AGE: 13

My father begins a collaboration with a Swedish woman who lives in San Francisco. Her name is Paulina. They quickly fall in love and she leaves California and her husband to come live with us in Seattle. My mom tells me she's never seen him so 'head over heels' before (they divorced when I was 5). From this moment forward I will attempt to mimic her appearance: bleach-blond and then neon-colored hair; accessories made by artists paired with items from Claire's; clothing that conjures rainbow bright and Lisa Frank mixed with harajuku and an ironic take on euro-trash...I did the best I could with my 5$ / week allowance, carefully curated xmas and birthday presents, and my small wage from working at the NW Puppet Center. My blatant attempts to look like my father's love interest wouldn't strike me as odd or embarrassing until later in life.

Towards the beginning of their relationship the three of us flew to Tokyo where my father was installing an exhibition. We landed in the middle of the night and took a taxi directly from the airport to a 24 hr. karaoke bar (She wants to be famous for her singing). At some point - in our little booth and between renditions of Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails - she earns her nickname 'Miffy' (still in use today).

When we return home I'll be punished for "borrowing" her fancy Japanese underpants (I'm sorry, dad)


AGE: 16

My mother starts to date someone as well.

He's a "business man" who playfully refers to himself as "Jo-De-Bo." One of his hobbies involves driving people around in classic cars for money. I worked at his office during the summer, sweating through my shirt as I carted huge stacks of papers through the alleyway to dispose of in the dumpster. He was conventional and patronizing. He pretended he could speak Italian but would say "dos" instead of "due." He told me once that he carries brass knuckles and a pistol inside his briefcase. I pity and despise him.

JDB had been separated from his wife for awhile when he met my mother. But a year into their relationship we still had never been invited to his house, nor had we met his daughter who was my same age: In fact, she didn't even know we existed. I don't remember what part of my plan came first and motivated the rest, but I'm sure that it was at least initially inspired by my desire to get JDB out of the picture for good.

I convinced a friend of mine with a driver's license and access to her family's minivan to take me to the island where JDB supposedly lived. Two death metal boys I was hanging out with at the time come along. After a short ferry ride across the water we locate a phone-booth with a white pages hanging from it. And there he was - it all seemed too easy - a perfectly stream-lined plot - no ellipses necessary (only further supporting the movie-like dreamworld I'd imagined myself into). Hole is playing on the radio as we drive to the address listed under his name. The neighborhood is quaint and surprisingly modest, middle-class Americana. The streets are dead and the sun is bright. The metal boys are tasked with a preliminary reconnaissance mission. They approach the house and ring the doorbell: The plan, if someone answers, is to offer to paint JDB's address on the curb for a small fee. Luckily, no one comes to the door. Surmising the house is vacant, I walk towards the gate to the backyard: Unlocked. The first door I see leading inside is also unlocked (Americana...). It is immediately apparent upon entering that JDB is still married and living with his wife and daughter. With a polaroid camera, I begin to gather evidence: snapshots of the wife's undergarments, framed family photos, mail addressed to "Mr. & Mrs." Upstairs in the bedroom I find his wife's floral night-slip thrown on the bed. I stuff it into my bag, spray myself with her perfume, and return to the van.

That night JDB comes over to take us out to dinner. My mother is showing him something out back in the garden when I emerge from my bedroom. I see his briefcase leaning against the coffee table and quickly locate his checkbook. Back in my room I write myself a check for 1008$, balance the register with a name that pops up on a semi-regular basis, and return the items to his briefcase.

We have patio seating at a restaurant somewhere in Wallingford. I'm still wearing the dingy white trench-coat - my most favorite piece of clothing at the time. After ordering I casually remove it to reveal his wife's slip, much too large for me, hanging almost completely beneath my bra. I'm wearing nothing else but a pair of flesh-colored stockings and black high-heels. Once my mother notices she is visibly embarrassed though probably not surprised as my fashion sense in general had recently taken a turn most considered inappropriate, especially for a teenage girl. I knew that I exhausted her, but I thought to myself, "don't worry mom, this is for you," which was only partially true. Indeed, there was a higher purpose to it all - protecting my mother from JDB was nested within a much broader scheme that I had been formulating since I'd returned from a vacation in Mexico.

(JDB sits in silence and we leave without ordering dessert. The following day I would enact phase 2 of my plan.)

A few months ago I had travelled with Miffy and my dad to a remote surf resort (ominously named 'Playa Kandahar') located about an hour from Ixtapa. We were the only guests and on the 2nd day of our visit, both of them got sick and stayed mostly indoors for the remainder of our trip. Completely isolated between the ocean and a dense jungle behind us, I was left to my own devices. I quickly became friends with the staff - a tall, suntanned man in his mid-20s named Tanager (he was the manager - and that really was his name) and his sidekick "Kern," who looked like a strung-out and emaciated David Bowie but was charming nevertheless. I became infatuated with Tanager within hours and the three of us spent everyday together. I was nick-named "snowflake."

On our last night at Playa Kandahar I slept in Tanager's bed. Pretending to be asleep, I let my hand graze over his shorts. Believing I was asleep, he gently removed it and put it on his chest.

After returning to Seattle, all I could think about was finding my way back to Tanager who, for reasons that mystified me at the time, was unable to leave Mexico. We kept in touch via email as much as possible, writing thinly veiled love letters back and forth to each other. At one point I received a barely audible phone call from Kern who had dialed me collect from Sea World in Florida where he had recently taken a job, but we were disconnected before I learned anything. The money from JDB would help me get back to Kandahar.

I had an image of what 'people who cash checks' look like and dressed accordingly for my trip to the bank: the white trench coat, modest heels, white gloves (that most likely came with a pre-packaged halloween costume), some drugstore sunglasses, a vintage pill hat embellished with fur, and a ratty Gucci wallet with a red leather interior and a metal clasp in the shape of a hand that I'd bought for 1$ at a local rummage sale. I walked into the Bank of America with confidence and handed over the forged check. "I can give you half the amount in cash now and the other half will be available to withdraw in 24 hrs." - "no problem."

I spent that night in my room preparing my backpack for Mexico. The next morning I called my mother over to sit with me on the couch. She is a very loving but stoic woman and I've always felt sort of shy around her. I often made her guess what I wanted to talk about by giving her a clue such as the first letter of the word that best described the general topic ("B" - is it boobs? boys? Buddha?). Other times, like this one, we would silently scrawl notes to each other back and forth in lieu of speaking out-loud. I told her about JDB's wife and how I had discovered the truth. I then told her that I was headed to Mexico to be with Tanager. Concealing her shock about JDB, she calmly tried to reason with me about my plans. But when I didn't relent, she put her foot down:If you go I'll have him and anyone who helps you arrested for kidnapping and child abduction. This didn't change my mind, but I decided I better touch base with Tanager before setting off. I wrote to him that night and waited and waited to hear back, but I never would.

What I didn't know at the time, and wouldn't find out until just a few months ago, was that shortly after I received his last letter, Tanager had passed away. Looking at his virtual memorial site I was struck by the fact that in his picture he looks like he's only about sixteen years old, maybe even younger. Had his parents not seen him since then? I remembered the night we had gone swimming together in the moonlit, phosphorescent ocean. I saw the guard at a distance, pacing behind us with a large machete. I hadn't thought much of it until later when I overheard a hushed and panicked discussion about where to bury something.

Without word from Tanager, my Mexico fantasy quickly unraveled. I took up with one of the metal boys, spending the stolen money that now held no meaning for me: Indulging in drugs, taxi rides, dysphoria. Then one day I arrive home to my father's place and he greets me at the door with an expression I'd never seen before. My mom is waiting in the living room. Worried about my relationship with Tanager she had gone through my emails and discovered things no mother should know. She had then searched my room and found the remaining money that I'd hidden in a drawer. "I feel sick to my stomach" she said in a distant, unfamiliar voice. And then I did too.

Certain I could never face my parents again, I decided to run away that night - not to Mexico, just away. Once my father was asleep I lowered myself out of the bedroom window and walked towards the piers. Hopeful at first, I hopped on a slowly moving train, but within minutes it had come to a complete stop. The end of the line had brought me even closer to home than where I was when I had gotten on. And so I wandered up the hill towards Broadway, assuming I'd run into some 'friend' or another on my way. No such luck. I thought about the metal boy but the whole situation had spooked him and he no longer answered the intercom. Empty and dazed, I walked myself through the night.

The next morning I telephoned my parents from a payphone and asked if I could come home. Within minutes, Miffy pulls up beside me in my dad's red toyota tercel. We don't look alike anymore - my hair is black, as is my wardrobe, piercings hang from my heavily make-upped face, and I had recently decided to stop shaving my armpits. Miffy, who had always been emotionally distant, her affect cold and abrasive, sat silently as I got into the passenger seat (and we've been friends ever since).


///////////////////////////////////////////////////epilogue//////////////////////////////////////////////////////////


Later that year, Miffy finds out she's pregnant. She'd had an abortion when she was 17 and, as she grew older, figured that was it. So she decides to continue with this pregnancy; I wonder if it's because she views it as her second--i.e., last--chance. And in fact it was: a couple months later she will lose the baby due to unexpected medical complications.

She and my father separate shortly thereafter and Miffy moves back to Sweden. She would never have any children, but she sings everyday.