A Dad, a Daughter, & a Bike.

I was around 11, hanging out in downtown Los Alamos, NM. On my way to Pizza Hut, I spotted a bike in the front window of Strings & Spokes. That bike spoke to me. It sung to me and wooed me. This wasn’t just any bike. It was my bike. I decided I had to have it, in the way a young girl does with fierce determination.

That night, I told my dad about it. “It’s a mini ten-speed! It fits me! It’s blue, but not just any blue!”

As if not understanding the importance of color, my dad asked me what brand this bike was. I didn’t know how to pronounce it, but I knew how to spell it: G-i-t-a-n-e.

Really, in my mind it was: A-L-I-C-E.

“Well, we can go take a look on Saturday,” he said. 

I assumed he was just trying to appease me. I knew he had no intention of buying the bike, but he had to! I longed for that bike like a new best friend. I’d never been blessed with a brand-new, out-of-this-world bike that was my size. I felt destined to be on that blue baby.

While waiting for Saturday to arrive, I took three trips downtown (probably hitch-hiked because that was the town and the times we lived in). I said I was going to Pizza Hut but found myself window gazing and daydreaming in front of Strings & Spokes like it was my elementary happy hour.

On the Saturday that stands out, my dad said, “Let’s go see this bike.” He asked the salesman a barrage of engineer, Consumer-Reports, guarantee-type questions while I feigned patience.

My dad said, “Alice, that’s a lot of money.” I knew it! Here we go!

Then, to my surprise, he said, “Tell you what. I’ll pay for half, but you’ll have to earn the other half.”

What a perfect moment. His parental direction aligned with my determination. We cut a deal. With money from my paper routes, I matched my dad, and the blue baby came home with me. I rode her to freedom (my mom’s house, East Park swimming pool, downtown, friends’ houses, and T, G, & Y.).

I haven’t thought about that for decades. How could I forget such a sweet memory? And how did it arise anew in me?

Well, that’s another chapter. I’m now in my mid-50s and my dad’s in his 80s, although still an avid biker. By avid, I mean he and my stepmom road their bikes from Virginia to Portland, spinning those wheels and sitting on those seats every day for three months.

Granted, that’s been many years. Still, his 80th birthday bash included several group rides in Santa Fe and Taos. My parents dedicated an area in their home for bicycles. As they upgraded to the latest technology, they kept their old bikes for visitors. My dad maintained a small workshop for the bikes, where he spent many late nights working on them for family and friends to ride safely.

Recently, my parents made the move from their sprawling home to an apartment. They gave possessions away to people who could use them. Uh, I could use a bike.

They agreed. They’d give me one of my stepmom’s old bikes. Two challenges arose. First, my dad (who I may take after) is a professional procrastinator and perfectionist in areas such as this. He asked which tires I wanted on it—the road or mountain? Did I have a helmet? Did I think my new male friend still wanted to go bike riding with me?

Like when I was a girl, I practiced patience and pressed down my giddiness. My stepmom suggested I keep asking and give my dad a deadline. She feared he’d never get the bicycle to me in Ohio from New Mexico. Ah, shipping, challenge number two.

I had an idea. (I’m getting a bike!)I asked my dad if when they flew to Michigan to visit their first great grandbaby, could they check the bike?

It sounded like a stretch. He wasn’t sure he’d have time to get it ready and then he had to get the right box and he didn’t know the airline regulations…

Who knows how many nights he stayed up beforehand making sure the bike would be in working order for the adoption. I can safely assume he gave up plenty of sleep for me, as is his tendency when it comes to fixing ski bindings or car engines or computers.

He called me on his way to the airport to say he’d gotten the bike apart and in the box. He headed to the airport early, assuming the airline would force him to return it to the car, but he’d try. I faithfully told him it would be fine, like when I told him I’d earn my half of the money.

My bike is on its way! So, on the Michigan family visit, my dad spent much of two days in my nephew’s garage putting the bike together, riding, retesting, and perfecting the gears and safety.

All this—not just giving me the bike but staying up all night to pack it in that box, going to buy a tool he has at home but forgot, putting the parts together, making sure it’s just right, asking me to hang out and talk with him in the garage even though he needed to concentrate—hit me hard.

Gratitude engulfed me. This is one of the best ways my dad shows love. I let that settle into my heart like a favorite meal in my belly. I felt full and nourished.

On Sunday, I got to ride my bike and practice shifting. I need practice.

This is a special bike. My dad researched, bought the Tomac 98 Special Black frame and other high-end parts, and built it with love for my stepmom. It’s the bike she let me ride when I visited. I rode their generosity. And not just me. Dozens of people have ridden the bike which now belongs to me. It carries a legacy of hospitality and shared memories.

Yet, once I got it home, I resisted riding, like joy I refused to unpack. My dog recently died and what I really wanted was to go for a walk in the forest with her. Plus, it rained so often. And, I wanted to ride with my sister, but her bike is at her boyfriend’s.

As Father’s Day neared, I knew I’d call my dad and he’d ask if I enjoyed riding. Someone suggested I lie. Uh, no.

Yesterday, before the rain came, I strapped on the helmet, filled up my water bottle, and wheeled away in search of a trail my neighbor told me about. I couldn’t find it.

I found something better: exhilaration, the thrill of riding a bike down a random road, tires spinning, wind blowing against my body housed in a florescent-yellow shirt with pockets on the back. I rode in circles and down neighborhood streets I never noticed, all with a smile on my face that almost felt foreign. But, it was mine. I recognized it from when I was a girl.   

It’s not the same transportation freedom I tasted as a kid, but instead a freeing of something inside that through life got tied a little too tight. I loosened up. I laughed.

My dad (and stepmom) gave me a bike and I rode it home to myself.

Conversation with my Younger Self.

I’m calling on my 28-year-old self, the one who rose at 5 am, trained, and ran the Chicago Marathon.

The one who travelled solo, wore power suits, and slept with married men.

I’m not calling on her morals. I’m calling on her fearlessness, her fire, and maybe even a bit of her recklessness.

Here’s what I really want from that girl (and she was just a girl): her life force energy.

The kind that had been whittled hot every time someone belittled her. The life force energy that allowed her to practice CANI (constant and never-ending improvement) while denying bad in the world and in her wake.

It was the 80s and I was all in. I knew how to do my hair and carry my briefcase. I walked into meetings with old white men and warned them not to call me honey or baby, “unless you’re saying that to Bob or Nick or Michael.”

I was my mother’s daughter and she stood proud.

I want to be the woman I was before my mother died and I opened my eyes to the suffering of so many. Before then, I didn’t know 1:4 people at the mall, on highways, at my favorite restaurants, face cancer.

I felt my loss compounded by the collective. The knowingness of cancer’s prevalence and pain pushed on my heart, but I bounced.

Over the years, lessons and decades weigh me down like a 50-pound backpack I don’t want to carry anymore. It’s not just cancer, but the underbelly of everything.

We’ve been washed in vulnerability and femininity, but also burned in the fires of a heartbreaking society while singed by individual and collective grief.

Unbreakable I once called myself. And I believed it. Where is she?

Now, I call on my 28-year-old fierce, tenacious, that won’t take me down, badass self.

At 28, being true to myself was all I had to do.

That’s all you need to do now, I hear her say.

I see you. Don’t claim the collective shattering as your excuse for not living full.

You called on me. Here I am. Now, get the f*ck up! You think I didn’t want to die?

Don’t forget the chapters I skipped by playing small.

The key is never stay down too long. Yes, cry. Heal the wounds I ignored.

But know this: being true to yourself—even at your age—is the most important rule.

It’s just that now you know being true to yourself involves being of benefit to others. Even when that benefit is simply your presence, just being there. I didn’t know that at 28.

Sometimes you just need to sit with yourself. Other times, you need to get over yourself!

There’s work to be done. You’re doing what I always wanted and never had the courage to do, even at fierce 28.

I always wanted to be a writer. You’re doing that, even when you’re procrastinating or believe you’re doing it poorly.

Now, you’re surprised that might not be enough? Sh*t! Nothing’s ever enough for us!

Hello, Scorpio! Transformation is our game.

Get back in there. You’re making me proud with all this expansion and compassion.

You just need to infuse passion into your actions. It’s in you. It never left.

I can’t return to you something I never took, something you’ve always had.

The life force energy you yearn for asks only that you stoke it.

It doesn’t matter if you’re 28 or 55. Be f*cking alive!

Dedicated to the Darkness in all Women. And the Light.

“If you look at the turbulent waters of a brook, the frantic gyrations of storm clouds, or the jagged zigzag of a bolt of lightning, nature seems full of chaos. Yet chaos theorists find within the complexities of the natural world a hidden order, unseen patterns that reveal orderliness and symmetry underlying what seems like random confusion.” ~ Tara Bennet-Goleman, Emotional Alchemy

Dear Darkness, Resistance, and Suicidal Tendencies,

You don’t own me. We’re not a team. We’re not a we. You’re a force of duality, nature, humanity, even my fears and insecurities, but not my identity.

Sure, I let you in. Hey, I let handymen into my home, but they’re not so naïve as to believe they live there.

Similarly, you’re visitors. Like plumbers, you help me face some crap.

Don’t try settling in or seducing me into believing we were born to be together. I’m tethered to something greater. I’m one with the Creator. I’m the creatrix (woman).

I create change. It’s a new day, like the old days. Women call up earth energy and bring down the cosmic. Our colors dazzle you, Darkness.

Resistance, you’re mud under the lotus. We are the lotuses.

All of you help us grow into our highest, fullest, most radiant selves.

You challenge but can’t defeat us any more than childhood or adolescence could.

We wrestle with you to perfect our moves. No, we don’t deny you or pretend you lack power.

However, have you witnessed the power of a woman when she screams and pushes life through her? What a glorious mess!

It’s not just babies being born anymore. It’s movements, communities, political careers, and voices unheard for too many years.

I’m with them. I’m a woman, born to create. I give birth to words.

I’m a Scorpio, given to transformation. I’ll walk with you a thousand times, Darkness. I’ll fly into the fire and forge a new reality, eat poison, and rise full in my feminine energy.

I see you guys laughing in the corner as you watch me cry, fight against, and then succumb to surrender.

You think you’re in control. Until the light turns on. Bye-bye, Darkness.

Resistance ignites persistence. Suicidal tendencies, you know we’re NEVER going your way. Your stalking me doesn’t make me inclined to marry you. I’ve made vows with life.

We all have. Women made vows with life. So, we dance in circles under full moons.

We were made for this world, these times, these forces.

We are here. Watch us glow.

How I Make Peace with the Day my Mother Died.

“Everyone takes time to adjust to death, and being able to express your sadness is a sign of an emotionally balanced person.” ~ Alexandra Stoddard, The Art of the Possible

I prayed for peace. She snuck in at 8:02 am on Sunday, April 28, 2019.

Just as I realize her “random” presence, I remember: this is the day my mother died, in 1995. I think it happened at 10 am but have no idea if I’m right.

Here’s what I know for sure about the day my mother died:

Not long before the final event, my sister and I were leaving the hospital when a nurse stopped us and said: “If that was my mom, I wouldn’t leave now.” Her eyes implored us as much as her words.

We turned around.

We told our stepfather what the nurse said.

My stepfather and my sister stood on one side of my mother’s bed. I sat on a stool on the other side.

My brother awaited my mother on the other other side.

Somebody had to decide. It almost seemed a dream that my stepdad and sister deemed me worthy of, if nothing else, announcing what we’d all concluded.

In that moment, I wanted to be as brave as my mother believed me to be.

I clung to my faith. God, please help me. Is this the right thing?

A sweet ether of peace, like the kind that sweeps your heart when you see a rainbow or falling stars, tingled from my toes up through my body and back down, pouring peace into me like warm water, loosening my knotted brain and soothing my vulnerable heart.

I told the too-many people in white coats we were a go on the goodbye.

“You can turn it off now.” With the words barely spoken, panic hit.

Oh, God! Oh, God! I’m so scared! If I’m doing the right thing, show me again!

Fear settled. The soft tingles and warm wash spread through my body like butter melting on toast.

The machine to defy death was turned off. My mom stopped breathing.

The medical students and staff tried to smoothly step out, so they could go study and save living patients.

One nurse said, “You can stay in here as long as you like.” She said it as kindly as if she was saying, “It’s okay, honey. Your momma’s going to be alright.”

Her words landed absurd. My mom was gone. Just a body lay there.

My sister said she didn’t need to stay either.

As we walked down the hall, I noticed the staff who’d greeted us by name before now rendered speechless.

Except for one nurse who arrived from another floor, where my mom previously stayed.

I don’t remember this nurse’s name, but Nancy seems nice. Nancy said she felt it the moment my mother passed. She wanted to be sure to share my mother’s words, spoken in late night hours when we’d left her side.

Nancy told me my mom said she was proud of me for living life on my own terms and not letting society dictate my decisions, for being true to myself.

Nancy conveyed directly to my sister my mom’s calling her out as an extraordinary mother and woman. At least that’s what I remember.

I floated in a cloud of angel energy and having my mom’s love passed on to me through nurse Nancy. The medicine of her words entered me like the blood platelets injected into my mother’s veins.

The medicine gave me energy to move my feet, ride the elevator, and walk out of the hospital to be blasted with sweet New Mexican sunshine—bolder than death.

We walked the dirt path back to Casa Esperanza (House of Hope), where families of those fighting cancer stay. We’d be checking out.

A young couple walked in front of us, swinging their clasped hands. I thought they might start skipping. I thought about the rocks under my feet.

The lovers stopped and turned into each other for a kiss. Their voices sounded like a love song, although I couldn’t hear the words.

Their happiness hit me like a cold California ocean wave. My brain troubled with conflicting new files.

We sped past the couple, got back to the casa, and packed our bags. We cleaned the space where I learned to love Jay Leno and late nights laughing with my sister while our schedules overlapped on the roller coaster ride of my mom’s cancer.

Her cancer grew from grief that grabbed her five years prior, when her only son (our brother) died on a cool desert night in December on an Arizona highway that stretched to a place my mother would thereafter yearn to be—with her son.

She couldn’t find peace after my brother passed.

Today, 24 years after my mother’s death, she reminds me of what she didn’t know then.

It’s possible to let the peace sneak in.

I welcome it with the rustling of lime-green leaves on trees before me as I read The Granta Book of the Family and an essay called “The Business of Mourning.”

I sip coffee and think of mornings before my high school classes started and I stopped by my mom’s office for coffee.

Her eyes lit up at the sight of me

Peace. I can feel it still today.

Love Letter to a Black Lab.

“Phoenix: a person or thing [dog] regarded as uniquely remarkable in some respect.” ~  Siri

My Darling Phoenix,

Years ago, I stayed up all night with you and said goodbye
the first time you had Lyme when we lived with Lee.
You were so sick it echoed throughout his house
when you vomited on those ocean-slate floors.

But you got up, got well, and we forgot
how sick you were when we moved to Ohio
and how hard we worked to make you well.

We walked in the woods five days a week,
shared a bed, a deck, and a life.
You nurtured my sister through grief—
And a couple years later, did the same for me.

You listened to me scream in the car
as we drove across the country,
And witnessed me dancing
in the kitchen with a dead man.

My road trip buddy,
you protected me
by loving strangers.

When I left you to travel,
the neighbor boy diagnosed:
Master Separation Anxiety.

I’ve never been your master,
but I’m definitely your mom.

We’re as in sync as sisters.

Two years ago, when we took the trip out west,
(hotels and elevators, oh my!)
I fretted about how to treat your new case of Lyme.
You responded to those meds like a headache to Excedrin.

More walks in the woods.
More friends falling for you.
More snuggling and road trips.

What adventures we’ve shared!

But, now I’m up with you all night
while you fight for your life and my love.

I say it again: I love you, Baby.

You’re the best dog in the world.

I want you to get well.

I lean down and
Kiss your black velvet head
A dozen times.

I hold your swollen paws
And tell you: If it’s time for you to go, it’s okay.
Say hello to Kevin and Cassie and
All my loved ones on the other side.

You’re such a good girl, Phoenix.
You’ve been my true companion.
I couldn’t have asked for any better.

I love you.
I’m sorry you had to hurt.
Thank you for being mine—
The best dog in the world.

Thank you for showing me how to rise from the ashes repeatedly.

One more time, girl?

 

 

On Forgiving Death.

“Unforgiveness is fueled by rumination—we keep rehashing sad experiences.” ~ Gustavo Razzetti

I’ve proactively sought to forgive my parents, husbands, bosses, and boyfriends who were on my path to teach me lessons.

I even forgave my rapist. Not because he changed, or we engaged in conversation, but because the experience cut into me and buried itself so deep I had to release it or be poisoned for life.

Scarred maybe. Destroyed never. Even if it means forgiveness.

When I read Razzitti’s words, “Unforgiveness is fueled by rumination—we keep rehashing sad experiences,” I realize I haven’t forgiven Death.

Death, I’m furious at you for taking my brother, mother, and brother-in-law. Those losses knocked me out. Still, I rose to grow more aware and compassionate.

Then, you took my beloved. How dare you steal the man who fit me in my 50s after I’d tried so many others?

After befriending me for 25 years and calling me Ice, Kevin melted me. He became my Fire. We dove into crazy, sexy, cool love, as delicious as morning coffee and as comfortable as a favorite pair of jeans.

He vowed to give me the authenticity I craved, danced congruent, and swiped away my walls with his magic-eraser heart.

His arms were my home. He got me, and I got him. No one was pretending. We lived in a no-bullshit zone.

You snuck in and stole him in the night, Death. You blew like an explosion on our boat of bliss.

WTF?! Why didn’t you take one of those other dudes? Why did you take my Fire?

I’m so f*cking mad and there’s nobody to be mad at besides the pharmaceutical giant who rendered him a statistical cost of doing business. Who’s to prove what caused his heart attack?

It doesn’t matter. You took him from me, Death! You snatched him while he slept, happily packed to come see me.

F*ck you, Death! I’m angry at your cruelty. Why did you take him from me?

Can I decide to forgive you? I’m not there yet, but I’m trying.

I see you come to everyone. Maybe it was his time.

Maybe in the spiritual world we made this agreement with you. I’d like to renegotiate.

Can I renegotiate how I feel about you, Death? Or are you my forever enemy? You’re clearly the taker, but do you have a benevolent side?

It’s easy to see when I sit at the service of a 90-year-old Quaker woman who proactively chose to leave life’s party and left a lingering breeze of easy love in her wake. She got to choose.

It’s harder to forgive you, Death when you take a 22-year-old just on the verge of building her solid foundation. How do you do this to parents, Death?

Life and Death. How can I accept you, forgive you for the role you’ve been assigned, and not ruminate on all it’s cost me?

I forgive you, Death. That’s me practicing. I forgive you for putting out the Fire. Nope, I’m not there yet.

Was it a gang of angels who snatched my beloved or did you, Death invite my Fire to a party he couldn’t refuse?

He tells me the music there is better than any rock concert he attended here, even though he lived the rock and roll lifestyle for decades.

Did you hold the door, Death, while Kevin’s mother stood in the doorway inviting him to the other side?

Kevin tells me he can do so much more to help me now. I believe as much as I miss his physicality.

I attempt to forgive you, Death so I may welcome conversations and opportunities with Kevin on the other side.

It’s been three years. I must forgive you, Death.

May I use these experiences with you to be of benefit and stand beside others when their loved ones are greeted by you.

My intention is to forgive so I may live without anger in my heart and serve with love.

But, I see you coming around the corner again, inviting my soul-companion pet, my Lab partner Phoenix, my dog who is, as Kevin would say, “my dawg,” to go to another party I’m not invited to, one on the other side, where my loved ones dance to music I cannot hear.

I’m left to repress my anger and disdain for you, Death. Forgiveness hasn’t become me, yet.

Maybe it isn’t just the rehashing of sad experiences, but the repetition of them. Can you give me a break here, Death?

Please, can you let me rest so I may rise in forgiveness?

How to Practice Love.

If you’re without a sweetheart, embrace your lovely life in all its messiness, the way a lover embraces her mate with messy hair in the morning.

Practice yoga—kundalini preferably, and meditation. Practice silence and prayer and listening to the sounds of birds outside the morning window.

Practice healthy eating, clean eating—organic, water, and raw.

Gather your wits, but never lose your wonder.

Be brave, be bold, but never lose the sight of the beauty.

You will be tested. At times, you will surely break. Often, that’s where the beauty lies: in the wreckage.

Trust your body and care for it as well as you do your dog.

Receive as well as you give, so you may be nourished by humility and gratitude pumping through your heart and soothing your chaotic mind.

Suck in the joy.

It’s Valentine’s Day. Choose love.

If you have that special someone, celebrate.

If you’re without a sweetheart, embrace your lovely life in all its messiness, the way a lover embraces her mate with messy hair in the morning.

Find your dazzling eyes in the mirror. Take a good, long gaze. Lean into the divine.

See your glowing 7th chakra above your head, impossibly connected to beyond the stars, as well as your very heart, and culminating in your throat. Speak love.

Let the radiance you’ve shown others reflect home and back out the way a diamond’s brilliance bounces under grocery store lights.

Bask in nature’s glow. Dance to her rhythm. Sway with love the way 40-foot green trees sway with the wind under the veil of the thin blue sky.

Sip water and get drunk on wonder.

Today is a day of love.