Monday, November 29, 2010

Thorn In My Pride

I’ve only had to call 911 once in my life, when apparently I was about to deliver the devil’s child. I was home alone one night thinking that an evil baby with hooks for hands and claws for feet was tearing apart my belly. Also, my lower back had seized up, more indication that the devil had impregnated me and I was about to have Damien.

I called 911 and was soon surrounded by firemen, which—as you might imagine—raised my spirits. I tried to insist that I had overreacted to the pain and didn’t really need to go to the hospital, but as I grabbed my belly and Damien gripped my spine with his claws, there was no denying that something was wrong. Lying on the gurney in the ambulance, surrounded by cute gentle smart sweet men in uniforms, I remembered that one of my online students was a fireman. “Hey,” I wheezed. “Is there anybody here named Brad?”

“Yeah,” said one of the guys. “He just took your blood pressure.”

“Well, tell him his English teacher says hi.” Then I passed out.

As it happened, Damien had killed my gall bladder, which I had to leave at the hospital. That was two years ago, but Damien still lives within me, corrupting my personality at times and slowly breaking down my other organs, most recently my heart.

Then, on Thanksgiving night, my neighbor’s chimney caught on fire. I had been out, and when I returned I had to park far away. Once again, there were firemen everywhere. As I lugged my battered heart, an empty salad bowl and a baggy full of turkey down the street toward my home, I looked up to see a cute gentle smart sweet man in a uniform. Damien let go of my throat for a moment, enough time for me to ask, “Is there anybody here named Brad?”

The fireman smiled, put his hand to his chest and slowly straightened out his name patch: “I’m Brad,” he said.

“I was your English teacher!” I said. I had to smile.

Brad grinned: “You with the gall bladder!”

After we established that my neighbors were okay despite the fire, that it’s a small world, and that Brad is not single but there are many other firemen who are, I continued on my way toward my house. I think Damien got scared off by the good will of all the concerned neighbors standing on the sidewalks, the flashing lights of fire trucks, and the one small positive palpitation my heart had been able to make all week. I’ve been breathing easier ever since, and my heart is mending.

Firemen are good for so many things. I think there should be one for every girl in the world.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sunshine Family

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Now that my houseguest is gone, my cats are full of confidence again: Lucy is rolling on her back in the sunshine, rubbing on table legs she mistakes for mine; Sara is running with wild abandon around the house with my earplugs in her mouth. At two, they don’t have a lot of words yet, but their expressions and noises speak volumes. For instance, Lucy—by far the quietest and most demure member of this household—circled my work chair this morning, meeping, until I got up and followed her as she meeped down the hallway into the spare room where the houseguest’s suitcase had been. She stood her ground, locked eyes with mine and continued to meep vigorously, which I took to mean, “Mother! This is MY room! This is where I come in the morning with you to do our stretching, and then my late-morning sunshine patch is right over there! You know this, yet you allowed Stranger to be in here with his clothes and wire hangers! Wire hangers! I did not like that! I have been hiding under the bed for a week! Unacceptable!”

I’ve apologized to Lucy several times for her displacement, and since she is also slow-witted, she won’t remember what happened. Sara on the other hand, demonstrative by nature, has chosen several colorful methods to convey her displeasure at the change in routine, reduced playtime, reduced snuggle time, and utter inconvenience caused by Stranger. This morning she jumped on top of the fridge, where she has never been before, and yowled next to the Cheerios box: “This is not a Cheerios family! We do not eat Cheerios! We eat oatmeal and tiny pieces of smoked oysters and we lick the bowls of lentil soup!”

I got her down from there, but just now she curled up in my lap on her back, gazing up at me with her paw on my chin, purring, “Mom, there were golf clubs in my hiding spot all week. You delayed the washing of our blankets and the clipping of our nails, you closed the bathroom door in our faces, and for a week you did not play the fishing-rod game with us. It was too loud in here, and that man used a different soap. We like it when you’re here alone with us, grading your papers with the Easy Listening station on all day, banging your head against the wall and making choking noises. We don’t like the Adult Alternative station, Mom. We like it when the garage door wakes us up and we come to the door to see you, not you and somebody else. And Mom, I don’t know if you noticed, but that man didn’t have any fur on his head.”

I think it would be hard to date somebody with two little girls like this, two little girls who anchor me. I never looked at it that way.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Playing House

Many important things happened this week: my dad had a colonoscopy, one friend’s house was burglarized, I ran my book club, and I graded a jillion student papers until my hands bled from trying to remove the noose from my neck.

However—and I am both pained and blushy to say this—I also have an out-of-town guest, and have been most curious about him and his effect on me. It’s like running an experiment in my own house, with me as both scientist and subject. Do I like pouring this man a glass of milk? I think I do. Write that down. Do I mind it when he leaves the seat up? Yes I do. Tell him. Should I mention that the way he doesn’t shave for three days, the way he leaves his clothes and belongings scattered throughout my spare room, suitcase open and overflowing, reminds me of living with Ed Gein? Probably not. He’s only here until Monday.

So instead of shooting concerned e-mails back and forth between my mom and my siblings, trying to figure out how Dad really felt about his colonoscopy, I used that time to facilitate friendships between my cats and this non-cat person: “She wants you to pet her” (leaving out “you stupid man”). Instead of hanging on the phone longer with my friend to find out what the burglars got, I hung up and arranged a breakfast display for my late sleeper: tea, honey, cup, spoon, more milk, Cheerios, a muffin, butter, and a bowl of blackberries. It’s what my mom does for my dad every day, so I figured, I will do that. I hope this shows love.

Instead of studying my book club selection more carefully so that I could be right most of the time at our meeting and make fun of those who were wrong, I waited for what seemed like appropriate moments to light candles, play music, and flit around revealing all of my Victoria’s Secrets.

But I did get those papers graded, and even though I can’t turn my head because my neck bone is fused to my shoulder blade again, I am still managing to gaze coyly at my houseguest when I reach out to him covered in lace to say, “Please don’t brush those pistachio shells onto the floor” (leaving out “this is not a bar, you pig”). I hope he can sense how much I like having him around, and how easy this is for me.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Numb to Love

I needed a massage yesterday like a wounded soldier needs morphine. With my neck broken, my lower back seized up, and the nerves in my left thigh hot and spastic, I lurched into Massage Envy as a POW: Prisoner of Want.

After being led back to the massage chamber, I tugged my clothes off and heaved my remains onto the table, belly-down, tucking myself in under the white sheet. I pressed my face into the doughnut and waited for Lisa to make me whole again. I was there for a Deep Tissue, meaning that Lisa was supposed to use her fingers, hands, and elbows, her fully body weight and possibly some dental equipment to reach all my balled-up muscles and bring them to life again. I was expecting good pain to replace my bad pain; I wanted to have moving parts again.

Lisa came quietly into the dark room; to the sound of flutes and chimes, she began to caress me. She began with my neck and moved to my shoulder blades, which by then had switched places so that it appeared my neck had wings. I was sure that Lisa would push everything back to where it belonged, but instead she gently hugged me. I said from my doughnut, “I think the pressure could be harder.” Lisa responded by sweeping her fingertips down my fully exposed back and touching her nose to my neck wings. Soon she moved to my left leg, by then curled back toward the ceiling, and lightly pressed her thumbs into my thigh.

As I neared rigor mortis there on Lisa’s table, I fell asleep. I couldn’t help it. I felt like I was going to second base with Lisa when what I really wanted was a professional to rough me up, hurt me bad, make me cry. Instead I napped and occasionally woke myself up by drooling and farting, which wouldn’t have happened if Lisa had kept me awake by jamming her skinny elbows into the deepness of my tissues like she was supposed to. She didn’t even turn me over; she left me on my stomach, face-down in the doughnut, passing wind and slobbering like a dog.

Lisa would not make a good nurse, nor would she make a good girlfriend. She should have seen that I was numb to love, paralyzed and scared. I wanted her to resurrect me, to go all in, but instead she did as she pleased, then told me it was over.

I’ll never ask for Lisa again. She reminds me too much of myself.

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Opening Day

Deer hunting season began in Minnesota this weekend; yesterday was opening day. Though I don’t hunt anymore, I still get excited for news of a kill. My whole family is out in the woods with guns—as always, I’m hoping that the news involves a big whitetail buck and not my nephew.

I clearly remember the first time my dad took me hunting. I was thirteen and toting a muzzleloader, Katie Boone. As dawn broke and my dad prepared to leave me alone on a stump (so he could pussyfoot around me and scare up the deer) he put his face up close to mine and said, “DO NOT MOVE FROM THIS SPOT. DO NOT WANDER AWAY. DO NOT LEAVE FOR ANY REASON. STAY RIGHT HERE. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” Oh, I definitely got that one. It was part of the agreement that he’d made with my mother for being able to take me hunting in the first place. If he lost me, that would be the living end.

I parked my behind on the stump and watched my orange dad fade into the woods. It wasn’t long before I ate one of my Snickers bars, and then the inevitable: I had to poop. My dad had instructed me on this part too, stuffing toilet paper into my jacket pockets the night before and telling me if I had to go, just pick a spot AWAY from the stand. Now as my need made itself known, these instructions jangled in my head along with the part about DO NOT MOVE FROM THIS SPOT.

I decided that taking five long marching steps away from my stump would count as both “away from the stand” and “DO NOT LEAVE.” I took care of business, then carefully covered my droppings with a pile of sticks: camouflage. I was back on my stump in no time.

An hour later, as promised, my dad was back to check on me. He asked how I was doing and I confessed that my feet were cold (I assumed that they were anyway…at that point, in twenty-below weather, I could no longer feel them). In one of his most memorable displays of affection for me, he decided that we should build a fire to warm me up.

This idea sounded great for about five seconds until he said, “Let’s go gather some kindling,” and headed straight toward my camouflaged pile of poop. It was like a poltergeist pulling him over: a pile of dead sticks to start a fire. Never has a little girl worked her mental magic as hard as I did in the next couple of minutes as my dad gathered large sticks, medium sticks, and then…oh no…the little sticks off my poop. I imploded. I’m surprised I’m even here to write this.

Somehow we got to the point where my dad had built a little fire, removed my boots, and was rubbing blood back into my stiff feet. All thoughts of my poop pile disappeared as my dad tended to me, saying, “Your feet got this cold because you’re not moving around enough. You need to come with me; we’ll walk together.”

Decades later, as hunting stories got told around the kitchen table one night, I finally asked my dad if he knew he’d picked kindling off my poop. He gave me the smile and the nod I have seen plenty other times in my life: part smirk, part pride, part disbelief that this child could wonder for a moment if she was loved.

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Rip Your Professor

Apparently I am the worst teacher who has ever walked the planet. If you believe what you read on RateMyProfessors.Com, I started one class this semester with over forty students and am now down to twenty because I cut them all up into tiny pieces and ate them. Either that, or twenty students ejected themselves from my rotten class like people jumping off the top of a burning building. “A complete waste of time and money…”

The truth is that I started with 24 students in that class, and it’s now down to 17, which proves not only that some people can’t write, they can’t count either. I’m guessing that the ex-student who wrote this most current scathing review of me is the young man I failed because he turned in a paper that contained material plagiarized from the Internet. Obviously I didn’t win any points myself for being such a great sleuth. “Worst teacher ever…”

Sometimes students only see the evil side of me, the militant and power-hungry witch who shouts over the crowd to get them to listen. I’m sure I don’t look super-cool when the snarky beast who lurks within me surfaces to ask a student, “Do you think I teach this class just for you or do you sense that there are other people here who might want to learn something today?” Perhaps all fan support died on the day I blurted out, “I did not have children for a reason.”

I did not sign up to be a police officer either. I don’t enjoy ticketing students who are late, sleeping, chatting, texting, behind in their work, or cheating. I don’t get a kick out of ending a young man’s life as an English student, even if he deserves it.

I was telling all of this to the Dean yesterday and he said, “Remember: How we say goodbye is just as important as how we say hello.” He’s so right. I know that “Bang bang, you’re dead!” isn’t going over well. I should probably stop saying, “Would you prefer an ‘F’ for ‘failure’ or a ‘W’ for ‘worst student I ever had’?” I realize that chasing students across the lawn because they refuse to stay after class for their public execution is wrong of me.

Finding something better than “You dug your own hole, so get in it” is now a goal of mine.

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