Alisa Valdes

Writer. Producer. Human.

His Firm and Fickle Flesh

Aug
26

A sadder song
I don’t suppose I’ve ever sung
Than this
The Cougar’s Lament

I used to be the hot girl

You know the one…

And I got used to it. Hot girls? Listen up:
Never.
Never get used to it.
Because when it starts to be plucked away

one gray hair at a time

You will trip to find your footing you will
Fall.

I used to be the hot girl. And it gave me
A certain tilt to my head
That is nothing but ridiculous now.

Now.

And now? And now, two orbits shy of 50
I can get him to my bed

Oh yes.

The most beautiful boy.
Thirty years old.
He is perfect.

My God.

And he will even say it is the Best
He’s ever had, he will
Ask to come over he will

Even

Say he loves me.

But.

But I’m not for you, babe.
That is what he told me.

He is not for me. And yet for me
He was everything.

Dumb old woman.

It won’t be more.

I should learn to stop playing with boys.

I should accept the dimming of the light the
Graying of the mane
the
End.

Game.

It’s always a game.

A game I used to win.

But now?

Now.

Now I lose.

Every. Fucking. Round.

I’m a CPR dummy. I am practice
For the real crisis
For the skinner prettier smoother more fertile one
The one
he’ll actually

Love.

The Eclipse, The Bible, Wine and Me

Aug
21

This post is going to be mostly a stream of consciousness, because why not? I’ve been writing so much structured material lately, my writer bones are desirous to scatter themselves across the floor, in shapes never before imagined. At least not by this head, in this place

Today, incredibly, I did not stare into the sun. I am burned all the way through my soul anyway. Ashes blow up and out my nostrils. I am a dragon. He loved me. Then he didn’t love me. He wanted to come over, for a while. Then he didn’t, and he told me I needed to move on. Mostly – no, entirely – this was my fault. I do this.

I will not move on because I have grown roots in him, like a weed through a bunny corpse. I’m more likely to grow around the tumor of his leaving, try to circle my arteries and tendons around the lump and make it permanent. I do that, too. My heart, that sack of potatoes. A bump for every string of garlic inspired towards every one of their necks.

Stay away, woman.

I poke out these endings and these traumas, from the slow, sad music I superimpose over their faster songs, his metal metal metal in my mouth; my pointy battle baton wielded from the conductor’s podium open mouthed, like I held a tube of mascara at the mirror. It is all mirrors, with men. I will draw you in with my big beautiful brown eyes but in the end, you’ll run from the monstrous smear of black war paint that drips down my cheeks when the crazy comes, and it always comes.

I am, it seems, no one anyone can love.

Least of all, him. He, whom I loved more than any of the others. He, the wide-necked Frenchman. Half Frenchman, full of poetry and dark shadow. Genius. Boy. Hers, still – who? Anyone but me, I guess.

I fill the hole with wine.

Also, there was an eclipse. And did I mention it was red? The wine.

I taught myself some cords on the guitar and sang along. I also found God this weekend. Again. I’m not letting go this time. This time, I will live by his laws. Maybe things will get better. Maybe not.

It has been a very long time since I walked barefoot through puddles. This could be the day that changes.

Love.

The Importance of May-December Female Friendships

Jul
22

I will never forget the day I was raped by the man I thought was my boyfriend. I was an ambitious reporter at the largest daily paper in New England, twenty-six years old, so bold that I used inline skates to get to work, pumping my powerful legs from Jamaica Plain all the way through Franklin Park, across all of Roxbury, into Dorchester and then Southie, naively blasting merengue and house music as I went, not in the least bit worried about being hit by cars, or murdered…or raped. I was a rising star at the paper, a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, a girl who’d loved playing with words from the time I was nine years old, overjoyed that I was finally starting to not just be recognized for my talents, but paid nicely for them.

The man was a poor choice for me. Hot as hell, from the Dominican Republic, a drug dealer. I was a bit of an adrenaline junkie. I covered major air disasters and other crimes, and fed off the rush. I didn’t want a boring, orthodox life. I was not one to live by anyone’s rules. I’d seen the man at a nightclub, when I was reviewing a salsa and merengue concert, and he had looked, to me, like a model. He was pretty, for sure, and his “profession” became my challenge; I eventually got him out of it, and into community college and a job shucking oysters at Legal Seafoods. I was opening the door to a new future for him, but what I could not change was his past – you know, the one where he truly thought women were property, to be owned in multiples, the one where no only meant no if she wasn’t your girlfriend.

The sex was consensual. But his removal of the condom at the end, knowing I was ovulating and didn’t want children, was not. He held me in place as he did it, and put his hand over my mouth to silence my screaming. I was renting an adorable attic apartment from a nice young family, in their colorful, flower-filled Victorian home. The last thing this man wanted was for them to come running up the stairs.

“Shh, my love,” he told me in Spanish, grinning impishly, like he was just a boy playing games. “I’m going to come in you.”

I squirmed and twisted, but it was no use. He overpowered me, just 22 years old, six feet tall, muscular. And he did it. Afterwards he kissed me all over my face and told me, “I own you now. Now, finally, you are mine.” When I refused to kiss him back, he shoved my face into the pillow, as though to suffocate me. I got away from him, wrapped myself in a robe, and, grabbing my phone, locked myself in my bathroom.

“Leave!” I cried out. “Or I’ll call the police.”

He left. I sat there and cried. How could a man that pretty, with such long eyelashes and such a delicate nose, a man with a pure white smile and dimples, do a thing like this?

A little more than two weeks later, out on assignment in a company car, I stopped at a drug store and purchased a pregnancy test. I peed on the stick in the women’s bathroom at work. My hands trembled as I sat on the toilet waiting for the wetness to drift across the little screen, where it would leave either one pink line (good) or two (bad).

Two.

There were two.

My heart raced. I was not ready to be a mother. I had not consented to this. I thought I loved the man who did this to me, but after he did it, I hated him. I never saw him again.

I went back to my desk, my face drained of blood, terrified, and I sat down. In those days, newspaper newsrooms were cavernous affairs filled with desks that were all out in the open, facing each other. The reporter who sat directly across from, who had, in fact, been sitting directly across from me for two years, was in her forties. Her name was Patti Doten, and she had an elegant short haircut, beautiful clothes and a very nice car. Her jewelry was real gold and diamonds, and when she spoke it was with an erudite East Coast cadence that I loved. But what I loved most about Patti was her wicked – and I mean wicked – sense of humor. She was hilarious, a brilliant writer, an astute observer of humanity, and, to my initial surprise, she was as raunchy and knowledgable about sex and life as any of my friends my own age. She’d inherited money, and didn’t need to work. She’d been an editor and didn’t need to be a reporter. She did this job because she loved the constant input and adventure of it. She was a single mother of two sons, the oldest one not that much younger than me, the younger one still in high school. They had a huge and beautiful house in Cohassett, near the water. Patti never treated me as “other” the way many reporters and editors did because of my last name. She saw in me what I was – an irreverent, deeply thoughtful, cynical, obnoxiously outspoken young woman who, had she been a white man, might have been said to be a genius with leadership qualities.

That day, the day of two pink lines, Patti noticed the change in my demeanor instantly.

“My dear?” she asked, somewhat quietly, over the desks between us. “Everything all right?”

I shook my head.

“Do you need to talk about it?”

I nodded.

Discreetly, Patti gathered up her keys, and made an almost imperceptible motion with her head, for me to follow her. I walked behind her through the newsroom and out the door to the elevated parking lot. We went to her BMW, and got in. She drove in silence off the grounds of the newspaper, and towards the south, along the shore, before finally letting out a sigh. Her intuition was incredible.

“Which one was it?” she asked. “The drug dealer?”

“Yes.”

“What did he do?”

I told her. Patti’s eyes flashed with fury. “Goddammit, Alisa. Did you call the police to report this? Why not? No! You have it backwards. That motherfucker should be afraid of YOU!”

She hit the steering wheel with her manicured hand and its rings. Her size six foot pressed just a little harder on the accelerator.

“I don’t know what to do.”

“And that’s fine. You don’t need to know what to do, not just yet. Are you hungry?”

I shook my head. I was already feeling slightly nauseated.

Patti decided she didn’t want me staying alone in my apartment until this situation was resolved in one way or another. She knew that my family was far away, and that, back then, I wasn’t particularly close to my parents, not in a way that would make telling them my predicament helpful to me in any way. She moved me into her guest room. She made meals for me, and we watched comedies together, and we took walks. She told me about her life, about the abusive husband she’d had to leave, about her exceedingly violent father. Having money did not make a woman immune from the hell I was in. Patti had been there. And now, nearing fifty, Patti was powerful, independent, a mother, and, to me, an incredible and supportive friend.

Though much has been written in popular America culture about the romantic relationships between older men and younger women, almost nothing has been written about May-December friendships between women. In fact, when I was searching for a photo to use with this post it was nearly impossible to find anything depicting anything remotely like this type of friendship – and yet, Patti’s friendship was one of the most important things in my life. Patti’s love and guidance and girlfriendness literally saved my life.

I don’t want to get into the details of what happened with that pregnancy. I will say, however, that my choice was a difficult one, and that it haunts me to this day. I will also say that Patti, a loving mother, went with me, and held my hand in the waiting room, and held me up as I limped to her car afterwards. She tucked me in with a hot water bottle over my belly, and brought me ice cream and sang to me. She cried with me, and held me. She was not my mother, nor was she a mother figure. She was not my mentor, for we were professional equals. She was my older woman friend, and we were kindred spirits who made each other laugh like no others. When my first novel came out and was a bestseller, it was Patti, who had defended me against sexist and racist treatment in the newsroom many times, who crowed loudest about my success. “Fuck yes,” she said when I sent her the article about the bidding war for my first novel. “No one deserves this more than you do.” When I had my son in New Mexico, many years later, I took him to meet Patti in Boston. She held him and her eyes welled with tears. Her sons had already moved out, and she was dating again, at last, with plans to sail around the world with her new millionaire boyfriend. She called him The Izod, after his favorite shirts. This made me laugh. When I went through a painful divorce, Patti coached me through it over the phone and email. She was, and remains, one of the wisest and best friends I’ve ever had.

It was clear to me, always, what I got out of being friends with Patti. What I didn’t understand, until recently, was what in the hell she got out of being friends with me. I was just starting out, making so many mistakes. I barely had furniture when she met me. I was only slightly higher up the food chain than a college student. I used to think it was pity. Now I know different.

Now, I am the professional woman with the son in high school, and the house with the extra room, and the successful career behind her, and a young woman friend has come into my life. Her name is Jordyn. She is 25, and a brilliant, vivacious, fun, loving, gorgeous, motivated and deeply emotional actress and singer of uncommon talents. She is also coming out of a difficult breakup and is in need of a place to stay. Remembering Patti, I offered my guest room to her, so she can save her money to move to Los Angeles, where she belongs. I will not take rent from her. Nor will I mother her. I will be her older woman friend, as Patti was for me. We text each other about our lives, pretty much every day, and I know, now, exactly what Patti got out of being my friend when I was Jordyn’s age. Energy. Hope. Youthful enthusiasm for life. Also, there is a sort of respect and support that younger women give to older women friends that we don’t really find anywhere else. Younger women friends are not as jaded and broken as are my women friends my own age. They haven’t been around long enough yet to have had one after another horrible life event come to pass. Their lives are still mostly in the future, whereas ours are starting to be largely in the past. Now, a younger woman friend reminds me of what I used to be, and allows for an exchange of wisdom and energy that absolutely flows both ways.

I would love to see the dynamic of these types of friendships brought into the light more. I would encourage women to befriend other women of differing ages from themselves. We are not so different, women, in our 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s on up. We have all lived these same painful things, sadly. And we have all experienced these exciting triumphs as we chase down our goals. I am so grateful to Patti, and to Jordyn, for being in my life. Long live the May-December female friendship!

He Ain’t Nothing But a Shell Game

Jun
27

 

His shells they move back and forth fast and faster slight of hand quick of draw he smiles and confuses and knows that two of the three are empty two of the three are empty two of the three are the ones you will most likely point to and he will flip them up flip them up flip them upside down like drained half walnuts empty empty empty like his chalk outlined soul his mama beat it outta him you can’t blame you and you can’t blame him but this ain’t about blame it’s about get the fuck out before it kills you and the blank socket blind socket of the shell you picked will stare up into your face and you will drop down inside your sternum like a terrified and disappointed trapped woman on a roller coaster and aren’t you aren’t you isn’t that exactly fucking exactly what you are and he’s the captain of that crazy train he’s the motherfucking one who ups you downs you mostly down yes down down down and empty sockets drained walnuts the meat of them carved out and given away to his mama long ago she took his souflesh and left a pretty shell the shell the shell just that illusion baby there’s nothing to him but a game a pea you break yourself to find underneath those shifting magician’s hands you train your eye to follow his every move thinking this time this time this time you’ll figure out how to capture his heart but didn’t you notice didn’t anyone tell you didn’t you realize that a small hard bean of a heart is not a heart at all but a pebble so hard so dry so empty that it will never grow not even if you water it every day with the spout in your eyes just fucking let go

Here’s What Makes Her Beautiful

Jun
09

We met long ago, in middle school. I was the troubled girl with shiny hair and a sneer, she was the thin, tall girl with the gorgeous clothes. We were both smart. We were both funny. I noticed her right away, and in that bullying way I had then I went to her, and pointed to the empty seat next to me. “You? Are sitting there. You’re my new best friend.”

We were in gifted class together. This meant we got to sit in a circle on the floor, on pillows, every week, to discuss the readings our teachers had given us. We participated, outwardly philosophical and engaged. But we also leaned into each other and whispered the sorts of wry, unkind teen girl observations about the teachers and their weaknesses that left us giggling inappropriately, holding the laughter inside until it burst from our noses and closed lips like a bad cough.

Leslie Gallagher. My best friend.

I remember her father’s apartment, and the pet Chinchilla that hopped high enough to hit its own head on the ceiling. Was it unkind that we laughed as it fell back to the bed, shaking its little noggin back and forth as though asking “What the fuck just happened?” Ay, ay, ay.

I remember Leslie’s father, a quiet man, an engineer. He barely looked up when we’d come home, his social awkwardness and shyness feeling, to me then, like disapproval. Children take everything personally. My own father took up so much room, was so boastful and pontificatorial. Leslie’s father, by incredible contrast, was almost invisible.

They moved to Denver from Albuquerque, and I felt the bottom fall out of my world. Who would wander the neighborhood with me, making fun of everything now? My father was kind enough to buy me plane tickets to visit her, and I remember going with her to her new high school in Aurora. It was bigger and nicer than any school in Albuquerque, and the kids had more money than any kids I’d ever known. I loved how it felt, walking the halls with Leslie there. We were young and beautiful and filled with intelligence and potential. After school, we went to the tennis court, but rather than just volleying back and forth we hit the balls and screamed “Wap” the way we imagined the balls might, if they could talk. It annoyed everyone around us, but we didn’t care. We laughed until we couldn’t breathe. That’s just how it always was with Leslie.

This week, Leslie’s quiet, invisible father died.

She texted me from Arizona, having flown there from her home in Minneapolis. Her husband and children stayed behind, the boy being autistic and needing constant specialized care. When did life get so goddamned complicated and painful, Leslie?

She texted me on the day before he died. She and her dad were sitting on his patio overlooking the golf course. They had made a game, she told me, using their iPhones to make fart sounds every time one of the sunburned retirees took a swing at the ball. Invisible father, fading fast, had chuckled then. This is your gift, Leslie, one of many. The funniness. The ability to stare down the worst monster, eye to eye, and crack a joke at its expense.

Some things never change. Nor should they.

Leslie. My God.

Even this, even now, you are still that girl, you are still beautiful, you are still hilarious, you are still the best friend I’ve ever had.

My heart hurts for you.

After he died, in the moments after, she spoke to me. Her quiet, reserved, emotionally unavailable father. He’d been the reason she found men just like him, all her life drawn to those who would not react. But something amazing had happened when she was in college, with the advent of email. Her father, who had difficulty with eye contact and rarely spoke in person, was a thoughtful, compassionate, funny and wise man in email. He offered her advice there, listened to her there. He was born for machines. There were times, she told me, when she would call him with a problem, only to be met by silence, but that he would email later in the day, or the next day, with warmth and kindness. The complexities of the human spirit, Leslie. How blessed, that you found your father’s soul among the zeroes and ones. How beautiful, that you connected there, and how incredible that he, the silent man at the periphery of our adolescences, was more like us than we ever knew then.

I am so sorry, friend. I am sorry for your loss. I am sorry for the many years that have passed like a comet. I am sorry you have had so much pain, so much loss, so many ways in which life has not lived up to its promises to that tall, thin, beautiful girl I first met in middle school. I am sorry I wasn’t there with you, as he took his last breath and you played Etta James for him as he did.

“I’m picking up his ashes,” you texted me yesterday. “I refuse to say cremains.”

“Cremains sounds like a terrible non-dairy liquid foodstuff,” I replied.

“Yes. The cheapest kind.”

Oh, Leslie. How you make me laugh, even when you’re crying. How beautiful you are.

How I love you.