Friday, July 18, 2014

Summer Nights

In the middle of the night, when the house is dark and the fans are humming—the AC, the humidifier, the noisemaker—your youngest, Leo, comes up next to you in bed.  You have earplugs in and a t-shirt over your face to block any noise or light from the outside world.  The weight of Leo’s body against you is what jiggles you awake; you slip out one earplug and uncover your face so you can make kissy-kiss sounds.  You put your right open palm up so Leo can nuzzle his face into it; he’s been doing this since he was a kitten, all parts of your body turned into his missing real mother’s belly.  His deep purrs thrum into your hand and for a few moments, he relaxes.

“Mama,” he says.

“Yes baby,” you whisper, so as not to wake up anybody else.

“I’ve been having a hard summer,” Leo says, his nose smashed into your palm.

“What’s the matter?” you ask.

“Well, for as long as I’ve lived here, I’ve been the baby, and it just seems like pulling your heart around in the wagon is taking up more time than it should.”

You know exactly what he’s talking about: the heart that you have not been able to detach yourself from, beating now warmly and softly next to the bed, swaddled in the wagon, still connected to your belly button with a sinewy fiber that you take care to wash every morning and every night, patting it dry.  You heart has gained color in her ventricles and no one would know anymore that she’d been broken.
Leo has been walking in slow circles next to your head as you have whispered these explanations.  Soon he is curled against your head, deep into his kitten sleep.  You have lost track of your earplug for that ear, but Leo works instead.  You leave your t-shirt off your face just in case anybody else wants to have a conversation in the next couple of hours.


Leo is gone when you realize you are awake again.  Your heart is stirring in the wagon. You take a tiny peek and can tell from the light coming from the windows that night is over, but day isn’t really here yet.  You close your eyes for a moment before your eldest, Sara, starts break-dancing with a Q-tip on her side of the bed.  “Sara, what are you doing?” you ask.

She is so deep into her glory-dance of the morning, she can’t respond.  You watch her somersaulting until the rising light brings your middle child into the bedroom as well.  She is the quietest by far and simply wants to sit between the shoes you wore yesterday so she can smell your feet, undisturbed for at least a minute.

“Hi Lucy,” you say, leaning far over and off the bed in hopes of scratching her neck, but she is shy and pulls farther away. “Mother, I too have an issue,” Lucy meeps with her black eyes.

“Yes, my sweet,” you say, pulling back too.  This is your gentlest one.

“I feel that it’s been very noisy around here lately.”

You curl up under your sheets and comforter, your eyes open, only natural light coming from the windows.  Lucy has never understood the Fourth of July or monsoons, her mother’s sobbing, a loud TV, or the telephone ringing too much.  She is not your brave vacuum girl, and the buzz saws being used in your neighborhood to cut down the trees from the storms have been deafening.  Plus, somebody got a new dog.

She has a hard time explaining all of this to you, especially with Sara break-dancing on the bed, Leo racing himself up and down the hallways, and your heart flopping around in the wagon.  You do the best you can at a time like this, which is to get up.  You put your clothes on, find the Q-tip and throw it away.  You put your hair up and take care of these children.  You open your house up, the front door and picture window, to a pleasantly cool July morning in Arizona.

You mix up a glass of power-drink and pour it over your heart.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Old Rule of the House

You have never really liked parties, those held in your honor or those held for others.  You grew up in a large family, the youngest child by far, and you could often be found reading in the closet where the sleeping bags were stored, or playing with a broken piece of jewelry in your treehouse.

But your parents liked to attend parties, just the regular barbecue, and your parents would have parties too sometimes in the yard and house.  Usually this meant that your mother would assign each of your four older siblings fifteen minutes apiece of playing with you, again and again.

This was an old rule of the house and had been happening since you’d been born, but when parties came along, sometimes the older kids would get tired of treating you like a baby.  “C’mon Katie, get on my handlebars,” your middle sister said one time.  “I’ll take you for a ride.” 

You knew that this was not particularly kosher because first, Mom hadn’t approved it.  Second, you had never ridden on handlebars before.  However, looking around at the party going on in the yard and house and wishing to get away with your sister, you climbed right up there and fastened your butt to the bike.

“Here we go!” your sister said.  Maybe she was twelve.  You cruised down the driveway in front of your house, made a fine and exciting right turn at the corner, and then your sister decided to turn into the gravel alley that would bring you back to the house from behind.

She was pedaling so fast and made her decision so late and didn’t realize how the bike might react to the gravel, especially with a four-year-old on the handlebars. It was getting dark; you didn’t see anything coming either.

You don’t really remember hitting the rocks with your face first.  You were not one to complain.  You were up and brushing your blood off your face and knees when your sister patted you down for broken bones, then walked with you in one hand and the bike in the other back around the block to the front of the house so no one from the party would see you like this.

“Mom, somethin’ happened to Katie,” your sister said, handing you over, going back out to the backyard before she could get shot.

You were quickly hauled off in your graveled knees and elbows and the missing skin on your face and nose; your mother needed to bathe you immediately.  It was a soda-bath with nothing but your mom’s arm and a soft washcloth.  You remember sitting naked in that bath, your mother washing you, when suddenly one of the party guests came into the bathroom too.

“Oh my God!  What happened to her!?” the party guest cried.

You had been relaxing in the bathtub, your shy little personality percolating, but then your mother struck up a conversation with this person.  Your whole story was told and it lasted too long.  The water got cold and you ended up crying, not because of your injuries, just for the inconsideration. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

First Fourths

Holidays have never been my favorite.
I sat on my mom’s lap for too long.
When she asked me in my ninth year
if I still wanted to go to carnival
I thought she should have already known.

I looked over my shoulder,
hoping that someone else felt the same way.
There was usually someone who did
 a sister or brother
or someone else who knew me.

My first fourths of July were spent
in upper peninsula Michigan
where my dad would shield my eyes
from the windy sandy lake.
From the puppy we were lucky enough to get
after the kittens had to be sent back to the farm,
I was always glad to get back home.

There might have been a time from the 70s to the 80s
when I was watching Michael Jackson,
not so much my family. 
Where was Richie Rich 
when I needed him.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Real Goodbye

It's been difficult this past month after your surprising no-show.
We weren't getting along very well before that happened.
I was still happy enough.

I have tried to demonize you
so that my heart and mind can move forward.  
I lost track of myself in the sex and absence and alcohol, the ideas
of why you would want to be so close to me
in the first place.

I try to turn my mind and eyes towards others now,
still having no idea why you made the decision you did.
I still wake up in the night and in the mornings.

I breathe to come closer to calm.  
My anger is still high.

I understand that you fell out of love with me,
I heard the slow withdrawals of I love yous, pleases and thanks.  
Still I shake my head because you could have just told me.  

You called at the last minute.

I smoked my first cigarette in twenty years with my mom.
If that makes you feel bad, it should.  
You told me you were a nomad.
You were right about yourself.

I miss you and the halfway relationship we had,
you gone and me working.  
I remember your saying that you are always the one
who gets broken up with--women leave you—
as if it's always the woman’s fault.  

You make it too difficult to stay.

I didn't feel like the girl anymore.  
I didn't have a problem with that.

I painted your toenails the last time I saw you.  


Friday, June 27, 2014

The Inside Elevator

These are not the worst of times, nor are they the best.  It’s just the morning again
after another restless night.

I clean up after my babies and I clean myself up, indicating to all of us
that Mommy has to go.
There’s no choice: if we want to keep insurance,
the most independent of us has to surrender.

We stopped drawing straws years ago.

Driving through the streets of Phoenix,
trying not to cause carnage like I have seen on the news,
I finally reach my doctor’s office.

I park in the six-story structure that I know one of my students has been cleaning for years.
It’s nice to be on the inside elevator again with two mothers and six children.
I make a joke about how we could have our own kindergarten.  I always make a joke.

All of us sit politely in the same waiting room.

I feel bad for Mark Wahlberg because Kelly Ripa is missing today.


Still not recovered from the Sinus Infection of 2013, I sit non-violently in my chair
for an hour.  Every fluid that has ever passed through my body is still draining
from my ear down my throat.

But I’m here for something else.

I have brought my own book.  I have turned my phone off.  I have my own water. 

All of these good things are sorely negated when the fire alarm system goes off.
The right side of my face is at war again.
Get me out of here, it says.

I give more credit to the other patients,
the mothers of the kindergarteners,
the one older lady. They just keep sitting there.

I myself have to exit, trying to keep the noise out of my head.
My ears are crying.
I think the hallways will be better,
but they aren't.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The First Time Two Men Saw Me Naked at the Same Time

There are some isolated incidents in life that should be protected and kept in the shadows, much as I imagine a grandfather would desire at his first grandson’s birth.  There are just some things that should not be shared, so you have to curl up your ears and shut your eyes and tell everyone you’re praying when in fact you’re just waiting for the moment to pass.

This happened to me one time when I went in for high-end surgery.  I was not giving birth, and it was not when my gall bladder went out.  It was actually a fun time, the Hee-Haw in my semester of life: the day I had liposuction.

When I tell people who I know carefully about the time I had liposuction, they often shudder and take themselves aback.  What language are you speaking? comes to my earflaps, my sphincters, my geographical tongue.  I get this question all the time: Why would you have liposuction?  The answer, which I did not know at the time, was simple: I just wanted to be seen naked by two guys at the same time.  I mean, that must have been it.

I had sat around my kitchen table for years and hours, hunched over stacks of student papers, running at night in the dark, very unsafe.  My right arm kept drawing itself to my belly, which I would pinch and squeeze.  One day I decided to look in the yellow pages for a doctor who might suck the fat tire off me, the one thing that kept me afloat—the only thing wrong with me.  Courageously using the Yellow Pages in the year 2000, I called up and made an appointment for the fat to be sucked off my stomach and what I learned were my flanks in the next week. 

If I could have been beside myself, I would have been. 

Instead, there were two men.

I had never been drawn on before.  I’d been drained and borrowed from, but not really sucked and dried.  These were the old days.  I just had to stand there and get drawn on in purple by the doctor, my fiancé by my side.

The anesthesiologist was my best friend that day; he took away the discomfort of my having to stand naked before two men.  Three men were suddenly better.  I got the hairnet and the white sheets and soon, I was being trafficked back home.

“How long until we get there?” my absent belly and flanks said to my fiancé.

“Not much longer,” he said, driving the car that I would pay for for the rest of my life.

It’s interesting when you choose to change your body.  It’s like you tell God no.  You choose something that was not given to you, you weren’t born with, and you step into a different line. You make a choice, and sometimes that choice includes the exclusion of something that used to be intrinsically you.  I wore t-shirts for a month with strappings around my middle, my belly and my flanks, reaching down with Vaseline to moisten up the missing parts.  It was an uncomfortable time.  I would call my doctor and ask him if this was normal, and he always said yes.

I remember the first time I stepped out without all the harnessing, like a free child. Something I regretted had been forgiven, like I didn’t have to sit at my kitchen table for the rest of my life.  I had to be careful at first because you don’t want to screw up a $5,000 surgery.  But when I stepped in front of the mirror without my bandages and looked at myself in the way I had imagined myself for twenty years, my pride rose.  I was probably prancing when my fiancé said, “You have the body of a seventeen-year-old.”

I had been slowly waltzing around this man for a year, maybe two.  He would never have the body of a seventeen-year-old.  I would walk through the house for the next two years asking myself if I was in, or if I was out.  Was I in, or was I out.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Heart Returns

Since the doctor made me bring my heart home because she wouldn’t remove it like I had suggested and thought best, I’ve had to pull my heart around with me all week, everywhere I go, in the wagon.  I don’t have children and really don’t appreciate seeing them in stores or other places, but I’ve had to bring my heart along wherever I go, mostly because of the icky tendon thing that connects us.  It’s been messy in places like the grocery because she cries and kicks sometimes—like right in the middle of the chip aisle—and I have to pull the cellophane back over her, just to keep her hydrated.  I continue to squirt my water bottle on her because I know she needs it.

I was attempting to garden last night when she lurched in her wagon again.  I sprayed her with the hose, but she was having none of it—she just cried and cried.  I sat next to her on the ground, our cord muddy, me wiping it off with my hands.  “What’s the matter?” I said, patting her robust red heartiness.  She squirmed as if she hadn’t been touched in years.  She turned over in the wagon, which was a sight to see under the mesquite where we were sitting, just her and me.  My heart doesn’t know language so she pantomimes everything.  I like charades, so we get along. 

“Baby, you’re going to chafe yourself,” I said, wanting to use my spit on her like a mother would.  She started playing in the water like an Olympian, using only her left ventricle.  She just kept flopping around, having the time of her life there in the wagon next to the mesquite and in the garden hose water.

“Do I know you?” I said, finally sitting down in my pajamas in the dirt next to the wagon.  I propped my shears against the house and really looked at my heart, beating heavily but regularly in the wagon.  She could have cardboard over her and it would make her happy, if it kept her warm, if she thought she was safe.  If she thought she was camping.

The problem with my heart is that she always thinks she’s safe, which she somehow metabolizes into feeling happy under the worst of conditions.  My heart makes do.  She doesn’t listen to me, which is irritating.

I note the gravel that has stuck to our cord, the little white pigeon feathers that now stick to her.  She’s already napping again.  In a way, she’s cute—in the way you see anything living innocently before it dies.

I heave myself up, brush myself off, make a mental note that my tulips will never bloom, all of this while keeping my cord intact.  I spit on my fingers and rub them up and down the sinew that still connects me to my heart.  She’s still sleeping.

“C’mon baby,” I say, pulling my napping heart in her wagon to the back porch, shading her ventricles from the sun with my body.  She is kind of slimy and a little smelly by the time we make it to the back door, but so am I.  I wipe my hands on my now disgusting shirt before picking her up, her enlarged warm beating bloody self, and move us back into the house.