This is not another heartbreak poem. I am not alone. I do not miss you. My life is not a waking death. I have never been anywhere without you.
In France, you laid your head in my lap in castle ruins. Lilacs grew fast, mimicking one of those time lapse nature shows where seeds become full- fledged roses in thirty seconds flat. Vines wound themselves between your fingers, necklaced your throat, crowned you king of everything that ever mattered–guitars and love and orange blossoms and the pink pads on the bottoms of bobcat kittens’ feet. I watched you sleep, wrote odes to your not-there knuckles, your missing kneecaps, your invisible eyelids.
When I died in New Orleans, beads dangled from trees. Decked out in bangles and bell bottoms, street psychics cackled as I screamed. The waning moon un-beamed, went black. Smoke stacks buckled. You came and reached for me. “Stay!” I shrieked. The boiling ground sucked you away.
The day I looked down on London from the Eye, you told a joke, something about a baroque bar and a goat, and we laughed. Later, rain pelted us. Umbrella-less, we ducked under an awning until it drooped, ruptured, and drenched us. “Surrender to the baptism,” you whispered, held my face, and kissed me hard. Red busses streaked, and we sneaked into an alley, just behind the cemetery where Mark Bolan lies. Our eyes gave birth to visions. The downpour washed us clean. Our guanine reconfigured, rewrote our DNA. The holy spirit fell that day. I spoke with the tongues of angels. And you. You raised the dead.
I used to wait for someone to see me. I think that’s what we are all looking for in this world. We just want to be seen. We want someone to acknowledge our existence as important. I used to think that when someone else loved me, and saw me for what I really was, all the beauty and miracles and rainbows inside me, I would be whole. But as many different kinds of love as I experienced, no one ever fully saw me. Not because they were cruel or selfish or sightless, but because they lived inside their own minds, as I lived in mine, and they too were busy trying to break through their own dark prisons, busy trying get people, to get me, to notice the rainbows inside of them.
So I decided to notice my own rainbows. I decided to believe I was enough, even if no one else noted it. I wanted someone to protect me, so I decided to protect myself. I wanted someone to cherish me, so I decided to cherish myself. I wanted someone to believe in me, so I decided to believe in myself. I realized I was seeing other people as middle men, as messengers from Love to me. I was suffering under the notion that if I could just get one person to love me fully, I could touch Love. I decided to cut out the middle man and simply believe that I was worthy of Love. I decided to try tear down the prison in my mind, the one that made me believe I was unworthy of Love, even if no one else helped me. (Some beautiful people did help me, thank God. You always get helpers when you need them. They can’t be the path for you, but they can walk beside you on it sometimes.)
For me, the world’s paradigm for love—find another person, shove them into the empty hole you believe lives beside you, marry them, expect them to be everything for you, live in misery—fell so short of the love inside me, the love I wanted to give, the love I wanted to receive. So over time, I left that paradigm in the dust and decided to be in love with life. I decided that love had nothing to do with ownership and everything to do with that lightning that zinged inside me when I saw a deer or a cloud or a blade of particularly splendid grass. I decided that the very air around me was alive with a force that loved and saw me. I decided that force (which was Love) was interacting with me on a constant basis. I heard its voice in songs and saw its love letters on billboards and whispered my love for it to dogs and cats and homeless women on street corners.
Some people called me crazy. I didn’t care. Or I did for a while. But then, through the years, as I kept walking this path, and believing in Love, I really stopped caring what people said. I realized what they said about me had everything to do with them, with their journeys toward Love, and nothing to do with me. And that even if all of humanity turned against me and decided to kill me, I would still be utterly loved. They were not the middle men. I am not the middle man. Love has no middle men.
I used to live in horror. There was a real and constant agony and loneliness and terror and confusion inside of me. I would look into my soul and find horror, all mixed in with the rainbows, part of the fabric of me. Now, after believing in Love for so long, after walking this quiet, private, beautiful, agonizing path that made people think I was crazy but brought me closer to true freedom, I search my soul, and I find peace. I find Love. Not that I don’t ever hurt. Not that I don’t ever fear. Not that I don’t ever feel confused. But those things are not the essence of my being any more. I can quiet my mind and let those transitory emotions fall away and find a true peace and wholeness and love at the core of my soul.
I wish I could give away the miracle that has happened to me. I wish I could show people who hurt like I did that there is something bigger and truer than this game we are all playing, this self-loathing and keeping up with the Joneses and grappling for crumbs. We don’t have to live like that. One of the songs that started me on this path, one that I heard the voice of Love in, was Tom Petty’s “Refugee.” He said “you don’t have to live like a refugee,” and I decided to believe him, and I found out he was right.
No one has the power to give you love or take it away from you. It is already yours by birthright. The moments that take your breath away don’t have to be witnessed by others to be important. They are important because they are stored in the fabric of your fathomlessly beautiful soul. You don’t have to live like a refugee. Cut out the middleman. You—perfect, amazing, breathtaking, impossibly gorgeous you–are already loved. Even if people hate you. Even if people call you crazy. Even if people call you ugly. Even if people call you evil. That is about them, not you. You are loved. Believe it.
Above the steeple, disgruntled sky slits her wrists, slashes lightning bolt veins until they bleed acid rain.
The chapel shudders, cinched tight in a crackling casing of kinetic energy and original sin. Gutters run red with communion wine. A stone Mary shakes her head, wondering at the mess. Clicking his honeyed tongue, Jesus thrusts out his sacred chest until his heart shows gold. Dogwood roots uncoil, soak sun from soil that hast not yet cooled, has not bothered to understand that this storm means business, is here to drive out all warmth, make refugees of rat families, drown entire ant populations in collapsing tunnels.
Remember how in the Bible they said heaven cracked? It was like that, only passing alley cats found no ark. For them, there was no Noah offering gopher wood salvation. Dripping, they bolted beneath staircases, twitching tails indignantly, howling. Hens tottered, beaks gaping wide, cursing God in six languages, aghast at their wet, dented feathers. Squirrels stood on hind legs to pen heaven a strongly worded memo written in the alphabet of snails, sentences looking something like the slick left behind by a terrier’s tongue on drywall, slippery and bumpy at once.
I wanted it to be like this, prayed for the sky to be angry,
I needed the wet to mean business, to make a damp tramp of the whole world, turn her saucy sweat to mud, drown her horrid history in the irascible sounds of thunder and the silent screams of dying sidewalk worms.
As if memory can be undone.
Once, I tried to uncarve your name from the elm where I wrote it, but it had sunk deep into the heart of the tree, become a piece of its spine. “Mine,” the hungry trunk said, and swallowed your name whole. I can’t say that I blame it. When I was young, I wrote your name in lipstick on bathroom walls, thick, red scrawls bleeding my love onto every surface I touched.
How can two syllables say so much?
Rain washes present tense away, erases the shaky line I have walked between invisibility and quasi-fame. Near-acclaim, like near-beer. A tenth of the flavor, none of the kick in the head.
Once, the game show host asked me what my favorite word was. I said your name. She wasn’t impressed. Didn’t she understand the miracle of you, that there is this man who stands taller the sun and wears rainbows in his hair?
I suppose she’d have to see you to get it, the same way the word “ocean” doesn’t do justice to the ever-swelling miracle of Pacific sand-sea-tide. “There are whales down there,” I told the host, trying to explain. “He holds whole schools of fish in his kneecaps.”
The earth burps at heaven, shrugs, unmoved by her tantrum. Sky slams her door. Grassy ground says, “Come out again when you are ready to act like a lady.”
The storm rolls bone white and cold over the horizon, disappearing two inches at a time,
I tried to hold on, but when was the last time lightning let anyone ride him bareback?
Sky emerges at dawn, dressed in pink gauze, wearing lilacs in her hair. Her singing sounds like the cardinals who gather on the steeple’s point, like drops of blood on the tip of the needle that pokes heaven in the eye.
Sky doesn’t cry this morning.
I huddle here beneath my upended umbrella, utterly undone.
I give you another poem based on the epic love story of Isis and Osiris, a story which is ultimately (in my mind) a story of the victory of the gods of love over the gods of greed.
Recap: The goddess and god Isis and Osiris, perfect brother and sister souls, rule Egypt with love, beauty, and grace. The graceless, greedy, ugly Set grows jealous and tricks Osiris into climbing into a golden coffin, promising Osiris that if the coffin fits his body, he can have the gold. Instead, when Osiris is inside, Set slams the lid shut and suffocates him. Afterward, the loveless, pitiful Set chops Osiris into pieces. That would be the end of the story if not for Isis.
Possessed by a profound love for Osiris, Isis sacrifices everything she has and many, many years to gather her beloved’s body and reconstruct it, after which she resurrects him.
I think often of that gorgeous love. We look at Egyptian myth and think of it as spooky and dark, but as I’ve delved into it, I have found it to be a gorgeous love story. How much must have Isis loved her Osiris to look for him so long? How potent must her love have been to possess the power to resurrect him from the dead? What kept her looking for him during all those long years, when she could have stopped along the way, taken another lover, become a different kind of queen?
Love. Love made her strong. Here is a poem from Isis to her beloved.
IRREVERSIBLE MAGIC: (FROM ISIS TO OSIRIS, AS HE RATTLED IN HIS COFFIN, THIRTY-THREE SECONDS FROM RISING)
At twilight, in the eyes of all the gods that matter, plummeting sun and blossoming moon, trickster stars, I sewed your name to my bones.
At dawn, when spirits made puppets of birds, abducting feathered throats, hijacking songs, I lit a candle, melted your marrow into mine.
I did not say, “‘Til death do us part.” I said there would be no parting.
And so this morning, after storm came and hurricane roared, hungry to rip your name from my lips, banish you from my bones forever, I woke weary but whole, your face still carved on my skull, knowing I would un-be yours the day I undid my own bones, scraped my marrow into a bin and dumped it into the sea.
That misshapen brujah poured her words through your lips, and so what? Her lies were not stitched to your eyes the way my name was when you looked at me that night and said not, “I do” but, “I did before the boiling earth gave birth to life.” And so that grasping hellhound chains you, keeps you from me (as if that were possible), and so what? We married not with our mouths but with our blood. And so the un-goddess’s henchmen hunt me, and what is that to me? They can cut my head from my body. They can’t cut your name from my bones.
She can burn my love letters, make her haggard face into an ornament, hang it from every branch of your tree. She can brandish her hatred, drop her lies in your mouth. She cannot make you un-love me.
She is a blind, soulless crow, shitting incessantly, pecking desperately after shiny, worthless things.
Her bones are made of mud. Already they melt in the rain, rusting, and if she let you go, what would she be?
When she leaves this world there will be nothing left but sludge, no love to make her immortal. A desk full of contracts, dried out deeds, impotent seeds she thought might grow into something to make her worth noting.
As if ownership every had anything to do with love.
As if a fist can keep the wind.
And so tonight I lie naked, my swelling belly giving birth to moons, to visions of you, to lesser gods, to love in its purest form. Undiluted. Acidic. It bathes me, bites me, burns my skin until every pore gushes your blood.
Beloved, I sacrificed myself whole on your altar eons ago. Would be wooers come and go. “No,” I whisper. “No. Leave me. I’ll lie here on this stone forever waiting for him to find me, and if death comes first, I’ll fly to him the moment my last breath leaves my lips.”
Beloved, beloved, beloved, look for me in clouds, in rainbows, in the whipping sails of passing ships.
Two thousand years from now, they’ll find my bones bleached and cold on this ivy licked altar, still inscribed with your name.
It is this. Chainsaw breath shredding throat, the night taking on weight, acquiring amorphous form, lifting moonlight in its quavering fingers, offering yellow-white puddles of light to the gods of yesterday.
It is the sound of the wind, the way it revs like an engine, then screams, a dying woman or a dying car, and who can tell the difference?
It is knowing that if the sacrifice was not enough, then you were not enough, because you gave everything. It is becoming a planet unto yourself, shrouded in the choking atmosphere of your own not-enough ness. There is no sky here. The horizon boils.
It is having held memories in your hands so tightly, making your fists into stones. No, no, I won’t let them go, and yet they slip away anyway, sand snakes slithering through the hourglass, grain by grain, until there is nothing left but dust on your palms, and you can barely recall why it’s beautiful.
But if you let go, lift your hands into the shuddering night, let the wind take the dust, the crumbs of the past, and leave you really, truly empty, what then? Is there life after this one, or do you hunch in the black, weaving shreds of moonlight into blankets, making a shawl of the stars, lying and saying, “I am warm now.”
This place is vast and it is empty and I am afraid to write because the nothingness will flood through my fingers, wash the dust from my palms, tell me what I already know.
In the Bible, manna from heaven turned to worms overnight. Yesterday’s light, yesterday’s love letter from heaven, becomes poison in your palms, and you stare at the rot, loving it, because once upon a time, it fed you.
It is not the valley of the shadow of death that I fear. It is the valley of the shadow of nothing.
Courage comes, not with fanfare or drums, but with a whisper.
So I have to share something kick ass that happened to me recently. It all started last year when I was living in France. (You know it’s going to be a long, boring story when it begins “It all started last year when I was living in France,” but bear with me. It’s kinda cool.) So there I was in this medieval French village, surrounded by ancient stone walls and ivy, guzzling whisky with one of my French musician friends.
As we guzzled, my friend showed me a video of this band he said was one of the biggest up-and-coming bands in the world and one of his favorites ever. The band was Vintage Trouble, and I was gobsmacked.
You all know I’m a huge rock-n-roll enthusiast, ex-groupie, so loving music isn’t rare for me, but this was really one of the most powerful responses I’ve ever had to music. My heart of course will always belong first to my beloved Roger Clyne, whom I followed for almost two decades, but I LOVED these guys. All four of them seemed to be performing with their blood and bones, not just their instruments, which is usually the thing that makes me love a band (and is also really rare).
I obsessively watched videos of their live performances for days and promised myself I’d see them in concert when I got home. I listened to them enough that when I hear their music, it instantly takes me back to France, because they were the soundtrack for that time in my life, which happened to be one of the top ten best times of my life ever. But I discovered them at the beginning of my months in France, and by the end of it, life (and lots of wine) had happened. Also, I had to teach at an MFA retreat the second I got back to the U.S., and I had to edit my soon-to-be-released novel, The Long Ride Home, and my career gobbled up my play time, and I forgot to look up my new favorite band so I could see them live.
Fast forward to now. Friday, my beautiful friend, mind-blowing National Book Award finalist Beth Kephart (READ HER STUFF–IT WILL BOGGLE YOUR PRETTY LITTLE BRAINS IN THE BEST WAY POSSIBLE), referred a friend who was looking for a good freelance novel editor. The friend turned out to be Debra, an awesome Penguin Random House editor, who wasn’t looking for an editor for herself, but for a musician friend. She didn’t give me the name of the friend right away, but we emailed a ton, and I totally dug her. She was super cool and someone I wanted to hang out with more. After a few days, I kinda figured the musician who needed an editor had found someone else, but I was happy, because Debra was delightful, and I felt like I’d gotten an amazing new friend out of the deal, so yay!
But then, Sunday, her friend wrote me. He had researched me and my writing and said I had heart and guts and poesy flair (which made me think he was so cool, cause I’d way rather people notice my heart and guts than anything else, and no one has ever described me as having “poesy flair” before—I’m totally putting it in the special skills section of my resume).
His book, which sounds freaking incredible, is about everything I’m passionate about—resurrection and salvation, Egyptian, Greek, and Christian myth, the Mother Goddess. I was super, super excited as I read his synopsis. My heart was pounding, the way hearts tend to do when synchronicity is at work. At the end of his email, he attached a video of the band he’s in, saying, “I’m the guy whipping up the shamanistic fury on the drums.” (He had me at “shamanistic fury.”) I clicked on it, expecting it to be a small, local band from Boise or something.
Well, the video was of the band that I had been obsessed with in France, Vintage Trouble, appearing on the David Letterman show. I was astounded. He was the drummer for that band. The whole thing felt as kismet-y as it gets. I wrote him a letter, telling him I said, “Holy canole, Batman,” when I saw what band he was in, but what I really said was, “Holy shit!” (I can admit that now, as I’ve spoken to him extensively, and I’m reasonably sure he has no problem with swearing.)
Speaking of my letter, in true Tawni “I don’t know how to restrain my emotions” fashion, I wrote him a gushy Tawni-esque email about kismet and how I loved the ideas in his book and have a history of obsessing over his band. I giddily pushed send, and then went, “Um, crap. That was really unprofessional. Tawni needs to tame her inner-Tawni. There goes that client.” But he wrote me back even more delighted with me and my gushiness.
I have to say, more good things happen in my life and career when I am honest and real than they ever do when I’m trying to be “professional.” There is a lesson in there somewhere. I talked about that very thing to my beautiful friend, brilliant author and profound thinker, Maureen Wanket, yesterday. (READ HER STUFF TOO. IT’S GORGEOUS! IF I PUT IT IN ALL CAPS, YOU HAVE TO DO IT. IT’S THE LAW OF THE UNIVERSE.) We decided together that the cult of cool is bullshit, and those who wear their hearts and truths on their sleeves are the real cool kids.
And then yesterday, Richard and I decided to have a phone chat to nail down the particulars of our contract. I will be honest. I have never been so nervous about talking to a potential client. Rock stars wow me, particularly uber-talented rock stars whose music I adore. I thought I would be tripping all over my tongue. But I forgot he was a rock star within 30 seconds. We talked for hours, and I think we talked about everything but the particulars of our contract—God and mythology and art and writing and music. He was an actor in New Mexico during the time that I was an actor in New Mexico, which was wild. (He was in film and television though, and I was in theater, so we never crossed paths.) He was in Nice, France just days after I left last year. He told me he’d picked me to edit his book because of my energy and the way I wear my heart on my sleeve, and also because of a blog I’d recently posted about Egyptian mythology, which I almost deleted because I thought no one ever read my mythology blogs. (I can’t believe someone though I was cool because of one of the least cool things about me–my nerdy obsession with Egyptian myth. I’m so glad I didn’t delete it.)
We ended our conversation with him saying that no matter what happened with the book, he felt like he’d just found a friend for life. So did I. I told him I’d been nervous about talking to a rock star, and he was about as gracious as a man can be. He said, “Are you kidding me? You’re the rock star. You’re the guru. I’m the novice. I’m here to learn from you.” In a world full of mansplaining (seven out of ten men I talk to don’t even mention my work, and one of the three that does tells me what’s wrong with it or that I was “lucky” to get published), I couldn’t believe that one of the most accomplished men I’d ever spoken to said those words to me. (I said he had me at “shamanistic fury.” I lied. I think he had me at, “I’m here to learn from you.”)
So yeah, as I promised Richard, I WILL be following through on my vow to go see Vintage Trouble live now. I’ve given up being a groupie for eternal Lent (I like being a writer more, and the pay for being a groupie is crap), but I’m definitely down for attending a rock show or ten. Because how can I possibly understand Richard’s novel without understanding his music? (We talked about me seeing them in France in July, and I’m trying to come up with a justification for writing the trip off as a business expense. Work with me here.)
Richard told me he cared more about his writing than any of his other art forms, and considering how successful he’s been with both acting and music, that has to mean something. I’m so excited to dig into his manuscript. And maybe soon, you will be buying a mythology-based, best-selling novel by kick-ass Vintage Trouble drummer, Richard Danielson. I would not be surprised in the least if it happened.
I have long been fascinated by the Egyptian myths. They exist today in very truncated form, and my understanding of them is certainly tainted, at best, by modern constructs and philosophies, religious and otherwise (as well as by the haphazard nature of my study—I’m pretty sure I could study this stuff for the rest of my life and only understand in a flawed, inaccurate way a tiny percentage of what the mythology had to teach). The central myth of the Egyptian religion was that of Isis and Osiris. Osiris was a resurrected divinity who was killed by a greedy divinity and reanimated by Isis’s love and went on to become king of the afterlife. It was a death and resurrection myth, as would one might expect from a religion that completely focused on the resurrection of the dead.
According to the Egyptian religion, souls were tested and weighed after death to see if they had anything in them that was immortal. (The entire Book of the Dead was a sort of cheat sheet for the test, letting Egyptians know what they would face in the underworld, and what to do and say at each juncture of the test.) I have been unable to ascertain precisely what the tests were, but I know that there were twelve of them, and each phase of the test involved being allowed to enter a great hall. Two deities and a serpent stood at the gates to the hall. If souls failed to recognize and name the deities and serpent when they met them, they failed that phase of the test. If they got the names right, they were allowed to pass into that great hall, and undergo whatever horrific tests the hall had to offer, so they could pass onto the next phase of the test, meet more deities, name them, be tested, and on and on until they finally came to the Great Hall of Osiris for final judgement.
If they passed all phases of the excruciatingly difficult test, they were allowed to pass into the Egyptian version of paradise, ruled over by the glorious, beneficent Osiris. If they didn’t, they were fed to the soul swallower and completely destroyed. (Other instances of the soul having to pass through a fire to become immortal survive in the Egyptian mythology.)
Those that didn’t pass the test were greedly, loveless, hateful, lowbrow beings, entirely attached to the mortal world and driven by mortal longings. They were incapable of introspection and unable to recognize sacred things when they met them. Instead, they saw sacred forms only as tools to manipulate and use for temporal gain.
I wonder if this myth isn’t more accurate than some of our modern religious forms, which seem to point to immortality/salvation being achieved by meaningless rituals, without addressing in any way the true “cancers” that plague human souls. Cheap salvation doesn’t seem to me like it does much except make people arrogant. (I signed up with the right religion, so now I’m better than you. My entire life is still a lie, but the pretty varnish is all I really needed to be “saved.”)
To me, salvation is a much more complex, hard-won thing. If you live in perpetual torment, that is what you need to be saved from, and salvation is when that perpetual torment is healed and gives way to true peace. Heaven and hell are states the human soul exists in, whether in this world or another. You don’t change the state of your soul by slapping religious Band-Aids on it. At least, that’s never worked for me.
I resonate with the idea of the fire burning away things that kill us and leaving us truly whole, “saved” as it were. Because for me, that is truly the process I have gone through. Any authentic, long-lasting peace and healing I have found has been inspired and aided by God, yes, but involved an incredible amount of introspection, courage, humility, pain, and work on my part. I wonder if these Egyptian metaphors can be viewed as metaphors not only for the process one goes through after death, but the process one goes through during life.
I was pondering these myths while I hiked this morning, and when I came home, this poem came out. In it, I take the persona of Isis addressing souls who have failed to recognize her, and to revere the sacred power and profound meaning of immortal magic, attempting to use it for mortal, personal gain. I address the fire each of us must fall into/walk through to achieve lasting peace.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THOSE SNAKES YOU STOLE
You took them because their scales glittered
like jewels in the sun.
They were beautiful to behold, and when they hissed,
they kissed your mouth softly,
the most attentive of suitors.
You knew they would bring lovers to your bed.
You saw that when they coiled around my arms
they became wings
made me sing and fly,
and you said, “I want to touch the sky.”
Why wouldn’t you,
brown, bland, bloated things?
Why wouldn’t you want a shot at fame?
So you came in the night
and took them.
They writhed and screamed.
I cried then died.
(They were my heart.)
You kissed their lips.
My snakes bit.
You got what you were after
a trailer trash kingdom
a battalion of bloated lovers
wings to soar above the other mediocre things
hear them call you King for a Day.
What I didn’t say (or tried, but you bound me, gagged me, beat me, left me for dead):
THE FINE PRINT
Those snakes of mine
were resurrection reptiles.
The magic they bequeath is unbreakable,
It sparkles, it sings, it flings the bitten one
into the abyss of death,
and if there is anything in him worth saving
it resurrects a god.
It is the fire of Isis, and it burns.
While your bloated selves gloated,
the mortal me turned to ash.
The divine one fought back,
scrapped her way out of hell
Having done their work
my snakes leave you and return to me,
their fully realized mother.
We three will fly for eternity.
And now it’s time for my true magic to take its course.
Flames flicker to life.
licking at the corners of your mediocre minds
urging you to find something inside to save you.
I will not pray for you.
I will only say,
“May the Mother’s will be done.”
If there is one shred of you that is worthy
of rising into the sun
may it soar.
I would be surprised if you possess a fleck of immortality,
but that judgement is not up to me.
My feathered snakes and I sing and fly.
My Mother’s flames dance behind your startled eyes
A few months ago, I got new glasses—bifocals—which were difficult to adjust to. (I can use a preposition at the end of a sentence now. Merriam Webster says so. ) They made me feel old, which was depressing, and sometimes, if I looked out of the wrong lenses, the ground below me would disappear, or become suddenly small, and I would fall down a flight of stairs. It was fun. During this painful period of bifocal adjustment, my daughter and I took a road trip from Phoenix to Albuquerque. A near-tragedy ensued, an event that will forever go down in our family’s lore as “Mom’s Night Blindness Incident.”
We drove Desi’s newly acquired 2016 charcoal gray Charger, which was her pride and joy. She spit-shined that thing on a regular basis. The fact that she was allowing me to drive it all meant that she loved me very, very much. But bless my soul, she was letting me drive. I had been for about six hours.
The sun was going down, falling over the New Mexico mountains the way it does in a lovely splash of orange and purple and pink. We were listening to a song Desi had introduced me to, which I called the “Are You Ready Mother Fuckers Song,” but was really called “One for the Money”. (My children ensure at least 10% of my musical tastes remain hip.) We were also eating yummy things designed to make us fat. (We have to nurture our curves—do you think they just happen by accident?) Desi was listening to me whine about being tired, because that’s what I do on road trips. In fact, there are several sentences I repeat so often that my children have threatened to make a “Mom jar,” which is like a swear jar, only I put a dollar in it every time I utter one of my mom sentences that drive them nuts. I don’t know why I repeat these sentences over and over. I don’t even think about it when I say them. They are like linguistic tics, fun ways to make conversation. They are:
I’m so tired (uttered in the whiny voice of a toddler in need of a nap).
Does anyone here love their mother? Raise your hand if you do (uttered in the peppy voice of a cheerleader on crack).
Now that I type them out like that, I can see why my kids want to shank me every time I say them. Incidentally, Desi is a graphic novelist, and she says someday, she is going to make a comic based on me called, The Real Tawni Waters, Not As Cool As She Looks On Paper. It’s touching that my children want to pay homage to me in their art. But anyway, Desi and I were driving, and she was telling me about her life, and I was interjecting into the conversation with those two sentences, or variations thereof, fairly regularly.
Just as twilight gave way to darkness, we pulled over in a small town to get gas. I can’t explain what happened next. The road in front of me disappeared. I mean, I saw the street in front of me, and then, everything went black. Panicking, I veered sharply, and were it not for Desi screaming as if she were being attacked by rabid wolverines, I probably would have plowed into a steady stream of oncoming traffic on the opposite side of the street. However, Desi did scream, “MOM, GO RIGHT GO RIGHT! WHAT’S GOING ON? WHY ARE YOU BARRELING HEADLONG INTO ONCOMING TRAFFIC! OH, DEAR JESUS, SAVE US!?”
I screamed back, “I CAN’T SEE ANYTHING! I HAVE NIGHT BLINDNESS!”
Hearing of my sudden onset illness, Desi turned into her usual nurturing self. “WHAT THE LIVING FUCK, MOM? YOU DON’T GET NIGHT BLINDNESS INSTANTLY! YOU’RE INSANE, AND YOU’RE GOING TO KILL US! PULL THE FUCK OVER! I’M DRIVING!”
Calmed by her understanding and compassion, I regained my sight and pulled over into a motel parking lot. She leapt out of the car, ran around to my side, and yanked open my door. I was pretty sure she was going to drag me out by my collar and pistol whip me. “GET THE FUCK OUT! YOU’RE NOT DRIVING MY CAR EVER AGAIN!”
Which was soothing. I climbed out of the car, begging forgiveness. “I’m so sorry, Desi! I have night blindness!”
“Get the fuck in the car!” Desi screamed.
So I did, whimpering, “But I have night blindness.”
When we were back on the road, me slumped in the passenger seat, mourning my newly acquired disease (I’m a hypochondriac, so I spend a lot of time mourning newly acquired diseases), Desi in the driver’s seat, still trembling with rage, we had an enlightening conversation about the incident.
Desi: What THE FUCK happened back there?
Me: I don’t know! I just got night blindness! I couldn’t see anything!
Desi: You DON’T get night blindness instantly!
Me: Well, I did! I’m looking it up on Web MD when we get to Grandma’s.
Desi: I blocked Web MD on all the computers you have access to because you kept diagnosing yourself with cancer.
Me: Well, unblock it! I have night blindness! I swear, I couldn’t see anything!
Desi: Ok, fine, Mom. You couldn’t see anything. Why was your solution to veer off the road you had just been following? Did you think the laws of physics had upended themselves and the road had just disappeared? Wouldn’t the smart thing be to stay on the road, even if you couldn’t see it? AAAAAA!! I have night blindness! I have the perfect solution! I’ll catapult myself into a stream of oncoming traffic and die in a fiery crash!
Me: I couldn’t think clearly! I had night blindness!
Eventually, Desi forgave me for almost obliterating her new car. Our road trip fell back into its familiar, comfortable patterns, me screaming “ARE YOU READY MOTHER FUCKERS, ARE YOU READY LET’S GO” with the radio and intermittently whimpering, “I’m so tired,” every minute or two.
Desi: Mom, If you’re so tired, why don’t you sleep?
Me: I can’t sleep. If I sleep now, I won’t sleep tonight.
Desi: You won’t sleep tonight anyway. You’ve had insomnia since 1986.
Me: . . .
Me: I’m so tired.
Desi: If I get you a snack, will you shut up about how tired you are?
Desi knows that if you want me to shut up, or do anything, really, you should offer me food. As I mentioned, these curves didn’t happen by accident. I am a carbohydrate enthusiast and will respond to an offer of cookies with the fervor of a starving alley cat being offered tuna. If you buy me baked goods, you should probably stand back while putting them in my hand. I might bite you. Just drop those suckers on the floor in front of me and run. Desi stopped at a gas station and brought me a snack.
Me: What is this?
Desi: It’s your favorite. Nutter Butters.
Me: Oh, ok. I couldn’t read the label. I have night blindness.
Desi: MOM, YOU DON’T HAVE NIGHT BLINDNESS!
Me: I’m looking it up at Grandma’s.
For the rest of the trip, I tested my vision. We’d see a sign, and I’d say,
Me: Desi, can you read that?
Desi: Uh, yeah. It says “stop.”
Me: (wailing) I knew it! I can’t see a thing! It’s a big blur! I have night blindness.
Desi: Or, alternative theory, you need to put on your glasses.
I think Desi may have been right. (Don’t tell her I said so.) I think my night blindness may have been a temporary malady related to my bifocal adjustment. But silver linings: We didn’t die in a fiery crash, and my kids have a new way to mock me, which involves running around after me in public places saying, “Night blindness! Night blindness!”in really cruel, high pitched voices. (Our family is very loving. We show love in many ways. We say, “I love you.” We are there for one another when the proverbial shit hits the fan. We cuddle. We give little gifts that say “I’m thinking of you.” And we mock one another mercilessly.)