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.