Friday, June 29, 2012

This Week of Summer

Oh, hey there.

What have you been doing this past week?

I've been watching baseball and working on my tan and ferrying my children to various camp-y activities, eating watermelon and enjoying the clean, chemical smell of chlorine that has permeated our pores. I have seen an old friend, and prepared to say goodbye to another. I have celebrated our seventeenth wedding anniversary and organized boxes of photographs and cried with happiness at both things. I have been a puddly mess of emotions, and relied far too much on the brewskis as a mood stabilizer.

I have not written. Who has the time, with all that going on?

I have thrown up my hands and declared myself 'Done with being mommy for the day!', only to start laughing a second later when Julia said, 'Yes! Now I can do whatever I want!'

I lost my mind today and took them all to Chuck E. Cheese to escape the ridiculous heat, and found myself not minding at all when they fed $25 worth of tokens into machines. We walked out of there with some tattoos and sunglasses and Smarties. I love Smarties.

I question the marketing genius who decided that a giant rat would be a great mascot for an establishment touting food and good, clean, family fun. Who would have guessed? Sean caught six mice in our garage this week, giving me a Code Red level anxiety attack, and making me wonder if I should charge admission to the garage and serve crappy pizza on the car hood. Maybe set up a cornhole toss.

Give out plastic fang teeth and Smarties as prizes.

I question the marketing genius who decided to name a popular game after a euphamism for a butthole. It makes me wonder if I should come up with a seemingly innocuous portable game, and name it something like Rimjob Toss, or Nutsack Ball, or The Clamslapper. Bars could hold Collegiate Clamslapper Tournaments, they would be televised on ESPN 12 or one of those other networks that show curling and cornhole and pub trivia and the rochambeau championships (which totally exist).

I am watching summer tumble past and I keep trying to grab it and hold on. I pull at the days to slow them down, and find myself looking at my sleeping children each night thinking, 'Again? Is today over, again?'

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Memory of Sound - Conclusion & Author's Notes

Meredith had wondered why Dan had been called when Father died, instead of her. But of course, it wasn’t Dan, but Mother who’d received the news. Mother, who’d remained the next of kin on all of Father’s mundane paperwork. Mother, who’d continued to pass on photographs and updates about their children. Mother, who’d never seemed worried or lost or lonely, but surely must have lived her own version of grief. Why else would she have stayed in contact with him?
She’d told Dan over the phone in a cold tone, like she was giving him the weather report instead of telling him his father was dead. He’d made the trip to Meredith’s apartment and held her stiffly as she wailed. He sat by her side while she made the funeral arrangements and picked out Father’s suit and wrote the obituary. He walked around pretending he’d known the man, while his mother sat at home, pretending she hadn’t.
Dan found himself alone in the apartment. He packed up a few final books and sat on the floor among the boxes. The room was silent, save the lonely drip of the faucet. He sat and listened to the solitary sound. He listened for a message in the monotony, and waited for a ghost to appear. 

Author's Notes:

I hate this story.

When I decided to write a piece for a prestigious literary award, I made one giant mistake: I believed that 'prestigious literary award' translated to 'something I wouldn't normally write'. It had to be serious. The writing itself needed to involve a good amount of hair pulling and agonizing and self doubt. And it did. It was hard, this writing for a prestigious literary award. Too hard.

Of course, I didn't win.

Not because it isn't a well written story (because I think it is, mostly), but because it lacks the one thing that you can not fake: authenticity. If the assignment had been, 'channel Tennessee Williams and write something dramatic and morose', I might have won. But it wouldn't have been my story. This isn't my story. This is a story I wrote while trying to be the kind of writer I am not. My amazing pro bono editor and my husband both tried, very nicely, to tell me this, but it was something I needed to figure out for myself.

That doesn't mean that I can't write something serious, because I can, and have. But it comes from a place of personal perspective, or experience, or belief. It comes with authenticity. It also doesn't mean that there is not value in humor, and poop jokes, and possum c-sections.

This week, I've been working on my submission for Southern Sin. There's been no hair pulling, or stomach churning, or wondering if the story is good enough. Because it's my story, in my voice, and that's good enough for me.

Thanks for continuing to read, and for your wonderful comments, and for your continued support.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Memory of Sound - Part IV

“Meredith has been seeing Father.”
Dan sat at his mother’s kitchen table, spinning his coffee cup, intently staring at the single drip that had run down the side and dried there.
Mother sighed. “I know.”
Dan looked up, surprised. “You know? She told you?”
“Your father told me.” Mother looked at him side-eyed, waiting to see the effect of the information.
He told you? He told you? You talk to him?” Dan’s voice was a mixture of outrage and disbelief.
“Of course I do.”
Dan looked at her, mouth open, and the full truth occurred to him. “You’ve always talked to him,” he near whispered.
“Of course I have, Dan. He’s your father. He was my husband.”
“He left us!” Dan’s voice grew louder and cracked.
“He’s still your father and he has a right to know…”
“He has no such right!” Dan yelled and rose from the table. “He has no such right! He left you and he left us and it was his choice to not be a part of this family.”
You have no right, Daniel, to tell me what I can and can not tell my former husband about his children. My children. Your father left for reasons that had nothing to do with you. He didn’t call because I asked him not to. What happened, it happened because of us, not because of you. If you had ever opened your eyes to what was going on around you, you may have seen that. Instead, you chose – and continue to choose – to be a completely self absorbed little shit.”
Mother was close enough that he could see the spittle flying from her lips and feel her hot breath on his face. She smelled of maple syrup.
Suddenly, he was eight years old again, in this same kitchen. It was his mother’s birthday, and he’d gotten up early to make her a surprise breakfast - pancakes, her favorite. Dan had burned the first batch, but the second set had turned out golden and round and hot. He put her plate on the tray with a small pitcher of syrup and a saucer of orange slices arranged like rays of sunshine. He folded the napkin the way they did at the beach hotel they’d stayed at the summer before; a tidy little triangle, standing up on its own.
He walked down the hall to his parents’ room, carefully holding the tray. With every tentative step, the knife clinked against the saucer, and Dan winced. It won’t be a surprise if she hears me coming! Finally, he reached his parent’s door. It never latched quite right – when you closed it, you had to pull in and up, otherwise it didn’t catch and would open with the slightest pressure. Mother had told Father countless times to fix it, but he’d never gotten around to it. Dan nudged it with his foot, and the door opened soundlessly.
They were awake, because he could hear them, talking? Maybe? But they were completely under the blankets. His father was making a low growl and his mother seemed to be having difficulty breathing. Was she sick?
“Mom?” he said, and gingerly sat on the edge of the bed.
His father angrily threw back the blankets, knocking the tray from Dan’s hands.
“Get out!” Father yelled.
“Oh! Oh, Dan!” Mother said.
Dan’s eyes burned with tears and he clumsily tried to clean up the mess. Pancakes and oranges on the bed, and maple syrup dripping into a sticky mess on the floor.
Get out!” repeated Father, his face red.
“It’s okay, Dan, honey. I’ll get it.” Mother caught his eye and held him there. I’m sorry, the look said.
Dan had that same feeling now, standing in his mother’s kitchen. His face hot with shame and embarrassment, he turned without speaking and left, closing the door behind him. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Memory of Sound - Part III

Dan could not understand why Meredith was so quick to forgive. The man hadn’t seen fit to participate in their lives when they’d needed him most, what use did they have for him now? Dan had weathered his teens and college years largely alone. Mother had been so focused on Meredith and her boyfriends and prom and whatever else girls do, she’d had no time for Dan.
When he’d gotten the job at the bank (on his own merit, unlike many of his fraternity brothers), he’d managed to navigate the corporate waters on his own. Dan was nothing if not capable. There’d been a few missteps – a hysterical girl and ill-fated pregnancy in college; a few months where he’d struggled to balance his drink and his work. But Dan had worked it out. He was so confident in himself that he barely noticed that he went home to an empty apartment. So focused on his ability to exist as a single entity, he was completely unable to recognize his own misery.
Through it all, Dan harbored the seed of discontent, stamped with his Father’s name, deep within himself. He tended it with bitterness and fed it with each missed momentous occasion. By the time Meredith told Dan she’d spoken with Father, the seed had wrapped its black roots around his mind, choking out any memory of decency associated with his father.
He’d wanted to call Father and berate him. Tell him to leave his sister alone. He’d wanted to tell him exactly how much they didn’t need him, how little their ‘Father’ mattered. But days turned into weeks and the call was never made. Because in the very center of his capable self - his no-nonsense, fuming, miserable, self - Dan was a coward.
“Come to lunch,” Meredith pleaded. “Come and talk. We don’t have to talk about the past, we can talk about movies! He knows so much about movies!” Movies are the finest friend of the solitary man, a fact Dan knew well. For months, she hounded him and finally, he relented.
“Just lunch,” he said.
The morning he was to see his father, Dan woke as usual, shaved, showered and dressed. He looked in the mirror and adjusted his neat tie, then leaned over the sink and violently vomited.
He walked into the bank, pale and sweating. His secretary leaned across her desk with a grin of greeting. “Hold my calls,” he barked, barely glancing her way. Dan closed his door and aimlessly pushed paper around his desk. Right before lunch, he found himself bent over the toilet in the men’s room, dry heaving fear.
Dan walked slowly to the restaurant. He didn’t want to be the first to arrive. As he approached the cafĂ©, he could see them through the plate glass window. Meredith, animated and bright and nervous, kept glancing at her watch. Father, small and neat and cool, did not seem to notice the time. He was ageless; his skin pulled taut and smooth across his forehead, his neck slim and his back straight. At fifty, he appeared no different than he had at thirty. He’s not throwing up in the sink, thought Dan.
Dan stood and watched too long. Father happened to glance out the window, and caught Dan’s eye. Father’s gaze narrowed and his brow furrowed, but he did not speak. Dan turned on his heel and ran. He ran from the restaurant and his father and his hopeful sister. He ran straight home to his apartment, called back to the office feigning illness, and climbed into bed. He stayed there for three days.
He did not answer the phone and when, on the third day, Meredith came knocking, he reluctantly answered.
“Dan! What’s happened to you?”
“Sick. I’ve been sick.”
She pushed her way into the apartment and busied herself in the kitchen, making coffee. She talked nonstop. “When you didn’t come to lunch I was so worried! And Father was so disappointed!”
Maybe Father hadn’t seen him after all. Or he hadn’t told Meredith.
“We waited forever!” she went on. “Then your office said you were sick and you wouldn’t answer the phone and…Oh! Dan, what is it?”
Dan sat on the couch and held his head in his hands and cried. Great, heaving sobs that shook his body and filled the small apartment with their despair. Suddenly, Meredith understood everything. She understood her brother’s coldness and distance and the depth of his loneliness.
“Oh, Dan,” Meredith sat next to him and tenderly, hesitantly, put her hand on his shoulder. “I’ll never ask again.”
She never did. It was the last time they spoke of him until Dan called her to say Father had died. The oddity of that suddenly struck her. Why had they called Dan, instead of her? 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Memory of Sound - Part II

The trees were long bare, and the cool days of fall had morphed into the bitter cold of winter. Meredith had been walking alone, making quick time down the few blocks between the beauty school and her apartment. She barely registered him at first, standing there at the newsstand. As she passed, she heard him say, “Do you have the Journal?” and that was all it took to identify him.
When you have a father who rarely speaks, you take note of his voice. You memorize the sound, the cadence of his words, the tiny tics that make it his. Every word that came from his lips seemed to say to Meredith – Listen! In the years since he’d left, Meredith had replayed the few conversations they’d had, his voice on a constant loop in her head. She willed herself not to forget it. When she heard it that day, she was surprised that the voice did not come from within her head, but from Father himself. After so much time without him, she found herself face to face with the man who’d abandoned their family. She couldn’t think of anything to say, but – “Dad?”
His eyes widened and, for a moment, held the panicked look of an animal that’s given to run. But then they settled, and he looked at her square.
“Hello, Meredith.”
What developed wasn’t really a relationship, certainly not one between a father and a daughter. It was more a cautious dance. They spent an hour once a week over coffee, engaged in small talk. She talked about her roommate and beauty college; he talked about his accounting job and movies. The uncomfortable silences were too many to number.
She hadn’t told her mother that she was seeing him, and months went by before she dared broach the subject with Dan.
“Why on earth would you want to see him?” Dan had been predictably angry, and terribly confused. “What could he possibly do for you now?”
“It’s not a matter of what he can do for me,” she sighed. “Don’t you want to know that part of you?”
“He is no part of me.” Dan’s mouth turned down at the corners, a telltale signal that he was done with the conversation. Meredith wouldn’t doubt if no one went into the making of Dan. He seemed to spring forth, fully formed, with his hair carefully combed and his sensible shoes tightly tied. Meredith was certain she’d never be that self assured.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Memory of Sound

It would have been generous to call it a studio. A rectangle of a room, sixteen feet wide and twenty two long, with the afterthought of a bathroom stuck to the far end. There was a hot plate, and a sleeper sofa, and a small table that served as breakfast table and nightstand, catchall and writing desk. It was small and neat and spare.
The man answered a knock at the door.
“Hello, Meredith.”
 “Hello, Dan.”
They stood for several seconds, uncomfortable in each others’ presence.
“Thank you for coming, for meeting me. I know –”
“Yes, you’re welcome, of course.” Dan coughed unnecessarily and shifted on his feet. “Well, I guess we should start.”
“Is this everything, then?” Meredith said. “There’s so little.” She looked at the half dozen books on the small shelf, the photograph of her and Dan as children.
“There’s more books, piles of them in the closet. He had enough time to read.” Dan laughed.
“It’s not funny, Dan! He was a sad and lonely man!” Meredith’s eyes brimmed with tears and her voice shook.
“Christ, Meredith. He wasn’t lonely. He didn’t like people and people didn’t like him and he lived alone in this shithole because he wanted to.”
“He was our Father.” Meredith whispered, fat tears rolling down her smooth cheeks.
“He was no such thing.” Dan said, disgusted. He started tossing books into a box.
Meredith sat heavily on the sofa, quietly crying. She absently picked at a run in her stocking, watching it travel down her leg.
“Oh, Meredith.  Come on, honey. I’m sorry. Let’s pack up and get out of here. We’ll go get some breakfast. How about we go to that corner joint, the one Mom used to take us to?” He rested his hand tentatively on her shoulder. He was not used to physical contact, especially not with women, not even his sister.
“I don’t understand why you hated him so, Dan!” She turned to him, her eyes big. “He wasn’t a monster, he never hurt us! He never hurt Mother!”
Dan pulled his hand away. “Meredith, you were a child. You don’t know what you’re taking about.” His voice was hard.
“But, Dan-”
“Let’s pack what we can and we’ll come back for the rest tomorrow. I have to get back to work.” He gave the photograph of the two of them the briefest glance before tossing it into the box.
“What about breakfast?” Meredith asked hopefully, though she knew the answer.
“Some other time, kid,” he replied.
When they had reached a stopping point, and Dan declared them ‘done for the day’ and left for his job at the bank, Meredith stayed to tidy up. Not that there was tidying to be done; she simply wanted to be there, alone, in her Father’s rooms. She had never been to the apartment before, and it was like opening a treasure box full of the man. Surely here she could find some token, some small insight, into her Father’s very being.
She had spoken the truth when talking to Dan – her Father had never hurt them. She’d never heard him raise his voice and he’d certainly never raised a hand against them. But despite his steady presence through most of her childhood, Meredith could not recall anything her Father had ever said to her. Not a conversation, not a comfort, not a promise or platitude or even a word of warning. There was the memory of sound, but not of substance.  It was if he were a ghost in their house, floating in the periphery of their everyday lives.
Then, when she was twelve, he truly did become a ghost – vanishing from their home with his characteristic silence. It was three days before Meredith noticed, and two more before she had the courage to mention it to her older brother.
“But where is he, Dan?” she asked.
Dan was seventeen, close to moving out, and hardly concerned. “He’s gone, Meredith. And don’t say anything Mother, you’ll only upset her.”
“So we’re supposed to pretend like we don’t notice Father is gone? That’s not normal, Dan. That’s not what normal people do.”
Dan smirked and she heard the unspoken – who says we’re normal? Then he added the real question, “Does it matter?”
No, she thought. I suppose it doesn’t.
Their Mother, to her credit, did her very best to insure the ghost father wouldn’t be missed. She didn't start to drink or take up with men or fall into religion, like many in her situation did. She simply worked very hard and watched their money and continued to be a good and fair example of perseverance. Meredith would like to say that she was kept awake at night by the sound of her Mother crying, but she wasn’t. Her Father’s leaving was the smallest hiccup. It was a non-event.
Dan went to college and got a job at the bank, Meredith grew up and moved in with a girl friend from her beauty school. Their Mother eventually remarried a car salesman; they had two small dogs, roast on Sundays, and a new Buick every six months. It was all very tidy.
Until last December.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


I ran into the stunningly beautiful and immensely talented author, Rachel Keener, at the pool the other day. What? You don't frequent pools where gorgeous published authors hang out? Pity you! Not only has Rachel written two excellent novels (that you should buy right now), but she also happens to be one of the nicest people, as evidenced by what she said to me:

"I thought of you the other day. You should write a story for this."

I ignore most advice, but when someone who does what I would like to do (and does it well) tells me something, I tend to listen. So I'm spending the bulk of my writing time over the next few weeks writing a story about sin. Sounds like fun, doesn't it?

This doesn't mean that SFC won't have new content. I wrote a story for a local contest this spring, and will be trotting it out in a series of posts for your reading enjoyment. It's different - no poop or possums or underwear jokes - but I hope you'll like it all the same.

Watch for the first installment this Monday.

Additionally, I'm looking for some guest posters for August. I don't care if you have a blog, don't have a blog, write all the time or have never written more than an email, everyone has a story to tell. I want to hear yours! If you're interested, email me. *UPDATE: Wow! Thank you for the response! I've filled the week with some amazing guest writers. You are all in for a treat! If you'd still like to guest, I'd love to have you some other time. Just drop me an email and we'll work it out.*

I'm having a hard time coming up with a closing for this insanely boring post. 'Thanks for reading!' is super lame, as it 'TTYL!' and 'Later, Gaters!'. Instead, I'll leave you with this video of Marquese "Nonstop" Scott, which you may not have seen if you live under a rock, or someplace like Idaho. (I'm kidding! I love Idaho! Some of my best friends are Idahoan!) My kids (and me, and Sean, and maybe Shutup Roxy) are just entranced by this guy, and we've watched this particular video three or four thousand times. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Remembering Twenty-Five

My youngest brother is getting married this fall to a lovely young woman. Aside from being happy and excited for them, I am happy and excited that the wedding will be in an exotic destination, one that requires that I dig out my expired passport and have it renewed.

I filled out the forms, and opened the passport to take a look at 25 year old me.
My first thought was, 'Wow, my hair looked great', followed by, 'Wow, I was so stupid'.

I had a great job and a great husband and an uncomplicated life and yet, I managed to get almost nothing right. Except the hair.

I did my job well, but not as well as I could have. I loved my husband, but not as well as I could have. I smoked a pack of cigarettes a day and never ate and exercised less than that. I took smooth skin for granted and tanned with abandon.

Youth is wasted on the young. True that.

I didn't know shit, except that I didn't know shit. I was incredibly self conscious and scared and unsure. I pretended to know more than I did and, looking back, I wonder if I fooled anyone but myself.

I know better now. Maybe 'know' isn't the right word; maybe it's that I understand more now. I understand what love is, and what loss is. I understand what a gift my health is. I understand that wrinkles and meat aprons and spider veins aren't fading youth, but the hard earned hallmarks of simply living life. I find contentment in contentment, fulfillment in a job well done, love in butterfly kisses from small children.

I could give me at twenty-five all sorts of wonderful advice - Stop smoking. Start running. Be kind. Love yourself. But those are all lessons that can only be learned by living. By failing and crying about it and picking yourself up and moving on. By losing. By looking in the mirror one day and seeing gray hair and saggy skin and saying 'oh, well' instead of 'oh, no'.

I wouldn't trade forty for twenty-five, not for the world.

Except for the hair. I'd definitely take the hair.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

This Post Brought to You By...

"Why don't companies ever ask me to do a product review of their stupid product?" I asked my friend, K-.

"Maybe because you refer to them as stupid?"


You can't read too many blogs before running into one who's shilling something, in return for free shit. I can dig that. I mean, do I really think that you believe Cool Whip is bringing your family together, or that Special K helped you repair the damaged relationship with your Daddy? No, but I can appreciate a blogger willing to credit Jiffy Lube with saving the life of their child in order to get free oil changes for life.

Because, let's face it - we all love free shit.

Crappy continental breakfast, with weak coffee and stale danish? I'll eat it, IT'S FREE! Those gross little mints in the dish at the restaurant register, that every little kid in the joint has had their hands in (no doubt after picking their nose, or butt, or both)? Yummy and FREE! Hotel soaps, lotions, shower caps? Are you kidding? Load me up with those bitches! I could create an entire Pinterest board of crafts I could have made with all the shower caps I've taken from hotels.

But SFC isn't that kind of blog. If it were, I can think of a few companies who might be interested in making me a deal -

Splenda & Coffeemate: My love of these two is well documented. Coffee (which I drink a lot of, by the way) is just not complete without the mouth coating, chemical awesomeness of this duo. My endorsement - "Splenda and Coffeemate: Two awesome fucking chemicals, awesome together."

Always Maxi Pads with wings: I just had dinner with a friend who commented, "What grown woman wears these?". That would be some perimenopausal woman whose pants look like a goddamn murder scene every time she goes to the bathroom. My endorsement - "Always with Wings: Ginormous pads for those times when your drawers are an episode of CSI: My Panties."

Monistat Anti-Chafing Gel: WHOA WHOA WHOA, you may be saying. First, period talk and now freaking Monistat? When did this become The Vagina Monologues? Settle down, folks. I use this stuff on MY FACE. It's actually not crotch cream at all, despite the name. And the silicone base makes it the perfect, inexpensive make-up primer. It's a not so secret secret, and once you get over the idea of smearing something from Monistat on your face, it is great stuff. My endorsement - "Monistat Anti-Chafing Gel: Not your mama's vag cream!"

I expect these companies, and many others, will be contacting me shortly, begging me to review their products. Sorry, folks, it's not that kind of blog.

But you can still send the free stuff.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Little Bed

I can not remember the last night that a child did not end up sleeping in our room. It can best be measured in years, that I know.

And on most all of the nights, with the exception of the ones where I become a mommy sandwich in between two wiggly, insanely hot little ones - I love it.

By the time Henry came into the picture, Katie was in her room all the time, but three year old Julia would still worm her way into our bed. With a room sharing newborn and frequent night nursing, we couldn't have her up in the bed.

That's when we got The Little Bed. A twin air mattress, it just fits under our bed when inflated, with a minor amount of tugging and shoving.

It is a reward.
If you are a good listener, you can sleep in The Little Bed.
It is a consolation.
Your sister's on a sleepover, you can sleep in The Little Bed.
It is a comfort.
She's not feeling well, let her sleep on The Little Bed.

It is used by both girls as they need it, as we like it. It's too small and they are too big to share it now, and thunderstorms find us all together - Katie in the recliner, Sean, Henry and me in the big bed,and Julia and Shutup Roxy in The Little Bed.

I lay there awake, listening to the night noises of people and animal, soft shifts and sighs. These children of mine, who radiate heat like little woodstoves as they sleep, causing me to kick a leg out from under the covers and will myself out of bed to turn on the fan. I lay there, thinking about the fan and listening.

I think everyone is exactly where they're supposed to be.