate to that alignment.

I am, as we all are, ashamed of my imperfections and the places and ways I am broken.  But in my most secret view of myself, I am proud of how I relate to that trip to Hades.  Every year, I lean into it more, and I let darkness be my teacher.  My goal is to end up like Ged in the Wizard of Earthsea, a woman who owns herself completely because she has chased and mastered her own darkness.

Of course, if I am to do this, I have to let go of the title, “You don’t love me.”  My partner inevitably disappoints me this time of year, because what I really want is for her to be the one who turns the lights on, and not in January, but in October, November and December.  She doesn’t much enjoy being asked to do the Herculean tasks of my dharma, and resists with all her might.  Much as, one might add, I do when she asks me to turn the lights on for her.

And get this, there is nothing in the world I wouldn’t give to be able to turn the lights on for both of us.  Only I can’t.  I can only turn them on for me.  She can only turn them on for her.  And then, in the light, there is the possibility of communion.

So, I throw my little fit (little, defined as short in duration and imperfectly owned fairly soon).  And she tells me how much she wants to be the comfort she can’t be.  And there we are, so imperfect we’re imperfect at being imperfect.

I want to lean into my fits, my failures, my darkness.  I want to be in them and know them.  I don’t want to pretend I’m more than I am, because then I end up being less.  I want to turn the lights on, one by one.  Because the first person I’ll see, when the lights are on, is not my partner.  It’s me.  The imperfect, fully loving and lovable one that I am.  So I can turn to her whole, and broken.  So I can see her, broken and whole.

I didn’t know, when I was younger, that this was what life is, or could be.  I thought it was all aim for the prize and prove you’re worth it.

I was so wrong.

You Can’t Get There from Here: Chapter Three


You Can’t Get There from Here

by Lyralen Kaye

Chapter Three

Janet cleaned incessantly for the next two days, walked with her feet pounding on the wood floors, staccato, like a soldier’s.

“You’re a great help,” Janet said, staring into Erin’s eyes. “Sleeping all day. And don’t blow up your bangs at me all exasperated.”

“I have jet lag,” Erin said.  She pulled her lower lip back in, tried to breathe through her nose.

Janet pushed past her with a hard nudge. “And you don’t want to hear about your father. Which is just fine, Erin. But your turn will come. He knows you’re here, and I’m sure you’re next on his hit list.”

“What is going on?” Erin asked. She didn’t really want to know, of course. And she certainly didn’t want another conversation about Thomas, especially since he’d been skipping his nightly vigil.

“I have responsibilities,” Janet said. “Not everyone in this world is Miss Carefree. I have bills to pay, did you ever think of that?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Erin said.

“You should,” Janet told her, turning her back and walking away. “You’re part of this family.”

“News to me,” Erin called after her mother. “I didn’t know I was part of anything,”

Janet didn’t respond. Erin blew up her bangs. She would have thought that her mother would feel calmer, now that Thomas was gone. Janet should be glad not to have to talk about him, think about him, see him. But her mother, through the days that followed, continued to complain about money, raise her voice over small disputes, and clean. In the evenings, she went to her room and read romance novels with steamy covers. Sometimes she called out for Beth or Erin to bring her things: cups of tea, Heath Bars, ice cream. They answered quickly, carrying food to her room like supplicants.

On the fourth day, Beth looked up at Erin with a plea in her eyes. Dark blonde hair fell over her shoulders, held back with a child’s pink barrette, but her eyebrows pleated together in one thick, worried line. Erin could refuse her nothing. They played game after game of Parcheesi, Monopoly, and Pokemon. On a long walk, passing over the frozen rafts of earth, crusted with salt and old frost, Beth led Erin to a neighbor’s house, where they played on an old trampoline, jumping first together, bouncing each other up into a sky promising snow. Erin, laughing, almost fell; she reached out and grabbed her sister’s hands. Beth pushed Erin over, then crawled off the tramp to stand beside it. She stuck out her tongue. Erin returned the gesture.

“Turn a flip,” Beth said.

Erin, shivering in her leather jacket, stood up and jumped on the canvas. She shook her head. “It makes me nervous,” she told her sister.

Beth crossed her arms over her chest, stared up into Erin’s face, her small jaw, so like her father’s, set stubbornly. “I thought you weren’t afraid of anything,” Beth called, her voice loud even in the wind. “That’s right, isn’t it?”

Erin stared. “I’m just a little butch,” she said under her breath, “Not some hero.” But she jumped higher, listening to the creak of the springs. With one last push, she turned in the air, and fell flat on her back, body spread like a snow angel over the faded green canvas. All breath left her lungs. Beth crawled up and looked down at her.

“Happy?” Erin asked, reaching out a hand so Beth could pull her up. Erin looked directly into her sister’s eyes. “Am I still the great fearless hero?”

“You are.” Beth jumped down and started walking toward the ocean. “You just go away too much.”

Erin didn’t answer. She ran to catch up, stared into her sister’s face with its turned-up nose and spattering of freckles, wincing, remembering the time, when Beth was six, she’d told Erin she didn’t like her anymore; she didn’t even care if Erin never came back.

“Is it because you’re gay?” Beth asked.

“What?” Erin stopped walking and put one hand on her hip. “How the hell do you know that?”

“I heard that butch thing you said.” Beth stuffed her mittened hands further into the pockets of her down jacket and bent her head. “And I hear you on the phone when you talk to your friends. Besides, you’re pretty old to never have a boyfriend. And you’re not ugly or anything. You have the most beautiful color hair in the world. Mom says it’s strawberry blonde.”

“I’m glad you don’t think I’m ugly.” Erin’s voice was gentle. “But I don’t leave because I’m gay, Bethie. I just like to see different places.”

Beth shot her a disbelieving look.

“Okay,” Erin said.  “And I don’t want to live near Mom and Dad.”

They walked for a while, dirt and ice crunching under their boots, the wind whistling against Erin’s upturned collar, reddening her ears and face. Beth’s eyes pooled blankly forward, toward the hard surface of the earth.

“What?” Erin finally asked.

“You don’t want to live near me?”

“Of course I want to live near you.”

“And will I be gay?” Beth turned and faced her sister. “Does it happen if you don’t like your Dad?”
“Whoa.” Erin pulled her jacket tighter around her. “There’s nothing wrong with being gay,” she said. “And if you were, you’d probably know. I did. When I was little, even. I liked Dad a lot, then. Better than Mom.”

“Oh,” Beth said, hunching further into her jacket. Dark wisps of blonde hair escaped the wool threads of her pink hat. She didn’t speak again until they were almost home.

Erin watched her, tried to tell her stories of Asia and Europe, of running with the bulls at Los San Fermines in Pamplona, of the way the patios in Cordoba looked in the spring, blanketed by flowers and the smell of Ducados cigarettes with their tobacco negro, red wine spilled on flagstones by the strangers that moved from one house to another. Erin moving among them, transfixed by language, Spanish spilling from her tongue, the light of candles falling over her face. Or the lanterns at O-Ban, the Japanese festival of the dead, and the lines of people dancing in a street lit by flickering flames, carrying altars and singing. Beth kept walking, her head down. Finally, as they crossed the back yard on the way to their house, Beth slid her mittened hand into Erin’s pocket.

“You’re my sister,” she said. “I love you no matter what. So you should just come home. You don’t have to live in our house. Other sisters get apartments near their families.”

Heat pricked the backs of Erin’s eyes. She squeezed Beth’s hand. “Never give up, do you?”

“No.”

Erin chased her sister into the house, tracking snow over her mother’s spotless floors, snow Beth ran to clean up as soon as they stopped laughing.

*                        *                        *

That night Erin saw the Buick again, this time closer to the house, close enough so she could see Thomas’ streak of red hair. Upstairs, her mother and Beth slept together in the king size bed in Janet’s room, ostensibly because Beth had been having nightmares, but also, Erin knew, because Janet wanted comfort. Erin watched the way her mother pulled Beth close, held Beth against her body. Erin tried to say something to her mother about Beth needing to receive comfort, not give it, but she hadn’t been able to finish the sentence. Janet had stared her down. So now, watching out the window, Erin felt anger rise through her body until even her veins and capillaries grew hot. She grabbed her coat, and walked out to the running car.

She stood outside the driver’s side window, exhaling white steam that mingled with the clouds of exhaust, looking down at her father’s face. He snored, his mouth open, his head tilted off the headrest. Skin hung loose around his square jaw, marked by new veins and broken blood vessels. His shirt was stained with brown splotches of bourbon, and a film of white dimmed the deeper red of his hair. Asleep, his body was a loose sack, even his beer gut grown emptier and smaller.

Bags and wrapping paper, boxes with ribbons, stood in piles on the back seat. Erin’s eyes passed over them, stopping at the bright yellow logo of Maine’s best leather shop. She caught her breath and stood absolutely still.

“Bastard,” she said. She rapped on the window with her knuckles.

Thomas didn’t respond.

She rapped again, this time louder. His head slipped down the seat. She cursed, kicked a stone that pinged up against the car. Then she opened the door and rolled the window down half-way.

“You’re not going to die here,” she told her father. She gave him a push, but instead of waking, he fell over, his body thudding against the seat. “Shit,” she said.

She closed the driver’s door and stood looking at the packages. Slowly, her fingers inched toward the back door handle. They touched the cold burn of metal. Opened the door. Then, quickly, before she could change her mind, she grabbed the yellow and white bag and opened it. Inside was leather, black and soft. She pulled out a jacket, then a pair of chaps.

“Shit,” she said. “Shit, shit, shit.” She held the jacket up against her chest: just her size. The crush of leather in her hands smelled like earth and the skin of animals, like wind and speed. Like him. He had known exactly what she would love, and he had bought it, probably the most expensive jacket in the store. She put the chaps in the bag, but held the jacket gently in her arms. In the front seat of the Buick, her father snored again, loudly.

Erin lay the jacket on top of the bag, then went back to the house. Taking off her boots, she walked quietly up the stairs to the attic, where she looked for, and found, the sleeping bag she had used for camping in high school. She carried it back downstairs, then sat in the living room with a sheet of white paper in her hand. After a few minutes, she started to write. She told Thomas if he wanted to see Beth, he should get his lawyer to call.  Parking in front of the house was stalking, and illegal. She’d call the police if he did it again. You shouldn’t drive when you’ve been drinking, she told him. You could kill yourself.

Erin folded the paper, picked up the sleeping bag, and went to the car, where she covered her father with army surplus green, her hands smoothing the ribs of down and tucking them over his shoulders. She put the letter on the dash and lifted the leather jacket to fold it. But once it was in her arms, its quilted lining against her cheek, she shrugged the old jacket from her shoulders and let it fall to the ground. She put the new one on. It fit. Perfectly.

She stood still, looking at her elongated reflection in the back seat window—red-gold bangs over a pale forehead, the black collar of the jacket triangling against her cheek, silver zippers stretched across her chest, eyes frowning over the strong bones of her nose. She could imagine the swing of her leg over the padded seat of a motorcycle, feel the call of speed and road.

Inside the car, her father snored. She exhaled, blowing up her bangs, then stopped, seeing the stubborn set of her own jaw in the car window. She thought of Janet. Don’t blow your bangs up at me. Erin swore, pulled the jacket off, folded it, and shoved it in the bag. Shivering, her old jacket under her arm, she ran back to the house, braid flapping against her back, her boots thudding against the sharp points of gravel.

Thomas was gone the next morning, but Erin found herself wandering restlessly through the house, trying to ignore the gravitational pull to the garage, where her father kept his Harley. Her feet moved of their own volition until she made her way to the garage door and opened it. Staring into the empty concrete room with its organized metal shelves and grease-stained floor, she thought about the rides they’d taken together before the night of the strippers, before everything went bad, Thomas’ wide back in front of her, her gloved hands on the sissy bar of the bike. She could see his thick hands zippering her first leather jacket, his voice soft as he instructed her on how to sit, how to strap the helmet securely. He’d taught her how to lean into a curve, how to ride fast, the wind against their skin, the world opening into possibility. She’d looked up into his blue eyes, the network of broken blood vessels across his pug nose, and seen the world he could give her. He’d laughed, tossed her in the air without warning, and she’d known, with her legs flying above her head, what love felt like. He used to say she was better than the son he’d wanted, tougher, because she never cried or complained or whined; because she sat with his friends in bars and learned their jokes, because she could catch a fly ball or a line drive, could throw a football high and true, because, in her father’s eyes, she was afraid of nothing.

Had she known, standing in the circle of warmth that surrounded his body, unable to tell him about Janet and the punishments that came every time Janet’s face wore that pinched look, the one that pushed up the sharp corners of her bones around her eyes and colored them red, that he was not what he seemed? Standing in the garage doorway, she could see the pride in his eyes, feel his arms lifting her up, remember the seriousness and care in the way he taught her to ride. She could feel the wild freedom of the bike. Her throat closed so tight it was hard to breathe.

“It was the first thing he took,” Janet said, coming up so quietly Erin hadn’t noticed. “You, of all people, should have known that.”

Erin jumped and turned around to face her mother. Janet stood looking up at Erin, her face lit by its own pale translucence, shining out from the shadows, an accusation.

“He also took the contents of our savings account. The morning after you got here. I went to the bank and found nothing,” Janet said. “Now I don’t have money for Christmas.”

“The day after I chased him off?” Erin asked.

“He’s trying to get even,” Janet said.  “I told you.”

“He might have bought presents—”

“I don’t care what he bought, he took my money.” Janet tapped her foot on the floor. “He spends it like water.”

“I know.” Erin knew he had always spent it on her.

“Maybe if you talked to him—”

“No,” Erin said.

“That’s what he wants, Erin, for you to like him again—”

“No.”

“Then would you please tell me what you think I’m going to pay bills with—”

“Go to the bank. Now. Cash in a couple of the CD’s that are in both your names. Open a new checking account in your maiden name. There’s got to be money in the checking accounts, right?”

Janet nodded.

“Take it. Then tell the bank you’ve separated and he’s not to get into your accounts. Or better, open new accounts somewhere else.” Erin looked at her mother. “Can you do that?”

Janet’s face paled. Erin waited, her blue-jeaned legs so tense they lifted her almost to her toes. Janet opened her mouth, closed it, then opened it again. “Can’t you go—”

“You’re the only one who can do it.”

Janet stared.

“Sorry,” Erin told her. “But it’s got to be your signature.”

“What will he do?” Janet asked.

“Why do you always worry about that?”

“I know what he’s capable of.” She turned away, crossing her thin arms over her chest, blonde head bent. “You’ve never had to be afraid of anything, Erin, but not everyone has it as easy as you do—”

“Stand up to him,” Erin interrupted. “And for Christ sakes call your lawyer.”

“He’s always busy.”

“Then get a new one,” Erin said. “And think of some subtle threats to get Dad to return some of your money.” Erin shrugged. “You’re better at that than I am. You know what he can’t afford to lose.”

Janet lifted her head. Her green eyes held Erin’s. “You were always the one he loved.”

Erin stared, then stepped back and slammed the garage door.

“You’re what he doesn’t want to lose.”

“Bullshit.”

“When you were little—”

“That’s over.”

“I remember when you thought your father was the best thing in the world.”

“I remember when he started hitting me.”

Janet shrugged. “That wasn’t until you were a teenager. He never loved anyone the way he loved you. I should know.”

“I didn’t do anything…I didn’t try—

“I know that.” Janet turned on her heel. Then she looked back.  “I don’t blame you.”

Janet didn’t wait for a response, not that Erin could have given one.  Her footsteps sounded against the wood floors with purpose. Erin wanted to call out, to tell her mother about the gifts in Thomas’ car stacked like offerings, like a currency he did not yet know would never buy him entry back into their lives. She wanted to say, Don’t make me hurt him, but all she could do was watch the slender white of her mother’s back as it turned the corner, moving out of sight.

You Can’t Get There from Here: Chapter 2


You Can’t Get There from Here

by Lyralen Kaye

Chapter Two

“You’re nuts,” Patti said as Erin stuffed clothes and toiletries into her backpack. “You’re welcome here.”
“She wants me to help her,” Erin said. “And I said I would.”

“Why should you do anything for her?” Patti sat down on the edge of the couch, her gray sweatshirt bunching around her middle. She ran one hand through her thick black hair; it stood up in new clumps when she was done. “She’s been a bitch to you forever.”

“I feel sort of responsible,” Erin answered. “For Beth.”

“But you know how you get, Erin.  She uses Beth against you, and then you freak—”

“I barely even know my own sister, do you realize that? Seeing her once a year doesn’t exactly cut it.” Erin dug her nails into her palms.

Patti sighed. “My mother and brother decided to start speaking to me earlier this year. You know how long it’s been? Since that time they kicked me out and you had to rescue me in high school. I was stupid enough to get excited about seeing them. After five minutes of civil conversation they had a lot to say to me. Most of it was about Sodom and Gomorrah.”

“I’m sorry,” Erin said.

“They call now. I got an answering machine to screen them out.” Patti looked down, started rolling up the sleeves of her sweatshirt. “Of course I still listen to their fucking messages. Hoping, you know? And it doesn’t do any good. It just tears your heart out.”

“It’s not so bad for me. I mean, about that. My mother just pretends I never told her I was gay.”

“You have other problems,” Patti said.

“My father’s gone. Maybe I can make things better. For Beth—”

“There’s Rachel,” Patti interrupted. “She still asks about you, God knows why. She has a new girlfriend. But we could have her over.”

“I was an asshole,” Erin said. “I’ve just never been any good at the long term thing. I bet she asks to make sure we won’t ever run into each other.”

“You’re as stubborn as you were when you were sixteen, you know that? You haven’t changed a bit.”

“Funny, I thought I’d mellowed. I’m at least willing to consider the possibility that I may not be right all the time. I mean, I wouldn’t mind being wrong about Rachel hating me. I wouldn’t mind being her friend.”

“Well, you’d never know it.” Patti stood up, took two steps across the living room, and picked Erin up by the waist. She swung her around while Erin laughed and yelled to be put down.

“What is it with you?” she said, laughing.

“Proving dominance,” Patti said. “I’m the alpha.”

“Dream on,” Erin said.

“Yeah, well you better be over here a lot, that’s all I’ve got to say,” Patti told her. “Your mother isn’t going to steal my yearly visit with you. There, I draw the line.”

“Me too,” Erin said. “If there’s a line to draw, that’s where I draw it.”

* * *

            That night, rolling around in her childhood bed, Erin couldn’t sleep. The moonlight from the window over the desk pushed past her eyelids, so she adjusted the blinds. Sitting for a moment on the edge of the bed, she listened to the silence of the house, the wind outside, the hum of an engine in the driveway. She grew still, listening. She hadn’t heard the car drive in over the gravel—maybe she’d been in the bathroom. Quietly, she pulled on her jeans, zipped them with cold fingers, shoved her feet into her boots. Her heels knocked loudly against the waxed floors as she walked down the hallway to the panel of glass at its end, the one that looked over the front of the house. Her father’s car sat in the driveway, its gold paint a touch of gilt against the leafless trees. Swearing, Erin stomped down the stairs. Flipping on light after light, she went to the window and pulled back the curtains. She imagined her father’s head turning, imagined he could see her there, her body fragmented by the small squares of glass, the bars of white wood.

She waited for a moment, then found her jacket and walked out the front door in hard deliberate strides. Ten feet from the front porch, she heard the click of gears shifting; the engine roared. The Buick—a company car as always, she was sure—started to pull away. She could just see the shape of her father’s head in the car’s shadowed interior. Stumbling over the gravel, her legs unsteady as stilts, Erin ran after it.

“Ever hear of a restraining order?” she screamed into the cold.

Her father drove down the dirt road, tires spewing up stones as he fishtailed, the red glow of his taillights trailing side to side. He skidded and nearly hit a tree. Erin gasped, standing in the night air, her jacket open, until the lights died like stars. She walked slowly back to the house, shrugging at Janet, who stood at the top of the stairs, a robe belted around her waist, face pinched, white and hungry.

“He was drunk,” Erin said, looking down into her mother’s frightened face. “He’s gone now. Go to sleep.”

“He’s gone?  Already?”

“If he keeps driving when he’s like that, he may be gone in more ways than one,” Erin said. “He won’t be back tonight. Tomorrow we can see about a restraining order.”

Janet shook her head. “I could never do that.”

“You have rights, Mom.”

“I have to live in the real world,” Janet said. “I can’t afford to just…confront him like that.”

Erin sighed. “Go to sleep,” she said. “Beth said you don’t get enough sleep.”

Watching Janet walk down the hall, Erin waited, then turned off the downstairs lights. Back in her childhood room, she undressed and sat on the edge of the bed, her breathing ragged. Looking out the window, she saw the curved scythe of moon. Sitting there, it seemed time faded, as if the past had its own gravity, as if the pull of that pale light reached for her across continents, across time. She shivered. Without thinking she began pulling at her old dresser drawers, looking for long underwear, sweatshirts, the clothes she’d worn after motorcycle rides. The clothes she’d put on after she’d driven her father home from the strip bar.

She froze, her fingers still clasping the bronze handle of a drawer. Deliberately pushing the drawer back in, she sat back on the bed, resisting the swift undertow of memory. She tried to concentrate on counting backward in Spanish—cien, noventai-nueve—it was no good. Between the numbers she couldn’t help listening, expecting to hear sounds—Thomas’ heavy stumbling footsteps, the drunken thud of his briefcase as it went down, or the roar of his motorcycle. She couldn’t help remembering how the meaning of those sounds had changed. Dad, she thought, just once, like a cry. Sitting there, in her old room, she couldn’t tell herself it didn’t matter that she’d lost him, it didn’t matter that once she had waited for his footsteps, that she had been warmed by the rough tenor of his voice growing louder as he yelled at her mother.  That she had thought he was on her side.

He had been. And somehow, that had caused everything, Erin thought, even the strippers. Though long before that night, she had heard Janet crying in the bedroom next door, the sound wild, more like an animal than a person. Predictable: the next day, after the crying, Janet would call loudly for Erin to get up, to vacuum, dust, polish silver, clean out the attic, rake leaves, one of a million tasks that had filled her days when she was too small to refuse. Erin had longed to be outside, to hide in the trees and wild grass, or fly over the mudflats, chasing the herons and egrets until they lifted up, their long legs dangling, then rising as their wings beat, heavy kites slow in the wind. She ran after them, leaping into the air, imagining a more permanent escape from the prison of their house. Erin didn’t want to think about the price she had paid for such escape: a paddle had hung on the kitchen wall on a special brass hook, its warped rectangular surface covered with black ink, surrounded by small drawings of animals in red. If the little deers don’t mind, the paddle read, hit them on their cute behinds.

Erin remembered Janet’s tight face, the way she’d stood, examining tables and trunks, the way she’d checked for dust under all the knickknacks and rapped Erin’s hands with the edge of the paddle for any mistake. She remembered Janet saying Erin was more trouble than ten normal children, why didn’t she just quiet down, quit asking questions, quit asking for books, for time, quit asking to go to museums, movies, libraries, plays? Why wasn’t Erin grateful for what she had? And Erin knew, remembering, that Janet had never said these things in front of Thomas.

One afternoon, Erin had run out of the house right after school and played in the marshes until dark. She could still see the fervent spread of sky, flaming upward in a mixture of orange and gray. She could feel the freedom in her small body as she reached up to touch the branch of a tree, as she pulled one stalk of marsh grass after another. Walking over the mudflats, she stripped off her shoes and pretended she was a girl in a book she’d read, rescuing a boat trapped in the water by walking lightly over mud flats that might sink at any moment from beneath her feet. She knew that she, like any girl in any country, could become a hero, someone for whom God had created a specific destiny. She could feel it in her body; the slender white of her bare feet growing blue with cold, her arms held out for balance with her shoes dangling over her shoulders, everything in her reaching, a girl poised for flight into the unknown, her face flushed with color, expectant.

When she came home, Janet was waiting, the skin on her face taut and pinched. She looked at Erin for a moment, and Erin tried to hide the freedom of the afternoon, wash it from her face. Janet’s eyes narrowed.

“What are you supposed to do after school?” Janet asked, her voice rising with each word. “Tell me, Erin.”

Erin took a step back. “Help you clean.”

Janet glanced at the mud-stained bottoms of Erin’s pants, the untied shoes with their dangling laces and yanked the paddle from its hook. She grabbed Erin’s arm, her face mottled and red. “And now you’ve left mud from the door to this room, haven’t you? Answer me! Haven’t you?”

Erin glanced quickly behind her. She saw a footprint back near the door. “I’ll clean it, I promise–”

“You are the most inconsiderate girl I’ve ever met! I would never treat my mother the way you treat me.”

The paddle swung down in a loose, wide arc. Instead of hitting her backside, it glanced off Erin’s skull with a sharp crack. She reeled, tripped, fell to her knees. Crouching, she gasped, looking up at her mother as Janet lifted an arm and hit her again, across the back.

“That’s what you get for disobeying me.” Janet held the paddle poised, half-lifted, at her side. “You will learn to do what I say.”

Erin curled tighter over her bent legs. Janet’s mottled face came closer. She gripped Erin’s arm, yanked her to her feet, began pushing her across the polished floors toward the closet.

“No,” Erin whispered. “Not again. Please, I’ll clean. I’ll do the dishes, I’ll—”

The closet door opened. Erin tripped over the vacuum cleaner as Janet pushed her inside. She sprawled as the door shut behind her. She turned over, pulled her knees to her chest. She began pushing against the floor with her feet, back, back, the floor under her buttocks moving until she could feel the wall at her spine, familiar, stationary. She inhaled, the fumes from bleach, ammonia, Lemon Pledge entering her lungs.

“You’ll stay in there until I say,” Janet called from behind the door.

Erin heard the chair pushed into place. Slowly, she stopped shaking. The scent of bleach pushed in at her until she started to fade. Her breathing slowed. Her arms clasped her knees. France, she said to herself. She closed her eyes, felt the world tilt, felt herself slip out of her body, out of the house until she was transparent, until she didn’t exist. France, she said again. It was the word she’d use to find her way back.

Later, the chair pushed away from the door with a loud scraping noise. The door opened. Erin’s eyes snapped open, then blinked against the light. Janet bent down, stretched out an arm. Outside, Erin heard the sound of a car motor shut off.

“Out,” Janet said. “If you know what’s good for you, you won’t go complaining to your father.”

Erin scrambled past her. Ran up the stairs to her room. She slammed the door, and stood with the jamb at her back, feeling its ridges against her muscles as she listened to her mother yelling, to her father’s footsteps on the stairs, heavy and slow. He opened the door of Erin’s room, turned on the light, brushing waves of red hair back from his wide Irish face. Looking up, Erin could see the faint cleft in the center of his nose. She grabbed hold of one of his legs with both arms and wouldn’t let go.

“You can’t fight with your mother, honey,” Thomas said.

She held him tighter.

His hand came down on the top of her head. She yelped, wincing. He touched the swelling on the crown of her head with the tip of a finger.

“What happened?” he asked.

Erin pushed her face into the cloth at his hip, burying her nose in the smell of beer and smoke. She inhaled deeply, taking the bar smells deep into her lungs.

“Erin?”

“Nothing,” she said.

“You can tell me,” he said. “We’re buddies, aren’t we?” He loosened her arms from his legs and picked her up. She wound her arms around his neck, trying not to cry, trying to be strong, motorcycle strong, as tough as he had always taught her how to be. He pushed her hair away from her face. “Let me get you some ice,” he said.

She heard his voice downstairs, swearing at her mother; she heard Janet’s voice rise, heard her own name. Then, a thud. She sat up, ears straining for any sound, but the silence lasted and lasted, stretching, it seemed, from her room to the kitchen. She heard Thomas swearing again, but this time, Janet didn’t answer. Soon, heavy feet pounded on the stairs, and Thomas returned, frowning, the blood high in his face. He carried a cloth bag full of ice and a towel.

“Erin,” Thomas said.

Erin didn’t answer.

“Erin,” her father said, sitting down on the bed. “What did your mother do?”

She leaned against his side, smelled the familiar mix of bourbon and starch, both embedded in his businessman’s shirt.

“I want to hear your side. I think I know already, but I want to hear.”

“Nothing.”

“Erin.”

“I played outside,” she said. “I got mud on the floor.”

“She hit you, didn’t she?”

Erin didn’t answer.

“Erin, I know she hit you.  Just nod your head.”

Erin looked up at her father.

“I knew it,” he said. “That fucking bitch.”

She flinched.

“I’m not mad at you,” Thomas said.

He touched her hair gently, finding the lump again. Erin rested against his lap as he held the ice in place. He spoke softly about where they’d go that weekend, all the way up to the border of Canada. They’d camp, even though it was cold. Maybe one of the other motorcycle riders he knew would bring a kid her age. Falling asleep to the sound of his voice making promises, Erin believed the deep tenor would block forever her mother’s arms coming down, the crack of wood against her body, and the closet door opening and closing, leaving her alone in that small hard world in the dark.

*                        *                        *

Erin sat on the edge of the bed, head heavy in her hands, temples pounding. She reached up, pushed the pads of her thumbs against her aching eyes. The memory of her father’s hands in her hair, his voice promising escape, made every cell in her body cry like a separate child. When she was little, she had believed he could cure anything. She had been wrong and now…now he was gone, leaving her with Janet, with two mothers—the one who’d hated her and the other, who now called her, said she wanted her near.

Erin could see, like a photograph hung on one of Janet’s white walls, her mother’s figure silhouetted against the back porch. Janet’s hands stayed hidden, behind her back, but her face was blotched red with rage, her eyes the green of algaed rocks, and just as hard. Blinking, trying to dispel the memory, Erin lay stunned, trying to dispel the memory. She wondered if she should go back to Patti’s. Outside, the world began to grow faintly light.

She dozed off at dawn, was awakened by Beth’s small hands pulling on her shoulders as Beth called her name, saying, you promised. Groaning, Erin got up. She held Beth’s hand tightly as they walked down the stairs to the kitchen, wanting to ask, to say something, but Beth smiled at her, looked up with her sea eyes clear of memory.

“Drink some coffee,” Beth said, standing on tiptoe to pull a mug from one of the cabinets. “Wake up, will you?” She slid across the tile floor and started tickling Erin.

Janet, sitting at the kitchen table with a checkbook in front of her, frowned. Erin couldn’t meet her eyes. Splashing cold water on her face at the sink, she muttered something about using the car. Then she grabbed the keys from Janet’s outstretched hand, and went for her leather jacket.

“She’s a bear in the morning,” Janet said to Beth. “Just like her father.”

“Right. I’m just like him,” Erin said.

“I didn’t mean that,” Janet said.  She reached out a hand, then dropped it as Erin slung her jacket over her shoulders.

“I’m going out the front, Bethie,” Erin said as she left the room.

Driving Beth to school in Janet’s car, she pulled her mother’s crucifix from the rear view mirror and put it in the glove box. Beth giggled.

“Listen,” Erin said. “I want to ask you something serious.”

“Okay.” Beth pulled one leg up to her chest and held on tight.

“Has Mom ever…punished you?”

“She grounds me sometimes. But mostly we get along. Only now she always wants me to sleep in her bed when Dad comes and…you know. And sometimes she doesn’t talk for a whole day. Or she yells.” Beth stared out the window, began pulling at a loose thread at the top of her knee sock.

“But she doesn’t hit you?”

Beth shook her head, kept pulling at her sock. “Mom’s okay, Erin. Really. You just have to be careful when she’s in a bad mood.”

Erin’s shoulders relaxed. She poked her sister. “I came home so you’d have someone to talk to,” she said to Beth. “Unless you’ve started talking to the furniture, going loca on me.”

“Say something in Spanish. Say something really long.”

“Mi hermana es muy pequeníta, pero habla todo el dia de qualquier cosa, incluso sus novios. Ella tiene veinte mil novios, cada uno muy celoso.”

“What’s that?”

“I said that you’re the size of a mouse, but you talk all the time and have twenty thousand boyfriends who are all very jealous.”

“You did not!”

Erin smiled, pulled the car to the side of the road and picked up her sister’s friends at their bus stop, laughed and answered their questions, let them play rap music on the radio. Their plaid uniformed bodies packed tight in the back seat of the car blurred in the rear view mirror to a panel of blue and gold. Finally, she pulled up at the school.  Beth, before she got out of the car, leaned over and quickly kissed Erin on the cheek. Smiling into Erin’s long gaze, Beth’s face was lit as only a child’s could be. Erin sat still, holding the image of her sister’s sea eyes, her thick brows, turned-up her nose, remembering Beth as a toddler, the high sounds of her laughter, the way she’d run across a room to Erin as if the source of love was found in her sister’s arms. Remembering, Erin wanted to believe Beth had grown up unscathed, that Beth, running over the mud behind their house, had never returned to beatings or closets.

Janet was sitting at the kitchen table when Erin walked in the house. Half hidden by a low partition, the phone at her right hand, she looked like an injured bird, head down, slender shoulders hunched beneath her blouse. The defeat eroded the image of the night before, until the memory of the taut spine, the open closet door, turned to shadow and all Erin could feel, looking at her mother, was pity. Hadn’t it always been this way? Thomas appeared and Janet became someone small and defenseless, someone Erin was bound to defend, no matter the cost. But afterward Janet returned to herself, to the mother Erin knew, beauty the veil over a woman hard with duty, who arrived promptly for parent conferences, sat upright in church, and believed in being a lady, keeping her problems to herself. Erin looked at her mother’s back, at the low wall between them, the hook where the paddle had hung, now strung with patchwork oven mitts. The shining surfaces of the kitchen reflected back emptiness like a thousand mirrors. Erin hesitated, but then Janet lifted her head; Erin saw the two telltale spots of color on her mother’s pale cheeks. She froze. When Janet opened her mouth to speak, Erin turned quickly and walked away before she could hear what her mother had to say.

A few hours later she woke to the sound of vacuuming. Putting a pillow over her head, Erin tried to go back to sleep. Sounds of cupboard doors opening and shutting, of low heels on wood floors, of banging pans, penetrated the soft down over her ears. She got up, showered, put on jeans and a T-shirt. Grabbing her leather jacket and a couple pieces of fruit, she walked out of the house into the dead blades of marsh grass, the smell of salt. Shivering, the sweet tang of apple in her mouth, she reached up once to touch a tree, but the mystery had gone; she was only cold. Sighing, she hoped by the time she got home Janet would be over it, whatever it was.