My Blue Gardenia

Deenie’s Diary Entry #3-Dear Diary,
November 18, 2009, 9:44 pm
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When you feel abnormal in a world of normal, you find ways to cope. You carve a little niche for yourself that is safe. You create a story that you can believe and you tell it to people…you tell it so many times that you forget which parts are real and which parts are fiction. I wonder if that is how I became a writer, or if this is how most writers begin.

There are days when I shine. I am my own hero. But some days, I can tell that no one is believing my story. The lacey veil that I’ve been so carefully twisting and braiding falls into threads around me and there I am.

And I’m not sure if I’d like me, if I met me.

My way of coping, when it all becomes too overwhelming, is to shut out the world of details, and look for the little miracles. I watched a sunset behind the Tucson Mountains that took me right out of my body and made me happier than most anything else in my life up to that point. I read a poem that spoke right to the most vulnerable part of me and I could feel the heat, the healing as it was happening.

That’s why writing here is important. It’s the feeling that I have right now with my pen to the paper. It’s a release of something into my blood that makes me feel like I’ve discovered a secret, or figured out a riddle that has been puzzling me all night.

And I so often feel puzzled, as I navigate my way through life, and those moments of discovery are so few and far between.


Jessie the housewife
October 19, 2009, 8:16 pm
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50shousewifeThe irony is that I actually really enjoy this housewife gig when I’m not fighting the inner battle between me and decades of feminist rhetoric. Just like everything else, I can’t sort out the truth from the bullshit.

But I really love cold autumn days, like today, when my entire day revolves around nurturing…cooking, snuggling, reading to, creating with….making a home that is a sanctuary, creating a place where others are free to be themselves. I just never feel completely at ease with it all, expecting someone to expect more.

If a function of art is to validate the experiences of others, to point to a higher truth, then isn’t making a home an art?

And yet, there is no denying the moments when I’m stifled, when I crave escape, when I imagine a different life, a different path. The simple truth is that motherhood is stifling, no matter how you do it. Unless you completely neglect your children…if they are at home or in school, if they are young or all grown-up…loving someone like that is stifling. You can’t understand it if you aren’t a mother.

Sometimes I feel that in telling Deenie’s story, I’m telling my own story. God, that terrifies me. I feel like I’m tiptoeing near the border of real honesty with myself about who I am, and I don’t know if I like her as much as the person I’ve spent a lifetime convincing myself that I am. I’m actually afraid to find out.

This is a particular kind of fear, the moment you start to realize the truth, but it isn’t clear enough yet…there’s still time to go back. There’s still time to forget. I have opened a door and caught a glimpse of someone, but if I close it very fast, I’ll never be sure.

To be sure, I’d have to open the door and really take a look.

Deenie’s Diary-Entry #2…Letter to my New Husband
October 17, 2009, 7:52 pm
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couple_runningI know that I was a strange child. I just never felt that I could handle things that others seemed to handle without any trouble. I watched my mother flawlessly juggle 10 different plates with perfect hair and a winning smile, and I stood trembling next to her with one plate precariously balanced in both hands.

When I was child and found myself overwhelmed, as I often did, I would turn off all of the lights in my room and pull covers over my head. But as hard as I tried, I simply could not crawl into myself. Consequently, the world continued to spin and there was no real escape from all the things that made me sad and scared and all I could do was breathe and hide and wait.

I was too afraid to run away, even though it’s all that I thought about. What a paradox, to care so little about your own life, to feel so numb to the world and yet, be afraid of everything.

Shouldn’t you be ready to risk anything when you feel there’s nothing to lose?

But that first night when you came to me in the dark and I crawled into the deepest darkest place in you, the world stopped turning and everything ceased to exist and I finally found the peace that I’ve been searching for my whole life.

Thank you.

You came, and showed me how to make the world stop, and loved me back into my body, and taught me how to run. Now you’re here, with your hand outstretched and you’re waiting for me to say the word.

One word from me and we run, together.

How did you do it? How did you find in me, in a few months, what I’ve been searching my whole life to find? How does your love seem to give me permission to be who I really am, to be free, to be wild? How did you do it?

I hope one day to repay you.

My Grandma Geraldine
October 8, 2009, 9:24 pm
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reading girl attic_4a466571979b7My mother alluded to the diaries once years ago. By that time, I had given up trying to get her to talk about my grandmother. When I was little, I harassed my mother constantly about Deenie, but she wouldn’t budge. That didn’t stop me from getting information. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was exactly, but I was fascinated.

When I visited my Grandpa across the street, I’d sit in the attic for hours looking through old pictures. Grandpa was hesitant at first to talk with me about her, but I found it came a lot easier after we walked down the street to the beer garden together. He would give me change for the jukebox and buy me a ginger ale and some pretzels, and I would twist on the squeaky stool and swing my legs back and forth and listen to his stories.

Aunt Sadie loved to talk about her mother with me. She was the youngest sister, still living at home with Grandpa when I’d come to visit. Deenie had succumbed to her passion in the garden by the time Sadie was old enough to remember anything else. It almost seems like she was spared some pain that way. My mother and Aunt Mary Ann watched Deenie fall apart, but Sadie just seemed to accept and love Deenie as she was because she didn’t know her to be anyone else. That could just be Sadie though. She is a glass half-full kind of person. She’s a lot like Grandpa.

I think growing up with those two sisters, Sadie was just as happy as I was to find someone to talk with about Deenie.

Of course, Deenie told me her story. She found a way to me even before I read any of the diaries, in her old pictures, her jewelry, the flowers she planted that kept coming back. I knew we had a connection, she and I, although until I became a mother myself, I didn’t know just how much of a connection it was. People always say that we look alike, both with dark wavy hair and blue eyes, but she was 50’s glamorous, red lips and dresses that accentuated her curves, and I am a tired, frumpy mama, no make-up and pony tails, wearing t-shirts that look like tents and cursing my boobs.

But I see her in me when I look in the mirror, and it isn’t just the crazy. There was a spark in her that lives faintly in my eyes, and that’s why I need to know her.

I feel like she is a door to a place in me that I need to find.

Manic Depressive
October 3, 2009, 2:02 pm
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dancing on bar

That’s what they called her, but not until much later in her life. Not until she was a mother, not until Mrs. Carini found her naked in the backyard, soil rubbed into every pore, and called my grandfather to run out and cover her with an old, rough blanket while her little girl watched from the bedroom window.

Before she was a wife and a mother, she was “spontaneous,” she was a mystery, she was the girl who would lean over the bar reading Pablo Neruda one day and dance on top of it the next.

Deenie’s Diary-Entry #1…After the wedding, Paul and I drove out to Arizona.
September 30, 2009, 3:39 am
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arizonaI was high on the feeling of escape, just my new husband and I taking off together, even if it was only for our honeymoon. The Rockies were jagged, carved mountains towering over us as we drove up and down at highway speed like a roller coaster without the track. I was told that Kansas would be the most boring part of our drive, but I think it might have been my favorite part. There were endless golden fields and an enormous bowl of blue over the top of us and I was humbled as it melted into an awe-inspiring darkness vibrating with stars everywhere we turned. It was the first time I ever really felt like we were floating through space on this ball. Utah felt like we were close to our Arizona destination. Hot sun, sandy soil, and mountains, rock arches, artistry carved by the earth.

It felt wilder. I felt wilder. I could feel myself releasing more with every border we crossed. By the time we reached the southwest and the wild July monsoons, I felt more in my skin than ever before. We were staying with friends who lived right on the vastness of the desert. That first monsoon, from a neighbor’s porch we could see the storm clouds approaching from miles away. We gathered there with our friends to play cards. Just as the sun set, rose-colored columns of rain came toward us from the distance. The lightening danced across the sky from cloud to cloud without a moment’s interruption. He pulled me out for a walk before the rain began and I had to stop at one point on the side of the path, mesmerized and paralyzed. When the rain and the wind picked up, we ran back down the path to where we were staying, and the electricity was palpable.

He followed me in the dark upstairs. I was overcome in a way that is familiar to me now, but then was only an urge too strong to fight. It is the hunger that takes over and makes you want to physically ingest an experience. It is the way I felt hours into the darkest night with my new lover, it was nursing my newborn baby. It is a primal homecoming, a sense of yourself as a wild creature, connected to a bigger mystery. That night, it was what led me out onto the balcony off the bedroom of our borrowed home. He followed me out to watch the electric show dancing over the desert. Mountains appearing only in flashes, back lit by the lightening, and nothing but the wild dark earth in front of us. I wanted to be closer. He looked surprised to see me dazed with the power of the storm, stripping down and walking naked toward the rain and away from the shelter of the balcony’s small awning. I was taken into the power of the storm, and he was taken into the power of his intrepid bride.

Grandpa said that he fell in love with her because she was fearless.
September 30, 2009, 3:39 am
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diving“She dove right in.” he’d always say, “Your Grandma, she dove right in.” Sometimes I could find him humming “Blue Gardenia” the song he used to sing to his wife Deenie, and he would wistfully remember aloud who she was once long ago. His beautiful Gardenia, not movie star beautiful, but whole and fresh with ivory skin and deep, dark brown hair. She kept it pinned up during the day but when she wore it down it was wavy and wild and her blue eyes pierced through the lengths of it. Curvy, solid, under her house dress, cinched at the waist, so tightly drawn in the day, except when she went out into the garden.

He had a picture of the two of them when they were dating, in a booth with their friends. Her reflection in the mirror to her right, she was holding a cigarette, drinks littered the table and laughter lit up everyone’s faces. That was my mother’s favorite picture, because she never knew her mother that way, never saw her eyes that way. She saw her tired, dazed, numb…she saw her contrite, guilty, sad….she saw her wild, passionate, fierce, but never easy in herself, never laughter in her eyes. That was the woman he fell in love with, my grandfather. She wore red lipstick, but no other make-up, and she drank gin and tonics.

He often told me the story of the first time they met. “All of the other girls were so loud, laughing and cooing, but she sat quietly. She seemed to be in a bubble all her own at the table. She was clearly a part of the group but something about her eyes seemed disconnected. I watched her from the bar stool while chatting with my buddies, and after a while, I just had to go over there. I knew two of the girls at her table, so it’d be easy for me to just stop over and say hello. Just as I approached, the two girls sitting on the opposite side of the booth from her slid out to head to the bathroom, so I slid in. Deenie smiled politely when her friend introduced everyone to me but quickly retreated back to the far away place behind her eyes. Then, just exactly the moment that the song changed on the juke box, she looked up and directly into my eyes. I actually caught my breath. I’ve never known anything like it. It was like being shot or something. She wasn’t there and then she was, and those blue eyes burned right into mine and she hit me.

“I love this song.”

She came alive, like something inside connected, and she stared directly into my eyes, smiling. Without moving her gaze, she took one last puff of her cigarette and crushed the end into the clear glass ashtray, recently emptied. “Excuse me.” She smiled and before I knew it, her friends had moved out so she could get up, and I just sat there dumb. I couldn’t move. I looked down at the ashtray and picked up the butt, still warm, and moved it deliberately between my thumb and finger, rubbing the bright red color off onto my skin. Just like that, she was in my blood.”
cocktail booth