Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Dent in the Mattress

Rhea turned on the light with angst. She reached over to her side with her spare hand - it was empty. No 210lb body of muscle and breast lying next to her. She tried to shake the image and took a deep breath. The smell of ginger bread filled her head as she remembered her son and daughter-in-law were over. They were probably baking cookies for their son. She tried to let the thought of sinking her teeth into something warm and brown comfort her.  It was useless.

Mich used to stand by the window naked and looking out onto the street. Rhea often tried to recall what made Mich so fearless. Was it her broad shoulders she developed over time from lifting one iron wheel after another?? Or was it the machismo men surrounding her from birth who taught her to stand in the morning light without care as to who might see the bundle of curly brown hair at the center of her being??

Rhea found that hair amusing, since she was loosing hers. Falling for a woman in her early 30s when she herself was pushing slightly past 50 might have been a wrong move but Rhea could not ignore the sudden pounding of her hear when that woman's eyes adorned her.

It was 2013 when the summer never seemed to end. The San Fernando Valley was a sweltering pot of heat and exhaust. Anger filled the pores of every citizen. That was the year Coby was born, her grandson - the child of Brandon and Amanda Patterson. She recalled, now, putting on her own pair of jeans how differently her son walked after becoming a father. How suddenly it meant putting on a pair of pants with pride and honor. Rhea's silver bracelets dangled on her wrists as she held up her head and sighed. Her long brown hair draped over her back side like a blanket. She marveled at the wonder of children and how utterly helpless parents are. When Coby was born his pink, practically translucent skin turned blue. Rhea's heart dropped at the knowing, the knowing that Brandon was too young to have known, too innocent still in his 30s, of what could possibly happen. He knew it was bad. Amanda knew too. But Rhea, for the first time since she was a girl,  prayed to a God she ignored and begged for help. The doctor took her blue grandson and put him in a plastic box. She watched that little boy struggle to open his eyes, his wrinkly hands barely able to expand.

Rhea broke at the site Brandon weeping before the glass window, the wall keeping him from his own flesh and blood. It was several weeks of monitoring, going back and forth with the doctor as they tried to assess what went wrong inside Amanda's womb. Rhea found herself examining the tummy of her daughter-in-law wondering what could have gone so wrong in such a small space. Almost a month went by before a new nurse took over. The old nurse was transferred to a new hospital and in walked their lives a big tower of a woman. Large hands with thick veins. Thighs that competed with lions. The new nurse picked up the tiny creature with such confidence and such ease and held him in against her shoulder, allowing him to breath in a different way. Rhea leaned in. She was glued to the glass wall with her son watching with the same fascination as the woman began to sing? Rhea wasn't sure. She just wanted the woman to be louder so that she too could hear her.

Later on the woman came out. Nurse Michelle Ramirez. Puerto Rican, Rhea imagined. But big strong Puerto Rican. Rhea had never seen someone so powerful in her entire life. She watched the crease of her shoulder muscles form as the nurse lifted her hand to comfort Rhea, the grandmother. She couldn't believe it. For the first time she wanted to mount on top of someone and the thought shamed her. How could she long for that woman's hands when her grandson lay dying in the other room?

Over the next few weeks, Coby started breathing on his own. His color returned and Brandon credited it to "Mich's" beautiful voice.

"It's not the prettiest sound, but it's definitely true." Brandon finished the paperwork as Amanda's tears dripped over her son, baptizing him in her joy. Rhea forgot to thank God and wondered where the nurse went. They went home and counted their blessings each minute that their little boy was breathing safely. The doctor said he might suffer from asthma in the coming years but that he was fine for now. Rhea would take Coby in for his routine check ups. Her daughter-in-law went back to work and so Rhea gladly took on babysitter duty. She pushed the little boy in the crate, her slender legs gaining more and more strength needing to push the baby further. When she arrived in the hospital, back in that old terrifying place she had to remind herself it was just a check up. She would keep her eyes on Coby, letting her eyes once again take in the color she was so glad to see.

"Hey." The soft voice came from close by. Rhea looked up. It was the nurse who held her grandson in her arms.

"What are you doing here?" Rhea responded.

"I work here." Mich smiled, putting down the clipboard in her hand and sat down next to Rhea. "Looks like he's doing fine." Rhea nodded her head in agreement. "How are you doing?" She stumbled for a response for a minute and then struggled to find the courage to speak up when suddenly she blurted out the words.

"Do you wanna have dinner?"

Two years later Rhea stands in a bedroom alone, wondering how much a new mattress would cost. The imprint of Mich was too much. It had become the lower side of the bed. She had Brandon move it around to possibly balance it out but Rhea still found herself leaning toward the other side. Sometimes it felt good to sink. A good year of sex and rum and late nights was an unexpected heavenly gift she cherished. It brought her tears and joy and madness and longing and a good orgasm every time she spent an afternoon recalling the days she roamed suburbia with Mich, her young lover and unexpected friend. Her slender tanned beach body never failed her as she climbed on top of the muscular lion that lied on her bed. She was small around Mich. Light and malleable. It didn't matter that her breasts lost their lift and that she was grey in more places than one. Mich would spend a moment each night kissing the variety of sun spots on Rhea's hands before the lights turned out. With those same hands, Rhea would flicker the tiny dark hairs around Mich's nipples. Mich was so embarrassed by how hard she was. Rhea touched every one.

When a job offer came by for Mich to work at Seattle Grace for more pay and better benefits, for a doctor she worshiped, she left. But not without the biggest tear of human fabric. Rhea broke in two and Mich's eyes were blood shot red for a good month before the departure. She promised to write and visit often but they both new the communication would only remind them of the distance, what they gave up, what now was lost.

She recalled again, where the logic was in trying to fall in love with a 32 year old woman at her age. Rhea tried to remind herself there were plenty of viable bachelorettes in her town 20 years older who wanted a partner like her but, it became harder and harder to lie to herself.

She headed down stairs. Coby was playing with legos in front of the record player spinning a vinyl of James Taylor. The voice was deep and ran through her brain like a drug she desperately needed. Her son kissed her on the cheek as he continued to knead dough. Amanda insisted that they eat fresh baked bread Christmas morning. She examined her daughter-in-law with pity. Too often women spend their lives trying not to become their mothers, only to find that evolution is inevitable. She gave Rhea a bowl of potatoes that needed peeling and got to work.

Rhea sat back sipped her whiskey by the fire. It was 54 degrees outside and she was grateful to be enjoying the kind of holiday she deserved. She tried to forget last Christmas when Mich left and her heart broke and she couldn't sit through a Christmas commercial without tears. Now Rhea was an expert at avoiding the songs, colors, scents that reminded her of the dent in the mattress.

"I think there's a sale a Macys." Brandon looked up from the dough. His wife looked puzzled.

"What? Mom, you want something at Macys?" Rhea nodded her head and sat up right.

"Mattress sale. See - TV. I think they're having one." Brandon turned his head.

"You want to buy a mattress?"

"Why do you always feel the need to repeat what I say?" Coby looked at his grandmother. Brandon wiped his hands on the towel and walked up to his mother. He kneeled before her.

"Mom, I didn't mean to sound rude. I just wanted a little clarity. You've been back and forth about buying a mattress and now so for sure you want one?" Rhea leaned back in her chair, ignoring him.

"No need for such a big thing for just one person. " She took another sip of her whiskey. Brandon grabbed the bottle before walking away. Rhea gave him a nasty look.

The dinner was a lovely display of overpriced Pottery Barn accessories and food too perfect looking to have been home made. She reached over and grabbed her daughter-in-law's hand. "Good job honey, thank you."

Amanda smiled at her husband, who gave her the same look of shock and awe. Rhea was focused on getting food in her stomach. She put bigger and bigger portions of macaroni and cheese and turkey onto her plate. While looking for gravy she discovered her son putting green beans on a spare plate. "You think we're not going to finish all this??"

"He's not making-" Amanda caught herself. She stopped and looked at her husband.

"We have a guest." Rhea looked around the dinning room. "Who?" Rhea heard the door shut and the foot steps. She put her fork down and watched as the shadow came into full view. It was a familiar body of muscle, the dent in her bed with curlier hair and a thinner face.

"Mitch." The word escaped Rhea's mouth like a pill she was supposed to take. She leaned back and took in a deep breath.

"Merry Christmas." She sound of her voice went straight to Rhea's abdomen. She watched as Mitch kissed Coby on the forehead and sat down. It was then, in that moment, sitting across from the woman in the dent that Rhea realized why she allowed herself to fall for such a creature. Mitch piled on mash potatoes and more meat onto her plate and then opened up the bottle of whiskey, pouring some for Rhea. Her eyes widened at the ease with which she did everything. Not an ounce of nervousness except in her eyes. Mitch was trembling with her eyes, finding it hard to look at her.

Brandon turned his attention to his wife and child as his mother tried to get Mitch to look at her face. Mitch started eating and smiled, giving the obligatory compliments to the chef, who she mistakenly assumed was Rhea. Everyone laughed, except Mitch.


"Baby, she made it."

Mitch looked up. Maybe it was the softness in her voice or the look of familiarity in her eyes but Mitch started to cry. Never had Rhea seen such a large body tremble before. She stood up without thinking, walked over to her, wrapping her old hands around that young face. Rhea laid kisses that felt touched like butterflies all over Mitch's soaked face. She finally grabbed Rhea's face and kissed her back, standing up like the tower she remembered in the bedroom by the window. She picked Rhea up and hugged her.

The tension in Amanda's shoulders faded as she turned to look at her husband who was hard at work on his meal. He turned to look at his son who was wide eyed at the site of his grandma and the big woman.

Brandon scrunched his nose and glared at his healthy brown boy. "Gross!!!"

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Between their toes

Little girls are born with big eyes
that are suppressed by rock and stone.
They stoop to listen and dawdle with chubby legs
til those legs grow strong and dance.
Their hands - thick and small were not meant
for tea cups in peony but of salt and sea and steel,
to build and destroy
what they deem good between their toes.

by Ashley Roque

3 pm in Santa Monica

I want to build my house between the dunes,
arise from with my toes, my soul.
Can these walls withstand waves the size of a ferris wheel?
Creaky steel pull me up above the ocean, kiss the sky
no clouds, endless air, my eyes.
There are no dunes for me to build
only columns of wood frequently slammed by
your moon's rising still I wait.
For the day you decide it's time for softer sand
to build again.

by Ashley Roque

Thursday, October 15, 2015


I've been teaching an art class at this upscale elementary school at the top of a canyon in the valley, covering until my new art teacher clears. Because these parents are a little needy, I've bee building the curriculum myself, ensuring that they learn the very best I can offer. Last week I showed the kids a few Picasso's famous works on my iPAD. They like to over pronounce his name, giving it more personality than it deserves but I love it. While sliding through the different works, I quickly discovered that there is a brokenness to cubism that kids have a hard time identifying with. Which is good. I want their world to be whole. But because these kids are so creative and artsy and natural thinkers outside of "the box" I wanted to challenge them. They need it. They get bored easily. I asked them to look more carefully at the painting and the use of different colors for the same face and how the artist cuts things in pieces, both big and small, and puts them back together, asking why certain parts of our faces are in different places.

I came to the conclusion, along with my kids, that the essence behind Picasso's art is how wonderfully he dramatizes the brokenness of human existence and how he pieces it back together again. What comes back together again can be far more beautiful and true and HUMAN than when we were whole and sometimes it's not. Now maybe I didn't go that deep but I offered them the space and the freedom to color the world differently and to perhaps not be so afraid of things (or people) that are pieced together differently than they are.

For your enjoyment:

My favorite.

The end of the world

I saw the most amazing film last weekend. Coppola's story full of death and misery and psychological terror and the jungle and race and American hubris is haunting proof of the magical power of exceptional filmmaking. I walked into the office on Monday raving about the subtlety of such devastating brutality. My office mates, women over fifty who grew up amid the era of the Vietnam war listened in wonder and disbelief at the scenes I described and how deeply I was effected. A few things I want to point out here:

Martin Sheen is an exceptional actor. Incredibly powerful in the depth of the creation of character and how he uses his body. If all you see is the opening scene of him in the hotel room, he wins. It's incredibly humbling to watch him loose his mind like that. Why isn't this upheld as the greatest performance of his career? I've seen the West Wing and it's great. But his work in this film is something otherworldly.

Robert Duval was ridiculous. He personifies the American hubris in such a devastatingly humourous manner, it's brilliant. Scratch that, Coppola is the brilliant one for bringing him into such a role and fighting to the death to bring this film to light. From a little research, I've discovered that Sheen suffered a heart attack while filming this project. Coppola had to be hospitalized for heat exhaustion. Learning this and witnessing the out come of such an exceptional film has lead me to learn and believe that maybe my last film wasn't a waste of time. My last film was the filmmaker in me maturing and learning what to tolerate and what to let go of and that the best of artists push through despite what the project might do to their personal happiness, albeit for a short while.

Check out an amazing write up on it from my friend film critic and film historian Marya E. Gates.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


My grandmother is an artist. The woman who helped raise me is now spending her time in her later years painting and learning and finding expression all over again in a brand new way - for her. My grandma is an artist.

And so am I. But I'm having a harder time finding the same pride and satisfaction in my work that she shows in this picture. I spend every day staring at a computer screen doing HR work, staffing programs that I'm not passionate about. I'm finding it harder and harder to write my own scripts and screen plays because I feel like I have no audience. The odds of my work getting produced seem slimmer and slimmer and I don't know why I keep trying. But then I remember who I am and where I come from.

I was raised in the arms of three women and my grandpa who fought tooth and nail for their own personal happiness. I grew up with examples of strength and deep hope not to give up. It's just so hard for me, I guess. I just want to know this is going to matter one day. I want to know my hours and days on end screenwriting til my eyes ached will have benefitted something greater, one day.

I can't give up. I have to keep fighting for my happiness. My grandma does. She's an artist and so am I.