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Monthly Archives: November 2008

it’s thanksgiving today, a holiday i usually hate, simply because i have serious food issues, and the idea of revolving a day around eating unnerves me and it always has. 

but i like it, too; i like that people acknowledge and recognize–even if it’s just for a day– the gifts they’ve received and somehow pay respect to them, relish in them over and over again in their minds, stop chowing down on stuffing balls for a second to think about all that we are given. 


i remember when i was married, in a funny way, i would nudge tony and say, “i want a gift”, and we would laugh while i would wax poetic, as if i was writing or reciting copy from the new issue of vogue, on how i would really love nothing more than a vuitton something-or-other, but in truth, i just really wanted to be given something from him that was intangible, something honest and deep and had no price tag and wasn’t something under a spotlight in the window of barneys.

and once he took away the big gift, the gift of marriage and everlastings and forevers and evers, and regifted them to someone else, i realized, after the darkness started to lift, after the fog started melting away and burning off, i had a closetful of gifts, an overstocked wardrobe of beautiful and extraordinary intangible things, objets d’art, treasures. artifacts. icons.

i have a mom who gave us the greatest, most valuable thing of all: love without boundaries. 

i have an iphoto site brimming with colorful images of me and daniel riding elephants and doing cartwheels on the beach in goa, sean and i freaking out over macaroons in the marais, charlie and lizzie sitting expectantly on the stairs on christmas morning in their abercrombie pjs and bedhead hairstyles, mom enjoying the sunshine speckling through the quickly changing oak tree leaves at waveny. danny on his birthday in chelsea, drunk and golden and radiant. lisa and i hugging madly at our flea market booth in brooklyn, sweating our asses off but still smiling and making fun of the ridiculous bargainers. me and sheree in the back of dine’s truck under the moonless yet electric sky of cambodia.

in my mind i have other gifts stored, locked away in my little treasure chest reserved for, well, treasures. ann swimming in the pool the day she was killed. picking up horseshoe crabs on a craggy beach on cape cod, circa 1972, dad at my side, pinto parked in the sand driveway of “dunetop”. the time, in 1983, i realized that love at first sight was real, not something you only read about in cosmopolitan magazine. seeing a moonrise over the south china sea while on a diesel powered junk alone and crying, weeping silently a message of gratitude. the feeling of seeing tokyo for the first time and being overwhelmed by sensation, experiencing every sense in my body igniting and going off like fireworks. 

in my soul, my mom and the sacrifices and the opportunity to have an amazing public school education in a town we didn’t necessarily belong in from a financial and practical standpoint–i am grateful. knowing that i have a sister and a brother that are the foundation of my world, people who call me crazy sometimes and then support me anyway. a sister and brother that love me through and see me through. that gratitude and humility is part of me. it is me. 

thank you for all the presents that i have loved and enjoyed unwrapping and saving and storing and holding onto and cherishing.

thanks. ar kun.


last saturday night, i was whirling around a table, piled with a pyramid of anchor beer cans and a 3 layer cake. i was trying to copy the traditional dancing, mimicking the crowds of people moving their hands this way and that way, bending them backwards in this double-jointed yet beautiful and elegant manner, skip-skip-skipping their bare feet, shushing around the table. as the lights were blinking overhead, keeping time to the live barely-out-of-their-teens singers, watching sergey and sheree and nick and dine and jason and shannon laughing and stumbling and learning the dance moves, too, i thought, “i live here.”

i am at a wedding in cambodia. i am dancing at a wedding in cambodia. 

i live here.

i’ve had these eureka moments frequently, when i am struck by the realization that my upside-down world has righted itself in some strange, unplanned way. when i see pierre and siri and nick and dine and sheree sitting around the garden at wanderlust, glowing under the haze of the red paper lanterns, smoking and drinking the coffees from the cappucino machine dine “borrowed” (read: stole) from his dad’s storage room, laughing about everything and anything, i again am electrified by where i am, how this is new new new, everything is new and shiny and exploratory and fresh, and i am stupefied by the enormity of it all. i live here, i think. i live here.

riding in the back of dine’s pickup truck last night, me and siri and sharee and sergey and sebastian and dr nick and isabel, screaming into the wind, rolling around in the cab on top of each other every time we bumped over the monsoon pocked dirt road filled with potholes, looking at the stars that were on fire, blazing in the sky with their golden-ness, their shine, the moon full and hazed over by the relentless humidity, smelling the steam and the palms and the cigarette smoke and this unidentified sour-y fruit smell, i saw dine’s face in the sideview mirror, smiling yet deep in concentration–what is he thinking?–i was dumbstruck again by that now-familiar sensation: i live here. i fucking live here. 

i miss home. i do. i miss the bagels and the times being delivered and dry cleaners and the “asap”s and the plans and my couch–oh my yummy delicious couch–and charlie and lizzie and mom–so much, so so much–and the movies and burgers at stand and a slice of pizza for $1 and the abundance at whole foods and daniel and hearing the voices of sean/danny/demas/everyone and the diversity on the subway–shit, i miss the lady in the burka who plays the accordian at 34th street N/R and she’s terrible–i could even say i miss the cold sometimes. sometimes. i miss duane reade.

but i am gaining here. i am getting and getting, i am receiving. i am open, i am a sponge. i am doling out, i am ladel-ing out my insides, my heart, my soul. it’s out there and i am getting it refueled. it’s being poured in. 

i live here. and i am living.

can an inanimate object become a hostage? 

yes, when this object beholds a lifetime of memories.

i am in a hostage crisis. and the hostage is a lamp. and i spent my morning trying to negotiate with its kidnapper, my ex-husband, who seems to believe that he can return my lamp, this thing, this steel and glass antique parisian street lamp, that mom + dad bought a zillion years ago maybe at cligancourt, after perusing the book stalls on the left bank; mom in her dior-new-look copy, dad maybe in a black skinny suit with narrowish lapels, his heavy black glasses perched on his hook nose–this is my visual, my fantasy, mine, there’s probably not a shred of truth in this vision, but no matter–and he, my ex, my kidnapper, has decided, again, for the one hundredth time, that he’s just “too busy” to get around to getting it to me.

so it sits, hanging lonely on a garage at a house in vermont, a house that once was filled with what i believed to be long-lasting love. it looks out over the nothingness now, the emptiness of this place, this house that is no longer a home. no longer my home. no longer a place that’s connected to that day at cligancourt in 1950-whatever, where dad + mom shared something precious, something that also felt like long-lasting love in that moment. 

it’s not just a lamp. it’s not. it’s a vessel of memories, it holds the past. it illuminated my life in so many ways. it hung valiantly from our lopsided garage, the one covered in pachasandra, the outbuilding that had our name burnished into a piece of wood that hung next to this lamp.

it highlighted the darkness, this lamp. it said “you’re home” when we would pull up after a thanksgiving meal at aunt bert’s house in ridgefield, stuffed and sleepy. it held a red velvet ribbon and spruce sprigs at christmastime, branches that were frequently laden with snow. at those times, it looked so romantic, so parisian, so regal, like a postcard ready to be photographed.  its light created creepy, menacing shadows in the garage, when i would run, scared, late at night, to place the trash in the cans for the garbagemen to pick up in the predawn hours of the morning. it said “stately” when everything inside of our house, inside of our hearts, seemed so dismal and frightening and lost. it made me dream of paris, of traveling, it created stories in my mind, stories of mom and dad and pan am flights when people dressed up to get on pan am flights. it made me imagine. it held my dreams, it held the world i wished i lived in. 

and here i am, in cambodia, and there’s a big, scary wire sticking out of the front of my little 1929 french colonial house in mondul one commune, waiting for the lamp. it sits, this wire, poised and ready for the connection, the conduit to make it come alive.

and this lifeline for the wire, the lifeline for me, my connection to my home and my past and my mom and my dad and the daydreams and the nightmares and the death of ann and the loss of dad and the learning and the growing that happened under this light, this illuminator, this orb of, well, fucking light, is, according to tony, filled with hornets and sitting idly, unloved and unlit, at a place that for me is filled with darkness. 

he’s too busy. he can’t possibly give me my light, my sun, my full moon, my memories and my past, he can’t give it back to me at this time. 

he’s holding it hostage. and he’s holding me, my mind, my heart, hostage, too.

it’s not just a lamp. 

it’s a life.

1. man of color/non-white.

2. southeast asia

3. poor

these are the three things i wrote on the blackboard tonight in the hot stale library of the pagoda where i teach. the monks and the monk boys were clustered around the table, looking at those words with questioning eyes, writing them down feverishly in their tiny notebooks, all with cartoon images on the covers.

“what do these words mean to you?” i asked them.

mr big, i think it was mr big, with his enormous grin and his cackle-cackle infectious laugh, his body gumby-like and flexible, moving all the time in spastic yet rhythmic motions, said, “miss eliza, you are describing us.” his face went flush.

my reply was, “yes, and no.”

silence. the clickety clack of the broken fan was the only sound in the room. i saw a headlight in the darkness outside the broken door get closer. another boy walked in, pushing his little bike. he sat in the corner, listening, stretching his ear drums, writing in his tom & jerry notebook. quiet.

“i am describing barack obama, the new president of the united states of america. and i am also describing you.”

giggles. whispers in khmer. more giggles.

our motto in our class has always been “reach high”. i write it on the board every single day. then, with my blue dry erase magic marker i wrote: 

4. reach high

and circled it, put arrows and stars and hearts around it for effect. 

i said, “get it?”

i talked to the tops of their shorn heads, as they scribbled scribbled scribbled down all the words that came tumbling, falling, flying out of my mouth, soaring with hope and encouragement and cheerleader-ish superlatives–and i carried on, explaining how barack obama, this man who came from nothing and turned into something, something big and inspired and inspiring and motivating and encouraging and powerful, because he “reached high”. like they are.

“miss eliza,” mr right said. “what will mr barack obama do on his first day as president of the U.S.A.?”

and i answered, “think about you.”

us? he will think about us?

“he will look in the mirror, and get ready to shave and brush his teeth. he will see his reflection, and in that reflection is you. young, poor, not white, lots and lots of odds to face and to hurdle, mountains to climb and peaks to reach. because that was him not too long ago. and you and he come from the very same places. and he won’t forget you.”

we have something in common with the president of the united states of america?

we have something in common with the president of the united states of america!

recognition. understanding. grasping.

“i get it! i get it!”

“miss eliza, you are saying we can be anything we want to be, right? just like mr barack obama!”

“yes, mr. big, that’s exactly what i am saying. exactly.”

they love the word “exactly”. they like mimicking me when i say it, because when i say it, i say it with gusto, emphatically, loudly and precisely, my body moving with the syllables, my arms punching the air for emphasis, with gratitude and appreciation. i save this word for special occasions. 

“ex-ACT-ly,” they cried in unison, fist bumping each other, slapping one another’s backs. and giggled some more.