Good Teeth

Under tight white light and tipped back in the dental chair, a stranger’s masked face hovers as she scrapes and pokes. You have good teeth, she says. Thanks for being such a good brusher and flosser.

I long to toss off these credits, if only I could move my mouth. I rarely brush before bed, I want to confess, I’m forgetful in the night, lazy when I’m tired, a procrastinator of the worst degree. I barely tolerate the consistency of toothpaste and I abhor the taste of mint. I floss vigorously the week before dental appointments.

But my mouth is filled with instruments and soon enough the masked woman sprays her cold water rinse and suctions to the drain until I feel cleansed and pure like in baptism. The woman sits me up and removes her mask, smiles. I smile back in silence, taking credit I know I did not earn.

I’ve been thinking about inheritance. My great-grandmother Anna was born in a small German river town on September 1, 1891, one of the youngest of a dozen children. She migrated to this country in 1907. She was 16 years old. The story goes that her sister, two years older, wanted to go to America and Anna offered to go along for the adventure. Anna and her sister earned the money to pay for their ocean voyage by taking in laundry and sewing, and by deep-cleaning local shops in the evenings while they were closed. But shortly before the scheduled trip, the older sister fell ill. She could not travel. Ticket in hand, my 16 year old great grandmother left her large family and boarded the ship alone. We called her Big Mom.

The dentist arrives, and again my chair tilts back. The brightest of lights. Let’s take a look, she says, and with a sharp-pointed instrument she goes about exploring, poking each tooth, my gums. From the adjacent examining room, we hear squeals, then laughter. The man in the chair has swallowed his crown. My dentist laughs with them and, like her assistant before her, offers me praise. You have good teeth, she says, and some really good dental work. I see a few crowns and root canals, and your veneers are beautiful, very well done. Have you had the same dentist all your life?

How to tell her I have moved 30 times; that my mother had a hell of a time getting me to brush at all because I gagged at the taste of mint; that I was bulimic for a decade without suspect; that I saw my first dentist about age 20 when I went to work for a firm that offered dental insurance. I must, I think, have inherited these good strong resilient teeth from my mother, from her mother, from our Big Mom who never spoke ill, never uttered a curse word, loved and welcomed all, and lived healthily and without much medical care (because who in our family could ever afford a doctor, a dentist?) into her 90s.

I cling to the story of Big Mom’s life, her brave voyage, and so with every blistering comment I read and hear about immigrants — go back where you came from, build a wall at the border, towel-head rag-head wet-back, speak English, you are not welcome, get out of my country, children born here should not receive citizenship — I wonder when and where the ancestors of these speakers were born.

I recoil as if by snake bite.

My family has been here a short one hundred years, and I am grateful. Grateful for Big Mom. The brave, healthy, hardworking, determined 16 year old German girl I was born from. The girl who did not speak a word of English when she arrived under the torch of these United States and so could not yet read the welcome: Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Leaving the dentist’s office I feel puffed-up — how American of me — relieved to have once again passed through the gate with kind words and unearned praise and my good dental health despite my inherent laziness, continued distaste of mint, and my staunch lack of commitment to waxed strings of floss.  I take credit where no credit is due.

A decade back there was a dentist in Minnesota who insisted I was raised in one place, possibly on a farm with a well of naturally fluoridated water. I’d thought then, as I often do, of Big Mom. Raised on a small farm in Germany, maybe young Anna was the one with the fluoride and the hard work and I am the one who, generations later, simply reaps the benefits.

I think now of migration, of inheritance, of  my good fortune.  Of Big Mom and German farm towns and my non-American ancestors.  Of my American becoming.  Of the boon of credits I have done nothing to earn but take as my birthright. Of my good teeth.

Poker, Dice Games & Racehorses

I just read this short essay by dear friend and writer Amy Gesenhues about marriage and family and addiction.

And it’s too good not to share.



Part of me, the part that likes to play, wants to write about how my grandfather loved to gamble. The more honest part of me, the part that has sat through too many therapy sessions to count – the part that has spent the last eight years sober, knows my grandfather was addicted to gambling.

Just last week, my cousin unearthed a document signed by our grandfather in 1943. It’s an Abstinence Pledge, but the language about refraining from “intoxicating drink” has been marked out. Instead, Grandpa signed the document, promising, with the help of God, to abstain from all “poker and dice games and racehorses” for the period of ten months.

Click HERE to continue reading.

In Reflection


Gorgeous as they are, these windows are a deception. This is the view from the inside. The outside, a mirror. Birds die here.

Yesterday, within minutes of each other, a wren and a bluebird flew too hard too fast too confident into what they believed to be more of the same—a mirror of soft, green-leafed, cushioned tops of trees—and toward what must have seemed welcoming reflections of themselves. They crashed so hard it jolted us.

Reflection.  I’m thinking about mirrors, our reflections common beside a dining room table and inside the front doors of homes. To make the room feel larger or to make us feel less alone? A last place to check oneself before going out to face the world? A reflection of our faces coming home, of how our day has been lived, enjoyed, survived?

My grandmother, after her car accident with lip torn away and false teeth at 22, avoided all mirrors. Above her dining room table, an enormous  paint-by-numbers of The Lord’s Supper. Inside her front door, a narrow table upon which to throw keys and the mail and grocery lists written on the backs of envelopes. Loose change in a dish.  My homework.  Photos of the family members most in her favor.

When I was 13, I came home from school and within the hour my uncle’s Norwegian Elkhound had flung himself over my grandmother’s carport because he was scared and she would not let the dog in the house during a thunderstorm.  He squeezed through the railing, Nicky did, and jumped.  Just jumped.  His chain was too short.

I found Nicky. I can still see myself leaning over that railing and I can still hear myself screaming. When my uncle arrived to find his dog, his rage and his anger ricocheted from wall to wall in the house.

I held this, this one episode, against my grandmother for decades.

When walking my dog in the mornings, I listen to Mary Karr read her memoir LIT.  In the last paragraphs … “Gliding off a shop window I see my mother’s winged cheekbones and marble complexion and they halt me in my tracks. But it’s only my face, impersonating hers.”

In my driver’s license photo, I see my mother. Stern, unwilling, annoyed. Trapped for hours at the DMV. When I get out of the shower and comb back my gray-black hair, I see my grandmother. Her hairline. Her widow’s peak. My hairline. My widow’s peak.

Reflection.  I read Margaret Atwood’s poem “Siren Song”:

Shall I tell you the secret

and if I do, will you get me

out of this bird suit?

I don’t enjoy it here

squatting on this island

looking picturesque and mythical

with these two feathery maniacs,

I don’t enjoy singing

this trio, fatal and valuable.

This trio, fatal and valuable. My grandmother, my mother, me.

I think of Nicky now and wonder, why didn’t I sneak him into the house, hide him in the basement, bring him in against my grandmother’s will.  My grandmother is dead.  My mother is dead.  I find my own fault.

The birds keep coming, keep crashing into their reflections.

Tuesday I was in the kitchen when I heard the crash. Outside on the deck the bird lay whole and still, too still, neck broken, so I went to find a piece of cloth.

When I picked her up the bird was so warm, so soft, so green in her feathers, still like she was sleeping, just sleeping, and I held her as gently admiringly as I could, supporting her head the way you would hold a newborn.

I look up.  From the outside, from the bird’s view, I see the mirror, the reflection of the trees.  The calling.  I hold her, so fragile and so light, like air in my cupped hands.



*comments are off*

Goodbye to the Summer of Kim Davis

imagesHere in central Kentucky, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis took the summer hostage. Since June 26, when the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal, Ms. Davis has refused to issue marriage licenses and, shockingly, kept her government job, claiming that to issue a license to a same-sex couple violates her faith.

My husband and I are not native Kentuckians. We bought a house here in January in order be closer to our kids, to our families in Indiana and Missouri, and in March we loaded our car in northern California and drove 2,400 miles to our new home in rural Kentucky. Our son lives in Lexington and was thrilled. Our daughter, an easy five-hour drive away in Chicago, worried about us moving to a more conservative area. “You’ve been living in liberal California for a decade,” she said, “What if …”

We are liberal. Yet our daughter need not have worried. The day after we closed on the house, my husband went back to work in California and our new neighbors braved 30-degree temperatures to welcome me at a warm fire pit with wine and roasted hotdogs. When I was scheduled to fly here from San Francisco in February to have some work done on the house, neighbors sent texts and emails warning me not to come: there had been so much snow on our winding, hilly road that I might not make it to my house. Then they offered to dig out my snow-piled driveway if I decided to come anyway. Our neighbors, it turns out, are lovely. And I adore them.

When Kim Davis began dominating the local news, we had lived here only three months. Who was this woman? Where was this woman?

Having no idea where we were in relation, I scanned the map the way you might look for one piece of a jigsaw puzzle to find Rowan County. Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 ruling, Kentucky Governor Beshear and a federal judge have ordered Davis to comply. She doubled down. I recalled the couple I had just seen on the morning news standing before Ms. Davis. “We’ve been together 17 years,” they said. Davis did not reply. And when asked whose authority she refused them on she had two words, “God’s authority.”

I want to give Davis the benefit of my own doubt—I don’t know her, after all— and yet I wonder if there is a benefit to give. What if you requested a marriage license and the clerk could ask you to detail your sex life, how you go about it in the bedroom? What would you say? How would you say it? What if the clerk disapproves your answer? And what of the separation of church and state? If Davis’s religion is truly in opposition to her government job, she needs to resign. The end.

What of ‘do unto others’ and ‘love they neighbor’ and ‘judge not’?

If Davis believes herself an example of religion in action, she is failing. As biologist Richard Dawkins argued, religion can have the unique capacity to make good people do bad things.

When we decided to make our home here, I expected to become a fan of Kentucky basketball. Go Wildcats! I expected quiet, polite conservatism, and since Rush Limbaugh and I share the same Missouri hometown I am accustomed to defending my liberal views no matter the political climate. Healthy debate, a variety of views, is a good thing, right? What I did not expect is that one rural county clerk could hijack the headlines and dominate the landscape as Kim Davis took her religious—her personal and moral—fight against same-sex marriage to the U.S. Supreme Court. This is where the religious freedom faction loses their argument. Doesn’t religious freedom also include freedom from religion?

Earlier this year a man I just met said, “If you don’t mind my asking, how were you raised, what faith do you practice?” I answered that I do not discuss religion, politics, or sex with people I don’t know.

And yet I consider what might have comprised my long-winded response. I could have said I was raised Catholic and left it at that, but this is barely a half-truth. How to explain to a stranger that my mother was excommunicated when my father left her with a one year-old baby (me) and that for years she sought and could never afford an annulment; that my grandfather, who horrifically abused my grandmother in secret, was so publicly respected and devout that the monsignor himself came weekly to give him communion; that no one in my family went to church. Add the Church’s numerous pedophilia scandals (the most recent, this week, right up the road in Louisville), my belief in marriage equality and my fierce defense of a woman’s right to choose, and this day, I am at a loss.

How to answer the question of one’s belief system in a single sound bite?

What do I believe?

I believe my beliefs are a work in progress.

I believe I am still learning.

I think of those two men in Davis’s office, a couple in love and life for 17 years, requesting a marriage license and my heart breaks at the public shaming they have been forced to endure. And for what? What if these men are lovely and kind? What if they are not? What if they are generous or warm or thoughtful? What if they are the people you would call in the most dire emergency?

Is their gayness the most interesting, the most important, thing about them?

Is my belief system the most interesting thing about me?

As these weeks, these months, have dragged by, I see Kim Davis representing my new home to the world, dominating our morning and evening news, and I want to pull her aside and ask: What does it feel like to have “the” answer? What happened to the basic tenet Love Thy Neighbor? What is it like to be so sure you are right?

Curious as to the thoughts of my fellow Kentuckians, on September 1st I viewed the online quiz offered by WKYT, our local CBS news affiliate. Do you think Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis should resign or continue fighting?

Continue fighting: 32.30%

Resign: 50.08%

Issue marriage licenses: 17.62%

I voted. I chose the last option. I want to give Kim Davis a chance.

In refusing to back down, in refusing to resign her government position, in hiring legal counsel and filing documents, Kim Davis has made herself the focus of a years-long fight that has already been fought, and lost.

What, other than more divisiveness, is to be gained?

Rowan County is the same size as my own small Kentucky county. I wonder if Kim Davis has ever considered what might happen if she decided to issue those licenses, to be a good neighbor, to get to know those “outsiders” requesting same-sex marriage licenses instead of filing lawsuits.

In her memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion wrote, “Time is the school in which we learn.” What if Kim Davis simply said, “I’ve learned something this summer.”

As a new friend here in Kentucky recently said, “Are we required to hold our ground, to hold one view, to believe the same thing all our lives? Can we not grow and learn and reconsider and change our minds?”

What might happen, what might all of us learn about the rigidity in ourselves and our beliefs, if Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis decided—without lawsuit or appeal, without the Governor’s or the U.S. Supreme Court’s mandate, without sitting in jail and feeding the fires of divisiveness—to love her gay neighbor?

Would she be vilified and shunned by her church, her community?

Or would she be hailed a local hero?

What if Kim Davis decided to say goodbye to this summer. What if she decided to stop fighting. What if loving her neighbor became the most interesting thing about her.

This Is Why I Am A Bad Book Club Member

These are the books I’ve brought home in the last 2 weeks.  I feel like I must read them ALL immediately.  And by immediately I mean tonight.  Before I go to sleep.


(I just paused this blog post to order the first 3 of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels about female friendship.  And Italy. Hundreds of pages. An epic saga.  I can’t wait for them to arrive!)


This is Olivia.  She is visiting.  She doesn’t give a rat about my reading problems.


This summer I bought a new cookbook and—since I now live in a place where I can’t order a pizza—tried to make homemade pizza dough.  It took at least a dozen hours.  I failed.  What is Double Zero Flour, does anyone know?


These are the books I’ve read and loved most this summer.  They are brilliant and heartbreaking and funny and smart and gutting.  These books have changed me, and I thank them.


When not reading, this is where I am.  In a Gilligan hat.  I keep hearing the lake is too dirty to swim in.  I don’t care.  Plus I don’t even really know how to swim, so there’s that.


This is the book I just started.  I’m 34 pages in and it’s fiction but it takes place in NewOrleans and it’s 10 years after Katrina and dammit I need to know who else is reading it so we can talk about it!


The Cycle — One Year Later

A year ago, I wrote THE CYCLE in response to the Ray Rice domestic violence incident and the question, Why does she stay?

 Here’s what I’ve learned since writing it:

I’ve learned as with every celebrity-centered event—even one as horrific as Ray coldcocking his wife in that elevator and dragging her limp, lifeless, unconscious body out the door—the news cycle moves on. One year later, the words “Ray Rice” has devolved into a single concern: What about Ray, will he play football again?

I’ve learned that, if there is no videotape of a domestic violence incident, the NFL continues to give the benefit, even in lack of much doubt, to the offender. (see Greg Hardy, Ray McDonald, and Adrian Peterson)

I used to remember my grandmother most specially on December 7, her birthday. I’ve learned I will now remember her most lovingly, most compassionately, and most of all heartbreakingly, during the NFL preseason.

Brockmire Grandparents

My grandmother is about 35 years old in this photo.

All of the incidents I recorded below have already happened to her.

There is no video.



When I was 16, my high school boyfriend backhanded me across the face, with a beer bottle in his hand. We were in his baby blue car, on our way to his house, and his father was the first to look up from watching golf on TV and notice my newly forming bruise, the swelling next to my eye. His father lost it. My boyfriend cowered and slunk down to the basement; his dad, apologetic about his son, drove me home.

It was never mentioned again.

But we dated for another year. Because, of course, I “loved” him. Awwwww. And, honestly, I figured my sassy mouth provoked him.


One of my biggest regrets is something I said to my mother right before she died.

She was in severe pain and respiratory distress, shaking and sweating, a good hour from her next painkiller. She said, “I wish you didn’t hate your grandmother. She had a hard life.”

To which I said, “Bullshit, Mom. Everybody has a hard life.”

‘Round and ’round we went until the nurse came and gave my mother her last morphine shot. I remember my mother’s last meal was meat-stuffed-peppers, in cold tomato sauce, nursing home style. And my bullshit words ended up being some of the last words I ever said to her while feeding her with a spoon.


My mother was right.

Her mother, my grandmother, led a horrific life. Her husband was older and controlling and mentally and physically abusive. Within a few months of their marriage, she tried to leave him, tried to go home to her parents. Her father said, “Go home. You made your bed, you lay in it.”

My grandmother had 9 children, which included a stepdaughter who was allowed to, and encouraged to, call her a “whore.”

My grandmother was not allowed to work, was not allowed to drive a car, was not even allowed to learn how to drive a car.

When my grandmother was newly married, she was out one day, laughing and having a good time, riding in a car with her girlfriends, when they missed a stop and ran up under a tractor trailer and, while they all survived, they were all seriously injured. I have the newspaper clipping.

My grandmother was in her early 20’s; her lower lip had been almost completely ripped off; her teeth were shoved violently up into her face; she was unconscious; they did not know if she would survive.

She survived. However, my grandfather would not allow her to have plastic surgery. As was his choice. He was, after all, “the husband.” He said, I heard, that this would keep her at home, keep her from “running around.” He allowed the kid-doctors in the emergency room to repair her lower lip, her face. She got false teeth. She was not yet 25.

She did not leave.

One time he came home drunk and threw her outside into the yard, in her night gown. Then he sat inside the door, all through the night while their children (supposedly) slept, with his shotgun and dared her to try and come inside.

She did not leave.

One time he threw her down the basement stairs, while pregnant, and her baby boy came too early. That boy, my Uncle Jerry, would grow to man-size, but would never speak, never walk, and never leave a crib. He remained in diapers for all of his 50 years on this earth.

She did not leave.


When my mother and her sisters divorced their husbands —- and there were A LOT of divorces — she had a hard time supporting them. I see, now, how jealous she must have been. It was the 70’s and 80’s, the height of feminism. How her daughters, unlike her, were allowed and even encouraged, to leave.

When I left my first young husband after barely one year, my grandmother was so angry. She called me on the phone, in my new single-bedroom apartment, and said, “What’s wrong with you?! You’re leaving him, and he has a good job, but he doesn’t beat you, or anything!”


I still think about that beer-bottle bruise, my boyfriend’s father, and how I didn’t take it seriously. At all. I figured I’d asked for it. I think about my last, thoughtless, words to my mother: “Bullshit, Mom. Everybody has a hard life.”

I was wrong.


Where Nothing Happens

Woke up this morning to another shooting, this time in Roanoke, Virginia.  All of it caught live on camera and documented by the gunman himself on social media.


I check my social media feed. I am bombarded with dozens of photos like this:





































This piece documents the cost of gun violence in America.


This is where Gun Control advocates like me say we need to do something about our fascination—our obsession—with guns, and write pieces like this:

Let’s Talk About Guns

Let’s Talk About Guns … Again

This is where the Gun Lobby people quote the 2nd Amendment and say Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

This is where nothing happens.