Archive for April, 2016

Mornings

April 15, 2016
     I drive there every morning.
Santa Barbara City College sits on a cliff overlooking the beach and staring at the Pacific Ocean.
     I make a right into the curving driveway, pass the brown tube like booth at the entrance, the yellow bar rises as I pass on to the campus. I shift in my seat, unloose my safety belt and check my lips in the rear view mirror of my red Honda CRV.
     Am I ready for the day? I smile. I look forward to Alex, Yacoob and Maha. They always arrive early. Alex is interesting. He’s Bulgarian, tall and lean and eager to learn English. Yacoob and Maha are husband and wife. They are a 50ish year old couple. Yacoob was a teacher of mathematics back in Syria and Maha a teacher of economics. I think of them as my mind anticipates my morning. I expect it will be the usual.
     I follow the black tar road and it curves to the east. The cream walls and black framed windows of the Administration building slide by on the left and a green jacket moving behind a tree catches my eye. Juan, the regular landscape worker is on the lawn clipping and chipping away at the grass. I let my left hand uncurl from its grip on the car frame and I wave and smile. In another second, I slow down for a road bump as I push on the accelerator to ride toward my office I look to the right and my eyes are captured by the view. It never grows old.
     The blue rises in the distance and strings of white clouds decorate the sky. At the bottom of the canvas are the white frilly waves. As I let my eyes move down and back up, I sigh with the comfort of familiarity.
     I drive slowly to the end of the car park, pull the car into a spot facing the ocean and I stop, breathe, check my watch and step out of the car. I turn my back on the ocean and make my way up the white concrete slope to my classroom. As I reach the long low lying cream building to the left, I walk toward room CC #226 and push open the black steel door and enter. I stop for a minute, adjust my bag and say “Good morning Alex, you are here early as usual.” Alex does not turn or raise his head from the book. “Hello Ms. Bacchus, I’m trying to finish the reading.” I laugh. Students are always trying to catch up.
     I open the cabinet, get out my books, my black erase pens and walk over to the right side of the classroom and punch the button on the computer. A green light, a vibration and a slow glow slowly expands on the screen, eventually light and one by one icons pop at the bottom. I grab a black erase pen turn completely around and write out the agenda for the day. As I proceed to the desk I hear the hinge of the door give a little squeak and I know it is Cole. He bounces in .. white headphones stuck into his ears, huge grin on his smooth baby face and “Hi Ms. B, what’s doin’ … had a great weekend.” He drags out his chair at the end of the back row and drops into it. His desk bumps the one in front, it rocks forward. My gaze sweeps over the twelve six feet grey desks sitting in straight rows. I groan when my eyes hit the well trodden blackish greyish rug dying on the floor.  And, then I look up and laugh as Cole rocks back to cock his feet on the desk.
     As I curse the dean and recall the many complaints emailed, I hear the chatter of voices in the open air of the door. I turn; I smile. Like sunshine young faces brighten my day.
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The Pedicure

April 5, 2016

I live alone now.  2006 I lost her to lung cancer.  I am now officially an orphan.  She was my family; she was my best friend.  When I think “family intimacy,” scenes with my mother flash in my memory.

My mother lived in Berkeley.  I took the job in Santa Barbara because I loved the sun and because, most of all, I could spend time with my best friend.  My mother and I had a lot in common, but we had very different personalities.  I can recall one time that I laughed so loud, my colleague came out of her office and I told her the story.  I wrote poems; my mother did not.  I bought blank cards; my mother searched for the card with the best saying.

One day, I sent my mother one of my poems; I sent it in an email.  Very quickly, I heard the ping of a returned email.  I clicked on it and read “Denise, I actually like this one.  Girl, how did you make it into my womb.”  I howled; first I was absolutely surprised that she liked it.  And, “how did you get into my womb” coming from my very straight laced mummy, the woman who doesn’t even say “damn.”  That jerked a laugh out of me.

If I close my eyes I can see that warm smile start and then a kind of soft grin appear, her eyes have a tiny shine, her arms are down as she holds one palm in the other as she stands back from the open door waiting for me to enter. I knew what she was waiting for.

My phone call from the halfway stop had started my anticipation.  I kept laughing on the drive because I loved my mother’s way of getting me to visit.

She’d call; we chatted every night.  She’d say “Denise, I think it’s time; I’m looking at my toes right now.  I think they need you.”  I’d laugh out loud.  “Mummy I think you’ve become addicted to pedicures.”

My mother had to learn to hug.  Long story short, the British cultural straight jacket combined with other trauma made mummy a little stiff.  I knew she loved me because of all the ways she spoiled me.  A couple times I threatened her.  “Mummy if you don’t hug me I am going to shrivel and die.”  I’d put my arms around and say.  “You better squeeze me woman.”  The first time, she hesitated then over time it became our way.  Through the laughter she knew I was serious.  I loved touching my mother.  I needed to hug her.  It took time for me to realize that it mattered to her too.

After the five-hour drive, I’d walked through the door and into her arms.  “Hug me woman.”  We laughed.  By nighttime, we’d made a stop in China town to buy our favorite fish.  By 7 p.m., she was in her favorite green armchair; I was on a stool between her legs; water was on to warm for her toes and I was working on her fingernails.  We sat in the warm kitchen; “Law and Order” was on the TV; it was our favorite television show.  We discussed and argued like lawyers.  Holding mummy’s soft hands, shaping and shinning her nails, soaking and scrubbing her feet; these things anchored me in love.  Massaging her legs, feeling the tension leave, hearing her sigh, and seeing my mother smile, these strokes entered directly into our hearts.

Now that she is gone, these things keep me alive.

Grand dad

April 5, 2016

My grandfather was dead when I was born in 1959, but he left a trail of memories.  And, from those memories came stories that suggested that he had badly damaged the man I loved.  His way of being had started a catastrophic avalanche of mental illness in the family.   At least, that was my impression for years.

At the age of seven my dad’s depression had entered our relationship.  I felt a childish desperation in my need to make him happy.  There was some point where our handholding went from careless familiarity to gripping desperation.

I knew he had lost the fight when my mother left.  I learned later that she had found an axe hidden in the bedroom closet.  On the day we moved, I remember vividly seeing his face at the window.  One part of me wanted to stay with him; the other was frightened and wanted to run. His depression led to many accidents; one of them made him a quadriplegic.  I watched as he died.

I stumbled through my teens battering myself with bad choices.  As my critical abilities grew, the childhood whispers grew to conversations; I learned about my grandfather.  I heard stories of strict parental behavior that bordered on abuse.  It seemed he ruled wife and children with an iron fist.  The stories helped me understand the series of events that led to the shrunken skeleton of my father propped up in the coffin.

One story stuck in my head.  My father loved motorcycles.  One day, he took my cousin Audrey for a ride to visit his parents.  My grandfather rejected her blackness and my father confronted his racism.  I became aware of the complicated and confused identity issues in my family.  My grandfather had objected to my father’s choice of wife for her color, and, for that, they were married without his blessing and attendance.

In the late 90s, I decided to learn about my family history.  In an interview with my cousin, I learned that my grandmother had been institutionalized for twelve years.  But, what stunned me is that my grandfather had her meals privately made and delivered daily.  As much as I wanted to hold on to my grotesque opinion of him this information caused something to shift.

Coming on the heels of this information, I learned that on trips to New York with his wife he never left her side.  My aunt said that he gave her money to buy whatever she wanted.  By this time, of course, after more than one of my own complicated love affairs, I had become conscious of the nuances of love.  I sat back to reflect on my own visceral dislike of the man.  And, I continued to explore the family tree.

One year, on my way to Barbados my cousin asked me to visit the archives to look for my grandmother’s birth certificate.  Online, I found a copy of my father and my grandfather’s signatures on a ship from England to New York.  A long trip suggested more than a troubled relationship.  But the shocker was a copy of a certificate that showed that my Muslim grandfather, on a trip with my grandmother, had been baptized so that he could marry my her in a Christian ceremony.

I had to readjust.  I had to open my mind to his realities. The British had practiced divisive policies that pitted blacks against Indians.  He had used his ancestry as an indentured servant to start and successfully manage his own business.  He lost one Indian wife and child in his early years; he had supported all of his children and given them an education that took them into the best jobs.

This was a strong man who, once committed to my grandmother, stayed with her for better or for worse.  He loved her.  And, his love for my father, motivated his need to push him toward what he thought would make him succeed.  This I grew to accept.

The Falls

April 5, 2016

I didn’t know if I could do it.  My heart hammered my ribs.  Pee burned the drop space between my bladder and the seat.  “Denise you can do it.”   Right on its heals, in between the thuds, “Oh God, I can’t wet myself.”   I turned lizard cold.  I squeezed my legs together. “Did I really want to pee?  Was it fear or excitement.”

The white hard plastic seat bumped against the barely covered bones of my ass as gusts of wind bounced the liquid in my bladder. The dry powder smell of the rice grain bags mixed with the musky sweetish sweat of the workers curled up my nostrils.   I needed distraction.

The China blue sky tickled the corner of my eye and drew them both out of the glass bubbled window.  For a time, my gaze drifted between the cotton wool layer of clouds as they drifted above the heads of broccoli like trees and the rivers winding like silver slug trails.

Suddenly, the pilot’s “Ha, we made it” and I tilted forward.  Bits of food inside my stomach levitated slightly as he took the plane into a slow descent.  Looking out, I saw a little brown streak of dirt widen into a road.   After ten minutes, our wheels bumped.  I climbed out and immediately ran for slats of wood with the word “TOILET” written in red paint.  I grabbed the door while unbuttoning my pants, sat down and sighed as I heard the splash down and then trickle.  Relief made me smile; a little breathing and a rumble rushed my eardrums.  My fingers shook as I tried to slip in the buttons.

I rushed onto the brown dirt road; the open aired, wet breeze slipped up my nose and the sun rays licked and licked.  I looked up at the emerald green trees, at their majestic brown veined trunks.  Amazed, I could hear the roar of water.  Pounding.  Pounding.   After five minutes of walking, mist turned the air into a silver gray blind.  I walked faster; the ground shook.   Slowly, it all parted to reveal a gaping chasm with a sheer wall of white froth mixed with tea red water.  Slices of yellow sun bounced as the foaming water fell straight down before crashing into rocks.  I held the rail hard as I peeked over the edge, resisting the suicide tug of gravity, to see the water hit and rise high in a shower of gems.

Kaieteur Falls, “the world’s widest single drop waterfall.  I had arrived.  My heart slowed.  Peace surrounded the roar.  I dragged my hand along the rail and walked to the edge of the river that fed the falls.  Years of running through the steamy jungle turned the water coca red.  I let my toes sip at the cool wet and I stopped.  A sawed off tree stump sat in the shallow pool.  I sat down.   Up close, the leaves on one side were crayon green, banana yellow, and dirt brown.  The breezes rustled through them creating a sleepy lullaby.  Rocked by these sounds, my eye lids drooped.   I shook my head.  I could not let go of this beauty.

Reality Strikes

April 5, 2016

My heart sank.  A silent cold filled my chest.  I stopped breathing as it became clear that the purple blue smudge on David’s neck was a love bite.  I let my breath out slowly, I was not going to mention it; I hated conflict and fear of losing David sat quietly in my heart.

I’d met him in my first year of college.  Laughter rang out and my eyes turned to the sound, and, leaning against the silver glitter of a bike stand, was a cute brown skinned young man.  There was a slight dent in his cheek and the sun skipped off white and unusually straight teeth.  He had that twinkle in the eyes; I smiled. I wanted to be included in the warmth.

I turned to my friend Maxine. “Hey, Max, do you know him?”  “Yes,” she said, “but Denise I think he’s sleeping with a guy.  I’ve seen him with Tim and you know Tim!”  I knew Tim yes, but looking at David I decided he couldn’t be gay.

A few months later, David and I were an item.  I made it happen.  Like many college students, we were living together by the end of the year.  David’s personality reminded me of my mother; she and I rarely fought. David didn’t push me to be a “woman.”  He loved to cook; I hated it.  He was good with laundry and he allowed me to be a partner. For four years, we were inseparable.  I slept like a baby once David was wrapped behind me each night.  David was heading to medical school and I admired him.

One day on campus, I noticed a young man following David around the campus.  David was his tutor.  The guy was openly gay. Heat burned inside anytime he passed by.  I never showed it.

Some weeks later, there was the love bite.

I silently worried.  I forced myself into denial.  But, the inner conflict took its toll.  Yet, I continued planning a future with David.  By the time I moved to Philadelphia to join him as he attended medical school, my insides boiled with various degrees of jealousy, resentment and anger. Every sign of tiredness, forgetfulness or complacency was interpreted as his unhappiness.  As a way of avoiding the pain of what I assumed was rejection, I started dreaming of France.  I’d always loved languages and French was a favorite.  I wanted a way to leave without pain.

By the time Robert, another medical student, walked into my life, I was ready for attention.

I was unhappy.  Robert gave me all the attention I craved.  I became an addict.  He made me feel attractive.  Even though it was clear that Robert was a lady’s man, I was caught up in a feeling of wonderful lust.  I started comparing the two men.  David’s indifference lived like a hot brick in my chest.  I was convinced that he longed for what I could not give him.

After a few months, I felt I was bold enough to walk out and move on.  Emboldened by my unresolved suspicion and the inner turmoil I thought of as strength, I walked into the apartment one night, and without explanation, I told David that I’d found an apartment and I was moving.  I saw the shock on David’s face.  My pain relished it.  But, I was unprepared for my inner crash.

David’s tears and protests caught me unaware.  A love that once helped me breathe, tore at my heart like claws.  The face etched into my skin like a tattoo mirrored the pain in my mind, but fear of the future trumped.  I ran.

The first night alone was dark and sleepless.  An essential piece was missing.  I was an amputee.  My soul was in pieces.   My body screamed.   Insomnia crept into my life.  Each night I longed for the peaceful comfort of David’s arms.

As the nights passed, I sank lower into depression.

 

 

The name

April 4, 2016

 

I lived inside the covers of books. I read and read. Books filled with fairies, gnomes….. books full of magic. I was intrigued. One particular story captured my attention – he was old; he was tall; he was gentle. He lived in the forest and even though he had no friends and lived by himself, he befriended all the animals. They listened to him. He had one pet, a mouse. That tiny mouse lived in his jacket; it ran under his sleeve and appeared above his collar only to disappear into his hat.

You see, this man I thought of as beautiful, reminded me of my father. Dean Bacchus ruled my world, but at that time, he was simply “daddy.” Names had no meaning at the time.   Mummy and daddy, those mattered. I had no idea “Bacchus” was Greek and that I would slowly question its origin.

Fortunately for me, my country had no television at the time. Therefore, no bombarding images filled my days and invaded my mind.   The control of my mind could be interrupted by critical thought and slowly as the years passed and I allowed myself to explore books and visit with educators of color I started to question the history of Denise Bacchus.   Why Denise? Where did Bacchus come from? I looked it up and learned in some book that “Bacchus” was a Creek gods of wine. Essentially, my name meant bacchanal…. a god damn party of liquor and I didn’t even drink.

And, then, one day in college Chukwuma, tall, dark, handsome, Ibo and Nigerian walked into the cafeteria at UC Berkeley this man walked in and I immediately noticed his regal stature. I loved listening to his ideas and, eventually, I learned some knowledge about Nigeria. That was my first close contact with Africa and African culture and I learned that names had meanings and, Chukwuma had meaning. “God knows” – that is the meaning of Chukwuma. How beautiful is that! And, then the envy and the jealousy crept in………… my name had no meaning – no meaning to me. It did not reflect the rich mix of Indian, black, Portuguese and native Carib culture swimming in my veins.

Years later, on a visit to London, I stopped at one of those little quaint bookstores. The ones with tiny doors with blue paint and glass windows stacked with books that leave peepholes to the outside world. The day was a crisp cold one with clear blue skies; the grass and trees climbing over the fence of the gardens were a deep moss green. I had the freedom of travel in my heart.

As I browsed the titles of books, I ran my hand along the well-worn shelves and I enjoyed the feeling of being in the past. I opened one book, I really don’t know why. It was a random pick. But it was a story written by an Indian man who happened to be gay. At that time, I had a particular interest in the gay community because a man who I loved madly had revealed to me that he was more interested in men than women and this had broken my heart. And, as I tend to do, I remedy almost everything by reading. I continued to read about gay men in India and the marriage that society forces on them. As I read one story, I came across the word “yaari.” Something about the spelling of the word vibrated; I felt it. In the context of the story the word seemed to have a deep meaning. I noted “yaari” in my notes. It had an aura that called.

I took it home with me and did the research. “Yaari” or “Yari” I learned, meant “soul mate friendship.” I longed to be soothed by meaning. Today, even though I never officially changed my name, I am Yaari to some, but most of all I am Yaari when I write.

 

granddad

April 4, 2016

My grandfather was dead when I was born in 1959, but he’d left a trail of memories. And, from those memories came stores that suggested that had badly damaged the man I loved. His way of being had started a catastrophic avalanche of mental illness in the family.   At least, that was my impression for years.

At the age of seven my dad’s depression had entered our relationship. I felt a childish desperation in my need to make him happy. There was some point where our handholding went from careless familiarity to gripping desperation.

I knew he had lost the fight when my mother left. I learned later that she had found an axe hidden in the bedroom closet. On the day we moved, I remember vividly seeing his face at the window. One part of me wanted to stay with him; the other was frightened and wanted to run. His depression led to many accidents; one of them made him a quadriplegic. I watched as he died.

I stumbled through my teens battering myself with bad choices. As my critical abilities grew, the childhood whispers grew to conversations; I learned about my grandfather. I heard stories of strict parental behavior that bordered on abuse. It seemed he ruled wife and children with an iron fist. The stories helped me understand the series of events that led to the shrunken skeleton of my father propped up in the coffin.

One story stuck in my head. My father loved motorcycles. One day, he took my cousin Audrey for a ride to visit his parents. My grandfather rejected her blackness and my father confronted his racism. I became aware of the complicated and confused identity issues in my family. My grandfather had objected to my father’s choice of wife for her color, and, for that, they were married without his blessing and attendance.

In the late 90s, I decided to learn about my family history. In an interview with my cousin, I learned that my grandmother had been institutionalized for twelve years. But, what stunned me is that my grandfather had her meals privately made and delivered daily. As much as I wanted to hold on to my grotesque opinion of him this information caused something to shift.

Coming on the heels of this information, I learned that on trips to New York with his wife he never left her side. My aunt said that he gave her money to buy whatever she wanted. By this time, of course, after more than one of my own complicated love affairs, I had become conscious of the nuances of love. I sat back to reflect on my own visceral dislike of the man. And, I continued to explore the family tree.

One year, on my way to Barbados my cousin asked me to visit the archives to look for my grandmother’s birth certificate. Online, I found a copy of my father and my grandfather’s signature on a ship from England to New York. A long trip suggested more than a troubled relationship. But the shocker was a copy of a certificate that showed that my grandfather, on a trip with my grandmother, had been baptized so that he could marry my grandmother in a Christian ceremony.

I had to readjust. I had to open my mind to his realities. The British had practiced divisive policies that pitted blacks against Indians. He had used his ancestry as an indentured servant to start and successfully manage his own business. He lost one Indian wife and child in his early years; he had supported all of his children and given them an education that took them into the best jobs.

This was a strong man who, once committed to my grandmother, stayed with her for better or for worse. He loved her. And, his love for my father, motivated his need to push him toward what he thought would make him succeed. This I grew to accept.