I stood at the stove, wooden spoon in hand, reveling in the beefy goodness saturating the air and condensing into damp whirls upon the kitchen windowpane. Nina Simone crooned from the stereo while the rosemary and sea salt bread crisping in the oven tinged the house with that hominess that I swear only comes from baking something with yeast inside of it. The chaos of the day was slipping slowly into the shadows, dinner was moments away...
"Mom, I'm starving--can I have a snack?" My fingers clench for a split second on the wooden handle and my spine stiffens. The woman who has spent two hours on her feet to produce this masterpiece of a meal is slightly offended, but a glance at the six foot two, twelve year-old lanky boy in the doorway restores my sense of humor--seriously, the boy has always been hungry. However...
"Do you know what the most important ingredient is?" I ask, my head tilted slightly, eyes shining, a smile on my lips. He sighs, he's heard this many times. Grinning back, he turns to leave with that resigned slouch of the shoulders, capitulating as gracefully as his growling stomach will allow. "Ten more minutes!" I call after him, chuckling softly to myself. My friends, do you know what the most essential ingredient is?
My mother used to tell me this as I too, hung about the kitchen, drooling over the scents escaping the blistering oven. The pots that simmered upon the stovetop, the pies cooling on the sideboard. Ahhh, the delicious joy of aching anticipation. Feeling positively hollow, it seemed as if the blessing was going to last till dawn, but then that first bite....oh, sweet heaven! Eyes closed, mouth full...utter bliss.
With this holiday season creeping closer, candy stuffed fists knocking on our doors, programs dripping gravy and cheese seeping from our television screens, hypnotic magazine pictures of the ultimate festival of cakedom strewn about our coffee tables--may we take a moment to pause. To evaluate....
How hungry are you?
I fear the truth of that question may surprise you. For if one is excruciatingly honest--for many of us, it has been years.
It's the latest diet fad, hanging about a while now--the idea that the standard "three meals a day" motif of life was actually straight from the Satanic bible. It's solely responsible for that cushy tush and those darling love handles we all seem to sport....GET THEE AWAY FROM ME, YE SPAWN OF HADES!! (ok, I am actually laughing as I type that line...) Rather you must eat six small meals spread throughout your day, peppered with "healthy snacks" and tiny treats all in the name of: "Never let yourself get hungry because you lack the self-control to not gorge until reaching the point of belt-loosening expansion." *sigh*
But I ask, have we lost more than the odd pound in this quest? We are becoming, in oh-so-many ways, such a society of the moment--waiting for anything at all, a thing of the past. On-line shopping, instant downloads, fast food, drive through restaurants (NOT to be confused with fast food, mind you) automatic-importunate-split second life. We multi-task our existence and waiting is a terribly un-vogue ritual spoken of only by those that actually know how to dial a rotary phone.
Desire and yearning. Thirst. Longing...needing....craving. The friction of a fingertip along the soft skin on inside of your elbow, the absolute most perfect Christmas gift ever found, a love letter written by hand and sprayed with scent that lingers in the mailbox for days, making you smile.....butter melting into the dips and divots of a piece of hot bread, the oven still spilling it's yeasty warmth into the kitchen behind you....each of these, made so much more splendid....
By the wait.
By the appetite.
So this year, as your life amps up into overdrive and your schedules begin to collide like planets knocked out of orbit, I challenge you. Don't snack on your way home. Don't indulge every whim--for the very definition of a whim is just a passing fancy....wait for desire.
I have a love/hate relationship with pants. Jeans, in particular, have frustrated the hell out of me for decades. Mainly because I am a woman trapped in a mad gorilla's body. (for more information on this, go here) So when I stopped in at the local Good Will and did a "drive-by" of the men's jeans isle (see, as I have a 36 inch inseam, I don't really have to look at sizes per se, I just cruise by looking at the bottoms of the legs, if there happens to be a pair dragging on the floor, I'll stop) and there was indeed one such pair--I damn near did a happy dance right there when not only the waist size was a match, but they were Rock & Revival jeans! ($158 online, $7.99 at Good Will. The world is a marvelous place)
I shimmied out to the car and grinned like a crazy Cheshire Cat the entire way home. Chucked those suckers in the wash, and pulled them on that night for a "fitting" before heading out with my husband. You know when you um...well, these are button fly, so I did all that; buckled my belt, and then what do you do? You slide your hands in your pockets, right? Gotta get all that material sleek and flat for that perfect fit. I slid my hands into my pockets....and ran smack into my undies.
I wish I could have seen my own face. I whipped them puppies down and discovered that someone had "altered" them--cut down the entire length of BOTH front pockets! WTH??? I am speechless. I am stunned. However, when I redressed and went down to stand with my back to my husband and invited him to check out my front pockets, he was quite impressed and grinning like a goof as we left for dinner.
So this is my question, so far I have one vote for this dude being a professional pocket-pooler. Any theories on this cat? Personally, I've worn them twice since (they do fit awesomely) and nearly died of mortification when I distractedly dropped a handful of coins in my pocket--only to have them roll out all over the store floor. The guy behind me at the grocery was totally confused. Seriously--what good are pants without pockets??
What the heck do I do with my keys?! Dear Lord, please don't let me slip my phone in there in mixed company....
The air smells like spring seduced late summer and drenched the night in promises. Somewhere between possibility and substance, the evening hovers. A strange shade of autumn.
But the clouds seem darker.
I nudged his knees apart as he sprawled on the creased coffee brown leather couch, remote in hand. The speckling of pin pricks over his shoulder a silent reminder of the Christmas kitten that filled my heart with joy and, years later, with grief as I buried him.
"What's up?" he murmured as I sank down, my hip fitting into the space between his. My shoulders dropped slowly towards his chest. I swear the night paused as my abdomen curled...my head dipped...
And his heartbeat became the universe.
The thud that embodies tomorrow, no matter the anxiety of today. The literal fading of 'to do' lists and apprehensions and doubt.
Thump, thump, thump...
Footsteps on the stairs, my fourteen year old son coming down for a snack before bed. I lay there, the muscular drum echoing in my ear; my hair, uncut since January, tangled about us. Footsteps retreating. Recognition of a moment that, while he may not understand, my eldest knew I needed.
Amazing...astounding what fifteen minutes surrounded by the throb of another's heart can do for the equilibrium of a soul.
End-of-summer rain traces the outline of the window panes next to me; damp trails glimmering beneath the slate clouds that seem to hover close enough to touch, should I stretch out my hand. September appears in a rush this year, invading August's heat with a wave of chilly nights and cool breezes that have me reaching for a shawl when I retreat to the porch to read. Such a change is quite welcome after the igneous days of July, though I do hope Winter doesn't jump the gun as well. His frozen claws can surely wait for the new year to begin, I pray.
It's rather staggering that the school day routine will be returning in mere weeks to our home. My, how the summer has flown--so cliche, yet so true. If I force myself to concentrate I can snap a frame into focus--the taste of fire-boiled coffee clutched in the blue enamel mug, my feet tucked beneath me as I watch the morning mist and breathe in the scent of bacon and smoke...marvelous, the escape of tents and fireflies and non-electric entertainment. But then, I turn my head and the months are murky again, indistinct. I feel....hazy. Vague.
I've been arguing with a canvas. Days now. It began as any other, shifting dreams that float through my midnight mind, lingering in the morning until I fill the broken teapot with water and smear pigment onto my pallete. Damp brushes dried on the old sundress I wear to paint in the summer, the open window whispering rumors of season's end in my ear. A large work, this one--three feet long and two high. Burnt umber and ocher and saffron, topaz and crimson and and gold....autumn dreams spill into my tangible world.
Painting, for me, is a known animal. The beginning: shapes and colors and place. As if you viewed such a scene through an unfocused camera, bleary and undefined. Then it's as if I slowly turn the lens in my mind, a line here, leaves there, and gradually the world shifts into view.
But not this one.
I cannot seem to....find it. Hours spent and it stares back at me, shadows and light and color. I can hear the wind when I look at it, smell the damp leaves that have piled around the rocks....but I cannot see it.
Granted, these last weeks have been....unnormal. (is that a word?) Unordinary? Atypical. Plans made have shifted with a phone call that involved the sentence, "...taken to the emergency room..." The seizure of one's heart these small words can cause, the tilting of the planet. I'd rather not discuss the particulars, if you don't mind, but I suppose it shouldn't surprise me that I am blurry. The details muffled with emotion.
Perhaps I just need time. Set it aside and wait a bit. I think I will take it down to the dining room in a few weeks, welcome September as she arrives. Sip wine and share a meal with it....let it rest as we live and love and weep and laugh. Do you think life might seep into it? Permeate the fibers with the vision I do not seem to have?
We hit 92* today. Molten lava, the sun was. Melting the clouds from the sky; searing the green from the dogwood leaves leaving crisp, curled brownness behind. Pouring coffee this morning, the warmth of the day teased me; its breath stirring the wisps of hair on my neck that had escaped the knot, whispering promises of fever.
Uncomfortable. Sticky. Complaints and wishes and visits to the pool. The eastern sun blazes and the day slowly boils.
And yet.....another heat.
3pm and walking to the kitchen I am aware of the silky slide of my thighs against one another. I fill my glass with ice cubes and take one more. Its frozen kiss almost burns as I run it across my lips, down my neck, across my bare shoulder. Shocking how quickly it melts, leaving dark trails dripping down the fabric of my dress.
Lovely, how such an...unpleasant warmth leads to another, more delicious one. Damp skin and breathless lungs. I sit on steps of the porch, Hazel stretched out across the boards beside me. I shiver as the sweat tracing its way down my spine pools in the small curve at its base.
And I wait.
We will eat with our fingers. After the sun has fled and the house has gone to sleep. We will drink from the same glass and I will lick the sauce from the edge of his lips. For it is summer...
The tumult of summer storms has blown through, leaving last night's window fans to fill the house with rain-washed air and tracing chills down my bare arms this morning as I stand in the kitchen contemplating the nine and ten foot branches now lying in our backyard. Such a powerful thing, invisible wind. The lip of the porcelain sink is cool beneath my fingers, I wait for the coffee to finish. Voices murmur from the radio. I pause...
"What was the hardest thing about my cancer for you, Daddy?"
"Seeing you there, so swollen, so many tubes connected to you...."
She'd had bone cancer. Her ten year-old voice strong and sweet now, filling the room with a nearly inaudible whisper of victory. The tremble in his makes my heart stop. Those thoughts that your mind skitters away from, an agonizing flame of a fear too terrible to even touch upon. Parenthood is the ultimate state of vulnerability.
You could hear the smile on her lips though, as she remembered one of her favorite things. He would buy tattoo pens at the gift store...
And turn her scars into a garden.
The long one that ran from her sternum to her pelvic bone became the stem for roses, her favorite flower. The one from her feeding tube, a butterfly. He drew over the monsters. He drew her beautiful.
Standing there, tears sliding down my cheek...so convicted. Every life has joy and pain. Some more so than others. But the secret is in the ink of us. How we approach and confront and forgive and leave behind the monsters.
The sun drags golden fingers across the sky, chasing the
dregs of night away.Green eyes meet their twin in
the silver framed reflection, careless and distracted with the mental list accumulating even as the coffee brews. Pushing my hair back, icy water sluices
across my cheeks, dripping down my neck to shimmer on the ridges and valleys of
Stare to stare…no make-up, no pretense….strange this person
I am more intimate with than any other.I’m not entirely certain she likes me at times.Bare feet slap on cool floors, the vacuum smack of the fridge as
heavy cream paints whirls of beige into the mahogany elixer that whispers my name.
I face her again, reaching for pencil and powder, rouge and
the glide of lip stain.And I
There was a day, years and years ago…a photographer young
and eager, wishing to please as well as to sell.“Do you want me to hide them?” she asked,
snapping her gum as she tilted her head. “Hide what?”
“Those…”She pointed.And to a mirror I turned.Like my mother's, they are. (a face beloved, memorized, cherished) One on the side of my nose, the other nearly hidden in the curve beneath my lower lip...
A blemish of no color, a flesh toned mole. Soft mounds that lay quietly,
announcing that I wasn’t made in a mold.Wasn’t carved for display. Noticed when one is within the realm of intimacy…or digital photography. I’ve spent years coming to
terms with their firm hold upon my profile. Was advised to knife them off in highschool, teased by family and schoolmates. Witches have such knobs...so I've been told.
Strange the journey from insecurity and craving elusive
perfection through the acceptance of the immutable to embracing the
unique.I fear much of this journey I
have mapped out in my mind, highlighting the path and pledging my
heart to following it….however, it’s possible I may be a bit stuck in that middle
area. What we see in the mirror is as slanted as a funhouse; the shortcomings exaggerated, defects looming larger than life, voices from the past echoing long beyond their deserved graves.
I know each of us carry our ghosts.We size up and compare, lining up
imperfections and insults, rating them on some personal scale as if in classifying them on the lower end, they might be diminished.The immensity of a history is only known by the
self.For, try as we might to
communicate such an experience, there was only one soul that lived your
particular story.One heart that laughed
and bled that night when the stars seemed brighter than the sun…
The world can be cruel.Perfection is a lost cause, I’ve learned…joyfully so.(well, with the exception of a good
hollandaise sauce or an orgasm)Parenthood is a bog of quicksand and contemplation; relationships a braid of
sacrifice, laughter, and forgiveness; and self love an exercise in repetition
Bending, I press the red plastic bubble that pumps fresh gas into the dew drenched mower engine. 9:30 in the morning and the humid air is already 79*. A bead of sweat drags a wet fingertip along my collar bone and down beneath my paint-stained tank top. The wrench of the pull and then the growl of the machine cuts through the bird song and I set out to tame the clover studded yards before me.
I generally do the front yards of both of our neighbors - one whose elderly owner pays me a small amount to ensure its respectability and the other dear friends who have shoveled our snowy walk enough times (making my cold-hating, non-morning self muchous happious) to ensure I will joyfully trim their yard all summer long.
Yet I am paused on the far side of their lawn. The edge between them, shared by a white haired, seventy-ish, very fit and able, feminine soul who absolutely refuses to mow one single inch beyond her responsibility. A six foot span of green between their houses, split...and her three foot stretch immaculately mowed. The line down the middle glaringly obvious as our warm, damp summer has amped the grass to ultimate lengths.
I am stopped.
Standing there beneath the heavy weight of the day, I am....achingly saddened by this visual boundary. A non-verbal condemnation of lackadaisical landscaping. (I'm a once-a-week-whacker-of-weeds kinda girl) The thing is, Ms. Linda and I have a history. She is the only person I have ever called the police on. Can you believe that? Seventy-something and yet with a tyrannical grip on this street that preceded our arrival; but her reducing my boys to tears, threats and orders--the claim that the sidewalk in front of her house was HERS and such nonsense. She told them they were stupid. (I merely called about the absolute laws and then for a number which, in my bare feet and sundress, I marched up on her porch to deliver with a "please call this officer if you have any questions....but my boys are INDEED allowed to ride their skateboards down this sidewalk, thank you ma'am.") But such hostility is so...unnecessary.
I wonder at the lines I draw. Between myself and co-workers....friends, neighbors....some healthy and needed. Some out of fear of being hurt. Some of self-preservation. Some of exhaustion. The compartments that make up our lives. The separation of selves....
I remember standing in front of a class of my English students towards the end of term and (dressed in a modest blouse and black slacks as usual ) asking them if they had any idea how many tattoos I had. If they knew the last show I'd been to was Tool. That if they met me on the street on a Saturday night they would never recognize me....because that personal self, the slightly wild artist with a taste for whiskey, is separate from this professional self. The one that is never late, fully prepared, on point and ready--as they should be in their future careers. And the moment they let their "private self" dominate...if they bought the lie, "you gotta be YOU all the time!" they would handicap themselves.
I still believe this.
That there is a time and place for every facet of who you are. The wisdom is in the choice. Every life needs lines. The lack of these is eroding some of the foundations we need to survive as a society and I am at a loss as to the answer to that.
However, these lines that are drawn that keep neighbor from neighbor....that tear away at the very idea of community...they crush me. Perhaps I'll make her cookies. Can you make cookies for someone you've called the police on?
(For those of you who don't know, Mandy is my best friend from the college years. Though separated by miles and family and responsibilities, we retain our friendship strictly through posted mail....something of an anomaly these days I suppose. Such a friendship, free from technology, I cherish deeply. And thus, my seven page letter to her this week... )
June 18th, 4:30pm
The art of packing everything one might possibly need for the next four days into a vehicle along with a carsick prone dog--this is a miracle of mighty proportions. Success of such a venture is totally dependant upon a single thing...the List. Composed days ahead, amended, re-written and edited--this list includes the food, the misc crap we cannot live without, the bandaides and sunburn aloe (both of which are certain to be needed with this crew) emergency inhalers, mountain pie makers, and the percolator coffee pot, of course. It details what must be done before we leave (water the plants, arrange mail pick-up with the neighbors, lock the windows...) and who needs to be told. (which happens to be few as we do not announce our departures from the civilized world--might as well give a timetable to be robbed)
Stacked, stashed, crammed and shoved--we left by eleven. Tubs topped with inner tubes perched over tents and fishing poles, immaculately organized and strapped down to withstand Dorothy's own tornado--but still reminiscent of the Clampets, none the less. Two and a half hours later we undo it all and set up residence beneath the trees, ever so Grizzly Adams, I feel. Three tents, (one for us, one for the boys, and the "stuff tent" for all the clothes--sleeping is much more enjoyable if the soggy socks are in another tent, yes?) a canopy over the chef's table holding the stove and coolers and cookery, five chairs, the tripod grilling system for the firepit and a mountain of wood to burn. It's a sprawling spread of canvas and velcro, lines and stakes pounded into the ground, an instant homestead indeed.
Jase has left for groceries and I must return to the organizing of bedding and delegation of dog duty. Already I can feel the magic that is a roof of blue sky and branches, that hush that steals quietly into your soul and reminds you that we are more than plastic and glitter...and sometimes leaving all of that behind is very, very good for us.
I write by the light of the fire and the ring of tiki torches that surround the camp, lit as the sun sets. The boys are chattering in their tent, s'mores consumed, chocolate smeared faces, slightly sticky hugs goodnight. I'm watching the fireflies dance in the woods. Like a magic game of fairy tag, they swirl through the darkness before me. The sound of the trees in the wind, the hiss and pop of the fire...such peace.
Goodnight, my dear.
June 19th, noonish....I don't have a clock. *smile*
A lazy morning of slow cooked bacon and eggs, thick black coffee, slightly squashed Krispy Kreme donuts a surprise pulled from the coolers for breakfast. The boys have left for the pond, cut up hotdog bait in their pockets (which works astoundingly well, I might add) and fishing poles clutched in eager hands. My heart sings as I watch them skip down the path, their simple happiness so unattached to anything electric.
The crisp dawn has given way to a cloudless sky and the sun is warm on my bare shoulders as I write. I think I packed four sundresses and something to sleep in--oh, how I love the freedom from clothing that summer brings! Hazel is doing wonderfully well, adjusted to our new abode easily, and slept next to me the night through. The local army of chipmunks has her jumping at shadows a bit, their antics remind me of a Loony Tunes cartoon...
I think I might nap.
Jason's parents are joining us for dinner tonight, it will be lovely to see them. I've got chicken marinating and corn soaking in their husks in a pan of water, all to be cooked over the fire. After catching numerous fish and newts and frogs, the boys are "starving" and hover about, recounting tales of the fish that "broke the hook" this afternoon. (lol) The rum and wine are chilling, the flames are burning down to the coals desired for roasting this feast, and I see a car in the distance. Such joy is the simplicity of just a meal....without a single other thing to be done before bed.
June 20th, 3:30ish
This morning we learned that "there was a spider in our tent, that's why mommy screamed" no longer works with the boys. Next year their tent will be further away from ours. *ahem*
The boys have left after lunch to pick up Jason's dad and inflate the spare inner tube - an afternoon splashing down the river had them nearly spinning with excitement. Hazel and I have laid in the sun, slowly sipping a glass of wine and finishing the novel I brought with me. (oh, note to self: before deciding it was fine to stretch out topless in the sun, check for random hikers....dear Lord above)
I revel in this forced laziness. Here beneath the trees, there is no laundry to be done, no vacuuming or bills to pay, no e-mails to answer. Just the birds and wind and hours that pass deliciously slow...
I'm not sure I want to go home.
Our last night. *sigh* Each of the boys has come and asked if we could stay longer...I wish. Tomorrow will be a whirlwind of packing and re-stashing, of ropes and ties and the gobbling of the last of the marshmallows and chocolate ("Go ahead and finish them off, one less thing to take home....") One last trip to the pond, one last hot dog....one last meander through the woods breathing in the warm green air in deep lungfulls, as if I could take some of it home with me.
I must admit that my legs have acquired a smattering of bruises, the bones of my hips are sore from the lack of a mattress....and last night's raccoon chase to retrieve the bread left me with a sore foot. I will be glad for a long hot shower, the lushness of lather and perfume....but I will dream of misty mornings and lazy nights for days to come.
Kiss the littles for me darling Mandy, and say hello to handsome. I hope your week was as full of sunshine and laughter as mine was. We'll have to plan a trip together soon....
A quarter to eight found me with feet tucked up, curled into a chair on the porch. An indian print shawl of gold and black and umber draped over a chocolate sundress that smelled faintly of the fajitas and saffron rice of dinner. A glass of wine upon the table beside me; a novel, pages slightly tacky in the humid air, resting in my lap. Suddenly the dark clouds that have scuttled across the sky all afternoon broke in the evening breeze, golden light burst through the air--June's last stand on a day decidedly resembling April.
And it began to rain.
Oh, the splendor that is sunlit rain! Were that I had such a camera to capture the jewel-like waterfall that cascaded from the heavens, as if Mother Nature had held her aqueous breath all day and then let it out in a glorious deluge of glittering waves... It seemed the world paused. The leaves of the dogwood danced in tune with the giant oak across the way; the herbs along the rails shimmied, their essence painting the air with the scent of green and warmth and delicious promise. Paper pages of lust and love and death forgotten under damp kisses on my cheeks and soft wet trails across my shoulder, the seduction of summer.
The rain has passed now, the sunlight faded into the grey that announces the arrival of the night. The patter of drips are a piano that plays along with my thoughts...as I await the return of my love.
The sky seems like a watercolor love story. Blue and crimson dancing in each other's arms, their passion spilling over the horizon in a tangle of violet and tangerine ecstasy. Diana Krall whispers in my ear (Quiet Nights is an amazing accompaniment to a glass of wine lingering on such a porch on such a night as this) and the breeze brings murmurs of rosemary and sweet basil as it passes by. Evening has come, shrouding our neighborhood in her velvet cloak of hush...she stills the pulse, blurs the parameters of the day.
There, beyond the rail, the flash that causes my heart to skip. Memories...
Raised on that Colorado ranch, half of a mountain 9,000 feet above sea level, was a life...apart. Isolation incarnate. No television, no neighbors, three hundred animals and eighty acres and more than my share of loneliness, I fear. This was battled (as often is) by the magic of the literary world -- adventure and fantasy became my addictions of choice. I flew through the heavens on gauzy wings that swept me from the reality of mucking pens and milking goats. (while I am forever grateful for such an upbringing now, what child relishes such things?) Fast forward years and the farm was sold, my mother's health required a lower elevation; Dad had found something suitable...we trekked across the country in a whirlwind of possibility to the level lands of Maryland.
I was terrified.
Society awaited. Cars and teenagers and excitement unleashed. A long journey, exhaustion, and the first night There. A "there" with no horses, no chickens....and no sleep. I wandered the unfamiliar carpeted halls, the rooms dimly lit by streetlights beyond curtained glass - something that stopped me in my tracks in and of itself, total foreign currency.
A glass of water, sipped in a stranger's kitchen filled with ghosts unknown. The silk of my nightgown chilly...air-conditioning, another exotic. And there, standing at the kitchen sink, my gaze was captured by the flickers of light that glimmered in the mist over the pond at the end of the yard. An incandescent dance that swirled beneath the stars.
We had fairies!
What other conclusion was there?? My heart pounding as if to burst from my chest, the glass abandoned on the counter, I stumbled down the stairs to the back door and out into the damp June night. It was magic, that moment. Still, my heart remembers the joy as I chased the lights down the long hill, the grass wet beneath my bare feet, my hair streaming behind me in the thick humid air.
I'd never seen them before. I stayed for hours, catching them to watch them crawl along my fingers and leap into the air again and again, my fascination as if I were four, rather than fourteen. I think I fell in love with the east coast that night. Alone, damp and giggling in the dark of a summer's night as the magic of my dreams invaded my waking world.
The sun has arrived. June, her arms filled with a bounty of flowers and flush with the scent of summer, waits just beyond the door. The magical promise of fire flies glinting in her eyes, long days and even longer nights languid with music and laughter and smoke from the bonfire.
Oh, my heart stirs.
My grandmother, passing ninety-five some time ago, has come to stay for a spell. Her name is Elva. A proper sort of name for five feet of southern charm. My days are slower now, a mingling of school year's end rush and the shuffle of elderly foot steps. She makes me pause, abandon projects and lists for lazy afternoons of stories and cold limeade on an herb lined porch. The speakers hidden beneath the old oak table filling the air with Nina Simone and Martin Sexton, music to remember by.
Worlds lost, revisited.
I spend my mornings in love with dirt, coaxing tiny leaves from the earth. Pruning and cutting and edging our world; the sun's touch warm on my skin. An igneous heat that permeates my flesh, filtering down beneath the surface of sinew and bone to whisper to my soul...."Awake."
I pause in the hall before the mirror. Her flushed cheeks and tangled hair surprise me. Somehow the unkempt wild version of me seems younger. Bare skin damp with exertion, white shadows beneath spaghetti straps vivid against tan speckled shoulders that trumpet the success of weeded tomatoes and basil thriving. Summer's blush, this is.
Icy tumblers leave wet rings on the blue and green bits of glass, a mosaic reminder of how beautiful broken can be. Her hand trembles as she sips, the act taking her full attention, brow furrowed. Libations safely returned to the table, she tilts her head, white hair tossed softly in the breeze. "Have I told you about the first time I saw Ed? That wild Cates boy...."
The satin webs that frame her eyes, creases etched by a thousand smiles, a thousand tears....joy and anger and sorrow. A life carved into the flesh of a woman, two husbands and three sons buried. How cruel the hand of Fate can be.
But here, in her granddaughter's home, three rowdy great grandsons atumble, rosemary studded beef saturating the air as it slowly roasts inside, the day unhurried and soft. Telling tales to this freckled woman masquerading as a girl...
Lord, thank you for the opportunity to pour out...and to take in.
Thunder is rumbling across the sky sending shivers down my spine, how I do so love the storms of spring. Iron clouds of battleship grey undulate outside my window, rain sluicing down the glass even as it trembles, washing winter's touch from the surface of the world.
Rain is a lovely thing. Its damp entrance does indeed make my bones ache but it accomplishes one thing that even my husband despairs to achieve -- it makes me pause. Traps me inside, leaves the tools and stones and seeds outdoors...and I rest. At the moment, I'm rather relieved as the bruises have accumulated a bit faster than usual lately. Last week I spent seventeen hours on a ladder scraping, sanding and painting the porch ceiling a delicious dark chocolate to match the shutters. Painted the porch and rails, scrubbed the siding to a blinding white (which I fear has been before our purchase of this place since last occurring), potted up the ferns, filled the hummingbird feeder and cleaned the grill in anticipation of long delicious evenings.
I only fell off the ladder once.
And then the roses arrived.
Frustrated with the anemic shrubs that crouched along the front of the house like anorexic tarantulas, I took the plunge and sent off for three rose bushes of a new variety: low on sun, blooms from spring through the crisp of fall, resistant to mold and spot--essentially heaven with honey colored petals.
Did I mention that I've never planted roses before?
Tucked within the neat brown wrapping along with rooted plants, was a small innocuous book. "How To Plant Anything." Page twenty: Roses. Did you know a two foot wide, two foot deep hole dug into the earth for every plant is required? (I certainly did not) Fill the bottom with gravel for good drainage, mix the loam and soil and pile into a cone shape upon which you sill spread out the baby roots which have been soaking for a day....
Two hours past dinner, dusk not far off, I'm on my knees in the front yard. A tear in my jeans leaves smears of black and brown on my knee. My old Chuck Taylors slipping in the mud and grass, I lugged buckets of broken rocks to the edge of the now prepared (holed) brick edged flower bed. My husband came out to watch for a bit...."More than you anticipated, hmmmm?" I think I panted an answer of a grunt, heaving dirt up onto the tarp I'd spread out to protect the lawn.
One neighbor offered rootbeer which my husband enjoyed, and another brought me a strawberry alcoholic beverage that I slurped down like a nine year-old with a slushy. (we do have such lovely neighbors) My back ached. The muscles in my arms were hard and felt like wire twisted too taunt beneath my flesh as the leather gloves chafed the soft skin on the inside of my wrists. I had grit on my cheek and bits of grass in my hair, but as I held the already budding canes carefully still while gently pouring the soft dirt that smelled of life and wind and rain to cover roots that I whispered prayers of deep growth over, the satisfaction was nearly a flavor on my tongue.
Such is planting.
Some of my earliest memories were of my mother in the garden. I remember watching the miracle of tiny black seeds sprouting into heads of cabbage and mountains of tomatoes and squash long before ever stepping a foot inside school. I think my first true love might have been dirt. (and I had the laundry to prove it--and to some extent, still do) The possibilities within the dark earth...ground well-tilled, aired out and tumbled with nutrients, fertile land within which to grow and flourish. Nourishment of the soul as well as the body whole.
It's work. It's painful. I've nine bruises, two scrapes and this is what happened when my hand slipped on the shovel, stoving my middle finger. *sigh*
But oh, the seeds we plant regardless; some with care, some without. In our children, our relationships, our futures. I look back and clearly see the years my garden was....lacking. My investment was terribly visible in the harvest. Sparse and dry. Perhaps this understanding comes with age? Watching a thought bulge into an idea and then unfold into a plan. Exertion and discipline and sweat. And then luscious, succulent fruit. Or maybe the recognition of a kindred soul, infused with time and kindness--and friendship follows. Journals written, talents explored, horizons challenged...
The air is heavy, saturated with rain and promise.
I heard a song the other day with lyrics, "I'm moving beyond emotion, I'm standing on belief." I've searched for the song to no avail, it was a flash of lightening and then gone. Yet its jagged imprint, vivid white against the obsidian of a night sky...has lingered. The words have echoed repeatedly through my thoughts, battling the mists of hurt and fear in my mind. Webby fingers of surprising strength, these are, threatening to strangle the choice and truth from my heart.
Emotions are powerful. Saturated and dense, thick with voices so loud they fill every crack and crevice within us. Elemental, they can whisper along our skin awakening within us passions glorious; or surging into a tsunami of titanic proportions, slam us to the ground, forcing the air from our lungs. Emotions can seep from our minds to our hearts, invading our souls if we are not vigilant...and a soul run purely on emotion, enters dangerous territory.
Belief is different. Chosen. Built. Through experience, over time, drenched in our graphic humanity. A conviction, a confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof, the definition reads. Foundations that we live and breathe and walk upon.
Our beliefs are the stone of us, standing within the hurricane.
The scent of renewal that accompanies Spring reassures me of the cyclical nature of life. Dawn and then dusk and dawn again, no matter how dark the night. Storms and then sunshine, death and birth. The frigidity of Winter eventually is won over by the warm wiles of Spring. There is joy and then anger and sorrow and grief. Quiet solitude. Discovery....possibilities.....and joy again. This permeates the lives of my children, my marriage, the battles that rage within me at times. As well as the world I've watched spilled out across the screen this week, agony and suffering painting everything in shades of red and black. So much senseless anguish and death.
I have felt pain so deep I thought it would cleave me in two. Have been chased by fears that follow me wretchedly into my dreams, inescapable. Grief that sought to drown my soul...emotions that were waves threatening to wash away the shore.
But I believe.
In forgiveness and beginnings and strength.
No matter where you may be, step past the emotions. Choose your direction.
Ice is falling from the sky today. Clouds of lead scatter frozen glitter across the world outside my window, I can hear it patter against the glass. The multiplicity that is Spring never ceases to amaze as this day is nearly polar of one just a few weeks past when balmy breezes and sun-filled skies oversaw the cleaning of my potting bench; the stacking of clay vessels, inventory of seeds and soil and plans begun. I swept the front porch and replaced the urns which are begging for new ferns once Winter has truly taken his leave. Removed the now shriveled chives and thyme that passed away beneath alabaster blankets of snow. I organized the lanterns, wiped down chairs and tables in anticipation of lengthening evenings, warmer winds, and a glass of whiskey shared while the children play hockey in the street.
At the far end of the porch, where I like to sit and read, is a table. My table. I found it abandoned on the curb, rusted and put out for rubbish. Unwanted. A summer project unfolding with a coat of black paint, and a bag of broken glass. I'd never tiled anything other than the floor in the entryway of our house, and that was all numbered and logical. This was madness with razor sharp edges.
I remember the sun warm on my bare shoulders, my hair tied up but managing to escape anyway in long pieces that blew about in the summer air. Music drifted out from the double front doors that are always left open when weather permits, Hazel dozed upon the steps. I knelt on the cement walk and carefully covered bits of blue and green, like chips of the sky and sea, with an old kitchen cloth. The hammer clutched in my hand, it's leather grip leaving ridges in the flesh of my palm, I shattered them.
Sawyer came out and sat on the grass beside me. "Can I try?" he asked. "Of course, love, just be sure to cover the glass with the towel so we don't get pieces in the yard." He followed instructions, raised his arm, and pulverized it to dust. "Whoa!" I laughed, "Not so hard or I won't have anything to glue!" He grinned and we worked together for another twenty minutes or so before he dashed off to play with his brothers. I carefully picked up the pieces and returned to the naked table.
I had some general idea of what I'd like to see, but nothing truly planned. I spread the paste, and placed the first piece. Then the second, and the third. It seemed the ocean spilled out over that table, held together with glue and some of my own blood smeared from tiny nicks and cuts; grimly jagged, that glass was. I had to sort through the fractured remains, searching for one that was triangular...square...flat on top and round on the bottom. As the design unfolded, my needs were more and more specific. Back to the walk and now choosing carefully, I tapped. I chiseled. Microscopic adjustments, precise movement...deliberate splintering.
I ran out of flat glass. Had to improvise with odds and ends found about the house. Patiently I worked the black grout between the knifelike rivulets, dark sand gritty beneath my nails. Certainly, it resembles nothing machine made, imperfection is its claim to beauty. Unique and slightly uncentered...much as I. I found myself tracing the now passive bits of glass, their edges muted, lethality expunged.
Oh, how life has chiseled me.
I find astonishing comfort in this thought. There is marvelous beauty in this life we all share; a tapestry of love and agony, death and birth and sunlight on still ponds. And each of us a part, shaped by forces greater than ourselves. Sculpted. Sometimes just a sanding of the rough, sometimes surgery of the soul. But together, our broken bits glinting in the light....
The heat of the oven is delicious on my skin. My kitchen, with its massive antediluvian window and three outside walls, tends to be one of the coldest rooms in the house--thus leading to a near perpetual parade of fresh breads and cookies, roasts and creamy casseroles, any possible excuse I can come up with to keep the oven burning as we persevere through snow and sleet. Warm air swirls in drafts around me, the scent of rosemary and garlic permeate the evening, doing battle with Jack Frost as he clings to the window glass. One hip resting against the counter, the edge of the porcelain sink cool beneath my fingers....and night slowly swallows the day.
When was the last time you actually watched, minute by minute, the evening arrive? Dusk, with her lovely cloak of grey, gently drapes the world in silver....her darkness eclipsing the skeletal trees, shrouding the back fence, veiling the sky until the window holds nothing more than a dim reflection of the small warm kitchen and the woman within. So still, she stands. Auburn hair framing pale skin. The curve of my neck, the shadow of a collar bone disappearing under white cotton, the glitter of a silver chain.
Is that what I look like? To the trees outside? The rising moon? What do they see?
Every morning I face that woman, run a brush through her hair, blacken her lashes, slide color across her lips. But do you know, we never truly see ourselves...only our reflections. And as so much of vision is actually perception, woven with expectations, memories and hope, rather than strictly observation; I fear I see more...or possibly less, in that reflection than most. Leviathan flaws, monstrous inadequacy, tremendous potential and crushing failure, joy and grief and thirst. Her green eyes gaze back at me, a flat image on mirrored glass; no breath, no warmth, no blood within.
Not me...a reflection.
The other day a friend stopped by for a visit and we sat with cups of tea, feet curled beneath us on the old leather couch in the living room. She smiled at the plants that drape from the mantle and the edge of the buffet, the bird's nest woven with dried grass and filled with painted eggs that rests on the dining room table, surrounded by river stones. "I'd know this was your house even if it were my first time here," she said, "Just by the scent of it....I can see you everywhere, every room reflects you."
I suppose that makes sense, my home is another reflection of me. But one of mingled proportions for others are here too. Finger painted flowers on the wall in the kitchen, brought home with love when my eldest was merely seven, six years past now. End tables that arrived with my husband, the pedal organ from the 1800's that he and I bought together and refurbished into a bar.....paintings signed by my grandmother, the piano from my great grandfather. I wonder what my home says about me...what would a stranger know passing within these walls...what secrets revealed.
I can hear the boys now, downstairs. Laughter echoing up through the vents, a new James Bond video game their latest thrill. A co-worker told me last week when the boys came with my husband to pick me up from the office, that they walked like me. I had no idea. Our children divulge worlds about us, astonishingly accurate reflections of who we really are. Our beliefs and foundations stripped bare of the veneer of speech and facade of accoutrements. Children are the truth of us.
Night has chased away the day now. Wine warms slowly in the glass beside me, casting fractured rays of garnet light from glare of this screen. I wonder at the verity of my soul...the reality of me. Am I found within the reflections? Unmasked in their exposure?
I've mentioned that in my early twenties, I spent several years living in Mexico, Guatemala, and some of the worst streets of Philadelphia. My first husband and I would act as 'house parents' and we'd be joined by 10-15 college kids for a few months at a time and get them connected and working with the orphanages, health clinics, and soup kitchens in the area. Amazing, the lives I saw changed...hearts softened, souls healed. Sometimes there was joy so pure it felt like flying.
Sometimes there was darkness so black it felt like the end of everything.
I dreamt the other night of Guatemala. While some of you may have vacationed in the lovely parts, there are villages still without electricity, towns full of families that scrape food out of the dust...children who have never seen a refrigerator. I learned so much when I was there. About myself, my fears, my expectations. I learned to long for toilets that flushed....craved brushing my teeth with tap water...sprayed the legs of my wood and rope cot with raid to keep the tarantulas from climbing into my blankets.
One day, we took a trip out to visit an orphanage that had asked us to come sing for them. Something so simple; our rag-tattered gang of off-key, couldn't-carry-a-tune-in-a-bucket, sunburned loons--and those children were ecstatic. They giggled and laughed and danced--it was a holiday, a treat, the best of presents. Such fun....but the van was silent that night as we trundled back over dirt roads towards home, such simplicity and gratitude drapes a cloak of conviction over privileged shoulders.
Driving in another country is staggering. The fact that there are no car inspections, no rules, no lanes--insanity. Often cars run without operating lights, making night driving perilous. We almost didn't see them. The smashed little car, the larger one less so. There was a drunk man passed out in the dirt. And a sobbing, hysterical man that came running towards us, his face streaked with tears and blood.
His new bride was pinned in the car.
Our interpreter, Debbie, called for an ambulance, it was on the way. We were about ten minutes from the closest city. Meanwhile, the man I married the first time around was not good in emergencies and was slightly panicked. I left him in the van with the crew and asked them to pray. Debbie and I were nearly drug over to the smashed vehicle, the husband frantically gesturing at the car and pointing to his nose. Oh God, I could smell gas. We didn't have tools, but between us, were able to pry the door halfway open. Finally able to hold his wife's hand, he calmed down enough to tell us her name was Maria and his was Carl. Headlights in the distance...the ambulance. I stood, waving my arms to get it to slow down.
It was a pick-up truck with a piece of plywood in the back.
I was dumbfounded. Shocked into silence....this? This was the ambulance? The driver was efficient and soon produced a crow bar and wrenched the door the rest of the way open. Carl seemed unable to let go of the unconscious Maria's hand so I found myself attempting to support her head and shoulders as we gingerly pulled her from the twisted wreck. Debbie had drug the plywood over and we carefully laid her down. There was so much blood. Maria's head was cradled in the palm of my hand and it shifted slightly as I knelt in the dirt....and then the tips of my fingers felt the bones of her skull move.
In glare of the headlights I suddenly understood why Maria's head didn't look right. My heart nearly stopped. Debbie reached out as I inhaled sharply, drawing Carl over to the other side of the board, sparing him the sight of his bride's broken body...and his shattered dreams.
We carried the board to the truck and slid it into the back, Carl climbing up to sit next to her. I could hear him telling her he loved her over and over as he clutched her hand. I stood there, frozen, as the tail lights vanished down the dark road. Debbie had checked the drunk and said he was fine. He'd been tossed from his car when it t-boned theirs. Aside from some scrapes and bruises, he would be alright. She helped him to his car and then gently led me back to the van. I don't remember the rest of the ride home. I do remember getting into the shower with all my clothes on, watching Maria's blood wash down the drain, and sobbing till there was nothing left.
I didn't have children then. Years later my boys would enter my life and I would understand a love that literally was cell and bone and sinew deep. Tomorrow is my fortieth birthday. I suppose it's only natural to find myself today sifting through what I am thankful for. Since that night, kneeling in the dark, I have never heard the wail of an ambulance and not closed my eyes for a moment, desperately grateful to live in a place where such a sound is only a phone call away. That my children live here. This gratitude is nearly overwhelming, immeasurable.
There is a moment every year when I realize I've lost the sun. As if the frozen air has plucked every ray from my flesh, scraped away summer's glow with icy claws, leeched the color from my skin. Perhaps it's a redhead thing, this day when you notice that you've passed on from ivory and now are somewhere closer to alabaster. Just a notch or so from transparent. Oh, how I do miss the feel of warm rays spilling over my bare shoulders and down my back...
Spring, please hurry.
At any rate, the other night I was sitting next to one of my boys and discovered him staring at my hand. "Mom," he whispered, "I can see your pulse." I chuckled and told him now he could be sure now I wasn't a vampire--he grinned, but looking at the back of his own hands, he shook his head. "My hands don't have those veins." I ruffled his hair, "Well love, that's because you're young, perhaps you won't have hands like mine." He seemed slightly disconcerted by this, my youngest and I have much in common, but his brother called and off he ran to play.
Evening was approaching, afternoon's light beginning to fade as the night drew near. I sat in the dusk, swirling the wine in my glass, marveling a bit at the contrast of my pale skin against the crimson liquid. You could plainly see blue lines, veins tracing the length of my fingers, across the back of my hand, disappearing as they swirled around the bones of my wrist. I've always been lucky as far as needles go. A slightly bizarre thing to say, but having such a surface bloodway means that the one in the crook of my elbow is raised up, a quarter inch wide, it cannot be missed. (it always thrills the nurses--once I had a doc ask if I would come in to let the new aides train on me. Um.....no.) But such things are not without peril.
I have my mother's veins.
How strange to stumble across a memory tucked long ago into the eves of my mind...
I was about seven or so. Mum was drying dishes with me, taking care of the more fragile ones. I remember us just chatting on, and there was a clink. One of the large wine glasses had broken....with her hand inside of it. I remember the scarlet spray that hit the wall in front of us. The pulse of it that was her heartbeat seen, like a mad macabre sprinkler. That split second where my mind added up the volume and the throb of it all and arrived at how serious the injury must be...and for the first time, there in our kitchen with the green ivy towels, my mother became mortal. This superhero who ran our ranch with an iron hand, could fly through the door snatching a loaded gun which hung on a rack above each, and cock it with deadly accuracy before even hitting the ground outside--beware ye wolves and mountain lions, our horses were not for you. Suddenly before my eyes, the bulletproof super woman bled....alot.
She wrapped her hand in a kitchen towel, it was soon soaked. As I've mentioned, our land was a long way from any doctor's office. I remember sitting in the passenger seat as she fumbled with the keys...and then stopped. The towel was dripping and there was no way she could drive. Back inside, she called for help and wonderful friends rushed like madmen to our side. They whisked her off and a few stayed with us girls; my father had a moment of sheer panic when he arrived home to a blood drenched kitchen and a house full of people, but all was soon explained. There were stitches and a bandage and that evening, lying in my bed long after dark, I knew my mother was safe upstairs. But invincible no more.
The things that shape us. Ideas and dreams and memories. Do you know, I've never once put my hand inside of a wine glass to dry it. I am stronger than most people I meet. I am six feet tall and have a 36 inch inseam and own my own heavy bag. But the truth remains, every superhero has a kryptonite. A chink in the armor, an achilles heel...a broken heart, nightmares, shattered hopes, lost causes. Beautiful humanity. We are so strong.