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.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Two-thirds Cup Thinking

The weekend is over, morning tears rubbed back into cheeks, the lotion put on its skin.  There’s work to do.  It was a good weekend to watch the Olympics; you needed to see people fail as much as you needed to see people win, without your involvement.

But it’s Wednesday now.  It’s time to get serious.

One of your tendencies is to make food for people, even when people aren’t hungry—even when you have nothing in the house that would interest anyone, not even you.  It doesn’t matter: you need to cook. You will grate cheese and open a can of cream-of-something.  You have leftover pasta noodles and a can of mushrooms. 

You need to make hotdish.  

If you could bring a covered dish to yourself in your own house, you would.  It seems like everybody is either dying or leaving, or they’ve already died and left.  The processes that other people are undergoing in changing entire lifestyles, homes, careers and relationships is lost on you right now: thinking about today is hard enough. 

At this ripe moment, a Facebook status sails in from a friend you actually know, and have known for thirty years: an accomplished businesswoman, she is now for some reason selling pornography and Cialis.  Her Facebook account has been hacked again.  You smile and remember that other people have problems too.  You text your friend, “Hey girly, your FB account is sending out porn again.” 

You return to work in the dungeon chamber where no smiles ever existed in the first place.  Your friend texts back, “OMG, I can’t believe it!”  An even naughtier note takes the headlines on your Facebook feed; you know your friend is mentally in businesswoman-shambles.  This too pulls your frowny face up, just a notch.  You kind of like to see proper people shudder, just a little.

Your mood enhanced, just as your friend’s advertisement promised, you continue with Wednesday.  You walk onto campus and the police are there.  A stray four-year-old boy wanders into your classroom and charms everyone.  Your colleagues argue in the hallway.  A co-worker is sick.  The customer service lady at your Albertson’s died last night.  This last part you learn by buying next weekend’s groceries because you happen to ask your check-out person if he’s drawing anymore—you talk briefly about the difference between interpretive art and technical art, illustrating vs. actually being an artist.  He doesn’t look at you as he helps take things out of the cart onto the conveyor belt, but he starts with “I don’t have time anymore,” and he’s probably glad to see you go when you’re gone.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Carnival Town

I have a dream in which my parents sell off the family homestead to downsize and be safer, and they end up in a three-story ramshackle fixer-upper on a drag strip in Miami.  We are all there—my nuclear family of seven, all the grandchildren, and their children too.  The house is bursting at the seams with activity and noise, but luckily for me, there’s a gas station where the garage should be, and the gas station serves alcohol.  I keep going to the gas station and playing pool until one of my nuclear family members scolds me; they are all better at life than me.  In a moment, I am scum and they are hydraulic devices, working like nobody’s business.  I become resentful and retreat to a third-floor balcony with a water bottle full of vodka from the gas station to watch the races.  Soon, I am pinned to the ceiling watching my mom shop for dresses with my sisters.

In real life, the partridge in my pear tree has died.  Two people are divorcing, and three people are sick of me.  Five jillion students against one teacher.  Seahawks vs. the Broncos.  Philip Seymour Hoffman vs. himself.

I side with Philip Seymour Hoffman.

I zip-line into my day by turning the alarm off and lying still.  I burst onto the scene of my work by parking.  I’m teaching my first class when God tells me a knock-knock joke.

“Knock-knock, who’s there?” the white board says, apologizing in my brain for not being black and chalky anymore.

I glance at my students, still hard at work.  Did they hear the knocking?  I knuckle up and knock back, four times in a jagged rhythm.

I get four knocks back.  I surmise that this is not God, but the teacher in the room behind me.  Whoever it is, I’m not going to let the moment go without responding.  These people have been loud and up to shenanigans all semester long, and it’s only the fourth week.  Whoever’s back there better be paying attention. I knuckle up and sound-volley back: knock-knock-na-knock-knock.

The professor in the room behind me answers back: knock-knock.  His room erupts in laughter, which makes my room only titter.  I realize that we haven’t been having as much fun as we should be.  I am too fresh from playing rock-paper-scissors at yesterday’s football game, losing time after time to the same eight-year-old. 

I guilt myself into my office hour, too-strict me.


You want the day to end on a high note.  It’s hard when you’re at the doctor’s office and have to turn your wrist up on your right arm and offer your best vein because you’re being tracked.  It’s halfway voluntary, halfway essential.  You do it because you’re interested in lasting longer around this place.

You’re in the waiting room early and you intend to read your book, a little quiet time.  But there’s a TV playing and it’s all Philip Seymour Hoffman, every great role he ever played, every great interview, him at his best.  You are essentially in the waiting room for the same reason Philip Seymour Hoffman should have been.  You didn’t know he had kids.

You draw on the best that has happened to you in your life before the needle stuck in your arm fills with your blood for testing.  You want to pass this time, especially.  In your way, you want to blend in and not call attention to yourself, but you do stick out like a needle, at least in your brain.

You small-talk with the phlebotomist about the oldies on the overhead speakers.  You tell the girls behind the front desk to have a good rest of their day, and they respond in kind.  You hold the door to the doctor’s office open behind you, looking over your shoulder just in case somebody else is coming.