Category Archives: family bonds

I Sleep with Dogs

Joan’s relaxing in the guest bedroom. I glance out front at the muddy Honda station wagon that’s arrived with her this time from somewhere in the cosmos and smile. Joan would surely know her carbon footprint. I hear her stir and stand in the hallway outside the bedroom door, waiting.

“God, you scared me!” she says as she opens the door. Even paper dolls get spooked sometimes.

I laugh. “Ha – got you!”

I follow her to the kitchen, where she opens my cupboard and removes a box of loose green tea. She pulls a small tea bell with chain from her sweatshirt pocket, fills the bell, latches it, then drops it in a mug of hot water. She repeats the process and we two sit down at the table.

“Have you talked with Dan?” Joan asks, eyes averted as her hands wrap round her mug.

“I’m waiting to get the police records.” I respond.

“No need to wait. He’s waiting for you to call. I told him you would.” She reaches for some strands of hair to twirl, forgetting it’s all in a braid down her back. The hand returns to the mug. Our eyes meet. “You know, Dan and I had a pact that the first of us to die would try to contact the other person from wherever we were. I tried calling Dan for a long time — it’s hard to know how long when you’re out here but I’m gonna guess it was like 10 years of time there — and he never picked up. I finally gave up. You know, I had things to do…”

“You did? Like what?” I asked, intrigued.

“Like stuff I’ll tell you about later. Anyway, a few years ago as you were finishing up Approaching Neverland, I knew it was only a matter of time before you took the leap,” her hand caressed the back of her head as it searched for her braid. Finding it, she pulled off the rubber band from the end and ran her fingers through to unleash her hair so she could twirl the ends.

“Leap?”

“To try and figure out who killed me. Aren’t you gonna just ask me who did it?”

“Can you tell me?”

“No.”

“You’re such a brat!” I yelled as we both burst into laughter. You’re gonna make me figure this out even though you know, aren’t you?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Why?”

“You need to understand the dark side.”

“And you’re going to lead me there?”

“Uh-huh.”

How is it that 30 years past your murder and 50 years after you took my hand as we skated to the corner I still feel your fingers wrapped around mine?

I walk her to her car. As she drives away, the sign on her back window comes into view: I sleep with dogs.

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Mercurial Moments

Lying in bed this morning I imagined tugging Joan free from inside the frayed photo of her twisting her hair with her finger at our kitchen table. Stepping gingerly outside the 1/4 inch white border, her white blouse billowing from a fresh gust of air, she shakes her head with a smile. “I thought you’d never come.”
I turn my head. In the darkness, a glimmer on the wall. Time for coffee.
Entering my office, coffee and bagel in hand, I use my elbow to switch on the light but miss and knock something hanging on the wall. Illuminated, the newly framed poster — a Rorschach-style image of dancers in motion Joan designed for a production at her friend’s studio — now hangs askew. It’s title: Mercurial Moments.

Outta the Park

“Take my car,” Paul’s dad, Stan, said when Paul broke the news of Joan’s murder. “You’ll need a lot of room to take the family to the funeral.” Cars didn’t come much bigger than his Caddie. Lovingly nicknamed the Pimpmobile by Paul and his brothers, the sleek convertible sported smacking red interior.

“We may need it for as much as a week, Dad,” Paul replied.

“Take it.”

By the time we left San Leandro for Susanville the day after we learned of Joan’s death, our team had grown from the “now there are 6” of our immediate family to “now there are 12” including Paul; Sue’s current partner Dee; her ex partner and bona fide family member Anita; Glenn’s friend and sometimes partner Phoebe who had once walked around naked in the kitchen of the house she shared with Patrick and friends in Santa Cruz while Paul and I stared at the bowls of berries we’d just picked from the garden; Joan’s ex boyfriend Larry who was now Joseph and out of the closet; and Mom’s friend Frances, an incessant talker who had appointed herself our trip’s documentarian.

Mom and Dad drove in their white Grenada with Glenn, Sue, Dee and Anita; the rest of us swayed down the freeway in style on those luscious red seats. Aside from a funny comment here or a witty comeback there, we were a sad solemn group.

We arrived in Susanville that late afternoon to be greeted by Dan and his parents, who stood bleekly in front of the motel where they had arranged for us to stay. Our hugs, though heartfelt, were hollowed by the stark absence of Joan.

It was too early for dinner and our appointment with the mortuary wasn’t until the next morning. What to do? Some of Dan and Joan’s friends were gathering at a friend’s house. One of them asked if we’d like to join them. Devoid of the will to do anything but numbly follow, we all ended up in someone’s dirt backyard in lawn chairs watching a couple of guys hitting baseballs.

Patrick, who’d been sitting by himself smoking, turned to face me.
“You’re up, Peg.”

“What?” I asked, willfully pulling myself out of the scene I’d replayed dozens of times in the last 24 hours since Dan’s call: Joan and I were sitting in my living room sharing a bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough laughing as my cat, who was cleaning himself, leaned too far backwards and fell off the couch. If only we could laugh again.

“It’s your turn at bat.” Pat said.

Shocked by the suggestion, I laughed. “Me?” I was lousy at hitting.
What was he thinking?

“Yeah — show them how to hit the ball.”

Never one to say no to Patrick, I shook my head, stood up and walked over to the guys playing ball. “Can I hit one?” I asked, smiling meekly.

The guy with the bat shrugged and handed me the bat.
“Pitch it easy,” he called to his friend.

I missed the first pitch, and the second. By the third, everyone’s eyes were on me. I was gripping the bat and cursing under my breath. “Goddamn it, Patrick.”

The pitch seemed to come in slow motion as I swung. Finally connecting, the ball flew over the far fence and into the neighbor’s yard. Everyone in my family stood and cheered.

I jumped up and down, hands high.
The rest of the folks seemed genuinely baffled by all the hoopla over one hit.
But our team really needed a win.

The Blue Bible

I’m opening up the hardcover journaling book that I bought a few days after I returned from Joan’s funeral. The slim keepsake — blue with gold Persian-style interwoven flowers and crests — is the bible of my rebirth through grief that began that June morning after Dan’s call. Typing paper with scribbled sentences and neatly written notes on yellow legal pad are folded and crammed between the cover and first page, remnants of burning thoughts and late night messages occurring too far from where the book happened to lie.

My desk is awash in tearful “Dear Joan” letters and I haven’t even opened the book to the first page. I thumb through the gold leaf pages, afraid to feel the raw emotion of those crossed out days and months where July became August and Saturday became Friday night. Who knew what day or time it was? Who cared? Joan was gone. No amount of crying or writing could bring her back. But still I tried.

Tucked carefully between the last two pages, leaves, brown, but still hinting at their original purple hue, is a pressed iris — Joan’s favorite flower. Touching its petals makes me feel closer to her than all of my writing combined.

Let’s Go Back

Let’s go back to when Joan and I were 12 and 9, halfway to ten. A boy from school — kind of a thug who was bigger than the rest of the boys in Joan’s class because he’d been held back — had a crush on her and followed her home from school. Although Joan could hold her own around girls, exhibiting a devil-may-care attitude that made them envious, boys — especially big boys with loud voices like this one — made Joan watchful and quiet.

I watched from the living room window as Joan avoided the boy around the spherical juniper bush until he grabbed her sleeve and pulled her close to kiss her. When she screamed, I dashed out the front door and rammed head first into the boy’s side.

He turned, enraged. “Who do you think you are, you little twit?” he asked derisively. Joan wiped away a tear.

“Leave my sister alone!” I screamed, face flushed, taking s step back as I raised my fists. Joan laughed.

“You’re both crazy like your mom,” he sneered before spitting into the juniper and sauntering away.

Although Joan put her hand over her mouth as we walked toward the front porch, I could see the smile beneath it.

Now let’s move forward.

Joyce Cooling’s Moving NAMI Tribute

Loved meeting Joyce Cooling


Saturday’s SF Bay Area NAMIWalk was a huge success, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide free services to families dealing with mental illness throughout the SF Bay Area. Kickoff Speaker Joyce Cooling, the fabulous jazz guitarist whose brother has struggled for years with mental illness, gave an incredibly moving tribute to her brother, her mother, and the folks at NAMI, who she said were a godsend to her mother during her struggle to help her son. Major kudos to Joyce for her tremendous support, to Laurie Williams, NAMIWalk Director, for putting on a fabulous event, and to all the NAMI volunteers who work hard every day to make life easier for families struggling with mental illness. The Approaching Neverland Team, comprised of many wonderful book club friends, was proud to have participated! More information about SF Bay Area NAMI can be found at http://namiwalksfbay.org/

Bay Area Discussion Group Rocks!

Over the 5 years that it took me to complete Approaching Neverland, I looked forward to many things: to finally feeling like I’d captured the essence of my family and gotten our story right; to the great feeling of finally being published; to focusing on all of the things that I had neglected while engrossed in writing. But what has truly blown me away is how incredible it feels to have someone really GET what you’ve written exactly how you hoped they would. My meeting this past Saturday with the Bay Area Discussion Group Book Club was full of so many moments of understanding and fabulous humor (not to mention delicious pot roast and potatoes!) that it hit me that sometimes the walls between family and friends dissolve and we’re all left sitting in the living room wondering why the walls were there in the first place and whose turn it is to fix dinner. Can you say grace?