Mom Bling (creative nonfiction)

My dad, divorced from my mother for more than ten years at that point, told me that what she really loves is jewelry. She has the bling gene, as we call it. That’s not what he said. That’s a little too clever, a little too caring for my dad.

She loves costume jewelry, but has a grounding in the real. Always reality on her fingers. On her left hand, she always wears a blue topaz ring she had made. The topaz is set in a simple, modern swoop of solid gold. It’s meant to show off the stone, bold as a blue diamond. The way she wears it, you would swear it was a diamond.

On her right hand, she wears a ruby set in a cluster of diamonds. The ruby is her birthstone. It is pigeon blood red. It is the best you can get.

A little silver ring I gave her. A simple gold chain bracelet on her left wrist.

A touch of reality around her neck too. A shy diamond set in another modern swoop of gold, smaller, more delicate—a stylized teardrop. It sits against a black backdrop, created shadow. The diamond is from her mother’s engagement ring—her mother’s first engagement to my mother’s father.

They took that necklace off my mom when she went into the hospital so it wouldn’t interfere with the MRI. They took her rings and bracelet too.

She had to be in the hospital alone because of the virus. She was there a week. I called her every day, at least once a day. She told me many times about how they had taken her jewelry. She told me many times she was sure she would get it back. She had faith they were good, honest people, and that she would get her jewelry back even though she couldn’t quite remember where they had put it in her room. It seemed she thought about that more than she thought about her infection, her surgery, the second attempt at her surgery, and what life would be like after.

She recovered enough to come home. Once home, it took her another two weeks to recover enough physically and mentally even to want to put her jewelry on again.

She fished it out of her purse. It was all jumbled up in a green, semicircular plastic holder that looked like something you would put false teeth in. All that reality. All her reality. All those precious gems.

She put the topaz on first. This was what she earned, her badass career—the woman she was before retirement who made male lawyers quiver and go limp. The woman who could afford a topaz like that and all that swoop of gold.

She put her ruby on next. This was the woman she was born. Badass in essence from the start. The little girl who chopped down an entire row of bird of paradise in front of her mother’s house because she didn’t like the way they looked at her when she got home from school. She planted snapdragons there instead. Their fierce little faces were sweeter.

The gold bracelet. She fastened that on herself. She bought it somewhere borderline seedy while on a Caribbean cruise—her first. First of many with a group of globetrotting women, badass as she was, exploring everything, planting their flags everywhere.

She needed help with the necklace with the engagement diamond. I tried for more than fifteen minutes and couldn’t get it. The clasp is so tiny, I wondered how she ever got it on in the first place as her well kept fingernails are long and lustrous and mine are bitten to the nubs. It should have been easier for me having my actual fingertips to work with, but it was impossible.

She sighed as I handed it back to her. She looked down. “I don’t like to be without it,” she said. “You wouldn’t believe how easily the nurse took it off.”

Finally, she slid the little silver ring with the created pink gemstones I gave her for her birthday on to her little finger. The ring had turned black. Something they injected her with had burned her inside, leaked out of the injection site, ran down her arm, and burned off whatever real silver there was on the ring. This was before the MRI. Before the box. Before she was bereft of everything. Before it was all protected.

That silver ring I gave her—the timid whisper that is my life’s contribution to hers, turned black in her illness—she wears it anyway, right alongside her gold and precious. She wears it anyway.

-M. Ashley

Happy Mothers’ Day everyone!

A Little Stuffy in Here (creative nonfiction)

The breakfast with Jeana at the botanical gardens in Nashville. You never saw so many nouveau riche people in one place at one time. Not one colored face among them.

They all sat on the lower level, next to the wide windows overlooking the butterfly garden, but they were mainly looking at each other, what was she wearing, who was she with, who should we say hello to, what hands should we shake, how many rungs can we climb this beautiful Sunday morning we are spending with our faces buried in our mimosas and our backs to the beautiful garden.

Or at least this was our impression as we sat on the upper level, close to the door we should probably have been grateful they let us through in our jeans and t-shirts. Clean jeans and t-shirts, mind you, but jeans and t-shirts nonetheless. Mine was burgundy and had a baseball style swoosh on it with the words, “Think dark thoughts.” One of my favorite t-shirts of all time, and we were. We were thinking dark thoughts about these people when these people we assumed didn’t want us there, were probably not thinking about us at all.

At the brunch buffet table, this lady in a white dress with heels way too high for a garden… we were in a freaking garden after all… elbowed me over the eggs. Elbowed in the boobs, over the chafing dish full of rubbery eggs. Strangest things. I suppose my low class ass wasn’t moving fast enough and she was at the eggs in a hurry because maybe she had some ass to kiss back at her table right then or the ass wouldn’t be ripe for kissing anymore.

Dark thoughts.

At our table on the higher level, the undesirable section, we were the only table up there after all, the waitress came over to fill our water glasses. Jeana, with her Jeana wit said to the waitress, “How are you today.” Fine, the waitress said. “A little stuffy in here, ain’t it?” The waitress smiled in a way she wasn’t supposed to and said, “Sometimes.”

-M, Ashley

Outside My Preteen Window (creative nonfiction)

I’ve lived in three of the four bedrooms of the house I grew up in. I started at the end of the hall, moved across the hall to the front of the house, then back across the hall to the biggest of the little bedrooms, at last. When I lived in the bedroom at the front of the house, my window looked out on the walk, the lawn, the sidewalk, the streetlight that was supposed to be orange but was always broken, the street, the across-the-street neighbor’s house, and the across-the-street neighbor’s house’s front windows–their living room and a little square bedroom just like mine.

I slept with the head of my bed up against the window. I liked to look out through the blinds at night and contemplate the mysteries of junior high vis a vis the mysteries of the mostly empty street, an unhurried car passing once in a great while.

One night, my boyfriend and two of his friends came to the window. They whispered and laughed and sang and coaxed me out without permission. I think it might have been all of 10:00pm. We were doing what good kids walking the razor sharp line between good kids and slightly less good kids do. We thought we were stealing the world. It’s good we thought that.

Just now the thought: I have had romantic experiences in my lifetime after all, or at least this one–and the several times after that it also happened once they figured out I was so easily persuaded. Once they figured out I was just bad enough.

I came to expect them. I prepared myself for it. I dressed. I made sure my hair was ok, but not too ok. When my best friend came to my house for a sleepover, I made sure her clothes and hair were also ok, but not too ok. She was the best of the good kids. To her, we really were stealing the world. She looked afraid when I told her they would come. She went along anyway.

-M. Ashley

Talk About Disease (creative nonfiction)

It puts me ill at ease when my mom starts talking about my grandparents’ cancer—how they were dying at the same time, in hospital rooms next to each other. Lung cancer.

They smoked together. I’m sure he lit her cigarettes when they were dating. A sexy gesture. A sexy pull. Firsthand smoke to firsthand smoke. Breathing in each other’s breaths. Secondhand to secondhand. Thirdhand smoke in each other’s clothes. They breathed it in when they were dancing close.

Thirdhand smoke in their clothes still, even their clean clothes that my mother had to divvy up amongst relatives or donate after they passed. You never really can get rid of the smoke, the breath, the illness, the cancer. It grows and grows.

My mother’s marriage was falling apart as her parents were dying. My father was useless.

One day, after having worked a full day and spending most of the evening sitting at her parents’ bedsides, my mom came home to find that my father had put my sister and I to bed in our day clothes. She tells me he didn’t even bother to take our shoes off. That’s the part she couldn’t get over.

Unemployed and couldn’t be bothered to take our shoes off.

Unemployed and he would do the laundry at three in the morning with all the lights on in the house and Hank Williams roaring from the record player.

She wasn’t spending her evenings with him. He couldn’t throw a toddler’s tantrum, so he chose Hank Williams instead and, “You did say you wanted me to do the laundry, didn’t you?”

The cancer grew and grew.

My grandparents died and my mom got a divorce in the same year.

I once asked my mom if she was glad my grandparents weren’t around to see her get divorced. I asked her if there was some relief in it for her—in their passing. I don’t remember how she answered. I know she spoke, but all I really remember is the silence while she thought about it.

The hospital was in a rough neighborhood. My mom had to go into the parking garage each night wielding mace. She had a full time job, two kids, one of them (me) disabled, and, as I have mentioned, a useless husband. She is a badass. That’s the her in her I hope to breathe in.

-M. Ashley

A Hill I Once Knew (creative nonfiction)

My Uncle Chuck’s house backed up against one of the humps of Little Mountain. As far as I know, Little Mountain has two major humps separated by two apartment complexes, two tracts of homes, two schools, and, lately, a strip mall, an iHop, a McDonals’s and a Starbucks always bustling with CalState Berdoo students.

My Uncle Chuck’s house butted up against the back of it and there was a small piece of it in his yard. I knew it intimately. He landscaped the crap out of it. He not only planted gorgeous plants everywhere, but he dug great paths and steps into the dirt so my sister, my cousins, and I could go run and chase all over it, minding the ankle-eating gofer holes of course.

We used to love to dig holes in that hill ourselves. My uncle had shovels for us all and, wherever he was working on some worthy project on the hill, there were my two boy cousins and I also working, digging holes to China or, if we were really ambitious, digging a hole large enough for us to sit it. Sometimes that took days, but the prestige that came with climbing into your own hole was well worth it.

-M. Ashley

Please Don’t Stop Writing (creative nonfiction)

It is hard not to get sentimental when talking about my teachers. I have so many well-worn anecdotes. I’ve gone through them all so many times verbally, it seems they would be a complete bore to talk about. There is one though that I think I only ever jotted notes down about once. It’s often too much.

At first, I hated my poetry professor at Vanderbilt, Professor Daniels. She was hard on me. She spanked my ego good and I didn’t like it. I thought I was some kind of hot shit going into her class, and man oh man, did I find out otherwise. She was cold and exacting and had no warm and squishies for me whatsoever. Even after I earned a modicum of her respect, I was still nervous around her. I would drop things and turn around in circles trying to find my chair. It was perpetually like being on a first date.

She was a tiny woman, apparently a lot older than I thought she was. I made a reference to an 80’s band once and she said she wouldn’t know anything about it when here I had assumed she was only maybe a decade older than I was. For all her hardness, there must have been a youth about her I perceived. My legally blind eyes could not see her wrinkles so my mind registered her as a bitter eighties Gen X St. Elmo’s Fire type instead of ex-hippie observer and poetry writer-abouter.

I was being abused at home. I met her at the grocery store, me wearing a full length houndstooth wool coat in 80 degree heat to cover the bruises and burns. She pulled her cart up next to mine. She took time to talk to me. I told her I had to leave Vanderbilt, which was very hard. She said to me, pleading, “Please don’t stop writing.” It stays with me, that she would plead with me this way. I keep it in my own head when I’m about to give up.

Maybe I don’t talk about it because I can never quite get the emotion of it. I always seem to need to invent a touch of hands or squeeze of the wrist to go with it. The truth is, she didn’t touch me at all. Or at least, I think that’s the truth. The memory is fuzzy. I think I have been lying to myself for so long in my memory about that touch, that I truly don’t know anymore. Knowing her character though, I don’t think there was one, which makes my soul burst with longing.

-M. Ashley

I am going to start including audio recordings of me reading my posts for my visually impaired friends, or really anyone who enjoys what I hope will be a good listen. Being visually impaired myself, I’m a little ashamed I’ve had this blog for a million years and am only thinking of this now. Hear it here:

The Great Easter Suit Tragedy of 1989 (creative nonfiction)

When I was in the sixth grade, my mom bought me an Easter suit from whatever degrading 80s term was used for the children’s plus size clothing section at Sears. In the dressing room, my mom said I was shaped like a spark plug. I had never seen a spark plug, and have still never seen a spark plug, so I have no idea if that was a compliment or not. I ought to look up a Google image of a spark plug when I’m done writing so I know whether to be flattered or devastated when I remember this memory in the future.

The skirt suit was pale yellow. My mom has since said that this is an unflattering color on me. I am albino and my hair is white with yellow tints from the sun. Wearing yellow makes the yellow tints look yellower and my skin, naturally pink, look even pinker. But pale yellow was the only color of Easter suit they had in the chubby girl section, so pale yellow clad spark plug I was the Easter of 1989.

Bad color and all, I loved that suit. It made me feel adult. I think it even had shoulder pads like the glamorous ladies on Dallas and Falcon’s Crest wore. (Everybody remembers Dallas. Nobody remember’s Falcon’s Crest which I’m sure is why it resonates as my favorite).

The suit had a floral blouse that went with, not even attached to the jacket, so adult-like was this suit. The blouse had a floppy floral bow at the collar, also high 80s fashion for the funny ladies who starred in 9 to 5 or Diane on Cheers.

Loved that suit. Just loved that suit.

I was spending Easter with my dad and stepmom that year. On Saturday night we dyed eggs with various PAAS kits, (does PAAS still make the IT kits?). There were the ones where you used vinegar and dipped the eggs in with a wire thing that looked like a brilliantly rearranged coat hanger. There were also the ones where you used plastic stencils and little tiny markers to create floral patterns on the eggs. I liked the stencils best because the product usually came out great, no matter how un-crafty you are, and I was, and am, supremely un-crafty.

One time, doing crafts with the ladies from my mom’s church, we were supposed to glue a doily and a Jesus quote to the back of a glass plate. I fucked it up. Both doily and Jesus quote came out wrinkled and off-center. Supremely un-crafty even when crafting for Jesus, but enough about Jesus, let’s get back to Easter.

We did six metric tons of eggs. I went to bed exhausted from my artistic efforts, looking forward to the hunt the following morning and my dad’s fabulous Easter baskets. My dad was actually a horrible person, but man did he make great Easter baskets! One year I got a new “Club” Barbie center stage in my basket. She was wearing a white “leather” blazer with the sleeves rolled up, like 80s cool cats Don Johnson and the guy who played Tubbs, and she had on a hot pink foofy skirt trimmed in neon green like that Australian chick who did the 80s dance party show on MTV, ending each show with “Wubba wubba wubba…” I believe the Barbie even had a black, mannish hat like Denise on the Cosby Show wore before Bill Cosby decided she got too edgy for the Cosby Show. (Let that sink in for a minute.)

But let’s get back to Easter:

Who gets a whole Barbie in their Easter basket? I did. Fabulous baskets my jerk dad made. And a fabulous hider of eggs too, I might add.

He thought he was so clever. He was like me or, more accurately, I am like him in that both of us hate to get up early. Easter is already an early day, maybe not as early as Christmas with the whole Santa thing, but close. So I think he decided to give himself some extra zzz’s and hide the eggs in the overgrown grass of his backyard the night before. Cleverly.

Except…

The dew. No one counted on the Easter dew. Fresh on the meadow of weedy lawn. Fresh as newborn spring. Fresh as the risen Jesus himself. Fresh dew on the decorated eggs made a bleeding dye Jesus day mess. Who would’ve thunk it, as my dad used to say.

Oh the humanity. Easter egg dye all over my pale yellow chubby girl high 80s fashion suit. But what was I to do? Not hunt? Too late to change clothes. The damage was done. Big splotches of purple all over the straight skirt with the first egg I picked up. What was there to do but to go on going for it.

Oh well, me, that sixth grade spark plug was sure to turn into a pubescent pear by seventh grade. The 80s shoulder pads and floppy bows were turning to 90s 90210 style color blocked blazers. A new suit next year would be as much a necessity as Easter Jesus needed his new ascended body. Let the dye bleed. Let the eggs roll.

-M. Ashley

Happy Easter everyone!

22 Things I Learned in 2022

1. Being a Horrible Hose Beast to myself doesn’t accomplish anything.

2. Self-Compassion vanquishes the Horrible Hose Beast even if it does look like a big, long-haired sissy.

3. Cold showers are invigorating only in the summer when the “cold” water comes out pool water warm because it’s a million degrees outside.

4. I can wash my hair and my whole body with one stock pot full of stove-heated water. (Did I mention our water heater broke this year?)

5. I can still remember the classical piano pieces I learned last October even though, after I learned them, I didn’t practice again until this October. Muscle memory is righteous.

6. I am capable of injuring myself in my sleep. I am gifted like that and also middle-aged.

7. I can withstand hour long phone calls with narcissistic jerks.

8. Other people can stand hour long phone calls with this narcissistic jerk.

9. If I spot it, man oh man do I got it!

10. Eight million twelve step slogans.

11. That even I give in and say “god” when what I mean is “gods.” Stupid three letter words being easier to type. Stupid western world thinking polytheists are weirdos.

12. With all the progress I’ve made at not being a Horrible Hose Beast, the Horrible Hose Beast is still worried about other people thinking I’m a weirdo. Sissy Self-Compassion doesn’t care, but says it’s OK that Hose Beast cares and wants me to give myself a big hug. What a sissy!

13. Life without corn syrup is possible and even preferable. Who knew?

14. My psychiatrist is kind and conscientious enough not to strangle me.

15. I am capable of watching a three hour concert sitting on a hard wooden bench in the Southern California level freezing cold with a spasming back. I am a middle aged endurance hero.

16. I am capable of talking about myself for 25 straight minutes without being a narcissistic jerk. At least I hope I am. If not, I owe about forty people a big apology.

17. Doing service for others is magical. Like, seriously, pop pop pop! Magical. That’s also a sissy thing to say. No less true though.

18. I can keep commitments… most of the time.

19. Tasing yourself hurts like a son of a monkey. Good news! If I ever need to tase anybody, I want it to hurt like a son of a monkey.

20. Wine and lightning are an excellent way to get and stay in the presence of the gods.

21. Gratitude is a superpower. Legit.

And finally… truly worth of a drumroll…

22. Love is patient. Patience is love.

With Love,
This Long Haired Sissy

Never a Bother (creative nonfiction)

In the third grade, waiting for the little bus that, thankfully, came right to my door, I sat in front of the window and sang Silent Night softly to myself. Christmas had been past for a few months, but it was still cold. Fog pushed into the valley obscuring the park across the street. Very few cars passed on the road. It was day and silent night all at once.

My great aunt and uncle’s living room never really made it out of the 60s, which was and is fantastic. They had a cream colored couch with a burnt orange floral and geometric pattern on it. On one wall, next to a curio cabinet holding Lladro figurines was a plush, burnt orange chair. Over the fireplace on the opposite side of the room, a wrought iron “F” for Foltz stood sentinel. In front of the picture window, where I sat, two low, round plush swivel chairs in harvest gold. None of my cousins nor I were allowed to get into those chairs and spin and spin the way we wanted to, but we were allowed to sit there quietly, once in a while, waiting for the school bus mainly, and turn the chair toward the window.

I had my feet tucked under me in the chair—a minor offense. In 1986, stirrup pants were the rage and mine that day were royal purple. With them, I wore a long, white top with puffy paint film rolls and popcorn boxes on it. For eight, I was quite the fashion plate, due more to my mother than myself, but I was happy to take the credit anyway.

As I sang, I heard my great uncle in the kitchen softly ruffling the onion skin pages of his Bible. He woke up every day at 5am and, before he went off to work at the Santa Fe Railroad yard, he spent an hour or more reading the Bible. Over the years, he read the Bible in just about every translation and formation you can think of. He read all the footnotes about all the Greek and Aramaic and Hebrew. He read all the reference books. He read reference books the reference books referenced. He believed organized religion was the worst thing that ever happened to Christianity.

Many times, he told me about a dream he had when he was a younger man of himself on a crowded ship. The ship troughed so low sometimes, the waves seemed as if they would come crashing down from above. The sky stormed and blustered. The heavy, black clouds obscured even a hint of sky. He told me then, in the midst of the storm, he saw the hand of Christ reach down and beckon him with love. He never forgot it. He carried this in his heart as he studied the Bible each morning. This love he carried in his heart always.

I continued to sing softly. I didn’t want to disturb him.

On my third or fourth round, I heard him get up and pad softly across the living room carpet. I looked up startled and more than a little sheepish. I said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to bother you.”

A gentle patriarch, he reached his hand out and patted my head and said, “You singing would never bother me.” He smiled. He turned and walked to the back of the house to get ready for work.

Whenever I sing, I carry that touch with me. I try to carry that love in my heart always.

-M. Ashley

Pleasant Girls (creative nonfiction)

Anger wakes me up at night. I have stuffed it. I have eaten it. I have forced myself to sleep through it. My dreams bring it out of me no matter how hard I fight against it.

I scream at my sister. I scream and shake my fists at my brother-in-law. I break up with my best friend. I cry out of frustration. I pound my fists on my ex. Sometimes I pound my fists on my god.

I wake up and my heart is beating fast. I sweat. I breathe hard. Sometimes I cry. I am a cliche. The sadness stays with me throughout the day.

I am angry and I am sad that I’m angry.

I’m a nice girl. I’m well-behaved and, despite the odd mood, I’m laid back and easy to get along with. Nice, pleasant girls don’t feel rage.

I’ve heard men say they don’t get angry. They say they get annoyed or irritated, but not angry. They, I think, have nothing to get angry about. Not all men—the abusers who have smiled at us pleasant girls and said they don’t get angry. Even while they beat us well behaved girls, they say, they don’t ever get angry. Not really.

-N. Ashley