Growing Up In Vegas

I am constantly surprised by how many acquaintances, and even some friends, don’t know I grew up in Las Vegas. I spent twenty years of my life there, a very significant number of years during one of the formative periods of my life. I arrived there when I was eight and left when I was twenty-eight. And yet, I’ve been gone for so many years, it’s understandable many don’t know that part of my past.

I learned things in Las Vegas that you can only learn by living there for an extended period of time, things that never made the tourist ads. For example, it was a very godly town. There’s several religions that exerted their influence on local school boards, political decisions, and inflicted their version of morality on everyone else. I doubt that’s changed. Extremism doesn’t give up fucking people for money, it just finds a new bed partner.

Religion in Las Vegas taught me what hypocrisy looked and smelled like. It looked a whole lot like a preacher who bellowed from the pulpit about sin and the evils of drink, whoring, and gambling. But if you looked closely you saw the outrage ended at the church doors. Those same preachers flung open the welcome sign when there was money involved.

And there was no difference in Las Vegas between preachers and politicians, because it wasn’t the unsavory sinners who funded them or the casinos. It was those fine upstanding moral citizens and their banks who invested in the debauchery because it honored the only god they truly worshipped: the holy dollar.

And there was no one holier than the pulpit pounder who availed himself of an escort “service” on Saturday night and then stood in line to be forgiven on Sunday morning. And chances were excellent at least a couple of those escort earnings graced the collection plate when it was passed around.

The other thing I learned growing up in Vegas is that sex was a commodity like anything else. It’s a state of legal brothels. Like many who live or have lived there, I grew up with women who were sex workers. It was not a glamorous job. But neither was working at Wally’s world for shit wages and exploitative conditions. Or in any of the casinos if you served drinks, danced, entertained or anything that required you to wear skimpy pieces of fabric in your “job.” It was shitty work like any other shitty work. Just because it was sex didn’t make it better or worse than gutting chickens or shoving packages along an assembly line. It was a job. No more no less. And the moralists were usually the ones profiting from it. You can bet on it.

The other lesson I learned growing up in Las Vegas was personal. Gambling is a serious addiction. My father gambled. He sucked at it. That guaranteed we were often evicted, lived in cheap motels, in the car, or on our way somewhere the debt collectors wouldn’t find us.

We were often without enough to eat, or on the rare occasions we had a roof over our heads, we would come home from school to find everything gone, down to the pots and pans because they were sold to get gambling money. I learned the lessons of non-attachment early in life.

But the benefit to growing up in Las Vegas was there were then and probably still are a lot of under the table jobs, non-union, no taxes paid or declared, no age requirement. During the worst of my father’s gambling sprees, I was always able to find some kind of job in some crappy way off the strip restaurant by lying about my age. Tips brought immediate food. I was 14 when I went to work at the first one. The first lesson I learned was to unbutton the top buttons on my uniform so I’d get better tips. I didn’t care. The money went to that week’s crappy motel.

But the best thing about growing up in Las Vegas were the entertainers. There were lots of professional dancers, musicians, writers, and all kinds of artists. Like anywhere else, the bigotry and intolerance was nearly non-existent in such communities, and I got an early idea of what the world could be.

And while there will always be racist assholes in the woodwork, there was more diversity per block in Las Vegas than in most places. People came from all over to visit, to work, to perform, to teach. No matter where you worked, you worked with a diversity of people from other cultures.

It was just part of Vegas. I grew to expect it and that was the hardest part of not living there anymore. Everywhere I went seemed so bland and overly white. I was and I still am homesick for that diversity all these years later. It brought a life to the place that I miss. I don’t miss anything else about it. Like most of my friends then, we realized we belonged elsewhere and we went there.

The thing I missed least of all about Vegas was the religion. There was only one god, one religion, and that was the worship of the almighty dollar. You grew up seeing that everything and everyone was for sale. You could buy loyalty cheaper than you could earn it. If you threw a few dollars around, everyone wanted to be your friend.

It’s one of the reasons I am the way I am. I live minimally. I don’t give a crap how much money you have or don’t have. It just doesn’t impress me or buy me or whatever works for other people. I grew up watching the game and have no interest in being part of it. I think that was a good thing I brought with me when I left.

My new novel When The Last Ocean Dies

Kate Taylor’s Books and Art Ursine Logic

The Healing Power of Music and Love

Aquia was the character that fit my personal archetypes the most. He was the dedicated professional musician I’ve been around most of my life. I grew up with the endless practice, the constant rehearsals, the recitals, the performances. My adult friends followed the same path through music and the arts. They prepared, they practiced, they created, they performed, and then they started all over again.

It was often a lonely existence, and I used Aquia to show the diverse sides of that kind of solitude. Like all professional musicians, Aquia needed time alone to create, to practice, to perfect his craft. He only emerged from this solitary state to play with others who experienced the same solitude in the same way. When all the different instruments played together, it was the music that spoke a language they all understood. It connected them to each other as powerfully as the most passionate of lovers. But to get there, to arrive at that moment required many hours of loneliness, with little time left over for relationships with anyone else.

Our isolation doesn’t appeal to those who seek a more diverse settlement than one of mostly musicians. We often seem deliberately cloistered to others, but we need to be in order to perfect our craft. Not many understand it takes hours of practice a day, continual practice. We are not the best of companions.

from When The Last River Dies

As a special protege of the Mystics, Aquia was often separated from the other children. He was also set apart from the others by his intelligence and his ability to speak about ideas beyond the understanding of his classmates. The only place Aquia experienced a sense of community was with the other RiverHome musicians. He was most at home among them. He felt they understood him. They were his family and he was theirs. But unlike many of his fellow musicians, something else drove Aquia.

Aquia wanted to understand the inner world of himself. His training with the Mystics, and the hours he spent alone showed him pieces like separate parts of a composition, that he wanted to bring together. Music taught him to see the patterns, and he approached his desire to learn the truth of his parentage the same way. But his path was shaped by his heart; it defined his place in the pattern.

Aquia believed love was the solution to all the world’s ills. It resonated because it fit into the pattern shaped the same way a piece of music resonated with his senses. Music was not an intellectual process for him. It was an emotional one that developed his ability to give and receive unconditional love. This ability was as much a part of him as his musical talent.

Reynard struggled to describe the strange hope he felt in Aquia’s presence. The perfect world he described were the ramblings of a madman. Love was not a legitimate basis for laws. It was an emotional pit that chewed up humanity and then dared it to come back for more. It was the weak point, the threadbare piece of fabric civilization clung to in desperation, knowing it would eventually tear itself to shreds. And yet, Aquia gave it all such a patina of truth, that Reynard felt wrong for doubting him.”

from When The Last River Dies

Aquia’s friendship with Yewen helped him give shape to his sense of connection to a larger whole when he played music, because Yewen understood how everything was connected to itself. The notes that echoed through the canyon were carried on the breath of those who came before. The more Aquia understood his connection to everything in nature, the clearer his own path became.

Aquia smiled softly. “Perhaps you are right. But it is more than what I see. For me, music is also physical. I not only hear it, I also feel it. When I play, I feel the vibration against my skin, inside my veins, and in the rhythm of my heart. There is no inner or outer world in such moments. It is one feeling, one emotion, one continual sound that uses me to vibrate with the universe.”

from When The Last Ocean Dies


Kate Taylor’s Books and Art Ursine Logic

Companion Visions

Some of the most interesting conversations I’ve had with readers were about the Spinywort. I often get asked if I was describing Peyote. It’s a difficult question because the visions it created in the characters and its effects were drawn from many sources, some experiential, others from descriptions both personal and academic. I would say I described the effects of a multilayered wort that drew from the door blown open by Peyote, the skies opened up through LSD, and the spirit healed with Psilocybin.

I grew up in the desert. I came of age during the Carlos Castaneda and the Peyote Cult years. It was also the time of Alan Watts and Timothy Leary. One of the convenient categories to compartmentalize the emerging interest in knowing thyself was the Human Potential Movement. I drew heavily from that time.

Another influence I used to build my characters and describe their visions came from Carl Jung, especially his book Psychology and Alchemy. I drew on his perceptions of spirituality, the human psyche and religion, but especially mysticism. I wanted to include many versions of the same truths.

They believe their purpose is to pry open the cracks of awareness. They don’t proselytize or seek to convert. They merely offer access to the SpinyWort flower and provide help through the process of ingesting it. But they believe you own your vision, and so they resist any explanation or reading of symbols. They feed you, shelter you, and send you home when it’s time.

from When The Last Ocean Dies

Another influence that led to the writing of this book came from a fascinating conversation I had with probably one of the purest scientists I’ve ever met. He always claimed, in spite of his scientific purity, that he was a spiritual person. When I asked him how he reconciled those two sides he responded there was nothing to reconcile because it was all memory. Spirituality was knowledge that lived inside him and all he needed to do was to go within when needed.

Their ancestors, the ancient Magusans, saw visions that convinced them a vast inner world existed inside us, and we carried around many lifetimes of knowledge we didn’t know we possessed. They suspected, based on their studies, that the secret of human consciousness lies buried somewhere in all that knowledge.

from When The Last Ocean Dies

In the end it doesn’t matter how you get there; hallucinogenic drugs, plants, mushrooms, meditation, chocolate, what matters is that before you can love another, before you can love the planet and its people, you must first learn to love yourself. That means you have to do what has been said many ways over the centuries, you must learn to Know Thyself.

There are two sides to the upright beast. One walks with his skin inside. The other walks with his skin outside. But the flower of truth marks the path, and the flower of the SpinyWort shapes the truth.

from When The Last Ocean Dies

Books and Art by Kate Taylor Ursine Logic

The River Daughter

For many years those who saw Arman Peace’s dramatic depictions of nature as a sensuous woman, wondered about the model in his paintings. When Aquia came through the tunnels, they learned she was his aunt, Coventina, the spiritual leader of Anahita, and the lover of Arman Peace.

The villages of River Valley are ruled by rotating volunteer councils, but Anahita is the only one headed by a spiritual leader. Her name is Coventina. She is descended from the first River Daughter, and she is revered for her wisdom. Few remember a time without her, but she has only ruled since the death of her husband several decades ago.” A soft smile touched Aquia’s lips, as though a secret hid behind them in wait. “The whispers say her touch can heal the most wounded soul. And they also say that same touch can burn through the skin and destroy the unwary fool.

from When The Last River Dies

Coventina visits one of Arman Peace’s paintings of her. It was painted to commemorate the day they conceived Dante. But she continues to seed the trail of half-truths about her love for Arman Peace, one which is the yearly festival devoted to the celebration of love. The residents of River Valley believe it kept alive the memory of the man she loved with all the passion and heartbreak of good myth. Coventina has her reasons for allowing them to continue to do so.

As you get older, my young novice, you will understand how little separation exists between those you loved and the time that passed. It becomes all one thread that weaves our hearts to one another. You can cut it. You can burn it. You can bury it. But there is no way to destroy every single thread, and all it takes is one to hold the memory inside you forever. Just one solitary thread.”

from When The Last River Dies

In the third and final book Coventina, during her final days, reveals her reasons for keeping the truth hidden. She hands the secret to her grandchild, Calistina, the new River Daughter, to hold as she held it for all those years.

Coventina’s gaze drifted to the tall peaks visible through the small window cut into the stone wall of her cottage. “Human follies are perpetual. Societies grow and fall, and then they grow again only to fall again. Right now, we are climbing back up, digging our knuckles into the dirt. This is the time to decide the future, to make the decisions necessary to move forward.” She turned her focus back to Calistina. “Your generation will make those decisions, not mine. And you will have to continually defeat those who resist change, those who won’t cede power until the fires consume them. You will have to lead from strength and inspire from hope.”

from When The Last Ocean Dies

Kate Taylor’s Books and Arts Ursine Logic

Tina moved on to her next adventure shortly before midnight on the night of the 6th. We’ve been friends since we were 14 years old.

it was not a good time

for a black girl

for a white girl

to walk together alone

on the street at night

men threw money at us

how much for you both

fuck you we shouted together

that’s all you get for your dirty money

fuck you and no more

and then we’d laugh

and run before

they ran down their lists

and checked off

whores, maids, the laundry ladies

are fucking each other

faded away from them

like screams of frustrated rage

ugly old boys

who shouted their lust

from their cars

we cut our fingers

mixed our blood together

we vowed to protect

each other forever

from men like them

from men like our fathers

we were the strength

our mothers lacked

we walked away together

and nothing they did

nothing they said

nothing they shouted

could change that

so they bellowed out their windows

fuck you you’re too ugly

we didn’t want you anyways

***************************

My personal website

Kate Taylor’s Books and Art

The Shared Moment

I still remember the exact moment when I met someone exactly like me. Life doesn’t often give us a chance to see ourselves in what I call the fleshy mirror, so when it does I look deeply.

It was difficult at first, as are all things that require effort. But to see what others see, how could I resist such an opportunity? I would have to turn in my curious bear card if I didn’t at least let my glance linger.

And linger it did. I still laugh at the battles between two willful beasts born within months of each other, or as one of friends described it then, two iron rabbits meeting the immovable force in each other.

But I also saw a shy withdrawn child who hid in corners at social gatherings. I saw how others misunderstood and called him standoffish, aloof, snobbish. Like me he had few social skills other than the mandatory ones that kept us out of jail, guaranteed we could somewhat work for others, and drew people to us the same way many are drawn to the impossible task of taming cats.

We helped each other take the first step in learning to walk through the halls of a perilous universe. He was finally able to perform without his fingers shaking on the strings so badly he couldn’t play. I was finally able to read in public without having my voice choke in fear halfway through.

Over the years I met other fleshy mirrors and some I glanced at briefly, while others I stared into like a scrying stone. With each one I experienced the same feeling of recognition, the same sense that here was someone who understood. And the relief that I was not alone in who I was.

It took many more years for me to develop the confidence and verbal skills to talk to others. I was and still am far more comfortable writing than I am talking. I text far more often than I talk. But again that’s because many of my friends began as my fleshy mirrors. We interact as we are, not as we wish we were, nor how others want us to be.

During the pandemic solitude, we began to text less and talk more. I don’t know if it was the isolation, the introspection that grew from it, or the need to hear a human voice, but the connection to my fleshy mirrors deepened. Our conversations grew longer, more personal, more honest.

I formed deeper bonds with those I once shared only pieces of myself with in the past. They responded in kind. I suspect I’m not the only one who has been healed and changed by this. I suspect there are many “out there” who could have written those words as well. I suspect none of us are done yet. With anything.

That’s why I get so personal at times with this blog. I know the value of fleshy mirrors. I know how just one person understanding who you are, what you feel, where you’ve been, makes a difference. There is a special solace in receiving the understanding of another. It’s a blessing. A sacrament. A gift.

In spite of the terms I use, I’ve never been a religious person, nor do I see such a thing in my future. I detest dogma. But they serve to communicate my true beliefs. I believe in the power of love. I believe love is stronger than hate. I believe love feeds you and hate feeds on you.

The fleshy mirror who taught me these things was a man who walked gently on the earth because it was nature’s skin and he didn’t want to bruise it. I was frightened of him at first. I thought him odd beyond my understanding. I was suspicious of his intent and expected him to whip out his version of the bible at any moment and wave it at me threateningly.

But he did none of this. He simply taught me to value what he reflected back, that we both, at the core of who we were, believed the connection to nature and the connection to other human beings was the same. He accepted my atheism while expanding my connection to a spirituality that didn’t feel like fingers on a chalkboard like too many of the others often did.

When I write I remember what I learned from him. I write to establish that connection with someone else, that moment of looking into the fleshy mirror with someone who needs to feel less alone.

We’re all wounded children. That is what every fleshy mirror has reflected back to me. The worst experiences we’ve had are also the most universal. As my friend said, if you’re going to be the change in the world, someone has to take the first step. Why not you?

I live in my house as I live inside my skin: I know more beautiful, more ample, more sturdy and more picturesque skins: but it would seem to me unnatural to exchange them for mine.” Primo Levi

My personal website:
Ursine Logic’s Books and Art

This Arc Of Time

I was fourteen when I met Kristina. I lived with two dancers who retired from the ballet and moved to Las Vegas. I was their live in babysitter. They were young, in their mid-20’s, beautiful, in exquisite shape, and determined to make a living with bodies that were considered too old for the grueling regime of professional dancing. They instead, danced on the strip. Nude. Wearing only strategically placed pearls.

One night, one of their friends helped sneak me in to watch their show from the shadows as I was much too young to be anywhere near a casino. They turned me over to a girl I remembered from school. Her mother worked in the wardrobe room and we hid under a pile of giant ostrich head dresses taller than we were and watched enthralled. It was the most beautiful performance I ever saw. Yes, they were nude, but all the controversial bits were covered up so what was left were two exquisite human beings dancing as if they were the only two people left on earth. I always think of them when I dance alone like I’m the only person left on earth.

For the next year when I wasn’t in school or helping my dancers care for their young daughter, I spent it with Kristina helping repair costumes her mother brought home. Her brother lived with a dancer and we often met at her apartment in the same complex. It was tedious work, but enchanting to a young girl who never imagined work clothes as sequins, pearls, tiny bits of material all elegantly stitched into a costume. I was never the princess type, but I held magic in my hand with all those beautiful pieces of sparkly things. I saw everything differently then because you can’t hold magic in your hand and see the world the same.

I was a painfully shy kid. I still have trouble with that. I have accepted that it’s a lifetime thing. I learned if I tell people upfront that I have a “problem” with shyness, they will help me out by talking, asking me questions, or letting me sit quietly until I feel comfortable enough to join in. People are mostly kind. And they understand what it means to be shy. Kristina was the complete opposite. She was outgoing and everyone she met was a potential friend. When I met her my friends were all in books. She changed that when she became my first real friend. It turned into a lifetime bond.

Recently, during one of our long email exchanges that writers often get into with each other, I realized she was the only person who knew me in all the transitional phases of my life. She was my support, my ear, the one person who understood why I cried so hard when my dancers got a job in Europe and I couldn’t go with them. I remember how she hugged me and told me it was going to be okay, that she would help me survive going back home. Neither of us believed it, but we said the words anyway, her to me, and me to her. Her father was just as violent and mean and drunk as mine, and her mother, like mine, put up with the abuse because she “loved” him.

None of the people who became part of my life after I left Las Vegas know what I went through just as none of her friends know what she went through. We knew. We understood. And over the years as we grew into our new lives, we kept in touch, but rarely mentioned those days. They were the past, buried, dead, gone, forgotten. The scars became fainter. People quit asking how we got them. We no longer had to lie.

But the wounds were still there. When we both turned 70 this year, the quality of our emails changed. We began to poke around in what we thought was forgotten. For both of us, the realization that ripping the bandage off old wounds hurt like hell came as a shock.

I suspect we’re going to have a lot more to say to each other about this in the next months. It’s way past time. In a strange way we both are looking forward to it, much as one looks forward to finally cleaning out that dark closet with all the clothes that no longer fit, the pieces of broken things that are saved for the memories and not because there’s anything left to repair. It’s time.

In her last letter we told each other how we healed some of the worst of the wounds. Unlike Kristina, I was never able to verbalize my feelings or talk about what happened to me. I was forty before I was able to say I love you easily. I’ve always put everything in my journals, into my poetry and my art. I tried traditional talking therapy and it went nowhere, mostly because the words just wouldn’t shape themselves into anything that described that time.

But life often gives you what you need to move forward if you let it. For me that was finding a way to heal that didn’t involve talking. I learned to heal the physical trauma through the body, to change where and how I stored the bad stuff. I learned that I kept my arms crossed to protect myself. The months of relearning to walk, sit, and talk without needing to protect myself opened the door to the rest.

I learned that I was afraid to look at someone because I associated eye contact with pain. Look at me! Look at me! He always wanted me to make eye contact before he hit me. He wanted to see my fear. I learned to look at people’s noses when I talked. It helped but it’s still difficult. Some things never go away. I’m like a wild animal that way if someone tries to make eye contact with me. But it’s getting better.

One of the other things Kristina and I shared was the simple joy of being outside in the desert, climbing rocks to get high up a canyon where we could look out and see nothing but desert for miles. Las Vegas was a small place then, just the strip, downtown, and a few houses on the west end where we lived. In between there was desert, great big open expanses of it. And that blissful silence. We would sit for hours in that silence. We drew strength from it. And for most of our lives, we looked for it. Neither one of us are loud or noisy. We are the peace we sought.

We both live in quiet, small, isolated places. She lives in a small cabin in the mountains up a dirt road no one drives up by accident. I live on a small island with a few hundred people and a ferry that stops running for the night at 8:30. I have few neighbors, and they are several acres distant in the trees, along the water where I can’t see them. Kristina has taught herself to paint because most of her neighbors are artists and they convinced her to try. She learned she’s quite good. Many of my island neighbors are artists, writers, musicians, people who require lots of quiet time alone. We know we are there but we don’t need to see each other to feel supported, loved, welcome.

In many ways, mine and Kristina’s lives have followed a similar arc. We began as abused children who made a blood oath to protect each other. Two 14 year old girls who didn’t know much but had already experienced too much. We went through the hell of high school together with our meager handful of friends, none whom we knew how to get close to the way we were close to each other. We were part of the antiwar movement and got spit on together by people who also threw garbage at us and called us commies. We both lost people we cared deeply for in Vietnam. It only motivated us to fight for peace harder. We still do.

And now as we age, the arc takes us on yet another similar path, one where the good memories seem to magically rise to the surface to push the bad memories aside. We’ve both contacted the good people, the kind people from those days because we both feel it’s important they know that kindness matters, that the world needs more of it, and especially to remind them it’s still there in them. If enough of us let kindness rise to the top and push the bad stuff away, maybe just maybe we can still make that bit of difference we always swore we would make to change the world. Maybe we can heal not only each other but also all the other wounded children who never stopped hurting. It’s worth a try.

My personal website:
Ursine Logic’s Books and Art

Obsidian

          A background of stars 
          hair black as raven wings in the night 
          amber smoke from a lone candle
          drapes itself over your naked body
          like a veil cloaking your existence.

          Have I imagined you?
          Did I give you shape and truth?
          Did I will you into my life?

          You rise slowly, like a snake
          smooth, sensuous, uncoiling
          as your eyes caress me 
          from black, fathomless depths.
 
          Outside your window
          an owl hunts its prey 
          silently, lethally, efficiently.

from my poetry book  Imaginary Lovers  published last year




My personal website:
Ursine Logic's Books and Art



The Three Kinds Of Love

Today’s editing took me to an interesting place. I first wrote these words last August, in the middle of the pandemic, on the 20th anniversary of Stanis’ death. We talked about love a lot in the months he was dying. It still amazes me how clearly I remember those conversations. But I’m not surprised because part of getting old is remembering nearly word for word conversations that occurred decades ago, but having to stop to remember what you had for breakfast. And in one of those synchronistic moments that life amuses itself with, today is the 21st anniversary of his passing.

from WHEN THE LAST OCEAN DIES

“She said there were only three kinds of love. The first was the youthful crush, the sweet blossoming of the heart. It takes up about five minutes of our total life, but it’s the one that prepares us for all the rest. It’s the one we remember in old age with fondness, but rarely wistfulness, rarely with a desire for it to be more, because that’s not its purpose.

“The second was the committed relationship, the one we make plans to occupy the same future together. It’s the love that leaves either the best memories or the worst scars. I remember how she laughed when she told me this, and how she explained that laughter. We think it’s love we want when what we really seek is a friend, a companion who will accept us as we truly are.

“I thought that was it, but then she surprised me by saying there was a third kind of love that blessed only the fortunate few. That was the love that made you crazy, that caught you in its grip and refused to let go. Nations have toppled from that kind of love. Disasters were left in its tracks. That kind of love makes you abandon everything and everyone. It flares up in a great wonderful fire and then burns itself to ash. You get one per lifetime, and that’s it. But it lasts for eternity and it changes you forever.”

Bless you Stanis for your presence in my life. We did good work together. Hard, soul-wrenching work dealing with the worst of humanity.

And today, to help me get through the memories I heard from one of the five high school friends I wanted to thank for saving my life. In one of those weird turns you don’t expect she told me it was I who saved her life, that my friendship was all that kept her going then. And because she’s a writer too, we’ve already exchanged several very long emails and it’s only been a few hours. There will be many more.

That leaves only one of the five who has yet to respond. There was one other, but I wrote to her a few years ago after finding her amazing art online. It was during a difficult time in my life and I lost contact with her again. Maybe some day we will reconnect again. I’d like to think so.

And today it finally rained. The clouds are hanging low over Cypress giving the day a soft, contemplative mood. A perfect day for remembering.

My personal website:
Ursine Logic’s Books and Art

The Metamorphosis of Memory

There are many interesting things about getting older that I didn’t anticipate, some good, some strange, some oh holy hell why me. But the one that fascinates me most is the process of remembering the past. I call it a process because I’ve learned it evolves, it changes, it picks up hitchhikers, it weeps and it laughs. Memory is like that. It dances away from what is remembered to how it is remembered. I’ve learned that matters a lot.

In the last year, since I turned 70, I’ve noticed the bad things that happened to me begin to fall away to make room for the good things. I didn’t do this intentionally. It just happened, as if the inner workings of this bear beast of a human chose to have a happy end game. But I didn’t choose.

That’s the part that amazes me and takes me again to scouring the internet tubes for brain stories. It’s hard to let the scholar go when it’s so ingrained in me to research my ideas before embracing them as my own. But I’m learning to let that go and just fly with them, because it turns out nature is a fantastic research library. I’ve learned a lot about myself sitting with the trees, breathing in the saltwater that brings that scent of ocean into my house. I don’t have to show my work because I am my work.

Here is one way this all seems to evolve, using me as the example. I’ve written often about trying to come to peace with my childhood . Basically, I didn’t have one. My father gambled for a living. He wasn’t very good at it. He was also not very good at being a human being. War leaves many victims behind and he was one of its most defective. He left a lot on the casino tables, but not his rage at the world and especially at women. That, he brought home to share with the family. My mother rarely spoke. I remember her as the silent ghost he used to take his rage out on before he came for us.

When he told me I reminded him of his mother, that was not a good thing. It was a condemnation, a chance for him to make up for the damage she inflicted on him. I understand that now. But then I understood only that he was dangerous

I was terrified of him when he was drunk because his violence had no limits. He left a lot of ugly bruises from his rages, a few of them that I carried into the future. He told me I was ugly. I wasn’t. He told me I better study because no man would ever marry me. He was wrong.

I was the classic runaway. On paper. In the real world where I lived I was a shy, awkward high school kid who worked full-time jobs in restaurants, took care of other people’s children, even sold an underground newspaper on street corners. I knew college was my only way out of that hell so I studied even when I was so exhausted I could barely keep my eyes open.

I didn’t have time or the social skills for friends. I can count my high school friends on one hand. For a long time they became part of the memory of then, the bad times, the invisible people who were there but not there. But as I grew more into myself, their faces became more visible. And then an amazing thing started to happen. They began to show themselves as significant influences on my life, even though their time in it was so brief as to seem not worth noting. In the stew of bad memories they rose to the top as the good foam, the tasty, lovely bits you remember in your heart because they made a difference.

There were five in particular I owe my life to. Of course, they undoubtedly have no idea why, but I do. I picked the memories apart and found them. Of course, they were all artists. They lived in the good part of my life, the one with music, dancers, singers, painters, sculptors, writers, and performers. My father was the outlier in this world, the only American in a crowd of exquisitely talented refugees. He was also the only one who was uneducated, who didn’t play an instrument, who didn’t read books, who never went beyond the third grade and was basically illiterate. But in my memory, the rest of my family took the place of him. As I grew older that world became larger than the one he forced me to live in. Memory changed the script for the better.

But those five people, they weren’t part of my family. They weren’t people I worked with. They were my high school friends. They were also mostly gay because I could be friends with them and not have to deal with the whole concept of relationships, boyfriend-girlfriend, commitment and all those other phobias. And two of them were black during a time when just hanging out with me was dangerous for them. I learned a lot about courage from them.

But of that tiny group of friends, one in particular stands out because I saw myself in him, in his lovely shyness, his sweet nature, and his strange home life. Of course, I see that now with the gift of memory metamorphosis. Then, my memories of him were simple. I remember his house and how he made a fort out of his bed with hanging curtains. I recognized a hiding place when I saw it.

I met him at the worst time in my life when my father was the most violent. When he nearly knocked one of my teeth out with a belt buckle I began my career as a runaway. One of the places I ran away to was his house. It didn’t last long, mostly because my father had found out about him so to protect him I ran away from him too. I couldn’t take the chance of him being hurt by that monster. He was too good a human being. When he called me he would use different names but I always knew it was him. And then I got scared for him and was afraid to answer the phone. Try and I might I just can’t remember how we parted. I did see him again a couple years and it was the last time, but he’s always held a place in my heart.

In later years I thought about him. I wanted him to know what it was like to have someone care about me as a person, to hold me and make me feel safe. I got to sit in his lap crammed in the car with everyone else and enjoy the teasing that I had a boyfriend. I had a sweet crush on him, my first experience with those kind of feelings. It’s a good memory.

What he never knew was that he saved my life one night when I showed up at his house. I had reached the limit of living on this planet. I was exhausted. I had bruises all over my body. I made him turn the lights off in the unlikely chance he tried to remove my clothes because I didn’t want to explain what was underneath. There’s so many stairs you can fall down. I wanted to kill myself. I wanted the hurting to stop. I came to his house to say goodbye. Instead he held me, let me hang out in his fort, and saved my life. He came to visit me shortly after I got married and then he moved away. For the longest time I saved the cartoons he drew for me. And then the box they were in got lost. I remembered how sad I was about that.

The only one who wasn’t gay was my first experience of being loved by someone I didn’t have a clue how to love back. He was two years older, an immigrant child like me, but he came from France. I thought that was wonderfully exotic. And he thought it was exotic that most of my family was born in the same city but different countries. He would introduce me to his friends as the girl who was from that place where the boundaries always changed.

Without even sharing so much as an innocent kiss, we made plans to move to France. I applied to the Sorbonne and was accepted, much to my shock. All I had to do was get another job to pay for the tuition and living expenses. I did and began saving my pennies. And the plans began to take shape. I had a future that would take me away from the brutality of my father. I would get to be an artist, to write poetry, to live among those who didn’t think I was too ugly to love.

And then he was drafted. I begged him to run away. We were part of an antiwar group that helped conscientious objectors with letter writing, witnessing, making up shit to get them rejected, and when all that failed, arranging for our network to hide them in Canada. It would have been so easy. But he was an optimist. We were both poor broke kids. He saw a chance to pay for school, buy a house for us, and make a life together. He was killed in Vietnam within weeks of being sent there. I burned the flag they gave me from his coffin. I was done with love, even though I never really loved him. But I needed him. That was better than love. Memory works that way.

And I ran away for good. This time I was 17 so the police couldn’t bring me back, especially since I had a full-time job and was capable of supporting myself. I stayed away for many years and made contact again only after my father finally died.

I met a man at work when I was 18. He was a lot like me, a loner, the oldest child in a family with dysfunctional parents. I told him the first time we talked that I had no interest in marriage, I didn’t want children, and I was an Atheist. Turned out he didn’t want the same things. So I took him to a party where we were the only white people because it mattered to me that he accept two of my closest friends.

Within five minutes he was explaining the significance of her astrological sign to my friend’s wife. He left with my friend’s BBQ sauce recipe, an honor reserved for those he liked. “He’s a good man,” my friend whispered to me on the way out the door. “You deserve good. Take it.”

I thought okay this one has potential. So I took him to meet the family, starting with my grandmother who didn’t speak English and moving on to the others who spoke with accents. The only ones who didn’t have accents were my cousins. We grew up in America. I explained to him the role of immigrant children as translators, that we were the ones who answered the doors and the phones, and that’s why it was easy for me to go from one language to another. I’d done it most of my life.

I put that in practice, that moving from one language to another when we moved in together and began what has become a 50 year plus friendship. We talked a lot during the pandemic. He learned things about me. I learned things about him. We talked about how memory changes as we grow older. We talked about those we loved, the relationships with others we never denied each other. We have always believed in love and there are no limits if you truly believe. You love or you don’t. We loved and still do and always will. It’s who we are.

In the last year I’ve done something that I suspect other old people do when the memories change from bad to good. I’ve gone back and tried to find those who saved my life just with their presence. I’ve connected with two so far. It’s been affirming, necessary, good for all involved. They needed to be thanked. Still waiting to hear back from my high school crush, but if he doesn’t that’s okay. I love him differently now than I did then. It’s the love of gratitude, of appreciation, of knowing love doesn’t need an object or a presence, but merely the feeling in the heart that stays with you for life. One of my life lessons was learning once you love someone, that feeling never dies. Love is like the sun. It doesn’t die because night falls. It just changes and becomes easier, a softer and more gentle part of self. He’s one of my sweet, gentle memories.

And yes, part of my wanting to contact these people, was first of all to say thank you. But also to make sure they were okay, to reassure myself and especially them, that when you save someone’s life they will always be there to save yours because memory works that way.

My personal website:
Ursine Logic’s Books and Art