Jill Malone's Blog
June 7, 2019
I knew I was gay when I was five. In my family, it was the worst thing you could be. My dad called it the dark place. At the same time, he liked that I was good at sports, thought it was hilarious that I was constantly mistaken for a boy, and actively encouraged me …
May 22, 2019
Nine years later, I’m still a fixer in recovery. For me, the most difficult thing is that I am paid in my professional life to fix all the things. To manage literal millions of dollars a year and abide by all the variable state and federal mandates. I’ve told you before that I’m a Faux …
May 9, 2019
I got uveitis for Christmas. My optometrist described it as a charley horse in your eye. But it’s worse than that. Your eye burns red. Your vision is blurred day in and day out. There is radiant pain throughout your sinus and eye socket. Light hurts you. Sunlight is terrible, but indoor lights are worse. …
May 1, 2019
October 11, 2018
In February, I tore the attachment between my hamstring and calf.
In April, the outer toes on my left foot started to go numb on long walks. The nerve was compromised.
In June, I aggravated the tendons in my foot and was sent, at last, to physical therapy.
Physical therapy taught me that I have terrible balance.
My strengthening exercises involve standing on my injured foot and shifting my weight here and there.
Slow down. Balance.
Balance. Slow down.
I’m not fond of either thing, frankly.
And so, I biked all over the damn place, and gave up sugar and white flour. I made myself tremendous salads, and roasted vegetables, and learned to love plain yogurt. I went to bed hungry.
If you are going to rebuild your self, why not start with a virtual stranger? An injured woman who doesn’t eat pie. A woman suddenly incapable of walking her usual three hours a day.
And what if you discover that cutting out sugar makes her less moody? That going to bed hungry means she sleeps more soundly. That here, at 43, biking all over the damn place is a flashback to life at 9 when her whole world was a dirt bike and adventure.
What if this terrible year of limping and pain has actually brought me a pregnant joy?
I count out my reps in 30-second intervals. I stretch and ice and stretch and ice and find myself counting how long I brush my teeth, and how many steps to the elevator.
I have learned to cradle my feet and love them. To slather them with CBD ointment. To baby them with German shoes.
I practice standing straighter. Walking heel to toe without turning my foot.
I practice being a flamingo.
I practice hopping my bike off the curb on the downhills.
Fast! Super FAST!
What if this year has taught me how much better I am at love? At the quiet steadiness of it. The work. How I exercise love. Stretch its muscles and strengthen its heart.
I have become my own project. A little more fit. A little more devoted. Better at curling and uncurling my toes. Better at squaring my hips. Better at seeing how slowly we unfold ourselves like sleepy trees opening wider and wider to the rain.
October 5, 2018
We’d lost count of the bars. Nine? Thirteen? It was impossible to say. At first we had a pint per pub, but then there were shots. And now mayhem.
I’d piggy-backed a man who had run shirtless through a parking lot, and dumped both of us onto the highway. We had bicycles somewhere. Hopefully nearby.
Our numbers multiplied through the night. Where had all these people come from? I bled from road rash on my leg and shoulder. The shirtless man had fallen on his face and looked like a battered cherub.
“I feel amazing,” he told me, one arm slung over my shoulder.
Whose shirt was I wearing? The night cooled around us, as someone pushed the cherub and me into a truck, and told us they’d gathered our bicycles into the bed.
“Who are you?” we asked, but apparently we’d asked before, and now they were tired of answering. When had we secured a driver? Whose fucking truck was this?
We pulled out onto the highway, and drove four blocks into an industrial park, finding the ramshackle bar under an overpass.
“Hurray!” we shouted, and poured from the truck. The pool here cost a quarter a game. Four people managed to ride their bicycles. A new contingent had saved a huge round table in the front room. More shots in spirals on the table. We were like terrible Vikings: rowdy, injured, and beside ourselves with joy.
When I remember what it was like to be twenty-three, this is my memory. That final bar. A series of women with first aid kits patching me up, and bestowing kisses to my face as though I were a small child. I remember how they smiled as they worked on me. Long-suffering smiles. As though I would always require this kind of tending.
I found myself on someone’s lap. I looked down at her. “When did you get here?” I asked, elated. I kissed her for a long time.
“I drove you here in my truck,” she said.
That explained everything. We were sleeping together. This woman with the truck who had put one of the bandages on my leg. But it was a secret. I remembered it was a secret while I was still kissing her. Another round of shots and more pitchers of beer. We’d spilled into more tables and more rooms. It seemed like the entire graduate program had squeezed into this bar.
I looked up and noticed the small woman staring at me sadly. When had she arrived? “You’re here,” I said.
She nodded. “Your arm is still bleeding, but we’re out of band-aids.”
“Nothing hurts,” I assured her.
She looked even sadder. “You’ll never like me,” she said.
And all at once I was sober.
“You’ll never like me. Not really.”
I was still sitting on the secret woman’s lap. I opened my mouth to argue, but I worried that I might not be capable of liking anyone. That I might be stuck on a beach in a wind storm for the rest of my life, not able to shake the first girl. That bone-crushing love.
I worry that I only know love stories, and that all of them end badly. That glorious night when we rode our bicycles into the darkening sky with our arms raised like soldiers resolves, each time, into the sad woman’s face as an entire bar stills to her single expression: “You’ll never like me. Not really.”
It was true, and a lie, all at once. Her beauty mark at the edge of her top lip rose as she smiled at me. They loved me in the same way, all of them. They loved me like a disaster. Something they couldn’t avoid. Something with magnitude.
Workmen in Carhartts weave in and out of her old apartment complex downtown. More condominiums. I walk past five or six of the bars we visited that night on my commute into work. She’d had a studio on the top floor, and let her birds fly loose everywhere. She slept on blankets on the floor. She had doves and love birds and her parents had died. She was twenty-six and wrote the most beautiful poems. She told me my stories felt like a bruise.
She’d had a lisp as a child and they taught her a British accent to correct it. She sounded like Diana Rigg. When she held her cigarette, her fingers curved outward as though she might start dancing.
I only know love stories. That’s all I know. They never end.
August 20, 2018
The horizon filled steadily with smoke, and I put my arm around your shoulders and walked into the afternoon with something akin to joy. You, my best running mate. My most diabolical partner. Nobody. Anywhere. Stands a chance against us.
You tell the most terrible puns.
Leave laundry wet in the dryer for days on end.
Drop shoes in walkways.
Leave tap water running.
of risotto and coffee.
Of riotous dance music.
Of love letters written on paper that thins and thins and thins
but never frays.
Letters left in pockets and purses
and books to be visited often.
the entire life of your grandchild:
her intensity a long, beautiful echo of yours.
Seven years and I cannot shake you.
I am constantly revising my path toward you.
To meet you again and again
here at the altar.
To marry you
more gently each time,
like the osprey over the river.
Resolving more perfectly into this band on my finger.
I am yours
I am yours
I am yours
In a landscape on fire,
I am yours
I am yours
I am yours
I am yours.
Worn, O my heart,
July 9, 2018
I’ve been working indoors all afternoon, and find them afterward sitting on the driveway painting. The grandkid has a swatch of orange across her forehead.
“You’ve got some orange paint on your forehead, kid,” I tell her.
She wipes her hands across her face several times. Now her forehead, bangs, and eyelids are smeared with red paint.
“Well, you took care of the orange,” I say.
They’ve painted a small coffin pink.
“Hey, that’s dope! What will you put inside it?”
“People!” They say, and hold the small carved pieces of wood up for my inspection. They’ve painted the heads yellow, red, blue. There’s a tiny one still to be painted.
“Is that a baby?” I ask.
And here’s the thing, nobody tells you how it is. Sunlight through the honey locust trees, the hose nearby to wash paint from hands and foreheads, the small girl and her grandmother sitting on the black driveway with their little wooden bodies, and their pink coffin. You can’t anticipate this when you are twenty-two and dreaming of family. You can’t say how you will startle at the dinner table — you and her grandmother and her great-grandmother — when the child hands Mary a bow from her pants and says, “Grandma, this fell off.”
Our faces lit by a glow like firelight.
“She called you grandma!” I say before I can stop myself.
Mary nods. “She does every once in a while. The rest of the time I’m Mary. I tried to get her to call me, OG, but she wasn’t having it.”
They are both sitting on the driveway with their legs twisted up in a horrifying way, their feet bare. I can see it, my wife as a slight towheaded child.
Fortune in every direction. Dappled in primary colors.
“I painted this zombie for Gavin!” The child holds up a sheet of green monster.
“Do you know why I make him art?”
“So maybe he’ll want to be friends with me when I’m a big kid, too.”
We get to keep all this. The world howling somewhere beyond this huddle of trees, these beauties. I have felt a step to the outside so much of my life. The writer, always a witness. Even to her own flaying. Thinking now of the way her heart goes on in her chest in its furious way, keeping track of everything.
June 27, 2018
I. Sylvia Beach Hotel
Fifteen years ago, this was your surprise for his 30th birthday. You’d hoped to book the Edgar Allan Poe room, but had ended up in F. Scott Fitzgerald, decorative gin bottles on desks and shelves. Late May, lonely and ill, you still had no context for your symptoms. You thought being vegan meant giving things up, but you are only beginning. The surgeries half a year away, the months of recovery unimaginable. The way you will cry into your cupped palm in the corner of your bedroom to collect all the despair away quietly.
While he slept, you ventured into the wind and walked along the grey beach. Three years earlier, you’d come for New Year’s with a woman you expected to spend the rest of your life with. The two of you tucked into the attic library, reading Jeanette Winterson, and watching the seascape darken. The hotel cat had kept you company on the couch by the window, your tea cups steaming between the globe and boxes of puzzles.
II. The jellyfish
They litter the beach like dense bubbles. Some of them still throbbing. You step lightly on one once, and hop away unscathed. On this stretch of beach, there are three lighthouses, and great dark birds that swoop up and back from the jetty. Crab get ripped to fractions. Like paper, you think. Like love letters.
The first time you came here, you stayed in a communal room. You’d turn twenty-five that week. The night before, you’d ushered in Y2K at a queer dance club in Portland. You were strong and healthy, and expected to go on that way. You thought the two of you had time. More time to understand whatever this was. Love or loneliness or a repeated collision. Something hopeful and broken. Something you mistrusted.
You’d huddled on the beach as the wind battered and battered and battered the waves.
Most of the photos in the room are of Charley. Steinbeck’s emissary to the world. It’s not until my second day walking between the lighthouses, that I realize my memories are wooden boats, appearing unbidden from the edge of the world, from the single line where the sky tumbles into the sea. How else to explain the gondola in Venice, the olive bread, the push push push through the water?
The beach in Hawaii where we held a jacket over our bodies as though a single person took shelter there.
The cliffs in Ireland where I loved her with a rare burst of fearlessness. Where I could imagine the two of us as old women. Our bicycles and our garden. Our kayaks and canoe ready to load into the truck for whatever river needed exploring.
I came back here to let sail that old terror that I would become someone I was ashamed of. Someone small and afraid to love.
In eighteen years, the hotel cats are different, and I am different, and these boats revisit to help me see the progress. My youth, and my health, and my heart. What I expected to be true. My certainty as a young woman watching from that window, at this shoreline where I stand this morning in my middle age. These boats of memory return to allow me to see things differently and again. To see differently and again.
I kneel in the sand as a small black dog approaches. “Hi, baby,” I say, and hold out my hand. She sniffs for a moment, before letting me pet her head.
“That’s unexpected!” shouts the man behind me. “That’s unexpected! You must be a good person. She doesn’t like ANYBODY.” He points at me again. “YOU MUST BE A GOOD PERSON.”
June 21, 2018
The kid and I are leaving for vacation Saturday morning. I have spent the last ten days waking in the middle of the night with some vague anxiety about car tires, and swim trunks, and traffic. About a country on fire, and children in cages. About the way that stories have made me stand in the middle of the world, and feel things, while simultaneously wearing the armor of metaphor.
I am predisposed to love dogs and children. To see them with the same sense of overwhelming joy. A child waving to me from her stroller will lift my spirit for days. Those dogs that seem not to notice you, but then coyly lick you as they pass are my definition of heaven.
I want my child to have safe trouble. Good trouble. Heartbreak and adventure and minor accidents. I want him to notice suffering and do whatever he can to help. I want him to be kind.
When he was an infant, I would stand in the hallway and stare at his bedroom door, and worry for him. I’d worry and worry and worry. Illness, death, injury, terrible relationships, accidents, the casual cruelty of thoughtless people. Bears. I’d worry about bears. Cars. Airplanes falling out of the sky. Monsters. Invaders. And then I’d hear him laughing, and go into his room, pick up a smiling, hungry little guy, and stop worrying. I’d be so filled with love that my mind would empty of everything else. My perfect boy. My love.
Children in cages.
Sometimes I am pure rage. Incandescent. That beautiful, terrible word. I am incandescent.
I am every mother. All of them. I have all of their hopes and ambitions. I want their wants. A better life with fewer worries. Good, safe trouble for my child. A fucking vacation. I want to worry whether I’ve packed enough socks.
I don’t want to worry if the jackboots will decide gay people shouldn’t be allowed to have children. Who will be wrong, and subhuman, next?
That’s the thing about hate. It’s always hungry.
What is this about, Jill? What are you fucking saying?
I’m saying that metaphor will never be armor enough.
I just go on feeling and worrying. Worrying and feeling. About bears. About cougar. About cruelty. About car tires. About children alone in the world. About their parents searching searching searching.
I have these plans to outlast the jackboots. Plans to go on filling up with love. Plans to see these children and love them. Plans to see these parents and love them. Plans to go on being incandescent with love. Like a fucking meteor. Like a goddamned forest fire. Like a motherfucking mother.