Friday, October 11, 2013

*Hospitality Lost and Found*

I can’t remember if I trembled when they asked. I’m pretty sure I did. The question came in an e-mail but would’ve been cooler if it had arrived via telegraph.

Coming to your town for five days –(STOP)-
Can we stay with you –(STOP)-
Or at least share one good Italian meal

            I cupped my hand under my mouth to catch the excuses as they flowed, mostly buts. But I think Big Girl (our oldest daughter and their missionary nanny for three months) will be at college by then. But we have a softball tournament that weekend. But we don’t have enough room, folks will have to sleep on the sofá and the floor. But I’m intimidated, because the wife mommy is a food blogger. And I’m freaked. What if she’s also a white-gloved dust inspector? The house hasn’t been cleaned, really spiffed up, in so long.
            And yet, how could I say no? Big Girl had lived with them a quarter of a year, in a compact casa in Honduras. They shared their every meal, their children, and their vision with her. I couldn’t say no. But I wanted to, was ashamed that I considered it.
            I tried to say, “Mi casa es tu casa,” but I couldn’t get my Irish, German, English, French lips around the words, much less the concept. The only way I can achieve a really good Spanish accent is to mimic the Verizon recording: “Para Espanol, marque el dos.”
            Where did they go—my gift of hospitality, my spirit of generosity? I grew up. Little Me (“Wanna figure out how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Lollipop? Here, you go first.”) was cannibalized by Grown-up Me (“Me, my, mine. That’s all I have time for.”).
Honk! Honk! Honk!
            Big Girl clambered down the stairs. “They’re here.”
            I heard jubilation in her voice. I hope she sounds like that when she speaks of us—her real family.
            I peeked out the foyer window as she sprinted toward the street. My eyes bugged as all five of them tumbled out of a dusty old van.
            The wife mommy’s hair was like whipped cream with one drop of yellow food coloring, but her eyes weren’t blue. With hair that Swedish looking, I would’ve thought they’d be glacier, no, fjord, blue. If I took a glass prep bowl and filled it with good quality Italian olive oil and whisked in vanilla? That would be the color of her eyes. She was tinier than me, with an elegant slice to her deltoids.
            Now he, the husband daddy, was a Mr. America leprechaun. His dark hair was smooshed up into a singular wave. From inside the house I could feel his just-bonked-a-tuning-fork-on-a-brick energy undulate toward me. I possess that vitality too, but somehow while they were here, I felt subdued. Calm not jangly, hot chocolate instead of espresso.
            All three offspring had blue, surprised eyes and banana-colored hair. Baby boy buried his face in wife mommy’s neck. The two toddler girls catapulted into Big Girl’s embrace.
            “We missed you! Tell us a story!”
            Unnoticed, I pressed my nose against the door’s screen, waited to face-plant into the invisible ice-cube structure I was certain would exist between us. I know, I thought, I’ll fetch my crème brulee torch. But I didn’t need to. When they climbed onto the front porch, I didn’t even get goosebumps.
I wonder if they ever figured it out. The bad thing I did. In the weeks prior to their arrival, I’d crafted a plan, a schedule, to keep them busy. Away from our place. Because really, how could ten people in a hundred-year-old house for five days be good? I arranged sights for them to see. Over in the next county, with other families, in their homes. Go, go, go. Vroom, vroom, vroom. Then they’d pass out every night by nine, right?
            And then came the day they didn’t want to go anywhere. They just wanted to be. Here.
            “We like your house best,” they said. My eyebrows lifted beneath my bangs.           
            “Really,” the wife mommy said. “It’s like a super cool, artsy bed and breakfast.”
            My shoulders descended. The corners of my mouth lifted.
            “Nap time,” the husband daddy proclaimed. He stood—the boy baby slumped in his arms, a toddler girl on either side. They headed for the stairs.
            And then we were alone, the wife mommy and me. I checked my watch, tied my shoes. What do we do now, I wondered.
            “Wanna cook some stuff?” I said.
            She grinned and followed me into the kitchen.
            Over at the counter, I sliced strawberries into thin, red halos. Wife mommy reached for the bowl and showered the fruit in balsamic vinegar, sprinkled it with raw sugar. We ate. Smiled.
            I peeled and chopped roasted golden beets, vinaigretted them. Rained down toasted pecans and tiny diced feta.
            “Add that to the list,” wife mommy said, “of recipes you have to send me.”
            I handed her the menu from our Italian Feast Night. “Mark all the things you want recipes for.”
            She circled almost every item then turned her attention to the shitake mushrooms from the farmers market. She sautéed them in golden green olive oil with heaps of garlic minced by me. She flicked in a speck of Silafunghi, my favorite Italian hot pepper concoction, stirred, lifted the wooden spoon to her lips.
            “Wait!” I said. I pressed the spoon back into the sauté pan. “Don’t taste it yet.” I held up my pointer finger. “I have to do one thing.”
            I darted outside to my herb garden, used my fingernails to nip off the largest sage leaves I could find, brushed the soil flecks away. Grinned as I remembered my mom’s philosophy—You gotta eat a peck of dirt before you die.
            Back in the kitchen. I floated the silvery leaves in hot oil, flipped them when they became see-through, used my grandmother’s tongs to hold them up to the light.
            “See? Don’t they look like stained glass? Or an old Coke bottle? Here, put some mushrooms on your fork and top them with a crispy sage leaf. Now taste.”
            I held my breath and watched. Her tongue worked. Her eyelids fluttered. She held up both thumbs. I laughed.
            As she prepped another bite to eat, I whispered, so she wouldn’t hear me, turned away, so she couldn’t see my mouth move.
            “I wish you lived here,” I said to the refrigerator door. “Then we could be friends. We'd eat like this over and over, not just one Sunday afternoon and never again.”
The next day, Big Girl and I waved as their van drove away. The morning sun glinted off my daughter’s tear tracks. I didn’t cry. I was too busy working on my accent, in my head, trying to get it just right in case they circled the block and stopped in front of our house for one more Big Girl hug or kiss. But they didn’t come back. If they had, I would’ve sprinted down the steps to the Street, pecked on the husband daddy’s window till he rolled it down.
            “Just so you know, mi casa es tu casa.”

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Like Salt to French Fries

I live to hear the words, "Can you fill a food order, please?” In my mind, I see myself going down into a lunge. Left knee touches the ground, right arm comes back like I'm starting a lawn mower. "Yesssss!"
            I bolt up the stairs, two at a time, to the top floor. I stand in front of the shelves and fill old grocery bags with pasta, peanut butter, cans of soup, and fruit cocktail. I can't stop grinning because this makes me happy.


It was almost six years ago. I was headed to BB&T. I watched my feet on the sidewalk. "Step on a crack, break your mother's back.” After awhile, I looked up and instead of being in front of the bank, I was in front of a building that said Loving in big letters.
            I reckon it had something to do with Isaiah 58:7. It'd been on my mind for almost two years. "Share your food with the hungry. Clothe the naked." The words were a shish kabab skewer that poked me under the ribs every time I heard or read them.
            I'd been praying. Waiting. Looking for a burning bush. All of a sudden, there it was.   But it wasn't burning, and it wasn't a bush. It was Christian Help, Incorporated, founded in 1975.

Every Tuesday, more often than not, I drive down Grand Street to town, to Christian Help. I peer up through the blue part of my windshield. "A parking spot right in front would be awesome, God.” Usually it's there, especially if my trunk is full.
            I walk in the front door and say, "Howdy," to whoever's at the front desk. Used to be Glinda, before she had a stroke and moved to assisted living. I always hugged her and whispered into her steel-colored curls, "Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?”
            She'd cup one of my cheeks with her cool, dry hand and smile up at me. "Good to see you, girlie."


I love them, all the ladies. I'm going on year six of volunteering and they've put in twenty five or more. I work two to three hours a week. Some of them are there every day. They're all in their seventies, at least. And Spud, who moved here from Jersey, to live with her daughter? She's ninety something. Reminds me of a grey-haired Jack in a deck of cards.
            There's also Rose and Annie, Sis and Carol too. Ethel and Earlene come on Tuesdays, like me. Glory hallelujah when Ethel brings one of her pound cakes. Thank you, Jesus when we have a pot luck lunch and Earlene brings her sauerkraut with tiny, tasty shreds of pork.
            I love the shining, antique faces of the ladies, the way their eyes and teeth flash white when I spring through the doorway of the clothes sorting room. Their smiles say they're as glad to see me as I am to see them.


I've seen a whole lot of staff come and go in six years. That's the nature of Americorp Vista, usually paid a pittance, workers. But Cheryl, the executive director, has been there since before me. God bless her because running Christian Help requires managing chaos, reassessing the greatest need, the greatest good, Monday through Friday, plus the first Saturday of the month.
            Cheryl's radiant. Maybe she goes to a tanning booth. Or she could be part Native American. Just between you and me, I think it's because she loves the Lord. Moses glowed when he came down from the mountain of God, you know.


I stopped asking the younger volunteers why they're at Christian Help. Usually it's because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now I just smile real big and say, "Welcome!  We're so glad you're here."
            One time a handsome guy, who filled out his t-shirt sleeves, asked me why I volunteer at Christian Help. I'd been waiting for that question, waiting for the chance to give the reason for the hope that I have. I had paragraphs prepared, but they evaporated. "'Cause I love Jesus.” My voice sounded wee. He squinted at me, head tilted. "Cool."


To me, serving, volunteering, whatever you want to call it, is like that line in the Jerry McGuire movie:  It completes me. For years, I attended Bible study every Friday morning, learned all kinds of neat stuff. But one day, a wise woman's opinion changed my life. "Bible study is all well and fine, but sooner or later, we have to start doing what Jesus told us to.”
            I think serving is to life what salt is to French fries. I understood that the first time I filled an emergency food order. It was a religious experience. Spud's the unofficial queen of the food pantry, but she wasn't there to hear me say, "I'm doing it. I'm feeding Jesus' sheep."


I sure hope I'll still be driving down Grand Street to town, to Christian Help, for another couple decades.  After that, much as I love to hear, "Can you fill a food order?" or, "Can you help someone with an interview outfit?" what I long to hear is, "Well done, good and faithful servant.” But not yet, not until I'm at least as old as Spud.

(In loving memory of Edith Applegate Bilson, also known as "Spud.")

Friday, August 16, 2013

On Losing a Daughter . . . . to College

It should be easier, to send child number two to college. Reverse separation anxiety, child leaving parents, not vice versa. This should have worked itself out of my system, shouldn’t it?
            I should rejoice that she is departing for her life’s grand adventure, especially since she wasn’t the easiest child to parent. There was sass, a season of dishonesty. A lack of enthusiasm for chores, a regular pile of clothing to press. Much chauffeuring.
            And yet, she’s not just my daughter; she’s my friend. She adores art and music and fashion and theater. Me too. We can talk for hours on those things or the mysteries of human behavior. I enjoy her. I can’t imagine her not here.
Half a lifetime ago I didn’t even think I wanted children, maybe not even a husband. I thought I was New York City-bound, an advertising executive to be. Surely someone would pay me scads of money upon graduation, based on my cleverness and lively personality.
            I was wrong. As they say, first comes love, then comes marriage (Who wouldn’t marry their best friend if the best friend asked?), then comes the pushing of the baby carriage.
            Children were never my plan. I figured I could talk the husband, who wanted six babies, out of his madness. Instead I found myself consenting to have one, just one, “for you.” I wonder if he was devastated by that word: one. Or did he know there’d be no way I could stop there?
I try to imagine life with only the boy child here. The money we were paying for her voice lessons can go into his college fund. I won’t have to buy tiny tubs of hummus for her lunches. There will be no more driving her six blocks down the hill to high school at seven in the morning because, “I’m wearing heels, Madre.”
            There won’t be any more sitting beside her at the kitchen table as she methodically dices avocados, bell peppers, and onions, cilantro and jalapenos for her fabulous guacamole. No more trips to the consignment shop where she tells me I bring her luck. No more listening to her belt, “I Dreamed a Dream” over and over in the shower for thirty minutes or more.
            When a child leaves home, life may become easier, but it will also be harder.

Friday, August 9, 2013

It's a Boy!

The radiologist’s face hovered an inch from the screen. "So," he said. "Do you want to know the sex of the baby?"
            My mouth fell open. "Really?"
            My husband's eyebrows rose. "Right now?"
            The doctor rolled his stool around to face us. He rubbed his thighs briskly.
            "This is West Virginia," he said. "I don't want to start a family feud. Do you, or don't you? Want to know?"
            I nodded. My husband shook his head. I huffed.
            My husband shrugged. "I like surprises. So does my family."
            I clasped my hands in front of my face and opened my eyes super wide.  "Pretty please? I won't tell anyone inside the state."
            My husband sighed. "Oh, all right."
            The doctor wheeled the stool back to face the screen. He tapped it with his pen.
             "See that right there?" he said. "That's what makes your little guy, a guy."
             I grinned and clapped. "I did it!  I made a boy!"
            The doctor gave my husband a little shove. "You okay, Dad?"
            My husband leaned closer to the ultrasound screen. His breath fogged it. 
            "It's a boy? Really?"
            The doctor smiled and clapped him on the back. "It's a boy, a healthy son. Congratulations.”

Fluid, surprisingly warm, gushed from inside me. I glanced down. A puddle formed on the back porch, between my flip flops. I shut my eyes and groaned.
            The girls were swinging. "Watch how high we can go," the older one said.
            The younger one squinted at me and slammed her feet down to stop. "What, Mommy?" she said. "Why's your face all funny?"
            I toed the splat on the porch. "Someone bring me the phone please."
            "Mommy, you wet  yourself."
            I shook my head and spoke louder. "Just get me a phone."
            "Right now?" my husband said. "It's coming right now?"
            I exhaled my answer. "Yes."
            "My dad's in the hospital with a bleeding ulcer and I have someone here in the office with me. It’s really right now?"
            I nibbled my lip. "Last baby was born 20 minutes after my water broke."
            "I'll be right there."


"You could stimulate your nipples," the nurse said as she glanced at her watch. "Since your labor doesn't seem to be progressing."
            My eyes bulged. I touched my cheeks. Hot. I crooked my finger to bring her closer, so the whole world wouldn't hear.
            "Excuse me?"
            "Stimulate your nipples," she said. "It makes the body release oxytocin which can move the process along. Just slide your arms inside your gown." She busied herself tucking the sheets around me, adjusting the monitor beside my bed. I tapped her shoulder.
            "Can you close the door, please?"
            "Sure thing, honey. Your doctor's been paged. He'll be here any minute.” She pointed at the control panel near the bedrail. "That's the nurse call button if you need me. Don't forget, stim—"
            I pressed my finger to my mouth. She laughed as she eased the door shut behind her.


I had my birth plan for my little guy all figured out. I'd asked for an epidural with child one, liked it a lot. On delivery number two, the nurses talked me into going natural.
“If you’re cracking jokes at seven centimeters, you should have no problem going all the way, sweetie.”
So I did the I-am-woman-hear-me-roar thing that time around, thought it pretty cool the way I could walk to the bathroom to pee right after. Even so, given a choice, I wanted drugs on my third and final labor and delivery.
            "Can you write it in my chart now?" I said to my doctor. "Put it in all caps: PATIENT WANTS EPIDURAL AS SOON AS SHE ENTERS HOSPITAL.”
            Dr. Davis had laughed. "We'll see."
            "What do you mean I can't have an epidural?" I said to my labor nurse. "It's in my chart. In all caps. Look it up!"
            The nurse fussed with my sheets, patted my hand, avoided my eyes. “They said the anesthesiologist has a more emergent situation right now." 
            My fingernails bit into my palms. I gnashed my teeth. "What is more emergent than a baby emerging from my body?"
            The nurse cringed. Her hands were like nervous butterflies in the air between us. She moved toward the door.
"Let me try to get a hold of your doctor. Again."
Within five minutes I was speaking in tongues, or so my husband says.  I'm pretty sure the Mardi Gras documentary on TV was to blame. I remember one minute focusing on the drums—their primal beat—and the next, how my head started flopping side to side, to match their rhythm.
            I began to chant under my breath. "I want drugs. I want them now. I want 
             When another contraction started, I stopped my head flopping. My stomach churned. My eyes wouldn't focus. I heard someone enter the room. I turned toward the door. The person seemed to be moving in mist. Something was in his or her hand. I squinted at it, wary.
            "How about some Nubane, honey?" It sounded like my nurse.
            I snarled my nose. "What's that?"
            She brushed a stray hank of hair from my face. "I think you'll like it," she said. "It'll take the edge off, help you relax."
            I shrugged. "Okay."
            Prick. Ow!  Warmth. Oooh! I collapsed against my pillows. A moment later a noisy breath leaked out of me.
            "That's nice," I told Nurse.
I grinned at the corner of the room by the door, thinking that was where my husband was. 
"I'm the queen of Mardi Gras. And I'm floating. See? I'm on a parade float on 
Bourbon Street. That's in New Orleans, right? Want some beads?"
            I felt as if I might pour off the edge of the bed. I attempted to purr. Nurse’s teeth flashed white as she swabbed my arm. On the other side of the room she deposited the needle in a red box on the wall.
            "Hey!" I said. She glanced over. I smiled coyly, blinked a couple times. "Some more, please?"
            She chuckled. "Sorry, no.” She perched on the bench at the end of the bed and nudged my knees apart.
            I stuck my tongue out at her.
            "You're almost ready now," she said. "I'll call Dr. Davis. Again."
           "You sure you want me to stay in this chair?" my husband asked when she left.    
           "Yes, please. It feels like you're stealing my breath when you come closer."            


A half hour later I scooted myself up on my elbows. "I want more Nubane. Now!" I glared at the med student behind my doctor. "And I want Doogie Howser to go away, immediately."
            "Be nice," Dr. Davis said. "He's just observing. I won't let him touch you."
            I snorted. "Is he old enough to hear cuss words?"
            The med student cowered. Dr. Davis gave my ankles a squeeze.
            "You ready to do this?"
            I winced as another wave of pressure and pain seared me.
            "Can't you just grab its head and yank it out?"
            "Easy," my doctor said. "Don't hold your breath. Breathe. That's it."
            When the fire started in my girl parts, I headed for my pillows, determined to escape it.
            "Will whoever has their hand on my— Dang it!  I can't even say the word 'cause Doogie—"
            Dr. Davis stood. "Keep pushing!  You're so close!"
            The med student approached me from the side. His hot breath steamed my cheek.
“Ma'am? Do you want me to pull the mirror down, ma'am?" he said, "from the ceiling? So you can see?"
            I took a swing at him. "Ew! No!"
             A fresh more urgent pain arrived. I fell back on the pillow stack and sobbed. Doogie slunk back to his corner. I wanted it over. Now. I heaved myself forward once more and clenched all my muscles and shoved, forced everything inside of me down between my legs. The skin on my face felt tight. And I was so hot. The sprinkler system would trigger any minute, surely it would.
            I panted. "Someone fan me!  Fan my face!  I’m serious! And where is Nubane Lady? Get her back here this instant!"
             Suddenly the pressure in my groin dropped, diminished. I squeaked, attempted to sit up.
             "What happened! What's going on?"
           "We have a head!" Dr. Davis said.
            I felt my nose drain, then my eyes. When the stretching sensation returned, I arched my back and moaned, dug my fingernails into the mattress. More flesh of my flesh slipped out of me.
            "And we have a baby, a perfect baby boy."
            Everything in me softened, went limp, as if I had no bones. I hung in the moment, concentrated on the freedom from pain, listened to the pounding in my ears slow.
            Dr. Davis brought my boy child to me, still slick with his white icing of vernix.
            "Tell him, 'hello,' Mom. He's a little blue. He needs oxygen."
            I stroked my son's face with my pointer finger. Tears spilled onto my cheeks.      
"Hi, little guy."
            "Gosh, he looks like his dad," Dr.  Davis said. "Dad, come over here. Check this little guy out." After a minute Nurse gently pried him away from my husband. "He needs oxygen and a belly button, Dad."
            "I made a boy," I declared.
            Dr. Davis laughed from across the room. "You get what you get, you know."        
I shook my head. "Nope," I said. I tucked my husband's hands inside my own. "I made a boy, with some help, just a little."

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

To Infinity and Beyond

Dear gracious and compassionate One, He who is close to the brokenhearted, You seem to be calling her home. If so, I pray that instead of sorrow, she would know only anticipation. Of the ever after, infinity, glory. A dry place. No tears.
            I hope You stand between her and her earthly love, one great and gentle arm across her shoulder, another around his, drawing them to Yourself. I ask that the air they breathe be You (That near. Be that near to them, please.). Exhale a soft breath, a halo both warm and cool, above their heads. 
            And maybe if you would, give her, perhaps even him, when their faces are side by side, ears to hear the things on high, the sounds only immortals are privvy to: living waterfalls, choirs of millions, wingbeats of seraphim. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”
            In addition, would you also please prepare a spacious place for her at your feet, in your throne room where I imagine (desire, really) your floorcovering is by morning a sunrise and by evening a sunset? Some day, and it may be years from now, (and if it is, we will praise Your name even as we laugh and call her Hezekiah), she’ll wind one ethereal arm around the essence of You on her left, then lay one elegant hand on one of your Son’s piercings on her right. A moment later, out of habit, her slender fingers will relocate to the space in front of her ribs. Glide and tap, together and apart, and though there is no keyboard, there will be a song, a gorgeous melody.

(She doesn’t know me but this is my prayer for her.)

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Rest of the Story

The second-floor room was not only packed, it was also stuffy despite the droning efforts of a small I-think-I-can-I-think-I-can window air conditioner. Knowing anything could happen at a public open mic event—dreadful poems about cats or pizza, 5,000 words delivered in a monotone—I considered the exit.
            My friend beside me rested her hand on my thigh. “I brought something to read. Please stay.” I smiled and relaxed my grip on the soft, bright sweater in my lap.
            When the first reader centered his girth behind the podium, my mouth hitched to one side. He usually goes last, I thought. I braced myself.
            He said he’d be reading a poem. It wasn't poetry. It was porn. After the first few words, I squeezed my eyes shut, hugged my ribs. A few more syllables and I began to hum ever so softly, twined my legs and leaned forward and back in tiny increments, didn’t stop.
I opened my eyes when I sensed motion nearby. My friend stood and headed for the hall. “Take me with you,” I told her but she didn’t hear. My scream was silent.
Through narrowed eyes, I studied my right foot,  meditated on its crushed-twenty-years-ago sesamoid bone and how the pain had flared recently. I imagined myself walking without shoes, without the custom orthotic that guarantees freedom from pain. Barefoot, my arch tries to make a fist with muscles and tissue someone seems to have scraped with a vegetable peeler.  Pondering pain, I decided, is preferable to hearing hurl.
The moment my mind brought up vomit, I recalled the stench of grade-school spew, the kind that on one level smells like cheese. I pictured a teacher summoning a janitor. When he entered the room, he’d locate the splat then dip his hand inside the sack he'd brought. He'd lift out a mound  of evergreen-colored crumbles and with his fingers splayed slightly he’d shake his hand over the mess on the desktop or floor. The absorb-the-barf bits would rain onto the wet, and shortly after, the room would reek of minty cheese, like if you ate pizza then chewed spearmint gum. As much as I love peppermint, I hate spearmint. It makes me seasick. I think. I’ve never been on a cruise.
I had trouble sleeping the night of the reading. The morning after, I slipped into obsession mode.
“Why did last night rattle me so? Why didn’t I just leave?” I asked myself those things over and over. “Like my friend did. I sat in the back not far from the door. It would’ve been easy.”
At the kitchen table, I stirred my cappuccino to incorporate the steamed milk into the espresso. I like all of the beverage to be foamy, not just the top layer.
“I'll tell you why I didn’t move.” My words sounded loud, sharp. “Every body part weighed two tons. No way I could move.”
I relocated to the linoleum, my back against the snack cabinet door. Both my bunnies approached. I cringed as all 32 of their one-inch nails assaulted my thighs.
“Am I talking in my I-have-a-treat-for-you voice?” I asked. “Sorry, I don’t.” Again and again I slid their silken ears through my fingers.
“I was like Bambi in the headlights, " I told Domino and Coal Pepper, "or rather his girlfriend, Faline.  Like a doe in the road when her eyes glow in the dark and she won’t, can’t, budge. Instead she’s stuck stiff-legged in the purgatory between fight and flight. Motionless. Freaked. Incapabable of doing the one thing that’d save her.” I sighed. “That was me. Me was she.”
Domino climbed my shirt front to get at my face. Licked the salt  she found there.
Later that day I sat cross-legged on the sofa in the living room, journal open on my lap.
“I wish so much I’d left," I told the golden walls.  "I thought I was all better, healed. Am I not? Why didn’t I leave?”
Those words—why didn’t I—they’re not four letter words but they could be. Blame isn’t a curse word but it ought to be. When the finger that’s pointing at you is your own, it’s so much sharper than someone else's. Freddy Krueger sharp.
         In that moment I made a decision, closed my notebook with a snap. A minute later I opened it again and began to write.

“I’m done being oblique, finished alluding to the rest of the story.
I am a sexual abuse survivor. All my life I’ve felt like a freak for it,
like the child left in the center of the circle at the end of a game
of Farmer in the Dell. I’m not alone. Statistics say at least 1 in 5
women have been sexually abused. Count the women around you—
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.  Don’t think for a second the eyes of the
wounded ones will glow. They don't always. I can
sometimes spot them, but most of the time their Suzy Sunshine
Syndrome runs way too deep, be it nature or nurture. More often
than not, their competent  functioning misleads.”

        I shut my journal and leaned forward to collect my phone off the cocktail table. Tapped a message to my writer gal pal: If that ever happens again, take me with you when  you leave. I poke the SEND key with a metallic fingernail.
“She’ll know what I’m talking about,” I said, “’cause she’s a Suzy Sunshine too. "

Monday, July 1, 2013


Guess what? 
I'm taking a blogging break. To do stuff. 
Like what? Like:
To work on a group project. 
To refuel. 
To seek and find the mother lode of inspiration. 
To get an MFA in creative writing. 
To love my family with all my heart. 
Stuff like that. 

Check back now and again. 
I might start suddenly producing stuff at a frantic pace. 
That would be cool. 

Grace and peace~


Friday, June 21, 2013


I was sixteen or seventeen when I fell for Grizzly Adams. Not the one on TV, the one who worked construction a hundred yards from my house one summer.  Grizzly had a massive mane of chestnut gone bronze in the sun hair and a great bush of a beard that spanned shoulder to broad shoulder. I was pretty sure his eyes were blue, imagined I could see the depth of them from across the distance of my back yard plus the Catholic church’s parking lot.
            What time did I wake each morning that summer? Eight maybe? I’d slip from my bed to the lime-green shag carpet, crawl over to my window, and raise the roller blind an inch or two. There! He was always there watching, waiting. The brightness of his smile, a chasm of white, would split his tan face. I’d feel my cheeks go hot, reach down to adjust my baby doll pajamas to make sure everything was covered, in case he had bionic vision or something similar. He’d wave and turn back to his work—hammering, heaving. I always felt sad when his back was to me, like he was altogether gone. A flick of my wrist and the blind would rest on the cool of the marble window sill once more.
            In the kitchen I’d gobble Cheerios with a spoonful of sugar and a pour of gosh-awful-powder-plus-water-milk, my father’s punishment for our family’s dairy addiction. After breakfast I’d brusha-brusha-brusha with Colgate or Crest, whichever toothpaste Mom had bought on sale at the Big Bear. I’d count to thirty as I addressed each quadrant of my mouth.
            Returning to my bedroom with its barely pink walls and French Provincial furniture, I'd don jean shorts and a tank top or boob tube.  For lipgloss and mascara application, I’d revisit the bathroom with its superior lighting. I often soaked the front of my shorts as I leaned toward the mirror to apply aqua eyeliner at the corners of my eyes to make them seem feline, like Scarlett Meador’s. During the school year, she rode the same bus as me and her eye makeup expertise fascinated me and the majority of the boys on the bus it seemed. She had this way of blinking  real slow and I was determined to master that as well.
            To do my hair, I’d perch on the end of my bed and study myself in the mirror. One braid or two? All of it in a pony tail or clenched to the back of my head with a barrette? Or maybe a bun, like a prima ballerina.  
Once coiffed, I’d hover next to the window and hold my breath, my fingers on the ring on the string beneath the blind. Yank! The plastic sheath would hiss up, wrapping itself around the roller at the top if I didn’t stop it halfway. There! He was there, waiting, watching, for the moment my blue eyes found his.
“How much older than me do you think he is?” I asked this question of Karen Dandelet one morning. She was my neighbor and best friend forever. She’d spent the night with me, both of us pressed into my twin bed like no-passing lines on a road.
Karen touched her nose to the glass, breathed a Cheerio-scented cloud onto it. “I bet he’s 24 or 26, don’t you think?”
I nudged her away from the window, concerned her dark hair and eyes and much fuller boob tube might be competition.
“Do you think my dad would mind,” I said, “Grizzly being that much older than me when he asks for my hand in marriage?”
One of Karen’s eyes pinched shut as she pondered my question. A hundred yards away Grizzly waved and smiled, turned back to his work.


Friday, June 14, 2013

*What Have I Done?*

At sixteen, I’m a pro at resisting the flow. Every other girl in my school boasts almost butt-length, straightened hair. As they slink through the halls, I inhale the scent of their tresses—crispy, burned, sort of like a campfire but not really. Campfires smell good.
            For the longest time, I embraced my curls. My mom made sure I never ran out of Herbal Essence Tousle Me Softly shampoo and conditioner. Bad hair day? No prob. I’d gather my bra strap-length jumble into a messy, hair-banded bun, tweak out strategic tendrils to frame my face and accent my Kraft Caramel eyes.
            I remember the time some preppy girl got nauseous in biology lab. We had to open windows to let the Formaldehyde fumes escape. Icy, Appalachian air rushed the room. To warm my neck and shoulders, I liberated my hair.
            “What is that smell?
            “Is it flowers?”
            “Nah, I think it’s apples.”
            I surveyed the guys around me—hotties, creepers, athletes. They all had their noses in the air. The lot of them closed in on me, sniffing. A blonde wrestler boy pointed at me.
            “It’s her,” he said. He hovered his face near my curls and sucked in their fragrance. “It’s her hair. Holy crap!  It smells amazing!”
            I shoved him, pretended offense, but really? That’s my favorite high school moment to date.

“What have I done?” 
            On my daybed my mother cringed, avoided my eyes, steepled her fingers.
            “It’s darling, sweetheart. Really, it is.”
            She reached out to stroke a random long piece. It looked like an accident, a hairdresser’s lack of expertise. I dragged my hands over the choppy darkness. Moaned.
            “Did you see this coming? Did you?”
            Mom stood and fluffed my pillows. She glanced in the mirror above my dresser, pinky-fingered lipstick out of the corners of her mouth.
            “Tami and I both told you there was no telling what your hair would do short. She said you’d have to blow dry, straighten, and use product to make your hair like that picture.”
            I hurled my comb at the mirror. “When? When did she say that?”
            Mom started to count on her fingers. I crumpled to the floor.
            “What am I going to do? Tomorrow’s school. They’ll call me skate rat and boy. If I wear my leather jacket, they’ll say I'm a dyke on a bike. Dyke!  I hate that word.”
            Mom joined me on the rug, tossed my Converse high tops toward the closet. On either side of me her legs were parentheses of love, no, protection. Well, both.
            “Oh, sweet pea,” she said, “you’re gorgeous. No one would ever think you’re a boy.”
            She tugged at a cluster of wild, stick out hairs, wet her fingers and tried to smooth the strands. Epic failed. I collapsed against her, my hands fists between us.
            “I lied, Mama,” I whispered against her neck. She smelled familiar—fruity, flowery. “I told myself I didn’t care what anyone thought, but that’s not true.”
            Her breath warmed my left ear, made it moist.
            “I want to be beautiful,” I said, “more than anything. I said I wanted to be different but I thought I’d look classy, elegant, like Audrey Hepburn.”
            Mom’s breathing stuttered. Is she crying too? She nudged my face toward the mirror beside my bed, pointed to us.
            “Baby, consider who you’re talking to. I’m addicted to my eyelash curler. I won’t go to the grocery store without makeup on. For crying out loud, I’m a Sephora Very Important Buyer. I know. I know what it’s like to want to be pretty, sweetie. Me of all people? I know.”
            I laid my cheek against hers and our tears swam together. I played with her rings, made them all face up.
            “I kept thinking, even if I’m ugly, some little bald girl can be beautiful with a wig made from my hair. But now? That’s not enough.” I twisted to look Mom in the eye. “Does that make me a bad person?”
            She clasped her hands under my ribs and rocked me, shushed and there-thered me.
            “I never thought I’d be ugly, Mama, never.” My never sounded as if I’d inhaled helium.
            I sagged forward and poked my fingers into my hair. I felt stinging as my face started to implode. Mom reached around me to cup my cheek.
            “But you’re not, sweetheart. There’s no—”  
            The girl in the mirror snorted snot. “I know, I mean— My face is still pretty but you don’t know high-schoolers, Mama. They’re mean. So, so mean. Flesh caught in zippers mean.”
            Mom rested her chin on my shoulder. “I’ll pray for you tomorrow, I promise. I won’t stop, not for a second.”
            I nodded and smiled, tried to anyway. “I know you will. Thanks.”
            I heaved myself up, trudged over to my dresser and plucked an aqua eyeliner out of the mug I made in eighth-grade art class. I stepped in front of the full-length mirror on my closet door and wrote in cursive on the glass: I am beautiful.” My breath fogged the mirror as I underlined the sentence, over and over.


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