Schpider!

spiderDon’t look, Dad!
It’s a terrible sight!
If you can’t see him,
It’ll save you a fright.

I’ll protect you.
Don’t worry now.
I can tame spiders.
Mom taught me how.


Lilli and Dad at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in 2009. She was 6. We were being goofy and I thought this would be a funny picture for my black and white film photography class.

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Candid

Can I just say, this is one of my most favorite candid shots of my family?

guy and lilli.jpg

Shot on film. Developed in the lab as an exposure test. Scanned in.

So the strips in exposure are from trying different levels in the developing lab, to get the right one, under the direction of my Photography 101 professor. (I had just returned to school for the second time to get my two-year graphic design degree) I never developed a final exposure, so all I had was this one. But it’s my favorite. The looks on their faces are precious. The almost-smiles break my heart.

This was Fall 2009, so Lilli was just 6 years old, Kindergarten. So adorable. Her face is just one big piece of cutie pie. Most of the time, I would just ask for a kiss because I couldn’t resist those soft, suede-y cheeks. She looks like a French child from a black and white independent film. Zut alors! Those bangs!

So glad I caught this moment on film. And I kind of like the strips.

This could be an ad for Nikon with the bag in the background! LOL Live free and Nikon!

And Guy! You’re so handsome! Sacre bleu!

Black Stove, Purple Lamp

More from Vol. 2 of Present Tense


We are standing in the living room. We are moving our belongings out of the house because my parents are fighting again. My brother is now married and lives in a nearby town with his wife. He is helping us move.

My father confronts my brother in the living room with a baseball bat and threatens to hurt each of us if we do not leave the house immediately.
My father swings the bat to show his intention. Lands a blow on the free-standing wood-burning stove. He leaves quite a dent in the black sheet metal exterior. A dent that will live with us for all time.
He then swings again to assert his presence and smashes my mother’s favorite lamp. It was a beautiful purple lamp. Two lights, beautiful hand-painted designs on the glass shades and delicate gold filigree edging. Gone with one blow.
He smashes the lamp, I imagine, to see the pained look of surprise on her face. He wants to see her hurt.

Tiny little shards embedded in the carpet. Gouges torn in the wood of the end table. Hearts shattered at the violence, but not for things. Splinters of feelings scattered and strewn.


This would not be the last time I would see this house. It should have been.
The house is gone now. Swallowed up in time. Rotted with weather and neglect and turmoil. But it housed our violent, chaotic family for nearly 20 years. It existed and so did we. A new house stands in its place.
So long now. But the violence persists in my mind.
Sometimes, I wish my mind or memories would rot, but they are rock solid. The negativity built on unshaken cliffs of time-battered trauma.

Memories can be swept away like sand on the shore, but this bedrock is immovable. Formed in liquid lava and cooled to stone for all time.


We moved back very soon after this incident. Perhaps 1-2 months later. We left several times, but never for very long. Unfortunately.

’66 Chevelle

More from Vol. 2 of Present Tense.


I am 14 or 15 years old. Saturday morning. I’m lying down, but awake. I am in my bedroom with the door closed. There is one loud voice and one scared voice in the next room.
“Where is she?”
He is choking my sister. He is pulling her hair. He is threatening her. He is hurting my sister because my mother isn’t there to hurt.
He leaves her bedroom. I stop moving, thinking, inhaling in the hope that I will not be next. Not quickly enough, I hear the back door bang.
I hear my sister stir. I hear her muffled, wet breaths. She is crying.
I hear my father opening the hood of my sister’s car, the car that she shares with my mother.


’66 Chevelle Malibu. The one with the rusted-out hole in the floor board. The one with white paint and blue vinyl seats. The one with jagged rear window posts that cut your hand when you’re not careful. The one that an old lady drove to church and the store and only had several thousand miles when we bought it almost 20 years after it was made. The classic. The sweet-ass sportster. The muscle car from Malibu. The one that will take a beating.


I look out the window of my bedroom and see my father ripping wires out of the engine. He slams the hood closed and now takes a hammer he must have grabbed on the way out. He pounds the metal repeatedly with quick, powerful blasts and leaves at least two dozen or more marks.
These are not dings. These are not dimples. These are deep, hate-filled holes.
“Get out of here.”
My sister calls my brother and we leave. We wait at the end of our driveway for my brother to pick us up. We don’t speak to one another. I am powerless to change what is happening. I can only follow, obey and relinquish any hope of being normal.


Every time I tell this story, it makes me afraid all over again. But. I lived. So I am thankful for this story. It reminds me that I can survive. And that I never have to live that way again.

Let’s All Go To the Movies.

More from Vol. 2 of Present Tense


My mother and father have lost the will to parent. I am sitting in a dark movie theatre with Mom, Dad and my sister. I am five, almost six.
Alien.
Oh, God. That man’s face has just been attacked by an octopus egg.
Oh, God. The android’s head is decapitated from his body and milky fluid is shooting out from his neck.
I am screaming. I am crying. I am being ushered quickly to the lobby by my mother.

We lounge for about a minute.
“Ready to go back?”
Okay, there are no more bodiless robots. Popcorn.
I have to have my legs in my seat. I am sitting cross-legged. No aliens can possibly eat my dangling legs if they are safely tucked up, away from their snotty teeth.
Oh, God. There’s spaghetti exploding from that guy’s open stomach.
Oh, God. It’s a baby alien. I am screaming. I am crying. I am being ushered.
A minute.
“Ready to go back?”
My parents also let me watch Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Deliverance (ABC Presentation of the Week). Also, A Thief in the Night.
This 1972 (made before I was even born) Christian classic talks about end times. Christians are taken to heaven in the rapture and non-believers are left behind. Everyone has to take the 666-Mark of the Beast tattoo or they can’t buy eggs and butter. People who just want a little breakfast are arrested for trying to buy groceries, and a girl with a balloon gets beheaded on a guillotine. There’s a fun song at the end, too.
I wish we’d all been ready…

The synopsis of this movie may be slightly inaccurate. It’s what I remember and the impression that remains.


I lived through what seemed like a very real threat of nuclear annihilation during the height of the Cold War and was constantly worried about being microwaved to oblivion by a nuke. These movie nights and paranoid world destruction fantasies could be considered the bright, sunny moments of my childhood with an abusive father. My prayer, as I got older, became this:

If I have to die–God, just don’t let me die a virgin.

Piled

Tired, happy children
Piled on top of Pop.
Cuddled on his wrinkled clothes
Upon his lap they’d hop.

Relaxed and tousled jams,
Schlubby socks and drooping eyes.
From contented smiles and deep, sweet breaths
Happiness will rise.

Safe and sound for now,
However momentary.
We were once a family.
Photographic evidence unnecessary.

But helpful. 🙂


My dad and my two oldest siblings.

Making People

Each of these people
Were made by two parents.
Molded and shaped
By opinions, thoughts and variants.

These two people
Made four more humans.
They didn’t do it perfectly.
In fact, our family’s in ruins.

Their legacy was not premeditated.
Their good intentions paved the way,
To Hell and back and there again–
Four lanes without delay.

This kiss and marriage caught some place
Between Heaven and Hell.
A dark, rock-hard place between their love
Is where my childhood fell.

Like a photograph that floats down
Behind a dresser, trapped by wall.
Forgotten with time, buried by dust.
Neglected, unseen by all.

But.

Their love made me.
Shouldn’t I be thankful for this?
I couldn’t think of something more lovely
Than a passionate wedding kiss.

Thankful to be here. No matter what.

Wife

The clothes are washed.
The dishes are done.
Everything’s finished.
The course has been run.

To its bedtime,
I race the sun.
Hoping to remember,
“Leave nothing undone.”

But I fail.

I failed to love you
More than you deserve.
I failed to catch you
When you leapt off with nerve.

I failed to respond
With kindness and restraint.
I succeeded in failing
At withholding complaint.

I’m sorry.

It’s not a matter of racing to the end.
It’s not a matter of winning at life.
It is a matter of walking with purpose.
It is a matter of being a good wife.

I’m not a good wife to you
If I focus on all wrong you have wrought.
It would be better of me
To remember all good you have brought.

Thank you.

I struggle with fairness
And relinquishing grace.
I like to hold grudges,
Call attention to mistakes.

I’m trying so hard to be Perfect.
And I’ve missed the boat.
I should try harder to be Forgiving.
And erase the past someone else wrote.

I love you.

This Mess is Mine

My circus. My monkeys.

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If I have to run away with the circus,
I’ll always be in your ring.
Juggle all the things you toss,
Hold the net when you bravely swing.

You make me shake and tremble.
Hold my breath, close my eyes, say a prayer.
Though I wouldn’t want to miss the show,
Watching stars burn bright in the air.

You are my circus.
You’re my car full of clowns.
You are my monkeys.
Medicine for frowns.

You’re the lion tamers,
The death-defiers,
The tight-rope walkers,
The brave high-flyers.

I never want to be out
From under the ol’ Big Top.
This is where I belong.
I don’t want the fun to stop.

So please stay in my tent.
I don’t mind the mess.
You can be my circus.
I wouldn’t settle for anything less.


Love you both.

My Starlet

Same curly hair.
Same brilliant smile.
Same enormous heart.
But only tiny for a while.

You’re my little star.
I’m your big, shiny moon.
I’ll always be your Dish.
Run away with me, Spoon!

We belong together
Swinging out into space.
You’re my precious starlet
With the most beautiful face.

Love you, Lillian. You’re magical.


Picture of Lil when she was only 5 on the beach!