Thursday, December 17, 2009


Dearest You,

We had braces on our teeth at the same time. We both liked roller skating and cats and shirts with rainbows reaching across our flat chests from one elbow to the other. Your hair was fine and blonde and mine fine and dark. We both spent long hours in front of the mirror coaxing these fine strands around the hot barrel of a curling iron. We longed for wings. Not the wings of an angel, but the wings of Farrah Fawcett.

Your older sister liked The Police and some band called Oingo Boingo, but we always shouted at her to close her door, leaning closer to the radio to listen to a station that billed itself as "the music of your life." We waited to hear Nat King Cole sing "Dance, Ballerina, Dance."

In typing class, we typed notes to each other and later went home and typed more notes. I remember sitting in front of the pink manual typewriter my mother used in high school writing a letter to you one line at a time. I cut the whole thing into strips, rolled each strip into a tiny tube and securing each tube with one of the rubber bands I was given by my orthodontist. When I was finished, I dumped all the little tiny parcels into a big envelope and slipped it to you before school. It must have taken you forever to piece the letter back together, but you did.

We spent hours and hours on the floor of my bedroom with the radio on, drawing paper dolls. All the dolls had fabulous names like Viveca, Amber, Violet and Tiffany. They had teeny, tiny waists and huge social schedules. We drew ball gowns and riding habits, feathered headdresses and elegant beaded pantsuits that Carol Burnett might wear.

Every Christmas your parents would invite me over to decorate the tree. Your family always had a big tree in the living room and you got to have your own, smaller tree in your bedroom. Your personal tree was covered with ornaments you had been given every year by your grandparents and your parents. It was a tradition.

Your mom was the fire chief and sometimes when I'd spend the night at your house, the phone would ring and we'd hear her car crunch over the gravel in the driveway. Every year, you and your dad would shovel this driveway. It was also a tradition.

You had a checkbook in sixth grade and decided to play the French horn because it was the hardest instrument to learn. You read Moby Dick before ninth grade and could play Fur Elise on the piano. (That always impressed me. ) By our senior year of high school, you were at the top of our class. You spoke French and Russian.

I gave up clarinet (one of the easiest instrument to learn,) skipped all the whaling chapters, and know only enough French to get coffee and a croissant.

When we graduated from high school, you asked your parents to buy you a strand of pearls instead of a Hopi squash blossom necklace. You went to college back east and now you live back east. You knew who you were.

I missed your first wedding with the big dress and the Cinderella carriage, but I imagine it a little like the ones we planned for our paper dolls. I made the trip to celebrate your second marriage. Children from your Sunday school class sat in the balcony of church and watched you walk down the aisle.

You have your own children now and I like to imagine what the holiday is like for the two of them. Do they each have their own tree? It's a tradition. Thank you for sharing it with me.

Hoping that our trips home to the Land of Enchantment will overlap soon.

Much love,

Monday, December 14, 2009


Dearest You,

In a photo of my sixth birthday, you are there in the background. You are sitting on the edge of our back porch, your knees bent, your mouth open in laughter. Your hair is wavy and blonde and your teeth are big and white. In this photo, I am wearing a yellow dress and a big floppy hat covered with roses. I am surrounded by torn wrapping paper and my six-year-old friends. We are oblivious to the row of smiling adults on the back porch. We are unaware that we are being watched. It warms me now, to look at this photo and know I was held in such a loving gaze.

I remember many afternoons spent at your house working on projects. Some days, we'd weed your garden, or set out plants, stopping now and again to sip mint tea poured from a big jar. You'd run your fingers over the velvety leaves of scented geraniums and hold them under my nose so I could guess. Rose. Lemon. Chocolate.

Other days, you'd melt a big chunk of beeswax in a small aluminum pan saved just for this purpose and we'd make batik paintings. We'd work our way from the lightest to the darkest colors, always ending up with purple hands. With the damp paintings hung on the line to dry, we'd eat cookies or visit with your dogs. I'd throw sticks for Ralph, the floppy black mix with the sweet eyes, while being careful to avoid Tina, the white German shepherd. When our batiks were dry and stiff, we'd sandwich them in newsprint and flatten them with a hot iron until the wax melted away. I drew hippos and cats and birds and took them home to my parents while you painted birds and fruit and flowers and sold them in arts and crafts fairs around town.

For a time, you drove my school bus and I always sat in the front seat just behind yours feeling important because I knew you.

Your pale yellow VW station wagon was named Tulip and you kept an Ouija board under your coffee table. I remember once coming to your house with my Mom to eat a pot of chili and watch a wildlife special on hyenas. We turned out all the lights and sat close to your small television. Every so often you'd adjust the wire hanger to improve reception. We all gasped when the hyenas devoured an antelope.

You built your own house, first one room, then another. A doll house with a loft for a bed and a pull up bar across the back door. With the cookstove loaded with logs, the house warmed so much the windows wept moisture on cold winter days and nights. At Christmas, you served posole from this stove and opened a tin of cookies sent by a friend.

"Butter," you said. "It's the secret. It's the best."

When we visited your house at night, I'd try not to drink too much, try to hold my pee because I was afraid to make the trip to the outhouse. It wasn't until you'd lived in the little house for twenty years that you built a bathroom. By that time, I'd conquered my fear of the dark, but I was glad to avoid the cold wooden seat.

When my Dad was ill, you invited me for breakfast and made BLTs with lettuce and tomato from your garden. We sat at your sunny table and looked out across your yard. When your mother died, you planted a rose garden. I remember knowing that day that my father would die and I wondered what I would do. You are one of the people I looked to for answers. You are one of the people who had been there and could show me the way.

At Dad's funeral, you held my week old son and looked at me with tears in your eyes.
"Can you believe you were ever this small?" You said.

You are my Godmother -- chosen for me by parents who didn't really share a conventional relationship with God. I think they saw a way to give you a name, a place of prominence. They were choosing their family, deciding who should be in that watchful and loving circle. They chose well.

With love,

Monday, December 7, 2009


Dearest You,

It started with a road trip. You in the truck with your Dad's construction company logo on the door. You with the bulge of cash tucked inside the pocket of your jean jacket. Your dog looked like a coyote. You had a kooky laugh and a fondness for waffles. We drove from Chicago to Albuquerque, stopping only for coffee and all you can eat breakfast buffets. And ice cream. Soft serve. Always a cone for the dog.

I'm not sure my parents knew what to think when we arrived: dirty, tired and smelling of caffeine and fried foods. But they were happy to see us. We visited new age bookstores in Albuquerque and bought Bach flower remedies guaranteed to rescue us. From what? Confusion. Longing. Sorrow. (We might have gotten the same relief by hurling all the oft played tapes of Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Joni Mitchell out the window of your truck.)

My dad showed you how to draw without lifting your pen from the page. "Trust in the form," he said. "Just let yourself go."

In my old bedroom, you asked if I'd ever kissed a girl.

The drive back to Chicago seemed to take forever. The downside of spontaneous road trips is that after the excitement has burned down, there's always a long ride home. Now there were only nerves and the unanswered question.

You were quiet and smoked a lot while I drove. We spent a night in Colorado with a cowboy poet you knew from somewhere. We slept beside each other in sleeping bags, curled like quotation marks, but not touching.

The next day, you stopped in front of my apartment and it took me a long time to open the door of the truck. One of us or both of us admitted to wanting to cry. Eventually, I shifted my bag onto my shoulder and climbed the stairs to my apartment.

I talked to friends about you. I made you a mix tape. You baked me a pie.

The thing about answering one question is that it just brings about more questions.

After graduation, we went to a party and you cried in the bathroom. I tried to comfort you and somehow, as if we were in a movie, my Dad walked in. He saw the way we leaned together.

"I'll leave you to it," he said.

Much, much later, when you had gone in one direction and I had gone in another, Dad and I shared a couple of beers and he asked after you.

"I could tell there was something," he said.


Years later, I sat at the singles table at your wedding and years after that, you came to my wedding, your unborn son just a little bump under your dress.

More than writing this letter, I'd like to pick up the phone. I'd like to hear your kooky laugh and get the update on your gorgeous family. I want to hear about your latest craft project and how you're going about saving the world a little at a time. Are you off wheat? Off sugar? Baking cinnamon buns by the trayful? You've got a new dog and though it's icy cold in your neck of the woods this time of year, you still refer to your house as sunny.

What in the world am I waiting for?


Thursday, December 3, 2009


Dearest You,

You claim that people say you're pretty because you say everything with a smile. I think they say you're pretty because you are. (But you also smile a lot.)

"Good times," you say, when your kids are running in opposite directions or crying hysterically or pounding each other with sticks. "Good times," you say, when there's an attack of strep or flu or lice. And somehow (is it because when you say this, you're smiling?) the times do seem good.

Your hair is the color of apricots or leaves in autumn and your skin is so pale it seems like you might be able to glow in the dark. It's a kind of devastating combination -- and one you play up by wearing crisp, white shirts and pink sweaters.

You are perpetually prepared. Skinned knee? You've got a bandage. Hunger? There's some kind of bar or cracker in your bag. You perpetually carry a little zippered case filled with essentials. Bee sting? You've got ointment. Sunburn? Aloe. Headache? Aspirin. Errant raspberry seed? You've got floss in individual packets.

I sometimes strive to be this prepared. I grab a handful of Band-aids and toss them in my bag. I fill a little container with raisins or tiny crackers. But inevitably, I run out of supplies and when the cries from the back seat reach their peak, all I come up with are a few linty mints and a broken pencil.

Here is the other thing about you. You are strong. Physically strong. In your yoga class, you push up into a handstand or arm balance and out on our mats, we can hear your breath, hear your effort. I like the fact that you do not make these poses look effortless, but rather that you revel in the effort. You marvel at yourself every time you get it right. You open up the possibility that we might all marvel at ourselves because there is "right" in whatever we do.

At the end of class, we all lay on our backs and close our eyes and you walk quietly across the room, stopping briefly to rub our heads. It's a wonderful moment and one so filled with kindness on your part. Your hands are scented with lavender and you take time with each of us to just hold our heads, stretch our necks or bestow a little ear rub.

With your various lists and matrices and file folders, you seem to move your life, but your open heart often lets it move you. Like anyone, sometimes your balance goes off, but then you seem to revel in the work of regaining stability.

It's inspiring to watch you work.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Dearest You,

"I'd be a Brit," you said. "But I was born a Valley girl. The next best is to marry a Brit."

The corkboard behind your desk was covered with postcards and photos: Big Ben, the guards at Buckingham Palace, Mick Jagger, the Union Jack.

In the office kitchen, instead of coffee, you poured tea.

Your skin was very pale, your eyes very blue. You wore your long black hair pulled up in the manner of an E.M. Forster heroine. To keep from being overly girly, though, you wore tattered jeans, black leather jackets and square toed motorcycle boots.

Every day for lunch, you ate a boiled chicken breast and a tiny portion of steamed spinach.

"Got to save some calories for alcohol," you claimed. "Don't want my face to blow up."

You seemed impossibly tiny to me. Like a doll with your big hair and big eyes. Enchanting, but fragile.

The license plate on your black BMW read "MS PHIT." I always assumed that it was meant to be read as "Miss Fit," because you seemed always to be having little fits. You were an excellent pouter. You could get really, really angry about almost nothing at all. But your anger blew over quickly and you were never angry with me.

Not even when you corrected me about the license plate.
"It's MISFIT," you said.

You were the assistant to a producer. And I was working for a lawyer. Your job was much more glamorous, but my boss was nicer and I had less to do.

Once, we went out to a pub in Hollywood called The Cat and the Fiddle on a search for Englishmen. We sat on barstools for about an hour while I drank a pint and you nursed a cosmopolitan. At some point, you waved your hands over your glass and asked the universe to send you a Brit.

Not five minute later, two English guys sat next to us and bought our next round of drinks. This wasn't so unusual given the fact that we were in a bar filled with English ex-pats, but I was still impressed by your powers.

We spent the rest of the night with these guys and though I can't remember their names, I remember that we paired up according to size with me taking the taller of the two. He claimed to have played drums with some band and the shorter one had a deal going with a production company.

They were housesitting for a friend in the hills and at some point, we followed them in your car up a winding road to a huge house. The place was nearly empty of furniture and our footsteps echoed inside, but outdoors, on the patio we could see the lights of Hollywood and we sat in deck chairs, sharing the last of your cigarettes.

It must have been nearly dawn when we left. My guy walked me out and as he leaned in to kiss me goodnight, I looked over his shoulder and saw a child's seat in the back of his shabby little car. I kissed him anyway because we'd had some good laughs.

"He was a drummer, your guy," you said on the drive down the hill. "A musician."
"I guess," I said.
"Are you going to see him again?"
"Doubtful," I said. "You gonna see yours?"
"Doubtful," you said. "Not the one."

We laughed then. You could always conjure up another.

Hope you found the one.


Monday, November 30, 2009


Dearest You,

If you weren't going away this year, you'd have a really good holiday party.

You have a really good holiday party every year and every year the first people to arrive help you set up. I have arrived at your house to find boxes of unopened crackers, cheese still in its paper and bags of tiny carrots and nuts in a pile on the counter. To your credit, you usually have a pot of mulled wine going on the stove and the aroma of cinnamon and clove is great company while the assembled mob of the early-to-arrive hustle around the kitchen and set up your party.

One year, you weren't even home. You had gone to get a pedicure, but left the house unlocked.

Someone always takes the job of lining up dozens of tiny tea lights on the built-in ledges of your Craftsman dining room. Someone always slices the salami and puts it on a plate (though now we've all gotten mature enough to call it charcuterie.) Someone takes all the delectable little pastries out of the bakery boxes and lines them carefully on a big white platter. We set out glasses and pour olives from their deli containers into your nice white bowls.

While we get things organized, you put the finishing touches on your outfit. Periodically, you waft in from the bathroom, offering direction; a nudge; an order. You give kisses that leave a stain bright and shiny as holiday ribbon. You always look fabulous. Opulent. In the beginning, there was lots of leg, lots of bosom, but lately, you've taken a more elegant approach. You look like you should have a group of people helping you in the kitchen. You wear this role casually, but comfortably, the way you might toss a fur coat over your shoulders -- more for beauty than for warmth.

And then the party begins. There is no beer (your rule,) but plenty of booze and the food is always good. There is a fire in the fireplace and the with the tea lights finally lit and the overhead lights turned down, your home takes on the kind of glow that is nice to see from the street. Yours is a nice party to walk into. It's close and a little loud. Always warmer than you think it will be and always that lovely spicy wine smell twisting through the scent of Christmas tree branches, perfume and bourbon.

Happy holidays, you, dearest you. Happy travels.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Dearest You,

I got the news of your birth when I was working at the public library in Evanston, Illinois.

"She's here!" My mother said, her excitement vibrating over the phone lines. "She's here!"

You were given a name that makes you automatically sound royal. And so you were with your olive skin and serious eyes.

Because I saw you only on vacations and visits home, you seemed to grow quickly. Moving from mewling cub to sprinting toddler in a blink. I have a photo of you sitting on my lap in the back yard of our grandmother's house. Your legs barely reach the bend of my knee. In another photo, we take the same pose and your legs are longer, slimmer, your baby teeth like seed pearls in your shy smile.

I thought of you as a baby for a long time. I scooped you up in my arms or pulled you into my lap for years. You were a little girl at my wedding with a mouth full of braces and flowers in your hair, but your poise at the microphone as you read a toast hinted at the woman you would become.

Now, nearly ten years later, you are grown. Your olive skin is stretched over strong arms and legs and your brown eyes are wise beyond their years. I look forward to the times that our visits home intersect, to the break in my family life that lines up with your college life.

My kids ask for you, wonder when they'll see you. They love you because though you are now able to buy wine in the grocery store, you are still willing to bounce for hours on the trampoline or behave like a chicken in an impromptu performance at a family barbecue.

You speak French and can take apart and clean a rifle. Your laugh is more of a giggle and because you are just twenty-one, when you bounce on that trampoline nothing on you bounces back. (I try not to hold this against you.) You impress me with your poise, your kindness and your open heart.

With love and excitement for your future.


Thursday, October 1, 2009


Dearest You,

At your interview you told me you lived in Malibu. You had a new wife and a couple of dogs and you could walk to the ocean. You had been working as a freelance personal trainer. You were tan and your hair was sunstreaked. You seemed kind of floppy and content. Like a golden retriever.

I told you that the job would mean long hours. Your days would be spent sitting at a desk. Your meals would be eaten out of styrofoam boxes.

You were excited. You wanted to learn. You were like that golden retriever and truth be told, I didn't think you were very smart. But you were a friend of the star and it was a given that I would hire you. This "interview" was just an exercise.

Just before we started production, you and your new wife moved away from the ocean and into the heat and smog of the valley. You gave up your fitness clients and sharpened your pencils and met the writers in the "room."

Almost immediately I realized I had been wrong about you. You were smart. And funny. And outspoken. You treated the writers the way you might treat a new puppy. You established boundaries and encouraged them to behave.

"Give a man a fish," you said, while showing a producer how to work his printer, "and he eats for a day."

You found a place right around the corner from our office where I could get a green chile cheeseburger that was almost as good as the ones in my hometown. You discovered the family-owned sub sandwich joint at the foot of the Angeles forest. One day, we took a long lunch and drove up the winding road, the Rolling Stones blasting out of your speakers, until we found open space and cool air. We pulled off at the scenic overlook and sat in the dust to eat our sandwiches in silence before heading back to work for another late night.

One night after taping the show we headed out to an Irish bar to get a beer and found a live band. Three pints in, there were ballads sung and jigs danced. Three beers in, you called me a "dame," and you meant it in the best gumshoe novel kind of way. I could drink and smoke and joke just like a guy, you meant. We were solid friends.

One morning, you popped your head over the shared wall of our cubicle.
"We're pregnant," you said, beaming.

When I asked how far along, you said not very. But you had a feeling.

You were right.

You and your family introduced me to trails in the Angeles forest and convinced me to drive from Silverlake to Malibu to drink Starbuck's coffee. When I had my first child, your wife gave me a box of baby wipes and told me to be prepared for the mess.

"We use them for everything," she said. "You can get a lot of cleaning done. No lie."

For one reason and another, our view of you and your family has grown to be a distant one. We keep in touch with holiday letters and cards. Every year, I look forward to opening the envelope that will reveal your oldest girl, the one you knew was on the way.

She has your smile.


Monday, September 28, 2009


Dearest You,

You were a vegetarian and so was I. You'd stopped eating meat because you felt like it was the healthy thing to do. I'd stopped eating meat because my college boyfriend was a vegetarian.

Somehow, we both wound up working in a burger joint. All day long, every day, we carried thick, white porcelain plates laden with ground, grilled beef to tables of happy customers. We brought ketchup and mustard and little ramekins of barbecue sauce. We supplied extra napkins to wipe the savory juices.

The scent of beef permeated our clothes, the sound of sizzle buzzed in our ears.

One day you said, "Would it be so bad?"
I said, "I'm not in college anymore."
You said, "We could split one."

And we did.
And it was delicious.



Thursday, September 24, 2009


Dearest You,

I've been writing a lot of letters to people I feel warmly about. The letters I've been writing recently have ended on a high note. Yours may not end this way. But it's not that you aren't worth writing to.

Here's how it started. I am about twenty. You are a little older, but not much. We are both young. We are doing summer theater. I am acting and you are running the lights. You are tall and brown and lean. You wear mirrored sunglasses and your hair is cut short like Tom Cruise in "Top Gun."

It's funny, but you didn't really notice me until we were well into our run. You didn't notice me until that girl - the one who'd been doing wardrobe, the one with the cute blonde hair -- you didn't notice me until she'd left town. (I couldn't help but notice that her ankles were thick.)

You asked me to dance. There was a band playing in the bar where we gathered after the show and you took my hand and led me across the wooden plank floor. You were a good dancer. You said that your mother taught you. I rested my hand lightly on your bare arm.

Later, we walked out into the darkness behind the bar and looked at the stars. We sat on the steps of an old steam locomotive and talked. I don't remember much of our conversation except that eventually you asked how many lovers I'd had. You called them "lovers," and I thought this was romantic, but then we'd already established that you could waltz.

I wanted to seem more experienced than I was and so I upped my list by one. "Three," I said.

"Then I'll be number four," you said. And then you leaned in to kiss me.

We didn't sleep together that night because it was Sunday and I had to return my parents' Volvo. But the next Friday, when I prepared to head up to the theater, I packed my pajamas and my toothbrush in my big, white leather satchel. I did this in front of my stepmother in what I hoped was a nonchalant way. My dad gave me a wink and wished me a good weekend. My stepmother urged me to be careful.

It all unfolded the way I thought it would. (Like "Dirty Dancing," except instead of a gorgeous resort in upstate New York, it took place in a former coal mining town, turned hippie refuge, turned artsy-craftsy haven. My parents didn't seem nearly as worried as Baby's and though we knew you could dance, we never actually performed together.)

I started spending the whole weekend with you, sharing the house you were borrowing from the woman who was spending her weekends with the theater director. We drank beers together in the Mine Shaft Tavern and passed a bottle of tequila back and forth in the bleacher seats of the old baseball field. You pointed out the juniper trees on the hillside which sheltered stealthily planted marijuana. Holding hands, we climbed a slippery incline covered with tailings from the coal mine until we came upon an abandoned shack. Inside, we found dozens of bats hanging from the ceiling. No longer than my fingers, they were velvety and smooth with snub noses and delicately folded wings.

The end of the summer came as it does in New Mexico with afternoon thunderstorms leading into cool evenings. Just before our last performance, we all gathered back stage. The director congratulated us on a great run. He asked us to do it one more time. "Go fuck 'em in the hearts," he said.

That night, after the show, we had a party. The director mixed mint juleps and kissed all the actresses. You had to leave early. You said you had to do something for your mom, but you promised you would visit me at my parents' house the next day. I was leaving to go back to college and you promised you would say goodbye.

The next morning, my anticipation woke me from sleep. I dressed carefully, though in a way I hoped would appear casual. I packed the rest of my things and posed for photos in the driveway.

"She's off," my Dad said. "Off into the great beyond."

And I waited. When you were half an hour late I grew nervous. An hour later, I started to cry. My dad held me and stroked my hair and my tears made dark spots on the front of his purple cowboy shirt.

"Men," dad said. "They are weird ones. He has no idea what he's missing."

I called your house and the phone rang and rang and still, I had hope.

Late that night, I finally climbed into bed, still straining my ears for the sound of tires on our gravel driveway.

I didn't see you again and we spoke only once. I sat on the floor of my dorm room back in Chicago and pressed the phone into my ear. You said you'd been a coward. You said it was too hard for you to say goodbye. You said you might have been in love.

I would like to erase that last conversation. I would like to undo my subsequent trip to the Student Health Clinic and the week of antibiotics. I would like to instead imagine that we said goodbye on the steps of that antique locomotive where we shared our first kiss. I would like to imagine that as the train wheels began to roll you jumped on board and rode back to your world, a world so very different than my own, but one I was glad to visit for just a summer.


Monday, September 21, 2009


Dearest You,

I admired your freckles and your straight, dark hair. Your bangs, cut blunt across your forehead, hung perfectly, like synthetic hair on a doll. You were happy to spend an afternoon digging through my costume truck, trying on satin dresses and floppy hats. You were happy to stage photo shoots on the front porch of our house. A few of those photos still exist. In one you are wearing a pale blue dress and too large shoes. You are sitting on a stool my dad made from an old tractor seat and you hold a paper parasol over your head. Despite the tractor seat and the gravel driveway and the rattle-trap pick-up truck parked behind you, you look elegant.

In the photo that you took of me, my eyes are shut against a bright sun that lights my paper parasol with an almost nuclear fury. My hair is long and stringy, my buck-toothed smile prominent.

I'm glad I have these photos. Glad they exist in their stiff, round cornered way. Glad that they are not lost on some hard drive somewhere and glad, too, that we did not have the luxury of taking dozens of shots on a disposable camera that surely my mother would have deleted as I do the hundreds of photos taken by my own children. Two photos out of a roll of twenty-four. That's all we took.

Your dad owned a drug store with an actual soda fountain. He would let us sit at the counter and think of crazy flavors for sundaes, shakes and delectable egg creams. When he was too busy to talk, he would let us choose a toy from the shelves and take it to the apartment above the store where he stayed part time. This apartment was dimly lit and sparsely furnished. Really just a place to drop off to sleep at the place where one day ended and another began. This place wasn't really your father's home so we could imagine it was our own.

For my birthday, you presented me with a big, shiny green box tied with satin ribbon. Inside was a stuffed hippopotamus wearing a pink polka-dot skirt. I named the hippo, Bernice, and took to sleeping with her in the crook of my arm. When you left for another school just before the beginning of fifth grade, I cried.

"We'll still see each other," you said. And we did. But not very often.

And then you moved away.

I think of you now and wonder if grey has begun to thread through your dark hair the way it has in mine. Do you powder over your freckles? Did you inherit the powder blue Mercedes driven by your parents or do you pilot a mini-van filled with your own family?

I still have Bernice. She is missing an ear and her skirt is faded. Once, just after my parents divorced, I accidentally left her in a hotel in Florida. Two hundred miles later, when I realized my mistake, I couldn't stop crying. My Dad called the hotel from a pay phone and returned to the car, victorious.

"They knew she was special," he said. "She's sitting on the front desk right now, ready to come home."

I was trying to figure out why, after all this time, I still think about you. We knew each other so briefly. And then I thought about my current circle of women friends and how precious each of them is to me. I thought about how hard it is to make a solid connection with another person and how a shared homeroom or Mommy and Me class isn't often enough to ignite the spark of real friendship. You and I looked into each other and saw something familiar. That was the first time I felt that kind of girlfriend connection.

I watch my children now, as they make friends. They are transitioning from the early friends of convenience to friends of choice. You and I chose each other.

While our friendship didn't survive distance and time, my ability to seek a kindred spirit did and I owe that, in part, to you.


Sunday, September 20, 2009


Dearest You,

I remember the day we were stretched across your bed in the basement of your parent's house and you gave me a pair of wire rim glasses.

"These are for when you play Annie Sullivan," you said.

"What do you mean?" I asked. I knew our school was teaming up with another high school to do partner productions of "The Miracle Worker" and "Monday after the Miracle," but it was summer and there had been no casting sessions, no drama class gossip, nothing.

"Of course, you'll do it," you said. "Who else is there?"

Once for Christmas, you gave me journal, blank save for the corner of a page here and there where you had copied in your careful, even script bits and pieces of letters I had written. That you cared enough about my voice to re-write it verbatim still amazes me. How nice it is now, to page through and find myself at fifteen, seventeen, twenty...

We fought once in high school, though now I'm not really sure why, but I remember after several days of no communication, you left a package with my father before jumping in your little grey car and speeding out of our driveway. Inside the package was a flannel shirt in a neon cowboy print. You'd admitted to hating the shirt, when we saw it in the shop, but you bought it for me anyway.

One summer during college we lived together and felt free to indulge in our mutual love of Cool Whip and Boggle. When I think of that summer now, I remember mostly sitting outside on our small patio in the rain-cooled late afternoon watching your hand write lists of words. Your hands were "without bones," a friend said once, with skin soft and unwrinkled, knuckles almost invisible. Not like my chunky, banged up hands with their torn cuticles and bulky joints.

When I married, you made me a quilt, stitching the whole thing by hand in a gorgeous kaleidoscope of colors. You stayed with us just after the wedding and I would come home to find you covered by this quilt, carefully moving your needle up and through. The television would be on, an odd sound in the daytime in my house, though one I know you find to be comforting. It was nice to see you there, settled in a chair, your hands at work. That was the summer that you disappeared now and again and for a time, I didn't understand why. When you explained everything, I saw that in moving your hands over the quilt you had been working to stitch yourself into the world more securely.

You have done this. You keep doing this.

You always talk about my writing as my "work," and I am finally beginning to understand that it is work. When I sit to write this today, I am imagining your handwriting, the sure way you move a pen across the page. It is work to keep yourself stitched into the world, work to be so open. It is work to share with others in a way that invites them to share with you. It is good work.

My children know you and love you. I do not think it is surprising that you gave my daughter the stuffed animal that reigns over all the others. The frog she has named Celina, may not be the toy she plays with every day, but Celina is the toy she always returns to. According to my daughter, Celina knows everything.

Thank you for your careful nature; for your seriousness and for your vulnerability. Thank you for your certainty, your silly voices and your warm tortillas and for the continued faith you have in me.

I have faith in you, too.


Friday, September 18, 2009


Dearest You,

You often wear this simple string of red beads and those beads seem to epitomize you. The beads are rough cut, almost as if they had been tubes of pasta sawed into short sections. They are irregular, but they fit together somehow, jostled into place by the swift movement of your body through space. These beads are the perfect compliment to your many carefully curated ensembles. You are always elegant, but also, impossibly, playground friendly. It's a style that many have imitated and, I think, few have pulled off with your effortless grace.

You encouraged me to start letting my children go their own way when my daughter was still in my womb. You invited my son into school though he was not quite two.

"He needs a place of his own," you said.

When I asked you why my son was so violent, when I wondered if maybe his hitting would be a problem later on, you answered, "Boys kill."

It was simple and, I think, true. "Let him run a little," you said. "He has a good heart. He'll be fine."

At that time, your blunt advice was a consolation. Another time, it seemed tactless and unthinking. But I reminded myself that you had a good heart. That you would -- that we would -- be fine. And we were. You even, still occasionally mention this time as if to remind me of the long past we have shared. It's true. We have history. We have shared the whole of my daughter's life and nearly all of the life of my son. This history has held me like a magnet, securing me in our community.

When you eat, you eat whole grains. Bread, avocado, beans and rice. You eschew sweets. Except that time when you ran your fingers over a plate that held brownies and licked them clean. Except when you decide sweets are good.

You are one of my fans. I return that favor.

Happy new year, you.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

The third

Dearest You,

When you came to interview, you were wearing a perfume that almost kept me from hiring you. I have a thing about scents. For me, an awful lot of things wind up in the "smells bad" column -- even things that might hit the "smells good" column for someone else. You smelled floral like my grandmother's bathroom cabinet. Plus, you seemed shy. And I'm shy. And if we were both shy, how, I wondered would we ever communicate?

It was important that we communicate because you would be helping me to care for my children. The woman who helped us before you was a super communicator (maybe she even over did it from time to time.) She was a big gust of wind and you seemed just a breeze. I thought I would like that, but me, with two kids still in diapers, me with milk leaking out of my breasts, me with the messy kitchen counters and the bare refrigerator, what did I even know?

I hired you because I'm a firm believer in fate. I met your mother-in-law in the Nordstrom shoe department and she seemed nice. She mentioned that she was a nanny and from the way she talked to my daughter, plump and happy in her stroller, I could tell she was a good one. Truthfully, I wanted to hire your mother-in-law, but she was unavailable. So she recommended you and your perfume and timidity were far outweighed by my need for a nap, so we hired you.

My belief in fate was again rewarded because you turned out to be funny and kind and a really good cook. One day you mentioned that you had an aversion to weird smells and I admitted my hesitancy to hire you because of the perfume. You laughed. The perfume had been a gift and you'd worn it only that day before tossing it out.

You were able to get my daughter to take a nap by laying her across your lap and patting her back. My son took to you right away and brought you piles of books to read aloud.

The day that I chopped down the overgrown bushes in our front yard, you said, "Your eyes are so sad. They are like a child's." I explained that I was missing my father. That his death, even after more than two years, left a hole. You said that the intensity of my emotions might mean that my father's spirit was still hanging around. You said he might be missing me, too. You suggested that I leave him a glass of milk. This is what your grandmother believed would comfort the spirits. I thought my dad might find more comfort in a beer, but I took comfort in your kindness.

Your children were beautiful and smart and very, very kind. Your daughters accompanied you when you worked on a rare evening and they showered my children with love. The three of you were so lovely and serene and so filled with love for each other. You brought my kids to your home and cooked them soup, you asked if they could accompany you to the school orchestra concert where your daughter played violin. You and I huddled together, teary eyed, when your oldest girl graduated from eighth grade.

When you told me you would be moving away, I was thrilled for you. Your new house was lovely, the kids would be able to walk to school. But Houston was very far away and that night after you'd gone home, I cried and cried. My husband tried to comfort me. "You're losing a friend," he said. And it was true.

Motherhood is lonely and you were great, great company. In those early years, I was uncertain and you had the answers. All the parenting books talk about "modeling" meaning that kids will learn by watching their parents. But who do parents model? You. We should all model you.

When I was sick with bronchitis you brewed this incredibly strong tea composed of honey and lemon and pepper and you told me to drink it while it was still hot. I did as you said and I was flooded with warmth and well-being. I get that same feeling now as I write.

With love,

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

You, number 2

Dearest You,

Remember that time I ran into you at the grocery store and you cried? I think I might have been in high school so I was taller than I was when we met, but you still remembered. You looked the same. You were slim in your jeans and yellow down jacket. Your hair was, maybe, a bit more grey, but you still wore it cut short in a style that seemed to say, "hair isn't the most important thing."

You said, "Tanya, my friend, it's so good to see you." You hugged me and when you pulled away, you kept your hand on my arm while we talked.

Your fingers were tapered, but with thick knuckles. Those fingers seemed old to me, though strong, too. You held cigarettes in these fingers, played the piano with them and trailed them along the spines of the books in your library.

Though it belonged to my elementary school, as far as I'm concerned, it was your library. Located in one of the "portables," not a building, but a barrack, the library smelled like paper and dust and linoleum cleaner. The tables with their wood grain formica tops took the center space and the books covered floor to ceiling shelves on every wall. You sat at a small desk just inside the door. On the desk's surface were a ball made of rubber bands, a date stamp and a ceramic mug filled with yellow pencils. From this vantage, you would direct me to different shelves.

"Try reading about Clara Barton," you said and then, "If you liked Clara Barton, you'll love Marie Curie."

When I asked for books about magic, you gave me "The Witches of Worm," and "Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me." When it was cold on the playground, you let me into the library to read.

One day, you let me sit at one of your tables and draw pictures for all the kids in my class. "A rhino," someone would say. And I would draw it. "A giraffe." "A hippo." I moved my crayon over the paper as fast as I could, relishing the rare feeling that I had talent and that I was wanted.

"There is no better company than a book," you said. Thank you for letting me know I would never be alone.

With Love,

Monday, September 14, 2009

You are the first

Dearest You,

When I first met you, you had hair. I mean a lot of hair, slicked back and up in a kind of pompadour. Now that I know you so well, you tell me it was a cool 'do. You ask me if I even know who Jason Priestly is. Your hair was very Melrose Place. And then it was very Roman Gladiator (thanks to George Clooney.) And then your hair was gone. But it didn't matter because by then (or really before then) my love for you had grown to such an alarming extent that even if you'd sprouted a third arm or gotten a tattoo of Tweety Bird on your back, I'd still have found myself in pretty deep.

You used to wear a leather jacket that creaked when you moved and your ears smelled like soap and peanut butter. You bite your nails and have a habit of holding your hand over your mouth when you talk as though you might want to catch a word here and there. I think this made me believe you were shy. But you are not shy. You are not nervous like me. You are confident.

You are the person who worked all the late hours on the job where we met. You let me go home early. You are the one who took me to see a shark exhibit at the Natural History Museum while wearing a brass shark belt buckle. I wanted you to kiss me in the rose garden, but instead you bought me a popsicle that tasted like gazpacho.

When we finally did kiss, it was the night you brought me a whole rum bundt cake. We had just seen the movie "Sling Blade," but somehow the evening was romantic anyway.

Once we kissed, we were inseparable. Remember that night we dragged my little television set into the bathroom so we could watch "Grease" from the bathtub? I think that was the night I told you that I loved you. Before that, I said, "I really, really like you," but you knew what I meant anyway.

For some reason, I broke up with you. I'm not sure why. I'm not really even sure I meant to do it. I think I wanted a little breathing room and you freaked out and came over to return the key to my apartment. I cried hysterically. I called my best friend from high school and he arranged to conference in two other friends and they all listened from different states while I cried. I stopped eating. For the first time in my life, I lost weight while I was sad. Our break up lasted twelve days. Eventually, I called you. I asked if you'd want to see a movie. You agreed. When you came to pick me up, we sat on opposite ends of the couch and talked. After a few minutes, you leaned across the middle cushion and put your head in my lap. I could feel my heart beat so fast as I bent to lay my cheek against yours.

Eventually you asked me to marry you. And you still ask me. Almost every day. Even though we have been married for over eight years. It's the nicest thing.

With love,