Our good year

Right before I was about to write this 2016 retrospective, my son came by to announce that he needed the bucket.

On Monday, we’re at a Costco’s when he casually lets slip that he has a cold, runny nose, sore throat. Just as the cold symptoms wore away, he woke up today feeling 100 percent only to relapse with a headache and now, nausea about to rev up into a full-blown vomit fest.

Of course, earlier today I latched onto a snippet of a teaser of the local news about the flu killing hundreds and coming our way. My therapist would call it overreacting. What would he say now?

Regardless of the death watch I’m now on, 2016 has been a very good year for our family, especially compared to 2015.

My husband received an all-clear on his bladder scope earlier this month. My son’s been thriving with Symbicort, his asthma controlled for about two years now. Work is great; I got a new job, Ed’s busy at Amazon and as a working musician. He just finished a Christmas gig with the Coats down in Cannon Beach. Our Christmas was low-key, just us three, but we got everything we wanted.

In 2015, we had several health scares, Ed with bladder cancer, me with possible colon cancer.

I’ll take 2016.

We did lose a lot of good people. The world seems even crazier than ever. But we have our family, we’re still alive and doing well, that’s all I can ask for. Well, that and praying whatever my son has goes away in a hurry, leaving everybody else alone.

Here’s hoping 2017 is even better.

Black Heart

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BlackHeart Feri

Back when I still lived in Hawaii, my fiancé Jon told me that he went to see a psychic and she said I had a black heart. Black heart, black aura, black soul… I can’t remember which exactly, only that it was all black and fucked up and almost doomed from the start.

“Everything comes a little harder for you than anyone else, she said,” Jon continued, like he was talking about the weather. “It won’t be easy for you in life, because you came from such darkness.”

In hindsight, he almost seemed happy about this reading.

This was the guy who would leave me breathtaking poetry on my windshield after work at the library, but then refuse to be my date to any event. I remember having to attend this end-of-year party with the University of Hawaii newspaper staff alone, wearing my mom’s black velvet, floor-length gown, the one studded with fake rhinestones, watching couples go up and dance. Jon was at his house with his mom’s 500 cats, not doing anything. It didn’t matter how much I begged, he wouldn’t be seen in public with me. I don’t remember exactly why. But I’m the one with a black heart. Okay.

No wonder we broke up.

I heard later that it’s kind of uncool to read people like that. You’re not supposed to bring up someone’s death or negative energy. The way Jon relayed it, I must’ve been the human version of Satan, back here to make up for the countless innocent lives I slayed (like his).

And yet, I suppose some part of me believes it to be true.

I have a kind of Savior complex. I am also an easy mark for sweet-talking con artists. Despite my badass reputation, I’m really quite naive deep down inside. I will believe almost anything if you present it in the kindest of terms — until I wake up, shake the fairy dust off, and look for the exit.

In a way, I’ve been a mark for cons all my life. I grew up with the best, after all.

My mom ran a black market in our village. That takes the mind of a con.

My dad conned my mom into marrying him after he fell in love with her at first sight. He threatened to kill himself if she wouldn’t. My mom conned my dad into taking on two of her bastard kids as his own, since he was effectively her ticket out.

My brother relied on his natural charisma and popularity to con his own way through life, using people left and right until the school of hard knocks leveled the playing ground somewhat most recently.

On my bad days, I’m convinced I got conned into marrying my husband, who really never fell in love with me but needed a constant companion on his way out of Hawaii and back on the Mainland. (He told me so early into our one-year courtship and right after we married. I was never his type and he was afraid he wasn’t attracted to me.)

All of that was okay because… friendship.

“Wish I could be

jagged in your apathy. 

I cannot shut myself in.

Fold up, cold girl.

Wish I could hang a sign, says, ‘Too jaded, do not disturb.’

But the windows are open and goddamned this front door, I cannot keep it closed.

You could walk right in, and ruin my Theatre, and walk right out again.” -Marit Peters

As for friends, I tend to attract raging Narcissists, sorry.

Yet, I’m driven by this need to extend myself anyway, like the perfect co-dependent my parents raised me to be, so that I could be their trophy in public and their whipping post in private. (Alas, I failed on both counts.)

I’ve never truly fallen in love and been loved in return. I’ve never been swept off my feet; I’ve always seen it coming, weighing the pros and cons like an accountant with her ledger. I could count on my hand the few times a man looked at me with stars in his eyes. Maybe one day, I’ll tell you about it

Of course, all of this must be my fault. I’m not feminine enough. I’m not charming enough. I lack personality, a big enough ass, I don’t know, whatever it is that makes us interesting, attractive humans… I don’t have it.

I grew up learning to be prepared for any kind of attention, good or bad. It was my only means of survival — to avoid being blindsided, surprised. And that includes using kindness to balance out the inflictions of senseless, random cruelty.

So I try like hell to make up for whatever it is I lack by making sacrifices, for acceptance, leftover love, to prove you wrong, Jon. When I’m scared, when I’ve been hurt, when I’m lonely, my first course of action is to reach out and take care of someone else, whether it’s extending words of encouragement or acting with generosity.

That’s my black heart, ha ha.

 

Origami Heart: Beautiful Today

“You’re beautiful today.”

I looked at him, a shadow until our eyes cleared. He held the face of a million would-be suitors, the face of my soul mate. Now, he was the one to look away.

“I mean,” he sputtered, “you’re always beau— ”

I couldn’t let him say that word again, no matter how good it felt. “Steven, is my order ready? Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, slide, four-color, and a dozen b/ws. Thank you, btw.” This last part I almost whispered, but he caught the drift, blushing and turning at the same time to grab a photo envelope covered in big red letters, my name.

“Merry Christmas, Carol,” he said, handing me my order. Before we could say any more, another customer jostled in front of me, an older, Chinese lady in a hurry. In downtown Honolulu on Aloha Friday, we’re always in a hurry.

As I drifted down Bishop Street, back to my second floor office overlooking the old and the new, Steven’s words covered me like the finest silk from Paris — a vision in cobalt blue, pressed against a young girl’s body on the edge of 22, instead of my mom’s frumpy brown muumuu hand-me-down.

Not Steven. He’s just a nice, friendly employee with a menial job, and he smokes. He probably lives with four other guys in a one-bedroom apartment in Kalihi. That rules him out. My dead father’s voice, the one who chain-smoked his way to an early grave a decade before the ’60s, just like my mom is about to.

Nobody love you now. That voice belonged to the Vietnamese psychic, a woman younger than me with a doctor’s-sized waiting list of desperate patients dying to find love, a better career, a future with the flick of her hands over a simple deck of cards… the one who lived in a tractor house among other dirt dives in the suburbs of Kaimuki. But one day, you meet a businessman. He love you with all his heart. 

The first time I met her, she scared me by bringing up Mark. I think my mom heard about her, this scary accurate psychic in Hawaii everyone swears by. In broken English, this young Vietnamese psychic welcomed me into a tiny room. I only remember an even tinier window, dirty with Kona winds, ocean and palms trees just beyond our reach.

She flipped a few cards. Asked me to halve a deck. I began to think she was playing me when, out of nowhere in her broken English, “You have boy watch over you. He dead now. He die after high school. He love you lot. He your guardian angel. He always watch, very protective.”

The only person that matched this description was Mark, a boy I met early on in high school, a boy who turned out to be gay, a boy who died after high school of AIDS (if what I hear is true). By my junior year, we’d planned to marry. I’d become a writer, a journalist, and he’d go into the lucrative field of computer science, the next Bill Gates. Hell, he could’ve been Bill Gates.

Mark was doing things on the computer most of us could only dream of in the early ’80s, things kids are getting into now. Tall, dirty blonde, thick, tousled hair, the warmest blue eyes, a crooked smile… that Mark.

We loved each other without question. But he didn’t desire me. One night, after two years in the closet, he told me so over the phone. Brutally. So unlike him. “When I look at you,” he said, matter-of-fact, “you don’t turn me on. I’m sorry but it’s the truth.” He then proceeded to describe in excruciating detail just what about my physical body turned him off, this kind, gentle, beautiful boy.

“I can change. I can have an operation to be a man. I never wanted to be a woman anyway!” I cried.

“Carol, you know that wouldn’t be right. You will find a man who loves you completely. You deserve a man like that. I’m so, so sorry I can’t be that man for you. I wanted to for so long, but I can’t live a lie.”

I don’t think I had ever cried as violently as on that day.

I would hear the same speech a decade later from the man who would become my first and only husband. Only, he wasn’t interested in other men, just other women who looked nothing like me, women who were taller, wholesome, and impossibly, boyishly thin like Elle MacPherson and Lori Loughlin.

So you’ll excuse me if I cut you off when you start in on how beautiful I am. I’ve heard that bullshit before.

Origami Heart

Origami Heart: Diary of an Anti-Social

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Origami Heart:  Diary of an Anti-Social

 

Introduction: Hi, my name is Carol.

 

Nov. 22/23, 1964

Near the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, my father suffered his third and final heart attack. My mother — whom he derided as a faithless whore on many occasions since their divorce a decade prior — took care of him at Tripler, where he died from alleged neglect.

I wouldn’t know the truth until college, two years later. I didn’t have a father. Walter M. Banks Jr. turned out to be a fraud, the fall guy who adopted me months before I may or may not have come into this world on Nov. 22 or 23, 1964 as a bastard child of rape, or a one-night stand.

Everything about my life is a question mark, a source of shame, unfit for polite company.

But I worked very hard, give or take a few boy-crazy distractions and minor perversions, to avoid the same embattled path of either of my parents, on paper.

I graduated from Aiea High School in 1982. I attended Leeward Community College for an Associate’s in Liberal Arts then transferred to the University of Hawaii to complete my Bachelor’s Degree, majoring in journalism and minoring in English and Political Science. I worked as a journalist, doing what I love, writing, reporting, and layout design. (I still do, online.) I married Ed Weber on Dec. 1, 1990, a year after we met at Nadine’s Music Store. We planned on having our first child, James Scott, two years before he finally arrived on Jan. 21, 2002.

How far did I go in carving out a life for myself?

I’m the only one in the family to get a college degree and work in my field of expertise. I’m the only one in the family to avoid homelessness and having a child out of wedlock. I don’t drink and I don’t smoke. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not a whore up for the highest bidder.

And yet…

I’ve never shaken the sense that I’m a fraud, waiting for my number to come up.

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Selfie Boy

20161224_170631Cheating on Christmas food caused incredible unrest in my sleep last night, lots of snoring on my back, so I relaxed and concentrated at the same time before sinking into my next, last dream…

The dream isn’t relaxing or comforting.

I hate these dreams.

I’m in the middle of a set, kind of observing how it goes. The band plays my song in the same dragging way, behind the original cover. But the lead singer is a new recruit, hired more for her looks than talent. She takes charge, making sure the songs in the set suit her slower pace than fulfill content or, heaven forbid, artistic integrity.

After the gig, killer here casually turns to me in front of the rest of the band, “Your song didn’t do much for me. It was kind of bland.”

The rest of the band, including this bassist friend who I thought was always on my side, turned and walked away behind her — not saying a word.

I drank the rest of my water and went reluctantly in the car with my mom to go home. I wanted to cajole, beg and plead, emotionally manipulate the band into remembering who I am and that the new lead singer has got me all wrong. I wanted them, any of them, to step forward and say that much at least, “You don’t know Carol, you’re wrong about her. She didn’t do this, you did.”

But people follow the money, they don’t care about friendship or kindness or talent, not in the end.

It wouldn’t matter what I said. The second I spoke up in my own defense, I have lost the fight. I felt utterly pathetic.

I talked to my mom instead.

I made one last plea to her, by remembering how kind, how incredibly talented and versatile this sideman was, and how much I did to make sure others knew. “It didn’t matter what the song was, mom, he did something special with it. You would’ve loved his version of ‘Besame Mucho.’ He played it like a guitarist.”

Then despair took over me.

“Why didn’t he care enough, mom?” I cried. “He didn’t have to say much. He could’ve just taken me aside, away from the band, five seconds max. Just been decent. Remember me.”

“He said you were a good writer.”

At that moment, I saw his sad face turning away. I would never speak to him again.

It didn’t help.

Back on the treadmill.

Our family Christmas card 2016

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I have to chronicle everything, #sorrynotsorry.

First time for everything: family photos, ugly Christmas sweaters, “snow” at Pacific Place, feeling completely at peace, happy, healthy, and very, very blessed.

Right this very second, my husband of 26 years is in his office wrapping the rest of the gifts we can now afford to give our only son. Both are healthy and strong, G-d willing. So am I.

As a friend of mine said to me earlier today, “Cling to your family and never take it for granted!”

I will try. But I promise, I won’t forget you in the dark. I’ve been there many times, and I know I can always end up there again.

Until then, more gingerbread!

Ripples

I watch her home movies, a voyeur in this golden odyssey, the flashes of faces bathed in sepia tone, her favorite filter when she’s not away. The Whore of Babylon keeps a book of secrets in the file cabinets upstairs between growing her own business, profit and loss statements, systems in place to catch her when she falls.

Her hair is this spun gold, the stuff of angels. Her clothing, a finery made in London and Beverly Hills. But her eyes are cold and dead, they regard me as penance for her multitude of sins, the one fall from grace she cannot abide, I pay for again and again when I cannot avert my own from him.

His unkempt bed, the fragments of this life they once shared, she at the lead, living out a hero’s adventures with other men more lavish, the keys to her platinum shell of a heart. I will read him a story one day, of the endless sea and lonely people singing to themselves in broken Beatles.

If only he would look up and ask.