Leanne Grabel, M.Ed., is a writer, illustrator, performer & special education teacher (in semi-retirement). Currently, Grabel is teaching graphic flash memoir to adults in several arts centers and retirement communities throughout the Pacific Northwest. In love with mixing genres, Grabel has written & produced numerous spoken-word multi-media shows, including “The Lighter Side of Chronic Depression”; and “Anger: The Musical.” Her poetry books include Lonesome & Very Quarrelsome Heroes; Short Poems by a Short Person; Badgirls (a collection of flash non-fiction & a theater piece); & Gold Shoes, a collection of graphic prose poems [https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/gold-shoes-by-leanne-grabel/]. Grabel has just completed Tainted Illustrated, an illustrated stretched memoir, which is being serialized in THE OPIATE. She is working on a compilation of 45 years of illustrated writing, as well as a collection of flash memoir about her long-ass marriage called HUSBAND. She and her husband Steve Sander are the founders of Café Lena, Portland’s legendary poetry hub of the 90s.
A l p i n e S t r e e t
There it is. The house I lived in from age 0 to 11. 1951-1962. The heart of baby boomer family
living. There used to be more vegetation. Poofs of geraniums and honeysuckle. Four-foot hedges of cypress oblong like French rolls. We had a nice fence. No signs of wear. There was a white station wagon in the driveway. A slightly used Cadillac. Usually gaudy. If it weren't for that pick-up. The size of a studio apartment. The stained shades drawn. Windows covered in brown paper. Chipped paint on the garage. Moldy fence posts. Trees barren as starving children. I might have knocked. And asked to take a peek at my formative years. Let those bulky memories tumble all over me. But I didn't.
Back then. The air was a chaos of unrealized dreams. All the new moms and new dads. So many
expectations. All that naiveté. All that irritation. The dreams went unrealized. All that
irritation. My father wanted to be Yul Brynner and my mother wanted to be Audrey Hepburn. Yes.
There was lots of yelling. Lots of drawers and doors slamming. Yes. We all learned to shout. We
copied their fat, harsh tones.
I don't remember my bedspread. I doubt it was the one I wanted. I usually wanted the most expensive one. The fluffiest. Ruffliest. The most lavender. But my mother said lavender was a Mexican color. She made me get white. I had to share my room with my sister. I was mean to her. I snarled. I woke her up in the middle of the night to tell her she was breathing too loudly.
We moved to a bigger house in 1962. Then we moved to a smaller house. And then we moved to a house way up a hill. Eventually. I went to college. My father quit farming. When his land flooded. He got a real estate license. And started selling farms. He used the houses to fund his deals. Sometimes things worked. And sometimes they didn't.
In the 80s. My parents owned a huge modern house. With a personal dock. On a man-made lake. At the edge of town. It was fabulous. There were wall-to-wall windows looking out on the water. My father sat on the end of the dock. And fed the ducks. He bought bags and bags of stale white bread. From the Rainbow Outlet.
One of his caregivers painted him. Sitting on the dock. Surrounded by ducks. Smoking a
cigar. It's a great painting. My sister's got it. She should. She liked him best. But that
caregiver stole my father's best cufflinks. So there you go.
My father had bad luck. In the end. He was a man without a house. I have a photo of my father. When he was around 30. His face is so bright and undefeated. He looks just like Yul Brynner. With that strong and shiny head. I can barely look at it.
C h o c o l a t e C a k e
Our skins didn’t really go together. Like skins are supposed to. Mothers and babies. Like
butter. Sometimes textures and odors are off. She sniffed me. I don't think she liked it. My
sweet baby smell went sour in her nose. She didn’t snuggle. Or nuzzle. Was I too small? Too dark? Too serious? She didn't have a smell to me. I couldn't smell her at all. I think I wanted more
bosom. More lap. More baking and frying. More chocolate cake. Indulgence? She didn’t like
it. I remember. This one time. I was three. She was sitting at her vanity. Big mirrors all around.
She was putting on make-up. She held a gold coin of rouge. She was patting it into her cheeks. With a tiny white pillow. On tiptoes. I could barely see over the table. I was straining to see. It was
magical. I was mesmerized. Now. I wonder which disappointment came first? Hers or mine? Yes. We finally got over it. She was first. Impressive. I was later. But I loved it. When my mother began
to lustily eat. And cling. Yes. I clung back. Yes. We both. Yes. Got over it. It was late. But we
High School Reunion
It was my 45th high school reunion. Class of '69. Stockton. A small hot dusty San Joaquin Valley
town. Before Silicon Valley turned it into a suburb. A massively annoying 80 miles away. We were
all 63 years old. Most of us were wearing our lives on our faces like pantyhose. (Well, maybe not
quite that bad.) But my God. Eric Werner. What happened? He was such a deliciousn dreamboat. Way out of my league. From Stockton pioneers. He was utterly unrecognizable. Round and big- bellied. Like a nesting doll. Red-faced as a dodge ball. His brown boots were large as dumpsters. With enormous tarnished buckles. And his old girlfriend Cissy had bags beneath her eyes. Really big ones. Like kadota figs. As if storing all four decades of woe in them.
I thought the beautiful girls avoided all that woe. I thought the white girls with freckles and
darling noses avoided all that woe. It was tragic to see them like that.
So sullied. So stomped on by life. I used to bow at their feet. They were swollen. And slack. It was tragic to see them like that.
Gary Eberson was bouncing off the walls. He had to be high. In a smooth pair of vintage white bucks. O. I was duly impressed. By his style. I tried to want him. But really didn't.
Old boyfriends of others were holding up chalkboards. Old girlfriends were brushing the chalk
dust off their skirts. Billy Goldberg starting sticking out his tongue. In a lewd way. It was
silly. Nobody ever liked Billy. You can see why. And then the tone of his voice. Like priming the
I came back as a blonde. It was the opposite of before. My hair was black. Yes. Black. I wore
a form-fitting dress. It was the opposite of before. It was bright as salmon roe.
I was looking for a feeling that was the opposite of before. The feeling of winning. At everything.
Boys. Sports. The feeling of anchoring relays. Of running. Hands open. Palming the baton.
Sprinting. Chest open. Leading. Winning.
Then I fell off my shoes. They were serious high heels. (It was the opposite of
before.) I was trying to dance. In serious high heels. I was trying to have everyone watch me. And
I fell off my shoes. I landed on the ground. Many swarmed to help me. They'd been watching. They were already watching. They were watching before.
Last July. I rode 11 miles crosstown on my 7-speed cruiser. To have lunch with Donny.
Unfortunately. The last few were in the wrong direction. The city grid is abstract. And I don't
have a sense of direction. (Yes. That's a layered statement.)
Donny was a hometown boy. I met him at a party when I was 24. Two weeks later. We moved to Oregon. I was extremely attracted to his ponytail. It was blond as golden grain. It was the opposite of me. And Donny's eyes were see-through blue. Like chiffon. My god.
When I met Donny. I'd already graduated from a prestigious university. Been raped by gunpoint. Been to Europe wearing a backpack. And hiking books. With a copy of Be Here Now in my pea coat pocket. I'd quit my dream job. And had perhaps two dozen lovers . . . well, sex partners. More like biological release. Burping. I was sexually gassy.
When I met Donny. He'd watched his father punch his mother in the face a dozen times. He'd punched his father. Knocked him down to the ground. And left for good. His father had one of those faces. An ever-red forests of veins on his face. When I met Donny. He'd already let a large part of his zest die. It didn't matter. He seemed to like me.
Donny actually grew up down the street from me. Two miles down Swain. Turn left. Go half a block. I never met him. We went to different schools. I was down at my house. Bumping against the loudness. Straining to win. Wincing at the prize. A spray of disappointment was spitting from the family stewpot.
A couple months later. Donny and I broke up. That ponytail was not enough to hold us together. It
was his idea. I was without will or vision. Or the ability to give anything except my body. I
could have stayed with Donny. Forever.
When Donny left. I wrote heartbreak poems. My heart however was not broken. Not by
Donny. He knew that. Virginia knew. She shouted at me at that one open mike. GET REAL! I thought about my fraudulence. For the next 4 decades.
Now. 43 years later. I ride my bike 11 miles crosstown. To have lunch with Donny. I do it once
a year. For his birthday. The route is flat. But not straightforward. The food is good. I
have a brie and fresh herb omelet. And there are gluten-free scones.
But Donny says he hates Stephen Colbert. And Hillary is an evil bitch. Before we even get our
coffee. I instantly feel like I used to feel. Covered in molasses. In January. I decide to
leave. My vision and will grab my hands wearing fabulous gloves. We leave. We leap.