The Photographic Evidence

The haunting has me going through my photo archives.  It’s just too easy to keep every digital photograph.  It isn’t like you have to lug them around (though, to be fair, I have every negative and I lug those around) and what does the storage really cost?  Four GB here or there doesn’t make much difference.  The trouble, however, with the hoarder’s mentality (it might come in handy at some point later on) is that when you’ve got photographs in the tens of thousands, they lose their meaning.  You just can’t get far enough into any one batch of photos to have it count for something.

The rational response is to cull.  Which I’m doing.

Unfortunately, the territory is littered with little memory-bombs.  There’s a photo from my sister’s wedding.  The official photographer was trying to get the entire family lined up, and someone took a picture from the side.  Whoever it was happened to be on the end of the family arrangement where my ex husband and I were standing, and captured the photographic evidence.

He really loved me.

We were married.  This shouldn’t come as such a surprise, but it does.  I also have photographs of the envelope he used to send me the signed divorce papers going up in flames.  At a certain point, it just isn’t healthy to focus on the good stuff.  No one wants to spend the rest of their lives pining over what might have been.  Pushing ten years since he moved out, frankly I don’t think about him much at all.  My niece was saying that she doesn’t even remember what he looked like, so I decided it would be a good idea to see if I could find a photo.  I came across his linkedin photo and was demonically gleeful that he’s chubbed up considerably and I’m *finally* hotter than he is.  I used to fear running into him on the street in some freak accident.  Not anymore.

The end of Tropic Thunder also helped.  You know the part where Tom Cruise dances around like a doofus?  My ex danced exactly like that.  I’m not much of a dancer (a statement that is a legitimate contender for understatement of the year) so the fact that he could find the rhythm and stick with it impressed me unduly.

Aside from that wicked and unkind smugness over the reversal of physical fortunes, I honestly don’t think about him at all.  Might as well have happened to someone else.  The house we owned is now theoretical.  What I remember most, even from when we were married, are the times I was alone.  Fair enough, I was alone a lot.

So it comes as a surprise to find evidence that we were happy.  He genuinely loved me.  I genuinely loved him.  And from that angle, it is a complete mystery to me how we ended up at a place where I have to work to remember why it was that he once felt as necessary as oxygen to my existence.  An effort that produces nothing concrete.  I truly thought there would be a him-shaped hole in me forever.  And now there’s this picture of him kissing the back of my head while I smile at the antics of various and assorted related children and it’s pretty much a bafflement.

He really loved me.  Isn’t that odd.

The Terrorist’s Wife

A cockroach makes a twisted path from one corner of our room to the other and distracts me from my ritual. I start again, rewrapping my hair in a scarf that still smells of my mother, touching my nose to the worn rug. My prayer rug, passed down from generations, always willed to the meekest daughter; the one closest to the heart of the Prophet. I wonder what cockroaches leave to their daughters. A secret map of the cracks between apartments, perhaps.

Because I hear her lovers sigh through the wall, I know she hears me praying. I know she hears the other things that take place here. I never meet her eyes when we cross in the hallway.

Our cockroaches take refuge in her kitchen when we try to kill them. The bomb comes in a package with cartoon insects belly up and dead, which Mustafa buys at 7-Eleven with his cigarettes. The English words march backwards across the box. We release it in the kitchen monthly; I am still wiping the white dust from the corners of the counter when it is time to do it again.

I was not a child bride, as my mother was. I could agree or disagree as I chose. My mother watched me through the days I said I needed to think. And then I said yes. Our mothers made the arrangements and hired the jewelry. Mustafa. I was the fiancé of a man named Mustafa. Perhaps he would beat me, perhaps he would drink, but I did not think so. We knew his family, his sisters were my friends. I would have known him too, but he left the neighborhood a long time ago.

Whatever happened, at least I would not be the one left behind to wipe up after my brother’s meals, to clean the salt-encrusted tissue from beside their beds, to scrub their laundry and fetch their tea. My mother wanted what she had seen of America on TV—the shiny cars, refrigerators big enough to hold an entire sheep—if not for herself than for me.

Four days. I was buffed, polished, tattooed and displayed. My husband and I greeted each other in the old-fashioned way, the formal words unfamiliar to our tongues: they reached further back in the throat than our every-day words, as if their meaning was carried deeper. They were harder to say. We were royal in the photographs: we sat still on a dais, waving to the relatives and neighbors. My tiara was borrowed. I could not breathe.

The dresses I got to keep. My mother folded them carefully, planning my nights before the plane left the ground. Surely they would be necessary in America. Mustafa and I would eat in restaurants with gleaming cutlery and a separate plate for everyone at the table and I would need something to wear.  And when he was out, just the thought of the rustling silk at my ankles would make him think longingly of the moment he would come home.  We both needed to believe in this story and so we did.

My family is both poor and respectable. This means I kept my virginity. My friends and I argued over the little we knew as we hung out the laundry. Either the act would hurt, or there would be satisfaction.  Johara said the weapon is foolish, Jamilla said it is frightful.  I once overheard my grandmother say that all men swagger and brag, but the source of their strength is fragile.  We agreed on one thing: I was lucky to be marrying someone who had lived in America. Mustafa would know better than the local boys how to woo and win.

There is no God but Allah. There is no God but Allah. If He seems so very far away, perhaps it is because He doesn’t recognize me without my djleaba. I am a long way from home.

I know she can hear me through the wall because when I am finished with my prayers, I see the shadow of her feet in the crack under my door. I hear her breathing and see her arm upraised to knock. I close my eyes and see her lips close around the question. I do not open the door.

Her lovers are all women. I watch her following them up the stairs with her eyes on their spine. She winks at me, as if we share a secret, and I scurry away from them with my arms full of laundry. Her lovers wear red shoes with bows and tall heels. Their stockings are like the ones women wear in old Egyptian movies, a straight line measuring the curve of their legs. Her lovers are very beautiful, with small diamonds shining from their nostrils and glossy hair. They are not like the women on TV, their cheeks are full and their bodies are nourished.

I know they are her lovers because I listen. I place my hands flat on the white wall and press my ear against its dusty surface. My husband is at the cafe with a hundred of his closest friends and compatriots. Mustafa sits at the bar and speaks with Mohammed while nursing a small cup of tea. The waiters know to keep his glass full until his package of cigarettes is empty. It is his reward for smiling while customers complain about their orders. I lay on his side of the bed until he comes home, warming his place and trying out the syllables I have heard through the wall. My dreams do not erase the words.

In the morning streets, I am alone. I keep my head down, my face hidden. The cracks in the pavement fracture and spread out in every direction like a thought. It is the same with the sidewalks in my country. If I do not breathe, if I do not raise my eyes, everything makes sense for the entire journey from our building to the hotel where I work: I belong again.

Before I came here, I thought all Americans were shiny and clean like Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. A foreigner is forgiven for thinking such things: a chambermaid in a hotel knows better. They leave a handful of crumpled bills on the pillow, as if ones and fives buy them the right to discard their oozing sheaths on the carpet, to leave hand prints all over the windows and yellow traces of their morning necessities drying on the outside of the toilet. What kind of people are unembarrassed by the remains of what is done in the night?

My hotel has very tall ceilings and gray marble floors. I tie my hair back—it is never glossy, only very black—and practice being invisible. My starched uniform helps: no one notices the maids unless their aprons are dingy or their rooms fail inspection. The people at the front desk know my name but not its proper pronunciation. They say hello and good morning, but it is easier if they don’t. Translation slows me down.

We are given a quota of rooms to clean. I walk the hall in my silent shoes, knock gently on the door and announce myself. Housekeeping. The only English word I pronounce perfectly.

I arrange the towels so no one hangs lower than the rest, I fold the thin tissue by the toilet into a neat arrow. If there are sheaths on the floor, I scoop them up carefully and only throw up into the toilet after I have disposed of them properly. When my rooms are exactly as they should be, I change into my running shoes, my track pants and my hooded jacket. I take the same route home every day. I follow the map of cracks in the pavement and they lead me to my front door.

Every morning is the same. The door to our building closes behind me at 5:37. Mustafa snores softly, wrapped in the linens like a dead man. I walk through the service entrance of the hotel at 5:58. The time-clock stamps my card at 6:15. It stamps it again at 3:00. The numbers order themselves on the thick paper, ants following each other in a straight line.

Not today. Today is full of policemen with words in their questions I do not understand. It is full of blood and disbelief. I cannot stop seeing the room, the number on the door so close that my eyes cross waiting for a reply to my knock. 121. I slide my key into the lock and hear it click open. The handle is cool to my hand, the door gives way easily. I am thinking about nothing already, numb from white porcelain and soiled bed sheets.

Room 121. Part of the group of rooms reserved for an ambassador and his entourage. The head housekeeper has emphasized that our work must be thorough, discreet, and quick. I am sure fainting is indiscreet, but she never said anything about the protocol for walking in on a slaughter.

The police want to know if I saw anything strange, anyone running through the hallways, a knife hidden in a pillowcase, blood in a bathtub. They ask all the housekeepers the same questions. Another officer goes to the basement to dig through the laundry. He hopes for a weapon, a fingerprint but that will tell them nothing we do not already know. The guest is on file, what he ordered from room-service, which of the tiny bottles of alcohol he removed from the mini-bar. Finding him is not the problem, one officer says, his voice frustrated and his fingers curled into his palms. Finding the victim, that is the hard part.

Pink translucent bits of flesh cling to the wall like a melon has been smashed there. The sheets are ruined, there is nothing to be done with the mattress but burn it, the room is far beyond what I could clean in a day. A young officer pulls blood-soaked underwear from behind the bed.

One of the other women picks up my quota. The manager tells me to stay home tomorrow. They call a cab for me when the questions are over and send me home with a twenty dollar bill. I stop the cab long before we are in my neighborhood and walk. Without the sidewalks, I am not sure I know where I live.

She is sitting on the stairs. Her hair is cut close, like a man’s, but her eyes are wide-set and her cheekbones are high. Her shirt is nearly transparent. Her knees are spread wide under her skirt. Hey, she says. She asks my name. Aicha, I tell her. That’s the Prophet’s favorite wife’s name, isn’t it? I am careful with my face when I tell her it is. Well, Aicha. I’m Rayden, your neighbor.

I know she is my neighbor, and she knows I know she is my neighbor so telling me this seems strange. I do not know what the proper response is, so I keep silent. My arms are wrapped around my waist and I am trying not to think of blood.

When she herds me into the building and follows me up the stairs, I wonder if she is looking at my spine and winking at someone with a laundry basket. We climb the three stories to our respective flats in silence. I reach for my keys and she stops me with a pale hand. No, she says. You look like shit. I look at her blankly. Sorry, she says. You look terrible, like you are sick. I’m not sick, I reply. Well, you aren’t right either. Come have coffee with me. Your husband won’t be home for a long time yet. She is correct.

I am ushered into an apartment exactly like my own. The same heavy door, the same gleaming hardwood floors. Except where we have a large television, she has a bookshelf. Where we have a salvaged table, she has guitars and hard black cases. The windows are covered in sheer red fabric and candles are everywhere. Instead of a sofa, there are velvet cushions strewn about the room. Her bedroom door is open. Inside, there is a low platform with a mattress and more cushions. The walls are papered in strident black and white photographs and drawings. On one wall, the wall that meets our bedroom, blank pages are taped. Charcoal sticks litter the floor underneath. I step closer to the bedroom.

She tells me to look around while she heats water, and so I do. I recognize some of the faces on the wall, women that have preceded her up the stairs with their red shoes and sensual spines. She seems to have a preference for drawing them from behind: the shape of them reminds me of her guitars. Even rendered in charcoal, their teeth are all white and straight. They do not wear clothes.

Her breathing tells me she is watching me before she opens her mouth to ask me how I like my coffee. Sweet, I tell her, and she returns to the kitchen. Over her shoulder, she asks if she can draw me. This is not possible. I do not remove my clothes where my husband can see me, I could not do it for a stranger, a woman who loves women. I hurry to think of a proper response, one that will not be rude.  Or if I could just photograph you, she adds. Nothing serious. I cannot, I tell her. My husband would not like it. She smiles at me over her own steaming mug of coffee. Your husband does not have to know everything, she says, and changes the subject.

She chatters and I struggle to follow her conversation. For no reason at all, I think about asking her to explain what I don’t understand. But there is so much to ask. Why do so many women come through her life? Why do the police need a body to prove that the guest should be taken away in chains? Her words flow around me like a warm summer breeze but I am not listening, I am seeing the underthings pinched between the officer’s fingers, still dripping.

She says my name. Aicha, Aicha. Are you feeling alright? Do you need a drink? I shudder and look at her again. Drinking is forbidden. Many things are forbidden, she says. But we are human, are we not? She carries on and I turn my questions over. What is the word that slides through our common wall, what does it mean, fucking?

I think about asking her while she asks me about Morocco. I practice speaking the word out loud by remembering what it sounded like through the wall. I feel the question in my chest, rising to the surface and then dropping back, rising and dropping again. I am running out of time: the evening meal will need at least an hour to prepare and it is getting late.

It is only when I am standing by her door, one hand on the knob that it comes rushing out: What is fucking? I know I have said it wrong before my tongue has settled back into my lower jaw, but it is out now. There is no pulling it back. She is leaning against the wall. She inhales, then lets the air out of her lungs slowly. She licks her lips, looks away and then looks back at me. Fucking, she says. She pulls her shoulders up toward her ears and stands straight. Her hands drop to her sides.

Fucking is what you are doing when your husband hurts you. She steps closer to me, then closer still. My heart is suddenly loud in my ears, it stutters like a broken call to prayer. When she exhales, I feel the warmth of her breath on my neck. I look down at her mouth and she pushes up on her toes, taking my lower lip into her teeth.

I step back and she follows until I am pressed against the bookshelf. Her breasts are pushed against mine and there is a hunger developing in my pelvis. My brain searches out ways to feed it and discards them all as immoral, forbidden by Allah and simply impossible. But my mouth follows hers; where her tongue questions, mine answers.

Her hands caress my waist and mine explore the hollow of her spine. It is only the electricity of her skin against mine that wakes me. Her hand is circling the edge of my shirt, her fingers dancing under it to the skin at my waist, the curve of my ribs. I break the kiss and rush towards the door, stuttering thanks for the coffee in two languages. The lock clicks into place behind me.

When Mustafa comes to bed, I turn to him. He sees an invitation in the gesture and I do not correct him. It is the weight of his body that confirms it: there is no way to tell him of the blood without telling him everything, the red curtains, the dark bed, the women on the wall. My wayward desire. He brushes away the tears that dampen his neck and murmurs words for a child. What is it, white one? Nothing. I bite my lip, anticipating, until the taste of blood is bright in my mouth, but he is slow and waits until he feels me relax into the mattress.

It is nothing at all.

I hear her walking the floor when I wake myself screaming. When we pass in the hall, she looks at me with hollow eyes. She doesn’t ask why I scream, which is worse than having the question spoken and solid. I can see her mulling every story she’s ever heard of a Muslim marriage, trying to decide if I need saving. She sees me in the laundry room and backs away from the door. Weeks pass. The doctor who gives me pills to keep me from becoming pregnant gives me something to keep the nightmares quiet.

And then there are only my prayers left for her to hear. Nothing else changes. Her lovers climb the stairs and I match their faces to the pictures hanging in her room. I leave the laundry unfolded on the bed and press my ear to the wall, listening to her murmurs ebb to silence and then flow again with laughter and gasps and small cries. I pace the length of the apartment, willing them to silence, or to speak louder. Anything but this. I turn the television on, then off again and return to the laundry. The sound of her and her lover is nothing to me. Instead of envisioning their tangled bodies, I think of tangled sheets. The blood-spattered ones in the basement of the hotel, still waiting for the police to identify their victim.

We do not speak. She comes and goes with the beautiful girls and I imagine her bedroom walls growing thick with charcoal sketches. It is nearly a year later before I feel her standing in front of my door again, her arm raised to knock.

Mustafa is at the cafe recruiting people to help us move and I am expecting no one. I open the door before she can turn away. Her hair is shaggy and dips across her eyelids. She’s tired of looking like a girl, she explains, but not before she’s looked into the apartment and seen the boxes piled everywhere. She hears me cutting my husband’s hair all the time, she figures I can take the razor to her head as well. I offer her a chair at the table while I get the clippers from the box in the bathroom.

When I return, she has removed her shirt. Her back is turned to me; she is not wearing a bra. I busy myself with plugging the razor in and playing with the guards, selecting the longest, finally standing behind her with clippers in one hand and the other hand holding the cord. My hands shake.

There is no way to do this without touching her, but I am afraid of the curve of her head, the warmth of her neck, the silken feel of her hair running through my fingers. I remind myself that I am a married woman, that there is nothing she has to offer that I want: I’ve heard how often and how easily she gives herself away. I start reciting verses of the Quran in my head and drop the cord. With my fingers at the base of her neck, I run my hand upwards to make the hairs stand away from the razor and lower it to her scalp.

I take my time, sometimes resting a hand on her bare shoulder, teasing her ear with the back of my fingers, testing the small hairs at the back of her neck to see which will make her shudder. I run the razor over her scalp repeatedly, searching out spots I may have missed. She looks like she belongs in a prison camp when I am done with her. She looks dangerous.

She has not put on her shirt when she stands. Dark blue jeans hang from her hipbones. With one hand skimming the small hairs left on her scalp and the other hooked into her waistband, she looks at me with eyes that ask too much, eyes that are already disappointed.

There is a fine trail of dark hair leading from her belly-button into her pants. Her breasts are like any other breasts you’d see at the hamam at home: full, but not enough to put you at the top of the matchmaker’s potential bride list. It is too chilly in the apartment to be without a shirt, but she does not flinch, she does not make a move to leave, she just watches my eyes as they travel the length of her.

We both know that once she puts on her shirt and leaves the apartment, we will begin the process of making light of this, gradually dismissing each other inch by inch into a story barely worth mentioning. Anecdotes for apartment-life horror stories and no more: Laughingly, she will refer to me as the terrorist’s wife. I will scare my sisters with the immorality of American women.

But that is not the real version of the story, not right now. The real story is in the look that takes minutes to break. The way she does not turn when she shakes her shirt once and wiggles into it like a butterfly shrinking itself back into a cocoon. How this is everything I wish to know of desire. The drag of her skin against my cheek when she touches my face, or the way I deny my eyes the sight of her bare feet walking away.

Haunted

Seriously.

It’s the damn to-do lists.  My anxiety about getting stuff done isn’t getting better with time.

Initially, it seemed like you could excuse this by the aftermath of going through the lady’s house.  As far as these things go, it really wasn’t that bad.  No bags filled with ten years of hair, no secret stash of battery operated boyfriends, no big surprises.  The worst of it is in the file box in the back of her car: a folder full of e-mails from my dad’s cousin lamenting the news of their impending divorce.  A note from my dad full of anguish and shame – the kind of thing that she would have held on to and wondered why, if she was willing to live with the parts of him that were difficult, he still didn’t choose to stay with her.  Why she held on to that, I don’t know.  I don’t even want to touch it.  Literally.

So having gone through every item in her house in recent memory, it sort of made sense that I’d want to shed all of the things in my life that defy explanation.  But this isn’t wearing off.  Every day, I’m waking up trying to figure out how to best answer the demands of my to-do list.  I’m putting stuff on to it just so I can cross something off.  The big tasks – dealing with the data disaster that is my 1tb back up drive, finishing an assortment of writing projects, recording a novella that is more or less finished as part of releasing it on amazon <gulp>, scanning family photos so I can return the pile of pictures from my father’s childhood to him – are stubbornly refusing to be shifted from to-do to done.

Yes.  I put “vacuum downstairs” onto my list *after* I’d done the vacuuming, just so I could cross it off.  Because I’ve made progress with the photos, but it is a tedious process that isn’t going to be over any time soon and so it just sits there.  Staring at me.  Relentless.  Taunting.

I’m going to go to bed tonight convinced that I didn’t do nearly enough to answer the list.  Even though I got my car registered, emissions-inspected, swam 1.25 miles, cleaned my room, did a pile of filing, made dinner, went grocery shopping, vacuumed downstairs (damn it), cleaned the kitchen, and moved 4.14GB of photos around.  Oh, and scheduled two interviews, talked to the consignment store that has proven useless, wrote two thank you notes, scanned stuff that came in the mail for mom to send to my sister, sent those e-mails, and that whole “clean up the room” thing went further than it normally does with me.

So the whole haunted thing doesn’t seem so far fetched.  Because we all know I’m not like this naturally.

Has anyone ever considered treating a haunting with Xanax?  If only I could talk someone into prescribing me a boatload.  I’d take it in halves, I promise.  I’d stick to taking it at times like this, when the to-do list is making my heart race.  That seems like a reasonable response to events, no?

How Long?

There has to be some point after which I can no longer blame my disengagement on my mother’s dying.  Or more accurately, on having watched my mother die.  I’m having trouble calling people back, or answering the phone for things that don’t feel particularly relevant.   If you call me and leave a message, the information has been transferred.  I can’t remember why I’m supposed to call you back if I don’t have anything new to add.  Obviously, it is the polite thing to do, but the polite thing seems fuzzy and distant.

People that matter to me, that I genuinely like.  I owe them e-mail or text or something to let them know that I’m still alive, that their cards and words of kindness were received and read.  I haven’t done it in too many cases.

I don’t think it is depression exactly.  I’m getting things done.  I’m keeping up with the laundry, crossing things off the to-do list.  I’m just faring really poorly with the things that are normally a challenge for me.  If the social thing isn’t immediately tied to the thing that is happening in my head, then I have to remember to pay attention.

I think I’m probably past my blanket excuse expiration date.  A while back I dreamed I was trying to reach a kid that had been traumatized by coming through a war zone.  The kid was telling me I could never understand where they were coming from: displacement, watching loved ones die in front of them.  I sat down next to the kid and said “actually, I kind of get it.  Not exactly the same experience, but it wasn’t sunshine and ice cream for me either.”

Let’s be honest here.  It wasn’t bad like war zone bad.  I had The Boss.  She had expert medical care and the best oblivion drugs insurance can provide.  Surely I’m being a bit of a drama mamma here, trying to explain my untethered by blaming my mother.  People go through this all the time.  I think I need to get over myself and start answering the phone.

Happy Valentine’s Day

You’ll have to forgive me if I’m ~12 hours late with the delivery on the entire novella, but I did push the “publish” button on Magdalena and the Beasts on Valentines Day, for what that’s worth.

So there has been a big influx in followers over the past couple of months and I’ve been pretty wrapped up in my mother’s death.  The content here is about 95% philosophical, even when I’m not grieving.  But there’s this other side of my writing life that is adult dystopia and erotica.  I haven’t been paying much attention to the fiction as of late, but I’m trying to get back to some semblance of normal, which means finally publishing a little erotic novella that I’ve been playing with for the past two years.  My apologies if my writing adventures come as something of a shock, but if you are horrified, please feel free to skip to the next post.  My ratio of philosophy to fiction on the blog isn’t changing, this is just one of the five-in-a-hundred posts that has to do with fiction.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s start with the fact that it is a naughty little book for the 18+ crowd.  There is magic and shape-shifting and gender-bending…  There’s also a bit of subversion of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. You can read more scholarly commentary on the social function of fairy tales, but it’s enough for my purposes to point out that Beauty and the Beast was initially used as a parable for young women forced into marriages with older gentlemen.   The underlying message was “look, he ain’t cute, but if you give it some time, you might learn to love him” all in service of solidifying business relationships or land consolidation or building alliances.

There is no particular purpose to subverting the story.  It’s just my favorite fairy tale – I’ve read the Robin McKinley version repeatedly – and I wanted to play.  So I did.

The kindle version of the book is here.  I’m also posting my reading of the novella, three chapters at a time, on a Soundcloud Playlist.  I’ve also posted the first three chapters below for the curious.

Magdalena is the youngest princess in a land beset by beasts.  Instead of finding the beasts frightening, Magdelana befriends one.  When she takes him as her first lover, she discovers the trick to unraveling the magic that created him in the first place.  She also discovers that she’s developed a taste for monsters… 

Continue reading

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice

Perhaps it is unfair, the amount of time I’ve spent on my mother’s failings.  Seriously, how bad could it have been with three kids that turned into functional adults, none in jail, all reasonably good people…  I’ve been talking about the red in her ledgers, but there was plenty of black.

She was a brave one, not because she was unafraid, but because she was terrified.  She was born in a mining town in northern Alberta on the edge of the Canadian Rockies.  The first daughter of a miner, according to the rules of the world she was born into, she was destined to become the wife of a miner with a world that began and ended at the borders of a company town.  New places scared her – in part because she was terrified of looking stupid.  I understand this fear.  But she did it anyway.  She moved a lot in her life.  From Alberta to Michigan to Washington State to Indiana (and some places between) to Virginia to DC back to Michigan and on to Florida.  She traveled to places that were well outside of her comfort zone.  In Morocco, she hung out with my mother in law, bartered for fossils and carpets, and thought the hamam experience was the best thing ever.  She got comfortable visiting New York City on her own.

She was determined and saw a thing through once she started it.  That determination saw her through a masters degree and a PhD.  Her mother completed a GED in her retirement and from that to a Doctorate in one generation – and not just any Doctorate, but a PhD in Education.  She increased the quality of the country’s teachers in her sphere of influence.

She fought for the women she touched.  When girls under her power got into “trouble” she fought for them.  There are several people in the world who owe their lives to her influence.  Adoptions she enabled, times when she intervened so that a woman could graduate and keep the kid.  As she scrambled for success in her field, it was never at someone else’s expense.

She had a wicked little sense of humor.  It didn’t always make itself evident, but it was there in the background.  Sometimes it was horrifying and inappropriate, but it was there.

She had great taste.  Before there were hipsters obsessed with Danish or Mid-Century Modern, she coveted (and got) this gorgeous flatware set that I am grateful to have inherited.  Her furniture was lovely.

At the root of it, she wasn’t malicious or bad.  She just wanted approval so badly.  The best approval came from authority figures and external sources, and she’d do just about anything to get it.  She grew, she really did.  In her 50’s, she made some brave choices because she’d finally found a place where her own opinion mattered more than what other people might think of her.  I was proud of her.  Wherever there is red in her books, there’s a 4 year old with a crayon needing desperately for someone to tell her she was pretty, she was loved, and that she was good enough.