Pretty Stories

Michelle O'Kane

I publish most of my shortish, nonfiction work over on Ello. Here is where I post things from my current WIP, Born Without An Algorithm. I am collecting, and publishing, letters from my mother to her mother (my grandmother). I am also collecting, and publishing, entries from my journals, which I started writing when I was very, very young. This is a giant work in progress. As am I.

Born Without An Algorithm

A Work In Progress by
Michelle Kathleen O'Kane

1963, London

Dear Mother,

This should have your special consideration. The lighter it is the better, but it must be strong. If you're going by air, remember that sixty six pounds. If you're going by boat, it is well to remember weight also. It is always better to be able to carry baggage, there may be no porter. You can ship extra baggage, of course, and it should be sent to the plane or ship at least twenty four-hours before your departure. Obtain labels for your baggage from ship or plane. For the boat, mark it "Wanted" or Hold". Do not lose your claim checks and be sure that your baggage is with you on plane or ship. It is recommended that all baggage be insured.

Love, Kathy

This is my second life. We're not supposed to live this long. We're supposed to be dead by the time we're thirty-eight. And that's an old statistic. Sometimes I wonder if I'm still in my younger body because I missed something. I'm younger than they are now. By a long shot. Who are they? Five years is a world of difference. Add another five or six on there and there you are, snorting lines with someone who can't knows none of the words to reelin in the years. But, the only reason you can sing is because your mother only played the oldies on the radio of the yellow '79 Rabbit that your brother was so embarrassed to ride in he would hide in the backseat with a backpack over his head. When you turn around and your window is gone, all you have are years of windows.

My first word was machine.

In the '70s we had a house in Trinidad, California, where our backyard was an expanse of redwood trees from our yard, way past the border of Oregon. We had stories. We had a lighthouse. We had fairies in tree ears and a darkroom in our garage. We had poppies and a Ford. When we were driving, my dad would flick his cigarette out the window and point out flower fields. At home, he often told us that he was becoming an archaeologist and that's why we were living in Humboldt County. Then he would take a syringe and go into the bathroom. It occurs to me, as I wrote that, that my father and I both had illnesses that took place in bathrooms.

There is a kind of light that is transcendent an infinite amount of times because it is unique to the interpretation of every individual. A glowing light, the light of waking up outside, thirty minutes after dawn. Fluorescent lights over a cubicle or a grocery store aisle--all the lights become so indefinite they are impossible to explain. There is a moment where the light is transcendent because we know it's part of us. I think that is why we question the stars.

1977 Dear Mother, I finally have a few minutes to write. We have been so busy with the pictures. It's getting to be an every day, all day thing. We are either making pictures or Bob is out selling them and I am catching up on my laundry & housework & trying to do something with the kids. I really should go to the store now, walk to the mall, and get milk and dinner for Bob. He is in Trinidad selling now. See you on Jesus' Birthday!!

The dogs were called Rabbit and Sunshine. They saved my life but I don't remember that. I was hardly two years old. We were camping on the beach. We always camped on the beach because we never had a house. My mother woke up and she saw my little footprints in the sand, walking straight out to the ocean. And then the footprints were gone. And so were the dogs. There were dog footprints too, and all the trails were vanishing with the ebb of every wave. It must have been early, daybreak. On the coast that is a very bright light.

I want to see flowers. I want to feel warm water. I want to feel waves crashing against my back. I feel stupid. I feel smart. Do I feel smart because I'm so stupid? I want to be happy. I want to eat. I want my hair to not fall out. I need a break. I need a brain. I want a break that lasts me the rest of my life and beyond. I don't want to remember being eight years old with a gymnastic teacher's hands in my pants. His name was Wayne. I want my hair back. I want my life back. I want a sandwich. I want ice-cream. I want to eat without the goal of puking into the nearest toilet. I want to sleep. Forever. I want to live. Happily. Indefinitely. I want to hold my newborn son, every one of these days. I want to be in love and mean it. I want to hide in a lake. I want to hide with fish. Instead I'm hiding where everyone can see me. I remember the blasting sound of my typewriter hitting cement after I threw it over my balcony. When the typewriter hit the ground the platen still held onto the paper that read fell off her bike--

The gust caused shiny brown leaves to gently lift off the concrete and dance around my dead typewriter, like golden, twiggy ballerinas. My gut turned and I closed my eyes. I was envying leaves.

Trinidad, Ca

Dear Mother,

Thanks for your nice long letter. Michelle wanted to send you the deer she colored & cut out, so I'm writing you a note to go with it. She doesn't like to color between lines & needs to practice that & cutting with scissors to prepare for printing letters on the lines. The teacher says she goes too fast. I'm so glad I go once a week so I can see what she's doing & where she needs help. She is also working on recognizing what letter a word starts with, by sound.

Now, I am still alive, technically. I often wonder if my mother and I had brains that weren't built to work for more than forty-three years.

What do you do when you've lived your life and survived? Do you get a shotgun and kill yourself? Do you shoot yourself in the head? If so, how do you do it? Point at your temple? Or do you shove the gun to the back of your throat, pointed up to get a good shot, to do the deed, seal the deal? Your arms are not long enough to hold a shotgun. Also, you don't have a shotgun.

There are many variables in something you've seen perfectly executed thousands of times, in films. In movies, most of the time, when people get killed they get killed with a bullet. Pills are for the wealthy. In movies, wealthy people are poor.

December 12, 1974
Trinidad, Calif.

Dear Mother,
Bob is using the typewriter to type up his first report to the tribal council. They meet on Saturday & he has to tell them what he has been doing since he started. He also has to submit reports when he inspects an area for being a possible Indian burial ground. I had planned on typing this, which is why I mention it; as a matter of fact, I started a letter on the typewriter-but if I wait for Bob to finish... Don't know what our plans are for Christmas. Bob really doesn't want to drive down & back. He would like to fly, but that would mean we would have to build a fence for the dogs by Christmas & I don't know if we can do it. So, everything is sort of up in the air (we will probably drive down). Our new house is really nice - very bright and cheery. Not really much news- just trying to put everything away--not many cupboards or closets. I'm planning on enjoying a long winter, making things for Bob & Michelle & going for walks to the beach when it's not raining. Hope you can come & visit soon. Will write as soon as we know what we're doing.

Love, Kathi, Bob, & Michelle
P.S. Michelle is really enjoying the house- lots of room to run around & play & she likes to go for walks & see the houses.

May 4, 1990
Cupertino, Ca

Dear Diary, Hi! Well, lots have happened and I haven't written in a long time. So, here I am. I don't think I told you, but mom and I took a trip to Eureka a few months back. We saw The Center & Trinidad, all our old houses & a bunch of other stuff. I love it there. I want to go back. Danny & I went to my junior prom. It was pretty fun. We were really wired & stoned. I rented an ultra stretch limo & went with 8 other people. It was so fun! Danny wore a Harley bandanna around his head. I got a job finally. I work at 5-7-9. It's a small sizes only store. We moved also into a bigger house. This one is so much nicer & bigger and we got a dog. I named her honey. She's so sweet. I love her so much. Last night I went out with some of my friends. We stole a keg out of someone's car. It was so funny. Imagine 4 girls running down the street with a full keg! Then 2 of my friends went back to get the tap, and they found a plastic bag with a bag of pot, a bag of shrooms, a pipe, and a bong! Guess who got the bong & pot!! And it was so cool. I have so much fun when I leave Danny at home!


Dear Mother,
Jesus is not some abstract idea or person who died 2,000 years ago. He is alive. He said, "I will never leave you." He knows you cannot do it alone. We are too weak, every last one of us. Who do you know that really "has it together"? No one- not you, not me - there is no security here. No perfection here - yet- until he returns. There is no plateau that we reach on earth where everything is happy and harmonious because of our physical appearance, our home, our job our income - that is grasping at empty air and only in our spiritual life will we reach it -- only with Jesus accepting His Love -- in believing in Him can we experience that security & happiness that everyone seeks.

You have: bleach, a box of razor blades you bought twenty years ago, at Flax, and a very sharp chef's knife. But the knife was a birthday present so it seems disrespectful to use it to slit your wrists. Plus, wrist slitting seems like an acute challenge and you've never been good with details.

What you want to do is you want to put the gun in your mouth and pull the trigger. Die in the bathtub, or maybe a field of gravel. Surrounded by blood: trickling, splattering, dripping. Sticky hair, messy. But not too messy, the point is to die with as little mess as possible, hence the bathtub. But a field doesn't require a heartache of cleanup. Death is nature.

It's a method of problem solving. It's a process of a set of rules. It's Wikipedia. They trick you. They teach you your times tables, and that x=0 but they never call it a language or reveal that zero means nothing other than what's in your pocket.

Meanwhile, at night, when you lie in bed, concentrate on the areas that bother you (your sinuses) let your mind sort of float through your sinuses. Then feel that the spirit of the lord is flowing there, soothing & healing - drying up your sinuses (you can even try it at work when you are troubled). You can ask Him to remove the pain. Just say, "Please, Jesus, take away my suffering." Just try it.
Love, Kathy

It's like when I would wait to take calls, like from the guy in Santa Clara who got raped when he was thirteen. While riding home from school, he got pulled off his bike. That man paid me $1.99 a minute to listen to the story and I was never given an algorithm for that. He raped himself every day, having unprotected sex with strangers, sometimes in parks, and then paid me to hear the stories. I could not fix him. But his stories perfectly described the trails I remember walking when I lived in Santa Clara.

Dear Mother
No perches or anything were on it. My landlady raises parakeets & we are going to get them from her. I'll never forget "Mr. Peepers" & I know Michelle will love her birds. Almost time for the mailman. Please come for Christmas. I'm going to be much more organized this year & want to have a nice family holiday. It won't be the same without you. We absolutely have to have a grandma to make Christmas complete. Keep sending envelopes. It sure helps.

It took a lot of years to understand algorithms and I still don't. I was never very good with math. That's where they trick you. It's not about math or numbers or logic. It's not, but they trick you. Logic. They throw around so many terms, all the terms, and they leave you. You wonder what the terms mean: are they word problems? Calculus? Blind luck?

We are on meth, and I'm looking really great. I'd gotten down to 114 pounds, I hadn't been at that weight since I was like fourteen years old. That was two years ago.

I once read a book where the lady had to get dressed at a man's house, and borrow his clothes, and when she put on his boxers it felt really nice that they were so big on her. She had to roll the elastic top over so the boxers would stay up. I know how she feels. Well, I wish I did. Sometimes I buy clothing a size or even two sizes too big so they'll hang loose on my hipbones. I have a thing about hipbones. Later my best friend would say I only dated "angular" men.

The loose fabric makes me feel smaller, tiny, itsy-bitsy. My father called me Skinny Minny the other day and it was his only compliment that's ever made me feel that good. When he said it, he was looking at my legs, and not at my chest.

Danny's going to be here any minute. I live for the sound of his '69 Camaro, which is louder than fuck. It's our six month anniversary. Danny's really into me, and I like him too. He can beat up anybody. Everybody at school, and other schools, are afraid of him. People are afraid of me, too, but I have no idea why, other than I get in a lot of trouble at school, when I go. When I went.

Dear Maga--Ga Ga
Dear Mother,
Doesn't look like Michelle will go to kindergarten this year. She's in 2 weeks past the age cut-off. They were going to let her in in Trinidad, but not here. I just hope she's not too bored with school by the time she goes. She's a little more mature than kids her own age & already knows everything they do in kindergarten & is really ready for just first grade. It seems kind of silly that she can't go, but, on the other hand, I like having her home & she & Jason will be closer, grade-wise, when they both go to school.

There is a store in San Jose called People's Pants. It's the only place in the entire Bay Area that sells the ziparound pants that I like. Now that I weigh 114 I can zip a size two around me. I love crank. The pants look great. I have a white tank top to wear with them. I forgot from where I stole the top. I wait for Danny to pick me up.

July 28, 1963 Florence, Italy
Weather: Warm
In the morning we went to the Uffizi Gallery. Spent about 3 hours there looking at some of the most beautiful paintings we have seen yet. I especially enjoyed Michelangelo's "Holy Family" and Botticelli's "Birth of Venus."

1977/1997 I was six. My mother and I were walking up 17th Street, in San Francisco. Seventeenth Street is one of those steep, winding hills that goes straight up to another hill. I was wearing my favorite red jumper, the one my mother made for me, and those red sandals, the ones that I still wore even though they were two sizes too small. I was holding my mother's hand as we reached the top of the hill.

May 4, 1999

Dear Diary, Hi! Well, lots have happened & I haven't written in a long time. So, here I am. I don't think I told you, but Mom & I took a trip to Eureka a few months back. We saw the center, and Trinidad, all our old houses, & a bunch of other stuff. I love it there. I want to go back. Danny & I went to my junior prom. It was pretty fun. We were really stoned. I rented a ultra stretch limo & other people came. It was so fun. Danny wore a Harley bandanna around his head. I got a job finally. I work at 5-7-9. It's small sizes only. I like except we have to dress really nice & I only get paid min. wage. That part sucks. But my bosses are OK except one's a clean freak. We moved, also, into a bigger house. This one is so much nicer & so much bigger. And we got a dog. I named her Honey. She's so sweet. I love her so much. Last night I went out with some of my friends. We stole a keg out of someone's car. It was so funny. Imagine 4 girls running down the street with a full keg! Then my 2 friends went back to get the tap, and then found a plastic bag with a bag of pot, a bag of shroom, & a bong! Guess who got the bong and pot!! And it was so cool! I have so much fun when I leave my boyfriend at home!!

June 16th 1963 New York City, New York Hot, very sticky, but no sun We arrived at La Guardia Airport in New York around noon & then took a taxi to the Paramount Hotel in the heart of the city. After we settle in the hotel 3 others and I went to the matinee at the Radio City Music Hall, then at lunch is an "automax" recommended by our taxi driver. After dinner we took the subway to the empire State Build. When arriving on our floor at the hotel saw Kim Johnson who was in route to Europe. He and 3 others took Paula & I to Greenwich village, we went to a coffee house and then to "The Room at the Bottom."

I keep imagining the drive up skyline, to our house in the trees. I remember seeing the gorillas in the sanctuary in the trees, on the west side of skyline. I keep eating with jay and his family at that place up at the I forget. I can see the mountains going out, out to the ocean on 84. That drive, we zipped that drive in so many cars. I remember looking at his hands, calmly holding the steering wheel in a way I knew I'd never master. Being calm. I was calm when I was with him. I knew that any choice I'd make in the future would include him. Somehow. He was brave. So smart. So opposite of everything that was me. Except we laughed at the same things. He made me laugh a lot.

I am planning my trip to Prague. I am in the house in Woodside. We are at the top of Skyline Blvd, near Alice's Resteraunt. From the large windows in the living room I can see all the way across the bay. I can see ships in the water. I see the tips of a sea of trees. I watch the planes descend, seemingly little by little, across the blue, wavy water. I watch the planes land on the SFO runway. I watch the planes--I watch a lot of planes.