Sunday, November 24, 2013


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I like to be honest only sometimes.  These times don’t get me very far.  There is not really a jackpot at the end of the rainbow of honesty.

I know I’m not the most social of human beings; I value quiet more than I should.  If things can be quiet, I can relax.  Some noisy times I remember in life were when I pressed my ear to the heating vent on our living room floor in 1979, when my sister told my parents in the basement that she was pregnant.  The older kids were always noisier. I remember when the middle girls were teenagers and didn’t want to wear their snowboots to school anymore.  Secretly, in my mind, I already knew they left their boots behind the garbage cans in the alley, but when they would argue about it with my mom—who really wanted them to wear their boots—I would just cave in and promise the world that I would always wear mine.

Not that the world was listening.  I was just never looking for trouble.

I remember stealing a cigarette lighter from my mom one time when we were still living in the upper peninsula.  I probably didn’t like it that she smoked, but that’s not why I took the lighter.  We were moving again, this time back to Minnesota, so I figured I’d bury an artifact of us behind the lilac bushes.  Maybe I’d get the chance to dig it up one day.  It was 1976.  There were a lot of time capsules being buried then.

In my memory, there is a segue between tromping around in deep snow to find Christmas trees in Escanaba, Michigan, to sitting at the breakfast table in Bemidji, Minnesota, watching my parents chase my older siblings around.  It was entire discord.  I would be having a fine enough time eating fried eggs on a Friday morning and my mother would go shooting by, trying to drag my sisters into their boots.  I would wait for us to go to the state park, then a drunk sister would show up and she would have to go with us.  I remember sitting at the top of the staircase when I should have been in bed, listening to my own parents’ raised voices…with nobody else in the house.  I was kind of used to noise then, because the older kids were starting to have babies, but the tenor of my parents’ voices against one another was new.  That definitely meant that something was wrong.

My dad liked to transplant trees and never thought much about moving us around, so off we went again from Minnesota to Pennsylvania in what seemed like a sorry parade, but I was so used to it.  I was fourteen but grew up to match my next sister’s 19, the next one at 21, and so forth.  There were enough kids and babies at that point to distract everyone from me.  I felt largely on my own, but I wasn’t. 

I would always be surprised in Pennsylvania when a sibling or anybody would show up.  Sometimes they wanted to live with us, and sometimes they got their own apartment.  I remember having to share a fan with my pregnant sister, the two and a half of us sleeping in a tiny upstairs. I knew then that quiet would get me nowhere, so I thrusted myself upon the world in my way.  I had never done this before, to my mind.

This took playing my guitar in a musty basement, making six-egg cheesy omelets by myself on Saturday mornings, and making my dog a bologna-cheese sandwich the night before my dad put him down. 

We were moving again.

I was voted “most outgoing” in our senior year high school album, but I have no idea why.  I was the photographer for our yearbook, but for as much as I felt part of anything, I might as well have been the film. 

I went on to work the regular jobs as camp counselor, barmaid, tutor at the challenged center, my dry-cleaning stint.  I must have been loud sometimes in my relationships, but it was always quiet when I ran at night.  Not safe, but quiet.

I am still jangled to the present almost every time I look up.  I respect people who have had jobs outside of education; it seems like I’ve been raised in school and I’m still there.  “Huh?” and “What?” come out of my mouth too often.  I still can’t take a break-up, yours or mine, or President Kennedy’s.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Three Guys Who Met My Work

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A rainy day is a good day to talk about old boyfriends.  But when there are so many, you want to group them somehow in order to make sense of what’s happened.  You have a collection of nicknames for men you ended up not loving but who left an impression on you anyway:  Pigeon Man, Spanking Beanie Baby Boy, The Giggling Immigrant, Dane the Great.  But those were just the freaks.

When you think about it another way, you could come up with the category of “Boyfriends Who Have Met My Work”, the phrase “my work” (capitalized or not) being synonymous with the phrases “my colleagues” and “my work community”, a hybrid of sorts.

You could also go in the opposite direction and create a category called “When My Work Has Met My Boyfriends”, but that would be an utterly unendurable category for such a sensitive creature as you. Thus, you go with the fine-tuned and sterile: “The Three Guys Who Met My Work”.

You look forward to filling in the blanks.


Oh, Him.

You had a new job that paid well, then a man happened along.  You don’t call this guy “ex-husband” because he was never a husband in the first place.  You feel kind of ripped off in the marriage department; if you were still Catholic, you could easily get this annulled.  But, whatever.  Somebody at work one time mentioned just in passing, when he was getting a divorce, that you should “keep all papers for ten years. Don’t throw anything out.  Believe me.”  He looked so serious and distressed; you must have made a special note of it.

When you got divorced in 2005, you boxed up all your papers.  You haven’t looked at them since.  They sit on a high shelf in one closet, waiting to be excavated.

It’s difficult to write about when your ex met your work, because you think of him so negatively but you still love your work so much.  You regret the times they had to meet him.  You shake your head now and wish you could take back that one office Christmas party, and those few times you tried to couple-date within the department.  You never valued graduation ceremonies and still make it a habit to not attend them, but this man is still the only quasi-family member who actually came with you to a graduation, even though you really didn't want to go.

It’s surprising how much people wonder about him still.  They ask you about him.  You have no idea.


The Leprechaun

Well, you never know when love is gonna come along.  You don’t know what it’s going to look like, what color it will be, how much it will weigh, but you know it when you see it.  Sometimes love arrives in neat little packages, and sometimes it arrives in a family of boys because the dad is the Irish painter painting your house, and he’s divorced.

That’s how love happens.

You were proud of this man who represented well in all kinds of venues across the board.  You had no hesitations bringing him to that one after-work gathering involving food and alcohol.  You were glad and proud in a who-knows-kind-of-way when somebody from your work handed him all of the banquet leftovers because probably everybody felt bad that your boyfriend’s children were starving.

There are so few people who have four anymore, let alone all boys.

The spirit of this man still tugs on your heart.  He would have done it if you would have done it.

He lives abroad now with his wife.



You didn’t think anybody named kids that anymore, but God is always experimenting with you, isn’t he. Why else would he have sent you to a work conference on one of the Florida Keys in springtime to meet a Ninja German?  For the following seven months, you feel like an immigrant, an accident, and a nuisance all at the same time.

The L Word is never said, except for work.  You love your work.

Maybe to use one spark to ignite the future, you let your work meet Adolf.  He presents remarkably well, all polite and quizzically interested.  You’re glad that nobody asks why he’s dressed all in black.  You know he only understands 60% of what you say, so you’re wondering if your friends are getting anything more out of this man than what you’ve gotten up to this point.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Blame It on the Mama

My baby comes to me after a long weekend of my being gone and home again, back and forth, home long enough to make a mess and not clean it up.  He doesn’t want this to become standard behavior, so he walks circles on my chest starting at 4 a.m., then settles into a curled snake pattern on my chest, purring the whole time.

He knows I’m not going back to sleep.

“Now that I have your attention, Mom,” Leo says to me, in pretty good language, “I just want you to know how much I love you.”

I use a little energy to raise my right arm and run my palm down his back.  “That’s nice,” I mumble-jumble, hoping that a small good dream might come back if I lie still enough before it’s really time to get up.

Leo remains in his snake-curl on my chest, purring.  He’d probably stay there forever.  He is always one to tell the truth.


My oldest one has also come to me recently with dreadful stories of what’s really going on in the house, in my absence.  I walk through my entire estate with a winsome grin on my face, and Sara gallops through with indignance, home around the same time as me, back from her job as a sign-spinner.

“Well one thing’s for sure,” she says.  I hope she completes her sentence.

“It’s not the same around here as the other time, when it was just you and me and Luce.  Now it’s never the same, plus there’s boys, plus you never play with me anymore.”  She gives me the big hazel eyes, so often green.  She knows how to break my heart.

“But did you have a good day?” I ask, scooping her up and cuddling her under my neck, supporting her backside because a cat’s backside should always be supported, if you want to keep holding her.

“Well I did, Mom,” Sara begins, “but then a car stopped and people started coming out, and I got kind of scared.”

“Did you come home then?” I nibble on her ear flap.

“I did, but I think I was too far away in the first place, and I decided I like it here better.”  Sara realizes she is getting schmaltzy, so she gets up, stretches, drags her anal glands across my afghan, and love-bites me through the Mexican weave.

“You are a bad girl,” I say to her.  I don’t know where she gets it from.  “Welcome home.”


My middle child—the one who follows me around in secret, always hoping for and expecting a morsel of worship, and at the same time, the only one who never grumbles about her snacks—has been approaching me on and off all weekend.  I’ve been here, I haven’t—she probably thinks I’m leading her on, even though we’ve been together almost six years.  That’s fine; she’s never really trusted me, but I have always loved her.  Even though I wanted non-chatty cats and Lucy fit that bill to begin with, apparently she’s been studying up.  She’s grown out of her weakness.  She is a bold kitty now.

“Meep!” she says to me, in her own good time, after all these years.

“But why?” I say.

“Meep!  Meepmeepmeepmeepmeep,” Lucy says.

“But why didn’t you mention this before?” I say, imploring.

“MEEP!  MEEP MEEP MEEP!” Lucy insists.

I hate to see anger in anybody’s eyes.  I always try to deflect it.

“Sweetpea,” I say, “it cannot always be my fault.  You’re putting a little too much blame on the mama.”

We both meep.  She gets that from me.  We meep as we disentangle and I make another treat plate for the family, somebody always getting something, somebody always a favorite. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Meddling from Heaven

The first time I spent $100 on a pair of shoes, I instinctively wanted to breed them to make more.  My second best option was shoe repair.  Just as I wasn’t in the market for hundred-dollar shoes in the first place—thanks, girlfriend—I had no idea about shoe repair shops.  Who fixes shoes?

I know now that people do this, and every once in awhile—when one or two of my shoes needs fixing—off I go again to Abe’s.  I learned about Abe’s Shoe Repair by chance, as we do all good places; it was a shop next to a shop next to a major grocery store near where I used to live in Tempe, Arizona.

The entire intersection—Guadalupe and McClintock—holds part of my history in its hands.  My first house is down the street, my first significant neighbor lived next to me, my favorite bookstore is there, and then I found Abe’s.

Abe himself was of small build, handsome in the face and strong.  I didn’t know his last name, but from the stories he would tell me over the crossing of shoes over the counter, I gathered that he was from the Middle East.  I was happy one day when he told me that his one daughter smoked, and he didn’t approve.  I can still see the daughter pacing around their front grassy yard with a cigarette dangling from her fingers; I can imagine Abe peering out at her from behind the blinds in the house.  He shook his head on that one.

He knew I was a teacher and he had big dreams for his sons; they would be in the shop once in awhile when I went in…very handsome boys.

But I had my life too.  In a matter of three years, I sold my house, left my best neighbor, got married and divorced, then bought a new house, again not far from Abe’s.  He kept fixing the shoes I kept bringing him—educating me in what could be salvaged, what couldn’t be, and what really should be thrown out.  He taught me the difference between a great shoe and a regular shoe.  I usually had great ones, well worth saving.

A day came when I clipped Abe’s obituary out of the local newspaper and sent it to my ex-best neighbor in Wisconsin.  After the couldn’t-believe-its and thanks-for-letting-me-knows, it seemed like the very next shoe season—when my friend and I should’ve been shopping for Clarks—that she was dead too.

I walked for an hour and cried ten tears, but did not allow myself more than that.  Nobody would have been proud of me then.


I still take my shoes to Abe’s, though Abe isn’t there anymore—it’s a new guy.  I guess you’re probably not new after being five years in the same place, but he is still new to me.  He drives a harder bargain than Abe did.  I like that.

I took two pair of shoes in on Thursday last week, one pair that needed hope and the other just insoles.  The new guy has another guy who helps him at the counter sometimes, so I plopped my shoes in front of him and asked, “Ya think these can be saved?”

The new guy to the new guy held up my raunchy pair and said, “Those are plastic heels.  We can’t fix ‘em.”

I nodded my understanding, my best chin.  “Um, can ya do anything to make ‘em look better?”

“We can’t fix plastic,” he said again. “Plastic is cheap, it just disintegrates…look: this is just falling apart.”  He further picked apart my shoes.

“I understand that, sir,” I said. “But is there anything you guys can do to make them look nicer?  Maybe so I can wear ‘em for another season?”

He dangled that pair of shoes by their straps for what seemed like a longer time than necessary, and again came down firmly on the side of No.

“Look,” I said, sidling up in my way. “I’ve been bringing my shoes here for fifteen years, and I understand that you guys don’t work miracles.  I know these shoes are cheap.  I’m just asking if you can do anything to make them look better.”

The man thought.

“We could shave down the heel and dye it,” he said.

“Thank you,” I said, so completely weary of shoe-bargaining. “I really appreciate it.”  I don’t think I’ve ever left shoes behind with less of a sense of owning them.


My brother calls, because my brother always does.  We start talking about death, because we always do.  We talk about my mom—his mom—it seems like we have different moms, but she is one and the same.  She’s just different people to us.  We talk about Mom meddling from heaven.

 “It’ll never be over,” I say. “She has special powers.”

“I know,” my brother says.

We hang up peaceably and agreeably, two shaggy dogs.