Hi, I'm Jill
I'm a mom, an award-winning author of 3 books, and an avid outdoor adventurer, who married a performance artist and addiction counselor renown for the best risotto on the planet.
I grew up as an Army brat, traveling the world. Now, I'm psyched to live in Spokane and adventure around the Pacific Northwest.
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 not to be feminine in any way. He raised me like a boy.
It felt like a fracture in me: this pull toward girls. I told so many lies. It’s a terrible trauma to bury your essential self in lies. In my early twenties, I broke up marriages. Other people’s, and then my own. Nothing meant anything to me because it wasn’t allowed to mean anything to me. I wasn’t allowed to be gay.
Relationships are plenty difficult without pouring shame and self-loathing into them. I was fundamentally unlovable. That’s how I felt. I lied and hated myself. I hated you for loving me. I hated god for making me like this. I hated my self for believing a god could make me like this and want me to hate my self.
And then I met Mary. I was 35, and determined to change my shape. To be out every where, all the time. To be honest. And me.
I thought it would be hard. I guess it was in the sense that my family could not fucking deal with me being honest. But from the perspective of my own trauma, being out is a gift. The truth is so much easier to live than the crushing terror of shame. Hating yourself is all consuming. How can you really love anyone else? How can you reach out to people when you’re so certain that your heart is cancerous?
Being out was unimaginable to me when I was young. One of my favorite things about Pride is how many young people show up. How big community has become. It’s brave to be honest and open in any culture, but it’s especially brave in a culture where people don’t even want you to pee in peace.
What I will tell you from this side of it, is that the sooner you can see your beautiful heart, the more effective you’ll be at using it. There’s so much community out here, waiting to love you. To lift you up and celebrate you. To see you.
You in your one precious life.
Deserve to be loved in all your wildness.Read More
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 Chaos Muppet. Or, as my wife said when we were first dating, “Don’t let her front like she’s chill about things.”
I am. Occasionally. Chill about things.
But it has taken a lot of practice.
I sit now and listen to my wife’s stories, and don’t interject advice or suggestions. I listen. She’ll ask for my input if she needs it. I know she’s perfectly capable to handle anything and everything. I know that the way she handles it will be different from the way I would handle it. Because, you know, she isn’t me.
It has taken me decades to understand this fundamental truth: there are a lot of ways to get shit done.
The early years of our marriage were ridiculous power struggles. You can’t put two alphas in a relationship and expect things to be simple. Especially if they are parents.
In retrospect, it’s one of my favorite things about our marriage. That we have to adjust our power all the time. We check in about chores and schedules and plans for the future. She knows that if we are hanging with the grandkid, I will always keep the kid safe, and never try to parent her. I know Mary’ll show up when I need her to show up, but I don’t ever assume it. I ask. I listen.
I let things be messier than I’m comfortable with because mess is not the end of the fucking world.
I don’t make plans if I haven’t checked in with my family about their interest and availability.
Stated another way, I see being a fixer as buying into patriarchy. This idea that there is a correct answer, and one person should take the lead in every scenario.
I didn’t get married to be less myself. I got married because I found someone who made being me easier and more resonant. I am more essentially myself because I’m married to Mary. I am better at trusting you to bring your best intentions. I am better at trusting myself to chill.
Anything might happen doesn’t seem like a curse now. It seems like marvelous potential. Anything might happen! You might even enjoy it, you faux chaos muppet. You might throw your arms way up above your head and start thrashing with joy.Read More
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. And, in my case, my eye became so inflamed that my lens got stuck, and my pupil disfigured.
My blindness was a near thing. My optometrist dilated my eye three times, and kept it dilated for 16 consecutive days. I wore sunglasses and hats indoors. I took steroids in my eye that left a taste in the back of my throat. I couldn’t tell when I was crying and when my eye was just trying to cleanse itself.
I couldn’t work.
My doctor gave me her personal cell number, and arranged to meet me over the holidays while her clinic was closed to make sure I was progressing. The second visit showed that the deterioration had been arrested. The third visit, she finished the entire exam of my eyes before she moved all her equipment out of the way, and told me that the inflammation was gone. “It might come back, but right now, your eye looks normal.”
Her relief was more palpable than mine. She hadn’t been sure. She hadn’t been sure that my disfigured pupil could be corrected. “You have some iris on your lens now. There’s a stripe of blue.”
I walked out of her office into a snowstorm. Wearing sunglasses. Sobbing.
In the months since, I see floating spots, and my eyes get red and ache when I’m stressed. Black squiggles dance on my periphery when my eyes get too much light, or not enough light. I wear glasses now. The disease aged my eyes.
I was so frightened. Uveitis made rectal reconstruction surgery seem pedestrian. Made labor seem like a party.
I spent all of December in so much pain that I snarled and snapped and slept exclusively on my left side because my right side was broken. Blurred and sore. My own eye hurt me. The light. Sleeping. Sleeping hurt me. I’d wake and be unable to manage my way through the dark. Or wake and be afraid to open my eyes. The pain shining through me.
And then a weird thing happens. You get calm with pain. You climb inside it and sit quietly. You inhabit pain like your childhood home: the place familiar and smaller than you remember.
You test it like a muscle. You stretch your pain. You feel it expand and contract. You fill it with breath. You hold it.
You hold your pain like a child.
Even separate from it, you’re not free.
I won’t tell you it was a gift because it was fucking horrific. I hate uveitis. I still won’t sleep on my right side. Sometimes when I wake in the dark, I’m afraid. I wait to open my eyes.
Then I open them, and the pain becomes a story I tell you from some months ago. Before I knew I could survive it.
I have learned to be tender with it. My injuries at least as noble as my strengths.Read More
1. When were you safe in your relationship?
A rubber tree cloaked us from the shoreline. Her bikini soaked into mine as she straddled me. I remember her hair in my mouth. The heat glimmered.
That summer that I skipped nearly every mandatory basketball practice.
That summer that I slipped down two flights of stairs at 1 a.m. to meet her in parking lots all over Honolulu.
She’d pull my tampon out to fuck me. Coat me in whipped cream. Bind my wrists with her shoe laces.
That summer I told her I couldn’t take the endless lying and thought we should break up, and she screamed that she would go inside her parents’ house and tell all of them we were in love. That we were so in love.
Everyone wondered. Our friends from school, our teammates, her family, my family. Everyone. We got boyfriends and told lies. We fucked in her parents’ bed. We fucked in our cars. On every beach. In every bathroom. We fucked at the cathedral where she played piano for mass. In front of restaurants before they opened. At weddings. In so many shrubs. We fucked like teenagers. She’d come home from Seattle University for spring break only to discover the money was gone, and her parents were keeping her in Hawaii to work for their bug extermination business.
She’d cried into my mouth.
She’d cried and held onto my bra straps and told me she couldn’t leave and couldn’t stay.
She told me we’d marry boys and live next door to each other and be in love forever.
She hit me when she fucked me. She hit me and cried and left bruises on my breasts.
She picked the boy she wanted me to date.
I was seventeen.
My wife and I have started couple’s therapy. With a yellow tablet filled with questions, my wife researched and phoned dozens of doctors. No one made the finals unless they had a Ph.D., practiced the kind of therapy my wife believes in – motivational interviewing – and took our insurance.
Five weeks later, she found this guy: small, round, rosy cheeked. Briefly, during my last divorce, I saw a therapist who demanded that I weigh myself daily, and suggested that I date her daughter, who ran a pool league. “I think you two would have a lot of fun,” she told me.
This little guy’s office takes up half the main floor of a town house. The wooden floors creak. The furniture is expensive and uncomfortable and probably antique. In a window-box seat, a fluffy cat sleeps.
I didn’t know where to sit when I first walked into the therapist’s office. Do you sit together? What does it mean if you don’t sit together? Am I supposed to focus on my wife or the doctor?
The cat’s fur is densely white with grey stripes down its tail. How do you sleep in a therapist’s office? Seems hardcore even for a cat.
Our quarters in Hawaii had plumeria in lush shrubs around the front door. We lived on Oahu in a volcanic crater of military housing and bunkers. My dad got a church for his final Army assignment.
I met Rais at basketball tryouts my first month in Hawaii. She’d mistaken me for some girl they hated from a tournament the previous year. It took weeks before anyone believed I was new to the island, the school, the team.
“I know you, white girl,” she’d said that first day. “I know you.”
The therapist sits with his leg crossed, and a notepad rested on his thigh. “Cole,” he says, “I’d like to begin with you.”
I nod. Sure. Of course. Let’s begin.
“What,” he says, “is your goal for therapy?”
Rais’ black hair fell in my mouth. Her youngest sister walked in on us twice. The first time she fingered me, we were sprawled on the bench seat of her station wagon, the empty courts behind us, as she pushed my shirt up and held it at my throat. The next morning, she’d fly back to Seattle.
Girls left. When they were gone, they missed me. When they stayed, I was too much. Too distant. Too moody. Too young.
“I wish you were a boy,” Rais said.
I wish you were staying, I thought.
We couldn’t talk on the phone anymore. My folks had freaked when that first phone bill arrived. “$180! Cole! $180! Explain yourself!”
She writes letters to me several times a day and they aren’t enough. I need to hear her voice. She’s alone with so many white people. It’s discombobulating.
In college, she used her belt. To bind my wrists. To hit my chest. We’d outgrown shoe laces.
The little therapist waits.
“To be healthy,” I say.
“What does that mean to you?”
“Not to need therapy.”
I’m forty-five years old. My feet hurt every morning when I get out of bed. I limp to pee, to let the dogs out, to pour myself cereal. It’s humiliating to talk to this pocket-sized doctor about my goals.
“What is your goal for your marriage?”
I try to imagine being alone in the room with the cat. Outside, the snow sits in dirty piles. We have to meet our deductible before any of these visits are covered. We gotta keep coming here just to afford coming here.
“Not to need therapy,” I say less politely. My wife stiffens on the other end of the couch. I haven’t looked at her yet. This is the first time we’ve been in a room together in twelve days. “I thought I was supposed to be honest,” I say. “I’m supposed to be honest, right?” I look at the doctor.
“Is that what you’re being?” Meghan says.
“Meghan,” the doctor says, “I’m going to get to you in a few minutes. Let’s stick with Cole for now. Cole, I want you to give me three feelings. What three emotions are you feeling right now?”
I look at the cat. I’m tired.
“Confused, upset, and lonely.”
“Tell us more about that,” he says.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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,
with love.Read More
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.Read More
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.”Read More