Whisper 2.28


Dear me,

I made it through finals! I’ve been reading so much about the benefits of oxygenating the system before mental concentration, so I went for a long run before the first exam.

I think it helped–I mean, I’m sure it did! I cruised through each test.

But by the end of the last final, I was bushed.


Then I got a text from Shannon, saying she was throwing a party and would I come?

Of course I’d come! I know Shannon doesn’t do goodbyes–or graduation ceremonies–so this would probably be the last time I’d see her. Of course I’ll be there!


I was so excited to see her that I forgot all about being sleepy while I rode my bike up the hill to her place.


When I arrived, I took a moment for all of it–the snow, the cold air, the feelings of anticipation, success, excitement, and tiredness, all swirling around. I’m a writer, I remembered. I may have just earned my phys ed degree, but I’m a writer! And every book I’ve ever loved has been made of moments like these.

Maybe these moments are what make a life. We store them inside of us, sensing their significance. Or maybe, compared to other moments, they really aren’t significant at all–and it’s only us, in our endless quest to make our existence mean something, who separate moments like this.

As I breathed the frozen air, I let the cold freeze this moment: I’d remember this and stick it in a book sometime.


I found Shannon alone in the kitchen.

She looked like she felt cornered.

“I’ve got to check on something,” she said.

I know how she feels about goodbyes. She doesn’t do them. I wouldn’t trap her.


I was so sleepy that I found the loveseat in the library. No one was there, and the lights were off. I shut my eyes. I could hear Shannon’s guitar from the other room, and I fell asleep to her music.


When I woke, she was playing something Classical, something by Granata, maybe.


I listened to her until after midnight. The roads were frozen, I was sleepy. I didn’t want to ride back to the dorm. I wanted to stay, spend my last night under the same roof as Shannon.

When I asked her if I could stay, she replied, “Sure! We’ve got extra sleeping bags in the closet under the stairs!  Find a spot on the floor, and knock yourself out!”


No one was in the kitchen. I washed the dishes and spread out the sleeping bag on the linoleum. Shannon kept playing her music long after I fell asleep.


I woke in the silence before dawn. I rolled up the sleeping bag, stuffed it back in the closet, and headed out to grab my bike.

The strains from a Corelli sonata greeted me.


Shannon stood in the snow, playing. I listened and watched, from a distance. I knew she’d stop if she saw me.


She’d turn and head inside. She doesn’t do goodbyes. And this goodbye isn’t an ordinary one.


If we were to do this goodbye, chances are it would be the final one.

Let’s skip it. I realized she was onto something. We’d already shared forever. Why bother with a goodbye? It would only interrupt eternity.


I took a last look. I tucked this moment so deep inside of me, not even sharing it in this private letter can dislodge it.



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Whisper 2.22


Dear me,

Now that Shannon’s said she doesn’t want me to write her, I don’t know who to write.

What I want to say, I don’t want to share with anyone, except Shannon. But she says it’s silly for me to write, since she’s right here. If I’ve got something to say, say it.

Only how do I say it when I don’t know what I want to say?

That’s the beauty of writing: I can explore, shift around, pose it one way, pose it another, and maybe, on the fifth run through, I’ll stumble upon my truth.

I can come upon what’s true for me through painting, too. I wonder if Shannon would let me give her my artwork?


While I was back home, I felt so close to Shannon. Through my letters, I felt we’d found a new level of intimacy. I shared things with her that I’d never shared with anyone. I let her see my inmost heart. Sure, her replies were often single words–but I could feel her through the writing, as if each stroke of her pen carried her to me.

Now she says don’t write. And I have a feeling I’ll hardly see her while I’m getting this degree.

I’m confused about what we are.

I’ve decided while I sort out our relationship–what it means to me, what it might maybe mean to Shannon, and what’s going on to create this weird distance between us–I’ll meet some other people. It never hurts to make friends, right?

There are some neat people at campus this year. I like the guy Kenyan. He’s got a rad Afro and a really intense gaze.


He came over for a bonfire party we threw, and I found him out watching one of the squirrels. Reminded me of the stories Mom used to tell about Uncle Shea.


Melvin Moon is pretty cool. He says his uncle Anoki knew Mom.


Jaclyn in still here. She’s still working on her phys ed degree. I’m really happy that we’re in the same degree program now. We have classes together, and we’ve been talking about squeezing in some extra workouts. I’d love to train her.


I’ve been hanging out with all my dorm-mates, too. Campus life feels so different to me, this time around. I’m actually meeting people and doing all the typical college things.


Like soccer.

I met this interesting-looking older guy who reminds me a lot of the famous artist Harwood Clay. This guy’s not an artist, though. He’s another phys ed major, back for a second degree after a long career as a pharmacist.


He knows Shannon. Everybody knows Shannon, it seems. I invited her over to our bonfire party, and she spent the entire time out at the bonfire, talking to all my dorm-mates.


And that brings up what I don’t get. Wouldn’t you expect that she would want to spend time with me, even if we were part of a group? But she doesn’t seem to. I never see her alone.

I don’t get it. I really thought that we were something to each other. I knew not to ask her to go steady–I mean, she was always really clear that her freedom is the most important thing to her. But I thought we enjoyed being with each other. I guess I sort of thought we were maybe in love with each other.

Now, she seems to be talking to everybody but me. And she asked me not to write.

I wish our social lives could be as simple as the squirrels’. They race around, chattering in their little squeaky clucks, and play tag and steal each other’s acorns and generally have fun causing mischief. And obviously, their attempts at romance work because back when Mom was a student there were only two, and just tonight, I saw five of them.


If I were writing Shannon–which I’m not, and probably never will again–I’d write something about charm. I’d write about how I feel when I’m around her, which is that I could spend every moment with her, listening to her stories, looking in her eyes.


She has this way of looking past my shoulder when she laughs that I find completely and utterly enchanting. I’m charmed.

Since I’m not writing to her, I’m left circling around my own feelings of disappointment. If I were more more interesting, or more of a rebel, or more intelligent, or better read, or less naive, or more adventurous, then she’d be charmed by me.


But as it is, I can blow my pungi all I want, and the snake remains in the basket.

I’m trying to work my way around to something positive out of all this, but all I feel is bummed out and confused. What did I do wrong?

I guess I’ll just end with what Mom used to tell me when things were tough:

Hang in there.



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Whisper 2.21


Hi, Shannon!

Back at campus, and it feels so good!

Can I keep writing you, even though I’ll be seeing you every day, or nearly?

See, I just got into the habit of it, and it feels good. I mean, talking is one thing–and it’s great, especially when you tell me stories. And writing, it scratches a whole nother itch.

I hope you write me, too. I love your letters, even when they’re just one word missives, like “Iconoclast!”

I heard my phone ring as soon as I arrived at the dorm. I knew it was you. ❤


It felt so great to say, “Yeah! I’m here!” And your voice sounded different, closer, since you were just calling from across campus, not from worlds away.


After orientation, when I called you again to see if you wanted to meet up at the café, I felt a rush of anticipation. To see your face again! I guess you know I missed you. I’d missed you for so long from home that now that I was here, and about to see you in a few minutes, all the missing-you rushed out and in its place was… sparkles.


When I hung up, I wondered, “Are you excited to see me, too?”

Your voice sounded pretty casual.


It was so great to see you. Something in my throat always catches when I look at you. You’re just so awesome.

We didn’t have much to say.

“Hey there, you,” you said. “Seems natural to have you here.”

Was that your way of saying I belong here?


I liked your suggestion of reading together. On a blustery autumn day, with the storm blowing outside, reading together is cosy.

Plus, like you said, they’ve got that incredible collection of botanical journals.


I never realized that acer macrophyllum was a wetland indicator species.


This wasn’t exactly how expected our first afternoon would be. That’s expectations, for ya! It felt comfortable, though. Kinda homey to spend time together, reading, thinking our own thoughts.

You know, I think I’ll do college differently this time. For one thing, my major is in something I’m naturally good at and already skilled in, phys ed. And for another thing, I think maybe I’ll spend time with more people, make more friends. Last time, my whole college experience was painting, going to class, and you. This time, I want to broaden my sphere a bit. That’s why I decided to throw a party tonight. I’m glad you said you’d come.

Just because I’m expanding my circle doesn’t mean I don’t want you in it. The moon and sun share the night sky with the other planets, after all, even if the moon does reflect the sun’s glory.

And you know that I’m hoping to always be…

your moon,


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Whisper 2.18

Hey, Shannon.

Got your letter. Thanks. I like your response to the Stray Dog story–I sort of had a feeling you’d identify with him.

What you said about not wanting to be part of a dyad, though, surprised me. I mean, I get you on being an individual. But for me, I like being an individual within a series of domestic dyads. I mean, think about it: a dog and his girl. That’s an awesome dyad. A brother and his sister. Also awesome. An IF and her person. Very cool.

And then there was my mom and me. That’s maybe the most significant dyad I’ve ever been in–that’s the one that lets me connect with everyone now.


Are you saying that you never were part of a secure parent-child dyad, and that’s why you like being independent and, as you put it, “an individual I” more then “being half of a we”?

I remember what you told me about your mom. I guess that must have been hard. My mom was always there for me.

Well, not my birth mom. And I guess if I hadn’t been adopted–or been adopted by Mom–then maybe I might feel the same, too.

I wonder if that’s why it’s so important to me to adopt this stray cat.


I want him to get to feel what it’s like to be “part of a we,” and not just a solitary “I.”

I remember my birth mom. I never told you that before, did I. I never told anyone, not even Mom.

I remember breast-feeding. Funny thing to remember, but my fingers remember holding onto her. I remember softness. I remember how she smelled: like Vaseline, breast-milk, and cinnamon. I don’t remember her voice, but I know if I ever heard it–like on a recording or something–I’d recognize it immediately.

I can’t really compare my having lost her to what you experienced, for I had her, before I lost her. And then, after that black time I hardly remember at all, I had Mom. And, just the first look in her eyes, and my whole world fell into place. I had a happy childhood from then on.


I think I understand what you wrote about having to always fight to keep your solitude.

I might know what you meant about the pressure to be part of a couple. I felt that when the paparazzi started making a big deal about me and Chet when there was nothing between us but a few nervous flirts and one skittish dance. He was cute, and I went along with the hype that we were an “item.” But a dyad, we weren’t.

There were a lot of times when I just wanted to be me, without any pressure from the gossip columnists to be in a couple.

I can’t really imagine what it’s been like for you, all your life, to have people wonder what’s wrong with you that you’ve stayed single. What a weird awkward burden it must always be to be asked, “Why aren’t you in a relationship?” Like that’s the only normal.

I’m glad you were with me, when I was at college. I loved the private universe we spun around ourselves. I’d love it if you came–and I know you won’t and you don’t even want me to bring it up–but I’d love it all the same. And at the same time, I feel something like awe of you and your way of approaching life as a solitary.

I want to adopt Stray Cat–just like I wanted to adopt Stray Dog–because I want to give every individual a chance to have that closeness that I got when I was adopted by Mom. I want to be the one who provides the home, and I want all the single ones I love to be brought into that home.

I’d adopt you if I could, you crazy old lady!

I’ve been playing with Stray Cat every day. She and I have become BFFs.

And still, at the end of the day, when I head inside to make supper, she doesn’t come in with me. She walks across the street and into the frosted meadow.


You lonely tigers. Is it any wonder that I love you?


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Whisper 2.11


Dear Patches and Bo,

How’s it going? What’s up with you guys?

Riley’s been keeping me clued in, but she only shares the good news. I want the whole scoop! Have you been pranking the school, Bo? You skipping homework in favor of playing chess online, Patches? Tell me the real deal!

Which is kinda why I’m writing. I’ve got some real deal news to share with you.

College is great–it’s a ton of work, and it seems like I’m always in class, in the library, or behind the easel.


But I have managed to do a little socializing, and that’s what I want to tell you guys about. See, I figure you’ll probably be reading about me and my latest adventures in the tabloids pretty soon, or your friends will, so I’d rather you heard the news from me.

I’m seeing someone. She’s a friend of Mom’s actually. They went to college together. Yes, she’s that old.

But the point is, from my perspective, that she is so awesome! You guys would love her.

She has the most amazing stories to tell. Do you know that the reason this is an organic biodynamic campus is because of her advocacy? She also is the one who made recycling mandatory, who got them to only do construction on the campus between October and February, so they won’t disturb nesting birds, and who has single-handedly spear-headed the mass milkweed-planting effort that’s going on all over the campus for the monarch butterflies.


She is a one-woman eco-revolution. And I love her.


That’s where the tabloids come in.

I guess the gossip columnists made something more out of me and Chet than was really there, because you both know there never was any me and Chet. But apparently, in the celebrity stories, there was. We’re like number one celeb couple in the 18-22 age bracket!

What a joke!

I haven’t mentioned it to Riley, but the paparazzi are everywhere at campus, following me every time I step out. And they’re not sweet, friendly, heroic life-savers, either, like we’ve got at home. These paparazzi are ruthless rumor-mongers!

Anyway, I met Shannon for a burger. One of the photographers who’s been dogging me was there, taking notes and snapping photos. I just ignored him, like always.


But he came up to me in the diner and asked, “So, do you expect Chet to stand by you, now that you’ve got a naughty reputation? And what are you doing, dating a woman old enough to be your grandmother? Couldn’t you step out of the closet with some nice co-ed your own age?”

Shannon swore at him and told him to bugger off. He left, and I didn’t think much of it. I mean, it doesn’t bother me. I know how I feel, and I’ve always known that love’s about the person–not the age, the gender-identity, or even the sexual attraction. It’s about seeing who someone is on the inside–their spirit, like Mom would say–and loving that.


It bothered Shannon, though. We had a bit of fight out there in public, with the photographer snapping shots. Shannon accused me of selling out, that this was just some publicity stunt, so I’d get a bad reputation to make people more interested in me.

I told her she didn’t know the first thing about who I was really, if she thought that. I left her to figure it out and work through it.


Right then, somebody asked me for a photo. I flashed the peace sign. I mean, I’m not gonna let them see me sweat.


Anyway, I know this is all TMI. I just wanted to give you guys a heads-up so that you knew the truth of it when the story comes out: Yes, I’m dating an older woman. Yes, we had a public fight. Yes, she’s the most awesome person I’ve met–well, next to you two and Riley, that is. And yes, I’ve got a “naughty” reputation.


You know what, though? Come to think of it, there’s a good chance there won’t be any story. Don’t they always need photos when they break the scoop?

Well, there won’t be any photos. Know why?

Later that night, I got over being mad and I guess Shannon did, too, because she came over when I invited her to hang out.

We were watching the chipmunks playing under the sycamore tree, when suddenly, I could literally see the hair standing up on the back of Shannon’s neck.

She let out a yell and launched a full-blown kamikaze attack on the paparazzo, grabbing his camera and destroying the film!


So, maybe you won’t read about us, after all.

I really think you guys will love her, though–that badass protectress of all that’s good in life!

Oh, and guess what, Bo? You remember Uncle Shea talking about that little squirrel that was friends with him and Mom? Eeesheewa-wa, or whatever his name was?

Well, Shannon and I met his way-down-the-line descendent, little Eeesheewa-wa the eighth! Cute as a button. You’d love him.


OK, Peanuts in the Peanut Gallery, I gotta hit the books so I’m not a complete waste of space in class tomorrow.

You two study hard–your own college days are just around the corner.

Love you both. Don’t believe everything you read–especially when it concerns me!


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Whisper 2.10


Thanks for writing so quickly! We must have been writing at the exact same time… think of it: our letters crossing each other in mail planes flying opposite directions! They could’ve waved at each other. “Hi, Riley’s letter!” “Why hello, letter to Marigold!” And zip! They’re gone!

I’m glad to hear that Zoey and Roxy are both eating well, and I’m sorry to hear that Zoey misses me. I miss him, too. Will you give him extra play time? You know how he loves tug-of-war.

Tell Patches that I’m glad she’s spending so much time playing chess, but do homework, too! And tell Bo that yes, flower-kisses are awesome, but strangers might not think so! Ha! Sounds like the kids are keeping you busy.

And how are you? How’s Argus? Your letter was so full of everyone else that I hardly even got a sense of what’s new with you. But then, that’s like you, always thinking of everyone else first, so I’m guessing that you’re happy and well, doing what you love best, which is caring for everybody.

OK, so you remember in my last letter that I ended it really quickly so I could make it to a party thrown by one of Mom’s old friends?

Well, I went to the party.

It was one of those time-warpy things. Like if it were a movie, the soundtrack would do something weird, either stop or go slo-mo, or switch to some kind of electronic ostinato. Time-warpy.

Shannon Arkers stood in the entryway lit up from behind by this glowing light from an antique lamp. Her head was shaved, and she was wearing this old-timey dress, like from the 1920’s, that she must have picked up at a second-hand store. And the short sleeves revealed the tats on her arms. She’s like angel and devil and old-fashioned and neo all in one.


I’ve never met anyone like her.

I was tongue-tied.

But then she rescued me.

“You’re Cathy Tea’s daughter! We went to university together!”


“It’s so amazing to meet somebody who knew my mom,” I told her.


Then she said that she wasn’t the only one who knew her, and she pointed to that Mahmoud guy who’d invited me to the party I declined on my first night here.


I didn’t get a chance to meet him because a cop came shortly after to arrest him for disorderly conduct and indecent exposure.

Shannon just laughed it off. “It’s a matter of course, these days. Back in the day, no one thought twice about this type of thing. But now, times are tame and slightest divergence from convention and everyone’s in an uproar.”


I did meet some other students my age. One of them was really cute with big brown eyes and floppy hair.


I stayed pretty late. When I got back to the dorm, I went straight to bed. It must have been talking to someone who knew Mom, but my dreams were full of home.


Wednesday rushed by, full of classes! Like I said before, on Monday and Wednesday, I barely have time to think–it’s just one class and then the next. Then with studying and painting, I seem to only have time to work, eat, and sleep.

But Thursday offers a bit of a breather.  We sketched plein air during our art lab time. I’m still finding drawing challenging. I can see the subject with my eyes. And when I close my eyes, I can see it in my mind. But when I open my eyes and try to draw what I see, everything gets a little skewed, especially perspective.

But I find that all that concentration helps my thoughts and feelings come into sync.


When I finished art lab, I thought of Shannon. Not because of what she could tell me about Mom, though it would be interesting to hear stories of her college days from someone who knew her when, but because she’s so fascinating in herself.

Do you know that she’s some kind of geo-political-ecological radical?

She told me that she used to blow up the gardening sheds where they stored pesticides, especially snail pellets.

“What did the snails ever do to deserve poison? They need to eat, too!” she said.

“So you were like some sort of eco-terrorist?” I asked her.

“Not so much terrorist,” she said. “More like an eco-warrior.”

Anyway, when I finished sketching, my mind went immediately to Shannon.

I called her up.

“Um. Wanna get together?” I asked her.


She said sure, so I’m heading over there just as soon as I wrap up this letter!

Riley, I haven’t felt this excited to see somebody in… ever! The stories she tells! Plus, her eyes. I really think you’d like them.

Anyway, I’ve really got to go. All the usual: love everybody, care for everybody, and, especially, take good care of yourself, Riley. I miss you, and I still wish you were here with me. Sorry. Forget I wrote that.

Lots of love! Write soon! OK, bye.


p.s. You’ll never guess what Shannon has tattooed on the back of her neck!

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