Waiting

“Imagine trying to live without air. Now imagine something worse.” ~ Amy Reed 

People who say that there is no such thing as time travel, are full of shit. It definitely exists, but it’s not all fun and games, Back to the Future – “Would I like my dad if I knew him in high school?” And it doesn’t pull into your driveway like a sweet Delorean with gull-wing doors. Your time travel future-self doesn’t have a hip name that’s full of irony, like Marty McFly.

Your version of time travel looks like this: One day you’re at the soccer field, sitting on a blue nylon folding chair watching as your daughter executes the perfect slide tackle. An icy Diet Pepsi is sweating in the plastic cup holder that’s attached to the arm rest. You are laughing and chatting with the other parents, and you have successfully fulfilled your snack duties by providing Gogurt and Mini Oreos for all of the kids on the team.

Your life is almost perfect. You’re a good mom, and a good friend. You drive a Prius, and you listen to NPR. You recycle. But nobody thinks you’re special. Nobody leaves sweet notes for you by the coffee maker before they head out to the office. Nobody grabs your hand, and leads you over to the window and says, “Look, it’s a hummingbird,” or “Let’s go away for the weekend – just us.” Nobody saves you the blue M&Ms because they’re your favorite.

The mediocrity and the loneliness wear on you, so you start searching for your bolt of electricity – your ticket to the future. You attend a couple of services at the Unitarian Church. You take a knitting class. You even join the Mountaineers. You try to convince yourself that embracing a liberal spiritual path, or having sleek biceps like Michelle Obama will fill the gaping void within you, but eventually you admit that what you’re actually looking for is love. Your best friend tells you to hang out in the plumbing section at Home Depot, and you do – twice. But you can’t think of plausible conversation-starters related to toilets or sinks, and the rows of PVC pipe and the hundreds of plastic drawers filled with tiny metal things make you feel insignificant, so you start hanging out in coffee shops instead. Coffee smells like hope. It makes you feel like tomorrow might possibly be worth getting out of bed for. You see a flyer taped to the back of the bathroom door at your favorite coffee shop.

YOU CAN FIND LOVE IN FOUR MINUTES!
Speed Dating Event for
Single Professionals Aged 32-44
EVERY FOURTH TUESDAY
From 7:00-9:00
Gallagher’s Cafe – Bring Three Questions
($25 per entrant)

You order a latte, and settle on your three questions: 1. Where do you work? 2. Do you have any children? 3. What’s the one thing about yourself that you would most like me to know? (Your favorite)

You show up at Gallagher’s at 6:45, and make small talk with a woman in a faux leather coat. You discreetly tell her that the back of her skirt is tucked into her nylons. She’s grateful for your honesty, and hopes aloud that you were the only one who noticed. You reassure her, allaying her fear that anyone else has seen this transgression, even though you caught at least three other “speed daters” staring at the firm, pink ass cheek straining against her pantyhose just below the bunched fabric of her trendy broomstick skirt.

The host is a short guy with bowlegs and large forearms. He’s carrying a stopwatch. A silver whistle hangs on a yellow cord around his neck. He makes you think of swim coaches, and Popeye, and rodeos. All of the speed dating participants are assigned a number. You get number 17, which seems like an bad omen, because that’s the number of years your marriage lasted before the father of your children started banging the neighbor’s wife.

Popeye invites all of the “ladies” to take a seat at one of the small tables scattered around the room, then the men are instructed to join the lady of their choice for the first round of questioning. Each table is equipped with a small note pad, and a scorecard. The rounds last four minutes, at which time, Popeye blows his whistle, the women remain seated, and the men move to a new table for the next round. You meet a dozen men, but most of them are timid and paunchy. They wear short-sleeved plaid shirts. One of them has a lazy eye. Nate is different. He has thick, curly hair, and a sexy five o’clock shadow. His answer to the one thing you want me to know about you question is, “I’m a risk-taker.” You leave with him, and you sleep with him even though he listens to country music, and he has a “Real Men Love Jesus” bumper sticker on his truck.

Everything is perfect for about three months. You laugh a lot. You feel special. The first time Nate offers you the pipe, you decline. The chemical smell makes your eyes burn. Nate laughs and says, “That’s okay, more for me.” At some point, you change your mind – decide to take a risk. Your mouth tastes like tin foil, but your brain is on fire. You can’t wait to do it again.

And then one day, you catch a glimpse of your reflection in the filthy window of your living room – the one with the mildew lining the corners and the tight metal latches that pinch the skin on your fingers every time you try to release them. Your hair has two inches of grow out and is flat with grease. Your armpits smell like onions. Some distant memory of the person that you used to be, taps you on the shoulder, whispers admonitions. “Take a fucking shower! Sign the twins’ field trip form.” But you don’t, because you are frozen with waiting. Nate left five hours ago, and you have been clutching the remote and pacing ever since – stepping around the toys and dirty dishes that litter the floor.

Five.fucking.hours. You are clutching that remote like its the Holy Grail . . .waiting.

Good Morning America was on when Nate left. And you’ve lived through The Price is Right,  three episodes of Friends, and Dr. Phil. Fuck Dr. Phil, and fuck Nate! You can’t endure the waiting much longer. You’ve already torn the couch apart looking for a forgotten crumb; spread the thick gold threads of the hideous shag carpet in search of white; pressed your moist fingertip down into the knobby burlap backing and brought it to your lips expectantly.

You catch another glimpse of your reflection in the window, and you remember the way Nate’s ex-wife looked at you when the two of you ran into her at the Shell station; how he said “Hey Katie – wait up. I want you to meet my girlfriend Angie.” How she glanced into your eyes with a mixture of fear and pity; how she turned and she never looked back, she just kept on walking.

(c) 2017, all rights reserved

 

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Hope is a Four Letter Word

 

Harold has been straddling the abyss between sin and redemption since the day he was born, but no matter how hard he prays, he is always drawn more to darkness than to light. When he was an infant, his mother found him in his crib, still and blue, his small hands curled into lifeless fists. She lifted him gently, begged God for divine intervention, placed her mouth over his tiny nose and lips, and breathed hope and promises into his lungs until he sputtered and turned pink again.

People never believe him when he says that he can remember the moment his spirit returned to his body – how his mother laid him on the cold floor and dropped to her knees, wailing and testifying to the glory of Jesus; how she screamed her praise into the fading light of the afternoon until her voice was nothing but a hoarse prayer of gratitude, and then gathered him into her lap and whispered: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7)”

Harold isn’t sure why he was spared, but he suspects it has something to do with a combination of fate, and his mother’s unwavering faith in a benevolent God. When he was a child, she used to put motivational reminders in his Roy Rogers Lunch Box. He would be sitting alone at the smallest table in the school cafeteria, and invariably, when he unwrapped his margarine and sugar sandwich from its translucent brown nest of repurposed wax paper, a small card penned in his mother’s tidy, pinched cursive would flutter to the ground brimming with two-dimensional inspiration: “For with God nothing shall be impossible,” “What does the Lord request of you?” or “Trust in His plan”, and Harold would stare balefully at the message, and wish he had never survived his potential crib death.

* * *

Harold met Lilly at a healing revival. Her father was a minister who traversed America with a dusty tent the size of a college football field, preaching the full gospel and laying his well-manicured hands upon the sick and the desperate, while beseeching Jesus to cure their ailments. Harold was there because a flyer nailed to a telephone pole said that Reverend Percy could “heal the hardest cases” – like cancer and polio, and that he was once reported to have facilitated a resurrection. It was the resurrection that Harold wanted to discuss with him. He needed to know if that person felt as empty as Harold himself felt. He also wanted to ask the Reverend if he believed in fate. Harold believed that Reverend Percy’s answer was critical for the development of his destiny.

When Harold arrived, the tent was only half full, but all of the folding chairs in the first five rows were already taken, and people were filing in in a steady stream. Some of them arrived in ambulances and were carried by stretcher to a special viewing area at the front of the tent. Harold chose a seat at the end of the twelfth row, and waited.

Eventually, Reverend Percy, emerged from behind the stage. He was a plump man with a widow’s peak, whose pants were pulled high and cinched over his ample belly with a thin leather belt. He greeted the crowd, and said: “If you’ve got just a little bit of faith as big as a mustard seed, and you begin to praise God – that faith will multiply, until fear and doubt are no longer able to live in your heart.” The audience erupted in a loud chorus of “Hallelujahs!” And he had to shout to invite the faithful to approach the stage with their requests for healing.

Harold watched apathetically as true believers and the desperate inched their way through the bourgeoning crowd seeking healing from migraines, ulcers, back pain, lisps and stutters. And he watched with mild curiosity as Reverend Percy plucked a cancerous growth from a woman’s face, grabbed metal braces from a polio sufferer, and boxed the ears of a deaf man – declaring all of them “healed in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior!”

After the final supplicant was ministered to, the Reverend walked to the edge of the stage, and peered out over the crowd until his ferret-like eyes seemed to fix upon Harold. His gaze never wavered as he spoke. “Last night, Jesus came to me in a dream. He said a seeker would wander into the tent today looking for direction and purpose. And He said that I should make a place at my table for him, and serve him as I would serve the Lord.” Harold felt in his bones that the dream was a personal message for him, so he got up from his seat, slowly walked to the base of the stage, stood between Reverend Percy and his daughter Lilly, and nervously awaited his destiny.

Harold and Lilly were married on a Sunday afternoon in a drafty Pentecostal church in Albany. On their wedding night, Harold stripped down to his powder blue boxer shorts, reverently unfastened the the faux pearl buttons of his new wife’s flannel nightgown, and attempted to penetrate her by mounting her like an nimble jockey. After several minutes of fruitless rutting, Lilly buttoned her nightgown, turned to face the wall, and fell into a deep, untroubled sleep. Harold quietly got dressed, grabbed the keys to his Oldsmobile, and drove off into the night.

Lilly’s inability to accommodate Harold’s penis was an unresolved area of contention for the duration of their four decade marriage. Several times, she tried to broach the subject with other women in her congregation, and they laughed uncomfortably, and urged her to pray about it. Eventually, Lilly made an appointment with a doctor, but he just recited labels like vaginismus, psychosomatic, and “Shy Vagina.” And future attempts at consummation continued to end with Lilly snoring soundly, the skirt of her flannel nightgown tucked between her knees, while Harold solemnly drove off into the night, stoically committed to the continued fulfillment of his destiny.

Lilly was a good wife. She made pot roast every Wednesday, kept a tidy house, and baked cookies for Harold’s office every Friday. He loved her like a sister, and accepted the lack of carnal bliss in his life as a manifestation of God’s will.

* * * *

Sometimes Harold is desperate to share his secret, but no one can ever know. That’s between him and God.

The first girl was riding her tricycle. Red streamers trailed from the handlebars as her chubby legs propelled the bike back and forth from one corner of Magnolia Street to the other. All it took was a shiny silver quarter. She went willingly. Her greed was her undoing.

Then there was Sarah. Harold drove past her house in his new Ford Fairlane, and noticed her crouched in her driveway, trying to coax an injured squirrel to drink milk out of a plastic bowl. He planned to bring her to the root cellar, but there was something about her grimy little hands offering comfort to that dying squirrel that made him change his mind.

And so it went. The lady slapping her toddler at the bus stop, yes. The freckle-faced boy with the UNICEF box, no.

As Harold ages, it becomes easier for him to find his victims. Nobody suspects that a frail old man asking for directions is capable of stealing their breath. He’s been watching Kristin for weeks – ever since she sat in his car and listened to him talk about how he likes watching the crows forage in his yard while he waits for the mailman. Later that afternoon, she brought him cookies, but for some reason, she’s been avoiding him ever since. He still has her plate. And he knows where she lives.

At this very moment, he is pulling into her driveway. The prayer flags in her carport are catching the wind. The kale in her garden needs harvesting.

(c) 2017, all rights reserved

 

 

Chimera

“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness visible.” – Carl Jung

In Greek mythology, a chimera is a fire breathing female monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tale. According to Merriam-Webster, it’s also “a thing that is hoped for, but in fact, is illusory or impossible to achieve.”

I have spent countless years chasing impossible illusions, sifting through both the banal and the grotesque in search of evidence of the “thing that is hoped for.” Stories of miracles are my spiritual Pokémon cards – a doughy dad that summons unexplainable Hulk-like strength in order to free a child pinned under a station wagon; Joni, the teen who learned to not be depressed about her quadriplegia after God shows her how to paint kittens and landscapes with her mouth; one of my employees, whose pituitary tumor was cured by the power of prayer.

I’ve always been a seeker. . .and hungry, a combination that once caused me to attend a prayer meeting with some people that I met at Burger King. I was 19. The meeting took place in a grim apartment devoid of pictures or furnishings. We sat on rickety folding chairs that formed an uneven circle in the boxy living room. Prayers were recited, and then people started hurling themselves toward the center of the circle while speaking in tongues. After an indeterminate amount of time, the tongue-speakers returned to their folding chairs, and I was offered a ride home. It was kind of like being abducted by aliens, only without the probes.

People who have a deep faith are fascinating to me. I am drawn to them in the same way that I am drawn to the purported magic inherent in four leaf clovers, St. Christopher medals, and the severed paws of rabbits. It’s the reason I carry a tiny plastic statue of the Virgin Mary in my purse. These things are good to have around.

Just in case.

 

 

Chemistry

“But along through those years I began to make lists of titles, to put down long lines of nouns. These lists were the provocations, finally, that caused my better stuff to surface. I was feeling my way toward something honest, hidden under the trapdoor on top of my skull.” ~ Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You 

I too, am trying to feel my way toward something honest, but my skull’s trapdoor is sealed shut, and my lists don’t evoke the lyrical inspiration of Bradbury’s lists.

Deer hearts; shiny rocks; pet rabbits for dinner; torn coffin silk; Palm Sunday; escape . . . . . . 

My grandfather was a hunter. Elk. Deer. Pheasant. Quail. Nothing was safe from him. When the woods didn’t deliver, he went drunk hunting in the backyard, where he released my mother’s two pet rabbits from their cage, shot them, and made my grandmother cook them for dinner.

So, I guess mom came by her cruelty honestly. It is probably also why she never allowed us to have pets.

Mom. It sounds unnatural to call her that. Rarely “mom”, never “mommy”, mostly “ma” – which makes her appear in my mind’s eye, as someone with false teeth and a gingham apron – not the woman who did Jane Fonda aerobics in our refinished basement, and had a host of cosmetic surgeries – including a full facelift, before the age of fifty.

ok, that was supposed to be about how my grandfather, always saved me deer hearts from his hunting trips, and how I used to take them to school for show and tell. Deer heart in a mason jar filled with formaldehyde. After a few weeks, the flesh turned from pink to gray, and bits of sediment flaked off and settled in the bottom of the jar. My Sears Garanimal bell bottoms and only-allowed-to-shower -once-per-week greasy hair already set me apart, so I don’t think this odd showing and telling helped to endear me to the other children. I actually can’t believe that my mother allowed the deer hearts in her home. I kept them in the garage with my chemistry set. It was one of those 1970’s ones, with all of the poison shit, and a real Bunsen burner. I spent a lot of time in the garage, pretending to be a mad scientist. I even touched the mercury, which feels like silver tears.

I can’t believe I’m still alive.

Resurrection

“A mother’s body against a child’s body makes a place. It says you are here. Without this body against your body there is no place. I envy people who miss their mother. Or miss a place, or know something called home. The absence of a body against my body created a gap, a hole, a hunger. This hunger determined my life.” ~ Eve Ensler

I don’t know how to form articulate sentences about my family. How do I cobble together words that tell that story? How do I breathe life into my peculiar genealogy without some means of self-soothing . . . an assload of crunchy, salty things with a cake batter and Jameson chaser? Impossible appeasement. The dog will never stop barking. The war will never end. For fucks sake, just bake the cake.

How can I pick up a pen and drag it across white paper leaving a trail of inky blue notes to myself that say, “Your mother is dead, and it’s okay not to be sad. To feel relieved, even?” Well, I just did that very thing. And I am sitting in a small town coffee shop, owned by a family of fiddle-playing evangelical christians. The women at the table next to mine are having a straight up Bible study, and they also have adult coloring books and sets of colored pencils that are perfectly sharpened, in rainbow order – not haphazardly arranged, splintered nubs like my colored pencils would be, if I engaged in post bible study public coloring. The ladies room here (gender neutral excretion is frowned upon in these parts) is decorated with a large, wood, shabby chic plaque that says: “God Is Good All The Time.” There is usually Christian soft rock playing on the sound system, but today, “Forever in Blue Jeans” is blaring out of the speakers as I write this, and the only self-soothing that is available to me is a gluten-free bacon mini quiche and a hemp milk latte. God. Sometimes I hate myself.

i don’t know why I chose this place to re-enter the writing world after such a long hiatus. Maybe it’s a subconscious test to see if the vengeful God of my Catholic girlhood actually exists – lurking in the Christian coffee atmosphere, casting a benevolent eye upon the middle aged public bible readers, and waiting for the perfect moment to choke me on my alternative milk latte, as punishment for the sin of mother blasphemy.

There are so many things I wanted to say in this post, but today’s window of freedom  is about to close, so deep exploration of death of the mothership is going to have to wait for another time.

Resurrection, to be continued . . .

 

 

 

The Penitent

green-scale_crop

This is day I don’t know, and I don’t care of
the Ideal Protein Diet,
and just like any regimen of relinquishment and confession,
there are catchphrases
and hooks
that keep the penitent motivated to continue
traversing a path littered with sharp pebbles and rusty bottle caps.
Scabby knees and bloody palms propelling the seeker closer to

the promised land.

My “coach” smiles benevolently as I remove my socks
and step on the scale.

Her mantras:
“you’re melting”
and
“every pound has a story”
are meant to convey comradery.
We are soldiers
in this war against fat,
and I can tell her “anything”.

But I resist,
because I have already told those stories,
and my secrets died with my therapist,
which is both ideal . . .

and not.

Now I am here, in this strip mall
taking off my socks
in front of a stranger.
And the nail polish on my big toe
is chipped.
And I am melting

like the Wicked Witch,

while thousands of miles from here,
my mother is being eaten alive by cancer.

Maybe by the time I go to her funeral
I will be thin,
but not too hungry for anything.

 

Seeing the Future

crystal-ball_crop

My great-grandmother had a glass eye.
She only spoke a few words of English,
and our family legacy demands silence
about imperfection and difference,
so I never knew the truth about why.

Love – “milosc”
Grandmother – “babcia”
Immigrant – “imigrant”
Fear – “strach”

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with the unspoken story of how she lost her eye,
and I was convinced that the glass replacement was imbued with special magic.
I though that owning it would give me powers of divination, or the ability to read minds.

I imagined sneaking into my grandmother’s room while she slept,
and snatching the milky orb from the small wooden box on the table next to her bed.
I wanted to slip the eye into the pocket of my Sears Toughskins,
and examine it privately,
under the leafy cover of the Italian plum tree in her backyard.
I longed to turn it over in my palm,
gaze into the future,
and search for clues about who I would become.

Love – “milosc”
Grandmother – “babcia”
Immigrant – “imigrant”
Fear – “strach”

We are always looking for easy answers to the big questions,
but the clues are often there all along,
lurking beneath the surface.

I wonder what ten-year-old me would have done with those easy answers anyway,
choking on sadness
while the sweet juice of Italian plums ran down my chin?
What would I do with the prior knowledge of this day?
This day, when our country has become a reality show.
And blame is placed upon an orange man with bad hair and tiny hands,
because we don’t want to acknowledge that the hate has been here all along.
Hate, whose roots run so deep we have forgotten that we took part
in the planting of the seed.

Love – “milosc”
Grandmother – “babcia”
Immigrant – “imigrant”
Fear – “strach”