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Monthly Archives: July 2009

ann curtis kiester.

13 march 1965-17 july 1982.

identical twin sister. sister. daughter. girlfriend. best friend to many. inspiration to others. painter. potter. collage artist. cartoonist. budding graphic designer. singer. journal keeper. intellect. sarcastic. tidy. funny. silly. perfect teeth that were all the same length and size. well manicured always. dreamer. realist. non-driver. driven. focused. perfectionist. devoted. real.

dead. but very much alive inside of me.

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katherine “katy” emma macieski.

1 september 1965-17 july 1982.

best friend. daughter. sister to many. aunt to more. owner of a zillion pets. funny. glib. sarcastic. beautiful. preppy in her genetic makeup. talented. witty. intelligent. hysterical. crystal blue irish eyes. tall and skinny. game for anything. messy. owner of vintage VW bug that matched her eyes. dedicated. real.

dead but very much alive inside of me.

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‘there is a land of the living, and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.’

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“dad’s got parkinson’s,” the email from my brother simply stated. “did you know that?”

no. i did not know that. and no, i can’t muster up the energy or the empathy or the anything to really care. i just don’t really feel anything. nothing. 

i sort of wanted to. it felt weird to be straddled with this information–this terrible, surely-life-changing-for-most-people tidbit of information– and not have some sort of halt to my rhythm, a hiccup in the  moment, a stop. not take a deep breath or not even hold the breath. i just hit “reply” and said, “nope.” and sipped a diet coke and went about the day. i didn’t feel anything.

how can i be this way? how can i? this man, this 83 year old human being is my dad, the person who gave me 50% of my genetic makeup, whose bone structure i inherited, whose love of books and of writers i absorbed, and whose fading black & white photos from the ’50s i have tacked to my wall. i look at this man every day, this man in the narrow black suit, just-so white pocket square, with the heavy black glasses perched on his hookish nose and the apropos skinny tie tacked down to keep from swaying in the wind, striding across the tarmac in barbados, leading my mom in her neat shirtwaist dresss swirling about her narrow calves and her sensible mid heeled pumps. i look at this man in the suit as a stranger, as a character in some film noir movie, an actor playing a role, performing as a husband, as a man, as my dad. i don’t know him. he’s just a 2 dimensional thing. a piece of paper with some mid tone greys and deep blacks and bright whites outlining this life he is supposedly striding into on that tarmac in barbados some time in the late ’50s.

he is a stranger. 

i spent much of my life since 1972 wishing this stranger was someone i knew, someone i could crawl into and learn from and press my ear against his chest and hear the beat-beat-beat and the hollow echo of his voice when he talked or hummed along to his beloved herb alpert: whipped cream and other delights LP. i wanted him to teach me how he did the sunday new york times magazine crossword puzzle in ink. i wanted to spend some more time on his lap while he tapped away at the manual typewriter. i thought about how he could’ve taught me to drive stick shift on his old VW beetle, the one with the cool perforated leather steering wheel wrap. i wanted to borrow that suit in the ’80s when i was listening to “the specials” on cassette tape and feeling really cool in my creepers and red lipstick. and i wanted to know what this man was thinking as he strode across that hot and sunny tarmac in barbados in the late ’50s. where was he going? but really, where did he go?

we lost him somewhere. he went away and never found his way back. or more likely, he kept striding forward, with that purposeful gait i see in that picture on the tarmac in barbados, and let go of my mom’s arm and kept walking towards something. to something. from something. he never turned around. he tried a few times–maybe 3 times over a 30 year period– but they were feeble, sorry, pathetic little teases and he invariably would disappear again for long stretches of time. poof, he was gone. 

over the years, the decades, the lifetimes–my fucking life–i harbored all levels of anger, despair, sadness, loneliness over his absence, his disappearance, his back turning, his forgetting. i stared at his picture, i put it away, i tacked it back up, i let the edges curl up and allowed it to get dusty. i would look at it, then ignore it, look at it again, and walk away. again. again. again.

i was accused often of letting this relationship that didn’t exist get in the way of ones that did. maybe so. but i couldn’t really let go. he let go of me, but i couldn’t do the same. i just could not.

and weirdly, after my own divorce, after all the emotional upheavals and daunting, erratic roller coasters had sort of smoothed out and became less bumpy–a little bit–i realized i had let go of him, too. some sort of switch had turned off inside of me, and the light that i had left on somewhere, in hopes of him seeing it and finding his way back to me from the dark, shadowy mysterious place he had been hiding, had burned out.

i read a song lyric somewhere, i forget who wrote it, but it said something like, “the hand that you hold sometimes is the one that holds you down”. i was tired of holding the non existent hand of my father. so i dropped it. and walked forward. 

and here i sit, knowing the man in the skinny black suit on the tarmac in barbados has an awful, terrible disease, one in which i’ve witnessed in others and found to be heartbreaking. and i can’t feel anything, i can’t squeeze out a tear. i cannot act. i cannot play the part. i dropped the hand that held me down and i can’t pick it up again. 

i feel nothing.

and i don’t really want to look back.

i’ve been doing a lot of thinking about beginnings and endings and all the things, all the matters, all the incidents and changes and philosophies and maneuvers that happen in between the bookends of our lives. 

i have been fortunate enough to have a new staff member at the shop, a girl named heng, a smart and beautiful and shiny individual who has charmed me into her universe. there’s something radiant about heng; she glows in her skin, her lively eyes glimmer and glitter and her smile is like a 500 watt bulb, lighting up the night sky; but i think it’s something on the inside that gives her this light, that illuminates her from the inside out. 

one evening, we lost power in the store, in the whole neighborhood. these things happen with some relative frequency in cambodia, and while it admittedly unnerved me 9 months ago, today i know that it will last no more than an hour, and i can virtually set my watch to it and countdown to the second when the POW POW POW of the lights turn back on and set us in motion again. but that night was heng’s first experience in the shop with an outage, and i heard some fear in her voice. “miss eliz! can you come downstairs?” she cried. so down the rickety, crickety stairs i went, candle in hand, flashlight in back pocket and relieved heng of her fear. she held my hand.

without a chance of making a sale, we decided to sit outside on our little bamboo chairs and watch the street come alive with kids twirling around with flashlights and restauranteurs quickly lighting votives and the neighbors congregating and surely grumbling about the lack of electricity–ba ba ba! again!–and the lack of fans and cash registers and internet and television. but heng and i just hung back and let this parade swirl around us and talked. i asked her about her husband, whom she had casually mentioned before. her wedding was in february. 

“miss eliz, i am afraid to tell you,” she said. dumbfounded and not quite sure why, i pressed on. “heng, you don’t have to tell me, but you have to know you can. i am not going to judge you.” “but miss eliz, it’s not good.” okay, heng, it’s cool, it’s okay, whatever it is, i promise, it’s okay. so she told me she was separated from him, and was living with her mom again, away from his teenaged behavior, his inability to be a supporter, a partner, a, well, husband. 

“he doesn’t dream about the future, like i do, ” she explained. “he do not care about it. my dream is to live abroad and to save money to do this. he only cares about drinking and being with his friends.”

the thought bubble over my head was mathematic equations, simple addition tables. wait! they got married in fucking february, and it’s june. that’s four months. four. and divorce in cambodia is a relatively new concept. women marry young, most likely to guys their parents and his parents have forced the other upon. they live with their parents, almost always the brides parents, and that’s the way it is. the guys work and then go out with the ‘boys’ at night, drinking at the beer gardens and stumble home around midnight, while the girls stay home and cook and clean and look after the kids and the grandparents and everyone else who happens to live there–cousins, aunts, uncles, whomever. this is their fate, their destiny.

without showing any alarm, after recounting the months again–maybe she meant february last year?— i continued the conversation, the comforting, the hand-holding, the understanding. i admitted to heng that i, too, was divorced, and i had a dream and my dream was cambodia, and i could achieve this because i did get freed. liberated and freed in some roundabout back-door, long, torturous, lesson-learning way.  and she was making my dream come true, and i would, in turn, help her make hers come to life, too. somehow. i would open a fucking store in timbuktu, wherever, just so i could place her there.

i tried to imagine what happened between the lavish khmer wedding–a 3 day long affair where the bride changes 7 times into various traditional costumes and every neighbor, shopkeeper, tuk-tuk driver you’ve ever met is invited to drink warm beer, toast “chol moy!” a thousand times to the newlyweds and dance around a table in circles, moving their hands ever so slightly–to this moment, in the candlelit darkness of our little alleyway. what the hell went on?

who knows? does it matter? the bookends were set, she put them there, they were placed, plunked down–klunk!– and being held between them were some clearly tumultuous times– pain, lost hopes, dashed dreams. 

i admired heng that night. i saw in her a drive, a strength, a vision and passion for herself that moved beyond the expectations that society, her family, her culture placed upon her. she had nerve, moxie, balls, for god’s sake. she wanted more and felt she deserved more. she saw herself living a life that most cambodian women can’t even conjure up, because they haven’t been given a chance, an opportunity, a beginning. she worked at the airport and saw planes take off, taking tourists and travelers to places she had never heard of or landing with strange passports from countries she couldn’t pronounce. she heard accents and saw outfits and makeup and magazines and couples holding hands and shrieks of hellos and goodbyes hourly, daily. she visualized herself there. here. there. anywhere. everywhere.

heng was afraid of the dark, but not not not afraid of the light.

it was a very very bright night.