Tuesday, March 17, 2015

dog

I wish I could be more dog
     more on my back in the grass, sun warming my belly
     more determined buzzing insect hunter
     more devoted to another
     more rolling, jumping and twisting
     more soulful, searching eyes
     more waiting for further information
     more chasing rabbits while I sleep
     more absolute passion towards every morsel I consume
     more standing by, no matter how long it takes
     more unrestrained joy when I see the one I adore
     more sharp curiosity about new faces
     more determination to fight a threat, even before it's fully identified
     more pulling on my leash to see what's around the corner
     more diving in with glee
I wish I could be more dog


Sunday, March 15, 2015

ode to the one to whom I am addicted

You consume me.
I consume you.
Your sweetness calls to me and draws me near.
My token resistance stems from my awareness
       the you do not nourish me.
Nay, you increase my unhealthy ways.
And yet, I want you more and more.

I gaze at you sometimes, as you sit near me, unaware.
And I, longing for you, want to cry.
You're oblivious.
It will have to be my move.
No, I think, I will NOT DO IT.
But sooner or later ... I slink in your direction.

Pecan Pralines from Trader Joe's ...
     you undo me.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

croissant

I lift the pillowy dough onto the cookie sheet while you taste the coffee I made for you. "These should be ready in about 15 minutes." You nod, surveying my croissant operation. You reach out and tuck a strand of hair behind my ear, lingering to caress my cheek. You wouldn't be so impressed if you knew I bought the frozen dough from the grocery store yesterday. Best thing since sliced bread - just leave out overnight to thaw and proof. And delicious!

The oven light goes off, so I scoot the cookie sheet in and set the timer. I bring out butter and cut some into a ramekin, setting it on the stove top to soften. You gather me up, holding your body against mine. Your nose is buried in my hair. I try to remember when I last washed it. Does it smell good, I wonder? "I don't know what I like best," you whisper, "the way you look, the way you smell, or the way you taste."

Months later, after I've left you, I still have to admit that your line, which you may or may not have said to dozens of women before me, is still the best I've ever heard. I smile when I think of it, which is every time I bite into a freshly baked croissant, forever linked to the feel of your beard scratching my cheek and to the scent of coffee on your sweet lips.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

full disclosure

In Wellesley, Massachusetts, our house was built on a hilly lot. The original owner carefully landscaped to create an upper front yard and a lower front yard. Into both sections, Daddy had sunk empty orange juice cans into the dirt to create our own miniature golf course around which we happily played. The back yard was a largely ignored hill of weeds with a narrow stretch of green at the top of the hill next to the back of the house. I remember Daddy standing almost at the top of a very tall ladder, painting our house a brick red color, just prior to selling the house.

But this day was long before that. It was before the sad day I stood on the platform crying, watching my brother board the train that would take him off to college in Virginia and, unbeknownst to me, out of my life pretty much forever, except for occasional family reunions and rare, strained telephone conversations populated by rapid fire questions on my end and monosyllabic responses on his.

It was long before my oldest sister went off to college in North Carolina, leaving me to take over her tiny bedroom with the built-in furniture. Her departure didn't leave me feeling sad because she made it clear that my mere presence made her want to scream, an opinion that lasted throughout our adult lives until very recently, when she seems to have had a change of heart.

And it was long before Dad and Mom divorced, changing the lives of my other sister and me, leaving us bereft and vulnerable. For without Dad's presence, Mom's narcissism blossomed and we were left mostly to fend for ourselves. My sister descended into depression which still plagues her to this day. And I exploded into a million pieces, flying out into the world without a compass or the experience necessary to tell the difference between a friend or a predator. I would pay the price for all of us.

But that was all in the future. On this day, I was an innocent, unaware at 7 years old, of anything awful that might lie in the future. I was finally speaking English fluently, which meant that cruel taunts from other children were a thing of the past. After answering "I forget" a thousand times, they had stopped asking me to "speak some Japan". In fact, I don't think anyone really remembered that I had ever talked funny.

My best friend Joanne and her younger brother Michael were visiting at our house, We were playing together, laughing and enjoying ourselves. Suddenly, Michael proposed a new game. He said he would show me his if I would show him mine. I didn't know what that meant. He explained that we were different. Well, I certainly DID want to see!!! So we gave each other a glimpse. There was no touching or anything sexual. It was just a show and tell. But afterwards, Joanne spoke to Michael. "Now you know we have to tell Father Donovan what we did." Michael answered, "I know."

What? Who was Father Donovan and why did they have to tell him what we did? Joanne explained to me that they went to something called Confession every week and told Father Donovan anything bad that they did during the week. I was mortified. If they were telling an adult what we did, it was only a matter of time before that adult would tell my parents. I was going to be in BIG trouble. I lived in fear for several weeks after that day, just waiting for the day when one or both of my parents would seek me out to have a conversation about what I had done. But it never happened. It was years before I understood why.

I would like to propose a change in the way Catholic children are trained. I believe they should be taught to provide FULL DISCLOSURE prior to participating in sinful behavior with non-Catholic children. In fact, I would suggest documentation, complete with signatures. The non-Catholic child would thus be protected from many weeks of terror and the process might just prevent all of the children from doing anything.

Joanne might have said, "Wait a minute, Michael. We have to go over the disclosure statement with Cathy before we go any further."

I/we JOANNE and MICHAEL do hearby disclose to CATHY that we are Catholic children. Each week, we meet with our priest and tell him all of the naughty things that we did during the week. He listens and metes out certain punishments, usually repetitive prayers. He keeps all information to himself and does not share our information with any other living human being. So there is no way that CATHY'S parents will find out what we did here today.

Maybe I might have still done it. But I don't think so. I think the whole disclosure process would have dampened my enthusiasm for what we had previously discussed. I would probably have suggested a nice game of miniature golf instead.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

janine

She stands at the sink washing her hands, singing the birthday song under her breath. She glances up to find a shocking image. Mismatched pajamas. She looks at her light blue Land's End cotton three quarter sleeve pajama top, which is on inside out. She vaguely remembers throwing it off during the night when she found she was burning up, then rooting for it in the pile of clothes next to her bed when she felt cold again. With it, she's wearing red flannel pajama bottoms that are two sizes too large. Faded penguins wearing scarves and hats decorate the pants. She's had those flannel pajama bottoms for 20 years.

Worse than the mismatched pajamas, she can not remember when she last showered or even washed her hair. She leans in close and studies her skin, not that she can see the dirt and oil that is probably there. She bares her teeth and she CAN see the gunk there. Quickly, she grabs her toothbrush, squirts some Colgate on it and brushes her teeth, followed by a mouthwash blast that makes her shake her head. That will have to do for now. She has Venomhide Ravasaurs to kill.

Monday, December 29, 2014

ever ever ever

"You don't EVER have what I want. EVER. EVER.

"EVER EVER EVER"

These were the exact words I heard from a customer today. It made me laugh after she exited the premises. Every time I think about it, I laugh more. She said the word EVER six times. On purpose! I just can't imagine how much energy she uses to hold on to her misery. It has to be a heavy load. Where does she find the strength to carry it? And how many other people pay the price?


Friday, October 24, 2014

eddie

Mama woke me up early, whisperin' in my ear to be real quiet. When I went to the bathroom to pee, I seen Uncle Max layin' in the bed snorin'. His feet was stickin' out from under the sheet and he had one sock on and one sock off. He had one arm thrown over his shoulder and he was clutchin' his willie with the other. It embarrassed me.

I went in the kitchen. Mama was pourin' me a bowl of cereal. "I want bacon and eggs," I said. "Shhhhhhh," she said, "You get cereal this mornin'. Did you wash your hands?"

I looked up at her. "Yes ma'am." She scowled at me and whispered, "GO wash your HANDS."

When I got back, one of the little dogs was standin' on my chair lickin' milk out my bowl. I scooted him away and sat down to eat my cereal. Mama came over chewin' on a piece of toast. "Ain't you havin' no coffee?" I asked. She just shook her head.

After I finished, she took me in the bathroom and scrubbed me with a washcloth in the sink. Then she slicked my hair down. "Now put on some clean drawers and socks and get your Sunday suit on. We're goin' someplace special." I didn't like the sound of that, but I did what she said. Maybe there'd be candy in it.

Mama weared a flowered dress and some pretty shoes I ain't seen before. She had her face painted, like when she goes to parties. We walked down to the bus stop. She looked at me when we was standin' and waitin' for the bus. "Try to stay clean, Eddie," but her face said she didn't think I could do it. I made up my mind to prove her wrong.

The bus came and the doors opened. On the bus, men looked at Mama like she was their favorite flavor of ice cream. Uncle Max wouldn't like that, but he wasn't with us. Sometimes he got mad when men looked at Mama like that. One time he punched a man cause he whistled at Mama. I glared at the men who was smilin' at Mama. Maybe I would punch one, I thought. But I didn't. The bus smelled of gasoline and turnip greens. That's not good.

Then the bus was movin'. "Where we goin', Mama?" I asked. She said we was goin' to pay our respects. I wondered why we had to dress up to go get a bill paid, but before I could ask, I seen Frankie on his bike and I banged on the bus window to try to get his attention. He didn't see me.

The bus stopped in town and we got off. Then we waited a while for another bus to come. Another lady come walkin' down the road towards us holdin' the hand of a little girl in a yellow dress. I watched 'em sideways and the girl was skippin' a little. When they got close, I could hear the girl singin' a little song. Then she seen me and she stopped her skippin' and singin'. She hid behind her mother, then peeked and stuck out her tongue. Mama was lookin' at me so I couldn't do it back.

When the next bus came, the lady and the girl got on. Then we got on. When we passed by their seats, I fake sneezed real loud. Mama gave me the look that means business. We sat down a few rows back. The bus started up. This bus smelled like the inside of Mr. Jessup's new car. I tried to stay awake by lookin' out the window, but I couldn't. I slept with my head in Mama's lap, don't know how long.

Mama woke me up and spit on her hand to slick my hair down. I hate when she does that. The lady and the little girl was gone. We walked down the street until we got to a church, but it wasn't our church. People was goin' in, all dressed nice, but it wasn't anybody I knew. "Is it Sunday?" I asked. "No," Mama said, "It's a funeral." When we walked up the steps into the church, people looked at us real funny, like we was movie stars or somethin'. Men was smilin' at Mama, but not in the bad way that makes Uncle Max mad. It was nice. The women that looked our way had their eyebrows up, but they was smilin' too. We sat towards the back.

People in front kept lookin' around at us. Mama would smile at folks. Then the preacher came out and talked some. I needed to use the bathroom and I whispered to Mama. She shushed me. I didn't need to pee. I needed to take a dump. But Mama was firm on makin' me stay. I felt a right good gopher tryin' to get out. I squeezed my bottom to try to pull it back in. It almost worked. I asked Mama again. She shushed me again. Then another man was talkin' and it was so quiet you could touch the air. I forgot about needin' the bathroom and watched and listened. Then we sang a song about a submarine. Mama looked real happy right then. I laughed. She squeezed my shoulder.

Then everything was over and we walked to the back of the church. Mama asked a man where the bathroom was and he pointed us down a hall. I went in and let the gopher go and came back out. Mama pointed to the sink. I looked in the mirror while I washed my hands. My red hair was stickin' up in the back like a woodpecker crest. I was embarrassed and tried to put some water on my head. Mama hissed at me and took out her comb and went to work on my head. When she was done, it was time to go home. I never did get no candy.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

aunt z

Aunt Zeusifina won't eat chicken and she's happy to tell you why. She grew up with chickens and swears she has seen them eating things that she does not want in her body. Like what, I asked her and she listed some of the things she had personally witnessed a chicken consume.

Spiders
Crickets
Worms
Baby birds
Yarn
Bees
Shredded paper
Pickles
Marshmallows
Dried beans
Elm tree leaves
Doritos
Paint chips
Cigarette butts

What amazes me about the list and about Aunt Zeusifina's objections is that she happily eats a half pound of bacon any morning it's made available to her at the Shady Maple assisted living facility. A pig will probably eat everything on that list, but that doesn't seem to bother Aunt Z. Maybe the power of bacon is just so big that it drowns out objections of any kind.

I asked Aunt Z if she would eat chicken if it was wrapped in bacon. That reminded her of a trip to Paris she took back in the 1950's when Uncle Morrow was still alive. She said that the city was beautiful and that the food was fancy. But Uncle Morrow took to speaking English with a French accent and shouting "Zut!" whenever something was frustrating him. Aunt Z said she was embarrassed when French people looked at them as if they were tiny, amusing insects - the type that a chicken might eat.

Uncle Morrow died in a car accident out on Route 49. He was driving slow, like always, and a pick-up truck tried to pass him in a no-pass zone, only to find itself facing an oncoming 18 wheeler. Uncle Morrow steered off the road, the pick-up driver swerved back into his lane and the 18 wheeler passed, probably without ever knowing what happened. Uncle Morrow, unfortunately, crashed right into a tree and was killed instantly. At his funeral, the preacher made a big deal about his sacrifice. Aunt Z said he was probably just trying to avoid getting a dent in his brand new Buick. He was not, she said, the sacrificial type. But she left it alone because she thought it would be rude to argue with the preacher at her own husband's funeral.

The details of Uncle Morrow's funeral were still etched in the minds of all who attended. Sitting on the back row was a woman with platinum blonde hair. Nobody knew who she was. She had a small child with her who fidgeted through the entire service. The woman kept shushing the little boy, who was very cute with copper colored hair. Since Uncle Morrow had copper colored hair, the rumors started right up and continued long after the casket was in the ground and the last of the casseroles had been thawed, baked and consumed.

I asked Aunt Z if she wondered who that woman was. Aunt Z said she didn't wonder because she knew. I asked her who it was and Aunt Z said that some things were best left mysterious, that to bring them out into the light made them look ugly. It was best to let people exercise their creativity in conjuring all of the possible explanations for the blonde woman and the copper-haired boy. Later, I tried to approach it again by casually asking Aunt Z if she thought I had relatives out there I had never met. From the look she gave me, I could tell I hadn't fooled her one bit. "Most of us do," she said and that was the end of that.

At Uncle Morrow's funeral, we sang "Nothing But The Blood" and "Wayfarin' Stranger" and "I'd Rather Have Jesus" and "Blessed Assurance." Then we sang a song you don't typically hear at funerals, especially in the rural South. We sang "We All Live in a Yellow Submarine." Everybody in that church could easily be divided into one of two groups during the singing of that song. You could tell who was who by the looks on their faces. One group had their eyebrows knitted together and were looking around in either confusion or outrage. They sang softly or not at all. The other half had big shit-eating grins on their faces and were belting out the song loud enough to be heard all the way to Atlanta.

I asked Aunt Z why we sang that song. She said Uncle Morrow had always said he wanted that sung at his funeral. He never said why. But she figured she owed him that since he had served his country in Vietnam and had supported her through all their years together. And sometimes, she said, you just go along with something your spouse wants because you know sooner or later you'll want something a little crazy and you'll want your spouse to humor you. "It's a two way street," Aunt Z said, "and the road twists and turns right much."

One other thing happened at the funeral that everybody talked about. When it came time for the eulogy, it was given by none other than Rufus "Snap" Baumgardner, Uncle Morrow's sworn enemy. After being the best of buddies all the way from infancy through high school, they fell out just after they both came home from Vietnam. And it was all because of some girl they both loved, but neither one ended up with.  Her name was Edna Grisham and she had been the beauty of our small town in their day. She was dating Uncle Morrow when he and Snap left for boot camp. They traded letters all through his time overseas. But Snap had been injured and came home early. Edna's letters got few and far between during the next 6 months and by the time Uncle Morrow got home, Edna and Snap were engaged. They gave Uncle Morrow the news the same day he came home. Uncle Morrow never spoke to Snap again, even after his engagement to Edna ended, even after Edna left Mapleton, even after Edna married a real estate tycoon in New York City.

So why was Snap giving the eulogy? Uncle Morrow asked him to in a sealed letter that Aunt Z delivered to him shortly after the car accident. And Snap talked about him as if they'd been friends for all of those years. It was as if nothing had ever happened. Snap even talked about each of Uncle Morrow's children and grandchildren, with details that only a close friend of the family would have known. Everyone was speechless after that eulogy.

I asked Aunt Z how Snap had known all that stuff about our family. She said it was a small town and everybody probably knew that stuff. But Snap said things that even I didn't know. Like he said my cousin Jeff was learning how to make pottery and had made a special pot for Uncle Morrow's ashes, if Aunt Z decided to cremate Uncle Morrow. (She didn't.) I didn't know that until Snap said it. People whispered about it in the church meeting hall after the funeral. I know because I heard them as I went through the buffet line. I had a fried chicken leg, some potato salad, green beans, half of a pimiento cheese sandwich, three olives, some boiled potatoes with parsley (which I scraped off), two slices of ham and a cupcake. Jeff asked me if I wanted a slice of Devil's Food Cake. I said no. There's some things I just won't eat. Anything with the devil's name in it can not be a good thing.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

staying

Oh, light of early morning, chasing fear away and bringing with you a promise, and permission to believe that all things are possible, that nothing is decided just yet. You let me envision joy and the utter relaxation of knowing I did the right thing - that the staying was my best and boldest act. Because running has often been my greatest skill. But staying has been hard, particularly when surrounded by voices that hissed or screamed or whispered - "GO!"

I may yet find that the many voices were right and that the staying was my most ridiculous act - repeated a multitude of times over many, many years. But just in this moment, as the hint of a sun creates hazy pinks and melting oranges across the purple Arizona mountains, I allow myself to imagine the joy that will accompany the sweet knowledge that he was worth it. I stayed and we were worth it. I stayed and we are better for it, a faith rewarded by the sigh of a shared slow release of breath and the sweet smiles as we look into each other's eyes.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

susan

Susan was two weeks overdue for her monthly trip to the Hair Castle. Her short cut was looking a little shaggy and her mustache was making its presence known. One of the cruel ironies of aging is that your eyesight begins to go just as your body decides to sprout little black hairs in places you would never have dreamed they would grow. Susan had still not recovered from the view in the 5X magnification pocket mirror she had purchased. So many dark hairs on her face!!! Horrible. How did Charlie find her attractive? Well, his eyesight was going too, she supposed.

Looking in the mirror in her giant "spa" bathroom, she worked with some hair wax to shape her unruly hair into something a little less mad-scientist and a little more just-in-from-the-beach. She wasn't satisfied but it would have to do. Lunch with the Optimist Club was not exactly a major social event, but she would see many people who played a role in her business life, so she didn't want to look disheveled. She wore her red suit, which she always felt confident in, and black pumps. Her daughter had recently convinced her to forego the panty hose, so her legs were bare. That felt quite peculiar, but she supposed she would get used to it eventually. Gold earrings, Tiffany necklace and Coach purse. She was ready.

As she made her way down the stairs, she fantasized about quitting the Optimist Club. She wasn't an optimist and she had no desire to participate in any of the activities or fundraisers. In fact, she hated everything except the lunches at Rita's. She was very fond of Rita's pies. But one could not live in a small, Southern town and not belong to a civic organization. Susan wondered how many people in the Optimist Club felt the way she did. And which was the greater virtue? Being the kind of person who DID want to be there? Or being the kind of person who DIDN'T want to be there, but who attended faithfully anyway?

In the car now, she pressed the button for the garage door. She adjusted the mirror and applied her lipstick as the door rolled up. She put the car in gear and started forward, but jammed the brake pedal when she saw two boys with Halloween masks on, standing in her driveway with their peckers hanging out. They were wiggling their hips around so their small penises danced around in the air. Before she could react, they ran off. Honestly, why did boys and men always think the world revolved around their private parts? Even Charlie unveiled his as if she should be newly astonished and impressed every time she saw that thing. And she played her part, oohing and aahing over it and everything he did with it. To be honest though, she could have easily lived without ever seeing it again. But she'd never tell HIM that! Oh, no!

Driving down the hill towards town, she passed by other large houses with immaculate lawns. Is this my life? Is this all there is ever going to be? Susan felt like rolling down her window and screaming out, "Lord, give me some magic and excitement!" She would give anything to find herself transported to another life, one in which she had a daily dose of fun. Maybe she could become an artist and live on a commune. She waved at her neighbor Jimmy, out walking Aristotle, the little frou-frou dog that he shared with his roommate, Howard. Everyone knew they were a couple, but since they never talked about it, nobody ever said anything - not to their faces, anyway.

Crap. She had forgotten her list. She didn't have time to go back, so she'd just have to try to remember what was on it. She knew she needed to grab some crafting supplies. The grandchildren were coming home with her after church on Sunday so Mike & Shelly Ann could have some "alone time," as they called it. Susan planned to make Christmas ornaments with the two older kids during nap time for the youngest. It would be an ungodly mess, but they would have fun and Shelly Ann would be forced to hang the tacky things on her precious tree. Susan smiled to think of it. She didn't care for her daughter-in-law who had a permanent case of one-upmanship that mainly ran towards comparing her things to Susan's things. If Shelly Ann actually found herself liking something that Susan had, she would drop hints about it, hoping that Susan would give it to her. Susan sometimes packed an item and put it away, just so she could lie to Shelly Ann and tell her she had sent it to her daughter in Seattle. She loved seeing the mixture of astonishment and frustration on Shelly Ann's face. She knew it was not nice, but it was the only revenge she could think of for the theft of her only son. Mike would not stand up to Shelly Ann, which was smart, Susan supposed. He wanted peace and he got peace as long as Shelly Ann had her way.

What else did she need? Oh, a new journal. Hers was almost full. She had long ago realized that Charlie read her journal. He often read it while she was out showing houses on Saturday. She could always tell because he had sticky fingers from his Crackerjack addiction. She had even found popcorn residue. So she had stopped writing her deepest secrets and now used the journal to communicate wishes to Charlie about gifts, vacations and restaurant picks. She pretended that she believed he was coming up with these ideas on her own. Maybe he had figured it out. Maybe he hadn't. But it worked for them, so she kept doing it.