Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Accident

I was ten when my father killed the dog. We’d refer to it later as The Accident but, in the end, the dog was dead and my father was the one who’d killed it.
I sat in the front seat beside him that day, while he drove and sang along with the radio. The trees had just started their slow turn to fall, and the air was warm enough still to have the windows down. I stared at the white blonde hairs on my arm, golden against brown skin. Father squinted his eyes against the sun and the smoke from the Winston balanced on his lower lip. I watched it hang there with its impossible ash, bouncing as he sang, tilting upward and getting swallowed by his mouth as he inhaled. Just when it seemed doomed to drop into his lap and set the whole car on fire, he flicked it out the open window and lit another.
It was between the flicking and the lighting that I saw the dog run down the hill from the farmhouse toward the road.  A giant yellow lab, big and beautiful and stupid, his legs moving faster than his brain, bounding across the gravel road in pursuit of nothing. I don’t know that the dog ever saw the car; I am certain my father never saw the dog. He hit the animal’s hind end, spinning him up and over the hood of the car and onto the side of the road, fast and heavy and without flair. He pulled the car off the shoulder and we sat in confusion and silence.
My father got out first, and slow-jogged to the animal’s side. I hung behind, trying to look without looking. The dog’s tongue pushed through his rattling teeth and he panted and whined as my father muttered, shit, shit, shit. The dog shifted his eyes to his back end, and I saw what he could not – a twisted mess of legs and tail, every bit of it going not at all the right way.
Shit.
“Go back to the car,” Father spoke without turning.
He knelt for a long time with his back to the car, putting his hand gently here and there on the dog. I watched through the back window as he moved in so close that I thought he was hugging the animal. The muscles in his back bulged and tensed under his t-shirt and we both stopped breathing for a moment. Then he relaxed and raised himself from the pavement. He rubbed his face hard with both hands, and knelt again, this time rising with the dog cradled in his arms.
He walked up the long hill to the farmhouse. By the time he returned, I had fallen asleep in the sun, my face pressed into the seat back. He did not speak, but started the car and pulled back on to the road. Loretta Lynn was on the radio.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Blogger Camp!

If there existed an award for Worst Blogger Ever, I would get it. One might think that over the years I would get better at things like SEO optimization and reader engagement and monetization. Instead, I dropped my ads, continue to reply to comments sporadically (at best), and I just recently learned that SEO is not a spinoff band of REO Speedwagon. Which is kind of a relief, because they really suck. 

So, when I get invited to a blogger workshop, I jump at the opportunity. Although I did warn them that if they started talking about boring stuff I was going to zone them out and play Candy Crush. Plus, the workshop was at the YMCA Camp Hanes, which is one of my favorite places, and they were going to offer us a summer camp discount, and give us one for our readers, AND they were going to feed us. Really, all they needed to say was 'free food' and I'd be there. 

I picked up my friend Kristen from Four Hens and a Rooster and Ten to Twenty Parenting in the Big Lots parking lot (true) and drove up Camp on a cool and drizzly morning. Kristen is, among other things, a blogger and social media expert (true) and was going to lead the workshop.  My job was to help out if anyone got stuck on a level of Candy Crush. Let's just say Kristen did all the work that day. 

We were joined by some local bloggers who actually know what they're doing, including Triad Moms on Main, Southern as Biscuits, My Winston-Salem, City Girl on Hicks Farm, You Can't Make This Stuff Up, and AttaGirl Says, as well as The Amazing Jen from Camp Hanes. She is The Amazing Jen because when you say things like - Hey Jen! Can we shoot some stuff after this? She says, "Sure!". Also because she is incredibly well read and geeks out when she gets retweeted by an author. She is my kind of nerd. 

Everyone talked about blogging and I learned several things I will most likely not put into practice. I also said the word 'anus' and made an inappropriate butt sex joke (two separate incidents), so I feel like my contribution was worthwhile and noted. 

Then we got to walk around Camp Hanes and talk about how fantastic it is. If you know me, chances are you know how passionate I am about Camp. My oldest is going into her eighth summer at Camp Hanes, my middle is getting ready for her first. I do not know that I have ever experienced a place, or a group of people, so joyfully committed to helping kids become their best selves through camp. It honestly sounds kind of silly, but I don't know how else to put it. Every summer, I listen to kids talk about how camp makes them mentally, physically, and spiritually stronger. It is transformative, in the very best way. 

Camp Hanes does some really special things for kids - from a camp geared toward kids on the autism spectrum to kids with diabetes, to children of military servicemen  and women. They offer programming year round - corporate team building and reunions, adventure parties for teens and outdoor education for school groups, YMCA day camp and residential camp. This weekend, they even offer a Winter Camp - which, I'm assuming, features lots and lots of s'mores. 

It's moderately priced and they offer discounts for early registration ($100 off before December 31), Y members ($50 off), sibling discounts, and financial aid is available. Additionally, SFC readers get $50 off using the code SUMMERCAMPBLOG. 

OK, you may be saying, sounds like a great place, BUT I LIVE IN RUSSIA! Or, I DONT HAVE KIDS! Or, I'M A HORSE! (That reads blogs, okay, whatever.) But you still want to help out a child who needs that financial aid. There is a button at the top of this page, and also on the Camp Hanes website, about the Send a Kid to Camp program. And right now, a generous private benefactor is matching all new donations, dollar for dollar, up to $50,000. So, if you give $1, it will be matched for a total of $2, and you've helped a kid enjoy an awesome 10 minutes at camp. Way to go. 

( Really, give more than a dollar. $5 would be cool. $25 would be awesome. $100 and I will kiss you on the mouth, unless you're that horse.)

It was a great day. I learned that I love Camp Hanes, I am an even worse blogger than I thought, and everyone thinks the word 'anus' is funny. I'd call that a 'WIN'. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

November

November roared in like a beast, blowing a bitter wind and stripping leaves from limbs, filling gutters and forcing us into the car in the mornings. We sit there at the bus stop, a line of chugging vehicles with foggy windows and, when the bus comes into view, we spill children out onto sidewalks. They shuffle-run in new coats, filling the air with their white breath, hurrying into line and on board.

Then fall decides it's not quite done here, and the neighborhood is left with a half dozen houses with premature Christmas decorations, and me with dead mums and a yard full of leaves. 

That first week brought with it a lion's share of community grief, and I dance on the periphery of it. I know a guy, who knows a guy, and that guy died. I co-opt that grief and wear a maudlin cloak in solidarity. I wrap it around me out of ennui, and because there is a perverse pleasure in being sad when you're not actually sad. It makes you do things like cry over Joni Mitchell records and fantasize about how horrible people will feel when you die. I picture my grown children, wailing over my casket, wide eyed grandchildren sobbing over their Grandmère (I am assuming that one of the kids will marry someone French, it makes for a more romantic funeral).

I imagine this as I stand in my postage sized backyard, fighting a ridiculous battle with an endless pile of leaves studded with dog turds. I look at Shutup Roxy, hunched over in the corner, looking at me as she drops yet another steamer. She looks at me with cataract-white eyes and I feel I'm embarrassing her. I look away. "Why do you have to shit so much, bro?" I ask her. 

My husband has started calling the three year old, 'Bro', and I have adopted it. I have adopted it and expanded it, bastardized it brah, brahmin, brotato, broseph, brocephus. It is beyond annoying, and I can't stop. "Have a nice day!", says the woman loading my groceries. She is my mother's age, neat and trim, delightfully cheerful. "You too, bro!", I reply, and I can tell by the look on her face that this is likely the first time in her life she's been called 'bro'.

The dog does not mind being called bro. Two weeks ago, we felt certain that she was not long for this world. An injury to her already shaky hind end meant we had to have 'the talk'. She looked up at us from her bed, the heating pad tucked under her hips. "If she's not better by Monday, it may be time," my husband said. Shutup Roxy cocked an eyebrow my way. The next morning she was up, still wobbly, but considerably better. She made her way outside to the pile of dog shit leaves and did her business. Screw you, brah, she said.

The leaves are still there, waiting. My third degree grief is faded, already replaced by plans for turkey and pies and Christmas gifts yet to buy. Thanks, I give thanks, that I can shrug it off and worry myself with yard work and grocery budgets. I hold a pen that hesitates above a sympathy card for an acquaintance, unsure of what to say and how to say it. I write what comes to mind first and then reconsider - I reconsider it all. 

"So sorry for your loss, bro."


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Randall

The problem was, he couldn't seem to get it clean. Randall had hosed it off right away, of course; dried it with stacks of old towels and oiled all the pieces and parts. He cleaned it until his fingers tingled from the cold and the wash water froze on the hem of his pants. 

But here he stood, watching a single rivulet of blood trickle down the handle of the machine. Randall checked his hands and face for cuts and found nothing more than three days worth of beard and a dried piece of egg from that morning's breakfast, stuck to the corner of his mouth. 

He reached out and touched the cold metal of the handle, then held still and waited to catch the blood. It hit his finger hot and thick and he cried out in surprise. He balanced the droplet on his fingertip and brought it close to his face. He watched it hang there, suspended, and fought the urge to touch it to his tongue. He hurriedly wiped the finger on his pants, and went inside the house. 

That was the second day. 

On the third day, Randall stood at the back door, peering over his coffee cup at the machine on the edge of the woods. It looked exactly like it had looked for the past twenty years; heavy and cold and so faded that it blended into the oranges and yellows of the trees themselves. Off to the left was the dog run, minus dog, food bowl turned upside down. The squirrels and chipmunks and birds had eaten what had been spilled. Randall couldn't remember if the dog had been there eating when it happened and turned it over, or if he had knocked it over running to her. He did remember holding her in his arms, trying to stop the hole in her throat from gushing blood, and seeing a crow perched on the bowl, pecking at the food, it's black beaded eyes staring at him. The fuck you looking at?, it asked him. In his periphery had been the man, standing at the edge of the woods, looking stupid and drunk. 

That night, Randall heard the machine crank up. He flew from the bed, tripping over shoes and dirty clothes, running into the dark in his underwear, panic caught in his throat and trying to escape. Gah gah gahhh, it said. His feet carried him through the yard toward the trees while his brain yelled stop stop stop no sound no sound! His feet finally got the message and Randall stopped halfway through the long yard. The night was still and the machine sat dark and quiet, a great black hulk, sleeping. He stood there watching it until his toes went numb in the wet grass.

On the fourth day, Randall walked around the machine again and again. He looked under it and over it and in it. He saw no mysterious drops of blood, no stains, no sign of use. He crouched down low and put his ear to the ground and closed his eyes and asked the earth for answers. When he opened them, he saw it. A small square of red plaid cloth, caught on a blade inside the machine. It fluttered there, waving at him. How did you miss me?, it said. He saw it as a larger piece, with brown buttons and smelling of smoke and whiskey, hanging on the man in the woods. 

Randall took the square of cloth between two fingers, careful not to touch the machine. It was impossible that it was there, no fabric or man made material had gone in. Nothing that wasn't nature made had ever gone in, he was sure of that. He glanced at the circle of charred earth behind the dog lot. No, he was sure of that. He held the cloth to his face and smelled cigarettes. 

He set it on fire on the fifth day. He nearly set everything else on fire as well, and battled errant sparks with fire extinguishers and the great green garden hose while the machine sat blazing in the middle of it all. Within an hour, Randall had stripped to his underwear and boots and danced around the hot metal, his skin red and blisters boiling around his mouth. He kept it burning until nightfall, when the last of the embers faded but the machine still glowed. He slept in it's shadow, the garden hose wrapped around his body like a talisman. 

He was not surprised to find the pack of matches on the sixth day. They sat on top of the machine, red cover open, waving at him when he opened his eyes. RE-ELECT EARL REDWINE, it implored him, ABLE AND EXPERIENCED, it assured him. Maybe he ought to go in and call Earl right now, he thought. Call him and tell him about his dog and the man and machines that bleed and regenerate plaid shirts. Got any experience with that, Earl? 

He sat there all that day, staring at the machine. He ate pinto beans out of the can for his breakfast, and gin out of the bottle for his supper. He kept the square of cloth tied around his index finger, and rubbed it absently over his blistered lips. It was cold, but the machine had become organic; growing out of the earth, it swelled and pulsed and kept him warm. 

On the seventh day, Randall stumbled down the long driveway to the road, a piece of plywood under his arm and a scattering of nails held between his teeth. He hit his thumb twice with the hammer, cursing the first time and crying the second. When he was done, he stood back and looked at the crooked sign and smiled. That'll do it, he thought, and read the sign out loud - "Woodchipper for sale - CHEAP".