My past DOES define me.

I hear the buzz phrase, “Your past does not define you.” Even I thought this sounded like a good mantra. At first. I might have even said it a few times. But, my past DOES define me. For better or worse.

Running from your past is like that old saying, “Going nowhere in a hurry.” You can’t forward your future until you address the past.

I grew up poor. Near a small town, in the country on 20 acres, graduated from a class of 65 people.

Maybe not poor. Maybe just so far in debt that I had to choose between difficult things. And, I didn’t wear name brand clothes. My mom made most of my clothes by hand. That, at least, put me in a different category.

Other category pushers:
My father was emotionally and physically (infrequently) abusive. I was overweight (of course). Often teased. Often at the bottom of some chaotic, emotional barrel of feelings. Struggling to have a voice of any kind in a farm community full of rednecks and intellectual infants. I was (am) a girl/woman (not always a plus).

These things define me. They are my etymological birth. The source of all my words. I can write today because of what happened or didn’t happen in the past. I thank God for my past.

My whole youth can be summed up as the jump ball for the tip off of my adulthood/writing career. A frantic scrambling to find my voice in the elbows and sweaty armpits of rural America.

Now, I am free-throwing and making it swish from the top of the key. Thank God I had to scramble.


I lost my voice, the strength of it anyway, a coupla years ago when I had my thyroid removed. They cut through muscles and nerves to get through to the organ. It can effect your vocal cords. I was hoarse and genteel for months. Totally unlike me.

From a young age, I have been identified as the loud laugher, talker, whiner, live-r. When others tittered, I guffawed. When others whispered, I announced. When others went about their feelings in a shy, reserved way, I emoted all over the place.

So. To be made relatively mute for months on end? THAT was a struggle.

I joined a local community theatre production, even when my voice wasn’t fully healed, to exercise the shit out of said vocal cords. I struggled again, this time for my literal voice.

I honestly thought my voice was ruined. I had no volume and no ability to inflect. But it came. My voice emerged. I rebuilt my annoying, distinctive, loud, full-flavored signature.

But that’s what I was doing all those years ago. Fighting for air, time, attention, my voice. I certainly found it by exercising my mind. Flexing my writing muscles. Clearing my thoughts. Coughing up all the bad stuff to get to the sweet, well-trained music of good writing.

If you met me in person, you might think, she’s pretty tame, dull, quiet, shy. But that’s just the surface. That’s just the public wall that’s been graffiti’d by others. There’s a garden behind those gates. A well-tended garden kept by me. Plunking away at the keyboard, digging out rows, mining for richness, turning up the past. Seeds of words flowering into thoughts, emotions and ideas–volumes of deep-rooted life. This is my courtyard. The sign says WELCOME.

You have to push past that gate. Be patient enough to know me.

Welcome to my past. It defines me. All that you read here is real, honest, beautiful. Though some starts out as dirt, hurt and manure.

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Go With the Flow

My dad was dying. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was would be gone within two months. He had end-stage lung cancer and could no longer drive. So I had to cart him around. Which he hated. So did I.

He’d lost all autonomy and that was hard for him. A fiercely independent, strongly opinionated man. He couldn’t even decide to go home from the hospital at his leisure. He wanted to die in his own bed. He finally got his wish.

One day, we were taking the interstate home and I was dutifully going the speed limit. I was afraid if I went over the limit, Dad would say something. Criticize me. He did anyway.

“You need to speed up. Move with the traffic.”

At the time, I was extremely annoyed, but all I could mumble was, “Sorry.” And I put the pedal to the floor.

There, Old Man.

“Why do you have to find fault with me in everything I do?” I wondered.

Too fast, too slow. Too lazy. Too everything you think I shouldn’t be. But your sick. So I’ll just keep quiet and take it.

But today, when I remembered his nudge (I still think about and remember these things, ugh), I thought, “Thanks, Dad. Good advice.”

I drive for a living now. All I have is time in the car to think about things, past and present. Too much time, perhaps. It’s like all the thoughts you ever have when you’re working out and in the zone.

I’m a very good driver. I pay attention and know a thing or two about cars, thanks to my father. He was a mechanic by trade. He taught me how to take care of a vehicle, inside and out, and how to drive one.

I know why I was so sensitive at the time. Any opportunity my parents had to correct me was unwelcome and resented. They behaved in ways that grownups shouldn’t: fighting, engaging in unfair behavior, inconsistency, neglect. They were normal parents from the 80s.

Who are you to tell me anything??

And I held them accountable with my teenage indignation. Except, it didn’t help and I was just as wrong. Even if I was totally justified in rebuking their correction, they were still my parents. And they were, on the whole, usually right. Or steering me in the right direction.

I’m 44 now and much more confident about who I am and how well I drive. I’m well-adjusted and have worked through most of my past. I take criticism, for the most part, in stride now (thanks to mandatory art school critiques). 😉

Today I’ll just say, “Thanks, Dad. You were right.”

I miss my dad. I mourn all the years I lost to his mental and physical illness. But I also mourn all the years I lost growing up without him or knowing him as an adult.

He never saw my daughter. I know he would have been proud of the job I did/am doing with her. I wish he could have held her, heard her, helped her. But it was enough that he ever did that with me. I can only remember a handful of times, but it was enough.

I forgive you and I’m sorry, Dad.

Rusted Relationships

Parked out back
Rusted out truck
Pushin’ up peonies
Forgotten or stuck

Ain’t goin’, nothin’ doin’
Just sittin’ there now
It’s a bed for crickets
Scratchin’ post for Cow

I wish you were my bed again
Sleepin’ under the stars
Takin’ me every place
Like a string of old boxcars

We wouldn’t have to go
Never turn those tires
I’d simply think of where
And you would spark those fires

Like a child, grip the wheel
Dream of great, big skies
Visit the past, where we find at last,
The vast wonder of wandering lies

Curl up cozy on your smooth, old lap
Smell of well-worn leather
Rolled-up, dusty blanket
When we’re in for colder weather

I hear you callin’, askin’ me,
“Honey, where you been?”
It’s not that I haven’t wanted to play
I really do miss you, Friend

Get me out of here.

tina in cabinet

Why am I in the cabinet? LOL

1974. I am willingly sitting in the cabinet. Under the stove, from the looks of it. I think this is where the Cheetos were kept.

This is my favorite place to sit. Hide. Eat. Play.

Some days I wish I could go back there and shut the door.

How could anyone be mean to little ol’ Me?


Plastic lids and drooling kids.
Baby blues and blondie ‘dos.
Slack-jawed, already flawed.
Only 1 year. How’d I get here?
Shut the door, please!

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.

Where the Gutter Ends

This is an old inking of a guttering bend I did for drawing class in college. Does it look like that? LOL A poem for the gutter.


It’s altogether different from
Where the gutter bends
All the way down to
Where the gutter ends.

When you get to the bottom
There’s no place but higher.
You’re among the garbage,
But not for long, my Flyer.

It’s okay to be down.
It teaches you how to stand.
It teaches you to be strong.
How to accept someone’s hand.

Swallow your pride.
Pull on your boots.
Plant those feet.
Let your heels dig roots.

Believe in what you do.
Or don’t do a thing.
If you have a voice?
Open your mouth and sing!

Float from the gutter
To reveal your mystery.
Let the world listen to
Your hard-to-hear (hard-to-tell) history.

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.

Another Planet

Where am I?
How’d I get here?
This is my worst nightmare–
My greatest fear.

Not just living once,
But experiencing twice
The excruciating anguish
Of my heart in a vise.

Broken homes.
Parents screaming.
Shattered lives.
Splinters gleaming.

I am kidnapped on the ship
That takes me back to Then.
I am rock-bound shipwrecked
Instantly on that When.

The initials on the side of my rocket are P-T-S-D.

Where’s my preserver?
Where’s my rope?
I’m already wrung, hung and dried.
There’s absolutely no hope.

Getting off of this horrible world?
No escape for me.
My map was tossed, pilot jumped clear,
The capsule crashed at sea.

I may never see home again.
I can sit, give up and die.
Or I can make my way back to you
And fashion a means to fly.

Find tools.
Bang out a space.
Write a manual.
Picture your face.

Soaring over the ice,
Breaking the gravity of Past.
Riding out the rocky belts,
To land by you at last.

I’m home.
Sorry I left.