Monday, April 28, 2014

Not Yet a Nightmare

“Put your hands behind your back,” the officer said after I haltingly counted backwards from 100 and failed to walk in a straight line, even though he had allowed me to remove my heels and I had called upon the grace of every Indian who had ever successfully walked across the steel beams of a construction site.  All of this in the quiet dark, under a great big sky full of stars.  He put me into the back of his car and started the twenty-minute drive to the nearest police substation.  It still wasn’t a nightmare, only a dream.

I stared through the steel screen that separated me from the police officer.  He turned the radio up when a popular song came on, and I leaned forward to breathe my breath into the front seat: “Could you turn that down please?” I said. “This isn’t a party, you know.”  He obliged and drove us in silence to the substation, from the middle of nowhere to another nowhere.

The lights were bright when we pulled in, both in the parking lot and inside the station, where I could already see cops moving around through the windows.  I’m sure they were expecting us.  My officer walked me in and then I had five officers.  They quickly found a large green pill zipped into my wallet—my prescription for acid reflux—and suddenly I was also on drugs.  I was uncuffed so that a short, stout, large-breasted female officer could hustle me up against a wall and frisk me, my palms down flat on the wall above me.  That was the first time my own breasts had been felt by another female, and the first time they had been seen by a group. 

My fatal mistake that night was not blowing for the arresting officer.  I would not blow his device in the field because I could only imagine the worst results.  I’ll get a lawyer and get out of this…they won’t have anything on me.  Later, I sat on the floor of my clean, well-lit cell with one lidless toilet, doing some stretches to hurry up my sobriety and eyeing the payphone for which I had no money to use, not that I knew anyone to call, especially a lawyer.  I sat with my back against the white cement wall for hours until another officer came in to serve me with a search warrant.

“You already have my purse,” I said. “And I’m getting divorced so I don’t have much in my house.”

It was a search warrant for my body. 

I got up and walked from my spot on the floor into the hallway outside, still hoping that whatever happened to me next would be somewhat tolerable, somewhat gentle, and not painful.  I was looking for where they wanted me to go when three officers took hold of me, one on both sides and one in back.  I didn’t have to walk anymore because my feet left the floor and seconds later, I was strapped into a reclining black chair.

This is what happens when you resist!
The judge had no problem issuing a search warrant for you!

“When did I resist?” I asked. “If you needed blood, you could have asked me.  I would have said yes.”

But it was too late.  I sat still, strapped into a black dental chair, getting my blood drawn.  After that, I signed some papers and was told that I could call a taxi to take me home.  It was four o’clock in the morning.

I had been instructed that if I attempted to move my car from where it was parked on the side of the road, I would risk a second DUI that night.  Luckily for me, the taxi driver had his girlfriend riding shotgun, and somehow I got her to mercy-drive my car back to my rental house, following me and her boyfriend.

I was never so glad to walk into a quiet, dark house—the sun not yet up.  I walked into the kitchen and poured myself a stiff drink, still hoping that I might wake up in the morning to all of this being a nightmare.

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

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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

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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.