essays by Shé

Posts Tagged ‘family’

Fish Friend

In Love on September 6, 2022 at 1:19 pm

Green, silver, tiny, and in my face. Quick fish darts to my mask: once, twice, three times. It is possible to laugh through a snorkel tube.

I’ve seen at least 25 species of fish this morning. This one’s about an inch and a half, if that, two-tone: mottled green along the top half, silver along the bottom. When I float awhile, arms outstretched before me, it snuggles against my skin, rapidly finning to keep close. Big eyes, relative to its body, with a teeny undershot jaw. Cute little tail, pale.

We look at each other a long time. How would it describe me? There was this huge creature! Like a turtle without a shell. Weird limbs, attenuated, with small flippers at the ends. Very pale, except for fine seaweed at a knobby end near the torso, above humongous eyes. A couple dark blue and black stripes, crosswise.

We’re all mysteries to each other.

Blue Reflection Two, acrylic on paper, Shé 2022
Blue Reflection Two, acrylic on paper, Shé 2022


In Love on August 30, 2022 at 11:53 am

Mimi and Pappap took us to Ireland when I was eleven. Great-Aunt Maude had died — one of my favorite relatives of all time — and left enough for the five of us to tour the island. It was fabulous. There was an Irish wolfhound at a castle that allowed my five-year-old brother to ride. My grandparents took me through the Waterford glass-blowing works — Pappap lied to the ticket seller, telling her I was twelve, what a thrill! And Mom and I bought Connemara marble earrings, and danced to bagpipes.

Best of all, my mother rented a horse-drawn caravan after her parents left. I was horse-mad then, still am, and begged her to let me drive. Not happening, said my physical therapist mom. She took one look at those massive muscles, knew what they were capable of, and gripped the reins herself. I was supported by the locals though, who could tell she was terrified. “Ach, Mary P, let the child drive.” Still not happening.

We made it unscathed, and probably very slowly, to the Philbin’s farm. There we stayed for two solid weeks. Darkie was all mine to feed and groom! She ate most of her food the first night, tucking into the bin at the back. Luckily, we were parked in a big grazing pasture: she wouldn’t starve, and other caravaners shared their vittles.

What is a caravan? A tiny wooden house on wheels, like a gypsy wagon. Unlike my current tiny house, there was ample head room. But just like my T@B, the kitchen was indoors and the dinette converted to beds. It was perfect. There was a fire ring outside, and I was in charge of it every night. Twilights were long; it was light until 11 pm at the end of May, and Mom read Irish writers aloud. I still remember impish Brogeen and scary fairytales.

We were good there, our family, maybe the best ever. During the days we usually went our separate ways. I hung out with the horses, my brother hung out with Farmer Philbin (“all this could be yours, son”), and Mom found adults to play with. We were happy, content, satisfied with our lives. We had space. We had stars. We had a tide pool to swim in. We were home.

Shé on Darkie, John holds the lead line, Ireland 1974
Shé on Darkie, John holding the lead line, Ireland 1974

Severing Ties

In Love on August 23, 2022 at 10:01 am

I recently accepted the sad decision to sever ties with a brother. I will no longer tolerate his atrocious behavior. He has lost the sister who sang him his first song ex-utero. He has lost the sister who helped raise him. He has lost the sister who loves him beyond measure.

It was not an easy decision, I did not take it lightly. I had to constantly remove Nostalgia’s rosy lenses to get a clear-eyed view of our relationship. When I was able to wrest the frames from my face, I saw decades of disrespect, and the heartache I endured believing it should not be so.

It was so. It is so.

Perhaps he will use his inheritance to go to rehab. There is no shame in addiction — it runs in the family — but it’s a shame to lose a sister.

He’s a funny, talented, handsome guy.


Shé and brother, 1969
Shé and brother, 1969


In Love on July 19, 2022 at 1:13 pm

So, my baby brother would rather hire an attorney than apologize to me. What happened to him? The boy I watched over when my mother was too nuts to do so? And, get this, my father paid the retainer.

Wow. I am a swan, not an ugly duckling. I do not fit the fam. Nonetheless, I am weepingly distressed, and feel foolish — how is this a surprise? Did I not notice the years of estrangement — from all of them?

Hope is a drug, and I am an addict trying to break free. I so want a family that I ignore cruelty, neglect, abandonment, spite, lies, conspiracies. My father moved 400 miles away and married another woman. “I’ll be back when I finish studying,” he told my five-year-old self when I got up the courage to ask.

Later, my mother read the restraining order on my then-boyfriend (he went to her house when he was served) and believed his excuses. “I know what you say happened,” she said when I confronted her.

All these years I’ve felt like the crazy one, but the Voice of Authority is the Voice of Lies. It is time to trust my Self. It is time to say NO, that is NOT how it is, that is NOT how it was, that is NOT acceptable behavior.

It is time to build my own family. It’s not too late.

Seeds of Peace, installation by Shé circa 2008
Seeds of Peace, installation by Shé circa 2008

Dancing Aunties

In Love on July 12, 2022 at 10:35 am

Peach, green, blue: aunt, aunt, niece. They sit around the dining room table heads down and focused: crossword, sudoku, school-work. I gaze at them from the kitchen, quiet — they are flowers. I revel in their presence until one of them looks up. “Hey!” their smiles feed me. A song comes on the niece’s laptop, and suddenly I am dancing. “Turn it up.” I hold a hand out to one auntie, then the other. “I can’t dance,” tries the younger, but I am deaf to her pleas and move the chairs away.

The older auntie has moves! She is a cool cat; hips and shoulders swaying, she partner dances with her sister. The niece is laughing, flinging her arms and bopping to the beat. We sing, do the bump, vogue, Fosse. Grief and joy bubble up and out, flung wide by angled arms.

Peach, green, blue shirts whirl around the floor. I’m a black-eyed Susan, both niece and auntie, replete.

The nieces on the way to pick blackberries, July 2022, photo by Aunt Joan
The nieces on the way to pick blackberries, July 2022, photo by Aunt Joan

Ya Gotta Tell ’em

In Love on June 14, 2022 at 10:48 am

Pakala. Lying on my board on a small day, waiting for set waves. A stand-up paddle boarder startles me, swiftly passing on my immediate left. He’s gone before I can say anything, and I bob in his wake.

Another SUPer quickly paddles after him, yelling in Pidgin, “No do that! Respect da surfers! Whatchu problem, eh?” My champion!

The guy apologizes to her and me, chastened. My heroine glides over and says adamantly, “Ya gotta tell ’em.” She is right, and I thank her.

My brother has a habit of spewing ugly words. Because he is younger, I’ve tolerated this behavior for decades, making excuses for him, letting it slide. This has served me not at all, and it probably doesn’t serve him either. Yesterday I turned on the phone, and yep, another rant from the sibling.

Visceral response: full body flush, shaking, shallow breathing. My neck felt as if something was pressing on it. Yeah: my words. Got to respond!

Called and roared, “Don’t you ever talk to me that way again, or we are done! Do you hear me?”

Hung up, because it wasn’t a dialog. While I was at it, I yelled at a neighbor for idling his pickup under my windows — again!

It takes a lot to get me to this point. I write notes. I calmly explain the situation. I listen. But tolerating disrespect is over. I’m not having it anymore.

Pele by Shé, acrylic on canvas 2022
Pele by Shé, acrylic on canvas, 2022

Bowing Man

In Love on May 24, 2022 at 11:57 am

Even in paradise there is road work. Lately, during weekdays, only one lane of the highway is open between Kilauea and Stepford. I rarely get stuck early in the morning, but sometimes catch it later, after snorkeling. Traffic stops completely. Then I shut off the 4Runner’s engine and write. Many others leave their engines on, a pet peeve of mine.

One day, after our long line had started rolling again, down the hill toward Kalihiwai River, which leads to Maureen’s, a winter surf break, I notice the flagger. His sign is now turned to SLOW, and folks eagerly pass him. But unlike any other flagger I’ve ever seen, he is bowing.

Yes, bowing, to each and every vehicle as it passes. He sports a Mona Lisa smile, and, what’s this? his right hand makes a shaka sign: thumb and pinky extended, middle three fingers folded in. When he bows, he brings the thumb of the shaka to his forehead, so the pinky points at us. Each and every time. Each and every car. Including mine.

My slight do-I-really-have-to-be-in-traffic funk evaporates. He changed the tone of my day.

He is not always there. He is not always bowing. I threw a shaka at him the other day and got a subtle one back, sans bow, but with the ML smile. One day I waved wildly and he bowed and shaka’d me, but no one else. I am special!

Buddha is a flagger. Jesus puts the cones down. Kwan Yin is in the cherry picker. Mohammed trims the trees. La Virgen feeds the chipper. Pele is the foreman.

Slow down, they say. Look at the orange-red African tulips so high in the branches! And why rush over the river? Imagine paddling toward the mountains! Imagine floating down to Sea!

Revel. That’s your word of the day. I painted it on cardboard and hung it on my fence. Sometimes the wind blows it over. So I flip it rightside, and remember: God is everywhere, God is everything, God is everyone. Namaste.

Revel, ink and acrylic on canvas, 2021

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

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 #6: the happiness code

In Love on April 11, 2011 at 3:57 pm

I’ve been editing a website for a non-profit.
Uploading text has been simple enough, but suddenly I was unable to change photos.

I followed directions, to the letter. The new photo appeared in the draft, but when I updated and uploaded the page — no photo.

I tried again and again. Maybe I didn’t click all the buttons, check all the boxes.
The photo wouldn’t change.
It should’ve changed (I did everything right!), but it didn’t.

Eventually, frustrated, I stopped and sat and thought.

Computers do exactly what they’re told. They follow programming, to the letter.
Since it wouldn’t do what I asked, it must be doing what someone else asked.
Something I didn’t know about.

Sure enough, I dug around and found other programming in effect, overriding my commands to change the picture. Unbeknownst to me, someone had added header code. I neutralized the code by de-selecting it. Now I can add and change photos 15 times a day.

I didn’t create the underlying code, but it affected me, nonetheless.

Which lead me to think about my ‘happiness code.’

Over the years various people tried to convince me that I deserve to be happy. I rarely believed them. Despite different therapies and methods — affirmation, visualization, cognitive this, meditative that — the picture wouldn’t change.

Perhaps my ‘happiness code’ got deleted, or changed into ‘unhappiness code.’

One day, after her name popped up in too many places to ignore, I checked out Byron Katie’s book, Loving What Is. She advocates investigation. Her method in brief: write down the thought or belief, then question it — is it true? Let the answer arise.

Turns out I’ve been believing lies:
You shouldn’t be happy – your brother is dead.
You shouldn’t be happy – your mother may die.
You shouldn’t be happy – your father left.
You shouldn’t be happy – you are bad.

Installed and coded in five-year-old flesh.
Along with millions of other conflicting beliefs.

I don’t deserve to be happy – is that even true? What’s the reality?
Deserving has nothing to do with happiness. I can think of many people (warmongers, anyone?) who do not deserve to be happy. Yet there they are, blithely blissful, regardless of what I believe.

And if the tables were turned, and I was dead and Johnny alive, I wouldn’t want him to believe some stupid ass concept like You don’t deserve to be happy. That’s crazy! I’d want him to be as happy and healthy as possible, every single day of his life.


If it’s not true for him, it’s probably not true for me.

I didn’t create the code, but I am learning to change the picture.

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