Tuesday, April 22, 2014

God or Dad

The day I got arrested dawned shiny and new, the dew on the golf course glistening.  It was the first time I had lived on a golf course in a luxury home, and I was pretty pleased with myself in general, not only for finally finding the huevos to leave my husband, but for finding this great place and getting myself into it all by myself.  The week before, I had moved out of my husband’s house in carefully cinched plastic grocery store bags since I didn’t own any of my own luggage anymore.

I was on a date that night with an old boyfriend having sushi, except that I wasn’t having sushi: I was just drinking, because eating was hard.  I remember looking at myself in the bathroom mirror before we left, thinking, Wow, you got drunk fast.

I had driven myself, and I wanted to drive myself back.  It’s what I had done all my life.  I got into my car and only realized later as I left the brightly lit city and drove deeper into the desert that my eyesight was compromised.  This I became fully aware of when I attempted to make a right through desert crossroads under construction.  The only well-lit parts of that intersection were me, the other people’s headlights, and the red-striped barriers flashing their warning signals, one of which I bumped into with my rear bumper.  It didn’t fall down—I could see that in the rear-view mirror—but it tipped back on two legs and rocked a couple times.

I realized I might be in trouble.  There were too many people at that intersection to have missed seeing what I’d done.  I slowed down to better keep myself between the desert ditch to my right and the other side of the road to my left.  I only had a mile to go before home when the red and blue lights started flashing behind me.  I knew enough to pull over and turn the ignition off.  When the officer reached the side of my car, I pantomimed my apology through the window for having to turn the ignition back on to make the window roll down.

Somewhere between a dream and a nightmare, you wonder if anything is real.  As I held my arms out and walked heel to toe, heel to toe, I thought, Please help me, God or Dad.  God or Dad, please help me.  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

To My Dad on His 80th Birthday

Click here, then read.

The memories of us mean the most,
doing Dinos—our flying act—on the living room floor,
my belly on the flat of your foot.  Sometimes you let go
of my hands.  That was the scary part.
You always caught me.

Sitting on your knee after your workday and supper,
we would draw-draw pigs and dogs, simple creatures.
I would climb onto your lap for that, my head of curls
pressed against your bristly chin.
Always a pen and paper in your pocket.

The place where we lived was sandy and windy.
I would bury my face into your collar
on the dunes, while everyone else played.
Church was another place you saved me:
you let me draw-draw behind you in the choir loft while you sang.
You let me pick my nose and eat my boogers
underneath your own nose.  You held me in your arms
and never complained.

Snowshoes, winter picnics—hotdogs and marshmallows.
You always had us looking for the right stick.  At six,
I didn’t know that I would be marching out of the woods one day
with a deer liver and heart on a forked branch,
my brethren dragging the carcass behind me.

To me, it was always Christmas.

The first black man you ever introduced me to
gave me a velour bag full of polished stones.
They were all keepers.
Our family language then included the question:
“Is this a keeper or not?”

My best times in life have been bringing you
rocks and stones and shells, sometimes pieces of wood,
asking you, “Is this a keeper?”

Your answers were always fifty-fifty.

You remember the railroad ties in the back yard;
you built a garden.
You knocked down a barn stall
to make us a basketball court.
The first gun you gave me to shoot
was a muzzle loader. 

Dancing with you was always a pleasure;
I’m glad Mom trained you in this way.
“I’ll lead,” you always said to me
as I tried to relax in your arms
from 1968 to now.

It is rare to see you laugh, although you are my first person
to people-please. 
I remember when I first saw you painting
something other than the wall of a house.

Monday, April 7, 2014


I sit eating sushi with a friend on Saturday afternoon.  It's all salmon and tuna. 

Phoenix is in flux right now, season-wise: cold at night, already too hot 
in the day. The sushi restaurant is a little too warm, the tuna a little too warm.
It reminds me of how the girls used to eat tuna in jail.

“Hey,” I say to my dining companion, wanting to be included in the conversation
we’re not having. “Did I ever tell you how the girls would heat up tuna in jail?”

He slides a glance my way.  “Nope.”

“It was the only pure protein you could get at commissary,” I say.
“It was vacuum-packed and they would get it and put it on top of the tents
to warm it up.  They’d eat it on crackers.”

I thought of myself there, unable to eat warm tuna,
missing out on what was apparently the best. 
I traded many packages of stale Mexican lemon cookies for fruit.

I had brought a thick old novel and some news magazines
and ended up playing rummy with my neighbors on the cots,
reading the old Glamours.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Bogart-Bacall Syndrome

Click here, then read.

1. Gall Bladder

I call my older sister, ten stories higher than me.  I call her first because I know she’ll be up before my mom.  My sister has to work.  “Hey,” I say.

“You’re calling early,” she says, brushing her teeth. “Isn’t it only 4 a.m. your time?”

“I’m in the hospital,” I say. “I’ve been here since last night, but I didn’t want to bug you guys.”

“You’re in the hospital?” my sister says.

I am lying on a gurney in the darkness of an Emergency Room cubicle, small colorful lights beeping and flashing around me.  They’re making me wait here until a room opens up.  I’ve already been through 911 and all the tests and we know my gall bladder has gone bad.  I need surgery, probably gonna happen in the next few hours or so.

“Don’t tell Mom,” I finish.

My sister waits the exactly ten stories it takes to connect with me, then says, “Oh, I’m not gonna tell her.  You’re gonna tell her.  Wait two hours, because they sleep in to eight.”

I had tiny-wished that she would tell our mom so I would not have to be the bearer of such distraughtful news at a time like this, whatever this time was, but I was naked under the sheets with tubes attached to me, and I could see my clothes folded and piled on a shelf nearby.  I wondered what would happen to me.

“You’re right,” I say. “I’ll tell her.”

2. Allergies

Six years later, my gall bladder gone, I live in the same town, but this morning my bed sheets are flecked with blood from my nose and other smears of face DNA.  My legs are hairy.  My bones and muscles want to sleep. The whites of my eyes are atlases.

I take a sick day.

I sit on the couch for a minute and my baby, Leo, comes to bury his head in the palm of my one good eye.

“Tell me about when I was sick,” he tiny-growls.

“You have never been sick,” I purr back, all Bacall. “You might have been slow to eat solid food and you took a little time in learning the litter box, but outside of that, I thought you were perfect.  I think you still are.”

Leo sleeps.

I think , Wow, it was nice when all of you were younger, not asking these questions, just letting me take care of you.  

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Harms and the Goods

The Malaysian plane is not found floating in the Indian Ocean; there is no Gilligan’s Island.  A landslide in Washington State takes another hundred.  A super-athlete in South Africa is on trial for the murder of his girlfriend.  Mick Jagger’s girlfriend: also gone. 

A student in your morning class notices fresh red droplets on his paper and spontaneously calls out, “Is somebody bleeding!?”  You all look at him, hysterical in the moment. 

“Am bleeding!?” he cries.

We determine that the student is not bleeding, that the rest of us are okay, and then group-glance up at the ceiling in hopes of finding the source of what we think is blood.  There is no one bleeding from the ceiling, so we group-glance down and start trying to determine where the red drops came from. 

“I bet somebody shook a red pen and the ink came out,” somebody says. 

 “Yeah,” somebody agrees, “but for that you’d have to break it and shake it directly at the person.”

You in particular are interested in the spray pattern.  You remember the girl who sneezed earlier.  But time is up and class ends.  You all trudge out, looking back, wondering where the substance came from.

You go home and field an e-mail from your mom.  Your parents are downsizing from the family house to a handicapped apartment, a little early in the equation of life, but a job that needs to be done.  Mom is letting you know that she’s packed another special box for you, bubble-wrapping the delicates.  This box along with others, plus furniture, will be transported by you from Minnesota to Arizona sometime during the month of May in a U-Haul. 

The rule has always been that whatever gifts you gave to Mom and Dad, you get them back when they die.  You always lived away, so the presents you’ve bought have been small: a tiny leather saddle exquisitely made for a six-inch horse, sea fossil impressions without the sea.  Now, the rules are changed: your parents are not dying together.

You had forgotten about the wooden fruit until reading your mother’s note: “It will be hard for us to part with the wooden fruit in the wooden bowl, but we simply won’t have enough room in the new place for everything.”

You think back on your life with your parents.  You try to remember every gift-giving situation.  From you, there have been puppets and magnets, shirts and blankets, the occasional bit of art.  From them there have been guitar cases and a science kit, and always a room to call your own.

You can’t remember giving the wooden bowl of fruit.  You stick yourself with pretend needles and roll around in the basement of your heart: When did I purchase this gift?  Was it when I saw rotting fruit at their house in a Corelle bowl?  Was it that I wanted fresh fruit and they didn’t have any? 


You don’t often answer the door, and you think twice about it on Friday morning when the front bell rings.  You glance outside the windows from where you are pirouetted in the shadows to see your neighbor’s daughter waiting with her arms crossed.  You need to get out there.

“Hey, what’s goin’ on?” you say as you slip from the inside of your house to the outside. 

Neighbor Daughter points to a two-ton pillar in her front yard that has been tilted 45 degrees by a car smashing into it.  All you are thankful for is that you didn’t do it.  You walk over with Neighbor Daughter to inspect the scene of the crime.  She quickly points out the skid marks and the point of impact.  You were never a crime scene investigator yourself. 

You wish.

Not long after, you're leaning over the back cinder block wall because you hear two other neighbors visiting in the alley.  They’re talking about a truckload full of junk that was dumped in the alley behind the other guy’s house.  You lilt, “My neighbor’s pillar got hit too!”  Talk turns to crime in the area.  You go back inside.

You check in one last time with yourself, ticking off the harms and goods that were done throughout the day. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Check-Out Pioneer

Blueberries, blueberries, two for five, the little packages.  I could eat those and they would go good with bananas, but really how much time am I going to spend in the next five days eating fruit?  Why spend five dollars on a favorite item when if it wasn’t present, I wouldn’t miss it?

Sixty-five dollars…I can’t believe I’m getting out of a grocery store below a hundred.  I high-five myself in my brain.  I get carried away in the exhilaration of the moment and start paying attention to what’s going on around me.  I see that the grocery check-out pioneer is battling with the buttons.  There is nervous friction between her and the bagging pioneer.

“They changed the buttons over the weekend,” your check-out person says, smiling. “It’s slowing us down.”

“The only time I was let go from a job was when I couldn’t punch the buttons fast enough,” you say. “I was 18 or 19, selling pizzas, and for whatever reason I could not match the pizza to the button on the register.  The buttons were pre-destined to the pizzas, and I couldn’t make the match between the orders and the buttons fast enough.”

The most-fun part of that job was making the pizzas, from swirling the dough around to spreading the sauce on it to sprinkling the cheeses to distributing the toppings to making sure it didn’t burn.  Least-fun part of that job: the drivers.

You realize you’ve taken liberties with people’s attention spans again.  Next stop, Petco.

When is this place going to get sliding doors, when are they going to put the carts outside, why do I have to choose between a big cart and a small cart?  I am again lumbering in my thoughts when I see the guinea pigs being fed.  Their pack-like, kittenesque behavior softens me.  I push to the cat section for food, litter, and treats.  Having felt like the bushy-haired one-armed intruder for the better part of my life, I hope that nobody is watching me as I once again scope out the cat trees.  I have a ten percent coupon off everything and this one tree is exactly right.  I’ve been waiting for years for an elevated surface to share with my loved ones, but I never wanted to spend too much.

The manager—a tall, lively young man with crooked teeth and his own cats—helps you to utilize your expired coupon, taking ten percent off every item on your receipt, one by one.  Apparently, the check-out machines are now jinxed against the freewheeling use of expired coupons. 

I try to tip the manager five bucks after he helps me stuff my new inanimate object into the backseat of my car, backseat windows down.  He waves me off.  I feel like Leonardo DiCaprio wiping his nose in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?  Such a good run out of the stable, such a sorry finish.


It’s next week already, or tomorrow: you’re back at work, looking for a place to park.  You’re already out in the boondocks because you appreciate the walk and the little bit of nature you get on the way to your building.  You turn right too soon out of disconcentration, passing the empty “Employee of the Month” spot again.  You pass it every time you turn right too soon, but nobody ever parks there.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Sometimes You're the Windshield

“Mom?” Sara asks, all five years of her.  She is raising her voice a little because the printer is going again, she’s watching the printer again, and you at 45 are slightly hard of hearing.

“Yes baby,” you murmur, your ears easily tuned back to the Sara Station.  You look behind you to see Sara pulling a Bill-the-Cat on top of the futon, as usual for the printer she’s never liked.  After her pretend-gagging routine—when the sour, frigid stares from her to the printer are completeshe looks at you with the weariest of eyes and asks, “Why do you run that thing when you know I hate it, and why do I hate it?”

You love her so much in that moment.  You know you’re the lucky one to have such innocent questions turned to you; you wish you had more grace about you to answer them correctly.  Instead, you laugh out loud and congratulate Sara for being the first person to make you do that today.  “You are a honey-pie,” you say, rubbing behind her ears as you pick up the papers you need to read. 

And she knows it.

 “Mother,” Lucy meeps.  She is Sara’s sister from another dad. 

“Yes, my sweet,” you say, kneeling down to peck Lucy’s big black head like a tick-tock water thermometer.  It’s afternoon now and you are back from work so you can work more from home.

“Why am I so persecuted around here?” Lucy meepishes. “It was not me who left poop in the front hallway this weekend.  I get blamed for stuff I don’t do, then they call me fat.”  Lucy laments you with her eyes. “And you’re supposed to be in charge.”

Ayeee,” you whisper, drawing the word out like the dagger you’re pulling from your chest.  But it’s Lucy who matters.  You put on your Four Paws grooming glove and pet Lucy from head to toe, neck to tail, especially behind the ears.  She is the only one who likes the glove, outside of you.

“I don’t like it when you touch my belly, Ma,” Lucy says, showing her belly.

It can be hard to know what to do sometimes.

Head butt.  Deep purr.  Ten-pound body slam.  It’s your baby in the morning, your two-year-old: Leo.  He likes to walk all over you and demand everything.  But you like it, and you know he can’t help himself.

“You’re such a sweet boy,” you say.  What does he say back?

“Mama, I only feel comfortable taking ninety seconds out of the day to show you how I feel.”   

As if you didn’t know.


Having been taught that endings are hard, and that you take a great risk by ending a story with one line, you basically hesitate at every period.  You don’t want to put too much pressure on the last line, but you don’t get out the door smiling without one.