Eight Pieces: Rungs of the Ladder


More tourists than locals frequented the plaza. The vendors sold trinkets and supplies that only tourists would desire or need, though the food stalls attracted residents before and after Mass.

Kristal had hoped to practice the language, but when she stumbled over the syllables, lengthening vowels, rushing through consonants, and misplacing the accent, the person she conversed with would smile politely and default to English.

“It is easier for us this way, Miss,” the vendedor said. “More conversational, yes? Less confusing.”


Of course he was right. He earned money by selling tortas and huaraches, not conducting language lessons.

She saved her practice greetings for the stray dogs that meandered through.

Hola, chien! ¿Qué pasa?


One evening, when the day vendors had closed, and the night vendors had not yet opened, when the tourists were in the cantina and the locals at evening Mass, she shared the plaza with only a bobcat who’d wandered down from the mountains.

They looked at each other in silence, in that momentary meeting that can happen between two beings.


Then Mass let out and the night vendors arrived, and the tourists, tipsy from beers and salsa rhythms, began to chat in over-loud voices.

“Doesn’t it just beat winter at home?” said Victoria, a woman who lived one city over from Kristal’s. “Just think of the mess we’d be shoveling!”


She was like her, Kristal realized. Rich. White. Educated. With the money, experience, and confidence to escape whatever boredom or hardship waited back home.

She had thought she was doing something bold. Something liberating. And maybe, in one way, she was. But this choice opened to her because of the specific rung of the ladder she stood on. So, in another way, it was simply the circumstances of her birth and marriage–her race, her class, her country-of-origin, her socioeconomic group–that opened this option for her.

They liked to dress in the fashion of local peasants, these white, single, female tourists–just like she did. We’re of a sort, she realized.


Maybe it had been cowardly to come here. Maybe the strong and brave choice would have been to stay home–to dedicate the resources she was funneling into this retreat towards a more meaningful cause, something that could enact a change. Green Peace. The Nature Conservancy. Amnesty International. They always needed money.

Even worrying about issues like this was a mark of privilege.


Her husband–or rather, her ex–for all his lousy personal qualities, held  some decent political ones. He was a Marxist, after all. She usually closed her ears when, after a few beers, he began to rail against the system, but some of what he’d said had snuck through deeply enough to seed some broader ethics.

Well, she was here. She’d left home out with the energy of spite and stubborn passion. For art! To become an artist! What whimsy. What an irresponsible use of resources.

She calculated what she’d spent on airline tickets, luggage, oil paints, and cabin rental. Surprisingly, it came out less than what she’d leased her home for, to the visiting professor. So, perhaps it wasn’t exactly a waste of resources, merely a redirection.

But there was no denying that it was her privilege–and her divorce settlement–which gave her the freedom to come here as a single woman to devote three months to painting, without a single other responsibility.


If she was starting this far up the ladder, she had damn well better become a good artist.

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 7

A reply to: A letter from Kaitlin


Dearest Kaitlin,

There’s so much in your letter that I want to respond to, but let me put first things first.

I gather from your letter that you’re not feeling safe in regards to Newt, or Reid, either. It also sounds like you are ready to begin to take steps to divorce Newt.

It’s very important to have safety measures in place before you begin the procedures.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline, www.thehotline.org, is a great place to start, even before you begin filing any paperwork.

They can let you know how to develop a safety plan. Another valuable resource is  WomensLaw.org, which offers information about how to file a restraining order, if needed (and don’t dismiss this possibility, just because you know and care for these two brothers). WomensLaw can also connect you with programs near you, including free and low-cost lawyers. Both of these resources are great first-stops as you begin your plans.

They offer free online chats, too, so when you feel you need to talk with anyone, 24/7, they’re there for you. My friend Micah told me that she would often call the hotline (1-800-799-7233) when she started feeling panicky. She said for the first dozen times she called, she wouldn’t even speak. She just held the phone to her ear and listened as the advocate stayed on the line with her. Knowing they were there, Micah said, gave her the strength she needed during the roughest times.


So I wanted to bring that up first because it’s the most important thing. You need to be safe. These resources can help.

I’m so glad that I can be on your support team! I know I’m not very good at giving support–like you say, I’m analytical! And my empathy doesn’t seem to translate into comforting words but into action-steps or intellectual theories.

Those websites I linked to also offer references to services near you that offer free support–nearly every town and city has a place like House of Hope, where those who have experienced domestic violence can go get support from others. This would be support that’s actual support–not like what I offer!

Guess what, though? I have exciting news! I’m ready to learn to be better at all of this! I’ve enrolled in a graduate program to get a master’s in art therapy! Classes start next month, but I’ve gotten a head-start on the readings and research. Oh. Man. Do I have a lot to learn! My dream is to be able to offer art therapy at HoH and the refugee center. I suspect that art offers a way to heal from past trauma, and so I want to learn how that works.


The best part is that as I learn more, I’ll be able to be a better support person for you!

You are already in my top-tier support! You’re so kind, so sharing and giving, and… just you! It makes me smile to think how everyone who has you in their life benefits.

OH! The other important part! Congratulations on becoming a new grandma! Jordan sounds lovely, and Brooke does, too.


I loved hearing about Dakota. You know that I’ve got a special spot for adopted kids. Ben sounds like such a good big brother. I know how valued a big brother can make a little sister feel!

Your feelings don’t sound like they are a mess to me, Kaitlin. They’re feelings! We have all sorts of feelings! And I can understand how you would still think of Newt with fondness and even love. It’s OK to do that and to also feel afraid of him and hate him, even, at the same time. We don’t have to have just one set of feelings! We feel what we feel. Our feelings don’t have to make sense.


I don’t think you need to force yourself to open up to Leroy more than you feel ready to. It’s evident that you love him and that he’s there for you. You can just take it as it comes, sharing what you feel ready to share without pushing yourself in ways that make you feel unsafe. Sometimes talking helps, and sometimes it doesn’t. Trusting yourself to know what you need in the moment might be the best approach at this point.

Well, some big changes have come into my life in conjunction with my decision to go back to school!

First there’s Youssef! He’s our new nanny. Since I wanted to be able to have time to focus on my studies, I decided I’d hire him. We both felt it would be good for him to start right away so that Jena could get used to him before I had to leave for classes.


She loves him! And he adores her! I feel so happy when I come home from the library to find them playing together or to see him reading her a bed-time story.


When Jena first came to me, it seemed best for it to be just the two of us. That let us form close bonds. And now, it seems right for Jena’s sphere of care-givers to expand. This is helping her to build trust as she sees that more people than just me can offer her love and nurturing.

It’s been a big help for me, too. Youssef is wise, kind, and has a wealth of experience. Being able to talk with him about the things I’m learning provides me with every bit as much as what Jena gets. We’re so happy to have him in our lives.


Just like with you, when you get one you get two, and our home circle seems to be expanding!

Did I mention my friend Mizuki Suzuki to you? (Don’t you love her name?) We met when she came to repair a broken stereo, and we became friends that first visit! Since then, our friendship’s deepened.

She is also going back to school when the new semester starts. She’s going to become a teacher! Because she lived all the way out in San Myshuno, and because she’ll be quitting her repair job to return to school here in Windenburg, and because Jena and I have this huge house all to ourselves, I invited her to move in with us.

And she accepted!


I’ve been amazed how much it helps having another adult in the home. Mizuki is so thoughtful, too, always looking to see what needs to be done and pitching in with a smile.


I think you would love her–she’s funny, childish, and creative. She will make a perfect primary school teacher! She’s focusing on the Waldorf method because, as she says, she wants to “educate the whole child!”

I joke that it’s a good thing. I wouldn’t want just half a child educated! Or just a third! And how would one decide which third? Shall you educate the right leg and stop there?

Whole is much better!

It turns out that for Mizuki there’s another benefit in living with us: She and Youssef have become an item!

I was so surprised to come home one day and find them in each other’s arms!


I felt a little awkward at first. Then Mizuki said that it simply happened quickly. They met here at our place, when Mizuki would come to visit. Then one day, before she even moved in, she dropped by while I was out and Youssef invited her in to wait for me, and they got talking and felt they had a connection. She hadn’t mentioned it to me when she moved in because at that point, it wasn’t romantic. But in the days after she moved in, it became so.

I find it sweet, and I’m happy that Jena can be around a loving couple.

I don’t seem to have any interests in romance, myself, or any romantic feelings towards other people. So I am happy that Jena can have a model of a healthy romantic relationship without my having to provide it!


Well, it seems there’s so much change in both our lives as our circles expand.

I want you to know that I’m always here for you. I’m enclosing my phone number, in case you ever want to call. It would be amazing to hear your voice!

Take good care of yourself, Kaitlin! I treasure you!

Lots of love,


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