I don’t want to get out of bed. The silk sheets have warmed to me, the dogs are in their beds, content. There’s nothing that says I have to get up. You turn off your alarm, sit up, stretch. Take your meds from the nightstand and go to the closet in the barest of dawn light that comes through our thick of trees this early in the morning.
“Love you,” I say to you in the dark.
“Love you more,” you whisper back.
I listen to you fill your water bottle and close your office door. The sounds of the start of another of our days.
I pull myself out of bed, no one to report to beyond the two dogs who want to go out. They need to pee, but also, they need to complete the first squirrel patrol and they might even get to chase a Robin. In and out we go, then to the coffee. I haven’t brushed hair or teeth, but the coffee is a priority. I know you’ll need it to get through another morning of meetings. I can hear you on the line now across the kitchen from behind your closed office door, answering questions.
When the coffee is brewed and the call has ended, I grab our two mugs from the cupboard. I pick ones that are matchy adjacent – blue thrown pottery, one with a white rabbit, one with a bearded braided Viking – and I pour yours first. It’s the easier one, just black, no sugar, no cream. I open your door with mug in hand and dogs in tow and we bring you your coffee. A quick chat in your room with gorgeous views of our forest yard and extra heat from the server equipment in the closet. We say good morning. You say you need breakfast. You love on the dogs.
As I leave, you give another “I love you.”
“I love you more,” I say back as I close the door.
I love you. I love you more. The argument we’ve had for nearly twenty years will continue throughout the day. By the time I climb back into the silk sheets that you don’t love but tolerate because you love me, we’ll probably have said it close to fifty times. It’s a reminder in each direction that this thing we have is still there, and neither of us is running away yet.
Such a shaky word that is; yet. I’m not going anywhere, and I don’t worry you are either. Not to any real degree. But human hearts are nothing if not vulnerable, and ours are no different. That vulnerability comes up through the rest of our day with repeated questions: Do you love me? Are you certain that you love me? Do you love me forever? Questions asked and reassurances given, back and forth, a piece of comfort in our normal day. Do you love me? I love you. I love you more.
Dark matter lives inside of me.
It’s a midnight colored spiral that moves from mind to heart to bowels.
It is a staircase for the dark set of emotions that travels with impunity throughout my every day.
It pulls negativity and despair to center where they high-five over chants of “Give up.” “Give in” and “Girl, You don’t got this.”
It celebrates every time I give in, and I do give in, and I do give up. Often times feeling the weight of those footsteps stomping up and down that internal staircase like tantruming children, waiting for someone to pay attention to their taunts. Needing someone to acknowledge their naughtiness, their existence.
The Dark matter exists.
It is real.
It is a reality.
It fights for it’s spot on my stage, sucking out every glimmer from the spotlight it demands until the audience can no longer tell if the performance is going on or if the heavy velvet curtains have been pulled.
Do we applaud now?
Is it over?
But it’s never really over.
I could accept accolades from a thousand loving hearts.
I could throw my arms around a thousand lovers.
I could bask in the glow of a thousand suns.
It wouldn’t matter.
Thor and his mighty hammer couldn’t knock this staircase down and close off its dark entrance to my heart.
The staircase will spiral through me, just as certain as the sun will shine on me. Just as certain as the moon will pull through me. And I will listen to those stompy footfalls until my last day when my eyes finally close.
You cannot conquer time. W.H. Auden told me that one day in his poem read in an English class, and I whole heartedly agreed. It was the truest statement I think I had ever heard, put into a poem that has lived on, through all this time, as one of my favorites. I’d always believed that time and death were connected since I was a kid, and I knew we were all running out of it from the moment we were born. I also knew there was nothing to be done about it. Time and his friend Death come for us all, and no amount of bargaining will deter them. I wrote about it when I was eleven in a cheesy little poem that I can still recite today.
Death is scary and mysterious
Strikes at any time
For different reasons, and in different seasons
It worries everyone’s mind
But death will soon come to everyone
And everyone will die
Because death is just another part of life
Yup, that’s the poem. Even eleven-year-old me was angsty and death obsessed, and a lot of that angst was related to the amount of time I thought I had. The amount of time others I loved had. And the crushing understanding that no matter what, just like the House in Vegas, Time in the end always wins.
My great grandma had that poem in my little kid handwriting stuck to her bedroom wall with a push pin. I knew I was going to lose her when I hung it there with the folded origami shirt I’d pinned next to it. I knew I wasn’t going to be ready, but she let me know she was, and I held onto that. In her raspy, ex-smoker’s voice she told me she was dying. I denied it. She told me she was tired, and she was ready, and she was irritated they wouldn’t let her put sugar on her strawberries. I understood that last bit. She always made the best strawberries and I’d go back in time for her to mke me one more sticky-sweet bowl of the sweet berries from her garden. But Time doesn’t play that game.
When Time and his friend Death came for my great grandma, my mother read my Death poem at her funeral. I was thirteen by then, and it was the first funeral I’d ever attended. I remember that moment and the service that seemed to go on forever. A man I didn’t know talking and talking about a woman he didn’t really know either. He mumbled on, trying to bring some sort of meaning to a death that was, of course, as inevitable as they all are.
From the moment we first breathe, Time starts our countdown, and most of us live blissfully unaware of when that clock will ring for us. No matter what we do with the time we have – whether we use it wisely or waste it. Whether we live gracefully or imbibe with the gluttons – we cannot stop it. We might not hear them but the clocks through the cities whir and chime and Death walks towards all of us, holding hands with her friend Time.
The new year has seen the start of a new writing course with Laura Lentz, and tonight we touched on memories. The prompt I followed was about flashbulb memories. The long-lasting, usually vivid, memories were first talked about, funny enough, in 1977, which wouldn’t have been too much before my little, ever-lasting memory I wrote about would have happened. Did happen? That’s the funny thing about old memories. Even with vivid detail and emotional responses, the true details of events after they happen can actually become as much a mystery as a memory. Below is my flashbulb memory…
I’m on the stairs in my mother’s arms. We’re in the yellow and white split level with the rust red shag in the living area and on the stairs and the bubbly yellow glass alongside the front door. We have to have been changing laundry because when I was young enough to be in her arms that’s all that was in the never-finished basement of my childhood home. And I know I was in her arms. I know I was less than three because Kendall came when I was three. I remember that day – I built a house out of giant box with my 7-year-old uncle, Duane. I remember that but I don’t remember I was doing it because my mom was in the hospital having my baby brother. Even after my grandmother told me why we were building it, surprised I remembered the box house and being impressed my uncle had a pocket knife, I didn’t connect that box to my brother being born. You’d think I would remember that bit, but never mind that, I’ve gone off track.
I have my elephant and we’re going back upstairs from the basement. I’m in my mother’s arms and I watch him drop down the stairs. I know – to this day I know – that it was a greyish white with blue edging and pink cheeks. It mildly reminds me of those Golden Story Book characters. You know the ones, rght? It was almost squeaky-toy plastic with that plastic toy smell that I still love to this day. The smell of pool floaties and plastic figures. I think I was chewing on it? Maybe I wasn’t. My mom only vaguely remembers the elephant at all. She says maybe she thinks it was a shower gift. I know there’s a gift list in my baby book. I’m sure I’ve looked it up before to see if “Special Elephant” is listed among the gifts, but I digress again. Back to the memory…
I’m in my mother’s arms on the stairs with the rust red shag and I have my elephant, until I don’t. I drop it and watch it go to the bottom. And it’s not the first bottom, where the front door is, it’s all the way to the bottom, the landing for the second stairs, and she doesn’t stop to pick it up. We don’t go back down to get it. I don’t know if I asked her to. I don’t know if I could have asked her to, I don’t know how I old I was, but I remember being sad. And now, forty plus years later, certain times of minimal sadness put me back on that staircase. Not monumental sadness. Not true, heart wrenching, gut punch sadness. The simple kind. Showing up at the Sev only to find out they don’t have Cola Slurpees will remind me of losing my elephant. And showing up at the Sev for any kind of Slurpee will bring back a whole load of other memories until they’ve tucked the little elephant thought away in it’s applicable drawer in the memory space of my mind. Oh Slurpees…
There’s another memory with a car trip with little kids and two impatient fathers and mothers doing all they can and a toddler crying for a Slur-ur-ur-ur-peee. For minutes? Hours? Miles? Days? Depends on which one of us you ask, but we do all remember the Slurpees. And I definitely, absolutely, positively, almost certainly, vaguely remember my elephant. I remember dropping him on the stairs and I remember the crushing realization as a toddler that this time my mom wasn’t going to get him, and I was going to have to deal with being disappointed. And now, when small disappointments come up, when I can’t get my Slurpee or I forgot to grab creamer at the store, I see my little elephant at the bottom of those shag carpet stairs, and I remember.
A long, long time ago, someone, somewhere, created a man named Santa Claus. If I’d done more research, I could give you a better origin story for the current iteration, but you know who I mean. He’d existed before under various pseudonyms and with varying powers, but this go ‘round they made him old, gave him a red suit, a sleigh, and a herd of reindeer. They gave him a team of helpers, an address no one can find, and they eventually gave him a wife who makes cookies and helps him keep up with his schedule.
They also gave him a job. Every year he was to fill a sleigh with toys – enough to spread around the whole world – and hitch that sleigh to his reindeer and fly out into the night to deliver his packages. Delivery required coming down chimneys or other various means of breaking and entering, and depending on the family being visited, the gifts also had various levels of meaning and expense.
Every year he makes appearances on television, on radio, on stages and mall platforms to check in with children who promise they’ve earned their spot on the good list, while adults fall over themselves to make sure the meetings can happen. And as they pull one screaming, terrified child after another off the knee and past the elf with the tiny candy cane prizes, they smile and wink at each other for keeping up with the secret.
It’s that secret that I see as a miracle. Not just any small miracle either – this one is huge. For decades upon decades, people around the world have kept the secret of Santa. Even people like my little brother and his wife who were absolutely adamant they were not doing Santa at their house because they weren’t going to, and I’m quoting here, “Lie to their child” haven’t missed sitting my nephew on Santa’s knee for the past 8 years. Even during covid times my husband and I were with them when they trapsed through the snow downtown to a small hut where a man with a white beard and a red suit sat behind a plexiglass partition to listen patiently while my nephew outlined what he would like to see under the tree. And we all went along with his excitement afterward, agreeing with him that Santa liked him and would deliver.
It’s miraculous to me that as a people who globally disagree on so many important issues, who battle and belittle, and war with one another 364 days of the year, we keep up the secret of Santa. Each of us a willing participant in the “big lie” to avoid being the one to kill the magic of the fairy tale. Not one of us wanting to be the one who says “Sorry, Walter, there is no Santa Claus.”
A little something from a 2 minute excercise.
I can’t go on, I go on. What other choice do we have once we enter onto this Ferris Wheel called life? Round and round we go in the universe, collecting momentum to continue forward, bringing the other riders along with us as we spin to the carnival music never quite in time with the lights. It’s a crazy ride, for sure, and maybe it could use a few tweaks. Maybe some safety measures to protect the heart when the wheel spins to hard, but it spins as it always has and we stumble off at the close of it all with a haggard thank you, thank you for the ride.
I will not say another prayer for this world
I will not. I cannot.
No matter color, creed, or crown
I will not kneel with my head bowed
I will not. I cannot.
They say their preacher can speak in tongues
I say I will not hold mine
I will not. I cannot.
They say a prayer will heal us all
I say the time to pray has passed us by
The time to do is now.
When the cries of the suffering are still ringing in our ears
When the scorched trees of our forests are still crumbling at our feet
When hatred’s poison flowers are still blooming in the concrete
I cannot stop to pray
I will not. I cannot.
When I take my seat at your table it will be a show of action
It will be a sign of strength
When I bow my head with you, I will not be alone
The hurt of a million mothers will lead my heart
The wisdom of ancient scholars will carry my mind
And the howl of a warrior will be on my lips
The sacred spaces of a homebody…It’s a difficult task to describe places that are sacred to me, the person who jokes about home being the only sacred space. The girl who didn’t travel well as a kid, and preferred nights alone in her own room to sleepovers with friends, regretting it every time I accepted an invite. My childhood home hasn’t been home since I was fourteen and the house we moved to after that had nothing sacred to it. I still have no connection to that dwelling where my parents live. It’s just a house.
I’m happy in my forest house now, but still struggle to describe it as feeling sacred. I haven’t quite figured out how to make it mine yet, this space in the Puget Sound, though parts of it feel right. Parts of it feel real. When I’m here, I know I’m in the place that will be home for a long time to come. Other times, I sit on my deck and stare out at the trees, the grand stretch of the Olympic Mountains and mist from the Hood Canal behind us, and think it’s still just an almost.
In thinking about this class, I thought about one place I traveled to. The vacation, as we simply called it, where I finally felt like I’d come home. Our first anniversary trip to Ireland, and specifically Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. We wandered through so many sacred places on our car ride from Dublin on the east coast to Shannon on the west, but Christ Church was the first to make me cry.
It wasn’t the holy-ness of the building, or the milling about of real-time worshipers that caught tears in my throat. It was the longevity of the building. It was the history in the stones and the pews and the tombs below that hit my heart. For hundreds of years longer than the country I’d been born in had existed as a country, this church had sat in the middle of a small but growing city, cared for and protected. Built up and torn down, rebuilt and redesigned with countless stories folded into every stone.
We wandered past the heart-shaped box (not yet stolen) and an ancient copy of the Magna Carta, into the basement there, reading names of those entombed, marveling at the gold artifacts that had been stolen and then stolen back. Candle sticks that once resided in a grave to protect them, and a cat who chased a mouse into an organ where both were mummified, all while a modern-day DVD outlining nearly 1,000 years of history played in the corner. The sight of it all together, the TV on the old-school rolling stand pushed into the stone corner along tombs of the long dead, and belonging there, nonetheless, was humbling.
Outside of the main doors was one of the original foundations that had been laid in this spot almost 1,000 years before as a Viking church. Of course, it was a Viking church that spoke to me. The Celtic and Norse stories always being the strongest in my heart. Silkenbeard – as the Viking King of Dublin was known because the Vikings loved their nicknames as much as their facial hair – could not have known then that I would come to stand silently weeping at his sacred foundation. My own newness and the newness of my roots exposed against his ancient, crumbling steps.
You did not need to be a Viking, or a Dubliner, or religious to feel the power of the grounds under your feet. You didn’t even need to step inside the doors of the church to feel the sanctity of the small, rectangular ruin. The sacredness is evident in the care and protection by lay people, continuing for centuries after a Viking King’s death, in the foreign city I felt was home. My sacred home came to me, the homebody who didn’t travel, in the cobbled streets and rolling hills of an island I spent too little time on and have spent countless hours trying to recreate.
Imagine being four years old. Your parents are unstable both financially and mentally, making your homelife chaotic, and your mother is pregnant again. You suffer housing insecurity and food insecurity in your small religiously conservative town of about 600 people where you encounter more judgment than compassion. The three of you are outcasts, judged for your poorness, and both your parents are forced to beg for work, food, and places to stay. The older children scorn you and tease you and make you a target for their own attention-seeking entertainment. You know nothing beyond the hunger and cold caused by your parents’ fates, but it’s about to get much worse for you.
On March first your mother is jailed for being a witch. On March twenty-fourth you are imprisoned with her for the same crime. They interrogate you about your mother relentlessly, using your forced testimony to justify sentencing her to die once her next baby is born. You are with your mother in jail when your baby sister is born. You are with her in jail when your baby sister dies. On July 19th you are left behind in your child-sized shackles when adults – supposedly intelligent, educated, well-regarded adults – lead your mother and others to the gallows.
You were never indicted but your father struggled to collect the $50 fee owed for the expense of your imprisonment, and you could not leave until he paid. Your birthday comes and goes, and at the age of five you are finally released from jail on December tenth, nine months after being arrested. You were released but your life is never recovered, and you are driven insane by the events of your childhood. You die at the young age of sixteen, still in the same small town where your childhood was destroyed, never able to escape any of the nightmare you suffered through.
200 people, over 30% of your community, were charged as witches during your incarceration. They were targeted with zero evidence, only hysterical performances by children encouraged by selfish adults. At least five people died from the conditions in the jail you were housed in. Nineteen of the accused, including your mother, were hanged. An eighty-one-year-old man was crushed to death under heavy stones for refusing to confess to being in league with the devil.
There was never true evidence of occult practices in Salem. Most of the accused were devoutly religious people, in line with the rest of their community. Out of an abundance of coincidence, the accused were involved in political or family disputes or were part of the fringe outcasts of society. The world knows about the Hatfields and McCoys, but the bitter dispute between the Putnums and the Porters was disguised as a holy war against the devil himself with the help of a Reverend, and their enemies paid the price. Some of the accused owed money to the accusers, some owned desirable land that couldn’t be pried away if they were living. Only after the governor’s wife was called a witch, did they decide it had gone too far and the trials and the hangings stopped in Salem.
Once the frenzy died down, the accusers went on to claim it was they themselves who had been taken over by the devil. It was easier to say “The devil made me do it” than it was to admit the witch hunt they’d participated in was a farse they could have prevented. Not one of them faced a trial of their own despite the number of deaths they caused. The town eventually issued an apology and made a poor attempt at pardons and reparations. Your father was paid $30 eighteen years after his wife’s murder, $20 less than he paid to get his daughter out of jail.
Now imagine, over three hundred years later, your life and deaths of the accused in Salem are nothing more than a lure to various tourist traps. The list of things to do in Salem is dotted with “witch tours”, and kitschy slogans cover everything from home decor to t-shirts. The accused remain stand-ins for occultism they never followed, and actual Pagan practitioners have their beliefs tied to times of religious persecution and mocked as a source of dark entertainment.
We still refer to the events as the “witch trials” instead of what they really were, a true witch hunt. A search for imaginary criminals guilty of imaginary crimes spurred on by greed and hate. Even the term “witch hunt” has lost its importance, and people throw it around in modern day without acknowledging the devastating origins. The witch hunts happened as part of a larger cultural shift to further silence women and it was successful in many ways. For 300 years around the globe the crime of being a witch was used against those who were different or in the way. Estimates range from as high as nine million people murdered down to 40,000, due to bad recordkeeping, but everyone agrees roughly 80 percent of the accused and murdered were women and girls.
There is an element of the imaginary when people talk about the witch hunts. We make jokes and cutesy signs linking witches to Salem, and linking Salem to fall festivities even though the events themselves did not occur near Halloween. Like so many other points in history where the truth is ugly, we sweep aside reality to make it palatable that real people were murdered in the guise of lawful execution, and they were murdered because they were different. In the early years of the witch hunts all it took was three neighbors to agree that the accused was a witch to convince those in charge. Three contrary neighbors could cost you your life.
While Salem was not the first nor the last time people used religion, mental health, or financial status to rid themselves of those they didn’t like, it is one we continue to make light of. The fictionalized account of witchcraft is overwhelming when it comes to Salem, erasing the reality of who the victims were and what was done to them and their families. To think about a town running out a few warty-nosed crones is much easier to profit from than the fact that a town had child-sized shackles made to imprison a toddler. So, next time you see a t-shirt for the “Salem Broom Company”, or a little witch knocks on your door for a treat, take a moment to remember little Dorothy Good, and the thousands of others who were murdered by people disguising themselves as the devil.