Friday, December 17, 2010

The Week Before My Next Christmas

The day started with snow and deer tracks and the thwack of my mother’s cane, building in crescendo, on the wall between our bedrooms.

It fell, the snow did, without vengeance or sound; it brought no trouble.  Instead, it spilled through the empty spaces as softly as an eyelash fluttering to a cheek.  Light and quiet and intimate.   I saw all this as I stood in front of the lone window in my room, listening to the thumping blows from the cane and wondering what could be so important so early.

Still thinking of the prints in the snow and wishing I had seen the deer there, pawing at the ground looking for the candy of fallen acorns, I opened her door and asked, "Are you OK, mom?  What do you need?"

“My dog” she said, “my dog wants to go out now.”  Her voice like parchment, her words a plea to be stronger, healthier, younger.  

I realized I was holding my breath.  I am afraid for us both when she summons me at odd hours.  "Are you sure you don't need anything else?", I exhaled.

"I need nothing but the dog to go out,” she sighed as she laid her cane down on the side of the bed where a husband would be.  “Just the dog, if you’re not too busy.”

It was early.  Barely daybreak.  I led the dog, eager as an airport cabbie, to the door.   He jumped off the crumbling steps with a grateful bark.  

The snow fell throughout the morning and into the afternoon, concealing everything except the taller, anemic weeds that refused, like my mother, to bend under the weight.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

An Example of How It Happens

the familiar smells were there:
the oily vapors from the pier's diesel tank and
the perfume of bait fish, already half-dead, waiting to kiss the barbed end of a salt water jig hook.
he pushed the dock gate open with his free hand; an arthritic groan echoing in the morning fog.

she watched  him from the bait shack.  he had a nylon bag in one hand;
the other arm swinging in rhythm with his legs as he walked the swaying dock. 

he was scanning the sky.  probably calculating water channels and hoping the wind will keep, she thought.  his feet, housed in slip-resistant shoes barely  noticed the knotted wood, inches above the marina's water, still wet from the night's moisture.  every day is a good day for leaving, he thought.

he undressed the boat like a haggard husband getting ready for bed.  he was methodical and practiced.  he folded the mainsail cover like he would a fitted sheet.
the sun, high enough now to eat the fog, revealed familiar clouds in a marinade of sky. 

the sails unfurled, the moor lines lifted; he raised his head,
pushing his glasses back in place.
he saw her then watering a sunrise of geraniums.
she saw him looking.  she smiled.
his hand, reaching for the rudder handle, slipped.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Saul and Sophie

Saul Waterman, like an advertisement for patience, pictured his life in chapters.
He was forever moving toward the next one.
But for a moment, for just a breath;
he stepped out of his story.
Saul Waterman, at long last, did something for himself.

It started at a party.  That's when it started to happen.
They met, and that was that.
Her eyes, he thought, are sparks from a fire.
And she did look at him that way.
Sophie looked at him the way smoke lingers over fire.
Sophie was a road Saul wanted to travel. 

Saul, always on the edge of the ledge but never jumping;
never jumping to feel the embrace of the wind around his waist
or the spray of the unknown crashing against his shore.
Saul's left and right;
his two halves,
didn't make a whole.
At this party, both Saul's halves stepped out as one when he first spoke to Sophie.

"My name is Saul Waterman and I want to lose myself in your wake",
he said to her through a longing that smelled like sandpaper on lace.
Sophie bowed like a Geisha and backed away.
"My name is Sophie" she promised, "Watch me disappear."

Many parties later, Saul,
a living advertisement for patience,
climbed the high-dive ladder that was his life.
He jumped and when he landed,
he landed next to Sophie.
Sophie didn't realize, until Saul landed,
that she'd been waiting.
Waiting for Saul to land exactly where he did.
It was a perfect jump.

Sophie was visible and Saul was awake.
They were both alive.
Music, replacing their blood, skated through their bodies like an alarm clock.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Phrase Du Jour

"Cone of Uncertainty."    Rich one, right?

When I hear that phrase, I immediately see the cartoon dog, Snoopy, dancing with his ears flying out beyond his body.

Variables and fate; the loopholes serendipity jumps through.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

WalMart Zen -- In 8 Octaves

This morning, after a comatose night's sleep, while hanging my two feet over the edge of the bed, I decided I needed to get a handle on the whole "glass half empty" mentality that had become my mindset over the last year.  Half full, half empty; I wanted to focus on the fact that I was fortunate to have a glass at all.  "I have a glass,"  I tried the words out.  "I have a glass".  Hmmm"I have a glass."    A new mantra to part the seas.  I felt like an Aladdin of sorts, discovering the magic words that would open the cave door.

But first, coffee.  There is no new beginning without fortification.  Christopher Columbus wouldn't step foot on a ship without a mug of the stuff.  And Hannibal?  How do you think he drove elephants over the Alps?  If you are thinking coffee, you are correct.  Surely there is no doubt he had a thermos of dark roast slung over his Carthoginian shoulder.   So if I was going to attempt to storm my own castle and slay my own dragons, I needed to get a pot of Starbucks brewing.

That's what led me to WalMart.  I got dressed.  "I have a glass.  That is good", I hummed to myself as I searched out the perfect earrings for this yet-to-be-experienced day.  I figured if I could keep that thought in the forefront, I was halfway to half full.

On my way out the door, I  poked my head into the den and told my parents I was going out to bring home coffee.  They were molded into their TV recliners watching Sunday House Call with Dr. Rosenfeld.  I caught the words 'acid reflux' and immediately quit listening.  "But we have coffee, dear.  Don't we?" my mother said looking into her cup.  "We do", I agreed, "but, I need the bean of a different tree today."   She stared at me then shook her head.  She was probably thinking "Kids.  What are you gonna do?"  Since I am four years from retirement age, I liked it when she thought about me that  way.  

Nearly 18 months ago, after many urgent and panicky calls from  my elderly parents, I moved from Oklahoma to Ohio.  Irv and Edna, the parents, now in their 90's, were still living in their home and their day-to-day lives, they cried, were becoming just too overwhelming for them to handle..  They needed help.  Duh.  My comings and goings were now monitored by the very people I had successfully avoided since my eighteenth birthday.  Karma; pure and simple.

The morning air was brilliant; the trees were full of clouds.  The grass smelled like pancakes.  Herds of huge blue butterflies, the color of sapphire, were migrating through our corner of Ohio on their way to warmer climes.  I stood on the driveway gravel, my mind beginning to grasp the glass.

I drove with all the windows down; my hair washed in the wind.  The Gipsy Kings were singing in the CD player, trying to break my heart.  I passed the little man with two missing fingers, who sells tomatoes and cantaloupes at the mouth of the graveyard.  I waved.  His tailgate was sagging with home-grown produce.  He waved back.  I passed a very old woman pedaling a bike.  She gave me a shaky finger. 

I followed the river road to the parking lot of WalMart.  And that's where my quest for a Zen state of mind began unraveling.  A bit of advice: do not begin a Quixote-like adventure of the soul at WalMart.  Just keep that in mind.  OK?

I parked next to a truck whose doors were wired shut to keep them closed.  Something about missing hinges.  A woman was wrestling herself out the passenger side window.  "What are you looking at, bitch?"  were her first words.  What's the appropriate response in this social encounter?  I wasn't prepared.  But then who would be, really?  I pretended to be deaf.  I made some wild hand gestures and pointed to my ears.  Now we were both acting crazy.  I didn't watch, but heard her hit the ground.  She did quite a bit of grunting but seemed no worse for the wear as she unfolded her heft from the tarmac.  I did allow myself a  peek as she reached into the cab to grab her orange pleather purse.  "I have a glass.  I do",  I chanted meekly.  As soon as I saw her limp through the automatic doors, I felt safe enough to get out of the car.

With all the new found fortitude of a lame duck in an election year, I walked through the WalMart parking lot, careful to mind my own business.  Betty, a hands-on greeter, waved me over and gave me a beefy hug.  She smelled like cinnamon and hair spray.  Betty and I are best friends on WalMart property. 

One of the first times I took my parents shopping, Betty, who obviously took greeting to the next level, noticed me attempting to wrestle my mother into a wheelchair grocery cart.  She came over and told me, in a conspiratorial whisper, that she, too, took care of her elderly mother.  I gave her the miserable look I give when words fail me with complete strangers.  That's the first time she hugged me.  My best guess is she's in her late sixties.  Her hair, the color of Bayer aspirin, is the consistency of spun sugar.  Today, her bright blue shirt and short legs, made her look like a Smurf.  "How's the folks?" she asked.  Her arms finally unwinding from my shoulders.  Before I could answer, the woman I'd watched squeeze her way out of the truck window, walked by distracting me.  Betty, with her lack of boundaries and kind words, said "God is good, honey.  He'll see them through."   And with that she left to oversee her assigned spot between the door and the doughnut shelf.  

White, English-speaking God, I thought, like Santa Clause; instead of a red velvet suit cinched at the waist with a shiny belt , He wears a white toga with a macrame sash .  Same throne, same people waiting in line to give Him their I-want-this list.  And their baggage, the weight of it breaking their backs, tied with tinsel bows, is given freely as Christmas cheer.

"Focus woman.  You're here for coffee."  I  hoped I hadn't said that out loud.  On my way to aisle 6, I passed a display for some new brand of energy drink.  "Pop Wow" promised, that if I were to purchase then drink this bronze liquid, I would run faster, talk louder and enjoy my life quicker. That sounded better than the coffee I hunted.  Hell, it sounded better than air.  Pop Wow was calling me with a guarantee that even Prozac couldn't boast.  I bought a 6-pack.  The NiƱa, the Pinta and the Santa Maria be damned.   This could be the chosen elixir that would fill my epiphanaic glass.

I held my instant fix six-pack like a bride carrying flowers.  I was determined to fill my own glass by whatever means available.   WalMart wasn't merely a place to buy Chilean-grown grapes or cheaply made Chinese goods.  It wasn't just another warehouse selling contaminated greens or clothing made by beautiful babies in third-world sweatshops.  No.  This Arkansas dynasty was a threshold to my metamorphosis into a new self-awareness.  I was as resolute as a virgin in a wedding gown to get on with it as soon as I found my car.

And there I stood, under a smiling sky, mesmerized by the hand of the air as it stroked me; listening to the sound of my car 'panic' button as I attempted to remember where I'd parked. Walking in the direction of my screeching Nissan,  I felt the weight of a cruise ship's anchor slide off me.

There was no half full or half empty.  There was no glass even.  Because, really, what difference did it make?   The joyous answer was, None. To stand there, in the flip-flop of flux, beside a jumble of shopping carts, was the perfect place, right then, to be.   And aren't we, all of us, just clowns in rented skin waiting for the bus that takes us to the oasis?

Friday, August 20, 2010

In Response to a Letter from a Life Long Friend

Dear J,

Betrayal is a hole blasted into our hearts that is impossible to totally repair.  the patchwork around the wound leaves scars that, every now again, feel as new and sore as the first days they ripped us open.  We are so human.  So fragile.  We were made to love and be loved.  But there is a certain kind of intense love, the kind where you lose your focus on everything except on the one you love, that is always devastating somewhere down the line.  It is like learning to live with a disability after a horrible accident.  We embrace how we were...not how we were forced to change.

It has been my experience that it is not anything we completely recover from.  It is not a "mind over matter" situation -- like going on a diet or giving up coffee.  It is a process of realizing the pain we feel has become part of who we are.   I believe the angst of it lessens over the years but truth of it (the reality of it) that no matter how long we live or  how beautiful our lives become, the wound continues to throb.  Memories are often like salt.  They rub our wounds and make us wince.  Our dignity comes with learning to live with our history.  I think it is more a matter of forgiving ourselves for being so dependent  on the person who caused the damage.  In betrayal there are only casualties.

Typically we either move on to perceived greener pastures or find ways to numb ourselves so we don't "make the  mistake" of feeling like that ever, ever again.   That's unfortunately how I handle it.  I grab a bag of cement and pour it around the wound.  "There", I say, "sealed up.  I don't want to ever go there again."  And before I know it, I am hard inside.  I move through my life like a beautiful, empty vase.  If I allow myself to be filled with flowers, they will just die anyway.  So what's the point?

Forgiveness is necessary.  That is a truth.  But we are vessels of finite material.  Our baggage, our fears, our infirmities, our self doubt, our flesh and mind are battered about from day one.  We must tell ourselves as often as every 5 minutes that we can walk through our disappointment with grace and kindness.  Let's face it, we are all of us broken and  patched 1,000's of times a year.

Being betrayed is devastating.  It is a movie with an automatic rewind button.  I say embrace the feelings that cause you pain.  Don't fear them any longer.  Face your hurt like a boxer.  Say, "bring it on."  This is no longer between you and your partner.  This is between you and you.

With any luck, we grow wiser as we grow older.

I love you,


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sleeping Dogs

The old rule-of-thumb that one dog year equals seven years of a human life is not quite accurate.  But it's close enough.  The dogs could care less.  It's us humans who make such a big deal out of the calculation.  That's what I was thinking about early this morning while I was still attempting to find a comfortable position to fall asleep in.  No matter how weary, battered or just plain tired, there are times I just can't fall asleep.   Sometimes its the pillow.  But mostly it's my brain; wired with baggage. 

I make no bones about my age.  It is what it is.  It goes where it will.  Everything, everybody knows, has an expiration date.  Frogs and elephants; gnats and foxes; trees.  Living is a hooha parade to the end of the line.  That's why I couldn't sleep. I was thinking about age and time and loss and, I must confess, a little bit about shoes. But mostly I was thinking about love.

This summer, over the course of a week, I fell in love. (And it was like falling to.  My curiosity got me too close to the edge, I lost my balance and rolled, with the all the grace of a warthog in heat, into a thicket of thorns that I am still extracting.)  While sleep refused to embrace me, I came to the conclusion that my 7 day love affair equaled at least one dog year.  At least.

I really don't need to explain how an affair works.  There is heat, laughter, honesty and a lack of modesty.  There are secrets made and stories told.  I was drenched with feeling things that had, years ago, dehydrated.

This wondrous man and I cannot be.  That's part of our secret.  Leaving that week in the care of my memory has proved to be more painful than childbirth.  More difficult than looking in the mirror.  He is a decade younger (I refuse to calculate that in dog years) and has the personality of the awesome neighbor man who exists only in a Lifetime movie.   

While I was not sleeping and comparing my week in dog years, the term 'dog days of summer' made an appearance.  Dog Days originally were the days when Sirius rose just before or at the same time as sunrise,  which is no longer true.  (It has something to do with the equinox, blah blah). The Romans sacrificed a brown dog at the beginning of the Dog Days to appease the rage of Sirius, believing that the star was the cause of the hot, sultry weather.

But I, feeling what I feel and knowing what I know, wouldn't sacrifice anything to lessen the souvenir of ache or the scars of passion that became my summer vacation.  I was, at long last, breathing color and dancing the song. 

Generally, a dog of six has aged about as much as a 45-year-old human.  At 10, she's like a human of 65; at 12, a human of 75; and at 15, a human of 90.

But who's counting?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I Pity the Vet

It is the afternoon scheduled for my parent's cat, Friskie, to have his claws cut.  Poor Friskie, to the delight of the wild rabbits that taunt him from the driveway, he is not allowed out anymore.  It was a decision made by my mother.  Friskie is her tranquilizer.  She does not share his love of freedom nor does she approve of his tree climbing, flea gathering or woodland curiosity.  Friskie is the worry stone she strokes. 

I am dressed in a shirt that's too big everywhere.  I think it is chic.  Falling as it does all soft and ill-shaped.  Friskie doesn't care what I'm wearing unless there are tuna bits stuck in the sleeves.  Which there aren't.  Though I am isolated up here near the top of the hill, I am not yet that crazy lady living in a double wide, with her insane parents, who hides food in her clothes for the cat.

I will cajole Friskie into his carry case with treats that he can't resist.  Little bits of catnip and fish flavored   crackers that drive all cats into a cocaine-like frenzy.  This may be one of the reasons some people refuse to become veterinarians.  Hyped up felines who fear the clippers could be a difficult way to earn a paycheck.  However, anyone who has a job in today's economy should count themselves fortunate regardless of the freaked out animals they call clients.

Everything Starts Somewhere

1 year, 5 months and 10 days ago, at the age of 59 years, I moved to another planet known globally as southeastern Ohio.  I now live along the Ohio River which might sound romantic and adventurous but isn't.  This wasn't a completely voluntary move.  My parents, horrible planners for their old age, sent out an SOS so I rose from my cushy, over sized chair to rescue what was left of their lives and their sinking ship.  The ship, an ancient double wide located on a couple of sloping acres of oak trees and skunk weed, greeted me (much like my parents did) with a moan. The over sized chair I sighed out of 17 months and 10 days ago, was located on the east wall of a living room in Norman, Oklahoma.

A decision made.  A path taken.  The consequences of action have made their mark.  I have never felt so isolated.