Beyond the Bars

To avoid pouring water down the drain, I spend ninety minutes washing dishes in two pans, running water out to my new mulch to dump, and putting everything away while Bruce researches home equity loans and Trump tax cuts that hurt, rather than help, our current situation.

Behind the bars of my security door, I take this picture of the sewer company’s progress replacing a portion of our main drain.

Behind the bars of this security door, I hide from the American Dream. The one that we are all promised and few of us ever attain. The one where we could afford to buy a house, afford to deal with that house’s expenses, afford to send our children to college or even pay off the loans we might still have from our own degrees.

I hide from the dream of all of my grandparents, a combination of immigrants and endlessly American, one grandfather with an eighth grade education, one with a high school diploma, who were able to raise large families and pay off mortgages well before retirement. On ONE income.

I hide from the audacity of insurance that we carry on our homes, our health, our lives. From the premiums we pay that won’t cover pre-existing conditions (like pregnancy!) or pre-existing problems on our properties (like drains), or pre-existing hope–from all the thousands and thousands of dollars we pour into these plans that leave us empty, behind bars, unable to operate a backhoe.

I hide from the for-sale houses in my neighborhood that are now so outrageously priced that my family, and none of the other families on my block, would ever be able to afford to buy the homes we stand in.

Behind the bars of my security door, I am as insecure as everyone in my generation. The generation that faces housing costs that are equivalent to more than fifty percent of what we earn in a month. The generation of debt that is impossible to avoid even with the best budget. The generation that has made the choice to bring children into this world only to constantly think: why would I bring children into this world? Children I feel inadequate to provide for, children who will face even higher college costs, children who will be straddled with debt for their entire adult lives?

Behind the bars, I cannot see the buyers of the $769,000 remodel on the next block. Where they come from. What jobs they have. What magical formula they applied for that allowed them to take a mortgage that costs more than what our two incomes bring home in a month.

Behind the bars, I hear the Spanish language spilling from the mouths of the workers who have to dig a hole in a yard on a holiday. With perfect efficiency, they have repaired a ten-foot section of pipe within two hours, and they will move on to the next family’s crisis, and the next, and the next, before going home to houses on the other side of town that they also likely can barely afford, because we all know that the $6000 we just paid for that pipe is lining the pockets of a white, male, English-only CEO.

Behind the bars, I live in my dream house, my four-bedroom, two-bathroom, beautiful-garden dream house that we waited seventeen years to purchase. I raise a family of three daughters whose pay may never match their male counterparts but, despite this, whose intelligence and candor will allow them to live the life of their dreams. I share my meals, my home, and my love with my husband who has managed our finances to such perfection that we have flawless credit, making an application for an equity loan for both our properties (because nothing can just happen to this house–both need new main drains), virtually seamless. We both work hard at our dream jobs–teaching and telecom–in order to make this picture perfect.

With the door open, before they rebury the dirt, I snap a picture of our pretty kitty hiding behind my glass of stress wine.

I sit on our paid-for leather recliner and feel the cool breeze of early summer and think about my students who have crossed the world to be a part of this American Dream, and how hard they work to make that dream possible, to learn English and learn how to navigate the complexities of our society that sometimes make us feel like we’re all going down the drain. I think of how hard my husband and I have worked to make this day possible–to give my girls a summer trip to Spain, a year in Spain, to see nearly all fifty states–because of how careful we have been with our money. I think of the health insurance that paid for most of my husband’s surgery and how my grandmother’s baby sister died of a simple infection in her mouth after tripping up on a wooden popsicle stick, all because they couldn’t afford a doctor.

With the door open, we host family friends who make us laugh until we cry, whose daughter will join us in Spain, whose presence makes us appreciate what we have surrounding us in life–a life filled with laughter, love, support.

With the door open and the Spanish-speaking workers gone, the Siberian iris frames my kitty, my pet, my perfect yard. I know that I have given so much to get to this picture, and I know I still have more to give. I have daughters who are lucky enough to have access to all the technology, diversity, and coursework that comes from an urban education, and who will enter their adult lives with an open-minded understanding of the world. I have a house that we can afford and enjoy without feeling like our money is going down the drain. I have a job that brings the global perspective to every choice I make in one of the most beautiful buildings our city has to offer. I have a marriage that has lasted from childhood to adulthood, with all the post-adolescent turmoil and trauma, all the sorrow and joy, that comes with making it work for twenty years.

With my door open, I wait for the American Dream. Somehow, some day, some way, I will see how it is both easy and difficult to achieve. If I would learn to always open the door and move beyond the bars, I would see that not everything is going down the drain. I would see the beauty in every choice, the brutality in every loss, and find a way to make a set of silver linings sweeter than a sip of stress wine.

I would be the wife, the teacher, the mother of that perfect picture. That perfect picture would be me.

 

 

Drifters for a Day

from desert to sea
 in a day’s drive through one state
 (miracles exist)
 
 rainforests between
 to prove heaven lives on earth
 (nature is my god)
 
 we found our daddy
 after cherry shopping; lake;
 beyond evergreens
 
 a driftwood dinner
 no one could have predicted
 in another life
 
 yet here we’ll find sleep
 all together in one room
 at earth’s clouded edge
 
 

Views from the Road

The beauty of the road is so much more than views. It is the elevation loss and gain that sneaks up on you as quickly as the road snakes its way along the Snake River.

It is the surprise of the desert that has made its rural-America mark in southeastern Oregon.

It is the spontaneity of stopping at state parks for a peek at history and scenery so breathtaking you feel you’ve stepped into a mini Grand Canyon.

It is the trail our ancestors walked upon that you place your weary soles on now, however twisted and stolen it may be. It is still a silent beauty resting behind a sleepy Americana town, waiting for rediscovery and firsthand learning for three young women.

It is the creek sparkling in the hotter-than-expected northwestern sun, and the quick dip that makes an afternoon sparkle just as brightly.

It is the curve that moves from summit to limitless landscapes, to the expansive end of the Oregon Trail, played out in a quilt of farm fields, and the hope they held for a better life.

The road brings beauty, and within this beauty lies everything you’d expect and wouldn’t expect: children bickering, bits and pieces of trash and clothing piled up in the backseats, state lines that bear no stoppable signs, audiobooks and downloaded movies, snapshots taken from a moving vehicle, trucks that hog both lanes, treeless mountains and endless vineyards, poverty and wealth found behind fences and up on winery hilltops.

The road brings more than views of tall pines, sagebrush-only molehills, and sleepy rivers. It brings us all a new world view where we search for ourselves and find ourselves in each other. Where children find joy in only their siblings’ company, where the road promises a pool at the end of the day and a reality check about small city poverty to remind us of what we have.

Can you see it from an airplane, from a train ride, from a walk down the block?

Never quite like the views you’ll find when you hit the open road. The views of nature, of civilization… of yourself.

You just need one set of keys, a whole lot of gumption, and a pair of soul-searching eyes, and you can find yourself a whole new world view.

To Laugh Until I Cry. To Live Until I Die.

In the crook of early January, three weeks since seeing my students, on a cold wintry Saturday morning I shlep across town to make lesson plans with three other colleagues.

Later I will heat water for hot tea and curl in my recliner with a book, wishing I could write a novel as lyrically beautiful as Caramelo as my children wander in and out of rooms, in and out of our house and the neighbor’s, in and out of wanting to be near their dear old mom.

This after two attempts to jumpstart the old Hyundai whose lights I left on in our trek to the grandparents’ house last night.

This after listening to dating tales and math updates and wondering what it would really be like to be a single woman in modern America.

This after coloring intricate books with the girls in the brief time between our latest tech argument and the neighbor’s reemergence.

So is our Saturday, chicken defrosting in the sink, chores done and Echo playing my Pandora playlist to suit the color of my mood.

No dog to walk, no true purpose to the day other than making plans for a class no one really wants to teach.

What sits in the back of my mind is how easily I want to be able to relax. To have a deep and thought-provoking conversation that is justifiably, blood-burningly exciting. To laugh until I cry. To live until I die.

To take these lonely household moments and flip them over or back or somewhere else, when my children were small and my Chihuahua never left the warmth of my leg, when my marriage was young and everything we thought and did was about each other, not some game or book or phone or faraway friend.

In the crook of early January, holidays left out on the curb waiting for a second chance at life (mulch me till I can be reborn!), the cold of winter settles into my bones. The winter of this year, of my children’s childhood, of my marriage, nineteen years in the making.

Even with the beauty of the flakes that fall, their demise lies in slushy streets and icy black pavement, ready to trick any masterful driver, so used to winter but not its ugly, dry-grassed truth that lies beneath the surface.

In the crook of early January, I wait for the sun to rise high in the sky. For the snow to melt. For the tree to be taken. For the hollowness that hides inside this nook to break open in me a new way of looking at the world. For the bend of this season to straighten out into a road I can see, wide and clear and as questionless as a summer’s day.

But in the crook of January, there are no summer days. There are only questions.