Friday, February 20, 2015

So many different colors of green

“I love how the leaves are so many different colors of green.  Look, there’s dark green and really light green and so many different colors of green.”

We’re sitting on the deck at sunset and Grant is admiring the foliage.  It really is beautiful.  

“They’re all the same color.  It’s just the sun that makes them look different,” Audrey argues.  

“No it’s not.  There are all different colors, even without the sun,” Grant snaps back.  

“It’s just the sun, Grant,” she retorts.

My children are 11 and 14.  They are oil and water.  They are candle and flame.  They are the stream 

and willow tree 

growing on its banks.  

They continue their quarrel over the role the sunlight might or might not be playing in the appearance of the leaves on our backyard trees, and as they do the sun sets behind said trees, rendering their argument 

quite irrelevant.  

Their debate has outlived the question, 

and indeed 

my interest in listening to it.  

In my mind I am fading away to a day when I am no longer of this earth and my yin and yang progeny are young adults on their own.  

Audrey is in the library and has been there for more hours than she can count.  Grant goes in and finds her, tucked away among the stacks.  He tells her that she needs a break.  He takes her by the hand and leads her out to the lawn.  There they lie under a tree and look up at the clouds.  

He tells her that she needs to take breaks more often.  

She nods and says that he’s right.

And he is.  

And she promises that she will.

And she will.  

“What do you see?”

“I see a sheep and a car.”

“Where’s the sheep?  Oh, yeah, there.  I see it.  Do you see that big heart?”  

“Oh yeah!”   

Audrey asks Grant if he paid his rent that month.

He shrugs and says he’s not sure.

And he isn’t.  

And he didn’t.

But he will.  

She reaches for his hand and says that she still misses me a lot and he says he does too.  

"I wish she could be with us now," he whispers.

And he blinks back tears.  

She checks her phone.

And I laugh.  My fire and ice babies are finally in agreement and yet in this particular instance they could not be more wrong.  

Because I am there.

Of course I am there.

They just don’t recognize me because in this moment I have chosen the form of a sheep 

and a car

and a heart.  

And a ray of sunshine shining through the leaves.

And dark green and really light green and so many different colors of green.  

Friday, December 5, 2014

We never exchanged names because that would have been weird

But I imagine their names were Chuck and Debbie.  

Lately I've noticed something.  When you're in a big city and you need help with directions, there are plenty of people around you but no one to ask.  Because they are all plugged in to their phones.  And no one - I do mean no one - is going to take those ear buds out of their ears to help you get oriented.  That NPR podcast will trump you every time.    

But if you're lucky you can find a smoker.

The smokers' ranks are also thinning, but they are some of the only people in our society who seem to be willing to stand still for a few minutes and take in their surroundings.  They stand there quietly in their filmy white cloud and ponder.  I'm not sure what they're thinking about but they seem calm and connected and sometimes I wonder if more of us shouldn't take up smoking.  

Just without the tobacco part.   

Last night I was lucky enough to find not one smoker but two in downtown San Francisco, where I needed help getting back to my hotel.

"Excuse me, can you help me get oriented here?" I asked.  I had Google maps loaded on my iPhone and held it up so Chuck and Debbie could see it, because nowadays when a stranger approaches you on the street most people tend to assume you're unstable and they ignore you, and I couldn't afford to be ignored by the only two people in the vicinity who were standing still and not listening to a device.  

And I think Google maps on an iPhone is a clear indicator to the other person that you are not crazy.  

Debbie started laughing.  "Oh no, we're not gonna be able to help you.  We're visitors here ourselves. We just got here last week.  We've been helping our son get settled in.  He's starting a new job in this building right here tomorrow.  We're from Indiana.  We've been staying in Dayton City..."

"Daly City," said Chuck.  Those two words were to be his only contribution to our conversation, but it occurred to me that without Chuck none of us would have been there that evening.  If he hadn't proposed to Debbie on the lake that day in the summer of 1992, they wouldn't have had their son together and the three of them wouldn't have been standing there when I walked out of that building in downtown San Francisco on the evening of December 3, 2014.  

We never talked about how Chuck and Debbie met and got engaged because that would have been weird.

But I imagine that it happened on a boat in the summer of 1992.

"...Daly City," Debbie continued, "But we're going home tomorrow.  We've got stuff we need to do at home, and we've done about all we can to get him settled."  

Their son walked over to us and nodded.  Somehow his frame seemed very very small compared to the giant steel and glass building he was standing in front of.  The rest of his life was about to begin in that building tomorrow.  

And he looked very small.

We talked a little bit about him and his new job and where his new apartment was.  And I asked him if he knew how lucky he was that his parents were there to help him get settled in and he smiled and nodded.  

"Well I'm sorry we weren't able to help you," Debbie said as I walked away.  "Hopefully you can find someone who lives here."  And as I rolled my laptop bag past the dark bars and candlelit restaurants and fluorescent convenience stores on Mission Street, I realized Debbie and Chuck had given me exactly what I had asked for.  Because when I approached them, I had asked, "Can you help me get oriented here?"

And they did.  

They showed me that to my left was the fact that big changes are as scary as they are important.  

And to my right was the knowledge that you don't have to do everything alone.  

And in front of me was the realization that not everyone cares more about their NPR podcast than the people around them.

And I hope that behind me was the possibility that that building is not quite as big as it once seemed, or perhaps that you are not as small as you once thought.  

Someone else pointed me to my hotel that evening, but Chuck and Debbie helped me get oriented.  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Exactly like it was supposed to be

It was the late spring of 2014.

Ty and I were having long and often painful conversations.  If you boiled down those hours and hours of conversation, this is what you would find at the bottom of that dry cauldron.

Proximity matters.

We had one of these conversations as I was sitting in the car one day.  This one was particularly long and it ended with the usual refrain.

Proximity matters.

He and I didn’t have it.  And we had no way of getting it.  450 hopeless miles separated us.  There really wasn’t any hope for our relationship, but neither of us wanted to pull the plug.

Proximity matters….

I looked at my hand on the steering wheel and gazed at the promise ring he had given me.  It was a beautiful silver rose, encrusted with marcasite gems.  The rose was elegant and long and looked like it had been made for my finger.  He and I had bought it at an antique shop in North Carolina on a happy, cold afternoon in February.  

I wondered what I would do with it when we finally pulled the plug.  I didn’t want to keep it - it meant nothing to me without the commitment that it symbolized.  

I didn’t want to sell it back to an antique shop.

Giving it back to him felt mean and spiteful.  

So I left it there on my finger and trusted that an answer would eventually reveal itself.  

If you asked me whom or what I was trusting, I wouldn't have been able to say, for sure.  God?  Love?  The Universe?  

Turns out I was trusting in the deceased grandmother of a girl named Natalie, whom I had not yet met.  


It was Mother’s Day 2014.  

My kids spoiled me.  Buddy spoiled me, although he was  half a world away  He gave us money so the kids could take me for a nice lunch after church.  There, the kids gave me their gifts.  

Audrey gave me a fragrant box of soaps, scrubs, lotions and balms.  It was so perfect for me.  My girl knows how much I love my time in the bathtub.  

I love that my daughter knows me well.  I love that she pays attention.  I love that she is generous.  

And I love that she knows the difference between body butter and body lotion.

Grant gave me a $15 gift card for Macy’s and explained, “I wanted to buy you a lipstick but there were so many colors and I couldn’t pick which one you would like.  But I took up a lot of the salesgirl’s time and I felt like I should buy something so I got a gift card and I thought you could go back and get the lipstick you like.”  

I kissed his forehead and asked if he would go with me to pick out the lipstick.  He smiled and said, “Sure.”  


It was May 30, 2014.  

It was close to closing time when Grant and I approached the Clinique counter.  

I looked at the rows and rows of reds and pinks and corals, and I was touched that my little boy had ever dared to go into battle against this pigmented batallion.  He was outnumbered from the start.

With the help of the salesgirl we eventually decided on Watermelon, and I went to the register to pay.  As I handed her my credit card, the salesgirl said, “My grandmother used to have a ring just like that.”  

She was talking about my rose ring.  

“Really?  Just like this?”  I asked.  It was odd because the ring is unusual.  I’ve never seen anything remotely like it.

She looked at it up close.  “Yep, just like that.  She left it to me and then I lost it in a club last Christmas.”  She looked down and to the side for a minute, as if she were regretting once again that she wore that ring into that club, that night.  “It was big for my finger,” she said, “And I had kind of bent the band to keep it on, but … it didn’t help.”

Bent the band.  

The band on my ring was bent.  

I took it off and showed it to her and asked, “Bent like this?”

“Yes!” she exclaimed.  She looked excited and happy, but then suddenly pushed that back down.  

I looked at her name tag and made a mental note.  Natalie.  And on the way home I called Ty and told him the story.  

“Clearly that’s her ring,” he said.  

“And…  I feel like I should give it back to her….  Would that be okay with you….?” I asked.  

It felt weird to ask.  I wondered if this was what it was like to be a nurse, approaching a family whose loved one was on life support, asking if they had thought about organ donation.  And handing them a brochure with a blurred picture of a rose on the front of it.  

“It would be more than okay,” he said.  “You have to.”  

So the next night I went back to Macy’s and I held the ring out to Natalie and said that I had talked to my boyfriend and he and I agreed that she should have it.  

And it was like she didn’t get it.  

She just stood there, looking at me.  

And as I stood there, waiting for her to accept the ring, I felt an unexpected moment of camaraderie with every lovelorn bachelor who has ever been on his knees, holding a ring in both hands, waiting for her to accept it.  Wondering if she will.  Hoping she will say yes.  

And finally she did.  “Oh, thank you!” she said.  And she started crying.  And she hugged me and she put the ring on her index finger.  

And I floated out of Macy’s, away from the Clinique counter and the salesgirl and the ring, and wondered about the mystery of it all.  

Why did Ty and I have to part ways so that Natalie and her ring could be reunited?  

Why can’t anything be just sad, or just happy?  

Why do the two always have to cling to each other, wrestle with each other?

I wondered for a moment, of course, if that really was Natalie’s grandmother’s ring, or if Natalie was a crack-addict who routinely swindled unsuspecting Macy’s customers out of their jewelry using that same line.  If the cosmetic salesgirl job was just a ruse that allowed her to run her jewelry racket.  

And I guess in the end I’ll never know for sure.  I can choose to believe what I want to believe.  

And ultimately that’s what we all do all the time.  We don't know, and so we guess.  We make up stories in our head.  And the beauty is, we get to decide how we put the pieces together.  

Maybe I reunited a girl with a precious family heirloom.  

And maybe she sold the ring in the parking lot that night and I inadvertently paid for her next hit.  

I’ll never know for sure, so I can decide.  

Maybe proximity matters.

Maybe it doesn’t.  

We get to decide.  

But here’s the thing.  When Natalie put that ring on her finger, she didn’t hesitate for a second.  She knew exactly what finger it fit.  And it did fit.  Except, it was a tiny bit big.  

Exactly like it was supposed to be.  

Exactly like it was supposed to be.  

It was all, exactly like it was supposed to be.  

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Babies were from God, and I was ready to give this one back

My dad had a milestone birthday this weekend and he said he didn't want big gifts, he wanted us to sing a song for him or write a poem.  

I thought it would be cool to write a blog post for him.  So I asked the librarian of my brain to retrieve a memory that I could write about.  I asked her to find something sweet, maybe something bittersweet even.  You all know how I love to make us cry happy tears here at the Downtown Diner.  

The librarian disappeared into my archives and emerged a few minutes later with a memory that was funny but not really bittersweet.  I explained that I was looking for something else, something that would show my dad's intelligence or perhaps charm or strong sense of compassion.  

She disappeared again and came back holding the same memory as before.  It was from the winter of 1975.  

I shook my head and tried to explain again that I wanted something with ... layers.  Shades of color.  Depth.  A memory that would say something poignant about my dad and me.  

She placed the 1975 memory on the counter and gingerly folded her hands over the cover as she explained that there had been budget cuts and they were now all hourly and limited in how much time they could spend on archival requests.

And so folks, this 1975 memory is apparently all we're going to get in this age of austerity.  Let's make the most of it.  

It was January or February of 1975 and my baby sister Amanda Jo was five or six months old. Amanda Jo was the fourth daughter born to Joe and Marie Parsons and she was by far the fussiest,  according to the family canon.  

My mom says that she would rock Amanda for hours and hours while she screamed and wailed.  

All of this noise took its toll on the family.  Even on me.  I was five years old and I was sick of hearing Amanda scream.  In my family and at our tender age, we were told that babies came from God, and I was ready to give her back.  

One day a horrible thought occurred to me.  What if God decided to give us ANOTHER baby?  As far as I knew, we had no control over when and how God dispatched screaming infants, and I began to worry that he had another one for us in the pipeline.  I knew that would break us.  

A few weeks after my dad had an out-patient medical procedure, which at the time meant nothing to me, I sat down next to him at the breakfast table.  I was eating cornflakes, my dad was drinking coffee and reading the paper, and my mother was down the hall tending to crying Amanda Jo.  

"Dad, what will we do if God gives us another baby?" I asked.  

"What?" he asked.

I raised my voice so I could be heard over the drone of Amanda Jo crying in the back bedroom.  "I said, what will we do if God gives us another baby?"  

He laughed and shook his head and said "Druse, God isn't going to give us another baby."

My dad calls me Druse.  Please don't ask me why.  Ask him the next time you see him, and he will tell you a story about my childhood and a woman named Drusie Johnson and a bucket of golf balls, and then you will look back at me and say, "Wait, now why does he call you Druse?"  

I was worried that he wasn't aware of the real and present danger here.  I didn't share his confidence that there were no more babies on the way for us, and I needed to know that we had a plan.  

"But what if he does?" I asked again.

The muscles in his neck and jaw tensed and he looked at me and said, "Druse, God is not going to give us any more babies."

Still unconvinced, I pressed on.  "But how do you know?" 

Now his face turned Cherokee red and he pounded his fist on the table so hard the milk splashed out of my cereal bowl.  

"God.  Is not going to give us.  Any.  More.  BABIES!" he shouted.  

I decided that although I didn't understand the details, somehow my Heavenly Father and my Earthly One had come to an agreement that the roster in the Parsons family was now full and that God would not be giving us any more babies.

And indeed, He did not.  

Dad and Daughter #1:

Dad and Daughter #2:

Dad and Daughter #3:

Dad and Daughter #4:

If I can come up with any more poignant memories about my dad in the next few days I will share them with you.  

But I will not attempt to tell the Drusie Johnson story.  

Because here's the thing.  I will be able to tell you the story.  And I can tell you that my dad calls me Druse.  But I will never be able to tell you what the connection is between the story and my moniker.  

Which, perhaps, is some depth right there.  For my entire life I have had a nickname that I don't understand.  Kids in the south often have nicknames.  Bubba got his nickname from his younger brother who couldn't pronounce "brother".  They call Tiny that because he's so big.  Mater had a beautiful tomato patch every summer.  Trey has the same name as his father and grandfather.  

And one steamy Saturday afternoon in Alabama a woman named Drusie Johnson pulled up in a rusty Chevy, her drunk husband and seven children in tow, to sell my dad a bucket of used golfballs.  And as she drove away in a cloud of red dust, I stood next to my dad and a bucket of overpriced golfballs and said, "Drusie sure married a poor husband."  

And that's the story, I'm serious.  That's all there is to it. 

Well I'll be damned.  She did toss one more memory to me before she clocked out.  

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sweet Summer 2014

On May 31, 2014 I took the kids to the Nashville airport so they could fly to Beijing and spend the summer with Buddy.  

In the following 58 days, I was in Nashville, North Carolina, Washington DC, Beijing, South Carolina, Portland and San Francisco and here's what I did:

  • Moved all of our stuff in Nashville out of our 2BR/1BA duplex into a PODS

  • Visited my old church in Palo Alto.
  • Met with many dear old friends in the Bay Area.

  • Made a few new friends.
  • Got a facial, a pedicure and 2 manicures.
  • Flew to Beijing for a week to see Buddy and the kids.

  • Flew 20,200 miles, which means I boarded 16 planes.

  • Got our tenant to move out of the East Palo Alto house and got it cleaned, repaired and inspected so it’s ready for sale.  

  • Spent 11 nights in hotels.  
  • Visited every US time zone.
  • Put Cooper into a training camp for the summer.

            $$$$$$$         $$$$$$

  • Agreed with Ty that we’ll let each other go.  The 450-mile distance became a real show-stopper and neither of us was able to move.  
  • Toured the world’s largest digital print facility.
  • When I just slip it in like that does it seem like not a big deal?  Because I really want it to seem like it’s not a big deal.  
  • Dipped my toes in the Pacific.

  • Of course I mean the break-up.  Not the digital print facility.  
  • Ate a lot of sushi and frozen yogurt.
  • Gained 5 pounds.  (Or so...)
(connection?  possibly...)
  • Attended my awesome nephew's confirmation.
  • Ate a cro-nut.  (Whose idea was this???)
  • Facilitated classes for 234 amazing people.
  • Got bangs.

Summer 2014 you were sweet and I loved you.  
Thank you for everything you brought me and gave me.  
It was all perfect in its own way.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Tuesday Rule

Pat’s house on a Tuesday afternoon looks like a glossy page out of a home decor magazine.  

The granite countertops shine.  The bed linens are clean and smooth.  The floors glisten.  All surfaces have been dusted and they are free of clutter.  

There’s one rule on a Tuesday afternoon.  Keep It Clean.  When Pat walks in the house after work she wants to get that moment of living in a home decor magazine.  So if you get home before her, do not put your purse down on a countertop.  Do not pull any belongings out of a closet.  Do not mess anything up.  

Last Tuesday I got home before Pat.  Her son Kyle and his friend Armando ("Armando!  He brings us so much joy!") were in the family room playing video games.  

Whatever you imagine when you think of “teenage boy”, these boys are it.  They are in a huge growth spurt and they are clumsy in their new frames.  They take up a lot of space.  They don’t smell great.  They laugh loud.  They eat a lot of McDonald’s.  If you have a heavy suitcase they will carry it upstairs for you as if it were a briefcase.  They are generally happy and laid back, as long as they have a Lacrosse stick in their hands, or else a Chicken McNugget.

For some reason this day I was feeling responsible for the cleanliness of the house.  I wanted it to be nice for Pat, and I wasn’t sure if Armando knew about the Tuesday rule.  So I poked my head in the family room.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” I said.  

“Hey!” said Kyle.

Armando used his one free hand, the one that wasn’t connected to a gaming mouse, to give me a happy salute from the recliner.  

“Okay, Armando, do you know what’s really important today?” I asked.

He laughed.  “I know, I know.  Keep it clean,” he said. 

“Ha, I should have known that you know,” I said.  

Armando laughed again.  “Of course.  I live here too, you know!”

I walked upstairs and laughed to myself because seriously, how could you not?  “I live here too, you know.”

In reality neither Armando nor I live at 300 Alexander Avenue.  

But we feel like we do.  We know where the key is.  We know how to walk the dog.  We know the Tuesday Rule.  

I wasn’t actually planning to live with Pat all summer.  My plan was to live in our empty house in East Palo Alto while I got it ready for sale.  But when I arrived in California Pat asked me, “Why are you doing that?”

“Well, because I can, I guess.  And I don’t want to stay in a hotel all summer,” I said.

“What are you going to sleep on?” she asked.

“Oh!  Right.  Your air mattress.  Can I borrow it for the summer?” I asked casually, as if it were not a plan I had made that very second.  

“Why don’t you just sleep here at my house on a real mattress in the guest bedroom?” Pat asked.  

“For the whole summer?” I asked.  “That’s a long time!  I can stay at the East Palo Alto house.” 

“What are you going to make your coffee in?” she asked.

I looked at her blankly.  

“Exactly,” Pat said.  “You’re here for the summer.  Kyle, put her suitcase in the guest bedroom!”  

And so it was decided.  I stayed with Pat for almost two months.  

We made grand plans for what we would do with our summer together.  We did some of it (moved the dresser, went to the beach for a weekend away) but we didn’t get around to some of our grandest plans (power wash Megan’s house, get tattoos).  

But we spent a lot of great evenings together in the living room, with our laptops in our laps and B-52s on the coffee table.  We read each other funny quotes from our Facebook feeds.  We moaned about everything that was wrong in the world.  We laughed about how easy it would all be to fix if we were just in charge of everything.  We laughed until we cried.  And sometimes we cried, until one of us made the other laugh again.  (“That joke would only have been funny if you were already DEAD!”)  

I love Pat’s house.  It has everything you might ever need.  

Need to snuggle with a ball of sweet fluffy love?  We’ve got that.

Need to take a dip in the pool?  We’ve got that.

Need to relax in the shade?  We’ve got that.

Need to chat while someone else does the cooking?  We’ve got that.

Need a comfy place to watch The Bachelorette and throw things at the TV?  We’ve got that.  

But the very most important feature in Pat’s house is Pat herself.  And that’s why I love it here.