Thursday, December 27, 2012


It is very easy, I think, to give a dark seed a warm place to grow in your heart. It is easy to despair and curl up and stuff yourself full of pie and pity and a heavy, heavy dose of fuck it all. 

It is very easy to forget the things that give you the most joy and just get lost. 

I feel I have been a little lost. 

I write stories in my head that I have neither the patience nor the focus to get onto paper. I stare at running shoes in my closet, sigh, and sit back down. I say, "Later, later," to my children and later never comes. 

I cancel plans.
I ignore the phone.
I break promises.

And then little hands grab at me and small mouths kiss me and my stupid dog lays her old face next to mine and all of these things say, 'Get up.' My husband reaches across the car and holds my hand on the way to church, and the priest says something that cuts right to my heart and a friend sends me a text to tell me I'm loved. And all of these things happen for no reason, while I sit in my darkness and stew in my juices. All of these things say, 'Get up,' so I do. 

There are stories to be written and clothes to be washed and books to be read and games to be played. There are races to be run. 

Julia is asleep on the little bed on the floor next to me. I can hear her soft breathing, mixed with that of the dog. Earlier, I watched Katie walk three doors down to spend the night with a friend, wearing nearly every piece of Christmas clothing she received. She turned and waved and blew me a kiss before she walked through their gate. She knew I'd be watching. Within the hour, I expect to hear Henry's bare feet pad down the hall and into our room. He will crawl into our bed without a word and throw his arm around my neck and close his eyes. And while they sleep, they know I am here. Their easy breaths say the same thing, speaking in symphony with my heart, telling me - Get up.

Monday, December 17, 2012

O, Christmas Tree (of a most humbling nature)

Last year, you may remember that our artificial tree bit the dust last year, right before Christmas. I did two posts about it; one after the tree gave out, and one after we went out and bought a live tree. 

This year, we went to the mountains for the full on Christmas tree experience. We had cocoa. We rode on a tractor. We picked out tree and posed for the Facebook picture as the friendly fellow with the chainsaw cut it down. It was a huge, glorious tree and it scraped the ceiling of the living room. Shutup Roxy especially loved it. So much, that for her first Christmas ever, in thirteen Christmases, starting scratching her back against the bottom branches. 

"ROXY!" I yell a dozen times a day. And, "CHILDREN!", as they round the corner running and graze the tree. 

There are needles everywhere. 

"Did you water it today?" Sean asks. 

"Of course."

"Does it seem like it's dropping a lot of needles?", he asks. 

"It does."

He reaches out and touches a branch and it crumbles in his hand. We both gasp. 

We have a housefull of company coming for Christmas! We have to have a tree! We are agonizing over what to do! In the end, we decide to try to find a cheap tree, something to get us through. I'll have to undecorate the old tree and decorate the new one and I am agonizing over that to the point that I consider having a beer at two this afternoon. 

Sean and the kids go looking for a tree and I spend an hour taking ornaments and lights off the old tree. The branches snap and break and the pile of needles on the floor would fill my kitchen sink. The rest of the family returns, unable to decide because they know - this is my tree. We head out again and find it- the replecement tree, the second stringer. 

We get it home and set it in the stand and cut off the netting. It does not scrape the ceiling. 

"It's smaller than it looked on the tree lot." Sean says. 

I am slightly heartbroken. As I decorate, Sean throws out platitudes like, "Oh, it looks bigger with the lights on it." But the more I on the tree, the better I like it. The more time I spend futzing around with the ornaments and the lights, the lovelier the little tree becomes. 

There is a lesson here! I think to myself. It's like a Christmas spirit thing! I feel all warm and fuzzy. I feel smug

I feel like the biggest asshole in the world. 

There have been words rolling around in my head for the past few days that do not make sense and can not seem to make it onto paper in a coherent way. I rambled for what seemed like an eternity to Katie; nearly 12 and old enough for most truths. I couldn't seem to end the conversation and I couldn't look at her until I finally did, and said "I don't know." And then my kid put her arm around me as I sobbed about something can not, in my worst nightmare, fathom. 

Six hours later, I was mentally high fiving myself for being awesome. It is easy to forget when it's not your reality. It's easy to ignore the things that happen around us when we are safe as houses. It is easy to forget the darkness when we live in the light. 

There have been words rolling around in my head; words like faith and hope and hero and sacrifice and evil and sick and pain. Words that don't make any sense, no matter what order I put them in. The only words that seem to fall correctly everytime, the only words that ring true, are I don't know.

Sunday, December 9, 2012


"Serve you a meat, ma'am?"

Her hair is pulled back into a severe bun at the nape of the neck, and held down by a paper hairnet. She is one of those people of indiscriminate age; older than me, maybe old enough to be my mother, but maybe not. Her name tag had once read BETTIE, but years of fingers and thumbs rubbing it as she fastened and unfastened the pin has worn away much of the ink. It now reads, PET, like a title or an invitation. Her face is loose and doughy and I know that if I were to push her cheek up with my finger is would stay there for a moment, before slowly sliding back down into her jowls. Her eyes are flat and black and look through me. 

"Serve you a meat?"

I've made my way past the cold salads - limp lettuce and plastic cheese and cups of Jell-O suspending bananas and strawberry bits - and into the heart of the buffet line. The meat of the matter. Greasy fried chicken, fried liver and onions, leather like beef cut into strips and covered in gravy, thin pork chops floating in mushroom soup, Salisbury steak. 

"Salisbury steak!" I say, "Is it any good? You don't suppose it was invented in a town called Salisbury, do you?" 

Her black eyes still stare at me, but her mouth does something different. There is a sharp intake of breath and then she purses her lips and blows it out, slowly. 


Tonight she will go home and take off the thick soled shoes she wears for work. She will roll down the compression socks and fill the basin with water simmered on the gas stove. She will wince because the water is too hot, but then settle in her chair and look at her legs. 

Her feet are tired, but it's her legs that always draw the eye. She had been a dancer when she was young - long and lean, her legs full of muscles most people don't even know are there. She'd been a contest once with some other girls, standing on their toes until their legs ached and they collapsed, one by one. Some of the girls cried from the pain, their calves cramped, but not Bettie. She had stood there smiling until the last girl gave up, then slowly lowered herself back down to the ground. 

It was dance that had taken her to England, traveling on a cruise ship and making decent money to entertain the wealthy people on board. During an extended shore leave, she took up with another dancer on her way to an arts festival in Salisbury. The town had a reputation for it's hospitality toward performers, and Bettie thought she might take a break from dancing on the ship for three shows every night and four on Saturday. Settle awhile, keep her feet planted on terra firma, maybe even meet someone nice. 

Salisbury was smaller than she had imagined, and older. The city sat under the shadow of a great cathedral and it's thoroughfares were clogged with tourists and pilgrims. The rivers that had once bisected the town had been rerouted around in a manner that created great open parks, and groups of locals and visitors alike congregated on the banks of the river in all but the worst of weather. 

Her friend had been right, and Bettie quickly found a job in a local theater, dancing and occasionally doing a little acting in the ensemble. She was treated well, paid fair, and liked by her peers and patrons. She was happy. 

Bettie had been at the theater five months when the Frenchman came to his first show. He was a soldier, handsome and tall, with jet black hair and a ramrod straight back. He sat in the front row with a other men from his squadron, all in uniform, most drunk. They were loud and boisterous, but spending money and generally behaving. When Bettie took the stage, they catcalled and whistled and clapped each other on the back. All of them but the dark haired man, who sat still and quiet. His eyes did not leave her face. 

He came again the next night, this time alone. 

He came again the next night, and the next, and the next. For three weeks he came and watched Bettie dance. He never smiled, and never looked anywhere but her face. One night after her number, she stepped out the stage door for a cigarette, and found him standing there.

"You should not smoke, you know," he said, as he held out a match. 

"Tell me what else I shouldn't do," she replied. 

He was irresistible. He was smooth and handsome and showered her with gifts and attention, told her she was the most beautiful woman in the world. After they made love, he would rub her legs with perfumed cream, and kiss her feet. Once, as she waited for him outside the theater, an Englishman with bad skin and stinking of whisky approached her. 

"Will you dance for me?" he said as he grabbed at her. Before Bettie could react, the Frenchman was on the man. His fists flew at the man's face again and again, until he stopped begging and lay silently in the alley. 

"From now on, wait inside," he said. 

After three months, he asked her not to see her friends anymore. "They are whores," he said. After six months, he asked her to stop dancing, and to marry him. "You do not need to work. We don't need anything else, we have each other." He held her tightly, too tightly, and kissed her. He smashed her lips against her teeth and she tasted her own blood. 

"No, I'm sorry, no." She told him the next day and pressed the ring he had given her into his palm. He said nothing, only turned and walked away. 

They came at night on the third day after she left him. Four men in uniform, their guns out of their holsters. They walked into her apartment and beat her and raped her until she could no longer cry out, and then the Frenchman walked in. "I have not yet begun," he whispered in her ear. He started at the very top of her thigh and worked his way to her ankle, first the left leg, then the right. He carved a map of hate that ran rivers of blood that she could feel, when she could feel, pooling on the floor beneath her. She would lose consciousness only to regain it moments later, riding the wave in and out until she silently prayed for death. 

She didn't die. 

It was the landlord that found her, and the hospital that took her, and the doctors and nurses who sewed up the great gashes in her legs. It was the crutches that bore her, and the boat that carried her, across a great sea and far away from Salisbury and the Frenchmen, who disappeared like a ghost when the police tried to find him. 

She was twenty-five when she saw the sign in the window of the cafeteria. Her eyes were flat and black and her legs were swathed in heavy black stockings. She was quiet and serious and they hired her on the spot. She would work there for forty-two years until someone had the audacity to say - 

"The Salisbury steak?" I repeated, "Is it any good?" 

She exhaled and said, "I wouldn't recommend it."

Friday, December 7, 2012


"So, we were both going to go sleepover at B-'s house, and then you won't believe this! She told B- that she didn't really like me and wouldn't come over if I came over, too!"

The look on Katie's face is priceless. It is like looking in a mirror. 

"Honey, I know," I say sympathetically. "It's hard to believe that there are people who don't like us."

Because we're likeable, damn it. We're pretty good at most stuff, but not so much that it's annoying. We're pretty drama free. We might talk too much, or be a little bossy, but you generally overlook it because we're nice. 

Yet, despite this, there is the rare individual who doesn't care for our style. "She doesn't like me, I can tell." I say this recently to a friend. "There's like a weird tension." 

"No one thinks that much of you," says Sean, in his typically helpful way. 

"Um, yes they do."

He turns and walks away.

"Well, there are people you don't like, right?" I say to Katie, later. "I mean, there are lots of people I don't like."

"Really? Like who?"

"Honey, I don't believe in gossiping about people." (Lie)

"Well, do any of them not like you?"

I laugh, long and loud.

"Oh, sweetie," I say. "I can't even imagine!"

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Guest Blogger - Snackerdoodle

(Meet my friend, Will. Will started a blog, and wants you to read it.  He's a fine writer, a sensitive soul, and a complete whackjob. I think you'll like him as much as I do (which is a lot). Here's his bit of shameless self-promotion, with a smidgen of ass kissing, a wee bit of begging, and a dash of guilt. He is standing on my front lawn right now, holding up a boombox that's playing 'In Your Eyes'. For the love of all that is holy, please visit his blog so he will go home.)

So as soon as I get started here, you’ll need to know that I like to “keeps it real.” I also like to use outdated slang in an attempt to not sound like a middle-aged white dude who lives in the suburbs. It’s one more shot at the youth that I lament that never really existed where I’m an artist/writer/musician with raggedy but super-cool clothes, shaggy and unkempt hair that looks perfect (and how do they do that anyways), and a deep and brooding perspective on life that shows in the lines of my forehead. In this scenario, I still smoke cigarettes and I don’t even care that they’re bad for me. I might even go filter-less as long as I’m at it here.

But if I’m really keeping it real, what I would tell you is that I’m married with two kids, and that’s what I do. That and work are all I do. I write this blog called Snackerdoodle as a final nod to what I once thought I might be one day: an artist. And the reason I am here on SFC is that it’s my shameless way to get folks who read my friend Kelly’s blog to come read my blog. You see, she very kindly offered to let me post something on hers that she’s worked on for quite a while now. She has built a fan base by writing and writing and honing her craft. It started with friends reading it like myself, and now she has all kinds of followers from all over. She can really write and she had the guts and moxie to start one in the first place. I admired her when she started it and immediately thought, “Man, I should do that.” Then I didn’t. What I did was wait until she’d done all the footwork, and then I started my own and squirmed my way into a guest spot to steal a few followers. But that’s how I roll, bitches (there’s another one for ya).

So what, really, is it that I’m trying to communicate here? What can I write that may get you to come over to (See how shameless I really am?)? How the fuck should I know? I have no idea what I’m trying to get across here, or over there. All I really know is that I have an insatiable need for people to like me and approve of me and everything I do.

This need has served me in all kinds of ways. It has enabled me to excel at lots of things because I become obsessed with them so that people will think I am “gifted” and “special.” I don’t agree with the gifted part and I may be “special,” but not in the way they mean it. I work and work at things until I get pretty good at them for attention and approval. This need for approval has also worked the other way. Inevitably, you’re not going to meet someone’s expectations and they don’t approve of you. This typically sends me into a tailspin of self-doubt and self-hatred that has taken me to some very dark places in my life.

You may be saying, “Wow, this dude is messed up. He really doesn’t think much of himself talking like that.” Unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  I think about myself all the time: what I’m going to eat for lunch, where I’m going to eat it, is it the right thing, what if someone from work is going out, where are they going, and why didn’t they invite me (I like food, a lot)? My need for approval is self-centered and self-obsessed, and… Ok, this self-psychoanalysis is getting annoying, even to me.

So here’s the point, come check out my blog. Become one of my “Followers” (God, I love how that sounds). I need you. Can’t you see that by now?

And what if you don’t? Well, that could be bad for me and my family. My kids may catch me sitting on our bed with a plate (note that I said “plate” and not “piece”) of cake in my lap, slugging Coke Zeros and crying. They may ask questions like, “How come all the other daddies shave and wear something other than sweatpants and holey t-shirts?” My wife may find me watching a “Project Runway” marathon and using the phrase “hot mess” repeatedly because I’ve lost all purpose in life, and wonder if she really made the right choice after all. My boss may find me, instead of working on, you know, work, typing over and over again, “Who will ever love me now?” I mean, all these things are already happening on a regular basis, but you get my point. Bottom line is, do you want all that on your conscience? I wouldn’t. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Space Invader

Visit me today at Four Hens and a Rooster ( where I'm appearing in the Twelve Guests of Christmas series for my friend, Kristen Daukus. 

Kristen is a local social media maven, writer (she holds down the fort at both Four Hens and the tween to teen focused forum, Ten to Twenty Parenting (*, mother of three, wife, frequent contributor to...uhh...everything, and a fantastic friend, to boot. Stick around on her blog and check out the other Guests, and read Kristen's take on all sorts of stuff. 

If you're visiting from Four Hens, thanks for stopping by. SFC is a collection of personal essays and short fiction and stories about poop and underwear and people who get eaten by animals. 


Also, I hardly ever post pictures anymore. If I did, they would be of this quality:

That is my foot, and my shambles of a slipper. That's a different story. 

I am also bad about replying to comments, though I read and appreciate every one. I am lazy and I suck, sorry. 

Thanks to you for coming and Kristen for sending you. I hope you stick around.

(*sorry for not hyperlinking text, I am using a new blog app and I can't figure it out!)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Things Beyonce Didn't Do - Part II

(Here's what happened first -

The plunger was clearly not the answer. Now I'm sweaty and panicky and there is a very good chance I have splashed some pee on myself. There has to be a button. I must find the button. I grit my teeth, steel my nerves, and start feeling around. The wall, the door, the counter, the toilet itself. I slid my hand over god knows how many layers of fisherman pee, groping the base of the toilet. I'm pretty sure that's when I started to cry. I fell back against the sink and my hand touched something small and black and round. It was the stupid button, nowhere near the damned toilet. I pushed, it flushed, I went to wash my hands. 

No soap. 

I nearly fell out of the bathroom. The boat was really rocking now, and I walked out of the dimness of below deck into the bright sunlight. I felt...not so good. 

"Hey, are you okay?" Sean looked concerned.

"I need to sit down," I said. Just then, a wahoo hit on of the lines, and the first of our crew jumped in the fighting chair. For a few minutes, I forgot that I was covered in the pee germs of countless people. I watched him reel in the big fish and cheered as First Mate Marvin held it high. I was still feeling pretty good as he threw it in the cooler. Things headed south for me when they started to wash the blood off the deck. 

"Dude," I whispered to Sean, "I think I'm sick." 

Marvin sprang into action. He wedged me into a corner and put a bottle of cold water on my neck and told me to stare at the horizon. "If that doesn't work, we'll go to Plan B," he said. Plan B involves barf, I thought. 

Plan B actually involved my turn in the fighting chair, fighting a wahoo who ended up being eaten by a five foot bull shark. I reeled the shark in next to the boat, just close enough to see and and feel like a badass before they cut it loose. Plan B worked! For a few minutes, anyway. 

"Dude," I said to Sean. It's all I could say. "Dude."

"She's gonna blow!" Sean yells to Marvin, and he hustles me up and to the side of the boat. He carefully folded a towel and placed it on the ground, so I wouldn't further sully my knees. "Now here is what I want you to do," he said, and proceeded to tell me how to puke off the side of the boat. 

MARVIN. Friend, I have had three children, all pregnancies plagued by morning sickness. I have barfed in restaurant parking lots, in office building and amusement parks. Additionally, I have suffered from a nervous stomach since I was six, and am well known in my family for my ability to puke on command. Furthermore, I have hurked up more gin and tonics than I can count, and once, quite famously, barfed out the window of a Prius going eighty miles an hour down the interstate. 

There is absolutely nothing you can tell me about blowing chunks that I don't already know.

So, Marvin is explaining the finer points of boat hurling, and I am looking at him with crazy eyes and making a sweepy-pointy hand gesture, which is the international sign for you need to move your ass, there is throw up in my mouth.

And as I flung my torso over the side and ejected fruit punch Fanta into the glorious blue sea, I thought, first- 
I am glad I have short hair.
I am glad I didn't opt for the Mexican omelet breakfast
And finally-
Oh God, please do not let me pee myself.

Those three children who put me into the ranks of champion barfers also wreaked havoc on my poor bladder. A single sneeze requires me to cross my legs; who knows what will happen under this kind of duress. Puking in front of my brothers and a new sister in law and a handsome Spaniard and a boat full of swarthy fisherman is bad enough. But to piss my pants, too? I'd have to throw myself overboard. 

Finally, the puking stopped. My pants were still dry. My sweet, sweet husband out a cool cloth on the back of my neck and whispered, "Feel better?" 

I looked up at him and said the first thing that came to mind - "I bet Beyoncé didn't puke off the side of a boat."

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Things Beyonce Didn't Do

My baby brother S- got married to a lovely woman recently, and Sean and I had the pleasure of being there to witness. In a fabulous location, with incredibly kind people, in a setting that was, for lack of a better word, swank.

It is the type of place that appeals to celebrities with one name, or just a name and an initial, usually a 'z' or 'b', or sometimes two letters, like '-lo' or '-ho', or the occasional, '-rod'. People like Beyoncé.So, my big joke of the trip became, "I bet Beyoncé didn't...". Stash complimentary minibar items in her suitcase. Have to flush the toilet three times. Wash out her underwear in the sink and dry them with the hairdryer (which would take B. approximately two minutes. It took me 20, because apparently my underwear are made of some industrial fabric like burlap or courderoy.). 

I'm so classy. Having us there was like Jethro and Ellie Mae at The Plaza.

S- chartered a boat for a half day deep sea fishing expedition. All of the men - both my brothers, Sean, the bride's sister's boyfriend D-, and the bride herself were going. I'm not exactly a fisherman, though I was always Daddy's beer and bait girl , but I thought going would give me a chance to spend time with my brothers, and get to know his new wife. Plus, I like fish, I like boats, I like drinking beer and fishing on boats - it sounded pretty great. 

You know how sometimes, you want to go back in time and punch yourself in the face because you are so fucking stupid? This is one of these times. 

The trip started out beautifully; we rolled out of the marina, over the reef and into the ocean. The waves were wavy, but everyone was chatting and getting fishing instruction and advice from our extremely knowledgable and friendly First Mate, Marvin. Fours hours later, Marvin was my best friend and if I hadn't smelled like fear and hot sick when I got off the boat, I would have kissed him on the mouth. 

I drank a fruit punch Fanta, laying down a good base coat for all the beers I was about to consume. And then, the unthinkable happened: I had to pee. 

Now, I am slightly highly claustrophobic. If you have ever had the unique pleasure of using the bathroom on a fishing boat, then you know that it's right up there with jamming a plastic spoon up your nose, in terms of awfulness. Theyare ridiculously narrow, barely lit, and hygenically deficient. You have to pee in a coffee can sized toilet while pitching around on a rocky sea and praying to God you get out of there without gonorrhea. It is pretty much my worst nightmare. 

I managed to pee without peeing all over myself, despite the extreme rocking. It was kind of comical. It would make a good blog, I thought. And then I went to flush. I remembered Marvin saying something about a black button you had to push to flush. I don't remember exactly, because as he was talking, I was telling my new sister-in-law how I had never been even the slightest bit seasick. Ever. 

I can't find the button. It's not on the wall behind the toilet, or on the back of the toilet. Nothing by the light switch or by the sink. I look for any other kind of flushing device, and find nothing. I start to sweat. I have a toilet full of pee and toilet paper and it absolutely must go down or I will be mortified. I need help. 

I stick my head out the door and see my brother S- at the top of the stairs. "Hey!", I whisper-yell. "Hey! Where's the button?"


"The button to flush the toilet!"

"Oh, naw - it's a pump. You have to pump it!" 

Shit! There's not even a button! I start looking for the pump. There is nothing in this cracker box that resembles a pump, except the plunger. Surely I am not supposed to use the plunger, am I? I am running out of options, so I decide it's worth a try. The boat is really rocking now. I can feel the sweat running down my back. My left shoe had found something sticky on the floor. I think I might cry if I can't flush my pee. 

So I start plunging. My body bounces off the walls, the plunger sloshes around, unable to find purchase. I am disgusted yet oddly fascinated that one can of fruit punch Fanta can yield so much pee. Seriously, this can't be right. And now the plunger is dripping and I can't decide if I should rinse it off in the sink or just set it down. My shoe pulls away from the floor with a crackle, and I toss the plunger aside. 

I have to find that button. 

(To be continued)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Saint Paul - Part II

No one noticed them go in, Paul made sure of that. They’d walked through the front door all button down shirts and khaki pants, at the tail end of the youth group just returning from good deed doing. The group went right, Paul and Adam went left, and spent the next several hours lying very low. Paul told me later that Adam had wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons, but Paul told him that game was for pussies. Paul read. Adam sat.

An hour into the wait, Adam needed to use the restroom. “Man, I gotta go!” he pleaded with Paul.

“You should have gone before you left home,” Paul sneered. “Suck it up!”

Finally, the office staff left. The janitor came in and made his slow rounds through the sanctuary, across the fellowship hall, in and out of the offices. It was well past dark when he finished, turned out the last light, and locked the glass doors at the front of the church behind him. Paul and Adam waited for another half hour before they dared to unfold themselves from the supply closet.

“I can’t feel my legs!” Adam whined, “And I still have to whiz!” They stopped at the men’s room and then, quietly, walked down the hall to the office. Adam instinctively reached for the light switch.

“What are you doing?” Paul hissed, and grabbed Adam’s hand. He pulled a penlight from his pocket. “Use this.” Adam turned on the penlight and, careful to point it at the floor, walked to the cabinet where the money was kept. He took the small metal box from the shelf and sat it on the desk.

“Wait!” Paul said, “I heard something.” They stood still, their bodies tense with anticipation. “You’d better go check,” he said to Adam.

“Why me?”

“You have the flashlight, you dope.”

Adam pursed his lips and then reluctantly walked down the hall. He returned within minutes, visibly relaxed.

“Nothing,” he said. “Now let’s get out of here.” He started to pick up the box from the desk when Paul stopped him.

“Aren’t you going to check it? I’m not stealing an empty box,” he said.

“Good thinking,” Adam grinned. “Look at that, not even a lock on it! Man, these people are dumb!” He opened the box and a cloud of dust blew up in his face.

“What the hell!” he yelled. “What the hell!” The dust was in his eyes, on his hands, in his nose, and on his tongue. “What the hell?” he repeated, softer this time. The dust on his tongue was sweet. He licked his lips.

“Kool-Aid?” he said to himself and then, louder – “Kool-Aid? Paul? The money is covered in Kool-Aid?” He flicked the penlight over the doorway where Paul had been standing, but Paul wasn’t there.

Adam ran to the hallway just in time to see Paul slide a metal pole through the outside handles. A pole that he had brought earlier that evening, when he’d filled the money box with his favorite cherry Kool-Aid, and carefully rigged it to explode when the lid was opened.

“I told you I ain’t stealing from no goddamn church!” Paul yelled through the glass.

“You asshole!” Adam started screaming. “You ASSHOLE, PAUL!” he banged his Kool-Aid hands against the glass doors, red spittle flying. “YOU WILL PAY FOR THIS!” He started crying, his tears leaving tracks down his cheeks. His face was against the glass, and Paul brought his closer, so they were nose to nose. “Watch out,” Paul said, “That shit stains.”

Over Paul’s shoulder, a few blocks away, Adam could see the blue lights of police cars. He could hear the sirens.

Paul raised a single, unstained middle finger to the glass, and was gone. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Saint Paul - Part I

My brother Paul was the neighborhood con. At six, he was pilfering Marlboro Lights from our dad and selling them to the neighborhood kids for a quarter. By eight, he’d found my parent’s baggie of pot in the safe deposit box under their bed, and was getting five bucks from desperate teenagers for a tiny, folded foil packet of skunk weed. By ten, he was cutting it with oregano from the pantry and charging fifteen.

Paul was not your average southern boy. He didn’t fish or hunt or listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd. He didn’t like football, or go to church, or feel any great allegiance to God or country or any force greater than himself. He was a devoted disciple of the Church of Paul.

Paul had the great misfortune to be my younger brother. With that came the expectation of authority figures that he might bear some resemblance, if not in looks then in behavior, to his big sister. What they found instead was a smart but unmotivated kid, uninterested in anything except identifying the next scam.

He had a knack of picking out just the right person – a lonely new kid, a bullied boy, a girl with bad skin – and becoming their best friend. Paul was exceedingly charming when he chose to be. He became self deprecating, flirtatious, and slightly pitiable. He’d convince them of his good intentions, enforce the idea with a gift, lay out his troubles, and then sit back and wait.

Giving them a gift was the key. It said, “Here, I am your friend. You can trust me.” It was usually something he’d stolen. After he’d told them his sob story (usually, how he’d been wronged by The Man), they would start to give him things. A Walkman, tires for his bike, a watch, cash. It was amazing to see, really. One kid, a sad exchange student from Germany, gave him front row tickets to see Poison. Paul didn’t even like Poison. He sold the tickets, told the kid he’d had a great time and avoided any further conversation about glam metal.

By the seventh grade, Paul was living the life of Riley. My parents didn’t seem to notice the new clothes, or the cassette tapes, or the jewelry. They didn’t think it was strange that Paul always finished his homework at school, and never invited friends over. My dad had lost his job in the oilfield, and my mother had gone back to work, suddenly and unexpectedly becoming the primary breadwinner for the family. Most of their evenings were spent in sullen silence in front of the television, my father nursing a beer (or six) and my mother painting her nails.

“Goddamn! That J.R. Ewing is a crafty asshole!” my dad would yell at the screen.

After primetime, they’d head to their bedroom and lock the door, their low voices followed by silence and then my mother’s wavering wail.

“Jesus Christ,” Paul would say, “Don’t they know we can hear them?”

“It’s just sex, Paul. How do you think we got here?” I was sixteen by then and terribly, terribly mature.

“I know it’s just sex!” he hissed. “But they don’t have to go at it like a couple of monkeys with us sitting out here where we can hear them, like we’re watching some kind of goddamn porno!”

Paul had recently found my parent’s copy of On Golden Blonde, and was doing his best to wear out the VCR with it. “I’m just trying to figure out how much to charge per minute of viewing!” he protested. But he worked ‘goddamn porno!’ into most conversations and took longer than normal showers. I wasn’t stupid.

That week, a new kid joined the seventh grade at Thomas Jefferson Junior High. His name was Adam Locke, and by virtue of alphabetical seating, he ended up right in front of Paul in homeroom. Adam was from California. His face was tan, his hair was blonde, and he wore slim, pegged jeans and a popped collar on his Izod shirt.

“He looks like goddamn Don Johnson!” Paul remarked after the first day.

“Don Johnson doesn’t wear Izods, Paul.”

“Not true! Do you want me to give you an episode recap, Sissy?” Paul was an avid Miami Vice watcher. I knew not to press the issue.

“I’m sure he’s a nice kid,” I said.

That’s all Paul needed to hear. The next day at school, he made his move.

“Hey, new kid!” he whispered during homeroom. “Want to sit with me at lunch?” After that, Paul took Adam under his wing. He steered him away from the meatloaf in the cafeteria, told him which bathrooms to use if he had ‘business’ to attend to. He even got Adam on the right side of Coach Murphy, the notoriously bad natured gym teacher.

“Just volunteer to be equipment manager,” Paul suggested. “They never have to dress out.” The gym uniforms at Thomas Jefferson Junior High were among the worst in the state. The boys were required to wear the gray knit short shorts, a tank top with the letters TJJH screen printed on the front, and knee high athletic socks. The shorts were so short that most of the boys ran with their thighs touching, for fear of their junk slipping out. It’s how Bobby “Nutsack” Muchna got his nickname.

The girls fared even worse, with a polyester unitard, solid Carolina blue on the bottom and blue and white striped on the top. The unitard zipped from neck to crotch and there was no prepubescent body on earth that didn’t look like ten pounds of sausage in a five pound casing in that thing. I had suffered that particular indignity years before and graduated to high school gym class, where the primary activity was smoking behind the bleachers. No dressing out required.

Paul suspected that Adam might need a little extra push. He dug deep in his treasure box an unearthed the perfect gift for a transplanted California boy – a signed poster of the world champion of surfing, Tom Curren.

“Dude,” Adam said when Paul gave him the poster. “DUDE!” It was all he could say.

“Sissy, you should have seen his face. It was like Christmas, and I was Santa Claus!” Paul leaned across the dinner table and grinned like a wolf with a full belly. “Pass the biscuits.”

“Santy Claus!” my dad bellowed. “You got a boyfriend, nancy boy? Now you gonna tell us you’re one of them homosexuals? What next, you’re gonna grow your hair out? Join a band?”

“Jesus Christ, Daddy,” I rolled my eyes. “Not everyone in a band with long hair is gay.”

“First of all, Missy,” my mother interjected, “Do not take the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in vain. Secondly, those fellas are wearing makeup and where I come from, makeup makes a man a nancy boy.”

Daddy sat back, crossed his arms and smiled. My mother was the only person in our family who regularly attended church, and this made her the authority on all things Jesus and homosexuals, and hair bands too, apparently.

“No, Dad. It’s just this new kid at school.”

“He play ball?” Daddy asked.

“Yeah, defensive end,” Paul said. I don’t think Adam actually played football, and I don’t think Paul even knew what a defensive end was, but anyone that played ball was okay in Daddy’s book. Football players could certainly not be homosexual.

But Adam did have a secret.

Before Paul had a chance to start the second phase of his scam, the part where he made Adam feel sorry for him and buy him things, Adam threw him a curveball.

“Hey man,” Adam said one day in homeroom. “I want you to come over after school. I have an idea.”

Paul had never been to Adam’s house. Frankly, he wasn’t the type of kid who got invited to other kids’ houses. Especially clean cut, popped collar kids like Adam. That day after school, Paul rode his bike to the newest neighborhood in our small town – the one where construction vehicles still zoomed in and out all day long, and men cut down magnolia trees and put in zero lot line houses. Paul’s house was bright and clean and smelled like fabric softener. There wasn’t even a dog on the porch. The Locke family had a cat.

A cat! Paul would tell me later. Who the hell has a cat, and keeps it inside their house?

Adam answered the door and he and Paul went to his bedroom. Adam’s mother, equally bright and clean and fabric softener smelling, came into the room with a tray of warm cookies and a pitcher of Sunny Delight.

“It’s so nice to meet you, Paul. I’ve heard such wonderful things about you!” she smiled, revealing small, white teeth. They were like goddamn baby teeth! Paul would tell me. “I’ll leave you boys alone to talk about girls and all those boy things!” Paul wasn’t sure what ‘all those boy things’ were, but was suddenly afraid Adam’s idea had something to do with nancy boys.

“Hey, you can leave to door open!” he called to Mrs. Locke as she pulled it shut.

“Hey, man, you worried I want to suck your dick?” Adam laughed. Paul jumped. He’d never heard Adam say ‘dick’, and the dirty word coming from that clean cut mouth was alarming. It made Paul nervous.

Adam cut right to the chase. “Look, I know what kind of kid you are. ‘Cause I’m the same kind of kid, I just dress better.” He smiled and gave his collar a pop. His smile, his voice, everything about him had changed with the closing of that door, and Paul felt a tingling in his belly.

That’s my Spidey-sense, Sissy, he told me. That’s when I knew the shit was going to hit the fan.

“What do you know about the Methodists, Paul?” Adam grinned.

Adam’s family was Methodist. In our town you were either Southern Baptist or Methodist, and if you were Methodist it was likely because you’d pissed the Baptists off. There was a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but they went two towns over to go to service. It was suggested by some that they sacrificed cats and plotted to take over the world. Whatever they were doing, they weren’t Baptist, or even Methodist. They were just plain different. In our town different equals weird, and we don’t do weird.

“Uh, they’re not Baptist?” Paul answered, unsure of what the right answer might be.

“Ha!” Adam laughed, “Yeah, and they’re richer than the Baptists.”

From the looks of the house they were in, Paul could believe it.

“Yeah, so?”

“So,” Adam looked annoyed, “So, they’ve got all this money! Just sitting there!”

Paul wasn’t getting it.

“Look.” Adam pulled out the church bulletin from the previous Sunday. “It says right here that they collected $12,478.32 between two services the Sunday before. They put it all in a fireproof box in the secretary’s office until she comes in and deposits it on Monday.”

“Yeah?” Paul could see where this was going, and he didn’t like it.

“Yeah! So all we have to do is walk into the church Sunday night before the janitor locks it up, walk into the office, take the box, and count our money. 60/40 split of course.” Adam raised his eyebrows and waited for Paul’s response.

“Are you fucking crazy?”

“Okay, okay! Jeez, 50/50. Partners!”

“Not a chance. I ain’t stealing from no goddamn church.” Paul turned to leave.

“Yeah, you are,” Adam said, and stood nose to nose with Paul. “You are, or I’m going to go see your Daddy.”

There was absolutely nothing in this world that inspired fear in my brother like Our Father. Their relationship was tense, confrontational, volatile. Daddy was Paul’s opposite; a Vietnam veteran, Marine, American, Texan, Republican, a difficult man who had difficulty relating to a son who wouldn’t even watch football. He didn’t notice Paul’s similarities – his attention to detail, his gift with mechanics, his love of dogs and music. It created a distance between them that stayed there until our father’s death, twenty years later.

But Daddy had superior weed. Paul had been tapping into his stash for awhile, selling to the neighborhood kids. Then he started getting greedy and cutting it, raising prices and taking more and more. Daddy had gotten suspicious, sniffing around our rooms. At sixteen, I was the logical culprit. But he’d hung around Paul’s room more, smelling his hair and clothes and checking his eyes.

Paul was afraid, but he was also a natural criminal and slightly stupid. He’d been careful around Daddy, but not as careful around his customers. So when Adam rolled into town, and became friends with Paul, everyone just assumed Adam knew the details of the operation, and they talked. They talked a lot. By the time Adam proposed the heist, he’d compiled a list of all Paul’s customers; who they were, when they bought, how much they bought, and how much they paid.

It was a list that, if taken to the police – or worse, to Daddy – would screw Paul seven ways to Sunday.

And Paul knew it.

“I ain’t stealing from no goddamn church.”

“You’re not. You’re not stealing from any goddamn church.” I corrected.

“Whatever, teacher. Fix me some Kool-Aid.” Paul and I were sitting in the kitchen. Rather, I was sitting, and he was pacing wildly back and forth as he talked, throwing his hands and f-bombs through the air like knives. He sounded more like Daddy than he’d ever admit.

I poured the packet of cherry Kool-Aid, added sugar and water, and stirred. Cherry Kool-Aid was Paul’s favorite drink in the world and I was suddenly struck by the fact that he was, despite his behavior and vocabulary, still a little kid. As I poured him a glass, he sighed heavily and sat down.

“What am I going to do, Sissy?”

“You’re the criminal, Paul,” I said. “Act like it.” I licked some Kool-Aid powder off my finger, and looked at the bright red tip. “Damn! This shit stains.”

“Right,” Paul sat up straight and clenched his jaw. “Act like it.”

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Singing Lessons - Part III

Rumley didn't come out of his room for three days. Jeremy got up and went to work and came home and ate supper and acted like nothing happened. Like he hadn't humiliated Rumley, or mortified me, or made an ass of himself. I did what I always did in times of crisis - I baked. Cookies and cakes and pies, sat outside Rumley's door in the morning and taken away, untouched, each evening. On the morning of the third day, I was desperately making Rumley's very favorite pumpkin muffins, when Jeremy breezed by with his stupid smell and popped one in his mouth. And I swear, that was the very first time I thought to myself -

This fucker's gotta die.

Now, I suppose that some of you might be wondering why I didn't just divorce Jeremy. I guess I could have. I could have endured the nastiness and the custody fight and the mental anguish that Jeremy would put me through. Because he certainly would have. He would fight me out of spite, not because he cared about our marriage or our son, but because he cared about making me suffer. 

Still, better women than me had done it and come out the other side. 

But the truth of the matter was, I just wanted him dead. Jeremy was a Grade A Piece of Shit. He was hateful and a drunk and, at the very least, strongly disliked by everyone who knew him. The only person who loved him was his meanass mother, and if I could have figured out a way to kill both of them at once, I would have. I started to think of it as community service.

Part of me wanted to just go at his head with a sledgehammer as he slept, but that would be messy. I wanted him dead, but I didn't especially want to get caught. I thought about car accidents and hunting accidents and toaster in bathtub accidents and all the ways normal, healthy people die when there's not someone trying to kill them. I finally settled on the first choice of husband killers since time immemorial, poison. 

I went to the library two towns over and researched poisons. I went three towns over to buy them. I drove four hours into the mountains, where buying tarps and ropes was a common occurence, not the act of a desperate woman planning to off her spouse. I bought the tarps because, frankly, I wasn't sure yet what I was going to do with him. Burial seemed too risky, a lye pit seemed too prehistoric, and chopping him up into little pieces and burning him bit by bit over time seemed, well, it seemed a little too gruesome. I had the axe sharpened while I was out, just in case. 

The perfect poison needs the perfect delivery system. Something irresistable to the victim. Stupid Jeremy loved my pumpkin muffins, and their spicy goodness would be the perfect disguise for the  shitload of poison I was going to put in there. Jeremy had a habit of unhinging his snake-like jaw and inhaling an entire muffin. I wanted that asshole dead before he hit the floor. 

It happened on a Friday. Rumley was headed to band camp for the weekend, and Jeremy wouldn't be home until late. The house was sparkling, and smelled divine. Cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin, arsenic - but mostly the first three. I pulled the muffin tin out of the oven and sat them on the cooling rack. I felt giddy, alive for the first time in years! You're going to die today, stupid stupid Jeremy! All the times he hit me or pinched me or talked to me like I was less than. That time he stuck his foot out and tripped me in front of everyone at my birthday party, then pretended not to notice me lying on the ground, Mostly, though, for hurting my son. Mostly, for ruining the best chance Rumley had to be better than his father. Unforgivable, I thought, and placed a warm, deadly muffin on a plate. 

The doorbell rang and I saw the policemen on my front porch. My stomach lurched and my hand trembled as I reached for the door. They know, they can't know, they know, they can't! There was an old cop and a young cop, and they looked very serious, They were polite, and asked to come in and talk. The older one took me by the elbow and guided me to a spot on the sofa where I don't usually sit. He sat in my chair. Everything was backwards and I suddenly wished Jeremy were there to talk for me. 

"It's about your husband, ma'am."
"My husband?"
"I'm afraid there's been an accident."
"An accident?"

Maybe if I just repeat the last few words of everything he says, I'll figure out what the hell is going on here.

"I'm sorry to tell you that your husband walked into the street downtown and was struck by a bus and killed."

I could see Jeremy now, crossing against the signal. Probably talking on his stupid phone, probably saying something stupid. People say it all the time, you could get hit by a bus tomorrow, but you don't actually expect a person to get hit by a bus. 

It was pretty fantastic news, for me at least. I sat there chewing on my thumb, trying to work up some tears for the policemen. Trying hard not to show how excited I was. Just then, Rumley came through the front door. He looked at the policemen, then at me - "Mom? I forgot my bag?" He said it like a question. He said it like what he was really saying was 'what in the fresh hell is going on in here?' 

"Honey," I said hoarsely, "grab your bag and wait in the kitchen, and I'll be right there." My son looked confused, but did what I asked. He was a good boy. We were going to have a good life together, just the two of us. 

"Ma'am," the policeman said, "Can we call anyone for you?" 

Party rental? Cruise line? Dom Perignon himself, if he was an actual guy?

"No," I whispered. Inside I was planning the rest of my life.

Pumpkin muffins, my favorite! I heard Jeremy say in my head. 

Except it wasn't Jeremy's voice, it was Rumley's. 
And it wasn't in my head, it was in my kitchen. 

"RUMLEY!" I screamed, and the world went black.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Singing Lessons - Part II

(Part I)

Of course, I had no idea how much singing lessons might cost. When Jeremy asked, I blurted out "Twenty-Five Dollars a month!", and he seemed satisfied with that. The truth was, I wasn't able to find a voice teacher in our rinky dink town willing to give a lesson for less than seventy-five dollars a month. I bargained with Frau Schmidt, the overstuffed German woman who gave lessons out of the first floor of the bank building. Finally, she agreed to fifty dollars, plus a crusty dinner loaf and a batch of cinnamon rolls from my oven to her table, once a week.

That still left me with twenty-five dollars to raise every month on my own. I earned about fifteen a month, consigning old clothes and toys. Another five from 'laundry tips' - loose change and the occasional dollar bill that Jeremy left in his pants pockets when he threw them into the hamper. The remaining five I'd have to scrape and save and find in couch cushions and on sidewalks. 

I did it, too. For a whole year, I managed to pay Frau Schmidt in greenbacks and baked goods, with Jeremy none the wiser.  As for Rumley, oh my little Rumley! Don't you know, he absolutely blossomed there in Frau Schmidt's studio! He walked taller, he spoke clearer, even his ears seemed less sticky-outy. He found his voice, and it was beautiful

Every year, Frau Schmidt's students perform a recital for their beaming parents. It's held on a Saturday night, and the first floor of the bank building is scrubbed until it shines. They set up rented, white folding chairs, reserving the first two rows for the students; their names written in Frau Schmidt's careful, shaky hand on white tent cards, placed in the seats.  Two silk ficus trees flank the stage, white lights twinkling in their branches. A worn, black piano is at stage right and Frau Schmidt balances her substantial self on a small stool, fingers poised above the keys. She is lovely tonight, wearing red and ermine, a smear of lipstick on her front teeth. 

Jeremy is late. Rumley isn't scheduled to sing until after intermission, but I worry. I've taken a seat in the front row, my purse on the chair beside me. People pass by, and some of them motion to the chair. Taken, I mouth. Frau Schmidt thanks us for coming, someone dims the lights and the performance begins. The chair beside me remains empty. I listened to no fewer than five versions of Tomorrow, three Raindrops on Roses and one Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which was cut short when the singer threw up on her shoes. Spaghetti for dinner, by the looks of it. 

The lights has just dimmed again after intermission when Jeremy slid into the seat beside me. 

"Finally," I whispered through clenched teeth. 

"I'm here, stop bitching," he slurred. He smelled like a distillery. 

"Oh my God, you are drunk!" I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. How dare he! How dare he show up on our son's big night, drunk as a goddamn skunk!

"Shut up, I'm here," he said and pinched the soft skin on the back of my arm. I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from crying out. Then, our Rumley was on stage. I have to be honest, Rumley is not much to look at. In addition to the ears, his nose is biggish and his skin is bad. His hair, no matter how we cut it, fights his head, twisting and flipping and growing every which way. But tonight, Rumley was just beaming. A person never looks as good as they do when they are truly happy and tonight, Rumley was Cary Grant.

Everyone in the audience saw it, too. A hush fell over the crowd, Frau Schmidt's hands hung in the air, and then she began to play. Rumley opened his mouth and a choir of angels flew out. He sang, he soared, he lifted us up and held us, breathless, in mid air. He danced with his voice and made me the most proud, the most happy, I have ever been in my entire life. When he finished, my face with wet with tears. The crowd clapped wildly, standing and cheering. Even Frau Schmidt was standing, applauding her pupil. 

Everyone loved him. 

Everyone, but stupid Jeremy. Jeremy sat, slumped in his chair, staring at our son. Only when the audience had quieted, when the cheers began to subside, and Rumley started off the stage, did Jeremy speak. He jumped to his feet and stood there wobbling. 

"FAGGOT!", he yelled, and the room went silent. From the stage, Rumley stared at his father. "What are you, some kind of queer? A singing and dancing queer?" My face grew hot and I took hold of Jeremy's arm. "Let go of me, you dumb bitch!" He raised his hand and I cringed, waiting for the blow. Instead, he kept talking. "Singing lessons! You wanted him to take singing lessons! You turned my boy into a fairy! Singing fucking SHOW TUNES, taught by a foreign lesbian!" With this, Frau Schmidt let out a strangled cry. 

"Singing lessons," Jeremy muttered with disgust. He spat in the direction of the stage, and turned to leave. I stood by my chair, numb. Someone had raised the lights and I could feel the eyes of everyone in the room, judging me. None as pointed, none as piercing, none as blaming as my son's, glaring at me from the stage. 

Your fault, they said. It's all your fault

(More to come)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Singing Lessons

 I am making pumpkin muffins and thinking about killing my husband. 

"Oooh, pumpkin!", he squeals, walking past and grabbing on off the cooling rack. 

The squealing, it's one of the reasons I'm thinking of killing him. Because it's not a real squeal, it's a fakey squeal he does with these big, exaggerated eyes and crazy smile. He draws his arms up and flaps his hands like a tiny T-Rex. It is stupid. He is stupid. 

Everything about him is stupid. His clothes, his hair, the way he calls our son, 'Sport!' What does he think this is, Mad Men? He even smells stupid, and not an unpleasant odor like cigarettes or warm, raw chicken. He actually smells like stupid would smell, if it had a smell. I'm not a synesthete with that one exception. When I hear the word 'stupid', I smell Jeremy

He smelled stupid when we first started dating, but I blamed it on the bottles of Polo he wore, and the packs of Juicy Fruit he chewed. The smell and the boy were never so closely linked as those times when he lay on top of me in the back seat of his Camaro, sweaty and flopping around. Stupid...Jeremy...Stupid...Jeremy...Stupid...Baby.

My parents completely flipped out and Jeremy's mother, class act that she is, insisted the baby was not his. Even after we were married, even after little Rumley was born with Jeremy's sticky-out ears and the very faint smell of dummy. 

Yes, you read that right. Rumley. My dear mother in law's dear grandfather was named Rumley and she insisted, insisted, that we name our first born son after him. I put my foot down with Jeremy. I was insistent, persistant, and pissed. Jeremy got me to come around to his way of thinking with a jab to my right eye. Stupid, and mean. So my sweet boy, in addition to the smell of stupid and the sticky-outy ears, was destined to go through life with the dweebiest name in the history of names. Fucking Rumley.

But Rumley was still half mine and did manage to land with a few of my genes as well. He liked to draw and paint and dance and make things and he had an easy, quick laugh. More than anything, Rumley loved to sing. He sang when he got up and hummed through breakfast and chanted at noon and serenaded us at bedtime. He sang constantly, and beautifully. 

"I'd like to get Rumley singing lessons," I said to Jeremy one night. It was late and his back was to me in bed. He'd had a few beers, so there was a good chance he was already asleep. I sort of wished he was. 

There was a long pause, then a sigh, and then the slow word, "Well, he has a nice voice. Okay."

I wanted to jump out of bed right then and run to Rumley's room to give him the news. But I knew I couldn't, or Jeremy might change his mind. So instead I laid there with the covers pulled up to my chin, smiling like a fool, praying like a saint that what I'd heard him say was true.

(More to come)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Elephant

I can't breathe.

Sean and I are leaving in less than a week for my brother's wedding. We are flying to paradise, for our first vacation without our kids in more than seven years. It is a once in a lifetime type of trip; four days of bliss and pampering and much, much needed rejuvenation. 

I am terrified

I have not left home without my kids, save that overnight trip seven years ago. I have never been away from Julia or Henry overnight. 

I am terrified

My mother in law and sister in law and nephew are flying in to watch the kids. I have lists and notes and directions and schedules and meal plans. There are not two people in the world more trustworthy, qualified, and perfectly capable of watching my children. 

Still, I am terrified

Here is the funny thing about anxiety - it is completely irrational. I know everything will be fine. I know my kids will be fine, I know we will have a great trip. 

I can't breathe. There is an elephant in the room, and it's sitting on my chest

I'm forgetful this week. I am busy scrubbing doors and making lists and cleaning baseboards. Meanwhile, we run out of milk. 

I can't breathe. I am sitting at a stoplight, and notice they've pruned the trees around the power lines. They look funny; their tops bending and leaning around the wires in an exaggerated way. They look like they might topple over from the weight of their tops. That is how I feel, like the weight of what is in my head might make me fall, suddenly and unexpectedly

My mother is worried. My husband is worried. I call my OB, under duress. I call my OB because I haven't seen a doctor for anything non-baby related in over a decade. The nurse is sympathetic, and promises to call me back. She doesn't. Two days later, I call again, and speak to a less sympathetic nurse. 

She suggests I take a Benedryl, to help me sleep on the plane. 
I don't have a problem with planes. I have a problem leaving my house to get on a plane
She says I haven't been in a couple of years, they can't just call in a prescription for magic pills. 
I'll come in
She says the doctor has a busy schedule, and this is very short notice. She will transfer me and see if they can get me in. She puts me on hold. 
Fuck you. I say. 
But I don't say it, until after I hang up the phone. 

I call a different doctor. A stranger, who is kind and doesn't think it is strange at all to hear me sobbing on the phone, afraid of going to paradise. 

What do you think is going to happen? Sean says. 
I don't know, I lie.
If they get sick, they'll go to the doctor!
I know, I say.
They will be okay without you.
I know, and I do. 
It's four days! 
I know, I nod.
So what are you afraid of? 

But I don't say. 
I don't say, I am afraid they will die and I will be far away and I can't get to them and and and...

I don't say it, because I can not even write the words without sobbing. I don't say it, because to say it gives it power, and makes it possible. I don't say it, because words like that make me want scream and tear at my clothes and run around the room and throw myself into walls and wail. This would make me look as crazy as I feel. 

I can't breathe

We are driving down the road and I am taking giant breaths and whispering the Hail Mary, trying to quiet my mind. It is so loud in there, in that big, fat, top-heavy tree head of mine. Right next to the brain part that makes up funny stories and odd characters is the part that envisions horrible things in vivid detail. It is almost more than I can bear. 

Why are you making that sound, Mommy? Henry starts to imitate me, taking deep, gasping breaths. He sounds funny and I laugh and, for a minute, I can breathe again. 

Tomorrow morning, I am going to walk into the doctor's office and tell a stranger that I am nuts and please oh please, give me a goddamn pill that will make me a little less crazy. Just less-crazy enough to go away for a couple of days and have fun. Just enough to kiss my kids and say 'see you in a few days!', and know that that's exactly what will happen. Just less-crazy enough to have the faith I say I have.

There is a problem here, and one that won't be fixed by a week's worth of pills. 
But, later. I will fix it later. 

Right now, I just want to breathe. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Preview

Last night was the preview for the community theater production of Fiddler on the Roof. Katie is in the ensemble, and has spent countless hours at rehearsals and Sean and I have driven miles and sat hours and drank way, way too many $4 coffees. 

Preview night is like the final final final dress rehearsal, in front of a live, paying (though discounted,) crowd. It's the very last chance to work out any kinks before the full price paying patrons show up. The Thursday night preview and discounted tickets appeal to our senior friends on fixed incomes, and they came out in droves. 

I think it's Senior Night. They are coming in on busses

I texted Sean. You know, those big shuttle vans. Not really busses. They're Oldsmobiles. Ba dum-bum.

There is a 15 year old boy in the lobby, I think he's with his grandma, I say.

LOLZ ! Sean texts back. I always use proper grammar and spelling, and my husband texts like a 12 year old girl. 

Here is the great thing about going somewhere alone: You can always find a great seat. I had the center seat, six rows back. No one for three chairs to the left or right. Best seat in the house. 

Here is the awful thing about going somewhere alone: People feel like they need to talk to you, because you are out somewhere alone and therefore you are a loser. I got news, assholes. I talk and interact and have some kid in my personal space on a nearly constant basis. If I've managed to make it out of the house alone, do not fucking speak to me. 

Except old people are sweet and cute and wrinkly. It is hard to look at and old person and think, do not fucking speak to me. So when the woman in line for the restroom asked if I was enjoying the play. 

'I am, thank you. I hope you are.'

It's a funny habit that Sean got me into - I hope you are. It's a slightly more sophisticated version of 'You, too!' And, it is folksy as hell and old people love that shit. 

The woman in front of me is talking about the quality of the production, and the woman behind me is singing a song about a train and constipation, to another woman that she does not know. She didn't sing it once, but over and over, like a chant. I have a feeling the singer ended up in the stall next to me, because there came forth from that toilet, a symphony of shit. It is hard to stand next to someone washing you hands with that kind of soundtrack in the background. It is embarrassing. 

I got back to my seat, after a brief conversation with a gentleman who asked if I was enjoying the programme (he said it in such a way that I feel compelled to spell it all fancy). In the row in front of me sat three ladies. I would guess they were near 75. One tall and solid, one tiny and frail, and one, small and regal. She was impeccably dressed; a black turtleneck under a fitted, red and white checked jacket. A cream scarf around her neck, a simple bracelet and earrings. Make up, but simple and careful and quietly stunning. Her hair was perfectly white and curled around her face. I just knew that if I reached out and touched her cheek, it would feel like baby powder. 

I sat there and I looked at that woman and thought, first, she is beautiful. And then, shit - is that going to happen to my face? 

The play began and it was wonderful and I get such a joy from watching my kid be part of something she loves. 

But the old couple behind me were killing me. 

WHAT DID SHE SAY? The woman stage whispered to the man. I DIDN'T HEAR HER. 

I DON'T KNOW, he not-whispers back. 



The show is three hours long. 

As we were exiting the theater, I noticed the couple in front of me were wearing headphones, provided by the theater for hard of hearing patrons. Folks, calls an usher, Don't forget to take off your headphones. She motions to her head, moving a finger from one ear to the other, in the international sign for 'headphones you borrowed and now you are stealing.' The man smiled at her, and gingerly lifted a hand from his walker and gave her a half wave. 

They keep walking. The usher repeats herself and the man again half waves, but is visibly annoyed by this bitch. He whispers to his wife and they pick up their pace. Not considerably. 

They just keep walking.

Monday, October 29, 2012


There are two dozen, maybe more, nails in the wall. The space where the pictures hung is nearly white, rimmed in the brown grime of smoke, grease and the accumulated filth of years. 

It makes me want a cigarette.

I haven't smoked in years, and the smell of it on a person makes my stomach roll. Sometimes, I'll smell it on a child's coat as I pull it from their backpack, or in their hair as they come close for a hug. Sometimes, I will smell it on my husband after a round of golf with a smoking friend. The further removed I am from being a smoker, the more sensitive I become to it. 

Who were you with? I ask. He is clearly thinking, wondering what brush he had with nicotine. Paul, he says, in the lumber yard. Twelve hours ago.

I smell it. It makes me sick; it calls me. 

I can feel it between the fingers of my left hand, light and hot and substantial. I feel the nail of my thumb press into the filter, crinkle the paper, then flick. I see the stain it has left on my middle finger and am ashamed. I scratch at it and bite it and scrub it with all manner of soaps and detergents and bleach and it refuses to go away. I take to pressing my fingers together to hide it. 

I can feel it between my dry lips, rolling over my tongue, down my throat, into my lungs. It burns, but I hold it there before reluctantly releasing it in a thin stream. 

Seven minutes. I took me seven minutes to smoke a cigarette. If I lit one as I was backing out of the driveway, I could smoke two on the way to work. One between the salad and entree. One while I dried my hair, another as I out on my makeup. Four while I hosed off the driveway. One, hot and tired after yard work, stretched out on the floorboards on the front porch, cold beer pressed against my forehead.

Once, I sat the garden on fire, tanning and throwing half lit butts of the deck. Once, I singed my eyebrows, lighting a cigarette on an electric stove. Once, I stuck a cigarette in my mouth backward and lit the filter. More than once, I found holes in places I didn't remember putting holes and wondered, just exactly how close did I come to burning us down? 

Once, smoking killed my father. 

I sit and look at the nails in the wall and hate the stain and think, God, I'd like a cigarette.

Monday, October 22, 2012

That Dummy Dwayne

Dwayne was what we called honest dumb. He made no pretenses that he possessed anything resembling intelligence. When he graduated high school with a D- average, his parents thanked their lucky stars, threw him a big party, and gave him one week to find someplace else to live.

You could say, and Dwayne often did, that it was his mama's fault to begin with. A person can't name their child Dwayne and expect great things. A person certainly could not, as Dwayne's mama did, name their child Dwayne Lee Ray and expect anything more than a life of Mountain Dew, chewing tobacco, and mild to moderate criminal pursuits.

Dwayne, being dumb, was never going to rise to boss-level at anything, even meth cooking, which is the career path he settled into once he moved out from under the ambivilant eye of his parents. He moved into a single wide trailer on the very edge of a large farm. The land the trailer sat on had been in contention for years. The county, not knowing exactly to whom it belonged, refused to maintain it. The farmer, unwilling to maintain it, refused to claim it. And so when Dwayne and his seventeen cardboard boxes full of concert t-shirts and porn moved into the abandoned trailer, no one said a word.

It might have been that they felt sorry for him. He was dumb, and everyone knew it, and he couldn't get in much trouble out there all by himself. That's what they thought, anyway.

Dwayne tried to get me to come out there, once. We were all sitting in the back of Dulin's Bar - Robbie and Heather and Peewee and his little sister Mercy, me and Mandy Dwyer, who I was desperately trying to convince that giving me a blowjob would not make her a slut and would absolutely mean she was still a virgin. I almost had her talked into it, too, until Dwayne came in and started spreading his stupid all over the place.

"You gotta come out and see the operation, man," he was jacked up and jittery, and looked like he'd lost twenty-five pounds since I'd last seen him.

"Dwayne, I don't mess with that shit."

"Aww, aww man! Me neither! I'm a businessman!" He smiled wide, his lips pulled tight over his teeth, what was left of them. He looked like his skull might split open if he kept grinning like that. He looked dry as bones.

"You're gonna blow yourself up," said Mandy Dwyer, and I turned to her and said, for everyone to hear, "I got something you can blow up." The men laughed and the women blushed and Dwayne stood there, grinning and confused.

I went home alone that night.

So did Dwayne. He went home and cooked up a big pot (or skillet or saucepan, or whatever the hell you cook meth in), and made some little mistake, and blew himself right the fuck up.

When the cops and fire department and paramedics showed up, they had to contend with random pieces of burning paper. Centerfolds floated through the air in various states of undress, burning bits of fantasy flesh. They called to you to get just a little closer, take a better look, before burning you with them. They found Dwayne, the top half of him at least, under an oak tree. He lay on his back, Miss December covering the smile on his face.