essays by Shé

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Words of Love

In Love on May 17, 2022 at 1:17 pm

“I’m not dead,” said John. I’m sitting on his grave in Queen of Heaven Cemetery. The headstone dates read: May 28, 1964 – September 30, 1967. Today is September 30, 2019. I’ve been here before, but I’ve never heard him quite so clearly.

I believe him. And it is a huge relief. I have spent decades missing my Irish twin. No need.

Is this wishful thinking? I ponder. There was the time I was suicidally depressed, lying on an old futon in Venice. Suddenly, he was there, physically holding me. My body felt his body. My body knew his body. We spooned. The comfort was indescribable.

For how long? Infinity. Long enough for me to remember that I am loved. As are you. As are we all.

Yesterday was my father’s eighty-fifth birthday. We Skyped, at my instigation. I wanted to see his face. Surprise: he is aging. He is slower. So am I.

After we disconnected (is that possible?), I sat on the edge of my bed and listened to Sorrow and Fear. Then I distracted myself with work. Then I took a nap. And then, fortunately, my neighbors irritated me. Hello Anger. I was able to get righteously pissed-off at their unapologetic thoughtlessness, cigarette smoke, and noisy boy ways. Finally I hopped on my bike and pedaled to Kilauea Point. Shearwaters nest there, burrowed into the red dirt cliff. That worked for awhile, then herds of humans arrived to glory in the sight as well. Ocean ocean ocean. Our original home.

Up a hill, nice and sweaty, I take a road I’ve been curious about. Why not? It leads to a cemetery, with Italian and Japanese names. One Omar Kalif. The view of the mountains is incredible, west of me, west of the sea. I lie on the poky grass and watch the sky. Mynah birds discuss various edibles.

The mountains say, all is death, nothing is death. As I look at their sheer majestic mass, I remember: oh yeah, nothing dies, everything dies. Clarity. Terry Pratchett’s Nac Mac Feegle, a race of small fightin’ folk, believe that this is heaven. They can’t die because they’re already dead. Nothing to fear.

Since hearing my brother’s voice so clearly that day, I’ve taken to talking to him. I know he has my back, and my best interests at heart. And while I’m at it I talk to Maureen and Mimi and Pappap and Nana and Grandpa and Coe Coe, Wild Bill Magonigle, and even a rotten uncle. Why should I be deprived of their excellent advice?

Johnny and Shé, 1966

Going to Be Happy

In Love on May 10, 2022 at 2:34 pm

“Fore!” yelled a woman some distance away. I looked from the albatross resting on the green, toward the sound. “This is a golf course!” she shouted, gloved hands raised, a club in one.

I know it’s a golf course, you privileged rich human, but strong old feelings quickly rain down on me: fear, shame, anger. I walk away slowly, defensively. I’ve never understood the lure of golf, a ridiculous game. Doesn’t she know that an albatross baby lives near a palm over there? That its parents soar like gods when they bring her food? That they dance and hoot and duck and strut in an albatross dance that we’d do well to imitate?

But she’s right: I’d forgotten that folks whack small dense balls at great speed across this grassy knoll overlooking the Pacific. It can be dangerous. Not everyone cares about birds. The birds themselves are no fools; they nest near trees.

And golf — I may have to change my judgmental mind. I recently read a Jamie Sumner novel whose protagonist is a girl with cerebral palsy. Miniature golf is something she does well, roundly beating her un-wheelchaired friends.

Later, I realize it’s about belonging. Where do I? And the wretched embarrassment — get out of here! But like a bounce, it occurs to me: what if her anger is to my benefit? Do I really want to be struck by a ball? The golfer did me a favor. And perhaps my mother did me a favor when she said, “There’s no room for you,” when I was 17 and we’d been evicted again. She was talking about the new place. Through all the drama and violence, I stayed by her side. I was loyal. Available. Family. Imagine my shock when she was not.

Options. I forget they exist when I’m hunkered down surviving. I don’t have to walk across golf courses, now that I’m reminded of the perils. And I never have to live with my mother again, or take care of her. My days as Susie Savior are over. I can float in the ocean and watch the black and white polka-dotted eel watching me from the seabed. I can follow the pale yellow school of fish, dappling like coins in the sunlight. I no longer have to wait to live my life, to discover that — oh! I love surfing! oh! I love snorkeling!

Yes, I am scared of the ocean, yet I go in every single day. Because I want to. Because I need to. Because I belong.

Muse Shé and painter Brian Mark in front of his piece, Going to Be Happy, 1991

Essay #50: t(r)ooth

In Love on May 3, 2022 at 1:19 pm

I lost a tooth recently. Well, that’s not exactly true, I know where it is: off the coast of Kaua’i. I swam it out from Polihale State Park, past the breakers, and dropped it in the celadon water. Thank you!

53 years ago, give or take, I found a shark’s tooth on Myrtle Beach, way over on the east coast of mainland United States. Are we even now?

It was tooth 24 — mine, not the shark’s — right in front of the lower jaw. There was no trauma that I know of, it just slowly began to erupt, to rise up out of my crowded mouth. Although, as a pre-teen, I begged for braces on that bottom row. After the orthodontia was removed, my teeth slowly, over the years, moved back into place, the front ones a little more crooked, just as before. I’m guessing #24 finally got tired of living sideways and said, “I’m outta here.” Either that or the other teeth booted her out.

I don’t much care for crowds either, and try to avoid them. I park a fair distance from grocery stores, tend to surf or snorkel early, love to be out after dark. The stars! The quiet! The spaciousness! I remember walking down the middle of Santa Monica streets as a teenager, relaxed and free. High school was hard: noisy, crowded, scary. Who are all these people? I’d gone through a much smaller elementary and junior high with groups of familiar children, most of us in the same classes.

So why do I live in a tourist destination? The warm water and astonishing marine life. Yes, I have to travel through Stepford (aka Princeville) to get to the best snorkeling, biking past golf courses, manicured resorts, and construction crews. “Good morning!” I say, “On your left!” But once I’m in the Big Blue (actually green at Hideaways), I am home. “Good morning,” I say to the black and white polka-dotted fish. “Aloha,” I call to the sea turtles. “I see you,” I tell the flat, camouflaged sandfish on the bottom of the ocean. “Yikes!” I avoid the toothy hot-pink eel poking out of the reef. I hover nearby — out of biting range — and eventually she closes her mouth. I’m too big to chew.

They are family, more so than my own species. I hate to leave, so wear a shorty wetsuit and hood to prolong my stay. By the time I crawl out, my skin is pruned and my body cold, aiming for the sun. Sometimes I sit in the shallows, laughing. That rockfish! Perfectly still. “You don’t see me. I am a rock. Begone.”

When I am in the ocean, I do not miss my tooth. I have plenty. No one remarks on its absence. Actually, no one remarks on its absence on land either, but I’m more self-conscious. Maybe I need a boat, the better to spend even more time at sea. I hear the dolphins are friendly. Maybe they can spare a tooth.

OneBlueHeart, acrylic on canvas, 2020
OneBlueHeart, acrylic and glue on canvas, 2020

Essay #49: surfista

In Love on April 28, 2022 at 2:24 pm

Fat, old, ugly — that’s what the mirror said this morning, that bullshit trifecta familiar to many women. Women? Maybe it’s a human condition, not strictly personal, which doesn’t make me feel any better as I try to insert contact lenses so I can go surfing. Fuck. Who am I kidding? Surfing is a young man’s sport.

EXCUSE ME?! Rell Sunn, Lisa Anderson, Rochelle Ballard, Frieda Zamba, Bethany Hamilton, Keala Kennelly, Layne Beachley, Sarah Gerhardt, et al. Gidget, for crying out loud. Not to mention Anke, Rose, Keiko, Jamie, Heidi, Eve, Erin, Tami, Sophie, and countless other women whose names I don’t know because we’re too busy trying to catch waves.

I feel better once I’m astride the royal blue bike, board in rack, pedaling toward a nearby break. Yeah! I’m going surfing! Who cares if I’m old, fat, and/or ugly — it’s irrelevant. Besides, to whom is that mirror comparing me, Joan Allen or Alicia Witt from a recent (to me) movie? Would I trade places with them? No. I am pedaling to the ocean that surrounds Kaua’i. I do this often. I have spent HUGE amounts of time NOT doing this. And it made me very unhappy.

At Kane’s I grab a ride out the back on a rip current, a recently acquired skill. Then I watch the water a good long time, noting how and where and when the waves break. I have a highly sensitive nervous system, which means the bod takes in a lot of information that needs processing. So I go slow, acclimatize to the environment. I have been to this particular break before, so am a bit more relaxed. I’m able to catch a wave fairly quickly, and I’m up! balanced! and peeling down the line, riding energy along the face of the wave, almost to shore. Wow!

That may not sound like much to you, but I came to surfing late. 54, to be exact, almost five years ago. Every wave is different, every break is different, every board is different, every day is different. It’s not like riding a bike on a firm road, where, once you get the gist, you’re outta there — world here I come! No. Surfing takes patience, perseverance, strength, flexibility, endurance, and access, not all of which are available to me at any given time.

When I return home, thrilled with the session, I cover the mirror with a stylized print of sea turtles. No turtle has ever told me to lose twenty pounds, put on make-up, or lie about my age. The only communications I’ve gathered from them is, “Woo-hoo! The ocean!” (Florida hatchlings); “Who are you?” (Hawaiian juveniles); and “Gimme more lettuce.” (Mississippi gopher tortoise).

May you be well.

surfista shé, photo by Jimi Valentine
Surfista Shé, photo by Jimi Valentine
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