Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Daughter from Nowhere

My daughter calls me from wherever she is; of course I pick up the phone.  I didn’t really know I had a daughter, but I’d always suspected it.  She’s finally found me.

“How can I help you?” I say, piling things up before the cleaning lady comes.

She hesitates like a little seed not knowing what to do with all the dirt piled on top of her.

“Tell me everything,” I say. “Where have you been?”

Mom, my first memory is eating an apple on a doorstep to a new home.  We kept a dog tied up there for a long time.  I was skipping double dutch in the church parking lot when my family pulled alongside me and told me to get in. My brother peed in the milk jug and the five of us pummeled one another all the way there.  Dad parked the car and spanked us once in the rain.

“Oh,” I say. “That must have been tough.  Then where did you go?”  I fold up laundry so the cleaning ladies don’t have to deal with it tomorrow.

Mom, we moved to a whole new world.  Dad said not to stare at the Indians as we drove through town.  I skated on ice rinks and roller skated too; I made out with a cute boy underneath the plastic wrap on a landing pad.  There was another girl there and she did it too.  I flirted with the hockey boys through the wire fence.  My sister found me one time on the Indian Trail; I was smoking one of your cigarettes.  She was sixteen months pregnant.

I grip my teeth and set my jaw, like I do the timer on the stove.  “And then what?” I say.

Oh, and then la la, my daughter says.  I moved to Pennsylvania and then to Washington and then to Alaska and now I’m in Arizona.  I was just wondering how you were doing.

I hedge.  It’s in my nature.  I cannot deal with this honest little human being.  “Do you know who got laid by a thousand men?” I ask.

Alas Kanpipeline, she says. 

“Why not Minot?” I say.

Freezin’ is the reason.

Now I know it’s my daughter.  I kind of  jump for joy.  We can start over again.  “Honey, there’s a man here I want you to meet,” I say.

Is it my dad?

“No,” I say. “It’s better than that.  It’s Woody Allen.  Do you have any memories of Woody Allen?”  My daughter tries to think; I can hear her energy.  She is trying to conjure Woody Allen.  Is that the guy who married his step-daughter and kept a park between himself and Mia Farrow?

I could not be prouder of my daughter than at this time.  “Indeed,” I say, whipping the trees in my front yard with my rugs, dusting.  I go back, way back to the bathroom where Woody likes to hang.

“Hey,” I say to the freak of an individual hanging upside down from my towel rack at Halloween.  “Long time no see.”  Woody folds his wings and tries to be handsome with his face turned towards the ceiling.  His thin t-shirt gives him away.

“Our daughter called,” I say.

What? he bleets.

I feed him a fruit fly, a fat one I’ve been saving off my bananas.  “She found us,” I say.

Well, everybody knows Woody, so it’s no surprise that he just ate the fly and looked at me like it was my fault.  I take a clean towel off the rack because I want to clean again.

“Don’t make me be alone in this,” I say, knowing before the words leave my beak that there is nothing left to do but scratch in the sand. “You do this every time.”

The phone rings again and we look at each other—Woody and me—knowing it’s our daughter.  Neither of us wants to pick up.  She is so happy camping; we don’t know why she would want any part of us.  We look at each other again.  “At least put on the shower curtain,” I say. 

Woody hangs himself on the shower rod.  That was not exactly what I was thinking. 

“Hi Honey,” I say.

Mom, I just wanted you to know that I can keep up good humor in the face of nothingness.  I do look at everyone and try to adjust accordingly.  The absence of you and Dad has helped raise me.  Thank you.

I want to throttle my daughter in this moment.  Where was she when we had picnics by the lake?  Where was she when we were taking notes on what movies won awards at the Oscars?  Was she even in the car all those times?  I pull Woody’s wing and he wakes up. What? he bleets.

“She doesn’t remember us.”

My daughter is still on the phone and I don’t know what to do with her.  I would give her fruit and bits of bread if she wanted, but again, I don’t know.  I fly into a snit, thinking that Woody should get down and I should make things more comfortable.  I mean, if I don’t, at least he should.

“What’s your name?”  I ask my daughter. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Bad Examples are the Best Examples of All

I walk into class this morning totally prepared for a different class at another time.  Slightly taken aback at first—dummy—I revert to Plan B of Teaching, which in the old days meant going back to the textbook because the technology didn’t work, but which today means checking in with my students because I need a jump-start.

“Have we learned about quotation format yet?” I thunder.

“NO!” they chorus back.  I hand out candy and begin the lesson.  I hand out markers and soon students are clamoring to write on the board.  “Don’t be afraid!” I shout out over the din. “Bad examples are the best examples of all!”

I close up shop five minutes after the hour, rolling around in my chair, asking a boy not to clean my erasers.  I will do it myself; I don’t want to be viewed as having favorites. Two hours later I’m on the phone with my brother, talking about jail time and death.  It is a real winner of a conversation.  We need to work on transitions.

“Did you hear that new song by Glen Campbell?” I ask.

“Yeah,” he says. "It made me really sad.”  He pauses.  “Weren’t you in jail when he was?”

“No,” I say, slightly indignant but only to a degree.  “I was in when Martha Stewart was in.”

You look back at those days as fast as two seconds can take and remember feeling sorry for Glen Campbell, not as sorry for Martha, but commiseration with both.  The only thing on your mind these days is why people write “arrived to” rather than “arrived at”.  It is your new mission in life to find out.  You would also like to know how your sister is doing and how your dad is doing and what everybody else is thinking.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

An Understood Rule

You lie in bed in all of your fifteenishness, arms akimbo, your stomach growling for breakfast on Saturday.  Your parents are out on the breakfast date they’ve been on since 1956.  You heard them leave. You pull the remnants of your own last night—a purple truck and purple drink and your own purple blanket—together around you, and go downstairs to make food.

You can make anything you want and this is an understood rule of the house, as long as you clean up after yourself and do the other things on the list. 

The first thing you do is look for eggs.

Your ability to turn eggs into meals as a sub-adult is quickly laughed off and then marketed by Eggo.  You have never felt more under-appreciated.  You feel the same way when you make chef salad from everything in the refrigerator and suddenly all restaurants country-wide are offering chef salads.

Your story is an old story before you even knew the story existed.


Thirty years later and two thousand miles away, you wake up in the morning.  You are still lying in bed in all your fiftyishness, arms akimbo, your stomach still growling for Saturday breakfast.  Your parents are still out on a date.

Suddenly, your entire life as you know it throws itself on the loveseat you use for decoration, and starts crying.  This is the last thing you need.  It’s not like you punished it.  You turn your head away in hopes of seeing other people suffering more, anything to get you off the hook, but your life continues to throw a tantrum in the loveseat.  Stupid baby.

You get yourself comfortable in a propped-up-chin, leg-look way, ready to hear all the stories and everybody’s excuses.  You can’t wait to hear what everybody thinks.  The polls are open.  You feel like you’re in control in a way you haven’t been in in awhile.  You pull your remnants around yourself, this time clean laundry you left on the bed last night and a few cats who have been experimenting with weightlessness.

“Get up,” you say, draping lifeless forms of cats around you. “Gravity still works here.” 

In the apparent absence of gravity—in the face of everything you know that has worked up to this time but which now has suddenly stopped working—you have to do better.  “Who wants to hear a story?” you burble.  Twin peaks of ears funnel towards you.  You clear the throat that was gifted to you from your father, the same throat that runs with the phlegm and can be heard clearing not only itself but entire cathedrals at certain times of the year. 

You suck up any remaining vestiges of the night, hoping that your weightless children can still benefit from a story, and begin, “There are the people who have killed themselves, and there are the people who haven’t.”  You wipe the inside tears off your glasses.  You set your jaw and gather the purple blanket.  “One time with my back against a wall,” you continue, “and no instruments of survival within my reach, I looked to fire as my friend.  I had been taught against it, the same with knives and friendship, but this was a desperate situation.  I looked for a girl but there wasn’t one; I looked for the bridge that I had been told my grandfather built, one particular pile of stones, but I couldn’t find it either.”

It’s a good start, but you don’t know how to end it, plus it’s your dad’s story, not yours.  You look for boys.

“Thirty years ago I didn’t pay attention to my father’s rules of never using a knife in the wrong direction, never setting a fire unless it’s controlled, never leaving a hazard for someone else to walk into, and never going into the woods without blazing a trail first,” you bludgeon.

You shift around in the sheets you haven’t left yet, a bandage on your thumb.