The meal

Over our meal, he talks mostly about his girlfriend. She is almost a decade younger than I. In the photos, she is one dimensional–beautiful and happy, unmarked by the strain of failed marriages and motherhood.

It is a strange and giddy unease with which he speaks about her: as though her youth and beauty heightens his sense of the power of his wealth and his own mortality. He seems to feast greedily on her vitality; she makes him feel more alive and vibrant, no doubt while her own existence has sallowed.

When we part, he comments with surprise about my graying hair. In his mind, he says, I am young. But no, I tell him: I am hurtling toward death like everyone else and trying to seize all that life offers before it escapes me, too.

I get in my car and realize with relief that I am no longer an object to covet.

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The bow

I have a confession to make: My Christmas spirit has a dark blight spreading over it.

Because I am possibly the person who off-handedly complained about that

{very large} {tremendously glittery}

bow hanging from our internal office door.

The one that dropped gold flecks all over my angry black outfits and bespeckled the sanitorium white walls of our clinically sparse, modern workplace.

And my grinchy-day grievances traversed the open spaces above our cheap desks to the ears of another who whispered into the ears of another who whispered into the ears of another until

a ladder and man arrived to cut down said

{very large} {tremendously glittery}

bow hanging from our internal office door.

I first heard about it on my way in from the office garage, several days later: the recounting of the repugnant “bow incident” – the massacre of holiday cheer by some anonymous scrooge. The office was quite agog about it.

I didn’t quite believe it until I saw for myself … the naked glass door shimmering slightly with the hint of gold glitter bits.

Tina from upstairs said she was planning to hang her own bow – in solidarity, she said. Craig is reported to have offered his condolences for its removal. Everyone said it was shocking.

I spent an entire evening feeling terrible that I might have caused this whole scene. Wondering what could have possessed me to complain and straining to remember exactly what I might have said and why. After all, what kind of mean person detests office holiday decorations ?

And I was about to spill my guts last Tuesday except right then someone’s uncle died – and I decided to just keep my bah-humbugging to myself.

So, yeah. I guess I’m just not really in the mood this year for Merry Christmas and other stuff.

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.

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.