Friday, March 29, 2013

+The Mourning After+

I will be naked soon for the rending of my garments, hairless too. The women assure me grief softens with time. Not mine. The pain in my mother’s heart is as Job’s pottery shards. Never will the knife-edged fragments cease to cut me, from the inside out.
            The women grip my wrists, to keep my nails from my face.
            “You will be ugly.”
            What do I care? I have no need, no desire for beauty, for a husband. I have John now. My Jesus presented him to me and me to him, a parting gift. Dear John, the only one who did not flee—trembling, bleating, denying.
I sensed the greatness of my son from the very beginning, from the moment when I heard his first moist breath and mewling cry. A seemingly ordinary infant until you drew closer and felt the urge to be with, to listen to, to learn from. What? What is it a babe can know? Any other? Nothing. This one? Everything and more.
            Joseph had stood behind me in that place, in that moment.
            “It is . . . He is . . . as the angels said.”  
            I felt my thoughts and Joseph’s merge, run together like a river. My words came out into the night air with the silver mist of my breath.
            “This babe will change everything, everyone.”
            My consciousness withdrew from my husband’s as I felt a contraction, a wringing, in my womb. I had a vision of a grape press—ancient and of stone—pressing, crushing, seeming to destroy my son. I attempted to stand, failed. Bent at the waist, I forced my fists against my gut. A growl of a moan worked its way up and out of me. I shook my head, felt the over and over whip of wet hair in my eyes. My tears drenched the dung at my feet.
Every day as he grew into his destiny this was my prayer:
            “Not today, LORD, nor tomorrow. Let there be one more day, Master. He’s my precious boy child. Allow him another day to teach, to heal, to love. He has all of eternity to be with you. Please, afford me a few more . . .”
The women hover, their hands and fingers like insects close to my face. I swat and moan.
            “Leave. Me. Be.”
            I gaze toward the Temple Mount. “Take me, Abba, sooner than later. Today, please? I want to see him, touch him, kneel before him, one more time.”
            I consider the rope on the bucket in the well.
Elizabeth is on her way. She sent word. It will be a comfort to spend hours, no, days, mourning our sons. For a season they were the bright stars of this world. A season so brief before they were snatched by evil men for the sake of pride, power, pleasure even.
            We can starve together, Elizabeth and me, call it fasting. We have no appetites; they perished with our sons. Moses himself could bring manna and we would bow our heads, purse our lips, turn away.
            I will let Elizabeth hold me. Rather, I will cradle her fragile, diminished frame. Free her hair, comb its grayness with my fingers, murmur into the mass of it.
            “You pretend I am John. I will make believe you are my Jesus.”
            We have no need of husbands. It is no longer necessary to pretend we love them more than the fruit of our loins.
My Jesus never resembled me, did not have my eyes, the cleft in my chin. Even so, he belonged to me. I carried him in my inmost parts. His purity came through mine. No woman has ever, will ever again, do what I have done. My life will be the death of me.
            “He will save his people from their sins.” The angel told Joseph that.
            The most glorious purpose the world has ever known and yet, I hate it. My LORD knows and loves me still. My confession is the world’s victory. How can there still be fools? Have you not seen? Have you not heard?
            No, he was not beautiful other than to me. Most did not appreciate his not-of-this-world-ness. Only if you sat at his feet or knelt before him could you glimpse heaven’s light and then, only if your heart was at the perfect angle of understanding. The shalom of Yahweh—a greeting, a covenant, an overwhelming peace—would engulf you for all time when you were surrounded by the light that was Jesus. That, I will hold fast to that—light, shalom, Yeshua HaMashiach.

Friday, March 22, 2013

An Unexpected Grief

(Sometimes we write to connect with others. Other times we write to connect with ourselves, our pain. This is one of those circumstances. This piece of writing is oblique and I know it.  Even so, I can’t bring myself to be otherwise. Yet.)

Will you weep with me? Share my woe? Then perhaps it will be halved, divided. Might you accompany me to the places sadness leads, examine the items it dredges up? 
            I grieved the unknown then found I preferred it to the truth. Now randomly, frequently, the surprise of loss claws at me, flings punches in the vicinity of my kidneys. I wasn’t ready. It was too soon, much.
            The trail of my tears is charcoal gray with bits of plum and glimmers of silver shine, or is it Fool’s Gold?
             The feeling of responsibility whether warranted or not is insistent. If only . . . What if . . . I shouldn’t have . . . It’s not even my burden but I take it on gladly, not wanting it to break another beneath its crush.  And then there is the silence, the secret, that must be maintained. We cannot open wounds in others with this knowledge. Secrecy is a frigid lightless cave insisting you are alone even if you're not.
            Should I thank this sorrow for the way it’s making my hand bleed upon the page? In this moment, I wish I’d write never more. Will I be despised? For my incompleteness, my lack of clarity, my refusal to truth tell? Translate my reticence as mystery, an opportunity. Fill in the blanks with your heart. What is your secret grief, your regret? What is the reason you hum, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus” and soon after, “And the things of this world will grow strangely dim”? Or perhaps your song is, "Comfortably Numb."
            I want to gather the people who know, the very few—the two, no, three, who are aware. I’ll arrange us in a row with me in the middle then I’ll unfold a handkerchief and smooth it out atop my thighs, outline a fuchsia lipstick heart in the center. Soon after, I’ll drop my tears inside of it. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

+Always When+

The man jabbed at his oatmeal before he took a bite, certain he’d recognize poison if he saw it.  From time to time he used his binoculars to note his wife’s progress out in the yard. While he ate, he scratched on the notepad next to his bowl: church, filling station, library, home. He ripped the paper from the spiral and tucked it into his breast pocket, rose from the table and deposited his bowl in the sink, ran water to fill it. He returned to the picture window for one last property inspection. When he saw her gaze lift, he ducked behind the curtain.
            He tucked the newspaper under his arm and walked down the hall to the bathroom. Before he sat, he took the list from his pocket, smoothed it and propped it on the vanity where he’d be able to review it, recite its lines over and over, so he wouldn’t forget. He hated the forgetting and its frequency of late.
            “First I’ll drop her at her Bible study then I’ll fill up the car. Her and the hens’ll yack for at least an hour, maybe two, so I’ll have plenty of time to go to the library, look up ways she and her doctor might be trying to kill me.” He ran his hand over the nape of his neck. “Might have time for a trim too.”


She didn’t speak on the way to town other than to point out the bluets that were lighting up the forest floor on her side of the car.
            He kept his eyes straight ahead. “Can’t look, gotta watch the road.”
            He clenched his teeth when he spotted it, the turn where he’d gotten the Buick hung up back before Christmas. Near as he could tell everything had pretty much gone all to hell that night.
            There hadn’t been a storm like that in forever, started out with hail as big as chestnuts, moved on to ice. He should’ve known better than to go down the mountain when The Weather Channel said not to, but they’d both had a hankering for cheeseburgers and pie from Larry’s Diner, plus he figured he could beat it—the mountain, the weather. Besides, how often were those young TWC bucks right?
            The Buick had fish-tailed on an ice patch. He steered in the opposite direction and the car’s rear end swung wildly, first one way then the other. He death-gripped the steering wheel and pumped the brakes again and again. When the car finally came to a stop, they were half-on, half-off the road. He glanced over at his wife. Her eyes were shut tight and she was whispering to herself a mile a minute. He reached over and patted her leg.
            When she opened her eyes, he smiled. “See? I got it under control.”
            He put the car in park, set the emergency brake, and popped the trunk. As he rooted around for the bag of kitty litter, he heard something. He inch-stepped toward the sound, clutched the trunk’s edge, leaned hard right. A man was there.
            “Who the hell are you?” he roared as he slip-slid his way toward his wife’s door.
            The stranger straightened, extended one hand but kept the other near his wife’s window. Is he touching her, the man thought, is he? He could barely hear the stranger’s voice over the howl of the wind and the siss of the sleet.
            “Michael Taylor, sir. I thought I might be of assistance. I have four wheel drive and a cell phone. May I drive you two off the mountain? Call a tow truck?”
            The man fought to keep his composure in front of the handsome young stranger, in front of his wife, in front of the good-looking stranger who no doubt wanted his wife, might've already— He squinted at the name tag on the man’s suit jacket. Remember the name, he thought. Do not forget it. 
             The stranger glanced down. “I just left the hospital. I’m a physician there, internal medicine.”
            “Of course you are,” the older man said. “Well, you can move along now. I don’t need your help. I’ve got kitty litter in the trunk. We’ll be just fine.”
            He saw the doctor take one more look at his wife before he walked back to his fancy vehicle. The older man waited for him to leave but he didn’t. He stayed until the Buick got back on the road.
            On the way down the mountain, the older man kept checking the rear view mirror.          
            “Damn fool’s following us,” he said.
            His wife’s hand hovered near his shoulder. He slapped at it. 
            “Don’t you coddle me. I know what you and your—” He heard the whisper of her coat on the seat as she tipped over to look out the side view mirror.
            “Don’t be . . . He is not. See, he's turning.”
            The man hunched closer to the steering wheel. “Yeah, but now he knows we live around here somewhere.”

Friday, March 8, 2013

Always When

The crows were uncommonly loud that day. She heard them from inside the house even, as she stood beside the stove stirring his oatmeal. Afterward, as she went out to refill the bird feeder, they screamed at the woman, reminded her how she’d always thought them harbingers of death. Their caws were so insistent she had to stop and lean against the ancient oak in the side yard.
            “This is the day.” She spoke the words into a wad of damp handkerchief. When she finally moved on, she repeated the phrase, added to it. “This is the day the Lord hath made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.”
            At the back of the yard but nowhere near the actual property line, she twirled the dial on the padlock that protected the shed’s contents, tugged on its weight and in the evergreen shadows felt it fall open in her palm. As she entered the dim, she paused a moment to watch her breath feather the mountain air. She pulled the scent of pine deep into herself, held it there as long as she could. 
            "Just in case it's the last time," she said on the exhale.
            She plunged both hands into a five-gallon bucket and withdrew twin mounds of peanuts in the shell. She filled her jacket pockets then turned, clucked and made kissy noises to signal the squirrels it was breakfast time. When she walked back into the light squinting, there they were, a dozen or more clustered around the doorway, waiting with soft bright eyes and twitching tails. Something inside her unclenched. The nuts were gone in a blink.
            “Hold on,” she told her darlings. She disappeared back into the dark, heaved the half empty five-gallon bucket waist-high and made her way back outside. In the sun's shine she tipped the pail and moved in a slow circle until the ground was littered with peanuts.
            The woman puffed a gray tendril away from her eyes. “I’d tell you to make ’em last, but you wouldn’t, would you?”
            One little fellow took to coughing and bits of nutmeat flew out of his mouth in a spray. His tiny head thrust forward over and over as he made miniature, hacking squeaks.   The woman reached for him but he bolted toward the woods and his friends followed.
            “See? You gotta be careful what you ask for,” she told the retreating crowd, “'cause you just might get it.” She fingered the cross that dangled from a chain near her throat divot. “I don’t even know if I’ll miss you,” she said to the place where they’d been. “I have no idea.”

Friday, March 1, 2013

*Pretty Old*

“Excuse me, ma’am.”
            I pressed my finger to the page and glanced up. In front of me, a freckly, buzz-cut boy shifted his weight from right foot to left. He ground his gloved palms together. He was 11, maybe 12.
            “I just got in trouble for being mean to my little sister.”
            I clicked my tongue. “That’s not good.”
            “My mom told me to do a random act of kindness to make up for it.”
            “And I’m the recipient?  Not your sister?”
            He nodded, glanced back over his shoulder.
            I dog-eared my page and closed my book, cradled my mocha mug, tried not to grin.
            “Let’s hear what you’ve got.”
            I winked at his mom a few tables away. She waved.
            The boy cleared his throat. “You’re pretty old.”
            I placed my hand on my chest and coughed. The mom sagged.
            “I’m so sorry,” she mouthed.
            I winced as he pulled out the chair next to mine. He sat, yanked off his gloves, and rubbed his hands on his jeaned thighs.
            “That didn’t come out right, did it?”
            I shrugged, puffed air at my bangs. “I’ve been called worse.”
            He leaned toward me. “But, ma’am,” he said, “you don’t understand.”
            I watched his eyes. They started at the top of my head and slid down past my shoulders.
            “Your hair’s so shiny you could do a shampoo commercial. And your eyes, are they blue or green? Your fingernails’re almost black. That’s cool.”
            I felt a small, wry smile begin to bloom on my face.
            “I didn’t mean you’re old, ma’am. I mean, you are, older than my mom anyway. But you’re pretty and old, pretty old. Get it?”
            I leaned forward and covered his hands with mine. 
            “I got it, sweet boy,” I said. “It’s taken me half a lifetime but I got it, finally.”
“What the heck do you need a bra for?” my middle oldest brother said, hooted really.
            I whimpered and hightailed it from the dinner table to my petal pink bedroom.
            “He’s right,” I told the only stuffed animal I ever loved. It wasn’t even an animal. Jot was a giant smiley face with a tee tiny body.
            “I’m too flat to need a bra and too chubby to need a belt.”
            Mom came in and perched on the end of my bed. “Let’s go to Sears, after I do dishes.”
            I didn’t lift my face from Jot’s teeny neck. “Can I get a stretchy bra and panty set?  Light purple?  Like Jot?”
            Mom caressed my back so lightly I barely knew her hand was there.
            “Sure, honey. Whatever you want.”
I sat in the audience and watched my best friend get crowned third place in the Miss Flame beauty contest. Next to me, her mom and dad clapped so hard I wanted to hold my ears. I applauded too, but only because it was expected. I should want her to win, right?  I sighed. But she’s everything I’m not. I squashed the thought down. That’s mean. It bobbed right back up like the candy bar in the swimming pool in Caddyshack. She looks like a cross between Cher and Brooke Shields. Me?  Cindy Brady plus Dorothy Hamill’s hairdo equal me.
            Last year’s Miss Flame handed my gal pal a daisy bouquet, nestled a twinkly tiara into her almost-black updo. I squinted at my friend. Her legs come up to my armpits and she’s a C cup. I inhaled deep then let my  breath hiss out through my teeth. I’m an A.
            My friend’s mom stood and snapped a picture of the first, second, and third place Miss Flames all snuggled together. I blinked a bunch of times to make sure I wasn’t blind.
            The mom turned to me. “You want a picture with her?”
            I smiled, sort of. “Sure.” So everyone can look at the photo album and call her gorgeous and me cute. Cute is a four letter word.
“I want to try something,” my hairstylist said. “Don’t peek.”
            I squeezed my eyes shut and waited while she fiddled behind me. What’s she up to?  A few minutes later, she twirled the chair around to face the mirror. I tilted my head. Who’s that?
            “Do you like it?” Tami said.
            My eyes appeared buggy in the reflection. I stuck my hands out from under the fuchsia cape and reached up to explore my hair. It felt like someone else's, all soft and sleek, barely there.
             “I’ve never had straight hair,” I said. “I look different, pretty.”
            “Pretty?” Tami said. “You’re beautiful.”
            I felt a ball of air inside me, behind my breastbone. Have I held my breath all my life?  Just waiting?  For someone to call me beautiful?
            “You look 15 years younger,” the receptionist said. “Your kids are gonna think you’re the babysitter.”
            “Bangs are the new Botox, you know,” the nail tech said.
            Tami unsnapped my cape and dabbed at my neck with a huge powder puff. I stepped toward the mirrored wall, watched my breath make a silver circle. I slicked my lips with pinky brown lipgloss and smooshed them together, made a kissy face.
            “You should enter that Mrs. America beauty contest,” the shampoo girl said. “I bet you’d win.”
            I hovered my fingers under my eyes, to hide the crow’s feet.
            “But I’m old,” I said, even though I didn’t feel it, “getting there anyway.”
            Tami snorted. “You’re not old,” she said. “You’re beautiful, really.”
            I turned to face her. “Will you say that again please?  A little louder?” So I believe it.


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