Henrietta


henrietta letters

Oh yeah, and I got some pretty sweet cat salt and pepper shakers, too. You’re welcome.

I’d never liked antiquing before — my mother half-dragging me around rooms full of musty nonsense that nobody wanted, my feet tired, my nose stinging a little from all that dust and “history.” History in quotes, of course, because much of it seems to be weird plastic crap from the 1970s that got tossed out of someone’s basement and somehow landed in a shop dubbed as an “antique.” But my family took a trip to a little town on the river and found an amazing shop with proper, beautiful antiques. Vases, gorgeous old pipes, well-preserved powder blue suitcases, lamps, a strangely huge collection of salt and pepper shakers and finally…a stack of old letters spanning from 1913 to 1935 chronicling the life of Henrietta, a woman from California whose husband died of influenza in 1918, whose children grew up and sent her postcards from their trips throughout the state, whose sister and disabled brother sent her darling letters, drawings, and times tables. My favorite envelope simply contains a newspaper clipping of a burned-down building, with the words “our old playgrounds are ruined” in thick pencil-scrawled cursive.

I hadn’t written or been inspired to write since I left India. Life has felt like a blur, and a not-so-pleasant one at that, since I returned. I miss my life in Bangalore, miss the way people treated me and loved me and randomly took photos with me, miss the bizarre hole-ridden sidewalks and too-strong milk in bags, miss the food (oh, the food), miss rickshaw rides through monsoons. I often find myself up at night wishing I were back there, even though I love being home in the states, where it’s actually quiet at night and I don’t have to wear long pants in 90 degrees with 80% humidity. I’m glad I don’t have E. coli anymore, which finally ended its long romp inside my intestines after 4 weeks of the most impressive diarrhea imaginable. But I want to go back. It’s particularly hard because I was supposed to be there for 10 weeks and left after 4 instead, so in my mind I’m supposed to be there, not here doing yard work at 7 a.m. or living in the country with only a few friends around. I got used to never being alone, always having something to look at or taste or laugh about (so many goats), and writing is such a solitary activity that I think I’ve been avoiding it.

But then…Henrietta. Henrietta has a story to tell, and I’ve been researching her family tree and census records, trying to get a timeline so I can imagine her life and recreate it on paper. She came to me on old, yellowed paper, wrapped in a pink ribbon, and it’s my job, my duty even, to do her justice. You’ll see the results. Not tomorrow, maybe not next year, but someday you’ll meet Henrietta.

Many thanks to my reader Hans, whose kind words and constant reassurance always add a little joy to my day! (Basically, he was like “Why don’t you write anymore” and I was like “Good question” and that was like…that.)

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I Grew Up So Well


I may be up at 2 a.m. and it may be because I finished editing a short story I’ve been working on for a year and I may have just submitted it to my university’s literary journal so I may be having a mini heart attack but also may be feeling so accomplished that I can’t stop jittering. Y’all, I actually finished something. Conceptualized, drafted, wrote, edited, re-edited, ruminated, re-re-edited, and…submitted. This is real life.

And it got me thinking…I had the best childhood. (How’d this thought train happen? I wrote something! –> Reading as a child helped me write –> one time I wrote a crappy story about Cleopatra and my mom loved it –> My parents were so supportive –> My parents had such eclectic taste in everything –> I practically came out of the womb singing Neil Young.)

When I say “best childhood” I don’t mean “most innocent” or “happiest” necessarily. I mean I had a childhood that I look back on and appreciate, because I accidentally was a pretty insightful kid. And everything I did then, everything I was exposed to, has made me pretty awesome (if I do say so).

Want an explanation? I present you with a series of poems from my childhood, which you will receive every other day for as long as I can come up with them. They will all be first drafts and will probably be written in the middle of the night, so feel free (gently and lovingly) to offer criticisms and ideas.

We’ll begin with BLOCKS.

I drag Pops’ box blocks, dead like wooden bricks
across the oriental carpet (red spirals from somewhere I will dream of later)
and — thunk — drop rubber zoo animals from their cloth prison, only to box them in again
within the lifeless block-walls.
The harder they come the harder they fall
Jimmy Cliff sings, high and warm, as lions leap upon giraffes, teeth tearing through tendons and muscles, spurts of blood hitting onlookers.
Years later I will remember this carnage fondly
if only to laugh at my morbidity as a five-year-old
and to rent a copy of The Harder They Come
which was about drugs
according to Dad
and I didn’t know that meant violence, too, because drugs are always paired with violence
at least when desperation gets involved,
so we document it in movies that hurl knives against the TV screen.
Age 5 doesn’t allow for true understanding of desperation, but I must’ve seen it
because I replicated it
with lions
in my house.
Peace often followed, as the lions
sick with remorse and giraffe flesh
bathed in the sun, rolling in the red tide of a rug born somewhere I’d never heard of.
As all I couldn’t comprehend washed over me
heavy accents filled my ears
and mondegreen* stole my understanding, turning every sad lyric into something pleasant.
Them a loot them a shoot them a wail shanty town.

*mondegreen is the mishearing of a word, usually within a song.

Write.


Giving birth…or getting a tattoo. Both, probably.

I haven’t written in so long…I’m sorry! …No, that’s not an apology to you, it’s one to myself. How dare I let myself stop writing after I got a tattoo that says “write.” How. Dare. I.

You heard right, kids! Caps got tatted… The inside of my left wrist now says “write” in typewriter font. I got the tattoo almost 2 months ago, and have been meaning to blog about it ever since, but I’m kind of ridiculous and forgot/didn’t have time…

I think I ought to start out by saying that I am terrified of needles. Like, so scared that for a long time, whenever they drew my blood, they had to use a baby needle to make me feel better. Mind you, baby needles are barely smaller than adult needles, but somehow it made me feel that tiny bit better. Tiny bit.

So, obviously, in the span of one year, I’ve gotten my nose pierced and gotten a tattoo. Because I’m a masochist like that. “Hello, I would like a tattoo. Yes, stab me with a needle 50-3,000 times per minute. Yay!”

I’m pretty sure I almost threw up while Philadelphia Phil (yes, that is what he called himself. My tattoo artist is so much cooler than yours) worked on the tattoo. It felt like a million cat scratches over and over, and I’m a big wimp, and OH MY GOD NEEDLE. So that’s how that went down. My friend Kate was there with me and I’m surprised I didn’t squeeze her hand off. But I’m so glad I went through it all, because it meant a lot to me.

Writing is awesome and hey, why not, I’ve always wanted a tattoo. I purposefully got it on my left wrist so I could hide it with a watch if I have a grumpy boss who doesn’t like tattoos. Thinkin’ one step ahead, like a carpenter who makes stairs.

But actually, there’s quite the story behind my tattoo. I’ve explained my anxiety in a previous post, but basically, I have panic attacks and am almost constantly anxious, which is why if you’ve met me you’ll notice that I’m super fidgety. Anyway, I had a lot of problems with that about a year ago and was pretty useless; I couldn’t leave my room, barely got anything done, and definitely didn’t write. But writing had always been how I combated my anxiety before, and after reaching the lowest point of my life, my mom suggested that I start keeping a journal specifically related to my anxiety. It sounds strange, but it really helped. So now, I’m permanently reminded to let go of my anxiety by writing (I’m doing it right now, actually. I’ve been a tweaky mess all day).

It’s hard to explain it to people, so I usually just say, “I love to write,” which sounds kinda lame. I guess that’s true, too. But for real? The for real answer? I was screwed up, and writing saved me, as it always had and always will.

One more reason that I love all of you, dearest readers. You’ve rarely known it, but you’re like my therapy group. And I love you so much.

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