December 31, 2009

Explosions off in the distance.

Today a fog rolled in fast, filling the windows and world with an off-grey nothing. The house came unmoored and I was floating, anchored to no land at all. Or it felt like it. I am alone this new years eve, which is better probably. I always try on new years to do something, to recreate something I've absorbed from movies or television. All black dresses, champagne glasses, and a kiss at midnight. It has never really worked out that way. Last year was close, I guess. It always feels like adult-pretend-day, sort of. I should know by now that the significant life events rarely happen on national holidays.

I've been on a film-kick lately. New. I couldn't really stand to watch movies for a long while there. They end, and I could never stand it. Even the films I'd loved before. So I watched some films that I know I love. The Piano. I know I love(d?) that film. Still love it, I found. I can see why I went through that weird phase freshman year where I was watching at least a segment of it every day. For months. I can also see why I was a little unhinged freshman year, though probably not entirely because of that. It is a beautiful film, aching. Unapologetic. I remember suddenly why I wanted to make films, or help anyway. I think I don't think about that much because it reminds me of what my life could maybe look like now, and doesn't, and why. AFI seems like a distant, made-up memory now.

It is okay, though. Because that didn't happen right then, and other things did, and now I am here, learning how to be a balanced sort of lady. I don't make resolutions at midnight. It's a thing asking to be broken, I think. If you have to wait for a national holiday to decide something it probably means you are not apt to hold onto your decision. I guess I try to not make resolutions, period. I tend toward extremities, and resolutions can be a dangerous thing. I have learned this the hard way. Maybe a family trait.

December 21, 2009

Memory Books

I am almost finished with a journal, the first I've ever consistently kept or filled. The first entry is dated December 15, 2005. The first sentence is, I want to write a story about disbelief, youth, and magic. After Laura died we read her journals, just to hear her, to visit her again. It didn't feel wrong. My father probably read everything she had written, every sad, crazy word. Laura could be terse, almost mute. But her writing, oh, when you read her writing it was like standing on your tiptoes to peer through a tiny, tiny crack in the curtains of an immense, impenetrable house. Her journals chronicled years of pain and isolation, of guilt and occasionally, every so often, beauty. My journal is several hundred pages long, double sided, and hand written in a varyingly precise script. Since October 3, 2008 I have written in it only four times. But I want to finish it, this chronicle of change.

I began writing in a journal after leaving Fremont for Santa Cruz, when I realized that I couldn't recall myself in high school. I could look at photographs and read essays and the occasional melodramatic livejournal entry, but I had no sense of recognition--of self. I couldn't remember what I thought about my life or myself or being sick. I could remember anger, how I felt about those who tried to take care of me. Nothing reflective. It was alienating, and alarming. Like I had lost years somehow; an era of internal life erased, or simply forgotten. And I told myself that if I was going to try and stay healthy, to try and hold onto some semblance of my newfound balance, I was going to have to try and not forget anything. So I started writing it all down. I rarely catalogued events, or even used the names of people I referred to. It serves only as a memory bank, a diagram of my mindscape between December 15, 2005 and now. It also serves as a flow chart, a grim account of Laura's descent into illness and my fraying mental state. This may all sound awfully awful, or boring, or just unappetizing. But I am so grateful to have it, to be able to revisit a time when she was alive. How little I wrote about her when she was well. How little I've written about her since her death.

I will need a new journal, and to think of that makes me somehow so hopeful. It is a sign, maybe, that time is moving along. And how I wonder what will fill it, what names I'll omit and events I'll neglect to include. What I will think of myself, how my handwriting will change. I hope that it will take account of happier things than the one that came before.

December 15, 2009

On Marriage

I love to sing. I am not very good at it. I don't think it's so much that I am physically incapable, but that I just don't know how to sing versus warbling along with the lyrics of a song. Sometimes if I really forget what I am doing I find myself actually singing, usually when I am in the car or alone. And as soon as I realize it I forget how to do it. One of my secret dreams is to be a wonderful singer. It is probably never going to happen. I would also like to know how to play the piano. And how to make sculptures out of wood. And how to kick box. It's odd that if we don't begin things as children we often assume it is never going to happen. But then you always hear stories about people starting over completely and suddenly taking up mountain climbing or whatever at age fifty two. It'd probably be advantageous not to wait so long.

My grandmother has a bucket list. She'll be 85 next September. The things on her list are comparatively small when held up against the massive accomplishments she's managed during her life. Trip to Maine with the entire family. Set foot inside of the house of her Aunt and surrogate mother, Sissy. How strange to know that your time is limited. Limited by something that will happen in the immediate future, rather than this vast unimaginable finish line somewhere out there, beyond all of the other unimaginable signposts of your future. When I was a very little girl I asked Grandmother if she would come to my wedding. I guess that at that single-digit age marriage was the next signpost, or the next significant signpost. She told me that she did not know, because that was a long ways off. She brings it up every year. A few years ago she told me that she might just make it, but a lot of that was up to me. She also predicted Laura would be married first. I was a teenager at the time, drinking my first real glass of wine at a restaurant called, Trick Dog. I believed her.

I find it hard to imagine that she'll be at my wedding now. With no real intention of being married anytime soon, or even a significant other to pin the intention on, it makes me sad to think that in some way I have gotten in the way of a little girl's wishes. It makes me sad--not that I am not on the fast track to matrimony, but that at age six it was my grandmother's attendance I was concerned about.

December 12, 2009

Personal Statement

I am trying to write my personal statement for my graduate school applications. It is supposed to be brief, and addressing all kinds of things: career goals, personal history, writing aspirations, writing proclivities etc. I have no idea how to go about writing this. I wrote a personal statement almost two years ago, when I last applied to graduate school (that time for film, as opposed to creative writing) and my statement was not very good. It was technically apt, and vaguely creative, but it was squishy and loose and reminded me of something I would have written in high school. It got me into AFI, so I suppose I shouldn't be too hard on it. But now I have even less of an idea how to write this. How do you write about writing? It seems ridiculous, particularly when they make it clear that your writing in the statement will be taken as an example of your writing ability. I am mailing a writing sample as an example of my writing ability, so this seems sort of implosive. I tried to start once already. I sat down and put on "Divenire" by Ludovico Einaudi and opened a bottle of Pinot. I sat and sat and finally pounded out one sentence.

I write about blood.

I am not sure this will work in a personal statement, let alone the first line of a personal statement. I know that it is true. I write about blood. Not gore, or innards type blood. Thicker than water type blood, and all that comes with that. But I am afraid there is no way to get that across without sounding like a product of the gothic imagination, or just heavy handed. It is even more true now that I am here, where my family has been since the 1600s. The headstones of relatives casually stud people's lawns. That, in of itself, is pretty heavy handed imagery, even if it is essentially the truth. They ask why you write, what motivates you. The only answer I really have: remembrance. I am tempted to write something completely off the wall, totally without the bells and whistles of a traditional personal statement. Maybe I will just do that. It is hard when I am afraid to state fact, visit reality.

My sister died in October of 2009 and I wrote the eulogy, and it was the last thing I wrote for a full year. I want to go to graduate school so that you can teach me how to write about something other than sisters. I want to go to graduate school so you will give me a deadline, so I can learn how to do this again. I just need to do something, you see, that feels like something normal people do. Normal people go to graduate school and go to class and have assignments and grow up, and I need you to accept me so that I can try to do those things, if only to prove that I still can. I can't give you a good personal statement because that requires an ability to write accurately and broadly about myself as a person, and you see, I think I have been a few too many people in the last two decades to know where to begin with that. I write so that I can remember who I was before this happened and that happened and you happened and this, again, happened.

December 5, 2009

Slack Tide

It is snowing elsewhere today. Relatives called, excited, wanting to hear about the snow or share tales of their own snow but it is not snowing here. It is raining and rotten. "Cold and miserable" as my mother would say. I don't find it cold or miserable--like airports, rain-days please me. I used to mentally beg it to rain every Christmas because the disjunct between the sunny California day and the indoor tree covered in wintery ornaments aalways seemed depressing, and artificial. I hoped at least for gloomy stratus. This wish was only satisfied once in almost two decades of begging and hoping and wishing, but I distinctly remember it as the best Christmas ever. This year, having demanded that the whole family gather in Virginia for Christmas, I hope to be completely satisfied and have a snow-day. I am setting myself up for disappointment, aren't I?

I am glad to be home. California was alarming and good and strange. As soon as I landed in San Francisco I realized I had no sense of direction because the ocean was on the wrong side. It was like horizontal vertigo. Lateral-igo. My digestive system is still grappling with the immense amount of Chinese, Afghan, Indian, and Mexican food I managed to ingest. Never have I been so pleased to see an avocado tree, or well-behaved drivers on 680, or Miss Hannah Gelb. Santa Cruz seemed weirdly short, I think because I am used to being surrounded by tall Virginia pines. There is too much sky in California, which may seem a ridiculous complaint, but I have thought it since I was a child. Don't even get me started about the Southwest. I went to the Poet & the Patriot and reveled in Guinness and the sight of my favorite bartender (soon to be bar-owner), though my visit was brief because we have all become old people: "My my it's awfully loud in this establishment." We migrated to the Red where we continued being old people: "Man I'm tired. One drink and then to bed!" I am as guilty as the next person in this. It made me yearn for the days of yore, summer '07, when life was all play and almost no work, and the Laurel Houses were the haven of fantastic themed shindigs, spontaneous dance parties, and all the pesto and mashed potatoes you could possibly wish for.

It is different to think of that summer now than it was to mourn it in the year following it, when everyone paired off and grew up and went their separate ways. I now look at it as something that I can't have back, and wouldn't want to relive, knowing what would follow. There was so much that was going to happen, and I didn't know, couldn't know, and I envy and pity that gone-girl for that. I couldn't recreate that summer now--none of us could. We left and now find ourselves too strange and too different to ever go back. There is a moment every day when the tide is neither high nor low, neither coming nor going, and the water swirls around itself and smooths, still as glass stretching out in front of the house. It is called the slack tide. I think that that it was that summer was. A moment of slack tide, when we all found ourselves standing still at the edge of the precipice, and danced there for a while, trying so hard not to see what was coming. I wish I could have held us there, arms around that moment tight. But I could not, and did not, and everything that has happened has happened and all that is left are the photographs and the indelible stains in the carpet of a house none of us live in anymore.

November 23, 2009

Reverse Migration

I am sitting in the Richmond Airport terminal waiting for my flight (years of influence by my father have resulted in my tendency to arrive absurdly early for any flight or movie). I'm downloading episodes of "This American Life" to listen to on my cross country flight while I knit myself a scarf. If I close my eyes maybe I'll be able to pretend I am sitting in my big comfy chair drinking cider and being delightful, rather than trapped in a hellish recycled air filled flying tube of 70s fabric and used-to-be-pretty-now-just-eerie flight attendants. It won't be that bad. I actually sort of love the whole hassle of cross country travel, as a person who secretly loves unpleasant/fascinating situations (family reunions, chats with people you haven't seen in five years and never cared about to begin with, standardized tests).

Air travel also gives me the chance to experience one of my top ten favorite locations: airports. Airports have the incredible ability to transform the people within them into manifestations of their best or worst characteristics. Everyone has seen that immense midwestern mother screaming at the check-in staff. Airports also force people from all walks of life into one place and unite them by giving them a common enemy: air travel and the people responsible for enabling or hindering your success at it (namely, the poor unsuspecting souls behind check-in desks, gates, and security checkpoints). It is as if everyone who works at the airport is suddenly the principal from The Breakfast Club, and we, intrepid travelers, are petulant teenagers who would normally have nothing to do with each other. Instead of Molly Ringwald, you have first-class passengers (businessmen/women and trophy wives in Juicy Couture jumpsuits). Instead of Judd Nelson's John Bender, you have the strong-men throwing back Budweiser at the Ruby Tuesday bar, silently filling with rage until the inevitably lead their fellow travelers into a mob-like-frenzy with the utterance of a single complaint: "Excuse me, ma'am, but do you even know when the plane is getting here?" Anthony Michael Hall: herds of Japanese tourists. Allie Sheedy: actual crazy people who seem to have appeared from nowhere (how did this person get through security?). Emilio Estevez: members of the armed forces. And last but by no means least, Principal Richard Vernon: that sassy southern beauty queen behind the desk, shattering dreams, alarming everyone, and inevitably uniting the people with her crackling, indecipherable announcements over the airport intercom.

Airports are havens for people watching. Nay, the mecca of people watching. It's as if people from everywhere have been plucked from their normal lives and deposited there with inane and seemingly impossible tasks to complete on various time scales. Stressed parents give up on their children, leaving them screaming in the middle of the disgusting carpet (I think I have played the child in this scene). Awkward tween girls shoot daggers at each other from across the terminal while simultaneously experiencing parent-embarrassment-induced panic attacks. People attempt to read each others magazines, eavesdrop shamelessly on phone conversations, and try desperately to pretend that they are not where they are.

I mean, really, what's not to love?

November 15, 2009

Huntin' Season

There are earnest looking men in camouflage and bright orange hats driving around in pickup trucks full of hounds everywhere I look, which I assume means that it is hunting season. Hunting what, I do not know. What they do with what they have hunted, I do not know. Why they are so earnest looking, I do not know. I find their bright orange hats vaguely amusing. I find it hard to imagine that any of them could be mistaken for deer or what-not, as they all seem to be 30-50 and extremely tall and heavyset. How they can all be extremely tall and heavyset, I do not know. I imagine them crouched low in the leaves, meaty hands clutching guns, accidentally shooting one of their fellow hunters. Chagrined, one will exclaim, Well, you weren't wearing an orange hat! How was I to know that you are not a majestic stag?

I doubt they would share my amusement. And consider wearing more brightly colored clothing when I'm out walking. Woods-tromping may have to be postponed until the hunt is all hunted and the hunters all huntless. Whatever they were hunting. Deer I hope, because if it's pheasants or something the hats really seem extra ridiculous.

Woods-tromping may have to be postponed, alternatively, because Tropical Storm Ida has gone and turned the whole island into gooey salty marsh ground. I suppose it's all part of living in an area referred to as the Tidewater, but still, 5 feet high tide? Shame on you, Ida. The winds ripped all the bird feeders and bird houses down. The tide came crawling over the lowland and left, upon its retreat, great rambling lines of pine needles, trash, pine cones, and driftwood. I, of course, missed everything but the aftermath. Today the islanders emerged to pile the debris in their yards and set smoking, wet fires of brush. The ones that weren't out hunting, anyway.

November 6, 2009

The Splendid Quiet

It was hard to be calm at first, in the silence. The quiet here at night can be all encompassing, almost unrelenting. Sitting on the porch it is possible to hear fish jump in the dark water, an owl's wings as he lands in the pines. It is that quiet. Before moving here I would have not believed myself to be a person intolerant to silence. But, growing up on a street within a block of a high school, elementary school, and junior high, I became used to the constancy of sound. Lunch time at the elementary school yielded a ceaseless din. The high school echoed with bells and announcements. Band practices, soccer practices, football practice, Vanguard practices on the weekend. A life set to the omnipresent thunder of the drum line. Santa Cruz was not much different. On campus, the all-hours cacophony of college students, drum circles, quad protests. Off campus, the orchestra of sorority girls vomiting beneath my window, the incoherent proclamations of yet another intoxicated homeless man, the blip blip of rookie police officers sounding off on Laurel Street. Ever present sound.

I should not have been surprised to find myself unnerved by prevailing silence, but I was. The near constancy of sound in my life up to this point seemed unimportant until its absence. There are times, in this house, when I will hear the rumbling off board motor of a fishing boat across the channel and run to the window, convinced a convoy of motorcycles has thundered up the drive. In the absence of sound wind can be unsettling, the creaking of a twenty year old seaside home settling, rocking, enough to drive me from bed. To hear myself breathe every breath, uncomfortable.

I have accustomed myself to living in silence. The sound of my feet on the hard wood floor no longer surprises me, the sound of the phone no longer makes me jump. I do not rise in the night to suspiciously stare out the window onto the driveway, convinced I heard pebbles crunching beneath the tires of an sinister assailant's van. I do not leave the TV on to comfort me. Now, I seek it. I walk barefoot down the salt-worn planks of the dock at night and sit, feet dangling above brackish water, listening to the softest lap of the tide against the marsh. I listen to the Canadian geese at Hole in the Wall, all cackling and ruffling and honking as they set to rest. I lie back on the boards and watch satellites and stars and clouds moving in. If I leave here having accomplished nothing that I can hold in my hands or describe to another human being I think I can still be content. I will know that I came here afraid to hear myself breathe and left content to live in the quiet.


After a somewhat whirlwind Halloween weekend in Brooklyn I have returned to my beautiful corner of the country. When I stepped off the train at Penn Station I had a definite moment of "I have not seen this many people in the last 3 months combined." It was somewhat overwhelming, and a strange realization. I found Jessica and Travis well and lovely and much as I'd remembered them, though now relocated to Brooklyn, which seemed like a very grown up, hard-co Santa Cruz. A hella legit version of Santa Cruz, one might say. When I was in high school a boy a year or two ahead of me campaigned for student body president with the slogan: Rohit. Hella Legit. Ah, Fremont.

It is good and comforting to be back in my hermitude. One of the strangest parts of life on Gwynn's Island is that I can't just invite someone over every time I feel lonely or antsy. To the left is a map of where I live. It looks awfully small, though I still get the feeling that I haven't explored most of the land I live on. A good half of it is still forest-locked or water-locked, and I admittedly haven't suited up and gone tromping around the dingle and thickets yet. I live right around the tiny 5, by the way, on the mainland-facing side of the island. So, on my list of things to accomplish: tromping. I stick mostly to the bicycle and exploring the roads, as it is easier and less insect-ful. I've found that in living alone, staving off descent into chaos is most easily achieved by developing some kind of routine. My routine is very loose in nature, built around unpredictable things like the calmness of the water or more concrete things like what time Gilmore Girls is on ABC Family. Yes, I just admitted that. Right now I am indulging in one of the looser aspects of my routine: mid-afternoon sitting in bendy chair on indoor porch and drinking hot beverage (today, home-made apple cider from a vegetable stand in Gloucester). My grandparents arrived this morning to stay the weekend; Aunt Lynne, David, and Zoe arrive tomorrow. It no longer disrupts my routine to have people here, though I find it harder to write. All in all I would say that I am fairly content right now, and feeling somewhat forward-looking for the first time in a year or so. I registered for GREs on a whim and have been researching Creative Writing MFA programs, including the highly-touted one at the University of Virginia. Rather silly perhaps to apply to graduate school in a field I have had so much trouble with as of late. Maybe brilliant.

My big crumb coffee cake is ready to come out of the oven and I must get in a bike ride before the sun sets. More to follow.

October 24, 2009

Vacant Hands

I cook all the time here, but I think it may be misplaced energy. Because, I am never actually that hungry. I think it is the desire to do something with my hands that drives me - drives me to cook, to smoke, to drink. To have something to hold and control. I should just buy mounds of clay and shape things of it, or wade into the muddy shallows in front of the house and scoop the black underbelly of the Chesapeake into my restless hands. If only writing were a more physical task. Writing by hand is too slow - my hands can't keep up with the words. If only writing were more like shaping things from clay, or chipping away at a marble square. Sometimes that is how it feels if I have a good writing hour, a good writing moment. Like the words were all there before I came across them and put them together, like I just had to discover them in the great piles of wrong words lying in my head. Just the few perfect beautiful words, all buried and waiting and lonely until I dig them out and string them together and they are right. I have not had a good writing day in three weeks. I have been away, or with people. It scares me that I can only seem to write when I am totally alone.

Today I went to see Where the Wild Things Are in Gloucester, and thought I saw it for what Spike Jonze intended it to be, despite the bored children that surrounded me in the dark theater, gently shushed by their confused parents. How wonderful to know exactly what you want to make and to be able to, critics, production companies, and children be damned. When I got home I went on a bike ride with my new camera and was disappointed by the light. Too dulled by wimpy clouds, too washed out. I biked to the empty Pickle house on Stingray Point to take a look around when the clouds opened up and I knew. I pedaled so hard I thought I'd faint. I knew I had to get there. Pounding down the broken-down dock camera in hand I held my breath, afraid that the clouds would close again. They did not close, and the gulls whipped over my head in the wind off the storm coming. It was like shaping something with my hands, like cutting onions. Like plucking the right words from a tangled mess, paring them out and shaving off the excess until it was just them. How lucky to live in a place that opens up in front of me, that begs to be chased.

October 15, 2009


It is raining in DC, and I am thirteen floors up, on top of the Watergate. Strange to live so far off the ground. I think I could never get used to it. My grandparents love this apartment, and I love the roof. But still, strange to know you are floating up so far from anything. I like to imagine buildings as if they have suddenly turned transparent, to see all the furniture and rugs and people set up in little geometric shapes so far off the ground.

When I am sad in Virginia I go to the abandoned houses. There are several on the island, and many in the county. I think of them as left places. Many are so overrun that it is hard to imagine that they were ever anything but left houses. Some I have been in, others are inaccessible, too part of the forest now to have floors or doors. They are full of remnants. In one, a piano stands, keys uncovered, against the wall, a green hardshell suitcase on the floor beneath. Old light switches that do nothing, a rocking horse. Curtains, some ragged and dirty and some hanging brittle but preserved. A tinseled sprig of fabric holly and a small rocking chair with the hand woven wicker punched through. I like the air in left houses. It is still and quiet and full of dust, so that when you bust through the door into a left house it feels as if a long-held breath has just been let forth. When the roof on a left house goes the whole house will soon follow, birds nesting in the attic and the summer storms and salt air eating away at old heart pine. The old houses there stand longer than new houses would, their parts sturdier and construction sounder. They don't build houses to last anymore. They are built with obsolescence planned into their foundations, their frames.

The houses comfort me in their leftness. They stand still while the weather and time picks at them, smoothing away the details of their construction as an ocean does to driftwood. They remain though most if not all of the people who lived within them have died. I suppose that the left houses remind me that time does not stop for anyone. Though their time is coming to a close and the forest is coming home to claim its dirt I am a girl alive right now, and I am standing at the window a person used to open and shut and look out of, thinking about that person and who she might have been and how she might have lived and died and how it came to be that her piano was left there, with this window and this house and this dirt. I find a comfort in that I cannot explain, and when one of the left houses is finally burnt or pulled apart to make room for more houses which may some day be left, I grieve the loss, but know I am a being pulled along by the same time as the house and the person and the piano and the window and the dirt and the forest. And I can feel the ground solid beneath my feet.

October 13, 2009

1 year, 10 days

Fall is proving to be more difficult than I expected. This time of year seems steeped in portent, and nostalgia; the combination is confusing. On the one hand it is beautiful, and I associate the fall with return to UCSC, pumpkin squatting, and general revelry. It makes me miss my friends as they were my friends two or three years ago. Good memories have turned bittersweet in light of what has happened. Fall is also Laura's time now, and probably will be from here on. I find myself in moments of anxious dizziness, fighting back the mounting panic I long associated with my sister. I find my moods changeable and unpredictable, and my focus shaky. I wonder if my memories differ from the memories of my friends. I have trouble reconciling the past with the present, navigating the transitions, accepting the way things are. Sometimes I am bitter. I wish I had not felt so isolated from them before Laura died, and after. I wish that things had turned out differently. But they didn't. It is strange that while I never think of Laura and think what-if? I often think of Sam or Maria in that very regard. This is made more difficult by the fact that I haven't made any new friends in Virginia, mostly because there don't seem to be any people my age in Mathews without spouses and children. The empty places aren't full, and while I will say that being farther away from all the people I used to have wonderful relationships with has helped cure me of some of my feelings of anger/abandonment, I still miss them. I wonder how things would be different had I been more open about my family life in the year before Laura died, but I have no answer for myself. I wonder how things would be different if I hadn't been too proud to ask for help, or to tell them how hurt I was, and am.

I find myself nervous about visiting California around Thanksgiving, anxious about the social aspect of it all. I find it strange that in the year following Laura's death navigating my relationships with the living was much more difficult for me than accepting or processing her suicide. I am afraid to go to California.

October 4, 2009


A year ago today was a bad day, worse even than the one before, and it seems like a longer time since then than it has been. I feel so much older I can't stand it sometimes. My parents came to Virginia for the anniversary and it was not what you might expect- no crying, no little leftover family huddled together. A very different day than the day one year ago, when I went out to sushi with Kai and the police called my boyfriend to tell him to drive me to Fremont. He said, A 510 number, and I bristled. And he picked up, paused, and said, Yes sir, she's right here, and I knew what had happened. I had been expecting it for so long there was relief in it, and after the memorial service was all done and the family all gone I slept and slept, and found myself tired for months. And then I lived in a haze for months.

I am not the same person I was before everything started to go so wrong. I have spent a great deal of my time worrying what other people thought of me- caring more than I could really explain. And then, all at once, it didn't matter a whole lot anymore. Now sometimes I realize I am pretty boring, but it doesn't bother me how it would have two years ago, or three. I am content to be pretty boring, and find I no longer have the energy to put on much of a show. I miss my sister, but I don't, and that is hard to explain to anyone else. There is loneliness in that.

Yesterday I found a wild persimmon tree, and another, and wondered at never having noticed before. Not that I like persimmons, but I do like wild things, enough so that I can forget the bitter sliminess of the fruit and be excited about their existence. I will try to make pudding when I come back. I leave for Pennsylvania on Tuesday, a trip I am taking with my mother to visit her side of the family. I am a little anxious to leave Homagin for so long, afraid I will forget how to live here or forget how to be alone all the time, but okay. Maybe I am afraid of feeling like I did before I got here. I have to remind myself that this place will wait, that it almost never changes, and that the time I will be away is not so long at all.

September 27, 2009

Concrete Details

I write in abstractions a lot of the time, and think that I need to document realities more. Abstractions are easy enough to recall, after all, but the minute detail of everyday life here tend to swim together in my head until I look back on the seven (?!) weeks I've been living in rural Virginia on an island by myself and it seems like one long, variably-weathered day. So, concrete details:

Granddaddy and Aunt Lynne arrived yesterday to spend the weekend. Aunt Lynne brings Granddaddy down every couple weeks. She likes to give Grandmother a break and likes to spend time with Granddaddy. Yesterday I experienced a burst of cooking energy and made the following: Beef-Ale Stew (one of my stand-by stew recipes, although I've started skipping on the buttermilk dumplings in lieu of biscuits), spoon bread, French green beans, and a cheddar crust apple pie. I wish I could show you delightful pictures of all of this food but I dropped my camera in salt water and sand (not the first time) and it has finally died after years of continual abuse. My parents will be bringing me a new one to destroy next week when they come to visit, and then I can start pretending that I am Deb of smitten kitchen (though with less beautiful photography/cooking skills/new infant). After dinner and dessert Aunt Lynne and I watched The Departed and both agreed that Matt Damon's character is definitely a closeted homosexual (re-watch the film and it will blow your mind). It then stormed aggressively all night, complete with thrashing trees and eerie wind howling.

The weather is always beautiful when I am the only one here. As soon as guests arrive it starts raining miserably, driving armies of fruit flies into the house. Hannah, Alex, Colby, and my entire family can attest to this.

I seem to have fully conquered my reading-block after a full year. Since I've been here I've been devouring books left and right, and it is pleasant. Completed reading: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, Sacred Clowns and Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman, Cavedweller by Dorothy Allison, Renegade by Richard Wolffe, The Spire by Richard North Patterson (awful), and The Shipping News by Annie Proulx (a reread, but a personal favorite). Currently I'm making my way through Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brien. It all makes me want to write, which is shocking, and this want has actually turned into action, which is far more shocking.

I think that was all very concrete. Oh my! Uncle David and Zoe have just arrived to surprise us, and I must go join the general hubbub. I will write again soon, with details (and hopefully pictures) of my continued exploits.

Spoon Bread

1 cup cornmeal 1 tbsp salted butter
4 cups milk 1 tbsp salt
4 eggs, beaten

Cook meal and milk over medium heat until thickened and bubbling. Add eggs, salt, and butter and stir in. Pour into an oiled, flat baking dish. Bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes, until top brown and crispy.

September 20, 2009

New Things

I left Santa Cruz because of the people. They made me feel crazier than I could ever feel by myself. I am someone who likes to start clean, burn bridges, and never look back. My father is the same way, I think. I have friends I don't want to lose, and more still that I already have. I feel pressure from the people I am still in touch with to mend relationships that I have long considered over. Is it strange that I feel more stifled speaking to people than I do by myself? It isn't always that way. Around my family I feel free to inhabit my own skin. They ask me hard questions; they aren't afraid of the answers. They aren't afraid of screaming or crying or pain. They are victims of the loss, and living it with me.

The other evening I was sitting on the porch with Granddaddy, watching the water. He said, "Why do you think Laura did what she did?" It didn't frighten me, or make me angry, or make me cry. I felt like I could breathe. I said, "Because she didn't think she had anything to look forward to." He nodded and smoked his pipe and we sat in silence, watching the fish jump.

I am incredibly happy, and incredibly sad. The experience of emotion, real hard emotion, has eluded me constantly in the past year. I felt numb, and faded, and so unlike myself I could hardly stand it. Maybe it is what I had to do to live, to function, to go to work and talk to customers, to be around my friends. Suddenly, here, I feel like I'm waking up, dust falling from me in sheets. It isn't always pleasant. But it makes me remember who I was before this happened, the hopes I had, the drive. It reminds me that I am alive apart from Laura, even when I feel as if half my body has been removed.

I write and sit on the porch and listen to Blind Willie Johnson. I can read again. I want to live in the South for the rest of my life, be it on that green river in Arkansas or here. Last night I made stew for dinner and smoked too many cigarettes and fought with Colby, and this morning I awoke to a clear blue sky and smooth water and was unspeakably glad to be here. My head is splitting open and stories are spilling out, obvious and good.

September 11, 2009


I have been reading, which in its way is some kind of progress. Before coming here I had managed to finish only one book since October. I've managed two in full in my time here. Almost three. The rain has been keeping me inside, and I find it difficult. Colby left Wednesday morning after a trip I'd describe as hard, leaving me to re-familiarize myself with living in rural-nowhere-land alone. As he put it, he had to get back to the real world. His visit was the first time since Hannah and Alex left since I had spoken face to face with someone my own age.

Trapped inside by the weather with no real tasks or direction has given me moments of anxiety and doubt about my life here. Some days I feel as if I am here hiding out from reality, going out of my way to sever my ties to everything that was my life as of 2 months ago. Other days I feel that I am here to regain my bearings after a traumatic few years, seeking stability and the sense of momentum I felt before my life became too complicated to cope with. Some days I feel everything all at once and just want to go to sleep until I can wake up feeling sane. But I don't nap, so this never actually happens.

The sun just made its first appearance in three days, so I think I will go out on the bike while I still can, tide permitting. The bugs are already humming. I am making braised sausage and lentils for dinner and watching Two Lovers. I hope the weather turns around overnight so I can revisit summer a little bit before the fall really really sets in for good.

September 2, 2009

The Whole Catastrophe

After being by myself so much, the arrival of the whole catastrophe was jarring. Aunt Lynne, Uncle David, Mom, Dad, Grandmother, Granddaddy, Zoe, Mihn... it was a full house. I find myself very tired now that almost everyone has left. I retreated to my room a great deal, which was tolerated. I enjoy everyone being here for the stories it stirs up--stories about the family, about my grandparents' childhoods, about the people they knew and the community feuds. We ate fried chicken, butter beans, fried shrimp, black eyes peas, mashed potatoes, biscuits, pot roast, chocolate pie, clams in white wine, crabmeat norfolk, and all kinds of other White family specialities. The day before my parents arrived it seemed like the house was buzzing. R.C. and his wife, Joyce, arrived to clean up the yard and mow the lawn and deadhead the flowers, and Golores spent 5 hours cleaning the house from top to bottom. It was strange to be here before everyone came, when there seemed to be this upstairs downstairs dynamic and everyone was in such a hurry to get the place in ship shape shape. I didn't really know what to do with myself except make coffee and try not to get underfoot.

Everyone seemed well enough--more emotional, perhaps, then in years past, but I'm realizing more and more that there was probably a wealth of drama constantly going on that I simply could not detect as a child or bother notice as a self-centered teenager. Everyone is happy that I am here, though concerned and maybe a little confused. I guess not all twenty-three year old Californians want to move to rural Virginia just as they're supposed to be striking out on there own in the great wide world.

I haven't seen the raccoon babies since Zoe arrived and am worried about them. I hope they are surviving, adorable little stripe-y softball creatures. Raccoons make sounds like branches creaking, and no one else seems to know what I am talking about when I say that. Maybe I haven't mentioned them before. The babies would come twice a day, morning and dusk, to steal figs from the fig trees in the yard. Grandmother told me to shoot them (she's very protective of her figs) and R.C. said, Put some food scraps out in the dingle. That'll keep the coons out of your figs. As soon as Zoe arrived she chased one of the babies into the water, where it swam around for a good hour before vanishing. The swan family appeared two days ago for the first time in a week and came right up to the yard. They were enormous, and intimidating, and very pretty. The seven swanlings are not very elegant. Their necks are rather woobly, as opposed to graceful. They look like snakes floating in big feathery boats. They wiggle their behinds when they eat.

People are beginning to recognize me on the island, which is comforting. I get a full raised-hand-wave, as opposed to the customary one-finger-who-the-fuck-are-you-wave. Colby is coming to visit. He'll arrive Saturday night. I am trying not to be too ridiculously excited, because it seems like it would be bad luck. I think I may be starting to catch some of the superstition floating around here. According to the grandparents superstition was a huge part of Mathews life when they were children. My personal favorite (of many) superstitions: on New Years day a woman cannot come to your house first. Apparently this was of such grave importance that my Great Grandmother Hudgins would invite a half dozen men over for breakfast at dawn on New Years Day, simply to ensure that no woman would arrived first. My Granddaddys mother would bribe a neighboring boy over at one past midnight with a gift for the exact same purpose. Now does that make any sense at all to you? You have to wonder what awful happening gave rise to this particular ritual in the first place. Black eyed peas, also, were a New Years must.

August 21, 2009


There is actual weather in Virginia. I watch the Weather Channel every morning when I get up (particularly given the whereabouts of Hurricane Bill). It has been over 95 degrees for the past 3 days, far into the evening. I left Santa Cruz a month ago, and it's hard to believe.

I made the right decision to come here, though that doesn't always guarantee that it will be easy, or perfect. I still get nervous at night, although not nearly so much as in the first few days by myself. I have started meeting people on Gumthicket Road, my neighbors. They are almost exclusively over sixty. They have lived here, or in Mathews, for their entire lives. My last name gives me some legitimacy. The last name White is prevalent enough in the Tidewater to warrant a whole area called "White's Neck." Maybe that's why I feel so comfortable here. It speaks to my family, the stories of my family--stories I have heard for my entire life.

In the evening I sit on the indoor porch and watch the thunderstorms blow up out on the horizon, clouds darkening and piling and suddenly sweeping in. A week ago I found myself hiding in a closet on the ground floor, the lightning flashing every few seconds and the thunder shaking the house so hard I thought the lightning had hit the roof more than once. It turned out to have hit the neighbors, blowing their A/C unit. There is no weather like that in Santa Cruz. I thought I was over-reacting, a true come-here move, until R.C. told me that it was the worst lightning he'd seen in years. He claims he saw balls of lightning bouncing across the field across the street from his house, on Old Ferry. The storm sat on the house for an hour, but I felt somehow that I had survived a rite of passage in its wake. I'm making Haley's White Bean and Sausage Soup for dinner and waiting for the clouds blowing up in the distance to arrive.

August 7, 2009


Now that I am truly by myself I realize how integrated I am used to being. It is so quiet here at night. I am not used to being able to hear every creak in the house, every swelling of the pine and popping of the metal roof. My favorite part of day is the late afternoon when the light hits the grass and trees and water just so and the swan family leaves their cove for the shallow water in front of the house. I sit on the porch with a gin and tonic and wave at kayakers and boats passing by. Midday tends to be lonely. The island empties out during the week--the campers all returned to what I imagine to be depressing inland suburbs. The campground is all RVs, and every RV has a wooden placard personalized for the family that occupy it--"The Readings from Richmond, VA!" Several Rebel flags grace rudimentary flagpoles at the campground, even during the week when the campers are empty, the beach desolate.

I'm still anonymous here, though I am definitely noticed. I am overdressed for this downtown, in my dresses and sunglasses and nice car. They are rude to me at the grocery store, and I eyeball the pubescent gay bagger and wonder if he'll leave Mathews someday. I make too much food for no one.

A barn owl landed in the lawn last night, about twenty feet from my seat on the porch, and bobbed its head from side to side at me. A pretty accurate representation of my reception here. I tried not to become convinced it was actually an alien. At night I stare out the multitude of black, blindless, ground level windows and try not to hear the creepy Banjo riff from Deliverance, which I have vowed not to watch while I'm here.

The fig trees in the yard overflow with fruit and a flock of crows gathers beneath, pecking at the fallen figs. Gulls dive for fish in Milford Haven and fishing boats leave Barn Creek equipped for the evening fishing hour. I try very hard not to feel bored or lonely, and yell out to a woman in a kayak passing by. She obliges me, and I realize I haven't spoken a single word today.

July 26, 2009


I left Santa Cruz at 11 AM on Monday, the 20th. I have been on the road for six full days, and I have seen all kinds of things I did not expect. I am surprised by my own surprise. This country is so varied and dramatic once you leave your familiar roads. We have been camping every other night, once in the desert, once in an aspen forest, and once by a slow moving river in the Ozarks. We wake at 6 AM and sit eating corn flakes, amazed that we are wherever we are and not wherever we were before we made this trip.We sleep in motels - Tomahawk, Holiday Inn - and tolerate the strangeness of the smell and the noise in exchange for showers and spotty wi-fi.

Nevada was hard and strange, like I remember. Rubble and near-ghost-towns punctuate vast expanses of sage and Joshua trees. We stayed in Tonopah, a town on the brink of memory, and ate steak and fries in a sea-themed restaurant. Old mines spring up between crumbling hotels and saloons; a plague cemetery (1901-1911) opens up onto the parking lot of the Clown Motel (bikers welcome).

Arizona is red, and rock. We stay in an aspen forest overnight and pass a buffalo herd grazing in a nearby meadow on our way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. There we share a trail with mules and their leavings and watch chipmunks. Pinyon pines and sage, a man in Fredonia who still says the word "blackies."

Utah is red, and rock. We drive through Monument Valley and I flash back to the Western units in my film classes. Rock formations like hands line a dry riverbed and American Indian women sell turquoise from tables under makeshift shelters built of cracking planks and tree branches. It is hot, and it is vast.

Colorado is beautiful, all meadows and mountains and rivers. Everyone seems to own horses, and we see elk and antelope. Aspen and pine line the roadways and lakes and streams wind alongside us, beckoning Alex to fish. We stay at Mosca Lake and are eaten alive by tiny mosquitoes, and spend the morning jumping from the dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park. My pockets fill with sand.

Oklahoma is flat and brownish-green. It is impossible to tell how far we've gone, because there are no landmarks. We pass through towns at 70 mph and they end in under a minute. The larger towns have downtowns of brick, but every shopfront is empty or closed and Walmart stands at the edges. There are no grocery stores, only fields of wheat.

Arkansas is green, green, green and swampy. Dead armadillos line the roadsides and signs denote various bayous just out of sight. We camp alongside the Big Piney Creek and swim in the dark, naked and thrilled as the headlights of other campers pass just over our heads. Kudzu coats the branches and my companions get poison oak. I kick a toad outside of the bathroom and bats wheel over the water at night. The long pool of the creek is stone-green and still; a spotted gar the length of my arm swims past our feet as we sit on a fallen tree. I say, I could live here, and know with certainty that the statement is true. Arkansas sits deep in me; the sound of cicadas rings in my chest and I know that I have made the right choice in leaving California, where the trees are too silent at night and the air does not coat you like rain. I realize that Laura will never see Arkansas. I realize I will likely spend the rest of my life mourning the innumerable things Laura will never see. My father is jealous, and I sense in him a wish like mine - to leave what is known in exchange for the feeling of newness, of aliveness.

July 13, 2009


I have been trying to write, trying to pack, trying to prepare. I have been in Santa Cruz for 5 years, arriving for college and staying for lack of better to do. That is a lot of time to accumulate. I did not expect it to be so difficult to decide what merits saving.

I opened a box in my closet that my mother sent over a few months ago. It was full of items she had thought would be useful, all having had belonged to Laura. I never opened the box or used any of its contents, mostly mixing bowls and tampons. I went through it two days ago, knowing I could probably just hand it back to her intact, but feeling I should do my part in the liquidation of my sister's belongings. After all, there is still the entire closet of her clothes at my parents' house in Fremont, still untouched. I was unperturbed until I came across a cheap clear plastic bag with white plastic handles emblazoned with Kaiser Permanente across the side. 10 months ago I watched my mother cut the waistband drawstring out of a pair of Laura's pajama pants and place them in that bag. I took the bag to her when I visited her in a ward in Palo Alto, with Colby. No strings allowed. I sat on her hospital bed behind a drawn curtain and looked at the motivational pastel drawings she'd been encouraged to draw while in the hospital. I can do anything.

I still find it hard to grasp what has happened.

People keep asking me if I am sad to leave. How to explain that compared to some sadnesses, this one seems too bearable. So I give away more than half of the books I still own, and the library diminishes. I shed things--paper clips, filler paper, spatulas, measuring cups, smelly markers, journals, earrings, skirts, plants, and am left wondering why I ever kept any of this. Tape, pencils, stickers, cardstock, wrapping paper, broaches, potting soil, rugs, couches, bowls, garlic presses. It makes me think of my grandmother, who gives away more every year, determined that whoever cleans out the house when she has passed has almost no work to do. She gives away things she has owned her entire life. Trying to prepare.

June 30, 2009

After the Agapanthus

My friend, a painter, blacks over his lines
and packets his pad:
"We never see a place," he says,
"Until we leave it behind." Yes,
and by then it has become someplace else.

-Nicholas Christopher, Crossing the Equator

It has been the kind of year that divides your life into a distinct before and after. On October 3rd 2008 my sister broke her neck when she hit the water beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and died.

Before, after. Before I think I know who I am. After I am like a forest burnt to the ground.

There is a scene in the film adaptation of The Hours in which Virginia Woolf's niece asks what happens after death. Virginia Woolf says, We return to the place that we came from. I am not the one who died but I am going home. In a month I leave Santa Cruz, my parents, my friends, my boyfriend, and return to my grandparents' property on Gwynn's Island, Virginia. Before I leave, and after, I am going to attempt to write something, anything down for the first time in 8 months, 27 days and I am going to share it here. I will try not to delete everything as I go.