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Media Therapy

Sometimes a change in attitude is really all that’s necessary to change your shitty life (or rather, what you perceive as your shitty life).

Take, for example, today.

Yesterday, I was a ridiculous mess. I’m gonna blame mercury, because there ain’t no logical way to explain it, but when my niece came home at 9:00, she found me in a ball on the couch, crying. Yes, I’d been drinking. But wow, was I upset over nothing. That sadness (but not the tears) stayed with me until I went to sleep…

…but it was mostly gone by the time I woke up (at 7 a.m.!!) this morning.

My niece took the day off from work because she wasn’t feeling well, and she needed to get some errands done. When she told me her errands included the bookstore and the library, I asked if I could join her.

I ended up coming home with two brand new books, four free paperbacks, 9 videos borrowed from the library, and 7 new $1 CDs I’ve never heard, from Aboveground records. That’s plenty of distraction to tear me away from my other distractions, which have been bothersome lately.

Getting lost in a fluff book, or a movie with no cinematic merit whatsoever? Listening to music (that may or may not suck) for the first time? Way healthier than dwelling on real or imagined hurts that you have absolutely no power to change.

(patting self on back)

So yeah, today was a good day.

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The Bull In The China Shop

So I’ve been feeling a bit like a bull in a china shop in my own life recently– in a general sense, and also particularly in certain social and work situations.

For starters, my second job, the fine dining “insurance job,” is in a restaurant where the actual bar has about four square feet of working space, no running water at the outside bar, and cement floors. For a dropsy, loud, occasionally profane person such as myself– and also for anyone accustomed to a loud, spacious, fast-paced bar with no “decorum” standards–this is an awkward combination. I like the money and the staff, but I feel like I don’t belong, and it’s an uphill battle to convince myself to go every shift.

Also, as usual, my personal life is a clusterfuck of bad timing, awkwardness and self-doubt, which I think is exacerbated by the fact that the peaceful self-acceptance and motivation that I found in Vieques ran away with a quickness as soon as the stresses of hometown life, family and work flooded back into my life.

I’ve had a couple of really self-centered down days this week– days when I knew I was wallowing in pointless and imagined hurts, and making it everyone else’s problem. A friend called me out on that tonight, and I’m grateful for it.

I don’t feel any less like an awkward robot… But she brought my self-awareness back. It had been most certainly on vacation, while self-doubt and self-pity were working overtime.

So I guess I’ll end with a Jack White lyric that just sort of sums it up: “I just don’t know what to do with myself…”

And that’s okay, too.

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Not The Blog You Were Looking For

The other night, while I was drunk and very upset, a friend told me that perhaps if the Vineyard is a place I continually feel the need to run away from that it’s not the place I’m supposed to be. And I told him, the truth is I want to run away from everywhere. No place feels like home. I want to run away because I want something internal to be different, but I know that physical movement is not the key to making anything feel better.

Still, the conversation got me thinking. I have been planning for months to stay here on the island year round and return to Emerson in January as a commuter student (two days of classes, stay on a friend’s couch). I have spent the winter and the spring healing in the presence of some of my closest friends–friends who are so important to me that they have taken the place of the family I no longer have.

I came home because I needed to survive the most devastating loss of my life, and it was the only way I knew how. But now I’ve come back to the old familiar restlessness, the urge to get away that’s so strong and so constant that each time I return from a little vacation I begin counting the days until the next time I can leave.

The truth is, when I think about it, commuting is a ridiculous idea. And when I was in Boston, the reason I was miserable was because I was overloaded, overwhelmed and terribly worried. And then I was gutted and broken, and not even the close friends I’d made over the several years I’d been there could console me. That was a job that only the lifers could manage. I knew that around my lifelong friends from the island, I could be a sloppy crying mess and it wouldn’t make a difference. I knew that I’d feel like being around them even when I didn’t feel like being around myself–and I was right. I wouldn’t have made it through the winter without all of them. It was a quiet winter, the best it could have been under the circumstances.

But I think it might be time for the lost little girl to go back out into the world and live a louder life again. Quiet was necessary, quiet was good, but I miss the noise. I miss the insomniac city, where I wasn’t the only one awake at 3 a.m., and if I was bored I could jump on the train and in half an hour I would no longer be bored. I had the urge to run there, too–but most of the time running to Allston or Harvard or the North End–or jumping in the car with Alana and going to Nantasket–turned out to be a far enough jaunt to make it subside.

So what now? The quiet island, with my nearest and dearest friends and the possibility of re-establishing my life where it first begun, or the city, a stepping stone to wherever it is that I’m really supposed to end up? Perhaps the answer is simple: summer on Martha’s Vineyard, where I can smell the salt air and go swimming whenever I want, and in the winter the only place I’ve known where winter just may be the best season of the year.

If I stayed here until the end of October, I could finish out the season in a seasonal restaurant, and spend some less stressful time with my island friends, and I’d have enough time to readjust to the city and find a job before returning to school.

It makes sense. Now I just have to figure out if it’s what I want. Once again, it comes down to the question that I’ve never been able to confidently answer: Where do I want to be? It has never been a problem of possibility–I can make a life and get a job and make friends almost anywhere–but always one of desire. Fickle, fickle desire.

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The Lonely That Refuses To Leave Me Alone

I go away when I feel trapped. I can never afford it, but I do it anyway. Unfailingly, however, the few days I spend in another place, particularly a familiar, friendly place, makes me feel more trapped in whatever place I’m supposed to be than I already did.

I move, and as certain as there will be 24 hours in every day, the moment I leave somewhere, something happens that I wish I were there for. Whatever town I leave behind comes alive in my absence, or perhaps I miss meeting the people I should have met, or witnessing the events I wish I’d been there for. As soon as my exit is complete, I start wishing I’d never decided to leave–but of course if I had stayed, I would have continued to feel trapped, and none of the things that happened upon my departure would have occurred.

I am the queen of terrible timing.

I long too much, perhaps, for the carefree days of my youth. I miss the liberty of having no bills, and no creditors, and no obligations, and no possessions. I am tempted every day to either put my belongings in storage or throw them away, and take what money I have and keep going until it’s gone. I am in my old home, and I want to stay here until I feel like leaving, rather than getting on a plane before I’m ready to go. From here, I don’t want to return to the Vineyard, or to Boston, but to keep going from place to place until I feel I’m somewhat whole again.

But will I be whole again? Will running make any of it any better? Do I feel trapped only because I am battling this epic loneliness called grief, or because I’m truly disenchanted with my surroundings?

I forget what it feels like to have a goal; to want something the way I once wanted this expensive education I’ve put so much time into. Right now, all I want is to feel less lonely, less stranded–and because I’m still possessing of my capacity for logic, I know that lonely goes away only when it’s ready and not a moment before. I can go to school or not go to school, I can move or not move, and the ache will stay until it’s done with me.

This realization does not make me dread getting back on the plane any less. I wish it did.

Yesterday, for a few moments or hours, I was not lonely or sad. I want that feeling back.

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Letter To Be Launched Into The Ether (#1)

Dear Dad,

It snowed Sunday night, and Monday morning it looked like the island had been coated with sugar. I almost picked up the phone to call you, and tell you how beautiful it was. Of course, I’d have eventually started complaining about the fact that it would all be slush in a matter of hours. Today it rained–miserable, graceless weather, spitting cold from the sky like bullets. It was fitting, I suppose, as I haven’t felt this bad in months. Too much wine and an hours-long crying jag do not make for a pleasant morning after (big surprise).

I’ve started playing Milles Bornes again. I found a set at the Edgartown Thrift Shop for two dollars; it was the old style with the ugly box, but the cards inside were practically brand new. Games make the winter go a little bit smoother–something to do other than watch television. I miss playing Scrabble with you, even though you did accuse me of cheating when I finally beat you a few Christmases back. On some subconscious level, it feels sometimes like you’re just sitting in your little house in West Wareham, building a model truck, talking to the cat, waiting for the weather to break so you can go out and work in your shop; waiting for me to come visit so we can play Scrabble or stay up until two in the morning talking about trips we’re going to take someday.

I don’t know what to do with your house, or your shop, or your truck. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel alright about any decision I make. In order to rent the house I need to fix it up, but if I change anything, it won’t feel like you’re there anymore. I’m afraid to rent the shop with all of your tools in it because I don’t want anyone to damage them up or hurt themselves, but I know if I sell the tools, I’m going against your wishes, and I don’t want to do that. Really, I don’t want to do anything to any of it. I want to crawl up into the sleeper of the truck with a blanket and a pillow and go to sleep until you come back.

I was thinking this afternoon about the ugly yellow chair in the living room of the house we lived in at the boat yard when I was a kid, and how sometimes when I felt lonely or sad I’d bring my blankets out into the living room and sleep in that hideous recliner so that I was close enough to hear you snore, because for some reason it made me feel better. I remember sitting sideways in the chair to watch TV, with my legs thrown over the arms of it, and how every once in a while if I sat in the chair and held onto the antenna of the TV, Fox would come in clearly and I could watch Beverly Hills, 90210. You’d be sitting up in bed reading, and every once in a while you’d mock one of the characters, or throw a jelly bean at me, and tell me how ridiculous I looked sitting there with my hand up in the air, not moving for fear of losing the signal.

I was remembering, too, the day I went to foster care off-island, and the look of hurt in your eyes when you watched me walk up the ramp of the boat. How badly I wanted to run down the ramp and get back in your little truck and go home. But there was no going home, not for a while. All of that time spent in limbo, not knowing where I belonged–and for nothing. Because of worriers and busybodies who thought for some reason that it would be a good idea to take a motherless, confused teenager away from the person who loved her most in the world, and send her to live with strangers. I didn’t belong with strangers, I belonged with you.

My world doesn’t make sense without you in it. Some days I feel like I failed you–like if I’d badgered the doctors a little bit more, or gone to live with you and take care of you, or left work sooner that terrible Friday… but I know it’s just the emptiness making me feel that way. It’s a lot easier to reconcile something like heartbreak or death if you can convince yourself there was a reason, or that someone is to blame. It just doesn’t make any sense to think that the forces that be decided to take you so quickly, and so young, for no reason at all.

I think the hardest part of this is that you’re the person I always used to call when I felt this lonely or sad. Just hearing your voice would make me feel better, and there’s no hug in the world that could heal the way yours could. I remember how I buried my head in your chest when mom died, and sobbed until I was exhausted enough to sleep. I wish I could do that now. I feel like someone has tied an anvil to my ribs and dropped it off of a bridge.

I guess what I’m trying to say is I miss you. And it hurts. I finally feel it, and it fucking hurts.

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The Heavy Heavy Hurt

It’s never the things that you think will make you cry that actually bring the tears. It’s always something stupid like broken plans, or a parking ticket. For the past month and a half, I have been carrying around a load of hurt so heavy that I feel like if I try to put it down, it will crush me. I don’t often cry these days; in fact I think I cry less than I did before. And when I do cry, it’s not about that heavy, heavy hurt. It’s about the disappointment of not being able to move into my new place early, or a stupid comment from a coworker. Once the tears start coming, though, it’s all about Dad, and it comes from somewhere so deep in my guts that it actually feels like it’s being yanked out of me.

This week, there’s been a little of mom, too. Tonight I was recounting to a friend one of my favorite memories of my mother. We were driving in her old black MG (red leather interior), and she had on a flowy head scarf and big sunglasses–the same ones she was wearing in the one picture I have of my parents happy together. We were on a dirt road in Edgartown, going to visit Jim Blaine, her boyfriend at the time, who lived out in the boonies and looked a lot like my dad. It was hot summer, and I was five or so and probably barefoot, and the radio was on loud playing Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer,” and my mom was singing along. I don’t know what we did after we got there, and I don’t think it much matters, because the drive itself was obviously more memorable.

I didn’t realize at first that Wednesday was my mother’s anniversary. I woke up that day in a funk, something more than what I’ve been feeling. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. My best friend was in a funk, too, and she couldn’t explain it either. We laid on the floor in her basement apartment and didn’t really talk to each other for an hour. Then we bought pets to cheer ourselves up, but it didn’t last long. I had hoped to hang out with another friend that evening, but they had other plans, and when I snapped my phone shut from reading the message, I burst into tears. The first four or five tears were probably about disappointment, but the rest were about, to quote an old poem, the empty spot that’s so big I should give it a name, and address, an area code. I should have my mail forwarded there.

The next morning I was having coffee with my sister, who it turned out had had an equally horrible Wednesday. At one point, she turned to me in the car and said, “You know what yesterday was, don’t you?” And then the heavy icky feeling and the sensitivity and the piles of tears made sense. On some subconscious level, I think I had known. And for the first time, I was feeling the loss of them both–at the same time.

I cried today, too. This time it started with a mild case of the cold shoulder, and ended with a crying jag in my best friend’s shop that lasted half an hour and somehow ended with me designing a T-shirt in memory of my father and laughing about how funny he would have found it. After I let the big guns out, I didn’t care so much about the brushoff anymore. It was like I’d somehow been recalibrated. I almost wanted to thank the offender for helping me to cry. I’m tempted to contract people to hurt my feelings in some small way once a day, so I can get this heavy hurt off my back faster.

I haven’t felt like myself the past few days. I’ve felt completely uncomfortable in my body, and in my life. Not unhappy with either, just uncomfortable, like shoes that haven’t been broken in yet. I need to break in my new life. I need to take pictures with my new camera and cook dinner in my new apartment, and bring home the first paycheck from one of my two new jobs. I need to remind myself that if something won’t matter a week from now, it’s probably not worth getting upset about now. I need to speak at my father’s memorial service if I can hold it together long enough, and I need to go through his closet and find an old sweatshirt that I can wear when I’m down and keep until it falls apart from wear. I need to start believing that he’s gone. And I need to cry about it.

Family My Heart Hurts Nostalgia People

The Steel-Toed Boot of Sadness

I’ve never been really excited about holidays. Not since I was a little kid and looking forward to getting big boxes of presents. Religion passed me by, and I’ve always had a small family, which is perpetually shrinking, and has shrunk now to the point that the people I consider my family are not even related to me in the technical sense. It’s not just Christmas, either. Growing up, I never had a Valentine, and half of the kids in my class didn’t even give me the ones they gave everyone. As an adult, I’ve only been in a relationship at Valentine’s Day twice, and both times were rocky. So Valentine is out, Santa is out. I object to the celebration of Christopher Columbus’s men giving a bunch of Native Americans small pox, so Columbus Day is out. Aside from the fun of using explosives, the Fourth of July is out. I suppose what’s left is Halloween, Thanksgiving (which I celebrate merely for the gluttony), and April Fool’s Day.

Christmas is particularly hard. When I was living in California, I either didn’t celebrate it at all, or I celebrated it by drinking. It seems as though the past few years when I’ve been home, the drinking has followed me. This year, I have to do my best not to turn Christmas into a full-blown, sloppy whiskey jag. In the words of a dear friend, I want to crawl into a hole and pull it in after me.

There are multiple reasons that I dislike Christmas, some deep and some shallow. There’s the obvious sadness that accompanies a holiday that’s bookended with tragedy–my mother’s anniversary is January 9th; my dad died the day before Thanksgiving. There’s the feeling of an ever-shrinking family, the loneliness of surviving, the feeling that survival coupled with such intense loneliness is not survival at all. There’s the cold, and the horrendous bells, and the terrible commercials, and the commercialism, and the awful combination of red and green. There’s the theory that if you’re not well-behaved you’ll get nothing, which in my experience has proven just the opposite. There’s the smell of cinnamon, which makes my nose itch, and the knowledge that my favorite thing about Christmas–egg nog–will very rapidly increase the size of my posterior. There’s the memory of my mother slipping me slightly-spiked egg nog when I was ten, which reminds me of the first time my father gave me a beer, which reminds me how happy he was when I threw him that 50th birthday party, which reminds me that he just barely made it to 60, which makes me want to hurl myself off of something tall just so that I’ll feel enough pain to actually cry.


I haven’t bought most of my Christmas presents yet. I’m broke, and I hate shopping, and every time I go near a mall I have to restrain myself from bashing the bell-ringer (there is a less obnoxious way to do that, I’m sure of it). Most of all, though, the reason I’ve put it all off is because every time I’ve attempted, I find a dozen things I want to buy for my Dad. I want to get him something that will make him smile like the surprise party did, like the iPod I got him for Father’s Day did, like every semester I made the Dean’s List did. But it won’t work. I could spend a thousand bucks on things he’d love and I’d still have no one to give them to. I can make a hundred people smile, but it will never be his smile, and it will never make me feel the way it made me feel to see that he knew that I loved him, and he felt appreciated, and he was proud of me.

A year ago, maybe two, I talked with a good friend of mine about going to Mexico for Christmas, just us girls. It was to be an escape from family, a voluntary excusing of ourselves from the drama and bullshit. I wish that was what I was doing this Christmas. But it wouldn’t be an escape from family this time. It would be an escape from the steel-toed boot that’s been kicking me in the chest every five minutes for almost a month.

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Tonight, it was proven to me why I want to move back to Martha’s Vineyard, at least for a while. For the past week or so, two of my good friends have been organizing a benefit concert and dinner to raise money to help me pay for my father’s services and expenses. It’s something my friends did on their own, from finding bands to play for free, to booking the space, to organizing people to bring food and serve it. The newspapers offered free ads, a local cornware merchant donated plates and cups and plasticware, the radio station advertised, a bunch of people stayed afterward to clean… the outpouring of generosity was astounding. 

More people came to the show than I could ever have expected, and the benefit raised over 1900 dollars. Because I don’t feel right about taking the money outright, I’m going to donate a matching amount back to the community, after his estate is settled, in the form of a Scholarship Fund in my dad’s name for high school students who want to pursue metal working.

 I’m completely overwhelmed with gratitude and a sense of community–this wouldn’t happen anywhere else I’ve ever lived. I don’t really know what to say, except Thanks, Martha’s Vineyard–Thank you for caring, and for remembering my Dad so fondly. Even if I only end up staying a month or two and leaving in the spring, I’ll know what it was that brought me back, and will continue to bring me back throughout my life. The Vineyard, as twisted and backwards as it can be at times, has a firm grasp on what it means to be a community. This island helps its own, without asking why, and every one of its children is raised by a lot more than a village. Even when you leave for years, it will remember you, and it will be there when you need it to be. Thanks again, islanders. I won’t forget to give back.

Family Faraway Places Islands My Heart Hurts People Travel

Freedom Disguised As An Excuse

For the past several years, I have wanted to move back to the West Coast. I kept telling myself, and other people, that the reason I did not was because my father was here, and he didn’t want me to be so far away. This reasoning became ever stronger when he became sick last March. I will not leave my Dad, I said. But who knows how long that will keep me here?

 With the terribly premature passing of my Dad last week (I thought we had years left, maybe decades–they said they’d get him a liver, and they lied), I inherited a bunch of stuff. I am now the proud owner of a house in the middle of a town I’ll never have a desire to live in (and my father knew this–he wanted me to use it as collateral to buy my own home, which I will do). I also own a grey minivan that I’ll probably never use as my own because it’s so old and run down that it only makes sense for a gearhead like my dad to own. I’ve got a half-built hot rod, and a shop full of incredibly cool tools I don’t know how to use (but hopefully will someday), and a cherry red 1953 GMC 630 semi with a white Coke-bottle stripe that’s fully restored. And a decent chunk of change, too, the amount of which I will not specify.

 And I have the freedom to go wherever I want to go, without feeling guilty about it, or missing the most important person in my life. Because the most important person in my life is gone.

 And I thought about it, too. Years ago, before he got sick, I thought to myself, when he goes, I’ll be able to go wherever I want without getting lectured about being a bad daughter. If only I could bitch slap the face of my old self now. Oh, how stupid I was, and so willing to take for granted that he’d always be there. Sometimes desire can be a truly terrible thing; can make us think of things we should never think of.

 Nevertheless, I have the freedom now. I can go wherever I want–New Zealand, Europe, California–and I’ve chosen to go home. Back to the place I came from. I’ve chosen instead of running away to some glorious faroff place to return to the tiny island that spat me out all those years ago.

 There are some who think that I’m using my father’s death as an excuse to make a foolish and un-thought-out decision. That I’m going to drop out of school and be absorbed by the island, transformed instantaneously into a lazy, pot-smoking Island-duh, and that I’ll never leave again, never get anything accomplished.

 It couldn’t be much farther from the truth.

 For the first time since I left home in 1997, when I was 18, I realize what made my parents move there and raise a child in the first place. Although my father later became embittered with the forces that were acting upon our tiny island and left it, he could never say that the magic was completely gone. There is a community aspect of living in so small and isolated a place that’s hard to achieve anywhere else. And not only are the people on the island familiar and isolated, they’re smart (most of them, anyway). And they’re artistic.

I’m not going home to hide out, or to escape my demons. I’m going home in search of something I think I may only find there–solace. I’m going for the trees and the ocean, and the deep dark of the winter night sky. I’m going for friendly games of wine-infused Scrabble, and heaping pots of homemade chili. I’m going for the fresh-baked smell of pastries in coffee shops, and the knowledge that every door I walk through will reveal a face that I know. I’m going for free concerts by local musicians, and dinner parties that happen every week, and people who will band together with or without your consent and throw a benefit concert when your dad dies suddenly and you can’t afford to pay for a memorial service for him.

The things are mine, much as I wish I could trade them in for another day with my Dad. And they, too, mean freedom. Wheels to take me anywhere, if I want to go. A house to live in if I ever need a roof, or a rest. Something to show the bank when I want to buy my own home that I’m good for it. And a little money to help me along the way.

I want to believe that my father would have approved of my decision to move home. I’ve almost convinced myself that he would. What I do know for sure is that he would have believed I had the right to make my own decisions, and that if I’d taken the time to think them out, they were probably the right ones. The only time he ever told me not to move somewhere, my destination was Texas. He told me the whole 8 months that I was there that I had to pack up my duffel bags and get back on the bus and go back the way that I came–and he was right.

I’m not exercising excuses, I’m exercising freedom. And I’m using my freedom to stay nearby, and look for a quiet life instead of adventure. Dad, I hope you understand. Nobody else’s opinion even matters.

 I miss you, but if I can’t have you back, I’m grateful for the freedom.

Family My Heart Hurts

The Words Won’t Come, Either.

I am trying to write my father’s obituary, and I just can’t do it. I’m a writer, I should be able to do this sort of thing. I know more about my father than anyone else still living does, but I can’t seem to formulate it into something cohesive that doesn’t sound…wrong. I guess that’s probably because the phrase, “John Evans Holmes Jr. died,” sounds so wrong to me that I can’t go any further than that.

Also, I’m overwhelmed by the sheer number of things that my father did, made, and accomplished. He was a welder, a truck driver, a boat builder, a carpenter, a woodworker, a mechanic, a fisherman, a master at the art of fried chicken, and a dedicated and self-sacrificing (though impatient) father. He built a tug boat, several barges, a pump-out boat, hot rods, a race car, his mother’s house, his own workshop. He helped to restore the Flying Horses Carousel, and took care of its machinery for years. He built sign hangers and railings and decorative iron work for the rich and famous. He restored a 1953 GMC semi truck, and it sits in his garage in near-mint condition. He worked 16 hours a day throughout my childhood and still managed to singlehandedly raise a daughter who’s a pretty decent human being.

He was a collector of information, a sponge in which chunks of American history were absorbed. He was fascinated by the transportation industry–boats, trucks, trains–and traveled around the country to see the important sites in its history.

He was an impeccable craftsman, able to achieve the same precision in a 10-inch model as he could in a multi-ton barge.

He was a great storyteller, a willing ear, and a loyal and caring friend. He was a more loving father than any child could ever hope for. He had a great sense of humor, and kind, dancing blue eyes, and he gave the best hugs in the world. He was my protector, my hero, my champion, and one of my best friends, and I miss him more than words can ever express.

And I can’t find the words to tell the world that he’s gone–I don’t think any amount of words will ever be enough. I am heartbroken, gutted, and speechless.