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,