Tag Archives: moon
Rose, Honey, or Strawberry Moon (June)
We dug up the bushes, moving gifts from my mother’s friends, transported them to our tiny backyard, planted them in rows, a fine garden. Suddenly they took over, bursting into frenzied blooms, the metal tags dangling, all hybrids, expensive, my mother’s friends were rich, we weren’t. Tropicana, Peace, Mister Lincoln — but over the next few years they all gave up the ghost, dwindled away to one or two sticks bearing black-spotted leaves, an occasional bud. My mother & stepfather forgot the roses, neglected them the way they neglected their and my mental health. Cases of beer and gallons of wine were lugged home instead. We sold the house when my mother & stepfather divorced, the new owners didn’t care for roses, I haven’t seen the backyard in decades. I used to swing there, under a Florida holly, on a splintery board, watching the roses in their sweet decline. Remnants of a more splendid time, not mine. My dog and cat were buried in that yard, my girlhood surrendered to a more ominous time, a time of sneaking out the bedroom window. I had a purple and blue room, painted furniture, a globe of the world, matching curtains & bedspread. I lost the room when I lost my cobbled-together family. But the absence of family was no great loss, not the same as losing the roses. It wasn’t my family anyway, though people were always telling me how much I looked like my “dad.” We hardly ever had the heart to tell them we weren’t related. For a while, he liked me, but not when I started showing signs of womanhood. Then he despised me, the way he despised my mother.
I was an ugly, awkward girl. My glasses hid my eyes, my hair hid my face, the only things revealed were arms & legs like jointed sticks, bare feet with black soles, a pair of bright yellow & white plaid shorts & a white cotton shirt. My hair bleached at the ends, stiff like straw from the sun & pool water. My smile was alarming, my sullen face more of a comfort. I met my “real” father that year. He was frightening, a reminder of myself yet a complete stranger. I suffered from vertigo in his presence, the room grew long and thin, the sounds bounced off the walls like rubber, and I was covered with cold sweat. I didn’t want to touch him. After he left, I went to swing next to the roses. That rope and board swing saved my mind over & over. I could carry on after that soothing motion.
The neighbor across the street decided to keep bees. The two hives were square wooden boxes, painted white, and he kept them in the side yard, past the driveway, against the chain link fence. They buzzed in and out all day, and I was always afraid of being stung. His orange blossom honey was sweet & bright & bland. I was desperately in love with his oldest son, and the man himself hated me. The mother was slightly less hostile. His son was tall & long-limbed & had chestnut hair & dark hazel eyes. His hands were beautifully shaped, the hands of a pianist, but he was not a musician, he was not an artist, not an intellectual. He should have been, he looked the part. Instead he was an athlete, always running or riding or throwing or hitting. I played basketball with him in the driveway, always humiliated, always losing, but it was the only way to be with him. I humbled myself, and years later when I became beautiful, he loved me back, but it was too late. He wouldn’t speak, and I couldn’t stand the silence. I foresaw years of painful silence broken only by my own shouting. I gave him up, my first love. And lived to regret it. I wonder if the silence would have endured. His nervous, awkward kisses were sweeter than his father’s honey. We lay together on my bed and necked for hours. He was so shy. I was willing to let him be that way. The first time we had real sex wasn’t as good as all the times spent in preparation. We were both too young to know what we had. Everything seems possible in June. Everything seems as though it will last forever. I still have a jar with a petrified sugar-crust, remnants of his daddy’s honey.
One year, my grandfather planted a field of strawberries behind his house, my little brother and I wandered up and down the rows, picking the ripe ones and eating them on the spot. We didn’t care that they weren’t washed. They were so warm & sweet & soft & our lips turned red, my brother’s face smeared pinkish, like a lover’s blush. I was madly in love with everyone that summer. I just wanted to be held. Men were foreign to me, I couldn’t understand them at all. My brother and I ate as many as we wanted, then picked buckets full for later. Washed & cut up, they weren’t the same, still good, but the wildness was off them. My grandfather’s hands as he cut them up were beautiful & careful & solid, I wanted to look at his hands forever. They were not delicate, but not rough — a man’s good hands, they looked loving & trustworthy, and even though he never really touched me, I could tell they could transmit all varieties of tenderness & passion. I loved my grandfather for being that kind of man — I wished I could have been a stranger, so that he could have loved me too. All summer long, I ate sweet strawberries & dreamed of love, a man to love me like a piece of perfect, ripe fruit. I was only 14, still gangly & shy, and no one came along for several years, yet still the dream carried me along like a fast ship, driven by a cool wind.
Ojai Is the Chumash Word for Moon
1. When I See the Moon She Comes Back to Me
Everyone else has something good to tell. This is what I have. This is what she gave me. Even now I see my mother’s face, soft and drunk, pale and frightful, moving through the darkness, soaring over me as mysterious and unreachable as the moon. Her affection waxed and waned, never constant. When she’d had enough Scotch, she loved me, but the way she went about her mother-love, pulling at me with sorrowful, clumsy arms given unnatural strength by liquor, made my flesh wither under her touch.
My mother and father lived in a solidly built house, outer walls nearly two feet thick, in the oldest and grandest neighborhood in their town. They lived where people like them had lived for hundreds of years. My father felt comfortable with his mahogany furniture, his linen upholstery, his hand-woven Orientals. He collected, among other things, antique, cut-crystal decanters. They were displayed in a case in the living room, unfilled, sparkling, sharply defined edges, here and there a tiny chip but that only added to their elderly charm. Things weren’t supposed to be new; he took satisfaction in the fact he’d inherited most of the contents of his house. His life, its outward details — wife, child, home, furniture, and car, standing in the community, salary, and immediate circle of peers — had functioned for many years like a brick wall, and he found himself hiding behind that wall even as it started getting chipped away.
3. Fathers and Mothers are Our First Lovers
My mother had skin like rose petals, eyes like a deer’s. Too needy for most men, she could not be promiscuous — she was not strong enough for that. There were times when she forgot to be sad, if only when some equally sad-eyed boy noticed her. If a boy loved her to the point of obsession, to the point of contemplating suicide, she imagined she might find the strength within herself to survive, but she eventually rejected all such suitors, only wanting those who were unattainable, as her father and later her husband, my own father, were. Remote, a source of funds and orders and criticism, the two closest men in her life approved of her external beauty but not her soul. They didn’t care what she wanted — they wanted her to be like all the other girls and women, to be beautiful and obedient and never talk to dead Indian spirits. They broke her will; she broke their hearts. Distance was how they both managed her. If she could have hardened herself on the inside, if she could have seen either one of them as just another man she could conquer with her flesh, it would have helped.
My father and my mother were having sex one night, and my mother was on top of him and she got that silly, dreamy-eyed look, like when she read a romance novel. “Remember when you were little?” she said, still sitting on top of him, him inside her.
“What do you mean?” he asked. He and my mother were aliens to each other anymore.
“Don’t you remember sitting on your mother’s lap, in her arms?”
“My mother?” he asked.
“Wasn’t it good to feel her arms around you, as a little boy?”
He was inside her still and he felt his penis start to shrivel. His mother! What had she got to do with anything? “What on earth are you talking about?” he asked.
“Your mother, holding you in her arms, when you were a tiny little boy. It must have felt so good.”
“You’re sick,” he said, pushing her off him.
“Sick?” she said. “What do you mean, sick?”
“Asking me about my mother at a time like that, it’s sick.”
She rolled over and was silent, and then he heard her start to cry.
“Oh, Christ,” he said. “I’m going to sleep downstairs.”
“No,” she said, bolting out of the bed. “I’ll sleep downstairs.”
“That’s it, after this I don’t owe you anything,” he said to the ceiling after she was gone.
5. The Coastal Mountains Cut Off the Sight of the Sea
My mother was sent away at 14 to boarding school in Ojai, where she refused to eat. She wanted to turn back the years already. The moon drew her, she felt herself drawn to its inaccessible height, its untouched opalescent skin. Looking back as if from a far distance, she mourned her own childhood while it was still happening. Her eyes rolled back in her skull, the whites looking like two small moons. She howled at the moon without making a sound. Though she began menstruating at age 9, for years she shaved her pubic hair off in secret with an old, dull razor because she did not want to become a woman. Dreaming of the ocean, hidden behind the coastal mountains, she wanted only to be clean. She felt how the spirit of a Chumash Indian warrior possessed her. As she grew thinner, harder against the world, she rejoiced that there would be less of her to feel pain, less of her to bury. The other girls at school were as mysterious to her as stars. They sparkled while she could only reflect sadness. Her clothes hung on her bones and she was sent to a psychiatrist — that very night the moon was full and blue. They don’t understand me at all, she thought. In her own way, she was a visionary, a trend-setter. Doctors didn’t have a name, then, for what was wrong with her.
Finally, after 15 years of marriage the wall between my mother and my father fell. Then my mother wanted to figure out who she was. She wanted her own personal growth; she wasn’t able to focus on anything else. She needed space and time. At first, it was only the beginning of the process, and then it became the end. She couldn’t suffer any more, so she killed those feelings that brought her pain. She didn’t want to try to sort them out just yet, maybe not ever. In the end my mother’s feelings for my father were dead, gone. She didn’t know where they went.
7. She Owed Me that Much, Didn’t She?
She and my father lost their virginity with each other. Much later, when I knew her, she was memorable for simple things: her rose garden and her Scotch & water, her menthol cigarettes and her Pucci nightgowns, her ladylike hands and her A-cup breasts, her bitterness, her resignation, her unending string of sentimental, alcoholic boyfriends. She taught me how not to be. How not to live. A psychic told me she was my soul-mate, that my heart had been broken on the day I was born, that first hazy time I looked into her eyes and saw nothing there for me. One normal thing I remember is hanging clothes out to dry with her in the backyard when the dryer was broken. Once, she even took me out to the movies. Darker engrams always swamp whatever happy little memory-boat I manage to stow away in — like when she drove drunk for the umpteenth time and hit a kid on a bicycle, breaking his arm. I remember protecting her from the police, making sure she wouldn’t end up in jail, but later coldly stealing money from her wallet, cigarettes from her purse, clothes from her closet. In the end, she drank too much, and that killed her.
Toward the end, my mother said she was on fire from the neck down. Her arms and legs felt like they were glowing, orange-red, molten. But her head felt like a block of ice. She was emotionally or spiritually paralyzed, and worried about whether the condition was permanent. She felt like the nerves from her head down to her body were cut, and she didn’t know if they would ever grow back.
Right before the end, she said she could not distinguish life from dreams — she slept little, ate even less. She didn’t feel mad, she felt terribly, irrevocably sane. Everywhere she walked the ground seemed on the verge of opening up into blackness, into fire. If only she could go mad, she said. When they found her cold and stiff on the living room floor, she wore nothing but blue nylon panties and a wristwatch.