Even A Dead ChildI’m walking alone in an unfamiliar neighborhood, pulling a child’s bicycle along beside me. I find Ash along the way, playing with some little girls. I turn over the bike, like I came specifically to deliver it, but Ash shoves the bike away and it clatters to the ground. Clenched jaw and defiant eyes. Oh yes, I know that look.

Like every mother ever, I grab an arm and pull my child away from the others. I hunch down until my face is level with Ash’s and I growl. “Look kiddo, in my real life, you’re dead. So I come all the way down here to spend time with you and THIS is how you’re gonna act?”

The odd thing is, I can’t remember what happened after that – if Ash responded, if the mad mood broke or if I realized how funny and sad it was to say such a thing to a child. Even a dead child. Even in a dream.


Santa Cruz Pride Festival 2013


Radical Faeries SCMouse and I returned to Santa Cruz yesterday with our friend (and Ashlie’s step-mother) Mary for the Santa Cruz PRIDE parade and festival. It’s an event I’ve enjoyed for nearly a decade, though 2008 was hands-down my favorite year. “In The Name of Love” is an excerpt from The Complicated Geography of Alice which captures that experience. Ever since, I’ve returned each year to celebrate and mourn. The festival always takes place in the first week of June, near Ashlie’s birthday but this year, it was ON what would have been her 21st birthday.

It always feels like a kind of homecoming, passing the Leonard Building (no longer the home of The AIDS Project, but still handsome and familiar) on the way to Pacific Ave., where the streets are lined with familiar faces and every imaginable color has exploded into the street. I always cry. I always laugh. And now, I always see her there.

Down at the end of Pacific this year there was an open air / impromptu dance circle. I stood and watched them for a long time, letting myself see her there – silly, grinning and dancing in the midst of the strangely beautiful crowd. It is always good to see friends, however briefly, and reconnect with my hometown. But I come back every year because I can still feel her here – where she is happy and laughing even as she dances away from me.

{Photo Note: I’ve always been fascinated by the Radical Faeries. Ash was too. But it’s Mouse who snapped this shot and for whom the gracious fae are smiling.]

The holidays really fuck with me. This is true for bereaved parents in general. It’s not just that first year without your child that’s ruined, but every year thereafter.

I used to love a fresh-cut Christmas tree. The bigger the better. There’s a hole in the ceiling of the living room, right in front of the picture window, where years of poorly judging the height of the tree have made their mark. And oh, the gifts, best we could afford, and stockings stuffed with treaties – always a Sunkist orange shoved into the toe. This year, the only tree we put up was the sad little Charlie Brown tree I picked up two years ago.

I wasn’t much of a cook in those days, so we always got our Christmas dinner elsewhere, big family gatherings with all the requisite commotion and children underfoot. I used to play nothing but those Very Special Christmas CDs for weeks and one of my best friends would randomly call, sing the words “Five Golden Rings” and then hang up, giggling as he did so because he knew I couldn’t help but finish up those four calling birds, three french hens, two turtle doves and that damned partridge in a pear tree before I went back to doing whatever I was doing before he rang me. Read the rest of this entry »




This is my favorite photo

of Jordan and J. (2001)

Everything you need to know

about their relationship

in those years, is here. 


(For those reading "The Complicated Geography of Alice", it may help to clarify the usage of Ashlie vs. Alice here.)

On my way the market today, I saw one of Ash's friends sitting on his mother's porch. I haven't seen him in person for more than three years, but he's kind of an unmistakable kid. Immediately I wanted to stop and talk to him, but I kept driving because that's what I do. What I ALWAYS do – avoid people, even people I like – even people I WANT to talk to. In part, it's because unexpected social interactions are usually awkward and I cringe at my own awkwardness.

I keep in contact with a number of Ashlie's closest friends through Facebook. We rarely talk, but I get random peeks into their lives and while it's hard to see them wrestling with young adulthood when she never will, it's also somehow good. One of her best friends became a father this year. Her Jr. High girlfriend is married and expecting.

But this kid – this particular kid with his perpetual deer-in-the-headlights expression, limbs always somehow akimbo and every teen-angst marker imaginable – I am never not going to love this kid. I am never not going to see a ghost of Ashlie in him.

And so, on the way back from the market, when I saw that he was still crouched in front of his mother's house, I pulled to the side of the road and waved him over. And yes, it was an awkward three minutes. Painfully so. Neither one of us knew what to say and we stumbled through that conversation until I blurted out, “Get in here and let me give you a hug.”.

“I'm all dirty.” he said, tugging at the bottom of his t-shirt.

“I couldn't care less.”

I reached over and swung open the passenger door. The kid leaned in and let me hug him. Hell, he even hugged me back. And maybe it was selfish to ask, but some part of me needed to do that and afterwards, as I drove away I could almost feel Ash twisting around in the seat beside me to wave goodbye.

(related reading)