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 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.

Fault lines

He moved close, he pulled me tightly to him.
He wanted me to know I had done a good job.
And then he wanted to know, could he kiss me for it?

He was not holding a weapon.
He asked for permission.
We were standing in the office hallway.

Another man asked to accompany me back to the hotel after work.
It was late, a foreign city, so I agreed.
He demanded a kiss – “it’s what the Europeans do.”

He didn’t have a gun to my head.
Security guards were posted nearby.
We were in the busy well-lit hotel lobby.

And still, I didn’t feel I could say no.
Instead, I thought: I need a new job.
Instead, I thought: my fault.


number 8

when it is standing up, it reminds her of a snowman, and when it gets tired & lays down, it simply becomes infinity, which is pretty neat for being lazy 

and she still consults a magic 8-ball for answers to tricky questions, 

and she constantly feels that she’s behind the 8-ball,

and since she was a kid, her favorite joke has been that 7 8 9 

– even though in real life she is terrible at math and billiards, 

she enjoys all that word play around this one magnificent number. 



Here she was on the train again, two fresh train accidents in the news, struggling to remember all the elaborate rules she created after 9/11 to give herself the ability to continue her commute, a mundane daily task that suddenly felt so dangerous.  What had her rituals been?  Slowly they came back to her:

Don’t sit in the front car.

Don’t sit in the back car.

Sit on the top deck of a double decker train.

Sit by the nearest exit.

Sit alone if possible.

The long and the short of it was that, once she applied all her filters, she spent about a year standing in train aisles.

And then slowly she became numb to the constant strain of anxiety.  And there was the fatigue of fear : she simply did not have the energy or stamina to be afraid every day.  She started sitting down anywhere convenient. She forgot to check for exits. She slept – no, she drooled – on most rides back and forth, lulled by the jerky sway and clatter of the commuter railway.

She remembered as well occasionally hoping that if, as a result of her lapse in fantasy safety routines she was going to die randomly, it be during that perfect bliss moment when she surrendered to a seat after a long day and let that train carry her homeward.

So now, as these memories came back into focus, she just took the nearest seat and settled in for a nap. Her main concern was not to drool on the man next to her.

Sleepaway camp

It was a very serious discussion, the subject being the care of her child’s beloved teddy bear.  

Her daughter was about to go to sleepaway camp for the first time ever – and her daughter had made the very important decision that – unlike all of her other adventures so far – teddy bear should stay home. Her daughter explained that she wanted teddy bear to be safe and clean and not lost or forgotten somewhere at camp. Her daughter was willing to make the journey alone if she knew that teddy bear was going to be at home waiting for her return. So the mother agreed to keep teddy bear safe and clean and not lost or forgotten.  The mother agreed that teddy bear would wait and that her daughter was selfless and brave for going alone to camp.  

The mother just was not sure about herself, that’s all.  

Dog love 5

The poor dog is afraid of all flying buzzy things.  

Tonight, she ran away from her spot next to my bed when a fly wandered in from outside – literally escaped to the second floor of the house to sleep next to my daughter’s bed far away from any buzzies.  And last weekend, she refused to pee in the front yard because she heard a bee nearby one morning. 

What the canine doesn’t really understand yet – and maybe never will – is that she possesses the ultimate insect repellent.  Her stealth flatulence would drive away even the most persistent and deadly flying buzzy things. 

The play 

The daughter, she wrote a play. For school. For a class. It was just an assignment but now the school wants to perform the play. 

Then the mother, she reads only three paragraphs and immediately sees her daughter’s pain piercing through the words : 

a young girl who doesn’t quite understand why her father left but who knows enough to realize that the world has changed and there’s nothing she can do to stop it. 

And the daughter, she tells her teacher that her mother told her to trust her instincts and she did. And it came out just so. 

And the mother, she is grateful that her daughter found the words and freed them. 

But the mother, she knows, she knows that the intended audience will never hear these words. 

And the mother, she cries, she cries for her wounded girl who may now begin to heal. 


She ran so many miles.  

She put on headphones and ran everywhere in all sorts of weather.  She ran away from her home and didn’t want to turn around. She kept pushing her legs and her pounding heart to move beyond him, to forget him – this man who had awakened her mind and her body after both had been slumbering for so long. 

Before she met him, she existed in a haze. She worked, she mothered, she wifed.  She didn’t notice herself, let alone anyone outside of her immediate focus. And then one day she sat in a meeting with him and felt a slight prickle of lusty infatuation all over her skin.  He looked at her with an intensity she felt in her toes. He talked to her – too much.  He asked her questions that were much too personal, ones about her happiness and her sense of meaning.  And worse, she listened and she answered.

And then she found herself at his door more than she cared to say for a longer period of time than she dared to consider. They did not speak at these times. He just opened the door and let her in – and tangled in the dark together, they did not promise or pretend anything.  She did this until he told her that nothing good could come of it.  

And then she was simply left with her running.  


Another memory.  Tears unexpectedly filled her eyes.  How much longer now until the end? 

She looked up at the hazy sun held gently among bare branches. 

She took a deep breath and when she let go of it, the trees reached down to carry her pain and the sun blotted out the darkness of her mind.