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.

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Turd in a Bucket

“There exists, for everyone, a sentence – a series of words – that has the power to destroy you. Another sentence exists, another series of words, that could heal you.” – Philip K. Dick

For as long as I can remember, my mother has used the the adage, you wouldn’t know your ass from a hole in the ground, in response to things I’ve done that are ridiculous or incomprehensible to her.  Every misplaced glove or crumpled piece of homework (you wouldn’t know your ass from a hole in the ground); my fear of learning how to drive (you wouldn’t know your ass from a hole in the ground)getting lost after a concert, wanting to be a writer, coming out as a lesbian (you wouldn’t know your ass from a fucking hole in the ground).

Now that I’m almost 50, this series of letters strung together have lost their power to destroy me. The once jagged edges of the words you, and wouldn’t, and know, no longer have the ability to tear at my skin from the inside. The words ass and hole-in-the-ground seem silly when I see them in the same sentence.  The incongruity of those words resting next to each other on the page, makes me laugh. It’s like imagining my subconscious in her underwear.

The stories that accompany those words are ancient history. They occasionally show up in my fiction – where versions of my child self make *bad choice* guest appearances as semi-forgettable minor characters – a young girl who gets scratched by a potentially rabid baby squirrel, or a kid who allows bullies to steal his UNICEF box. But their impact on my self-worth is negligible. The words that make up those stories have become an indistinguishable part of me, like my crooked pinkies or my genetic predisposition for alcoholism. I rarely notice them any more.

*     *     *     *     *       *

I recently got a part-time job at a small cafe in a tiny redneck town.  I didn’t really need the job, but I generate most of my income by working from home, and sometimes I get lonely.

The owner of the cafe is a micro manager who often refers to herself in the third person. She’s also a bit crazy. On my first day of work, she cleared a pile of debris off of a prep table to make room for some chicken, and a medical document depicting an outline of a woman fell out of a cookbook and fluttered to the ground.She quickly grabbed the paper and said: “They found a small mass in my breast. It’s no big deal.” Actually, it IS a big deal. She has breast cancer. But she has decided to forgo chemotherapy, radiation and surgery in favor of swallowing apricot pits and massaging her breast with frankincense oil.

The other employees are nice, but we don’t have anything in common. One of the cooks drives a car that still displays a *Bush 04 – A Safer America* bumper sticker. I’m a liberal. I am also a Buddhist. The main waitress runs an evangelical church out of her rural home.  Her husband is the pastor. On Sundays, they do river baptisms.

Several hours into my shift last Wednesday (after I had cut my finger on a broken glass, and soaked myself from head to toe at least a dozen times with the jerry-rigged sink nozzle), a drain backed up and flooded the kitchen, and I asked myself the same question I had been asking since the day I first walked into that kitchen: “Why the fuck am I doing this?”  Eventually, I unearthed the mop bucket from the storage room to find a glistening three inch black turd mocking me from the yellow plastic interior. I’m pretty sure it winked at me. And I think I heard it whisper, ” Because you don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground.”