Inside

It was almost too sad, the whole thing.

She walked around the house, opening all the doors and cabinets and drawers. She studied the bedside photos of the man with this woman. The woman could have been her – maybe. But it was not.

She inspected the artwork, the decor and anything else she could see without touching. Anything that did not make sense to her – she knew these pieces belonged to the woman she was not and not to the man she knew. She made mental notes of what she saw.

She paused to wonder if he could see her. Something she knew was not possible but a thought that came into her head all the same.

She shifted her mind away from the idea and felt some small pleasure in the joy she gleaned from his belongings, his frozen smile in the pictures, his grasp on this other woman. Who he was – finally revealed in everything around her.

And this is what she focused on, and not the strange old sadness that filled some part of her.

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the couch

It was a deep navy. velvet. and so deep you could get lost in its crevices.

it had once been the couch in the waiting room of the most powerful man in the company. a man who purposely kept the anteroom to his office extra warm so you would sweat just sitting there.

the man fell, eventually, from his position – and because the new power structure had other methods for tormenting people, the couch was moved into a makeshift storage room in the attic of the ancient building.

she found it when she was asked to take a different office too – a tiny dark room that looked out onto the back alley of finance – and the facilities guys, feeling a bit sorry for her, had let her wander around to gather odds and ends for the dank space.

she remembered the couch from her own time on it – the unnatural warmth and embrace of the sofa had never bothered her because she was always too chilly and always too small for the adult office environment – facts that had been to her advantage during many tense meetings with her hot and uncomfortably agitated male counterparts.

and now the disgraced couch sat in her small dim office where she continued to toil under new management. she would tell the story of the couch to anyone who stopped long enough to sit on it.

and there was something that seemed right about her rescue of this small part of the company’s history – as if though she was salvaging her own role in it as well.

Andrea

It was one of those sticky hot Missouri nights, when even the wail of the cicadas seemed to swim through the wet heat. We were waiting on the curb in a dark spot under Old Man Woodbury’s oak tree, squatting silently. We took up the spot directly across from Andrea’s house because it gave us a good view of what was happening inside. We could see right into the house through the big window in the front room. Not that we needed to see anything – we could hear everything we needed in order to understand what was going on inside the house.

And we were not strangers to Andrea and her “family meetings”. Andrea always had a family meeting on Saturdays. Randy, her stepdad, said it was good to account for their many sins before the Sabbath and so they all gathered in the living room late Saturday afternoons to let Randy lash out at them: Andrea, her mom and her little brother. So, yeah, it wasn’t much of a meeting – and there was nothing family-like about it.

We felt somehow protected by the big oak while we stared into the darkness and listened to the pained cries of Andrea and her family and the husky screams of Randy belittling them for their various imperfections. We were all misfits ourselves, some of us with our own Randys and all of us on the outside edges of life.

When the yelling and crying subsided, we would pick up our bottles of alcohol – whatever we had been able to scrounge during the week – and head inside Andrea’s house to drink and play cards together, a rowdy bunch finding courage in fifths of Jack Daniels.

Randy let us drink and pretend, and so we overlooked the violence he inflicted on our friend. And we all knew that as long as Andrea was the target of his sexual molestation later, when we were all drunk, we would say nothing. Randy was the man in charge of the family anyway and it wasn’t our business.

But hell, the whole neighborhood knew. It was on display every week in the picture window of the front room.

None of us ever did anything to help Andrea. Not that night or any other one.  And that was just the way it was.

the long climb

I am climbing so slowly

I am barely moving

He waits quietly for me to catch up

We rest for a moment

We sip water together 

Then we continue in silence

He, pacing himself to stay next to me

We climb toward the mountain top

Where I know he will leave me and

I will stay to love what is left behind

Modern mothering

He says, “She knows she hates you – but she understands she needs you.”

He pauses to rethink this declaration. “Well, maybe ‘hate’ is not the right word. Maybe what I mean is that she’s just really angry with you. ” 

I interrupt, “It’s okay, Jonathan. I believe it’s the right word. Please continue.” 

And I close my eyes to hear this therapist I’ve never met tell me through the phone all about the incomprehensibly tangled story of a broken bond between a mother and a child.  

“I see glimmers of progress,” he offers in conclusion. 

But I know he doesn’t mean for me.  

So I go back to my work, and I work extra late that night to make up for the sadness that gnaws away my productivity.  

Breakfast

Mother’s Day Menu 2017 

Fresh berries (only the blue ones because the red ones looked ‘funny’)

Blueberry pancakes (lovingly half-cooked and half-scorched)

Salad dressing (because it also could be syrup when you’re young and sleepy)

Coffee 

And a nap…..(the chef went back to bed immediately after)

The coat

It was time to leave and he held her coat in his hands, ready for her. 

But after all these years, she still hadn’t figured out how to let anyone help her with her coat on and he still hadn’t figured out how to coax her into trusting him enough to do it. 

Her arm flailed around behind her and he bobbed to catch it with the sleeve of her coat. 

Eventually they managed – and she ran out of the bar into the busy street. He stood and watched, thinking that the scene had been like some horrible metaphor for their clumsy romance. 

vermont (for jim)

He went looking for
his long ago lover
in the snowy dark, though
his wife of 23 years lay
next to him.
When he found her,

the sun was only just
washing over the horizon,
casting life onto his
blue hued face and
giving false hope
to his fresh widow.

dreaming in vignette

I sat completely still.

My mother brushed my long hair slowly and carefully, and I closed my eyes to better feel the love in her hands.  She said she was going to trim the ends of my hair for me, cut away the dead and old, leaving crisp new edges against which I could cup my palms.

While she brushed, mother told me she had heard on the radio of a new world. That the once powerful landowners had lost their rights when the water came, and now people like us were starting new lives above the water, high up in abandoned buildings.  As she spoke, I imagined our life in this new place.

Mother finished talking just as she clipped the last strand of my hair, and I opened my eyes.  She put her hands on my shoulders and looked me in the face.  Tears troubled her gentle brown eyes.  “This new place sounds promising, doesn’t it, child?  I will not be there for this part of your life but I know that it will be quite an adventure for you. Now, go.”

I wasn’t sure what she was saying.  But then I saw all of my hair, a thick dark mess on the ground – and under my mother, a growing pool of red – and I knew.

I slipped quietly into the dark water near me and sank downward until I had no more mother.

Dodie

Dodie is the one who saved me.

She is the one who patiently explained to me what ‘motherfucker’ really meant when I was about 6 and fell in love with the syncopation of cursing.  (Which, by the way, I still love.)

She is the one who fed me butter and white sugar sandwiches on summer nights after my long days of playing along the rocky edge of the railroad tracks. She knew my real mom would be upset if I arrived home filthy so she would hose down my bare feet outside and tame my unruly hair into Princess Leia braided buns.

She is the one who showed infinite patience when I showed up uninvited at her front door nearly every day and never wanted to go home – even when she was dealing with the many crises of her erratic husband and troubled children. I was that odd dangling .3 in her made-up nuclear unit of 2.3 children, always making myself quiet and small so I could stay there while everything else raged around me.

She is the one who found time to drive me to a Planned Parenthood in the next big town over … every month … in her Dodge Aries.  She waited outside – and never asked a single question about it.  No lectures. No disapproving looks. Just a chocolate milkshake and quick hug at the end of every trip.

She is the one who taught me to save some of my lunch money every day until I had the money for the little packet of birth control pills – and the other affordable health services Planned Parenthood provided – exams, tests, screenings. And she taught me to save for my future, too.

Yes, my future.

She is the one who first told me that I had a future – for which I was responsible – something I could shape into my own.  The first one to tell me to watch and learn from other people’s mistakes, including her own – to dream about happiness bigger than the feel of the warm sun after a self-serve car wash – and to leave our small town if I wanted to have any chance at all.

Dodie had a sickly red beehive, even in the 1980s, and wore garish lipstick and submissive sex costumes to please her husband.  Dodie believed in aliens, feminism, paranormal conspiracy theories and junk food – which probably also explained her ability to be a devout member of a cult-like religious sect in town.  Dodie worked at the local hospital watching people die for money, and when she wasn’t doing that, she made hurried meals for us out of cans and boxes while her husband worked the night shift at the local plant.  Together, she and her husband also slowly built a shelter in their backyard for the end of the world – but in which they mostly indulged in his bizarre sexual fantasies.

Dodie’s own children – who were my closest childhood friends – were a brilliant mess. We met in the gifted programs at the public school but her kids honed their skills in arson and shoplifting while I finetuned my cursing — until eventually, a vice principal at my middle school took note of my mastery of both obscenities and grammar and pulled me in a different direction.

Dodie still lives in my hometown, a divorced chain smoker with an old Dodge car.  She talks about signs of the apocalypse in between bursts of excitement about the latest television show thrillers. She continues to devote herself to her messy (now adult) children, disturbed (now ex) husband and their continuing crises.  She wears crazy off-kilter wigs,  no bra and a slash of orange-red lipstick smeared across weathered lips.  She is – always was – this zany mix of contradictions, most of which as an adult I do not really like or understand. 

And as unlikely as it may seem, I consider her to be my modern day savior.  Takes all kinds, I suppose.