Monday, August 22, 2005

family and other lovers


A friend is showing me his art.

"It’s very ghost-like," I say.

"You guys can’t tell if it’s a bus with wheels or two houses," he asks. It’s actually a Ghost Bus. The one ghosts travel on.

"What do you learn on the bus?" I had more questions. He was slow in answering.

The president of my old company personally asks me back to work. Just a couple days a week. She recognizes there was some flub in the legality of the original hire. I find it hard to say no to her.

Bubble gum wars.

My performance for the Folklife Center goes from 7 am – 12:30. It’s 6:30 by the time we leave the house. It takes us too long to find the car. We all left the house at the same time, but Mom’s there already. I give up on getting there. My boyfriend and I call a friend to tell him of the performance anyway—he’d requested us to.


I’m in the military with my mother and little brother. We’re part of a suppressed insurgent group living in the mountains. Mother and I are catching up when I ask her where my brother has gone off to.

"Oh, he left earlier." Too bad I missed him—I had an extra ammunition cartridge for his gun. I give it to Mom, she said she could use it. We’re in fatigues carrying big guns.

We have to change transport on a back road. Somehow, I miss the boarding call and am left behind. My own fault, I’m sure. I run into a group of a half-dozen senior-ranking officers cleaning up after the encampment. I’m embarrassed but I tell them my story.

Dad and I are lovers. We sneak kisses where we can and plan our trysts for when the house is empty. He has to drop off Mom at a friend’s house. I suggest that no one will be home when he returns. Let’s try it again then.

But by then, there are at least two other bodies around us. He tries to sneak me a kiss. He is more reckless. I am the reserved one.

There is a big party on the palazzo steps. So many people I have not seen in such a long time. Almost everyone is wearing white.

Dad is speaking in Spanish to one of my childhood friends, who’s grown into quite a handsome man. All night I’ve meant to spend some time with him, as it really has been years. But I’m busy greeting folks, and seeing them off. Before I know it, my friend has to leave—his radio show starts in 38 minutes. Maybe he’ll come back afterwards. His new book comes out soon.

Out on the green, an Olympics-style event is just getting over. I can see the heads of the participants as they climb the stairs. The party is abuzz with talk of the sport. I make mental notes of all this—to write about it later. Dad sidles up next to me and challenges me to construct the lead sentence of my piece on the spot. It must be very well written—he has professional standards. I try, but am overwhelmed with pressure.

The proximity of his body. His face almost pressed to mine. The bustling, sweaty bodies surrounding us… he loses himself and his lips fall towards mine. I pull away. I’m not sure how many people saw our almost-kiss.

I walk a fellow partygoer down the steps and see my old friend leaving again. I turn around so as to escort him out. Someone’s growing plants on my porch. I wonder where the other plant is. It’s called mother-something-or-other.

As I weave through the crowd, I can hear guys commenting on how I turn so many heads. They speak in both English and Spanish.

My cousin is introducing herself to a circle of parents.

"I’m his mother," she says, pointing to her son, sitting in a chair outside the group. He’s a well-known kid, popular and talented.

Inside, there are teachers looking for the students they are to tutor. I tell at least one of them that their student has already left the party. In a brief moment alone, I think about how having sex with my Dad (wanting it, even) is considered weird, strange, and sick. Perhaps I should go seek help. But I feel perfectly healthy.


A song my new lover sings about me:

Hey little girl
You’re the little girl with
No fear
You make people
Scared of you
You make me wanna
Run away, run away

My mother’s sold her house in Florida and has moved to Middlebury, VT.

"What could you grow up there," my cousin sneers. She’s very critical and rude.

Later, my mother is giving directions to a Laotian guy I’ve had a crush on. They know each other from Socialist Party meetings.

"Did you hear what she said," my mother asked him. "Also what she said about your wife’s boat?" Ex-wife.


My mom is pulled aside at airport security. I don’t realize it fast enough to stop what happens. The women at security clasp her long black hair like a rope and with one sharp swoop, cut off her hair.

"Did you cut my hair," my mother asks surprised.

"Did you cut her hair," I ask. Too late. There are about three of them standing there speechless.

"But you didn’t have permission," my mother says. I wonder if we’ll make it in time for her 2:30 flight. The security women look up at the clock and let us pass.

That’s when we find out that my brother used my mother’s plane ticket to fly himself to Florida. He’s long gone. He’d left a note that says he’s not planning on coming back. I slump into one of the chairs in the lounge and cry, dismayed. There’s nothing we can do, what’s the point?

My mother and I sit on the rocks of a riverbank, pondering all that has happened. A man approaches us, asks to join us there. I think he likes me. He was burning incense to honor a woman he used to date named Kim. He went on and on talking about it—some big deal in his life. He asked to hang out with us. I suggested to Mother that he could probably help her on the farm. He’s a middle-aged white guy. Long wavy brown hair. Kind of ordinary.

I end up having a threesome with him and another man. It is our first time together. Blood spurted from between my legs onto the wall behind him. It happens this way with every new lover. My girlhood friend is upset when she finds this out. She works for Planned Parenthood and does AIDS/HIV prevention. She makes some analogy about risk in her lecture to me.

She walks me up Main Street to a safe place. I am still naked. Blood has caked the insides of my thighs.


A display of Arts & Crafts-style computer-generated art with captions instead of titles for each piece.

An old monk singing for us a very blues-y chant about his hard-life wanderings. I am on a date with a poet I admire. "I think about it all the time" was the song’s refrain.

My mother has seen me for who I really am. She no longer treats me as her child.

I’ve walked through a dark, glittering, spinning portal into my present world.

Story sharing / life swapping.

There is so much more that I can’t remember….


My cousins are gathered around, eating the post-offering meal. Our mothers have joined us.

"I wonder why we still did it," one of my cousins says. "You know, when someone cries, you laugh—that’s customary." I notice the man she’s talking about didn’t laugh.

Our mothers are simultaneously engaged in conversation. "But I didn’t carry the rice up there," my mother says. She’s using her most polite, reverent speech.

My cousin continues talking about what happened to her older sister. The guy she hooked up with last night slapped her. She’d said it hurt.

"When she said it hurt worse than when my mom hit her—"

"Oh, come on," I interjected. "Do we have to talk about this right now?" Her sister is in our circle, quietly eating.

Mom was talking about the negative karmic merit associated with carrying the rice to the offering place. I’d overheard some of the conversation, but she had likewise been advised to shut up. I was the one who performed the necessary task, not Mother. I had been sitting right next to her.

The sister made to say it was okay to go on talking about it, when the lover reached over and hit ME!.

We had all paired up and at one point I was part of a threesome with her and that man. I remember the slap. My guy was a round man with shaved head. A Filipino guy who spoke in French to me. My boyfriend was in and out of the picture.

I’m carrying on the tradition of a reading-discussion time at school. My old friend is no longer there. To my surprise, almost everyone shows up. I am speaking in hushed tones with someone about our work. Others in the room are becoming agitated until finally someone approaches me about it.

"It’s not meant to be a study hall here, jeez!" I go back to talking. People start leaving because they’re pissed off. There is a teacher who secretly watches all this.

I find the game BS by Parker Brothers.

I’m at a bubble-blowing party with Mom, and some of her friends. It seems like everyone is there. There is a Christmas-tree-like centerpiece. Bubbles cascade up and fall down all around us.

A father of a young girl is asking us for advice, since we’re her new friends. His daughter is only 15 or so and living with a much older guy. We suggest to let her live her life. That she move out of her father’s place.
The man nods. He is glad his daughter has made these new friends, who are being so sensible and giving good advice. I notice it’s gotten dark outside.

"Look at all the stars," I say, pointing out the window. "It looks like the night was blowing its own bubbles." The party is ending. People are leaving. Finally! I get to use some of the fancier wands that others are leaving behind. Most of the soap is all used up. I chat with one of my mother’s friends. We’re talking about one of the dorms on campus. If you lose your keys, they fall into the boiler room. You have to call the Maintenance guys to schedule an appointment to go pick up your keys. I’m living in that building again.

A bunch of us who live downtown are building a new clubhouse. The baker has opened up a new nightspot, where the Maitre D’ calls you Le Ginger, or Le Donna, whatever your name is.


We are newlyweds. His family was urging him to go sailboating with them. I wanted to go home. We already had an argument going. My in-laws were annoying and persistent. He’d spent all day with them anyway.

"I’m not going anywhere with you again!!!" he yells to them as he walks off. He’s been lecturing me and is sorry. We hold one another a long time. Having made up, we stroll down the road to our car. Another car pulls up next to us. The window rolls down. The driver leans over the seat to us.

"Hey, got another match?"

"No." We innocently shake our heads.

"Too bad, ‘cuz one of us is getting hurt—in your guitar room," he says. Dad! My husband checks the time on his watch. The digital display reads EGBUNN. We run to the house, which is engulfed in flames and smoke. Dad is unconscious on the floor of the guitar room, his instrument strapped to his chest.

I’m spilling hot water into the stove while cooking a very complicated dinner. The couple I’m having over for dinner has already perfected this dish. Someone offers me a solution.

"Can I just ask one thing," I say. "Do you love me, that’s what I want to know." No answer. I lift up the top of the stove to find and clean the mess. I have trouble cleaning the burners. Why did she have to want such a complicated dinner, I ask myself, when she really likes something simple in the first place? (this is the end of some other story.)

A man I knew a long time ago is manning a booth at a sidewalk sale, giving away sunglasses. We say hi to each other as I pass by. He sneaks up and walks behind me. I am muttering to myself… "…whose pants are those?" He hears this and in striding past me, says that I’m embarrassing. We stop for a moment. I ask him outright, but don’t recall his answer. He’s flirting with me.


Homecoming? Telling the future some guy with cards—Wonder Woman…Shoot, I’ve forgotten.


My girlhood friend and I are on vacation at some sleazy guy’s motel. She needs to leave at 6 a.m.—well before I have to. I suggest she pay her bill before going. She’ll be able to sneak off easier.

"Bill? Pay my bill?" Ooh. She’s angry.

"I mean," I say calmly, "your portion of the bill. We always split the bill. Just pay your portion." She seems much calmer at this suggestion.

I’m attending a show in a classroom. I’ve been trying to attend this annual event for the past two years, but have missed it every time until tonight. One of the performers is a son of a man I’ve admired from afar. I’ve sprawled across a few folding chairs to get comfortable.

The students have been studying Laos, so their songs feature three different Laotian instruments. The son demonstrates on a bagpipe-like kaen. A string hangs from the end of it, which I reach out and catch hold of without thought, kind of like a cat would. I give it back, once I become aware of myself. After the performance, the parents of the children were introduced and that man stands up when his name is called. He went by Bill Miller.

I’m carrying a small clay pot overflowing with water in which swim four cute, pudgy goldfish. Two of them are orange. One is white with spots.

They are all very small and keep trying to get out of the pot, which seems too small. My boyfriend instructs me to keep them in the pot. I pour a little of the water out to minimize the overflow, but I’d let too much water out. I refill it with riverwater.


We have lots of kittens in our country home. We live in a prefab on a dirt road cut into a mountain, where a development is sprouting and trees are being cut. During the local Old Home Days celebration, I mistakenly leave the door open, and one of my newer kittens dashes through the door. We never see her again. Her name was Allegra.

I’m in New Jersey or Pennsylvania, visiting a shop that used to exist in my hometown, but has since moved. I tell the owners how much I missed their store. I hadn’t been able to find the perfumes they sold anywhere else. And so now am very happy to be able to buy them again.


My ex-boyfriend is buying pot from a guy in the schoolyard while we are all waiting for lunch period. I ask him not to do this, but they don’t heed me, and end up getting caught. This is the beginning of some summer program. I am bored waiting for dinner, which I’ve spoiled already by snacking.

In the hall, I notice a button on the wall and press it to see what it does. The swim instructor’s voice booms over the PA system a pre-recorded pep talk about the benefits of swimming, "If you want to learn to swim…" A few of us walk over to look at the folks swimming in the pool.

One wall is glass, which shows the swimmers under the water, as well as at poolside. It’s like a human fish tank. There are all shapes and sizes and ages of people there. It’s crowded. I’ve been in this program before. I know the rules of this place.

I’m walking down Main Street, on my way to dinner, but must turn into my apartment first—it’s too cold out. I need a sweater. I turn the corner by the bank and see a black stretch van parked along the street. It belongs to the family of the rich kid at school. The diners in the restaurant across the street are staring, jaws agape. They want gossip. Who are they? What are they doing in this dinky little town?

As I start to pass, I notice the sliding door is open. The rich kid and his mom are inside. She’s trying to get him to stop being such a baby.

"Go out and have some fun," she says. I get close enough to peek my head in.

"Hi Pete," I say and move on. I tried to keep it light and breezy. His mom turns to him as if to say, see, that wasn’t so bad… They end up walking behind me—Pete and his older brother. I overhear someone expounding on the trials of getting evicted from one’s home. Couldn’t he, the brother, forgive them their debts? They’re trying so hard. It’s my ex-boyfriend’s brother pleading. I recognize his voice. His cries are in vain—even I know this—Pete’s brother may own the apartment building we live in, but he probably has nothing to do with it’s business. Their father is the one still handling that. I notice some beautifully intricate ironwork on the railings and posts we’ve been passing on Main Street.

There are several notes posted to the door of my apartment, and a pile of stuff nearby. "Came by at 3 a.m. to do dishes but you weren’t home [signed] 10 p.m." read a note from my upstairs neighbor. Another note is from that ex-boyfriend. Upon entering the kitchen, I notice how empty the room is, and it takes me a while to see that there’s furniture missing, among other things. This is all my ex’s work! He must have come in and taken a few things. I look back at the pile by the door, and see that he’s been sifting through it to determine what belongs to him and what’s mine. It’s a bit out of character for him to be doing all this without my involvement, but what can you do?

An older fellow I’m friendly with is getting on really well with an old girlhood friend of mine. He talks her into meeting up with him for a walk later, which she is happy to oblige. He is sitting al fresco with a mature East Indian man when she arrives. But the moment she approaches their table, a 16-year-old Indian boy sidles up to her and insists they walk together. The man she came to see waves her off, as if to say, take your time, I’ll be here when you’re done talking. The boy takes my old girlfriend on a stroll under the streetlamps. She obliges only to be polite but becomes increasingly irate. His conversation is not sophisticated enough, and the man she really wants to see is just sitting there chatting like nothing is wrong.

I join them at the table and come to understand that this Indian man has many sons who are looking for wives, one of whom is trying his best to seduce my girlfriend. Both of these men knew this and set up this little walk for the boy. My woman friend comes back furious. But the older fellow shrugs, what could he do? The boy wanted what he wanted. She feels betrayed.

I bought a framed piece of art. It’s rather large and I’m trying to enter a cafeteria with it in tow. At the same time, another woman is trying to enter with her large parcels. I try to back away to let her pass first, but she insists on my advancing. It’s a tight squeeze and the glass of the frame cracks. I am dismayed. But the Chinese woman I bought it from (who’d been watching the whole scene) told me that it was actually plexiglass and that it would only be $10-$20 to replace it.

The woman who’d let me pass comes in, stands in line to order food, leaves her luggage there, and walks off to the salad bar. She returns with her plate filled and finds her luggage exactly as she left it.

"How come no one’s gone through my bags?" she shouts, enraged. I am surprised that she’s angry that there hasn’t been a crime committed against her.

I keep wondering if I’m too late for the breakfast buffet. Even though I’m not sure, I dig in because the food is still available.

My cousins are visiting and we are all converging at my place. Others get together to celebrate, too. Old childhood friends of mine. All Laotians. At some point, we decide to go to TJ Buckley’s, the fanciest restaurant in town.

"We have a table for six or eight," I said to the hostess. She winces.

"Actually, we’re not taking any more," she said. "The professors are here. Sorry."

In the center of the room is a large table where some Marlboro College professors are already enjoying their drinks. An end-of-semester treat for them. We get to sit down, but we get shitty service. We ended up leaving early to go to my place, hang out, and eat popcorn and ice cream.

I’ve given my cousin the key to my apartment, and told her the quirk about the lock.

"Why don’t you just hide the key," she asks.

"It’s too dangerous," I say. "The front door is always unlocked. No security."

"You’re probably right." We party like it’s the last time any of us will see each other for a long time. We’re popping corn in the laundry hamper by the power of the space heater. Friends are stopping by but never stay long.. We are all trying to make connections. I introduce an older man as coming from Massachusetts—

"Pennsylvania," he corrects me. A woman introduced herself to me as "see kheo", which means the color green. We are speaking a mix of Laotian and English. We’re having a good time.


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