Friday, July 27, 2018

You Listened

How many times had you crept into their rooms at night and pressed your face against them to hear the soft hiss of baby breathing, to feel that warm, sweet milky breath in your ear, always needing that reassurance that yes, mama, those babies in your care are strong and sure and thriving. It only had to happen once, that pivotal moment when you had to choose: either tell yourself you're being ridiculous or trust your intuition.
You sensed the monster, the fire that slipped into his room, and before that, the carbon monoxide, with its vile tentacles spreading out from his lungs to veins to blood, and yours too. You listened. That voice. Check the baby. Check the baby. You pressed your cheek against his, heard that baby breathing, the steady rhythm. You listened. You laid down beside him. And because you chose to trust yourself, he still breathes today.


The Sound

The sound of motorcycles revving in the driveway meant that Uncle Dan was home, and with him came the entourage. One by one they pulled in, taking their place in Dan's court. He'd sit in his King Louie throne in the living room, and maybe his pet owl would be perched above him, sleeping in the day, unperturbed by Uncle Dan's loud and boisterous storytelling, his laugh that sounded like a pack of wild hyenas yipping all at once. Or was that just the pack of wolves he kept in the backyard? 

He'd tell stories from the movie set, and the motorcycle boys would hang on his every word, endure his sharp criticisms and sarcasm, and the nicknames he'd pegged them with: Bullet, Tall Boy, Rags. To stay in his orbit was to defer to him, and no matter how tough and intimidating they may have appeared, they did defer. Not because he threatened. He never had to prove his brute strength. He only had to cast a "look" your way.
It wasn't that they, or I, were afraid of him. We only feared not being in his orbit. To try to understand this is to try to understand the universe. He was the sun around which the rest of us orbited. And he was the black hole, sucking us all in, until we'd disappeared to ourselves.
He was the sun.
He was the king.
He was our savior and he was our destruction.


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Why I Still Have Hope for America

These days, I wake in the morning weary with sadness. The world, politics, fear for my country has worn me down. But then, this morning as my kid is eating breakfast, I see Ellen Degeneres on the back of his cereal box, and I feel hope. Ten years ago, we couldn't even pass marriage equality in California - the most liberal state. Today it's the law of the land, and Ellen Degeneres, an openly gay woman, is the ambassador for goodness on the back of my kid's Honey Nut Cheerios.
I think about the fact that Barack Obama, already noted by historians as one of the best Presidents in American history, is of mixed race, and that inter-racial marriage was still illegal in many states when he was born. 

I think about the fact that Oprah Winfrey, a black woman, is one of the richest, most influential people in the world, when all her grandmother had advised for her was to "find some nice white people to work for" -- and that it's an American colloquialism to describe an extremely wealthy person as having "Oprah money." I think of her ancestors, women who were enslaved, raped, beaten, forced to work in the fields and do the work of ten men, and hope to god there is an afterlife because if there is they are surely smiling down with pride.

This American dream, to bring people from all over the world, from every culture, race, religion to live together as one democratic nation, is an experiment. It theorizes that every man and woman can achieve greatness, and that we are each only limited by the scope of our own dreams. It's a messy experiment, and we have failed terribly on so many levels. But we've also made great progress, because today I'm looking at Ellen on a cereal box and smiling, and maybe even feeling a twinge of hope in spite of the news cycle. 

I'm going to do my best today to feed the hope, and not the fear. I'm going to believe in us, in progress, in the best of America. I hope you will, too.

Monday, September 25, 2017

My Tracey.

Tracey sitting like the beautiful queen that she was. 
My beautiful Tracey passed last night. Our family surrounded her yesterday. We gathered around her bed and showed videos of her trip to Ireland. My niece cooked her favorite beef stroganoff, which she could not eat, but she could smell it cooking in the house. We each had our private conversations with her. We told her how much we loved her and promised her we would take care of her mama and each other - and her beloved rescue dogs. After we all left last night, we had asked a nun to come to stay with my aunt, and to be at Tracey's bedside overnight. The nun was praying over Tracey, singing hymns to her, when Tracey stopped breathing at 10pm. I rushed back to the house to be with my aunt and niece. We kissed Tracey, told her how much we loved her. I put her favorite facial cream on her, and her lip balm. My aunt put her in her coziest pajamas, and put her favorite perfume on her - Angel. We held hands with the nun around her bed and prayed for her soul's peaceful journey. 
At Kamran's roaring thirties party
Yesterday morning, my aunt woke Tracey, told her to open her eyes as the sun was rising. Tracey had watched the sun rise on her last day on earth, a Sunday. She was surrounded by love and family and laughter and stories and the fragrance of cooking in her house. Her rescue pups were curled on the floor beside the bed. It was what she wanted. 
But what she really wanted more than anything was to not have cancer, and to live, and she gave it hell and lived almost a year from her diagnosis, when they only gave her three months. 
Tracey was my big sister. Sometimes I lived at their house, and sometimes she and Tammey lived at our house. She protected me when I was little. As we grew, she drove me and my cousin Tammey around, took us to movies, like Billy Jack, Halloween, the Rocky Horror Picture Show. And then when I was old enough, she taught me how to drive, what to do when I got my period, what it was like to be with boys. 
She never had children of her own, but she adored and took such good care of all of our children. Evan loved her so much. Friday night, she could barely open her eyes, and the cancer in her spine had completely paralyzed her, but when Evan came into the room, she perked up, forced her eyes open and said, "Evan, are you excited about your birthday Party? Tell me what you've got planned." When my aunt was stepping out to get some lunch, she said, "Mom, don't forget to buy lunch for the person behind you."
That's who she was. That's who our Tracey was. 
God, I loved her.

I told her yesterday that her soul is pure and made from love, that her soul doesn't have cancer. That when she leaves, she gets to take all of the love, and all of the wisdom from what she has lived through, but none of the pain. She gets to leave the pain behind. And I told her that she lives on in all of us. Every person who loved her, every person whose life was touched by her. How lucky are we?
Tracey and Tammey were my bridesmaids at my wedding

Tracey, Tammey and my Uncle Dan. We have lost all three in the past three years. 

So many of you prayed for her, some of you donated to help pay for her nursing care, some of you sat bedside with me, or offered me guidance and advice on what to do in hospice. She knew this, and she was so grateful. Thank you for being part of Tracey's journey. Someone told me once that for every kind deed you do, you lift the entirety of the universe just that much, and it can never be erased. So thank you - with everything in me, thank you.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Saying Goodbye to My Friend Frank

(This popped up as a heartbreaking memory from one year ago today. Below is the Facebook post I wrote on the day Frank died) 
August 18, 2016
I can't even believe I am writing this. Today, the world lost a truly great soul. My friend Frank passed away of cancer this morning. He was a generous, supportive, kind, stand-up guy. He was fiercely defensive of the people he loved -- the kind of guy who would gladly take a punch for you. 

He was a music aficionado, an art collector, a proud supporter of all things Latino. He believed in fighting the good fight and showed up for almost every one of my gun violence prevention rallies. He was incredibly generous. Every time we were doing a fundraiser for Women Against Gun Violence, he'd stop by with a trunk full of donations- Hollywood and sports memorabilia he'd collected over his lifetime. When we co-sponsored a gun buyback in L.A., he turned in his gun. He said "I don't need it anymore." He was given a gift card for the gun, and he donated it. 

He showed up for my readings when my book came out and told everyone to buy my book or else! But the memories that will stay with me forever are the heart to hearts we had, about family, and faith. He reached out to me when his mother's health was failing, when his brother was sick, and when he was having trouble communicating with his son. He often asked me to pray for him. He thought that maybe I had God's ear since I was a preacher's daughter. 
One of the things I most admired about Frank is that, although he didn't have biological kids of his own, he stood by his stepson Brando even after the relationship with Brando's mother didn't work out. He helped Brando get to college. Brando is now an award-winning author and a college professor.
Frank was the kind of person who touched a lot of lives, though he was a private guy and often liked to fly under the radar with that kind of stuff. 
Frank had come home from Mexico this summer feeling a little under the weather. He thought it was something he'd eaten. A couple weeks later he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. They said he had six months, but it turned out he only had weeks. We had a good long talk on the phone a couple weeks ago, and I am so grateful for that because he told me he'd thought I was upset with him over something he'd said recently, which I absolutely wasn't. It would have torn me up if he'd died thinking things weren't good between us. I was supposed to visit him this weekend. I texted him to see when would be a good time, but the last text I got back only had one word; "suffer." I'm writing this post through tears. I'm glad Frank doesn't have to suffer any longer. I'm going to keep praying for him, and hope that he was right in thinking I had God's ear. 
I'm grateful for the six years of friendship I had with Frank, and for the beautiful legacy he left behind in Brando, in his wife Stephanie, and in all of the artists and musician's lives he touched. I'm going to miss him terribly. He was truly one of a kind.

Rest in Peace, my brother, my friend. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Follow up to Rite Aid, Racism post

My post Rite Aid, Racism and Where We Go From Here kicked up a lot of dust with people, both on my Facebook page, and on other people's pages.
I was glad to hear each person's point of view, even though we might not completely agree. We each perceive our lives through a unique lens, based on our own past experiences. For me, I'll admit right now that for a long time I didn't see how deep racism was. I thought we, as humans, were evolving beyond the lizard brain that makes us fear "the other." Drump's America has shown me just how naive that was. Growing up, my stepdad was the only white guy in Little Richard's band. Richard used to introduce me to the audience as his daughter and when everyone laughed, I didn't get the joke. I grew up in a Lala-land world where race was a non-issue and to tell you the truth, I’m still shocked that my perceptions of the world aren’t shared. That’s my sin, I guess. Not white privilege, but the privilege of growing up in a multi-racial, harmonious world. 
To differentiate between people based on the color of their skin is ludicrous. To call yourself a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Jew, and to believe that you are better than anyone else, when you also believe that God created all people, is insane. 
Some people were angry that I didn't automatically side with the women in the story. I am a feminist. I have been sexually assaulted, sexually harassed at the workplace, attacked by a friend's older brother at a sleepover when I was thirteen, having to run home in my nightgown in the middle of the night. Believe me, I am highly sensitive to the issue, and have fought for and marched for women's rights. What I saw at Rite Aid was not an issue of a woman being harassed. I saw two young people, highly emotional, both in the wrong, but ultimately, I saw the young black man being put into a threatening situation, and in today's climate, that is dangerous. 
I'm glad we had a real conversation about this on Facebook. I absorbed what each of you had to say, even when your views were different than mine. I don't think there was one right answer. Sexism is real. Racism is real. And denying that is hurting us. Until we come to terms with truth in this country, we can't make anything better. 
Thanks for reading.

Rite Aid, Racism and Where We Go From Here

Friday night, standing in line at Rite Aid, Evan and I found ourselves in the middle of a drama that epitomized the heightened racial tension in this country.
Two young black men came into Rite Aid, and passed by two white girls, a blonde and a brunette. The men were handsome, muscular, wearing tank tops and shorts. They looked like they had just come from the gym. The girls were wearing jeans and tank tops. All four looked to be in their twenties. The younger guy said something to the brunette. Her response to him was to loudly say “Fuck off.” Then she turned and stormed away.
“Fuck you, too!” he fired back.
And with that, all hell broke loose.The blonde girl started screaming and cursing at the man. “Don’t you fucking talk to her like that you motherfucker! Don’t you ever talk to her!”
“All I said to her is that she looked pretty!” he shouted back.
“I don't care! You don’t say ANYTHING to her. My sister is sixteen years old! You don’t talk to her!”
“I didn’t know she was sixteen! How am I supposed to know that?” he shouted back.
(She didn’t look sixteen, by the way. She looked 25, and they didn’t look like sisters.)
“You don’t talk to her, motherfucker!” she screamed.
“Shut up, bitch,” he said, and it went ballistic from there. (As a feminist, I HATED that he said that.) They both were at fault, but if there were a contest for filthiest mouth, the blonde girl would have won. She was a constant stream of screaming expletives. Everyone in line stood there, most of them looking down or away. 

The blonde girl shouted at the manager, “Call the police! Get this guy out of the store!”
Someone said they had called the police. At that, the guy’s friend got on his cell phone and started explaining the whole situation to someone. Maybe he was calling an attorney - I don’t know.
The store manager came over to the younger guy and quietly asked him to tone it down. He said he didn’t want any trouble in the store. The young guy talked to the manager in hushed tones. They even shook hands. The manager said nothing to the blonde girl, and did not ask her to tone it down, even though she was the one who provoked the whole screaming match. 
After a moment or two she started up again, warning him, her finger pointed at his face, that he better not EVER talk to her sister again. He screamed back. It escalated again, and the black guy shook his head and said something about “white people.”
Finally, I shouted above them, “Please! Everyone calm down! Both of you! There’s a child here.”
At that, the young man said, “I’m sorry ma’am,” and to Evan, “I didn't see you there, little man.”
The blonde girl ignored me, did not stop screaming and did not tone down her language in front of my son. We paid for our merchandise and hightailed it out of the store. Evan was pulling me by the arm. He was scared. 
In the car as we were pulling out of our parking space, Evan asked me, “Was that man a thug?”
My hair stood on end. “Evan, where did you hear that term?”
“In videos and movies. There are these guys that are really mean and tough looking and they always talk about thug life.”
“Have you ever thought that about any of our black friends?”
“No, of course not,” he said, "but that guy seemed mean."
Just then, the two men were walking out of the store. The young man’s friend was still talking on the phone to someone. He came out first. I stopped my car, rolled my window down and said, “Can I talk to you for a minute?”
He lowered his cell phone, walked over to my car and bent down, to see me eye to eye.
“Listen,” I said, “I saw what went down in there. I mean, I get it. I know why your friend was angry.”
“He didn’t mean anything by it, he was just upset. I’m sorry your son was scared…”
“It’s okay. I know racial tensions are running high in this country right now, and everyone is emotional. But I heard what your friend said about white people, and I just want you to know…all white people aren’t assholes, okay?” I extended my hand to him.
He looked down and shook his head, then he took my hand. “I know that,” he said. “I deliver Nestle water out in Malibu every day. I know that.” He squeezed my hand. Just then his friend walked up to us. He saw us talking, our hands clenched in a handshake. Over his friend’s shoulder, he shouted to Evan in the back seat, “Hey little buddy. I didn’t mean anything against you, okay? It’s all good, little man. You’re the man!”
Evan nodded and waved back. We all shook hands, told each other to have a good day, and although I am not in any way religious, I found myself saying “God bless you” to them as they got in their car, because maybe that’s all I know to say at this point. 
As we drove away I asked Evan if he thought those guys were mean and scary.
“No,” he said. “They seemed really nice.”
Then, as we drove home, I had a long talk with him about why that man at Rite Aid might have seemed mean. In my opinion, it’s because anger masks pain, and young black men are feeling a lot of pain right now. I told him that, in my opinion, if it had been a young white guy who had hit on that girl, she would have possibly ignored him and gone on with her shopping. Or maybe even flirted back. I highly doubt she would have told him to fuck off. I highly doubt, if he had been a young white guy, that her sister would have been screaming at the manager to throw the guy out of the store, and call the police. I told him how many young black men have been wrongfully incarcerated. I told him the story of Jordan Davis, and Tamir Rice and Philando Castille. He was shocked. “How can people do that? How can they just shoot someone like that? That’s against the law!”
“Yeah, it is against the law. But too often, people aren’t being prosecuted for murdering young black men. And that hurts. And that makes people angry, and defensive.”
“I understand,” Evan said. 
So here we are. I have no simple wrap-up to this story. I have no happy ending/lessons learned.
This is what we are in the middle of, and it sucks. I can only think of the words my husband once said to me, when we were in personal crisis and fighting each other. He said, “In times of trouble, we have to turn toward each other, not against each other. Otherwise, we’re not going to make it.” So maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s the only solution we have to work this out; each other.
And because I don’t know what else to do or say, I can only say this…God bless us.

*** this was a post on Facebook that was shared widely and garnered hundreds of strong emotions and comments. I realize that not everyone will see this story in the same way that I interpreted it. I can only say that this was my experience, and this was the way I perceived the situation, based on the things said, and the level of vitriol. See my follow up post for further clarification: